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Monday, September 20, 2010

EDITORIAL 20.09.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month september 20, edition 000630, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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
























  8. 10 Commandments of Good Motoring - H. Kishie Singh
























































Developing countries like India need to take note of the annual report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, released last week, that points to the perils of over-dependence on exports as a growth factor and the need to have a robust domestic market for goods and services. While it is true that India need not be unduly worried by UNCTAD's findings since it has a booming domestic market, fuelled by a population that is getting younger by the day — unlike China, for instance, whose population is getting older by the day with increasing life expectancy and declining population growth rates — it will do well to bear in mind the observations on the limits of an export-led growth strategy. The agency points out, and rightly so, that with the end of its debt-financed consumption boom the US would no longer be an engine of growth for the global economy, nor for the moment could China or any other country in Europe. While before the sub-prime crisis, American consumers alone absorbed some 16 per cent of the world's output, the country now has to deal with eight million job losses as a result of the financial meltdown two years ago whose after-effects continue to stalk the economy. On top of that is the fact that the fiscal stimuli that the US Government extended to American enterprise through various bailouts have virtually run their course and are now fetching diminishing returns. America cannot afford to continue to pump money into a broke national economy. In this situation, therefore, it would be prudent for developing economies to look for internal consumption more than external patronage to grow at a decent pace.

Sustainable growth, the 'Trade and Development Report 2010' says, should be based on "establishing a balanced mix of domestic and overseas demand". The report highlights the fact that every country cannot possibly be bang on target through massive exports at the same time; some have to necessarily net consumers of exported goods. It also stresses the point that post-recession world export markets will grow at a much slower rate than what we witnessed in the years preceding the crisis. Perhaps the most important issue it flags is that the race to win more and more export orders by keeping labour costs low actually ends up harming the economy. This is primarily for two reasons: First, low wages invariably lead to higher unemployment; and second, sooner or later they will hit domestic markets since these large numbers of low-paid workers will not have the disposable income to enhance internal consumption of goods and services. Thus, it makes sense for policy-makers to heed the report's observation, "Even in Asia, where GDP and productivity have grown rapidly for many years, there is a need to strengthen domestic forces of employment creation to provide decent jobs for a larger share of the labour force." Of course, as the UNCTAD Secretary-General observes, all of this does not mean developing economies should uncouple from global markets or retreat into a shell; that would be self-defeating. A refocus, as UNCTAD would say, should not be viewed as a retreat from integration into the global economy. It is a 'refocus' that India should contemplate to deal with the coming times.








Having missed the woods for the trees on what makes the electorate respond positively, the CPI(M) is still lost in the wilderness of its own making. The mistake it made in prioritising its 'ideological enemy' over the common man's quotidian struggle against poverty, hunger and unemployment is a spectre that will haunt the Communists for some time to come. In 2008, with puritanical fervour CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat thought that he could pull the rug from under the Congress and convert his tenure as party boss into a glorious struggle against the conspiracies of US-led neo-imperialism and the neo-liberal policies of the Congress. He came a cropper and pulled the party down to where it is today, struggling to stay afloat and relevant. Few doubt that the CPI(M) will be voted out of office in West Bengal after 35 uninterrupted years and in Kerala as well. All that will remain of the Marxist citadel is Tripura, where there is no alternative as yet, the Congress having allowed itself to be decimated and pushed to the margins of State politics. What is worse than the impending electoral wipeout is the increasing irrelevance of the Left: Nobody takes the Communists seriously any more, including their fellow-travellers; as for the cadre, they are busy jumping ship.

Something has seriously gone wrong for the Marxists. The question is not about ideological purity of the leadership; it is about the pollution that has turned the party toxic for the people in West Bengal and Kerala. The issue is not about what policies it has been advocating; it is about how it has utterly and miserably failed to relieve the distress of those voters who are economically weak and socially backward. It could be argued that in Kerala the pendulum swings every five years and that is too short a time for the Left to do anything substantial, given the endemic problems of governance in our country. But that argument does not hold for West Bengal where the party has little or nothing to show by way of progress and development despite having been in power for 34 years now. Slogans and agitprop cannot be the substitute for delivery on the ground. Today's India is vastly different from that of the 1960s and 1970s: With high aspiration levels, people want a Government that is forward-looking and forward-moving. The CPI(M) could have mended its ways and gone for an image makeover; it could have learned lessons from States where Governments have done well and gained the support of the masses. But Mr Karat and his team chose ideology over reality and ensured that the feeble attempts made by the party to strike a different note in West Bengal and Kerala were stymied. Unless there's a dramatic turnaround, the CPI(M) is destined to go the CPI way: It will still be there, but just about so.








Political interference in the workings of the Government is practised by none other than politicians themselves. The Supreme Court has held that "however high you may be, the law is above you". In practice, however, our leadership is often condoned for bending the law to suit their narrow political and personal ends. This is particularly true in today's era of coalitions.

Small parties are running Government Departments under their charge as their personal fiefdoms. They are absolutely sure that the major partner in the coalition on whom they are riding piggyback cannot afford to annoy them. Their interference in the day-to-day functioning of the Government is not practised with a view to improve the administration but to promote the interests of their own party. Trouble arises when the Ministers want departmental heads or other officials to bypass regulations in order to favour candidates of their own preference. 

The chairman and managing director of a public sector fertiliser company had to resign from his job recently for not following the diktat of the Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers. An infrequent visitor to New Delhi, the Minister had reportedly ordered the transfer of his former Secretary for not carrying out his wishes.

In a separate case, a Supreme Court bench has taken an adverse view of the conduct of the then Maharashtra Chief Minister, now a Union Minister. Earlier, the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court had expressed its anguish on the interference of the same person in favour of a legislator with a criminal past.

A Jammu & Kashmir Minister has lost his job following the revelation that an imposter from Uttar Pradesh appeared for a medical college entrance examination on behalf of his daughter, Ms Huma Tabassum Saroori. In the hope that no action would be taken against him in his absence, the Minister left the country for the purpose of pilgrimage without the permission of competent authorities. 

A fairly large number of politicians have a criminal record. It is the votes that they command that enables them to survive in politics. According to National Election Watch, there are 150 newly-elected MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha who have criminal cases pending against them, while nearly 300 have declared assets worth more than Rs 10 million. As many as 128 MPs with criminal cases pending against them were elected to the previous Lok Sabha. The BJP and the Congress, with 42 and 41 MPs with criminal cases respectively, lead the pack.

Politics has become a game of money. Businessmen with massive wealth are reportedly seeking entry into the Upper House of Parliament. Some have even managed to secure entry. But it is not that they have sought to do so for the purpose of working for the public good. They have done so to further their own business interests. In a sting operation conducted by a television channel, it was revealed that some MLAs in Jharkhand allegedly offered to sell their votes for Rs 50 lakh each while their leader demanded Rs 2 crore.

The number of MPs with assets of more than Rs 1 crore has increased from 156 in the last Lok Sabha to 315 in the current House. The average declared assets of MPs in the current Lok Sabha is Rs 4.5 crore. 

Although the larger role of money in politics is a matter of concern, no Government is willing to bell the cat. However, this is not only a moral but also a governance issue. Anyone who spends crores to get elected would first try to get back his investment, leading to public interest occupying a back seat on his agenda. 

Criminalisation has entered all walks of life. Five judges, including district and sessions judges, belonging to the State subordinate judiciary, have been suspended by the Andhra Pradesh High Court for cheating in the Master of Laws examination by sneaking notebooks and study material into the examination hall. And if this is a telling comment of the falling standards of the judiciary, the state of the police forces is no better.

In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court in August this year, the Central Bureau of Investigation has described as a "sham and a farce" the investigation conducted by Delhi Police into the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom that has resulted in the denial of justice to victims and shielding of the accused, among them Sajjan Kumar, a Congress leader.

"One can't lose sight of the fact that 24 complaints were investigated in one first information report about scores of deaths, and because of sham investigations and farcical prosecutions, there has been a failure of justice for which victims are aggrieved," the CBI has said while opposing the plea of Sajjan Kumar for quashing the charges against him. Referring to the case in which he is the key accused, the CBI has said that in FIR No 416 of 1984 registered at Delhi Cantonment Police Station, 24 complaints were investigated pertaining to 60 deaths. However, Delhi Police filed five chargesheets pertaining to five deaths. These cases ended in acquittals.

These are the awful conditions prevailing in our country, all of which are in the public domain. It appears that the problem facing the country is one of governance. It would not be wrong to suggest that in the present scenario, the rich and the mighty have been successful in bending the law to suit their selfish objectives and that the Government has the right to misrule the country. 

Despite numerous commissions, committees and sub-committees instituted by the Government, there is not a single area or field of activity in which we can say with pride that we are the best in the world. Even after 63 years of independence, nobody has touched the problem of governance with a bargepole despite passing laws on every conceivable subject. We cannot brush everything under the carpet, using democracy as an excuse.

The point is how long the country should wait for the loot to end. The Government must make up its mind to improve one area of its working — be it ending corruption or bringing reforms in the police or the judiciary or the criminal justice system. It can take up issues pertaining to one subject, do what it can for a period of six months or a year, and move on to the next subject. At this rate, at least 10 subjects would have received the Government's attention during its tenure. 

The Union Home Minister has said that a changed Criminal Procedure Code in sync with today's changed scenario would be ready in a year. At least the Government has woken up after 63 years and is considering changes in laws framed in 1863.

Meanwhile, if you have the requisite money and resources, you can go in appeal from one court or agency to another until your case is tried in the Supreme Court or you get a judgement of your choice. Politicians of the ruling party generally do not take the risk of acting to improve the existing system. But today there is as much risk involved in doing nothing as that which comes with taking concrete action.








The rains have been bountiful this year and there's little to complain about. But while a good monsoon will no doubt ensure a good harvest, it would have been far better if people had bothered about harvesting and storing rain water — in villages and cities. Shall we work on it?

It was a dark and stormy night. Yes, sure it was, and I was inside a mosquito net — the 'machchardani'— in the 'aangan' of our house in Korea. Before you ask North or South, the Korea I knew still remains one and is located in Surguja district of Chattisgarh. When the night was dark and stormy it used to be called MP, never Madhya Pradesh. I was all of 10 and my siblings were five and three, which makes it pretty uncaring of my parents to have gone to the local club to play 'Puploo', a version of the card game rummy popular among colliery officers in north India. But they had gone for just an hour, or so they said.

The monsoon had just arrived in that part of the country entirely without the help of TV or the India Meteorological Department's Website satellite imagery tracking the clouds. You see, 1972 was way behind times. It caused a mad scramble amongst us children as we made haste to grab all the belongings, including the mosquito nets, and dash inside the house. By the end of the exercise we were drenched. Our parents dashed in, card game forgotten, and as we talked in the dark, the electricity having gone, the drum roll of rain on the zinc sheet roof had us yelling to get heard.

The monsoon is a very personal experience. Each person has his or her take on it. For me it was always aural, the monsoon. The sounds of the rain on the tin roof, the whistling and howling of the wind, the definite darkness that descended which only made the sounds sharper, the cicadas and the frogs with their background noise and one particular spine chilling sound of the wind as it blew through a low pressure area of the courtyard. For a young boy just introduced to Boris Karloff comics, it set off a vivid imagination of ghosts and spooks which still leaves me afraid of the dark.

Thanks to the India Meteorological Department and Websites, things have changed. This year we know for sure now that the monsoon has been normal or in excess in most parts of India except eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam and West Bengal. That the normal onset date is June 1 and that the normal withdrawal date from the sub-continent is September 1.

Then there are the more prosaic facts. That it is called the monsoon from the Arabic word 'mausim', meaning season. That on average it brings and dumps on the Indian sub-continent of 3.3 million sq km about 4,000 billion cubic metres of water. 

This love child of the Indian Ocean and the Sun is a capricious creature however. It challenges the best of prediction and does things which nowadays are blamed on climate change. It used to be the 'weather' now everybody nods sagely and says global warming. Notice the deluge in Leh or the floods in Pakistan or the drought in Bihar. This then is the new normal.

Then there are the quirks of the monsoon. It douses the coal rakes with water and causes power shortage since thermal power plants cannot burn the wet coal. Karnataka faced that situation this year. It has brought dengue, malaria and chikungunya to our villages and even our metropolis though the blame also lies with abysmal municipal management of garbage and drainage facilities. It has caused no end of woes to the organisers as they plan the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. 

The monsoon brutally exposes the failures of our municipal and rural governance system like no other feature of nature. The million of tonnes of rotting food grains lying exposed to its vagaries is not as much an exposure by the news media as by the monsoon. If previously we feared that we could not grow enough to feed our teeming millions now we fear that the rains will cause the wheat to rot. This is another exposure of miserable governance of our food system.

On the positive side and for a change it has brought Yamuna to its full glory and swept away for a few days the filth, the garbage and the sewage Delhi so mercilessly dumps into it.

My friends from the villages of western Rajasthan who harvest rainwater say that this time the monsoon has filled their wells and they should have no problem for the next two years. Many bore-wells have sprung back to life and in a country of 20 million bore-wells and counting, this means water for some more days. 

The whole of Bihar has been declared drought-affected but within the embankments the monsoon has caused floods and brought misery to millions. Kosi lives up to its reputation and fills its embankments. The Maegh Pyne Abhiyan, a people's movement for rainwater collection in Bihar, is however busy catching whatever rain that falls. They have even converted the tarpaulin shelters on the embankments where they seek shelter from the floods into catchments for rainwater, pure water fit to drink. The monsoon brings the misery of the flood but also provides the water of succour. 

Things are normal in other parts however. Cherrapunji has received 1,215 cm of rain this year from January to September, according to The highest rainfall receiving place on earth is in India and continues to get the blessings of the monsoon. 

For days in the southern States there was talk of cloud seeding. A couple of good rains and the talk seems to have evaporated. We make a hue and cry of not getting the rains but when it does fall we are ill-equipped to receive it. There are not enough dams and other storage structures and certainly not enough efforts to harvest rain and artificially recharge aquifers.

The monsoon, however, is a personal thing to us Indians and each will experience it in her own way. As a farmer was mentioning the other day, it rains by survey numbers these days and not uniformly like the old days. Each farmer will have his tale of the monsoon. 

For me the enduring image will be the street sweeper lady on a section of Park Street in Kolkata sweeping away and cleaning the entrance to the storm water gutters while it poured and poured for three hours straight and rained 120 mm. She had no umbrella, no raincoat and was drenched to the bones. Yet her work continued unsupervised. In Kolkata the rain is warm unlike Bangalore where it can freeze you but that is small consolation. On such diligence of workers do parts of the country run, whichever parts do.

It is a dark and stormy night, the monsoon has not retreated and the winds are howling, it is pouring… this year the monsoon will only retreat by end of September and we shall catch the retreating monsoon or the North-East monsoon too. 


Vishwanath S works on sustainable water management and sanitation issues.








The Congress is finally struggling awake and the most obvious indication is the two recent almost back-to- back visits of Mr Rahul Gandhi to West Bengal and the choice of the locations for his meetings. It may be possible to, therefore ,infer that the scion of the Congress party is not a "seasonal bird." He may be a paratrooper dropped in to take command of a crumbling and grievously demoralised party. 

The September 6 and September 13 visits of Mr Gandhi are signs that the Congress may be down, but it is not out. On his first visit, apart from a scathing attack on the Left, Mr Gandhi was far more tentative in his conduct, even though he addressed a Youth Congress rally in Kolkata. On his second visit, there was a new aggression as much in his itinerary as in his speeches. This suggests that his back-to-back visits are designed to convey that the Congress cannot be pushed aside and dismissed as inconsequential on account of being perennial losers in the elections over the past 34 years; on the contrary it is alive and now beginning to kick vigorously.

The unusual silence of the hyper sensitive Trinamool Congress to all encroachments on its turf is perhaps a confirmation that the Congress this time round cannot be dismissed as a "sign board" or "a party of grasshoppers." To do so would be dangerous as it would invite the wrath of the Congress's supreme leader, Ms Sonia Gandhi. The threat that Gandhi senior will visit West Bengal at the end of September, depending on what happens after the Babri Masjid case verdict is delivered on September 24, is further indication that the Congress means business.

It is a rather belated awakening to the fact that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is at its weakest now and West Bengal is, therefore, up for grabs. The Trinamool Congress has done its part, of destabilising the CPI(M). Now the State is open to any and all political parties who can cash in on the crumbling control of the Left, rather aptly summed up by Mr Gandhi as "two Bengals." The other Bengal, of the discards of the CPI(M), or those with a grouse or a grudge for being excluded from the sprinkling of benefits courtesy closeness to the "party" has shed its inhibitions about seeking a change. 

After being repeatedly told that it has no part to play in the change that is being predicted as inevitable in 2011 when West Bengal goes to the polls, the Congress has realised that after the electorate has shaken itself free of the CPI(M)'s hold on the grass roots in three successive elections — Lok Sabha, panchayat and municipality, the space is split wide open. Allowing itself to be intimidated by a spectacularly successful partner, namely the Trinamool Congress, cannot be a permanent state of affairs.

By almost airdropping Mr Gandhi into West Bengal, the Congress has finally begun playing from its strength. The popular appeal of the younger Gandhi is enormous, as the size of the gatherings in Santiniketan, Basirhat in North 24 Parganas, Garden Reach in South 24 Parganas, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar, Balurghat in West Dinajpur confirm. Far more politically interesting is the decision by Mr Gandhi and his handlers to unleash him on the disturbed areas of West Bengal, where the frequency and intensity of violent clashes between the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress had raised questions about the law and order situation in the State. In Garbeta in West Midnapore, a place from where the Congress was chased away by the Trinamool Congress recently and earlier by the CPI(M), Mr Gandhi's presence can only be understood as the Congress replanting its flag and fighting back to establish its presence. 

Having worked for years with a hastily selected State boss, the Congress is now seeking a new and effective State leader. The outburst of anger over the selection of the new party chief Manas Bhuiyan is not so much a reflection of the quality of the person, but rather a protest against the process by which he was appointed. Clearly the unchallenged reign of Mr Pranab Mukherjee in the absence of Mr Priya Ranjan Das Munshi is coming to an end. That Mr Gandhi has been deployed to also signal this — his visit to Santiniketan which is Mr Mukherjee's home turf — are all signs that the Congress has finally decided to try and take advantage of the possibilities that have opened up by the weakness of the CPI(M). 

Between now and when the elections are called sometime early next year according to some pundits, the Congress is likely to work hard to re-establish its presence, make itself credible and change from being a bit player in State politics to a major player. Converting a demoralised and rudderless party into a lean mean fighting machine may be well beyond the demit of Mr Gandhi, but he can certainly work to get some of the Congress back on track in West Bengal. By studiously avoiding critical comment on the status of the partnership with the Trinamool Congress Mr Gandhi is trying to prevent his storm-troopers from getting distracted by pointless rhetoric. The health and well being of the partnership is clearly not his concern. The health and well being of the Congress in West Bengal equally obviously is his concern.








I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better." It may have been Ella Fitzgerald who first said that, or maybe it was Sophie Tucker. Doesn't matter. It's true, other things being equal — but "other things" are not equal.

On September 20-22, while the United Nations General Assembly is holding its annual meeting in New York, most of the world's leaders will come together to review progress on the "Millennium Development Goals" that the UN adopted 10 years ago. All the anti-poverty campaigners will claim that change has been too little and too slow, but actually it hasn't been bad at all.

Measured against the real state of the poorest countries in the late 20th century and not against some impossible dream of a perfect world, there have been major improvements in key areas like literacy, access to clean water and infant mortality. A great deal of the progress has been due to the efforts of the poor countries themselves, but there have been big changes in the behaviour of the rich countries too.

Back in the 60s, 70s and 80s, most aid to developing countries was driven by the competition for global influence in the Cold War — so when that confrontation suddenly ended in 1989-90, the rich countries' main motive for giving aid vanished. The 90s were a miserable time when the flow of aid virtually dried up, and the Millennium Development Goals of 2000 were an attempt to re-focus global attention on the needs of the poor.

To a surprising extent, it worked. Aid flows have recovered, much poor-country debt has been forgiven, and there have been startling success stories like Tanzania, where the literacy rate has jumped from 52 per cent to 98 per cent since 1991.

Better leadership and cleaner politics account for much of the improvement, especially in parts of Africa. Ghana, for example, has cut the rate of child malnutrition in half since 1990. Some MDG targets, like halving the number of people in the world without access to clean water by 2015, would be met even without the "High-Level Plenary Meeting" in New York this month that is intended to re-energise the process.

The greatest decline in poverty has been in China and India, home to over half of the very poor people in the world, where high economic growth rates rather than foreign aid have lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. Hundreds of millions of others have been left behind, of course, but the glass is definitely half full, not half empty.

If the story ended there, it would be an uplifting tale. For thousands of years most people everywhere lived in dire poverty and ignorance. Then one group, the Europeans, discovered technologies and ways of doing things that made them unimaginably rich and powerful. They behaved very badly for a while, conquering everybody else in the world, but that is now over, and we can all look forward to a future of prosperity and equality.

It sounds naive when you put it so baldly, but that is really the notion that lies behind things like the Millennium goals. It is certainly not an ignoble ambition, and 10 years ago it seemed almost attainable. Today it seems much less so.

The problem is not the current economic slump. That is cutting into living standards in many places, but even if it lasts for years it is essentially a transient event. The real worm of doubt is the gradual realisation that seven billion human beings cannot all live the current lifestyle of the billion richest without causing an environmental and ecological catastrophe. It is inherently unsustainable.

Clean water, literacy and healthy children do no harm by themselves, but that is just a way-station on the path to a full "developed" style of life. We do not really imagine that the billions of poor should or will accept a permanent existence as healthier, more literate peasants who still live lightly upon the earth. They will demand the whole package, and it will be the ruination of us all.

Even one billion people consuming resources and producing pollution at the current rate may be unsustainable over a period of more than a generation or two. Seven or eight billion people living like that would be unsustainable even over a couple of decades: Global warming and resource depletion would swiftly overwhelm our emerging global civilisation and its high aspirations.

Yet that is the road we have put ourselves on, because maintaining the gulf between the relatively few rich and the many poor is morally offensive and politically impossible. Rich really is better than poor, in the sense that people who are physically secure and have some freedom of choice in their lives are generally happier people. But we have to do a serious re-think about how we define the concept of rich.


Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.








Kazakhstan is currently hosting the joint anti-terrorist military exercise Peaceful Mission-2010 involving about 5,000 officers and men from five Shanghai Cooperation Organisation countries, namely, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, in addition to more than 300 pieces of military equipment. 

The SCO, a key Asian entity, continues to improve multilateral military cooperation in a region where that is currently the most important objective. 

The exercise aims to streamline methods for combating terrorist and separatist groups during medium and low intensity local conflicts. 

The SCO's future development and its enhanced role in facilitating regional stability and security directly depend on the ability of its member-states to be effective in their fight against these phenomena. 

It is impossible to overestimate the SCO's role here. At the same time, the SCO has no intention of turning into a military bloc. However, the military aspects of intra-SCO cooperation are crucial given the context of ongoing developments in Afghanistan and recent civil unrest in Kyrgyzstan. 

Consequently, the entire world is following the actions of SCO member-states closely. 

Military cooperation among SCO member-states does not boil down to the struggle against terrorism and separatism. Multilateral defence sector and technological cooperation also plays a highly important role. 

SCO countries actively use Russian-made weapons to a varying extent. Cooperation on arms deliveries and developing up-to-date combat and police systems is very important in facilitating SCO member-states' security. 

The Russian units involved in the exercise are using their experience of the five-day August 2008 Russian-Georgian conflict over the breakaway republic of South Ossetia. The troops involved also conduct mountain operations, an important aspect of any hypothetical Central Asian conflicts. 

Moreover, the interests of all the SCO countries are directly affected by the conflict in Afghanistan and its possible spread to adjacent territories. Afghan drug trafficking poses another major threat, primarily to Russia and other post-Soviet republics, because most Afghan drugs are smuggled into the post-Soviet space. 

At the same time, the struggle against Afghan drug trafficking is impossible without cooperation between the SCO and Nato, which Nato is still reluctant to see. The reason for this reluctance is understandable. An anti-drug campaign would swell the number of annoyed Afghans, and overnight the situation Nato forces face in this country would be aggravated. 

Russia considers reducing the northerly trafficking of Afghan drugs to be of critical importance. Moscow, which has so far proved unable to eradicate Afghan drug plantations, has long been expanding its cooperation with other post-Soviet republics, and has been helping them establish viable security agencies and secret services that in turn would be able to at least cut drug trafficking. 

This cooperation is conducted within the format of the SCO and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, viewed by many as the SCO's military wing. Although this is not the case, it is impossible to deny the fact that the two organisations are interlinked. 

Current developments in Central Asia, primarily those in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan, pose a serious test for both the SCO and the CSTO. In effect, they also present a test for Russia which considers the creation of these organisations and their operation to be its achievement, and with good reason. 

Should the SCO and the CSTO manage to prevent the spread of conflicts and to stabilise the regional situation, it would be possible to draw optimistic conclusions about the prospects for cooperation between their member-states. 

However, much depends on the readiness to act promptly and resolutely, using all available means, including military force, to put an end to violence. Otherwise all these troop exercises will remain purely theoretical, designed to create a particular image, but devoid of any real content.


The writer is a strategic affairs analyst based in Moscow.








HEADLINES TODAY has exposed a malaise that is much deeper than the handful of delinquent Haryana policemen on whom the TV channel carried out a sting. The attitudes of these policemen would put even inveterate criminals to shame.


A case in point is assistant sub- inspector Karamveer's advice to the ' brother' of a girl who had eloped to " cut her into pieces and throw her in some river". Rather than offering protection to couples who are legally married, these policemen are promoting the socalled ' honour killings' and even serving as hatchet- men for this purpose in return for a paltry sum of money. Their attitude towards women, whether daughters or sisters, is cruelly misogynistic.


More than their corruption or their retrogressive attitudes, it is the sheer contempt that these policemen have for the law that is appalling. They have gone to the extent of condemning the very law they are supposed to uphold as being immoral and antagonistic to ' Indian culture'. With attitudes such as these in the police force, it is not surprising that the culprits behind many of the ' honour killings' go unpunished.


Such individuals have absolutely no place in the law enforcement agencies and one of the policemen has rightfully been arrested on charges of attempt to murder.


But with even lawmakers like Naveen Jindal espousing a position in support of the kangaroo courts that order these ' honour killings', action against these individual policemen is clearly not enough to address this malaise.

This perverse morality and the violent methods that are used to impose it need to be tackled at the societal level. Social attitudes, however entrenched they may be, cannot be allowed to subvert the law of the land.







IT HAS almost acquired the dimensions of a social problem, which follows a vicious pattern: the attendants of a patient admitted in a government hospital, alleging neglect or callousness, beat up doctors, which leads to a strike by the doctors that paralyses hospital services, leading to the death of patients needing emergency care.


This is what happened in Jodhpur, Rajasthan recently and accounted for the loss of more than 50 lives. This is also what occurred in the Capital's Safdarjung Hospital earlier this month. On Saturday, similar news came in from Kolkata.


There is no denying that government doctors need to be far more sensitive when it comes to handling patients and their kin, as also in the performance of their duties, than is the case in India. At the same time, attendants must bear in mind that there are times when even the best efforts of doctors are not enough to save or cure a patient. Even if there has been a case of neglect or callousness, the law provides a mechanism through which the guilty can be punished.


The one thing the authorities must do is to post police personnel in sizable numbers at every important hospital so that the situation is never allowed to get out of hand.








THE horrific revelation that a 12- year- old child and two of her siblings were being raped by a gang, which included the driver of their school van, has rightly shocked the people of Delhi.


Trust constitutes an important element of human relations, especially in that of young children and adults. Every day, people entrust drivers to ferry their wards to school, where teachers and helpers teach and take care of them. Such a brutal violation of trust is doubly evil because those targeted are helpless young children.


School authorities, teachers and the police need to work together to ensure that children are not exposed to such predators. Perhaps, there is need for a mandatory verification process for people who work with young children, especially drivers who have their sole custody during the periods they are being driven to and from school.


At the same time, schools must create an environment in which the young are taught to recognise inappropriate behaviour and report it immediately.









IN 1528 or so, the Babri Masjid was constructed. Controversies about it erupted in the 19th century. On January 29, 1885, Mahant Raghubar Das filed Suit 61/280 as the Mahant of Ramjanmasthan. On December 24, 1885, sub judge Pandit Hari Kishan favoured the Hindu claim without granting relief. On March 18, 1886, on appeal district judge Chamier denied relief and commented, "It was most unfortunate that a Masjid has been built on land held sacred by the Hindus, but as that event occurred 356 years ago, it was too late to remedy the grievance."


An order to maintain the status quo was made. Chamier's comment that the Masjid was built on sacral Hindu lands was without foundation. But his judgment denying the Hindu claim is final under our Constitution.


In the 1940's, after a Sunni- Shia legal dispute over the Masjid, which the Sunnis won, there was little scope for controversy. That decision also became final.




The new dispute is the product of mischief. On December 22- 23, 1949, idols supposedly found their way into the Masjid! No one claimed credit. It ill becomes a believer to tell lies in the name of the Lord and not own up to the ' miracle'. The first two suits for the Hindus ( Gopal Singh Visharad and Param Hansa ( 1950)) were for worshipping the miraculous ' idols' and preventing their removal. These were symbolic litigations which were forgotten about. In 1959, the Nirmohi Akhara made claims to the possession and delivery of the property. The Muslim Sunni Board had no choice but to assert their claim and title to the site. It was only in 1989 that Justice Deoki Nandan's suit tried to expand the issues into claims of divinity, sentiment and history. The Param Hansa suit was withdrawn when Justice Deoki Nandan died.


These issues would have died down. Political resurrection came when the BJP unfurled the Babri campaign. More miracles were in the offing. Eventually, in 1986, a lower court order was passed to open the gates enclosing the idols. Miraculously, they were opened within minutes of passing the order.


At the time, Rajiv Gandhi was flirting with the Muslim vote over Shah Banu's case but wanted the Hindu vote also.


While the Congress dithered, the BJP seized the moment. The Advani and Joshi yatras culminated in the destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. That day India's secularism suffered a blow, denting its reputation throughout the world.


What followed was mayhem— mostly against the Muslims — using the power of the State. Justice Sri Krishna records this for Mumbai. The Supreme Court's judgment of 1994 ordered status quo; allowing Hindu worship on the insulting grounds that Muslims can pray anywhere, even in the open! Hindus were also promised the return of surrounding acquired Hindu land.


Between 1994 and 2010, nothing should have happened. In 1995, Kalyan Singh garnered much political capital after being imprisoned for contempt by the Supreme Court for flouting its orders. On February 3, 1993, Vajpayee decried the court's intervention as this was a matter of faith. The pressure was maintained.


After BJP's hawala fiasco was quelled, between 2000 and 2002, a new campaign found notoriety.


On December 6, 2000, the Bajrang Dal wanted the ' Babri destruction' day to be called shourya diwas ( gallantry) day.


The next day, Vajpayee seemed to suggest a Hindu temple had to be built. Vajpayee's Kumarakom musings declared him to be, first and foremost, a sewak . The Kumbh Mela was chosen as the stage to gather the Parivar at the Dharam Sansad of January 19- 22, 2001 amidst protests by the Shankaracharya and others.


Prime Minister Vajpayee was threatened with an ultimatum on March 27, 2001, calling for the temple's immediate construction, with ceremonies earmarked for September- October, collective jaypayajnas from November and a handing over of land by Mahashivratri on March 12, 2002.


The Parivar made frenetic initiatives to excite everyone, planning Ram sankalp raths ( Ram chariots) and the like. On March 13- 15, 2002, the BJP ( supported by its attorney general Soli Sorabji who had earlier appeared for Muslim groups!) moved the Supreme Court to build on the land and, perforce, upset the 1994 status quo.




The Supreme Court declined.


Throughout, the Sangh Parivar has been relentless — treating the Liberhan Commission and court proceedings as side shows.


Meanwhile, the BJP changed tracks to lose an election on their slogan that ' India was shining'. Recently, the Lucknow Bench has asked the parties to negotiate before it pronounces its final judgment on September 24. Earlier, attempts were made by Rajiv Gandhi for a settlement between the VHP and the AIBMAC in 1989, which collapsed with the VHP churlishly saying in an intergenerational collective damnation of all Muslims, " We ask for only three shrines out of thousands destroyed during the Mughal period." In this, and further negotiations under Narsimha Rao in 1991- 2, the Muslims were conciliatory and asked for proof that this was indeed, the birthplace of Lord Ram. This proof was not forthcoming. Vajpayee as PM created a cell to assist a settlement on October 11, 2002. On October 17, 2002 the VHP stormed the temple.


The Lucknow Court has ordered a further negotiation. Why? Has the judgment been leaked? Are the judges afraid of the consequences of their own judgment? The atmosphere is getting charged. Little may come out of the last minute negotiations.


Muslims do not want to surrender to the Hindu juggernaut of the Sangh Parivar and succumb under threat of violence. Ayodhya has helped the BJP before and is tempting their lack of statesmanship again. Does the Sangh Parivar's calm suggest that they know the result? In 1991, Parliament arbitrated all other claims by passing the Places of Worship ( Special Provisions) Act, 1991, to provide, with respect to all religious places, a status quo as on August 15, 1947. But, it did not have the courage to include Ayodhya.


The issues before the Court are both simple and complex. In one sense, it is more than a title case and a plea for Hindu prayer.


That the title lies with the Sunnis is beyond dispute. The Hindu claim was rejected in 1885, just as the Muslim claim to the Shahid Ganj Mosque was lost to the Sikhs by a Privy Council decision in 1940 on the grounds that an earlier decision in 1855 was final; and too much time had passed since 1722! Applying these principles from the Shahid Ganj case to the Babri Masjid, the Sangh Parivar's legal case should fail.




Many loose issues have been read into the Babri case, based on historical titles, the Muslim destruction of a Hindu temple, the birthplace of Lord Ram, which are not legally relevant to the right to title or prayer. The title vests with the Muslims.


Hindu prayer is of recent origin based on court orders. The Bench has one Muslim and two Hindu judges. It is

never a question of mathematics. But, a split decision will undermine the result.


The BJP White Paper of 1993 holds that these mosques were created by political conquest and humiliation. It also states that " the legal battle frustrates the Hindus and highlights the truth admitted by the judiciary that the issue is beyond the judicial domain". This implies a willingness to ignore legal decisions and resort to violence and threats.


Whichever way the Lucknow decision goes, on appeal the Supreme Court will grant a status quo. That is another reason to stay calm.


The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer









WHEN he was appointed general secretary of the Indian National Congress three years ago, Rahul Gandhi was given charge of the party's youth wings — the Indian Youth Congress and the National Students' Union of India. The unmistakable spring in the steps of these frontal organisations is proof that he has made a difference.


Something similar is happening in the parent organisation and in the government. After leaving the party and policy matters to the old guard all these years, Rahul is suddenly taking a string of initiatives and making statements that are sparking debate in the Congress and setting the agenda for the UPA government, leaving many of his senior party colleagues standing.


Rahul was in Kolkata on the day of the allparty meeting on Kashmir convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but he was all the while being updated about the goings- on at Race Course Road during the five- hour session. His keen interest may have something to do with the fact that after the last assembly elections in Kashmir, it was his support that helped friend Omar beat his father Farooq Abdullah for the chief ministership.


So, when he came to know that Omar was being pilloried not just by the Opposition BJP and the PDP but even powerful elements in the Congress at the all- party meeting, he addressed a press conference in Kolkata to reiterate faith in his friend. " Kashmir is a difficult place and Omar is a youngster doing a tough job. We have to give him time and support him in his job," Rahul said.


With Rahul backing Omar to the hilt, Congressmen were quick to fall in line while Mehbooba Mufti, who fancied her chances of replacing Omar with the Congress's help, saw it slip by.


It was the first time that Rahul had expressed himself publicly on a contentious political issue but it may have far- reaching consequences which are difficult to predict now. But it is no flash in the pan and the young general secretary has been preparing for this for long.


A casual glance at the schedule of this itinerant traveller over the past 16 months of UPA- 2 would reveal that there is hardly a place in the country that Rahul has not visited. He has made no less than 46 crosscountry trips during this period.


This, of course, does not include the frequent private tours that he is known to make in the company of sister Priyanka and her family.


Though in the beginning, he limited himself to subjects related to the young generation, he was soon taking on larger local issues at the state level and Omar Abdullah even the biggest of political enemies such as Mayawati . The UPA government may seem like a bundle of confusion and contradictions but there is none of that in the young man's mind. Many states are due for assembly polls in less than a year and in some, as in West Bengal, the Congress has to take on the Left as well as do the delicate balancing act of trying to win votes while at the same ensuring that a powerful ally like Mamata Banerjee is not annoyed. Rahul went to Kolkata and Shantiniketan last week to convey the message that after 33 years of communist misrule, Bengalis deserved a change.


He was equally forthright in telling the Trinamool Congress that " allies we may be but some home truths need to be told". Retribution was swift as Mamata compared him to a " cuckoo" whose visits are seasonal. Instead of retorting in the same language, Rahul expressed his respect for Mamata while reiterating that the Congress would not bend before her. The party cadres in West Bengal could not have asked for a better booster shot.


The " environment versus development" debate that had been raging in the government and the Congress for some time now seems to have been put to rest after Rahul's visit to the Nigyamgiri hills earlier this month where he battled for the rights of the tribals.


The seal of authority was rubber stamped when Sonia Gandhi, in her letter to Congressmen in the party mouthpiece Sandesh, wrote: " The Congress party's commitment to the welfare of the underprivileged and weaker sections was reinforced after the decision to protect the Nigyamgiri region from mining by party general Rahul Gandhi, who assured the tribal people that their fundamental interest would not be sacrificed in pursuit of development of natural resources." I don't know if synchronised swimming is included in Commonwealth Games aquatics but if they were handing out medals for synchronised politics, we know around whose necks the medals will hang.


Big B angle to Ambika's absence


EVERYONE knows that Ambika Soni takes her job very seriously. Eyebrows, therefore, went up when the minister for information and broadcasting ( I& B) was absent at the conference last week where the 57th National Film Awards were announced.


Instead, she deputed the director general of film festivals, S. M. Khan, to do the honours.


So what held Soni back? Unlike the Oscars, where winners are voted by members of the Motion Picture Academy of America through secret ballot, there is no secrecy surrounding the selection of national film awardees. Winners are selected by a jury consisting of known filmmakers, film historians, critics and others. The final list is then sent to the ministry which announces the winners at a press conference addressed by the jury chairman, in this case Ramesh Sippy, where the I& B minister is also present.


The National Film Awards have seldom been free of controversy and politics. It is well known that when M. G. Ramachandran broke away from the DMK to form the AIADMK, the Indira Gandhi government wooed him with the national award for best actor.


Ministry officials say pressing engagements kept Soni away while some others attribute her absence to the fact that Amitabh Bachchan was picked for the best actor award. Soni, who has been dragged into many controversies in recent times, didn't want to get embroiled in another one.


Her detractors, it was feared, could cite her presence as an endorsement of Bachchan whose acceptability in the Congress Parivar is not clear. Last year, Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan had to apologise to the high command after the actor was invited for the inauguration of the Worli- Bandra sea link. It's easy to see why Soni washed her hands off the awards.



MONEY and politics are an explosive mix. Politicians will soon discover that the Election Commission ( EC) and the income tax ( I- T) department can also be a lethal combination.


The two have decided to work together to track the use of money power during the many rounds of elections that are due in the next few months. It is no secret that candidates of all parties and even independents spend far in excess of the prescribed limits: ` 15 lakh for a Lok Sabha constituency and ` 6 lakh for an assembly seat.


Now the EC and the I- T have got together to detect the inconsistencies. chief election commissioner ( CEC) S. Y. Quraishi has appointed P. D. Dash, a senior officer of the Indian Revenue Service, as director general expenditure to monitor the flow and block the influence of black money. The CEC has also decided to appoint 150 expenditure observers during next month's assembly elections in Bihar. This will be in addition to a similar number of general observers who will monitor the election process in the state.


The expenditure observers will have full powers to visit any branch of any bank — private or government- owned — to check on unusually huge cash withdrawals and tally it with the candidate's own campaign to see if the money is being splashed for votes.


This strategy of the CEC will have farreaching consequences, the results of which will be visible within the next year when Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, two states where money power plays a big role during elections, go for polls.


The EC is now in the process of drafting a circular that will be sent to all chief election officers and district elections officers in the states.


Sometime later on Sunday, the three member commission will meet to approve the draft and get it notified. With the finance ministry also lending full support to Quraishi, it is to be hoped that the many loopholes in the laws which were being exploited by unscrupulous politicians will be well and truly sealed.








Beijing's latest initiative to establish a direct rail link to Bangladesh's port city of Chittagong and help construct Sonadip deep-sea port at Cox's Bazaar is likely to provide more fodder for the 'string of pearls' theory. It comes in the wake of dealings with the Myanmar government and its construction of the Gwadar port in Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka. Certainly, given the rumblings over Indo- China border issues in the past two years, there is cause for a certain wariness on New Delhi's part with regards to Beijing. But to view every move of Beijing's through the prism of a bilateral rivalry would be to misread a nuanced issue that has as much to do with economic compulsions and energy security. 

Chinese energy demand has doubled in the past decade. It recently overtook the US to become the world's largest energy user, consuming over 2,200 million tonnes of oil in 2009. Given this, its interest in South Asia is not surprising. Beijing's plans for Gwadar including a Gwadar-Xinjiang pipeline will give it a window directly onto the Gulf of Oman, benefiting its energy security and cutting transit time and costs. Likewise, with Beijing looking to diversify its energy usage and increase its natural gas demand, its interest in Myanmar's gas reserves is not difficult to understand. 

If New Delhi is to safeguard India's interests, it must develop and implement a coherent, long-term strategy for economic engagement with its neighbours as well as with East and South East Asia. Its interaction with Nepal and Bangladesh is replete with missed opportunities, exacerbated by the lack of infrastructure development in north-eastern states. Rectifying the latter and linking it to cross-border trade as well as addressing trade imbalance worries would go a long way towards strengthening India's position in the neighbourhood. With regards to ASEAN, the free trade agreement signed in January is a step in the right direction. But more must be done to capitalise on it, from including service and investment sectors in the package to developing transport links through the north-east. 


China's rising economic clout and assertiveness are being viewed with some trepidation in the region, from its dispute with South East Asian nations over its South China Sea claims to its clash with Japan over the Diaoyu islands. There is scope here for India to use its positive profile in the region to boost its economic clout. But for that, New Delhi must shift focus from worrying about Beijing's moves to planning its own.







In an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, former law minister Shanti Bhushan has accused eight of the 16 chief justices of India preceding K G Balakrishnan as "definitely corrupt". That adds to the buzz about judicial corruption, augmented by recent cases such as Justice Dinakaran, Justice Soumitra Sen and Uttar Pradesh's Rs 20-crore PF scam. In Justice Sen's case, impeachment proceedings are already underway in Parliament. The judiciary is plagued by further problems such as delayed proceedings, backlog of cases and lack of transparency in higher appointments. 

Despite these ailments, the institution still commands high respect and faith in the eyes of the public. That is due to the judiciary's unquestionable role in governance and ensuring rule of law in the country. If that confidence has to be maintained, it is of utmost importance to speed up judicial reforms. The Judges Standards and Accountability Bill that was backed by law minister Veerappa Moily is still hanging fire. The government's tardy progress on this is baffling. The Bill seeks to devise lesser reprimands to deal with wrongdoings of judges in the higher courts, as impeachment is an extreme and cumbersome process. Not surprisingly, it is failing to take off. The Bill also overhauls the process of higher judicial appointments. Under the existing system, a collegium of judges headed by the chief justice of India decides these appointments, that too, in a closed-door process. Clearly, it ought to be replaced with a more transparent system. A panel with political and civil society representation will go a long way in creating accountability without compromising judicial independence.









It is a great irony that 'azadi' a word with so many positive associations should evoke such fearful images among our political establishment and a large section of the intelligentsia in India when uttered by Kashmiris. It was Lokmanya Tilak who gave us the slogan, 'Freedom is my birthright'. Gandhi went a step further and defined 'Swaraj', as opposed to mere ousting of the British, as the raison d'etre of our freedom movement. 

Most of us have been conditioned to believe that when Kashmiris come on streets demanding azadi, they do so only at the behest of Pakistani agents. There is no denying that Pakistan has injected a lot of poison into Kashmiri politics by fomenting religious strife. But it is the irresponsible deeds of our own politicians that create a conducive environment for converting the urge for azadi into a pro-Pak secessionist upsurge. 

Even in states that do not harbour secessionist forces, we witness daily outbursts of discontent on a range of issues from absence of basic civic amenities to forcible acquisition of people's lands, human rights abuses, extortion rackets patronised by police and politicians, electoral frauds and deaths in police custody. 

We also witness simple agitations turning violent because of the ham-handed response of the police who often beat up even peaceful agitators. Lack of transparency and accountability of the governance machinery coupled with the absence of effective institutions for grievance redressal has made India a land of "a million mutinies". 

In Patna or Mumbai, such protests are taken as a sign of disenchantment with state administration. But the same action in Kashmir is invariably interpreted as anti-national. People will respond to this by saying that in other parts of India, people don't start demanding azadi when they come out to protest against their regional governments. But in other parts of India, protests against local governments are not crushed through the deployment of security forces using deadly weapons as often happens in Kashmir. 

The 'special status' of J&K has ensured that unlike people in the rest of India, the people of Kashmir cannot take most of their constitutional rights for granted. For example, a common complaint in Kashmir is that in 60 years of independence, they have witnessed only two genuinely free elections in the Valley one in 1977 and the second one in 2002. Local bodies remained dead for decades. 

Lack of azadi is visible on every road, in every mohalla, every town and village. Arbitrary arrests, crackdowns, custodial deaths and disappearances are routine events. For example, this entire phase of violence erupted because people who came out to protest against the wanton killing by the J&K police of 17-year-old Tuffail Mattoo were met with bullets. That led to more protests, more injuries and more deaths. At such times, the cry for 'azadi' is a desperate plea for a life of dignity, freedom from constant fear and assertion of democratic rights, including the right to protest against the denial of fundamental freedoms promised by the Constitution of India. 

Kashmiris have proved their disapproval of terrorism by marginalising Pak-inspired militants. By mistaking their hunger for azadi, we only push them away from Indian democracy. 

Wahidur Rehman, a young journalist from Kashmir, provided a valuable insight on the message Kashmiris try to deliver to Delhi by shouting "azadi". He said, ''From our childhood we have been taught by our elders that the most effective tool of blackmailing the New Delhi establishment into waking up is to start demanding azadi. They come to the dialogue table, start talking of concessions only when we rend the air with slogans of azadi. Otherwise, our pleas fall on deaf ears.'' 

Mehbooba Mufti once told me that even when a group of women come to meet her, if they find she is not available, they will start shouting, "We want azadi", when in fact they came for jobs or better civic amenities. This is not to belittle the urge for self-rule and having the power to call their politicians to account rather than depend on the mercy of Delhi durbar. 

The constituency for secession keeps shrinking or expanding depending on how well or poorly the central and state governments tune in to people's legitimate grievances and aspirations. P Chidambaram recently remarked that the same young people who two years ago were demanding IITs and IIMs are today pelting stones. 

During Atal Bihari Vajpayee's prime ministership, the constituency for secession shrunk dramatically because he not only ensured free and fair elections in 2002 but also engaged with the entire political spectrum of Kashmir. He also gave the PDP-led coalition a free hand in defining the political agenda for the state. With such simple statesman-like gestures, he became the most respected political figure for Kashmiris. 

Manmohan Singh's repeated statements offering "dialogue" to all those who abjure violence and operate within the "constitutional framework" act as irritants instead of giving people faith in the democratic process. Can the prime minister claim that the Omar Abdullah-led coalition government is operating within the constitutional framework? Kashmiris are angry because the state government has trampled on their constitutional rights with unprecedented brutality with the approval and backing of the central government. It is the PM's duty to demonstrate that his government knows how to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens as promised by our Constitution, before he expects people to owe allegiance to it. 

The writer is professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. 




                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA





What is heritage-based urban development

All cities are remembered by visible signs of the past the ancient buildings or areas. They are the identity of the city. But sustainable development needs to go beyond merely conserving these historical structures. We need to work with them, even play with them. We need to combine the old and the new. The tension between these two parts is what will give the city its characteristic identity. In such a city, you will constantly move forward and backward in time. Even while undertaking new construction, we have to remember that this will be the heritage for future generations. Contemporary construction should be of good quality so that it lasts and fitting enough to give joy in the future. It should be flexible, not mono-functional. 

Can European experiences be of use in India, which has very different conditions? 

Europe also has been through a process of learning, with many ups and downs. Europe found a way out of the problems of industrialisation era when rapid urbanisation and unplanned development took place. Modern architecture, with its stress on light, air and space was a reaction to this. We have had two wars, which devastated many old cities. In the initial post-war period too the construction boom destroyed many old buildings and areas. Unlike the US and India, European cities had no space to expand. In the US, cities sprawled horizontally creating dependence on transport. All these lessons can be learnt in India. 

What are the key factors for sustainable urban planning? 

The most crucial factor is awareness about the importance of heritage and history. This requires education through various means. Once people become aware, they will insist on conservation as part of modern planning. Also, urban planning should be local, in the sense that local people should have legal power to decide what would come up where. 

Experts may advise them. In several north European countries like Germany, and in Scandinavia, municipalities not only lay down strict laws but they ask the private builders to pay one-third of the total cost of the property for developing social infrastructure like roads and schools. This includes heritage structures. The municipality then pays for maintenance. Strong legal framework and monitoring mechanism is also necessary. 

How do you develop a sustainable plan for a city? 

The first thing is to have an intensive process to find solutions. This requires experts with varied experience. They develop various options, taking into account different factors. Only then should consultation with the people begin, presenting to them various options. Otherwise it will just become endless debating, with vested interests playing their game. The plan should visualise the future and take a complete view. With energy at a premium, and global warming issues, compact, medium-density cities may be the best bet. Younger people should be involved in the exercises, as they have to live in the cities of the future.






Before movie reviewers and armchair experts convince you that the recent sci-fi action thrillerInception, is a story that most Indian viewers have found difficult to understand, let me assure you that it is not the case. It is amazing how youngsters are influenced by columnists and bloggers these days, wearing puzzled looks and coming out of the theatre with sulky faces and question marks written all over! The truth is that there are as many versions of the story as there are viewers. 

For those who haven't watched the movie it is about how to steal business secrets by going off to sleep and entering competitor's dreams to find what's in his subconscious mind and what plans and fears reside there. Then there is a plot to plant an idea in a competitor's mind while in a dream. An idea, we're told, is as potentially dangerous like a virus, bacteria or a superbug like a New Delhi minister. 

Being privileged to mingle with government officials of central and state bodies, dealing with some of the scores of indirect taxes levied in our country, one found that prime-time activities in these offices included discussing how completely they understood the movie and how completely they could identify with the new professional heist who "steal dreams'', for a living! "In totem", they said! Maybe they meant "in toto". 

Once back in my office, i began to wonder what it was that they would have liked about the movie. For one, it could be the profession of the protagonist, Dom Cobb, an " extractor of dreams", who enjoyed the same perk of sleeping on the job. With a lucrative offer from warring business barons, Cobb designed joint-dreaming, sort of like teamwork. Ditto in government offices, one learnt. 

Secondly, the more the team dreamt together, the higher were the chances of extraction. So as not to provide spoilers, one need not elaborate how it worked with the on-screen characters, but let me tell you in real life, the longer one sleeps on an application of urgent requirement of the enterprise wanting to capture the universe with its aggressive business expansion plans, the better the prospects of "extraction". 

Thirdly, anyone who has ever been assigned to setting up manufacturing operations by getting government clearances would have experienced sleepless nights and constant day-mares, which are difficult to come out of without a kick(back). All that these wonderful folks could not understand was the need to stray into dreams for this. 

Such sufferers of lack of sleep may find their way to mendicants handing out potions to induce slumber, very much like Cobb's team in the movie. Having tried several pills, my professional friends with a similar predicament recently invited me to deliver a lecture on such mundane subjects as coping with the professional hazards that one often found daunting to overcome in our trade. It was not long before one learnt that none of the participants really wanted to learn any new trick that one may have up one's sleeve. Instead, my lecture had all the qualities of the best sedative to send my sleep-deprived brethren whose projects are always 'in limbo' like the deepest dreams in the movie into the deepest of sleeps possible. 

Had the movie been entrusted to Bollywood, one would have witnessed several romances which would inevitably culminate in lavish marriage ceremonies. The music rendered for the production could be another heist without having to enter anyone's dreams. For an industry that doesn't shake itself out of dreams, reel life is the only reality.







In 2008, the Kosi river in Bihar was in a murderous mood. Raging and frothing, it flooded five districts of the state affecting 15 lakh people and killing 527. And that's the official figure. The real one could be much higher. Two years on, it is the Gandak that is on a destruction drive. Both rivers originate in Nepal.


Though late last week, the state disaster management control room reported that floodwaters have started receding after the engineers fixed a breached embankment, at least 14 lakh people in three districts may face another Kosi-like situation if there's any change in Gandak's mood and the government is unprepared to face such a calamity. Post-Kosi disaster, there was much soul searching over the lack of disaster management skills of the officials and equipment.


It will be a bigger disaster if this time too the government, which is facing a crucial assembly election in the coming months, is again caught unawares. Bihar is the country's most flood-prone state, with 76 per cent of the population in the northern part of the state living under the recurring threat of flood devastation. According to government data, 16.5 per cent of the total flood- affected area in India is located in Bihar while 22.1 per cent of the flood-affected population in India lives in this state.


Having said that, the government must not try to look away from the obvious links that exist between the destructive power of these floods and its embankment policy. The jacketing of rivers leads to a dangerous build-up of water within the embanked rivers like Kosi and Gandak. There have been many occasions when waters have burst through weak points in the embankments causing destruction of life and property. Yet, there's no review of this embankment policy while the constant harping has been on building dams in Nepal to tame the rivers. A fact-finding report released after the Kosi floods by a civil society organisation highlighted that although India has built over 3,000 km of embankments in Bihar over the last few decades, flooding has increased by 2.5 times during the same time period, not to mention that embankments failed during each major flooding event.


Many feel that the worse is still to come if we take into account the threat of climate change and irregular rainfall patterns. To counter such threats, governments will have to continuously upgrade its disaster management skills so that minimum people are affected. But first, it has to convince itself to learn from the past (and continuing) mistakes.







The tony new kitchen for the Commonwealth Games should make us slaver at the mouth, but somehow the sound of meat from Holland that is already in the freezer sends a bit of a chill down our spine. Colour-coded chopping boards sound dandy as it will definitely prevent any contamination. But where we homegrown edit writers have a problem is with the fact that food like fish is being sourced from across the world.


We feel that those hoofing their way here despite all the mess that our organisers have visited on us, should get a feel of the real India. After all, the real McCoy will be hidden from their view for much of the Games, so why not let them get a taste of what we are all about?


Instead of trying to get chefs from Ghana, Malaysia and London, why not get them from our local areas? Chicken tikka masala may not be quite up our street considering that it is an abomination that has no street credibility here but we could wow them in the aisles with our Hyderabadi biryani among other things. And why on earth would we want to import pomfret from Singapore when we can dish out our hilsa, bones and all, and give them something to get their teeth into? Then we learn that all the recipes are standardised. This goes against the very grain of giving our visitors a bit of a surprise every day.


Indian food can never be quite the same every day, nothing quite like the feel of high volume chilli one day and a bland dish the next. Then, there is the matter of drinks that apparently will constitute only Indian beer and wine. Why could we not fell the competition with such incendiary drinks as our homegrown whiskys and rums? After all, your average Joe does not sit around with a sundowner of Chardonnay or Beaujolais. Let those coming around here get a real feel of India as we are. Which might mean having to negotiate the streets and get a touch of Delhi belly. That would be a real tasting menu.



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





It was a made-for-television moment: on the night of  the Jammu and Kashmir election verdict  in 2008, we had the Abdullahs, Dr Farooq and Omar, together on an analysis show. "Would you rule yourself out as the next chief minister?" we asked Dr Abdullah. "In politics, nothing can be ruled out," said the veteran leader with an ambitious glint. His son responded more firmly, "I think the people of  the state have already delivered the mandate and I don't think chief ministership is an issue." 


Indeed, no one in the studio thought it was. A fresh-faced, good-looking 30-something politician versus a battle-scarred five-time septuagenarian CM: it seemed a no contest. As Omar was sworn in CM a few days later, it appeared as if Kashmir was preparing for a generational change, an era of fear was being left behind and the valley was ready to step into a sunshine of hope. Omar Abdullah had come to symbolise a Kashmiri yearning for a new political order. Or so we thought. More so, because there was a widespread belief that Rahul Gandhi's intervention had been critical in ensuring that the chief ministerial baton was passed onto the son and not the father. Sepia-tinted pictures of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah juxtaposed with the photo-op provided by the Rahul-Omar duo, the family album was complete.  


Both Rahul and Omar were born in the same year, 1970, to super-privileged political dynasties. They were barely walking when the 1971 war broke out and the Simla agreement was signed, and were not even in school when the Sheikh-Indira accord was signed in 1975. In a sense, they were untouched by the tumultuous events of the 1970s; the baggage of history had bypassed them. English-speaking, public school-educated, both had spent a fair amount of time abroad. They were children of a new, globalising India, as much at ease in London as they would be in Lutyens Delhi. If the cut-and-thrust of democratic politics had shaped their grandparents era, this was an India which was being dominated by enterprise and technology.


Not surprisingly, young India identified with them. Two clean-cut, telegenic, tech-savvy politicians: the contrast with the older, cynical and corrupt India was much too striking to be missed. When Omar made his impassioned "I am a Muslim and I am an Indian" speech in parliament during the 2008 nuclear debate, youTube had found its first celebrity Indian leader. When Rahul spoke of the grief of Kalavati, the Vidarbha farm widow, there was instant appreciation at the  emergence of a politician with a difference.


Yet, less than two years later, it's all threatening to come unstuck. Omar finds himself being pushed to the wall, his elitist style of functioning being criticised as remote and insensitive. A sustained campaign has begun to get him to quit in the belief that his very presence as CM offends Kashmiris. The street violence over the last three months in the valley is seen as an anti-Omar movement that has now been hijacked by the terror-mongers. The dawn of optimism that was sparked off on swearing-in day has descended into a sunset of gloom.


Rahul has been luckier so far. His decision not to become a minister after the UPA's 2009 general election victory has been his protective armour, cushioning him from the relentless scrutiny that being in high office brings with it. His meetings attract large crowds and in student gatherings, there is a rockstar-like adoration for him. But the fact is that in his home state of Uttar Pradesh — his ultimate karmabhoomi — Mayawati and the BSP have swept all recent byelections while the Rahul-mentored National Students' Union of India has just lost the Delhi university elections after almost eight years. So, why has the euphoria of the youth brigade begun to evaporate? In Omar's case, it is apparent that the complexity of Jammu and Kashmir's political cauldron has exposed his limitations. The valley needs a 24x7 homespun CM who can provide a constant sense of reassurance to his troubled people, not a detached CEO who takes his weekends off, is cocooned behind secretariat walls and isn't there to provide a healing touch in tough times. Omar maybe well-intentioned, but he clearly isn't the mass leader who the Kashmiris can derive inspiration from.


Rahul, by contrast, has not really been tried or tested yet. His attempts at democratising the Congress's youth outfits and mobilising party cadres are laudable. Unlike Omar, Rahul at least appears to recognise the value of political symbolism, be it staying in a Dalit home or reaching out to tribals in Niyamgiri. Yet, at 40, Rahul cannot be the eternal young man on a discovery of India, and in states like UP, Bengal and Bihar, the Congress needs more than just the occasional flying visit to revive itself. More importantly, Rahul still hasn't clearly spelt out his vision for new India: soundbites on the Bharat-India divide are hardly a policy prescription for the future.


Perhaps both Rahul and Omar need to move beyond their dynastic origins and become more touchy-feely 'people politicians'. The divine right to rule is a feudal, anti-democratic principle which creates a sense of  overweaning entitlement. A famous political surname is a huge advantage in Indian public life, but it also imposes equally large responsibilities. If Rahul and Omar are looking for a role model, they could perhaps take guidance from Naveen Patnaik. The Orissa CM began his political career as an urbane dynast, but through a single-minded commitment to his state, has been transformed into a highly successful mass leader.


Post-script: Over two decades ago, Farooq Abdullah's motorbike pillion ride with actor Shabana Azmi branded

him as the 'disco chief minister'. Omar's Eid tryst in Delhi while the valley was burning has tagged him as the non-resident chief minister. Pity.


]Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN 18 Network n The views expressed by the author are personal



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





The controversy surrounding the possibility of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi campaigning for the BJP candidates in Bihar appears to be rooted in the power struggle within the saffron party. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's opposition to Modi's participation in the assembly poll campaign can also be linked to his desire to fan factionalism among the rank-and-file of his coalition partner even though most of his supporters claim that he does not wish to damage his goodwill among Muslims by agreeing to the visit.


Logically speaking, Nitish should have no say in who the BJP wants for its campaign in the state. It is solely the prerogative of any party to choose its star campaigners. The Muslims in Bihar know that the Janata Dal (United) is an ally of the BJP in the NDA and also in the state. Despite this, they have so far chosen to remain with the JD(U) largely because they have no real complaints against Nitish who has been successful in protecting their interests.


Therefore, why would the Muslim votebank shift towards the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad and the Congress only because Modi is invited for the campaign? The Muslims have all along been aware that Modi is a part of the saffron brigade and yet they endorsed the coalition during the last poll. There is thus no reason for them not to support the alliance regardless of Modi.


The question, then is why is there such hype being built around Modi's proposed visit to Bihar. Within the BJP, there is an open faction fight taking place. The positioning is for the 2014 parliamentary poll to determine who could be a prime-ministerial candidate since L.K. Advani's claim was rejected in the 2009 elections.


As per the Westminster model, which we follow, the leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj should be treated as the shadow prime minister. However, the other leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley is also viewed by many as a contender for the position. Though both Jaitley and Sushma owe their positions to Advani, they are both ambitious politicians.


]In addition, a large number of saffron brigade activists want Modi to be projected as the next PM candidate given that he has been a successful Gujarat CM for nearly nine years. He is seen to be the face of Hindutva by hardliners and there is no dearth of people who consider him as the only leader from the BJP stable who can deliver the goods. There could be others too depending on what the Sangh parivar jointly decides on. Murli Manohar Joshi, though out in the cold at present, could be in the running.


The other dimension of the PM battle is that Nitish Kumar's stock across the country is quite high. He is considered to be likely PM material in the event of the NDA coming to power and thus could be an aspirant like the JD(U) president Sharad Yadav whose experience and down-to-earth approach endears him to allies as well as opponents.


Therefore, the real problem of Modi coming to Bihar is that the parties involved  may be fighting for the second round (PM candidate one) before the first has even commenced. By expressing opposition to Modi, Nitish is improving his standing among Muslims outside Bihar since the Muslims in the state already hold him in high esteem. He is also creating a further wedge within the BJP and its PM claimants. The view may sound exaggerated to some, but in realpolitik one has to think and plan ahead. Nitish is helping those forces who despite being in the BJP want Modi weakened by becoming more controversial. The fight is for the bigger crown and not the one, which is offered, in Bihar. Between us.










For 58 years, the longest-ever running play in the world has managed to keep its secrets. After every performance of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, the actors enjoin the audience to keep the famous ending to themselves. Now, Christie's estate has discovered to its chagrin that The Mousetrap's killer twist is open to everyone on Wikipedia. (In fact, all her plot summaries have long been available there).


With movie reviews, critics generally have a code, and tell you where to stop reading. But it is futile asking for that kind of cordon sanitaire on the Web, where responsibility is so scattered. The buzzing hive destroys all that relies on closely guarded knowledge — TV shows, sports matches, movies and books — anything that seeks to keep watchers hooked from an unfolding story, a tantalising trickle of information. But on the other hand, users and forum moderators often preface the spoiler with blank space or highly visible stop signs.


So is Wikipedia out to wreck all the fun, or is the Christie estate missing the point? Anybody who has seen these entries would know that reading the bald plot leaches all the drama and agonised, suspenseful pleasure of a Christie work, and is absolutely no replacement for the real thing. It does her play a disservice to think that the twist is all there is — it is the patient build-up, the hints, the maniacal guesswork you put in through the book or play that makes the end so rewarding. There's no danger of a Wikipedia entry ever killing that joy.







Over a 16-month period that ended just over a year ago, European Union customs officials seized about 20 shipments of Indian generic drugs as they were passing through various European ports, especially Amsterdam and Hamburg, while going to Africa and Latin America. The reason? European Regulation 1383/2003 "concerning customs action against goods suspected of infringing certain intellectual property rights." The customs officials would suspect that a container with medicines inside — legal under the intellectual property regime in both the source and destination countries — would violate the stronger local patent laws, and they would thus open up and confiscate the shipments.


India's commerce ministry correctly identified this as an infringement on trade; reports on Saturday suggested that Indian negotiatiors are losing patience with their EU counterparts and are likely to bump the problem up to the World Trade Organisation's dispute resolution system.


Yet the commerce ministry should continue to be very careful about how far it intends to go to protect generic drug shipments. Last month it wrote to the WTO on a matter apparently unrelated, but actually closely tied to this one. The letter argued strongly that multilateral anti-counterfeiting activity, including the Japan-led Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, was an unfair trade restriction — a "protectionist initiative". This is in spite of the fact that the mass counterfeiting of Indian generics in Africa is beginning to affect perceptions there about India's safety as a manufacturing location; so much so that a 2008 anti-counterfeiting law in hard-hit Kenya serves to block access to most Indian generics, and it is possible that other East African countries will follow suit. (East Africa receives 20 per cent of the Indian drug industry's annual exports, valued at Rs 39,500 crore.)


It is therefore short-sighted of the ministry to tie anti-counterfeiting action to restrictions on Indian generics. The most powerful restriction on Indian generics could well come from domestic legislation in destination countries when the public health problems that come from counterfeiting become simply too big to ignore. And, in Africa, it is quickly getting there: in the past few weeks, Interpol seized 10 tonnes of counterfeit medicines in East Africa alone. Fight illegal seizures, yes; block multilateral anti-counterfeiting action, no.







Indian diplomacy can take some credit for stepping up international pressure on Nepal's Maoists to implement their commitments to the peace process — especially on giving up the instruments of violence that they have held on to. Hiding behind the misguided empathies of international freelancers operating under the ambit of the United Nations Mission in Nepal, the Maoists have sought to coerce the rest of the political parties into altering the terms of the peace accord negotiated after the ouster of the monarchy in 2006. The agreements between the political parties and the Maoists in 2006 aimed at formalising the transition to a democratic republic and bringing the Maoists into the mainstream as a civilian political party. UNMIN, however, became a drag on this process by siding with the Maoists. In refusing to see the changed realities in Nepal and continuing to treat the insurgent armies of the Maoists and the national army of Nepal as equals, it removed all incentives for the Maoists to disarm.


Indian efforts in Kathmandu and in New York in the last few weeks ensured that the UN Security Council extended the mandate of UNMIN only for four more months after it expired last week. It has been plain for a while that the time had come to either redefine the mandate of UNMIN or wind it up. Much of the mission's original mandate when it was established in 2006 had been accomplished. It was to assist in the elections of the Constituent Assembly, verify the number of insurgents and monitor the arms and armies of the Maoists and the government. The decision to keep the national army under surveillance was to prevent the Constituent Assembly elections in 2008 being sabotaged by the royalists with their traditional links to the army. UNMIN, however, has consistently sought to carve out a larger role for itself at the expense of Nepal's civilian leaders. The royalists have long ceased to be a threat, which now comes mainly from the Maoists who want it both ways — of gaining power without civilianising themselves.


In setting January 15, 2011 as the final deadline for UNMIN, the international community has pressed and got fresh assurances from the Maoists to give up their instruments of coercion. The Maoist commitments remain vague and their record of keeping promises is not too good. Nevertheless, the altered context in Nepal provides an important opening for India. Delhi must now devote significant and sustained diplomatic energies to bring Nepal's peace process to a successful closure.









V.S. Naipaul's An Area of Darkness is depressing. In 2004, The Economist had a special pull-out on India and described Bihar as "an area of darkness" and "a byword for the worst of India". On May 27, 2006, the prime minister delivered a speech at the International Conference on Agriculture for Food, Nutritional Security and National Growth and said, "Bihar, in 1950, was described as the second-best governed state in the very famous Paul Appleby Report... This is worthy of exploration, why a state like Bihar has not been able to catch up with the rest of the world." The prime minister's speech-writers should have known better. Appleby said no such thing. But it is a good story.


Anga, Videha, Magadha, Vaishali, Nalanda, Vikramshila, Pataliputra — these are names that resonate in history. Migration is an indicator of a region's prosperity and economic attractiveness. A couple of thousand years ago, Bihar was the centre of in-migration. Until recently, Bihar was the focus of out-migration and NRBs (non-resident Biharis) drove the economy. So the story captures Bihar's relative slippage not only from a historical period, when it was the cradle of civilisations, empires, religions, educational centres, administration and prosperity, but also from the 1950s. If one looked for a model BIMARU state, it would have been Bihar. And in future Indian growth trajectories, because of concentration of the demographic dividend, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh largely influence the future, with Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa thrown in. Irrespective of what the Congress does with its revival strategy in Bihar, UP and West Bengal, a Revive Bihar strategy is important for India.


Why has Bihar been backward and deprived and why has its relative position slipped? Legitimate points can be made about Centre-state fiscal transfers and freight equalisation policy, though the latter is only of historical interest now. However, the key is what can broadly be called governance, spilling over into physical and social infrastructure, making public expenditure efficient and ensuring law and order. This enabling environment is critical for agriculture, industry and services. Given Bihar's agro-climatic zones and land, despite the flood problem (though today it is drought), there is no reason why agriculture should not do better. Given Bihar's natural resources (though some has gone to Jharkhand), potential transport infrastructure and strategic location, there is no reason why industry should not do better. Given Bihar's educational infrastructure, there is no reason why services should not do better. A reform agenda for Bihar was formulated by the World Bank in 2005, building on the pillars of improving the investment climate and social service delivery, with fiscal and administrative reforms as integral components of the latter.


In a complex world of electoral politics, with caste a major factor, it is not always obvious that citizens vote out mis-governance and vote in good governance. However, it is possible to argue that the change in government in 2005 was driven by a desire to see improvements in governance. First, between 1999 and 2004, under Rabri Devi, real SDP (state domestic product) grew by 3.9 per cent a year. Between 2004 and 2009, under Nitish Kumar, real SDP growth was an annual 11.3 per cent. Though one should also remember what Sushil Modi said. If Bihar grows at 11 per cent for the next 15 years, it will reach Maharashtra's current SDP. But by then, Maharashtra's SDP will be three times what it is today. However, 11.3 per cent means per capita income growth of at least 8.5 per cent (from 1991 to 2001 annual population growth was 2.8 per cent), a fairly impressive figure, despite the low base and slack for catching up.


Second, this growth hasn't primarily been driven by industry, not yet. There are proposals (power, sugar, food processing, agro-based industries), but these are yet in the realm of the future. Growth has essentially been driven by services (construction, communications, trade/ hotels/ restaurants) and the tertiary sector's share in income has inched up to 59.5 per cent. That's the reason (because of the primary sector's drop) growth has also become less volatile. One sees income growth manifesting itself across a range of indicators of consumption expenditure, mobile connections are not the only one. While we will have to wait for large-sample NSS results to validate poverty numbers, percentage of the population below the poverty line has probably dropped to around 38 per cent now. That looks like a huge number, but remember it was almost 46 per cent in 2001-02. The Orissa figure was 46 per cent then and continues to be 46 per cent now. And 38 per cent should place Bihar above Jharkhand and MP today. Bihar may be bad, but it is no longer bottom of the heap.


Third, one reason for service sector and income growth has been more Central funds and greater social sector expenditure. Eventually, this will show up in improvements in social sector indicators. There has also been increased expenditure on physical infrastructure (roads and bridges) and law and order machinery (police stations), with the criminal justice system having become more credible.


Oddly, the Bengal Presidency (Assam, Bihar, Meghalaya, Orissa, Tripura, West Bengal) performs the worst among all colonial regions. Among major states, Orissa is still badly mired, while West Bengal is a question mark. Of the lot, Bihar is the first one that shows signs of change. Admittedly, five years is not long enough and there is a pending agenda on industry and reforming agriculture and land markets. Nor is Bihar Patna alone. There are districts like Araria, Katihar and Purnia and even Pashchim and Purba Champaran, where for many, life hasn't changed much since Gandhiji's days. It is worth remembering that, because of what happened to another lauded reformer in Andhra.


But having said that, we know Bihar is changing because out-migration from Bihar has declined. We also know out-migration from West Bengal has increased. Instead of Biharis migrating to West Bengal, we may soon have Bengalis migrating to Bihar. "Bihar has nothing to offer except history; Bihar defies all hopes." The Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), based in Patna, wrote this only a few years ago. In a just-published "Bihar Development Report 2010", Shaibal Gupta of ADRI has written, "The state of Bihar is poised for a turnaround and will be the most happening state in this part of the country." That's quite a change, but there isn't a great deal of exaggeration in the statement.


The writer is a Delhi-based economist








 The week-long visit of the 21-member Chinese delegation led by He Yong, member of the central secretariat of the Communist Party of China (CPC), was significant in many ways, even its outward appearance. It was extravagant by normal Chinese standards, because the delegation — the 21st to visit Nepal after it was declared a republic in May 2008 — was the first to bring its own aircraft, a practice followed only during state visits. And there were far more loaded political messages delivered by the group, through words and actions.


In the past, Chinese delegations would normally stay at Hotel Hyatt Regency in the Bouddha area, about 2 km away from the international airport. But the Chinese embassy informed Nepal's foreign ministry that this time, the delegation would prefer to stay at Hotel Soaltee, far away from Bouddha. The reason given was that Bouddha is dominated by Free Tibet activists who might target the delegation if they stayed in the area. This was perhaps a rejection of the oft-reiterated plea advanced by the Nepal government that it would not allow its territory to be used against "our friend" in the north.


Yong, who commands the position of a vice premier, told President Rambaran Yadav and caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal that while China has always appreciated Nepal's consistent support for its One China Policy, its gestures on Tibet affairs have to be matched by action. In fact, China has been quite aggressive and blunt in its protest against what it says is increased Free Tibet activity in Nepal, aided and abetted by outside forces, especially after 2006. Its message was clear: the political dispensation consisting of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) and seven pro-democracy parties brought together with India's mediation and initiative was not doing enough to address China's concerns, unlike the monarchy.


While Yong's delegation was still in town, Beijing dispatched another 46-member delegation to Kathmandu to promote trade and business and identify areas where China could be of help. The Yong team, which also met Maoist leader Prachanda, made no effort to conceal its unhappiness over the increased role of India and the European Union. "Nepal must be able to solve its problems on its own without outside interference, and China takes every such interference seriously," he said during his meetings with the president, prime minister and the Maoist leader. In other words, he conveyed to Nepal that if the necessity arose, China would feel free to "interfere" in the manner of the rest, or in its own way. Next-door Nepal, more than any other country in South Asia where China's interest and involvement are increasing by the day, clearly falls under its sphere of influence.


Yong's visit had been planned much earlier, but took place at a time when Nepal's parliament had failed to elect a prime minister in seven serial contests, and non-Maoist parties and parliament intensely debated the contents of an audio-tape, purported to be a conversation between the UCPN-M foreign affairs cell chief, K.B. Mahara, and an unidentified Chinese official, with the former demanding Rs 500 million to buy off parliamentarians to form a government under Prachanda. The matter did not figure during the high-level meetings with the Yong delegation, but even Madhav Nepal said the Maoists were bringing shame to the nation by indulging in political horse-trading. He also said the "audio scandal" needed to be probed.


Despite his communist background, Madhav Nepal had openly criticised China when it supplied arms to the royal government after India and the European countries had stopped as a protest against the takeover by King Gyanendra in February 2005. His threat to order a probe into the Mahara tape episode when the Chinese delegation was still in the country was perhaps not intended. But the Nepali authorities believe that China's role in ensuring peace and stability in Nepal has increased manifold, and that Nepal must take both India and China — the two neighbours — into confidence on this count. In fact, many believe the failure of India's post-monarchy Nepal policy has contributed to and legitimised China's larger presence in Nepal. A year ago, the Chinese authorities in Kathmandu forced President Yadav to cancel a visit to a monastery in Bouddha to inaugurate the centenary celebration of a revered Buddhist monk, just an hour before his scheduled arrival, asserting that his presence there would be taken as aiding and abetting anti-Chinese activities. The Chinese delegation's refusal to stay at a hotel less than a kilometre away from the monastery should be seen as an unprecedented level of intolerance towards the perceived threat.


President Yadav is to visit China on October 13, not on a state visit, but to attend the Shanghai Expo. However, it would be an occasion for him to assure the Chinese authorities that no matter what the EU policy on Tibet may be, Nepal's territory would be closed for them, as in the past. But clearly, the Chinese are now dictating exactly how Nepal can back up its assertions with action.









At the time of Independence, the Congress was an amorphous umbrella party consisting of diverse elements covering almost the entire political spectrum while the Communist Party of India was seen as a compact and cohesive party of like-minded ideologues. Yet the CPI bitterly broke into two — the new unit calling itself the Communist Party of India (Marxist) — in 1964, a good five years before the same fate overtook the Grand Old Party in totally different circumstances. Countless books have been published on the historic Congress Split of 1969, the starting point of Indira Gandhi's supremacy. That of the comrades' parting of ways, though fascinating, is relatively unknown and therefore worth telling.


In a way, a split in the CPI was inherent almost from the very beginning. The surprise is that it took so long for it to happen. It is also remarkable that the communists had taken a U-turn in their attitude to the nationalist sentiment during World War II. When it began in 1939, it was for them an "imperialist war". On June 21, 1941, it suddenly morphed into a "people's war" because Hitler had invaded the Soviet Union. For three years before that Nazi Germany and Communist Russia were allies! The CPI opposed the Mahatma's Quit India movement in 1942 vehemently.


Yet, around the advent of Independence, the CPI's influence, as distinct from following, in the country was progressive, especially among students, artists, writers, and so on. This was due largely to the good sense of the party's first general secretary, P.C. Joshi. He tried to stay close to the national sentiment as far as possible and offered support to Nehru.


This infuriated the more "revolutionary" leaders who, together with Moscow and Beijing, were convinced that Indian independence was "bogus", that the Nehru government represented the "comprador" capitalists and landlords and that it had to be overthrown by "urban armed struggle". The main protagonist of this line, B.T. Ranadive, replaced PCJ who was not only overthrown but also expelled from the party. However, BTR, too, did not last long. In 1950, C. Rajeswar Rao from Andhra, then one of the four CPI strongholds, took over as general secretary. For the Andhra unit was leading the revolt by the Telengana peasants, and was arguing that in a primarily rural country "urban armed struggle" made no sense. As the Chinese revolution had proved, the countryside must revolt, and therefore India must follow the "Chinese path", said Andhra CPI leaders — Rao, Basava Punniah and P. Sundarayya. Totally opposed to them were Ajoy Ghosh, S. A. Dange and S.V. Ghate. The CPI, they argued, must follow the "Indian path", not any foreign model. The fight between the two sides became so acute that both agreed to seek the Soviet Union's advice.


Rao, Punniah, Ghosh and Dange travelled incognito, as stowaways on board a Soviet merchant ship, to Moscow where Stalin personally told them to call off the Telangana revolt even while keeping the armed option "open" for the future. To a question whether the current revolt could not be fostered, he replied: "Do you have the necessary mass support?" This was the voice of the realist who, during World War II, had asked Churchill and Roosevelt: "How many divisions has the Pope?" Stalin added that India was not really free and was being "ruled indirectly by the colonial power but the Nehru government was not a puppet."


The final word having been spoken by the highest Oracle, the CPI immediately accepted the Ajoy Ghosh-Dange thesis. Ghosh was elected general secretary, served for 10 years until his death in 1961 and, to his credit, kept the increasingly fractious party in one piece somehow. Significantly, however, even while accepting peaceful struggle and rejecting hostility towards the Nehru government, the new line wasn't as friendly to the prime minister as P.C. Joshi would have liked it to be.


From the Korean War onwards, through his visits to China and the USSR, Nehru's foreign policy became very popular with both the communist powers. Even domestically his policies were tilting towards a "socialistic pattern of society." The CPI's shattering defeat in the assembly elections in Andhra shook it. It therefore fashioned the strategy of "unity and struggle" with the Nehru-led Congress government. But even this became an apple of discord. The hardline half of the party demanded precedence for "struggle" over "unity". And so it went on, until the deteriorating relations with China culminated in the border war in 1962 and the Sino-Soviet split profoundly affected the course of events.


At the start of the 1962 War, Dange — appointed chairman of the CPI, with E.M.S. Namboodiripad as general secretary — condemned the Chinese "aggression" and offered support to the Nehru government. The dissident leaders, then in hiding to escape people's wrath but determined to support China, lambasted Dange. The "inner party struggle", nicknamed IPS, intensified. Meanwhile, Harekrishna Konar of West Bengal had met the Chinese leaders first in Vietnam and then in Beijing, where Mao also received him. The Chinese message was loud and clear: reject the pro-Moscow "revisionists" and become "true revolutionaries".


By early 1963, Namboodiripad resigned as general secretary in a last-ditch attempt to preserve the party's unity. He had the support of other centrist leaders such as Bhupesh Gupta and even Jyoti Basu, but to no avail. April 10, 1964 was fixed for a meeting of the National Council in the hope of minimising the differences between the rival sides. But it was never held. For the two fiercely fighting factions that had been busy building up rival centres of power, even while supposed to be within the same party, said goodbye to each other. The CPI and the CPM came into being.


A lot has happened since then to change the scene but the fairly logical perception at that time was the CPI was bending over backwards to be loyal to Moscow and the CPM was supportive of China. My friend and colleague, the late Satindra Singh, an ardent communist turned inveterate anti-communist, in his writings used to describe the Marxists as "Pekinese" and the CPI leaders as "Russian dolls."


The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator








Christine O'Donnell is in a fantasy world. The pretty Palin Mini-Me identifies with the women of Middle Earth, comparing herself to the female characters in The Lord of the Rings novels.


"Look at the significance that he gives to Eowyn, the Lady of Rohan," O'Donnell said on C-Span in 2003. "She was a warrior spirit and, to me, that's who I love. I mean, I aspire to be soft and gentle like Arwen, but realistically, I'm a fighter, like Eowyn."


O'Donnell said she liked Tolkien's outlook on gender: "On the one hand, there's the attitude that's normally on the conservative side — as a conservative woman, I feel I can say this — that stifles women. There's almost the stereotypical attitude of, to be a true woman, you have to stay at home. And I've actually had people say to me, 'Why do you choose a career over marriage?' Honestly, I've had only a few significant relationships, and they've broken up with me. And one of the things I've been told is, 'If you weren't so strong, you'd be married by now.' "


This anti-abortion, anti-masturbation, anti-premarital-sex, anti-stem-cells, anti-gay-marriage, dubious-about-evolution Christian conservative has rocked politics by snatching the Delaware Republican nomination for the Senate away from the seemingly sure-thing moderate Mike Castle.


At the Values Voter Summit, the 41-year-old O'Donnell cited another fantasy world to conjure up a Christ-like image for the Tea Party.


"We're rowdy, we're passionate," she told the enraptured crowd. "It reminds me of the C.S. Lewis Narnia books, where the little girl asks someone about Aslan the lion, who represents God, and she says with a little concern over such a fearsome lion, 'is he safe?' And her friend says, 'safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn't safe. But he's good.' "


She's right that there's an untamed beast rampaging through American politics. But this beast does not seem blessed; rather it has loosed a kind of ugliness and wildness in the land.


Speaking to Sean Hannity on Fox, Karl Rove dismissed O'Donnell as an absurd choice with a sketchy background and dubious character. He alluded to facts in The Weekly Standard that chronicled her lawsuit against her former employer, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative non-profit based in Delaware.


Although O'Donnell said in 1998 that wives should "graciously submit" to their husbands, her 2005 suit charged that she suffered "mental anguish" after being demoted and fired because the institute's conservative philosophy deemed that women must be subordinate.


We the People in the Ruling Class Elites do think O'Donnell comes across as alarmingly loopy. But maybe

she's smart as a fox in doing a Single-White-Female, Fox anchor makeover to look more like her queen-maker,

Sarah Palin.


She's also smart to think of politics in terms of passion and myth — two elements Barack Obama was able to summon during his campaign that are sorely missing from his presidency.


She might have gone a broom too far when she told Bill Maher she had "dabbled into witchcraft" and went on a date with a witch that included "a midnight picnic on a satanic altar."


Obama's bloodless rationality has helped spawn the right's bloodletting of irrationality. His ivory tower approach to the nation's fears and anxieties about the economy gave rise to a tower of angry babble. Tea Party is basically a big tent for anger.


The president's struggle to connect and inspire passion is a dispiriting contrast to, as Yeats said, the worst, full of passionate intensity.


The first African-American president, who wrote in his memoir he trained himself as a young man not to let his anger show in a suspicious white society, now faces anger from a mostly white movement.


He seems weary of crisis management, conveying the attitude of the hero in The Incredibles who has to keep saving the world:


The president seems put upon and impatient with reality while his foes seem happy to embrace fantasy. Obama can connect with policy. He just can't connect with the objects of policy. Empathy seems more like an abstract concept than something to practice.


He has never shaken off that slight patronising attitude toward the working-class voters he is losing now, the ones he dubbed "bitter" during his campaign. There is no premium in trying to save people's jobs and lift them up and give them health care if they feel that you can't relate to them.


The insane have achieved political respectability while the sane act too good for it all. The irrational celebrate while the rational act bored and above-it-all.


When Rahm Emanuel leaves to go run for mayor in Chicago, all the blood will drain out of the White House. And Obama can go to Ben's Chili Bowl for lunch every day and it won't matter.







While Americans are right to be alarmed by the rising numbers of bombs and suicide attacks in Afghanistan, we can't overlook a more subtle campaign that has been a key element of the Taliban's strategy: disrupting access to schools.


Close to 1,000 schools have been bombed or burned since 2006, and hundreds of teachers and students have been killed. The Taliban, who when they were in power banned education for women, attack girls' schools, and in some provinces the proportion of girls attending middle school has dropped to less than 1 per cent.


These attacks are made easier when there is a physical school to take aim at. But education is not about four walls and a roof. Many non-governmental organisations have been promoting schooling without school buildings as the best strategy to increase enrollment quickly in the poorest rural areas of the country.


Thousands of community-based education programmes, housed in existing community structures, are bringing education to girls and boys across the country. According to a report released by CARE last fall, there has been only one recorded attack on such a school.


Yet these schools have received little attention. Most attention and money has gone to the "Three Cups of Tea" strategy of constructing schools. While shiny new schools make for great photo-ops, they are expensive and easy targets. In the short term, we should de-emphasise that approach in favour of more flexible, cost-effective approaches in community-based education.


It works like this: Villagers provide a space for the school, usually in a large house or mosque, and choose teachers from the community. An aid organisation delivers government-approved textbooks and stationery, and provides training for the teachers and parents who help oversee the schools. The Afghan government integrates the community-based schools into the larger educational system, certifying teachers and, eventually, paying their salaries.


Each community-based school serves only the village in which it is situated; schools are widely dispersed, making attendance more practical for children spread across remote regions. Many aid workers have long favoured such schools since they are quick and inexpensive to set up, and because communities develop a sense of ownership. Parents visit classes regularly, checking attendance and observing lessons.


With aid from Washington, non-governmental groups have started approximately 3,000 community-based schools in roughly 1,400 communities in more than a dozen provinces in Afghanistan. In a study I carried out with Leigh Linden of Columbia from 2007 to 2009, we found children in rural Afghanistan are almost 50 per cent more likely to attend classes if there's a community-based school available. When a community-based school is an option, the rate of girls' attendance in most communities goes up by 15 percentage points more than that of their male counterparts, virtually eliminating gender disparities in primary education.


Community-based education is not a panacea: rural teachers may not have much in the way of training, and most schools offer only the early grades. Still, it is a practical medium-term solution to the lack of conventional schools in Afghanistan.


To best help Afghanistan, we need to support safer, cheaper and more effective ways to educate all its children.




The writer is a professor of education at New York University








 It is interesting to note that the government is looking at shaping future industrial strategy and policy with industry associations as its principal partner. This initiative could not have come at a better time.


We stand at the cusp that marks the end of a tumultuous decade and the beginning of the next, wherein the growth drivers will include innovation, demographics, collaboration and inclusion. Future policy directions will determine whether India can play the leading role globally that the world expects it to.


One industry that will certainly play a critical role will be the IT-BPO sector and NASSCOM, the industry association guiding the sector, has been a role model for effective partnerships and collaboration, both internally and externally. Having worked with industry associations, I am passionate about NASSCOM, because of its ability to continuously reinvent itself, stay ahead of the curve and provide leadership.


Critics may question whether NASSCOM can continue to reinvent to be as effective in the future; whether it can dovetail its agenda to the country's focus on inclusive growth or whether the diversity of views could dilute NASSCOM's agenda in a growing environment of global protectionism. ('The civil war of Bangalore' by Saritha Rai, IE, September 7.) Their concerns are well taken, but here is why they have no reasons to worry.


Unlike most other sectors, NASSCOM is not a recent convert to this philosophy but has known it from the time of its inception given the nature and the business models its members follow.


Representing a truly global industry, it has dealt with global problems and issues for a long time and will continue to do so. Two decades ago, when it was unheard of and unfashionable in India, NASSCOM was pushing for liberalisation at home. With the same zeal, it has become the face of those fighting global protectionism. In this movement, it has successfully built international collaboration, partnered with global think-tanks, researched facts, represented cogently to policymakers and successfully built thought leadership. Senator Schumer's visa bill today has as many critics in the US as overseas, people who support global trade associations in the need for open borders.


A $60-billion industry that has the ability to work cohesively with disparate groups clearly reflects that diversity does not necessarily mean conflict. I really believe NASSCOM is outstanding because it drives a common agenda with a truly global and diverse outlook — it's the only way industries can prosper and adapt to changing environments. Consequently, vague generalisations about splits within NASSCOM are basically terribly naive. We expect divergent views from our members. That's how we make our debates richer and our views balanced! And this is what makes us stronger: that despite this, we tend to speak together for NASSCOM.


And this diversity is leveraged not only in India, but globally. Interestingly what many may view as competing country associations — Philippines, Israel, Egypt, etc — are viewed as partners for NASSCOM. We have never shied away from sharing best practices and expanding the market.


One would remember our critics crying themselves hoarse on the issue of NASSCOM being the big boys club. Today, start-ups and SMEs are our ambassadors — building programmes, suggesting initiatives and taking leadership. New activities always jostle for space initially but end up redefining and reconfiguring NASSCOM. Multinationals and captives leverage the association's activities as much as do indigenous companies — and often say that they need associations like NASSCOM in other countries. All of this plays to NASSCOM's ultimate agenda , of creating an environment where Indian companies become global multinationals and India becomes the largest location for global MNCs outside of their home country.


The most critical role for an industry association is to shape policy without representing individual company agendas. I cannot think of any other association that gets as much respect from governments in India and around the world for the objective and unbiased nature of the facts and views that it presents. Its policy agenda spans a myriad issues including taxation, transfer pricing, government procurement, IP, broadband, copyright, etc. Some of these may not be relevant for some companies in the short term — but we all recognise their importance for the industry, and focus on sharing information and facts to make a strong case collectively.


At the same time, there is a focus on building leadership in areas that will influence the future. The Data Security Council of India, National Institute of Smart Governance (NISG), Cyber Labs, and the NASSCOM Foundation are institutions created by NASSCOM to build policy and best practices in data security, e-governance, cyber security and inclusive growth.


Most people would recall the 1998 vision set by NASSCOM — a $50 billion industry contributing to 4 per cent of India's GDP, providing employment to 2.2 million people — a vision almost everyone considered unachievable. However, despite two global downturns, the industry has delivered on that promise, unleashing a multiplier impact on India's economy and society. The 2020 vision is even more ambitious: creating a transformational agenda for India.


Just as companies are focused on addressing opportunities through new business models, it is interesting to be part of a core group that is reshaping the agenda for NASSCOM, one that will further the cause of R&D, innovation and inclusive growth and, in the process, enhance India's leadership.


Questioning NASSCOM's diversity is as naive as questioning the spirit of Indian diversity.


There writer, president & CEO, Genpact, is former chairman of NASSCOM









While the UPA continues to grapple with the issue of the land acquisition Act, and getting the stormy Mamata Banerjee on board, the issue has moved far beyond what it was considering. Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda set the ball rolling when he came up with the model—the model has been in force for a few years but got centrestage after Sonia Gandhi recommended it—which not only gave farmers upfront compensation for their land, it guaranteed an annuity as well. After the farmers' agitation over land acquisition for the Yamuna Expressway project, the chief minister of the country's largest state, Mayawati, came up with an even more generous offer.


The Haryana scheme fixes the minimum land acquisition prices across the state, including in specific urban and rural areas. It also has provisions for an additional compensation through an annuity payment of Rs 15,000 per acre of land with clauses that allow an annual increment of Rs 500 on each acre for 33 years. And the annuity is even higher at Rs 30,000 per acre, with annual increments of Rs 1,000 per acre each year, in the case of acquisition for special economic zones and technology cities/parks that are being set up by private developers. Additionally, there are other incentives like allotments of residential and commercial plots for rehabilitation.


In addition to the one-time compensation, Uttar Pradesh's policy provides for a larger annuity of Rs 20,000 per acre with increments of Rs 600 each year over 33 years. Landowners who forgo annuity payments can claim Rs 2,40,000 as additional compensation per acre. The original landowners are also to get 7% of the acquired land, for residential plots of a minimum size of 120 sq metres. The most important provision is that the UP scheme allows the ousted landowners to use a quarter of the one-time compensation for purchasing the shares of the company floating the projects. This is particularly important since this ensures oustees get a large part of the benefit from future development on their land—typically, land prices escalate when the land-use is changed from the agricultural to the commercial or industrial. By owning a share in the project, farmers will continue to benefit. A win-win for all concerned.








PM Manmohan Singh has managed to stay reasonably clear of the 2G mobile licence allocations scandal in January 2008 by arguing it was telecom minister A Raja who was in charge, that Raja had told him he was only following existing government policy and that, if the CBI found anything, the guilty would be punished. The Supreme Court has asked Raja to explain why 9 companies were given licences in 120 telecom circles (each state is, broadly, a circle) at bargain-basement rates—on January 10, 2008, Raja gave out licences at rates that were exactly the same as those paid by companies way back in the 2001 auctions. Even rough calculations show this was an under-pricing of around Rs 50,000-60,000 crore. The problem for PM, however, is that the CBI, which he controls, has also been sent a notice asking it to explain its progress. After all, the CBI filed its FIR almost a year ago, on October 21, 2009. How long does it take to wrap up a case that's so straightforward?


Raja has sought to muddy the waters, and sadly even the PM has bought it (or hasn't he?), by talking of existing government policy and of a first-come first-served allotment policy—this is relevant for those who follow the minutiae of telecom policy, but you don't need it to establish the ministry's, and therefore Raja's, complicity. You just need to see Raja's own press releases to figure out the manipulation. The point is a simple one: it takes 5 minutes (basically as long as it takes you to read this piece) to establish what happened, the CBI has all the papers on who signed what and, in case it still doesn't get it, the CAG office sent a query to Raja way back in March this year (http://www.financialexpress. com/news/cag-finds-slew-of-violations-by-raja-in-telecom-licence-awards/604859) with such detail that even a blind man would find it difficult not to figure it out. Or is justice literally blind?


To begin with, just remember that under the law, the Trai is the only body authorised to make recommendations in respect of telecom licences. Once it makes these recommendations, the government can accept them. If it doesn't, it is mandated by law to ask the Trai to reconsider them; if the Trai doesn't change its mind, the government is then free to go ahead. So, on August 28, 2007, the Trai made recommendations on whether new firms should be given licences—it said yes, there should be no cap on the number of players, accordingly a press release was put out in the newspapers on September 24, 2007, saying applications would be accepted till October 1, 2007. The Trai also said that, presumably since the firms were getting the licences at dirt-cheap rates, none of them should be allowed to indulge in M&A till they had rolled out their networks across the country. Remember this is the time when the likes of Bharti and Vodafone were desperately short of spectrum, which is why you keep experiencing call drops and poor quality reception on your phone. Clear so far?


So, what does the telecom ministry do after that? For one, on October 19, 2007, even before the first licence is given out (remember that happened only on January 10, 2008), the ministry issues a press release changing the norms. No, it didn't go back to the Trai. It simply said while no 'proposal for permission for merger shall … be entertained till the rollout obligation is met; however, request for permission for acquisition may be entertained." What that means is an existing player like Bharti or Vodafone buying out these firms would be a merger but a new firm, like a Telenor of Norway or an Etisalat of Dubai, buying them out would be an acquisition. So that's manipulation number one.


On January 10, 2008, the government issued another press release, which could be called manipulation number two—notice that there's nothing about existing government policy or first-come first-served or stuff like that so far. The new press release said of the (575) applications that had been received for licences, only those received before September 25, 2007 (232) would be processed! Just like that, with one stroke of the pen, 343 applications were simply thrown out of the window. Surely, even the CBI doesn't require one year to figure this out? But in case it does, Justice GS Sistani of the Delhi high court simplified matters for it. In response to a case filed by one of the firms that lost out (STel), he ruled on July 1, 2009, that while the government said it had accepted the Trai's recommendation that there would be no cap, the September 25 cut-off date was in fact a cap. On November 24, 2009, when the government challenged this, the Delhi high court chief justice and Justice Muralidhar dismissed it on the same grounds. Given the court verdicts, this is an aspect of the investigation the CBI doesn't even have to prove. Note that there's been no mention of existing policy or first-come first-served policy so far!


It gets a bit confusing now, but not much. On the fateful January 10, 2008, the ministry issued two press releases. One at 1:47 pm on the September 25 cut-off date—it turns out, the CAG tells us after looking at the records, which the CBI now has, that the cut-off decision was taken way back on November 2, 2007 (more on the date later). The second said all interested firms should congregate in the ministry's office at 3:30 pm to know what happened to their applications—this was uploaded on the Web site at 2:45 pm! Now's the cute part where the so-called first-come first-served policy comes in. Those who knew when exactly the window was going to be opened were the first to bring in their drafts—Swan Telecom paid the money for the Delhi and Mumbai circles at 4:11 pm and for the others at 6:25 pm—and the ministry arbitrarily decided the first person to make payments (as opposed to the dates on which the applications were made) would be the first to get the licence.


What part of this doesn't the CBI get? It's no longer about Raja, it's about the CBI—on November 2, 2007, the day Raja cleared the cutoff date, the PM wrote to him saying it was best to auction the licences or at least raise the entry fees since the current ones were based on the 2001 auctions. The manipulation is established and the CBI knows who signed what and at whose request. What, or who, is it waiting for?








In the ten years since they were announced with great fanfare, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have appeared to behave somewhat like the Ten Commandments. Their righteousness is rarely challenged but what constitutes compliance is hotly debated. Not to mention the question of whether in the case of proven non-compliance, transgressors could get away with sort of simply saying some Hail Mary's or Our Father's. Just five years short of the UN deadline for meeting the goals, as world leaders ponder MDGs' progress at a New York summit, they will play up success just as they played up ambitions back in 2000. Then, a romantic aura tided their high rhetoric towards a future platform. The global economic churn of the intervening years, especially the last couple of them, has transformed this platform's profile. Prevailing uncertainties make it unlikely that the MDG romance will sustain or that this summit's promises will have credibility.


We highlight two main issues on the credibility front. The first concerns measurability of the eight goals. Let's begin with the last and leap backwards to the first. How to estimate growth or decline of 'global partnerships for development' has remained a mystery, and yet MDGs are predicated on numerical goalposts. In contrast, we have been bombarded with too many numbers concerning the premier goal of eradicating 'extreme poverty and hunger'. The UN claims that the world is on track to halve the number of people living on less than $1 a day by 2015. But Oxfam cries out that the proportion of the world's hungry has gone down by only half a percentage point since 2000. Depending on what serves them best, world leaders will select either the dream or the nightmare scenario to cite at the New York summit.


India is deeply implicated in MDG 1. The UN says India accounts for 50% of the world's hungry, with over 46% of the country's children being undernourished. Given that we can't arrive at a domestic consensus on poverty numbers, it's not hard for us to question the UN's as well. Except, unfortunately, that these are echoed by a host of other agencies. The Global Hunger Index, for example, affirms that we now have worse rates of malnutrition than North Korea or sub-Saharan Africa; placing us 65th in a list of 84 countries. Notably, even a survey of people's perception across 38 Indian cities, conducted by the UN, found 60% respondents opining that 30-50% or more Indians were poor—6 out of 10 respondents also favoured distributing grains for free instead of letting them rot. Cavils apart, MDG 1 measures are mired in inconsistent data captured across different countries. Trends can be identified despite data gaps but they will remain open to question.


The second thing, and this development just didn't get factored in ten years ago, is how the whole aid scenario has been turned upside down by global economic developments. Back then, a key MDG intellectual sponsor Jeffrey Sachs would scold rich countries that if only they doled out 0.7% of their GDP to foreign aid, the money would be enough to uplift everyone under the poverty line (another greatly disputed touchstone). Since then, India and China have happened. No reputable economist today claims these two countries' progress—with powerful downwind effects on global poverty—has anything to do with aid. And global aid flows are at an all-time high at $120 billion in 2009. What we now know is that tackling poverty is a unique ballgame. When you pour in x money into y projects, predicted infrastructure materialises. But similar pouring doesn't yield commensurate reduction on the poverty front. While the remaining MDGs rest on this one's back, who could have anticipated that US poverty levels would hit a 51-year high in 2009 while India and China would start playing bigger roles as aid-givers rather than aid-receivers?







The second court martial of Sarath Fonseka, Sri Lanka's former Army commander, has ended predictably with a verdict of guilty on the charge of violating procedures in military procurement. Last month, he was convicted of engaging in political activity while being in office. As punishment, the military court then handed down a dishonourable discharge, stripping him of his rank and all medals he had received in his 38-year career as a soldier. This time the court has recommended a three-year term in jail. Undeniably, there was a strong element of Bonapartism in many of Mr. Fonseka's actions during his final months in office. The success of the military campaign under his leadership against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam appeared to have gone to his head, as evident from his many transgressions of the red lines that govern civilian-military relations in a democratic set-up. As a military leader, Mr. Fonseka's action in contesting for presidentship as the candidate of the joint opposition against incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa was plainly adventurist. His entry into the political arena raised fears that the military would become politicised and Sri Lanka's civilian democracy would also be adversely affected.


However the inherently opaque nature of a military trial ensured that the government was never really able to dispel the cloud of political vendetta that hung over the proceedings. Indeed, the specifics of the charge that the retired general had violated tender rules were publicised only after the trial ended. Chellenging the trial on the grounds that as a retired officer, he should not be tried under Army law, Mr. Fonseka refused to testify before the tribunal. Given that there will always be questions about the fairness of a court martial, a trial in an open civilian court would have been less controversial. The recommended jail term now awaits confirmation by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. This is an opportunity for the Sri Lankan leader to display statesmanship and sagacity of a high order. Mr. Rajapaksa has emerged as Sri Lanka's politician numero uno after decisive victories in the presidential and parliamentary elections. The parliamentary strength of the ruling alliance has helped him consolidate his powers through constitutional changes that removed the two-term bar on the President. While there might be real doubts about Mr. Fonseka's integrity as a soldier, he remains a hero to large sections of Sri Lankans for his leading role in the nearly three-year-long military operation against the LTTE. Mr Rajapaksa stands to lose nothing by waiving the three-year jail sentence handed downto Mr. Fonseka. A pardon would only add to the president's political stature.







Senior figures in central banks rarely hit the headlines but Thilo Sarrazin of the German central bank, the Bundesbank, has done just that. His recent book on German society has been attacked for xenophobia, racism, and serious factual errors. Senior politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, have condemned Mr. Sarrazin. He has apologised for writing passages on a "Jewish gene," and faces expulsion from the Social Democratic Party. It is clear however that he has tapped into a vein of deep disquiet. Even many who reject the author's attitudes and language feel that the German political class has neglected the real-life difficulties faced by a major European country of over 80 million people in accommodating and integrating a minority of about two million whose antecedents are largely in rural and strikingly different cultures elsewhere. One problem people cite is that of parallel societies, with whole neighbourhoods in some cities occupied almost exclusively by Turkish-Germans. Another concern is over Turkish-descended children who are victims of an earlier policy that did not encourage cultural integration. A third concern is about unemployment and welfare dependency among Turkish-Germans.


The furore, however, diverts attention from several important facts. Starting in 1961, Germany imported workers from the poorer parts of Turkey to meet the demand for labour in its rapidly expanding economy. Turkish workers were paid less than German workers. Housed in barracks, they were given translators at work so that they did not have to learn German. They paid German taxes and national insurance. They were as productive as homegrown workers but were regarded as temporary workers. Furthermore, Turkey's decades of political instability gave the Gastarbeiter an incentive to stay away but German law did not give their children automatic citizenship by birth. Germany is one of several European countries that got away with such policies. The United Kingdom's record is far from blemishless but it is better than the comparable record of most other European countries. It has never excluded its Commonwealth settlers from significant participation. Provided they meet specified conditions for U.K. residence, they are required to be on the electoral roll, even if they remain non-U.K. nationals. They have rights to trade union membership and the right to stand for elected office. The ignorance and bigotry of Mr. Sarrazin and his followers is a gift to Germany's extreme Right and must be countered without vacillation by all democratic players across the political spectrum.










The recent walkabout ( padayatre) of Basavananda Maadara Channaiah Swamiji, head of a Dalit matha (gurupeetha) in Chitradurga, in a predominantly Brahmin-inhabited agrahara in Mysore, and the cordial, indeed reverential, welcome he received highlight the changing formal perceptions about the substance and practice of untouchability in Karnataka.


The Swamiji, by birth a Madiga, was received, according to media reports, with all the traditional honours given to heads of well-known Brahmin mathas. Photographs showed him having his feet washed ( pada pooje) by women and men of the Brahmin community. During his walkabout, he was accompanied by large crowds of local residents.


This Brahmin-Dalit interaction has been initiated by Swami Vishvesha Theertha of Pejawar Matha, Udupi. Once a leading light of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, he has also been campaigning on the dangers that Hinduism, the Sanatana Dharma, is facing through conversions. Though proselytisation is not unique to the so-called monotheistic faiths, and Hinduism too has engaged in conversions (See, "A natural process of transformation," The Hindu, November 7, 2008), the belief is widespread that Hinduism is peculiarly vulnerable because it is a non-proselytising faith, unlike Christianity and Islam, seen as engaged in a systematic campaign to draw people away from the Hindu fold. To counter conversions of Dalits into Christianity or Islam, Swami Vishvesha Theertha has undertaken such walkabouts in Dalit villages, more accurately described by their residents as 'holegeri,' meaning localities inhabited by the holeya, the word itself meaning something that is dirty, besmirched, telling more about the reality of everyday life and experience of Dalits than these symbolic walkabouts.


Clearly, among traditional Hindu religious leaders there is awareness that the practice of untouchability is damaging the faith, driving Dalits away, and some alarm over its implications. Dalits who may (or may not) have at one time passively accepted the practice as part of the natural ordering of caste hierarchies of the varnashrama dharma, have been restive for generations. Along with several non-Brahmin castes, Dalits too are now establishing the so-called jathi mathas, headed by persons of their kind, bearing all the outward symbols and accoutrements of the heads of traditional Brahmin maths. Superficially, perhaps even in a fundamental sense, these mathas have appropriated all the visible symbols and the essential evils of Brahminism in practice. According to one scholar, there are at least a hundred such non-Brahmin mathas in Karnataka, most of which came up in the post-Emergency political churning of the State.


However, the correctives being applied, like demonstrative walkabouts by Brahmin leaders in areas one shunned as literally dirty and polluting , and by Dalit leaders in areas formally barred to Dalits, or the washing of the feet of a Dalit guru by Brahmins, are driven by a fundamentally flawed perspective that sees untouchability as a 'sin.' Thus the symbolic atoning by those who provided the ideology, the 'upper' caste Hindus like Brahmins — for it was the Brahmins who wrote the texts. These attempts to weld a common Dalit-Brahmin platform, united in symbolic acts of unity and togetherness, also make those Dalits who are going along with such a compact complicit in their historic diminishment and exclusion.


The problem with such gestures is that the practice of untouchability was not so much a sin as a calculated crime, part of a social structure constructed by those who controlled the resources to facilitate the accumulation of surplus and profits in the process of material production. However, it is easier and more comfortable to everyone, even some of the victims of that crime, to give untouchability the spin of being a 'sin,' for acceptance of moral culpability costs nothing. If, on the other hand, one were to see the practice as a calculated crime for which one has to eventually pay, those who have perpetrated such crimes could, under a proper system of justice, be sent to prison.


Comparison with apartheid


A comparison with the practice of apartheid in South Africa which, despite historic and cultural differences, had remarkable similarities with the practice of untouchability in India will amplify the point made above. It should be noted that although formally apartheid — an elaborate system of separation of races on the basis of colour covering every aspect of life in South Africa, from the womb to the tomb and even beyond — was legislated by the Nationalist Party government in 1948, the ideology itself went back to the very beginnings of colonial occupation; and the policy of racial discrimination was introduced by the English settler regime, long before the Afrikaner settler regime perfected it and implemented it in toto.


In apartheid South Africa, apartheid was the norm for the minority of whites, barring honourable exceptions who went to the trenches and paid with their lives fighting against it. However, when democratic South Africa was faced with the task of tackling its tormented past, it created through legislation a structure and an instrument called Truth and Reconciliation Commission which was tasked to establish, to the extent possible, the 'truth' about South Africa's apartheid past and enable the 'reconciliation' between the victims and perpetrators of the apartheid system. According to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Chair of the TRC and the principal driver of the process, all South Africans were victims of the system, even those who were part of successive apartheid regimes. "We are a deeply wounded people, we all need to be healed," was one of his frequent observations.


The overwhelming majority of the victims did not buy into this approach. For them, apartheid was an instrument devised and contrived to make the majority of South Africans un-persons in the country of their birth, a necessary tool to keep the production process on, but with no rights to have a share in the fruits of their labour. However, when the time for reckoning came with the advent of a democratic government in April 1994, the instrument devised to take stock of the past, the TRC, chose to see apartheid as a 'sin'; and when the criminality of the regime could not be ignored, this crime was enlarged to become "a crime against humanity," for humanity's shoulders are broad enough to carry any crime, instead of a specific crime against the majority of South Africans punishable under the law.


This perspective is similar to the one that views untouchability as a 'sin' for which those responsible for evolving its theory and implementing it must 'atone' by "washing the feet" of the victims of the practice. Interestingly, one of the most feared flunkeys of the apartheid regime, Adrian Vlok, minister for law and order under P.W. Botha, who had tried to get Frank Chikane — a leading churchman opposed to apartheid from a Christian perspective — murdered by getting his underwear laced with poison, three years ago publicly apologised to Chikane and, as an expression of remorse, "washed the feet" of his once-intended victim in his office in the Presidency, where Chikane was Director-General.


To say that apartheid and untouchability by their policy of exclusion and diminishment deny equal rights to the majority of the people is to state the obvious. The question is: Why? Why did they do it? To explain the practice as a moral sin against god and man is to take the easy way out. On the contrary, if one were to see these practices as crimes, one has to seek a more rational explanation. These practices deny their victims equal rights and practise exclusion because only thus can those who practice untouchability and apartheid ensure a permanent, cheap, virtually free supply of labour, which the minority can exploit to enrich itself.


Put simply, the ideological foundation of apartheid and untouchability was economic, not any perversely conceived and articulated "divinely ordained moral law." If one were to view these practices as a 'sin,' the road leads directly to feet washing, public embrace, eating together and all that. In the era of the allegedly free and globalised markets, the most casteist and racist of persons will gladly shake hands, embrace, and share food with those who deep down they despise if this huge reserve of virtually free labour were to be available on tap. Only this explains the eagerness with which the Hindutva forces are embracing, actually initiating, these meaningless gestures.


If, on the other hand, one were to see untouchability as a crime, not merely in a legal sense which it is, but as part of an arrangement to ensure the continued enrichment of a minority, one can see such gestures as feet-washing for what they are — a theatre of high moralism and low, calculated cunning.








Apparently it is not so easy to find a permanent home for a resident that weighs tens of thousands of tons and is more than 1,000 feet long.


The John F. Kennedy, an aircraft carrier christened by a nine-year-old Caroline Kennedy in 1967 and decommissioned three years ago, needs a place to retire. The U.S. Navy wants to donate it. If no viable host can be found, the carrier that aided U.S. military operations in Beirut and Operation Desert Storm will be turned into scrap.


]The Navy accepted proposals from Portland and Rhode Island, but not everyone in Portland, Maine wants the battle-tested carrier parked in the harbour.


"It's not a good fit," said David Marshall, a City Council member. "It would block a good portion of our view corridors, and it ends up being a potential liability for the city."


But Richard Fitzgerald, who is leading a non-profit group's effort to bring the John F. Kennedy to Portland, said the carrier would set this harbour filled with barges, ferries and fishing boats apart from others in New England.


Last year the City Council gave the group permission to apply for the ship. The last of three selection rounds begins in February.


Last week, after the Portland group presented plans at a workshop on the project, some said an aircraft carrier just would not blend in amid a backdrop of lobster boats and repurposed warehouses and could block views of harbour islands. Half of the counsellors present at the workshop expressed concern about the project. The group would have to agree to the ship's location.


A hearing and vote on the carrier has not been scheduled.


Fitzgerald, a sports referee and retired accountant, said he was not surprised by the opposition given the economic climate. He sees the John F. Kennedy as a museum in the style of New York's Intrepid or San Diego's Midway, as well as a function space. The ship would be a fitting tribute to Maine's rich maritime and military past and would attract ample tourist traffic, he said.


Marshall also worries about how the museum would be financed. Fitzgerald said the project would cost $71 million over 10 years, which would be raised through a combination of donations, grants and loans. No city money would be used, he said.


Based on models from other museums, he expects the Kennedy to pull in about $36 million in five years from visitors.


The ship, nicknamed Big John, was the last non-nuclear-powered aircraft carrier built by the Navy, and it received so many modifications during construction that it became its own class.


]The Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame has been marshalling support from Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy's nephew, and other public figures. They plan to turn the ship into a museum, job-training centre and disaster-relief staging ground, and have identified $10 million in commitments after a previous attempt to get an aircraft carrier fell through. — © New York Times News Service






Next month, the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, one of the most powerful laws enacted in independent India, completes half a decade in the cause of transparent and accountable administration. It enables, on demand, access to information the State and Central governments have in their possession. It empowers Indian citizens to ask for and get specific information, subject to certain norms, from a Public Authority, "thus making its functionaries more accountable and responsible." Democracy, proclaims the Act, "requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold the governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed."


For the thousands of social and political activists across the country committed to clean and corruption-free governance, the Act came as a powerful tool. They could drag to the courts anti-social elements such as smugglers, miners, land grabbers and, more particularly, corrupt government officials, through public interest litigation petitions and bring them under judicial scrutiny on the strength of the information they get under the RTI Act. Corruption is a gigantic problem in India. About 25,000 cases filed under the Prevention of Corruption Act were pending in the trial courts across India in 2008. A study has found that it would take three to four years and 200 special courts to clear this backlog. Besides social activists, journalists have been increasingly using the RTI route to dig out relevant documents in pursuit of investigative stories.


But the real potential of the Act is yet to be realised. Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah pointed out at a recent convention that a major challenge before the transparency regime was monitoring the implementation of Section 4 of the RTI Act, which has made proactive disclosure of information by various government departments mandatory.


Another point highlighted by the CIC with deep concern was "the emerging threat of murder" of those who tried to take on persons with vested interests in different States. He wanted "the RTI brotherhood" to devise a defence mechanism to deal with this menace. The press has reported that at least eight RTI activists were murdered and a ninth found dead in the last eight months. Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily, while inaugurating the convention, announced that a law to protect RTI activists would be brought in soon. He also said that under a draft Bill cleared by the Cabinet, the onus of protecting the identity of such whistleblowers would be on the CIC.


Whistleblowers killed


The news media, particularly NDTV and CNN-IBN, played a significant role in bringing to light the brutal murders of the RTI activists when they exposed or sought to expose the misdeeds of several wealthy and highly connected persons on the strength of the documentary evidence they could get, thanks to the RTI Act. The latest victim was Ramdas Ghadegavkar, a Shiv Sena leader based in the district town of Nanded in Maharashtra. He was found dead on August 27 under mysterious circumstances. An RTI activist, Ramdas made a number of successful interventions in complaints of corruption in the functioning of the Public Distribution System and in the distribution of fuel. He was also active in exposing the powerful sand mafia; his complaint led to initiation of action by the district administration against the mafia.


A month earlier, on the evening of July 20, 2010, another RTI activist and environmentalist, Amit Jethwa (33), was shot dead by some unidentified men on a motorcycle outside the High Court of Gujarat. His crusade against illegal mining in the Gir forest is suspected to be the reason of the murder. A few weeks prior to this incident, the High Court of Gujarat, on a petition from Jethwa, had cancelled the promotion of J.K. Vyas as Director (Environment) on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. The first arrest in the case was made only seven weeks after the murder. The arrested person, Pratap alias Shiva Solanki, is related to an Opposition Member of Parliament. Social activist Aruna Roy, a key campaigner for the Right to Information Act, told NDTV that whistleblowers faced the biggest threat from the nexus between corrupt officials and the mafia.


Vishram Laxman Dodya (50), a Surat-based shopkeeper, was killed on February 11 for refusing to withdraw his RTI application for information on illegal electricity connections in Surat. Dodya was called to the police station, where officials unsuccessfully tried to persuade him to withdraw the application. He was shot dead when he was returning home.


In another incident early this year, Satish Shetty (38), a Pune-based activist, was killed because he refused to give up exposing land scams by invoking the RTI Act. He had been unmindful of the repeated threats to him and his family. He was murdered on January 13, when he was out on his morning walk. Satish Shetty rose to prominence when he exposed corruption in land deals a decade ago when the work on Mumbai-Pune expressway was in progress.


Besides these killings, there have been a series of attacks on RTI activists seeking information from the government. These attacks only point to the dangerous nexus built between the corrupt officials and the police on the one hand, and politicians and the mafia on the other, to stifle the voices of the voiceless. The Central and State governments cannot be absolved of their responsibility to protect the RTI activists. Significant sections of the news media, TV channels in particular, have done a good job of spotlighting the cases and the issues. This effort needs to be scaled up and sustained.







We live in a revolutionary era where technology enables everyone to publish, and this calls for a redefined role for newspapers, says Alan Rusbridger, Editor of The Guardian. In an interview with G. Ananthakrishnan and Mukund Padmanabhan, he covered a wide range of subjects, ranging from reader engagement and core values of journalism, to free speech, defamation, the rise of mobile devices and the Wikileaks phenomenon. Excerpts.


You have been advocating mutualisation of the newspaper and greater involvement of readers, many of whom have expertise in particular subjects. But traditionally, were not newspapers listening to readers? What has changed now?


I think it is going further. It is technology. Because the readers now have the ability to publish and link up. And I think we have to make a judgment about whether essentially our role stays the same. You are right to say that the best newspapers have listened to their readers and drawn upon their expertise. But the realm of newspapers is shrinking and all this energy is being created elsewhere and I think it is a real life or death position for newspapers as to whether they essentially ignore all that or redefine their role.


Take the example of the Huffington Post. When the Huffington Post started, the American newspapers thought it was a bit silly, that it was Arianna Huffington on a kind of ego trip, and very soon, the Huffington Post was getting more hits than many American newspapers. And that is where the centre of the debate went because lots of people could take part. Whereas the papers were still saying we will publish our six pieces a day.


So you have the decision to make. You can say, that is not what we are going to do, or you can say that is something new and important which we have to look at. At the moment I am more interested in the 'something important'. Essentially it comes down to this period that we are living through, which I think is a real revolution. And it is your best judgment whether newspapers could afford to stand apart from this revolution.


]You mentioned in your speech at the WAN-IFRA India conference in Jaipur that newspapers could involve readers through social media such as Twitter. But how do you guard against spin?


That is where our judgment comes. I am not underplaying the expertise of journalists or what we do. So I think we use Twitter like we use any other source. We should not take Twitter to be representative of the public at large. This is an interesting, extra dimension to information. We will use it as a source. It is an imperfect source like all others, but a very useful source and journalistic tool.


Are newspapers exceptional? The Guardian has its own identity. In today's world, how do you create identity?


One of the obvious things that people keep saying, at least in the developed world, is this business about commoditised news. That is one element. If you are thinking, and this is related to money, along old models, that we can charge for what we do, then you have to work out what it is that you do that no one else is doing. I use the example of a plane crashing in Holland. Always in the past, we would have sent a journalist to the site. Actually, you are not adding much to what is not available, or widely known. I think in this new world, you have to make very stark decisions about what you are going to do, and what you are not going to do. This phrase, commoditised news, which is news that is everywhere and is always going to be freely available, I don't think people will pay for [it]. But that is a large part of what we do. So we ought not to spend our efforts doing that, we ought to spend our efforts on what we alone can do. So investigative reporting, informed commentary and analysis becomes important, finding out things which are difficult to find out and which require the skills that we have becomes more important. We ought to use the information that is out there now, and very widely available, and become aggregators and analysers. We ought to build on the brands that we have, while we have them. Great titles like The Hindu and The Guardian still stand for something and are a kind of viewpoint or set of values. I think it is important that we use that brand, and that community of readers who understand and want to be a part of that community.


In the U.K., over the last 20 years, because the advertising is there, there was a huge explosion of feature journalism, about food, about fashion, about lifestyle. It was lovely to view, it made our papers more interesting. But in the end, it may not be the thing that we do best, other people can do that as well.


In a way, that sounds like a contradiction — a niche mainstream newspaper.


When we launched The Guardian on the web in 1998, we did go for niches. We thought there were some things that we do particularly well and that we were going to concentrate [on them].


That was undoubtedly right. The papers that did less well were the papers that said we will do all the things we do and we will put it all out there. I think you should start concentrating on the things you think are most important and what your readers most want you to do.


So what does this mean in the context of The Guardian?


Politics. International coverage, because not many people are going to be doing that. Economics. Technology. The Environment. Culture.


So it is pretty much what makes up the main body of the newspaper as opposed to its supplements?


A year ago we decided the environment was the biggest story of our lives. So we have six reporters doing the environment – one in China, one in America and four in the U.K. And then we built a network of environmental sites. We aggregated and became part of a network, with about 20 or 30 sites. A huge amount of editing and resources goes into the environment. That's like saying, almost regardless of revenue, its going to be such an important subject. And that as a newspaper, this is what we ought to care about. If you are going to do the environment with one correspondent, you are not going to make yourself distinct.


You said somewhere let's not focus on business models on the Internet but focus on what we do best – or what we can do. Is this because there are simply no good business models at the moment?


What I am really saying is, 'What do you want at the start of your thinking to be?' If what you want is revenue now, that will lead you in one direction. If you say, let's think about the journalism because it's the journalism that's changing most rapidly, that may be a wholly different direction.


It's such a profound revolution we are going through, it is unlikely that any of us get the answers right now. If you take a major decision – like we are going to come off Google, because it's taking our money, or that we are going to put a big wall around our newspapers – it's driven by business concerns. That we want money back now. That we want people to pay for us.


That may be the wrong answer journalistically. Journalists working with some newspapers with paywalls are not very happy. Because very few people are reading what they are doing and their influence goes down. At the same time, you only get a modest increase in revenue.


So, what's more important in the long term is the larger audience, and the influence. In which case, the ultimate business model will lie there.


If you believe there is a revolution going on everywhere else in information and you take a decision early on to cut yourself off from that, then it's difficult to see how you can experiment in future. My suspicion is that in the next 10 years, the most extraordinary things will happen in terms of information, how we find it, how we search for it, how we present it. And I want to be as open as possible to all that.


You have spoken about the growing role of mobile devices. Can you elaborate?


Again, if you talk outside newspapers, there is a real explosion in consumption of information, whether it is mobile phones or iPads. A lot many more devices like iPads will come to market in the next few years. I interviewed Eric Schmidt (CEO of Google) about three months ago. He was unequivocal that mobile is where it is going to be. We just had our head of technology spend a month in California and he came back with the same message. Stop the web. You don't need to do any more developing on the web, just put all your effort into mobile. So, again, it is wrong for newspapers to imagine that what applies to everyone else does not apply to us. There is an urgent message there, that we ought to be developing journalistic ideas that fit to mobile.


There are incredibly basic things about mobiles, like location devices. What does that mean for journalism in terms of sending news, distributing and the possibilities for complete individualisation? We are just beginning to think about that.


How does all this, the quest for speed, user-generated content, fit in with old-fashioned journalistic values?


The most accurate journalists are usually the ones that work in news agencies. There is no tension between speed and accuracy. There shouldn't be. There is a new form of journalism which is more iterative and tentative than the old form. If you get it out of your head that all the time we are saying 'this is the truth and nothing but the truth' and adopt a more tentative frame, [you say] this is what I am interested in, you have to help me with this, this is what I know, what do you know, then you get into a continuum, as opposed to a story that stops at a particular time. You have a more fluid way of telling stories. There is a great value to investigations and analyses. If you ignore the speed bit and the fluidity bit and just say all we do is long form journalism, then that is probably not good enough.


You recently wrote an article highlighting how plaintiff-friendly Britain's defamation laws are. Expressions such as 'libel tourism' have been coined to describe the phenomenon of people preferring to file cases in Britain rather than in their own countries. How much of an effect does this have on suppressing the functioning of the media? Would you prefer an American-like legal system when it comes to defamation?


I think there are problems with the American system, which essentially concentrates on whether you are a public figure or not. It's better than the system we've got, but it has got problems of its own. It particularly has problems when you deal with the privacy bit of the argument as well. So if you are saying it is open season to write anything about politicians, that's problematic.


You have to introduce a public interest test somewhere. Is the information in the public interest? Is it of public importance? Make that the test. If it is, then you want some kind of Sullivan-type protection. If the importance of the subject is high and you can show that you have behaved responsibly as a journalist, you will have some protection even if you have got some things wrong. So, it's a slightly different approach from the American approach.


There is a bill in the early stages of Parliament…


On privacy?


No, it's actually a defamation bill. Privacy is being treated completely separately. At the moment, the big controversy in Britain is that newspapers are complaining that the courts are developing a privacy law on their own, and that Parliament has never debated this, and that this is happening by the back door.


But some MPs have spoken in favour of a privacy law.


Lots of people, especially politicians, are quite sympathetic to a privacy law. But no one has actually attempted to introduce one.


The way the law is being developed on defamation and privacy are different. The defamation bill is being developed by Parliament, which if it goes through, I think will be an improvement.


Parliament doesn't want to consider privacy. So it is being developed in courts, partly as a result of the European human rights Act [European Convention on Human Rights]. Article 8 says there is a right to privacy and you can go to court and say, 'he wants to write about my personal life, you've got to stop it.' At the moment, there are quite a lot of cases where the judges tend to say, 'yes that is private and not in the public interest.'


The Wikileaks publication of war logs in which your paper played an important part was a high profile event. Do you think such a thing will be done again? Would taking on the Establishment invite a crackdown?


This man Julian Assange received all this information from a source, and one of our reporters noticed a small paragraph about this. He tracked him (Assange) down and reached an agreement with him. Since he was going to publish all this material on Afghanistan anyway, there was a role for the press to contextualise it. We spent a month going through it line by line and we published about 15 stories on the back of it. What Assange did was to just publish the whole lot. We published along with the New York Times and Der Spiegel. I think it has implications for security. The State organisations and the military have to ask themselves whether it is possible to keep anything secret in an era when anything could be copied on to a USB stick. It begs questions of organisations like Wikileaks, which are whistleblowers. If they were to do it again, I think they would have thought more carefully about whether they should have redacted some of that. We were able to bring to bear with people who had lot of experience in Afghanistan, with so much information, hundreds of thousands of documents, that we can help make sense of this. In a sense this is a very modern story about how information is so porous and [prone to] leaks, and technology is so amazingly new. Yet, in the end it also proves the value of newspapers. There may be more to come, but I don't want to say too much about that.


There is this view that neo-liberal economics, as it spreads and gives people material prosperity, also leads to a deficit of free speech...


I think it is worrying. There are all kinds of trends in this direction. In America and the U.K., it has been about security and terrorism, since 9/11 the public have really been asked to accept a trade-off, in which they give up a lot of freedoms in return for security. The concentration has not so much been so much yet on clampdowns on free speech, though they have passed the enabling legislation to do that. The PATRIOT Act in America is potentially very threatening to journalists. Prevention of terrorism and Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act are very potent pieces of legislation which would enable the State to inquire into sources. In the west, the potential for repression is there but it has not been used very much yet. But there are the examples of Singapore and other places of the Far East where it has been used.


How can newspapers insulate themselves against pressure to raise advertising revenues?


You have to be robust in your relationship with advertisers. There was a great phrase, in Francis Williams' book in the 1950s. He studied the press and wrote that it was advertising that set the press free, originally. Up to that point governments were paying for newspapers and taking advertising liberated the press. It would be dangerous now if we became so reliant on advertisers that we began to lose the freedom that it had given us. It is very important that in our quest for economic stability, we don't start entering into relationships with advertisers which would compromise us. The answer is always transparency.


If you are getting into paid editorial or private treaties, it is important that the reader knows what is going on. If you want to have sponsored supplements, or paid news, it is a deception on the reader unless you announce somewhere in the newspaper that this is what you are getting. Otherwise it undermines the independence of what we do.


Finally, what are your thoughts on core values in journalism?


The worth we have always associated with journalism, like integrity, trust and ethical standards, verification, fairness, finding things out, all these are going to be values in the future. As the fourth estate, being separate from the other bits of government and commerce is vital. All those values are there. I think there is another bit which has entered the picture. Which is, the public itself. If we establish the right relationship with our readers, we can create something which enhances our journalism and enables us to go on doing things that we need to. There is never going to be any less need for what we do.


(Full text of interview at Full text - Resources)








It was always expected that elements hostile to India would seek to raise a security scare in relation to the 2010 Commonwea lth Games. Exactly a fortnight before the Games begin in New Delhi, the shooting at a tourist bus near the city's historic Jama Masjid on Sunday morning injuring two Taiwanese tourists may be deemed to be the materialising of that unpleasant pro sp ect. The planners were clearly banking on scare-mongering shortly before the big event. Were it not for the upcoming Games, a criminal incident of the nature and type seen near Jama Masjid would not have attracted the kind of attention it did on Sunday in any major city of the world — the matter would at best be of concern in the police district in which it occurred. But with the Games just ahead, the chances are that the matter will be discussed in countries that are taking part, and it is not just the tablo ids that will show an interest in it. This is likely to meet the objectives of those who planned and executed the shooting. More than anything else, it is the propaganda value of the episode that interests them.

An outfit that calls itself the Indian Mujahideen, composed chiefly of Indians trained under a special project in Karachi by the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, the principal instrument of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence charged with organising subversion inside India, has claimed responsibility. If there is any substance to the claim, the Jama Masjid incident is a weak effort to draw relatively wide attention. By the IM's own standards, the incident was minor. In the past, the outfit's operatives have organised bomb explosions in several cities in India, killing people in crowded places. This was two years ago. Since then the IM has suffered demoralisation on account of the attention paid to it by the authorities. Its top leaders are in the lockup or on the run.

It is, of course, entirely possible that the inspiration for the crime lay elsewhere and not with the IM. It is the job of the security agencies to investigate every possible angle and sound the appropriate level of alert not only in India's capital but in other major centres as well. Nevertheless, it is well to keep a sense of balance about the threat actually posed to the Games. It is not unlikely that as we get nearer the event, there could be more scares and possibly near-misses. But people in this country don't get deterred easily and this spirit of resilience was reflected in the busloads of tourists — including foreigners — who continued to visit the crowded Jama Masjid area hours after the shooting episode.

Security in the Indian capital and the surrounding areas is reported to be extraordinarily tight. It should be no surprise if those involved in the shooting were apprehended in a matter of days. It is more than a fair bet that they will be low-level criminals, whatever their provenance. Nevertheless, the government will do well to do a fresh round of briefing of the diplomatic representatives of the participating countries so that their athletes and officials are not unduly demoralised. Unfortunately, the Delhi Games have been dogged by criticism on account of multiple lacunae. This is likely to have reduced international observer interest in any case, if hotel occupancy reports suggest anything. If the security threat were seen to be credible, another unfortunate dimension will be added to the preparations. It is for the organisers and the Indian government to dispel needless anxiety. We should remember that in spite of all the scare talk, the Beijing Olympics went off without a hitch in 2008, and no one should be surprised if security scares are intensified in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics in London.








Delhi and Kashmir symbolise a bizarre paradox of political settings — the politics in these two places hum different tunes. While Delhi continues to harp on a blend of semantics of governance deficit and grievances, careful not to cross the stated position, Kashmir is high on sentiment, firm on azadi. And in the midst of a bloody campaign for azadi, Delhi has decided that an all-party team of parliamentarians will descend on Kashmir, the second such visit since 1990. The last all-party visit failed to draw an audience in Kashmir. They left, and since their departure in 1990, the armed movement and the government's operations against it have claimed thousands of lives. Delhi literally walked into the trap of false dawns and started to believe in the myths perpetuated by it as part of its propaganda. Delhi claimed victory many times since 1990 in a war that might have just begun.

Present-day Kashmir has seen a steep emotional surge in the sentiment of secession. A non-violent youth-led movement has taken to the streets: it's termed "violent" by Delhi because of stone-pelting, and the security forces have reacted with bullets. A typical day can be summed up with those recurrent images of fearless youth pelting stones, fired at in reaction by the security forces, followed by a funeral of a young kid amidst a surcharged atmosphere and slogans of azadi; renewed anger and firing yet again and another funeral... This vicious circle has claimed more than a hundred young Kashmiris in the last 100 days, some as old as eight years. The government's response has been focused on operations — more bullets, additional battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force, induction of the Rapid Action Force and now the Army on the streets. An ad ded dimension has been the curfew. The harshest curfew even by Kashmiri standards has been in place continuously since Id.

In the curfew-enforced streets of Srinagar there is an eerie silence — people are locked indoors and vehicular traffic is prohibited. There is a perception that the aim of the curfew is not isolated to restrict movement or assembly of people but also to perpetuate a shortage of essential items and medicine. This is the common man's view in Srinagar.

The recent killings are not seen in isolation in Kashmir. They are seen as a continuation of a struggle powered by sentiment, in pursuit of the objective of azadi. And the recent killings are added to the sacred bank of sacrifices. The all-party delegation will be visiting a Kashmir which is a tinderbox of suppressed emotions and real tales of atrocities.

The political elite of Delhi has grown up on a diet of the government's version of Kashmir. This version fails to make a distinction between grievances and aspirations and treats the Kashmiri primarily as an economic commodity whose aspirations can be contained by the lure of economic development, more jobs and better governance. Their understanding of the mainstream and separatist versions of Kashmir politics is blurred. Their revered heroes, the mainstream politicians such as those of the People's Democratic Party and National Conference, are the current villains in Kashmir. And the irony is that the villains are the ones who are calling the shots and are part of the confabulations. It is strange that people who are a part of the problem and symbols of hate in Kashmir are a part of the supposed solution to Kashmir — based, as it is, on the desire to play musical chairs for power sharing.

The Kashmiri political discourse in Delhi just does not want to acknowledge the big white elephant of azadi sitting in the room. A section of the leadership drawn out of this political elite will visit Srinagar under tight security, probably curfew, and meet people selected by the government. One wonders the reasons behind the hurry in dispatching the all-party delegation to Kashmir. A more prudent course would have been for opinion to build up in the Valley in favour of interaction with the delegation from Delhi. Currently, opinion among besieged Kashmiris is to shun contact with the delegation. If the objective of the delegation is to make an ornamental visit and meet no Kashmiri of consequence and brand the Kashmiri as unrelenting and adverse to dialogue, then the delegation is on course for success. If the objective is to actually get a feel of what is happening on the ground, then it is a right step at the wrong time.

There are a host of self-anointed Kashmir experts who have their own views on Kashmir and one gets the feeling that the message from Kashmir gets completely lost by the time it reaches Delhi. Remedial measures of Delhi focus mainly on operations, and structural measures, if any, are focused on regime change and the related issue of good governance. Kashmir needs structural measures but that would mean exhibiting the will and conviction to resolve the conflict. It would entail bridging the trust deficit between Delhi and Kashmir and convincing the Kashmiri that for a change Delhi is all set to resolve the problem rather than just be seen as trying to resolve it.

The all-party delegation is all set to go. It is an improbability that they will be able to meet the desirable groups of Kashmiris they would have wanted to. It is difficult to imagine them returning politically wiser about Kashmir. But there are some positive aspects. The physicality of Kashmir — deserted streets devoid of people, and a small, managed crowd in the fortress hosting the delegation — will perhaps not be lost on them. An opportunity still stares the delegation in the face, if not in dissimilarities between Delhi and Kashmir, then maybe in similarities —something innate in every human being, the emotion of pain. The deaths in Kashmir are mere statistics in Delhi. The delegation could meet some if not all parents who have lost their sons to bullets. They could see for themselves how policies framed in Delhi translate into pain — grieving fathers and mothers — in Kashmir. If the delegation comes back with a measure of the pain in Kashmir, it would be a successful visit. If they attempt to fiddle in politics over a span of three days, there is very little they can achieve.


Sajad Gani Lone, chairman J&K Peoples Conference, can be reached at








After all the theorising that goes on in management about how to make companies perform better, new research by Gallup shows that it comes down to basics: the quality of the boss. It turns out that people stay on in jobs if they like their bosses and leave if they don't. Money, work, position, and ambition all come second. To many, the boss is as important a relationship as a spouse and considering the number of hours spent with a boss compared to a spouse, this is hardly surprising.


So does this mean that bosses have to get all caring to make sure that no one ever leaves? Apparently not; what bosses need to do is to spend less time on operations, systems, strategies and so on and more on people.


Of course, this won't solve the problem completely. Some people are natural-born leaders and will always attract others. Some will have to work harder at it by being fair or aware while some will be aspiring to get into that boss role themselves by whatever means possible. And some will always be nasty Hari Sadus — as in that TV commercial — just to make lives more interesting. A counterpoint: if everyone loved their bosses, no one would ever need to switch jobs. How boring would that be? Management gurus would, of course, have a field day postulating new theories about stagnation caused by bosses who are too good for their own good!







 "I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think", said Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher. The essence of education must be to encourage people to think and if not one Indian university features in the top 50 of the just-released QS World University rankings, then we have to pause for thought. Even IIT, Bombay, which turned 163 last year, has dropped 24 places to 187. By contrast, China has four universities in the top 50.


The top positions, it seems, are still held by the US and UK — although Cambridge has knocked Harvard off the top spot. The lessons then have to be learnt from there. In our race to open more technical institutes, to fiddle with entrance exams for medical and engineering colleges and to deal with the hundreds of thousands of children who pour out of school every year, we seem to have forgotten that the essence of a good university is the quality of the education imparted. It is not about marks. It is about the assimilation of knowledge, and challenging the young mind. The best in the world maintain their positions because they remain at the vanguard of new thought, new research and new understanding.


Indian universities, by contrast, have become political minefields where academia is no longer respected or even the prime purpose. Lecturers and professors fall way behind when it comes to publishing papers or researching and postulating new theories. India's ancient past delivered glorious and challenging philosophy, which is respected around the world. But India's present shows a mediocrity which is shameful and damaging.


The top western universities are, of course, out of government control and pursue excellence for their own benefit and glory. In India, we need to free the groves of academe from the dead hand of government or whatever is stultifying it so that we can once again claim that we have contributed to the future of humankind.

When it comes to our universities, we need to think again.







Former law minister Shanti Bhushan, an eminent lawyer in his own right, has, in an affidavit to the Supreme Court, claimed that eight of the previous 16 chief justices of India were corrupt. It is a shocking claim, and though he has provided no proof, there is little doubt that some of the mud will stick to the apex court.


If even a quarter of what Shanti Bhushan said is true, then India's loss is immeasurable. For years, we have silently acknowledged that many, if not most, of our politicians and bureaucrats are on the take. The only institutions that were untainted by suspicion were the higher courts, and the army. Today, both these institutions stand tarnished — and the halo of incorruptibility wears thin.


The judiciary is seen as the third pillar of democracy, after the legislature and the executive. For a healthy democracy, the three are required to balance one another. The judiciary also stands apart, since its members are not drawn from the pool of politicians that make up our legislature, and in turn, the executive.


Indians have reason to be proud of their judiciary. Despite moments of weaknesses, the higher courts have ensured that Indian politicians don't destroy this country. The courts have often stepped in to rescue and protect harassed individuals against the excesses of an uncaring state. In fact, the higher courts, and particularly the Supreme Court, have become so active that there are calls to curb excessive judicial activism.


But if Indians turned to the courts for succour, it was because they saw them as honest brokers of justice. Their decisions were assumed to be made on merit rather than petty political concerns or, worse, monetary considerations. This image now stands tainted. In the last few months, we have had too many cases of dubious justices who have blotted the fair name of the judiciary.


Yet, all is not lost. The judiciary may have a few black sheep, but it also has extremely honest and brilliant men. The present chief justice of India, Sarosh Kapadia, has a reputation for honesty. It is for him and his senior colleagues now to take up the challenge of cleaning the higher judiciary and, more importantly, finding a way to ensure that dubious judges are eased out before they cause damage. He must act fast, otherwise the day isn't far off when Indians begin to treat the judiciary with the same contempt they reserve for politicians or bureaucrats.








India is a nanny state. We see evidence of this in different areas of life every day. The official attitude to gambling is just another example. But it is an important example — because the moralistic attitude to gambling comes in the way of legalising it, and legalising gambling would do far more good than harm.


What our politicians fail to see — or choose not to see — is that it is human nature to gamble. Our prehistoric ancestors gambled everyday in their search for food and safe haven. The stakes were incredibly high because they gambled with their lives while they hunted or foraged in an environment which was at all times hostile. You could argue that this kind of gambling wasn't out of choice, but what about the fact that amongst some of the oldest artifacts found by archeologists, there were little cubes that looked very much like dice?


Races featuring horses, dogs, camels and other animals have always been staged with the intention of laying wagers on the result. People bet on games of cards; whether they vary in skill depending on whether you play bridge or rummy is incidental. Housie is a form of gambling as is a raffle or Tambola. Slot machines, one-arm bandits, fruit machines… they all involve luck, which is the essence of gambling. And when you think about it, one of the biggest gambling devices thought up by the human brain is the stock market. Market players might argue that their trading activity is based on research and knowledge, but what study, however careful and however deep, can predict factors like the fury of nature or terrorist strikes, or any of the other extraneous factors that can throw the stock market into a tailspin?


Yet, in spite of all the evidence pointing to our intrinsic attraction to gambling, successive governments choose to regard it as an undesirable, even a sinful, activity, one which they should discourage and clamp down upon. They haven't been able to, and won't be able to, simply because it is an in-built part of the human psyche, much like sex.


Until recently, the only form of gambling or bettor allowed by the government was in horse-racing. That's because the racing community went to court and won the case on the grounds that a fair amount of knowledge and a study of form and records was necessary to pick a winner. But doesn't that apply to bettors in other sports too? If you bet that Spain would be the winner before the last World Cup, or if you put your money on England winning the next cricket World Cup or that Roger Federer will retain his Australian Open crown, would not all these bets be based on knowledge? So why can't we place official bets on them?


However that 'knowledge' factor is irrelevant. The outlawing of gambling has given rise to an extensive underground network worth hundreds of crores. This is common knowledge. It is also common knowledge that the authorities make sporadic raids on gambling joints and bookies, seize evidence, and jail small-time operators, but everyone knows that this is just eyewash.


The existence of a vast illegal network contributes crores to the parallel economy. A network like this obviously attracts the mafia and other underworld elements. When that happens, there are bound to be other criminal activities that grow around it. This much is common sense. If so, why do governments tolerate it?


If an underground network is allowed to thrive before everyone's eyes, it's a sign of one of two things. The first: the government is powerless to control it. The second: the government does not want to control it.


My own guess is that it is a combination of both these factors. The government cannot control it because most underworld activities are like weeds in a garden; you root out one patch and soon there is another. As for not wanting to eradicate the underground network out of choice, the reasons are obvious. How many people, from the police to politicians, must benefit from turning a blind eye to the betting that goes on all around them all the time?


However, the menace of bookies and cricket match-fixing highlighted recently by Pakistani cricketers has brought this issue to the foreground. Take the example of England. It is a nation of people given to 'a flutter'. They have football, cricket, horse and grey-hound racing on a very big scale, on all of which betting is legally permissible. This is so also in Europe and elsewhere. You can see what legitimacy can do: it immediately cleans everything up.


So why won't our government think of bringing in similar legislation? It can't be because the government does not want all the legitimate money — crores and crores of rupees — it will earn through taxes on gambling. Is being a nanny, and an inefficient one at that, worth all these crores?








There is no apparent reason why British MP Mike Weatherley's wife Carla (from whom he separated in February) did not feel privileged enough to disassociate herself from her past. Till recently, she belonged to the upper crust of society and had all the trappings of power and pelf. By logic, she should have long forgotten her past in Brazil as a professional sex worker and reinvented herself in any which way. All the overpowering reasons of poverty and involuntary submission that drive a woman towards prostitution were absent in her case. And yet, there she was, working — and enjoying her work —in London. She seemed to be doing her business by choice, visibly taking pride in belonging to what ranks first among the oldest professions. Carla was being true to herself and for that sole reason deserves the respect of society which is filled, top to bottom, with hypocrites.


It is human nature to be a part of the system and hide what is socially unacceptable. Do prostitutes exist for themselves or are they there because the society at large, made of respectable folks, needs them?


The argument against legalising prostitution in India — specifically brothels — stems from the premise that it will corrupt the morals in society. If you look around, not legalising prostitution has not saved society in any way. The biggest scams happen right under our noses, masked under the façade of respectability.


Instead of taking responsibility for the truth as it exists, the society of respectable people prefers prostitution to stand condemned and restricted to the gutters. This way, we the masses, our leaders and celebrities, can deny it exists. (One of the great ironies of traditional religious carnivals in Pune during June-July and September, when thousands of rural folk arrive in the city from neighbouring districts, is a dramatic rise in the footfalls in red light areas.)


In this age and time in India, when sexual promiscuity is beginning to explode, would society prefer its men — and therefore, its women — to suffer the serious health risks associated with unregulated prostitution? In its own selfish interest, society stands obligated to do whatever is necessary for improving the lives of prostitutes and provide them with legal and health benefits, not as an act of charity but for the well-being of a mature society itself.


Estimates about the number of prostitutes in India range from 2.3-7 million. Unicef estimates that at least a million child prostitutes exist in Asia, with the highest numbers in India, Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines. The World Health Organisation says that more than 50% of Mumbai's sex workers are infected with HIV.


In modern day India, we are living in the midst of slaves-for-sex and the slave trade. Most of the prostitutes who have been forced to waste their lives in "servicing" society want to give their children a better future. The least that society can do for them is recognise them as legitimate workers and give them the benefit of labour laws.


It is pertinent to pay heed to the Supreme Court's observations in December, 2009, when a two-member bench asked the central government to consider legalising prostitution if it was unable to curb it. Justices Dalveer Bhandari and AK Patnaik asked: "When you say it is the world's oldest profession and when you are not able to curb it by laws, why don't you legalise it? You can then monitor the trade, rehabilitate and provide medical aid to those involved."









Like a fish in the ocean, parched for water, like a musk deer in search of perfume", says Kabir, "is man." With the whole world for home, he still searches, amidst baubles, for satisfaction. And forever craves for more.


The Zen master, Ryonkan lived an extremely frugal life in the mountains. One night, he returned home to discover a thief within.


He saw the disappointment on the burglar's face on finding nothing of value, and not wanting to send him away empty handed, Ryonkan said, "For all your hard work, here, I give you my shawl and the clothes I wear. Go in peace, brother." As the thief slunk away, Ryonkan sat naked looking at the moon outside his window and thought, "Poor chap! I wish I could give him that."


The Buddha said, "Cut down the whole forest of desires. Not just one tree." An ascetic arrived at dusk at a village. A farmer met him. "Give it to me!" he gasped. "What?" "The stone. I had a dream, that if I procured a stone from a holy man, I would become wealthy."


"You mean this?" asked the ascetic, pulling out a stone from his bag. The farmer's eyes widened. It was the largest diamond he had seen. He grabbed it and made off with it, as fast as he could.


All night he tossed in bed. At dawn, he went up to the saint and said, "Give me that wealth which enabled you to part with the stone so easily." When you find the real, what is the world, but vanity?









By now, you must have met one these characters at your door: the person in a khaki coat who turns up from a government department with a problem that can be fixed only on production of a bakshish; the person in a dark blue coat claiming to be sent to service your pressure cooker or your water filter and doubtless wants money to get a spare part after a cursory look at your gadget (money and person are both about to vanish forever).


But a 20-something woman in a grubby white lab coat was a first for us. She wanted to give us a Hepatitis-B vaccination! She stood there, resolute at the door, armed with a booklet that said "Hepatitis-B Vaccination Camp - A Good Health Movement. Registration fee Rs 10". Ms Grubby White Lab Coat said she was from the government health department.


Could this be yet another scam? After all, no one had told us that such a "camp" was being held in the neighbourhood. There was no news of it in the papers or through the building association that normally screens such visitors. So, her ingenuity and determination to make it through the building security and other such pesky deterrents were to be admired.


As it happens, even census officials find it difficult to reach households for the purpose of capturing population details. Many of them have been shooed away as annoying salesmen and dubious scamsters. Really, it will be a miracle if the census results reflect this nation given the lack of methodical communication and the odds the census department faces in executing its onerous task.


So, does the Karnataka government health department really stand a chance?


Ms Grubby White Lab Coat began her predetermined 60-second spiel in Kannada and quickly realized that we were unable to follow her. She switched with a, "Hindi?" In telegraphic prose and a gentle lisp she told us that she was from the health department and was going to register us for the Good Health Movement. This would result in us getting a Hepatitis-B vaccination at the local municipal school on the coming Sunday between 10.30 am and noon on payment of a small fee of Rs100 for adults and Rs 50 for children below 12. The registration - at our doorstep - would cost Rs 10 per person. Hepatitis-B, she explained, affected the liver, kidney, spleen, and every other organ you can imagine.


"Okay," we said, "But who is the supplier of the vaccine? Is it a reliable supplier?" Having just read reports in this paper that over 62% of underground water in the city is contaminated by industrial effluents, which could lead to untold healthcare problems, it made sense to arm oneself against everything. Even if in this instance it was not related to the polluted water. These were official reports, no less, announced by the environment minister. Ms Grubby White Lab Coat knew that God lived in the details and informed us, confidently, that the vaccines were from Bharat Biotech. "Good quality," she assured us. "Best." When we told her that there were two adults and the child to be registered was 14 years, she looked pitifully at us and said, "Child, 14? Rs 100 only. Not 50."


But she also reassured us that if we were to take the vaccine at a regular hospital, the same dose would cost 10 times as much. Not only did she know that God lived in the details, but was certain the economics would drive us instantly to the local municipal medical camp.


Out of curiosity we asked what would happen if we did not take the vaccine. "Direct death," was her deadpan response. That did it! We could not help but admire her hard sell. And how could we not register for the Good Health Movement?


As it happens, Bharat Biotech is amongst the better suppliers of the vaccine in the country and has supplied over 140 million doses of the vaccine to date.


Every person should take the Hepatitis-B vaccination (of course you do need to refer to your doctor first, in order to ensure you are not allergic to the vaccine). It is an inflammation of the liver that is caused by viruses. Over time, it damages the liver and can lead to the need for liver transplant. According to World Health Organisation statistics, every 15th carrier of Hepatitis B is an Indian and an estimated 12.5 million suffer from it in the country.


As it happens, Hepatitis-B kills 10 times more people each year than HIV.


The problem is serious enough to merit a better communication plan than the non-existent one right now. We were lucky to have Ms Grubby White Lab Coat turn up and convince us with her unintentionally persuasive manner. The government's Good Health Movement deserves a better chance of success.








Though the people of Kashmir have been passing through a nightmarish experience for the past over two decades of armed struggle with a reign of terror let loose to silence their voice, suppress their political urges and aspirations causing them untold miseries, the past one hundred days of the third generation dynastic rule of Abdullahs has in many ways beaten all previous records of bloodshed. This despite the fact that the phase of armed militancy is almost over and on the Indian state's own admission the incidence of infiltration from across the LoC too has been minimal. The inglorious coalition led by Omar Abdullah has earned the dubious distinction of killing as many as hundred civilians in as many days with police and other security forces firing at the people protesting against the grave human rights abuses and asserting for therir democratic rights. Kashmir has not only witnessed hundred days of bloodbath, with blood of people mostly the youth and children spilling on the streets and fields across the Valley, but even faced a worst kind of Omar Abdullah's reign of terror and intimidation. During all these days a kind of undeclared martial law was imposed on the people, whose movements were totally stopped through declared and undeclared curfew, denying them the basic facilities of sanitation, healthcare, education and even the necessary essential commodities required for survival. The people who came out on the streets to protest against the atrocities were fired upon with the clear aim of physically eliminating them. Even the children returning from their tuitions or playing in the streets, as has been the killing of Tufail Mattoo on June 11 and that of Yasir Rafiq Sheikh, cousin of the JKLF chief Yasin Malik on August 30 outside his house in Maisuma locality of Srinagar were are not spared. Killings and injuries to hundreds others apart, these 100 days of Omar raj have witnessed unprecedented repression and curbs on the people's movements. There have been long spells of declared and undeclared curfew with barbed wires placed at every nook and corner of the capital and other towns as also in the villages, with the armed police and para-military forces deployed in large numbers to prevent the people's movements, making their life miserable. Omar Abdullah has far surpassed his predecessors in office not only during the post-1947 era but also the much condemned autocratic rule, as for as the use of brute force and curbs on their movements to silence their voice is concerned. One may recall the brief rule of Ghulam Mohammed Shah, son-in-law of Sheikh Abdullah, in 1984 when he was nicknamed by the National Conference headed by Farooq Abdullah as "Gul Curfew" for having imposed curfew in Srinagar for about a week to prevent any demonstration against his regime. How will they now describe the curfew raj of Omar Abdullah?

Omar-led coalition has not only earned the dubious distinction of killing 100 civilians in hundred days (on an average one person daily) with the police under the CM's command and other security forces opening the mouths of their guns, but has also placed unprecedented curbs on the movements of the people by slapping harshest curfew, declared or undeclared, upon them. His government has also resorted to arbitrary arrests under the draconian Public Safety Act not only of the political activists but also of the lawyers and even a large number of children on the frivolous charges of stone-pelting. He seems to have replaced the "bullet for bullet policy" pursued in the past by a "bullet for stone" policy. The media in Kashmir has always suffered the onslaught on their freedom by the successive regimes in varied forms and degrees. But the present regime has beaten all previous records in gagging the media. While the local electronic channels have been banned, conditions have been created for the print media to suspend their publications. This was done by deying them the requisite number of curfew passes, even refusing to honour the passes issued to few of them, beating the journalists including the press photographers, humiliating them, denying them sources of information and freedom to report from the spot and even preventing the circulation of the newspapers. The newspapers in Kashmir were left with no alternative but to suspend their publication for over a week and when on September 19, the newspaper establishments decided to resume publication curbs were placed on their distribution. The colonial attitude in with dealing with the media is evident from the fact that mediapersons arriving from outside the State, particularly those representing TV channels, are allowed to move freely, while the local ones are denied such freedom.







Severe man-power shortage coupled with strife in Kashmir valley and in some parts of Jammu region has adversely affected the working of the civic bodies in carrying out their day-to-day cleanliness and sanitation operations in most parts of Jammu and Kashmir during the past more than a year. This shortage pertains not only to the man-power required in the form of sanitation workers but also technically skilled personnel who are needed to drive the vehicles and machines engaged in these operations. No recruitment has been done during the past more than one year despite the fact that the proposals were put up before the highest authority in the government. The clearance for recruitment of sanitation workers and technical hands has been pending with the concerned authorities for years together. It was only the emergency situation in the beginning of this year that these workers were to be engaged in thousands when majority of them had either retired or deserted the civic bodies for better opportunities in other organizations within and outside the state. Jammu Municipal Corporation alone suffers from shortage of technical staff in hundreds if not in thousands and similarly, at least a thousand sanitation workers are required even to carry out routine jobs in the city limits. The areas on the outskirts of the city and adjoining rural belt has been left to fend for themselves on the plea that they are to be taken care of by the local civic bodies which are hardly in existence after their terms expired early this year. Same is the case with most elected bodies in Kashmir region where strife during the past more than three months has been having a telling effect on the sanitary conditions of the urban and rural areas alike. The summer capital is wearing the look of a war torn town where no sanitation operation appears to have been taken in hand by the authorities for the past more than three months now. The efforts of the residents in their own localities have contributed only in creating new dumping grounds instead of removing the garbage already piled up for so many days. The man-shortage and strict enforcement of curfew restrictions on almost every citizen of the valley have not allowed anybody from undertaking these operations for maintenance of basic hygiene in the cities in particular. The human disaster is likely to happen if sanitation operations are ignored for long in the valley and many areas of Jammu region.







Wednesday's all-party meeting on Kashmir followed the Cabinet Committee on Security, which dithered on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act but said something about "governance deficit" in the state which, in simple English, means that the state Government is incompetent, weak or indifferent. The all-party meet was silent on that one. I am not for a moment suggesting that the participants had been gagged by Rahul Gandhi, who, by hint and gesture, had given his support to Omar Abdullah. Now that he has come out openly in his support, it will be interesting to see whether this reinforcement enables Omar to control the Valley. 

The Wednesday meet in New Delhi must have been preceded by some back channel dialogue. The biggest success of the meeting is a matter of considerable significance: for the first time the PDP attended a meeting called by New Delhi. 

Why has it taken New Delhi six weeks to hold such a conclave? Violence was expected on Eid day. 17 people died. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah all but threw up his hands.

It all seemed so manageable when I was driving up and down parts of the valley early June. Hotels were full. Queues for a gondola ride up to the higher reaches of Gulmarg were so large you needed a taxi to slot yourself at the very end. Roads looked ample, well paved (much better than parts of New Delhi these days) and the newer houses could well have been located in some of the posh colonies of India's capital. Hunger was not an issue. 

The chain of restaurants with an unlikely name, Hat Trick, had spread to over a dozen locations in Srinagar. Some of the management and kitchen staff were non Kashmiri. "Because our men prefer Government jobs," a professor of political science at the Kashmir University explained. This fixation on "Government jobs" resembles an all-India fixation about 30 years ago when only "Government jobs" were considered secure enough in the controlled marriage market. 

All of this normalcy was in large measure neutralised by check posts, sentries, Constantine wires and soldiers ringing the mountains, not always visible but always in everybody's knowledge. 

As for the Kashmiri angst, that anti-India sentiment, it is a phenomenon which waxes and wanes, but is always there. The gloomy turn of events in Pakistan, unfortunate for that country, have denied the Kashmiri of an occasionally flourished Pakistani option. Here was a chance for New Delhi to reach out to people nursing various degrees of grievances since 1953. 

Oh, the anger of youth whether in newspaper offices or in university auditoriums! Why can't "Bharat" let us be? Why are we in this prison house? Do you know that every house in the valley has a painful story to tell? Where was the Chief Minister during Shopian? There are mini Shopians strewn across the state. Do you know all this? 
Sometimes their anger may have been unreasonable. But give them an honest, sincere, hearing and they are willing to be mollified. In fact they bought me a meal just outside the campus - at Hat Trick. 

There was no anger with Omar Abdullah then. Yes, Srinagar journalists had begun to call him Pilot Project II. The implication was that just as the late Rajesh Pilot was a "buddy" of Farooq Abdullah, so is Sachin Pilot a close friend of Omar's. Indeed Sachin's wife is Omar's sister. Pilot projects were mentioned with humour. 
I would be lying if I did not mention one common complaint. Since Omar's children study in a school in New Delhi, his wife has to live with the kids. This involves his having to spend his weekends in New Delhi - from Friday noon to Monday. As the administration moves to Jammu for six months of winter, the weekly absence of the Chief Minister leaves the valley without an on-hand administrator for extended spells. 

It can be nobody's case that this is a happy state of affairs, particularly when the valley is in the grip of unspeakable anger and violence which has taken a toll in lives which could soon touch 100. 

It is my belief that both father and son, Farooq and Omar, are not sufficiently "provincial" to manage a province. They are cosmopolitan men with considerable potential on the national turf - and we are short of such personalities on the national stage. Imagine Omar campaigning alongside Rahul Gandhi throughout the country.


The minority vote would be electrified - as would voters across the spectrum. 

Well, the all party meet has accorded Omar protection to the extent that, if he can, he has a brief chance to redeem himself. It may not have been said but he should know that is the case. 

Otherwise, state, and National Conference political dynamics will take their toll. The NC block president in Tanmarg had taken out the procession in which five people were killed. Will the NC not be in turmoil on this issue? What does the NC Chief Minister have to say? 

As for New Delhi, the less said the better for its profound inaction. But now that it has stirred, let us keep our fingers crossed. 

So far administrative inefficiency, absence of focus, irrelevance of possible moderates like Mirwaiz Omar Farooq have given oxygen to the hardliners. Mirwaiz was invited by New Delhi for "top secret" talks. Then the story was leaked. Mirwaiz's credibility came hurtling down. And now an FIR against him will not make him a David standing up to the Delhi Goliath! 

But slowly, as Kashmir comes sharper into the PMO's focus, with a possible setting up of a Special Task Force for Kashmir, one must take recourse to all the optimism which lies somewhere at the bottom as a residue. 

But let's not forget, for the politically motivated among the Kashmir protesters an almighty global audience is in readiness. The UN General Assembly meets soon.







Most of us get out of bed worried, don't we? Worried about ourselves, our jobs, our children, health, just about everything, and a little later when we settle down to read the morning paper our worries increase even more as we hear about bombs and floods!

Few persons have made us as aware of the power of our attitudes as the late Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. In his book In God We Trust (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994), he tells about a woman he describes as "a nice lady," but "she got all tired out by eight o'clock in the morning. And she wasn't even out of her bed by then," he said.

The problem was that she "lay there thinking of all the terrible things that were going to happen to her, how badly everything would turn out, how many problems she had, how many difficulties she had to face - and by eight o'clock, she was so tired she could hardly get out of bed!"

An older couple lay in bed one morning, having just awakened from a good night's sleep. He tenderly took her hand, but she pulled back responding, "Don't touch me."

"Why not?" he asked.

"Because I'm dead."

Her confused husband said, "What are you talking about? We're both lying here in bed together and talking to one another."

"No," she said, "I'm definitely dead."

He insisted, "You're not dead. What in the world makes you think you're dead?"

"Because I woke up this morning and nothing hurts!"

Funny? Why, such a situation can happen to you and me too when we think that a normal morning is facing pain and fear!

I do agree that often our difficulties and losses are so staggering we wonder how long we can cope. Lingering and chronic illness, loss of someone we love and overwhelming worry can devastate us. All of us have known almost unbearable pain and hardships. Heart-breaking times. We might think we will never again wake up feeling good.

On the other hand, Henry David Thoreau used to lie in bed before rising and tell himself all the good news. When he arose, he was ready to meet the challenges before him. Every day we climb from bed, we can decide how to face the day: Will we dread it or will we anticipate it? Will we resist it or will we welcome it?
Over the years I've found the best way to face my day is to put the day into God's hands, and make it His day:

God help me face my day, I pray

In everything that comes my way.

Give me strength and courage too

In all the work I have to do

Take my hand today I pray

And lead me, on life's narrow way..!









THE all-party delegation which goes to Jammu and Kashmir today has a complex and ticklish job on hand. After all, it has to gauge the mood, grievances and aspirations of the Kashmiri people in a little more than a day. But this is also a great opportunity, considering that it can help the government formulate a holistic policy, unlike the piecemeal one which has been in evidence over the past few years. The viewpoint of various parties of Kashmir is already well known. What is more important is to get the feedback from the common people: local editors, representatives of industry chambers, academics, students and the hotel industry. If the separatists also come on board, all the better. It is good that it has been consciously decided not to have any leader from Kashmir in the delegation. That means that the group can judge the real situation without any prejudice or preconceived notion.


However, much will depend on how far the perennial trouble makers go in making or marring the trip. All those who sincerely want a solution to the never-ending orgy of violence, curfews and disruption of public life should come forward to present the true picture before the delegation. Any impediments in its way will only prove that the so-called public protest is actually orchestrated by a few enemies of the nation who take their orders from across the border.


Any talk, any negotiation can only be with the reasonable section. All their genuine demands can be addressed within the framework of the Constitution. If terrorist activities diminish, even the much-maligned Armed Forces Special Powers Act becomes irrelevant. After all, it is there only to tackle those who are waging a virtual war against India. Those who only foment trouble need to be isolated and dealt with adequately. The delegation will hopefully rise above party lines and help formulate a policy which is fair as well as firm. It should also take into account the viewpoint of Muslim Gujjars of the state and Ladakhis. 









THE new Mining Draft Bill is an improvement over the previous one, which had provided for a share in company equity to the landowners displaced by mining projects. Now the companies are required to pay the affected local people a 26 per cent share in their profits. Funds will go to the District Mineral Foundation for the use or benefit of the locals. The compensation terms have been revised on the intervention of Congress president Sonia Gandhi but still fall short of the much-advocated Haryana land acquisition model, which also carries offers of jobs and annuity for the displaced.


The new mining Bill's emphasis on profit sharing is flawed because companies are known to fudge their revenue figures to avoid taxes. Mining firms too may resort to this well-known tactic to pay less to the locals, who will have no guardian or regulator to look after their interests. They cannot count on Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's rhetorical declaration of being their soldier in Delhi. The simple folks do not understand corporate and political games and have to be provided compensation in a transparent, foolproof manner without the Shylocks entrenched in the system getting their pound of flesh. It is better if the relief for the tribal people is linked with the sales of a company as is done in the case of payment of royalty to the government.


It is widely known that mining companies in India and China are raking in huge profits as metal prices the world over have climbed up due to a spurt in demand. Even the royalty that Indian mining firms pay is too small compared to the level of their profits. Though there are some good corporate citizens who run schools and hospitals in the areas of their operations, most are driven by unbridled greed. They must share with the tribal people a reasonable part of the profits they make at their cost. 









THE Indian initiative to save the tiger has come in for some words of praise from a respected scientific periodical, the PloS Biology Journal. The report entitled "Bringing the Tiger Back from the Brink: the Six Percent Solution" has also made a strong plea to refocus the way in which efforts are being made to preserve the big cat in its natural habitats. India has more tigers and better conservation efforts than other Asian nations, according to the study undertaken by the Wildlife Conservation Society. It has underlined the need to change the way in which conservation efforts are directed, stressing the need for providing proper protection and also monitoring the areas that such tigers live in.


Worldwide, the tiger population has fallen from an estimated 5,000 in 1998, to 3,200 now. At this rate of depletion, it will take just a decade for the tigers to vanish from the wild. They have already been whittled down in the tiger reserve of Sariska in Rajasthan, though the one in Ranthambore holds promise, and in fact has problems of overpopulation of tigers, due to which they move away from their habitats, and thus from protection. The habitats are, in any case, shrinking due to human encroachment, even in areas which are reserved for wildlife.


People who live near wildlife reserves depend on the natural habitats for their livelihood and are often in conflict with conservation officers. They need to be rehabilitated by the government. However, the greatest threat is poaching, since tiger body parts are much in demand, especially in neighbouring countries. Strong and vigorous efforts to protect the tigers alone can save them. It is good that Indian efforts are being recognised, but by the same token, since India has the largest potential to save the tiger from extinction, it has the biggest responsibility. Funds need to be allocated and proper resources made available to protect one of the most majestic predators of Indian jungles. The cost of saving them is nothing as compared to the cost that mankind will have to pay if we lose this species.

















KASHMIR is burning. Political leaders from the state, civil and human rightists, even the media will have you believe that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 (AFSPA) is responsible for this situation and should be revoked or diluted to help resolve the crisis. The Centre, after looking at the situation in a holistic manner and listening to the armed forces' advice, finds it difficult to decide.


What is the AFSPA? Why is this Act necessary? But first, let me narrate a real situation that took place 20 years ago. In early 1990 I was commanding a division that had troops deployed for counter-insurgency operations in Manipur, Nagaland and a part of Arunachal Pradesh. During the run-up to the Manipur Assembly elections, a political party leader, in order to garner students' support and votes, made the removal of the AFSPA a major electoral issue. When he won the elections and became the Chief Minister, I went to call on him. I asked him what he planned to do about the AFSPA. He said that in view of the "popular demand", he would write to the Home Ministry and have it removed from the state. I told the Chief Minister that it was OK with me. I will pull out troops from the 60-odd posts, concentrate them outside Manipur and train them for their primary role of fighting a conventional war.


"But you cannot do that! What will happen to the law and order situation?" he said. I appreciated his concern and told him politely but firmly that I couldn't help him to maintain that without a proper legal cover. I said: "I cannot have my subordinates hold me responsible for giving them any unlawful command." Then, very respectfully I stated, "Sir, the best way out is to create conditions in the state wherein the AFSPA is not necessary. If you and the Centre do not consider and declare Manipur state to be a 'disturbed area', the AFSPA cannot be applied. Please do not blame the AFSPA for the problems of Manipur. The fact is that despite several elections in the state, we have not been able to create conditions when this Act need not be applied in Manipur. The armed forces cannot create those conditions. These are primarily of political, ethnic and socio-economic nature, under your charge now."


The AFSPA was enacted by Parliament in 1958 for the "disturbed areas" of the North-East. Later, it was extended to "disturbed areas" declared anywhere in India. It has four essential paragraphs. Para 3 states that if the Governor of a state/Union Territory or the Central Government is of the opinion that the whole or any part of the state/Union Territory is in such a disturbed or dangerous condition that the use of the armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary, the government by an official gazette notification may declare the whole or affected part to be a "disturbed area". Para 4 states that "a commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces in a disturbed area may:


Fire upon/use force, even causing death, against any person contravening law and order or carrying weapons, ammunition or explosives, if in his opinion it is necessary for maintenance of law and order and after giving due warning.


Destroy an armed dump or fortified position or a shelter from which armed attacks can be made or can be used for training by hostiles, if necessary to do so.


Arrest without warrant any person who has committed a cognizable offence and may use suitable force, if necessary to do so.


Enter any premises without a warrant to arrest a terrorist/suspect, or to recover a wrongfully confined person, stolen property, or arms/explosives wrongfully kept.


Para 5 of the Act lays down that the arrested persons will be handed over to the nearest police station "with the least possible delay". Para 6 states that "no prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done under this Act".


The need for the AFSPA for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist operations is unquestionable. The 1958 Act may have been described as a 'special power'. But those of us who have commanded troops in such situations have always looked upon it as a legal protection to conduct effective operations.


Terrorists' activities in J & K have been curtailed substantially but their attempts to infiltrate from POK and cause mayhem in the Valley and elsewhere continue. It is the public order which has become fragile in the last four months due to street protests, stone throwing by mobs and casualties due to firing by the police. In that, there has been no involvement of the Army except on one occasion when troops going in a convoy had to return fire in self-defence. The Army is not deployed operationally in Srinagar. It operates there only when called upon to assist the police in a counter-terrorist action.


The J&K crisis is primarily political in nature caused due to political confrontation, separatists' increased influence and lack of engagement with sections of the populace and of governance. The problem is not the AFSPA but the excessive and prolonged deployment of security forces, particularly in the urban areas. Their number and visibility goes up further during the Amarnath Yatra period. The policemen and Army personnel wear similar combat uniforms and badges of rank (despite repeated protests by Army HQ) and are clubbed as security forces. Since the real thorn in the flesh of the terrorists and separatists is the Army, they deflect public anger to it and the AFSPA.


A dilution of the AFSPA, which will require Parliament's approval, is bound to affect operational effectiveness. Revoking it in districts like Srinagar and Gandarbal will have the following security implications:


These areas are likely to become a safe haven for terrorists. After carrying out activities in areas outside, the terrorists may escape to find shelter in such areas.


Many Army units are located in Srinagar. There is a frequent movement of troops and convoys within and outside the city. Convoys to Kargil and Leh have to pass through Gandarbal. In the event of any terrorist act, troops will not be able to conduct a seamless operation.


Due to its prolonged promulgation in the North-East and J&K, people often ask as to what has been achieved with the AFSPA. We must understand that the AFSPA is not and cannot be a solution to our internal security caused by ethnic, social and governance problems. It is only a political instrument to enable the armed forces to bring the level of insurgency or terrorism under sufficient control. When such a situation is achieved, it is for the political authority to negotiate a conflict resolution as has been done in the North-East and Punjab. In J&K it has enabled us to create conditions wherein we could hold free and fair elections and allow the state to be run by its elected representatives. And what if such military operations had not been possible or successful?


Defending the need for the AFSPA does not mean that anyone should condone human rights violations anywhere. If any such acts are committed, it would be in the interest of the armed forces to take strict disciplinary action against the offenders as prescribed by the civil and military laws. The military law is prompt and strict in meting out punishment to the guilty.


The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff 








DO crows smile? I had seen them sad, impatient and fearful, but smiling, never. Perhaps, God had not endowed them with the ability to smile; I held the view, till a recent encounter with one made me change my view.


Sometime back, I was transferred out of Chandigarh to a city in Haryana. I needed a new mobile connection. A tech-savvy subordinate proved helpful. By lunch, he had two young guys, representing the service provider, summoned to my office. Well-dressed, with their I-cards tucked on their shirt-pockets, they suggested the plan best suited to my needs. Paper formalities over, I was handed over the SIM.


However, from the very next day, I started getting messages on my mobile from one of them. Innocuous as they were, I took no notice of them, except having a look at them occasionally, in my leisure moments. However, there was one SMS, which was repeated two or three times. It read:


"Many birds die in summer without water. Save them. Please put water pots for thirsty birds at the balcony/window of your home. Forward this message to as many people as you can."


Indifferent as I was, I ignored it till I had an encounter with a blackbird, some days later, which made me change my outlook. With the summer sun increasing its intensity of heat with every passing day, I got up one morning early. Irritated and sleepless, I came out of my bedroom and started having a stroll in my lawn. Soon sleep overpowered me and I fell asleep on the lawn chair, till the morning sun woke me up, by its piercing intense hot rays.


I opened my eyes and saw a crow perched on the water tap of my lawn, making a vain effort to extract a drop of water, out of the dry tap. Then finding me on my chair, it gave me a hard look and muttered something. What I could guess it saying, "Don't you have the courtesy to offer some water?". I really felt embarrassed. I felt I was really at fault and thought of making amends.


Early next morning, I filled two earthen pots with water; placed them on the boundary wall of my home and started waiting for the birds to come. However, there came none. Somewhat sad, I started getting ready for the office.


However, while on my way to office, when I was just some steps from the main gate, I saw a crow drinking water out of the pot. Lest I may disturb it, I stopped at a distance. I saw the crow taking water to its heart's content. It then turned around, with its face, towards my side and finding me there, gave me a broad smile. I had seen it smiling. 







A vehicular crash takes place every three minutes and a death every six minutes in India. On our roads, nearly 300 people die daily because of accidents, and more than 5,000 people are seriously injured


EACH year about 13 lakh people die on the world's roads and between 20 and 50 million sustain non-fatal injuries. Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among young people, aged between 15 and 44, says World Health Organisation's latest Global status report on road safety.


The first broad assessment of the road safety situation in 178 countries shows that road traffic injuries remain an important public health problem, particularly for low-income and middle-income countries, and that significantly more action is needed to make the world's roads safer.


Only a few countries have road safety laws relating to key risk factors that are sufficiently comprehensive in scope. Enacting and enforcing legislation on a number of risk factors for road traffic injuries and deaths is critical in influencing exposure to the risk of a crash, crash occurrence, and injury severity. Comprehensive and clear legislation has been shown to be an important factor in reducing road traffic deaths associated with speed, drink-driving and the non-use of protection measures (helmets, seat-belts and child restraints).


The results show that only 15 per cent of countries have laws that can be considered to be "comprehensive" in scope relating to the five risk factors investigated in this survey. The following are excerpts from the report, and how India fares in key areas:


Driving Speed


Decreasing speed is an important way of reducing road traffic injuries, particularly among vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists). Urban speed limits should not exceed 50 km/h, while local authorities should be able to reduce these where necessary — for example around schools or in residential areas.


This survey found that less than one-third of participating countries (29 per cent) have speed limits of 50km/h or below on urban roads and allow local authorities to reduce this speed limit where necessary.




Drinking and driving increases both the risk of a crash and the likelihood that death or a serious injury will result. The risk of involvement in a crash increases significantly above blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels of 0.04 gram per decilitre (g/dl). A blood alcohol concentration limit of less than or equal to 0.05 g/dl is recommended for the general population.


This survey found that less than half of countries worldwide have drink-driving laws based on a blood alcohol concentration limit that is equal to or less than 0.05 grams per decilitre.


India gets 3/10 in this category.


Helmets save lives


Motorcyclists who wear a motorcycle helmet can reduce their risk of death by almost 40 per cent and the risk of severe head injury by over 70 per cent. Motorcycle helmets should meet a recognised safety standard and must be correctly fastened in order to be most effective.


This survey showed that only 40 per cent of countries have a motorcycle helmet law that covers both riders and passengers at all times, and mandate that helmets should meet a specific national or international standard.


India gets 2/10 in this category.


Seat belts


Wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of death among front-seat passengers by 40-65 per cent and can reduce deaths among rear-seat car occupants by 25-75 per cent.


This survey found that only 57 per cent of countries require seat belts to be used in cars by both front-seat and rear-seat passengers (38 per cent of low-income countries, 54 per cent of middle-income countries and 83 per cent of high-income countries).


India gets 2/10 in this category.


Child restraints


The use of child restraints (which include infant seats, child seats and booster seats) can reduce deaths of infants by as much as 70 per cent and deaths of small children by between 54 per cent and 80 per cent in the event of a crash. This survey found that less than half of all countries have a law requiring the use of child restraints for young children in vehicles. While 90 per cent of high-income countries have a law requiring young children in cars to be restrained with appropriate child restraints, only 20 per cent of low-income countries have similar requirements.


There is no law that mandates using child restraints in India.


Source: WHO 








Deaths by road user category. Source: WHO

NEARLY all of us have had to negotiate our way on roads, especially crossings, during the times when the traffic lights are non-functional, and the "impoverished", often pot-bellied, traffic constable, out of sheer fatigue or boredom disappears somewhere. And, you shudder at the nightmarish chaos caused by the reckless motorists, the helmet less triple-riding bikers, the bunch of hoodlums driving open jeeps, overloaded auto rickshaws, the semi-clad bidi-smoking urchins driving the goods carriers causing much pollution.


Nearly all of them drive with one hand, the other keeps the mobile phone glued to the ear. All hell seems to break loose. The civilised townsmen suddenly seem to have thrown to the winds all caution, patience, discipline, decency and civility.


Such situations remind us of Diwali celebrations when the bunch of fire crackers that are intermeshed with each other and, on being lit, fly off in every possible direction most unpredictably, often resulting in mishaps involving loss of vision, limbs and property. The nonsense on the roads, often exhibited through fits of road rage, continues to take its toll. While everyone seems to be in a tearing hurry, as if impelled by some demon, one might ask what on earth are the people busy with and the paramount reasons for all the hurry-scurry that puts everyone's life in peril.


A recent newspaper report published from the City Beautiful highlighted disconcerting facts that over a five-year period, about 800 lives were lost in 601 road accidents across Chandigarh alone. A good number of reasons are stated to be responsible for the heavy toll in the mishaps, the chief being the utter callousness, the devil-may-care attitude and the sardonic obsession with speed for the sheer kick of zooming past every other vehicle on the road.


After all, there are n-number of nouveau riche billionaires, basking mostly in the glory of unaccounted wealth, who purchase number one for their swankiest BMW, Mercedes, Audi and other SUVs by outbidding all others and spending as much as Rs 25 lakh for the tag. Naturally, then why should any authority or law have the temerity to check the adolescents, teenagers and the stinking rich affluent idlers from going berserk once they are behind the wheels?


Traffic management experts and the engineers responsible for laying roads that can cater to the needs of diverse users tell us about the key components involved in providing safe roads. The equation is stated to be 3 Es—engineering, education, and enforcement. Even a casual observer knows it just too well that our systems have thoroughly messed up everything and have missed the woods for the trees.


Any sensitive and perceptive observer is ruefully struck by the malaise of our times: the hysterical passion for speed. There can be no compromise with the safety and security of the people once they choose to come on the roads. While the three Es need to be reinforced to adequately address the challenges of the drastically changed scenario of the roads brought on by the burgeoning middle and upper strata of the society. The society as a whole has to build up an impregnable bulwark of strong consciousness of civilised conduct from one and all irrespective of the socio-political status. This would, of course, require to be backed by relentless enforcement of the law of the land to eliminate any nonsense for sanity, safety and security to reign supreme on the roads. 





10 Commandments of Good Motoring

H. Kishie Singh


IF you don't follow the following commandants, they will become the 10 "deadly sins". There is a pun on the word "deadly". Commit these "sins" once too often and you could end up dead!


Thou shall not jump a red light:


The driver who has a green light may be traveling at speed and may not be able to brake in time to avoid you and your suicidal move. Collision! Deadly!


Thou shall not accelerate while being overtaken:


Road etiquette demands that you take your foot off the accelerator for a second or two, break your speed, let the other driver overtake. Otherwise, you'll be having a race and put both cars in danger. Can be deadly.


Thou shall not overtake from the right and do a left turn:


This could possibly lead to a collision because the driver going straight could be traveling faster than you. Also a suicidal move. Deadly.


Thou shall not horn uselessly:


Indian drivers blow the horn at the slightest excuse. It serves very little purpose other than to cause noise pollution. If you want to attract attention, flash your headlights.


Thou shall not drive on the wrong side of a road:


It could mean a head on collision. Avoid. Also deadly.


Thou shall not take short cuts:


A short cut could be a quick trip to the grave!


Thou shall not drive on worn-out tyres:


Worn-out tyres give no traction on the road-no braking, no cornering and no straight-line stability. Deadly.


Thou shall observe speed limits:


Speed limits have been set with road conditions in mind. Observe them!


Thou shall park properly:


Indian drivers don't park, they just simply abandon their cars! Do not inconvenience others; park sensibly and properly.


Thou shall respect on others on the road:


Everyone on the roads has the same rights as you. Actually, when you are driving, you have greater responsibility for the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, children, and even dogs.


Following these 10 simple commandments will be the "road to nirvana", at least on our roads. But, do we have roads? It seems the government has neither the will nor the ability to build good roads.


The Gurgaon Expressway was opened in January 2008. In 24 months, 120 people have died and 1,600 have been injured. Reason: Badly designed roads.


Nirvana is a long way off.


By the way, what is the opposite of nirvana? That we have!


Happy Motoring 











As the all-party delegation heads to Srinagar today to try and find a meeting ground for dialogue, they will be mindful of an old aphorism of the Chief Minister's grandfather Sheikh Abdullah, who in his speeches in the mid-1960s often described Kashmir as a bride cherished by two husbands, India and Pakistan. Then, as now, there was little political wriggling room for an open dialogue. But just before he died in 1964, Nehru rolled the dice, released the Sheikh from a decade of captivity, and sent him to Pakistan with a secret proposal for rapprochement. Nehru was gambling for a peace settlement against the wishes of virtually his entire senior party leadership but he died while Abdullah was still in Pakistan. On hearing the news, the Sheikh immediately flew back to Delhi and famously leapt on to the Prime Minister's funeral platform, crying like a child and throwing flowers into the flames. It was a spontaneous gesture that was symbolic as much of their chequered past as it was of the pathos of Kashmir. 


We are once again at another turning point in Kashmir with the stone-pelting intifada-like pictures from the state having jolted India's collective consciousness like never before. It was always easy to blame the foreign hand and the terrorists in the past but dealing with angry crowds, most of them young students, is another thing. Compounded with that is the fact that much of the violence has been conducted by a loose inchoate mass of alienated urban youth, many of whom don't answer to any one group, but all of whom share their anger and alienation. You can fight the jehadis but the discontent on the streets can only be met with a political solution. 


Then again, as always in Kashmir, pictures can also be deceptive. The facts show that much of the mob violence has been concentrated in the urban areas ofSrinagar, Baramullah and Anantnag while much of rural areas of the Valley, which saw large turnouts in the last assembly election, have been relatively calm. In that sense, the debate over removing or amending the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is a bit of a red herring because the violence has also not been targeted directly at the Army, but at the police and the CRPF, which is deployed in the towns. In the face of the crowd anger, the Act is now a bargaining pawn and the demand to amend or remove it has emerged as a symbolic flashpoint. 


One thing through is clear. Under Omar Abdullah, the gains of the record turnout in the last assembly election have been frittered away. It was a great milestone, especially in the face of the failed Hurriyat boycott, but it was not the destination itself. Decency and good intentions are not necessarily a guarantee of good governance, as others have discovered before. Politics abhors a vacuum and the political drift in Kashmir over the past year has been filled up by the angry protesters. For now, the Congress is sticking by Omar Abdullah but the nuancing of its message about a governance deficit and the PDP's recent posturing mean that the pot is stirring. 


The political moves to calm tempers in the coming weeks will be crucial but in the end, there is always the elephant in the room: Pakistan. The current anger comes in the backdrop of a larger strategic stalemate. Manmohan Singh has consistently pursued the idea of a historic deal with Pakistan for much of his first term but the turmoil in Pakistan after Musharraf's exit put all that in cold storage. The stasis in Islamabad also put paid to New Delhi's parallel political overtures to the Hurriyat. 


Once this immediate crisis calms down, the big question is that eventually if India makes a deal, who does it make it with: the civilian establishment in Pakistan or the Army, which really calls the shots? Enmeshed by the floods and the war on its western front, the generals in Pakistan arguably see the current discontent in the Valley as a cheap way of keeping the Kashmir cauldron boiling. India is the status quo power here and Kashmir has always been at the heart of the Pakistan Army's DNA. 


There are more questions here than answers but there is another voice from the past which makes eminent sense. This is General A G L McNaughton, who worked as a UN mediator on Kashmir in the 1950s and argued that "so long as the dispute over Kashmir continues it is a serious drain on the military, economic and, and above all, on the spiritual strength" of both India and Pakistan. It's another reason why a genuine debate and political consensus on Kashmir is so essential.



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About 50 million private sector employees have earned a percentage point increase in interest income from their deposits with the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) simply because one of its trustees detected a calculation error, apparently being made for several years, and quickly corrected that to provide additional funds to take care of a higher interest payment burden. This is Kafkaesque not just because of the manner in which it happened but also because of the uncomfortable questions it has raised about the governance and safety of these funds. Employees and members of the central board of trustees, overseeing the EPFO, were mentally prepared to accept an 8.5 per cent interest rate on its accumulated deposits during 2010-11, as the Organisation did not have the necessary funds to meet the demand for a higher rate. On Wednesday, however, the EPFO discovered a calculation error in the interest suspense account that, after the correction, stood at Rs 1,731 crore, instead of Rs 157 crore estimated earlier. That amount was sufficient to finance the one percentage point increase in the interest rate EPFO pays to its members for the current year, making it the most attractive savings scheme with a tax-free return that is almost double of what one gets from banks.


The celebrations over a higher interest rate on EPF deposits, however, need to be tempered with the realisation that the benefit is financially not sustainable. The detection of a calculation error in the interest suspense account has given the EPFO only a one-time gain. In the normal course, therefore, maintaining a 9.5 per cent interest rate next year would not be feasible. So, using up almost the entire additional fund in the interest suspense account to finance an increase in the interest rate for one year has made the task for next year even more difficult. The trustees may still find some extra resources to maintain the current year's interest rate, as they have decided not to pay interest on accounts that remain inoperative for more than three years. Considering that about 60 per cent of the accounts are inoperative and have an accumulated deposit of about Rs 15,000 crore, the move may yet again provide some additional funds next year to raise hopes of maintaining the interest rate at the current year's level. But that once again would be financially imprudent as the trustees have simultaneously approved a proposal to pay up the entire accumulated interest amount on all such inoperative accounts if and when their claims came up for settlement.


 A wiser course could have been to use the money available under the interest suspense account for bringing about the much-needed changes in the manner in which the EPFO maintains its accounts so that they become more robust. The sudden discovery of the calculation error has made the EPFO's 50 million members wonder about the safety of their deposits. There is no reason why the EPFO should not digitise its accounts, subject them to rigorous audit checks and make them accessible to all its members online. Why should the EPFO allow the number of inoperative accounts to grow from 20 to 30 million in the last few years? Urgent attention also needs to be paid to issues related to training the large workforce the EPFO has and upgrading the technology it uses. Until the EPFO fixes these basic problems pertaining to its financial housekeeping and overall governance, it would be unwise for it to contemplate investing in the stock market to grow its returns.








India's public health system has become dysfunctional. There is no reason at all why vector-borne and other infectious diseases should recur with predictable regularity after every monsoon season. Government, especially state and local governments, must take primary responsibility for this malaise. Equally, civil society. A combination of governmental negligence and public apathy contributes to the unacceptably high incidence of diseases like dengue, chikungunya, Japanese encephalitis, swine flu, conjunctivitis (eye flu) and malaria. The media has understandably focused on the problem at hand in India's national Capital on the eve of an international sports event. If New Delhi appears so helpless in dealing with the problem, one can only imagine the plight of lesser habitations. Over 1,600 cases of dengue fever alone have officially been confirmed to have occurred in Delhi, though the actual number of victims is believed to be several times higher. Many other states, notably Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka and Kerala, have also reported several thousand cases of different seasonal maladies, and over 200 deaths as well. Given the regularity with which these diseases strike, the timing of the onset of these epidemics seems easy to predict well beforehand. Yet, preventive measures are seldom taken. It would, indeed, be a national disgrace if after spending, or even overspending, such large resources on preparations for the Commonwealth Games (CWG), participation of athletes and sports lovers is jeopardised due to health concerns. Over a score of countries are already reported to have issued advisories to their people and athletes against the dengue threat in Delhi.


While India tries to market itself as a destination for "medical tourism" on the one hand, and fancy corporate hospitals are coming up in every city, often with government subsidies in the name of the poor, a vast majority of Indians continues to suffer from ailments caused by inadequate attention to public health, including access to drinking water, proper sanitation and municipal maintenance. The steady erosion of government spending on public health may largely be to blame for that. It has dropped from about 1.6 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in the 1980s to merely 0.9 per cent of the GDP now. Little wonder then that India was placed by the World Health Organisation at lowly 171, out of 175, in the public health spending ranking released last year. The successful control of malaria in the 1970s, regardless of its subsequent comeback, is an unassailable evidence that management and even eradication of vector-borne maladies like dengue, chikungunya and Japanese encephalitis are not beyond reach if well-conceived strategies are put into action. For several other communicable diseases, vaccines or prophylactic medicines of allopathic, homeopathic or Ayurvedic origin are available now. Their use needs to be promoted. At the same time, doctors and hospitals should be discouraged from prescribing costly allopathic drugs and medical treatment when the real solution lies in improved public health.








Never was the tension at the prime minister's house more palpable than that April evening in 2005. The news from Srinagar was most disheartening. Terrorists had attacked the tourist centre from which the new bus service to Muzaffarabad would leave the next day, flagged off by the prime minister. The building was in flames and fear had gripped the city.


 Later in the evening, a high-level security briefing, with every relevant functionary from the home minister to national security advisor to chiefs of intelligence and security organisations present, informed the PM that while two terrorists had been killed, two more were at large in Srinagar. An attack on next day's public meeting was feared. The PM was advised by all to postpone his visit and the event.


The meeting ended at 9 pm. Manmohan Singh remained seated, watching TV, with sound on mute, looking grim, sullen and angry. This was to be the first step in a "journey of peace" that he had personally crafted after weeks of internal consultation with several experts and a quite conversation with President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. The bus service across the "Line of Control" (LoC) was a bridge to a "Naya Kashmir".


The terrorists knew this and so were intent on sabotaging. How could he succumb? After several minutes of silence, he turned to me and said, "I will go."


I went out and called in his personal secretary B V R Subrahmanyam. "Tell the NSA and home minister I am going," he instructed. Next day when we arrived in Srinagar, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed said to me at the airport, "I am glad he is here." I told him that it was his personal decision, against all security advice. "Yes, I know," he said, "people of Kashmir will appreciate that."


With that bus service in April 2005, Dr Singh launched a new phase in India's effort to find a final solution to the problem of Jammu and Kashmir. The seeds were undoubtedly planted by his predecessor Atal Behari Vajpayee's famous initiative of January 2004. However, it was the conversation in September 2004 in New York with President Musharraf that opened new pathways to peace.


The launch of the bus service on April 7, 2005 was a vital part of a new agenda for the final resolution of the Kashmir problem. President Musharraf was due in Delhi 10 days later. The April 6 terror attack was meant to derail a process. Mr Musharraf called the PM and praised him for the courage and determination he showed in going ahead with the bus launch.


The history of India and Pakistan's attempt to resolve the Kashmir problem has often been a history of missed opportunities bedevilled by a trust and governance deficit and poor timing. This time, the two got it right. By not succumbing to that attack, Dr Singh was able to take the India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir to a new level, till it was aborted partly by events in Pakistan, with the political weakening of President Musharraf's position, and partly at home, with a coming together of hawks in the establishment and an assortment of myopic and self-seeking politicians.


The key to the successful progress of the India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir in 2004-2006 was the parallel dialogue at home that Dr Singh launched through his Round Table Conferences, involving all major political parties in the state. Along with this he also re-launched a dialogue with the Hurriyat.


When Hurriyat leaders came to meet him, his only appeal to them was that they should lay out their road map and he would then tell them what India can do and what it cannot and will not. It is a failure of the Hurriyat leadership that short of mouthing the empty slogan of azadi, they have not been able to define a formula that would resolve the situation.


For all the emotive appeal of the slogan of azadi, it is not a doable programme of action. Neither Pakistan nor a majority of the people of Jammu & Kashmir seeks the textbook version of azadi. They all seek a variant of it. And it is such a variant that Prime Minister Singh and President Musharraf had all but agreed upon. The old formulas of the 1950s have been long buried by all concerned, even if a fringe keeps resurrecting outdated buzz words like plebiscite.


The Manmohan-Musharraf formula is the only way forward. Dr Singh put it pithily when he said, "Borders cannot be changed, but can be made irrelevant." That is what the bus service was all about. President Musharraf told a Pakistan TV channel in October 2006 that the understanding involved, "Self-governance with a joint management system at the top for both sides of the LoC, and you make the LoC irrelevant."


Whatever the turn of events since then, any final solution cannot go against the logic of history and geopolitics. Nations are not made and remade by every generation. It is the failure of political leadership in India, in Pakistan and in Kashmir itself that has contributed to the current situation. Too many "small men in big chairs", in Delhi, in Islamabad, in Srinagar.


The task at hand today is for the political leadership in Kashmir, cutting across party political lines, to restore normalcy in the state and calm anger on the streets. They must then come forward with a consensual road map for their future that is practical and realistic. Neither Delhi nor Islamabad can help Kashmir if it is not ready to help itself.


But when normalcy returns, the endgame will be played exactly the way Mr Musharraf and Dr Singh agreed to play it out. Everyone needs a reality check on that.











Think of a neighbouring country that has a Muslim majority, shares civilisational links with us, loves our movies, is emerging out of military rule, recovering from a major humanitarian disaster, confronting the Islamic fundamentalism that is threatening its plural society and is a fellow victim of terrorism? No, not that one. I'm referring to Indonesia.


You might be somewhat startled to hear of Indonesia being referred to as a neighbouring country. Yet it's true. The northernmost island of the Indonesian archipelago is just around 167 km away from Great Nicobar. That's closer than Maldives which, at its closest, is 340 km away. Still, somehow, Maldives is considered a neighbour whereas Indonesia is not. You often hear it being said that we can't choose our neighbours. That, however, is exactly what we have done.


Despite the civilisational, cultural and geographical proximity of the two nations, for almost half a century now, India's relations with Indonesia have been defined by New Delhi's distance from Jakarta. The two Capitals are 5,000 km apart. The inability of the two countries to reduce the distance between their Capitals has worked to their mutual detriment. But just as geopolitics of the 20th century kept India and Indonesia away from each other, the geopolitics of the 21st century could bring them closer.


The balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union tilted the two leaders of the non-aligned movement in opposite directions. New Delhi found itself leaning towards Moscow, while Jakarta embraced Washington. Today Indonesia, like many of its East Asian counterparts, is contemplating its strategy in the emerging regional balance of power. The dynamics of this balance will shape the future of our neighbourhood, if not the world, over the coming decades.


Three factors will shape the Asian balance: first, nuclear weapons — what I call the New Himalayas — will shift the India-China contest away from a direct military conflict along the land border. It will take place, among others, in and around the Indian Ocean. It will play out in the form of increased Chinese presence in the waters off India's coast and renewed US engagement of Asean countries. The big question is to what extent will India be a player in areas that China considers its backyard.


Second, the small- and medium-sized countries of the region will prefer a balance where no single power dominates over them. If they do not see this forthcoming, they are likely to join the stronger side. What this implies is that the importance they give to their relationship with India will depend on their assessment of whether New Delhi has the capability, and the will, to contribute to the balance.


Third, unless there is an addition to the number of nuclear powers in East Asia, there will be a preference to create and work through regional multilateral institutions like the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) and the East Asia Summit (EAS). The absence of direct nuclear deterrence in the Western Pacific has emboldened China to claim almost the entire South China Sea as its own. All the activity in East Asia trying to form one big workable grouping is premised on the unfounded hope that a powerful China will play by the rules it promises to.


The most important prerequisite for India to be an effective player in the Asian balance is a change in mindset. For too long, New Delhi has convinced itself that India's neighbourhood comprises the countries along its land borders. Engaging the countries of the subcontinent is no doubt necessary, but it is both accurate and important for Indian civil society, businesses and government to understand that the lands across the seas are neighbours too. And what happens in the neighbourhood is of direct concern to us.


Back to Indonesia, a neighbour that can be more than that. The Indian government has done well to invite President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to be the chief guest at next year's Republic Day parade. But we need to go much further if the symbolism of his visit is to translate into a reinvigorated relationship. The agreements that were signed during his 2005 visit achieved only modest, quiet outcomes.


According to the latest EIU forecast, the $540-billion Indonesian economy is set to grow at 6 per cent over the next couple of years, its business environment is improving, it is more open to trade, and investment licences are easier to obtain. China's trade with Indonesia is currently three times India's. So, if people still say India's neighbourhood is not conducive to its growth, it is only because we have denied neighbourhood to some neighbours.


The Asian Balance will devote itself to chronicling and interpreting the unfolding geopolitics of East Asia. It will be a unabashed advocate of Looking East far beyond the Straits of Malacca. Rebuilding the economic, cultural and political relationships that India historically shared with the countries and the peoples to its East has never been more important to our future than it is today.


The author is founder and fellow for geopolitics at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati — The Indian National Interest Review









As preparations for the next G20 summit (Seoul, November) gather momentum, there has been some progress since the last summit — the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision constituted by Mathe Bank for International Settlements has agreed on new norms for banks' capital adequacy standards (Basel III). These norms prescribe a significant increase in shareholders' funds, and have also increased the capital charge for market risk. The US has enacted tighter and highly complex banking regulations, and the European Union (EU) is also well on its way to finalising financial reforms later this year. Neither of these may achieve the full extent of the reforms envisaged by the G20, but very strong and powerful bank lobbies have been working hard, in Basel, Brussels, London and Washington, to dilute the prescriptions (more on the new regulations in a later article).


 There is also the question of whether the cost of new capital ratios and other regulations will be passed on to and borne entirely by the banks' customers — higher lending rates, for example, would, over the long term, affect global growth. One major unresolved issue is the convergence of accounting standards prescribed by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB): this is unlikely to be achieved in the current year, as originally targeted.


On the other hand, major problems and contradictions in the global economy are coming to the fore. Many conventional correlations seem to be breaking down. For example, loose monetary and fiscal policies are supposed to be inflationary. There is no sign of this in the US, Europe and Japan. Again, gold is supposed to be an inflation hedge and conventional wisdom suggests that its price would go up in anticipation of high inflation. The gold price has been setting new records, but the yields on inflation-adjusted bonds in the US, for example, show few signs of inflation rising.


The other major disconnect is that the substantial fiscal and monetary stimuli have, broadly speaking, failed to trigger sustained economic growth: to be sure, some economists, Paul Krugman for example, had predicted that, in the US the fiscal stimulus would prove to be inadequate. In the recently published Annual Outlook for 2011, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) apprehends a contraction in the world economy in 2011, and worries that an exit from stimulus-driven macro-economic policies in the developed countries may lead to a "deflationary spiral". To be sure, some members of the G20, China and India for example, seem to have been broadly unaffected by the diseases of the developed world.


Ominously, global imbalances (a code word for Chinese surpluses) have started widening again. As the yuan appreciation continues at a snail's pace, China's surplus is a potential danger to global economic co-operation. As trade tensions rise, a Bill providing for punitive tariffs on Chinese imports is making its way through the US Congress; the EU has also warned against increased tariffs on the import of car wheel rims from China. Given China's status as the world's largest market for light vehicles (China 15.6 million, Japan 9.1 million and the US 7.1 million — 2010 estimates), its capacity to retaliate should not be underestimated. The EU, for example, exported auto parts worth $5 billion to China last year, besides a large number of cars.


In the US, unemployment stubbornly remains close to double digits, even as the number of those classified as being in "involuntary part-time" working, continues to rise, the latest number being 9 million. And, Japan, now the third largest economy in the world, continues to experience stagflation ("flation" preceded by "de", not "in") exacerbated by an appreciating yen. After six years, Japan intervened in the exchange market last week when the currency fell below ¥83 to a dollar; it is also blaming China for fuelling yen appreciation through its purchases of yen bonds for its reserves. Though the yen is back above 85 post-intervention, its longer-term success is questionable since the continued appreciation of the Swiss franc, despite sizeable intervention, shows that it has fallen below parity against the dollar. (Another interesting contradiction is Switzerland, along with Germany, the fastest growing economy in Europe.)


The growth picture in the EU is getting more confusing. The European Commission has recently revised its earlier forecast for growth in the current year, from 0.9 per cent to 1.7 per cent (eurozone) and 1.8 per cent for the EU as a whole. On the other hand, latest data suggest stagnation in factory output in the eurozone. And, the reputed ZEW economic research institute recently reported a sharp fall in its index of expectations for the economy; the index has now plunged into negative territory.  


Finally, President Obama may find himself on a weak political wicket by the time the G20 summit begins as poll after poll suggest a sharp setback to his Democratic Party in the mid-term elections later this year — in the US, the conservative right is making a strong comeback.  







The public private partnership momentum needs to move on from national highways to state and district roads


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less travelled by, and thFat has made all the difference." 
— Robert Frost


India now needs to make a difference beyond national highways. With so much discussion and attention focused on the National Highway Development Programme, there is a need to remind ourselves that with a coverage of 67,000 km, national highways constitute only 2 per cent of India's total road network. It is true that this minuscule proportion carries 40 per cent of the road traffic, but the state highways network is double the size at 132,000 km. And another category, major districts roads, adds up to 468,000 km and constitutes 14 per cent of the total road network. Finally, rural roads stand at 2,650,000 km and make up 80 per cent of the total network 


It can't be denied that the emphasis on national highways is well placed. However, considering there has now been over a decade of attention directed here, the time has come to energise the public private partnership (PPP) movement in state highways and major district roads. State highways, major district roads and rural roads are in state governments' domain and are at the receiving end of State Public Works Departments and State Roads Development Corporations.


It was most appropriate, therefore, for the Planning Commission to have organised a conference on public private partnership in state highways in July this year. The conference not only saw extensive participation from states but also signalled that this area was now poised for greater attention and action.


The state highway segment is showing clear signs of a pick-up in PPPs (see table I).


Several state governments such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra have taken significant initiatives to augment their state highways through PPPs.


Moving beyond state highways, the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY) was launched on December 25, 2000, as a fully-funded, centrally sponsored scheme. Its primary objective was to provide connectivity to all the eligible unconnected habitations of more than 500 people in rural areas (250 people in the hilly and desert areas) through good quality, all-weather roads.


Up to July 2008, project proposals amounting to Rs 81,717 crore have been approved. Against these approvals a sum of Rs 38,499 crore has been released for roads covering 331,736 km. Against this, 52,218 road works with a road length of 175, 629 km have been completed with a cumulative expenditure of Rs 35,295 crore. 


In many states, commendable work has been done. In many others, however, corruption and leakages have been coming in the way of the successful implementation of the PMGSY. There is also the issue of maintenance of these capital assets. Any move to shift the burden of execution and maintenance to the private sector will certainly address these issues.

The real challenge is to usher in private sector interest in those areas of state highways, major district roads and rural roads where there is inadequate traffic. Clearly, there is no alternative other than to suggest the Annuity Model, in which the traffic risk is taken out of the format, yet private capital, management and maintenance are brought in. Annuity, in fact, is quite a plausible option, and attractive to the private sector if the project size of each bid is not less than 100 km or Rs 100 crore. The following factors need to be kept in mind:


# State roads and major district roads are far less capital-hungry. State highways, major district roads and rural roads can be bundled together to provide for logical packages.


# A plethora of such contracts galvanises the entrepreneurial energy of the smaller contractor groups scattered across smaller towns.


# Such contracts can also gainfully employ the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act beneficiaries.


# These contracts give an impetus to using roads as a developmental tool in naxal-affected and remote areas.


If, indeed, the PPP programme, through an effective use of the Annuity Model, were able to develop large swathes of state highways, major district roads and rural roads, the addition to the programme could be almost the size of the currently envisaged private sector involvement (see table II).


The issues that remain are the corpus requirement and contingent liability linked to a large-scale annuity programme. But, consider the huge flows of public expenditure being directed in this area. The total investment in state roads during the 11th Plan period is expected to be Rs 1,41,855 crore. Add to this a total cost of Rs 1,00,000 crore being incurred on the PMGSY and one can see a sizable corpus of public expenditure that can be adroitly deflected to support a countrywide non-national highway annuity programme.


Much like the persuasive framework adopted in the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission to motivate state governments to get involved, a similar scheme could be devised to get parties on board for this huge PPP annuity opportunity across the length and breadth of the country.


If done successfully, it can change the face of India by engaging the private sector to energise a substantive portion of that 98 per cent of the network that stands outside the definition of a national highway, and services a majority of aam aadmis.


The author is the chairman of Feedback Ventures, The views expressed here are personal









 INDIA is now rated as the second-most favoured destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) in the world after China, according to AT Kearney's latest global FDI Confidence Index, an annual survey of executives of the world's largest companies. The potential is clearly massive, given the huge investment backlog across sectors and industries, as the economy picks up and sustains speedy growth. However, the fact remains that India is also ranked 133rd as per the World Bank's Doing Business 2010 survey, thanks to the flawed political-administrative structures and culture. India will not be able to absorb the FDI inflows coming its way without reform in the policy framework and the enabling legal environment — with proposals not getting cleared, not taking off after being cleared or being written off. Obdurate non-reform and revenue leakages stymie FDI in a sector like power. The index shows that India has elbowed ahead of the United States, thanks to financial services investors upgrading the economy from the fourth to the second-most attractive FDI location, the easing of ownership restrictions in telecom and perceptions of attractive investment options both in heavy industry like steel and in light manufacturing like auto ancillaries. 


Given the large infrastructure deficit, we do need to be focused on reforms like land acquisition to actualise investment intentions, whether in steel plants or new towns. We need to shore up transparency and rationalise the rules. India is ranked 169 (out of 183 economies) when it comes to procedures involved in starting a business, and placed at a scandalous second-last (rank 182) for enforcing contracts. On heads like getting credit, India is ranked relatively high at 30, as also for investor protection, at 41. Streamlining of investment procedures here would pay rich dividends and solidly rev up inflows. It is also noteworthy that the FDI index reveals that China and India are the most preferred destinations for future research and development projects over the next three years. It underlines the need to step up the knowledge infrastructure for competitive advantage in the medium term and well beyond.







THE agitation leading up to the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the after-effects of that act led to a restructuring of Indian politics and a deep rupture within polity. It is a measure of the fears the issue still arouses that, despite almost two decades having passed since the event, the impending September 24 decision of the Allahabad High Court on the Ayodhya title suit is causing jitters and apprehensions of violence. And that is despite virtual unanimity that the aggrieved party will approach the Supreme Court, as well as the reticence most members of the Sangh Parivar, including the BJP, have displayed in the run-up to the verdict. Indeed, this reticence has been so marked that it does away with the need for editorial calls to accept the court's verdict. Barring some of the overtly strident Hindutva groups, most parties and groups on all sides have stuck to calls of maintaining peace and taking the court's verdict in stride. But the Ayodhya issue also continues to posit the spectre of violence that attends rank communal politics. The fact that for now, most of the Sangh Parivar is pragmatically adopting a very different stance does not negate the possibility that violence can be engineered at some other point in future. And that presents the need to tackle wider communal, polarising politics. For, unless political practice in India moves on from deploying such tactics, the spectre of the Partition, Babri, the Gujarat riots and other sites of violence and terror will continue to haunt us. 


Despite political exigencies — chiefly those relating to the needs of coalition formations as well as the plateauing of the electoral benefits of sharply communal politics — having tempered the Sangh Parivar's current stance, it must be remembered that the Ayodhya episode displayed how conceptions of ancient and medieval history can be brought to bear on the political present, leading to acute strife. It is true that the agitation has lost steam, that most of its protagonists have faded, that a generation has passed since the demolition. But that event itself showed that history and memory, real or invented, recent or hoary, can be used for political ends, destructively. We would do well to also remember that.







EVER received and forwarded to your friends and family dire warnings about a deadly virus or worm being spread through emails that come from friends' accounts? More often than not, such frantic emails sent to you by those who wish you well are pure hoaxes. The putatively invading viruses have imaginative names: black in the white house, Olympic Torch, midget census workers kidnapped, etc, and the message is embellished with some technical jargon. Since all the email asks you to do is not to open a file with an attachment that carries the name you are warned against, you see no risk in passing it on to your friends. They, in turn, mail it to their contacts and that could include you, as well. Being doubly reassured now, after getting the warning back from your friend, about the authenticity of the original mail, you now forward the mail to the second circle of friends and relatives whom you had left out the first time around. Since friends tend to have common friends, the same individual now gets the self-same warning from multiple sources, each a rational, dependable person whose judgment he would trust in the normal course. Without a shred of doubt, he now proceeds to warn all his friends to be on guard against the threat. So, the original hoax threat has now become a credible message of impending hostility, endorsed by people you trust. And it spreads and multiplies and clogs bandwidth and email inboxes. 

Who stands to gain from these hoaxes? The only possible gainers from the heightened threat perception in the cyber world are companies that make cyber security programmes. But there are far too many real threats out there for them to invent hoaxes. So, what motivates these hoax emails? Most probably to test your ID Ten T factor. Don't get it? Write that Ten in digits.







IF A country's current account is in deficit, it would imply that its imports of goods and services are higher than its income from exports and remittances from non-residents. The current account deficit also implies that the country is pushing for its investments to be higher than that supported by its savings. While India's savings rate has increased to 33-36% of GDP from 21-23% in the early 1990s, investment has also increased commensurately with current account largely remaining deficit. 


Since the balance of payments (BoP) crisis in 1991, policymakers, however, have managed to keep the current account deficit within a range of 0.5-2% of GDP considering the macro stability aspect. Running a small current account deficit for higher investments and GDP growth is the appropriate policy approach for a developing economy. During the initial phase of the take-off, the current account balance for other Asian economies was also in deficit or saw a very small surplus. For instance, China moved into high growth of 9%- plus on a sustained basis for the first time in early 1980s from an average of 6.2% in 1970s. In China, current account balance remained in small deficit or negligible surplus until mid-1990s. 


The globalisation of capital markets and the steady rise in capital inflows make it easy to fund the current account deficit through stable non-debt creating inflows. Over the past 10 years, while India's current account deficit has averaged 0.5% of GDP, net capital inflows have averaged about 3.4% of GDP. The current account plus net FDI has been in a manageable deficit range of 0-1.5% of GDP over the past 10 years. Indeed, the total net capital inflows (FDI plus portfolio equity and external debt) have persistently been higher than the current account deficit. The net balance of payments surplus (current account balance plus net capital inflows) has cumulatively resulted in a rise in forex reserves to over $280 billion as the central bank has intervened to prevent excessive appreciation in the exchange rate. 


Policymakers have also ensured that capital inflows are not highly geared towards building external debt. The RBI and ministry of finance's policies discourage short-term debt inflows. Equity-oriented capital inflows (net FDI plus portfolio equity inflows) have accounted for 55% of total capital inflows over the past 10 years. 
    Post the 1991 BoP crisis, policymakers in the country have ensured that the current account deficit does not rise above 2% of GDP, a kind of self-imposed prudential limit. However, the dynamics of current account have changed over the past two years. In 2008-09, for the first time since the 1991 BoP crisis, India's current account deficit widened to more than 2% of GDP (2.4%). In the first half of 2008-09, a large spike in crude oil prices in mid-2008 to $145/bbl pushed oil imports up suddenly. Oil balance (imports less exports) deteriorated to -5.4%


GDP in 2008-09 from -4.3% of GDP in 2007-08. 

In 2009-10, the current account deficit has widened further to 2.9% of GDP, even though oil prices were moderate at an average of $70/bbl. If we look at the quarterly trend, it appears that the current account deficit has only deteriorated further to 3.5-4% of GDP ($45-50 billion). 


WHAT explains the recent widening of the current account deficit above 2.5%? We believe this reflects the government's aggressive push for higher domestic demand at a time when the trend in export has yet to recover fully. Low real interest rates and loose fiscal policy have pushed up domestic demand at a time when capacity creation was impacted by the global credit crisis. 


In other words, the government's loose fiscal policy has pushed the savings rate down and increased the savings-investment gap. We think this is a transient problem that will be addressed over the next 12 months as new capacity is commissioned and the savings rate recovers. Indeed, during 2004-07, even as the GDP growth averaged 8.9%, the current account deficit just averaged 0.7% of GDP. Hence, we believe that over the next 12-18 months, the current account deficit will moderate to 2% of GDP. 


However, risks of a near-term shock over the BoP remain. We believe the ideal outcome would have been to manage GDP growth closer to the potential of 7.5-8% for the first 12 months immediately post the credit crisis and then gradually push growth higher as investment growth accelerates lifting potential growth. Aggressive fiscal and monetary policy has indeed pushed growth closer to 9%, which is higher than the near-term potential. Hence, in the near term, we expect the current account deficit to remain high. 


In addition, there has been added pressure on the current account deficit from what appears to be an unusual fall in business services exports from 1.4% of GDP in 2008-09 to 0.9% of GDP in 2009-10. However, even adjusted for this drop in business services exports, the current account deficit would have been about 2.4% of GDP. 
    We believe policymakers have, in effect, taken on more risk in pushing growth and remaining exposed to the risk of a rise in oil prices above $90/bbl and/or global risk aversion affecting capital inflows into emerging markets. Under either of these conditions, the currency could depreciate and shortterm interest rates spike up, hurting investment and growth — precisely the areas policymakers are aiming to accelerate. Having taken this risk, if the developed world experiences a muddlethrough environment, in which oil and commodity prices remain at moderate levels but capital inflows in EM remain intact, policymakers will win more time to correct the macro imbalances, including the current account deficit and inflation. 


 (The author is Asia Pacific economist     and managing director with     Morgan Stanley, Singapore)









THE furniture industry is seeing robust growth,, thanks to the rise of new cities and a growing middle class. Godrej Interio, the furniture arm of Godrej & Boyce Mfg Co, is the largest company in the organised sector. The company's chief operating officer (COO) Anil Mathur reckons that an increase in nuclear families and rising disposable incomes augur well for growth in the residential segment. 


The country's furniture retail market is estimated at around . 35,000 crore. It is likely to witness an accelerated growth, with a compound annual growth rate estimated at about 30%. Nearly 85% of the segment is, however, unorganised. 


Godrej Interio, which claims to have a 20% market share, admits that it faces stiff competition from the unbranded segment. "Easy imports from Malaysia and Singapore have drawn more people to the furniture industry. However, they lack consistency in quality," says Mathur. 


The corporate segment — the more organised of the furnishing industry — is Godrej's money-spinner, accounting for 70% of its business. In the branded segment, too, it faces stiff competition from smaller players such as Style Spa, Hometown and Durian Furniture in the office space. So, the focus for Godrej is to better their after-sales service. Mathur says that good maintenance and upkeep facilities are a big draw for customers. 


To enhance its market share, the company is working with designers to create technologically embedded designs that cannot be easily replicated. In the office space, the focus continues to be in creating low panels and increased storage space. The cubicle environment, too, has become more flexible with contemporary designs to create a fun workspace. Here 'green' is the 'in' theme.


The company recently introduced three green office ranges, all of which occupy minimal space. The aim is to reduce the carbon footprint. "Our goal is to reuse, recycle and reduce polluting products. Energy-saving furniture will reduce other overheads like airconditioning so that the customer gets value for money," says Mathur. 


The rising urban Indian middle class is slowly opening up for a better planned furnishing at home. Unlike an office, homes don't have many rigid definitions of space, giving people more options to experiment. According to Mathur, the company is looking at more penetration in the retail segment. "From 70:30, the ratio should be 50:50 in about three years," he says. 


However, the bulk of growth continues to be in the unorganised segment, where consumers choose and create furniture designs themselves without much professional help. "Most often, they look at furnishing books and provide these designs to carpenters, though this does not provide the best option," says Mathur. 


Godrej is making the personalised home furnishing segment to create customer-specific products. The key here is to create designs that cannot be easily replicated. "We are designing to create furniture for Indian habits. For example, unlike western countries, Indians prefer food hot," says Mathur. 


The new range of products is technologically advanced and energy-saving. A dining table, say, that has incubation top to keep food warm or contemporary sofa designs that can be opened into a larger seating comfort or assembled into a sleek sitting design to create more walking space. 

To enhance domestic furniture sales, the company is investing . 10-15 crore annually for R&D. The idea is to create contemporary designs that blend in any environment. On the eve of Onam, Godrej launched a special Onam designer collection in Kerala in sync with the state's wooden architectural designs. Similar products will be launched elsewhere to bring in more local flavour. 


Godrej is also leveraging on low labour costs to expand its export market. While Indian designs like the traditional hand paintings and temple architecture have always been in demand in the West, the key is to keep pricing to the minimum. 


With offices in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, Godrej is looking at exploring major markets in the EU region, the US and Malaysia. At present, the export market makes up for 5% of office furniture sales. 


Almost 60% Godrej sales comes from south and west India. New ways are being created to penetrate deeper into north India and the east. The company hopes to grow its turnover to . 1,000 crore by April 2011.







 THE agreement passed yesterday marks a significant improvement. We wanted an improvement in the quantity and quality of capital over a period of time that would allow growth and the financing of growth. This is excellent progress. — Christine Lagarde, finance minister, France. 


It will take a long time to implement. It is still too early to examine the impact of the new rules on specific banks. It is also difficult to say when China will implement this rule because we haven't exercised Basel II yet. — Xiao Gang, chairman, Bank of China. 


Two diametrically opposite views, one from the chairman of the central bank of a country that is home to the largest bank (in terms of market capitalisation), ICBC, and the other from the finance minister of the second-largest economy in the euro region. Could they possibly be talking of the same agreement? 
    The answer, unfortunately, is yes. Both were reacting to the new Base III norms that the committee of wise men sitting in the Bank of International Settlements had hammered out in a bid to avoid a repeat of the events of 2008 that brought the global economy to its knees. 


The underlying rationale is to insulate banks from adverse shocks by increasing the amount of capital (own funds) they hold on their books compared to deposits and other borrowings. So, as against 2% tier I capital that banks are presently mandated to hold, they will have to hold 4.5%, the additional amount being phased in by 2015. In addition, they will have to set aside another 2.5% as contingency capital, taking the overall capital ratio to 7%. 


This higher capital-to-risk-weighted assets ratio is to be supplemented with a leverage or debt-equity ratio (likely to be pegged at 3% of tier I capital, i.e., the balance sheet size cannot exceed 33 times tier I capital) to ensure banks do not overreach themselves. In addition, a liquidity buffer, akin to our statutory liquidity ratio, is to be made mandatory by January 2018. 


On paper, Basel III will triple the quantum of capital banks will need to maintain. But whether it will risk-proof the banking sector is doubtful. To be sure, Basel III is an improvement over Basel II, just as Basel II was an improvement over Basel I's rough and ready thumb-rule of 8% capital adequacy. But the problem, as the crisis has shown us, was not with the rules per se. The cut-throat competition among banks means it will always be 'profitable' to game the system. In such a scenario, the best of rules is of no use unless such rule-based regulation is supplemented by proactive and competent supervision. 


Unfortunately, the quality of supervision is sorely wanting in most developed markets, particularly the US and the UK, where belief in the rational market expectations model, combined with regulatory capture, resulted in supervisors sleeping on the watch. 'Light touch regulation' was the mantra in most of the developed world and since the world economy seemed none the worse for it —those were the 'nice' (non-inflationary continuous expansion) years — most supervisors abdicated their responsibility. 


This is where we in India scored over the West. The inherent conservatism of the Reserve Bank of India did not permit banks to indulge in the kind of fiddles commonly adopted in the West, whether in computing 'capital' or in floating questionable financial products. At a time when there was much less unanimity on whether monetary policy should be concerned with the emergence of asset bubbles, it cracked down on sectors where it saw incipient signs of overheating. 

As far back as October 2004 (much before the global financial crisis), the rapid growth in housing and consumer credit was flagged as a concern and as a temporary counter-cyclical measure, the risk weight applicable to these loans was increased by 25 basis points. Again, as high credit growth continued, the Bank, recognising the limitation of the prudential framework in capturing pro-cyclical nature of bank credit, raised the provisioning required for standard assets in October 2005. 


However, conservatism comes at a price. It means we lose out on what could be beneficial innovations. The challenge, therefore, is to allow useful innovations where potential benefits outweigh costs while keeping an eagle eye open for any unscrupulous elements who try to game the system. Just as the best traffic rules are of no use unless there is a cop to ensure compliance and to punish those who violate rules, the best regulatory regime will be useless unless it is backed by good supervision. Sadly, that is easier said than done! 

    So, much like former Chinese PM Zhou Enlai who, when asked what he thought of the French Revolution, replied it was too early to say, it is too early to pronounce judgment on Basel III. For that, we must await the next crisis (and Basel IV)! Nonetheless, to the extent that each such crisis and the subsequent agreement make the world a slightly safer place, we must welcome it. Meanwhile, like Oliver Cromwell, we will have to Trust in God and keep our powder (read proactive, competent supervision) dry!








WHEN attempts to change one's thinking proves to be a losing battle, the wise aspirant would be enabled to realise that the right approach, often, has to be through the 'back door' — through those techniques, which are, unlike the mind, under his direct control. 


For instance, while being depressed or cynical, it is possible to coax or even cajole oneself through cheerful actions, which would have been generated, if he had actually been cheerful and motivated. Bringing about a smile, even "when everything goes dead wrong" and even persuading that ever willing positive visualisation within and also oneself to jump and dance about, in the manner one would do if he had not ever been depressed — these simple, yet effective steps could prove to be those dynamic stress and drift busters, which could bring about the needed breakthrough, that would finally break through the vicious cycle of depression, sloth, drift, indecision and further depression and inactivity. 


Joyful actions would then set up the new-found virtuous cycle of such actions even altering the chemistry of the psychosomatic system, as if generating the right antidotes to neutralise the depression-inducing secretions within. One would then also be able to break off from his cloistered existence to marvel at the infinite manifestations and possibilities all over. 


This verily is the practical working of Patanjali's concept of being comfortable and delightful in performance (sthirasukham) of physical postures (asana), dwelling on such infinite (anatasamapathibyam), to root out even longstanding conflicts in the mind (dwandanabigadah). 


In fact, enduring results are obtainable when such healthful physical activities are also backed (in line with the modern concept of 'first things first') by simple rules and observances for daily living. Patanjali also elaborates these in his concepts of yama and niyama, which are the sine qua non, for any step to true progress — be it just physical fitness or spiritual progress. These, too, are not only under one's direct control, but also can be practised with a modicum of planning and application. 


The journey to ultimate 'victory over oneself' or God realisation (call it what you will), often commences with a simple single step involving those aspects, which, happily, are under the seeker's direct control!






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




It was always expected that elements hostile to India would seek to raise a security scare in relation to the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Exactly a fortnight before the Games begin in New Delhi, the shooting at a tourist bus near the city's historic Jama Masjid on Sunday morning injuring two Taiwanese tourists may be deemed to be the materialising of that unpleasant prospect. The planners were clearly banking on scare-mongering shortly before the big event. Were it not for the upcoming Games, a criminal incident of the nature and type seen near Jama Masjid would not have attracted the kind of attention it did on Sunday in any major city of the world — the matter would at best be of concern in the police district in which it occurred. But with the Games just ahead, the chances are that the matter will be discussed in countries that are taking part, and it is not just the tabloids that will show an interest in it. This is likely to meet the objectives of those who planned and executed the shooting. More than anything else, it is the propaganda value of the episode that interests them. An outfit that calls itself the Indian Mujahideen, composed chiefly of Indians trained under a special project in Karachi by the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, the principal instrument of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence charged with organising subversion inside India, has claimed responsibility. If there is any substance to the claim, the Jama Masjid incident is a weak effort to draw relatively wide attention. By the IM's own standards, the incident was minor. In the past, the outfit's operatives have organised bomb explosions in several cities in India, killing people in crowded places. This was two years ago. Since then the IM has suffered demoralisation on account of the attention paid to it by the authorities. Its top leaders are in the lockup or on the run. It is, of course, entirely possible that the inspiration for the crime lay elsewhere and not with the IM. It is the job of the security agencies to investigate every possible angle and sound the appropriate level of alert not only in India's capital but in other major centres as well. Nevertheless, it is well to keep a sense of balance about the threat actually posed to the Games. It is not unlikely that as we get nearer the event, there could be more scares and possibly near-misses. But people in this country don't get deterred easily and this spirit of resilience was reflected in the busloads of tourists — including foreigners — who continued to visit the crowded Jama Masjid area hours after the shooting episode. Security in the Indian capital and the surrounding areas is reported to be extraordinarily tight. It should be no surprise if those involved in the shooting were apprehended in a matter of days. It is more than a fair bet that they will be low-level criminals, whatever their provenance. Nevertheless, the government will do well to do a fresh round of briefing of the diplomatic representatives of the participating countries so that their athletes and officials are not unduly demoralised.


Unfortunately, the Delhi Games have been dogged by criticism on account of multiple lacunae. This is likely to have reduced international observer interest in any case, if hotel occupancy reports suggest anything. If the security threat were seen to be credible, another unfortunate dimension will be added to the preparations. It is for the organisers and the Indian government to dispel needless anxiety. We should remember that in spite of all the scare talk, the Beijing Olympics went off without a hitch in 2008, and no one should be surprised if security scares are intensified in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics in London.







Delhi and Kashmir symbolise a bizarre paradox of political settings — the politics in these two places hum different tunes. While Delhi continues to harp on a blend of semantics of governance deficit and grievances, careful not to cross the stated position, Kashmir is high on sentiment, firm on azadi. And in the midst of a bloody campaign for azadi, Delhi has decided that an all-party team of parliamentarians will descend on Kashmir, the second such visit since 1990. The last all-party visit failed to draw an audience in Kashmir. They left, and since their departure in 1990, the armed movement and the government's operations against it have claimed thousands of lives. Delhi literally walked into the trap of false dawns and started to believe in the myths perpetuated by it as part of its propaganda. Delhi claimed victory many times since 1990 in a war that might have just begun.


Present-day Kashmir has seen a steep emotional surge in the sentiment of secession. A non-violent youth-led movement has taken to the streets: it's termed "violent" by Delhi because of stone-pelting, and the security forces have reacted with bullets. A typical day can be summed up with those recurrent images of fearless youth pelting stones, fired at in reaction by the security forces, followed by a funeral of a young kid amidst a surcharged atmosphere and slogans of azadi; renewed anger and firing yet again and another funeral... This vicious circle has claimed more than a hundred young Kashmiris in the last 100 days, some as old as eight years. The government's response has been focused on operations — more bullets, additional battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force, induction of the Rapid Action Force and now the Army on the streets. An added dimension has been the curfew. The harshest curfew even by Kashmiri standards has been in place continuously since Id.


In the curfew-enforced streets of Srinagar there is an eerie silence — people are locked indoors and vehicular traffic is prohibited. There is a perception that the aim of the curfew is not isolated to restrict movement or assembly of people but also to perpetuate a shortage of essential items and medicine. This is the common man's view in Srinagar.


The recent killings are not seen in isolation in Kashmir. They are seen as a continuation of a struggle powered by sentiment, in pursuit of the objective of azadi. And the recent killings are added to the sacred bank of sacrifices. The all-party delegation will be visiting a Kashmir which is a tinderbox of suppressed emotions and real tales of atrocities.


The political elite of Delhi has grown up on a diet of the government's version of Kashmir. This version fails to make a distinction between grievances and aspirations and treats the Kashmiri primarily as an economic commodity whose aspirations can be contained by the lure of economic development, more jobs and better governance. Their understanding of the mainstream and separatist versions of Kashmir politics is blurred. Their revered heroes, the mainstream politicians such as those of the People's Democratic Party and National Conference, are the current villains in Kashmir. And the irony is that the villains are the ones who are calling the shots and are part of the confabulations. It is strange that people who are a part of the problem and symbols of hate in Kashmir are a part of the supposed solution to Kashmir — based, as it is, on the desire to play musical chairs for power sharing.


The Kashmiri political discourse in Delhi just does not want to acknowledge the big white elephant of azadi sitting in the room. A section of the leadership drawn out of this political elite will visit Srinagar under tight security, probably curfew, and meet people selected by the government. One wonders the reasons behind the hurry in dispatching the all-party delegation to Kashmir. A more prudent course would have been for opinion to build up in the Valley in favour of interaction with the delegation from Delhi. Currently, opinion among besieged Kashmiris is to shun contact with the delegation. If the objective of the delegation is to make an ornamental visit and meet no Kashmiri of consequence and brand the Kashmiri as unrelenting and adverse to dialogue, then the delegation is on course for success. If the objective is to actually get a feel of what is happening on the ground, then it is a right step at the wrong time.


There are a host of self-anointed Kashmir experts who have their own views on Kashmir and one gets the

feeling that the message from Kashmir gets completely lost by the time it reaches Delhi. Remedial measures of

Delhi focus mainly on operations, and structural measures, if any, are focused on regime change and the related

issue of good governance. Kashmir needs structural measures but that would mean exhibiting the will and conviction to resolve the conflict. It would entail bridging the trust deficit between Delhi and Kashmir and convincing the Kashmiri that for a change Delhi is all set to resolve the problem rather than just be seen as trying to resolve it.


The all-party delegation is all set to go. It is an improbability that they will be able to meet the desirable groups of Kashmiris they would have wanted to. It is difficult to imagine them returning politically wiser about Kashmir. But there are some positive aspects. The physicality of Kashmir — deserted streets devoid of people, and a small, managed crowd in the fortress hosting the delegation — will perhaps not be lost on them. An opportunity still stares the delegation in the face, if not in dissimilarities between Delhi and Kashmir, then maybe in similarities —something innate in every human being, the emotion of pain. The deaths in Kashmir are mere statistics in Delhi. The delegation could meet some if not all parents who have lost their sons to bullets. They could see for themselves how policies framed in Delhi translate into pain — grieving fathers and mothers — in Kashmir. If the delegation comes back with a measure of the pain in Kashmir, it would be a successful visit. If they attempt to fiddle in politics over a span of three days, there is very little they can achieve.


- Sajad Gani Lone, chairman J&K PeoplesConference, can be reached at [1]








Tianjin, China

What a contrast. In a year that's on track to be our planet's hottest on record, America turned "climate change" into a four-letter word that many US politicians won't even dare utter in public. If this were just some parlour game, it wouldn't matter. But the totally bogus "discrediting" of climate science has had serious implications. For starters, it helped scuttle Senate passage of the energy-climate bill needed to scale US-made clean technologies, leaving America at a distinct disadvantage in the next great global industry. And that brings me to the contrast: While American Republicans were turning climate change into a wedge issue, the Chinese Communists were turning it into a work issue.


"There is really no debate about climate change in China", said Peggy Liu, chairwoman of the Joint US-China Collaboration on Clean Energy, a non-profit group working to accelerate the greening of China. "China's leaders are mostly engineers and scientists, so they don't waste time questioning scientific data." The push for green in China, she added, "is a practical discussion on health and wealth. There is no need to emphasise future consequences when people already see, eat and breathe pollution every day".


And because runaway pollution in China means wasted lives, air, water, ecosystems and money — and wasted money means fewer jobs and more political instability — China's leaders would never go a year (like the US) without energy legislation mandating new ways to do more with less. It's a three-for-one shot for them. By becoming more energy efficient per unit of gross domestic product, China saves money, takes the lead in the next great global industry and earns credit with the world for mitigating climate change.


So while America's Republicans turned "climate change" into a four-letter word — J-O-K-E — China's Communists also turned it into a four-letter word — J-O-B-S.


"China is changing from the factory of the world to the clean-tech laboratory of the world", said Liu. "It has the unique ability to pit low-cost capital with large-scale experiments to find models that work." China has designated and invested in pilot cities for electric vehicles, smart grids, LED lighting, rural biomass and low-carbon communities. "They're able to quickly throw spaghetti on the wall to see what clean-tech models stick, and then have the political will to scale them quickly across the country", Liu added. "This allows China to create jobs and learn quickly."


But China's capability limitations require that it reach out for partners. This is a great opportunity for US clean-tech firms — if we nurture them. "While the US is known for radical innovation, China is better at tweak-ovation", said Liu. Chinese companies are good at making a billion widgets at a penny each but not good at complex system integration or customer service.


The US (sort of) has those capabilities. At the World Economic Forum meeting here, I met Mike Biddle, founder of MBA Polymers, which has invented processes for separating plastic from piles of junked computers, appliances and cars and then recycling it into pellets to make new plastic using less than 10 per cent of the energy required to make virgin plastic from crude oil. Biddle calls it "above-ground mining." In the last three years, his company has mined 100 million pounds of new plastic from old plastic.


Biddle's seed money was provided mostly by US taxpayers through federal research grants, yet today only his tiny headquarters are in the US. His factories are in Austria, China and Britain. "I employ 25 people in California and 250 overseas", he says. His dream is to have a factory in America that would repay all those research grants, but that would require a smart US energy bill. Why?


Americans recycle about 25 per cent of their plastic bottles. Most of the rest ends up in landfills or gets shipped to China to be recycled here. Getting people to recycle regularly is a hassle. To overcome that, the European Union (EU), Japan, Taiwan and South Korea — and next year, China — have enacted producer-responsibility laws requiring that anything with a cord or battery — from an electric toothbrush to a laptop to a washing machine — has to be collected and recycled at the manufacturers' cost. That gives Biddle the assured source of raw material he needs at a reasonable price. (Because recyclers now compete in these countries for junk, the cost to the manufacturers for collecting it is steadily falling.)


"I am in the EU and China because the above-ground plastic mines are there or are being created there", said Biddle, who just won the Economist magazine's 2010 Innovation Award for energy/environment. "I am not in the US because there aren't sufficient mines."


Biddle had enough money to hire one lobbyist to try to persuade the US Congress to copy the recycling regulations of Europe, Japan and China in our energy bill, but, in the end, there was no bill. So we educated him, we paid for his tech breakthroughs — and now Chinese and European workers will harvest his fruit. Aren't we clever?








The Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) of Raj Thackeray have no love lost for each other. But both are soft on actor Salman Khan, whose latest gaffe on the 26/11 attacks has raised even liberal eyebrows.


Raj had in the past come down heavily on superstar Amitabh Bachchan for his affinity for Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat and for doing nothing to develop Maharashtra. However, when Salman Khan put his foot in his mouth on a Pakistani TV channel, Express 24x7, absolving Pakistan of any connection with the 26/11 attacks, the MNS supported him and said he was misquoted.


The Sena criticised Salman, albeit mildly, and quickly forgave him saying that he and his family were patriots and nationalists. The party also hoped that Lord Ganesh would put some wisdom into Salman's head. It is well known that Salman and his family, is a mix of Christians, Hindus and Muslims, religiously bring the idol of Lord Ganesh to their home every year.


It may be recalled that both the parties had attacked Shah Rukh Khan for the "lesser crime" of saying that Pakistani players should be allowed to play in the Indian Premier League.


Reluctant sarathi for BJP rath


To be the national president of a party must be the dream of many politicians. But if insiders are to be believed, no leader worth his/her salt wants to occupy the hot seat of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president.


During an informal chat with mediapersons in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, a senior BJP leader said that there were few takers for the post among the top leaders of the party, forcing the BJP to hand the mantle to Nitin Gadkari. According to the leader, the party had first identified four leaders but was forced to narrow down the list to two — Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, and Mr Gadkari.


The patriarch L.K. Advani had strongly backed Mr Modi but the latter turned down the offer, forcing the party to go with Mr Gadkari.


"Mr Gadkari too was not willing to take over and pleaded with the parivar leadership to appoint him as general secretary", said the leader. "He was, however, ultimately prevailed upon to take the post."


One wonders why nobody wants to lead the party with a difference.


Up in the air


Human resources development (HRD) minister Kapil Sibal is an inveterate flier of the Union Cabinet. Mr Sibal, who has already embarked on his foreign trips for this season, starting with China, is likely to spend a major part of the upcoming festive season abroad as he also plans to visit the United States and Europe over the next few weeks.


Mr Sibal had, in fact, undertaken a similar expedition recently before taking a short break, so to say.


The grapevine has it that Mr Sibal may have travelled to more countries than even the foreign minister, S.M. Krishna. Perhaps, Mr Sibal's travelling bug is a memento of the days when Mr Sibal was eyeing the ministry of external affairs before being given the HRD portfolio.


Satyameva jayate?


Assam has never been an easy post for do-gooder officers. If the buzz in Dispur is to be believed, several senior IAS officers are seriously considering Central deputation after running into trouble with their political masters. Why? For doing their jobs well, what else?


One officer, the story goes, dared to question the authority of the minister concerned in the dealings of the Assam State Electricity Board, while another refused to oblige the industry minister, Pradyut Bordoloi, in clearing files relating to the `100 crores transport subsidy without proper verification. If that was not enough, a third senior babu, D.N. Mishra, actually went on to expose the multi-crore rupee scam of NC Hills.


All this activity has greatly hassled politicos and their businessmen friends.


The burning effigy remedy


Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot has prescribed some interesting medicine to the medicos in his state whose recent strike led to the deaths of many patients. Though the doctors forced the government to accept their demands, they also gained a negative image in the process.


Mr Gehlot, while speaking at a function recently, pulled up senior doctors for joining the strike instead of showing maturity and calming down the younger doctors. The doctors had even forced medical shops to close down and persuaded private doctors to join the strike.


The chief minister then urged the doctors to vent their ire at him and not at the patients. "Just imagine the plight of an ailing person who comes from a remote area of the desert and gets no treatment. Aapki koi maang hai, mudda hai toh mera putla jalaiye (if you have a demand, or a grouse, burn my effigy but please do not put the lives of people in peril)", he said. It is to be seen whether doctors will swallow Mr Gehlot's Gandhian pill.


Soft perch for top cop


The latest rumour in North Block is that Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) director-general Vikram Srivastava is being moved out, and the possible destinations are either the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) or the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).


The CRPF is currently facing its toughest challenge, battling Maoists in the Red Corridor and stone throwers in Jammu and Kashmir. And it's not doing too well in either.


Sources say that Mr Srivastava is not likely to make it to the CBI as the special director, A.P. Singh, is well placed to take over from the incumbent director, Ashwini Kumar. So pen pushing in BPR&D may just be the thing for CRPF head-honcho.








You may have great intentions, you may have great ambitions, you may have many desires, but fundamentally, everything that you do in this world spells out who you really are within yourself.


One thing that I would like to remind you of at this point is that in this world, on this planet, most of the harm, most of the pain, most of the suffering has been caused to people, to humankind, only with good intentions, not with bad intentions. Most of the slaughter and killing on this planet has happened only with good intentions.


If you look at the world, the fight is not between the good and the bad. It is always the good people who are

fighting. If you are a good Indian, you fight a good Pakistani; if you are a good Hindu, you fight a good

Muslim. The better you are, the more you fight. It is not the bad people who are fighting each other. It is always good people with good intentions.


So while our intentions are fine, every human being first needs to work on himself because all that is done in ignorance always ends up harming us and the world around us.


The first and most fundamental responsibility for a human being is to become a joyous human being. No matter what you are doing, it doesn't matter what you are pursuing in your life, whether it's business, money, power, education, service or whatever else you wish to achieve, you are doing it because somewhere deep inside you know that this will bring you happiness.


Every single action that we perform is springing from an aspiration to be happy. Today we are seeking happiness so vigorously that the very life of the planet is being threatened.


In the last 100 years, with the aid of science and technology, much has been done on this planet. There are many conveniences and comforts that could never have been dreamt of 100 years ago. In spite of that, it cannot be said humanity is any happier than what it was 100 years ago.


So it does not matter with what intentions you do any act, because fundamentally you are only creating what you are.


If man does not take up this project in his life — that he changes himself into a joyous human being by his own nature, not because of something or somebody else — then unknowingly, with good intentions, he will cause much damage to everything around him.






Lt. Gen. V.K. Kapur (Retd) was Commandant of the Army War College at Mhow and is editorial consultant of the journal Land Forces. A former Deputy Director General of Military Operations, he tells Asit Jolly in this interview that the situations in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast are in no way a consequence of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), and maintains that using the Army in dangerous situations after diluting or scrapping AFSPA will render it ineffective.


Q. Why is there a need for the Armed Forces Special Powers Act?
A. The armed forces were meant to fight external aggression. Internal employment was meant to be only in exceptional circumstances. Thus, they were not equipped with any powers — like the police forces are — for internal situations.
The AFSPA was carefully drafted in 1958 to equip the forces with legal powers to respond swiftly and without encumbrance in counter-insurgency situations. The AFSPA was extended to J&K in 1990, where even the CrPC is not applicable. J&K has the Ranbir Penal Code wherein, unprotected by an alternative legislation, Army personnel could be arrested for virtually any perceived excesses. Soldiers would be literally forced to confine themselves to the barracks!


Q. Unlike legal protection available to, say, US forces in foreign theatres, based on agreements with host hovernments, the AFSPA protects Indian soldiers for acts committed against Indian citizens?
A. Do you think we are fighting our own people in J&K? These are a mix of foreign mercenaries — Pakistani, Afghan, Sudanese — and locals who have been won over and trained as terrorists in Pakistan. They are the most hardened terrorists in the world with the latest weaponry and communication equipment. Tackling them is akin to fighting a war.


Q. What about the paramilitary forces and state police personnel who are simultaneously engaged in similar or related roles?
A. If you compare the powers of the police under the CrPC vis-à-vis the Army under the AFSPA, it's evident the police enjoys more encompassing powers relating to arrest, search, summoning of witnesses, and preventive detention. Similarly the paramilitary forces function under the director-general of police and have the same powers and protection as the police.


Q. But the Army is called out during riots and agitations without the protection of AFSPA.
A. Wherever Army units are deployed in aid of civil authority, they can only act on the written orders of a civil magistrate. In fact, this illustrates the difficulty in anti-terrorist operations. Can you imagine soldiers waiting for the magistrate's written permission to open fire while terrorists strike and disappear?


]Q. Are calls for withdrawing the AFSPA from some J&K areas, and dilution of the act, doable?
A. The situations in J&K or the Northeast are in no way a consequence of the AFSPA, which is merely an instrument that helps the Army keep a lid on conflicts born from socio-political and economic causes. The withdrawal of the act from Manipur saw the return of terrorists, and the state has become virtually ungovernable. Withdraw the AFSPA from J&K, as is being demanded, and all military operations will literally come to a dead halt. You may as well send out a written invite to Pakistan.
The act is enforced only in exceptional circumstances. So the only occasion to modify, dilute or withdraw the Army's powers can be when you agree that such circumstances have ceased to exist. Wholly or partially withdrawing AFSPA is rightly a political call, but the consequences must be understood. Like in Manipur, such areas would turn into terrorist havens and politicians, so vociferously calling for withdrawing the act, would find themselves totally impotent!


]Q. But despite the act being in force for years the situation remains unchanged.
A. Military intervention can never be the solution to our internal conflicts. Imposition of the AFSPA can only be a means to achieving a measure of stability after which the political leadership needs to get its act together. But sadly, opportunities have repeatedly been squandered. In J&K, for instance, the leadership failed to act when the situation had been stabilised earlier this year.
J&K and the Northeast are essentially political and bureaucratic failures — the gentlemen who sit behind desks in protected rooms are the ones to blame. Unfortunately, they have all become conveniently accustomed to govern through military force.


Q. The defence ministry is seen to be dragging its feet on sanctions to prosecute Army personnel even when there have been obvious human rights violations.
A. I disagree. In J&K, barring a few, the majority of the complaints have been duly dealt with. Also, in many instances the complaints were proved to be false. The Army is obviously not very good at managing public perception. But the one thing I can be proud of after 40 years in the Army is that we never allow a rogue to exist amongst our ranks, and act ruthlessly the moment one is noticed. One cannot deny that some cases may have gone unnoticed or unproven.


Q. Would the Army be willing to go in under changed circumstances, should they come to prevail, like in the wake of dilution or removal of the AFSPA? Or would they simply refuse to engage as they did during the Babri Masjid crisis in 1992?
A. The Army must act whenever ordered. But what this will lead to is rendering it as ineffective or inefficient as police forces. It is a choice the politicians must make because no soldier in his right senses would be willing to take the necessary risks unless he was protected. After all, these men are called upon to engage highly motivated, battle-hardened terrorists.
Even on Babri, there was no direct refusal. I recall it was the then Central Army Commander who advised using other available forces, like the paramilitary forces, which together are more than one-and-a-half times the Army's strength. The Army must only be the final alternative.


Q. What are the possible repercussions of differences or confrontation on a matter like AFSPA between the armed forces and the country's political leadership?

A. We are simply not in confrontation mode because there is no reason to confront. But as part of a democracy, we reserve the right to express our views on the possible consequences of the action being contemplated. The Indian Army is too disciplined a force to refuse a direct order, but like I said, the withdrawal of protection under AFSPA would drastically impact on efficiency.


Q. How can the present act can be amended to give civilians a cushion against abuse and make rogue soldiers accountable?
A. The Justice Jivan Reddy Commission has gone into precisely this, and has made its recommendations. But my gut says we must not tinker with a legislation that has stood the test of time. We must understand that things are much worse now than when AFSPA was legislated. Any dilution could mean chopping away the very feet we stand on. If anything, the act must be revisited to see how it can be strengthened to meet emerging challenges, perhaps also including means to deal with the rogues.

The Army would be only too happy to be kept aloof from what we already call "dirty operations". But it is a fact that most state police forces have been literally emasculated by politicians, and the nation has no other option but to fall back on using the only apolitical force there is.







After Rahul Gandhi's observations in a closed-door encounter with party colleagues during his last visit on the need for "self-respect'' as a pre-condition for an alliance, Trinamul detractors must have been waiting for stronger signals. If the AICC general secretary's apparent espousal of dissenting notes gave some in the Bengal Congress cause for delight, others in the unit would be more convinced that the understanding between the two parties is pretty much where it was before Mr Gandhi undertook the three-day tour. The revival of a youth brigade can only be dependent on whether the party structure can provide the momentum. When that is not the case, there is little likelihood of a miracle before the Assembly election expected within the next few months. Mr Gandhi could also not have been unaware that a whirlwind tour, however well organised, cannot extend the party's influence beyond North Bengal to districts where Trinamul has claimed space as the Left's primary challenger. Besides, whose interest does it serve for partners to start a contest in edging each other out? If Mr Gandhi made what Trinamul had reason to believe were the right noises, it was because he was aware of realities. To that extent, he could not have done better than to leave his definition of "dignity'' delightfully vague.

Ultimately, it boils down to the number of Assembly seats that Mamata Banerjee will offer to the Congress as a willing partner; Mr. Gandhi's demand for respect is to that extent a plea not to be humiliated. The Trinamul will hope it has the freedom to exploit the anti-incumbency wave in the state, even if it means disappointment for some within the state Congress. The Congress, on the other hand, will hope that Miss Banerjee is more accommodating with UPA programmes such as the Bill to amend the Land Acquisition Act. It could also mean the extent to which Congress, through gentle bargaining in New Delhi, will be accommodated if the Left is voted out. Mr Gandhi himself may have suggested that while his ideas on self-respect as the basis for an alliance were open to  interpretation, there was no ambivalence on the determination to dislodge the Left. If that emphasis was loud and clear, it was because he seemed aware of his priorities. And thus with veiled suggestions that squabbling factions are hardly qualified to claim self-respect came clearer hints that practical realities matter far more than pride. Miss Banerjee might feel needled by Mr Gandhi's sudden interest in the state's politics; but no one can be in any doubt that it will be she who leads the challenge to the Left. 



IT required a prod from Bengal's home secretary to expose the travesty of human rights at Dum Dum Correctional Home, on the outskirts of Kolkata. It is unlikely that the jail authorities were unaware of the torture and violation of human rights till five jail employees, including the Superintendent, were suspended for what has been described as "negligence of duty and misconduct". The language of under-statement is deliberate. For, there has been no rebuttal of the allegation made by as many as nine prisoners that they were tortured and paraded naked on 23 August. Particularly significant is Home secretary Samar Ghosh's statement that the five suspensions were ordered without departmental proceedings "as there is enough evidence against them". He has mirrored the rot that plagues all or nearly most jails in West Bengal. No less critical is the report of the Additional Director-General (Prisons) that it has become a practice for jail staff to assault prisoners. Which leaves little or no difference between jail and police custody.

The latest outrage was a gross violation of human rights. The jail authorities' version that force had to be used to disperse two groups of violent prisoners doesn't wash. It is clear from the report as well as the action taken that the government has accorded credence to the inmates' version. Specifically, that prisoners were assaulted and paraded naked for protesting against the diversion of food supplies. The complaint is but one aspect of the crisis. The bitter irony is that jails are a cesspool of corruption and the administration itself calls for a drastic overhaul.  Arguably, without the home secretary's intervention the jail authorities would not have acted so promptly. The label "correctional home" is at best a misnomer; at worst an exercise in self-deception; it is the jail staff that needs to be corrected no less. The culpability is collective, and to organise Tagore's dance dramas by jail inmates at social clubs is to engage in a hypocritical sideshow.



GENERATIONS of Indian cricket lovers, and others across the globe too, will roundly endorse the presentation of a 'Lifetime Achievement Award' to veteran cricket writer and broadcaster Dicky Rutnagur by the Indian Journalists Association in London last week. For several decades, particularly in the pre-television era, Dicky's reportage had taken the game to the homes of countless readers ~ including those of The Statesman ~ and he was highly respected for his knowledge of the game, the accuracy of his coverage, the quality of his description, and a stoic refusal to allow personal preferences to "colour" his writing. All qualities that the current brand of writers might write off as "old school", all the same qualities that have stood the test of time. A Bombayman at a time when the western metropolis was at the core of Indian cricket, Dicky never confined himself to viewing things through a limited prism. He was a worthy member of a "club" that boasted such outstanding stalwarts as SK Gurunathan, KN Prabhu, Berry Sarbadhikari, Sidney Friskin, Ron Hendricks, R Sriman… As a broadcaster on All India Radio he might not have been in the class of Calcutta's favourite son Pearson Surita, but once again it was his ability to inform the listener of what was happening ~ rather than what he thought should be happening ~ that earned him much appreciation. Remember that in those days cricket broadcasts were presented as a "ball-by-ball description" rather than "commentary", and that might explain why celebrated media personality Mark Tully is reported to have said, "I prefer radio ~ the pictures are prettier". Though Dicky moved on to the Caribbean islands before settling down in England, Indian cricket was ever close to his heart. And he continues to write passionately on the game. 

  A portly bloke in his younger years, Dicky exuded an impish sense of fun and humour. When play ended early at Kotla Ferozeshah one evening Dicky lost no time in pounding out his report on his portable typewriter. A crowd collected around his table, something that would irk most reporters. Dicky turned to his admirers and pleaded, "Please, my circulation manager will murder me, so many fewer copies of the paper will be sold tomorrow morning!"









MR Rajinder Puri has rightly pointed out in these columns that nowhere in the Constitution is it mentioned that the President can act only on the advice of his Cabinet. Correctly again, in his article on 16 June he wonders how the Supreme Court has come to the conclusion that the President is a titular head like the British monarch. 
In a letter, published on 21 June, Mr N Chakraborty claims that the 42nd and 44th amendments have reduced the President to a passive functionary. The argument lacks logical force. Britain has sought to bring the sovereign under democratic restraint through a series of Conventions. It is difficult to curb the powers of the President through legislation or constitutional amendments. 

As in America, our President is a Head of  State. And yet, we haven't followed the American system. We have rather emulated the British model in which he normally plays a titular role by following the advice of the cabinet. Which explains why Dr BR Ambedkar, the chairman of the Drafting Committee, observed, "The President occupies the some position as the King under the British constitution." Almost all members of the Constituent Assembly accepted this view because the British model was largely introduced. 

Through historical events and unwritten conventions, the authority of royalty in Britain has been curtailed over time. The execution of Charles I in 1649 and the eclipse of  James II's reign through the Glorious Revolution (1688) marked the end of royal absolutism. The reign of George I, who was brought from Germany in 1714 to take over as king, curtailed royal authority further. He didn't know English, the reason why he avoided meetings of the Cabinet. As it turned out, the king's disadvantage strengthened the position of Robert Walpole, the Prime Minister. Thus the Cabinet became the real source of power; democracy thrived within the framework of a monarchy. The suggestion that the position of our President is similar to that of the British monarch can hardly be substantiated with facts. All kings and queens have not acted in a similar fashion. Historians have remarked  that the King reigns, but does not govern. Though Charles II and George I were passive Kings, George III and Queen Victoria were fairly assertive, and did not merely sign on the dotted line. The haughty attitude of George Grenville, the Prime Minister, had offended George III, and he was dismissed (1765). In the following year, the King replaced Prime Minister Rockingham with Lord North. 
According to Walter Bagehot, the monarch has three informal rights ~ (1) right to encourage; (2) right to be informed; and (3) the right to warn. Queen Victoria demonstrated how monarchy could play an assertive role. She encouraged Robert Peel, the Prime Minister, when he repealed the Corn Law in 1846. She dismissed Lord Palmerstone, the foreign minister, as he had congratulated Louis Napoleon of France on the success of his coup d'état of 1851, without consulting her. The Prime Minister was also criticised for under-rating the gravity of the Revolt of 1857. It bears recall that the House of Commons was twice dissolved in 1910 and the Prime Minister simply acquiesced. Harold Laski, who was in favour of a "limited monarchy", also acknowledged that "royal authority is both constant and pervasive".  

It is pointless to compare the position of the British monarch with that of our President. In fact, our Constitution has placed him on an exalted position from where he can, at least on occasion, play a vital role. 
First, under Article 60, he is bound by  oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law". Significantly, the President doesn't pledge to act upon ministerial advice; his obligation is solely to the Constitution and the law, and not to the Cabinet.

Second, it has been argued that if the President flouts the advice of the Cabinet, he can be impeached by Parliament under Article 61. This is an intricate procedure. The move requires the support of at least two-third of the members in both Houses. Significantly, the provision has been borrowed from America where it is now regarded as a "rusted blunderbuss", because no President has ever been impeached. Unless the President is sure of the support of one-third of the members in one House, he will not take the risk of antagonising the Cabinet. There is space,  however narrow, where he is his own master and can act without the risk of penalty. 
Third, the President has certain powers which may, on occasion, become really crucial. For example, if no party secures an absolute majority in the election or in the event of political instability, he can play an important role in choosing the Prime Minister. When in 1979, Morarji Desai, the then PM, resigned, the President should have summoned Jagjivan Ram, the next leader of the party. But President Sanjeeva Reddy sent for Charan Singh, the leader of the breakaway group. He ruled for only 24 days. The other issue is the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. Normally, the President dissolves the House on the advice of the Prime Minister, but Article 85(2) (b) has empowered him to dissolve the House, and there is no mention of the role of the Prime Minister. Under Article 85 (1), he can convene Parliament to meet 'at a time and place as he thinks fit.' 
From a legalistic point of view, the powers of the President are very wide and unrestrained. Similarly, he enjoys an undefined right to veto Bills initiated by the cabinet. 

If the Prime Minister is a popular leader and his party secures an absolute majority in both Houses of Parliament, the President will surely give him a free hand. However, in a different scenario he may exercise his dormant powers and try to be in the limelight. If the President is a dominating personality, he may try to assert his authority without violating the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has ruled in Ram Jawaya Kapur vs Punjab (1955), Sanjeevi vs Madras (1970), and Samsher vs Punjab (1975), that the President is just a figurehead. This is an over-simplification of a complex issue. He is not a ruler like the American President; and yet he should not be compared with the British monarch. Indeed, the office of the President is sui generis ~ a class by itself. 






LONDON, 19 SEPT: It's easy to work up a steam of indignation about the Pope. British Catholics do not need any lessons from secularists on that. Many of us have spent our adult lives disregarding papal teaching on contraception. We have challenged the Vatican's unChristian insistence that our gay friends are "intrinsically disordered". We have protested against the way it undermined liberation theologians working among the poor in Latin America. We have asked how it can be "pro-life" to say that a married couple cannot use a condom when one of them has Aids. And we feel not only outraged at the behaviour of paedophile priests and, perhaps even worse, the scandalous cover-up, we feel ashamed and betrayed.

Having said that, many Catholics are saddened by the assumption of the shriller secularists that the church has nothing to say to the society in which we live. Look at the largely unsung good work Catholics do. The volunteers of the St Vincent de Paul Society last year put in a staggering million hours of one-to-one work with people in need in Britain. Catholics raised £ 47m for the aid agency Cafod, which works in partnership with people of all backgrounds. Britain's Catholic schools, despite ill-informed claims that they are socially divisive, are often what bring people together in fragmented, alienated inner-city areas; the school in my old parish of Moss Side in Manchester had 42 different nationalities, among whom a sense of community was created that spilled out well beyond the church building. But Catholicism offers more than practical work for the common good, as the Pope's speech to politicians and civic leaders in Westminster Hall on Friday showed. It centred on how governments should balance the freedom of individuals with the best interests of the whole society. And it warned of the danger of applying short-term, politically pragmatic freedoms in complex social and ethical situations. The Pope cited the global financial crisis as a central example.

"The lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world," he said. Governments should apply the same money and energy that went into rescuing the banks to creating policies on how to provide food, water, healthcare, education, jobs and support to families, especially migrants, in the developing world, he argued.
There is nothing necessarily religious in that insight. But Catholicism has been one important source of such corrective thinking for more than a century now, since 1891 when Pope Leo XIII published the first major encyclical in what has become known as Catholic social teaching. Called "Rerum Novarum" (Of New Things), it was heavily influenced by the work of Cardinal Manning, who was a fierce champion of the rights of the working classes in Victorian England. Its subtitle was "The rights and duties of capital and labour". A series of popes have made important contributions to the tradition, most recently Benedict himself, whose encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" (Charity in Truth) last year insisted that "every economic decision has a moral consequence." Governments, he insists, have an overriding duty to safeguard the unique dignity of every citizen. In the stampede to greed that preceded the financial meltdown, his was one of the few cautionary voices.

"If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident," the Pope said on Friday. The majority are not always right, though it is usually not popular to say so. But as he knows from personal experience, the majority of the German population were complicit in Hitler's persecution of the Jews, just as opinion polls show the majority of the French today are in favour of President Sarkozy's shameful policy of expelling the Roma. Religion should be a corrective, however unwelcome, to coercive majoritarianism.
For all the bombast of his critics, there was an engaging modesty about Benedict in Westminster on Friday. If politics needs the insights of religion, the opposite is also true, he admitted. 

the independent







Amongst the strong points of the Central finance minister is his inclination to speak from the heart; his frankness not infrequently overwhelms the need to circumnavigate truth. He was particularly outspoken in defence of the public distribution system on his recent visit to Calcutta. He could not be faulted for saying that if the PDS worked well, it would deliver subsidized foodgrains to a third of India's population. He omitted to say that it does not work well, and jumped to the next fact, that it is the state governments that run the PDS. He hastened to say that he was not passing the blame, just that his own government was blameless, thanks to a constitutional arrangement. The devil was not in his facts, but in his assumptions. He assumed that it was the responsibility of the government to feed the population of 120 crore. It is not a responsibility the government cannot avoid; it is a responsibility it has chosen to assume.


Even now, less than a fifth of foodgrains is distributed by governments; four-fifths of the population feeds itself, without any help from the various governments. Even the fifth that the government thinks it feeds gets rations only for a part of its needs, and then too, not always. So, if Pranab Mukherjee were to ask any objective person outside the government machinery, he would be told that the government does not feed the poor particularly well. Only those who sit in the redstone blocks at the head of the royal avenue of Delhi are sufficiently protected from facts to be able to believe that it is the fatherly and motherly government they run that feeds the people of this country.


If the finance minister were for a moment to eschew hyperbole, he might arrive at reason. He could then argue that the government cannot take the risk of famine or food riots. But insurance against the risk does not require buying up 40 million tons of grain every year and stacking it in the open for the rains to turn into cattle feed. Nor does it require delivering grain to 2.5 crore families, real or fictitious, whom sarpanches choose to call poor. All it requires is holding stocks equal to the maximum possible shortfall — roughly 25 million tons. They must be rotated — sold off every year and replaced with new grain. They must be run down in bad years, and replenished in good years. But purchases and sales must follow the cycle of harvests, and not the cycle of prices. The difference between this optimal policy and the policy of the government is that it announces procurement prices in advance and buys up all grain offered at those prices, whether it needs the grain to replenish its stocks or not. That is how it ends up with stocks to waste. That is the government's error.








Can straddling two boats be a clever mode of progress? In India, everything is possible, and there is certainty about what the two-boats-mode can actually achieve. It can leave observers guessing as to the direction of the movement — backwards, forwards, sideways or floating becalmed. In Kerala, the Indian Union Muslim League has evolved guidelines for women candidates contesting the local body elections that include a dress code "according to Islamic norms". The IUML calls itself 'secular' — which has nothing to do with imposing "religious discipline" on women. Evading the word, burqa, takes nothing away from the message, especially when combined with strictures to the female candidates regarding self-control while interacting with men and preserving decorum during election meetings. The secular party reportedly tried to swap the 50 per cent seats reserved for women with other parties for general ones — and failed. But it feels the need to ensure that its women candidates follow "religious orders" and do nothing to harm the family set-up by entering politics.


Evidently, the government has involuntarily enforced the double-boat mode. Without the mandatory 50 per cent quota for women in local bodies, it is doubtful how many political parties, purportedly secular or no, would have made space for women candidates. For behind the strictures lies the desire to keep women in control, and not allow them to step out of their 'family set-ups' if it can be helped. That state is "normal": the women candidates in the IUML have been asked to behave like "normal Muslim women". This party had religion to hand; it is less smooth for parties whose names and principles exclude religion. In this instance a government regulation has helped point the way along the thorny path of democracy and equality. But the backwash of inequality, in gender and culture, is still too strong for a single boat to carry all forward. The IUML in Kerala has merely made that obvious.









Management education is now 45 years old if we count the business administration departments established in 1955 in Delhi and two other universities. The number of management schools recognized by the Central government is now said to have reached 2,500. India and the United States of America have the largest number of students going to business schools. The vast majority of these schools in India is well below standard, with few staff members and that of low quality, poor facilities as in libraries and computers. The image of most is that they are there only to make money for the promoters. Business school students do not come for an education but for the choicest jobs. Business school education is seen as inculcating greed as the highest virtue. The large number of MBAs in financial firms in the US at the time the world economy was thrown by their mismanagement into recession is validation of this.


With India on a sustainable high growth path, management is a key to sustainability. Management education must reform if we are to grow. The Association of Indian Management Schools established in 1988, with 500 member institutions today, held its 16th convention recently. Many members have learnt from each other and there appears to be a distinct improvement. It is among those who are not members that there is much to be concerned about. Many are mere moneymaking institutions. A business degree is felt to be a guarantee of well-paid jobs. Parents are willing to pay extortionate fees. The schools squeeze the last drop through capitation fees, unreasonable extra fees and high tuition fees.


The report of the National Knowledge Commission when implemented, and the impending supersession of the regulatory body, the All India Council for Technical Education, could help matters. But the task is very difficult. Many hundreds of recognized business schools across all sectors — private and public, in Central and in state universities — have to improve. There are many other unrecognized schools as well that offer management education. There is little information in the public domain about recognized and unrecognized ones. The ratings by different news and business magazines cover only a fraction of recognized schools. The supervision by the AICTE has been superficial, ineffective and biased. No regulatory body will be able to impose minimum standards. Market forces, namely students and parents, prospective employers and the media, must decide on the schools' quality.


Efficient markets need all stakeholders to have easy access to full information about each school, a single national objective rating each year for all schools, all schools to be rated and graded by an independent agency, a single admission test from which students are selected for different schools, and transparent governance of each school. None of these conditions exists today. Newspaper reports suggest that the government is considering asking all educational institutions, including business schools, to follow transparent norms of governance on the lines that the Securities and Exchange Board of India has laid down for listed companies. I have made this suggestion for many years and it is good that it might be followed.


The other change under consideration by the government is a single admission test for students to business schools. This will reduce the burden on applicants having to appear for many tests. A number of vested interests will lobby against these. It is also essential that full information on each business school is available each year in time for students considering business education. Compulsory disclosure with severe penalties for false statements about numbers of faculty, qualifications, facilities and so on is necessary. The government should have the spine to force these policies.


Management education is an artificial construct grafted on to many other streams from which the faculty and students come. Ideally, the undergraduate years must prepare students for the postgraduate education. Engineering or social sciences, the main sources today, do not cover all the disciplines from which management studies have evolved. These include economics, psychology, political science, anthropology, sociology, time and motion studies, statistical sampling and other techniques, and using information technology for better decisionmaking and innovation, among others. Some work experience in between the undergraduate and graduate studies will prepare the student better for business management. We must also ensure that management education is not confined to business applications only, since it is as important for government and non-governmental and non-profit institutions. Faculty must also be integrated for management education, with annual updating programmes.


Today's changing world requires that management education prepare students to tackle challenges, including the accelerating economic growth in India, the exploding domestic markets and opportunities overseas, the consequent increase of interest in India of foreign companies and of Indian companies overseas. We can expect that there will be a significant improvement in industrial growth and in organized agriculture and services. Markets are becoming so big and competitive that the rewards of success are substantial and the costs of failure also very great.


Organizations are becoming big and complex and making them work effectively in any sector is the management challenge. Information technology applications are giving management greater opportunities and capability to improve efficiency, reduce costs and promote innovation. Managers are becoming mobile across borders, as are all manner of institutions and businesses. This makes it imperative that managers have good cross-cultural understanding and respect. From teaching skills, techniques and contexts, management education must help development of strong interpersonal skills, team building and social and emotional skills.


Management education can no longer be left to self-serving regulators and entrepreneurs focused on money-making. Its overall governance and regulation must be subject to strict rules and penalties for violations. The government may replace the AICTE with less intrusive regulators, but regulations, inspections and penalties are unavoidable.


We must have registration of all schools and adherence to conditions that will be investigated from time to time. Violation of conditions must lead to closure. These conditions must include adequate classrooms, sufficient access to computers and the internet, numbers of faculty and their quality in terms of education and publications, and ratings of teachers by their students. Full autonomy to institutions in deciding subjects, curricula, pedagogy, study materials and so on is essential. There must also be integration of heterogeneous faculty into the subject of management. Frequent tests to evaluate the students' absorption of learning, rather than a periodical examination, and much more exposure to real-life management under faculty supervision are necessary. The key is integration: of teachers from different disciplines, of pedagogy for integrated, and not just functional, learning and of human with functional skills.


Summer and final placements must go beyond organized industry and include small-scale, nongovernmental and non-profit organizations, and the government itself. Management faculty who take students on field trips (the late professor, S.K. Bhattacharya, took them on consulting assignments, the professor, Anil Gupta, takes students to discover small innovations), provide unusual and useful learning. Similarly, exposure to other cultures within and outside India might be gained through visits to tribal areas, watching movies from other countries, food festivals, and so on.


Management education has a vital role to play in India's future development. It must produce managers who are not restricted to industry, who can learn to integrate all management functions and not become narrow specialists, who have an interest in building society rather than only making money for themselves, are humane and not authoritarian in style, are curious to learn and apply new skills and techniques, accept different cultures and work with them, and who want to improve the conditions of the very poor and deprived. How management education changes will determine the future of India's economy.


The author is former directorgeneral, National Council for Applied Economic Research








People often wind up believing their own cover story. The former British prime minister, Tony Blair, for example, is trapped forever in the rationalizations he used in 2003 to explain why he was going along with George Bush's invasion of Iraq. He was at it again recently, telling the BBC that "radical Islam" is the greatest threat in the world today. But is militant Islam really a bigger threat than nuclear war? Bigger than the risk that infectious diseases are going to make a major comeback as antibiotics become ineffective? Bigger even than the threat of global warming?


Blair has to say it is, because he was one of the people who launched a crusade against radical Islamists after 9/11. Or at least against those whom they accused of being supporters of radical Islam, although many of them were nothing of the sort. It's far too late for Blair to change his story, and the argument about Iraq has gone stale by now. Except for one thing: many influential people in Western countries still insist that "radical Islam" is indeed the world's greatest threat. Some do it for career reasons, others do it from conviction, but they all get a more respectful hearing than they deserve.


It depends on what you mean by "radical Islam," of course. In some Western circles, any Muslim who challenges Western policies is by definition an Islamist radical. But if it means Sunni Muslims who believe in the Salafist interpretation of Islam and are willing to use terrorist violence to spread it, then there aren't very many of them: a few hundred thousand at most. These people are unlikely to start blowing things up in New Jersey or Bavaria, though they are a serious threat to fellow Muslims living in their own countries. The vast majority of them speak no foreign language and could never get a passport. It's a big, ugly problem for countries like Iraq and Pakistan, but it is a pretty small problem for everybody else. The number of people killed by "radical Islamist" terrorists in the past decade outside the Muslim world is probably no more than 15,000.


Blown up


None of these deaths is justifiable, but it is weird to insist that a phenomenon that causes an average of, say, 1,500 non-Muslim deaths a year on a planet with almost seven billion people is the world's greatest threat. Yet the people who launched the "war on terror" do say that, as do many others who built their careers by pushing the same proposition.


They do it by the simple device of warning (to quote Blair's recent interview) that "there is the most enormous threat from the combination of this radical extreme movement and the fact that, if they could, they would use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. You can't take a risk with that happening." Never mind the quite limited damage that terrorists actually do. Imagine the damage they might do if they got their hands on such weapons. Very well, let us imagine just that. During the Cold War, the United States of America and the Soviet Union had 10,000 nuclear weapons ready to launch at each other. If they had ever gone to war, millions of people would have been killed.


If "radical Islamists" ever got their hands on a nuclear weapon, it would be one bomb, not 10,000 warheads. If they managed to explode it, it would be a local disaster, not a global holocaust. Besides, just how does invading Muslim countries shrink any of these dangers? It probably increases them by outraging Muslims and providing the extremists with a steady flow of recruits. Terrorism by radical Islamists or anybody else is a real threat, but a modest one. It cannot be "defeated", but it can be contained by good police work and wise policy choices. It may make it to the top ten global threats, but it wouldn't make it into the top three. Anybody who says this has something to sell or something to hide.




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





Rahul Gandhi's travels across the country are considered political lifelines for the Congress trying to regain its lost elan and place in the polity. In the one-man mass contact programme spanning over three years he has travelled light, talking hope and resurrection, and has to his credit seen the party reviving in pockets where it had been considered lost. He takes it as his main responsibility and so reaches out to the youth and seeks to build a constituency that will support the party in the days to come. But there is a contradiction in the mobilisation and the restructuring plan that he has for the Youth Congress that he presides over. The organisational democracy that he wants to imbue in the party stops at his door steps. Elections at lower levels are good but will the spirit work its way up to decide who heads the party? In the entrenched personality-centred and sycophantic culture of the Congress that is an impossibility. The number of state party units which requested Sonia Gandhi in the last few days to nominate their presidents proves the point again.

Rahul Gandhi is not just the party's political storm-trooper but is its prime ministerial candidate in the near future. Howevermuch he denies, out of politeness, propriety or tact, that he has any aspiration to be the prime minister, the idea is written deep in the minds of all Congressmen and acknowledged by others. But the world still does not know what he stands for and how he would deal with the many issues of politics, governance and economy that a complex country is facing and will throw up in future. All the words, gestures and postures that marked his engagement with the country have failed to define his positions and indicate the contours of his policies on any major issue. In spite of all the visibility he is still an unknown. He has been evasive on most issues, as when he was asked about his views on reforming the education system, or more recently on Kashmir. Questions are shifted to other quarters or blunted by vague and general responses, leaving trails of doubt.

Charisma without content and popularity without a policy cannot strengthen democracy. Through all his political peregrinations and for all his public pronouncements, there is an idea deficit in the man who may be the prime minister. The man is the message, and the medium. That cannot help the party and 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.







''Will Sonia Gandhi tell she is a Brahmin-Christian as she has married a man whose mother was a Kashmiri Pandit?''


Has the Manmohan Singh government ordered India's first Hindu census? The exercise scheduled for 2011 to count the caste populations of the country excludes, by definition, those who do not believe in caste.

If someone asked me what my caste was, I would have no answer. I have a nationality: Indian. I have a faith: Islam. I have a birthplace: Bengal. I have a cultural identity even if this tends to get diffuse, since my father was a Bihari settled in Bengal, my mother a Kashmiri who was brought up in Amritsar, and I now live in Haryana. The answer may be complicated but it is still an answer. But caste? I have none.

Should I acquire a caste, if someone is willing to offer me one, in order to become politically correct in the era of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi? I take these names quite deliberately, since, to the best of my knowledge, they too do not have a caste, at least if they are true to the philosophy of their faith. Will the prime minister claim that he is either a Jat or a Pappa Sikh or whatever when the men in white shirts with blank forms turn up at his door? Will Gandhi tell the censuswallahs that she has become a Brahmin-Christian because she married a man whose mother was a Kashmiri Pandit and father a Parsi?

What is the precise purpose of an additional, expensive and wearisome enumeration of our innumerable social differences? The normal census already delineates fractional, not to say fractious, identities which is why we know what is the percentage of Dalits and Brahmins and Yadavs and Muslims et al in every constituency, enabling politicians to select candidates on the basis of caste-communal mathematics. Government knows these percentages and publishes them for citizens to read and make demands for job reservation on a quota slide-rule. Are we now heading for the specific numbers of sub-castes and gotras, so that squabbles for the job-pie get even more intense, bitter and divisive?

Decisions with long-term consequences are being made with vision no greater than an eye-range of the next regional election. Cabinet ministers who objected to this caste census were warned that the Congress would lose crucial votes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh if it did not succumb to pressure from the margins. No party is so angelic as to reject adjustments which serve partisan ends. But the moment a party sacrifices its core values for perceived surface benefits, it is in danger of losing its political equilibrium.

Struggle for equity

The celebration of caste as a democratic virtue was perhaps inevitable in a complex dynamic where the reality of economic injustice was enhanced by layers of identity inferiority. Such problems had to be purged out of the system, and that could not happen by pretending that they did not exist, as if we had achieved some form of Gandhian Ram Rajya by virtue of becoming free of British rule in 1947. If the Dalit struggle for equity preceded freedom, thanks to the brilliance and courage of Babasaheb Ambedkar, who demanded and got a commitment from Mahatma Gandhi on political and economic reservations, then agitation by the impoverished among those a notch or two above was only a matter of time.

There will always be a gap between economic growth and social aspiration, particularly since it is almost impossible to spread the benefits of growth in ideal proportions: Marxism could not make it happen, and it is silly for quasi-capitalism to even try. The democratic process is the only one devised for a peaceful transfer of wealth along a sustainable axis. This is not a favour that the rich do to the poor; higher reward for labour and expansion of remunerative employment is an entitlement in a democracy. The peculiar catch in our country is economic and political mobilisation around the unique reality of caste. The Mandal report, therefore, was an inevitable chapter in the economic history of India.

The question, two decades after Mandal reservations were adopted, is whether this chapter should become the full book. The interplay between votes and gratification is a function of any democracy, but it is dangerous to make that the sole parameter for decisions.

In an effort to ameliorate an obvious injustice, in the case of minorities who do not accept caste, the system has taken retroactive measures, like assigning a pre-Islamic identity to Muslims and categorising them by their caste before conversion. Since jobs and reserved educational seats are on offer, many Muslims have accepted this variant. Compromise however is never an adequate solution; moreover, it can become a bottomless abyss. The caste census institutionalises an anomaly. Caste has become a vehicle without a reverse gear, and there is no U-turn visible on the road ahead.

Perhaps the answer will lie in the prospect that government jobs will become an illusion, as the private sector absorbs the functions of state authority. Politicians have already caught on, and begun demanding reservations there as well. If we are sensible, we will draw the line long before we encroach upon the private sector.








The government should welcome self-reliant entrepreneurs who ask for nothing.


The 'ton-ton' sound made by the vendor with his metal stirrer as he roasts groundnuts lures every passerby to go for the healthy snack. Autorickshaw drivers grab cheap lunch from pushcart vendors. Toothless grannies sell little heaps of berries loved by school children. Closer home, using only their voice as advertisement, vendors hawk everything from strung flowers for the puja in the morning to 'thaati nung' at night.

It is amazing how many vendors survive on an investment that may not exceed Rs 100 per day. Studies reveal that the average earning of a male vendor is Rs 70, and of a woman Rs 40 per day, and many borrow money at an interest rate of up to 110 per cent.

The government has been speaking constantly of the need to shift millions from rural areas to non-farm activities in urban areas. But when the people do come and create their own jobs as vendors, they live in constant fear of being evicted by officials. The thinking of many in power seems to be frozen, schooled as they are in archaic British laws still adorning our law books, which failed to understand the country's street culture and saw vendors merely as illegal encroachers who obstruct pedestrians. One would have thought any government would have welcomed these self-reliant entrepreneurs who ask the government for nothing. Many fail to see that the fault lies not so much with the vendors as in the failure of planners to make provision for hawking spaces in master plans.

Regulate street vendors

Thankfully, a progressive National Policy on Urban Street Vendors has been evolved after much nationwide debate. This aims to give legal recognition to the valuable contribution of vendors towards urban employment and poverty alleviation. In Karnataka, the HC judgement in 2008 on a public interest litigation forced the state government to issue a circular on March 19 to all urban local bodies (ULBs) to take measures for registering and regulating street vendors. A legislation too is in the offing.

The circular calls upon all ULBs to designate three types of vending zones: 'restriction-free', 'restricted' and 'no-vending' zones. It also asks ULBs to compulsorily implement both the SC directives in the Maharashtra Ekta case as well as the national policy. Quoting the SC directive, the circular says that there should be no hawking within specified distances of places of worship and railway stations. However, this contradicts the concept enunciated in the national policy of 'natural markets' where "sellers and buyers have traditionally congregated" and which should be kept in view while notifying zones.

Other SC directives asked to be adopted in the circular are that vendors should not use handcarts, that there should be no hawking on streets less than eight metres in width and in exclusively residential areas. This will sound the death-knell for thousands of vendors and their services at one's doorstep. These directives again contradict the national policy which states that a 'no-vending zone' should be notified only with full justification and for particular times of the day only, and that the ensuing public benefit "should outweigh potential loss of livelihood".

Strangely, the circular does not take note of the subsequent clarification of the SC in the Maharashtra Ekta case that the scheme and directives issued by the SC were temporary in nature and that these should not influence the regulations framed by the state, which should be in consonance with the national policy only. Critics opine that the circular has been issued, deliberately overlooking the SC clarification, to get rid of vendors. This feeling is strengthened by the fact that a state-level minister and officials have been recently pouncing on some vendors unawares and ordering their eviction without so much as a 'by your leave'.

These high-handed actions are again in total violation of one of the most positive features of the national policy which is that the vending and non-vending zones should be identified and monitored by a participatory town vending committee (TVC), including vendors' associations (40 per cent), RWAs, NGOs, distinguished citizens, etc, with one-third women members. Evictions being ordered by persons other than the TVC amount to usurpation of the powers of the TVC and a total negation of the national policy. There is no evidence yet on BBMP's website of the TVC being set up.

Will the proposed legislation also overlook the SC clarification and repeat the error in the circular? That will mean the end of the road for vendors and their efforts to make an honest living.

(The writer is executive trustee of CIVIC Bangalore)








The letter could have passed the editorial muster but not valuation.


My dad who is a retired professor of English would receive bundles of answer papers of university examinations for evaluation during his teaching tenure. As children, we would dread the very sight of postman carrying those bundles as dad would pour over them till the last consignment had been wrapped up, stitched in a cloth bag, sealed and sent back with all associated paraphernalia.

Sensing our dismay, non-stop fretting and fuming, dad would try to enliven us with some of the most hilarious responses that he would come across in those answer papers. One of the questions posed in a university examination was — 'Name the word that represents the sound each of the following animals makes — donkey, monkey, dog, horse and lion.' While the correct answers should have read as, 'bray, chatter, bark, neigh and roar,' the answers given by an impish student left us in sidesplitting laughs. The imaginative, if incorrect, answers were: donkey — honhunhonhun; monkey — gurrrrrrr; dog — bawbaw; horse — burrrrrrr and lion — hauuuuun.

Another question requested the students to 'write a letter to the editor of a newspaper complaining of non-working of hand operated water pumps in their residential area.' A student had discharged straight from his heart thus: In my area, there is one hand pump. When I press it, with the noise of 'dhadak, dhadak' it goes down without any pressure. From the pump, water does not come. Only 'zzzzzzz' sound is coming. Many snakes mistake this pump as their worthy companion as both the snake and this pump hiss heavily.

Once, when an old lady pressed the handle of the pump with a big 'dadakh,' an irate and annoyed snake came out of the pump. Since then, every Friday we have been performing 'snake pooja' to the pump offering milk. But the milk which we get from vendors contains only water. After we complete the rituals of this pooja, municipality officials visit the area and declare that water does come from the pump. I can only request the municipality to remove this hand pump immediately and save us from the dangers of the deadly snakes."

I am tempted to conclude that the letter could have passed the editorial muster of any newspaper those days but I am not sure whether the same degree of favour could have been expected from an exacting examiner.









There is every reason to believe that the Middle East will remain as controversial, tumultuous and crisis-ridden in the future as it has in the past. But there is also room for hope.


Possibly the question I'm most often asked by readers is: How can you remain optimistic (or can you help me be less pessimistic) given all the problems you talk about, the bad news you cover and the mistakes you expose and explain? How can you hold out hope when you document how the mass media is so clueless and Western leaders are so... well clueless, while the enemies of liberty are so energetic and determined?

Take the Middle East alone. There is every reason to believe that it will remain as controversial, tumultuous and crisisridden in the future as it has in the past.All of the long-term problems remain: slow social and economic development; repressive dictatorships nowhere near becoming democracies; the Arab-Israeli conflict, though diminished; traditional ambitions for conquest and domination; militant ideologies; ethnic conflicts; and so on

nd so on.

On top of these factors are new problems.Revolutionary Islamism is confident and growing, seeking to overthrow the government of every Arabic-speaking state as well as wiping Israel off the map.

There are internal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran is racing toward obtaining nuclear weapons.

OOPS, SORRY! This is supposed to be about optimism. So why, despite all these things, am I optimistic? 

There are several parts to the answer that apply best to the Middle East but also to the world generally: 

• The mistakes and shortcomings of our adversaries. Precisely because they are so extreme, they cannot long hide their ideology and methods. For example, Yasser Arafat could have negotiated a Palestinian state and $25 billion in compensation in 2000 and then used that as a basis for round two of the conflict with Israel. Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran and Syria could pretend to be moderate far more effectively and make deals to enhance their power, as well as to reach out to more potential allies.

• The rightness of our cause. I believe that democracy, moderation, peace, compromise, a reasonably regulated free enterprise economy and freedom are not merely good ideas but the most effective structures for achieving a stable, prosperous and successful society.

• A fundamental faith in the peoples of the West to understand reality and employ common sense and enlightened self-interest to save themselves. The same is true in the short-run for many other peoples and in the long-run for the rest.

• The courage of dissidents in the world's dictatorships, something I've had the privilege to witness firsthand on many occasions.

• A more localized one is that I live in a country, Israel, which is actually doing pretty well in many respects, with a strategic situation far improved in recent years.

• Finally, a point that also applies everywhere on the globe, notably North America and Europe, is historical precedent, which should never be used blindly but can be employed with care that the parallels are accurate.

SO HERE is a case in point. In February 1968, an Italian professor wrote Bertram Wolfe, the ex-communist who was now an anti-communist expert on the USSR, in despair. More and more people were turning to the far Left wrote Prof. Bogdan Raditsa, and he was close to giving up.

Wolfe replied: "I have long shared your gloomy view of what we are accomplishing by our efforts to swim against the current.

I too have been moved to something close to despair by the ignorance of our leaders, the softening of the brain in their advisers and counselors and the state of affairs... I can offer only crumbs of comfort...

"I have lived for many years now and done my work with three images from classic legend possessing my mind. The first image is that of Sisyphus. I struggle and toil to push the stone up the hill, and just as I reach the summit, [Soviet leader Nikita] Khrushchev smiles or [columnist] Walter Lippmann or whoever pronounces some idiocy and whang! the stone rolls down again.

"The second image is that of Cassandra who had the double misfortune of foreseeing and foretelling the truth, and not being believed by any one. The third image... is Tantalus... When he bends down to drink of the waters of peace, they recede leaving him as thirsty and tantalized as ever. Then we start pushing the stone again.

"In any case, history is always open, so keep... arguing with... communists, teaching young history students and writing what you have to write. Whatever happens the world will be somewhat less bad for our having striven to keep it from getting worse. In the meanwhile, those of us who strive have each other."

A LITTLE over two decades later, communism collapsed.

May we not have to wait, toil, tell the truth and brave the adversity for so long! But if necessary we will. Or, as it says in Pirkei Avot: It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. He blogs at









Over the weekend it became known that Russia would provide Syria with its P-800 Yakhont supersonic anti-ship cruise missile. Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov announced the deal during talks last week in Washington with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, noting that his country was simply honoring a contract that had been signed back in 2007.

The Yakhont is about 9 meters long, weighs close to 3 tons, has a range of 300 kilometers, can carry a 200 kilogram warhead and has the ability to cruise at just a few meters above sea level at over twice the speed of sound, which makes it a highly difficult missile to intercept.


Israel is concerned that the missile will be transferred by Syria to Hizbullah, its terrorist proxy in Lebanon, to be used against Israeli naval vessels.

There is more than a little basis for such concerns. During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, four Israeli sailors were killed when Hizbullah, aided by undercover Iranian Revolutionary Guards fighting in Lebanon at the time, hit the Israel Navy missile boat Hanit with a Chinese-made C-802 surface-to-sea radar-guided missile that had been sold to Iran and smuggled into Lebanon via Syria.

In April of this year, reports surfaced that Syria was supplying Hizbullah with Scud missiles that could strike any part of Israel.

And if these precedents were not enough to arouse concern, Syrian President Bashar Assad made it clear with whom his loyalties reside this Yom Kippur when he met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was on a stopover en route to the UN General Assembly.

The meeting with Ahmadinejad symbolically canceled out any purported "understandings" reached just two days before when Assad received US Middle East envoy George Mitchell. Mitchell had claimed he had had a "very useful conversation" about renewing the Syrian-Israeli track.

IT HAS become abundantly clear that the Obama administration's attempt to "engage" Syria – which has included, in addition to Mitchell's recent visit there, ongoing attempts to reinstate a US ambassador in Damascus – has been a resounding failure.

This effort has not prevented Assad from allowing anti-American fighters to enter Iraq via his country. Nor has it stopped Damascus from providing these insurgents with financial, logistical, and operational support to kill American soldiers serving in Iraq.

Engagement also failed to prevent Syria from reasserting its influence in Lebanon via Hizbullah after the March 14, 2005 Ceder Revolution, which for a time stoked hopes of democratic rule there. Nor is engagement likely to prevent Assad from transferring the P-800 Yakhont missiles, also known as Oniks (Onyx in English) missiles, to Hizbullah.

Israel has made its own attempts at deterring Syria. For instance, in April, when it was discovered that Syria was providing Hizbullah with Scuds, Israel quietly warned Assad that his country would be held responsible for any Hizbullah missile strike against Israel. Unlike in the Second Lebanon War, Syria would also be targeted.

However, the seriousness of such a threat is limited since it is understood that Israel has no interest in upsetting the relatively stable minority Alawite dictatorship and running the risk of it being replaced with an extremist Sunni leadership. That would explain why Defense Minister Ehud Barak hushed Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman after he publicly warned Assad at the beginning of the year that "when there is another war, you will not just lose it, but you and your family will lose power."

As outlined in his June 2009 Cairo speech, President Barack Obama has set as a goal reaching out to Muslims around the world in an attempt to encourage moderate streams of Islam. But this can only work if it is accompanied by a parallel strategy of effectively sanctioning Islamic extremism.

Failing to do so means defaulting on America's deterrence capabilities and, with the direst consequences, allowing terror groups – including the anti- American insurgents in Iraq and Hizbullah in Lebanon – to continue to receive support from states like Syria.








Israelis and Americans, especially Jews, who want to see a secure Israel at peace, a viable Palestinian state alongside it should support the president's policies.


Talkbacks (2)

The question I often hear in the United States and in Israel is, "Is Obama good for Israel?" My answer: yes. The direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, the first in nearly two years, confirms this. Results of the first two rounds have confounded skeptics and critics. At the White House Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas his "partner in peace."

In Jerusalem, where Netanyahu hosted Abbas in his residence for the first time, US envoy George Mitchell told reporters after their third meeting in two consecutive days, "They are tackling up front... the issues that are at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

These talks, orchestrated by President Barack Obama, are good for Israel and good for the US. So are Obama's overall policies relating to Israel – and Iran. Israelis and Americans, especially Jews, who want to see a secure Israel at peace, a viable Palestinian state alongside it, a stable Middle East and a respected US should support these policies.


YET RECENT polls in Israel and the US indicate the opposite. Sixty-five percent of Jewish Israelis believe US Jews should criticize the Obama administration's policy toward Israel, according to a survey published in June conducted for the B'nai B'rith World Center in Jerusalem. Pew Research findings released in August show that American Jewish voters who identify or lean Democratic decreased to 60% from 72% in 2008; while 33% now identify or lean Republican, up from 20% in 2008.

These poll results and charges that Obama is anti- Israel disregard the facts about his administration's policies. The contrast between the reality and the misperception about these policies is stark.

On his first full day in office Obama phoned the leaders of Israel, the PA, Egypt and Jordan to "communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term" (his press secretary's words). On Obama's second day, he appointed Mitchell as Middle East envoy to rebuild the peace process.

The many daunting and pressing challenges awaiting Obama on that first day have been widely chronicled. He did not have to add the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to his "to do" list. He should be lauded for doing so and for remaining steadfast in his commitment.

That decision was pro-Israel. Time is not on Israel's side if the status quo and the conflict persist.

Former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin understood this when his government negotiated with Yasser Arafat. So did former prime minister Ariel Sharon when he pulled out of Gaza.

IT'S TIME to recount the escalating threats to Israel, as well as some of the Obama administration's Israelrelated actions: • Demographic trends indicate that more Arabs than Jews will populate the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River in another generation or two. Israel will either cease to be a Jewish state, or cease to be a democracy as the Jewish minority would rule over the Arab majority.

• Delegitimization of Israel, even in America, is a relatively new phenomenon. The longer the conflict and occupation of the West Bank continue, the more widespread this becomes.

• Hizbullah and Hamas, both backed and armed by Iran, are acquiring ever more sophisticated rockets and missiles able to strike deeper inside Israel. A peace agreement would deprive these terrorist groups of their chief reason for attacks and deny other Islamist terrorist groups an important recruiting tool.

• Iran's nuclear weapons program poses a threat not only to Israel. The Obama administration's leadership led to tougher international sanctions on Teheran.

To be able to get reluctant industrial countries to agree to tougher sanctions, Obama initially reached out to Iran's rulers. To convince Arab countries to back direct talks and to pressure Abbas to come to the negotiating table, he needed to reach out to the Arab and Muslim world, as he did in his Cairo address. The Arab League formally endorsed direct talks this summer – a significant achievement.

Obama did take some missteps. One was his failure early on to speak directly to the Israeli people.

Another was his administration's initial emphasis on ending settlement construction beyond the pre- 1967 borders even though prior negotiations had no such requirement. This handed Abbas a branch that he climbed up to avoid direct talks, which Netanyahu called for. Abbas did not climb down from this position until Arab states, prodded by the Obama administration, insisted that he do so.

THOSE WHO charge Obama with being anti-Israel also ignore his contributions to extending Israel's qualitative military advantage over its neighbors.

Last October, US and Israeli militaries held a major joint air defense exercise along the coast, "send[ing] a message to Iran, to Hizbullah and to Hamas that the strategic relationship between the United States and Israel remains solid," noted Eytan Gilboa of Bar-Ilan University.

In May, Obama decided to grant Israel $205 million in military aid to procure more Iron Dome missile defense systems. And just this week the US envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency urged Arab states to withdraw a resolution calling on Israel to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

American and Israeli Jews' confidence in Obama should be increasing. His administration's policies and actions have led to direct talks designed to reach a peace agreement, to tougher sanctions on Iran intended to end its nuclear weapons program and to closer US-Israeli military ties. They benefit Israel, the US and Middle East stability. They should be supported by Israelis and all Americans, Jews and non-Jews.

The writer is a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Originally published in the New York Jewish Week.










Eli Yishai seems determined to antagonize secular Israelis and drive them away from tradition.


Even for the non-religious among us, there is always something special about Yom Kippur and this year was no different. In Mevaseret Zion where I live, the town took on a village atmosphere as parents congregated after Kol Nidre to mingle and watch their young children on their bikes enjoy the freedom of the main road and the cooler weather.

Of course, not everybody goes to synagogue, perhaps not even the majority, but nobody here drives during Yom Kippur and not even the most ardent secularist or heaviest smoker would be seen smoking outside in public during the 25 hours of the fast, to say nothing of actually eating in public. And what makes this special atmosphere all the more precious is the fact that this behavior is voluntary, springing from a communal desire to respect the holiest day in Judaism's calendar and those who observe its religious strictures.

Former Shas leader Aryeh Deri used to say it was fortunate there was no law requiring circumcision, since if there were far fewer parents would have their infant sons circumcised. In this, he was absolutely right: Israelis, in the main, still feel an affinity to Jewish tradition, providing that religious observance is not forced upon them.

This is backed out by the results of a Central Bureau of Statistics survey released last week detailing Israelis' selfdefinition of their religious identity. According to the poll, 42 percent of the Jewish population characterize themselves as secular, while 8% of define themselves as haredi, 12% as religious, 13% as traditional-religious and 25% as traditional but "not very religious."

But drilling down into the figures, one sees that "secular" is a very loose concept. Of the 42% who define themselves as secular, almost a quarter nevertheless reported that they had attended synagogue on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur or both, just over a quarter said they had fasted on Yom Kippur and the vast majority, 82%, regularly conduct a Seder.

UNFORTUNATELY, DERI'S successor, Interior Minister Eli Yishai seems determined to antagonize these secular Israelis and drive them away from tradition.

His recent decision to disable the ministry's online payment service so that people will no longer be able to make payments to the ministry over the Internet on Shabbat or Jewish festivals is the height of high-handedness.

Given that such a service is automatic, with no need for ministry personnel to be working, there is no reason to deprive people of the ability to make their payments at a time of their own convenience. At present, only 3.2% of online payments made via government websites overall take place on Shabbat or holidays, but this more than doubles at the Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority website, where online payments on these days account for 7% of all payments.

By disabling the system, Yishai is effectively attempting to dictate how people behave in the privacy of their homes during their leisure hours.

Depressingly, but not surprisingly, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman from United Torah Judaism was quick to jump on this bandwagon of religious coercion and announced that online payments to the Health Ministry would also be blocked on Shabbat and the holidays. Amazingly, Litzman didn't even bother to check first whether his ministry's website offered such a service, he simply declared: "If such a service exists, it must be closed on Shabbat and holidays."

And if it wasn't bad enough that these haredi ministers are attempting to force their religious lifestyle on others, their arrogant behavior also totally ignores the fact that one-fifth of the country's citizens are not even Jewish.

Even if one could tolerate Yishai's determination to enforce, wherever possible, Shabbat observance on a fellow Jew, why on earth should a resident of Kafr Yasif in Galilee be prevented from making a payment via the Internet to the Interior Ministry on a Saturday? This shameless attempt by an extremist minority to invade the personal space of the rest of the country must be firmly and quickly repelled.

WHEN HE was sworn as a minister in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's ludicrously oversized government, Michael Eitan joked that he had no idea as to the purpose of his newly created portfolio: the improvement of government services. Eitan now knows that his job is no laughing matter.

It is incumbent upon Eitan to make sure that government ministries are prevented from taking unilateral steps that harm the quality of life of us all. An automatic Internet service at a government ministry does not force anyone to desecrate the Shabbat.

Those who wish to avail themselves of this service in their own home during the hours of Shabbat or even Yom Kippur should be free to do so.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.









Of course we care about peace. But until it happens, we'll carry on enjoying life as best we can – no matter what Hamas and Hizbullah throw at us.


 'Buy or frame this Time cover today." That's what jumped out at me as I searched Timemagazine's website for its September 13 story "Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace," by Karl Vick. But I don't "buy" the article, let alone the provocative cover. I feel framed.

The premise behind Vick's piece is that Israelis are too busy making money and enjoying themselves – at the Palestinians' expense, of course – to pursue peace. It's the rich Jews versus the poor Palestinians, again. And frankly, I'm tired of it. Maybe it's because I don't have enough money to be driven by it: I doubt any Jerusalem Postjournalist could be accused of chasing fortune rather than fame. Nor am I against peace: What mother in a country with compulsory military service is eagerly awaiting the chance to send her son off to war? The cover illustration, a Star of David covered in flowers – pushing up the daisies, as it were – is striking. It certainly hit me hard enough to hurt. OK, it did make me want to read the piece, too, so I assume the folks at Time are happy. The print version, it turns out, is more balanced than the abridged one on the web.


"What were they thinking?" asked a friend. One conspiracy theory has it that since the July cover showing the Afghani teenager whose nose was cut off by the Taliban, Time had to find a way to placate Muslim readers. I don't buy this either. It would be too easy for the magazine to then say if the Muslims object and the Jews object we must be doing something right. And I don't want to believe that any decent person – Muslim, Jewish or otherwise – was anything other than disgusted by the Islamist justice meted out to the young runaway wife.

One reason countries like Egypt and Jordan are supporting the latest diplomatic initiative is because of the obvious threat to their countries from Taliban-style terror organizations.

I DOUBT it was Vick who wrote the "Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace" cover text but certainly it reflected the tone of the article by the newly appointed Jerusalem bureau chief.

It's peppered with barbs like: "In the week that three presidents, a king and their own prime minister gather at the White House to begin a fresh round of talks on peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the truth is, Israelis are no longer preoccupied with the matter.

They're otherwise engaged; they're making money; they're enjoying the rays of late summer. A watching world may still define their country by the blood feud with the Arabs whose families used to live on this land and whether that conflict can be negotiated away, but Israelis say they have moved on."

Vick makes the point that Israelis are just getting on and enjoying their lives, and on that we can agree. It's the subtext that is worrying. "Even when the Kassams fell, we continued to sell," Ashdod real-estate agent Heli Itach tells him. There's a photo of nargila-smoking young men relaxing on a Tel Aviv beach. And Vick quotes debatable statistics showing that Israelis don't consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a top priority.

Of course it could be argued that the "blood feud" does not date back to 1967 or 1948. Having just read on Rosh Hashana about Abraham's decidedly problematic relationship with both Isaac and Ishmael, I suspect the seeds were sown millennia ago.

The Arab families I know – those who still live on this land as well as those I've met far further afield – are largely concerned with the same issues as the Jewish ones. In fact, I'd hazard a guess that if you were to ask the average US citizen – even in areas where Native Americans once dwelt, for argument's sake – they would draw up a similar list of concerns as Jewish Israelis: the economy, education, health and personal safety. Ditto residents of European Union countries.

THERE ARE a few obvious differences, however. When Israelis talk about personal safety, they often mean the hazards that stem from living in a country where suicide bombers are willing to blow themselves up at the drop of a keffiyeh.

Especially during peace talks. The Tel Aviv beach featured in the Time article, incidentally, was probably searched for bombs in the morning. Security is a way of life here. It has to be.

It's not that we have "disengaged from the peace process," as the article suggests.

It's just that if we were to wait for peace before carrying on with our lives, we'd still be in refugee camps, dependent on UN handouts, rather than enjoying a high standard of living in a strong economy in a country with a thriving cultural life that Vick describes.

If the Palestinians were to invest a similar effort into creating a livable normalcy, we'd all be better off. That's why news of a cinema reopening in Jenin, luxury apartments going up in Ramallah and a decidedly middle-class suburban community, Rawabi, being built nearby encourages me more than another round of "peace talks."

"But wait. Deep down (you can almost hear the outside world ask), don't Israelis know that finding peace with the Palestinians is the only way to guarantee their happiness and prosperity?" asks Vick.

Nope. There are no guarantees. Negotiating with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is certainly better than fighting with his Fatah forces, but I can't help but feel that the two-state solution doesn't stand a chance: not when Hamas controls Gaza, with more than a little help from its friend Iran.

There are already, in effect, three states (or would-be states) involved. Abbas might be able to come to Jerusalem and shake hands with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu but neither of them can travel to Gaza City.

And the US, EU and any of the many countries fighting for a role in the diplomatic process should also realize that world peace does not depend on an agreement between Abbas and Netanyahu.

It shouldn't be the photo of Israelis relaxing on the beach that scares them but the image of poor, mutilated Aisha, the victim of an Islamist regime.

Israelis have been more than a little skeptical of the chances for peace, as Vick points out, since the wave of suicide bombings that followed the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993. And the second intifada whose outbreak is linked with the Camp David talks in 2000. And the increased number of missiles that fell following Israel's unilateral pullout from Gaza five years ago – wait, make that present tense, the missiles are still falling as I write. And nobody was surprised when Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin told the cabinet last week that the threat of terrorism will increase in step with the diplomatic process.

So as the country marked Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, now ineradicably linked in our minds with yet another bloody war launched against Israel, it's ludicrous to say Israelis don't want peace.

As the Succot holiday week approaches, many families are planning activities and outings. None of us wants to have to plan around where Kassams are landing.

Of course we care about peace. But until it happens, we'll carry on enjoying life as best we can – no matter what Hamas and Hizbullah throw at us. What Iran would like to throw at us is obviously a different story. No doubt there's a reporter willing to blame us for that too.

The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.








Jerusalemites are not likely to forgive or forget the trauma of the 10 years of construction and endless disruptions to traffic caused by the Jerusalem Light Rail project.


The long-awaited inauguration of the Jerusalem Light Rail line, the first of its type in the country, is scheduled, barring further delays, for April. Already five years behind schedule due to bureaucratic bungling, a total lack of experience with this mode of transportation and horrendous project management, construction has wreaked havoc in the life of the city over most of the last decade.

The price tag, needless to say, double the initial estimates, is staggering – about a $1 billion (NIS 500 million in fines alone paid to the CityPass consortium that is building the tramway for the delays). Not since Herodian times has there been such an enormous expenditure of public treasure.


This, not for an entire system as was originally planned, but for just a single line with 23 stations connecting Mount Herzl with Shuafat, an Arab neighborhood, and Pisgat Ze'ev via the city center. A long list of excellent public improvements in the town center, along with the addition of advanced buses on exclusive lanes connecting Talpiot with Har Hotzvim support the plan.

Among the main arguments given by the planners for the decision to build the line was that buses are slow, pollute and won't succeed in getting people to stop using their cars. They claimed that these high capacity (each carriage having double the capacity of a bus), speedy, quiet, green, comfortable and modern trams, will. Their main goal: improving access to and enlivening Jerusalem's deteriorating city center through the increased use of public transport and a major program of street improvements to include the conversion of most of Jaffa Road into a pedestrian mall. Convinced of the plan's viability, many developers are building alongside the route in the center of town.

The planners managed somehow to seriously understate or neglect mention of the nightmarish social, economic and environmental impacts that would be the result of having to relocate and renew all of the existing utilities infrastructure – water, sanitation, electrical and communication lines, over the full length of the exclusive right of way for some 14 kilometers – even before the very first sections of rail could be laid down. So extreme was the situation, that upon his election as mayor, Nir Barkat announced that he intended to scrap the entire project. But of course the point of no return had long before been reached.

CALATRAVA'S GRACEFUL, light and elegant suspension bridge at the western entrance to the city, designed to carry the trams over this complex intersection, was unnecessary. Beautiful, but irresponsible. Suspension bridges enabling unusually large spans without the need for intermediate supports were first conceived to enable the crossing of rivers. But where's the river here? Vehicular traffic could just as easily have passed under a bridge constructed in the normal fashion at just a fraction of the NIS 300 million this bridge has cost.

But these were just a few of the facts the planners neglected to mention. A fixed rail line hasn't the reach of a city bus capable of getting anywhere there is a paved road.

As there's just a single line, reaching your destination in the center of town will require most commuters to transfer from bus to rail and back again, or from car to rail and back, from the several park-and-ride garages along the length of the route. If too many decide not to make the transfer, the line will fail economically. All hinges on the success of the transfer scheme.

Unfortunately, too, in contradiction to the planners' arguments, Jerusalem is not to be compared with other historical cities of similar size such as Valencia, Spain or Nantes, France, where light rail systems have met with brilliant success. Security has always been a major concern here. The tramway's routes are fixed, their schedules known. An advanced communications system will provide information on travel times.

Also, unlike buses, trams cannot stop quickly or be detoured in case of emergency. The tram cars have been fitted with special glass to resist stones and firebombs. Yet only most recently, with the actual operational deadline fast approaching, did the police force issue a statement to the effect that it could not carry the security burden for the line.

Can it be that the planners downplayed this critical issue and that the light rail solution is entirely inappropriate to Jerusalem's security context? ANOTHER IMPORTANT matter, still not finally decided, is signalization priorities. If the rail line wins over vehicular traffic as it must, many vital inter-neighborhood connections will be affected. Finally, with far less space allocated to parking, finding a spot for your car will become far more difficult. Perhaps that, at least, is for the best.

Whatever happens, Jerusalemites are not likely soon to forgive or forget the trauma of the 10 years of construction, the endless disruptions to traffic, the businesses ruined, the broken bones caused by tripping over rubble or the NIS 1 million party thrown by mayor Uri Lupolianski before the election upon completion of the bridge and prior to the torturous work of having to tear up Jaffa Road had even begun.

And what of the "workers," chatting, eating or resting in the shade. Just watching them (five managers for every man working on a single square centimeter of paving) drove many of us up the wall. Together with the minister of transportation, some of the very same people that brought us the Holyland, former mayors Ehud Olmert and Lupolianski, took the decisions here too. Let us pray that this time, they were far better informed.

One thing is certain. Naïve enthusiasm over these attractive, shiny, streamlined, French-built carriages has no place here. It is entirely possible that this gigantic project has solved one problem at the cost of creating and compounding a thousand others. Although of late there has been renewed talk of extending the line and building an additional one, justifying the prohibitive sums already spent won't be easy. Wasting public money is a slap in the face to the have-nots, of whom there are far too many living in Jerusalem today. The real test still lies ahead.

The writer is a Jerusalem architect and town planner.










The renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians has led to a revival on the Syrian track as well. French and American envoys to the peace process have visited Damascus, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hastened there in their wake, reflecting his fear that Syria will weaken its strategic alliance with the Iranians. Turkey also announced its interest in mediating between Jerusalem and Damascus once again, in spite of the crisis in its relations with Israel following the flotilla incident in late May.


Only in Israel is there silence. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been ignoring Syria ever since he returned to power and has not responded to the repeated peace feelers of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The most recent diplomatic developments have also encountered Israeli silence, as though these were journeys to another planet rather than an exploration of the chances for a peace agreement with a neighboring country of great importance in the region.


Netanyahu should listen to Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the leadership of the Israel Defense Forces, who are calling on him to renew negotiations with Syria. A peace treaty with Damascus would undermine the "radical axis" led by Iran, bring Assad closer to the United States and the moderate regimes in the region, abate Hezbollah and Hamas and guarantee stability on Israel's northern border.


In addition to the strategic benefit, a peace treaty would reinforce the regional aspect to the negotiations with the Palestinians, in accordance with the Arab peace initiative. And no less important, it would promote the drawing of Israel's borders and lead to an end of our control of occupied territory, over which the international community has never recognized the application of Israeli law.


The conditions for peace with Syria are known: Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for security arrangements and normalization in the relations between the two countries. The defense establishment's support for such an arrangement indicates that, in the opinion of its leaders, Israel can be defended even without the Golan, and that peace will contribute to security no less than tank brigades on the Golan Heights.


The repeated failures over the course of 19 years of negotiations with the Syrians have not led to a perpetuation of the status quo or to the strengthening of Israel's strategic situation. On the contrary: They have led to the strengthening of Israel's hostile northern front. Netanyahu now has another opportunity to reverse the trend and achieve a peace agreement that will provide great advantages to this country.









Some say the row over extending the settlement building freeze in the territories distracts the public from negotiations over the fate of the West Bank. Some say it's a shame to disturb the political system over such a negligible matter as this, given the challenges of reaching a final-status agreement through the just-born talks.


Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, however, views the settlement issue as anything but marginal. Lieberman told British Foreign Secretary William Hague by phone this week that the freeze is nothing more than a Palestinian excuse to torpedo direct talks. "Israel's government offered extensive goodwill gestures over the last year, and it is now the Palestinians' turn," Lieberman said in explaining why the freeze wouldn't be extended.


The demand to suspend settlement building is no excuse - it's as legitimate a position as the Palestinians can have. Why should they relinquish a condition that has the support of the entire world, with the sole exception of Israel? Nor is freezing construction an Israeli "gesture" - in its May 2003 decision to adopt the Middle East road map Israel committed itself to freezing all settlement activity (including natural growth ) and dismantling outposts established since March 2001. The document states that the settlement issue would be addressed only during final-status negotiations, with the exception of illegal settlements and outposts, which would be removed. Nonetheless, settlement construction has continued, and outposts have both proliferated and expanded.


In November 2003 the road map was passed with UN approval, obligating Israel to freeze construction entirely and raze outposts. All 15 members of the Security Council, including the United States (during the administration of George W. Bush, not Barack Obama ), voted in favor of Resolution 1515. A few days later, while visiting Britain, Bush called on Israel to freeze settlement building, evacuate unauthorized outposts and end the daily humiliation of the Palestinians. Settlement construction continued, and the outposts increased and expanded.


In November 2007 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas acceded to Bush's request to attend the Annapolis Conference, which sought to start negotiations toward a final-status agreement. Talks went on until the fall of 2008, and meanwhile, building in the settlements continued and outposts flourished.


On November 26 of last year, following intense pressure from Washington (not as a gesture to the Palestinians, or out of deference to the government's obligations under UN resolutions ), Israel issued a 10-month freeze order. On January 26, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai wrote to Meretz chairman Haim Oron listing the 29 settlements in which construction violations were found.


One of them was Nokdim, a settlement east of the Green Line and the home of the only foreign minister in the world who goes to bed every night and rises every morning outside his country's sovereign territory.


If Lieberman's stance on the freeze reflects that of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister's wife Sara may just as well pack away the Palestinian flag recently hoisted at their home. Abbas will not cross the threshold of the Prime Minister's Residence once more without receiving a pledge that Israel will extend the freeze. If the foreign minister's view is representative of those of the majority of ministers seated around Netanyahu's table, cabinet members from the Labor Party will have to leave their chairs. Unless, that is, they are willing to remove themselves and their party from political relevancy.


If, however, Netanyahu shows determination not only to freeze settlements temporarily, but to evacuate most of them permanently, the settlement row could prove to be a golden opportunity to get rid of Lieberman. There is no excuse for Netanyahu to keep the man and his party on board. Instead, he should invite Tzipi Livni to serve as foreign minister. Livni won't allow herself and her Kadima party to undermine talks toward a conclusive agreement, since such a deal would help pave her way into office as prime minister.


Livni's appointment would be the most valuable possible "gesture" to the humiliated Israeli peace camp, and Israel's tenuous position on the world stage.









After convicting MK Tzachi Hanegbi in a 2-1 verdict of perjury and swearing falsely in an affidavit, the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court must now rule on another difficult issue, one with immediate consequences - whether Hanegbi's actions involved moral turpitude. A 2007 amendment to the Basic Law on the Knesset grants the trial court's decision immediate force, even if it can still be appealed: An MK must be suspended at once if the court rules that his crime involved turpitude.


A court's decision on turpitude is different from most of its other decisions, as this is a moral question, not a legal one. Formally, the turpitude finding is not part of the sentence. But in reality, it constitutes a heavy sentence for a public figure, as it restricts his freedom of occupation.


The Supreme Court has ruled that a finding of turpitude is warranted only if a crime involves "a moral blemish in light of society's prevailing moral values and ethical norms." Former justice Haim Cohen, one of Israel's legal giants, urged judges to be cautious about determining turpitude, saying they should do so only if the circumstances of the crime involved "a moral defect" that rendered the perpetrator "unworthy to enter the community of honest men, and certainly unworthy to bear public responsibility."


Turpitude is a consequence of the circumstances under which the crime was committed, not of the formal legal severity of the crime. Thus, former minister Haim Ramon was convicted of a sexual offense, forcible indecent assault, and the trial court defined his act as "unjust and immoral." Nevertheless, it ruled that given the circumstances of the incident, it did not entail turpitude - because the circumstances carry critical weight in this decision.


Later, in response to a petition by the Emunah women's organization, the High Court of Justice ruled in a split decision that since the trial court had determined that Ramon's crime did not involve turpitude, he should not be disqualified from serving as a senior minister, even though his appointment came hard on the heels of his conviction. Among the other considerations she detailed in her ruling, Justice Ayala Procaccia cited Ramon's contribution to Israeli public life as a reason for not disqualifying his appointment.


Hanegbi's contribution to public life, as emphasized by numerous public figures' appeals to the court on his behalf, is also a factor favoring a conclusion that his crime did not involve turpitude, but not the principal factor. The weightiest reasons - which the prosecution never really addressed in its request that the court hand down a finding of turpitude - stem from the details of the verdict that the court issued two months ago.


The majority judges, Aryeh Romanoff and Oded Shaham, found that Hanegbi lied to the chairman of the Central Elections Committee about who had authored a campaign advertisement praising him for his political appointments. They concluded that Hanegbi himself had played a key role in drafting the ad.


Nevertheless, it is impossible to ignore the findings of the dissenting judge, Yoel Tsur, who wanted to acquit Hanegbi on the grounds that the lie attributed to him by the majority judges was not on "a substantive matter," as the law requires for conviction. Tsur also concluded that the psychological basis for a conviction was lacking, since neither Hanegbi's familiarity with the details of the ad nor his awareness that his statement would mislead the CEC chairman (who had to decide whether to permit the ad's continued publication ) were ever proven.


For the purposes of a conviction, the majority's view is decisive. But when a well-reasoned minority opinion also exists, it deserves to be given significant weight in the turpitude issue, since a finding of turpitude is a very heavy blow to an elected official or civil servant.


The fact that Hanegbi was acquitted, again in a split decision, of the charges of election bribery and attempting to improperly influence voters, and that another charge - of breach of trust over his political appointments - was withdrawn, is also significant in determining turpitude. These charges were the heart of the indictment; an indictment for perjury alone would never have been filed. Perjury indictments are in fact very rare. Otherwise, they would clog the courts.


The letters in support of Hanegbi that were submitted to the court by the prime minister, the defense minister and the head of the Mossad - all of whom are under Hanegbi's supervision in his capacity as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee - indeed constituted an ethical lapse. But in any case, such letters carry little weight compared to other considerations.


Without making light of the crimes of which Hanegbi was convicted - crimes that must not be allowed to take over public life - it is still true that not every crime entails turpitude. And it would be a shame for the term to lose its significance because of overuse.










What did Rabbi Ovadia Yosef mean when he said: "God smite them with the plague, those Palestinian Ishmaelites"? This is after all a rather unambiguous statement that needs no explanation. But Shas supporters have a strong desire, whenever their spiritual leader says something particularly infuriating and scandalous, to open the eyes of the secular public to the hidden light in his remarks. That is what former Shas spokesman Itzik Sudri did, in an op-ed in the September 7 edition of Haaretz (in Hebrew ).


The rabbi, Sudri said, does not belong to the "fanatical leftist camp, which believes the Palestinians are always right," nor does he "romanticize our enemies." His starting point, even when he supports concessions, is "Jewish and patriotic." Rabbi Yosef "feels no animosity toward Arabs as a collective," and adheres, despite his disappointment with Palestinian behavior since the Oslo Accords, to his ruling that saving lives is more important than territory. If the Palestinians demonstrate that they are ready for true peace, the rabbi will, with all his might, support "the peace process, with all its painful ramifications."


These statements are quite moderate and carefully considered. But there is one problem: they are completely disconnected from the rabbi's ugly invective. He "feels no animosity toward Arabs as a collective"? Good to know the plague is an individual and not a collective thing. In fact, to disdain an entire non-Jewish collective, Rabbi Yosef doesn't even need for this group to be in conflict with the Jews. For example, as he told us: "There was a Tsunami and other terrible natural disasters - that all comes from lack of Torah. There [in New Orleans] they have Negroes. Will Negroes study the Torah? Yallah, let's bring a Tsunami upon them and drown them. Tens of thousands dead. All because they don't have the Holy One, blessed be He."


Isn't there a less ugly way to highlight the importance of Torah study, even in a popular sermon? It's difficult to believe that the culture that created these repulsive statements also created the book of Jonah.


Although the former Shas spokesman's statements in defense of his rabbi are baseless, perhaps one can find something positive about the very fact that they were made. Perhaps one might hope that he himself believes the things he attributes to the rabbi. Perhaps one might hope that, deep down, most of the Shas people are embarrassed over comments like "Let's bring them a Tsunami" and similar pearls that emerge from their rabbi's mouth, even if they dare not admit it even to themselves, not to mention criticize it in public.


Perhaps one might even assume, in the rabbi's defense, that he would not have gotten to where he is if, for decades, he had not heard from his followers only flattery and obsequiousness and never a word of critique. What person could stand up under the burden of sycophancy that has been the illustrious rabbi's to bear?


Religious Jews, and religious people in general, take pride in the fact that they worship only God, and not human beings. That is the theory. In fact, illustrious religious figures frequently enjoy adulation and blind, mute, undoubting obedience - and this is within a culture whose ancient heroes knew how to argue with God Himself.


How good that there is a large secular public in Israel and a strong, well-developed and confident secular culture. With all its faults and weaknesses, it is a free society - not always free enough, but free compared to the alternative. Israel is a free country first and foremost because of this public and this culture. To appreciate freedom, one must only look at what happens when it is absent.









The rumor mill regarding the intentions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the talks with the Palestinians is fueled by the fact that he has shaken the hand of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, called him "my partner in peace," hosted him in the prime minster's official residence and hoisted the Palestinian flag. These are symbols, but symbols are important, just as Yitzhak Rabin in a keffiyeh or an S.S. uniform were important symbols.


The things that Netanyahu is doing are reminiscent of the terrible things that Netanyahu said about Rabin when the latter shook Yasser Arafat's hand far less joyfully than Netanyahu shook that of Abbas: "master of submission," "hero of surrender," "fell on his head," "losing his senses," and let's not forget "The Israeli government in its blindness is allowing [Arafat] to implement the first stage in his plan: the destruction of the Jewish state." Netanyahu said these things while standing before the masses that were screaming "Rabin is a traitor," "Death to Rabin" and "We want revenge." We can wonder what Netanyahu would have said had Rabin been the one hosting Abbas in his home.


Netanyahu has never offered an alternative to "Rabin's path." He has never, for example, proposed an annexation of the territories, a unilateral disengagement or transfer for the Palestinians. Netanyahu has never made any concrete proposal. But he has never admitted that the path he is ostensibly following now is "Rabin's path"; he is behaving as though he were the first to think of the idea of a Palestinian state. To the same degree, Netanyahu has never taken responsibility for his leading role in the incitement that preceded Rabin's assassination.


I know that talking about Netanyahu's responsibility for that incitement is already considered a cliche, an oft-repeated leftist statement, and that the time that has passed since the 1995 assassination has caused the picture to fade and the responsibility to be forgotten. But time has not made this responsibility irrelevant. The opposite is the case.


Because what Netanyahu is doing now is simply using the symbols of "Rabin's path." He is not the first, of course. Since Rabin's assassination, all our prime ministers have used the symbols without doing the thing itself, and have only caused us damage. But when Netanyahu does that, it's really intolerable - both because of his role in the developments preceding Rabin's assassination and because there is a good chance that he is doing it cynically, only as a means of achieving some quiet time during his term of office.


It must be said for the record that in light of the use Netanyahu is now making of the symbols of "Rabin's path," it is his responsibility to atone for his deeds at the time of Rabin's death.


The least that Netanyahu can do to atone for the wrong he caused the State of Israel by the incitement against Rabin is to do what Rabin was then on the way to doing. The only way he can compensate for the lost years, for those who died in vain, for the fear and seclusion that he has brought upon us ever since, is to do that basic thing to which he has never proposed an alternative: make a peace treaty with the Palestinians.


There are few people who get such an opportunity to repair an injustice they have caused. It is not clear what Netanyahu has done to deserve it, and it's not clear whether he knows how to do it. In order to help himself do so, he can recall the tremendous support Rabin had when he signed the Oslo Accords, and the amazing public euphoria. Since Rabin's assassination, Israel's society and leadership have been behaving as though it were the Palestinians who murdered Rabin. Well, they didn't. Seeing Bibi next to the Palestinian flag is an excellent opportunity to recall how we arrived at this point, and to close the circle.










After months of confusion and contradictory reports, the Obama administration has at last embarked on a systematic effort involving some of the nation's top scientists to measure the amount of oil remaining in the Gulf of Mexico and its potential impact on marine life. An interim report could be ready in several months.


This is very good news. Though the full effects of the spill on the water quality and animal life in the gulf will not be known for years, getting a handle on what's happening now is essential to shaping the right strategy for restoring the gulf to good health. Scientists say the picture changes every day, as undersea oil plumes disperse and degrade. Getting a fix on how much oil lies below the surface and where it is going will make possible more-educated guesses about its effects on the natural system.


The boss of the study will be Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a respected marine scientist. It will involve seagoing research vessels and extensive tests in the water column, from the surface to the sea floor. It will draw on the expertise of Ms. Lubchenco's own agency; universities in Florida, Louisiana and other gulf states; and independent research bodies like the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.


For budgetary purposes, the study will be classified as one more component of the government's ongoing response to the April spill, which means that BP will pick up the tab, whatever that turns out to be. BP has already promised to set aside $500 million to underwrite private scientific studies in the gulf over the next 10 years. But this offer has become mired in a political dispute involving gulf state governors and will not, in any case, relieve BP of its responsibility to pay for the NOAA study.


Apart from shaping restoration strategy, the new study may help end the constant — and, from the public's point of view, frustrating — sniping among government and independent scientists over the actual state of play in the gulf. In August, NOAA released an oil "budget" claiming that half of the 4.9 million barrels that had gushed from the well had completely disappeared and that another quarter had been dispersed in rapidly degrading droplets. The White House political apparatus inflated these numbers into a complete victory, inviting widespread complaints from scientists.


Then came the famous now-you-see-it, now-you-don't oil plume controversy. Woods Hole scientists, in a report published Aug. 19 by the journal Science, claimed to have found a 22-mile-long underwater oil plume near the leaking wellhead. Less than a week later, in the same magazine, another report by a team from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a laboratory supported by the federal Energy Department, said the plume had been pretty much devoured by oil-eating microbes and largely disappeared.


These and other disagreements (there have also been differing reports about oil sediments on the ocean floor and about oxygen levels) cry out for an impartial investigation that steps back from the politics of the moment, lowers the temperature of the discussion and seeks fresh answers.


An article in The Times's science section last week indicated that a fortunate combination of circumstances — including warm weather, which encourages evaporation as well as the microbes — had inspired cautious optimism among many scientists that the gulf may recover faster than anyone expected. But we should base our hopes not on conjecture but on painstaking science of the sort that Ms. Lubchenco now promises.







Congress may soon have a chance to repair, in a powerful way, the shambles it has made of immigration. It can pass an amendment to the defense authorization bill due to come before the Senate on Tuesday. The amendment is the Dream Act, an inspired bit of carving from the hugely ambitious, chronically unsuccessful comprehensive immigration reform.


The Dream Act opens the door to military service and higher education for young people whose parents brought them to this country as children without proper documentation. If they finish high school, show good moral character and serve at least two years in the military or earn a college degree, they can earn citizenship.


In a poisoned climate for legislation of any kind, and with the immigration debate more wretched than ever, the Dream Act's chances are uncertain. That is a shame, because the act was written for exactly the kind of people America should be embracing: young soldiers, scholars, strivers, future leaders.


Those who might qualify — roughly 800,000 of the 11 million people living here without authorization — are blameless for their illegal status and helpless to make it right. Most cannot leave their families to return to countries they do not know. They cannot legally work, qualify for scholarships or loans to pay for college, or serve in the military. They live in limbo, vulnerable to arrest, their dreams deferred, their hopes squandered.


The Defense Department, at least, understands their value. Passage of the Dream Act is one of its official goals for helping to maintain "a mission-ready, all-volunteer force." The educators and others who also support the act recognize how much better it is to encourage the aspirations of young people, not to consign them to lives of under-the-table jobs and unmet potential.


For years the Dream Act was shackled to larger immigration bills as a sweetener to help forge one big compromise. Now that comprehensive reform is dead in this Congress, and perhaps in the next, the Dream Act is the best hope for legalizing any significant number of Americans-in-waiting.


The president and Congress and dejected supporters of comprehensive reform have an obligation to make the Dream Act come true. Republican senators who have shelved their commitment to reform should help make it happen: people like Orrin Hatch, an original Dream Act sponsor, now a sour voice for border control. Sam Brownback, another former supporter. And the formerly bipartisan Lindsey Graham and John McCain.


The Dream Act alone won't achieve the large-scale reform the country needs. But it will be a desperately needed affirmation that fixing immigration is not all about border fear and lockdowns. It's about welcoming the hopeful.







Annual earnings data released last Thursday by the Census Bureau confirm a troubling discrepancy facing women workers and their families. Full-time women employees still make, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men — a lingering gender gap that depresses women's pay by thousands of dollars.


This latest confirmation of disparate compensation poses an immediate challenge for the Senate, where important legislation aimed at combating gender-based wage discrimination now hangs in the balance.


The measure, the Paycheck Fairness Act, would accomplish a much-needed updating and strengthening of the nation's 47-year-old Equal Pay Act.


Key provisions would enhance the remedies available for victims of gender-based discrimination, protect employees from retaliation for sharing salary information with co-workers, and require employers to show that wage differences are job-related, not sex-based, and driven by business necessity.


The clock is ticking. The bill, which has strong backing from the Obama White House, has already passed the House by a wide margin. With scant time remaining in the Congressional session, the Senate must act quickly to pass the bill or it will die.


The fact that the Senate bill has no Republican co-sponsors speaks volumes about the prevailing partisan atmosphere on Capitol Hill.


But four G.O.P. senators — Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — supported another measure targeting wage discrimination just last year. By standing up again for America's women when the Paycheck Fairness Act finally reaches the Senate floor, they would advance the cause significantly.







Despite the Senate Republicans' campaign agenda of nay-saying and filibuster, you would think taxpayers have a right to expect passage of a life-and-death measure to protect the nation's coal miners. And yet decisive action on even this issue may be shunted aside until after the November elections.


This is intolerable. The case for far stronger safety laws was tragically made last April when 29 miners were killed in an explosion down in the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. The shoddy safety record of the mine owner, Massey Energy, soon became clear — along with the need to plug gaping flaws in regulations and enforcement biased toward owners over miners who take all the risks.


The House has a mine safety reform bill moving toward a floor vote, but the Senate's attempt to come up with a bipartisan measure is floundering. John Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, is angrily blaming Republican staffers, who he says "balked on everything." Staffers? Where are the elected principals on such a vital issue?


The House measure parallels Senator Rockefeller's goals of providing the flabby Mine Safety and Health Administration with subpoena power over recalcitrant owners; increased civil and criminal penalties; protection for whistle-blowing miners; and faster disaster investigations.


Republicans insist that they are not obstructionists serving Big Coal, but Mr. Rockefeller has the greater credibility. He was instrumental in separately securing $22 million for the mine safety agency to upgrade emergency equipment and speed up the appeals process that mine owners disgracefully game to produce huge enforcement backlogs.


If further impetus is needed for Congress to pause amid its politicking for actual lawmaking, there's the gulf oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and mesmerized the nation all summer. The House mine bill now includes occupational safety amendments to deal with some of the lessons of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.


Last April, the death toll from Upper Big Branch found both chambers resounding with regret and resolve for reform. So, where's the action? Can lawmaking be any harder than mining?








New Marlborough, Mass.


AS children, teachers and parents sprint, slink or stumble into the new school year, they also find themselves laboring once again in the shadow of standardized tests. That is a real shame, given that there are few indications that the multiple-choice format of a typical test, in which students are quizzed on the specific formulas and bits of information they have memorized that year, actually measures what we need to know about children's education.


There is also scant evidence that these tests encourage teachers to become better at helping individual children; in fact, some studies show that the tests protect bad teachers by hiding their lack of skill behind narrow goals and rigid scripts. And there are hardly any data to suggest that punishing schools with low test scores and rewarding schools with high ones improves anything. The only notable feature of our current approach is that these tests are relatively easy to administer to every child in every school, easy to score and easy to understand. But expediency should not be our main priority when it comes to schools.


Instead, we should come up with assessments that truly measure the qualities of well-educated children: the ability to understand what they read; an interest in using books to gain knowledge; the capacity to know when a problem calls for mathematics and quantification; the agility to move from concrete examples to abstract principles and back again; the ability to think about a situation in several different ways; and a dynamic working knowledge of the society in which they live.


This task is not as difficult as one might think. In recent years, psychologists have found ways to measure things as subtle as the forces that govern our moral choices and the thought processes that underlie unconscious stereotyping. And many promising techniques already used by child development experts could provide a starting point for improving school assessments.


For instance, using recordings of children's everyday speech, developmental psychologists can calculate two important indicators of intellectual functioning: the grammatical complexity of their sentences and the size of their working vocabularies (not the words they circle during a test, but the ones they use in their real lives). Why not do the same in schools? We could even employ a written version, analyzing random samples of children's essays and stories.


Psychologists have also found that a good way to measure a person's literacy level is to test his ability to identify the names of actual authorsamid the names of non-authors. In other words, someone who knows that Mark Twain and J. K. Rowling are published authors — and that, say, Robert Sponge is not — reads more. We could periodically administer such a test to children to find out how much they have read as opposed to which isolated skills they have been practicing for a test.


When children recount a story that they have read or that has been read to them, it provides all kinds of information about their narrative skill, an essential component of literacy. We could give students a book and then have them talk with a trained examiner about what they read; the oral reconstruction could be analyzed for evidence of their narrative comprehension.


Researchers have also found that the way a student critiques a simple science experiment shows whether he understands the idea of controlling variables, a key component in all science work. To assess children's scientific skills, an experiment could be described to them, in writing, and then they would explain how they would improve upon it.


Of course, these new assessments could include some paper-and-pencil work as well. But that work would have to measure students' thinking skills, not whether they can select a right answer from preset options. For instance, children could write essays in response to a prompt like, "Choose something you are good at, and describe to your reader how you do it." That would allow each student to draw on his area of expertise, show his ability to analyze the process, describe a task logically and convey real information and substance. In turn, a prompt of, "Write a description of yourself from your mother's point of view," would help gauge the child's ability to understand the perspectives of others.


Finally, we don't need to exhaustively track every child every year in order to monitor how schools are doing. Just as researchers often use a randomly selected group to provide a window onto the larger population, we could test only carefully gathered representative samples from all the classes within a few grades. We would still get an empirical snapshot of a school, while freeing up students and teachers to do more meaningful work.


By shifting our assessment techniques, we would learn more of what we really need to know about how children, teachers and schools are doing. And testing could be returned to its rightful place as one tool among many for improving schools, rather than serving as a weapon that degrades the experience for teachers and students alike.


Susan Engel is a senior lecturer in psychology and the director of the teaching program at Williams College.








Anger is sweeping America. True, this white-hot rage is a minority phenomenon, not something that characterizes most of our fellow citizens. But the angry minority is angry indeed, consisting of people who feel that things to which they are entitled are being taken away. And they're out for revenge.


No, I'm not talking about the Tea Partiers. I'm talking about the rich.


These are terrible times for many people in this country. Poverty, especially acute poverty, has soared in the economic slump; millions of people have lost their homes. Young people can't find jobs; laid-off 50-somethings fear that they'll never work again.


Yet if you want to find real political rage — the kind of rage that makes people compare President Obama to Hitler, or accuse him of treason — you won't find it among these suffering Americans. You'll find it instead among the very privileged, people who don't have to worry about losing their jobs, their homes, or their health insurance, but who are outraged, outraged, at the thought of paying modestly higher taxes.


The rage of the rich has been building ever since Mr. Obama took office. At first, however, it was largely confined to Wall Street. Thus when New York magazine published an article titled "The Wail Of the 1%," it was talking about financial wheeler-dealers whose firms had been bailed out with taxpayer funds, but were furious at suggestions that the price of these bailouts should include temporary limits on bonuses. When the billionaire Stephen Schwarzman compared an Obama proposal to the Nazi invasion of Poland, the proposal in question would have closed a tax loophole that specifically benefits fund managers like him.


Now, however, as decision time looms for the fate of the Bush tax cuts — will top tax rates go back to Clinton-era levels? — the rage of the rich has broadened, and also in some ways changed its character.


For one thing, craziness has gone mainstream. It's one thing when a billionaire rants at a dinner event. It's another when Forbes magazine runs a cover story alleging that the president of the United States is deliberately trying to bring America down as part of his Kenyan, "anticolonialist" agenda, that "the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s." When it comes to defending the interests of the rich, it seems, the normal rules of civilized (and rational) discourse no longer apply.


At the same time, self-pity among the privileged has become acceptable, even fashionable.


Tax-cut advocates used to pretend that they were mainly concerned about helping typical American families. Even tax breaks for the rich were justified in terms of trickle-down economics, the claim that lower taxes at the top would make the economy stronger for everyone.


These days, however, tax-cutters are hardly even trying to make the trickle-down case. Yes, Republicans are pushing the line that raising taxes at the top would hurt small businesses, but their hearts don't really seem in it. Instead, it has become common to hear vehement denials that people making $400,000 or $500,000 a year are rich. I mean, look at the expenses of people in that income class — the property taxes they have to pay on their expensive houses, the cost of sending their kids to elite private schools, and so on. Why, they can barely make ends meet.


And among the undeniably rich, a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it's their money, and they have the right to keep it. "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society," said Oliver Wendell Holmes — but that was a long time ago.


The spectacle of high-income Americans, the world's luckiest people, wallowing in self-pity and self-righteousness would be funny, except for one thing: they may well get their way. Never mind the $700 billion price tag for extending the high-end tax breaks: virtually all Republicans and some Democrats are rushing to the aid of the oppressed affluent.


You see, the rich are different from you and me: they have more influence. It's partly a matter of campaign contributions, but it's also a matter of social pressure, since politicians spend a lot of time hanging out with the wealthy. So when the rich face the prospect of paying an extra 3 or 4 percent of their income in taxes, politicians feel their pain — feel it much more acutely, it's clear, than they feel the pain of families who are losing their jobs, their houses, and their hopes.


And when the tax fight is over, one way or another, you can be sure that the people currently defending the incomes of the elite will go back to demanding cuts in Social Security and aid to the unemployed. America must make hard choices, they'll say; we all have to be willing to make sacrifices.


But when they say "we," they mean "you." Sacrifice is for the little people.








All in all, the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain over the weekend must have been a disappointment to his legions of detractors. Their bold promises notwithstanding, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens didn't manage to clap the pope in irons and haul him off to jail. The protests against Benedict's presence proved a sideshow to the visit, rather than the main event. And the threat (happily empty, it turned out) of an assassination plot provided a reminder of what real religious extremism looks like — as opposed to the gentle scholar, swathed in white, urging secular Britons to look with fresh eyes at their island's ancient faith.


And the crowds came out, as they always do for papal visits — 85,000 for a prayer vigil in London, 125,000 lining Edinburgh's streets, 50,000 in Birmingham to see Benedict beatify John Henry Newman, the famous Victorian convert from Anglicanism. Even at a time of Catholic scandal, even amid a pontificate that's stumbled from one public-relations debacle to another, Benedict still managed to draw a warm and enthusiastic audience.


No doubt most of Britain's five million Catholics do not believe exactly what Benedict believes and teaches. No doubt most of them are appalled at the Catholic hierarchy's record on priestly child abuse, and disappointed that many of the scandal's enablers still hold high office in the church.


But in turning out for their beleaguered pope, Britain's Catholics acknowledged something essential about their faith that many of the Vatican's critics, secular and religious alike, persistently fail to understand. They weren't there to voice agreement with Benedict, necessarily. They were there to show their respect — for the pontiff, for his office, and for the role it has played in sustaining Catholicism for 2,000 years.


Conventional wisdom holds that such respect is increasingly misplaced, and that the papacy is increasingly a millstone around Roman Catholicism's neck. If it weren't for the reactionaries in the Vatican, the argument runs, priests might have been permitted to marry, forestalling the sex abuse crisis. Birth control, gay relationships, divorce and remarriage might have been blessed, bringing lapsed Catholics back into the fold. Theological dissent would have been allowed to flourish, creating a more welcoming environment for religious seekers.


And yet none of these assumptions have any real evidence to back them up. Yes, sex abuse has been devastating to the church. But asNewsweek noted earlier this year, there's no data suggesting that celibate priests commit abuse at higher rates than the population as a whole, or that married men are less prone to pedophilia. (The real problem was the hierarchy's fear of scandal, which led to endless cover-ups and enabled serial predation.)


And yes, the church's exclusive theological claims and stringent moral message don't go over well in a multicultural, sexually liberated society. But the example of Catholicism's rivals suggests that the church might well be much worse off if it had simply refashioned itself to fit the prevailing values of the age. That's what the denominations of mainline Protestantism have done, across the last four decades — and instead of gaining members, they've dwindled into irrelevance.


The Vatican of Benedict and John Paul II, by contrast, has striven to maintain continuity with Christian tradition, even at the risk of seeming reactionary and out of touch. This has cost the church its once-privileged place in the Western establishment, and earned it the scorn of fashionable opinion. But continuity, not swift and perhaps foolhardy adaptation, has always been the papacy's purpose, and the secret of its lasting strength.


Catholics do not — should not, must not — look to the Vatican to supply the church with all its saints and visionaries and prophets. (Indeed, many of Catholicism's greatest figures have had fraught relationships with the Holy See — including John Henry Newman, the man beatified on Sunday.) They look to Rome instead to safeguard what those visionaries achieved, to guard Catholicism's inheritance, and provide a symbol of unity for a far-flung, billion-member church. They look to Rome for the long view: for the wisdom that not all change is for the better, and that some revolutions are better outlasted than accepted.


On Saturday, Benedict addressed Britain's politicians in the very hall where Sir Thomas More, the great Catholic martyr, was condemned to death for opposing the reformation of Henry VIII. It was an extraordinary moment, and a reminder of the resilience of Catholicism, across a gulf of years that's consumed thrones, nations, entire civilizations.


This, above all, is why the crowds cheered for the pope, in Edinburgh and London and Birmingham — because almost five centuries after the Catholic faith was apparently strangled in Britain, their church is still alive.








Anyone who felt even a twinge of sympathy for Reggie Bush last week, when he gave back the Heisman Trophy he won in 2005 as college football's best player, would do well to browse through the NCAA report that details how Bush got into trouble.


The June report, which followed a four-year investigation, paints a deeply unflattering portrait of a gifted college athlete who apparently thought the rules didn't apply to him.


While Bush attended the University of Southern California, he and his parents allegedly took hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal gifts — a $750,000 house his parents lived in for a while rent-free, a car, cash, trips, and on and on. If Bush hadn't returned his trophy, the Heisman folks would have demanded it.


The Bush case reflects poorly on just about every person and institution involved, and it points to a hole in enforcement wide enough for even the most plodding fullback to rush through.


When the dirty laundry unfolded, USC's football program and its current players got hit the hardest, losing many of the scholarships for top recruits and the right to appear in bowl games this year and next. Bush and his coach, Pete Carroll, escaped more lightly. Bush has a $26 million contract to play running back for the New Orleans Saints, and Carroll, who ran a loose ship at USC, jumped to the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.


Perhaps most galling is what has happened to the three men who allegedly corrupted Bush in the first place — just about nothing.


This points out a wider problem in a broken system. Elite college players who canexpect huge paydays when they enter the NFL, the NBA or Major League Baseball are like catnip to would-be agents, marketers and shady characters who can make millions by getting their hooks in early.


Schools are supposed to warn their players about the rules and then watch over them the way USC apparently did not. But even the strictest college can't watch players 24/7, monitor their cellphone calls or police the contacts players have with friends who secretly work for agents. The NCAA is reasonably aggressive about ferreting out this behavior and punishing athletes. This year, for example, it has suspended star college players from games for infractions such as selling a jersey for $1,000 to a man working for a sports agent.


But the hammer ought to be dropped just as harshly on the greedy adults who take advantage of college kids. That's just not happening. Although laws in 42 states govern relations between agents and college athletes, a review by the Associated Press found that in more than half of the states, no agent has been penalized. The Federal Trade Commission, which got federal jurisdiction over such misbehavior in a 2004 law, has also taken no enforcement action.


Critics, such as the author of the opposing view, argue it's time to forget about enforcement and just pay college athletes directly. That's defeatism.


College athletes are already being paid — many with full scholarships worth as much as $50,000 a year at some schools. The answer isn't to turn them into mercenaries. It's to ensure that the great majority who don't go on to lucrative pro careers emerge with academic degrees that can help them succeed in post-collegiate life. And that the unscrupulous adults who prey on the stars are punished as severely as the athletes and their schools.








The question of whether colleges should pay their revenue-producing athletes — football and basketball players at the NCAA's top 120 college programs — is a no-brainer.


The amazing reality is that these athletes, the hired help whose performance generates hundreds of millions for these top programs, don't get paid. Who wouldn't want a business where the cost of your product is virtually zero? The performance of college athletes is the product!


Yet, as a marketing ploy, the NCAA defines college-revenue athletes as "student-athletes" and the games as contests among amateurs, creating a huge distortion. In these "big time" college programs, even the term "athlete-student" would be a stretch; athlete-employee is more accurate, young men and recently young women who work year-round at jobs and don't get paid.


Over the past 60 years, several state workers compensation boards have processed claims brought by athletes on college athletic scholarships or their heirs after the players were injured or died while playing for their schools. The boards recognized the athletic scholarship for what it is — an employment contract. As these awards went through appeals — more accurately, the political process — all of the decisions were overruled. California went on to pass a law designating athletes on scholarships as non-employees.


Top college athletic programs recognize the value of talent: They don't flinch at paying football coaches millions, plus perks that can double their salaries. Seventy coaches earn at least $1 million annually. Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops is paid $4.1 million, plus 45 hours of private jet plane use.


When Reggie Bush played for the University of Southern California, who was more crucial to the team's success — Bush and his stellar teammates or head coach Pete Carroll? More important, who got paid what?


The notion perpetuated by USA TODAY, that many college players will have multimillion dollar paydays once they reach the NFL or NBA, is a gross distortion. Of the draft-eligible players from the 120 top programs, more than 92% never see an NFL contract.


The sordid reality of big-time college revenue sports isn't about corrupt agents; it's about a corrupt system that exploits and makes billions off the performance of our country's finest athletes.


Dave Meggyesy, a former NFL linebacker and executive with the NFL Players Association, is the author of Out of Their League









On paper, I should be a progressive voter. I am an agnostic. I am a woman in my 20s with an Ivy League graduate degree and liberal arts background.


But I'm a conservative. I vote for Republicans because I believe they have the best strategies for where the country should be headed fiscally, militarily and culturally.


Secular conservatives like me are in a bind. We want to work with religious conservatives because we agree with them on most issues. We respect the ethical contributions from many faith traditions, which inspire millions to seek the public good. But we're troubled by the religious right's dominance over the conservative movement, a trend that repels rational, independent-minded folks who see religious zealotry as anathema to the Founding Fathers' pluralistic vision.


We secular conservatives are too often shoved into the canonical closet and forced to keep quiet about the fact that we don't want our politicians spouting off like preachers. We'd like to keep (and protect) religions in the private sanctuaries where they belong.


After a bruising '08 presidential campaign that saw religious bigotry from a mainstream GOP candidate (i.e. when Mike Huckabee questioned whether Mormons, such as Mitt Romney, believe "Jesus and the devil are brothers") and some elements of the unofficial grassroots movement, there's no question that Republicans need to clean up their act on faith issues.


Tolerating intolerance


Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, likes to tout his non-traditional background as an African American and a Catholic — a far cry from the WASPy men who have stood at the party's helm since the Republican Southern strategy of the '60s and '70s.


Earlier this year during a visit to Harvard, Steele told me he would play an active role this year and in 2012 to make sure any philosophical bias — whether anti-Muslim, anti-Mormon, anti-agnostic, etc. — would not be tolerated. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be happening. Cases in point: the forced religious confessions of Sikh-turned-Christian Nikki Haley as she successfully ran for the South Carolina GOP gubernatorial nomination, and the Muslim bashing surrounding the Ground Zero construction flap.


Building a Muslim prayer center so close to Ground Zero is in poor taste and understandably chafes some victims' families, but there's no denying — as some Republicans do — that Muslims have the right to build wherever any other religious group can build.


Disappointing data from a recent Pew survey show Americans' ignorance of President Obama's religious beliefs, with an increasing number of people incorrectly claiming that Obama is a Muslim. Interestingly, the Pew data show we unaffiliated folks are the least likely out of all the faith groups to incorrectly label Obama a Muslim.


While I disagree with many of Obama's policies, it should be obvious that in the United States a candidate should not be rejected for his or her religion (or lack thereof). I believe Obama when he says he's not Muslim, but what's troubling is that the term "Muslim" has been used as a slur by many conservatives.


As the GOP works to rebuild itself, party leaders need to acknowledge that solid family values can be taught in an atheist's home, a Buddhist temple or an Islamic mosque. Republicans must be more willing to accept, and promote within national party ranks, those from alternative religious groups (including seculars) who are proud to claim conservative values.


A changing nation


Someday, the Protestant/evangelical bloc dominating the Republican Party will be a religious minority because we seculars are increasing at a rapid rate, as are Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, etc. And when that day comes, you'll hear me arguing for tolerance of its minority backgrounds as well.


Americans are becoming less religious and less rigid in their beliefs. According to The Washington Post, among millennials ages 18-23 in the National Study of Youth and Religion, fewer than 25% think it's important to marry someone of the same faith. The Pew study cited earlier shows that more people think churches should keep out of politics. If Republicans want to understand the rising generation, they should study these demographics.


Earlier this month, Australians decided to keep an openly atheist prime minister. Julia Gillard has been in office since June, yet somehow the island hasn't imploded into the South Pacific Ocean. On Gillard's watch, Australia's unemployment stands at just 5.1%, border patrol funding has increased and a planned confiscatory tax on the mining industry has been pared down. Not too bad for a heathen seeking to appeal to moderate conservatives.


Back home, Republicans should pay attention and put policy ahead of prejudice.


Carrie Sheffield is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and former editorial writer for The Washington Times.









Area residents who enjoy the outdoors are blessed with some of the finest hiking trails in the country on nearby portions of the Cumberland Plateau. Its ridge-line vistas showcase expansive views; deep ravines and gorges lead wanderers through spectacular deciduous forests to rushing creeks framed by fantastic boulders, weathered rock walls and an enchanting evergreen understory of rhododendrons, ferns and mountain laurel sheltered in the dappled light of old, giant hemlocks.


Among the most famous paths on the plateau is the Fiery Gizzard Trail, rated by Backpacker magazine as one of the nation's top 25 hiking trails. Just minutes away from Monteagle — and barely 45 minutes from Chattanooga — it has become a treasure for those who know it, and a magnet for visitors and tourists from across the country. All told, some 250,000 people visited the trail last year.


In recent years, the Fiery Gizzard had become the source of concern for patrons who worried about its future. The trail, though managed by South Cumberland State Park, lies mainly on land long owned by lumber companies, which have been divesting their plateau holdings in recent years.


That circumstance made it vulnerable to encroachment and fragmentation by private developers. Advocates for protection of the trail have wanted to purchase the land, and also to protect its magnificent viewshed from Ravens Point and other outlooks to ridges on the west. Not long ago, a private developer sought to buy land on western ridges to build second homes on the bluffs. That deal fell through, but potential development remained an issue. Trail patrons also worried that the clear-cut loggers who haunt the plateau would gain access to the forests below.


A 6,200-acre land deal announced last week should arrest those worries. The $8.1 million public-private effort, the result of cumulative work and broad collaboration the past two years among state and federal government, private donors, foundations and land trust organizations, will fund public ownership of nearly half the key acreage needed to preserve both the trail and the viewshed. The 2,900 acres of trail land will become part of the South Cumberland State Park.


The remainder of the 6,200 acres across the viewshed will be made available for private purchase under a conservation easement. That will protect the land from general development but return a portion of the funding guaranteed toward the purchase by the land trusts. Those proceeds will then be recycled to raise money for other land conservation projects.


More broadly, the land will be linked together in a total of 10,000 acres of protected forestland between Grundy Forest State Natural Area and TVA's Foster Falls Small Wild Area, one of the region's most heavily visited rock-climbing areas.


Gov. Phil Bredesen arranged for $4.1 million in funding through state and federal conservation funds. The state portion of that amount will come from a fee on real estate transfers; the federal portion will come from fees levied on commercial use of public land and mineral resources.


Private funding, managed by the Land Trust for Tennessee and the national Conservation Fund, utilized both their own private donations and major gifts. Chattanooga's Benwood and Lyndhurst foundations, for example, contributed significant grants to jump start the private-donor funding. The Friends of South Cumberland State Park also have participated in the fundraising.


The innovative deal exemplifies an increasingly useful partnership approach to preserve valuable green-space for public use in an era of expanding growth in rural areas and limited public funding for conservation for water sheds, wildlife habitat and recreation. But it yet needs donors. Of the $2.1 million to be raised through private donations, there yet remains a $650,000 shortfall.


Supporters who want to help may easily access the Land Trust for Tennessee online. They can be assured of broad and well-appreciated public benefits.







No so long ago, tattoo parlors generally were found only in seedy neighborhoods. Those who sported the artwork seemed to belong to one of two groups: Military men and women whose body art earned them a place in circus sideshows. No more. Tattoo parlors are now mainstream.


Evidence of their handiwork is easily visible on men and women in almost every public venue. Now, the art form even enjoys an exalted legal status. A federal appeals court recently ruled that tattoos, and by extension tattoo parlors, are a form of constitutionally protected free speech.


The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in a unanimous opinion said that tattoos are a "purely expressive activity" and that a California city could not uniformly ban all tattoo parlors when it allowed other businesses, including fortune tellers and adult-oriented enterprises, to operate freely. Writing for a panel of three Republican appointees, Judge Jay S. Bybee described tattooing as "one of the oldest forms of human expression" and "one of the world's most universally practiced forms of artwork." As such, it deserves protection.


Given that criteria and Bybee's statement that "a form of speech does not lose First Amendment protection based on the kind of surface it is applied to," the ruling is sound. It does not mean, however, that tattoo parlors have free license to operate in any manner they choose.


Though the ruling found the across-the-board ban on the tattoo shops illegal, it does leave room for communities to adopt equitable rules to regulate their operation in the name of public health and safety. After all, unsterilized needles and other unsanitary practices can be responsible for transmitting HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis and other diseases to unwitting clients.

The court addressed the issue forthrightly. Safety, its ruling said, "could be achieved by regulations ensuring that tattooing is performed in a sanitary manner rather than outright prohibition of tattooing."


Most tattoo parlor operators here and elsewhere work diligently to provide a safe, sterile and inviting environment for patrons. They support, as well, standards and inspection regimens established by authorities. They've got reason to do so. One public announcement of a failed inspection or a safety violation at a place where needles are the medium of expression surely would doom a business and bring financial ruin to its proprietor.


The appeals court ruling is definitive and clear. Tattooing is a "collaborative creative process" between an individual and an artist. The result of that synergy is protected by the First Amendment. That protection, however, is not so broad that it strips communities of the obligation and authority to address widely held concerns about the tattoo business. Cities should approach those critical issues, the court makes clear, through regulation rather than an outright ban. That's a fair, sensible compromise.







We were shocked by the recent news that the poverty rate for 2009 climbed sharply, and to an alarming level.


The figures indicated that the poverty rate for Americans increased last year from 13.2 percent to 14.3 percent!


That's terrible news. We don't want anyone to be in poverty.


We realize our country has been suffering a general economic crisis for some time. But even if roughly 86 percent of our people are getting along pretty well economically, having about 14 percent in poverty is just not acceptable.


Percentages are one thing. But when percentages represent "people," that's something else. It's painful to consider that nearly 44 million people in America were considered to be poor last year.


That's one in seven!


Some "big city" areas, places like Detroit and Los Angeles, had large jumps in poverty. But other hard-hit communities were Modesto, Calif.; Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.; and Las Vegas.


Child poverty reportedly rose to almost 21 percent! That's perhaps the most heartbreaking figure.


We are still a "rich" country, even in recession. Our free-enterprise system is what has built the greatest economy the world has ever seen. In addition, we have many kinds of charitable and governmental programs to help people in real need. But to think that 14.3 percent of our people may be in poverty is disconcerting.


The big question is, what has gone wrong? Then the next question is, how do we recover — for all of our people?


What has gone wrong is that we have defied commonsense rules of economics, governmentally and in private business and personal affairs. How can we pull out and revive the economy? Artificial economic respiration through government "stimulus" is no answer. There is no quick fix. But more hard work and more sensible free-enterprise economics can create more opportunities, in time, for those who really want to get a job. And there are some things our government should "quit" doing because they have a depressing effect on our economy.


We are still a rich country. But we have for too long ignored the limited-government, private-initiative principles that grow the economy.


Doing a mix of right and wrong things keeps 85 percent of our people "OK." We need to do more of the right things to assure opportunities for the unfortunate 15 percent whom we want to do better.


It is not easy to step back and look at what has gone wrong — and then to do what is right to solve the problem.


But can't we Americans do that? Shouldn't we insist on doing that?







President Barack Obama has said repeatedly that what the United States needs to get the economy back on track is more government spending. Besides the original $862 billion "stimulus" that he supported, he wants Congress to pass an additional $50 billion stimulus. He says that new spending will jump-start our economy — even though the first stimulus did nothing of the sort and added massively to our dangerously high national debt.


Interestingly, fellow liberal Democrat Hillary Clinton, our secretary of state, has stepped forward to say that the debt the United States is accumulating is actually a national security threat.


"The United States must be strong at home in order to be strong abroad," Clinton said recently, according to Reuters news service. "We cannot sustain this level of deficit financing and debt without losing our influence, without being constrained in the tough decisions we have to make."


She said the United States should "make the national security case about reducing the deficit and getting the debt under control."


She was careful not to criticize the president directly. Nevertheless, her take on the crippling national debt is decidedly different from the president's. His solution to every economic problem seems to be to spend more.


Certainly no one can reasonably claim that Clinton is fiscally "conservative." But even she seems to acknowledge what the president is unwilling to admit: that outrageously high national debt is weakening the United States.


Alas, until the president himself and the Democrats in control of Congress also acknowledge that America must begin living within its means, there is not likely to be much improvement in our nation's fiscal policy.







The state of New Jersey has long offered government employees hefty pensions, as well as retirement eligibility at age 60. Now the state is out of money, and new Gov. Chris Christie has had to propose painful remedies: an end to automatic cost-of-living adjustments for state retirees, raising the retirement age to 65 and reducing future pension payments.


"We must reverse the damage caused by fairy-tale promises that have fattened benefits and pensions to unsustainable levels," he told The Associated Press.


New Jersey refused to face financial facts years ago, when it could have made smaller adjustments to prevent the painful cuts now.


You may not fret about New Jersey, but doesn't it trouble you that our Congress is refusing to face the reality that Social Security is going bankrupt? Shouldn't lawmakers act now to head off that disaster?







It has been exciting to watch the big, new Volkswagen operation go up at Enterprise South industrial park. The plant, being constructed at a price of $1 billion, will employ more than 2,000 workers and will build about 150,000 vehicles per year. Thousands more jobs are being created by other companies to supply materials to VW. Those investments are helping stabilize the local economy even during a time of economic crisis nationwide.


We learned recently of yet another "spin-off" benefit from the VW plant: Delta Air Lines has started offering daily, nonstop flights from Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport to Detroit.


That will link Chattanooga to the "Motor City," which is of great importance in the auto industry. Both VW and its supplier companies are enthusiastic about the new flights. Volkswagen's U.S. headquarters is in Herndon, Va., rather than Detroit, but the new flight will provide a direct connection for the 400 employees VW still has in Auburn Hills, Mich., a suburb of Detroit.


The morning flights will be scheduled so a passenger can arrive early enough to get in a day's work and then return early the following day.


But residents in and around Chattanooga who are not part of the auto industry will also benefit. The Detroit link opens up new connections to other cities, including international destinations. It also will encourage greater tourism from the Detroit area to scenic Chattanooga, which will benefit our economy.


All told, area residents may now fly directly from Chattanooga to nine destinations: Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Dallas; Detroit; Memphis; Orlando, Fla.; Washington, D.C.; and Tampa, Fla. (via St. Petersburg). Just as importantly, residents of those areas may fly directly to Chattanooga.


Expanded flight options benefit us all in direct or indirect ways.









Political scientists like to call them "frozen conflicts," Kashmir, Kosovo, Cyprus, the Georgian-Russian standoff, the Caucasus knot of Nagorno-Karabakh and of course the status of Palestine. Such conflicts we report upon regularly. We seek to enable the efforts of scholars, analysts and policy-makers to examine these thickets of political immobility from as many perspectives as possible. It is rare, however, for any of these issues to be squarely examined solely through the lens of local news media coverage.


Which is why we are so impressed by the effort organized over three days last week by Istanbul's Global Political Trends Center, or GPOT, and the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation that brought together reporters and editors from three countries: Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Their task was to examine the intersection of effort to make peace over the mire of Nagorno-Karabagh – the principle divide between Armenia and Azerbaijan – and journalism.


One would not expect a great deal of agreement among scribes of these three particular countries. But the accord was nearly universal that the lack of a free press in the region is a chief culprit in the chilling of any effort at progress.

Without a free press, minds and attitudes remain captive to government propaganda and nationalist rhetoric, all argued.


"The coverage of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict as it is currently done is not sustainable," Armenian journalist Boris Navasardian told the conference. "The manipulation and psychological strain it puts not only on conflict resolution but also on society and the development of society are of concern."


Arif Aliyev, chairman of Yeni Nesil (New Generation), Azerbaijan's journalists' union, agreed. He bemoaned the lack of diversity in the Azerbaijani media, which he said has a significant influence on public opinion. "The opposition hasn't had airtime for the last two years," Aliyev said.


Perhaps the vicious circles in conflict created by narrow, government-created media prisms should be obvious. The role of U.S. propaganda in securing public support for the invasion of Iraq has been well established, for example. But we know of few efforts akin to this work newly undertaken by GPOT and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in other contexts. And we find it extremely valuable.


Armenia and Azerbaijan were respectively ranked 111th and 146th out of 175 countries last year in the Reporters Without Borders freedom of the press index. As Turkish journalists, our lot is better but certainly precarious.


Connecting these failures of journalism and peace-making is rare, if not unique. This novel project, and the brave journalists who came together to share their perspectives, is the strongest source of hope we can imagine for Nagorno-Karabakh specifically and regional peace-making generally.







The findings of public opinion surveys clearly indicate nowadays that there prevails a serious crisis of confidence among Turks toward the West in general. The feelings of Turks toward both the United States and the European Union have indeed cooled significantly in recent years, actually revealing a kind of growing tendency toward political isolation.


According to the 2010 Transatlantic Trends report released last week by the German Marshall Fund of the U.S., for instance, the percentage of Turks who said Turkey should act in closest cooperation with countries in the Middle East on international matters has doubled to 20 percent from 2009 figures.


Some believe that it is the foreign policy understanding of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which should be held responsible for this growing tendency toward political isolation and vividly question as to whether Turkey is becoming strategically disoriented.  


As an expert on foreign policy, I have always believed that Turkey strongly required a new awareness of her own identity and history, in its relations with its environment in particular. Unfortunately, the Turkish policy-makers of the Cold War era acted as if history was nonexistent. The country thus was gradually alienated from its own cultural roots and its foreign policy trapped itself amid the narrow choices of East and West, or Asia and Europe. What was essentially required, however, was a well-articulated synthesis as well as multidimensional outlook.


I have approached AKP-era Turkish foreign policy, mostly influenced by Ahmet Davutoğlu's "strategic depth" perspective, with these ideas in mind. I carefully analyzed all works written by Davutoğlu and have gradually come to support his efforts to harmonize Turkey's Western and Islamic identities and to improve relations with all of its neighbors.


As Davutoğlu asserts, Turkey's historic depth indeed enhances its geographic depth, the culmination of which is essentially determining its strategic depth. And because the country is located at the center of several geo-cultural basins, it should indeed pursue an active policy to take advantage of the opportunities that exist in all of them.


What strikes me the most among Davutoğlu's suggestions, however, is the analogy of a bow and arrow he uses in his book "Stratejik Derinlik" (Strategic Depth). The further Turkey strains its bow in Asia, claims Davutoğlu, the more precise would its arrow extent into Europe. And "if Turkey does not have a solid stance in Asia, it would have very limited chances with the EU."


To increase its EU prospects and/or strengthen its place in the Western world, Turkey should indeed have a solid stance in Asia. Having said that, I don't believe the AKP's foreign policy tears Turkey away from the West. There are a lot of issues for which the AKP needs to be criticized, but I find accusations that its leadership is trying to turn Turkey into Iran ideologically motivated.


More importantly, neither the AKP nor its policies are the direct cause of such sentiments among ordinary Turks; its success is rather the by-product. The Western world, the EU in particular, should also question itself about its responsibility for such negative sentiments in the Turkish public.








Last week there was no escape. Hrant Dink dominated the post-referendum news. First, the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, delivered its damning verdict in the Dink versus Turkey case. The same day, Tuba Çandar presented her book 'Hrant' and one day later, on Sept. 15, his family and friends met to celebrate his birthday and to witness the presentation of the 2010 International Hrant Dink Awards.


The award ceremony was impressive, for several reasons. Together with Jan. 19, the day he was killed, it has become one of the two moments each year to commemorate his murder in 2007. Of course there was sadness, in the minds of those present, in the genes of the meeting. Sorrow about the loss of this remarkable person and frustration because of the fact that his ongoing murder trial seems to be leading nowhere. At the same time, there is the conviction that he will not be forgotten and the determination to preserve the spirit of his fights for ideals and his capacity to encourage others. This year was the second time that the awards were presented. The domestic price went to the movement of conscientious objectors in Turkey, a small but growing organization of people who refuse to serve in the Turkish army. Faced with persecution, conviction and torture, fighting an uphill struggle for better treatment and new regulations for conscientious objectors. The second award winner was Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who became famous around the world because of his efforts to bring the Chilean junta leader Pinochet and Argentine military officers responsible for the killing of thousands of civilians during the 1976-1983 dictatorship to court. After he initiated an investigation into crimes committed during the Franco regime in Spain, a case was opened against him and at the moment he is still suspended from his duties. Garzon is a living example of the many courageous people around the globe who take personal risks to work for a better world. The awards are there to show that they are not alone and to motivate everyone to fight for their ideals, using the language of peace.


That is exactly what Hrant was so good at. One is reminded of that special quality when reading Tuba Çandar's book. The author has not tried to write a classic biography. What she did was gather hundreds of recollections and impressions from people who knew Hrant and combine them with fragments from articles and speeches by Hrant himself. The result is a rich mosaic that superbly manages to bring to life the many facets of Hrant: from the leftist, activist and defender of Armenian rights to the tender friend and the haunted citizen.


The many mistakes made by the Turkish state in dealing with Hrant were all unveiled in the ECHR judgment. Turkey was found guilty on all counts, which includes violation of 'the right to life' and freedom of expression. The court also found that Turkey has not managed to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these failures, a breach of duties that continues till this day because of the way the case against Hrant's murderers has been mishandled. In fact, the ECHR has ordered Turkey to carry out a new and effective investigation into the role of state officials connected with the case. That is good news for the Dink family and their lawyers, who almost lost faith in the possibility of upholding the law.


The Turkish state will pay financial compensation. But that should only be the start of a fundamental revision of policy that should, first and foremost, aim to remove the obstacles standing in the way of trying all those responsible for Hrant's murder. In the long run though, this is not enough. The ideology that led Turkish courts to deliberately distort Hrant's statements, thereby making him a target for ultranationalist groups, has to be skipped from the books and the minds of the Turkish judiciary. The same goes for all those articles restricting freedom of expression that still exist in several laws. Only by carrying out these vital reforms, will the Turkish state be able to comply with the legal obligations coming from Europe and with the moral imperatives related to Hrant's death.


The 2010 awards show that Hrant's spirit is alive in the actions of others, all around the world, and in the minds of those who worked with him. Let's hope last week's events will also lead to the redrafting of the state policies that victimized Hrant and so many others in Turkey. Only then will his legacy be complete.








Had I voted in the recent referendum in Turkey, I would have struggled to decide whether to vote for or against the constitutional amendments put forth by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.


On the one hand, the reform package includes progressive amendments, such as constitutionally guaranteed gender equality. On the other hand, it grants the AKP the power to appoint most of Turkey's high court judges without a confirmation process. Prior to Sunday, the secular courts were the last remaining check on the power of the AKP—an authoritarian movement with Islamist roots that has often interpreted democracy as unchallenged majority rule. That judicial check is now gone.


With the amendments now passed, the AKP promises to draft a new constitution for Turkey. But regardless of the laws and amendments that Ankara passes, the question remains whether the AKP will actually transform the country into a liberal democracy.


Since assuming power in 2002, the AKP has accused Turkey's courts and its secular military of undemocratically blocking its initiatives, and thus of inhibiting the country's emergence as a liberal democracy. The party has now jettisoned both these institutions: Following allegations of a coup plot involving military officers, the Turkish military has withdrawn to its barracks. And after Sunday's referendum, the courts, too, will be reshaped in the image of the conservative-cum-Islamist AKP.


The party has also steadily built up the influence it wields over the country's powerful – and largely secular – media and business community. Recently, the AKP slammed independent press outlets with politically motivated taxes and fines, forcing more-compliant coverage of government policies. In the run-up to elections, AKP leader and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to destroy the secular business lobbies should they fail to support the amendments in the referendum. The result? The amendments passed