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Saturday, September 18, 2010

EDITORIAL 18.09.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month september 18, edition 000629, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



























































Veteran Congress leader and Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has hit the nail on the head by bluntly stating that Maoists want to capture state power with the help of violence and that their murderous campaign has nothing to do with issues of development — or the lack of it in areas with large tribal populations — they claim to be fighting for. Mr Mukherjee's no-nonsense plain talk (for which he is known and respected) should serve to put an end to the spurious debate initiated by Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh who, with the assistance of Maoist sympathisers in the media and propagandists masquerading as 'intellectuals' and 'human rights activists', has been seeking to foist his warped notions of how to deal with the menace. For Mr Singh and his ilk the solution does not lie in crushing the Maoist 'revolution' and defanging the thugs who kill, rape and burn to terrorise both civilians and officials of the state, but in 'talking' to those who only understand the language of violence. Mr Singh has also been slyly propagating the bogus theory that the roots of Maoism lie not in an ideology antithetical to democracy but in poverty and under-development. By ridiculing this absurd suggestion as more imaginary than real, Mr Mukherjee has sent out a clear message: The Government is not deterred by bleeding heart liberals. According to him, this largely bogus premise, "an oversimplification" as he called it, cannot be held as justification for the large-scale atrocities committed by Maoists, nor should political leaders use it to romanticise murderers and plunderers as rebels with a cause. For far too long we have had busybodies trying to convince and coerce the Government into believing that Maoists can be persuaded to give up their campaign of terror simply by talking to them. 

It is anybody's guess as to whether Mr Mukherjee said what he did with a design. We can only hope that his matter-of-fact analysis of the threat posed by Maoists not only to the States where they are present in large numbers but to the nation as a whole — the Prime Minister has repeatedly said that the Maoists pose the gravest challenge to internal security — will serve to strengthen those in the UPA regime who believe that the problem needs to be dealt with a firm hand. It should also silence critics of the Government in the Congress who have been rubbishing the official policy on tackling the Red menace. At another level, Mr Mukherjee's comments could also be seen as a message to the Congress's ally, the Trinamool Congress, whose leader, Ms Mamata Banerjee, has been rather soft on Maoists and is perceived to be working in tandem with them to overthrow the Left Front Government in West Bengal, a common enemy of both. Whatever the reason why Mr Mukherjee chose to articulate his views in this manner, there is every reason to welcome his comments and praise him for his non-compromising stance. It also shows that the Congress is not entirely bereft of leaders who have a vision larger than that restricted to the corridors of power or who measure their words to keep their party bosses in good humour. Indeed, the Prime Minister could take a cue from his Finance Minister and begin to speak up and be heard — in the Cabinet, in the Congress. 








The process of electing a Prime Minister to head a coalition Government in Nepal took a curious turn on Friday with the Maoists declaring that their candidate for the job, Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly known as 'Prachanda', was pulling out of the race. The announcement followed a 'deal' between the Maoists and the CPN(UML) to break the deadlock that has persisted since June 30 when Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal was forced to resign after Mr Dahal and his party cadre took to the streets. Since then the Constituent Assembly has failed to elect a Prime Minister despite seven rounds of voting: Neither Mr Dahal nor the other contender for the post, Mr Ram Chandra Poudyal of the Nepali Congress, could get the necessary two-thirds majority as is required under the interim arrangement to head a coalition Government. The CPN (Maoist), with 238 members, is the single largest party in the 601-member Constituent Assembly but that by itself is not sufficient to ensure the election of its candidate. The Nepali Congress has 114 members, followed by the the CPN(UML) with 109 members. The Madhesi alliance has 82 members. With the CPN(UML) and the Madhesi alliance remaining neutral, the seven rounds of voting were bound to result in a political deadlock, severely paralysing Nepal's Government which has barely managed a holding operation for the past three months. 

It is anybody's guess as to how the situation will play out in the coming days. An eighth round of voting is scheduled for September 26. Apparently both the Maoists and the CPN(UML) have decided not to field candidates for this round of voting, which would suggest that the Nepali Congress's nominee will sail through. But that should not be taken for granted. It is entirely possible that the Maoists will come up with a second contender, possibly Mr Baburam Bhattarai, who could be supported by the CPN(UML) — if that were to happen, Nepal could yet witness the Maoists returning to power for a second time. Hopefully, there will be greater clarity in the next couple of days. A candidate selected on the basis of consensus among all three parties, or at least two of them, still remains the best option. For, Nepal cannot afford the luxury of political uncertainty and the consequent delay in framing and adopting a Constitution for the nascent republic, the contours of whose polity still remain undefined. The Constituent Assembly's tenure has already been extended by a year on May 28; to extend it any further would be to make a mockery of the exercise for which it was elected. Moreover, it serves nobody's interest if governance continues to suffer on account of there being no Government. The people of Nepal deserve far better than what has been delivered in the name of democracy so far. 







In a world after 9/11, nobody wants the creation of another Islamist territory. Rather, global powers want India to succeed in Kashmir 

If the New Delhi grapevine is to be believed, the UPA Government has sounded out Mr Wajahat Habibullah for the job of Governor of Jammu & Kashmir. Mr Habibullah, a former IAS officer, retires as Chief Information Commissioner at the end of September. Having served many years in India's most troubled State, he understands the 'Kashmir question' better than many others. 

Whether Mr Habibullah makes it to the Raj Bhawan in Srinagar or not, he has a lot to contribute to the discourse on Jammu & Kashmir. In particular, his paper of 2004, written while he was a fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC, is worth reading for an at once clear-headed and sensitive portrayal of Jammu & Kashmir's complexities, for lessons to learn and ideas to consider, and for hope in a time of grimness.

Admittedly 'The Political Economy of the Kashmir Conflict: Opportunities for Economic Peace-building and for US Policy', as Mr Habibullah's paper is called, was written in a very different period. In 2003 and 2004, nudged by the George W Bush Administration and by the fact that both Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee in India and Gen Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan were unchallenged in their leadership of their national Governments, India and Pakistan began what appeared to be a genuine composite dialogue on the status of Jammu & Kashmir and other issues.

The domestic situation in the State was also better. Violence had ebbed; after the 2002 Assembly election and with the arrival of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed as Chief Minister, the local Government had a certain street credibility. Early conversation on the nature and impact of the 'peace dividend', provided India and Pakistan began working towards some sort of an arrangement that envisaged open borders, free trade and economic cooperation between the two Kashmirs, was beginning.

Mr Habibullah's paper was written in this context. It made a serious assessment of the forest resources of the Kashmir Valley (and their depletion), of the incubation of private enterprise — as opposed to a culture of Union Government handouts and disguised bribery, which "set an unhealthy economic precedent, earning for Kashmiris the contempt of both Indians and Pakistanis as a people who could be traded … (and) only increased their sense of self-loathing" — of Jammu & Kashmir's 15,000 MW hydropower potential, and of opening up the State's economy to foreign investment.

Given the terrifying events of recent weeks, such thoughts may seem utopian. Yet, this template cannot be wished away. Sooner or later, as and when a modicum of tranquillity returns to the Valley, New Delhi and Srinagar will need to revisit it or at least a variant of it. They will also have to acknowledge how the Congress and the UPA Government, with astonishing complacency and cussedness, ensured talks with the section of the separatist leadership that was willing to talk went nowhere. The result is there for all to see.

The biggest change in the Kashmiri protests has been the complete sinking of the ethnic/non-religious separatist cause in the frightening and turbulent seas of pan-Islamism. This past week's renewed violence was triggered by an Iranian news channel that carried images of the Quran being desecrated in the United States. It led to effigies of Mr Barack Obama — perhaps the most Left-wing and to that extent 'unAmerican' President in American history — being burnt in Srinagar. 

This indicates a dramatic evolution. As late as 2004, Mr Habibullah could write: "Most Kashmiris regard the United States as an honest broker, an opinion rarely held in Muslim countries in the aftermath of 9/11. This view has also been expressed repeatedly in private by several members of the separatist leadership. In fact, Kashmiris credit all positive developments in the region over the past five years to efforts made by the United States."

This was not surprising. The pro-azaadi spokespersons in Srinagar had for years seen the West as sympathetic. In fact, the All-Party Hurriyat Conference was sustained and given political heft in the 1990s by the untiring efforts of the British High Commission and the US Embassy in New Delhi. If a society seen as an "honest broker" only six years ago is today reviled in the Valley, it is not so much because America has changed as because the Kashmiri movement has. On current evidence, it is indistinguishable from Hamas-style religious frenzy.

However, India has one crucial advantage over, say, the Palestinian proto-nation that grapples with Hamas. Jammu & Kashmir represents a mature polity. A system of regular elections, the ability to enter into structured negotiation with a Union Government that is not unwilling to talk, the prospect of state power and, if nothing else, the loaves and fishes of office: All these incentivise moving from street-side rhetoric to some sort of political institution.

If one goes by the precedent of the early-1990s, this tends to happen after the mass madness — spontaneous or engineered or, as is often the case, a bit of both — has calmed and after a degree of law enforcement has re-established Indian authority. In November 1990, the Valley exploded. By 1993, tactics were being altered and a new political entity, the Hurriyat, was born.

The Kashmir Valley has moved much further to the Right and much deeper into the embrace of Islamism. Indeed, so worrying are the circumstances that Mufti Mohammed Sayeed seems almost a moderate compared to some of the hotheads on offer today. As for the Hurriyat, it is probably past its sell-by date.

So what happens next? India has survived worse and will live through these late-summer storms. It also has one strategic advantage over previous Kashmir upsurges, especially the one in 1990. Till then Western busybodies, including the odd US State Department official, experimented with ideas of a quasi-independent Jammu & Kashmir. Today, in a world after 9/11, nobody wants to risk the creation of another Islamist territory. Rather, global powers want India to succeed in the Valley, though they may occasionally attempt to define the trajectory of that success.

In time, the momentum of the on-going protests will die down, or be made to die down. The motivation of the new separatist commanders will anyway decline after Mr Obama's India visit in November — and no doubt Srinagar's 'civil society protests' began as a show for the American President. After that, a new, post-Hurriyat, separatist-friendly political organisation will emerge. India will need to engage it; there is no getting away from that. 








The unraveling of the Kashmir situation is now being presented as a textbook case of how to shoot your self in the foot. But the analogy being drawn by most commentators is too rudimentary to merit attention. The more evolved answer would be to recognise a rhythmic tempo of planned intervention by a troika of forces inimical to the nation's interests however predictable this may sound. So, what's new? Is it the stones? Or is it the activists — pubescent and petulant? The army of opinion on this issue belies simple home truths. A cursory look will make anyone see that there is nothing here which is more than meets the eye. It is simply time to demystify the exotic problem of Kashmir. 

At a seminar organised by the Delhi BJP recently to draw attention to the worsening situation in Kashmir, Arun Jaitley, leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, warned that seekers of autonomy for J&K were merely indulging in a ploy to set the terms for their next and final solution — effective separation from the Indian State. At the same event 

I commented, perhaps uncharitably, that Kashmir was too important an issue to be left to family friends and their kids. Successive events have bolstered my argument and it is now common agreement that governance under the present Chief Minister has skidded out of control, in tandem with the situation. But that is not the real reason why we have the problem in the first place. The stultified mulch that Kashmir has become over the years of keeping it hanging in balance is fertile ground for one or the other creative nuisance that we are seeing from time to time, fronted by an army of small men with even smaller ideas.

But it is not as if the government has helped. The wishy-washy leadership that the Prime Minister has so far offered is finally turning out to be true to character — running around like headless chicken, now the chickens have come home to roost. The Cabinet Committee on Security seems more and more like an afterthought, brought into action after waiting for the situation to erupt into a full-fledged fiasco. The dithering on steps required to be taken, the question: Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) or no AFSPA? has us in thrall while the so-called moderates flog the issue for what it is worth. 

The hawks, so to say, are at least more consistent and concise. Their refusal to deal with the Indian position outside the terms of independence and outside the terms of civil behaviour is a reassuring certainty. It is the moderates, in my opinion, who are doing maximum damage to the cause of peace and its progress. Their existence is wrongly purported to mean that there is an India line they allow for, or that they hold a more middling opinion whereas in fact they only push Delhi into an extreme position as counterweights to the pro-Pakistan line. So in effect, India is the other extremist, while Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and his ilk are moderates — reasonable people who only want Azadi. Look how we have fallen for the gambit.

On the side of the Indian establishment there has been a one-eyed approach that bewilders practitioners of statecraft and of military and police action all at once. Notice the contrast in the manner the State continues to handle the demands of the Kashmiris against the challenge that the Punjab militancy threw up. Compare the treatment that Bhindrawale and his posse of followers received, with the kid glove treatment that the government of India reserves for pink-cheeked Kashmiri separatists. It begs the question: What should you be doing with Geelani and his cousins? Why the difference? What's the problem? For those who are appalled by the suggestion or whose instincts lie with the perpetrators of long-term crimes, I have news on reasonably good authority that about 70 Shia families have also been eased out of the Valley over the last few years. This has been done in a more insidious manner than was employed while dislocating Kashmiri Hindus and it is now a matter of examination in some quarters to establish the exact truth of this new, if predictable, development. For in this act it would fit the pattern of Islamisation of the territory of Kashmir in the style of the Taliban and their Pakistani cousins. The objectives of al-Qaeda are being implemented with adroitness and the complicity of those who publicly decry terrorism. 

Contrary to the image of a flowering Valley of plenty and produce, the talk of a package for Kashmir conjures up thoughts of first-aid kits and famine conditions. The knee-jerk drop back to when-in-doubt-offer-a-package doctrine for Kashmir has not only pauperised the state's morals, it has also hollowed out a people's self-respect completely. That the National Conference leadership has been the middlemen of most of such packages is now a marker of history and the package being touted is now under the guise of autonomy. But we can do better if the NC offers itself to repair and stands down in favour of a Congress government in the state and let another young man with new ideas take over the leadership of the state. I am sure he would be only too glad to tackle the real problems of the country instead of heli-hopping from one well-designed trouble spot to another in search of an enduring problem he could solve. 

Meanwhile, the UPA leader's gravitas at this week's all-party meet was ingenuous and puerile at the very least. She now wants to understand what it is that angers youth in the Valley. Or why there is hate. Existential questions indeed. But there might be need to go to Kashmir to feel the pain of these lovely boys. It speaks volumes of the moribundity of their ideas that the UPA leadership has to seek recourse to all-party meets every time the issue becomes a hot potato. The typical indications in the denouement of this saga can be gleaned from the fact that the day after an article appears in a national daily by a professor, the government toes his exact suggestion — word for word, step for step and presto, an all party trip to Kashmir fructifies. There is no problem if this were to be a solution; but there is a problem if public discourse starts leading policy in the absence of a strategy. The government is closing in on a clutch of soothsayers and that is always a dangerous signal of a shortage of ideas.

The author is a BJP leader and spokesperson for the party; 







The Kashmir Valley is cut off from India, and Sonia Gandhi raises old hat "questions" at an all-party meet which produces a fine lemon

On September 15, when top-notch Indian politicians were discussing the Kashmir situation in an all-party meeting at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's 7 Race Course Road residence in New Delhi, the Kashmir Valley was under round-the-clock curfew for the second consecutive day. As the deliberations were going on, police and paramilitary forces shot dead four protesters in the Medhar pocket of Jammu and a 22-year-old youngster at Sopore for defying curfew. Late in the evening, another youth who was injured in police firing succumbed to injuries at a Delhi hospital. The toll in the Valley reached 90 since the first killing of the current unrest on June 11 in downtown Srinagar.

It is the spree of killings and complete defiance exhibited on the streets of Kashmir Valley that compelled the Centre to initiate deliberations to find effective ways to handle the situation. Ironically, Delhi wakes up to the Kashmir reality only when there are eruptions. As soon as the situation reels back to tentative normalcy, the measures are left halfway, promises ignored and initiatives consigned to the waste bin. The UPA's track record on this score has been most disappointing. 

What emerged from the all-party meet is that New Delhi's perspective on Jammu & Kashmir is not in tune with the voices emerging from the Valley. Firstly, the meeting demonstrated that the solutions to be found to the present crisis in Kashmir must be within the ambit of the Constitution of India. The UPA Chairperson declared it in unequivocal terms: "Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of our country and democracy. The people of Jammu & Kashmir are our people. They are our citizens." However, the noise on the street was over the opposite message, backed and maneuvered by separatist groups, particularly hardliners like Syed Ali Geelani. 

Geelani, in his five conditions for initiation of dialogue with New Delhi has given top priority to "recognition of Jammu & Kashmir as international dispute". Interestingly, the Opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP), which advocated Geelani's proposals, reversed its stance shortly after attending the all-party meeting asking both Central government and the separatists to avoid preconditions for dialogue. The other separatist leaders — Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik — who have the past experience of engagement with New Delhi, do not lay stress on the international dimension but want discernable change on the ground level for making atmosphere conducive for talks.

The all-party meet failed to address this aspect also. There was no word on the use of "unbridled force" to crush the recent uprising, no admonition to the police and paramilitaries involved in the killings and nothing on the issues of hundreds of political prisoners and youngsters accused of stone-pelting. The Prime Minister did express shock and distress to see young men and women, even children, joining the protests on the streets but he avoided to go into details of what led to these incidents.

The curfew-hit people in Kashmir Valley had the notion that the all-party meet would take a decision on Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The impression was generated by the Cabinet Committee on Security first and then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in his proposals to Home Minister P Chidambaram. The UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, sought removal of "draconian clauses" from the Act. It is a common impression in Kashmir that the impending elections in Bihar and West Bengal introduced an element of politics in the AFSPA review with the BJP sticking to safeguard of the Act and the Congress finding it difficult to touch it lest it becomes a national issue at a crucial juncture.

The Opposition and the armed forces must have genuine concerns on the repeal of the AFSPA, but it is also a fact that the misuse of the Act on occasions has added to the disenchantment of the people in Jammu & Kashmir. Even though the Army is out of focus in Kashmir's ongoing unrest with maximum blame on police and CRPF, the fact of the matter is the unrest was triggered by an unfortunate act perpetrated by the Army. The first killing that took place in Srinagar on June 11 triggering an unending cycle of violence came in a day when separatists had called for peaceful protests against the killing of three Baramulla youngsters who had been lured by the Army to work as porters but eventually killed in a staged encounter at the Line of Control and passed off as infiltrators. Apart from a vague official announcement that two officers involved in the fake encounter were taken off active duty, there was no hint on what action was taken against them.

The inconclusive all-party meeting decided to send an all-party delegation to visit Jammu & Kashmir to study the ground situation and to reach out to the people. On the positive side, the delegation would not be confined to meeting the state officials, ministers and legislators belonging to the ruling coalition but the Opposition PDP, which was opposed to such engagements in the past, too. However, there is no guarantee that the common people in Srinagar and other towns would be ready to interact with the delegation. The separatists have rejected the idea as an attempt to buy time. "Nothing will come out of talking to the visiting delegation. When all the parties were present at the New Delhi meet, nothing happened. Then what can we expect from their visit here," said Geelani. The separatists have, in fact, issued a prolonged "protest calendar," asking the people to work during the night and stage protest demonstrations or shutdowns during the day.

Such is the practice for the past three months in the Kashmir Valley. Omar Abdullah's writ doesn't go beyond his Gupkar Road mansion and even the other mainstream political leaders and workers are in virtual hiding. The streets are alternatively ruled by protestors and security forces, with common people choosing to stay indoors. Only ground-breaking measures could have worked to restore normalcy. 

Sonia Gandhi raised some questions during the five-hour meeting. Emphasising the spirit of accommodation she said: "We must ask ourselves why there is so much anger; why is there so much pain, in particular among the youth; we must give them hope, understand and respect their legitimate aspirations". But this is hardly the time to ask questions. 

-- The writer is Srinagar correspondent of The Pioneer 







It is a strange mismatch of contexts between Kashmir and Delhi. A very Kashmiri perspective focuses on the sentiment of Kashmiri nationalism — the inhabitants of the land are to decide its future political destiny. The context in Delhi is purely operational — do what it takes to hold on to the land, irrespective of the wishes of the inhabitants. Against the milieu of divergent contexts, the entire top political leadership of the Indian State converged in New Delhi for a five-hour all-party meet, discussing Kashmir — squabbling over measures needed to restore calm in Kashmir.

Not surprisingly the outcome of the meeting was a damp squib and it was decided to send an all-party delegation to the Kashmir Valley to assess the situation. No prizes for guessing that the all-party delegation may not be able to meet the right people, because of the wrong timing of the delegation to visit. If meeting people of consequence is the objective then the timing is certainly wrong. If the objective is to be seen as trying to meet people without actually having to take the trouble of meeting them, then the timing is right.

Operational measures entailing the use of security forces to ensure calm have been overstretched and have outlived their utility. Operational measures now are firmly a part of the problem and contribute to short-term gain and long-term pain. The pyrrhic gains made by security forces in the 1990s are manifesting in the form of the angry young generation of 2010. The anger and the fearlessness displayed by the youngsters on the streets have not evolved in a vacuum. The mood in Delhi suggests a continuation of harsh operational measures, which would certainly provide some short-term gains, only to be faced with even more intensified strife in the long term.

Kashmir needs structural measures. And the best mode of doing that would have been a dialogue. But Delhi has eroded the credibility of this sacred institution over the last decade and in the Kashmir context dialogue is equated with betrayal. The offer of dialogue and failed result-less, previous rounds of dialogue has become trite. The ball is firmly in Delhi's court. The onus is on them to exhibit statesmanship. It seems very unlikely that the Prime Minister or the Home Minister does not understand the sentiment on the ground and that they do not know what it would take to resolve this issue. They just have to gather the will and conviction to deliver.

What Delhi offers to the Kashmiris is as important as how Delhi offers it to them. The most important factor is the reference point which would be a starting point for any resolution process. And the reference point would have to be the prevailing sentiment which is an independent state. Making it the reference point has strong political and psychological ramifications. Next to follow would be a process of plotting achievability on the resolution graph and charting permissible movements away from the reference point to an extent acceptable to the Kashmiris and the Indian State.

There is a talk of consensus building in Delhi over the measures to be taken by the Indian State. While one can't deny the importance of consensus in a democracy, the same cannot be used as an excuse to not deliver. The present Indian government has shown its resolve when it wanted to sign the nuclear treaty with the USA. It put its future at stake. One wonders why it can't walk the extra mile when the cost of irresolution is killing young kids in Kashmir. There as a reasonable consensus with the leftist and other liberal parties having exhibited their willingness to support liberal policies on Kashmir. More important is the fact the main Opposition party, the BJP, has been pioneering in the resolution attempts during their tenure.

The show of meekness and feeble attempts to forge a consensus are once again attempts at procrastination and a fig leaf behind the intent in putting faith in the powers of the operations by security forces to coerce the people into submission. Additionally they are hoping against hope for the fatigue factors to set in. The current round of uninterrupted curfew suggests that it not only aims at restricting movement or assembling of people but also to ensure that there is a shortage of essential commodities. 

The shelf life of a mass strife is not very long and given the coercive measures undertaken by the government this current phase will certainly start petering out. It has happened in the past also only to be resurrected with renewed vigour. What is important is the pattern. The first is the shifting of the strife away from guns to streets. The second is the intensification of every successive strife. This pattern is bound to hold and it is up to Delhi whether it wants to continue getting deluded with the false dawns or gear itself up, once and for all to actually deliver.

The writer is Chairman, J&K People's Conference 








SUPPORT from Rahul Gandhi might have provided Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah a temporary breather, but it serves little purpose in tackling the present crisis. Mr Abdullah still has to address what the prime minister has called the ' governance deficit' in the state, which lies at the root of the ongoing crisis.


The fact that the Centre has had to rope in the People's Democratic Party to tackle the crisis is testimony to the lack of faith in the CM's ability to reach out to the people.


The chief minister has failed to take even the senior leaders of his own party along, let alone engaging the opposition or the separatists.


His only political initiative was to propose the dilution of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which was a red herring of sorts aimed at deflecting attention from his government's ineptitude.


Mr Gandhi's praise for the chief minister displays a degree of naiveté in his understanding of Kashmir politics. The present turmoil in the Valley deserved much more nuanced comments from him than mere words of support for Mr Abdullah.


In fact, the post of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister was too sensitive a position for Mr Gandhi and the Congress party to have used in their larger experiment to promote a generational change in politics. Such an experiment should have ideally been about engaging with the youth of Kashmir rather than a cosmetic exercise based on the age of the chief minister.


In a parliamentary system, there is built- in provision for the removal of a Chief Minister should he fumble or be found wanting. The Congress should not try to undermine the natural processes of governance in which the system works by invoking friendship and sentiment.







THE growth vs inflation dilemma has once again returned to dog the Reserve Bank of India. By hiking the reverse repo rate ( at which it absorbs money from the system) more than the repo rate ( at which it injects liquidity), it has clearly signaled a more hawkish stand on inflation.


The monetary regulator also drew comfort from recent growth data to conclude that growth would be sustained at a high level and that it was time to focus on inflation. The numbers would appear to support that view.


Industrial production grew 13.8 per cent in July, while overall growth was robust at 8.8 per cent for the first quarter of the current fiscal, while inflation continues to rule high.


But there are signals that growth may not be as secular and broad- based as the RBI appears to believe. Credit offtake has been sluggish and many banks have already tacitly indicated that they would not be rushing to adopt the RBI's line on interest rates — whether on the lending or the deposit front.


Moreover, inflation, though high, is showing early signs of moderation. Besides, the root causes for price rise lie more on the supply side, which is not impacted by monetary policy.


If inflation does abate in the future, there is a case for easing of policy rates.








THE probe by H EADLINES T ODAY that reveals the Gujarat government lying under affidavit before the Supreme Court about the killing of a petty thief in police custody in 2002 is of a piece with its dubious record on the human rights front. As disturbing is the fact that the police officer who probed the incident and found the police version untrue was removed from the probe, threatened and saw a departmental probe initiated against him.


It is surprising that Chief Minister Narendra Modi doesn't appreciate that incidents like these — of which there have been several since he took over — are a serious blot on his government whose economic performance gets lauded and which seems to be winning elections.


Giving the police a free hand to murder people — particularly those from a minority community — they deem a threat or an inconvenience is the way of a totalitarian state, and surely an individual who presides over it can't become the prime minister of a democratic country like India as Mr Modi aspires to do one day.









BY THROWING his weight behind his friend Omar Abdullah, Rahul Gandhi has limited the options the government could have explored to defuse the crisis in Jammu and Kashmir.


After the Union government had talked of " trust deficit and governance deficit" in J& K it is difficult to imagine that his defence of Omar Abdullah was a considered political decision.


He is not alone in sending a wrong signal to the Kashmiris. Each one of the political actors has failed them in the present crisis in J& K. The central government did nothing at all to deal with the situation out of sheer indecisiveness. Instead it elevated blowing hot and cold into a policy doctrine. Things have come to such a pass that it supports shoot at sight orders one day, and sues for a dialogue for peace the next day.


The president of the main Opposition party in the state, Mehbooba Mufti, came to Delhi to make an impassioned speech about Kashmir being marooned in its own blood. Yet her actions since May this year have had the sole aim of bringing down the Omar Abdullah government by encouraging violence in the state.


Her constant refrain was that Omar Abdullah had lost the moral authority to govern. Her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed justified the protests saying that they were a direct result of the Centre's inability to respond to the sentiments of the Kashmiris. By the end of July, the PDP was asking people to launch a " war" against the " anti- people" government of Omar Abdullah.




As for Omar Abdullah, the Chief Minister of the state, the poor man has been out of his depth from day one. He has taken the politics out of Jammu and Kashmir. He failed to take charge of the administration of the state and could not tackle law and order issues at the stage where they were manageable. In effect, he failed to govern the state.


While protestors were being shot by the security forces, he was ensconced in his office or rushing to Delhi — either to seek advice or spend weekends with his wife and kids. Strictly a Monday to Thursday Chief Minister he never visited the families of those who were killed in the mass protests. He made a single hospital visit where he was shooed away by the irate families of the wounded. Omar Abdullah was and remains totally out of synch with the people of the state.


The National Conference, was meanwhile preoccupied in undermining its own chief minister. Omar, chosen by New Delhi to head the government over his own father Farooq Abdullah, had no communication with the top party functionaries including his own senior ministers. His alliance partner, the Congress party, was also paralysed by infighting. In Omar's troubles, some of them saw an opportunity to grab power and Saifuddin Soz wanted to become the chief minister. Of the other political parties, the one that shouts the most from the rooftops about Kashmir, the Bharatiya Janata Party, had absolutely no role in trying to save the situation.


The avowedly pro- Pakistan Syed Ali Shah Geelani actively encouraged his lieutenants to indulge in stone pelting and violence even while he himself was in jail. He provided the organisation and money to keep the protests going. The state and the central government were wrongly advised to release him in the hope that he would bring an end to the violent protests. Senior government functionaries later claimed they were betrayed by Geelani.




The state government was advised that the violence would come to an end after the Amarnath Yatra and definitely after Ramzan. This was more an expression of hope and had no bearing on the ground reality.


The protests in fact flared up during Eid and its aftermath. Geelani was invited along with Yasin Malik of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front by Mirwaiz Umer Farooq to offer prayers on Eid at Eidgah grounds. Geelani, who wanted to take on the National Conference and also distance himself from the rest of the separatists announced that he would address a congregation at the Hazratbal shrine on Eid. Sheikh Abdullah, the founder of the National Conference, used to address people from Hazratbal. The symbolic politics of Geelani was not lost the functionaries were that after after of ground Eid invited and Mirwaiz at to also separatists would Hazratbal the used The lost on the NC- led government which promptly arrested him.


Meanwhile, Mirwaiz and Malik marched to Lal Chowk to hold a public rally on Eid in a bid to retrieve lost ground. They were apprehensive that the credit for the proposed " Eid package" that the government was expected to announce would go entirely to Geelani — even though he was expected to reject it.


The violence began after the rally when some miscreants burnt down an electricity department office which led to the imposition of curfew. The mischief by Iranian Press TV falsely claiming the burning of the Holy Quran in America, lit the fire in the state again — especially in Shia dominated areas of Badgam and Pattan. Geelani supporters organised the protestors in Badgam and Tangmarg, where a missionary school and some government buildings were burned down and people shouted Azadi slogans. In all 18 people died that day in firing by the security forces.


The question that now bothers the political class is what would happen if a hundred people were to die in a day? The situation, they realise, has spun out of control of even people like Geelani.




An all- party delegation to J& K is the beginning of a political process of trying to listen to the people of the state. For the first time there is unanimity in realising the gravity of the situation. The Centre has talked of a governance deficit suggesting that the Omar Abdullah government is a part of the problem.


Removing Omar Abdullah and imposing Governor's rule would not resolve anything. The Governor would have no political support. Unlike the political parties, he has no cadres who can take on the forces of murder and mayhem politically.


The only way out is for all political parties to join hands. One way of doing that was to form an all- party government in J& K representing all the stakeholders in the democratic process. There are only two leaders tall enough who could lead such a government — Mufti Mohammad Sayeed of the PDP or Farooq Abdullah of the NC. However, Rahul Gandhi in rushing to protect Omar Abdullah has probably limited this option. Now the question of the PDP joining such a government does not arise. Despite all its faults and rank opportunism, the PDP is not an anti- India political formation. It still enjoys legitimacy with the people. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's track record as the chief minister of the state is good and people remember him for his human touch.


Were the PDP to be marginalised, there would be no support left for India in Kashmir.


There can be no peace without getting him and the other political actors on board.


In the long run then there is no way that Omar Abdullah can stay on as the chief minister. Whether his friend Rahul Gandhi likes it or not, he has become like a red rag to a bull. The chaos in Kashmir will therefore continue and protests will not abate — not even after US President Obama's visit to India is over, as some in the government fervently hope.








COME September was a 1961 romantic comedy, starring Rock Hudson.


But in the context of Indian cricket, it is the most serious and important month in which careers in administration are made and marred.


Also in September, a new domestic cricket season begins; most associations affiliated with the Board of Control for Cricket in India ( BCCI) finalise their balance sheets and hold their annual general body meetings; new committees are constituted; new support staff for teams are hired; and, above all, the BCCI holds its AGM in the last week of the month.


That's not all. The incumbent officials as well as those aspiring to join the board get jittery in September. They also become extra cautious and take care of their health so that they don't miss the crucial meetings.


And when it's time for the meetings, those in power ensure that they retain their positions while the aspirants pull the right strings to get into either the BCCI or one of its 30 affiliated units. This September is no different as people have already started warming up for the BCCI AGM on the 29th in Mumbai.


Former BCCI treasurer Kishore Rungta remembers many of his colleagues who suddenly developed ' September blues'. " Foremost, I remember September because my birthday is on the 24th. When I was in the BCCI, I cut my birthday cake at the AGM on five occasions, much against the wishes of my family.


When I was Board treasurer, I requested my colleagues not to hold the AGM on the 24th, so that I can be with my family," Rungta, who was elected treasurer on his birthday in 1998, told M AIL T ODAY from Jaipur.


Rungta disclosed that some officials used to become too conscious close to the board meetings and AGM in August and September. " I know that quite a few officials suddenly developed a fear of flying due to bumpy flights," he said.


" I remember, when Ranbir Singh Mahendra ( a former president of BCCI and Haryana Cricket Association), was going from Delhi to Bangalore to attend a working committee meeting he was caught in a bumpy flight near Hyderabad. I was sitting next to him and he was so scared that he must have read Hanuman Chalisa at least 20 times during this period of onflight turbulence." Former India Test off- spinner and selector Shivlal Yadav was an even worse flyer. " When he was a national selector, he would never travel by air; instead he would prefer the train. And when he was appointed manager of the Indian team for a tour of Australia, some officials spoke against him by pointing to his fear of flying," he said of the Hyderabadi. " I have seen the true colours of these officials."


]Niranjan Shah, a former BCCI secretary, agreed with Rungta on the significance of September.


" At the AGM there are elections.


Generally, you look forward to some changes in the board. A new domestic season begins immediately after the AGM so new decisions are taken for the upcoming season," he said.


According to former BCCI treasurer Jyoti Bajpai, " Normally, there are festivities in September.


But it is also the month in which associations complete the financial statements of their accounts and approve them." The veteran official is now a director in the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association ( UPCA).


" This time, the UPCA will hold its AGM on September 30, a day after the BCCI AGM," says Bajpai.



WHY did the " minority opposition" in the Delhi and District Cricket Association ( DDCA) back out from contesting the elections scheduled for September 30? It was because DDCA president Arun Jaitley promised " pura samman " ( full respect) to them, say sources close to the last- minute conciliatory negotiations between him and the opposition.

In return, the opposition withdrew its candidates, paving the way for Jaitley and almost all other top officials getting reelected without a contest.


" Before the deadline for the withdrawal of nominations, Jaitley called the ' minority opposition' — the new name coined for the rivals — to his office and requested them to take back their names and promised to extend ' pura samman ' to them in the upcoming cricket season that includes the World Cup," said the source. " He treated them well and even offered them food. But, going by the history of broken promises, somewhere in a corner of their minds, they are still not expecting much." Sameer Bahadur had filed his nomination to challenge Jaitley for the DDCA top post before pulling out of the race.


Among the assurances that Jaitley has given to Bahadur and others pertains to the four World Cup matches that Kotla will be hosting during February- April. He said that members of the opposition would not have to beg and run around for their rightful complimentary tickets for these matches. " He said that they would be given the tickets in proper envelops, like the office bearers are given," said the source.




THE anonymous hockey " well wisher" who has been ' feeding' the media with inside information from key meetings has taken a back seat for the moment.


But another anonymous e- mail sender has raised some really pertinent points ahead of the annual general body meeting and elections of the supposedly ' merged' Indian Hockey Federation ( IHF) scheduled for October 3 in New Delhi.


The KPS Gill- headed IHF, which claims that the Indian Women's Hockey Association has merged with it, has sent notices to its affiliated units to nominate one male and one female as " authorised representatives" to vote with the exception of the Services and Air India, who have been asked to nominate one representative each.


But the anonymous e- mail, sent this week from ' chakdeindia' ID, raised questions about the sports ministry's role in the IHF elections, making people think seriously about the issues involved.


It is, however, advised that people should take the contents of this mail with caution. The email sender alleges that the ministry's real reason for keeping quiet on the IHF elections, unlike that of Hockey India's in the recent past, is to clear the path for former India captain Pargat Singh to be elected as an office bearer ( he had lost to Vidya Stokes in the recent election for the presidentship of Hockey India).


The writer points out in his e- mail: "( 1) No election guidelines are being insisted upon by the ministry sports; ( 2) No insistence by the ministry on a retired high court judge to conduct elections; ( 3) No nominations/ withdrawal/ final list of candidates.


What is the ministry doing now?; ( 4) All nominations will be on the floor of the house and elections will take place after that. This fraud is only to get Pargat elected; ( 5) What more can the ministry do to get Pargat elected as president after his loss in the Hockey India elections." The writer, who is clearly someone associated with one of the several camps in the big, bad politics of Indian hockey, has made a few more harsher points, but they can't be reproduced here.








Are we alone in the universe? If not, were women originally from Venus and men from Mars? If yes, is that why man's smart, woman's smarter? Such abiding questions defy, human understanding. But the mother of all posers, men say, is this: what do women want? Baffling university wits, it's yet spawned all-male armies of gender warriors brandishing answers. 

The latest to get drafted is Italy's billionaire PM. He says women chase guys who're "nice", "loaded" and smooth with the ladies. In short, what women want is him, Silvio Berlusconi! Elementary, my dear what's his name. 

Silvio the seducer has other locker-room peeks into the supposedly unfathomable feminine psyche. What many women want is to marry into older men's wealth. Diamonds being a girl's best friend, he says the girl can't help but think: "He dies and i inherit." If gentlemen prefer blondes, the sisterhood's old-is-gold diggers prefer geriatrics. 

Libya's lionheart Gaddafi, meantime, knows what women need. When in Rome and not doing as the Romans do, he takes to advising Italian beauties to undergo religious conversion. At an event not far from the Vatican! pretty invitees were sometime ago reportedly exhorted to wed Libyan men, potential agents of their salvation. Berlo later visited the colonel's famed portable tent, confident of turf. No doubt Italy's lady-killer felt no threat from the Pied Piper of Tripoli. 

But 'studies' on what women want backs neither leader's insights. One says Travolta-style boogieing gives gals Saturday night fever. Another says brains beat brawn to the aisle. Women aren't after Mr Universes, but nerds! Yes, the bespectacled kind married to the laptop and pros with kitchen gadgets. Well, if the US trend of more women earning PhDs than men catches on globally, girls in higher numbers could make geek salad their lifelong diet. Maybe all alpha males should just admit to sharing the profound bafflement of Dr T, protagonist of an aptly titled film, Dr T and the Women. This gynaecologist knows his female patients' most intimate aches and pains. 

Yet he has little clue about women as complex, many-splendoured women! If his wife's descent into childlike madness is one hard lesson, his scotched dalliance with an all-too-sane golf instructor is another. Is it because he thought he had all the answers? Such as when he tells his golfer girlfriend to run away with him because he rich, handsome, smart, successful can take care of her. Her reply: why would she want to be taken care of? What say, sugar daddies? 

Another Hollywood blockbuster's hero peeps deeper into femininity: he can hear women think! Yet he ends up none the wiser, falling for the very office rival whose brain he picks! Colonising Venus takes more than the ability to speak "Venusian", it seems, more so when women belong to earth. The film's name? What Women Want! 

Clearly, there's no Silvio bullet to knowing a girl's heart. Nor is womankind just made up of ladies gaga. So, how about asking what women don't want?







Critics have suggested that some profit-minded microfinance institutions (MFIs) have failed to lower interest rates and are exploiting the poor. Others think MFIs should be non-profits or "sustainable non-profit maximising" entities focussed solely on social outcomes. 

Having followed microfinance for almost a decade and funded both for-profit ( SKS which recently IPO-ed) and non-profit ventures ( CASHPOR), i believe each competing model has a role. For-profits are likely to scale faster, albeit with mixed goals and some abandonment of the less profitable ultra poor. Non-profits prove out new models and work in certain areas where for-profit ventures don't work. 

Early this decade, i studied microfinance's poverty alleviation potential with trips to India and to Bangladesh, microfinance's birthplace. My wife and i met with professor Muhammad Yunus and other pioneers. We met poor women learning about financial services that westerners take for granted. I also saw the ugly side of non-profits with valuable donor resources supporting studies that were done more for funding western researchers or to make large institutions' self-serving justifications on impact while poor consumers were yearning for services in the marketplace. 

On that trip, we saw the human face of my studies: microfinance enables women to improve their socio-economic condition, and sometimes become successful local employers. The intelligence and drive these women exhibited mirrored that of Silicon Valley's best entrepreneurs, for whom i had spent the previous decades providing venture assistance. Furthermore, world-class management techniques were pioneered by the for-profit MFIs like SKS to attain something no government or large organisation could have done. 

I concentrated on discovering the critical barriers to microfinance expansion. I saw that weaning MFIs from philanthropy was critical and that accessing capital markets is essential. Do we meet the people's needs, or do we force-feed "acceptable" interest rates and throw the baby out with the bath water? If credit isn't funded by "market" rates, its availability will be limited and necessarily rationed; most viable microfinance demand will go unfunded, something left-leaning critics and institutions cannot internalise. Even for poverty alleviation, "for profit" is key to scaling except in select uneconomic domains. 

We joined other entrepreneurs to backstop a $31 million fund "loss guarantee" organised by the Grameen Foundation. The project catalysed $170 million in commercial loans to MFIs without a single default. More than one million micro-loans were funded in diverse developing markets. Commercial banks opened their eyes and our "non-profit" support was no longer needed, "proving" MFI creditworthiness. The fund established a new economic model: an excellent goal for a non-profit effort. 


I learnt that strengthening the equity base of MFIs was vital, as many were converting from non-profit trusts to regulated financing institutions. My wife and i committed $5 million to invest in MFIs, and helped attract others and spur growth. These MFIs now serve 5-50 times more clients than five years ago, something that would not have been possible had they not gone "for profit". A small equity investment in SKS has had more impact than the hundreds of millions spent by various non-profit efforts and it has made a profit for us of over Rs 400 crore, which we currently intend to use for non-profit purposes. A small risky investment has led to providing credit to the 30 million family members SKS serves, with 450,000 families (two million people) added monthly by SKS alone. 

Equity provided by social investors has prompted commercial investors, including private equity firms, to get involved. Their role is more controversial than that of commercial banks that provide loans. Reportedly, some have pushed MFIs to raise fees and interest rates, and prepare for IPOs that give them large financial exits. But capitalistic competition will minimise these profits before long. Our personal commitment is to channel any profits to other "capitalistic solutions for poverty" experiments done on a non-profit basis. There is a continuing need for social investors to instigate and demonstrate powerful new economic models. However, i suspect that global political efforts like MDG will remain largely ineffective or at least inefficient. 

What is needed to take micro-finance to the next level? First, microfinance must lead the financial services industry in responsible lending practices and stronger monitoring and regulation by authorities. Second, social investors can help countervail short-term financial objectives of purely commercial investors. Third, to ensure a poverty reduction ethos, means need to be developed to allow clients to directly benefit from IPOs. SKS's IPO has created a significant non-profit Mutual Benefit Trust in India. Last, investments in technology R&D that improve efficiency of microfinance lending are critical. 

I suspect microfinance will open up cheaper distribution channels into the rural economy and accelerate rural GDP growth, ultimately having far more impact than most of the world's foreign aid and similar non-scalable, non-sustainable efforts. Non-profits will pioneer new models until the "for-profits" come in to scale it, where possible. As the world moves beyond the financial crisis, partially caused by unethical lending practices, it is essential to ensure MFIs' ethics remain above reproach. There will be abuses of this opportunity authorities need to be vigilant and responsive. Capitalism needs policy restraint in all arenas, poverty-related or otherwise. 

The writer is the founding partner of Khosla Ventures.




                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA




Boeing's decision to enter into the space tourism business by the end of 2015 follows similar plans by Virgin Galactic. This extension of tourism's frontiers beyond earth is revolutionary. Boeing is developing a low-earth orbit Crew Space Transportation capsule that will shuttle astronauts to and from the International Space Station. A futuristic idea now looks very much contemporary and about to be realised. Space will no longer remain the final frontier to be conquered. It may open unexplored avenues for mankind and hence, marks a giant step forward. 

Space has always fascinated humans and as such, the idea of space tourism has coloured numerous sci-fi movies and literature. Primal as the urge to explore might be, what is striking is that space exploration has remained so far a government monopoly. As a corollary, space programmes have been reduced to a mere extension of strategic objectives. 

Such a Cold War prism has limited the endless possibilities of space exploration. If human beings have to fundamentally transform their interaction with space, such conservatism must be junked. With the Cold War over and space agency budgets being slashed, it makes sense to do so. 

Besides, an independent space industry along the lines of a private sector enterprise makes a lot of business sense in the long run. As of now, much of the work of the space industry is spent on developing new technology, without any economic returns. Even if space tourism begins as an elite activity, it will help the industry to diversify. Revenues generated can be utilised for financing new technologies, which may in future bring down the cost of space travel itself. 

The history of aviation offers a precedent: planes were initially put to government and military use, before the great commercial airlines began to develop in the 1930s. We can envisage a future when it becomes routine to take a holiday in space. Venturing into space may, in fact, be the next inevitable step in man's evolution.






It is all very well to daydream about blasting off into space and spending the weekend at the International Space Station. But the fact is space tourism is an inherently risky proposition, more so if left to private operators. It is precisely for this reason that the efforts of companies such as Boeing to pioneer a commercial space tourism industry should not be encouraged. Travelling into space is hardly a Sunday picnic. Professional astronauts undergo intensive training for years before they are fit to be part of a manned space mission. They have hundreds of people backing them up and providing technical support. Billions of dollars are spent to put together the infrastructure needed for such a project and to ensure the most stringent safety standards. 

However, despite the constant planning and the technical expertise at the disposal of space agencies such as NASA, things still go wrong the tragic fate of the space shuttle Columbia and astronaut Kalpana Chawla is a case in point. If we have private companies offering space joyrides to paying customers, there is no way of ensuring the latter's safety. For example, Virgin Galactic plans to roll out its service next year that will enable its clients to go on a two-hour trip beyond the Earth's atmosphere during which they will get to experience six minutes of weightlessness. Any number of things could go wrong on such a flight. The slightest miscalculation could end in disaster. 

Manned space missions should only be carried out by agencies and professionals whose job it is to study space. It is only they who clearly understand the risks involved. Governments have a moral responsibility to protect their citizens from businesses that have no qualms about selling a potentially hazardous product. And space tourism is definitely one such product. Besides, given the rising pressures on mass transport systems on Earth, it would be far better to entice private companies to develop new modes of public transport for the grassroots instead of designing passenger capsules for space junkies. 








The continuing violence in Kashmir points to a moral contest between the crowds agitating in the streets and the government. The decision to send an all-party delegation to the state to talk to various sections of Kashmiri opinion is a good one, though it is rather late in the day. A number of other ideas are in circulation. At base, there is a tussle on, which is a moral one. Neither side has covered itself in glory. As citizens of India, we must be concerned with the actions of both sides. 

There is no doubt that the greatest moral failing of the government is the killing and injury of protesters. The government may say that confronted by huge crowds it is forced to deal with law and order by ordering policemen to fire. The question is whether or not there are other ways of dealing with the crowds. 

This is not an easy question to answer. In the long run, the government, as the prime minister has said publicly, will look to use non-lethal ways of dealing with unruly crowds. In the meantime, the government has the standard means of dealing with large protests: barricading the crowd, the lathicharge, use of water cannons, teargas, and firing. What is unclear is why teargas and firing are being used quite so frequently. Are the crowds simply too big or are the security forces over-reacting? Force is an option in social life, but morally speaking we should be convinced the government uses it when all else has failed and uses it with great care. 

None of the reportage from Kashmir thus far answers the question. Yet as citizens we should want to know the answer, for we tacitly support the government. Kashmir is not the only place in India where the question applies. Government forces are used all over the country, but especially so in the north-east to quell separatists and in central India to battle Maoists

The government must be as certain about its use of force as it is possible to be. In order to do this, it should institute an independent commission of inquiry. The commission should be headed not by a government insider but rather by someone of great public standing. The commission might consist of other eminent people from various walks of life. Above all, it should not only consist of former judges and government functionaries. It should have on it lawyers, business executives, retired journalists, social activists, academics, and artists and writers. The commission should receive written and oral testimony from officials. 

What is happening in Kashmir is not just the result of the actions and decisions of the government. It is also the result of choices made by Kashmiris. Those who are leading the protests bear responsibility also for the violence. Clearly, they have been unable to prevent the destruction of property and injury to policemen. Nor have they been able to stop the crowd from becoming increasingly provocative. In some cases, they have incited escalation. The moral calculation here is whether or not it is worthwhile to risk lives in this way. 

Azadi may be the animating cry, but given the enormous geopolitical and political implausibility of independence for Kashmir, it is time that the leaders of the protests articulated some achievables instead. At least four demands make immediate sense: the pardoning of those who are in prison for relatively minor offences; the dismantling of visible signs of government repression (e.g. sandbagged checkpoints everywhere); punishment of those policemen guilty of the Mattoo and other unprovoked killings; and suspension if not revocation of laws such as AFSPA (suspension would perhaps be a good interim measure while the government takes stock). In addition, for the longer term, they should ask for the resumption of talks with the Indian government

Government economic programmes and delegations in search of dialogue are fine, but the real issue for now is the uses and limits of social violence. Both sides have to balance the temptation to use violence against what violence achieves. Neither the government nor the protesters have sufficiently done that balancing. It is not too late.









The HRD ministry's decision to start teaching Mandarin in CBSE schools is a positive move


Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal is clearly a follower of Confucius who once said, "If language is not correct, what is said is not meant..." Something perhaps that India and China could well do without. So, Mr Sibal's initiative to introduce Mandarin in the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) curriculum will go a long way towards exciting interest in schools about China, still largely a mystery to most Indians who seem to identify far more with more distant lands like the US. Mr Sibal is on the right track, given that China is not just a powerful neighbour but also a huge consumer of global resources. Just about everything we take for granted is made in that country. And, definitely, language is a huge connector as we have seen in the case of English.


The average Indian connects far more with things English than anything in the neighbourhood and in this context, it would do well if Mandarin would catch on among our young people.
The Chinese are already making every effort to send their young professionals to countries like India and it would make eminent sense for us to reciprocate. The fact that India has eased the cap on visas for the Chinese shows that we are keen on making it easier for us to intermingle at the professional level. India has been the beneficiary of having had English as a universal language, despite the efforts of many leaders to impose vernacular languages on us. States like West Bengal have suffered hugely because of this insular approach. It makes sense in a globalised world to enable our people to learn as many international languages as possible. The United Nations recognises several languages most of which students in India opt for. But, we have rarely looked at Asia as a potential field for acquiring either new jobs or language skills. Maybe this is what has spurred Mr Sibal to introduce Mandarin into the syllabus.


What his ministry now needs to do is to encourage more interaction at the school and university level in the form of scholarships and academic exchanges. We have perhaps been far too West-focused in our approach to education. If China reciprocates the gesture to introduce Mandarin into our school syllabus, with perhaps introducing Hindi into theirs, a foundation could be laid for not just greater interaction at the learning level but at the level of erasing misapprehensions that have plagued our relations historically. Both China and India have huge civilisational traditions that are not understood enough in each country. If the language barrier is lowered, maybe other more intractable barriers will also fall if both countries really put their minds to it.









Prescriptions for the future often lie in lessons of the past. Those grappling with the volatile anger of the Kashmir valley today may serve their own understanding well with a willingness to travel back in time. They won't even have to travel too far back or too long a distance. Rewinding this nightmarish reel to one of its earlier images may help us understand the script better.


It was on June 11 that 17-year-old Tufail Mattoo — now an international buzzword for all the wrong reasons — was killed when walking home from a tuition class. A teargas shell — apparently meant for protestors on the street —  burst open Tufail's head instead and his sudden, tragic death marked the beginning of Kashmir's summer of discontent. Later — as we sat in a room where placards demanding justice for his death were stacked up against the tiny windowsills, blocking all the sunshine that once streamed into this home — Tufail's father spoke to me about 'stone-pelters'. A soft-spoken, stoic man whose tears had been been consumed by a quiet anger, Tufail's father had a question. His son, he said, had never hurled a stone at anyone, but "won't incidents like this one bring more boys out on the streets?" he asked.


His words were both prescient and unheeded. Much has been said about all the mistakes made in the aftermath of Tufail's death. If anything, these three months have been a blueprint for how not to handle a crisis. But if, going forward we are ready to learn and re-invent at all, it is at Tufail Mattoo's house that the all-party delegation must begin its outreach to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Politicians have been arguing over how many protests in the valley are "spontaneous" and how many are "orchestrated", finally leading the Prime Minister himself to concede to a complex mix of both. In this tragically polarised "bullets-for-stones" debate, even the most strident nationalist cannot justify why a teenage boy who was looking forward to his 18th birthday should die for no fault of his, other than the fact that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.


So, let a visit to his house be the beginning of a humane intervention in the valley. The fact that the finance minister and the home minister are both going to be part of this political delegation is a signal by the UPA that this is not a mere cosmetic intervention. Now, let them show imagination and empathy by breaking free from a bureaucratic schedule of meetings that may only allow them to engage with yes-men. The worst thing that could happen is for this delegation of politicians to be locked away in a sanitised, sarkari bungalow, where carefully chosen shikaarawallahs and carpet-sellers get five-minute audiences with the bada sahebs. Quite, simply, if you want to preach only to the converted, don't expect an evangelical impact.


No, indeed. Let our politicians walk through the stillness of curfew-torn Srinagar; let them meet the boys and girls at the university and wrestle with their intractable anger; let them spend a day with a hapless local policeman and see how he is crushed between the volatile rage  on the streets and the duty of his uniform and let them look the alarming and growing radicalisation of the valley's youth straight in the eye and ask themselves what Congress president Sonia Gandhi seemed to ready to talk about: "why are they so angry with us?"


In an extraordinary election in 2008, all eight assembly seats in Srinagar voted for the National Conference, despite a failed call by the separatists to raise the stakes of the election to that of a 'referendum'. So, why is it in 2010 that neither the elected representatives nor the separatists seem to have any control of the street? Whatever else he may be faulted for, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was quintessentially candid when he said the protests were "largely leaderless". It is into this political vacuum that some of India's most prominent politicians are stepping in. They cannot afford to be frightened of the backlash of anger and yes, maybe even a hurled shoe or two. In the circumstances, it would be a small price to pay. So let our all-party delegation not stay away from hospitals in Srinagar because the security establishment declares it to be too 'risky'.


There is, at this moment, an ethical obligation on the separatist leadership as well to meet New Delhi's initiative at least a quarter of the way. Protest calendars that now urge people to target army posts have triggered the inevitable intervention of the Army jointly policing the streets of Srinagar — something it was sharply averse to when the crisis first erupted. Separatists have argued that talking in the present environment is 'useless'. Well, so is doing nothing and watching the street slip into near anarchy. In 2008, Kashmir had managed to mainstream separatist sentiments into the wider embrace of electoral politics. Regional parties introduced the competitive slogans of self-rule and greater autonomy  into the political lexicon. In 2010, the moderates within the Hurriyat Conference are faced with near-irrelevance if they just keep watching from the margins.  And yes, the onus is on New Delhi to strengthen the moderates instead of seeking to divide them . History will always pose a tough question to Delhi's intelligence establishment. Wasn't it better off dealing with the pro-azaadi Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front than with the fundamentalism that was  later imported from across the border?


And for those who believe that a humane approach disrespects the Indian soldier, try asking the soldier what he wants. 
Does he really want to live his days locked into an endless, repetitive cycle of hostile confrontation? Perhaps when our politicians are actually there, the distant gaze of Delhi may transform into a tighter close-up of the grim reality that is Jammu and Kashmir today.


Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV n The views expressed by the author are personal


.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





Salman Khan tells a Pakistani TV channel that 26/11 was hyped because the elite were targeted. He is branded an anti-national.


Arundhati Roy has admittedly extreme views on nearly everything from Naxals to big dams. Her condemnation of the Indian state leads to the charge: she is an anti-national.


Congress MPs say the Commonwealth Games are linked to 'India's prestige', criticism, therefore, is anti-national. 
Unfortunately for them, the evidence of corruption, inefficiency and sheer shoddiness is so overwhelming that we're all anti-national for raising our eyebrows. Yet, we continue to believe India's image is somehow linked to these Games.


On national networks, anchors with no pretence to journalistic objectivity jump onto the national/anti-national bandwagon over the Kashmir issue: demands to dilute army presence are anti-national. And any mention of the 'a' word (as in az**i) makes you not only an anti-national but a Pakistani agent too.


I like the idea of belonging to a nation. I like standing up when the national anthem is played. I like the deep blue of my passport. And, yes, I hope as hell the Commonwealth Games go off without a hitch — as long as we nail the crooks afterwards.


I like the fact that I live in New Delhi and celebrate Ganesh Utsav as my husband's grandparents did in Girgaum, Mumbai, taking my Ganpati idol for immersion into the Yamuna like hundreds of other Maharashtrians who live here. I like that our Constitution gives us the right to live anywhere, follow any religion (or none at all) and, with reasonable restrictions, practise free speech.


Yet ours is a complex democracy, with multiple voices, multiple identities and multiple problems. This has only been compounded with the growth in media platforms, including the internet and blogs, where this multiplicity finds expression.


But along with expression there's also been a hardening of stands and an easy tossing about of labels: pseudo-secular, anti-national, chaddiwala etc. Our growing intolerance to listen to each other or accommodate dissenting opinions is frightening and goes against our understanding of what makes India great. It limits public discourse. I might not agree with Salman Khan or Arundhati Roy or the candle-wavers at the Wagah border, but as long as they're not breaking the law, I recognise the right of every Indian to hold a view.


In our increasingly polarised public discourse, suspicion and labelling make for easy victims. If you're a Christian and object to the killing and burning of churches in Kandhamal, you are suspect: it is your religious belief not conviction in humanity that prompts you to speak up. If Salman Khan says 26/11 was hyped because terror targets included luxury hotels — a view that has been expressed before — we conclude that he is speaking as a Muslim (and the fact that he is speaking to a Pakistani TV station inevitably leads us to question his loyalty to the nation).


The right to disagree and hold a contrary view is a fundamental right of any democracy. In our democracy, this becomes even more important because so many of us simply don't have a voice: the tribals in Chhattisgarh, the stone-throwing children of Kashmir, the victims of terror attacks, the mothers of Manipur.


But the price of suppressing dissent is high. We've seen that in Kashmir where an incident-free year was seen as evidence of things returning to normalcy. Today, an anguished Sonia Gandhi asks, where is this anger coming from?
Perhaps it is coming from our refusal to listen to the rumblings beneath the surface. Perhaps it is coming from our refusal to listen to opinions that didn't neatly tie in with 'national interest'.


What is national interest or rather what is anti-national? If an opinion can become anti-national, then how anti-national is it to tolerate corrupt politicians who occupy public space; or rigged tenders by public sector undertakings to suit a particular business group; or judges with questionable reputations; or the murder of female foetuses and the suppression of women? All of this could well be anti-national. But also anti-national is this: the refusal to listen to another voice.


Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal








Sometimes better is just not good enough, and it is welcome news that the government is reconsidering some of the provisions of the Copyright Amendment Bill 2010. At present, the bill acknowledges the need to provide cover to the disabled from copyright provisions, by allowing the automatic conversion of reading material into "specially designed" formats, essentially Braille. Under the 1957 law, as it currently stands, permission has to be taken from copyright holders each time a text is desired to be made available to the visually challenged, or "persons with print-disabilities". However, as activists have pointed out, the amendment bill does not acknowledge the revolution in reading technology that's taken place since 1957.


So it's no small victory that the human resource development ministry is now expected to incorporate changes in the legislation to allow conversion to any format, and not necessarily just Braille. These include audio, formats with large text, as well as e-texts that give the reader the option of screen-reading software. The changes will, hopefully, do away with the earlier proposed licensing system for conversion to a multiplicity of formats, and make it easier, not just for an organisation but also for a print-disabled person, to access reading matter.


That last intervention is necessary because improvements ine-texts have made it easy for an individual to access matter in ways suited to her situation; the law must be nimble enough to allow her that feeling of agency, and therefore liberation. The legislation must also be forward-looking in accommodating easier conversion of reading material that may come with technological improvements in the future.







The University of Madras doesn't know exactly when Rajasekaran Sham registered there as a student, or even what degree he left with. It was probably an MBBS, and it was some time in the 1960s, they think. This is mildly embarrassing for them now, because Sham, a successful radiologist, died a couple of years ago — and left half of a considerable fortune to his old university. They will use the Rs 18.6 crore to construct an indoor stadium and three hostels, of which the vice-chancellor said the university's students are in dire need.


In many parts of the world, this news would hardly be as earth-shattering as it is in India. That Sham had moved to the United States is unlikely to be a coincidence: at this time of year, colleges across that country open their doors to alumni in what is known as "homecoming" season. Pampered alumni return to sports events, pep rallies — and constant demands for gifts, or "to be remembered in your will." East Asia has successfully adopted this model; the state-run University of Hong Kong recently launched an "alumni challenge" which has raised $100 million a year in three successive years.


Perhaps it is because our universities and colleges still look to Britain, where an "alumni challenge" would be considered a bit infra dig — if not a mortal injury to academic freedom and state support — that Indian colleges haven't adopted close economic links to their alumni. There are exceptions, such as Nandan Nilekani's gifts to IIT-Powai; but even at the IITs, there was a revealing flap in 2000 when some alumni in Silicon Valley demanded, as a condition for their fundraising, that the IITs consider moving towards allowing a mix of entrepreneurship and pure engineering to be taught. The government's reactions have reinforced the distance: the HRD ministry once tried to route all donations through a "Bharat Shiksha Kosh" fund. Both the state and its tame academic administrations need to step back further and announce that a university's stakeholders include its alumni — and if, in return for giving you money, they suggest a few changes, they should be worth listening to.







Eighteen years is a long time for a wound to scab over — even Ayodhya, which once threatened to tear India apart, is now mere memory. There is an entire generation with no recall of the events of December 6, 1992. The lead actors of that movement are slowly fading from the political mainstream. The BJP, which came to power on the crest of the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, is now maintaining a studied silence as it awaits the verdict of September 24, and appears keen to let the matter lie.


However, India is still on alert, and it is a measure of how incendiary and big the issue once was, and how dangerous the cinders of the movement could still prove to be. Religious bodies like Deoband's Darul Uloom have appealed for a calm and composed reaction. Both the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government have been emphatic in their assurances of control. Chief Minister Mayawati had asked for about 63,000 paramilitary personnel to prepare for any eventualities, and while the Centre has considerably scaled down that request, the state is still on full alert for any signs of trouble. From the prime minister onwards, every level of administration is on guard. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to observe other parties like the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, which also have stakes in the Ayodhya drama. It is election time in Bihar, and given that one of Lalu Prasad's biggest talking points has been his decisive intervention in stopping the rath yatra and getting L.K. Advani arrested, he is unlikely to let this chance go by. However, so far, all mainstream parties have refrained from scoring political points from the old trauma of Ayodhya.


However, the danger could lie in other quarters — those with little investment in stability, those who use this reminder to rake up the anger and bitterness of the past. The VHP has launched a large-scale campaign to stoke up sentiment about the Ram temple, and in the event of a polarising verdict, it would not be difficult to imagine these mobilisations leading to real violence. The peril, perhaps, is not in the facts of the case but in how it could be taken up to rally the disaffected. Inchoate social or economic dissatisfactions could seize this opportunity to express themselves. While it is true that this kind of politics of resentment has been largely replaced by a more buoyant and constructive one, it would be unwise to disregard the possibility altogether. Given how significant and consequential the Ayodhya dispute has been, it is only right for all sensible political forces to draw together to avert trouble.








Having squandered some of the best years in the history of India's external relations, the UPA government's defence policy is now condemned to deal with some of the worst. Through much of its first term in government, the UPA had a relatively peaceful Jammu and Kashmir, a ceasefire on the borders with Pakistan, a measure of stability in Afghanistan, tranquil borders with China, and improving relations with all the major powers.


That was the moment to undertake some comprehensive defence sector reforms, do the groundwork for rapid military modernisation, alter the internal dynamics of Kashmir, and catch up with China's rising power potential.


Sadly, the UPA government did not. It now confronts the prospect of the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan, a breakdown in the peace process with Pakistan, a stalled boundary negotiation with China, internal turbulence in Kashmir, China's questioning of India's sovereignty over J&K, and deepening Sino-Pak cooperation across the board, including in Jammu and Kashmir.


Meanwhile, the government's hand-wringing in face of a crisis in Kashmir and the serious internal discord in the Congress party raise questions about the political will of the Indian state under the UPA government. It will be no surprise if India's adversaries want to take advantage of widely perceived fecklessness in Delhi.


As the idea of a two-front military tension gains ground — the thesis that has been argued not just by the former National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra but also by General Deepak Kapoor, when he was the chief of army staff — amidst a worsening regional security environment, India's military faces great challenges.


There is nothing in the publicly available excerpts from the remarks of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Defence Minister A.K. Antony at the combined commanders meeting last Monday to suggest that Delhi is gearing up. The defence ministry continues to return money approved by Parliament for building arms year after year. The annual spending on defence as a percentage of GDP has fallen to one of its lowest levels since border clashes with China in 1962.


Although arms makers from around the recession-hit advanced world are queuing up in Delhi, our defence ministry seems unable to develop an acquisition process that can grasp the opportunity for a significant expansion of India's defence industrial base.


While the Indian private sector is eager to build advanced arms manufacturing capabilities, the defence ministry seems to think that stuffing contracts down the throat of public sector units that are choking with orders they cannot execute is in the best national interest.


Cynics would say we should forget the tall talk of a defence industrial base when the UPA government cannot even build roads on our borders. The prime minister told the combined commanders that "border infrastructure" is an "integral part" of our defence preparedness and the task must be approached with some "urgency". Well put. But is any one in the government responsible for getting this done?


On his part, Antony told the brass that India "cannot lose sight of the fact that China has been improving its military and physical infrastructure" on our borders. This probably is the understatement of the decade, for China's transformation of the transport infrastructure in Yunnan, Tibet, and Xinjiang, the provinces that border South Asia, has been nothing short of revolutionary. China's decision to build road and rail networks across the borders of these provinces is bound to transform forever the geopolitics of our neighbourhood.


One wonders if Antony's statement that we should not lose sight of the PLA's new mobility along and across its border is an abstract philosophical statement or a commitment to respond.


A recent report from the parliamentary standing committee on defence suggests the progress on road-building on our northern frontiers has been simply pathetic. According to the report, of the 277 roads that the UPA government decided to build a few years ago, only 29 have been completed to date. There is said to be progress of sorts (think Commonwealth Games) on another 168 roads, and work has not even started on 80 projects.


The state of border road-building is symptomatic of the nation's larger defence paralysis. A national disaster like the 1962 debacle with China awaits the UPA government if it does not get its defence act together quickly. In 1962, it was Delhi's failure to understand the significance of Chinese road-building in Ladakh that set off the crisis.


The debacle of 1962 was not really a military disaster. The Indian army lost only a few battles. The air force was barely used. There was not much of a navy to talk about. As China administered a limited amount of force to teach India a lesson, the war was lost in the mind of a Delhi that was utterly unprepared.


The tragedy of 1962 was in essence a failure of the civilian leadership of our military. It was about the naive assumptions about the world that India's political leadership had cherished. Delhi had then misread China's interests, intentions and capabilities.


For many, a national disgrace of the kind seen in 1962 is unimaginable in the current environment. Has not India become a much stronger economy since the early 1990s? Is not its military much more capable than in 1962? The fact, however, is that India's relative defence gains have been outstripped by the more rapid advances in Chinese military power.


As Chinese power today radiates at us not just from across the Himalayas but also the Indian Ocean, Delhi's problem is neither the lack of financial resources nor the absence of military/ technical solutions. It is about the UPA government's political will to address the defence challenges purposefully.


There are two ways in which nations cope with defence challenges. One is to mobilise the nation's own resources and restructure the defence apparatus. The other is to leverage external opportunities. Any serious Indian defence strategy must do both, much like it did after 1962. But is there any one out there in charge of India's defence policy?








There is palpable tension in the air at 24, Akbar Road. Senior Congress leaders are twitchy with anticipation of a reshuffle, both in the organisation and the Union cabinet. The crowds outside their offices are disgruntled too, with their many stories about the organisational election and its perceived wrongs.


A powerful general secretary in the Chhattisgarh Congress, for instance, got 11 of his relatives and associates "elected" as PCC delegates. The list of 199 delegates from the state also included at least four paid party employees. Sensing outrage in the rank and file, the Central leadership has withheld the PCC list but nobody is convinced. The octogenarian AICC treasurer ,Motilal Vora, still remains a source of strength to many in his home state.


Parliamentarians and legislators from Uttar Pradesh talk of "massive corruption" in the organisational elections, with details of how PCC delegate-lists, elected through due process, were changed later. Party workers held a sit-in outside the Congress headquarters in New Delhi. Within days, UPCC delegates were asked to meet in Lucknow and they passed a "unanimous resolution" authorising Congress president Sonia Gandhi to nominate their state unit chief. The UPCC was sharply divided between loyalists of the incumbent chief, Rita Bahuguna Joshi, and those of the Congress Legislature Party leader Pramod Tiwari. A direct election could have given a measure of their standing, but Central leaders like Digvijaya Singh were present at the UPCC meeting to ensure the unanimous resolution.


The Punjab Congress has also been murmuring about favouritism and nepotism — 65 of the 235 PCC delegates are said to be related to influential leaders. They are expected to meet to pass the unanimous resolution authorising Sonia Gandhi to nominate the PCC president.


Over a dozen newly elected PCCs, equally divided over the choice of leaders, have already passed similar resolutions and the rest are in the process. To sum up the organisational election in the Congress: from booth to block, district and state level committees, delegates were "allotted" to influential leaders at different levels and then "elected" unanimously.


When Rahul Gandhi was inducted as AICC general secretary in September 2007, he had set out to end the nomination culture, holding internal elections in the Youth Congress and the NSUI. On Thursday in Kolkata, he reiterated that he was responsible only for the Youth Congress and the NSUI, and he could not tell others about their responsibility.


Many in the 125-year-old party are unconvinced. The "future of the Congress" cannot be confined to any boundaries, and he is not averse to expanding his outreach — from Bundelkhand in UP and Vidarbha in Maharashtra to the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa. His increasing interest in party affairs and governance has been noted with satisfaction. So why was he looking the other way when his party junked his ideas of internal democracy?


While Sonia Gandhi's re-election as Congress president was always a fait accompli, his ideas could have been implemented at least up to the state level. It would have also provided a reality check about the worth of many state satraps who punch above their electoral weight in the organisation.


When Indira Gandhi started the process of centralising power, her decision was prompted by the bitter battle of succession that she had to fight with the Syndicate of powerful regional leaders with a mass-base. While Sonia Gandhi faced some early resistance — especially from the Sharad Pawar-P.A. Sangma-Tariq Anwar triumvurate — those times were different. Many within and outside the party could then contemplate a Congress beyond the Nehru-Gandhi family. But today, an ambitious Congressman would shudder to think of the party without the family. And yet, Rahul is reluctant to implement his "revolutionary idea" in the party.


For all his fresh appeal to the young, Rahul does not appear averse to the old-fashioned way of politics — evident from his tolerance for those with dubious backgrounds, in the Youth Congress and its parent organisation. Maqsood Khan, the Youth Congress president of East Zone, UP, is a case in point. He had reportedly been booked under the Gangster Act and even jailed, but these charges were dismissed as "politically motivated". The newly-elected Bihar Youth Congress president, Lallan Kumar, was known as the right-hand man of Pappu Yadav, who was convicted for an MLA's murder. At a recent rally in Saharsa, Rahul did not mind sharing the dais with Ranjeeta Ranjan, Pappu's wife, and Lovely Anand, the wife of Anand Mohan Singh who is also serving a jail term. In the Delhi University elections, the ABVP made an issue of an NSUI candidate's tainted record. During Rahul's visit to Kolkata this week, Mohammad Rafiq, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee's former pointsman, who has faced several criminal cases, was inducted into the Congress.


Many veteran Congressmen view Rahul's new tolerance as indicating his evolution as a leader, one who is learning to accept the compulsions of electoral politics. But only time will tell whether he will give in to them, or whether he is making temporary compromises for a larger purpose.








When the pace of change exceeds the pace at which organisations adapt, they risk obsolescence. Such has been the fate of dinosaurs, business organisations and empires. Speaking to the National Development Council in July, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called upon all government institutions to adapt to the changed environment in which they must deliver results to their stakeholders, and to innovate. Leading the way, under his direction, the Planning Commission had earlier embarked on its reform. It had asked thought leaders across the country what should be the purpose of a national planning commission in the 21st century.


These leaders were unanimous that whereas the Planning Commission must not continue operating as it is, the country needs an institution to foresee forces shaping its future and to project scenarios to guide policymakers and implementers in the Centre, the states, and the private sector. Change globally, and within the country, is much faster and less certain. Therefore more, rather than less, navigation is required than before. And while there cannot be a predictive map for the unknown, new techniques, such as scenario planning, can provide a compass. They also recommended that the Planning Commission must anticipate new challenges that will come about as the world and the country change and think through options for policymakers to respond to these challenges. To perform this role effectively, it must become a central node in a network of thought-leaders, experts and think-tanks within the country and outside. Also, whereas the Planning Commission must not be an implementer, which is the role of the executive, it must be a good diagnostician with solutions for systems' reforms that will enable effective implementation. Finally, it must be, in the prime minister's words, "an essay in persuasion" to make change happen.


The commission must transform itself to perform such leadership functions while continuing to perform other essential functions such as money allocations. Thus the plane must keep flying even while it is being redesigned. The next major scheduled flight of the commission is the preparation of the Approach to the Twelfth Plan. It is developing the Approach in the new ways mentioned: more systemic and more strategic. The commission is also preparing communication channels to consult more widely with citizens in the preparation of the Approach and the Twelfth Plan. On its website it is asking for suggestions, even for how it should perform its functions.


The nation's goal is to achieve faster, more inclusive and environmentally sustainable growth. The commission has lifted itself out of sectoral silos to prepare an Approach to these inter-linked objectives. It is looking at the big picture through ten cross-cutting lenses. These include the forces of citizens' expectations, innovation and enterprises, demographics and skills and land and water stress. These forces pervade the whole system and, through their interactions, shape it. Descriptions of these forces will also be on the website for all to see and contribute perspectives. The gauges on the planners' (and implementers') dashboards must be designed to monitor not only overall growth in money terms — GDP, savings, investments, inflation, etc — but also the pace and quality of inclusion, the condition of the environment and the quality of governance and implementation. Such "quadruple bottom line" "ESEG" measurements (of the economy, society, environment and governance) are necessary for sound, balanced, and sustainable growth.


The Planning Commission, with its many divisions, and its multiple linkages into Central and state governments, is a complex organisation. Change has begun. Reforming an organisation is not easy, as leaders of even simple business organisations and NGOs will attest. Nor is it accomplished in a day. A necessary condition for successful change is a personal commitment by the leadership of the organisation to make it happen. The leadership of the Planning Commission — its deputy chairman, its members and its senior staff — are working to make change happen. They welcome constructive criticism — and there is plenty of late!


Complex problems require balanced solutions. Multiple trade-offs must be recognised and resolved before action. It must be the planners' job to point out these trade-offs to implementers, lest they rush to action that may have unintended consequences. Therefore all great organisations and societies nurture institutions within themselves — think-tanks, philosophers and thought-leaders — to keep themselves on track towards their goals. The challenge for India, the world's largest and most diverse democracy, is to obtain consensus and get multiple, independent-minded experts and constitutionally independent organisations to work together. By facilitating an effective dialogue on goals, challenges and options, the Planning Commission will play its role as an essay in persuasion and a catalyst for systems reform.


The writer is a member of the Planning Commission







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 GOP. When this primary season began in early February, voters wanted Democrats to retain control of Congress by 49 per cent to 37 per cent, 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 AP/Gfk poll now suggests that Americans want Republicans to take over Congress by 46 per cent to 43 per cent.


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 Centre 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 per cent 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 per cent of Americans say their own representative deserves re-election.


It doesn't matter that public approval of the GOP 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 per cent 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 GOP 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 victimisation, 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 GOP a great, unearned revival. Nothing, it seems, is more scary than one-party Democratic control.








Afghanistan votes for its parliament today, and there is hope that the election may be less fraught than the presidential election a year ago.


How is the parliament structured?


The legislative branch of the National Assembly of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan consists of two houses: the Wolesi Jirga (House of the People) and the Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders). Of the two, the Wolesi Jirga is more powerful. Its 250 members are elected through proportional representation and it is constitutionally mandated that 64 members — two from each province — be women. Increasingly the body has been providing checks and balances to presidential authority. In the aftermath of the presidential elections, the Wolesi Jirga flexed its muscles by blocking President Hamid Karzai's choices for cabinet positions. Today, registered voters will cast their ballots for one candidate in their home province, or for a group of national candidates if they're part of the nomadic Kuchi tribe. Kabul has the largest number of seats (33). Those elected will serve a five-year term.


Who is standing for election?


Candidates come from across the strata, warlords to popstars. 2,556 of them, including more than 400 women, are in the fray. Candidates run as independents, as the law bars party registration in order to prevent ethnic factionalism. Election officers indicate more than half of the candidates are under the age of 30. Robina Jalali, 25, a former Olympic runner, is vying for a seat to champion "the rights of women and young people against lawmakers who want to deny them." Zabihullah Jawanmard, known as the "Elvis of Afghanistan", is also in the race.


What are the logistics?


Of the 17.5 million registered voters, election officers say they will be able to accommodate 11.3 million voters casting ballots. Polls will open at 7 am and close at 4 pm; should extra time be required, the Election Commission can extend it through a decree. Preliminary results will be released by October 1 and the final results are expected by October 31.


What about security?


The Afghan interior ministry has 52,000 policemen on duty but the figure could be pushed up to 110,000, as the Afghan National Army and ISAF soldiers will also be on guard. There will be no police or security in nine southern districts where Taliban militants are active. Due to security reasons 938 of 6,835 polling centres will remain closed. ISAF forces will be involved in intelligence sharing, quick reaction, air and ground logistical support and aerial reconnaissance. The Taliban have vowed to derail the election. Last year's presidential election saw the Taliban carry out a record number of attacks resulting in low voter turnout. The UN, cautious about security, has evacuated a third of its permanent workforce.


What about fears of fraud?


Some anti-fraud measures are in place: each voter must dip a finger in indelible ink when casting a ballot to prevent multiple voting; an election official will be present at each polling station, ensuring that each voter is carrying one voter card and is over the age of 18; ballots have been marked with serial numbers so that they can be traced to specific polling sites. Election officials have taken extra precautions to ensure that no additional polling stations open at the last minute, in order to prevent "ghost polling sites." But forged voter registration cards have been found in the troubled Ghazni province. Intelligence officials seized 3,000 forged voting cards printed in Pakistan. About 7,000 independent election observers from the local Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan will monitor the elections and individual candidates will have candidate-agents.


Have the electoral laws been reformed after last year's presidential election?


The past year saw Karzai attempt to "reform" the UN-backed Election Complaints Commission (ECC), the very panel that uncovered fraud during the presidential elections. Over the course of the year, Karzai has sought to gain authority over the ECC through a controversial decree in February that would have allowed him to choose all members of the body, stripping the UN of control of the independent commission. The stage was set for a political showdown between the legislature and the president, but the Obama administration's reaction and international criticism forced Karzai to give the UN the right to recommend two of the ECC's five members. The other body, the Independent Election Commission, consists of Karzai appointees.


What is Karzai's relationship with the parliament like?


Troublesome. Karzai has had parliament vote against his nominees often, for reasons he considers "unknown and inexplicable." However, Karzai does open up to parliament: he has famously and openly declared to parliamentarians that his frustrations with the West may force him to join the Taliban.








The strategically situated port at Gwadar in Balochistan is all set to be handed over to China. Having been constructed by Pakistan's "all-weather ally", the port's control may just have slipped from Singapore's clutches due to financial issues.


The News reported on September 16: "It will mean much more than the transfer of power at the Gwadar port. The Chinese will build Gwadar as a tax-free industrial hub... and a network of roads and railways... to China through the ancient Silk Route. An ambitious deal to build railways along the Khunjrab Pass has already been signed between Pakistan and China. The Chinese are more suited to develop the port and the network of rail and roads in Balochistan as they have experience and the muscle to work in the troublesome part of Pakistan."


An editorial in the newspaper the next day welcomed the development: "There are a number of points which would suggest that the Chinese may be more profitable partners for us at Gwadar. Not the least of these is the vast tonnage of shipping that they could bring in, the oil and gas termini they could develop and the potential for infrastructure development that would follow along. We have already inked an agreement with the Chinese for a feasibility study of a rail link roughly parallel to the Karakoram Highway. It is no stretch of the imagination to see that link running from Kashgar to Gwadar in the next 10 to 15 years. They are already working with us in Gilgit-Baltistan on the upgrading of the Karakoram Highway to an all-weather highway, they are resilient people and able to work in the sometimes difficult environment we present."


Electing Musharraf


Pervez Musharraf's latest moves have certainly stirred up the country's politics. Dawn reported on September 14: "Pervez Musharraf... joined hands with a private TV channel... to seek and then garner pledges of hundreds of millions of rupees for the relief and rehabilitation of flood-affected people... The people phoned in to the show to pledge donations for the Pervez Musharraf Foundation which, according to the former president, has already been registered in the UK... Musharraf told them he planned to return to Pakistan to take part in the next general election."


Soon after, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani reacted. Dawn reported: "(He) said if former Musharraf returns to the country he will be received by the chief justice because a lot of cases have been lodged against him."


Daily Times carried an interview Musharraf gave to the BBC in which he said he was not scared of the legal cases against him. He insisted he had to try to lift Pakistan out of its "pathetic situation". He admitted his popularity had waned but said it was still strong among the majority who do not vote. "Two hundred per cent I will participate in the next election. Standing for myself. Standing for a party that I'll create," Musharraf was quoted as saying. "I do intend creating a new party because I think the time has come in Pakistan when we need to introduce a new political culture: a culture which can take Pakistan forward on a correct democratic path, not on an artificial, make-believe democratic path... I haven't decided whether I'm going to be president or anything, but however, winning first of all in the next election is the issue. I did very well for Pakistan, I know that. I can challenge anybody on any point... We did wonders for them in those seven years, which should be compared with the 50 years of the past... Legally, I am absolutely on a safe wicket... We will go and face the music, we'll answer every allegation... I have fought wars, I have faced dangers and I'm a lucky man. I'll try my luck again." Musharraf is expected to launch a new political party on October 1.


Murder in London


The News on September 17 reported the assassination of senior MQM leader-in-exile, Dr Imran Farooq, in London. He was a founding member of the MQM along with its chief, Altaf Hussain. "When the news broke late Thursday night, streets in Karachi became deserted as people headed for their homes. Sources said on Thursday evening when Dr Farooq was climbing the stairs of his flat in Mill Hill, North London, an unknown person stabbed him twice... Following the confirmation of his death, all birthday celebrations of the MQM chief were cancelled."


Tax the flood


Dawn carried an editorial (September 17) on the government proposal to levy a tax to raise funds to manage the aftermath of the floods, which is becoming politically contentious: "We have been hearing of the imposition of a one-time flood tax to raise money for the huge reconstruction job ahead ever since the first hamlet was destroyed by the recent floods and the first community displaced. Much time has elapsed since then but the government still appears clueless as to what tax should or can be levied and the modalities of such a tax."








The sharp surge in merchandise trade deficits by almost half to $56.6 billion in April-August 2010-11 signals a steady deterioration in the external sector, which could push the current account deficit (CAD) to well above the sustainable levels. This is especially so since the global crises have squeezed the net surplus earned from services trade, which normally serves to fill the gap in the trade deficit and keep the CAD under control. And the scenario is especially precarious now since the CAD has almost trebled from 1% of the GDP in 2006-07 to 2.9% in 2009-10. Growing disparities between growth of merchandise exports and imports have been normal phenomenon on the trade front that has ceased to worry policy makers, as long as the growing trade surplus from services made up for the bloating trade deficits, which has generally been the case since the mid-1990s. But this scenario has changed substantially in the second half the current decade as the oil price surge bloated the trade deficit much faster than the net surplus earned from services trade. Numbers for the second half of the decade show that between 2006-07 and 2009-10 while the trade deficit almost doubled from $61.8 billion to $118.3 billion, the net surplus from the services trade went up only marginally from $29.5 billion to $34.2 billion. The reason for the fall in net earning in the services sector has been extensive with the net inflows from travel, transportation and the insurance segments either falling or stagnating. And the trends from the information technology sector has also not been very encouraging as the net earnings from software services have dropped sharply and the net earnings from business, financial and communication services have all turned negative.


The only solace in the current account in the recent years has been the steady increase the remittances of the non-resident Indians, which pushed up its net surplus from just $30 billion four years ago to close to $52 billion or 4% of the GDP last year, making it even larger than the net earnings from services sector exports. But despite this gain the CAD has now bloated to 2.9% of the GDP, the highest since the start of the reforms. So, unless the growth of trade deficit in the current fiscal year is immediately reversed in the coming months, the CAD could once again become a major issue in the external front just two decade after the reforms.







The government's decision to allow mobile phone firm Bharti Airtel to offer what's called mobile wallet schemes is good news, not just for the companies that have been seeing slowing top lines for several quarters now with near-saturation in urban markets, but also for consumers across the country. The mobile wallet, which could hit bank debit cards to a certain extent, are easy to operate. A customer goes to the outlet he buys recharge coupons from the dealer and deposits Rs 3,000 with them; his phone is then credited with this amount and can then be used to make payments of this amount to various merchants. Initially, there will be just a handful of merchants who will accept such payments but as Bharti, and later the other phone firms that have applied for mobile wallet licences, starts working with merchants the universe of those accepting such payments will obviously increase—Bharti began its experiment with kirana shops in Punjab several years ago. The telecom firm will earn from the interest rate it gets on the customer balances.


What is more important, however, is the potential this offers for these firms. Estimates are that anywhere between Rs 50,000 crore and Rs 1,00,000 crore of internal remittance transfers take place in the country each year—a labourer transferring Rs 500 back home in the village, or a maid servant sending Rs 1,200. Using postal money orders is too expensive for small transfers, given the minimum charges at the post office. SMSing the money is a cheaper option—the labourer deposits Rs 500 with a Bharti sales point and gets a confirmation SMS from the company with a pin code. This is then SMSed to the family in Bihar, which, using the same pin code, can withdraw the money from another Bharti sales point. So far, RBI has not been in favour of allowing the phone firms to do this on their own, preferring instead that this be done in conjunction with a bank. This is despite the phone companies saying they have a fraud-free record since they have customer balances of several thousand crores—for prepaid cards—at any point in time and there have been no complaints of customers being duped. The mobile wallet scheme, once successful, will go a long way in convincing RBI that these firms have evolved a credible and tamper-proof system.








There've been two bits of good news in the retailing space this week; at the macro level, the government is apparently ready to allow foreign direct investment in multi-brand retailing, while at the micro level, beleaguered Vishal Retail managed to put through a deal to sell its business—the wholesale arm to private equity player TPG Capital, and the retail operations to the Chennai-based Shriram Group. Although the Vishal stock rallied 16% to Rs 56 after the announcement, its shareholders must be a weary lot. When the IPO happened in June 2007, it was oversubscribed some 80 times and the stock hit a price of Rs 753 the day it listed, while price band for the issue had been fixed at Rs 230-270. Fortunately, Subhiksha, the other chain in a tearing hurry to roll out stores, wasn't listed, though it's unlikely that its lenders or large shareholders will ever see their money again.


Unless one has Rs 5,000 crore or more to write off, or loads of luck, retailing can be a hard grind in this country. Not having been disciplined enough about managing inventories and making sure that the back-end is in place so that the supply chain works effectively, most Indian retailers have struggled to make ends meet. Having gone overboard on expansion plans, retailers have spent the past couple of years putting their houses in order. But the ambitions are resurfacing. After closing down unviable stores so that it now has less than one million square feet across outlets, Spencers now wants to double the space by 2010. The RPG group has invested Rs 2,000 crore in Spencers operations in the last two years alone and one wonders if this isn't good money being thrown after bad; the business is still unprofitable, losing estimated Rs 12-13 crore a month and the management hopes to achieve an Ebitda break-even at the company level by 2012-13. Smaller chains like Koutons are struggling even after having shut down non-performing outlets and attempting the franchisee route, which helps push up operating profits since the retailer doesn't bear costs relating to pilferage and labour. In the three months to June 2010, Koutons's profits halved, thanks to falling revenues and that too at a time when consumer demand is believed to be looking up. Even the bigger chains like Shoppers Stop aren't really raking it in, even though they've been around for 15 years.


High rentals have all along plagued modern retail—at times amounting to as much as 10% of revenues as against desired levels of 5-6%. This has been particularly true for small format stores where the retailer is often competing with banks, auto retailers and sundry others with the result that the capex costs per sq ft that have at times been higher than what a 60,000 sq ft apparel retailer would have forked out in a mall. So, there have been cases where rentals for convenience stores were Rs 65-70 per sq ft per month while a store in a mall paid Rs 40-50 per sq ft per month.


But the management of working capital too hasn't been as good as it could have been. As Citigroup Global Markets analyses it, the working capital per sq ft for modern retail in India is close to $30 per sq ft, way higher than in other parts of Asia, where it is $3-7 per sq ft. Some of this is thanks to inter-state taxes: companies are required to have more in-state distribution centres resulting in higher than necessary inventories. That apart, vendors aren't always as responsive as they should be so that order fulfilment rates are between 75% and 80%. While supply chain costs have dropped to 1% of revenues from 2% in the last few years, they're unlikely to fall further, given the large variety of SKUs that retailers need to stock in order to satisfy customers' tastes. That's why it makes sense to allow foreign multi-brand retailers to set up shop in India. And as the discussion paper put out by the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion suggested, MNC retailers should be asked to spend a certain minimum to develop the back-end; 50% may be too high, 35-40% seems reasonable. That would reduce wastage of farm produce, estimated at Rs 1 trillion a year and make the supply chain more efficient, bringing down inflation.


While the two casualties in the Indian retailing space—Subhiksha and Vishal—were the result of mismanagement, it's also true that the cost of capital in India is high. Capital expenditure in India is estimated at $54 per sq ft compared with $24 per sq ft in China. Balance sheets of retailers aren't too strong. Pantaloon Retail's debt, for instance, is nudging Rs 3,000 crore. It won't be surprising if retailers promoted by big industrial houses like the Birlas team up with foreign players because they need the money to grow. That FDI in retail will help isn't really in doubt and this is true especially in the fruits and vegetables category, where more than 50% of wastage can be avoided with better storage facilities. Given where food inflation is, there couldn't be a better time for the government to open the doors to foreign players.








We have never forgiven the World Bank or the IMF for getting us onto the fast track of growth. As a result, for almost every jam we have got into since then, including the latest surge in protectionism in the US against the Indian IT sector, you can find at least one section somewhere railing against the World Bank or the IMF. This is despite the fact that pretty early in the 1990s the World Bank removed itself from broad sectoral themes to more micro development issues, as a part of its global strategy.


Still, every Indian finance minister since 1991 has fought verbal duels, often even among themselves when arraigned as opposition and treasury bench members, debating if it was better to have continued with business as usual or to have taken the 'advice' from these institutions.


Yet reading the Country Economic Memoranda of the World Bank of 1991 and those of subsequent vintage show the World Bank and the IMF were spot on, to locate the present and looming troubles then gathering around the economy.


The Memos identified five sectors where the government had to move to bring about a fundamental reform (World Bank's words) in the Indian economy. These were reduction in public expenditure, reform of the tax system, liberalisation of trade, delicensing industry and restructuring of public enterprise.


Later on the World Bank added one more layer, that of state level reforms, which finance minister Yashwant Sinha sold as second generation reforms.


No wonder these were among the first set of changes the government worked on, as soon as it was through with the fire-fighting process. Manmohan Singh as the finance minister set up the tax reform committee under Raja Chelliah, cut tariffs on foreign trade, following up with the successive disinvestment commissions. Among the expenditure reforms commissions, the most famous was the one under Geethakrishnan, but that came later under the NDA government.


We can debate to what extent the government has been able to follow through with those suggested changes, but the ones to remember are those that got away. At the height of the balance of payments scare of 1991, the first sector for which the World Bank with the Indian government worked out a road map for, was the modernisation of the agriculture sector. To me, this was a golden opportunity that was missed, and the cost of which we are now reaping.


At that point, the bureaucracy, jolted by the scale of the BOP crisis, would have moved faster; the government would have got more leverage to make the changes as the entrenched opposition to the changes had not yet settled in and most important, it would have allied rural India to the cause of the changes.


As subsequent events proved, the reform path for another contentious sector, power, was undertaken quite late. As the euphoria over the Orissa power sector reform gave way to an acknowledgment of failure, the World Bank went on the backtrack and sort of disappeared into the maze of the NGO sector.


In a way, the abdication by the World Bank of the development space is the more unsettling part of its involvement with India. After starting the economy off, so to speak, on to an absolutely new trajectory, it was understandable that the two institutions will gradually return to the sidelines after the managers of the Indian economy showed themselves adroit enough to take care of the broad issues themselves.


But the World Bank somewhere lost the plot on the individual sectoral themes it was pursuing. For instance, in the Sardar Sarovar Dam project, it was about the only neutral broker between the warring states and the civil society. But when the criticisms got very loud, the World Bank removed itself. In the process, even if there was disquiet about the way the height of the dam was changed, there was no respected body with a stake in the project to take a contra view.


Probably, therefore, the bigger story in the involvement of the World Bank and the IMF in the Indian reform story is of how it wasn't really there, despite all the noises it made initially, often very accurately.









The Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies (RGICS) has been having a tough time finding a head after Bibek Debroy left as the head of the institute in December 2005—Debroy fell out of favour when a study by him said Gujarat ranked the highest on the economic freedom index. After a long time, RGICS finally zeroed in on Rajiv Kumar, the head of Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER). Kumar barely attended office and put in his papers recently. The reasons for his leaving are not clear since the initial discussions on perquisites and even some colleagues from ICRIER joining him were proceeding apace.



The idyllic National Media Cooperative (NMC), where around 190 of India's finest live, is in the eye of a storm. Some members are up in arms over the society surrendering 1.5 acres of land to build a monorail. Turns out, however, those creating the furore didn't read the licence, signed with the Haryana government way back in 1991, saying 50 metres of land depth across its boundaries could be taken for a public purpose. The 'public purpose' is a monorail to feed the metro, and neighbouring DLF has given up 34 acres without, naturally, any compensation being paid. Turns out the NMC managing committee had even briefed members individually.





There is a lot of literature on how the US does a better job than Europe of integrating minorities into the mainstream. For those who are dismissive of this literature, it doesn't help that the French Senate has voted 246 to one to approve a ban on full Islamic veils. In a country where only a few thousand women wear such a veil (while it hosts the largest Islamic community in the EU) and yet this ends up becoming a chest-thumping issue for the President, one has to wonder what's going on. Factor in how relentlessly Nicolas Sarkozy has also been chasing out the Romanies, and the picture that emerges doesn't exactly cry liberté. Sarkozy may claim to be defending secularism in one instance and safety in the other, but there is a strong stench of prejudice infecting both state actions.


In the Romani case, the EU's justice commissioner has threatened to take legal action against France, which may end up paying heavy and humiliating fines if proved to have acted illegally and immorally. The veil case could have much more dire consequences, drawing the ire of both domestic and international vested interests. Forget how fanatics may respond, note that modern ethnographers have established that the veil has multiple meanings, beyond simple identification with women's oppression.









Presenting its first ever mid-quarter review of the credit policy, the Reserve Bank of India surprised the markets on Thursday with a larger than expected hike in the short-term policy rates. The reverse repo and the repo rates have been marked up by 0.50 percentage point and 0.25 percentage point respectively. This, while narrowing the gap between the two short-term rates, underscores the central bank's unrelenting focus on inflation. Inflation at 8.5 per cent according to the new, updated series and 9.5 per cent according to the old series is well above the RBI's target range of 6 per cent by the end of the year. The higher reverse repo rate will help the RBI mop up surplus funds in the banking system. However, there is no surfeit of liquidity at the present moment, going by such indicators as sluggish credit off-take, widening current account deficit, and subdued money multiplier. Hence it is very likely that commercial banks, which are beginning to pay more for their deposits, will heed the other short-term rate signal and increase their lending rates. The process will be gradual since the new base rate mechanism gives them some leeway in fixing their lending rates.


Without in any way lowering its guard against inflation, the RBI has said that the monetary policy will henceforth be based on the totality of the macroeconomic circumstances. The obvious inference is that the period of aggressive monetary tightening is finally coming to an end. From now on, policy action will be guided equally, if not more, by the dynamic macroeconomic situation at home and the still uncertain outlook abroad. Recent economic data in India are positive: a GDP growth of 8.8 per cent for the first quarter and a 13.8 per cent industrial growth during July. Monsoon rainfall has been good and agriculture is expected to stage a recovery. However, there are genuine concerns that the external economy is dependent on volatile capital flows. The developed countries, though well out of recession, are witnessing a feeble recovery. Europe has been resilient in the face of the severe debt crisis but the situation in the United States is still gloomy. Finally, the need to keep a handle on the fast-changing economic environment explains the Bank's decision to increase the number of policy reviews in a year from four to eight. Leading central banks the world over communicate with the markets frequently, anything between eight and 12 times. Even as the RBI retains its right to step in whenever necessary, any increase in frequency reduces the scope for monetary intervention between two policy statements.







The illegitimate war on Iraq has ravaged the country and severely eroded its capacity to manage not only its future but also the past. Despite timely cautions by archaeologists, the occupying troops irreparably damaged Iraq's heritage, some of which is more than 2,500 years old. Within a few days of the forces entering Baghdad, the looters ransacked the National Museum and stole about 15,000 priceless artefacts. (This was reminiscent of the grievous loss of heritage in Kuwait following Saddam Hussein's brutal invasion and occupation of 1990-91.) Post-invasion, the United States set up a military base atop the archaeological site of Babylon; the Polish troops dug trenches through an ancient temple; and American personnel damaged historic ruins to make way for a helipad. In the face of mounting criticism, the U.S. government tried to mend the situation by initiating the Iraq Cultural Heritage Project but its $13 million grant to the project is small change considering the loss inflicted. As the troops prepare to withdraw, the surviving parts of heritage stand exposed to further pillage. With a poorly funded and inadequately staffed antiquities police force (created in 2008) unable to offer adequate protection, illegal excavations and systematic looting of antiquities have resumed.


The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (adopted by UNESCO in 1954) is meant legally to bind the state parties to protect the cultural properties during war and occupation. But it has hardly helped in Iraq. The United Kingdom, one of the two main aggressors, is yet to ratify the convention and the U.S. accepted it only in 2009, long after the invasion. Acceptance of it would have compelled these countries to integrate heritage protection in their invasion plans. This omission, as pointed out to the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry by 13 major heritage organisations, facilitated the extensive looting of priceless cultural heritage and contributed to the alienation of much of the Iraqi population. The reality is that the big powers responsible for damaging the Iraqi heritage will not be penalised — they can be held accountable morally and politically. From the standpoint of heritage protection, the lesson is this: when good sense fails, international and internal pressure is the only way to try and make countries behave decently. Parallel to this, the Hague Convention should be reviewed and the post-withdrawal obligations of occupying state parties expanded. It will be crucial to address the demand side by taking tough action against buyers of stolen antiquities, including museums.










curious "low phase" has followed the announcement of September 24, 2010 as the date for the Allahabad (Lucknow bench) High Court decision on the consolidated Ayodhya title suit. While Muslims have consistently favoured judicial adjudication of the title dispute, the difference this time is the strikingly moderate tone adopted by the Hindutva parivar. Forget ratcheting up passions or revving into an overdrive on agitational or celebratory programmes, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological mentor have consciously eschewed provocative postures.

The parivar could have used the run-up to the verdict to resurrect the fire-and-brimstone imagery of Ayodhya. The BJP has been in desperate need of something, anything, to stir up its dormant workforce. The party has been hankering for an issue that would sharpen its fighting reflexes and revive its electoral fortunes. It could have seized the upcoming verdict as just that issue.


And yet the responses of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh suggest a definite shying away from the kind of reckless, fire-spewing politics that has been their hallmark up until now. The decision as of now is that any programme that follows from the verdict will be spearheaded by the sants and mahants, with the BJP conspicuously taking a backseat. The BJP has refused to be rushed into making comments or announcements. Sushma Swaraj's single refrain thus far has been "all comments after the judgment."


The RSS has similarly avoided inflammatory rhetoric. At a recent meet with Delhi-based women journalists, the Sangh chief, Mohan Bhagwat, went through the motions, said the expected things about a "grand temple" at the Ram Janmabhoomi and so forth but, very significantly, added that either way the aggrieved party would appeal to the Supreme Court. As the countdown to the verdict began, the parivar further softened its stand. "There will be no knee-jerk reaction if the decision goes against us. We will decide on the future course of action while respecting the court judgment," said a senior RSS functionary.


The phrases and words used here — "no knee-jerk reaction," "respect for court verdict," etc. — would be unfamiliar to those who have tracked the parivar's evocative vocabulary through the tortuous course of the Ayodhya movement. Indeed, in the past, if anyone so much as uttered the word "court", parivar affiliates, including the BJP, would erupt in rage, arguing that there was no question of the court deciding on the whys and wherefores of the Ram temple. This, despite the contrarian position held by parties to the dispute.


Reacting to applications in the High Court for the deferment of the verdict, the Hindu Mahasabaha, one of the parties to the dispute, said earlier this week: "It appears that the present application [for deferment] has been filed by some disgruntled elements who do not believe in the majesty of law for their personal gains."


No longer a political weapon


To the Sangh, it did not matter that other Hindu organisations held a different view. It held steadfastly to the "no-interference-by-the-court" position, which only suggests that within the larger parivar, there has been a more realistic re-appraisal of the pros and cons of taking the Ayodhya movement forward. The decision to go easy on the melodrama appears to be rooted in the following reasons. With the protagonists of the Ayodhya cause badly dispersed and some going into virtual oblivion, the movement has lost its fire. Secondly, while Ayodhya may still have a certain resonance with the Sangh rank and file, it has long since ceased to be a political weapon that the BJP can exploit. Finally, the BJP has to reckon with allies who are increasingly impatient with its temple pro-activism. It just cannot lose more members from the already haemorrhaging National Democratic Alliance.


Consider the current status of the Ayodhya warriors. At age 83, Lal Krishna Advani, who flagged off the movement with his rousing "do or die" speeches from atop the Ram rath is a shadow of his fiery Ayodhya persona. His authority and powers have drastically diminished after he led the BJP to defeat in 2009. Kalyan Singh, the "hero" of December 6, 1992, is a parody of himself, having waltzed in and out of the BJP, and repeatedly altered and re-altered his position on the temple. There cannot be a more clinching evidence of his irrelevance than the monumental flopping of his September 16 "show of strength" in the temple town.


Sadhvi Rithambhara of the ek dhakka aur do (give another push to the Babri Masjid) fame is languishing in an ashram somewhere. Uma Bharti whose joyous pose with Murli Manohar Joshi became the piece-de-resistance of December 6, 1992, has to be hunted with a microscope. Vinay Katiyar, the irrepressible founding chief of the "forever-in-battle mode" Bajrang Dal, has moved to a senior position in the BJP and has acquired an elegant facebook profile. His last entry in this unrecognisable avatar was an earnest appeal for a negotiated settlement outside the court, with "respect for the court judgment" added as a bonus. "We would respect the court judgment. The party in whose favour the verdict comes would sit quiet while the other moves the Supreme Court," he said.


An entire generation has grown up since the Babri Masjid was brutally torn down in 1992. This generation has no institutional memory of the movement, its muscular build-up and its cataclysmic end. Liberalisation and high-tech have sharpened the entrepreneurial instincts of the merchant class that formed the BJP's core vote. It would want a grand Ram temple but not at the cost of its flourishing businesses. At the Haridwar Khumbh Mela in January-February this year, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad drew up a blue-print for a programme of mass participation ahead of the title suit verdict. Under the plan, VHP and RSS workers were to drum up support for the Ram Mandir through signature collection, visits to individual homes and recitation of the Hanuman chalisa at 8,000 selected temples across the country.


Muted support


This writer visited a sample temple in Delhi's Shalimar Bagh to find almost no interest in the VHP's programme. Devotees were at prayer as usual, most of them unaware that there was a sub-text to the Hanuman chalisa they were chanting. A gentleman introduced by a VHP office-bearer ended up praising Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. There was broad support for the mandir but it was muted and it was clear enough that nobody had the stomach for another "fight to the finish" war.


Even assuming there is a re-awakening of Hindu passions post the verdict, the question arises: Who will lead the mass movement? Ms Swaraj and Arun Jaitley are superb parliamentarians, with an unmatched ability to argue their case and demolish their opponents. But it is difficult to see either of them wade through the slush in Ayodhya and recreate the heady days of the rath yatra. It is even more difficult to picture the gregarious Nitin Gadkari in the role of a Ram champion waging a righteous war.


This is besides the waning political appeal of Ayodhya, demonstrated in election after election. The BJP won its last State election in Uttar Pradesh in 1991 — 19 years ago. Within a year of the homicidal 1992 attack on the Babri Masjid, the BJP had lost power to resurgent caste interests represented by the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party combine. The BJP did form governments subsequently in collaboration with the BSP but each time it aligned with Mayawati's party, its graph plunged.


Ayodhya continued to matter in the Lok Sabha elections until 1998 — when the BJP reached its peak. However, 1998 was a watershed year for the party in another respect too. It formed a government at the Centre with a dozen or so allies who insisted that the BJP put Ayodhya on the back burner. With Ayodhya gone into hibernation, the BJP took a further tumble in U.P. In the 2009 general election, it finished last in its favourite State.


Passions can get out of hand, and one would have to be very brave to predict with any certainty that the parivar cadre will restrain their emotions when the verdict is actually delivered. Violence on that day cannot be ruled out. But equally the BJP must be aware that each time it experiments with sectarianism, it gains a few hardline supporters but loses far more of the electorally crucial middle ground.


The party was badly isolated in December 1992. It watched half of the NDA walk out in the years after Gujarat 2002. And post Kandhamal, it lost the support of the valued Biju Janata Dal, and came close to losing the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United), currently its largest partner. The JD(U) and the BJP are jointly fighting the Bihar elections scheduled to start next month. And if there is one thing Mr. Kumar will absolutely not have, it is any kind of adventurism on Ayodhya. He said as much to Mr. Jaitley: "The court verdict must be accepted. Any aggrieved party can move the higher court."


Since the BJP and the RSS are talking the same language today, they have an added responsibility to keep Ayodhya and India trouble free in the coming days.










The target date for fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is 2015, and the world knows it is not on course to meet those goals. So world leaders are set to gather at the United Nations [New York, September 20-22] to undertake a comprehensive review, with the aim of agreeing on a roadmap and a plan of action to get to the MDG finishing line on schedule.


I was at the UN in September 2000, when world leaders met at the Millennium Summit and pledged to work together to free humanity from the "abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty," and to "make the right to development a reality for everyone." These pledges include commitments to improve access to education, health care, and clean water for the world's poorest people; abolish slums; reverse environmental degradation; conquer gender inequality; and cure HIV/AIDS.


It's an ambitious list, but its capstone is Goal 8, which calls for a "global partnership for development." This includes four specific targets: "an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system"; special attention to the needs of least-developed countries; help for landlocked developing countries and small island states; and national and international measures to deal with developing countries' debt problems.


Basically, it all boiled down to a grand bargain: while developing countries would obviously have primary responsibility for achieving the MDGs, developed countries would be obliged to finance and support their efforts for development.


This hasn't really happened. At the G-8 summit at Gleneagles and the UN World Summit in 2005, donors committed to increasing their aid by $50 billion at 2004 prices, and to double their aid to Africa from 2004 levels by 2010. But official development assistance (ODA) last year amounted to $119.6 billion, or just 0.31 per cent of the developed countries' GDP — not even half of the UN's target of 0.7 per cent of GDP. In current U.S. dollars, ODA actually fell by more than two per cent in 2008.


Uneven progress, says UN


The UN admits that progress has been uneven, and that many of the MDGs are likely to be missed in most regions. An estimated 1.4 billion people were still living in extreme poverty in 2005, and the number is likely to be higher today, owing to the global economic crisis. The number of undernourished people has continued to grow, while progress in reducing the prevalence of hunger stalled — or even reversed — in some regions between 2000-2002 and 2005-2007.


About one in four children under the age of five are underweight, mainly due to lack of quality food, inadequate water, sanitation, and health services, and poor care and feeding practices. Gender equality and women's empowerment, which are essential to overcoming poverty and disease, have made at best fitful progress, with insufficient improvement in girls' schooling opportunities or in women's access to political authority.


Progress on trade has been similarly disappointing. Developed country tariffs on imports of agricultural products, textiles, and clothing — the principal exports of most developing countries — remained between five per cent and eight per cent in 2008, just two-three percentage points lower than in 1998.


The time has come to reinforce Goal 8 in two fundamental ways. Developed countries must make commitments to increase both the quantity and effectiveness of aid to developing countries. Aid must help developing countries improve the welfare of their poorest populations according to their own development priorities. But donors all too often feel obliged to make their contributions "visible" to their constituencies and stakeholders, rather than prioritising local perspectives and participation.


There are other problems with development aid. Reporting requirements are onerous and often impose huge administrative burdens on developing countries, which must devote the scarce skills of educated, English-speaking personnel to writing reports for donors rather than running programmes. And donor agencies often recruit the best local talent themselves, usually at salaries that distort the labour market. In some countries, doctors find it more remunerative to work as translators for foreign-aid agencies than to treat poor patients.


Meanwhile, donors' sheer clout dilutes the accountability of developing countries' officials and elected representatives to their own people.


Partnership needed


We must change the way the world goes about the business of providing development aid. We need a genuine partnership, in which developing countries take the lead, determining what they most acutely need and how best to use it. Weak capacity to absorb aid on the part of recipient countries is no excuse for donor-driven and donor-directed assistance. The aim should be to help create that capacity. Indeed, building human-resource capacity is itself a useful way of fulfilling Goal 8.


Doing so would serve donors' interest as well. Aligning their assistance with national development strategies and structures, or helping countries devise such strategies and structures, ensures that their aid is usefully spent and guarantees the sustainability of their efforts. Donors should support an education policy rather than build a photogenic school; aid a health campaign rather than construct a glittering clinic; or do both — but as part of a policy or a campaign, not as stand-alone projects.


Trade, a key area


Trade is the other key area. In contrast to aid, greater access to the developed world's markets creates incentives and fosters institutions in the developing world that are self-sustaining, collectively policed, and more consequential for human welfare. Many countries are prevented from trading their way out of poverty by the high tariff barriers, domestic subsidies, and other protections enjoyed by their rich-country competitors.


The European Union's agricultural subsidies, for example, are high enough to permit every cow in Europe to fly business class around the world. What African farmer, despite his lower initial costs, can compete?


The onus is not on developed countries alone. Developing countries, too, have made serious commitments to their own people, and the primary responsibility for fulfilling those commitments is theirs. But Goal 8 assured them that they would not be alone in this effort. Unless that changes, the next five years will be a path to failure.


( Courtesy: Project Syndicate)








This week the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) came out with two reports: "How Rich are Pakistani MNAs (Members of the National Assembly)? Analysis of Declaration of Assets 2008-2009" (on September 14) and "Mid-Term Assessment of the Quality of Democracy in Pakistan March 17, 2008 – September 16, 2010" (on September 15).


Needless to say, the media and Pakistan's chattering class have since been salivating at the analysis of assets held by the MNAs. Tuesday's bulletins (September 14) and Wednesday morning's newspapers (September 15) headlined the report which, in turn, spawned its fair share of discussions on television channels and newspaper editorials. As for the mid-term assessment of democracy in Pakistan, it got practically ignored despite a below average score and PILDAT timing its release to coincide with the International Day of Democracy.


Report on MNAs


Given the dominant narrative of the past few weeks – particularly after Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain's call to patriotic generals to take martial-law type action against corrupt politicians and feudal lords — the report on the assets held by MNAs was like manna to the politician-bashing chatterati. Here was further confirmation — if it was ever needed — of the machinations of the political class.


Much was made of the fact that the average value of an MNA's assets had increased three-fold in six years from 2002-2003 to 2008-2009. No doubt questions ought to be asked about the source of income and assets of legislators, but in a country where democracy has never really got a chance, again the focus was on trashing the political system while demanding no accountability from other institutions.


And in that din, some telling statistics were ignored by design or default. The percentage increase in the average value of an MNA's assets in 2008-2009 was 9.5 per cent; way lower than the 87.1 per cent increase recorded in the previous year which was presided over by the last of Pakistan's four military rulers, Pervez Musharraf.


In fact, the Musharraf years, for which data is available, show great fluctuations in the rate of increase in the average value of an MNA's assets. In 2003-2004, the average value of assets increased by 2.6 per cent over the previous year. The following year saw a 15.6 per cent increase and the rise continued in the next fiscal to 22.6 per cent before plateauing at 2.6 per cent and then recording the steepest of increases: 87.1 per cent.


This should have provided food for thought to all those gunning for the civilian administration and blaming it for the trust deficit that has impacted the flow of international aid for flood relief but this is a season when condemning politicians is high fashion.


Though some reason for the trickle is the mismanagement of funds that poured in after the 2005 earthquake, it is the current dispensation that is taking the flak.


Undoubtedly, the floods have exposed the inefficiency and myopia of the Pakistan People's Party-led government at the centre and in the provinces, but the PILDAT study shows they alone cannot be accused of prospering. Their predecessors under khaki rule stand equally exposed as do politicians from across the political spectrum.


And, if the very same PILDAT's mid-term assessment of democracy in Pakistan is anything to go by, then "a democratic Pakistan alone is a secure Pakistan". Though democracy in Pakistan scored only 45 per cent as in an assessment strategy created by the U. K.-based Democratic Audit, the report card clearly states that "disappointment at the performance of elected legislatures and governments in a particular phase cannot become the justification for abandoning the democratic process".


On democracy


Analysing the low score, PILDAT states that while it reflects the disillusionment and dissatisfaction with the performance of the elected government at the federal level and in the provinces over the past two-and-a-half years, it is equally misleading because it does not reflect the fact that these elected legislatures "transformed the mutilated, authoritarian dimensions of the original much-amended 1973 Constitution into an authentically new Parliamentary framework".


Making no bones about the need for the political class to mend its ways, the mid-term review states that the very floods — that have raised questions on the efficacy of democracy — have provided the reason to sustain democracy. "It is only the participation of people themselves and active role of their elected representatives in taking decisions that affect the process of recovery and rejuvenation which will facilitate fair, orderly and enduring reconstruction and renewal."


Indeed, people need to be made stakeholders in democracy as they now feel that democratic governments are equally or more incapable of addressing their needs as non-democratic dispensations. And, so they remain indifferent — and sometimes even warm — to threats to democracy.







Nine forms of therapy to help disabled people will be included in China's medical insurance programmes from January 1, 2011, the government announced on September 17.


The move is expected to reduce the financial burden on disabled people requiring rehabilitation therapy, according to a statement from the China Disabled Persons' Federation (CDPF). The circular issued by the ministries of health, human resources and social security, civil affairs and finance as well as the CDPF, says that the therapies will include rehabilitation treatments for paralysed limbs and the body, cognitive disability, acute stroke impairments as well as language and sport training.


"Although some local health departments had included rehabilitation therapies in medical insurance programmes, policies varied in different regions. Disabled people in some regions still face extreme financial pressure."


Local health departments could retain therapies, covered by insurance but not included in the standard national policy. More rehabilitation therapies are to be added to the list gradually. China is estimated to have 83 million disabled people.









The good news from the Reserve Bank's mid-quarter monetary policy review is that inflation is moderating, though still too high for comfort. It is significantly above the 5-5.5 per cent that prevailed in the early part of this century. The latest figures indicate it still hovers around 8.5 per cent. While these are just numbers, the underlying truth is that millions of people continue to be victims of this high inflation. Among them, though, workers in the organised sector are comparatively better off — in the past two days the government has doled out significant benefits to them in the form of a higher interest rate on provident fund, which will benefit 50 million workers, and also raised its employees' dearness allowance, to compensate to some extent for rising prices. Those with deposits in banks will also benefit as the banks are expected to hike their deposit interest rates. The banks will have to raise interest rates anyway, and not just due to the signal sent by the RBI on Thursday, both in order to meet their credit requirements and also to compete for people's savings, which might now begin to flow in a substantial way towards the EPF, where interest rates are hugely attractive compared to the negative real interest rate from banks.

While the organised working class as well as the rich stand to gain, what will happen to the 79.71 million workers employed in the non-agricultural sector? Of these, 39.74 million workers are in rural areas and 39.97 million in urban areas; 70.21 million are full-time workers, while 9.5 million get part-time work. They constitute around 92 per cent of the country's total workforce, and contribute over 60 per cent to the net domestic product. They also contribute three-fourths of the savings of the household sector. There are also millions of others in the unorganised sector who are totally unprotected from the vicissitudes of rising prices. Who will provide them a cushion against high prices? They are left to the vagaries of rising prices — their pain, suffering and deprivation are not reflected in the 8.5 per cent inflation figure, and there is little or no official attention directed at their plight.

In the overall inflation figure, food prices are the highest at around 14 per cent. All that the government says is that food prices will moderate because of the good monsoon. We have been hearing this refrain since last year, when food prices hit the roof. Everybody in authority — from the finance minister to the honchos of the Planning Commission — kept insisting that prices would moderate once the rabi crop comes in, which later got shifted to the kharif crop, and still later to a good monsoon. A whole year has passed. The sad truth is that nothing that the RBI has done or can do will really impact food inflation significantly, a point which was conceded by the Planning Commission deputy chairman on Thursday.

Besides the routine excuses trotted out on why food prices are high due to the demand-supply position, bad crops, high global prices etc, what is not talked about is speculation, hoarding and some wrong government policies — by the agriculture ministry in particular. There is only a half-hearted attempt to increase the area under irrigation, or increase the cropping area for pulses. It is a shame that a trillion-dollar economy has to depend solely on the monsoon to feed its people. Is all this talk about food security just a pie in the sky dangled before an unsuspecting people to show that the government cares? But then, what does one say of a government that would rather have `50,000 crore worth of foodgrain rotting than distribute it to the poorest of the poor in 150 districts of India.








 "Being afraid of the truth

You tolerate the lie,

Pick up so much garbage in your youth,Stuff you can't unlearn if you try..."

From The Curse of Bachchoo????????????????? ?


I found myself on the same side of an argument as Hillary Clinton, Presidents Obama, Karzai and Zardari, the Prime Ministers of Indonesia and India, some potentate or spokesman of a potentate of Saudi Arabia, as William Hague, the Tory foreign secretary of the UK — and instinctively began to doubt its soundness. Then I reminded myself of a half-remembered quote from Voltaire about not agreeing with an opponent but defending to the death his or her right to assert the disagreeable opinion. This confused me even further — not something I readily admit to in life or print.

I allude, as the reader will have guessed, to the threat by Terry Jones, the Floridan head of a Christian church, who threatened to ceremonially burn copies of the Quran on 11th of September, the anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of New York.

The government of America, from the President downwards, told the world that there was nothing legal they could do to prevent Jones from staging this demonstration except to warn and beg him not to do it. The other heads of state, not subject to the American Constitution and its provision of the absolute right to burn books and publicise controversial opinions, called on Obama to stop Jones, ban him, lock him up, try him for blasphemy, send him to Guantanamo or Siberia, declare him a Maoist and shoot him in an "encounter"... (perhaps they didn't go that far, I exaggerate to make a point).

Nevertheless, it was enlightening to see Obama and Hillary, condemning and pleading because it demonstrated the power of the American Constitution and, in a perverse way, the strength of its democracy.
My confusion arose from my admiration for Voltaire. Had he been alive, would he have supported to the death Jones' right to burn the Quran? He would have known, or I would have told him, that Jones and his crew would provoke riots all over and, almost certainly, through a machinery of belief to which?neither he nor I subscribe, cause the death of innocent people. I would have pointed out to Voltaireji the paradox his quote had generated — he didn't believe that the Quran was the word of God, but he would have to defend to the death the right of those who did believe it and presumably their right to act upon that belief through rioting, mayhem and even murder.

Jones' threat, a reaction he said to the proposal to build a mosque near Ground Zero, was misplaced. The Quran is the holy book of all Muslims and not that of terrorists. Muslims are expressly enjoined to refrain from hijacking travellers and killing them (in the days in which it was written these were caravans and not scheduled passenger flights, but the intent is clear and the principle the same). The guilt of the black sheep does not incriminate the herd, the acts of Satan, because he used to be an angel, doesn't condemn heaven... etc.
While making an exception of the Quran and the Guru Granth Sahib, for purely pragmatic rather than theological reasons, I am not against the burning of books.

Waking up one day in London and hearing that Salman Rushdie's book, a proof copy of which he had sent me and which I had read, was being ceremonially burnt in Bradford, I succumbed to a small fit of envy. For a week or two I contemplated the publication of my next book and thought it would be ideal if some group took against it so strongly that they bought 40,000 copies and burnt them. The book would instantly go into a second edition and the royalties would, minus my agent's fee of course, pour in.

I was not to know then that the book burning would lead in a chain, whose logic only the believers understand, to an injunction to murder Salman. For my safely profiteering purposes, I would have to seek out a group of book-burners who would restrict their objection to demonstrations and wouldn't escalate their opposition to a bounty on my head.

Burn, baby, burn! — but buy the copies first!

The closest I got to book-burning, apart from hostile reviews of which there have been a few, was a demonstration outside a London school against a book of my short stories called East End At Your Feet. The book, published in England, was being used in the English department of schools.

My editor at Macmillan rang one morning in a state of some excitement and despair, to say that a sizeable demonstration of parents had gathered outside a London school's gates to protest against the use of the book, pronouncing it "obscene".

My first thought was that that should shift a few copies.

It probably did but it also gave me my 15 minutes of fame. The next day the Daily Telegraph, edited by a very respected and senior journalist called William Deedes, devoted an editorial to my humble fiction, calling it obscene and objecting to its use in schools. The editorial provoked a TV chat show to arrange a debate between Mr Deedes and myself.

Journalist friends had used the intervening hours to dig around and they found that the parents' demonstration had been initiated by a lady who had unsuccessfully stood as a parliamentary candidate for the National Front, the anti-immigrant fascistic British political party. Mr Deedes was either unaware of this salient fact, or had chosen to ignore it in his editorial.

I tackled him on the point. Was he aware that the demonstration may not have been occasioned by the "F" word which appeared in one of my stories in the quoted lines of a Rolling Stones song, but by the fact that all the stories featured black and Asian teenagers to whose presence in the country the National Front objected?
"Ah", said Deedes in an upper class Churchillian drawl. "My dear boy, itsh all a kweshchun of b-lansh!"
I didn't get it till he held up both hands as though weighing objects in each and repeated the word: "b-lansh", with the accent on the second syllable.

He meant "balance"?and I have retained his wonderful conceit as a signal memory of that censorious episode.








Give it up, buddy. You can't eat your way to health in our country. And your attempt at giving your child a healthy nutrition is doomed.

No, I am not talking about the underprivileged who go hungry. Nor about the protein and vegetable-free diet of those who barely get to fill their bellies in this spiralling price rise. I am talking about you, my privileged, aware reader, you who know all about health food and fancy diets and have access to it all. Or so you think.
Let me break it gently. You are probably poisoning your family. Almost everything we eat and feed our kids has toxic stuff in it. Milk, fresh fruits, vegetables, even honey — all that we instinctively reach for as healthy foods now breed disease. And not all of it is caused by evil adulterators. Much of this mass poisoning springs from "efficient" farming techniques, deadly marketing ploys or just callousness.

Take the study on honey released this week. The nectar of the gods, our miracle home cure for a range of ailments, that internationally revered all-natural immunity booster and anti-bacterial is now teeming with antibiotics. Of 12 samples tested by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), 11 had unacceptable levels of antibiotics, from the banned chloramphenicol to the potent ciprofloxacin, oxytetracycline and erythromycin, among others. These were well known brands, righteously touting their herbal goodness, including market leader Dabur and others like Khadi, Himalaya, Patanjali Ayurved and Baidyanath Ayurved. And they had up to 25 times the accepted limit of some antibiotics besides significant amounts of antibiotics that are not accepted at all.

Over time, low doses of antibiotics can damage your health, especially the liver, cause resistance to antibiotics and breed drug-resistant bugs. We are staring at a serious public health hazard.

So do we not have a regulatory board for food safety? Sure we do. There are several for honey. But they don't check for contaminants. The Export Inspection Council does, but only for honey that is being exported, of course. We export excellent, clean honey to the rich countries, and feed our kids the filthy stuff.
You get firang honey, you say? From lands that have strict food safety regulations? I hate to break this to you, pal, but their food regulations don't protect you. And since your sarkar doesn't protect you either, others dump their dirty food here. So what you buy at exorbitant prices expecting great quality is as unsafe as home-grown stuff. In fact, of the 12 samples, the highest contaminations were found in two firang brands — in Switzerland's Nectaflor Natural Blossom Honey and the famous Australian Capilano Pure and Natural Honey. Don't expect others to protect you, sweetie. Do it yourself.

Then there is the best traditional source of nutrition for children — milk. In my childhood, the biggest grouse of concerned mothers was the adulteration of milk with water by the local milkman. Domestics were despatched to supervise the milking of the cow or buffalo even in big cities like Kolkata or Delhi. ("Ekdam jal!" said the housewife anyway when she encountered the milk thus acquired.)

Today, watered milk would be almost noble. Now milk is faked with urea, detergents, caustic soda, white paint and oil. A serious health hazard, toxic synthetic milk causes terrible ailments, including cancer. Paneer, khoya and ghee are similarly adulterated, usually with urea and white paint or poster colours with varying amounts of dalda.
But even when the milk is untouched by paint and oils, it can be pretty harmful. It is routinely full of hormones — mostly oxytocin, a banned drug given to cattle to increase lactation. A mainstay of milkmen across the country, oxytocin seeps into the milk and affects consumers, leading to hormone imbalance and miscarriage, male impotence, sterility, uterine cancers, neurological complications and facial hair in women.
So you want to take your child off milk? What will you feed her for strong bones and healthy growth? Fresh fruit and veggies, and lots of calcium-rich spinach, like Popeye? Sorry, sister, but most of our lovely "fresh" fruits and vegetables are flush with oxytocin. It makes vegetables brighter, plumper, bigger and more attractive to consumers. It is injected generously into most gourds, including the lauki and karela so favoured by healthy eaters, and into pumpkins, cucumbers, spinach, papayas, watermelons, bananas and mangoes. Or so we hear.
But oxytocin hasn't replaced the old faithful — calcium carbide. This well-known fruit "ripener" has been causing all kinds of problems for generations, from rashes and blurred vision to ulcers and respiratory problems and even pulmonary oedema, sterility and cancers. We have done precious little about it.

Now for the heavy metals and pesticides. Fruits and veggies contain several times the permitted levels of lead, zinc and cadmium — especially our traditional health food, spinach. This is largely caused by irrigation with untreated waste water. And pesticides, the preferred poisons, are necessary for a good crop, wouldn't you say? Never mind that all this affects our lungs, kidneys, joints, reproductive, cardiovascular and nervous systems, and leads to birth defects, Parkinson's and cancer.

So you want to give up on the old fruit? And the steamed veggies on the side? Just go for fish and meats and may God save the vegetarians? Well, fish often have high levels of pesticides and heavy metals too — since they are routinely bred in contaminated water. And meats are rich in hormones, antibiotics and drugs that the animal was fed to fatten it for the slaughter. In fact, we ingest much more antibiotics and hormones from meats and poultry than we could ever do from honey.

Oh dear. Maybe we could drink lots of water to flush out these toxins? You could, with fingers crossed. We are famous for water-borne diseases. And today the National Institute of Virology has said that most purifiers in India do not eliminate water-borne viruses. You will survive on bottled water, you say? Too bad, moneybags, a study found that in general bottled water had 36 times the acceptable limit of pesticides. And all cold drinks in India are bubbling with pesticides — some of the biggest brands going up to 70 times the limit. So happy drinking, buddy!

The only way to protect yourself and your child is by getting proper safety regulations for food and beverages in place. If we can stick to international quality for export, we could jolly well do it for ourselves as well. Let's take ourselves as seriously as we take the foreigner.


Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine.


She can be contacted at








A good way to deal with the problems of Indian governance is to develop short-term memory loss. If we can forget what was touted as poisonous for us just a few years earlier, we can swallow it as panacea today. I often feel that the Indian janata is like that poor heroine in a demented Bollywood film who wakes up after an accident and, batting her false eyelashes, plaintively asks the two eternal questions: "Main kahan hoon? Aap kaun hain?" Don't you wonder whether these are the same bunch of politicians we elected a year ago — or have some incompetent aliens taken over their bodies?

Every now and again we become victims of a carefully cons t ructed car crash engineered by our ruling elite, develop am n e sia and open our eyes in a whole new world. And sometimes new is not indicative of "nice". And "new" is not modern or pr ogressive either. In the past few months we have seen some of the most regressive measures being injected into our syst em. And all we can do is groan helplessly and mutter, "Main ka h an ho on?" We really need not ask "Aap kaun hain?" because th at smiling surgeon behind the surgical mask is the same fr i e ndly chap who sold us the car insurance policy.

For instance, one of the most frequently used phrases describing the wicked British Raj when we learnt history in school was about its policy to "divide and rule". It was meant to indicate the worst kind of governance because it was responsible for our servility to the gora masters. We had capitulated and initially been overcome by them because they had this uncanny ability to spot a basic weakness in our social fabric: no two Indians ever need to be treated equally. It is always possible to divide us, if not according to class, then according to caste, religion or region. The short-term memory loss following Independence and the declaration of the Nehruvian caste-less society was a relief for many Indians, especially the middle class because we knew that once we forgot our caste we could become one happy homogenous indistinguishable group. Oh! The wonderful bonding that would follow! We would never again be exploited by our rulers or by each other. Centuries of treating lower castes as untouchables and other barbaric injustices would now be erased. If only.

For those who lived through the brief euphoria, it was a visionary exercise leading to very real social reform. Much much more revolutionary than any economic reform carried out post 1990. It was liberalisation from labels. Therefore, wh en the Census enumerators recently asked my parents about th­eir caste — something they had abjured, treated as part of the freedom struggle, as a noxious reminder of a pre-Independ e nce debilitating social disease — my mother quite correctly and proudly refused to divulge something her family had rejected as part of their loyalty to "new India". She said her caste was "Indian". Instead of falling into the trap of our new po litical masters who seem fairly keen to exploit any loophole to make us se r vile rent-seekers, there are still some patriotic In d i ans who remember the re a s o ns why we were mo v i­ng aw ay from caste recognition.
But there is no lesson fr om history our present po l itical mast e rs are obviously prepared to imbibe. Th ey would prefer to write th eir own version of history. Obviously, if our netas ha ve votebanks which be n efit fr om caste-based po l i cies, then naturally we wi ll be dr awn towards ne e d ing a caste enumeration. Co ul­dn't they have found a different criteria? Of co u r se they could. But then, th ey wo­uld not be able to "di v ide and rule", would they?

And our own short-term memory loss has forced us to silently watch the explosion of caste politics onto the political stage, threatening to overwhelm us. If only we had leadership who (like my parents) would place the fact that we are Indians before greedily grabbing whatever our jaatwallahs can concoct for us! It would be so much more progressive to make policies for the economically-backward and focus on development issues which deal with the marginalised. It is also a far more secular way of doing things — as caste supposedly only exists in the Hindu society. The Mandalisation of Indian politics is as fundamentalist as the mandir debate — it's a time bomb, created with the help of unprogressive politicians such as Lalu Prasad Yadav, who have made a career out of reaping the benefits of his caste.

This is one social experiment that we should have never em b arked upon. When Rahul Gandhi talks about two Bharats, and dismisses "Modern Bharat", he forgets the ma ny positive features of the society his great grandfather had tried to engineer.

In many pockets of urban India, caste no longer determines job opportunities. Some time back, a young girl employed by us as a domestic worker to sweep and swab, said that her husband (a garbage collector) had now trained himself as a bar tender. He was available for large parties to mix cocktails at night, while continuing to collect garbage during the day. She asked me to spread the word around so he could find some gigs. His social mobility is possible only when we live in a caste-oblivious world.

But we are threatening to engulf the next generation in a caste war. No doubt, as things worsen socially (even as the Sensex soars), we will wake up a decade later in a further fragmented world, asking, "Main kahan hoon?" Modern India will be ca s te-driven and we will have gone back a hundred years. Do n't even bother to ask "Aap kaun hain?" Democracy has se r ved In dia well. But our democratically-elected leadership has failed.


PS: Another buzz doing the rounds of Delhi is how a "positive" hype is now being created around the Commonwealth Games to deflect attention from allegations of corruption. Will our predilection for losing our memory frequently also come to rescue of Suresh Kalmadi and his cronies? Under the glamour and glitz of the Games will we forget the thousands of crores of rupees hoovered up and misutilised? Money that could have been spent on schools and hospitals. Or will we simply wake up, post-Games and exclaim groggily, as Mr Kalmadi and Sheila Dikshit are showered with praise: "Main kahan hoon? Aap kaun hain?"


The writer can be contacted at










The 2010 Asian Games in China at Guangzhou will begin on November 12. On September 1, the town that houses the sports venues and the accommodation was formally handed over to the games organising committee. We have two weeks to go for our Commonwealth Games. The "soft" launch of the games village happened on September 16, but most things look half-finished.


Critics will blame India's perennial state of underpreparedness on our lack of systems. This is an insult to the thousands of years of Indian systems craft. If Japan has its famous JIT, short for just-in-time, India has the patent on the original JIT — jugaad in time. Indian JIT predates the Japanese one by centuries. Perhaps by a few thousand years. All over the world, each society comes up with ways to get things done on time and in line with its cultural and environmental attributes.


The minimalist discipline of monolithic culture works for the Japanese form of JIT. The west loves Toyota and Honda (okay, they also love Hyundai, but the Japanese are the real deal). They have also had monolithic cultures for most of their histories. That's why Japan's JIT dominates the world — from California to China.


In pluralistic, argumentative, multi-everything India, what works best is jugaad — an improvised approach to problem-solving that may or may not solve anything for the long term. But it works very well in the short-term. In the jugaad system of thinking, forecasting, planning, strategy, project management, compliance, and due diligence are wasteful. Our business, political, and social elite have been convinced since time immemorial that these are to be shunned.


In the Indian jugaad system, human resources are considered a given. It is human resourcefulness that matters most. Unlike just-in-time, jugaad in time thrives on delays. The years and months leading to a deadline are spent building the jugaad network of friends, cronies, relations, fixers, and takers. It takes special skill and ruthlessness to master it all.


The actual work begins only at the nth hour. That's when the super-efficient jugaad network swings into crisis coordination mode. Lo and behold, all that was at a standstill for years and months gets done in a matter of days!


In jugaad, therefore, we trust. That's why we don't plan ahead. We don't allocate resources, time and efforts to our projects. The result is mostly quick success or fast failure; seldom sustainable success. A friend, G Ramachandran, once wrote about why Sachin Tendulkar is continuously successful, while other contemporaries failed or faded away. Building sustainable success requires systems and methodologies that can be institutionalised.


Our divisive social structures are perhaps the reason why we are not able to build institutions or organisations.

An institution is founded on teamwork, and teams can only work with a shared purpose and targets.


In India, the only organisations that still command respect are those that were founded on institutional principles and values. Unfortunately, in spite of the globally acclaimed successes of a Tata or an Infosys, it's the rule of jugaad that runs deep in defence, mining, real estate, healthcare, education, and even cricket.


We have learnt to run things, earn money, create capital, leverage it well, but we have not learnt how to manage and institutionalise it for the long term. We do not couple people and processes in a manner that is sustainable. Even well-run project-driven firms are dependent on individuals — that they are mostly senior citizens speaks poorly about us — at the top to drive them.


Japan's JIT focuses on the institution, which is a long-term abstraction. Use of such systems makes both individuals and society richer. The jugaad system, however, focuses on the individual. That's why it benefits some individuals, not society. That's why the Commonwealth Games will make a few individuals and companies very rich, and leave India much the poorer.








The economic rise of Asia, particularly after the 2008 global financial crisis, is widely acknowledged as a force for good. But the same economic forces that propel Asia ahead also come with the risk of accentuating a "post-crisis divide" from America, which — given the level of political immaturity in Asia — is "dangerous", argues Simon SC Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.


Evidence of such "political immaturity" is manifest in recurrent tensions between India and China, recent tensions in the South China Sea, and the current diplomatic spat between Japan and China. Tay's provocative proposition, which he outlines in his most recent book Asia Alone, is that the US must continue to remain engaged in Asia, but not with a 'sole superpower' mentality. In an interview to DNA, Tay highlights the risk of Asia "going it alone".


What are the forces driving Asia away from America, and why is it a bad thing?


The first factor is economics. Coming out of the crisis, Asia wants to be a more self-contained economy: what's produced in Asia must increasingly be consumed here. The economic maturity of markets in Asia is welcome, but there's a political side to this. Asia's economic maturity outweighs its political maturity. There's plenty of evidence of that: tensions in the South China Sea, tensions between India and China — the tenor of which signals they're in for rocky times. Asia may mature politically and be peaceful, but that future is a while away. China is a vital figure in the question.


Isn't it a fact that China wants the US 'out of Asia' because it sees Asia as its turf?


Chinese leaders have so far shown concerns about their own fragility, a clear limitation of their desire to be regionally hegemonic and dominant. Of course, they've also been reaching out to the world but mainly for their limited interest of resources, markets, etc. The present generation of Chinese leaders won't try to dominate Asia or push out America.


But in the future, China will respond to a noisy 'netizenry', where young people, who have not experienced deprivation, are nationalistic. They believe that historically they've borne an insult, and are overcoming that, and this is their rightful moment. Sometimes the leadership plays this game too: protests and riots against Japan, even if they weren't stoked, weren't stopped either.


Recently, we saw US aircraft-carriers enter the South China Sea at the invitation of countries that feel 'intimidated' by China. Is that how the US should re-engage with Asia?


No, but that re-engagement shows up the potential divide. Some people want a throwback to a time before China's rise, to a time when America was the permanent guarantor of peace in the region. But the future requires adjustments on all side: for America, for China and also for the rest of Asia.


You say China's 'charm offensive' has won over Asean states, but is this true?


At one point in time, China played a good game, but a truce that's formed when both sides are relatively weak may not hold when one side becomes much stronger than the other. That's what we see today. China's self-perception has also changed. There are elements in China's People's Liberation Army who, as China's power grows, will seek a translation of their domestic power and project it overseas.


This is what sometimes happens with India in the Indian Ocean region. But there are also an increasing number and range of voices in China. It may be unwise to read every statement coming from officials as the 'sanctioned' party line.


In your book, India seldom finds mention in discussions on the emerging Asian architecture. Why is that?


India's economic rise is dramatic and it is going to be a growth story of Asia. I also think the 'Look East' policy marks a change of heart. But let's do a reality check. American audiences, when they see Asia, see China everywhere, and India only peripherally. The same is the case with south-east Asian audiences.


It signals to me a limitation of Indian diplomacy. India has very few foreign affairs specialists: just a few hundred diplomats running around. For a country that has ambitions to engage with Asia and the world, that's inadequate.


Secondly, India's style of diplomacy is spectacularly successful in, for instance, the Group of 77, and so on. But when it comes to negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with Asean, it ends up ruffling feathers. China, on the other hand, went out of its way to ensure that an FTA with Asean was a strategic political initiative rather than a WTO-style bargaining. India's economy is only a third or a fourth the size of China's. But although Asean is a lot smaller than India, it has an outsized political role in Asian regionalism.


You appear to dismiss India's wariness about Chinese actions in South Asia as 'conspiracy theories'…


I say 'conspiracy theory' because it is, in a sense, an obsession with Indian think-tanks. Chinese think-tanks aren't obsessed about India in the same way. I don't mean that Indian thinkers don't have a basis for that: I've acknowledged the Chinese 'String of Pearls' theory. There may not be outright war noises, and diplomats from both sides cooperate at various international forums. But we're a long way from pan-Asian peace and prosperity.


Is there a risk of a new Cold War between India and China?


There's a risk of that, yes. It's startling for me to see how little India and China know about each other. We have to recognise that perception gap and the dangers that come with it. India has to invest in scholars and experts who will deepen an understanding of China. The same is the case with China. Compared to the number of Chinese who track America or even Europe, and the number of Indians who look at those areas, the intra-Asian understanding is very low.


You make the point that the US too has to make adjustments. In what way?


America has to get used to the fact that it is essential but no longer the only player in Asia. It must face up to this sense of limitation — economically, in terms of military and political power, and in terms of attention span.


It's inevitable that the rise of Asia will have economic — and cultural — significance for America. Some Americans are getting used to it, but the bulk of them aren't. In small-town America, there are people who haven't been out of their own state. Those people are in for a rude awakening, because Asia is coming knocking on their door. They've been insulated, and they hear only negative stories about Asia.


Counter-globalisation attitudes are rising in America: the notion that Americans lost their jobs to India and to China or that China exports mercury-laced toys or competes unfairly on trade. They need to hear other, positive narratives about Asia.








Few things can be as frustrating and pointless as trying to be a good driver on India's roads. If you do, you are a bit like the sane man in the land of the insane, trying to make sense of right and wrong. Indian road manners are arguably among the worst in the world. We disregard the rules and show little courtesy to our fellow drivers.


The most common peeve is the way drivers cut lanes, and don't even think it is wrong. You are driving down the highway, and as a prudent driver you seek to keep a safe distance from the car in front of you. Problem is, the wise guy in the next lane sees this as an opportunity to cut into your lane.


Only a few drivers bother to turn on the indicator lights; most cut in without so much as a by-your-leave. As for stopping at red signals on empty roads or in the dead of the night, it is a dumb thing to do. A few decades ago, drivers in Mumbai (perhaps it was Bombay then) were praised because they stopped at red signals regardless of traffic or time. Alas, no more. Mumbai is driving down the same road of bad road manners that other Indian cities have already gotten into.


Perhaps this disregard for norms and fellow drivers has something to do with our desire for status. You are up there among the big boys if you do not have to follow the rules. For decades, cars were the ultimate status symbol.In small towns, the big shot owned it, in towns, the bosses drove it. Plebeians walked the streets or rode bicycles; the better-off made do with the scooters.


Thus, always giving way to the car was an indication of lower status. And for those inside cars, signals and pedestrians are roadblocks preventing you from getting on time to the next appointment. This attitude still prevails, best symbolised by the red light car of our politicians and bureaucrats who believe it is their birthright to disregard traffic norms or toll booths. They can easily afford to pay, but the point is why should they do what the common citizen has to do?


The problem with such an attitude was that it didn't matter much when India had fewer cars. But today, India's middle-class (upper and lower) can easily afford to buy cars (at least with EMIs), and observing road rules is not just a question of good manners but essential for safe and quick driving. There are just too many cars on the road for everyone to disobey the rules; courtesy to others is necessary to keep traffic moving and safe. Granted, our roads need to be wider and better maintained, but before we pick on the civic officials, let us improve our road manners.


As Indians, we know that only the big stick works with us. In the West, cutting lanes is an offence that carries a huge fine. India needs to follow suit. We started worrying about drink-driving only when a few hundred people fined and even sent to jail. It is time for the law to get into the frightening act.








Consequences of New Delhi's inability or, as some suspect, unwillingness to come to grips with the crux of the burning problem in Kashmir are getting compounded with the Congress party's dithering over the leadership of the ruling coalition in the state. That Omar Abdullah has lost confidence of the central establishment is no longer in doubt after the utterance of those two cryptic observations: 'Governance deficit and trust deficit' in the context of the deliberations of the crucial meeting of the cabinet committee on security (CCS) preceding the all-party meeting convened by the Prime Minister. It is not for nothing that Omar's affectionate father has been running from pillar to post to dispel the inevitable impression created by this 'deficit' terminology. While others who attended the APM on Wednesday came out to explain their respective positions, Farooq spent all his energy in fending off the cloud overhanging Omar's future in saddle. Omar's dad happened to be the only person among about 40 to 50 persons present at the APM to hear Dr Manmohan Singh 'praising' the chief minister. It is typical of Farooq to raise the pitch on his homeground only to turn tail in New Delhi over issues of significance to his party and his state. The statements that were made in Srinagar on the eve of the APM suggested that the National Conference would settle for nothing less than a firm central commitment over the 'package' set out by Omar Abdullah. 'We will not repeat 2000' when the father and son pocketed the humiliation of NDA's unceremonious rejection of the state assembly's resolution on autonomy and continued to hang to their respective jobs. Overnight, however, Farooq discovered reason behind centre's unwillingness to oblige him and his son. 'Lifting AFSPA is not so simple. It will take time. National security is more important', was the new refrain. Action replay of 2000, nothing less and nothing more! Farooq has been moving from door to door to ensure that Omar stays on. Every other thing has receded into the background---AFSPA, autonomy and package.

Rahul Gandhi's bid to pump life into seriously ailing regime headed by his generational counterpart only confirms the general impression that the existing political arrangement in Jammu and Kashmir is not only defunct but needs borrowed life support system to hang on. How long this artificial existence can serve the purpose and to what end only the time can tell. Any intelligent guess would show that the time available in this particular case is not going to be that long. A regime at the helm in a state like J&K, according to Rahul, has to perform arduous task and that it is a 'full time' job. The AICC general secretary is a bit late in saying what he said in Kolkatta on Thursday. He ought to have advised his friend in Kashmir at the time of crowning him, at the expense of his father's desire and claim, that the job being entrusted to him was 'full time' not part time. Omar is on record to have justified his frequent and long absence from the state capital on the ground that it did not affect his performance or that of his government. The result, however, is there for everyone to see. The state has plunged into disaster, the authority of the regime has collapsed, a dangerous political vacuum has swept away all the gains accruing from appreciable mass participation in the assembly and parliamentary elections. There is blood on the streets. Life has become hell for ordinary citizens. Omar has turned out to be not only a failure but a huge disaster for his people, for his state and for his party.

The situation is so bad that it cannot be said with certainty if and when it can be reversed and at what cost. Already about a hundred human lives have been lost, hundreds are lying in hospitals most of them with life-long disability. Kashmir valley and now parts of Jammu region have become big jails with confinement of entire population and life remaining paralysed. Collective punishment inflicted upon the people who were supposed to be served by the government they had chosen about two years ago is taking a heavy toll of their morale. Now the stink of sickness afflicting the regime from within has fouled the atmosphere. Omar's eventual fate has lost significance in the larger context. The ouster of such a terminally sick regime will certainly not be mourned here or in New Delhi.







The decision to reinstate the four cops accused of tampering of evidence in the Shopian rapes and murders is not only flawed, it is also ill-times. It seems to have come at a time when in a highly charged atmosphere, the only flicker of hope for an Eid package or some confidence building measure after an all-party meet has totally been shattered. People in the Valley believe that the entire probe in the Shopian rapes and murders have been a major sham and the CBI report has covered up the follies of not the just the accused in the case but also those who tampered with the evidence. The Jan Commission of Inquiry in its report, much before CBI got into the act, had indicted policemen for tampering with the evidence and even maintained that this was pre-meditated and planned. On the basis of these findings, the government had suspended the cops more than a month after the incident happened on the intervening night of May 29-30, 2009. But it was the state high court intervention that finally ensured arrest and prosecution of the four cops. The high court had even gone to the extent of observing that "either the four accused policemen were themselves responsible for the crimes or they knew who had committed them." However, the four policemen in question were not even interrogated adequately enough during their month long incarceration, after which they were released on bail. The investigation had later been handed over to the CBI, which totally reversed the findings of the Jan Commission of Inquiry. The CBI nailed the whistle blowers and instead gave a clean chit to the cops, ruling that no rape or murder had taken place. The case is still pending in the state high court, which refused to treat the CBI report as 'gospel's truth'. The cops have been reinstated on the recommendations of the CBI. They haven't still been given a clean chit by the high court. Is the CBI being deemed above the judiciary which is yet to have the final word? Besides, there is much flaw in the very basic argument of the CBI that has offered no evidence but only sought to add to the confusion with its volumes of pages and selectively leaked propaganda through the media. Coming at a time it does, the reinstatement of the cops is merely yet another attempt to rub salt to injury of the Kashmiris.








I recently interacted with some Kashmiri young men in Delhi. There was no doubting their indignation and exasperation. The killings in the valley, almost 90 since 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." What is the population of the valley? "Please include Muslim areas in Jammu and Ladakh." This would come to about one crore or a little more. They said: "It is not a question of numbers but one of feelings. We just do not want to be part of India."


Yet another said, "We do not want to be part of Pakistan either." 

I vainly argued how a country with one crore population could sustain itself without any help from either India or Pakistan. "There is the entire Muslim world to help us," they said. 

I told them that this bothered me and that bringing religion into their protests showed that they wanted to establish another Muslim state on India's border. 

What would be the repercussions in India which was trying to stay above the waters of communalism and remain secular? Their reply: "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 firing by security forces. (The Indian media has been covering the events in detail.) 

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 firing. 

New Delhi and Kashmir's chief minister Omar Abdullah believe that anger could 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. 

The problem has been politicised and New Delhi has known it all along. That it should have been sorted out by this time goes without saying. The more a solution is delayed the more knotty the problem will become. 

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's remark that 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, which with all its limitations has stood by New Delhi from day one, New Delhi is only proving that it has committed one mistake after another, without realising that it would have to pay for its lapses some day. 

Each time an economic or employment package is considered a panacea for all troubles. The challenge from the days of Sheikh Abdullah is how New Delhi gives Srinagar a sense of identity without letting Kashmir translate that status into independence? 

That there is no alternative to talks goes without saying. But the talks with the type of fundamentalists who are in the forefront will be difficult to conduct because they are the ones who incite people in the name of religion. They have pushed Kashmirayat, a pluralistic concept, to the back burner and brought fundamentalism to the fore. 

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 the fundamentalists. Ultimately, it depends on what New Delhi is willing to offer in terms of political power. 

The Bharatiya Janata Party is the biggest impediment. It has politicised the issue and refurbished parochialism. At the back of its mind is the Hindutva philosophy which, it believes, cannot cope with a Muslim-majority territory. 

Already Narendra Modi of the Gujarat carnage notoriety has started attacking New Delhi for not being tough on Kashmir. The world knows what his toughness means. 

He is also preparing the Hindus for the verdict on the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute scheduled to be announced on Sept 24. Both communities are on the edge. 

Some argue that the panacea is to concede the right of self-determination. Today's world which is a witness to economic unions and common markets does not recognise any group of people or area which raises the standard of separation. 

No state can accede to this principle because it gives sanction to centrifugal forces and fissiparous tendencies. Were the principle of self-determination to be applied in Southeast Asia, many states in the region would face the prospect of disintegration.

New Delhi's mistake is that it has left the Kashmir problem unattended to for such a long period. It proves the charge that many elements have come to develop a vested interest in the status quo. 

Manmohan Singh is quite right when he says that he is willing to talk to any party or group so long as it does not project or support violence. However, the hard-liners have spelled out certain demands. Talks have to be held without prior conditions. 

Once New Delhi and Srinagar have come to terms, they should talk to Islamabad. Even otherwise, all three can sit across the table. The participation of Pakistan is necessary because all agreements, beginning from the one at Tashkent to that at Shimla, mention Pakistan as one of the important parties. 

Moreover, not long ago, India and Pakistan had almost clinched the issue if former Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and former Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Kasuri are to be believed.







A month ago I was invited to a meeting where during the question and answer time, somebody from the audience talked about global warming, "We don't have time for such topics," said the others impatiently and the gentleman was made to sit down. With such a callous attitude I foresee the day when the children of this generation will drag us to court one day:     

There will be the stamping of little feet and raising of childlike voices in the courtroom. I can imagine the judge lifting his gavel and bringing it down, not once, not twice but a dozen times, but the angry din doesn't die down a bit. "Order!" Order!" he screams.

"Killers!" cry the children in the courtroom, as we grownups are led to the box. "Murderers!" shout the same children, their shrieking shrill voices rising in crescendo.

 "Order! Order! You may start!" says the judge kindly to the lawyer who represents the children of the world and the lawyer says, "Your honor, these men and women in the dock are murderers and killers!"

"They are your parents, uncles and aunts," says the judge.

"Butchers!" shout the children some of whom are crying.

"What charges have you against the accused?" asks the judge.

"That they have knowingly misused the earth they were given to use for a limited period and have through pollution and waste, emissions and environmental mishandling, made it a place unfit for us children to live in."

"What evidence do you have?" asked the judge.

"Floods! Unseasonal rains! Epidemics!"

"Tsunamis!" shouts a child from Asia.

"Heat waves!"

"Global warming!"

"Dried rivers!"

"Shrinking oceans!"

"Okay!" shouts the judge finally, "You say that all this has been caused because these adults never took care of our planet during their lifetime?"

"Yes your honour!"

"What do you plead?" asks the judge looking at the accused, adults all of them in the age group of fifty and above.

"We plead guilty your honour!"

"Guilty of destroying planet earth leased to you for your lifetimes?"

"Yes your honour!"

The judge turns to the lawyer, "And what punishment do you ask?"

"Death!" shout all the children, "Death..!"

And that should be the sentence for all of us who are hell bent on destroying our earth..!









INSTEAD of abating, the agitation in Haryana by the Jats demanding reservation is taking a turn for the worse. Incidents of arson and violence continue. The leaders of the agitators openly say that the government has just seen a glimpse of "a little disorder and unrest in the state". The message is clear and ominous: much more is to follow. The plan is to cut supplies to the national capital and also to disrupt the Commonwealth Games if their demands are not met. What is all the more unfortunate is that the ham-handed manner in which the government reacted to the agitation has caused a caste divide. A murder case has been registered against former Hisar SP Subhash Yadav for the death of a youth in police firing while the easily identifiable agitators roam free. There is a large section which believes that Yadav was singled out because he, acting under Supreme Court orders, had arrested 130 persons, almost all of them from the Jat community, for the Mirchpur violence where two Dalits were burnt alive by a Jat mob.


No wonder, uncomfortable questions are being asked about the government's inaction against those responsible for this week's violent incidents. Even the Punjab and Haryana High Court has directed the state to inform it as to what action is being taken against the rioters as many of them are clearly identifiable from photographs in newspapers as well as from TV footage. It was only on Friday that cases were registered against some agitators.


The government has given the unfortunate impression of being partisan. It has not taken action against any rioter but awarded compensation to the kin of the deceased. A rioter is a rioter, whatever the cause he represents. The Haryana government owes a responsibility to those who lost their property due to the agitation. It had come in for strong criticism for being mild towards the majority community during the Mirchpur violence. It must not make the same mistake again.









THE RBI's hikes in the repo and reverse repo rates will lead to higher interest rates on home, car and education loans. Why has the RBI done this? Why raise the cost of borrowings for individuals and companies? If more people take home and car loans, it means more demand for housing and automobiles, and higher growth for companies engaged in these sectors. If companies get cheaper loans, they undertake expansion and/or new projects, which means generating more employment. The overall industrial growth picks up and the economy attracts more domestic and foreign investment. Then why is the RBI playing a spoilsport?


The RBI's sole purpose is to rein in price rise. Inflation based on the wholesale prices grew at 8.5 per cent in August and that is quite high. Food inflation at 15.10 per cent for the week ending September 4 is still higher. The central bank thinks since there is too much money supply in the system, it fuels demand for goods, which, in turn, leads to price rise. High prices particularly hit the poor and are politically incorrect. However, it is the high prices of food items that make life difficult for the poor and these are not driven by money supply. If the supply of food items is increased – through imports and better management of the distribution system in the short term and by raising farm productivity in the long term – then food inflation can come down without hurting growth.


The RBI can indeed bring down the prices of manufactured products by tightening money supply and squeezing demand. Another reason for the apex bank draining liquidity is that in 2008 the industry was extended a financial stimulus in the shape of cheaper loans and tax breaks to cope with recession. Now that recovery has begun and growth is robust, it is time to roll back the stimulus and ease the government's financial burden.









MULTIPLE benefits of honey have been driven home since times immemorial. That the honey traditionally meant to be an elixir could contain antibiotics, including the banned chloramphenicol, not only comes as a big shock but also raises questions over the food and safety regulations prevalent in the country. A Centre for Science and Environment exposé has come out with damning reports of presence of antibiotics in honey available in the market. The CSE, an NGO that had previously taken on powerful cola manufacturing companies and highlighted the presence of pesticide residue in cola drinks, has tested nearly 12 brands of honey and found six harmful antibiotics in 11 samples. The report indicts both domestically produced honey as well as the imported one.


This is not the first time that doubts have been raised over the quality of honey available in India. Earlier, Punjab's honey industry had been stung by antibiotics. Doraha-based International Institute of Beekeepers and Agro Enterprises had warned that 90 per cent export samples were laced with antibiotics and lead. Today it seems ironical that while honey exported to other countries is being tested for antibiotics, both the domestically produced and imported honey escapes regulations. Actually, the presence of antibiotics in honey, be it for the domestic market or exports, cannot be taken lightly. Even in small doses, its repeated consumption can lead to several health problems. Oxytetracycline, one of the antibiotics found by the CSE, can cause blood-related disorders. Honey laced with antibiotics can lead to antibiotics resistance.


While many of the honey manufacturing companies have refuted the allegations, a country whose health care system and food and safety regulations (especially for the domestic market) leave much to be desired cannot sit smug. Health hazards, whether they come in the form of blatant adulteration or are a fallout of boosting production as in the case of honey, milk or vegetables, need to be probed. Those responsible, both the beekeepers and the foreign companies who often dump unhealthy products in India, need to be taken to task if found violating health norms.
















BRISK India-America talks are in progress to prepare the ground for President Barack Obama's first official visit to this country in early November. Six months ago during a strategic dialogue between the two countries at the level of foreign ministers Washington had chosen to be extraordinarily warm to the India and its Foreign Minister, S. M. Krishna. Brushing aside protocol, Mr. Obama had driven from the White House to the state department to join Hillary Clinton's reception in Mr Krishna's honour. With his trademark oratory he had declared then that during his visit to New Delhi he would be "making history".


However, huge changes in the situation, internal and external, since then have cast doubts whether the US President's rhetorical flourish can be matched by reality. This should explain the accentuation of efforts by both sides to see to it that the visit is as productive and useful as possible. Foreign Secretary Nirupma Rao's visit to Washington this week will be followed by that of National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon. In October the US Undersecretary of State William Burns will arrive in New Delhi.


What the veteran diplomats are struggling against is the combination of circumstances that have constricted Mr Obama's capacity to deliver on his promise. The most important of these is the domestic challenge to him. The US economy hasn't improved as much as he had claimed. On the contrary, unemployment is higher than during the recession. No wonder the President's job ratings have plummeted from 60 to 40 per cent.


Sadly, during the recently surcharged atmosphere, some Americans started calling him a "Muslim President". On top of it he faces a very hard election to the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate in November almost immediately after returning from India. The general forecast in the US is that the Democrats will lose at least one House, if not both. If so, this would be a heavy setback to Mr Obama, circumscribing his elbowroom in the conduct of international relations.


Strangely, this is already working more to the disadvantage of India than any other country. Look at the restrictions that the US has placed on the outsourcing of services such as IT operations and call offices to this country. The vehemence with which the American side, including Mr. Obama himself, has defended this action is jarring. Commerce Minister Anand Sharma has already protested against this "regressive" resort to "protectionism". What adds to the hurt is that no comparable restrictions on China have even been thought of. Ironically, China has an annual trade surplus with the US of more than $200 billion, and the Chinese have flatly refused America's repeated requests for a revaluation of their currency. The Indian IT industry's earnings from the US are no more than $50 billion. More importantly, the US is supposed to be the global leader of a free market economy. If it resorts to protectionism, why wouldn't other countries?


Of course, protectionism alone is not the issue. It is intertwined with the vexed question of technology transfer. The mere dropping of some Indian entities from America's entity list is not enough. Nor is there any point in saying that processes for issuing licences to Indian firms have been accelerated. The point is that after the Indo-US nuclear deal there is no reason to treat this country like those whose nuclear activities are under watch.


For its part, the American side has been unhappy with the contents of the recently enacted Nuclear Liability Act though they have expressed themselves in relatively low key. Even so, India had told the US that after Bhopal no Indian government or legislature would accept its demand for the exemption of American suppliers from "all Indian laws". The suppliers, really Japanese-owned, cannot be indifferent to investment opportunities worth $15 billion.


The mother of all problems, however, is the imbalance in the triangular relationship between India, the US and China. The Prime Minister's off-the-record remarks, which were published anyhow, underscore how concerned India is over China's escalating activities against this country and overly in support of Pakistan, especially those focussed on Kashmir. The presence of the PLA in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, next door to Xingjiang, may be only 2,000, not 7,000 as reported. They may not be combat troops but soldiers of the Construction Corps.


But the grave implications of their deployment are obvious. Pakistan's ability to hold on this much-suppressed and rebellious region is becoming more and more doubtful. The situation is rather like it was in several areas of Myanmar that the Chinese have virtually taken over. The history might repeat itself. In any case, Pakistan, much beholden to China, is happy to be its surrogate in keeping India "confined" to South Asia so that it does not become China's rival on the wider Asian scene.


In this respect the US has regrettably been woefully wanting. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did warn China about its strident maritime claims in the South China Sea that are naturally contested by its Southeast Asian neighbours. But neither she nor any other American dignitary has ever said a word about what China or Pakistan or both together are doing to undermine India.


In relation to Pakistan the US attitude is even more puzzling. Whatever its compulsions in Afghanistan, the US is fully aware of Pakistan's double-dealing and duplicity vis-à-vis the "fight against terror". Yet, Washington continues to court the Pakistan army, especially its chief, General Ashaque Kiyani. Furthermore, the US praises the enormous constructive and humanitarian work this country is doing in Afghanistan even though it is denied transit facilities to Kabul. At the same time, Washington remains receptive to Pakistani clamour for curtailing the Indian presence in the Afghan land. There is a curious objection even to the Indian consulates in Jalalaabad and Kandahar.


To be sure, American leaders, from the President down, do speak of India as their "indispensable partner" in promoting democracy, peace and stability in the region, Asia and the world. But, unfortunately, actions speak louder than words. India knows – and those Indians who don't ought to know – that good and close relations with the US are in the best interests of both. All the more reason, therefore, that China and Pak-Af should be on the top of the agenda during the Obama visit, and Indian concerns should be voiced in a friendly and firm manner. Nothing can be more self-defeating than slurring over unpleasant realities.








WHILE waiting at the Bangalore airport for a flight to Delhi, I saw a middle-aged man walk to the water cooler in his bare feet.  I envied him the informality of being able to kick off his shoes.  But later, when we queued up for embarkation, I was horrified to see that he still wasn't wearing shoes — he had obviously forgotten to put them on again.  But when I went up to remind him, he only smiled and said; "I never wear shoes". 


We found ourselves sitting next to each other.  He told me that years ago, when he was not financially well off, he had gone to buy a pair of shoes and found that he was seven rupees short.  Some strong impulse made him kick off his tattered shoes and vow never to wear shoes again. 


Our acquaintanceship survived for many years and I was amazed at the spread of his business and the wealth and power he commanded. And yet his feet were always bare —whether the pavements were sizzling at 48 or freezing at minus 20.  He said it was to ensure that in spite of all his material success and his wealth, he would never forget the time when he did not have enough money to buy a pair of shoes.


When I think of him, I am reminded of a story in a text book, while at school.  The Shah of Persia, while out hunting, loses his way, and finds shelter and warmth in a shepherd's hut.  He is impressed by the earthy wisdom of his host and decides to appoint him as his wazir.  The new wazir travels all over the kingdom to assess the people's problems, always carrying a big trunk with him.  


His efforts bear fruit and he is a great success at his job.  This draws upon his head the bitter jealousy of the older courtiers.  They launch  a slander campaign accusing him of corruption and say that he has amassed a great store of diamonds and rubies which he is loath to leave out of his sight.  He carries this in his trunk. 


The Shah, at first, ignores these rumours but when he sees that the wazir does, indeed, never let the trunk out of his sight, his suspicions too are aroused.  He commands the wazir to open the trunk and show him what is in it.  The wazir opens the box and draws out the long sheep-skin coat that he used to wear to keep the cold of winter at bay. "I never let this coat out of my sight so that in all the glamour and wealth of my position, I always remember that I am only a shepherd."


The world would be a much happier place if all of us who come from humble origins always kept a symbol of these beginnings.  Then in the midst of all the wealth and fame that life might gift us, our feet would remain firmly grounded.n 








CRIME, especially crime that can lead to the death of someone, needs to be punished severely. Our society really believes in this and adheres to it vehemently. But this universal belief seems to take a strange twist when it comes to crimes against women. If it is a high profile case, our society follows it religiously. We all try and look for answers and try to ascribe the blame somewhere or the other, without even knowing the facts of the matter or its essence.

Something similar seems to have happened to the Nadia Torrado case in Goa, the Viveka Babaji case in Mumbai, the Jessica Lal case in the past and to mostly all the cases where women have died. The fact of the matter is that a girl has died and if anyone has committed a crime, it should be duly punished. But the paraphernalia of social norms that we all carry does not let the issue remain so simple. Whenever a woman is involved in a socially reprehensible situation, a crime done against her acquires a totally different connotation. While the accused is hounded before being proven guilty, so is the victim — the woman; and her background, her character, her demeanour, her social status, her past relationships, everything is brought out and published in newspapers and splashed on TV.


The ancient barbaric social evil of a witch-hunt does not seem to leave us. We love to ascribe blame, and we love to do it on women, especially if we can link the matter to her sexuality. It gives us all a sense of complacency that we are not ourselves in that situation and someone else is bearing the brunt of transgressing social, moral and patriarchal boundaries.


All over Europe in the middle ages and as recent as the nineteenth century, women who digressed from the beaten track, or did something socially amoral, or were educated or knew a lot about natural medicines or were extremely beautiful or had tremendous property or were too old to be productive in anyway — were branded as witches and burnt in the town's marketplace where the crowd cheered on in the most inhuman and barbaric way.


Women were often tortured to exorcise the evil in them and then killed for crimes that were uncertain, dubious and never proved. In India too, this practice still goes on in many villages and women are hounded by society such that they are driven out of their homes or killed.


In bigger, so-called educated and aware cities, we do not commit such barbaric acts. We do not kill. We take the dead and exhume them again and again. We bring out every minute juicy detail of their lives and we devote a great deal of social talk and gossip to it. Rather authoritatively, we claim that the woman was of low character or she was using her femininity or that she was of a dubious background. We love to hear how many affairs she had or how vain she was or how she was using the man. Well, while she was alive, none of us dared to air our moral considerations, when the deed was happening right before our eyes. But once dead, we love to flog the carcass. The question that arises is — why do we do that?


Society has strange ways of dealing with things that it finds problematic to put into slots. A woman who dies in a promiscuous relationship or is raped or murdered or commits suicide is seen as something which was not supposed to happen in a civilised, moral and ethical society. So we need to ascribe blame for the unfortunate incident on someone. And who could be better than the woman herself?


Very self righteously, we conduct a social trial, where we are all jurors and come to a conclusion that the woman was responsible for the crime done against her. It is easier for us that way because it is extremely difficult to question a whole society which drove a woman to her death. Facing that kind of stark reality is not what most of us have the courage for. We cannot think that we all as a society have a role to play if a young woman is killed or raped or kills herself. We want to sit in our comfortable smugness and not question our existing socio-cultural institutions, merely because we do not have the courage to.


When crimes happen all too often, especially crimes against women, it is because of the way our society has evolved and hence we all have to bear a collective responsibility for it. The particular victim or crime is just a symptom of the deep-rooted disease which is rampant in our society. Suppressing a symptom or finding a scapegoat to pile the blame upon is not going to cure the disease. We have to get at the root of it.


For this, society as a whole has to march towards a social change, for which we need proper legislation, implementation of laws, empowerment of women and change in social attitudes towards women. All this is a Herculean task and will obviously occur over a long period of time.


But the important point, and what we can start from today itself, is to stop turning the victim into a criminal. Whenever a crime is done against a woman, it simply needs to be punished like any other crime, without harping upon the woman's background or her past life or attitudes or morality. The trial is not about her character, it is about her death.


Be it the Scarlet Keeling case or the German minor rape case or the Nadia case or those innumerable unfortunate cases, where women have made wrong choices, need to be viewed objectively and if the crime is proven, it should be punished without a social and media trial of the victim herself. It is foolish to proclaim that the woman invited it. No one invites assault, rape or murder.


There is a distinct difference between committing a socially unacceptable deed and committing a punishable crime. We cannot put both on a par and club the victim with the criminal. If we keep ascribing blame on women for crimes done against women themselves, the criminal-minded men who commit such crimes would be emboldened and crimes would continue to happen.


And with what faith can a victimised woman go to society, the police or the legal system when she knows that approaching any of these is going to merely expose her to further ignominy and trauma? That is the reason most of the time women do not even report a crime done against them.


Moreover, let us for a moment stop judging these women, most of them very young, some of them even kids,

naïve and perhaps misdirected. Isn't it more human to empathise than to judge? And who are we to judge after all?  







TO put it simply, gender stereotypes require a person to act and dress according to gender. In India more often than not gender stereotyping works against women. It not only blocks her development but also indirectly puts her in the dock. It is as if all social norms hinge on her behaviour and character. This is exactly what this cross-section of people feel.


" So strong is the notion of gender bias that the onus that the crime is not committed against a woman too rests on her. She is expected to ensure her safety and is somehow held responsible for the behaviour of men. The convoluted mindset is perceptible right from the taxiwallahs to the high and mighty. Who can forget the statement of Chief Minister of Delhi Sheila Dikshit, herself a woman, that girls shouldn't move out alone at night."

Belu Maheshwari, Associate Professor, Department of History, Panjab University, Chandigarh


"Stereotypes harm the interests of not only women but all weaker sections of society like Dalits. In case of women the bias runs deeper — the moment she is seen as asserting her right she is frowned upon. At times I am forced to tell women to act and dress in a conservative way for their liberal and independent image can actually prejudice the judgement against them."

Rajvinder Singh Bains, lawyer and activist


"Undoubtedly we run down women more than necessary. As against men women don't get an opportunity for a fair trial. When it comes to social privileges, we have different yardsticks for the fair sex. It's not men alone who nurse gender prejudices. Even women don't give other women a fair chance."


Amrit Brar, AIG (Crime), Punjab

"No doubt gender stereotyping exists and works in favour of men and to the detriment of women. She is expected to dress modestly and behave in a particular fashion. Over the years gender stereotyping has decreased but will continue till women are fully empowered financially, politically and intellectually."

Ranjit Powar, Deputy Director, Food and Civil Supplies, Punjab

"Stereotypes of any type are the worst way of viewing things and reinforce an escapist perspective. It helps us to find easy answers and solutions. Instead of addressing the real issues and concerns we try to find excuses to avoid the problem. Maintaining the status quo through gender stereotypes helps the male-dominated society that doesn't want to give women their rights."

G S Chani, theatre person and filmmaker 











India's oldest stock exchange is more than hundred and twenty five years old. But trading in commodities is even older. The Cotton Trade Association started trading futures in cotton in 1875, just a few years after such trading started in Chicago. It is said that the Civil War in the United States in the 1860's caused a great disruption in supply of cotton, spurring futures trade among cotton traders in India. 


Commodity trading blossomed during the next few decades extending to other agricultural commodities, bullion (i.e. gold), spices, vegetable oils and even cloth. But this activity began to be seen as speculative (which it was), and harmful (which it wasn't), and it was banned during the second World War. 


Those were the days of rationing and shortages. After independence, India passed the Forward Contracts Regulation Act (FCRA) in 1952. This FCRA regulated forward trading of everything except securities (i.e. stocks and bonds), currency and actionable claims. Hence unless something was defined to be security it was under FCRA. 


Under this FCRA regime some limited futures trading was allowed, but options trading was not permitted. A futures contract means that buyer and seller commit to a fixed transaction for a fixed price in the future. An options contract means that the buyer (or seller) has the right to buy (or sell) at a future date, but may not do so. Thus an options contract is useful for hedging. If you are a farmer who is unsure about the future price of your crop, you may want to insure yourself armed with an option to sell (at some minimum price). 


Options trading in commodities has been banned for a long time. Followingthe droughts of 1960's there was great suspicion of futures trading too, and severe restrictions were placed. Only in late 1990's was there a rethink on whether we had gone too far in suppressing commodity trading, which after all is a "price discovery process". 


After 50 years of FCRA-led repression, in 2002 modern electronic exchanges emerged, which enabled futures trading in commodities like rice, wheat, sugar, cotton, crude, gold, vegetable oils and other metals. The three national exchanges MCX, NCDEX and NMCE along with 20 other regional exchanges in places like Ahmedabad and Cochin, together accounted for more than trillion dollars of trading in a few years. 

Today commodity trading is far ahead of stock market trading. And yet, till this week options trading (useful for hedging) was not allowed in commodities (unlike stocks). You also could not buy an index like the Sensex for commodities. Thus if you wanted to benefit from food inflation, you could buy a food commodity index, if such an index was available. Big players like mutual funds, banks and other financial institutions were not allowed to participate in the commodity trade. 


It has taken six years for the government to amend that FCRA law of 1952. This was partly because of the suspicion that commodity trading was responsible for recent food inflation. The government even tried banning futures trading in nine agri commodities (rice, wheat, tur, urad and chanaa dal, potato, soya, rubber and sugar). Banning trade was supposed to bring down inflation, as if banning the thermometer can bring down the fever. 
    At least three independent studies (Abhijit Sen committee, an RBI study and the Economic Survey) have said that the connection between futures trading and inflation is inconclusive. In fact inflation was highest in commodities for which futures trading was banned! With the passage of the FCRA amendment we can now look forward to greater depth and liquidity, and hence more reliable price discovery process. With the simultaneous development of storage, warehousing and trade in warehouse receipts, expect commodity exchanges to become very active. And in these times of steep food inflation, maybe you can benefit by investing in an agri based commodity index!




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An issue that has attracted surprisingly little notice is the size and growth of the trade deficit. Even more worrisome is the flat trajectory for exports — which escapes notice because comparisons are with the corresponding month of a year earlier. But if one looks at the variations month-on-month, the loss of all momentum becomes obvious because exports from April to August have stayed constant at about $16 billion. Even the usual seasonal upswing after the summer slump is missing. In contrast, imports have been growing (hitting $29 billion in August), and the trade deficit, therefore, has grown from $10 billion in April to $13 billion in August — which makes for 30 per cent growth in four months. The full year could register a trade deficit of $150 billion. At 10 per cent of GDP, that would be the largest trade deficit in recent Indian history, and also the largest for any significant economy in the world.


 These numbers have attracted next to no notice because remittances by Indians overseas and the surpluses on trade in services (IT software, BPO and the like) neutralise a good part of the deficit in the goods trade. Even after accounting for this, the deficit on the "current account" is more than 3 per cent of GDP — again, historically high for India. Even this has not rung any alarm bells because there is a surplus inflow on the "capital account", accentuated in recent weeks by the surge in portfolio money. Net capital flows are more than the current account deficit, and the Reserve Bank, therefore, reports an addition to its foreign exchange reserves.


As A V Rajwade has been pointing out in his Monday columns in this newspaper, the issue when looking at the current account is not the financial question of whether the deficit is bridged easily or with difficulty (with equity inflows, debt and remittances), but whether the real economy is in balance. It is worth bearing in mind that the capital inflows push up the rupee's value and so make life difficult for exporters — thus adding to the already yawning trade deficit. It makes no sense at all for the rupee to be stronger against the dollar than it was a decade ago, since Indian inflation has been greater than US inflation throughout the intervening period. On an inflation-adjusted basis, the rupee has moved up quite substantially against the dollar — at a time when the Chinese have done the exact opposite with the yuan, and improved the competitiveness of their exporters.


Second, as the world has realised in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008-09, financial flows are fickle; one day money can rush into a country, the next it can flow out with the same rapidity. All it takes is for some analyst in the financial capitals of the world to point out that India's trade account does not look in great shape, and people who control money may start worrying about the rupee's stability and trigger a quick capital outflow.


This may not happen in the foreseeable future because the Indian economy happens to be in a sweet spot, but that is no reason to not focus on the imbalances. In any trade-off between righting the real economy and paying heed to the financial sector, it should be obvious post-financial crisis that the thing to look at is the real economy. If this means having to push the rupee down, and if the only way to do that is to slow down capital inflows, then that is what has to be done — even if the stock market hates the idea.








It is now two years since the Great Crash of September-October 2008. The crisis has brought forth various dirigiste panaceas, along with a revival of crude Keynesianism. Some see the crisis as marking the collapse of market capitalism. My own diagnosis in my columns of early 2009 was consolidated in my "The Great Crash of 2008" (Cato Journal, 2010, 20(2): 265-277). But it is now time to see how events and policies have unfolded during the last two years and the lessons to be drawn. This is the purpose of this and the next few columns. In this, I discuss monetary policy and the claims of its impotence in the face of liquidity traps.


 As I have argued, the 2008 Crash is best seen as a Hayekian recession caused by "easy money" with the Fisherian consequences of a "balance-sheet recession". How can the central bank avoid the deflationary Fisherian consequences of a financial crisis when — after the Hayekian boom — deleveraging is required by most agents in the economy?


It has been claimed (most stridently by Paul Krugman in his New York Times columns) that, once the central bank has cut interest rates close to zero, it would face a Keynesian liquidity trap, and the only recourse to keep up aggregate demand is through massive fiscal spending. Japan is cited as an example of a country in this trap. But is this argument correct?


Central to an answer is the transmission mechanism of monetary policy: whether it works principally through changes in interest rates or changes in broad money through the "real balance effect" which changes relative prices and net wealth. Meltzer (A History of the Federal Reserve Vol. 1, 2003) shows clearly, from charting the real interest rate against the growth of the real money balances in the US from 1919 to 1951, that "proposition 1: when growth of real balances rises sharply, expansion follows whatever happens to the real interest rate. Proposition 2: when real balances decline, or their growth is comparatively slow, the economy goes into recession even if the real interest rate is comparatively low or negative... Proposition 3: if the real interest rate is comparatively high, the economy expands if real balances rise and does not expand if they fall" ( p 744). So, the transmission is from money to asset prices and inflation or deflation via the real balance effect and not through interest rates. If broad money (M2/M4) expands, even with price deflation and hence rising real interest rates at the zero bound, the economy should expand.


To put Krugman's argument in perspective, it is important to distinguish between two types of liquidity traps, one, a "narrow" liquidity trap which applies to narrow money (M0 or M1), i.e. the monetary base, and a "broad" liquidity trap based on broad money (M2 or M4) which includes bank deposits. Tim Congdon ("Monetary policy at the zero bound", World Economics 2010, 11(1): 11-46) shows that the first one can occur if the central bank confines itself to money market operations with commercial banks to influence the monetary base. But the second will not, if it coordinates with the fiscal authorities to conduct debt market operations to change the broad money supply (including bank deposits). It is worth spelling out this difference.


In a money market operation, the central bank (say) purchases securities from commercial banks by expanding their cash reserves at the central bank, thereby expanding the monetary base (M0). Normally, the commercial banks would respond to their higher-than-desired cash reserves by expanding their liabilities, i.e. loans to the non-banking sector. The resulting increase in bank deposits would expand the broad money supply (M2/M4). However, in a banking crisis, the commercial banks may be unwilling to increase their liabilities (loans). In this case though the monetary base has increased, broad money will not. The economy is in a "narrow" liquidity trap.


But, if the central bank and the Treasury conduct a debt market operation in which (say) the Treasury sells new short-dated government bonds to the commercial banks for newly created public sector deposits at these banks, which it then uses to buy long-dated securities from the non-bank public, their bank deposits will increase, raising the broad money (M2/M4) supply. The government's temporary deposits at the commercial banks are replaced by the long-dated securities it purchases from non-banks, which can then be extinguished. The net effect being unchanged total government debt, of shortened maturity, and an increased broad money supply. An alternative would be that the central bank itself purchases assets from non-banks, thereby increasing their bank deposits and thus broad money. This is the form that the loosening of broad money through "quantitative easing" (QE) has, in fact, taken after the crisis. It is only if the increase in broad money has no effect on the non-banks' normal desire to substitute excess cash for bonds or equities (or general spending) — i.e. the non-banks' demand to hold money is infinitely elastic — that there will be a "broad" liquidity trap. There is no evidence that this has, in fact, occurred.


Congdon (op.cit.), in examining the long Japanese deflationary episode, shows that it was due to inappropriate concentration on the "narrow" money definition of money and its control by the central bank through money market operations with the commercial banks. If it had coordinated with the finance ministry to expand broad money by debt market operations, it could have engineered an economic expansion even if there was price deflation and a near-zero interest rate.


Ben Bernanke had clearly learnt this lesson when he argued that the monetary authorities could always increase the broad money supply at a zero interest rate through unconventional means, for which he was nicknamed Helicopter Ben. During the recent crisis, through QE, the second leg of a Fisherian debt deflation has been prevented by the Fed, as well as the Bank of England and the European Central Bank.


The current concern is the ability of these central banks to exit from QE in time, before the inflationary consequences of their exploding balance sheets lead to inflation, and rising nominal interest rates on government debt, worsening the debt dynamics of the public sector. But by and large, the "liquidity trap", cited by Keynesian fiscalists for the impotence of monetary policy, is a paper tiger.








September 1 was Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's wedding anniversary. He spent the day in Delhi, at the Imperial Hotel, where he took his wife out to dinner to celebrate, just like you and me. He could have celebrated it in Srinagar, flown in family and friends and treated them to Kashmiri Wazwan (fabulous food is served at the chief minister's official residence). He could have met people, party members, ordinary Kashmiris, and asked them how they spent their wedding anniversary. But he chose to be in Delhi. It was a Wednesday.


 Earlier in the day, he met Home Minister P Chidambaram, and they discussed the possibility of relocating security forces from some cities and towns in Kashmir, releasing some political prisoners and an employment package for militants who had served their sentence. "Sources" said these discussions would be soon announced officially. We're still waiting.


Why is everyone who has anything to do with Kashmir lying? Abdullah is supposed to be in Srinagar, he turns up in Delhi. He holds discussions with the home minister. What he discusses is important, but no one bothers about seeing it through. The people of Kashmir just get a tantalising glimpse of all the wonderful things the Centre and the state government have in store for them, only if they would just behave. But nothing sees the light of day. Can they be blamed for believing the government exists only to exploit and suppress them, for feeling disempowered to the point of helplessness?


The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) that discussed, among other things, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) earlier this week saw two views. One was: "AFSPA is not an issue in the current violence in the valley. Those who are throwing stones, responding to the call of the Hurriyat, have one demand: azaadi. For India, conceding that is out of the question. So, why should the AFSPA be amended, even partially?" The message was: "We are the Indian state. We should behave like the Indian state. If we believe Kashmir is a part of India, then we should use the AFSPA against people who believe it should not be part of India."


But another part of the government continued to say it would push towards making the AFSPA more humane as a way of reaching out to the people of Kashmir. Not just this, other things need to be done: some kind of redressal mechanism so that people's grievances concerning law and order are addressed.


Neither has happened so far. At the all-party meeting on Kashmir, in his opening statement, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was shocked to see even young children getting involved in violence. The tone of his address was: "Please, tell us what to do."


If there is such a divergence in the Centre's approach to the Kashmir issue, things are no better in the state. In all Indian states, however imperfectly they might function, two institutions do exist: the Vigilance Commission and the Information Commission. In J&K, neither has been appointed. If the Omar Abdullah regime feels charges of corruption against his government are balderdash, why doesn't the government appoint these two commission, and also an Accountability Commission to probe charges of extortion and excesses by the police? Why doesn't the Congress that is part of the government make this its central demand ?


On corruption in Kashmir, the less said the better. The government has been appointing teachers in government schools. Before their names are announced, successful candidates get a call. The person at the other end says, "You've been selected. Come to such and such place." The demand ranges from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,00,000. If you don't pay, your name can vanish from the list. It is no coincidence that Peerzada Mohammed Syed's ancestral home in Kokernag was attacked by a mob on Eid day. He is the education minister from the Congress.


Relations between the National Conference (NC) and the Congress are unfathomable: the two coexist in uneasy cohabitation. Today, Omar Abdullah is in a position in which if he seeks out a union minister to secure something for Kashmir, the minister will cancel all his appointments and see Abdullah first. He can call 10 Janpath any time he wants, confident he will get an appointment. So, he sees no reason to either ask or pay attention to the counsel and advice of his Congress colleagues, in or out of the government. The Congress, too, is pretty much a free agent. That the People's Democratic Party (PDP) did not attend the all-party meeting called by Omar Abdullah last month was understandable. But why did Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand stay away?


The Congress is now committing the worst possible sin. It is giving the impression that it can change alliance partners midstream. Credulous reporters say the congress president's overtures to PDP are preparatory to dumping Omar Abdullah. Nothing could be further from the truth. Apart from ideological difficulties, the numbers don't add up. In the 87-member J&K Assembly, the Congress has 17 seats and the NC has 28. At 45 they just about make the 44-member simple majority mark. The PDP has 21. In order to form a government with the PDP, the Congress will be required to create a complicated architecture of support from the Panthers' Party and independents — who can rock the government and make it fall at will. So, there is no other option. Omar Abdullah needs support. Rahul Gandhi who said this in Kolkata was only being realistic.









The main activity of economists since 1776 has been to fill the gaps in Adam Smith's system, to correct his errors and to make his analysis vastly more exact—Ronald Coase,Nobel Prize Speech, 1991

It is now widely accepted that biographies of great writers are interesting only insofar as they illuminate their work, and to do this effectively requires a discursiveness on the part of the biographer which alone would tell you what turned the writer on to do the work she did in her lifetime. Not to emphasise the work would be to reduce the biography to an exercise of hagiography like most of our biographies of the big and famous that tell us of lives too good to be true. Nicholas Phillipson's Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life (Allen Lane/Penguin, Special Indian Price, Rs 899) places his work, widely regarded as the foundation of modern economics, firmly within the larger scheme to establish a grand "Science of Man" that encompassed law, history, aesthetics, economics and ethics — more a work of philosophy than of pure economics.


Possibly because An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) was multidisciplinary and broadened the study that Adam Smith began in The Theory of Moral Sentiments nearly 20 years earlier in 1759, there has been no unanimity on what precisely his influence was based on. Was it because he was the masterly advocate of laissez faire? That he was opposed to every effort by a government to control the self-interested activities of individual economic actors, so granting the licence to greed and other vices, and malpractices, and quite content that markets should be the battlefield from which the most oppressive combatants would emerge as "victors"?


 Should the "Invisible Hand" of the market decide? What does his statement that "it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner but from their regard to their self-interest" really mean? Quite apart from the fact that these iconic statements can be interpreted in different ways, there is also the sad fact that not many economists have read The Wealth of Nations as a whole; they have snatched bits and pieces and drawn their half-baked conclusions that we have accepted as the truth because they came down to us from experts.


The basic question we need to ask is whether Smith wholly approved of a society in which man's economic activities are actuated by self-interest. In his Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith had identified human perfection with virtue and virtue of the highest order with altruism. Phillipson's biography  provides a balanced  picture of Adam Smith's work against the background of the Scottish Enlightenment and the influence of his philosopher friend, David Hume. A good biography is itself a kind of a novel. Like the classic novel, a novel believes in the notion of a "life, a story that begins at birth, moves on to a middle part, and ends with the death of the protagonist". So, it is here but it is primarily "an intellectual biography, one which traces the development of his mind and character through his published and unpublished texts, one that is set in a country that was generating its own form of Enlightenment". Phillipson succeeds in showing that all of Smith's writings make up a single coherent whole. He begins by giving a compact account of Smith's life and times and of the intellectual traditions that he drew on and modified.


Given this background, Phillipson turns to his central undertaking, pointing out that, according to Smith, a commercial society tends to promote certain virtues among its members. By eradicating poverty, it reduces incentives for individuals to resort to crime and nations to enrich themselves by wars of aggression.


By maintaining a stable Constitution, especially if courts are independent and markets are free, a commercial society enhances individual freedom, which is a precondition of moral choice. Competition in markets compels individuals to exercise self-control, prudence and industriousness, virtues which, though imperfect, are attainable by ordinary people. Although these virtues promote the well-being of the individual rather than the good of others, they unintentionally benefit others. Phillipson suggests that Smith's practical aim throughout the Theory of Moral Sentiments is "designing the decent society".


The Wealth of Nations, which is a follow-up to Moral Sentiments, shows how men can live and work well together. Accordingly, Smith urged governments to do two things — promulgate justice and foster institutions that improve people's moral conduct. Basic among such institutions is the family, which lays the foundations of moral conduct by training the child to restrain its will and respect others.


Smith's practical proposals aimed to improve both material and moral conditions of people. Because his books have not been read as a whole, today's social scientists and proponents of public policy have ignored or distorted his outlook. Above all, they have ignored Smith's constant theme that unintended consequences of good intentions are often bad. The biography sums up Smith's intellectual contribution and for this alone, the book needs to be read, and not just by economists.









When South Delhi becomes critical of the UPA, then things must be very wrong. When cartoonists start lampooning the PM, he must sit up


Problems of great magnitude surround us. The most intractable is the Kashmir problem. At the moment, we seem to be sitting on a political/security time bomb. Anger, alienation, despair, discontent, distrust, fear, frustration, passion make it almost impossible to return to normalcy. There exist inherent limitations to state power. This is particularly so in democratic countries. The UPA is an ensemble of disparate political parties. It follows an agenda called "Common Minimum Programme". On Kashmir, there is no common minimum programme. This became clear at the all-party meeting called by the prime minister the other day. The best and the most relevant, and imaginative, speech was made by Sonia Gandhi. Healing, she said, is the answer. It is. Only she can provide it by visiting Srinagar and spending some time in the Valley, now engulfed by fire and fury.


The problem is devilishly complicated. Do all-party meetings help? Sometimes they do. I have been a member of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). It is headed by the prime minister. Its members are the ministers of finance, home, defence and external affairs. Invariably, all are men of experience, sagacity and prudence. The CCS might consider holding an in camera meeting or meetings in Srinagar. We all are aware that there are no easy-fixes. Confidence-building measures should be spearheaded by the CCS in consultation with all concerned. This, inevitably, will be a long-drawn process. Attempted it must be. An integrated, coherent and creative policy is the need of the hour. Not name-calling or blaming A, B or C. We are, in Kashmir, on the edge of an abyss. Are there no valid intermediaries?


There must be. The vicious circular should be replaced by virtue circle. Hot air? Maybe. Do you have a better suggestion? Kashmiris are traumatised. Action tempered by wisdom is needed. Kashmir must not be allowed to become a chronic nervous disease.


A word about the media. It is perhaps the most powerful instrumentality available. It can alter perception, provide hope, remove hopelessness. On February 27, 1950 (long before TV arrived), Jawaharlal Nehru, in a letter to the chief ministers, wrote: "I would suggest to you especially to keep in touch with editors of newspapers in your state. It is always a good thing to send for them and have informal off-the-record talks with them. Give them such real news as you possess."


This media involvement exercise should be undertaken soon. It can only do good. Often the media gets it right and the government gets it wrong. Some in the media do sensationalise serious matters and give prominence to trivia. These are exceptions.


Peace and tranquility are of the utmost importance in Jammu and Kashmir. Its strategic location is unique, bordering China and Pakistan, with Afghanistan and Russia very near. US President Bill Clinton called Kashmir the most dangerous place in the world. Tony Blair, in his recently published autobiography, has lumped Kashmir with Chechnya, Yemen, Palestine, etc. Not elevating company.


A sinister dimension was added to the travail of Kashmir in 1991. Terrorism. Pakistan is wholly responsible for this. British Prime Minister David Cameron, in forthright language, made it clear that Pakistan was harbouring and exporting terrorism. With the arrival of the Taliban in Afghanistan for the second time, the situation in Kashmir has become both fragile and dangerous. The US is reluctant to call a spade a spade. Our American friends (friends they certainly are) in this case are all chatter and ignoring matter. I, for one, do not imagine that Mr Obama will provide us much comfort on this score. India is a strategic partner (not an equal one, if I may say so) but Pakistan is a dependable and trusted ally. That is the adamantine reality.


When South Delhi becomes critical of the UPA, then things must be very wrong. When cartoonists start lampooning the PM, he must sit up. The rise in prices is now affecting even the middle class. The burden on our poorer brethren must be, and is, horrendous. Two articles by two well-informed and public-spirited individuals have highlighted the widening rich-poor divide. Arundhati Roy in Outlook and P Sainath in The Hindu have made blistering attacks on the ruling establishment. No response has come from the establishment. Neither the magazine nor the newspaper can be accused of being either ill-informed or irresponsible.


A word about Article 370 of our Constitution. The BJP, when out of office, invokes this Article in connection with Jammu and Kashmir. It does not do so while in government. How did Article 370 find a place in the Constitution? On page 55 of Volume 3 of Letters to Chief Ministers, Pandit Nehru wrote, "This matter came up before us when the Constitution of India was being finalised about November 1949. Sardar Patel dealt with it then and he gave a special, though transitional, place to the Jammu and Kashmir state in our Constitution."


The transitional bit was jettisoned soon thereafter. Now, it is unlikely to be dropped or even modified. Life was much less complicated in 1949.








The preparations for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) have received such a hammering from the media and sections of the public, many of whom have made plans to get out of the city, that someone looking down from outer space might wonder if there has been any long-term improvement in civic amenities. The onlooker might, however, notice a very well-lit Capital, in itself an achievement for a city that till not long ago was plagued by chronic power outages.


 The bosses who run Delhi's privatised electricity supply companies (discoms) have assured citizens as well as the powers-that-be that they are well prepared for the CWG with plentiful backup of electricity and that the extravaganza should pass without a flicker. If some larger public good can be achieved from the CWG, an uninterrupted power supply is surely one. One visible result is the gawping crowds that gather in the evenings to admire the effective rainbow-coloured lighting of the vast winged canopy that crowns the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium. In its own way, it is as spectacular a display as the lighting of Rashtrapati Bhavan, Parliament House and the Lutyens complex at Vijay Chowk on Republic Day.

How long these good times will last is another matter. The discoms say that given Delhi's growing hunger for electricity, and the cheap rates at which it is sold to consumers, the day may not be too far when power sputters out and the city returns to the dreaded days when the government-run Delhi Electricity Supply Undertaking (DESU) and Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB) were in charge. Those were the dark days when the National Capital Territory was contemptuously known as National Blackout Territory.


Since 2002-2003 when Anil Ambani and Tata-owned companies took over, they have been successful on some fronts: bringing down aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) electricity losses, mainly due to inefficiency and pilferage, from about 52 per cent to around 18.5 per cent this year; they have achieved this by reducing theft, modernising the distribution network and improving metering, billing and payment collections. In some relatively well-off parts of Delhi, such as Hauz Khas and R K Puram,  AT&C losses are down to 3-4 per cent, comparable to well-run cities like Singapore (4 per cent) and Melbourne (8-9 per cent).


But Delhi's power requirements have also grown at a brisk rate, from 3,000 Mw in 2002-03 to 4,720 Mw currently; of this the city only generates about 1,100 Mw and the rest is purchased from national corporations like NTPC and NHPC, and private suppliers. And herein lies the rub: whereas cost of buying power has gone up steeply, from Rs 1.42 per Kw in 2002-03 to Rs 3.43 per Kw this year, the percentage increase has not been passed on to consumers. This is because the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission has repeatedly ruled out an increase in consumer tariffs. Delhi's domestic consumers pay lower unit rates, at 30 paise per Kw, than those in metros like Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad who pay between 40 and 50 paise per Kw. Ironically, Delhi's neighbouring towns like Faridabad, Noida, Gurgaon and Jaipur — and even Amritsar — have more outages despite paying higher rates.


Such a scenario is beginning to cast shadows on Delhi's brightly-lit future. The discoms are nervous because they are borrowing money to sustain the financial gap. The Capital's political establishment says its hands are tied in support of a price increase because the regulator won't allow it. It is true that in many parts of the city the power situation has shown a marked improvement — complaints are better attended to, repairs are more efficient and billing and payment have been made kid simple. Neighbourhood groceries will pay your bijli bill for a small charge.


But how long will shining lights be there in the big city? "Increased demand for power and a better system have also raised expectations," a senior official told me. "If we return to the black era of outages, electricity stations will be stoned by the people."








Managing a new North-South asymmetry is the new challenge for G20 members.


Since the G20 leaders first met in Washington in November 2008, much hope had been placed on this new coordination group for the global economy. The G20 summit meeting in London in April 2009 will especially go down in history as the moment when leaders from the world successfully united forces to ward off depression. But times have changed and after a rather disappointing summit meeting in Toronto last June, there are grounds to ask whether international economic coordination among G20 countries is already passé.


 On the financial regulation front, there was disagreement in Toronto between those who wanted to tax the banks and those (especially the Canadian chair) who objected. Since then, the US and EU authorities have separately engaged in major financial reforms (the Dodd-Frank Act and the EU package on supervision).


At the international level, agreement has been reached on reforming the banks' regulatory capital ratios (Basel III), but it remains to be seen whether the implementation will be uniform. Moreover, Asia, which did not experience a banking crisis, does not exhibit strong regulatory zeal.


This raises the question of whether the steps taken at the national or regional level are mutually consistent, with the risk of again paving the way for international cherry-picking by financial institutions. Additionally, emerging countries have had little say on revamping the financial regulations, thereby raising the risk that some areas that are more important for them will be forgotten in the process. This applies, for instance, to the balance between home and host country regulation and to surveillance and cross-border crisis-resolution schemes for systemically-important financial institutions (SIFIs). Finally, as macroprudential regulation is being set up in several countries, the potential for cooperation between macroprudential authorities has yet to be taken on board.


On macroeconomic coordination, the Pittsburgh meeting of September 2009 set ambitious goals with the launch of the so-called "framework for strong, sustainable and balanced growth", which was supposed to coordinate global rebalancing. However, the only issue for discussion in Toronto seemed to have been the public rift between the US and Germany on the timing and pace of budgetary consolidation, as if what really mattered for the world economy were decisions taken in Washington and Berlin — not Beijing and Delhi. Meanwhile, the US-China exchange rate discussion has resumed on a bilateral basis, without delivering significant results yet, and it is becoming increasingly politicised in the US.


Today, the real asymmetry is no longer between the US and Europe but between what was once called North and South. What, then, if Europe and the US enter a phase of prolonged budgetary adjustment while the emerging world stays on course? Can emerging countries compensate for the drag on growth? Further, the advanced countries will need monetary support, while the monetary needs in the emerging and developing countries will be radically different. How will emerging countries manage the resulting capital inflows? Will fixed exchange-rate links crack under pressure? More generally, instead of managing common challenges, as in 2009, or divergences within the G7 group, as in 2010, the G20 members will now need to manage a new, lasting North-South decoupling. This will be a very new conversation for the G20, and one for which it is not prepared.


Financial safety nets offer a third example of the travails of cooperation. A shortcoming of international financial arrangements is that they do not provide insurance against sudden stops that in the last decade led several countries, notably in Asia, to accumulate foreign-exchange reserves. A few days ago, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) created a new facility, the Precautionary Credit Line. Meanwhile, however, Asian countries have increasingly relied on a multilateral system of swaps and Europe has embarked on initiatives of its own to address the crisis in the eurozone. The overall consistency and efficiency of these schemes still need to be shown.


From the Rambouillet G5 summit onwards, 30 years of experience have shown that international policy coordination is a very demanding exercise. It is so demanding that, in fact, it rarely takes place. Most of the time "coordination" consists of forming a loose consensus while leaving policy choices to national decisions, and in addressing the crises of countries not represented at the table. What has applied to the G7 is likely to apply to the G20 — a large group of diverse countries, some of which have no habit whatsoever of submitting domestic choices to international scrutiny. The Chinese policy system, in particular, is as far as one can be from the culture of policy interdependence the Europeans are used to. India in this respect is not fundamentally different.


Engagement by the non-G7 participants in the G20 is key to avoiding international coordination sliding into G7-like empty compromises. It is still possible. And as the world economy is far from having escaped dangerous waters, it is badly needed.


Jean Pisani-Ferry is director of Bruegel, an independent European think tank working on economic policies


Agnès Bénassy-Ouéré is director of CEPII (Centre for Economic Forecast and International Information), a French research centre on international economics








Whenever my daughter tries a recipe from my cooking repertoire, she calls and complains, "But it doesn't taste the same as when you make it. What's the secret ingredient you are hiding?" Without missing a beat I reply, "Mother's love."


Whenever we talk of the recipe for financial inclusion in terms of ingredients such as technologies, policy incentives and enforcers, points of access, from kiranas to cellphones, we also need to add the magic ingredient of customer-centricity. In this case we mean customer empathy, cultural sensitivity and a recognition that money is not just about deposits, withdrawals, loans and repayments but the emotive and sensitive aspects of life and living. These are not things to worry about after the inclusion is done but things to use to design the inclusion programme and which will alter costs and benefits, hence the entire recipe and, I daresay, the kitchen that is used to make it.


 The assumption that a big-name bank with a set of smaller local partners, yoked together by technology, will automatically win over the local money lenders or the informal financial sector needs to be challenged. "Biometrics" and ATMs are not consumer value propositions, they are the supply side story.


The local pawn broker who is usurious is also culturally sensitive. He knows that the mangalsutra mortgaged to him needs to appear on the bride's neck at the time of a wedding and that is part of his idea of customer service. He will wait behind the venue, both to hand it over and take it back. A friend whose family is in the business tells the story of how it offered the service of making artificial jewellery in exactly the same pattern as the items mortgaged by customers — a winning proposition for both sides.


Similarly, in urban slums people talk of the money lender whose daily collection agent knows when not to enter your house (when there are visitors, for instance) and when to come in order to not run into family members who should not know.


Research by Centre of Gravity, a Bangalore-based consumer research organisation, shows that anything that requires taking time out of work, travel or filing papers results in procrastination and subtle resistance because of the opportunity cost or time and the current level of doorstep service by the informal sector. Flexibility on all fronts is a key requirement for the target consumer for financial inclusion and is more valued than even returns. Yet forced savings devices that help you work towards a goal like a wedding, social ceremony or buying a house or vehicle are enormously valued. That's why chit funds are so popular. They are viewed as an expenditure. "Working capital" loans are also very important and these are for the day-to-day business of living. Just as micro- and small enterprises have short-term and bridge working capital loans, so too do people; and banking products need to be configured to deal with this.


As Centre of Gravity puts it, life for this segment of people is like the snakes and ladders game. The goal is an upward movement; but although the ladders to move up exist there are potentially double the number of snakes to pull a family down. The snakes are "must do" social expenses — birth and marriage rituals, gold ornaments for a close relative, financial losses from being cheated by a friend or losing a job or being swindled by the chit fund man or emergencies like medical, travel, death and so on. The ladders are education, having money to send your son to a job in a city but cushioning him till he settles down and learns the ropes and so on. The objective of financial inclusion is to help de-risk customers in their lives. If there is dengue in the air or food prices go up, can repayment rates be adjusted? If everything is going well, can there be a "save for gold" scheme in the form of a chit-fund type product?


There is a huge market for education and home improvement loans. The census data shows how many houses have pucca walls but kuchcha floors, or houses but no toilets or toilets but no water storage facility. It is clear that new products have to be designed for these new customers, their needs and behavioural cultural nuances.


And then comes the question of how to make the ecosystem that serves this segment profitable. That's the time to talk of technology and hand-held devices and to study how the local money lender does things and understand whether a special set of banks needs to be created because the big guys just don't get it.


The magic ingredient is caring about customers. One doesn't have to be a bleeding heart liberal and think about financial inclusion as CSR. One has to, to use a Prahalad prescription, empathise with human needs and co-create with customers who are already being served by the informal sector. Regulators must also see the light. The fatwa method of financial inclusion won't really work.


The author is an independent market strategy consultant










THE decision to introduce a Bill that would give statutory powers to commodity markets regulator Forward Markets Commission (FMC), widen the range of products and bring in new players such as banks and foreign institutional investors is most welcome. This would be a major step forward from the current state of affairs where the FMC is a department without financial and, presumably, functional autonomy from the department of consumer affairs, of which it is a part. However, by raising FMC to a level on par with that of markets regulator Sebi and insurance regulator Irda, the government does not just strengthen the institutional integrity of commodity markets, but also opens up the possibility of a fresh dispute between regulators. Suppose the FMC allows a commodity exchange to list and trade weather derivatives, would that tread on the insurance regulator's toes? If it would, what is the mechanism to resolve the conflict that could potentially arise? Apart, of course, from the finance minister playing all-knowing arbiter? This opens up the debate on the desirability of having multiple regulators for different markets. The recent financial crisis has amply demonstrated the need for a macroprudential regulator to look after systemic stability, quite distinct from the stability of individual regulated units. The Reserve Bank is best placed to play that role. Apart from the macroprudential regulator, do we need multiple regulators for securities and for commodity contracts? Do we need two separate regulators for insurance and for pensions? Or it is feasible to put all the different financial markets under a single regulator, whose different, well-staffed arms could acquire and articulate the required domain knowledge for different segments of the financial sector? This debate is far from closed just because the new Conservative government in the UK put paid to the unified regulator, the Financial Sector Authority in that country. 


The Indian commodity markets need statutory regulation, more and better-funded players and new products, such as options. So, the present move is wholly welcome. But it should not foreclose further debate on unifying the regulation of all financial markets under a single agency.








AFTER the corruption, the delays, the excess spending and shoddy construction in the name of the Commonwealth Games, now comes the attempt to pretty up the city by banishing the unwashed masses for the duration of the Games. India is a democracy, so it is not possible to formally expel people without causing a major rebellion. Therefore, what the Delhi government proposes to do is to ban all unlicensed street vendors during the Games. Now, 90-95% of all street vendors are unlicensed and they cater to the requirements of a huge population, particularly for day-time meals. Banishing them means taking away their own and their customers' food. Another way in which the less well-off are being kept away is by taking 1,500 Blueline buses — the distinctly downmarket coaches that Delhi's plebian masses rely on for mobility — off the road. And more than 1,000 respectable-looking buses from the Delhi Transport Corporation's modern fleet have been commandeered for the Games. This further cripples bus transport. If the aim was to decongest roads during the Games — and one precious lane on Delhi's roads is reserved for Games-related traffic — the government should have banned cars, or levied a big congestion fee on them. By banning buses, it has virtually asked common people to stay away. After making the people suffer endless inconvenience during extended construction and deconstruction of large parts of the city, now they are being asked to make their city beautiful by making themselves scarce. This is as atrocious as most other things with the Games. 

 Delhi's failings in organising the Games should offer object lessons for administrators and political leaders around the country on how not to organise a major international event. Just as London's success in already having got its act together for the 2012 Olympics offers lessons on how to get it right. The government should invite universities, think tanks and social scientists to do a case study on the Capital's monumental error, to draw the relevant lessons for the rest of the country.








M" ACHINES that men make, make men machines," said some prescient soul. And, one suspects, were that soul to tread the streets of any major city in the world, he'd probably be convinced he's passed into some machine and gadget-age dystopia. Witness the amounts of people in offices and homes, on the streets or in cafes, perpetually doing something or the other with some gadget of some sort. Notebooks and phones and music players seem to be the instruments of most conspicuous communication. And yet, it is a moot point where that drive to 'stay connected' all the time, ostensibly to some virtual community or individual, is really taking us. Indeed, these gadgets seem to have taken on a life of their own, becoming aspects of personality rather than just a tool to communicate. There is something odd, for instance, about listening to an advertisement, perchance on FM, while driving home after a day's work, which advocates, in the form of a young man advising his friend, choosing the girl with the pink BlackBerry, since she is 'hotter'. It does seem like we and, along with us, our social mores and notions of relationships are morphing so fast as to make it increasingly tough to differentiate between the virtual and the real. 


Scientists at Oxford University, including those studying evolutionary biology, not only suggest that our space for relationships is getting so constrained that falling in love, or the addition of another person in our life, means the reduction of a couple of others in the circle of close personal relationships. There are, apparently, only four or five 'slots' for close and meaningful relationships in modern lives. But, weirdly, people seem to be compensating by almost competing over the number of friends they can boast of having on social networking sites. It's a form of virtual harvesting or 'collection' of 'friends'. The patently unreal seems more important than the real. It gets, like Alice said after disappearing down the rabbit hole into wonderland, 'curiouser and curiouser






TODAY'S conventional view of the eurozone is that the crisis is over — the intense, often existential, concern earlier this year about the common currency's future has been assuaged, and everything now is back under control. 


This is completely at odds with the facts. European bond markets are again delivering a chilling message to global policymakers. With bonds of 'peripheral' eurozone nations continuing to fall in value, the risk of Irish, Greek and Portuguese sovereign defaults is higher than ever. 


This comes despite the combined bailout package that the European Union, International Monetary Fund, and European Central Bank created for Greece in May, and despite the ECB's continuing programme of buying peripheral EU countries' bonds. Heading into its annual meetings in a few weeks (followed by the G-20 summit in Seoul in November), the IMF is bowing to pressure to drop ever-larger sums into the EU with ever-fewer conditions. 

Indeed, official rhetoric has turned once again to trying to persuade markets to ignore reality. Patrick Honohan, the governor of Ireland's central bank, has labelled the interest rates on Irish government bonds 'ridiculous' (meaning ridiculously high), and IMF researchers argue that default in Ireland and Greece is 'unnecessary, undesirable, and unlikely'. 


This is disconcertingly reminiscent of the spring — when Jean-Claude Trichet, the ECB president, lashed out at a sceptical bond market and declared a Greek default unfathomable. But markets today think there is a 50% chance that Greece will default within the next five years — and a 25% chance that Ireland will do so. The reason is simple: both Greece and Ireland are likely insolvent. 


While the Greek fiscal fiasco is now common knowledge, Ireland's problems are deeper and less widely understood. In a nutshell, Ireland's policymakers failed to supervise their banks and watched (or cheered) from the sidelines as a debt-fuelled spending binge generated the 'Celtic miracle', whereby Ireland grew faster than all other EU members and Dublin real estate became some of the most expensive in the world. 


By the end of 2008, Ireland's three main banks had lent more than three times the country's national income. The crash came in 2009, as Ireland's real estate boom turned to bust, leaving the country with large insolvent banks, a collapse in budget revenues and Europe's largest budget deficit. 


Ireland's banks financed their rapid growth by borrowing from other European banks, so the health of Europe's financial system has become entwined with the survival of these insolvent banks. It is no surprise that the ECB is now Ireland's largest creditor — through buying up its government bonds. In the latest data (through the end of August), despite being two-thirds the size, Ireland received more ECB financing than Greece — totalling 75% of Irish GNP and growing rapidly. 


The quid pro quofor this easy ECB money is that the Irish government must protect European creditors who would otherwise face large losses. The ensuing massive bank bailout, plus continued budget deficits and declining nominal GNP, means that Ireland's debt is ballooning, while its capacity to pay has collapsed. 

INVESTORS naturally respond to unsustainable debt by selling bonds until interest rates become 'ridiculous'. Those high interest rates strangle businesses and households, causing further economic collapse and making debt ever more unsustainable. To halt this downward spiral, Ireland's risk of insolvency needs to be put to rest. Either banks need to default on their senior obligations or the government will need to default alongside the banks. In either case, new austerity measures are needed and Ireland will require substantial bridge financing. 


Irish and EU politicians should take the lead in making these tough decisions, but the current leadership will not. Instead, the EU, the ECB and Ireland have reached a Faustian bargain that keeps Ireland liquid (i.e., it gets euros), but does nothing to halt the growing likelihood of insolvency (i.e., its increasing inability to pay back those euros in the future). 


The IMF, which should be standing up to this dangerous bargain, instead plans to open the spigots (with Chinese, American and other countries' funds) even more widely to insolvent nations. On August 30, the Fund abolished ceilings on its Flexible Credit Line facility, which was introduced in 2009 to provide rapid funds to countries in temporary crisis. 


Moreover, the IMF announced a new financing programme called a Precautionary Credit Line, which will provide funds more quickly and with even fewer conditions — even to countries without 'sound public finance' and 'effective financial supervision'. The Fund is also hoping to establish a new 'global stabilisation mechanism' to provide credit lines to regional groupings (like the EU). 


A European politician heads the IMF, its board of directors is far more weighted towards Europe than is justified by Europe's economic relevance, and it is rushing to ease lending conditions to Europe just as EU members are suffering deep insolvency problems. 


There is a better solution, pioneered after commercial banks in the US loaned too much to Latin America in the 1970s. Sovereign debt was eventually restructured through the creation of 'Brady bonds'. The trick was to offer banks the opportunity to swap their claims on (insolvent) Latin American countries into long-maturity, low-coupon bonds that were collateralised with US Treasuries. The good collateral meant that banks could hold these debts at par on their balance sheets. At the same time, this swap reduced troubled countries' debt-payment obligations —allowing them to get back on their feet. 


Europe could take this route. Rather than continuing to pile new debts onto bad debts, the EU stabilisation fund could be used to collateralise such new par bonds. Creditors could be offered these par bonds, or a shorter-term bond with a higher coupon — but with debt principal marked down. The new bonds could be known as Trichet or Merkel/Sarkozy or Honohan bonds — whatever works to build consensus. 


Mr Johnson, a former chief economist of the IMF, is a professor at MIT Sloan. Mr Bone is a principal in Salute Capital Management ) 


 ©: Project Syndicate, 2010








INSURANCE companies are betting big on the country's underpenetrated health insurance market. The market is attracting more standalone health insurers. Chennai-based Star Health & Allied Insurance, that started operations four years ago, was the first to attract private equity. Chairman and managing director V Jagannathan says government-sponsored schemes will be the key growth driver as competition hots up in this segment. 

The premium generated through health insurance grew to .8,309 crore in 2009-10 from a modest .1,000 crore in 2002-03. More players, such as Apollo Munich, Max Bupa and Swiss Re-Religare, have entered the space after Star Health. Cigna Corp, a USbased standalone health insurance company, is also in talks with banks to float a joint venture here. 


Competition will not be a challenge as there is enough space for more players, Mr Jagannathan says. "The penetration of health insurance, which is only 4% now, is bound to increase in the coming years, with more sponsored health schemes both by the Centre and the states. Health insurance will be a component of the welfare policy of all state governments," he says. 


Star Health is the insurer for the Andhra Pradesh government's scheme Arogyasri covering over 6.5 crore families below the poverty line (BPL). The Tamil Nadu government has also roped in the company as its insurer for the Kalaignar Insurance Scheme that covers over five crore poor people. So has the Haryana government that offers health insurance to over four lakh poor families. 


When pricing in the general insurance industry was regulated, insurers offset losses on their health portfolio with profits from property and fire business. However, crosssubsidisation has ceased after price controls were removed a few years ago. Each portfolio has to perform on a standalone basis, Mr Jagannathan says. 


Is it profitable for Star to underwrite business for government health insurance schemes? Mr Jagannathan is non-committal, saying that profit alone does not matter as such tieups help in building the company's brand. 


"Our loss ratio is negligible. We are thriving not only on government business, but equally growing in the market segment that fetches us an average premium of nearly .1 crore a day. In fact, our operations were profitable from Day One," he says. 


Star Health was launched in May 2006 as a joint venture between Oman Insurance Co, ETA Ascon group and other investors with an initial capital of .105 crore. The company's gross premium grew to .509 crore in 2008-09 from .168 crore in 2007-08. It garnered a premium of around .560 crore during the first eight months of this fiscal year. "We are targeting a premium of .1,250 crore this year, of which nearly half will come from the retail segment. While achieving a robust growth in retail segment, we also want to have the satisfaction of servicing the BPL population," he says. 


The company has 160 offices covering almost the entire country, with 4,500 hospitals in its network and around 5,000 employees on its rolls. 


The company does not have third-party administrators and settles claims on its own, and this helps prune costs. "Insurance is a pool and the premium that is collected should be put to proper use. All stakeholders have a responsibility. The public has to be alert, insurance companies need to be prudent and the service provider has to be committed," he says. 


Insurance companies need capital to grow their business and Star Health is no exception. It plans to raise more capital from private equity funds. ICICI Venture, which has already infused .100 crore, will invest another .20 crore in the venture. Sequoia Capital too is set to invest .165 crore. And this will boost Star Health's capital to over .365 crore this year. 


Star Health claims that its product offerings are unique. "We were the first company to launch a policy for those who are tested HIVpositive. When the industry shied away from insuring people above 55 years, we designed a new product for senior citizens with hospitalisation benefits." 


Recently, the company joined hands with Shriram Life Insurance to offer a health-pluslife combi policy for individuals and families. It is the country's first single policy with dual coverage of health and life. "What is reassuring for us is that the insurance regulator is committed to improving the health portfolio, more so to benefit the poor. Our combi policy was cleared on fast track," he says.







THE country's competition watchdog, the Competition Commission of India (CCI), is probing the issue of prepayment penalties imposed on retail customers in the home loan market. After coming into being, CCI has yet to pass a judgment on any important issue. Therefore, a verdict in this case would be the crucial litmus test for this omnibus regulator in terms of establishing its credibility.


This case will be equally crucial for the consumers who find it utterly confusing why prepayment of loans should be looked by banks as something averse when their friendly neighbourhood lender would find the same as a welcome gesture. Evidently, the bankers view it as a cost arising from the structural need of a financial institution to match the asset-liabilities and, therefore, a price which a consumer needs to pay to compensate for the risk undertaken by a bank. 


However, in their representation to FTC, the US counterpart of CCI, many consumer groups in the US have blamed the high prepayment penalties charged from them for the debacle in the subprime home loan market. The argument advanced in favour of prepayment penalties is that without it, the interest on a loan would be higher. The counterargument advanced by consumer groups is that no economic relationship existed between interest cost of the loan and the rate of prepayment penalties in many home loan disbursements in the US. 


It has been reported that CCI has issued notices to various banks and their association, IBA, which has 160 member banks in its fold. It has also sought the comments of the RBI, rightly so, as it knows the banking sector best, being the apex financial and banking regulator of the country. This would also help avoid any possible conflict between both the regulators. 


The Competition Act, 2002 gives the mandate to CCI to inquire into Sec 3 and 4 violations. Sec 3 deals with anti-competitive agreements mainly forged by cartels. Sec 4 deals with the abuse of dominant position. It is so far not clear under what provisions the whole issue is being inquired or investigated by CCI. The issue of prepayment penalties differs depending upon whether it is being inquired under Sec 3 or 4. The issue under Sec 4 inquiry will be whether the prepayment penalties fixed by a banker in a dominant position is a fair price/condition or not. 


Thus, CCI needs to prove both the facts: that the bank was in a dominant position and it also abused that position. In this inquiry, CCI would need to see how different banks fix this price, i.e., rates of prepayment penalties and whether this price is determined by the market forces or is it driven by the market power arising out of the dominant position of a bank. 


Prepayment penalties are also seen as switching costs imposed by the banks to deter their customers switching to their competitors. While some switching costs can be unavoidable, all switching costs need not be related to the administrative costs or based on economic rationale. Studies have found substantial switching costs in the banking industry. Therefore, the switching cost analysis would be useful in any such inquiry as prepayment penalties are considered the source of ex-post market power for a bank, the locked-in customers being restricted to exercise free choice in the market. The results of such an objective inquiry will prove whether it will be treated as an abuse of dominant position or simply another determinant arising out of economic fundamentals of the financial sector, the price of which can be best left to the market forces to decide. 


The inquiry in case of Sec 3 violation is simpler. If the existence of a cartel is proved, along with the fact that such a cartel fixed the rates of prepayment penalties, then the issue of it being fair price or not becomes irrelevant. This is an artificial determination of price, outside the purview of market forces, and therefore, clearly anti-competitive. If any regulation facilitates such determination, then such regulation may also come under the scanner and may need a review. Perhaps, this may result in bringing fresh perspective in looking at the sectoral regulations which may be hampering consumer interests, albeit, inadvertently. 


What then the CCI inquiry means for the consumers? Any important discovery may actually result in demand for greater competition in retail banking in the country, as is being realised in many countries after the Bonn Conference of ICN, the organisation which brings the national competition authorities of the world under one roof. There is every possibility that it may, in fact, pave the way for removing all such switching costs in the retail banking sector which are not related to economic fundamentals of the industry and are against the competition principles, ushering CCI as a new champion of consumers. 


(The author is a civil servant and former     director, CCI. Views are personal.)








DID you ever want to possess a pet parrot as a child? Did you also imagine it perched on your back, in the way that Long John Silver's macaw does in Treasure Island, while you took it everywhere right under the noses of your envious friends and foes? What would one have called it? 'Polly Umrigar' was one of the monikers (after the apro cricketing legend who was still active then) your columnist considered and had to reject (he being dad's friend). 


Old faithful retainer Ramji suggested 'Hiraman', which was too oldfashioned. The project parakeet finally fell through due to lack of parental permission ('Too cruel: it's meant to fly free; think of psittacosis!'), although we were all ready to adopt 'Totes' (from 'Tota') rescued from the local alley cat. 


Perhaps you dug dogs, or worse, cats; or as Manohar did horses! Whatever the animal or bird (but not vegetable or mineral) of your choice, it's the affinity or the extravagant bond that humans across all cultures and ages cultivate with pets which makes them special. 


The anthropologist Pat Shipman goes so far as to say that the animals made us human. She means this not in a metaphorical way (as in giving us lessons in loyalty or unquestioning love) but in a control freaky way, which allowed one group of primates to turn into modern humans precisely because of their own ability to observe and control the behaviour of other animals. She calls it reciprocal domestication. 


Anthropologist Barbara King concurs with this view in her collection of essays, Where the Wild Things Are Now. It examines ways in which domesticating animals may have shaped human beings as much as the domesticated animals themselves. 


King's Being with Animals explores the implications of our 'species-wide obsession with animals', starting from prehistoric cave art and classics like ThePanchatantra and Wind in the Willows to modern children's books and sports mascots including Shera, the Royal Bengal Tiger representing the upcoming Commonwealth Games. 

The myriad ways in which myths and religious parables and literature rely on animal imagery seem to indicate that we have always thought and felt through animals, she writes. 


Asimilar connection is sought to be maintained by the medieval idea of Scala Naturae or ladder of nature, often translated as Great Chain of Being. With apologies to 3 Idiots, Aall is One!






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The good news from the Reserve Bank's mid-quarter monetary policy review is that inflation is moderating, though still too high for comfort. It is significantly above the 5-5.5 per cent that prevailed in the early part of this century. The latest figures indicate it still hovers around 8.5 per cent. While these are just numbers, the underlying truth is that millions of people continue to be victims of this high inflation. Among them, though, workers in the organised sector are comparatively better off — in the past two days the government has doled out significant benefits to them in the form of a higher interest rate on provident fund, which will benefit 50 million workers, and also raised its employees' dearness allowance, to compensate to some extent for rising prices. Those with deposits in banks will also benefit as the banks are expected to hike their deposit interest rates. The banks will have to raise interest rates anyway, and not just due to the signal sent by the RBI on Thursday. While the organised working class as well as the rich stand to gain, what will happen to the 79.71 million workers employed in the non-agricultural sector? Of these, 39.74 million workers are in rural areas and 39.97 million in urban areas; 70.21 million are full-time workers, while 9.5 million get part-time work. They constitute around 92 per cent of the country's total workforce, and contribute over 60 per cent to the net domestic product. They also contribute three-fourths of the savings of the household sector. There are also millions of others in the unorganised sector who are totally unprotected from the vicissitudes of rising prices. Who will provide them a cushion against high prices? They are left to the vagaries of rising prices — their pain, suffering and deprivation are not reflected in the 8.5 per cent inflation figure, and there is little or no official attention directed at their plight. In the overall inflation figure, food prices are the highest at around 14 per cent. All that the government says is that food prices will moderate because of the good monsoon. We have been hearing this refrain since last year, when food prices hit the roof. Everybody in authority — from the finance minister to the honchos of the Planning Commission — kept insisting that prices would moderate once the rabi crop comes in, which later got shifted to the kharif crop, and still later to a good monsoon. A whole year has passed. The sad truth is that nothing that the RBI has done or can do will really impact food inflation significantly, a point which was conceded by the Planning Commission deputy chairman on Thursday. Besides the routine excuses trotted out on why food prices are high due to the demand-supply position, bad crops, high global prices etc, what is not talked about is speculation, hoarding and some wrong government policies — by the agriculture ministry in particular. There is only a half-hearted attempt to increase the area under irrigation, or increase the cropping area for pulses. It is a shame that a trillion-dollar economy has to depend solely on the monsoon to feed its people. Is all this talk about food security just a pie in the sky dangled before an unsuspecting people to show that the government cares?


But then, what does one say of a government that would rather have `50,000 crore worth of foodgrain rotting than distribute it to the poorest of the poor in 150 districts of India.







 "Being afraid of the truth

You tolerate the lie,

Pick up so much garbage in your youth,

Stuff you can't unlearn if you try..."

From The Curse of Bachchoo                   


I found myself on the same side of an argument as Hillary Clinton, Presidents Obama, Karzai and Zardari, the Prime Ministers of Indonesia and India, some potentate or spokesman of a potentate of Saudi Arabia, as William Hague, the Tory foreign secretary of the UK — and instinctively began to doubt its soundness. Then I reminded myself of a half-remembered quote from Voltaire about not agreeing with an opponent but defending to the death his or her right to assert the disagreeable opinion. This confused me even further — not something I readily admit to in life or print.


I allude, as the reader will have guessed, to the threat by Terry Jones, the Floridan head of a Christian church, who threatened to ceremonially burn copies of the Quran on 11th of September, the anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of New York.


The government of America, from the President downwards, told the world that there was nothing legal they could do to prevent Jones from staging this demonstration except to warn and beg him not to do it. The other heads of state, not subject to the American Constitution and its provision of the absolute right to burn books and publicise controversial opinions, called on Obama to stop Jones, ban him, lock him up, try him for blasphemy, send him to Guantanamo or Siberia, declare him a Maoist and shoot him in an "encounter"... (perhaps they didn't go that far, I exaggerate to make a point).


Nevertheless, it was enlightening to see Obama and Hillary, condemning and pleading because it demonstrated the power of the American Constitution and, in a perverse way, the strength of its democracy.


My confusion arose from my admiration for Voltaire. Had he been alive, would he have supported to the death Jones' right to burn the Quran? He would have known, or I would have told him, that Jones and his crew would provoke riots all over and, almost certainly, through a machinery of belief to which neither he nor I subscribe, cause the death of innocent people. I would have pointed out to Voltaireji the paradox his quote had generated — he didn't believe that the Quran was the word of God, but he would have to defend to the death the right of those who did believe it and presumably their right to act upon that belief through rioting, mayhem and even murder.


Jones' threat, a reaction he said to the proposal to build a mosque near Ground Zero, was misplaced. The Quran is the holy book of all Muslims and not that of terrorists. Muslims are expressly enjoined to refrain from hijacking travellers and killing them (in the days in which it was written these were caravans and not scheduled passenger flights, but the intent is clear and the principle the same). The guilt of the black sheep does not incriminate the herd, the acts of Satan, because he used to be an angel, doesn't condemn heaven... etc.


While making an exception of the Quran and the Guru Granth Sahib, for purely pragmatic rather than theological reasons, I am not against the burning of books.


Waking up one day in London and hearing that Salman Rushdie's book, a proof copy of which he had sent me and which I had read, was being ceremonially burnt in Bradford, I succumbed to a small fit of envy. For a week or two I contemplated the publication of my next book and thought it would be ideal if some group took against it so strongly that they bought 40,000 copies and burnt them. The book would instantly go into a second edition and the royalties would, minus my agent's fee of course, pour in.


I was not to know then that the book burning would lead in a chain, whose logic only the believers understand, to an injunction to murder Salman. For my safely profiteering purposes, I would have to seek out a group of book-burners who would restrict their objection to demonstrations and wouldn't escalate their opposition to a bounty on my head.


Burn, baby, burn! — but buy the copies first!


The closest I got to book-burning, apart from hostile reviews of which there have been a few, was a demonstration outside a London school against a book of my short stories called East End At Your Feet. The book, published in England, was being used in the English department of schools.


My editor at Macmillan rang one morning in a state of some excitement and despair, to say that a sizeable demonstration of parents had gathered outside a London school's gates to protest against the use of the book, pronouncing it "obscene".


My first thought was that that should shift a few copies.


It probably did but it also gave me my 15 minutes of fame. The next day the Daily Telegraph, edited by a very respected and senior journalist called William Deedes, devoted an editorial to my humble fiction, calling it obscene and objecting to its use in schools. The editorial provoked a TV chat show to arrange a debate between Mr Deedes and myself.


Journalist friends had used the intervening hours to dig around and they found that the parents' demonstration had been initiated by a lady who had unsuccessfully stood as a parliamentary candidate for the National Front, the anti-immigrant fascistic British political party. Mr Deedes was either unaware of this salient fact, or had chosen to ignore it in his editorial.


I tackled him on the point. Was he aware that the demonstration may not have been occasioned by the "F" word which appeared in one of my stories in the quoted lines of a Rolling Stones song, but by the fact that all the stories featured black and Asian teenagers to whose presence in the country the National Front objected?


"Ah", said Deedes in an upper class Churchillian drawl. "My dear boy, itsh all a kweshchun of b-lansh!"


I didn't get it till he held up both hands as though weighing objects in each and repeated the word: "b-lansh",

with the accent on the second syllable.


He meant "balance" and I have retained his wonderful conceit as a signal memory of that censorious episode.







It is strange that the two main rival parties in the state, the Congress and the Telugu Desam, have extended the geographical jurisdiction of their battle-field beyond Andhra Pradesh's borders to, of all places, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands! The people of the capital city of Port Blair will exercise their franchise in municipal polls on September 19. There are 18 municipal wards in the only municipal town in the islands, and there are an astonishing 22 political parties in the fray, among them the TD and Congress. Their presence is explained by the fact that there is a large Telugu population in Port Blair, mostly from north Andhra area, and the two parties have deputed their senior leaders to woo them. The Congress sent two ministers, Mr D. Prasada Rao and Mr Botsa Satyanarayana, and the TD has fielded Mr K. Yerrannaidu and Mr Dadi Veerabhadra Rao. At the public meetings that each party held, speakers traded the usual charges against each other and made routine promises of elimination of corruption and eradication of poverty. The settlers from north Andhra seemed to enjoy the speeches, which provided the campaign a "native touch".



Regional identity has become so important with the Telangana controversy that leaders of rival political parties are now trying to ferret out the regional background of opponents who don't toe their line on the demand for a separate state or quotas in jobs. And not just rival political parties. The Congress MP, Mr G. Sukender Reddy, sprang a surprise by taking potshots at none other than the minister for information and public relations, Dr Geeta Reddy, saying that she was a "daughter-in-law of Rayalaseema", implying that she was hence toeing the Seema-Andhra line. Dr Geeta Reddy is married to Dr Ramachandra Reddy who is from Rayalaseema. "She is no more the daughter of Telangana. After marriage, she has become daughter-in-law of Rayalaseema," he said, upset over her alleged support to Seema-Andhra lawyers. In all fairness, Dr Reddy, who was elected MLA from Zaheerabad in Medak district, has appealed to lawyers to come to the discussion table and promised that the government will sort out the issue if there were any irregularities in appointments. "I am from Telangana," she asserted. The situation has come to such a pass that the CM, Mr K. Rosaiah, felt impelled to make it clear that even if the state is bifurcated, he will live and die in Hyderabad.



It's a good thing that the chief secretary, Mr S.V. Prasad, is a vastly experienced bureaucrat having worked under four chief ministers. Recently he was called upon to perform a dual role: in addition to his duties as chief secretary he acted almost like the secretary to the Governor, Mr E.S.L. Narasimhan, when the principal secretary, Mr N. Ramesh Kumar, was on leave. The Governor, who is known for his punctuality in all matters, had the ever-smiling Mr Prasad rushing about attending to his regular work and overseeing affairs at Raj Bhavan at the same time. He had to be at Raj Bhavan whenever the Governor wanted to see him to find out the progress of some order or other. The proactive Governor wants everything to be done just so and Mr Prasad, fortunately, could keep pace.








Give it up, buddy. You can't eat your way to health in our country. And your attempt at giving your child a healthy nutrition is doomed.


No, I am not talking about the underprivileged who go hungry. Nor about the protein and vegetable-free diet of those who barely get to fill their bellies in this spiralling price rise. I am talking about you, my privileged, aware reader, you who know all about health food and fancy diets and have access to it all. Or so you think.


Let me break it gently. You are probably poisoning your family. Almost everything we eat and feed our kids has toxic stuff in it. Milk, fresh fruits, vegetables, even honey — all that we instinctively reach for as healthy foods now breed disease. And not all of it is caused by evil adulterators. Much of this mass poisoning springs from "efficient" farming techniques, deadly marketing ploys or just callousness.


Take the study on honey released this week. The nectar of the gods, our miracle home cure for a range of ailments, that internationally revered all-natural immunity booster and anti-bacterial is now teeming with antibiotics. Of 12 samples tested by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), 11 had unacceptable levels of antibiotics, from the banned chloramphenicol to the potent ciprofloxacin, oxytetracycline and erythromycin, among others. These were well known brands, righteously touting their herbal goodness, including market leader Dabur and others like Khadi, Himalaya, Patanjali Ayurved and Baidyanath Ayurved. And they had up to 25 times the accepted limit of some antibiotics besides significant amounts of antibiotics that are not accepted at all.


Over time, low doses of antibiotics can damage your health, especially the liver, cause resistance to antibiotics and breed drug-resistant bugs. We are staring at a serious public health hazard.


So do we not have a regulatory board for food safety? Sure we do. There are several for honey. But they don't check for contaminants. The Export Inspection Council does, but only for honey that is being exported, of course. We export excellent, clean honey to the rich countries, and feed our kids the filthy stuff.


You get firang honey, you say? From lands that have strict food safety regulations? I hate to break this to you, pal, but their food regulations don't protect you. And since your sarkar doesn't protect you either, others dump their dirty food here. So what you buy at exorbitant prices expecting great quality is as unsafe as home-grown stuff. In fact, of the 12 samples, the highest contaminations were found in two firang brands — in Switzerland's Nectaflor Natural Blossom Honey and the famous Australian Capilano Pure and Natural Honey. Don't expect others to protect you, sweetie. Do it yourself.


Then there is the best traditional source of nutrition for children — milk. In my childhood, the biggest grouse of concerned mothers was the adulteration of milk with water by the local milkman. Domestics were despatched to supervise the milking of the cow or buffalo even in big cities like Kolkata or Delhi. ("Ekdam jal!" said the housewife anyway when she encountered the milk thus acquired.)


Today, watered milk would be almost noble. Now milk is faked with urea, detergents, caustic soda, white paint and oil. A serious health hazard, toxic synthetic milk causes terrible ailments, including cancer. Paneer, khoya and ghee are similarly adulterated, usually with urea and white paint or poster colours with varying amounts of dalda.


But even when the milk is untouched by paint and oils, it can be pretty harmful. It is routinely full of hormones — mostly oxytocin, a banned drug given to cattle to increase lactation. A mainstay of milkmen across the country, oxytocin seeps into the milk and affects consumers, leading to hormone imbalance and miscarriage, male impotence, sterility, uterine cancers, neurological complications and facial hair in women.


So you want to take your child off milk? What will you feed her for strong bones and healthy growth? Fresh fruit and veggies, and lots of calcium-rich spinach, like Popeye? Sorry, sister, but most of our lovely "fresh" fruits and vegetables are flush with oxytocin. It makes vegetables brighter, plumper, bigger and more attractive to consumers. It is injected generously into most gourds, including the lauki and karela so favoured by healthy eaters, and into pumpkins, cucumbers, spinach, papayas, watermelons, bananas and mangoes. Or so we hear.


But oxytocin hasn't replaced the old faithful — calcium carbide. This well-known fruit "ripener" has been causing all kinds of problems for generations, from rashes and blurred vision to ulcers and respiratory problems and even pulmonary oedema, sterility and cancers. We have done precious little about it.


Now for the heavy metals and pesticides. Fruits and veggies contain several times the permitted levels of lead, zinc and cadmium — especially our traditional health food, spinach. This is largely caused by irrigation with untreated waste water. And pesticides, the preferred poisons, are necessary for a good crop, wouldn't you say? Never mind that all this affects our lungs, kidneys, joints, reproductive, cardiovascular and nervous systems, and leads to birth defects, Parkinson's and cancer.


So you want to give up on the old fruit? And the steamed veggies on the side? Just go for fish and meats and may God save the vegetarians? Well, fish often have high levels of pesticides and heavy metals too — since they are routinely bred in contaminated water. And meats are rich in hormones, antibiotics and drugs that the animal was fed to fatten it for the slaughter. In fact, we ingest much more antibiotics and hormones from meats and poultry than we could ever do from honey.


Oh dear. Maybe we could drink lots of water to flush out these toxins? You could, with fingers crossed. We are famous for water-borne diseases. And today the National Institute of Virology has said that most purifiers in India do not eliminate water-borne viruses. You will survive on bottled water, you say? Too bad, moneybags, a study found that in general bottled water had 36 times the acceptable limit of pesticides. And all cold drinks in India are bubbling with pesticides — some of the biggest brands going up to 70 times the limit. So happy drinking, buddy!


The only way to protect yourself and your child is by getting proper safety regulations for food and beverages in place. If we can stick to international quality for export, we could jolly well do it for ourselves as well. Let's take ourselves as seriously as we take the foreigner.


- Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine.She can be contacted at [1]








A good way to deal with the problems of Indian governance is to develop short-term memory loss. If we can forget what was touted as poisonous for us just a few years earlier, we can swallow it as panacea today. I often feel that the Indian janata is like that poor heroine in a demented Bollywood film who wakes up after an accident and, batting her false eyelashes, plaintively asks the two eternal questions: "Main kahan hoon? Aap kaun hain?" Don't you wonder whether these are the same bunch of politicians we elected a year ago — or have some incompetent aliens taken over their bodies?


Every now and again we become victims of a carefully constructed car crash engineered by our ruling elite, develop amnesia and open our eyes in a whole new world. And sometimes new is not indicative of "nice". And "new" is not modern or progressive either. In the past few months we have seen some of the most regressive measures being injected into our system. And all we can do is groan helplessly and mutter, "Main kahan hoon?" We really need not ask "Aap kaun hain?" because that smiling surgeon behind the surgical mask is the same friendly chap who sold us the car insurance policy.


For instance, one of the most frequently used phrases describing the wicked British Raj when we learnt history in school was about its policy to "divide and rule". It was meant to indicate the worst kind of governance because it was responsible for our servility to the gora masters. We had capitulated and initially been overcome by them because they had this uncanny ability to spot a basic weakness in our social fabric: no two Indians ever need to be treated equally. It is always possible to divide us, if not according to class, then according to caste, religion or region. The short-term memory loss following Independence and the declaration of the Nehruvian caste-less society was a relief for many Indians, especially the middle class because we knew that once we forgot our caste we could become one happy homogenous indistinguishable group. Oh! The wonderful bonding that would follow! We would never again be exploited by our rulers or by each other. Centuries of treating lower castes as untouchables and other barbaric injustices would now be erased. If only.


For those who lived through the brief euphoria, it was a visionary exercise leading to very real social reform. Much much more revolutionary than any economic reform carried out post 1990. It was liberalisation from labels. Therefore, when the Census enumerators recently asked my parents about their caste — something they had abjured, treated as part of the freedom struggle, as a noxious reminder of a pre-Independence debilitating social disease — my mother quite correctly and proudly refused to divulge something her family had rejected as part of their loyalty to "new India". She said her caste was "Indian". Instead of falling into the trap of our new political masters who seem fairly keen to exploit any loophole to make us servile rent-seekers, there are still some patriotic Indians who remember the reasons why we were moving away from caste recognition.


But there is no lesson from history our present political masters are obviously prepared to imbibe. They would prefer to write their own version of history. Obviously, if our netas have votebanks which benefit from caste-based policies, then naturally we will be drawn towards needing a caste enumeration. Couldn't they have found a different criteria? Of course they could. But then, they would not be able to "divide and rule", would they?


And our own short-term memory loss has forced us to silently watch the explosion of caste politics onto the political stage, threatening to overwhelm us. If only we had leadership who (like my parents) would place the fact that we are Indians before greedily grabbing whatever our jaatwallahs can concoct for us! It would be so much more progressive to make policies for the economically-backward and focus on development issues which deal with the marginalised. It is also a far more secular way of doing things — as caste supposedly only exists in the Hindu society. The Mandalisation of Indian politics is as fundamentalist as the mandir debate — it's a time bomb, created with the help of unprogressive politicians such as Lalu Prasad Yadav, who have made a career out of reaping the benefits of his caste.


This is one social experiment that we should have never embarked upon. When Rahul Gandhi talks about two Bharats, and dismisses "Modern Bharat", he forgets the many positive features of the society his great grandfather had tried to engineer.


In many pockets of urban India, caste no longer determines job opportunities. Some time back, a young girl employed by us as a domestic worker to sweep and swab, said that her husband (a garbage collector) had now trained himself as a bar tender. He was available for large parties to mix cocktails at night, while continuing to collect garbage during the day. She asked me to spread the word around so he could find some gigs. His social mobility is possible only when we live in a caste-oblivious world.


But we are threatening to engulf the next generation in a caste war. No doubt, as things worsen socially (even as the Sensex soars), we will wake up a decade later in a further fragmented world, asking, "Main kahan hoon?" Modern India will be caste-driven and we will have gone back a hundred years. Don't even bother to ask "Aap kaun hain?" Democracy has served India well. But our democratically-elected leadership has failed.


PS: Another buzz doing the rounds of Delhi is how a "positive" hype is now being created around the Commonwealth Games to deflect attention from allegations of corruption. Will our predilection for losing our memory frequently also come to rescue of Suresh Kalmadi and his cronies? Under the glamour and glitz of the Games will we forget the thousands of crores of rupees hoovered up and misutilised? Money that could have been spent on schools and hospitals. Or will we simply wake up, post-Games and exclaim groggily, as Mr Kalmadi and Sheila Dikshit are showered with praise: "Main kahan hoon? Aap kaun hain?"


- The writer can be contacted at [1]







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.








VERY little exposes the moribund mindset of the law and order machinery more effectively than the continuing curfews imposed in the Kashmir Valley, at times ~ like the last few days ~ all across it. Curfew orders have overtaken the Armed Forces Special Powers Act as a symbol of what large sections of the populace deem oppression by a regime that mistakenly believes that wielding the big stick suffices as governance. Hardly a thought has been spared for the travails of  aam aadmi. First it was a series of hartals called by separatist leaders till they realised that the law of diminishing returns had set in on that form of protest. Now the government is doing precisely the same, shutting life down, courtesy curfews. No opportunity to earn a living, study, seek medical attention, procure groceries… hardly conducive to building trust and confidence in the administration. Strict enforcement of the curfew may have kept some of the stone-pelters off the streets, it has neither disarmed nor dissuaded them. At the first opportunity they are back in action, their anger re-fuelled by the frustration generated by having to remain indoors for days on end. 

  Admittedly the police and paramilitary have a very difficult task maintaining order, but unless avenues are provided for letting off steam the Valley will remain a pressure-cooker of discontent. Not everybody supported stone-throwing, curfews are leading them to sympathise with protesters: particularly when overworked and excessively stressed members of the security forces opt for counter-violence as a remedial measure. Since the "cream" of the military and paramilitary are presumably deployed to deal with the threat to national security, enough expertise ought to have been available to develop a fresh strategy. Yet reports suggest that the Unified Command has come into play only to work out tactics to contain the impact of the call to "gherao" the camps and installations of the security forces next week.

Srinagar is not alone to blame for such stereotyped, unimaginative functioning. It was all too easy for the Prime Minister to tell the all-party meet that he had "instructed" the state government to create conditions conducive to dialogue ~ did the Centre indicate any line of action aimed at securing that goal? Even if the curfew is relaxed now it is highly unlikely that public resentment would have dissipated when the all-party delegation visits the state. Curfews, like AFSPA, may have more than legal validity: indiscriminate application, overuse/abuse has proved catastrophic.



IT is not difficult to guess why Lalu Prasad has shifted his target for pre-poll attacks from Nitish Kumar, from whom he wants to wrest power, to the Congress with whom RJD is, at least on paper, still allied in the UPA. Before he thinks of dislodging the JD-U, he must be reasonably assured of numbers in the coming election. As long as Congress was on the sidelines, Lalu had nothing to worry about. But with Rahul Gandhi leading the charge, the Congress has made its intentions clear and plans to contest all 243 Assembly seats. Lalu believes, like most others, that this will hurt RJD more than others because it has not formally severed links with the Congress at the Centre and that, if the anti-incumbency factor works in Bihar, it will be a choice between the two parties. The Congress, in that case, may hold the advantage on account of the authority it exerts at the Centre. That it has been out of power in Bihar for almost two decades also protects it from corruption charges that both Lalu and Nitish are struggling to cope with.

Lalu has the additional problem of the baggage he carries. Apart from embarrassing memories of corruption and crime which were the hallmarks of his long regime, he had committed the blunder of treating the Congress with scant respect during the last parliamentary election. The results were disastrous as far as Lalu was concerned and the Congress, which did unexpectedly well, has reason to believe that it can hold the scales should there be a fractured mandate in a three-cornered contest. Lalu's first priority, therefore, is to ensure that the Congress doesn't grab a share of the RJD vote-bank. The next step is to convince minorities that the RJD offers a better bet than any of the other parties. But voters could still be confused about Lalu's own position on the political chessboard and about whether he still hopes to find a berth in UPA II. Whatever noises he makes in the run-up to the poll, he will have to deal first with the issue of his own credibility.




France may unwittingly have offended the European Union. And Nicolas Sarkozy's diplomacy will be on test in the face of the European Commissioner's threat to start legal proceedings over the campaign against Roma gypsies. The immigrant issue is a major headache in France as in many other countries. And the possible impact on the social sector must have compelled the French President to order the crackdown on the Roma clan from eastern Europe. Admittedly, the crackdown does fly in the face of the European Union provisions that allow free movement of EU citizens. That said, the response of the EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, has been a little out of proportion to the alleged violation of the letter and spirit that guides the contemporary Concert of Europe. She has compared President Sarkozy's crackdown to the Nazi persecution of gypsies during World War II ~ a contrived distortion of history. The rest of Europe might be too embarrassed even to respond, let alone comply with Ms Redings's appeal for legal proceedings against Paris "within a week". 

Prima facie, France may have violated the EU's charter of fundamental rights as also the country's law on singling out an ethnic minority. And there is no attempt at self-defence through a denial. Yet there is an inherent contradiction in the government's version; in its statement to Brussels, Paris has not denied the targeting of Roma, couched with subsidies to the immigrants to leave the country. But the government has rejected the charge of a crackdown on an entire ethnic group. The disconnect has provoked the EU's justice department to accuse the government of duplicity. It is not often that the EU headquarters targets a member-country in so forthright a manner. It is decidedly an emotive issue that at once involves domestic compulsions and the rights of the immigrant citizen, if a contradiction in terms. France must  make its position clear and EU must hold its fire.








THE Arms Amendment Bill, 2010, intended to  amend the Arms Act of 1959, has provoked  unwarranted opposition. It was introduced in  Parliament by the Home Minister. The National Association for Gun Rights, formed with Digvijay Singh, the former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh as the president, has criticised the Home ministry for undermining the citizen's right to possess weapons. Mr Singh is the patron-in-chief of the National Association for Gun Rights in India. In a memorandum to the Prime Minister, the association has alleged that under the pretext of moving a minor amendment to the Arms Act ostensibly to make police verification mandatory and create a database, the government is trying to undermine the citizen's legal right to keep and bear arms.

To own a gun is a privilege under the Arms Act, 1959. This particular legislation and the Arms Rules, 1962 were derived from the Arms Act, 1876, enacted by the British after the Revolt of 1857. It was intended to disarm a subject nation. To obtain licence for owning  firearms, a person has to prove that "there exists a threat to life". A licence is limited to three firearms under Section 3 of the Arms Act, 1959. 

Law-abiding citizens are entitled to possess arms, but the benefit of the 1959 Act has largely been reaped by dubious characters who have acquired sophisticated arms on a large scale. In view of the terror threat, the government has now decided to make the rules more stringent.

The new Bill's "Statement of Objects and Reasons" mentions that proliferation of arms and ammunition, whether licensed or otherwise, can disrupt the societal order and development, vitiate the law and order situation and lead to violence. This inherent danger needs to be curbed. It is imperative that arms licence is issued only to bonafide persons after their antecedents are verified by the police. 

In reality, too many people possess arms licences. And for every licensed firearm, there are at least four or five unlicensed ones. According to a former Director-General of Police, UP, there are more firearms, both licensed and unlicensed, with individuals in Moradabad district than in the whole of the UK or Japan. Both in Bihar and UP, dacoits seize weapons from the licensed holders either by threatening them or on payment. The bulk of the ammunition used in countrymade unlicensed weapons come from the licensed holders. The manufacture of ammunition is a complicated task, one that requires equipment not easily available.

There is an increasing demand for guns in many areas of northern India, with Kanpur emerging as the "gun capital". Indeed, the gun is a status symbol. The Arms (Amendment) Bill proposes to amend sub-section 13 of the Arms Act 2009. It will specify the limit of 60 days from the date of receipt of application for sending the police report and to record the reasons for the failure to send the report within the deadline. The Bill omits the proviso to sub-section (2A) and Section 13 of the Arms Act 1959 so as to do away with the discretion of the licensing authority to issue a licence without  receiving the police report.

The problem of arms proliferation has assumed menacing proportions. The National Police Commission had recommended that arms and ammunition be kept in safe custody to avoid their falling into the hands of unauthorized persons. Before issuing a licence, it should be ascertained that the applicant is in a position to keep them in safe custody.

Advocates of gun rights, such as Digvijay Singh and the young MP, Naveen Jindal, are trying to forestall the amendments that will tighten the Arms Act. They have perhaps been influenced by the prevailing gun culture in the USA.  It is a contentious issue in America's politics and culture. At present,  there are an estimated 240 millions guns in America and about one-third of these are hand-guns which are easy to conceal. On an average, shootouts acount for 30,000 deaths, including 12,000 murders, each year. "Since the killing of Kennedy in 1963, more Americans died in American gunfires than perished on foreign fields in the whole of the 20th century. (The Economist, April 21-27, 2007). The US Supreme Court, while ruling in the case of McDonald vs Chicago, has struck down a ban on the hand-gun. The ruling makes it unconstitutional for states and local governments to restrict the rights of the Americans to own guns. The court affirmed that Americans have the constitutional right, as enshrined in the Second Amendment, to own weapons including hand-guns. Gun control advocates, however, have slammed the ruling and described it as 'a victory only for the gun lobby and America's fading in firearms industry'.

Japan and the UK are two democratic countries with very low crime and murder rates. Both countries have imposed a strict control on firearms. In Japan, possession of firearms is a rare privilege and the number of those who hold licences is limited. The bulk of the firearms are deposited in rifle and pistol clubs, and they cannot be moved out.  This automatically restricts the firearms available with individuals. According to Chris Nuttal, former Director of Research, Home Office, the argument of the gun lobby that it is the people ~ and not the guns ~ who kill people is not valid. The availability of guns escalates the risk of wounding or killing in every case of crime, including brawls in a pub or at home.

The writer, Senior Fellow of the Institute of Social Sciences, had served as Director, National Human Rights Commission, and of the National Police Academy.







Veteran BJP leader Ram Naik represented the North Mumbai Lok Sabha constituency for five successive terms. Earlier, he was MLA for three consecutive terms from the Borivili assembly constituency. He used to present a performance report to voters to uphold the principle of accountability. A seasoned parliamentarian, he was chairman of the prestigious Public Accounts Committee in 1995-96 and chief whip of the BJP in the 11th Lok Sabha. He also contributed significantly to parliamentary debates and important committees. The 76-year-old Mr Naik, who overcame cancer in 1994, is national convener of the "MPs-MLAs Development Cell'' constituted to enhance efficiency and performance of BJP legislators. He spoke to SRI KRISHNA on the functioning of the cell set up by party president Nitin Gadkari.

You are heading the cell for training first-time MPs and MLAs.How did the concept take shape? 
In the BJP, we have been trying to upgrade the skills of elected representatives - be they members of municipal corporations, zilla parishads, MLAs or MPs. We have an institute in Mumbai where about 100 people can be accommodated at one time. The place is called Rambhu Marga Prabhodhini.

After the last Lok Sabha election, we have had no such training programme as far as Parliament was concerned and looking at the complex nature of issues which are coming up, we felt there was need to undertake such an exercise. We are ruling in Madhya Pradesh,Chhattisgarh and Gujarat while we are in Opposition in Rajasthan and Maharashtra. So there was need to train elected representatives and upgrade their skills. We conduct regular courses at party level. 
Since MPs and MLAs are public faces of the party, a separate cell has been created for them by the BJP president with the name of "MPs-MLAs Development Cell. Since I have no other responsibility at present, I have been made the national convener of this cell. Having been MLA for three terms in Maharasthra and MP for five terms and minister for parliamentary affairs and railways and petroleum and chemicals, the party felt that I should put this experience to good use and impart training to elected representatives. 

What are the areas that you would be focusing on in the course for MPs?

There are three or four aspects. First is the performance of MPs in the House. How effectively the person can perform in the House, his connection with the people in the constituency, his relation with the party organisation. All these are important issues and so we have decided that we will have separate sessions for each of them. He would be told how to be an effective MP, how to nurse his constituency and how to be accountable to the people and his ideological moorings. There are six to seven topics that we have selected and they will be addressed by LK Advani, who is chairperson of the parliamentary party, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley.They will also be addressed by Ram Lal,who is general secretary (organisation), so that they get to know how organisational matters are handled. 

Will this training be a regular feature in the BJP since it is the major Opposition party? 

It has to be done regularly. What does it mean? In the first phase we are training first-time MPs. The BJP has 116 MPs in the Lok Sabha and 50 in the Rajya Sabha. A total of 166 is a large number. We have 55 first-time MPs in the Lok Sabha and 23 in the Rajya Sabha.We will be concentrating on them in this training camp. The next step can be to bring them all together. It will not be limited to speeches, there will also be interaction. All over the country we have about 970 MLAs and MLCs in states and so a similar exercise would be conducted there. 
We are in power in some states and in some we are in the opposition. But as far as this cell is concerned, we will concentrate on all. In Tamil Nadu,West Bengal and Kerala we have no representatives and so we do not have this cell. However, in states like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand where we are in power but have few MLAs, we will bring them together for training. 

Since you have had a long innings in both the assembly and Parliament, what do you feel about the current standards prevailing in Parliament? 

I would say that there is more noise than debate. Of course, it is basically the ruling party that is responsible. There are so many burning issues but the monsoon session's first week was lost on how we would discuss the price rise - whether we would call it price rise or inflation. Price rise is what the common man understands and not under which rule the issue would be discussed. The ruling party has to show some sensitivity. 
As the saying goes, the Opposition should have its say and the government should have its way. So whatever the Opposition wants to say, they should be allowed and the government should not unnecessarily stand on prestige and obstruct the debate. This has to be avoided in the interest of smooth functioning of the House, otherwise people would lose confidence in Parliament. Debate is the essence of parliamentary democracy; the government must allow it and the Opposition must also respond. 

You have been railway minister. How do you feel the railways is functioning now? There has been some criticism of late. 


Among the various ministries, I will say railways is one ministry that works 24 hours as trains run round the clock. It is a huge task for such a ministry with lakhs of persons working and trains carrying over one crore forty lakh passengers daily as also a large volume of goods. The minister has to look after all these things. As things stand now, she (Mamata Banerjee) is concentrating more on West Bengal. There are several departments in the railways and there is need for eternal vigilance in its functioning. I don't find that type of vigilance in the present functioning.







Once again the integrity of the Supreme Court has been challenged. This time the challenger is redoubtable. He is a former law minister and veteran lawyer. On Thursday, Shanti Bhushan moved an application in the SC accusing eight former Chief Justices of India of being corrupt. He dared the Court to send him to jail for contempt of court. He submitted a list of sixteen former CJIs and claimed that eight of them were "definitely corrupt".

His list included former CJIs Ranganath Mishra, KN Singh, MH Kania, LM Sharma, MN Venkatachaliyah, AM Ahmadi, JS Verma, MM Puchhi, AS Anand, SP Barucha, BN Kirpal, GB Patnaik, Rajendra Babu, RC Lahoti, VN Khare and YK Sabharwal. Bhushan claimed that two former CJIs were the source of his information. This application not surprisingly created a sensation given the gravity of the charge and the status of the applicant. 
Shanti Bhushan's son, Prashant Bhushan, himself an eminent lawyer, is currently facing contempt of court proceedings in SC. Shanti Bhushan said that he fully endorsed the views of his son regarding alleged misconduct of the judiciary. If his son was to be jailed he too should be jailed. However, this is not the first time that the integrity of the SC has been openly challenged within the precincts of the court. Something similar happened during the hearings of the Jain hawala Case in the mid-nineteen nineties that was curiously buried with the media virtually ignoring the event. 

On that occasion, Vineet Narain, the chief petitioner among four who had filed the Jain hawala case application in the SC, edited a small, relatively obscure, journal. In it he alleged that the Judges hearing the case were being blackmailed into compliance because one of the accused had succeeded in compromising them in acts of moral turpitude and corruption. Prashant Bhushan was one of the four petitioners in the Jain Hawala Case. Surprisingly, the SC ignored the allegations levelled by Narain. 

However, the Supreme Court Bar Council filed a contempt case against Narain. In the hearing, one of the accused Judges admitted that he had indeed visited the residence of one of the accused but he was unaware of his identity at the time. The obvious question that after he realised the identity of his host why he did not remove himself from the bench hearing the case was never addressed. Astonishingly enough, the SC dismissed the case filed by the Bar Council and merely criticised the accused of irresponsibility. Despite the shocking allegations made by him against sitting SC judges, Narain was not hauled up for contempt and duly punished. The defamation case was quietly buried. The mainstream media remained silent. Can one be blamed for drawing unflattering conclusions about the SC after that event? 

This time around, matters may not end the same way. The challenger is not an editor of an obscure journal. He is a former law minister. How can the case be buried quietly or the media ignore it? This episode could become a game-changer.

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







Mother Aimee was one of the gentlest souls I have ever encountered. I first met her when I was about five years old, around one o'clock in the morning on a cold winter night, running a fever of over a hundred degrees that put my parents in more of a sweat than me. Dharia, our faithful help of many years, rubbed me up and down trying to get the fever to subside, but after several minutes without success, my parents decided that enough was enough, my father revved up the engine of my grandparents' old Austin, and we started for the Convent of Our Lady Queen of the Missions in Park Circus. 

The old Austin rattled through the winter night, its headlights trying vainly to pierce the darkness of the road, which in those days was lit by naked bulbs that shone dimly from their posts. Not a sound was in evidence, save for the occasional bark of a stray dog that woke of a sudden from a bad dream. Inside the car the passengers chafed at the bit, wanting the car to go faster and reach Mother Aimee at an instant. 

It was around two in the morning that we negotiated a narrow alley behind the Convent of Our Lady Queen of the Missions and stopped in front of the back gate of the convent. Mother scrambled out of the car and commenced banging on the wooden door of the Convent. After what seemed an eternity, a light was seen through the crack of the door and the sound of footsteps was heard pattering on the tiled floor. The door unlatched and a figure shrouded in white peered at my mother. There was instant recognition mixed with consternation. A gentle voice spoke through the shroud, "What is it, my child, at this hour?" "Mother," mumbled my mother, "it's my son." 

Mother Aimee led us into the clinic which, in the afternoon hours, was crammed with patients, mostly from around the slums in the neighbourhood, but filled now only with wooden benches that sat like mute witnesses to our agony. Mother Aimee felt my pulse, my forehead, and my heartbeat; and satisfied with her examination, proceeded in silence to make up separate dosages of sugar globules which she marked as Antim Tart, Belladonna, Bryonia, and such. Then she emptied one dose into my mouth, and wrote out a prescription. "The fever will subside shortly," she told us, and to my mother said, "Do not worry. He will be fine in a couple of days." A smile illuminated her furrowed, wizened face, she made the sign of the cross, and touched our foreheads with holy water. "See me on Saturday," she said, and led us to the door. Her small, slight figure waited until Father started the car, and we were on our way. 

Indeed, my fever broke in a couple of days, and I was fine on the third. Old-timers will remember that this Irish nun who had dedicated her life to the medical care of the people of Park Circus through homeopathic remedies, had a miraculous touch. She ran her clinic for about three hours starting at three in the afternoon. Patients sat on wooden benches, and moved up their bench as Mother Aimee finished her treatment of the patient in front. She had a young assistant who learned the ropes under her, and much later, took up position as the attending doctor in a local homeopathic medical store. The difference however, between the nun and the doctor, was that while the former wrote out prescriptions which patients like us have preserved for future use, the latter never disclosed what he was prescribing and handed out the globules in paper pellets marked 1, 2 and 3. 

More than two decades ago, while reading the ten-day-old papers from home in the library of the University of Chicago, I happened to chance upon an obituary announcement that clutched at my heart and clouded my eyes. I stared a long while out of the window of the library, feeling a sense of something that was lost and gone forever, as though an era had passed, an era of my childhood and of my youth. I picked up my pen and composed a letter to the Mother Superior of the Convent, describing the indelible impression Mother Aimee had left on me. 

Almost two months later, I received a letter from the Convent. The Mother Superior was touched that someone from the vast distance of the oceans and also of the years had remembered the nun, whose gentle demeanour and gentle assurance erased many a sickness without the medicines that accompanied them.








One of the world's largest film archives was founded by a ghost hunter and psychic researcher, among others, who was as obsessed with getting to the bottom of the Great Indian Rope Trick as with preserving films for posterity. What Harry Price started in 1935 are now the archives of the British Film Institute, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. It was in the same year, 1935, that Pramathesh Barua made, and played the lead role in, a Bengali version of Devdas. But a fire in Calcutta's New Theatre studios destroyed all the Indian prints of this film. Only one exists in the Bangladesh film archives now, though nearly half of even this print is destroyed. So, the link between hunting ghosts and keeping archives that Price and his film library embodied — luckily, it took on a life of it own that thrives to this day — is not just a piece of historical curiosity. It is part of the challenge, and pathos, of archiving films and cinematic ephemera — in fact, of archiving anything at all.


So the eye stops with mixed feelings at a recent insertion in the papers by the government of India. It is an appeal for all kinds of stuff for a national museum of Indian cinema to be set up by the government, addressed to "film enthusiasts, studios, producers, film companies, cinema lovers and curators". They are being requested to donate — and thus "cease to be the right holder[s] of" — everything from films and sound tapes to books and phonographs. It all sounds rather quaint and touching, even quite exciting, until one starts thinking about the existing national museums — from the Indian Museum in Calcutta to the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi, and other sorry places like the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, the state archives, or the state-owned storage spaces where priceless Indian artworks (the Tagore paintings, for instance) languish. Why should private collectors give their beloved collections to a State that has shown little more than indifference (at best) and criminal destructiveness (at worst) when it comes to preserving the invaluable material traces of the nation's past?


In 2003, a fire broke out at the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune that released a multitude of ghosts to be hunted in vain by the Harry Prices of this country. Among the 4,000-odd, nitrate-based, pre-1950 films destroyed in that fire were such gems asAchhut Kanya and Alam Ara, the first Indian talkie made in 1931 and rendered unwatchable now by a chain of negligence that ultimately led to the Central ministry of information and broadcasting, then headed by Sushma Swaraj. Without the archival scruples, restoring skills and munificence of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the BFI and the University of California, Santa Cruz, among others, a similar fate would have befallen many of Satyajit Ray's films. Sadly, the words 'Indian' and 'national', when joined to 'museum', are yet to strike a note of anything other than doom in the hearts of those who know and value what archives are about.










Several moving reports of Indians trying to help Pakistanis in their trial by water recall a meeting in Washington 60 years ago to consider India's dire need for food. Among those present was Pakistan's first ambassador to the United States of America, M.A.H. Ispahani, a name that was once not without resonance in this city.


India feared a famine of potentially catastrophic dimensions. Its rich wheat fields had been lost in the west, luxuriant paddy growing areas similarly in the east. Flood in the north and drought in the south compounded the peril. Loy Henderson, the vitriolic American ambassador, may have derived perverse satisfaction from reporting that more than two million people would die of starvation without help. His embassy estimated that between eight and 10 million others would perish from diseases connected with malnutrition.


India cut cereal rations by 25 per cent. Jawaharlal Nehru spoke of scouring the world, even China which had helped during the Great Bengal Famine, for food. Burma and Thailand were ready to sell rice but had no shipping. The US had both, a glut of grain and so much idle shipping that some of it had to be put in mothballs. Nehru's biographer says the Americans were widely expected to give India a million tons of wheat, but there was no sign of such largesse in the White House, state department or Congress.


Nehru referred in passing to India's crisis during his visit in 1949 but, as is well known, there was no rapport between him and his host. Despite — perhaps because of — Nehru's famously disdainful remark about not going with a begging bowl, many Americans visualized him with a begging bowl in one hand and a moral microphone in the other. Underlying Dean Acheson's unsympathetic reference to the tragedy of hunger were deeper differences over China, Korea, the Cold War, Kashmir and Pakistan. When Vijayalakshmi Pandit, India's ambassador in Washington, formally asked for "two million tons of grain on a long-term basis", the chairman of the Senate foreign affairs committee made no bones about making food hostage to the "whole question of US relations with India".


Another feature of American strategy was to include Ispahani in discussions, apparently in order "to forestall Pakistani objections". There was a precedent from the chaos that followed Partition when Nehru appealed for the loan of 10 US army transport aircraft to rescue 50,000 Hindus stranded in Peshawar. Some 500 who had tried to make it on their own had been ambushed, and 400 cut down: New Delhi feared a retaliatory bloodbath if the news got out or the 50,000 were also massacred. It promised to complete the operation in a week.


The state department insisted on an American commanding officer and Indian responsibility for fuel, oil, maintenance, the crew's food, quarters and protection. When Nehru, who had already promised to bear all costs, agreed to every stipulation, the US said Pakistan would have to agree. Liaquat Ali Khan did so in principle, but it was not enough. The US "could act only if request made jointly [sic]" by the two governments. The matter petered out.


Against this background, Ispahani attacked India with devotional fervour. Islam succoured the starving, he said piously, but Indians, alas! had brought suffering on themselves through greed which had driven them to abandon cultivating foodgrains for cash crops like jute and cotton. Even now, instead of buying wheat and rice that generous Pakistanis were willing to sell, India was waging economic warfare against Pakistan. The ambassador's final objection was that American assistance would enable India to conserve her own resources to make additional machine tools and military equipment.


Though Harry Truman eventually sanctioned a $190-million loan to buy American wheat, the negotiations dragged on through months of carping criticism. The loan was so hedged in with demands and conditions that little grace was left in the giving. Nehru's letters to chief ministers confirm his bitterness and sense of humiliation.


My concern is not the US which had no obligation to feed hungry Indians who couldn't, as was repeated in those days, make even a pin and had to import everything. Besides, with Pax Americana set to replace Pax Britannica, the US had assumed an awesome global mandate. All its efforts were concentrated on defending values and territories that it feared might succumb to Soviet communism. The Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan, the prime instruments of this strategy until the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was born, were for countries that supported American global aims. India emphatically did not. As Inder Kumar Gujral later remarked when India lost the security council election after voting against the comprehensive test ban treaty, "If you defy, do not ask for garlands, bouquets or seats. Every nation has to pay the price for maintaining its self-respect."


Besides, the Americans made up handsomely for Truman's niggardliness. Started four years later, the PL 480 programme made history with the world's largest cheque. Though a figure of $59 billion is mentioned as the current value of economic assistance since 1951, the benefits of the partnership that made a hesitant start when Indira Gandhi went to Cancun far outweigh any monetary computation. It is now the bedrock of India's nuclear development and strategic planning.


Pakistan's reaction doesn't occasion surprise either. It is unnecessary to revisit the modern factors that compound historical Hindu-Muslim tension, especially since this age of ostentatious iftar parties makes the latter an unfashionable theme. But displays of bonhomie like the Indian and Pakistani ambassadors to the UN turning up together at last Friday's US Open men's doubles recall Golda Meir's acerbic comment that a couple of Oscars would have been more appropriate than the Nobel Peace Prize for Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. This particular "Indo-Pak Express", as a newspaper called the tennis duo, is not going anywhere beyond the courts.


But the overflow of Indian sympathy for Pakistani flood victims intrigues me. Of course, suffering anywhere touches a chord. An estimated 2,000 dead and a million homeless is tragedy indeed. In John Donne's often quoted (and misquoted) lines, "No man is an island, entire of itself." But if "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind", there are enough deaths nearer home to lament. There are bereaved families nearer home to console. There are destitutes nearer home to provide for. If I turn to more distant distress, it means that having done all I can for the suffering around me, I still have an excess of compassion, energy and resources for the rest of the world. Or else, I see no dividend in helping out with domestic catastrophe.


One wonders whether Rajmohan Gandhi, who teaches at Illinois University, launched a joint appeal for relief funds with Pakistan's permanent UN representative because he was moved by the magnitude of the disaster or whether he reasoned that the gesture would help to forge Indo-Pakistani friendship. If the former, I would have thought that victims of the cloudburst in Leh or of Orissa's cholera epidemic have first call on an Indian's emotions. If the latter, the Pakistani high commission's brusque rebuff to large numbers of Indians telephoning to offer help confirms how vain are hopes of a thaw. My query about Gandhi applies to all these other volunteers as well. But the Confederation of Indian Industry's plan to send 25 truckloads of relief material is understandable investment while Suresh and Mala Vazirani in Bombay are eager to fly out 900,000 tents and more because it would help "fellow Sindhis". I can understand their emotional attachment. Sindh remains home.


There is much wisdom in the proverb, charity begins at home. And talking of home, before they upped anchor for Pakistan, Ispahani and his brother Mahmood lived at 5 and 5/1 Harrington Street, the office and residence today of the American consul-general.


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





Within days of the announcement of the signing of a protocol between India and Switzerland which will help the country secure information on the money hidden by Indians in Swiss banks, it has been revealed that over Rs 5 lakh crore of tainted money has been transferred illegally out of the country in the last eight years. All this may not have ended up in Swiss banks but it is more than possible that a substantial part of it must have found its way there. Conservative estimates have put the total illegal holdings of Indians in these accounts at over Rs 50 lakh crore. The damage done to the national economy by such unaccounted money is well-known and retrieval of at least a part of this would have done wonders by wiping out the fiscal deficit. But there has not been a single case of retrieval of money while the outgo has been continuing and even increasing in the last few years.

The reworking of the bilateral taxation treaty is a small step forward towards unlocking the secrecy of the Swiss banks but its utility is limited insofar it is applicable only to prospective information. There are also other stringent conditions. Only tax-related requests will fall under the purview of the agreement and specific requests based on information about tax evasion will have to be provided to the Swiss authorities. The account-holder will also have the right to appeal against a decision to transfer data. All this makes the procurement of information and retrieval of illegal funds extremely difficult but a legal route with a possibility of success has opened up now where there was none in the past.

There is a new international climate of opinion that favours action against tax evasion and financial wrongdoing. The G-20 group and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have been putting pressure on governments in tax havens. India has complied with global tax standards and OECD has recognised this. This should have helped the country to strike a better deal with Switzerland which could also cover past  transactions of Indians in Swiss banks. It is an open question whether there was enough will and readiness on the part of the government to pursue hard negotiations on the matter, because the results would be unpleasant for much of the political and business leadership in the country.








The Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) decision to raise the repo rate and reverse repo rate as part of its mid-term monetary policy will have a mixed impact on the economy and on individuals. While the apex bank's latest move is a part of the series of rate hikes it initiated since the beginning of 2010, the underlying objective behind the small doses of rate hikes is to control inflation without harming the growth of the economy. Though the inflation continues to rule high — it stood at 8.5 per cent last month — the positive impact of RBI's strategy is already visible: despite the hardening of interest rates the Indian economy's growth momentum has not slowed down. This has helped RBI take the calculated risk of tightening liquidity without harming business activities.

Many in the banking circle were expecting RBI to take stronger measures considering the rapid increase in inflation rates. But RBI's move was a clear signal that it will continue to pursue the anti-inflationary policy in a calibrated way. This also gives rise to the possibility that we are going to see more rate hikes, in small doses, in the future. It's certainly the right policy prescription for the moment as it is aimed at maintaining a balance between price rise and growth. While containing inflation is important, the cost of money must not be pushed up so much that the industry and the business start to groan. 

As far as individuals are concerned, the RBI's move will be a mixed bag. The investors in bank deposits will certainly get more interest on their savings helping them beat the inflation. But those who want to borrow money for buying a home or a car, will have to fork out more by way of interest. The factors that worked in RBI's favour, of course, are good monsoon in most parts of the country, prospects of bumper agricultural production resulting in softening of food inflation rates. But, at the same time there are several risk factors which may impact growth and lead to higher inflation. As the Indian recovery is being driven by domestic demand, a sluggish global environment could have an adverse impact. The possibility of a double dip recession in the developed countries, specially in the US and in Europe, can again slow down India's economic growth in the near future







With the Yeddyurappa govt virtually under a siege, both from within and outside, pressure is building up for a ministry reshuffle.


Like tropical cyclones, disasters are coming in pairs for the first BJP government in Karnataka, which is just halfway through its five-year term. Barely days after medical education minister Ramachandra Gowda had to step down over 'irregular' recruitments to two government-run medical colleges in Hassan and Mysore, and similar allegations being heard from elsewhere, the ruling party is faced with fresh embarrassment: the ignominy of not just losing the Gulbarga South Assembly seat to opposition Janata Dal (Secular) in a by-election, but also falling prey to the latter party's political chicanery.

Though BJP wrested the Kadur seat from Congress, party's state president K S Eshwarappa conceded defeat in Gulbarga South, attributing it to public sympathy for the JD(S) candidate, who is none other than the widow of the late BJP MLA Chandrasekhar Patil Revoor, whose death caused the by-election. If sympathy it is that cost the party dearly, then BJP must accept blame for giving away the seat on a platter by denying a ticket to Revoor's widow to contest, which opportunity JD(S) supremo Deve Gowda encashed by fielding Mrs Revoor and winning the seat.

Between these two setbacks surfaced another potential backlash: unconfirmed reports that DNA test results of the personal effects of former BJP minister Haratalu Halappa had confirmed the rape charge levelled against him by a friend's wife. The allegation saw the minister's exit some months ago.

His resignation was the sixth in less than 28 months of the government's existence. Ramachandra Gowda's exit took the tally to seven.

Earlier, another minister, Krishnaiah Setty, quit under a cloud of irregular land purchase by the Housing Board. Three more ministers, Eshwarappa, V Somanna and Shobha Karandlaje had to exit for various reasons, while minister S K Bellubbi had to vacate his berth to accommodate Umesh Katti.

Add to this another tainted minister duo who are still in: one is accused of defrauding a nationalised bank and neglecting the beggars' rehabilitation centre causing the death of over 20 hapless inmates; the second is charged with diverting funds meant for backward Hyderabad-Karnataka region to develop his own constituency.

Just retribution

To be fair to chief minister Yeddyurappa, he has acted quickly and firmly when the charges were serious such as the recruitment scam against Ramachandra Gowda, which include manipulation of candidates' marks in qualifying examinations, sale of some posts for as much as Rs 2 lakh apiece, direct recruitment to several posts without advertising, overlooking age ceiling and manipulation of medical fitness certificates. The chief minister not only cancelled the irregular recruitments but also showed the door to the minister, who was his one-time close confidant.


In the case of the beggars' deaths, Yeddyurappa shunted out the minister from the social welfare portfolio.
Yet, the damage has been done and the government has also had to face the wrath of the high court over Gowda's defence of the irregular recruitments and subsequent retrenchments.

With the government virtually under a siege, both from within and outside, pressure is building up for a ministry reshuffle. Such a move — a recasting of at least the front bench team — is important for Yeddyurappa as well as his senior party colleagues. As of now, the BJP is a divided house of numerous factions led by Ananth Kumar, Sadananda Gowda, ministers Katta Subramanya Naidu and Ashok infamous as the 'Katta-Meeta' duo, and the neutral types such as Eshwarappa.

The chief minister is keen to induct some of his acolytes into the cabinet just as any leader would like to feel comfortable with the people around him. When the media is hostile, the voters unpredictable, it helps to at least have friends close at hand.

But the so-called refurbishing and rejuvenating the team should not become synonymous with recycling dead wood. Eshwarappa has hinted at dropping some senior ministers during the reshuffle. But these dropped ministers are to be assigned party work as the BJP has set itself a target of winning 150 assembly seats  of the total 224 in the 2013 elections.  

Considering that many of the ministers had to make an ignominious retreat, and the charges against them stand more or less proved, rehabilitating the same lot would neither benefit the government nor uplift the party image.
It's dangerous to state general rules, but it does seem that reshuffles that widen leaderships, extending their political reach and character range, are more likely to work. In politics, strength comes from breadth, not density. A sort of a wider intra-party coalition would be more successful.

If and when the reshuffle happens, bringing in too many of the chief minister's close political friends would be a poor first reshuffle. He may think he has a team. But a real team, in any sport, contains distinct and different characters who, nevertheless, play well together. Some of the younger rising stars certainly need a leg up. And BJP could do with more women in the frontline.








Most of my Muslim friends did fast during Ramzan and went to mosques to pray on Eid-ul-Fitr than ever before.


I can understand that in the rising tide of religious intolerance they wanted to assert their Islamic identity. Why I bring up the subject is more difficult to explain. I read a selection of nursery rhymes written by an English woman 70 years ago for her oldest son but published recently: 'Rhymes for Ranga' (Random House). The rhymes are by Freda Bedi, illustrated by Anna Bhushan.

Allow me to tell you how and when I met the Bedis. B P L Bedi and his English wife Freda arrived in Lahore in the 1940s and made their home in Model Town. It is said to have been a tent accessible to everyone. They made a very handsome couple — both six footers and fair complexioned. BPL was very proud of his Sikh lineage — Gurunanak was a Bedi.

Freda was known to be a socialist and against the British Raj. She took part in India's freedom movement and was the first British woman to serve six-months in Lahore jail. After partition, the couple moved to Delhi; BPL tried to make a living as a publisher but failed. They migrated to Italy. He set up a religious cult of his own. Freda converted to Buddhism. Kabir, their second son, became a very popular star of Italian television. Once in London, he invited me to lunch with his second wife. All the waiters and waitresses recognised him. We had gourmet meal with vintage wines. They refused to give him a bill — it was an honour to him as a guest.

'Rhymes for Ranga' was like the distant peals of temple bells. I was enthralled. I give two examples of her nursery rhymes, on sighting the Eid Moon and the other on Basant.

Tahira, Fahmeeda,

Shameem Khatoon

All danced together for

The little Eid Moon.

Danced in a circle

In their little room

Danced all together for

The little Eid moon.

This way

That way

Three in a line,

three feet beating

All in time.

Noodles this evening

Pulao at noon

Sweet yellow rice is

For you, little moon.

Bibiji fasted

A whole month long

Now it's all over

Let's sing a song!

'O', thread of silver

Night's precious boon

Rising within us

Little Eid moon!

And Basant

Guru Nanak said to God

Whatever tree or fruit it yields

Does mustard grow in the Heavenly Fields?

Curd from the pitcher, well-water sweet

Out in the fields the man must eat;

Wholewheat bread and mustard grant

The heart of Punjab is the sarson plant.

Where is the winter's unsheathed lance?

Spring comes with a lyric and bhangra dance.

My daughter has yellow veils in her dower

The heart of Punjab is the sarson flower.'

'Guru Baba Nanak, look

Tender your eyes like a country brook

Whatever tree or fruit it yields:

There's a carpet of gold in the Heavenly Fields.'

Unlucky 13

The digit 13 has come into play in the Commonwealth Games.

The total number of letters in the name of Suresh Kalmadi, chairman is 13. Again the total number of letters in the name of Sheila Dikshit, chief minister, Delhi, sums up to 13. To cap it all, the total number of Stadia where sports events are to take place are 13!

(Courtesy: K J S Ahluwalia, Amritsar)

Wrong captive

A pretty young girl was kidnapped by a gang of dacoits. She was tied up and then the gang leader approached her menacingly.

Girl (Screaming): "Don't you dare touch me. I am a married woman."

Gang leader: "You need not worry, sister, your honour is safe. I am gay. If only those stupid men of mine had kidnapped your husband, instead of you!"

(Contributed by Rajeshwari Singh, New Delhi)







It seemed strange. Time had flown and so much had changed.


When a few of us mooted the idea of our class reunion about a year ago, the reaction of some of our batch mates was surprisingly, discouraging. Unfazed by the initial, unenthusiastic response, we pressed ahead and even finalised a date, confident that many would pile on as D-day neared.

As the luck would have it, the recent reunion was quite a success, belying expectations and bringing together 50 of us (out of 90) three decades after we left the portals of our venerable college. Indeed, the attendance for the reunion was better than what it used to be on certain days in college! Perhaps, it was the college's vantage location on Brigade road that saw students more outside than inside the campus.

It seemed strange that we left college so long ago. How time had flown and so much had changed; not just inside the campus and its surroundings but also our looks, our hairlines and waistlines. But evidently, one thing that hadn't changed was our young-in-spirit attitude as we 50-year-olds easily morphed into 20-year-olds. Donning the specially made t-shirts, we caught up with one another, recalled the good old days and clicked scores of photographs as an easy camaraderie followed over drinks and dinner. Many of us were seeing each other after 30 years.

Memories tumbled over one another as we reminisced the five glorious years we spent in college. Those defining years in our lives were also the best in our academic life when we juggled between studies and extra-curricular activities, gaining an all-round education that stood us in good stead later. The presence of four retired lecturers who taught us was truly gratifying and they, along with our families, enriched the reunion experience for all of us.  Equally, we were also saddened to learn of the untimely demise of four of our batch mates and some of our lecturers and principals.

As most of us gradually get over the euphoria of the grand reunion, one wonders what exactly brought so many of us together for a day from different corners of the world. Was it nostalgia to celebrate our shared past and reinforcing our collective identity as Josephites? Was it to feel proud of our past, present and future of our college?  Or was it to give back to the alma mater by contributing generously to the poor students' fund?
The answer is not easy to find but it all goes to show that the bonds of friendship forged during those five wonderful years have remained firm and everyone cherishes the value of our class mates, our lecturers and our college. And hopefully, that will remain an integral part of our lives.









It is clear that China is going to keep manipulating its currency — and crowding out every other exporter — until the world pushes back. So it was good to hear Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner speaking out this week on Capitol Hill, warning that an undervalued Chinese currency "makes it more difficult for goods and services produced by American workers to compete."


The problem is that if the United States is the only one pushing back then Beijing will find it all too easy to ignore — claiming that it is resisting the American bully.


The policy is not in China's long-term interest — as Mr. Geithner made clear in his testimony. It yields little employment growth and represses household spending. But Beijing has been reluctant to give up a strategy that has underpinned years of stellar economic growth.


It is once again swamping the world with exports. And it is unlikely to change until more countries — in Europe and Asia but especially India, Brazil and other developing countries, which China sees as its political constituency — start complaining. They are also the countries most hurt by Beijing's currency manipulation. Mr. Geithner told Congress that he would look at the Obama administration's entire "mix of tools." The decision this week by the United States trade representative to bring cases at the World Trade Organization against China's punitive tariffs on American steel and its discrimination against American debit card companies is a start.


The administration will also have to be careful not to unleash something it can't control. Protectionist impulses run frighteningly deep in Congress.


At the hearing, Senator Charles Schumer declared that "China's currency manipulation is like a boot to the throat of our recovery. This administration refuses to try and take that boot off our neck." Nearly 100 members of the House from both parties recently sent a letter to the leadership asking for a vote on legislation that would impose new tariffs on Chinese imports to make up for its artificially cheap currency.


That can be a dangerous game. Unilateral trade sanctions could quickly lead to retaliation and escalate into a bilateral trade war that would benefit nobody and damage everybody.


The administration's softly-softly approach has made very little headway. China announced in June that it would release its currency peg to the dollar. Its currency, the renminbi, has appreciated less than 2 percent against the dollar since, and it has declined against the euro, the yen and other currencies.


It is good to hear Mr. Geithner speaking out. It was also good to hear Japan this week criticizing China's currency manipulation. The Obama administration now needs to persuade more countries to speak up. That may be the only way to get China to abandon its victim act and its policy that is doing huge economic damage around the world.







The Obama administration still has not nominated a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. That can only be seen as a dangerous homage to the National Rifle Association, whose legions of Congressional sycophants undoubtedly are just waiting for the cue to trash whomever the White House chooses. That's still no excuse.


The bureau is supposed to be the main enforcer of the nation's gun control laws, policing federally licensed dealers and lately stopping illegal gun shipments across the Mexican border.


Mexico has been pleading with President Obama and Congress to do more to control the American supply of battlefield weapons to the drug cartels. Three-quarters of the 80,000 firearms confiscated by Mexican authorities came from the United States in a recent four-year period that saw 28,000 killed in the drug wars, according to a study by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.


The problem isn't just across the border. Tens of thousands of Americans are shot to death each year. So what does Congress do? It panders to the gun lobby.


In a shameful sign of the times, the House took care to pass a bankruptcy measure that exempted firearms from seizure by creditors. Meanwhile, in the Senate, a measure cynically termed the Reform and Firearms Modernization Act is a piñata for the gun lobby and would drive the leaderless Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives further toward impotency.


The minority of rogue gun dealers now selling most crime guns would be shielded under the bill. The federal government would be blocked from shutting down or fining unscrupulous dealerships, unless prosecutors could prove egregious offenders "willfully" intended to break a law they specifically knew about. Dealers who profit richly from the reported "loss" of high-powered crime weapons would no longer face loss of their licenses.


Congress needs to stop pandering. And the White House needs to stop cowering and listen to six former

officials at the A.T.F. who called on the president to appoint a new director. They warned that the longer the job stays unfilled, "the consequences grow deadlier."







The Obama administration has made many pledges of transparency and openness, but neither of those fundamental principles were anywhere to be seen when the Pentagon opened its first military trial at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, under President Obama. What we did see were intolerable limitations on journalists covering the trial — or at least trying to cover it.


Four of the most experienced and knowledgeable reporters covering the detention camp were expelled from the naval base there. The military's explanation was laughable: they published the name of a former Army interrogator who was a witness against a Canadian, Omar Khadr, accused of killing an American soldier in Afghanistan eight years ago, when he was 15 years old.


The interrogator's name had long been in the public realm. He was mentioned in many press accounts and even in a Wikipedia entry on Mr. Khadr. The notion that the four reporters' coverage posed any harm to national security was so absurd that it seemed trumped up.


The reporters were subsequently reinstated. Not only did they receive no apology, but the Defense Department tried to condition the lifting of the ban on a written application pledging to comply with the secrecy rule. And other restrictions stood. Journalists were required always to be in the company of a soldier — even when they went to the bathroom. Military censors routinely deleted photographs from cameras.


Responding to an outcry by news organizations, including The New York Times, and with the Khadr proceeding scheduled to resume next month, the Pentagon has announced a revised set of rules.


Most important, the Pentagon's public affairs division has agreed not to ask reporters to withhold information deemed privileged by the military if the information is already in the public domain. Under the revised policy, reporters will not be deemed in violation of the rules if what they report "was legitimately obtained" in the course of newsgathering outside Guantánamo.


The Pentagon has eased somewhat the rules for photographers and videographers. There will now be a more formal chain of appeal to challenge decisions by military censors. They will also be allowed to have up to two images a day cropped rather than blocked entirely.


These changes are not remotely good enough. They only serve to remind us of the Obama administration's original error, which was to try Mr. Khadr for war crimes allegedly committed when he was a child, based on evidence tainted by torture and abuse.








I don't go looking for the places of deep comfort on this farm. They call out to me. Why does the mounded hay in the horses' run-in shed look so inviting? Why does the chicken house — warm and tight and brightly lit — feel like a place where I could just settle in? I climb the ladder to the hayloft and the barn cat watches me warily from his redoubt in the hay bales. I feel like getting my sleeping bag and joining him.


Night comes, but the fog comes first, dragging the last light with it across the hilltops. The leaves have started to fall — just ones and twos, but already scorched into autumn colors. It is still too warm for the woodstove, the kind of evening that feels like summer in mourning, though without any real sadness. On a night like this, "grieving" sounds like the noise the wind would make if it got into the attic.


Real autumn is a long way off yet, no matter what the pumpkins say. The sight of them at the farm stands seems to jerk me forward, and I am not ready. I want to consume the particulars of the day ahead of me, one by one.


I was away from the farm for two days this week, and it sprang ahead without me. The bees, uproarious around the hive-mouth when I left, are nowhere to be seen in the dusk, though I know they'll be out again in the morning.


That hive is another place of comfort. I don't know whether their labor feels like labor or whether necessity is joy to them. I never see the bees coming and going without wondering what so much kinship means. I loved the education Merlin gave the young King Arthur in T. H. White's "The Once and Future King," turning him into creature after creature. I teach myself the same way every day I'm at the farm.










It is very hard to have a conversation in Alaska without Sarah Palin's name coming up.


"It's because of the media," said Alan Stein, an adviser to Joe Miller, the Republican nominee for the United States Senate. He looked at me accusingly.


I swear I didn't say a word. Alaskans are very hospitable, and they offer strangers a plate of Palin anecdotes just as they would cookies. I spent the week here, and almost everyone I talked to wound up revisiting Sarahland unprompted, from a woman who said they went to the same gym, to a Republican who once ran against Palin and told me how, after a debate, she had complimented him on his grasp of figures and policy, and then added: "But then I look over the crowd and wonder — does that really mean anything?"


Currently, a lot of Alaskans are blaming Palin for the Republican primary in which Senator Lisa Murkowski was upended, depriving the state of its last bastion of seniority power. (The state's lone congressman, Don Young, has been in office forever. But he was stripped of his seniority over an earmark he stuck in the budget for a connector road that was slightly outside his district — being located in the state of Florida.)


Now the Republicans have Miller, a far more conservative candidate, who got the nomination after Palin's endorsement was followed by a big last-minute infusion of Tea Party money. He's a rather professorial 43-year-old attorney who believes unemployment benefits are probably unconstitutional and that Social Security is a definite rip-off. "I want to make sure that in the future I can put my money where the government can't steal it from me," he said.


]Democrats are hoping their candidate, an earnest mayor named Scott McAdams, can win on likability. However, Miller seems to be trying to increase his own warmth factor by toting along his wife ("Wave to everybody, Kathleen") and continually pointing out they have eight kids.


On Thursday, in the beautiful fishing town of Petersburg, Miller and McAdams mixed it up in a candidate forum. The organizers seemed unsure about whether Miller would show up, but he walked in halfway through the proceedings to murmurs of excitement in the school gym where people had been listening to a rather unthrilling discussion on a transportation reauthorization act.


It was one of the first times in this campaign season that a Tea Party insurgent had any sort of joint appearance with his or her Democratic opponent. Quite a few of the new ultraright candidates seem to have gone to the ground, where they keep busy renovating their old positions. (In Nevada, Sharron Angle has evolved from "privatizing" Social Security to "personalizing" it.)


McAdams frequently says that he went into the race expecting to have "great debates about the great issues with somebody I have a great deal of respect for" until Murkowski was dumped. (Now that Murkowski has decided to run a write-in campaign, it will be interesting to see if his enthusiasm for her virtues cools.)


But there he was instead, going mano a mano with Miller. History was being made in the Petersburg gym. And it turned out that the two men's worldviews were so different that they could have been running on different continents.


McAdams said he wants to bring home the bacon. ("We are a young state. We have great needs.") Miller said the pig is dead, the barn is on fire and a killer tornado is headed for the farmhouse. Social Security can't be saved over the long run. Instead of fighting to protect Alaska's huge federal aid, Miller wants to make Washington give up control of Alaskan lands and waters so private enterprise can develop the resources untrammeled. Otherwise, he said, Alaska will be in big trouble "when the government goes."


Since Alaska depends on the federal government for about a third of its budget, it's reasonable to wonder why voters are attracted to Miller, who is pretty much opposed to federal spending on anything that doesn't have to do with national defense. The answer is that he and McAdams represent the two sides to Alaska, which simultaneously regards itself as a land of free-spirited adventurers as well as an infrastructure-poor newbie in need of government help before it can walk on its own. "By and large, we're a schizophrenic state," said Andrew Halcro, the Republican who once ran against Palin on an independent line.


And the Palin spirit lives on in the Alaska Senate race. For most of their history, Alaskan officials regarded their state as needy and wheedling money out of the federal government as a sacred crusade. When Sarah teamed up with John McCain, she added on the anti-earmark campaign line. The state didn't get rid of its dependency on federal cash. It just learned how to entertain two opposing views in the head at the same time.








Let me be clear: the idea of an inevitable Republican landslide in November is not a foregone conclusion. It's a self-perpetuating bit of wishful thinking that's gaining currency through the force of being recycled ad nauseam by overzealous pundits.


It's no wonder then that Democrats with defeatist tendencies have bought into it. They are morose and slumped, prematurely assuming the crestfallen posture of a party rejected, rending their garments like a PETA spokeswoman in a meat dress.


Sure, some seats will change party control, but a landslide is hardly certain, particularly if Democrats can change their tune and energize their base. A New York Times/CBS News poll released this week asked respondents whom they would vote for in their own districts if the midterms were held today. Among those the poll determined to be likely voters, Republican candidates held a small edge. (Likely voter models are used to make predictions about the midterms.) However, among all registered voters, Democrats held a larger edge.


According to a Gallup report issued earlier this month, blacks, women and young adults — many of whom were new voters in 2008 — are "not poised for high turnout on Nov. 2." Some falloff is to be expected, but the gap this year in electoral interest between blacks and whites and men and women is much wider than in previous midterm elections.


The Democrats' strategy of highlighting the scary Tea Party-supported candidates isn't working for them. Fear factors don't provide much traction. They turn off instead of turn out.


These voters came to the polls in 2008 because they were inspired and hopeful, not angry and scared. They need to be inspired anew. Democrats must ignite their fealty, and they must do so with a positive, idea-based message.


They must stop running away from their legislative accomplishments — many of which directly benefit blacks, young people and women — and start running on them. And they must talk more about new proposals to jolt the economy out of stagnation.


Democrats have not focused enough time and energy on the economy and job creation, the two subjects that respondents in the Times/CBS News poll identified as the most important issues facing the country. But, even so, when asked whom they think would do a better job of handling economic issues like the recession, creating jobs and helping the middle class and small businesses, people favored Democrats over Republicans.


Regardless of what Republicans and Tea Party supporters would have us believe, voters have not abandoned the Democrats. The Democrats have abandoned their voters. Democrats must romance the base that delivered their majorities. As the saying goes, you have to dance with the one who brought you.








I didn't notice much when a terrific storm slammed into parts of New York City on Thursday evening. I was working at my computer in a quiet apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The skies darkened and it began to rain, and I could hear thunder. But that's all. I made a cup of coffee and kept working.


While I remained oblivious, the storm took a frightening toll in the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. A woman who was trying to walk home with her 10-year-old daughter from Prospect Park in Brooklyn told me the next day that it had been the most harrowing experience of her life. "With the wind and the rain, it was like being trapped in a car wash," she said. "And then a tree crashed down on a car right in front of us."


They ran soaking wet up the steps of a brownstone and the owner, a stranger, let them come inside.


The winds reached tornadolike intensity. Trees were uprooted and blown into electrical power lines. Roofs were blown from buildings. One woman was killed, and several neighborhoods were devastated.


I eventually heard about it on the news.


The movers and shakers of our society seem similarly oblivious to the terrible destruction wrought by the economic storm that has roared through America. They've heard some thunder, perhaps, and seen some lightning, and maybe felt a bit of the wind. But there is nothing that society's leaders are doing — no sense of urgency in their policies or attitudes — that suggests they understand the extent of the economic devastation that has come crashing down like a plague on the poor and much of the middle class.


The American economy is on its knees and the suffering has reached historic levels. Nearly 44 million people were living in poverty last year, which is more than 14 percent of the population. That is an increase of 4 million over the previous year, the highest percentage in 15 years, and the highest number in more than a half-century of record-keeping. Millions more are teetering on the edge, poised to fall into poverty.


More than a quarter of all blacks and a similar percentage of Hispanics are poor. More than 15 million children are poor.


The movers and shakers, including most of the mainstream media, have paid precious little attention to this wide-scale economic disaster.


Meanwhile, the middle class, hobbled for years with the stagnant incomes that accompany extreme employment insecurity, is now in retreat. Joblessness, home foreclosures, personal bankruptcy — pick your poison. Median family incomes were 5 percent lower in 2009 than they were a decade earlier. The Harvard economist Lawrence Katz told The Times, "This is the first time in memory that an entire decade has produced essentially no economic growth for the typical American household."


I don't know what it will take, maybe a full-blown depression, for policy makers to decide that they need to take extraordinary additional steps to cope with this drastic economic and employment emergency. Nothing currently on the table will turn things around in a meaningful way. We're facing a jobs deficit of about 11 million, which is about how many new ones we'd have to create just to get our heads above water. It will take years — years — just to get employment back to where it was when the recession struck in December 2007.


If Republicans take over the policy levers, forget about it. The party of Palin, Limbaugh and Boehner — with its tax cuts for the rich and obsession with the deregulatory, free-market zealotry that brought us the Great Recession — will only accelerate the mass march into poverty.


The G.O.P. wants to further shred the safety net, wants to give corporations even greater clout over already debased workers, and wants to fatten the coffers of the already obscenely rich.


While working people are suffering the torments of joblessness, underemployment and dwindling compensation, corporate profits have rebounded and the financial sector is once again living the high life. This helps to keep the people at the top comfortably in denial about the extent of the carnage.


Millions of struggling voters have no idea which way to turn. They are suffering under the status quo, but those with any memory at all are afraid of a rerun of the catastrophic George W. Bush era. An Associated Press article, based on recent polling, summed the matter up: "Glum and distrusting, a majority of Americans today are very confident in — nobody."


What is desperately needed is leadership that recognizes the depth and intensity of the economic crisis facing so many ordinary Americans. It's time for the movers and shakers to lift the shroud of oblivion and reach out to those many millions of Americans trapped in a world of hurt.







Deer Isle, Me.


TODAY is Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. It is the Day of Atonement, a day of meditation, of repentance and redemption. Many Jews will spend it at temple or in a house of study, meditating, reading Torah and chanting contemplative psalms together or quietly to themselves.


Last year, right after graduating from college, I took a job on a commercial lobster boat here in my hometown as a sternman, one half of a two-man crew. A few days before Yom Kippur, I told the captain that I couldn't work on the holiday.


This is not a typical day for lobstermen to take off, at least not on Deer Isle, and he looked puzzled. I explained, "You see, it's a High Holy Day." It was 4:30 in the morning and the sun had yet to rise. We were sipping coffee on the dock as the row of diesel boats beside us sputtered to life.


I wasn't sure how much he knew about our holiday, or how much I should tell him.


Should I explain that we fast on this day, humbling ourselves before God and preparing for judgment? Should I tell him how fates are sealed in the Book of Life? Or should I instead share some of the biblical stories that we retell on Yom Kippur? Launch into the tale of the binding of Isaac, or talk about Abraham and Sarah? Should I recount Jonah's trip to the bottom of the sea, and the redemption he finds there in the belly of a whale? Should I commandeer the CB radio on our boat and blow the shofar, the ram's horn, across the airwaves?


We finished our coffee and made our way to the boat, lunch boxes in hand. I decided it was too early in the morning for shofar blowing. Besides, we had more than 300 traps to haul — a full day's work.


Growing up on Deer Isle, I quickly learned that there was something a little different about how my family worshiped. There were many churches on the island — from Catholic to Protestant to Latter-day Saints; from small, one-room church houses to big, established churches with freshly paved driveways. We didn't pray at any of these. Instead we made a weekly pilgrimage to the nearest synagogue, 60 miles away in Bangor.


One day, earlier in the fishing season, my captain and I were stacking lobster traps in his dooryard. Another fisherman sat nearby and watched us. He was in his mid-80s and spoke with a thick Down East accent, the kind that would be unintelligible to anyone from out of state.


"I see you've got a man who works hard. Think you'll keep him around?" he asked my captain. Then he chuckled and turned to me.


"What did you say your name was again?"


"Sam," I said. "Sam Kestenbaum." He raised his eyebrows.


On the island, the name Kestenbaum is often met with this kind of puzzled look, then followed by, "You're going to have to spell that." Certain last names fill up pages in the phone book here. The names of old families that have been here for generations, networks of cousins, aunts and uncles — Eaton, Haskell, Hardy, Heannsler and Weed, among others. But you will find only one Kestenbaum family in Hancock County. And you won't find too many other Jewish lobstermen (perhaps not particularly surprising considering the non-kosher status of the catch).


Despite this, I feel close to my faith when I'm on the water. The work is difficult, but meditative. Fishermen grapple daily with the elements: the wind, the tide, the shifting of the seasons. Jews also keep their eyes on the elements, recognizing the great, sacred powers that are present in the world. And wherever we go, we believe God travels with us.


It is said that when the Jews went into exile, the Shekinah, the divine presence, went into exile, too — hovering over us, around us wherever we were, waiting for us to invite the sacred into our lives. This is one of the great gifts of diaspora: we travel, move, but remain who we are.


Last year, during the week of Yom Kippur, a storm whirled into Penobscot Bay, the first of the fall. The rain was heavy; fierce winds shook the trees and bent their branches. It turned out I wasn't the only fisherman to spend the holiday onshore. Most stayed in their shops, mending traps, coiling rope or painting buoys.


And me, I drove the hour and a half to the Bangor temple to meditate on teshuvah — on turning and returning to God, on starting fresh. It wasn't boat work, but it was work — a kind of repair, a checking of the knots and wiring, refueling for another year.


And today I'll do the same. On this Yom Kippur, I wish my fellow Jews "gmar chatima tova," may you be written in the Book of Life for good. And to my fellow fishermen: I wish safe waters and good hauls. May the price per pound of lobster rise. May we weather the coming storms.


Sam Kestenbaum works on a lobster boat.








SPEAKING in a gathering of writers, intellectuals and columnists, PML-N Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif has touched upon a number of crucial issues facing the country which need urgent attention. Leaving aside his persistent bitterness towards former President Pervez Musharraf, Mian Sahib has come out with some positive ideas which if implemented with consistency can take Pakistan out of the present-day troubles.

While reiterating his stance that any change in Povernment must be through constitutional means, the PML-N Chief has floated the idea of "Charter of Pakistan" aimed at drawing up a strategy for the next 25 years. This in our view is a the proposal worth serious consideration because Pakistan needs to chart out a long-term direction particularly in key areas to be followed by all the successive Governments irrespective of their parties manifestos. For this purpose work should be initiated through the establishment of an experts group consisting of representatives of all the political parties and the agreed blue print with achievable targets be ready before the next general elections. At present there is a culture of adhocism and even programmes included in the annual budget are not implemented due to one reason or the other. That is why the country faced many problems like power and water shortages and now when monsoon rains were above normal, we suffered from the devastating floods because of lack of planning and preventive measures. All these issues as well as targets for economic growth, retiring of foreign and domestic debts, construction of infrastructure, water reservoirs, power plants and exploitation of natural resources could be fixed and then implemented without any amendment by future governments. The experts must take into account the resources available, poverty and unemployment ratios and how to best utilize these resources to take the country forward keeping in view the needs of next 25 years. In the 1960s, the country implemented five-year development plans, which led to significant development and were very much appreciated by the people. However from later part of the 1970s these plans were set aside because of various considerations and development projects were approved on an annual basis which led us to nowhere. Only a few mega projects which can be counted on fingers were undertaken and as a result the country drifted economically. Therefore while endorsing the proposal of Mian Nawaz Sharif, we would impress upon the Government to respond positively to the worthy idea and take appropriate steps to implement the proposal and contribute its share in making Pakistan a big nation.







THE establishment of National Oversight Disaster Management Council (NODMC) by the Prime Minister to monitor inflow of funds for various phases of post flood recovery and reconstruction is a step in the right direction. Headed by a former bureaucrat UAG Isani and representation from all the four provinces, the Council would have a heavy responsibility on its shoulders to ensure transparent utilization of funds to the satisfaction of the donors and the affected people. 

Concerns had been expressed by the donor countries as well as from within that the foreign aid to be received for the flood victims could be pilfered and may not reach the deserving people. It is perhaps because of this skepticism among the donors that most of the aid is being channelled through the UN Agencies and the NGOs. With rescue and relief operations about to be over in the next couple of weeks, the difficult phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction would start. Though the NDMA had gained enough experience and received appreciation for its work in the aftermath of the earthquake, yet its capacity is limited and the need was felt for an institution with persons enjoying impeccable integrity to deal with the massive task. We hope that the establishment of the Council would remove trust deficit of the local and international donors and it would take appropriate steps for this purpose by keeping all the financial handling transparent. We would also caution that reconstruction is a Herculean task and the demands of the Provincial Governments would be beyond the resources. The US Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke has already hinted that the international community might be able to fund around 25% of the tens of billions of dollars needed to rebuild Pakistan after the flood and the country will have to make up the shortfall. But due to economic crisis, the Federal Government has very limited resources at its disposal. So the oversight task of the Council will be very crucial and it will have to hire the services of experts to ensure that each penny allocated for rehabilitation and reconstruction was utilized in a transparent manner so that no one could raise an accusing finger. If the Council is able to achieve this, we are confident the propaganda against corruption in Pakistan would die down and this would help in attracting more assistance for the flood affectees.






LIKE many other State institutions, the Higher Education Commission is almost in a shambles with no budget to provide finances to Universities for their development and non-development programmes and scholarships to students sent abroad. Just a few years back the HEC had shown phenomenal progress and became a centre of excellence as it implemented innovative ideas to promote education including research and development and sent hundreds of talented students abroad on scholarship. 

A large number of educationists who were working abroad were offered attractive packages and they returned home to serve their country in the field of education. Now the situation has taken a different turn as the HEC is in financial crunch and unable to provide the resources to the Universities and the situation is reportedly so serious that students sent abroad on scholarship are begging in mosques to meet their expenses. Due to this apathy on the part of the Government, all the Vice Chancellors of public sector universities have threatened to resign en bloc in protest against non-availability of funds for higher education. The programme for the establishment of nine Science and Technology Universities has also been scrapped as resources have been diverted to other heads. It is a recognised fact that no country can develop without adequate investment in education sector. Regrettably our rulers whose children are studying abroad have no interest for better educational facilities in the country for our future generations. Anyhow we expect that the Committee formed by the Government would find a way-out to resolve the problems of the HEC and the Universities to prevent collapse of the education system in the country.









Kashmir is boiling once again. The new generation of young boys that were born under the shadow of Indian bayonets since 1989, and witnessed murder, rape and killings of their kith and kin in fake encounters, are burning with rage and revenge. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has emphasized the need for dialogue with Kashmiri leaders. Chairman of Hurriyat Conference (M) Syed Ali Geelani has, however, rejected with disdain stating that talks can be fruitful and acceptable only after India accepts the three points - right to self-determination, complete troop withdrawal and talks within the ambit of United Nations resolutions vis-à-vis Kashmir dispute. 

The All Parties Conference on Kashmir called by the government could not reach consensus and ended in a deadlock. Congress President Sonia Gandhi made an impassioned appeal to the participants for creating space for reconciliation that could end turmoil and conflict in trouble-torn state. She said: "The legitimate aspirations of those young people in the Kashmir Valley who have grown up in the embrace of violence, of conflict and brutality must be understood and respected". But she must understand that people of Kashmir want freedom from Indian occupation, and they will not accept anything short of that. Indian paramilitary forces martyred more than 20 youths on the streets of the Kashmir valley from Monday till Wednesday. Since 11th June 2010, they have murdered 86 teenagers with firing and tear-gas shelling. One wonders as to what happened to the champions of human rights, freedoms and liberties? Can't they see Kashmiris's carnage in the Valley? In June, only UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon had expressed shock over killings in Kashmir, but he too backtracked quickly. The UN chief was misreported, said his spokesman. So he too was not shocked. Kashmiris are unfortunate lot because their cause is legitimate and lawful; they have the UN mandate on its back, as United Nations Security Council has decreed that they will determine their own destiny in an UN-supervised plebiscite. For the last 61 years, India reneged upon its commitment to this UN decree, and despite first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's commitment on the floor of the assembly, India did not honour its commitment. Showing utter disregard to the UNSC resolutions, India has been using a brute military force to suppress the Kashmiris' freedom movement without ever being held to account by the international community. Since 1989, the Indian occupation military has killed not less than 100,000 Kashmiris to quell the movement. In a brutal campaign, over half a million-strong Indian army has perpetrated unspeakable atrocities on them to crush their uprising. 

Yet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Wednesday he was "shocked and distressed" by deadly protests in Indian-administered Kashmir and called for calm to enable talks on the crisis to take place. "I was shocked and distressed to see young men and women - even children - joining the protests on the streets," Singh said at the opening of a meeting of political parties called to debate ways of easing tensions in the region. Leaders of India's main political parties debated Wednesday whether to ease harsh security laws in Indian-administered Kashmir as the government searched for a strategy to end months of increasingly violent protests in the region, but could not decide on the matter. Under the laws, army officers in the region can search homes and make arrests without warrants, can shoot at anyone suspected of being a separatist, and can blow up a building or a home on suspicion insurgents are using it.

Analysts had already had presaged that the chances of reaching a consensus over Kashmir seem to be unlikely, with political leaders deeply divided over how to proceed. Kashmiri politicians have been pressing for the lifting of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the region. But some Cabinet ministers and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party oppose even a partial lifting of the law, which they say would lead to even more violence. And BJP is averse to holding dialogue unless peace prevails in the valley. "'We want peace to return to Kashmir. But it cannot return if separatists have a free hand and the army's hands are tied," BJP leader Arun Jaitley said Wednesday. It is in irrefutable fact that the Kashmir dispute owes its origin to the era when Congress was in power; and India and Pakistan had two wars over Kashmir again when the Congress was at the helm of affairs. In 2007, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while addressing a press conference in Srinagar had ruled out redrawing India's borders with Pakistan as a solution to the dispute over Kashmir. And in the same breath, he said that it is our duty to make a sincere effort to resolve all issues through purposeful negotiations. 

During his first visit to the Himalayan valley after taking office, Manmohan Singh had said: "I have a dream and firm belief that we can and we shall build a new Kashmir which will become a symbol of peace, hope and prosperity". Before starting his two-day visit to the valley, he had announced cut in the troops stationed in Indian Held Kashmir to hoodwink the international community. On withdrawal of first batch of 1000 Indian soldiers from Kashmir, Pakistan's foreign office spokesman has described it a good beginning, and that gradual reduction of troops would provide relief to the Kashmiris. But it was a wishful thinking that by withdrawing a few thousand troops and by appeasing the people of Kashmir with 'economic revival plan', it can maintain the status quo. The fact of the matter is that whenever there is uprising in Kashmir, Indian government starts talking about negotiations with Kashmiri leaders. But simultaneously it continues to inflict atrocities on the people of Kashmir through Central Reserve Police Force CRPC, which is a brutal force, and all provincial governments are wary of this force's barbarism. As stated above, in 2007, India had withdrawn a few hundred troops, but they were replaced with this brutal force. And it is because of its savagery that there is reaction from Kashmiris. 

India has indeed an egregious record of human rights violations through length and breadth of the country, but Kashmiris have suffered most at the hands of Indian army since 1947. India's illegal occupation of Kashmir is a dark chapter in the history of human rights. However, denial to the right of self-determination to the Kashmiri people is morally unacceptable, economically unsustainable and politically inadmissible with regard to any scheme aimed at ensuring global and regional peace, stability and security. The repression, oppression and atrocities by Indian forces have turned Kashmir into a hell that would stretch Dante's imagination reflected in his famous poem Divine Comedy. However, these acts could not break the will of Kashmiris. The heroic struggle waged by the people of Kashmir is unparalleled in the history; they are committed to continue their struggle till their objective is achieved. It has to be said that no solution can be found without the participation and consensus of the people of Kashmir. And all assessments of India that it would ultimately woo Kashmiris, will be proven wrong.

The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.








In modern age, technology in general, and military technology in particular, has assigned the act of chivalry, once a paragon of the soldier's strength, to the back pages of certain ancient and/or medieval literature. Today, a soldier just requires a mastery of calibration to release a missile or fire a cannon. Actually, a modern soldier's bravery, and even patriotism, springs directly from the sophistication of his/her military gear. But, many countries are incapable of producing such sophisticated hardware and must rely on foreign suppliers. Not only are the foreign suppliers unreliable, but they are also often subject to certain geo-political pressures, which forces them to stop deliveries, right in the middle of active hostilities, when supplies are needed the most. Nevertheless, whatever the handicap, every country is obligated to protect its sovereignty and safeguard its territorial integrity. Therefore, in order to truly safeguard its territorial integrity, and protect its sovereignty, a country must possess a sufficient manufacturing know-how for producing adequate defense equipment. As such, it would be fair to state that Pakistan does not produce sufficient modern military equipment, in case of actual active hostilities, and that the country depends too heavily on foreign military suppliers.

Pakistan is stuck in time; it is facing monumental challenges, its population growth is out of control, it is faced with chronic illiteracy, and its half-illiterate able-bodied workers have no prospect of any jobs. Despite lofty religious statements and glorification of Islamic virtues, the abominable corruption has penetrated every sphere of the Pakistani society. Furthermore, socio-religious and sectarian extremism has been spreading like wild fire, and God's wrath often descends in the form of natural disasters, but apart from the military, the land of the pure, in 63 years of its existence, has not succeeded in establishing many truly indigenous defense equipment manufacturing plants. Defense equipment manufacturing should not be left to military alone, it should include a healthy private venture, with the involvement of able and experienced retired military personnel. It is a sheer folly to let the retired officers sit in their spatial homes and glorify their deeds over tea, while they could be helping the country attain self-sufficiency in manufacturing military equipment. These retired officers could also invest their wealth in various manufacturing sectors, beginning with fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, aircraft engines, armored vehicles, industrial and marine engines, military electronics, missiles, naval weapons, ordnance and munitions, space vehicles, unmanned aerial and undersea vehicles, and warships. Investors, whether from government or private sector, should understand that when small contractors and sub-contractors, who supply to the manufacturers of main platforms, are included, their dividends will reach into millions of dollars. 

Pakistan must concentrate in those manufacturing sectors that directly strengthen her capabilities for defending certain strategic areas. One does not have to be a great military strategist to know that Pakistan's arch rival would attempt to block Pakistani ports in any active theater of war. Therefore, Pakistan would need to attain self-sufficiency in building warships, advanced naval weapons, and anti-submarine related ordnance. Acknowledging funding deficiencies, the navy must continue to remind policymakers in Islamabad the importance of the naval equipment manufacturing infrastructure. Simultaneously, the navy must encourage privatization of certain manufacturing capabilities, while establishing solid manufacturing relationships with China, Turkey and Indonesia. The navy should also continue to master naval equipment manufacturing technologies from such countries as Japan, South Korea, Brazil, and numerous European warship and naval weapon builders. 

Nonetheless, in terms of military equipment, there is an enormous imbalance between India and Pakistan. In fact, there is not a remotest chance that Pakistan would ever be able to match India in possessing and/or in manufacturing military hardware. And, Pakistan Navy is probably the most vulnerable, since India could, without a doubt succeed in imposing blockade against Pakistani ports. The only alternative open to Pakistan Navy is to develop and manufacture fast and highly maneuverable small-to-medium warships; Pakistan simply cannot compete with India in manufacturing heavy warships. But, the navy and the private manufacturers in Pakistan must churn out these advanced warships in numbers, since many of these would probably be lost on the onset of active hostilities. Therefore, they should be produced in numbers, should be relatively less expansive, capable of deep and shallow water missions, and they should be dedicated to the primary task of hit and run and/or dive and escape. These small-to-medium sized submarines should be capable of playing havoc with naval communications, and at the same time, target surface warships with their lethal attack capabilities. 

Pakistan Navy, and the private manufacturers, must build the most modern missile patrol craft, which would not only be fast and agile but also carry the most modern home-made missiles. Beyond possessing sufficient inventories, Pakistan must have fully functioning and diversified facilities for manufacturing advanced anti-warship missiles and anti-submarine torpedoes. The location of various manufacturing facilities must be diversified, and there must be certain cooperative manufacturing arrangements with other friendly and brotherly countries. Pakistan's ports are vulnerable but do the policymakers in Islamabad fully appreciate the dilemma faced by Pakistan Navy? The navy, on the other hand, is fully aware about the naval equipment imbalance, but can it develop an effective defense strategy that would encourage the country to indigenously produce modern, highly maneuverable, small-to-medium warships and related naval weapons?

Pakistan was able to acquire warship building technology from France, since it had built its second Agosta 90B, Khalid Class submarine at Karachi. The construction of the third submarine was successfully carried out by Pakistanis at Karachi, and the submarine was duly commissioned in 2006. Also, after the acquisition of three F-22P Zulfiquar Class frigates from China, the Hudong Zhonghua Shipyard of Shanghai was helping Pakistan to build its fourth and the last frigate at Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works (KSEW). This is a good beginning, but no way does it lend any verifiable credibility for ability to build small-to-medium sized submarines in numbers nor does it reflect capabilities of building naval weapons. Efforts should be made to indigenously manufacture numerous rotary-wing aircraft for Pakistan Navy.

In the meantime, Pakistan's arch enemy is in the process of building an aircraft carrier, while construction of another aircraft carrier is expected to follow; it is very close to completing a nuclear-powered submarine. India is likely to build several more nuclear-powered submarines. Indeed, India already possesses warship building capabilities, since it has built Delhi class destroyers, Brahmaputra and Godavari class frigates, and Kora and Khukri class Corvettes. Not only has India cheap and skilled labor readily available, but it also has plenty of experience in building different kind of warships. Besides, its international reserves are building even faster than the downhill speeding monsoon floods. Interestingly, the navy neither owns nor runs all warship building operations in India. Incidentally, the Indian-built Vikrant class aircraft carrier would carry 1,400 navy personnel, 29 MiG-29 Ks and 10 HAL-built helicopters. Although precise completion date is not discernable, the INS Vikrant is expected to be commissioned by the end of 2014. 

Unfortunately, the main shipyard, where mastering of the warship-building technologies is taking place, is located in Karachi, the city which has become a hot bed of lawlessness, ethnic rivalries, and target killings. The climate of fear and political mayhem is sending wrong signals to potential investors and foreign warship manufacturing collaborators. But question remains as to why policymakers in Islamabad were slow in developing naval equipment manufacturing capability within Pakistan? The men in uniform may be dedicated Pakistani patriots, but in modern wars, courage and bravery rest entirely on the sophistication of military hardware. So, therefore let us raise the question once again, can the navy of Pakistan endure and survive a lengthy blockade of the powerful navy of India? 

—The writer is the Chief Executive Officer of an Information Research & analysis company in the United States.









In the situation we, as a nation, find ourselves in, caused by multidimensional issues, from spiking inflation, to corruption at every level, from leadership bankruptcy to natural disasters and the destruction it has brought in it's wake, we need a time of quiet reflection. We need to reflect, what have we done, or, what have we not done, to produce and groom a crop of leaders that can lead the nation out of it's many challenges, heads up, colors flying! The national parties have, over time, mobilized people over slogans of all kind of promises. However, once in power, they failed the nation at every level. One reason is genuine ignorance of the economy and searching for answers that need to be answered. The other reason is, awarding ministries, not on grounds of competence of an individual to run a ministry, nor his knowledge and acumen in the field, but purely party loyalty. This in turn leads to wrong decisions, waste of resources, misdirected human effort and more incompetency. The third reason is, a genuine lack of will to do good for the country as compared to do good personally. 

This conflict between personal gain with national gain brings us to two crucial questions that we, as a nation, must address. High time too. The first conflict, is the right exercised by a large percentage of leaders, including Members of Parliament, to maintain dual citizenship. Although many countries in the world do recognize dual citizenship, including USA, based on the U.S. Department of State regulation on dual citizenship (7 FAM 1162), the Supreme Court of the United States has stated that dual citizenship is a "status long recognized in the law" and that "a person may have and exercise rights of nationality in two countries and be subject to the responsibilities of both. The mere fact he asserts the rights of one citizenship does not without more mean that he renounces the other," (Kawakita v. U.S., 343 U.S. 717) . However, I have strong reservations about a citizen having loyalty to two countries. 

The word "allegiance" means that we promise loyalty. It also carries with it the expectation that this loyalty will be exclusive and unrestrained. In the case of a declared war or real threat or conflict, for example, our allegiance to Pakistan should preclude any other interest, be it another country or political ideology. Since citizenship carries with it a responsibility to be exclusively loyal to one country, the whole concept of dual citizenship and nationality raises questions about which of the dual citizenships have priority. 

This is extremely important when the two countries have opposing interests. It can be a deadly problem when a dual citizen is in a high position within our government. Can one imagine a Japanese citizen serving in the Pentagon during WWII? Or how about a citizen of the Soviet Union holding a cabinet position in the White House during the Cold War?

In USA, the pledge to the country and the flag is recited commonly at public events, especially in school classrooms, the words are simple but powerful: I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.(36 U.S.C. § 172). Some United States, like Texas, have pledges to the State Flag too. However, the "original" pledge is: "I pledge allegiance of my flag, and the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." It was written by Francis Bellamy on the August of 1892. The Pledge of Allegiance was written with a strong meaning we all, as citizens, believe in. "I pledge allegiance," means I promise to be true. "To the flag" means to the symbol of out country. "Of the United States of America" means each state that has joined to make our country. "And to the Republic" means a republic is a country where thepeople choose others to make laws for them. The governmentis for the people. "For which it stands," mean the flag stands for the country. "One Nation" means a single country. "Under God" means the people believe in a supreme being. "Indivisible" means the country cannot be split into parts. "With liberty and justice" means with freedom and fairness. "For all" means for each person in the country.

These beautiful and loving feelings of the pledge were published in "The Youth's Companion" that year. The children of American were to recite this pledge on Columbus Day. During the years of the Pledge's existence, there have been many suggested changes, but only three were officially made. One of which was made on June 14th, 1923. The government had changed the words "My flag" to "the United States Flag". The following year, "of America" was added. Thirty-on years later, President Eisenhower signed a law adding "under God" to the pledge. To this day, there is not a person in America that doesn't honor the pledge of Allegiance. Unfortunately, even after 63 years of our existence as a Free Nation, we have yet to develop a pledge to our flag, to reinforce the feeling of oneness amongst all.

This conflict is interwined, though not necessarily, with the second conflict. That of the leaders in a country, investing their personal funds, heavily abroad and not in the country they purport to lead. Like unconditional support to one flag, should not they be the first to affirm confidence in the country they lead by investing with it's people and economy? Should not their stakes be high IN the country and not invested abroad? Does not, investing in foreign countries, give out a signal of distrust to the people and world at large? Cannot this policy lead to a conflict of interest? Should not the leaders lead by example and reaffirm confidence in their own country by investing in sectors that need a boost by leading by example? How can they seek foreign investment by not investing first themselves?

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, we see a reverse of the situation needed. Our leaders invest heavily abroad, thereby, in times of distress, jump boat to live in foreign shores, leading a more comfortable and plentiful life than the ones they lived while in Pakistan, to be back to resume the mantle when the time is ripe for their return. Lack of a workable and an effective taxation system further helps in the rich using the system to fill their coffers and becoming richer. While Pakistan's income from taxes last year was the lowest in the country's history, according to Zafar ul-Majeed, a senior official in the Federal Board of Revenue, the assets of current members of Parliament nearly doubled from those of members of the previous Parliament, the institute study found. The rules say that anyone who earns more than $3,488 a year must pay income tax, but few do. Businessmen and politicians channel billions of rupees through Dubai back to Pakistan, no questions asked. Earnings from real estate and land are rarely declared.

The national government, if it wants to be national, ought to govern by the people and for the people, for the outcasts and by the outcasts. No leader, however valuable he may be, can substitute himself for the popular will; and the national government, before concerning itself about international prestige, ought first to give back their dignity to all citizens, fill their minds and feast their eyes with human things, and create a prospect that is human because conscious and sovereign men dwell therein. "Experto Credite." ("Trust one who has proved it." Virgil, 2,000 years ago.)

—The writer is a Lahore based lawyer, teaching in a University.








Ranked seventh in the world by means of active troops, the Armed Forces of Pakistan are a unified military force, primarily comprises Pak Army, Pak Navy and Pakistan Air Force. Paramilitary forces, Coast Guard and Strategic forces are supplementary bodies to the basic structure of the armed forces. Over the years, Pakistan Army has been the largest force contributor for peacekeeping operations under United Nations Organization and has contributed towards global peace, security, and crises management. The personnel of the armed forces are recruited on an volunteer basis from the general masses in a proportionate percentage from all provinces and federally administered units down to the district level through a competition-based merit system. As an organization, the armed forces are highly organized, and extremely respected. Indeed, "Ever since their establishment in 1947, the role of armed forces has been worth appreciation for the promotion of the feelings of nationalism and providing a bastion of selfless service." 

"Pakistan Army and the people are together." These were the acerbic remarks of the Reuters report on the role of Pak Army during the ongoing rescue and relief work in the flood affected areas. Irrespective of the veiled meanings of the Reuter's report, Armed Forces of Pakistan are convinced that there cannot be a success without the help of the people of Pakistan either in the war against the declared enemy, against the secretive terrorists or in the course of meeting the challenges of the natural disasters like the floods or earthquakes. Therefore, Armed Forces took these remarks as a compliment. They are proud to be from the people of Pakistan, and they excel for the people of Pakistan. Indeed, the wholehearted people's support enabled the armed forces to fight back the aggressions of an enemy having ten times more strength. Through the determined public support, insurgencies and internal disturbances in various parts of the country were effectively subdued in the past. In its prolonged war against the terrorism arising from the Western borders, again the people's support gave the Military operations a success. In a record time, the areas like Swat, Malakand, South Waziristan, Orakzai and other areas under the terrorist's control were cleared off while establishing the writ of the Government there. 

Indeed, it was the desire and the will to serve the people that enabled armed forces to manage world's biggest catastrophe, the earthquake -2005 in a recorded time and in the most efficient manner. The disaster has claimed over 73000/- losses to human lives in northern Pakistan. The relief, rescue, and rehabilitation activities carried out by armed forces during the earthquake are now taken as a role model in the world's advance armies. Similarly, the handling of over 2.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs) during military operations in FATA and surrounding areas of Khayber Pakhtunkha (KP) was a gigantic task, handled most efficiently by Pak Army. With the same resilience, the armed forces of Pakistan started the rescue and relief operations in various parts of the country during the ongoing devastating floods, which hit over eighty districts of Pakistan, from extreme north to extreme south. Out of all the organizations/ institutions available with Federal Government or provincial governments, Pakistan Army was the first to start the rescue and relief operation in the affected areas and rescued thousands of the people from the mouth of the tidal waves. Indeed, prior to the onset of the flood season, Armed Forces of Pakistan ensured their preparation to deal with any eventuality arising from the sudden floods, as part of their routine duties.

Apart from the rescue of the people, armed forces have provided numerous relief goods, tent services, medical services and other allied services to the flood affected people. In spite that half of Pak Army is committed in combating the terrorism in FATA and along the Western border, Chief of Army Staff has dedicated over 72,000 troops for the rescue and relief activities throughout in the affected areas. Pakistan Navy and Pakistan Air Force have also unequivocally contributed in the rescue and relief operation. Pakistan Navy has extensively carried out relief and rescue operation in the lower Sind and coastal areas. Apart from ground services, Pakistan Air Force has also used its cargo plans like C-130 for delivering the relief goods. The devastating floods of the history of Pakistan have killed over 1700 people and inundated 5436601 acres of land in over eighty districts of the country. So far, Army alone has distributed over 9000 tons relief goods including 4000 tons ration from its own authorization. 

All ranks of the armed forces have donated their one-day's pay in Prime Minister's relief fund. Over 70 helicopters and 1000 boats were employed during these activities. Pakistan Army has established 217 relief camps, which provide cooked food and other services to over 1.32 million people. Approximately 800,000 stranded people were rescued by the troops of Pak Army so far. After collection of relief items from various parts of the country, Pak Army dispatched 445 Trucks, 2 Trains and 8 C-130 aircrafts full of relief goods in the flood hit areas. Over 180 doctors along with 310 paramedics have treated 215114 patients from the platform of 7 Field Hospital and 22 Mobil Medical Teams that have been working day and night in the flood affected areas throughout the country. 

Armed forces of Pakistan has embarked on and still committed to undertake the rescue and relief operation as part of their duties. As an organised body, they managed it in an efficient manner and got appreciation and recognition of the affected people, Prime Minister, international donors, NGOs, and media. Throughout the relief and rescue operation, the senior Military command has been personally supervising the operation and there have been no chances of flaws in their dedicated support to the needy people. This splendid job and other contributions of the armed forces like managing the IDPs, handling the earthquake-2005, and clearing the areas swamped from the terrorists has made them as the best trained and all rounder forces of the world. Protection of the ideological and geographical frontiers of Pakistan is the principal task of the Armed Forces. However, while being from within the masses, safety and security of the people is yet another vital duty of the Armed Forces, once it act in aid of civil power, as per Part XII, Chapter 2 of the Constitution of Pakistan. Armed Forces feel that whatever they have done for the common good of the people of Pakistan or to secure the national assets is their duty and they feel proud of proficient handling of that. Otherwise, in various flood affected areas there have been complete coordination between civil administration, provincial governments, NGOs, and international donors with the Armed Forces of Pakistan. However, the armed forces being an organized body under a unified command contributed a lot in a very short span of time during the flood relief operation. Moreover, Armed Forces helped the needy people across the board without any discrimination, political pressure, or favouritism. This act of the forces made them popular among the people, international and local donors and even at the Government circle. It was because of that while collecting the donations, people trusted the Armed Forces more than any other setup. 

Unfortunately, the level of trust bestowed by the people on to the Armed Forces in response to their across the board services is being misconstrued by certain circles as relegation of the Government's authority. It was projected much by forces, which work against the national integration and harmony. Actually, they could have remembered that, armed forces are very much part of the Government and work on its directive while dealing with all traditional and non-traditional security threats and crises situation like the recent flood. For a better future, let us discard the conspiracy theories hatched; locally, globally, or by pseudo scholars like Aysha Sidiqqa and work together as a nation to rehabilitate the flood-affected people before the onset of winter. We should not feel shy and rapacious in appreciating the persistent and splendid role of our brave armed forces for the national cause. This would further boost their spirit of national service. 

The writer is an analyst of international relations.









As the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" struggles to inch forward again in an atmosphere of profound pessimism bordering on hopelessness, what is most sadly missing is any compelling vision of how a Holy Land at peace could be structured so as to enhance not only the physical security of Israelis and the human dignity of Palestinians but also the future quality of day-to-day life for both peoples. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged a new approach to issues that have defied resolution in past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, telling reporters that, for the new round of negotiations to succeed, "we will have to learn the lessons of 17 years of experience from negotiations and to think creatively — what's called 'outside the box.'" Between 1988 and 2000, international lawyer John Whitbeck's "Two States, One Holy Land" framework for peace was published 40 times, in various lengths and in the Arabic, Dutch, English, French, German and Hebrew languages. In response to Netanyahu's call for creative, "outside the box" thinking and in the hope stimulating such thinking, we are publishing below an updated version of Whitbeck's framework for a two-state solution which, rather than separating Israelis and Palestinians, would bring them together in "a new society of peaceful coexistence, mutual respect and human dignity. 

The Declaration of Principles so optimistically signed on the White House lawn in September 1993 proclaimed as its goal a "historic reconciliation" between the two peoples. Today, even optimists seem to hope only for a definitive separation of the two peoples behind high walls and fences. Can Israelis and Palestinians really do no better than this? Might it not still be possible to blend the practical and psychological preferences of both peoples for a two-state solution with some of the best aspects of a humane one-state solution to produce a vision of a possible future so bright and appealing that both Israelis and Palestinians would be inspired to act on their hopes and dreams rather than their memories and fears and to seize this future together and make it a reality? Sharing the Holy Land is not a zero-sum game in which any development advantageous to one side must be disadvantageous to the other. One can envisage a society in which, by separating political and voting rights from economic, social and residential rights in a negotiated settlement, both the legitimate national aspirations of Palestinians and the legitimate security interests of Israelis could be simultaneously satisfied.

The Holy Land could be a two-state "confederation", a single economic and social unit encompassing two sovereign states and one Holy City. Jerusalem could be an Israeli-Palestinian "condominium", an open city forming an undivided part of both states, being the capital of both states and being administered by local district councils and an umbrella municipal council. All current residents of the Holy Land could be given the choice of Israeli or Palestinian citizenship, thus determining which state's passport they would carry and in which state's national elections they would vote. All citizens of either state could vote in municipal elections where they actually live, a matter of particular relevance to current Palestinian citizens of Israel opting for Palestinian citizenship and to Israeli settlers choosing to continue to live in Palestine while maintaining their Israeli citizenship. Each state could have its own "law of return" conferring citizenship and residential rights within that state on persons not currently resident in the Holy Land.

Borders would have to be drawn on maps but would not have to exist on the ground. The free, non-discriminatory movement of people and goods within the Holy Land could be a fundamental principle subject only to one major exception: To ensure that each state would always maintain its national character, the right to residence in each Holy Land state could be limited to that state's citizens, to citizens of the other state residing there on an agreed date and to their descendants. (In this way, deeply felt principles could be maintained. Israelis could have the right to live in all of Eretz Israel - but not all Israelis in all of Eretz Israel. Similarly, Palestinians could have the right to live in all of historical Palestine - but not all Palestinians in all of historical Palestine.) A common currency (perhaps printed in Hebrew on one side and Arabic on the other) could be issued by a common central bank.

To ease Israeli security concerns, the Palestinian state could be fully demilitarized, with no one other than Palestinian police allowed to bear arms within its territory. As an essential counterpart to the absence of border controls within the Holy Land, Israel could conduct immigration controls for entry into Israel, at the same time that Palestine conducts immigration controls for entry into Palestine, at the frontiers of the Palestinian state with Egypt and Jordan, with any non-Palestinian visitors restricted to the Palestinian state by the Israeli authorities facing penalties if found in Israel. The settlement agreement could be guaranteed by the United Nations and relevant states, with international tribunals to arbitrate disputes regarding compliance with its terms.

Furthermore, if the Palestinians themselves accepted a settlement, all Arab states would establish normal diplomatic and commercial relations with Israel, as has been made clear in the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which remains on the table, waiting to be seized by Israel.—The CG News









We have said before that even Labor's second 11 outrank many of those on the opposition's front bench and Julia Gillard's team proves us correct. There are a lot of capable individuals standing behind Ms Gillard as she begins the complex task of running a minority administration. The government muddled the cabinet announcement, but the Prime Minister has in the main put the right people in the right jobs, rewarding ability and showing confidence by promoting potential rivals. Her reshuffle was forced in part by the retirement of Lindsay Tanner and John Faulkner's decision to go to the back bench, but also suggests an ambition to govern with energy. Some in Tony Abbott's team will find it hard to match their Labor opposites, although the Opposition Leader has done well to bring Malcolm Turnbull back to the front bench.


The most controversial cabinet appointment -- Kevin Rudd to foreign affairs -- was probably inevitable. The former prime minister was clearly able to extract a good deal during the fraught election campaign, but he has credentials for the job. Ms Gillard may find it hard to control him as he circles the globe but anything other than this portfolio would have left Mr Rudd disaffected and more dangerous. Similarly, we have no problem with the schools portfolio going to Peter Garrett. He took a bullet for the pink batts disaster even though Mr Rudd's office drove that badly formulated program. Mr Garrett now has a chance to prove himself in an important policy area. That goes for Penny Wong too. She struggled to sell the emissions trading scheme but she is smart and her skills should suit finance, especially if she can rebuild some bridges with the business community after her stint as climate change minister. Greg Combet, who has replaced Senator Wong, is one of Labor's big talents, and it is good to see him, along with Craig Emerson and Bill Shorten, being used appropriately. There are other appointments that demonstrate the Prime Minister's sure touch. Chris Bowen is a loss to the economic team but a good choice for immigration. His electorate is in Sydney's western suburbs, where anxiety about asylum-seekers was high during the campaign. He should have an acute appreciation of the complex interplays between immigration and refugee policy and population and congestion issues. We also like the experienced Simon Crean as Ms Gillard's point man with the regional independents, now so crucial to Labor's ability to govern productively.


This week, Rob Oakeshott's ambitions for the Speaker's role detracted somewhat from the independents' efforts to be seen as honest brokers of the national interest. The independents, including Tasmania's Andrew Wilkie, have negotiated ably for their electorates but they will come under more pressure as they are called to account on the National Broadband Network, the mining tax and climate change measures. These issues will dominate politics in the next few months, with the opposition's policy differentiation on all three making the independents' approach crucial.


Even so, it is the Greens who arguably deserve attention, given they will hold the Senate balance of power from July 1. It is no bad thing voters can now focus on their ideas. The Greens' platform is no secret but till now, who really cared if they wanted to bring back death duties or introduce slow-growth economics to the debate? Contrary to some interpretations, this newspaper has not set out to destroy the Greens. We leave it to the electorate to judge a party that has sat under the radar, presenting as an environmental lobby but increasingly revealed as anti-market. The Greens are also the biggest threat to Labor's effort to work its way back to the centre ground of politics. As we suggested almost two weeks ago when Labor took power, now for the hard part -- articulating a policy for the government and a philosophy for the party. Both are urgent if Labor is to win back voters lost on its Right to the Coalition: Ms Gillard must resist any shift to the Left now she has a formal alliance with the Greens. Labor must govern for Logan City and Parramatta, not Surry Hills and Carlton.


This week, the Prime Minister got some help in dampening Bob Brown's aspirations when BHP Billiton boss Marius Kloppers backed the concept of a carbon tax (Greens policy) but also warned against changes to the mining tax (which the Greens want to raise to 50 per cent). The debate on whether a cap-and-trade scheme is better than a tax has some way to run, but Mr Kloppers has raised the stakes about timing. The goal now should be to introduce carbon measures that allow the export of coal, rather than force the export of jobs. Taxes, whether on mining or carbon, should be structured to encourage, rather than deaden, individual initiative and growth. A comprehensive look at the whole of the Henry tax review should be a priority.


Beyond that, Labor needs to work much harder on its direction. In 2007, Mr Rudd promised evidence-based policy but the NBN is a glaring example of the government's failure to stick to its own rules.


Still missing from Labor is a clear vision of the labour market and infrastructure reforms that will ensure Australia does not once again fail to lock in the benefits of the mining boom.








It has been our forte since the first edition of The Australian on July 15, 1964, and our readers appreciate it. While focused on breaking news, we note the current interest in this newspaper by other media, especially the ABC, and various public figures. However flattering that interest, and their copy-cat reporting of our agenda-setting stories, it is clear that a few shrill critics do not understand our guiding principles. These are as important now as when they appeared on our first front page: ". . . impartial information and the independent thinking that are essential to the further advance of our country . . . It will be our duty to inform Australians everywhere of what is really happening in their country."


In contrast, John Menadue's puerile rant on ABC radio in Sydney this week, when he branded The Australian "a mad hatter's tea party" and slammed our election coverage as "pernicious" betrayed the former top bureaucrat's alarming disregard for government accountability. Mr Menadue's main gripes were our exposure of the appalling waste of taxpayers' money in the school building program and our scrutinising the finances of the nation's largest infrastructure project, the $43 billion National Broadband Network. Our economically savvy readers expect no less. Malcolm Fraser had the same complaint about the BER coverage and, like Mr Menadue, did not seem to grasp the not-so-subtle distinction that we supported the stimulus in principle, while deploring arrant waste. A proper inquiry into election coverage overall, as advocated by Mr Menadue, would highlight the comprehensive quality of this newspaper's extensive reporting. Some of the low-level whingeing on the ABC's website The Drum would better suit a hippy newsletter, but it betrays something sad -- an inability to understand high-level public policy coverage. While we have endorsed both sides of politics in pre-election editorials, this paper made it clear from the outset that it "is tied to no party, to no state and has no chains of any kind. Its guide is faith in Australia and the country's future." A perceptive reading of the news and commentary pages shows that the paper is less concerned about which party wins office than whether governments pursue policies and reforms geared to generate prosperity and enterprise.


That is why, in keeping with a set of consistent principles, we backed the Whitlam and Hawke governments' tariff cuts, championed the Hawke-Keating governments' opening up Australia to global competition and why we believe in encouraging jobs growth by liberalising wages and ending restrictive work practices. It is why we criticised John Howard for squandering too much of the proceeds of the mining boom in welfare churn and berated the opposition for abandoning what had been consistent Coalition IR policy when it caved in to Julia Gillard, who unfortunately wound back 25 years of vital reforms.


Unlike other organisations, which have cut back on reporting, The Australian has invested heavily in journalism, building expertise that even politicians try to access, such as the number-crunching skills of George Megalogenis. As for the histrionics from those who resent the blowtorch being applied to the Greens, that party's newfound role is a positive, giving voters a clear, hard look at their potential for destruction.








ON THE eve of the 2006 state election, then premier Steve Bracks said this about an opposition plan for a desalination plant: ''The energy consumption is enormous, the intrusion on the community is enormous and, of course, it's extraordinarily expensive.'' By June 2007, John Brumby, as Mr Bracks's successor, had reversed Labor's position so completely that by the end of next year Victoria will be running the largest desalination plant in the southern hemisphere. On the government's own figures, the cost of building and operating the plant, at least $5.7 billion, has caused water bills to soar - when the deal was signed in mid-2009, Victorians were promised that average water bills would no more than double by 2013. Now the rains have come, the dams are filling and Victorians are wondering if the project is worth it.


The opposition has opportunistically accused the government of a ''panicked'' adoption of desalination, a solution it once proposed, but the government has only itself to blame for its lack of transparency about the project. Ever since the government's sudden reversal of policy, The Age has repeatedly questioned its refusal to release full and transparent costings and comparisons with other water supply options such as recycling. The concerns about the financial, energy and environmental costs of desalination are widely held. Australian Water Association chief Tom Mollenkopf this year warned that governments must look to use treatment plants to add purified water to drinking supplies. This is the favoured option of many water and environmental experts, including past Melbourne Water senior manager John Morgan, who described recycling as ''cost-effective, safe and environmentally correct''.


Recycling has not only been a significant and safe source of water in many other countries for decades, but it has also effectively been tested all along the Murray. Its cities and towns draw their drinking water from the river after others have released their treated wastewater upstream. Melbourne uses about 400 billion litres a year. About 200 billion litres - more than the desalination plant's 150 billion litres - is wasted by being pumped out to sea as semi-treated water each year.


According to water recycling experts, the city's supply could have been supplemented sooner by techniques that are twice as energy-efficient and cost about two-thirds less than desalination. Water from the Wonthaggi plant must be pumped 86 kilometres, with the whole process requiring ''an average electricity requirement of approximately 92 megawatts'', according to government documents. The interconnection of Melbourne and regional water supplies adds to the energy demands. Rising energy costs will feed directly into desalination costs. A 2006 study found recycling water from treatment plants closer to the city was a cheaper and less environmentally damaging option - and this was when the Coalition optimistically costed its plans for a smaller desalination plant producing 50 billion litres at $400 million.


The government has long refused to release meaningful comparative costings of desalination and returning recycled water to dams (which avoids the costs of double piping). The reason appears to be the political difficulties caused by the irrational resistance to putting recycled water into drinking supplies; Mr Bracks flatly ruled this out from the start. The government was never prepared to initiate a public debate on the water-supply options available to Victoria.


The government might well lament its misfortune to have two of its biggest and most contentious projects, the desalination plant and the north-south pipeline, coming online just as sustained rains raise hopes that the state's 13-year drought is ending. The projects cannot be undone and they do appear to have secured water supplies for the foreseeable future. The key doubt that has not been laid to rest for the past three years is whether the price Victorians have paid and will pay for the next three decades is reasonable.


The Brumby government has harmed its case with its repeated evasions of questions on key contractual details of costs and annual payments to the plant operator. Only now, for instance, have we learnt that Aquasure is guaranteed a payment stream averaging $570 million a year, even if no water is required. Had the government been open from the outset about how desalination compared with the alternatives, or allowed Victorians' opinions on water recycling to be informed by reliable cost comparisons, we might not be in this position. Desalination is an internationally accepted way of supplementing natural water supplies. But in Victoria we are left to ponder: what price water?


Source: The Age







REPORTS about the increasing incidence of binge drinking among young Australians are now as familiar a source of headlines as interest rate changes or housing prices. As data collected in the Australian Secondary Students Drug and Alcohol Survey indicates, 90 per cent of young people have tried alcohol by the time they turn 15, and one in six 16 to 17-year-olds drinks at harmful levels each week. According to the Victorian Drug and Alcohol Prevention Council, the level of binge drinking among people aged 16-24 has doubled in less than a decade. The consequences of abusing alcohol in this way are well known. Young binge drinkers, whose brains are still developing, are more likely to engage in personally risky behaviour and are at increased risk in later life of mental health problems such as depression, and of dependence on alcohol and other drugs. What is not so well known is the best way of helping young people avoid binge drinking. All that is clear is that urging total abstinence has not worked.


As we report today, the Australian Drug Foundation has embarked on a new instructional program aimed at schools. Its centrepiece, Your Shout, a DVD containing interviews with young people, is intended to provoke classroom discussion about the impact of alcohol. There is no attempt to conceal the dangers: the Drug Foundation still insists that the safest course for those under 15 is to delay taking up drinking for as long as possible, then to keep to two drinks at any one session. But the approach is frankly one of harm minimisation, not of prohibition. That will almost certainly incite critics of the foundation, who will accuse it of covertly signalling society's approval of the behaviour of young drinkers.


Those inclined to makes such criticisms should, however, ask themselves why alternative strategies have failed. It is a lamentable but inescapable fact that bingeing is part of the culture of alcohol consumption in Australia, especially among the young. And any attempt to change a culture is doomed to failure unless those who are the bearers of the culture can be persuaded to question its assumptions. That is the strategy behind Your Shout, and the foundation deserves support in its campaign.


Source: The Age









The first state papal visit to Britain was bound not to disappoint. Before it even got under way, the Vatican's leading expert on relations with the Church of England compared arriving in multicultural Britain to landing in a third world country, and talked of an "aggressive new atheism" abroad in the country. If Cardinal Walter Kasper's gout had not prevented him from flying, his remarks would have. Even Vatican watchers like Clifford Longley from The Tablet were aghast: "I don't think he believes Britain is in the grip of secular atheism, and he shouldn't have said so."


However, Pope Benedict went on to say exactly that, lambasting atheist extremism and aggressive secularism, and ruing the damage the exclusion of God had done to public life in the last century. This, too, had to be parsed. It turned out that he was talking about the Nazis, not Richard Dawkins – although there were problems with that thesis too. What about pro-German De Valera, or Spain, Croatia and Slovakia, where the Catholic church was pro-Nazi?


One would have thought that the Vatican would have had enough time to make sure that everyone was singing from the same hymn sheet and that the tune would not be wildly discordant, even to the ears of British Catholics. But the pope is not in any sense a modern man. He believes that there is only one Christian church – his – which represents the word of God. He was quite clear yesterday about the difficulties that the ecumenical path of unity between the Catholic and Anglican churches has encountered and continues to encounter. Further, he believes that there is only one one spiritual source – again his – from which all our values derive. He is attacking not only the Reformation, the separation of church and state, but the very basis on which a secular society is built.


Again, it is not just the fashion in which this message is made but its content which is troubling. The Catholic church is still able to influence and inspire, but not one that covers up sex abuse scandals or is unable, like the leader of the church in Belgium, to apologise for them; not one whose teachings on contraception, remarriage and homosexuality are ignored; not one whose congregations are voting with their feet – 40% drop in attendance in England and Wales, 25% drop in weddings, 25% drop in priests. Should not responsibility for the marginalisation ofreligion that the pope talked about yesterday in Westminster Hall be shared? Are the enemies solely external, or does the behaviour of the church and its priests play a part? A little less preaching and a bit more humility might help the next state visit of a pope.








To be a Liberal Democrat was once to join a sect, misunderstood by those outside. No longer: the first of the major party conferences will equal the others in importance. Liberal Democrats gather as a party of power, and their leader will speak as deputy prime minister. Whatever else happens, the party should celebrate and not bemoan this achievement. This party matters. It was not always so.


Yet Liberal Democrats will be aware that this could be as good as it gets. The party has watched its poll rating slip seriously since the election. It knows that it has signed up to a programme of cuts that is unpopular and economically risky. The elation of Nick Clegg and David Cameron's rose garden partnership has passed, even if in administrative terms the coalition is functioning healthily. The immediate danger for the Lib Dems is not that this government is about to fall apart but that it seems to be glued together. It is sometimes hard to remember that this government is made up of more than one party. That is something Mr Clegg and his colleagues need to recognise as a problem and respond to consistently. In enthusiasm for government, distinctiveness is being lost. Vince Cable is an example of how to do it: attacking the Tory immigration cap yesterday.


Journalists hoping for uproar this week are unlikely to find it, not least because as a democratic party the Liberal Democrats endorsed their decision to share power. But there will be foreboding and warnings of dissent to come. The party will shrug off some criticism as sour grapes. Lib Dems have grown used to being told they face extinction, only to prove the sceptics wrong. But the party's leaders are aware of what happens elsewhere to minor parties in unpopular coalitions. If things go well, the Conservatives will get the credit. If they go badly, the Lib Dems will take a disproportionate share of the blame. That, strangely, is a strength that Mr Clegg could use. The worse things look for the Liberal Democrats, the greater his opportunity to demand concessions. Mr Cameron cannot afford to see the partnership collapse.


Mr Clegg needs to remind Conservatives now hinting at electoral pacts that pluralism runs in more than one direction. This is a multi-party government with a diversity of views. The Conservatives need to be reminded that they did not win the last election. As a recent Institute for Government report points out, Lib Dems have been outgunned by Conservatives in civil service firepower. They must defend their agenda in centre-left arenas promoted by the party before the election but now downplayed. The test of this government will be what it does over time, not whether people think its creation is a good or bad idea in principle. Mr Clegg will speak defiantly on Monday, refusing to give ground to those who think he has sold out his party for a spell in office. But the best way to prove his critics wrong is by making the case, week in, week out, that the Lib Dems matter.


He can point to areas where this government is far better than a minority Conservative one: a moderate tone on Europe; an impending referendum on electoral reform; liberal policy on justice; reform of civil liberties. But the test will be the spending review. Liberal Democrats must use their conference to rally around the need for fairness amid the cuts. This is critical ground.

The rallying cry should be to protect the poor, and the wider public realm and to re-engage with those issues which heartened LibDem voters in the campaign of 2010, such as the environment, civil liberties and the banks. That does not rule out every cut – although jobs will be needlessly jettisoned if the cuts come too thick or fast. The public understands that there is a deficit problem that must be dealt with in the end, carefully and fairly. Many social democrats will never believe this coalition can deal with it in this way. Mr Clegg's great task is to show his critics that they may be wrong.







Last year was the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the second world war. This year we have just had the 70th anniversary of the start of the BlitzBentley Priory, the country house in Stanmore, north-west London, from where the RAF commanded the Battle of Britain, is to be restored to its wartime state – complete with the large map over the ballroom dance floor. War veterans battle a tube strike to see a Spitfire fighter and Lancaster bomber fly over St Paul's and we are told the spirit of the Blitz is still alive. There are letters in the Times disputing whether German radar was far ahead of that in Britain, and arguments about the proposed statue honouring Bomber Command. ITV is making another documentary on the Battle of Britain. All of which is well and good, but how long can we keep on commemorating the same events with the same intensity? It is true that the Battle of Britain has a special resonance, recalling those virtues – bravery, stoicism, self-discipline – which seem particularly lacking in today's self-obsessed society. Until, that is, an event like 7/7 occurs and the same qualities are shown by people who had no experience of the Blitz. So in what sense is it right to make one battle or war the defining moment of British history? There is plainly still much unfinished business in eastern Europe to work through from that dark period, but in Britain it is surely time to stop making an industry out of living in the past, and honour the sacrifices made in that war as we would any other.



            THE JAPAN TIMES




On Sept. 9, the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party chose new party executives: LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki tapped former infrastructure and transport minister Nobuteru Ishihara as secretary general, the party's No. 2 post, and former environment and defense minister Yuriko Koike as head of the party's General Council and retained former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba as head of the party's Policy Research Council.


The three are well-versed in policy matters and well-known in public because of their TV appearances. In their 50s, they also represent a younger generation of LDP lawmakers. (Mr. Tadamori Oshima, 63, was moved from secretary general to the more honorary post of vice president.) Ms. Koike is the first woman to assume a top LDP executive post.


Mr. Tanigaki, who became LDP president a year ago, has been criticized for what some say is his inability to sell the LDP to people. Through the new leadership setup, he apparently aims to improve the party's image and create the impression that the LDP is reliable in policy matters.


The new trio at the leadership lacks experience in maneuvering in the Diet and in organizing election campaigns. It is uncertain whether they can build cooperative relations with other opposition parties, although the fact that they are familiar with some lawmakers of the Democratic Party of Japan may help them deal with the ruling party.


The LDP faces a big problem. Overshadowed by the DPJ's presidential race in which Prime Minister Naoto Kan was re-elected leader, the LDP cannot get enough attention from people. It needs to present policy proposals that are attractive and convincing. As a party with long experience in governing, the LDP also has the responsibility of deepening Diet discussions.


Although the LDP won more seats than the DPJ in the Upper House election, it ended up behind the DPJ in the number of total votes garnered in election districts as well as in proportional representation contests. The new LDP leadership faces the difficult task of regaining people's trust.







The government and the Bank of Japan sent a strong message to foreign currency markets Wednesday by intervening in the currency trade for the first time since March 2004, to stem the rise in the value of the yen against the dollar. This was a surprise move because Prime Minister Naoto Kan had been considered reluctant to intervene in the currency market (in contrast to Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, former Democratic Party of Japan secretary general, who lost the party presidential race to Mr. Kan on Tuesday).


Unilateral yen-selling, dollar-buying intervention on Japan's part was conducted after the yen traded at ¥82.80 to the dollar, a 15-year-and-four-month high, at one point Wednesday morning. After the intervention, the dollar rose above ¥85.


A steep rise in the yen's value could seriously damage the economy by reducing Japanese exporters' revenues — thus leading to a hollowing out of manufacturing sectors — and by causing stock price falls. The government and the BOJ should show strong determination in stemming an excessively strong yen by taking necessary additional steps.


One difficulty Japan faces is that unilateral intervention has its limits, and that there is little prospect of concerted market intervention by Japan, the United State and Europe. Both the U.S. and Europe are worried about their own economic downturns and prefer to see lower values for their currencies.


Yet, stable currency markets are indispensable for sustainable growth of the world economy. At international forums, Japan should call for cooperation and stress the dangers from any sort of competition to reduce currency values.


As a long-term goal, Japan should make efforts to turn its economy into one that can survive a strong yen. The Kan administration should vigorously push its policy of strengthening eco-friendly and energy-saving industries and industries related to medical services and nursing care to create new jobs, thus increasing domestic demand. It also should push industrial policy designed to increase the competitiveness of export-oriented manufacturing industries.








Special to The Japan Times

HONG KONG — The reception area is welcoming, open and airy with tropical green trees and plants. The rooms have sofas, tables and chairs, well-chosen paintings, as well as the bed. Menus are prepared by international chefs who compete for the privilege of being chosen for a month at a time. But you won't find this hostelry on the hotel listings of Expedia, Orbitz or Asiarooms or any other Internet websites offering accommodations in exotic Asia.


That's because it is not a hotel but Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, which openly advertises for business on its sophisticated Internet site. It offers detailed information in English, Japanese and Thai, and boasts that its treatments cost 50 to 80 percent less than similar procedures in the United States, Europe or Japan.


Welcome to the multibillion dollar world of international medical tourism, a booming business in countries as far apart as Argentina, Costa Rica, Cuba, Hungary, India, Mexico, Singapore and Thailand, with the Philippines belatedly trying to climb aboard a business expected soon to be worth $100 billion.


South Africa is promoting "medical safaris." South Korea is encouraging medical tourists but has suffered from charging foreigners two to three times what Koreans pay.


This year Japan's ministry of economy, trade and industry (METI), the successor to the once almighty MITI, the guiding hand behind Japan's postwar economic miracle, inspired the visit of 20 foreigners for checkups in Japan as the intended first wave of a sea of medical tourists. It is hard to decide whether to laugh or cry when Japan's hospitals, which have won bad reputations for turning away mothers-to-be in advanced labor, believe that they can cash in on visits by foreign tourists.


As an immediate example of the world of unreality that Japanese bureaucrats and politicians live in, just look at the tiny number of guinea pig patients — 20 — and consider that the best foreign hospitals welcoming medical tourists are dealing with hundreds of thousands of patients a year and treating almost everything from life-threatening diseases to cosmetic procedures.


Yes, selected Japanese hospitals might attract international attention for their superior treatment of a handful of specialized diseases, but how will they overcome the multiple disadvantages of distance from major markets, expensive flights to get there, expensive accommodations and high costs of living, not to speak of the need for (expensive) interpreters.


One of the basic needs for patients already worried about where a medical procedure might lead is a word of comfort and reassurance in their own language or one they understand. Unlike Japan, most of the other countries offering medical tourism have many doctors fluent in English and in other languages.


There are lots of still untouched opportunities, but there are also looming problems in medical tourism. The big unanswered question of the last few weeks is whether a new superbug, NDM-1, resistant to the most powerful antibiotics, will kill or mortally wound medical tourism. NDM-1 stands for a bacterial gene, New Delhi metallo- beta-lactamase, so-called because it was discovered in India. It has the ability to alter bacteria to make them resistant to existing drugs.


World Radio Switzerland, a country with its own vested interest in the health care business, noted that the advent of NDM-1 came just as the World Health Organization declared the end of the H1N1 pandemic. The U.K. journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases warned that the bacteria "can be traced back to the boom in medical tourism — a trend toward going abroad to save money on medical procedures, usually cosmetic ones."


The Indian government, unhappy about the capital city becoming associated with a potentially lethal bug, has claimed that the disease is everywhere, and that the report was an attempt to damage medical tourism.


The respected British medical journal The Lancet, whose Internet site published and named the superbug, responded by defending its reputation. The World Health Organization endorsed The Lancetreport and revealed that it had warned India about over prescription of antibiotics.


This month Japan also announced that NDM-1 has reached the country. One man in Tochigi Prefecture was hospitalized last year after returning to Japan from a medical visit to India; he was later discharged after treatment. The Japanese hospital had kept a preserved sample of the bug and re-examined it after The Lancet article.


Of more concern, not merely for medical tourism but for the health system in Japan, is that Teikyo University Hospital belatedly admitted that 27 out of 46 patients infected with an antibiotic-resistant bacterium called Acinetobactor had died, including nine possibly attributable to the superbug that the hospital did not report until this month, although it had launched an inquiry in July.


Experts dispute how many medical tourists there are globally. Ian Youngman, writing for International Medical Travel Journal, said: "By definition, almost every official figure is flawed. They are often badly collected, imperfectly collated, and spun to infinity."


Problems with the statistics include whether to count each patient or each visit, and whether to count only inpatients who stay overnight. Some hospitals inflate their figures by counting each visit to each department, which could mean that one patient on a single visit might be counted as five or more, starting with reception and finishing with billing.


Management consultants McKinsey in 2008 suggested that there were 60,000 to 85,000 medical tourists a year, but they counted only selected U.S.-accredited hospitals and only inpatients, which would exclude most people traveling for cosmetic and dental treatment. Hundreds of thousands of Germans cross to neighboring Hungary each year for dentistry.


U.K. official statistics say that more than 100,000 people go abroad for medical treatment, but the figure falls to 15,000 if dental and cosmetic care are excluded and to fewer than 1,000 if outpatient treatment is excluded.


All in all, Youngman thinks that 5 million is an accurate figure for medical tourists, excluding expatriates and emergencies, but including outpatient care and cosmetic and dental procedures. The value of medical tourism is estimated at up to $40 billion a year today and expected to rise to $100 billion as early as 2012. Deloitte Consulting in August 2008 projected that medical tourism from the U.S. alone could rise by a factor of 10 in the next decade, as the number of Americans going abroad tops a million and grows fast. Americans tend to go close to home for dental and cosmetic procedures, but are increasingly looking at Asia for more complicated operations.


Asia has a large number of countries aspiring to host medical tourists. Singapore, even though a developed country, receives several hundred thousand medical tourists each year who are impressed by the fluency in English, the high ranking in the World Health Organization listings for health care — sixth in the world in the survey (now discontinued) for 2000 when the U.S. was 37th — the cleanliness of its hospitals, the latest high-tech equipment and the ability to perform complicated procedures, all still below U.S. prices.


Bumrungrad in Bangkok is not unique even in Thailand, where several top-notch hospitals offer medical care for procedures from the routine to the specialized at a small percentage of the costs in rich countries. Thai hospitals are developing "wellness" specialties, encouraging patients to live healthy lifestyles to avoid expensive diseases and even more expensive operations.


As part of its helpful service, Bumrungrad lists the costs of its procedures. For example, the median cost for a hip replacement is $14,000; for cataract removal, $2,650; and for a heart bypass, $27,000. It also lists the names of its doctors with their pictures and qualifications, so you know whom you will be dealing with. It is not the cheapest hospital in Thailand, but has the advantage to foreign patients of being under international management, with many of its doctors and surgeons possessing U.S. or U.K. qualifications.


Under Thai law, doctors and surgeons operating in the country must pass exams in Thailand. This is not unusual since the medical profession is perhaps the last restricted trade practice in the world. (National groups of doctors or dentists are known to slam the doors to otherwise qualified outsiders.)


A dentist wishing to practice in Hong Kong must pass Hong Kong University exams, just as a non-European, however well qualified or experienced, seeking to practice in the United Kingdom must pass U.K. exams. There is a two-year waiting list to take the exams.


Countries like Japan, the U.S. or the U.K., with aging populations or creaking health systems, could save money by encouraging patients to go abroad for treatment — after all, a hip replacement in Thailand plus a recuperation holiday afterward would cost 25 percent of the procedure in Japan or the U.S. In return, these countries could seek to expand cooperation and opportunities for their doctors to operate in Thailand (or other destinations). It is surely important to share the best medical knowledge and practice, and absurd that medical care should be defined by political boundaries.


Sometimes the quality of medical care and attention in countries that are cheap for tourists puts the rich ones to shame. A close friend developed a sarcoma strangling her carotid artery in her neck in her early teens. Doctors advised her parents to prepare for the worst or pray to their favorite saint since this was incurable. Luckily she was an Indian and her father had close friends in Mumbai's medical world.


Following three pathbreaking operations, plus a fourth to recover a swab that had been inadvertently left behind, and radiation, she was discharged, probably clear of cancer but told she should not expect to see 50; today she is 50-something and in excellent health.


Equally instructive is the case of a peripatetic woman rushed to an emergency hospital in Tokyo, complaining of severe stomach pains at three in the morning. Common gastric problems, declared the Japanese doctor, who gave her some pills. Some weeks later, she went to one of the best clinics in central Hong Kong with similar complaints and, after similar prodding, was given the same diagnosis and the same medication.


Another month later she checked into St. Louis Hospital in Bangkok with the same complaint. There the doctor did not merely prod her and take her temperature; he put her through a battery of tests, at the end of which he declared that, although she had some problems with her uterus that were not life threatening, hers would be the third emergency appendectomy he would perform that afternoon.


The appendix, when extracted, was angry and about to explode. The cost was 10 percent of what it would have been in Japan or Hong Kong, had they understood her ailment, a reminder that medicine is not just about the latest equipment or drugs, and has an all-important comfort zone of knowledge, experience and correct diagnosis.


Kevin Rafferty is editor in chief of Plain Words Media, a group of journalists specializing in economic development issues.








 "Ke Jakarta aku kan kembali, walau pun apa yang kan terjadi," (To Jakarta, I shall return, no matter what will happen). This line from the song Kembali ke Jakarta (Return to Jakarta) by Koes Plus, a popular band in late 60s and early 70s, still encapsulates the views of many Indonesians about their capital city.

As today will likely see the peak of the influx of people returning to the capital from their long Idul Fitri holidays, we would like to raise the issue of urbanization with our readers, many of whom also came to this city many years ago looking for better opportunities.

Yes, many Indonesians from across the country still dream of coming to the city. They believe the city is a guarantee of a better future for them.

They don't care about the fact that there are many tragic stories of migrant workers who came to the city looking for work and who are now jobless and homeless, forced to live under bridges or in makeshift homes.

These days, Jakarta welcomes large number of newcomers who come to the city with their relatives or friends after celebrating Idul Fitri in their hometowns.

The newcomers ignore routine warnings from the Jakarta city administration that the city does not want their presence. The city is already overpopulated. The 2010 census showed that the Jakarta population has reached 9.6 million, up from 8.3 million 10 years ago. 


The city administration estimates that no less than 150,000 newcomers will arrive in the city days after Idul Fitri.

Their arrival will surely add to the already complicated problems in the city, to name a few: Traffic congestion, high unemployment, flooding, housing shortage, slum areas, an increasing number of street vendors, severe air and water pollution and poor sanitation.

The city authorities have long been trying to deal with urbanization. They have passed a bylaw that requires newcomers to present a document issued by their hometown's administration explaining the reason for their moving to Jakarta. He or she is also required to have a place to live and proof of employment.

But all of these efforts have proven fruitless. The public's appetite for life in the big apple remains high. They have the same dream of coming to Jakarta, as did so many of the city's current population, many of whom live in poverty.

The city authorities cannot prevent people from coming to the city. It is an Indonesian's right, after all, to live in whatever part of the country they please.

What we, particularly the policy makers, can do is to change their preconception that Jakarta is the only promising place for their future.

However, this is only possible if the country is able to reduce the economic disparity between Jakarta and other regions, particularly outside of Java. 

And it is the job of the government to develop new centers of growth outside of Java, such as Kalimantan, Sumatra, Sulawesi, Papua and other islands.

We may start by seriously following up the ongoing discourse about moving to the capital. It seems that further discussion should be on how to materialize the idea, including deciding a time table in which to carry out the program.

We agree with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that Jakarta is no longer an ideal capital. But we cannot prevent people from moving to Jakarta. What we can do is ensure that other cities have the same opportunities as Jakarta.








About 650 tribal men and women, many dressed in traditional gear and in full regalia, descended in boats from the upper reaches of a jungle river. They were heading for the district capital, armed not with spears or arrows, but with banners, replete with messages of protest, an unnerving mix of desperation, anger and determination on their faces.

Their mission? To seek justice and protect the ancestral forests without which they will have no livelihood and their traditional values will die.

The date was July 21 this year, and the tribal people were the indigenous Dayak tribes from the upper Kapuas watershed. They were on their way to Puttusibau in Upper Kapuas, West Kalimantan. 

The messages emblazoned on the Dayak tribes' banners were clear: "Stop the logging company now!" "Save the forest", and "The forest belongs to the people not the Toras company."

The Dayaks wanted to meet with the district head to deliver a letter they had prepared containing an ultimatum. If the government didn't stop the destructive practices of the Toras company in the Dayaks' forests, the Dayaks would take matters into their own hands. 

The district official promised to forward the letter to Jakarta and that the government would stand up for the rights of the people.

An official promise? Sounds like an oxymoron, and that is where the problem started. In 2005, MS Kaban, the then forestry minister, had visited the Dayak tribes, promising to protect their traditional forests and hunting grounds. 

In return for his promise, he was given a Mandau, a very valuable traditional sword — decorated with human hair from some of the hundreds of heads it had cut off — given only to people they deeply trust.

A few months later, however, the same minister allegedly signed a document with a poorly rated timber company, giving it license to operate in the ancestral forests of the Dayaks. If this is true, then Kaban didn't just break his promise to the Dayaks — he betrayed them outright. 

But Kaban seems to have a habit of being opportunistic. Just three months before he finished his 
term as forestry minister he issued a logging permit to PT Rial Pulp and Paper. 

There was just one problem: The permit was signed before the area was measured. What was supposed to be only 235,000 hectares suddenly became 350,000 hectares. Moreover, it included five protected forest areas: Tasik Pulau Padang, Danau Besar, Tasik Belat, and, incredibly, Rimbang Baliung Wildlife Reserve and Tasso Nilo National Park.

If the Dayaks had known of Kaban's reputation, they would not have bestowed on him the trust they did. As a member of the House (1999-2004), his name had already been linked to the misappropriation by the Bank Indonesia Liquidaty Support (BLBI) funds. 

He was also reportedly tied to the notorious corruption case of Adelin Lis, a prominent timber tycoon from North Sumatra. 

Unsurprisingly, Kaban was under heavy pressure to resign the position of forestry minister (2005-2009), but he clung to his post, maintaining that he would resign only if the President himself ordered him to do so. But the President never did.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was recently condemned for what was considered a feeble speech on mounting tensions between Indonesia and Malaysia. His speech was widely seen as insufficiently fiery and nationalistic. 

While he may have held back because of the thousands of Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia, some have speculated that perhaps the real reason was that Malaysian palm oil companies were a big source of his election campaign funding. 

The Dayaks have lived in balance with the environment for centuries but their past includes a headhunting tradition, and history shows they can return to it when threatened. 

In the late 1990s, Madurese migrants came to Dayak lands as part of the government transmigration program. Exasperated Dayaks, who felt the Madurese way of life was not compatible with their own, resorted to the old traditions. Carnage became the order of the day in 1998.

In Oslo, May this year, Prime Minister Stoltenbery issued a statement at a joint press conference held with President Yudhoyono, "Indonesia is a key country in terms of reducing deforestation, therefore this agreement and Indonesia's commitment is a great step forward in achieving large scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions". 

Fine words, but the reality of what's involved in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is very different on the ground in inner Kalimantan. Perhaps Stoltenbery and the REDD team should come directly to Putussibau where the betrayals, lies, corruption — and the logging of virgin ancestral forest — is still going on.

They should talk not only to officials, whose pockets depend on the destruction of these forests, but talk to the Dayaks, whose lives depends on them.

If not, it will really be a jungle out there, but one without any forest, just rivers of blood.

The writer ( is the author of Julia's Jihad









The planned Koran burning initiated by Florida Evangelist Church leader Terry Jones has been canceled. Previously, Jones and his followers had been planning to burn the holy book of Islam to commemorate the Sept. 11 tragedy. 

This "insane" plan stirred up massive reactions from Muslims around the globe, including the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY).

SBY sent an official letter to President Barack Obama requesting the Koran "BBQ" be canceled. SBY reminded Obama that the incident would affect world peace. 

In his letter, SBY aimed to point out that Indonesian Christians did not share Terry Jones' sentiments. What a wise president.

Not long after it was announced that the Koran-burning was canceled, an incident occurred in which two leaders of a Batak Protestant Church (HKBP) in Bekasi, West Java, Hasian Lumbantoruan Sihombing and Rev. Luspida Simanjuntak, were attacked by assailants. 

The police are still investigating the case. Unfortunately, Jakarta Police Chief Timur Pradopo hastily concluded that the case was a purely criminal act devoid of any religious sentiment.

His statement was challenged by Indonesian Communion of Churches chairman Rev. Andreas A. Yewangoe, who deplored the police general's statement. Andreas said Timur had arrived at the conclusion too hastily and before conducting a thorough investigation. 

A similar argument came from senior lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis, who said the stabbing of the HKBP priest was not an ordinary criminal act. The incident probably has the potential to threaten the freedom to worship.

President SBY was extremely proactive when dealing with the Terry Jones threat, but how about the HKBP attacks and other similar violent cases carried out in the name of religion in Indonesia? Did SBY feel the same?


The burning of the Koran cannot be justified in any way. 

This act would have indirectly hurt other communities, in this case: Muslims. The very same feeling was also experienced by followers of the Ahmadiyah sect and the HKBP congregation in Indonesia, who constantly face violence and intimidation from the communities around them. As a result, they have become traumatized.

What the religious extremists did in Indonesia was very similar to what Terry Jones never got around to doing. Although Terry Jones only planned the burning of Koran, violent acts have happened so many times in Indonesia. According to Setara Institute, an NGO, in 2009 alone there were 200 cases of violations of freedom of faith comprising 291 incidents in Indonesia.

Those were criminal acts that involved the state as a minor player. The followers of the Ahmadiyah sect have suffered the greatest number of violations of all religious groups in the country. 

It has on 33 occasions been the victim of religious violations, many of them violent — including the burning down of their place of worship and being denied the right to worship. The HKBP church in Bekasi has suffered similar treatment.

These facts, along with the absence of a legal process, are evidence that the Indonesian government systematically allowed acts of religious violence to occur. The instigators of this violence, including the FPI (Islam Defenders Front) and other similar organizations are apparently protected by the government, while Terry Jones was heavily pressurized by President Barack Obama's administration.

One of the impositions affecting freedom of religion is the Religious Affairs Ministry's and the Home Ministry's Joint Decrees (SKB) No. 9/2006 and No. 8/2006 on the establishment of places of worship.

This SKB has ignited violent and discriminative acts aimed at religious minorities looking to establish new places of worship. The decree makes it hard to obtain a permit to build a house of worship and has paved the way for the government and communities to blackmail minority groups.


In addition, Ahmadiyah followers are discriminated against by three joint ministerial decrees about worshiping and proselytizing.

Even incumbent Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali voiced his plan to dissolve Ahmadiyah after this year's Idul Fitri holiday. Prominent Catholic figure Romo Franz Magniz-Suseno called Suryadharma's statement a disgrace.

Eva K. Sundari, a legislator, suggested the withdrawal of the SKBs on the establishment of places of worship and Ahmadiyah. Her suggestion constitutes the right thing to do for SBY's government.

Terry Jones' hatred of Islam was reflected in his plan to burn the Koran, and Suryadharma Ali's hatred of Ahmadiyah is reflected in his desire to dissolve the sect.

It is ironic because President SBY promptly sent a letter to Obama about the Koran burning, but at home he appears to be ignorant of the violent acts that have happened so many times in his own backyard.

The government does not seem to care about what has happened recently.

If Terry Jones' plan to burn the Koran was just an empty threat, and SBY's sacrificing of the HKBP church in Bekasi and Ahmadiyah is done just to protect his regime, then SBY is more heartless than Terry Jones!

The writer is a pluralism activist and the Founder of Aliansi Sumut Bersatu (ASB) in Jakarta.








Should the capital be moved from Jakarta to deal with the worsening problem of congestion in the city? The issue has become a topic of hot public debate. 

If the issue is traffic congestion in Jakarta, which is considered the main reason for relocating the capital, the next thing to address is the main cause of congestion.

Relocating the capital might not be an effective solution if the root of the problem is overconcentration of socioeconomic activities in Jakarta, and not the government activity.

Relocating the capital from Jakarta can become a national policy — if there is a national interest and consensus that is not necessarily connected to the problem of congestion in Jakarta. 

For instance, Germany moved its capital from Bonn to Berlin to create an image of a "reunified" East and West Germany, among other reasons. 

Therefore, relocating the capital from Jakarta and solving the problem of congestion in the city are completely different issues.

According to official statistics, the Jakarta Greater Area's (Jabodetabek) economy was dominated by the financial and real estate sectors, as reflected by its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of Rp 754 billion (US$83.6 million) in 2009,. The two sectors accounted for nearly a third of Jabodetabek's GDP, followed by trade, hotels and restaurants (a fifth) and manufacturing (a sixth). 

Although there is no specific data, it can be inferred from the above that the government sector's contribution to GDP has been relatively small. 

Similarly, the figures for space and the number of people employed by the government sector in Jakarta are also most likely relatively small, as opposed to private sector services, trade and manufacturing.

The above figures indicate that the generators of and attractors for goods and people are dominated by the economic sector and also account for other routine traffic, such as commuting from home to school. 

Traffic generated and attracted by the government sector is relatively low when compared to that generated and attracted by private economic activities. 

This condition would imply that to overcome the problems of congestion there is a need to relocate economic activities systematically, gradually, and consistently from Jakarta to other cities regions in the country over the long run.

As Indonesia's largest city, with population of about 9.5 million in 2010, Jakarta dominates Indonesia's urban economy. In fact, the city contributed about 18 percent towards the national GDP in 2005. 

In contrast, the contribution of the Surabaya Region (Gerbangkertasusila), the second largest urban area in Indonesia, only reached 7.1 percent (Dowall, 2010). 

This reflects urban and regional disparities in Indonesia. It is not surprising that Jabodetabek has been the most popular destination for migrants from many regions in the country, which has made the city more crowded.

To reduce Jakarta's domination and to have more balanced development, there is a need to redistribute economic activities from Jakarta to other cities and regions by creating incentives for investors to develop manufacturing industries, services and trade in those cities and regions especially in the outer islands. 

The government has intended to do this from the Second Five Year Development Plan (1974-1979) until today, but the policy has never been wholeheartedly implemented.

As long as economic activity is overconcentrated in Jakarta, it will be very difficult to reduce congestion and urban migration to Greater Jakarta. 

Relocation of the capital from Jakarta to another city or region in Indonesia might not contribute significantly to solve this problem. 

However, relocation can be implemented if there is a national interest. There are several implications — most notably financial consequences — but it will not necessarily solve the problem of congestion in Jakarta. Those are two completely different issues. 

Strong political will is needed to deal with the problem of the overconcentration of socio-economic activities in Jakarta by planning and implementing a strategy to distribute economic activity from the city to other cities and regions in the country. 

The writer is a professor at the Bandung Institute of Technology.



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