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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

EDITORIAL 21.09.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month september 21, edition 000631, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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













































































The Union Government has done well to issue, much in advance, an appeal to the people to maintain peace and communal harmony irrespective of which way the Allahabad High Court's verdict goes on the title suit of the land where the disputed Babri structure stood and where a resurrected Ram temple now exists. Millions of Hindus believe that Ram was born at the site in Ayodhya and a temple commemorating the birth of Maryada Purushottam existed prior to its destruction in 1528 by Babur's army and the construction of what came to be known as Babri Masjid by Mir Baqi. The subsequent tussle for control over the land is far too well-documented and known to merit repetition; suffice to say that Hindu anger spilled over on December 6, 1992, when the disputed structure was demolished. In the intervening two decades, tempers have calmed down and a new generation of Indians has come of age in a society that is increasingly aspirational and less driven by issues that are to do with religion and religious identity. Hindu feel more confident and consequently less threatened; Muslims have come to realise that economic growth and development are far more important for their community's welfare than violent bickering over a mosque that had fallen into disuse and which was never considered specially significant. Even the politics of caste and religious identity that dominated popular discourse and voting trends in the closing decade of the last century has yielded space to a different brand of politics centred on good governance. Hence, in this changed milieu there is really little cause to worry about popular response to the High Court's verdict. What lends credence to this view is the great maturity shown by the RSS and the VHP which, even before the Government issued its appeal, declared that the Sangh Parivar would react to the judgement in a considered manner and within the democratic framework of constitutionalism. Moreover, both sides have acknowledged that Friday's ruling can be contested in the Supreme Court and, hence, there is no reason to get carried away needlessly or betray misplaced emotion. In brief, neither triumphalism nor defeatism is called for. Having eschewed the option for a negotiated settlement and opted for a court-mandated resolution, neither side can now afford to cavil at the High Court's judgement.

Seen in this context, there is no need to get hyper-active on the security front through massive deployment of paramilitary forces and by bringing normal life to a halt, especially in Uttar Pradesh. The State Government should take appropriate measures and ensure adequate security to prevent mischief-makers from instigating hoodlums, seeking to reignite flames that have long been put out. More importantly, the intelligence agencies should focus on collecting information that is reliable and actionable, and pass it on to the authorities responsible for maintaining law and order. It would also help if political parties, irrespective of their ideological difference, were to deploy their cadre with the intention of helping law-enforcement agencies and keeping hot-heads in control. Friday poses a litmus test for Indian society as a whole: If we are able to deal with the judgement without any adverse fallout than we would be seen as a responsible society. 







The Bharatiya Janata Party's victory in the Gujarat Assembly byelection in Kathal constituency is a resounding slap in the face of the Congress that has stepped up its motivated campaign of slander and worse against Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the party after the CBI framed and arrested former Minister of State for Home Amit Shah in the alleged Sohrabuddin fake encounter case. The Congress may now seek to downplay the election outcome as being 'unrepresentative' of the political mood in the State as a whole and, therefore, inconsequential, but it cannot ignore the fact that it has lost this seat for the first time in 50 years, and that too with a spectacular margin of more than 21,000 votes. Nor can the party pretend to gloss over the fact that Kathal is in central Gujarat, a region which has generally voted for Congress in recent times, or that Muslims voted for the BJP in large numbers. The huge defeat can only be attributed to the alienation of large sections of the population, including Muslims, from the Congress. The results are a rejection of the hate politics the Congress has unleashed against Mr Modi, and the party's constant attempt to keep communal fires burning even as the Chief Minister focuses on development and rapid progress. The BJP has been rightly raising the issue of Mr Amit Shah being hounded by the CBI, clearly on the instructions of the Congress-led Union Government — as much is evident from the agency's prejudiced investigations and selective leaks to media. The election outcome shows that the people of Gujarat are not impressed by the Congress's politics of vendetta and vindictive attitude towards Mr Modi; they are beginning to tire of it.

Since the setback for the Congress comes ahead of crucial civic elections in the State in October, the party should feel worried. The last big win the Congress has had in Gujarat was during the 2001 municipal elections; since then, it has been a downswing all along. Despite its vitriolic attacks on Mr Modi and efforts to discredit him, the Congress has miserably failed to mobilise opinion in its favour. Yet, despite the repeated electoral setbacks the Congress has suffered since 2002, it has been — and continues to remain — reluctant to abandon its 'Hate Modi' campaign, scripted by 'secular' jholawallahs who neither contest elections nor are accountable to the people. Their larger-than-life image propagated by a biased media and their proximity to certain leaders in the Congress allows them the opportunity to decide for the party what should it be its political line in Gujarat. That apart, there's an important lesson for everybody to be learned from successive election results in Gujarat: The people of this State have moved on rather than be shackled by events of the past. Funnily though, others seem to be trapped in the past and are reluctant to let Gujarat surge ahead. 








When the Palmolein import scandal rocked Kerala in the early-1990s, he was the Secretary, Food and Civil Supplies, and a member of the Kerala State Civil Supplies Corporation which signed the controversial deal with a Malaysian firm. Later in his career he was Telecom Secretary in the Union Government when the 2G Spectrum scandal broke out. The role of Telecom Minister A Raja and others in this scam, involving under-pricing to the tune of `70,000 crore, is currently being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation under the aegis of the Central Vigilance Commissioner and the matter is before the Supreme Court.

It has also come to light that just a month ago the Telecom Department he headed secured legal opinion that institutions like the CVC and the Comptroller and Auditor-General cannot probe policy decisions like the allotment of spectrum licences. He has now been appointed the CVC and he will 'supervise' the investigations into what is arguably India's biggest scam which happened during his tenure as Telecom Secretary. As they say, this can happen only in India! Meet Mr PJ Thomas, the Kerala cadre IAS officer, who has been chosen by the United Progressive Alliance Government to head the statutory anti-corruption body, the Central Vigilance Commission. 

This decision of the Government not only betrays its scant respect for norms but for judicial verdicts as well. The Central Vigilance Commission, which came into being in 1964, acquired statutory status following the judgement of the Supreme Court in Vineet Narain vs Union of India. The court declared that the commission would supervise the work of the CBI and the CVC would henceforth be selected by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. The procedure prescribed by the court for appointment of the CVC was incorporated in Section 4(1) of the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003.

But, as the controversy surrounding Mr Thomas's appointment as CVC shows, the Government has merely ensured technical compliance with the court's order by making Ms Sushma Swaraj, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, a member of the committee. The spirit of the judgement was lost when the Prime Minister and the Home Minister used their 2-1 majority in the committee to overrule Ms Swaraj's objections regarding Mr Thomas' candidature.

The decision to ignore the opinion of Ms Swaraj, who had no objection to any of the other short-listed candidates, is not only graceless but unlawful as well if one cares to understand the principle underlying Section 4(1) of the Act. The process of selection would have been credible only if the Government had included Ms Swaraj in the decision-making process in the real sense. Heavens would not have fallen if someone other than Mr Thomas had been chosen for that office because there were other worthy candidates. 

This brings us to the issue of 'inclusiveness' that the Congress keeps talking about. As this episode shows, it does not mean taking everyone along or respecting other shades of opinion, even when the apex court directs the Government to do so. 'Inclusiveness' has a different connotation in the Congress's lexicon. In matters of governance, it means the inclusion of persons whose adherence to the party's policies is not in doubt and whose allegiance to the Nehru-Gandhis, who own and control the party, is never in doubt.

On the policy front, 'inclusion' just means inclusion of religious minorities in Government schemes and programmes. It is strange that leaders of the Congress fail to comprehend that religious diversity is not the only form of diversity that exists in this country. The concept of diversity extends far beyond religion. It includes linguistic diversity, gender (read the Delhi High Court's brilliant exposition of this idea in its judgement on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code), race and most important of all — politics.

Taking the last point first, it must be noted that social diversity has translated itself into political diversity in a big way over the last 25 years. The number of political parties in the Lok Sabha (12 in 1957 and over 40 in 2007) bears eloquent testimony to this phenomenon. The growth of political parties has also reduced the Congress's vote base by about 15- 20 per cent during this period. In recent years, the party's share of the national vote hovers around 28 per cent and it is a well established fact that around 72 per cent of the electors do not support this party. Yet, the system allows this party to put together a coalition, control the Government and carry on with its age-old policy of inclusion of supporters and exclusion of non-supporters.

As we have seen since the days of Mrs Indira Gandhi and the Emergency, the Nehru-Gandhis and the Congress have never accorded space to persons who disagree with them politically. In this party's scheme of things, unless you are a Congress partisan and a certified Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist like Mr Navin Chawla, Mr HR Bhardwaj or Syed Sibte Razi, you stand excluded. This is the Congress's 'inclusiveness' in practice.

Returning to the issue at hand, since the Prime Minister and his Government have displayed such contempt for the opinion of the Leader of the Opposition and announced the appointment of Mr Thomas as CVC, the former Telecom Secretary unfortunately joins the league of persons who are seen as Congress partisans. Going by the sequence of events, anyone with rudimentary political sense can see that Mr Thomas has political clout going all the way to the top (and the 'top' should only be construed in a de facto sense in the present political context), for the Prime Minister to be so dismissive of the opinion of Ms Swaraj. It is not difficult to discern who his mentors are. 

In another age and another time, a civil servant in Mr Thomas's shoes would have declined the appointment given the controversy surrounding it. The Government, too, would have yielded to saner counsel and picked someone else. But we live in different times — in an era of 'inclusiveness' as practised by the Congress. That is why citizens like this writer display such skepticism. So, sorry Mr Thomas for being a Doubting Thomas! 








The spectre of jihadi terror has returned to Delhi with the incident at Jama Masjid over the weekend. In what appears to be a botched attempt at striking terror, alleged terrorists riding a two-wheeler fired randomly at a tourist bus, injuring two Taiwanese visitors. In what may be a related incident, a car was found on fire near Jama Masjid after a crude pressure cooker bomb went off. Both of these incidents were followed up by an e-mail allegedly claiming to be from the Indian Mujahideen that was sent to a number of media outlets. The Delhi Police, meanwhile, has played down the Indian Mujahideen angle and has denied any links to organised terror groups as yet.

The shooting incident at Jama Masjid occurred around 11.30 am while the e-mail from the Indian Mujahideen seems to have been sent two hour later. The e-mail, sent from a Gmail account, used the moniker Al-Arbi which has been used in 2008 in several Indian Mujahideen e-mails. The e-mail document sent in PDF format is about five pages long. The document re-uses the Indian Mujahideen template we had seen back in 2008. The document begins with a rant on Kashmir while making the specific threat of "more and better" series of incidents to come in many cities. The document goes on to issue an expected threat to the Commonwealth Games before marking the anniversary of the Batla House encounter of 2008 that saw an Indian Mujahideen module being busted. Lastly, the document closes with threats to Mumbai and to the police in Ratlam.

While the jury may be out for a while on whether this was a terror incident sponsored and executed by organised Islamist terror outfits, the parallels to the botched New York Times Square attack are quite striking. The similarities are on three counts — the amateurish nature of both the attack, their failure to cause any significant casualties, and finally a pre-scripted e-mail claim that was out of tune with the magnitude of the incident. The response of the Delhi Police bears some similarities as well with the Homeland Security response in the United States as debate ensued for days on whether the Faisal Shahzad incident was or was not an act of terror.

With the Commonwealth Games in Delhi just a few weeks away it is understandable that the authorities should seek to downplay the terror angle. It is prudent to de-hype the magnitude of the threat, given that the capability and capacity of the Indian Mujahideen to carry out sophisticated synchronised multiple bombings has been significantly degraded over the last two years. After the September 2008 Delhi bombings there have been only two significant incidents of serial blasts and both of them were in Assam with tenuous links to Islamists at best. Since then the German Bakery bombing in Pune in February 2010 would rank as the next most significant incident and that too involved a single device. An attempt at multiple blasts took place in Bangalore during the T20 cricket series. In that incident most of the devices were of low intensity and many failed to set off. 

The most significant terror strike in the last three years in India involved hardened fidayeen trained by Lashkar-e-Tayyeba travelling from Pakistan. Most previous fidayeenattacks were not successful with the lone exception of the 2008 New Year's eve attack on the CRPF camp at Rampur.

One can draw three broad conclusions from this mixed picture. To carry out successful attacks of spectacular magnitude requires hardened recruits who have undergone significant training. Despite that degree of training, fidayeen attacks against 'hard' targets are not easy pull off. The fact that the last three incidents involved were either amateurish or low on complexity suggests that the terror outfits are not getting the kind of recruits they got in the past.

But none of this should be reason for us to doubt their intent to strike, which seems to remain undiminished. It is important to note that last weekend's botched attacks had been preceded by several Delhi-specific warnings. While Ilyas Kashmiri's 313 Brigade had issued a threat to Delhi around Commonwealth Games back in February, more recently a Pakistani publication has carried what might be described as a conspiracy theory of very low credibility, warning specifically of two terror strikes in Delhi.

More significantly, former ISI chief Hamid Gul, in an interview to Asia Times's Syed Saleem Shahzad on September 9, 2010, has warned that whatever happens in Pakistan its effects will always trickle down to Delhi. In fact, Syed Saleem Shahzad, who was recently injured in a shooting incident and has returned to reporting just a few weeks ago, had warned on September 11 of an impending terror attack in India by Al Qaeda. 

As Delhi Police investigates the latest incident it perhaps is important to not hype the threat to Delhi. But it is also important not to be in denial of the intent of the jihadis to strike, which clearly remains undiminished.

The writer, an expert on security affairs, tracks terrorism in South Asia.








The statement purporting to be from the Indian Mujahideen disseminated by e-mail on Sunday, September 19, is shown as having been signed by one 'Al Arbi' the same day. It refers to certain incidents which allegedly took place at Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh on the day of Eid-ul-Fitr (September 11). It also refers to the day when the total number of people allegedly killed by the security forces in Jammu & Kashmir crossed 100 (September 17). This would indicate that this message must have been drafted between September 17 and 19.

The statement is well-drafted in English and has very few grammar or typing mistakes. It has been drafted by one well-versed in the Quran. Many of the religious allusions have been taken from some past messages of Osama bin Laden, but the Al Qaeda leader has not been mentioned anywhere by name. The last paragraph of the message has been borrowed almost word for word from a message against Gen Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistani Army issued by Osama bin Laden in September 2007, calling for the wrath of Allah on them for the raid on Lal Masjid in Islamabad in July 2007.

The IM message reads: "O, Allah, deface them, break their backs and heads, split them up and destroy their unity; O, Allah, afflict them with the loss of their near and dear ones as they have afflicted us with the loss of our near and dear ones; O, Allah, we seek refuge in You from their evilness and we place You at their throats; O,Allah, make their plotting their destruction; O,Allah, suffice for us against them with whatever You wish; O, Allah, destroy them for they cannot escape You; O, Allah, count them, kill them and leave not even one of them."

There are only two minor changes. Osama bin Laden had not said "deface them". He had also not said "and heads". One does not know wherefrom Osama bin Laden had originally taken his curse against Gen Musharraf and the Pakistani Army. Osama bin Laden's curse against them has been converted by the IM into a curse against the Indian people and officials.

The statement does not directly claim responsibility on behalf of the IM for the attack in Delhi on September 19 in which two Taiwanese tourists were injured. However, it indirectly hints at its responsibility by saying: "In the name of Allah we dedicate this attack of retribution..."

In its reference to the coming Commonwealth Games, it says: "On the one hand Muslim blood is flowing like water, while on the other hand you are preparing for the festival of Games. This is surely not a child's play. Mind you this is the initiative from the Lions of Allah and we warn you to host the Commonwealth Games if you have a grain of salt. We know that the preparations for the Games are at its peak. Beware we too are preparing in full swing for a great surprise. The participants will be solely responsible for the outcome as our bands of Mujahideen love death more than you love life."

It has highlighted in red the following words: "Our bands of Mujahideen love death more than you love life." This could be a hint or threat that it is planning to commit an act of suicide terrorism. The IM has not so far indulged in this.

While over 75 per cent of the statement is about alleged atrocities against Muslims in Jammu & Kashmir, there are also condemnatory references to the death of two IM suspects during a raid by Delhi Police on September 19, 2008, to the arrests of some members of the IM by the Anti-Terrorism Squad of Maharashtra Police in connection with the Pune Bakery blast of February 13 and some alleged incidents in Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh on the day of Eid. While the IM has threatened to launch a campaign of reprisals in solidarity with the Muslims of Kashmir, its initial attacks could be in Delhi, Mumbai and Ratlam. 


The writer, a former senior official of R&AW, is a security and strategic affairs expert. 







Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that "the future belongs to Iran," and challenged the United States to accept that his country has a major role in the world. The comments came in an hour-long interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, the first day of his visit to the US to attend the annual General Assembly of the United Nations this week.

He insisted that his Government does not want an atomic bomb — something he has said in the past — and that Iran is only seeking peace and a nuclear-weapons-free world. He repeatedly sidestepped questions on when Iran would resume talks on its disputed nuclear programme, and said anti-nuclear sanctions against his Government would have no effect.

Appearing calm and self-assured on his seventh trip to the US, the Iranian President showed every sign of being in command of himself and prepared to deflect questions about his Government's harsh suppression of opposition forces after last year's disputed election that returned him to a second term.

He said, "The US Administration ... must recognise that Iran is a big power. Having said that, we consider ourselves to be a human force and a cultural power and hence a friend of other nations. We have never sought to dominate others or to violate the rights of any other country. Those who insist on having hostilities with us, kill and destroy the option of friendship with us in the future, which is unfortunate because it is clear the future belongs to Iran and that enmities will be fruitless."

Over the years, Mr Ahmadinejad has become more articulate and polished. He wore a gray pinstriped suit and a pinstriped white shirt, open with no tie, for the interview, conducted in an East Side hotel not far from the United Nations.

A few blocks away, dozens of protesters demonstrated with tape across their mouths to symbolise what they consider to be the oppressive nature of the Iranian Government. The non-profit Israeli education group, Stand With Us, organised the rally, one of many expected outside the UN and elsewhere in the city before Mr Ahmadinejad leaves on Friday.

In the interview in a room crowded with aides, bodyguards and Iranian journalists, the Iranian leader projected an air of innocence, saying his country's quest to process ever greater amounts of uranium is reasonable for its expanding civilian power programme, omitting that the watchdog UN agency involved has found Iran keeping secrets from its investigators on several occasions, including secret research sites.

He also did not acknowledge that the leaders of the political Opposition in Iran have been harassed and that Government opponents risk violence and arrest if they try to assemble. He did allow that there have been some judicial "mistakes".

Mr Ahmadinejad argued that the Opposition Green Movement, which has largely been forced underground, continues to enjoys rights in Iran but said that in the end it must respect "majority rule". He also disavowed any knowledge of the fate of a retired FBI employee, Mr Robert Levinson, who vanished inside Iran in 2007, saying the trail will be followed up by a joint US-Iranian committee. 

Government opponents "have their activities that are ongoing and they also express their views publicly. They have several parties, as well as several newspapers, and many newspapers and publications. And so there are really no restrictions of such nature," the President said.

He did not mention that many newspapers have been closed down and that prominent Opposition figures were put in prison and then tried after tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets claiming that the election that put him back in power in 2009 was fraudulent and stolen. The public appearances of his rivals Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi have been severely restricted and their offices recently were raided by police.

Mr Ahmadinejad said Iran is more free than some other countries. "I believe that when we discuss the subject of freedoms and liberty it has to be done on a comparative basis and to keep in mind that democracy at the end of the day means the rule of the majority, so the minority cannot rule." He added: "In Iran I think nobody loses their job because of making a statement that reflects their opinion... From this point of view, conditions in Iran are far better than in many other places in the world."

He asserted that international nuclear regulators had never found proof that Iran is pursuing an atomic bomb. "We are not afraid of nuclear weapons. The point is that if we had in fact wanted to build a nuclear bomb, we are brave enough to say that we want it. But we never do that. We are saying that the arsenal of nuclear bombs (worldwide) have to be destroyed as well," he said.

Overall, Mr Ahmadinejad said that Iran's course is set and the rest of the world needs to accept it. Another round of international pressure in the form of sanctions would only be futile, he said. "If they were to be effective, I should not be sitting here right now."

The UN Security Council already has imposed four rounds of sanctions against Iran to try to pressure Mr Ahmadinejad's Government to suspend enrichment and return to negotiations with the six countries trying to resolve the dispute over the country's nuclear ambitions — the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. Foreign Ministers of the six are to meet this week on the sidelines of the General Assembly.







THE PROVENANCE of the attack that injured two members of a Taiwanese team filming a TV programme near Jama Masjid on Sunday is yet to be determined. But what is clear is that the Delhi Police has once again covered itself with ignominy.


That, on the eve of the Commonwealth Games— where security has been a big issue for many visiting teams and delegations— two gunmen can shoot at a bus- load of people at one of the city's premier destinations in broad daylight and get away, is testimony to its efficiency, or the lack of it.


The only resistance they faced was one brave rickshaw puller who threw stones at them and a policeman, who thereafter tried to give chase armed with nothing but a lathi. The obvious question is: Where are the PCR vans, the motorcycles and quick reaction teams of policemen who are supposed to make the Commonwealth Games a terror- free occasion? The Delhi Police seems to have kept up its reputation to the people of the city for being long on promises and short on performance.


Whether or not the attack, and the accompanying crude bomb blast that destroyed a car, were part of some terrorist group's operation needs thorough investigation.


There is, of course, the coincidence that the attack took place on the third anniversary of the Delhi blasts attributed to the Indian Mujahideen by the police in 2008. And then, there is the e- mail threat mailed two hours after the attack allegedly from a Mumbai cyber cafe.


More important, in view of the forthcoming Commonwealth Games, is the need for the police to get its act together.


Any more incidents of this kind could result in a disruption of the event and bring dishonor to the country.







THE ALARMING rise in the water level of the Tehri dam reservoir due to the incessant rains, appear to have caught the Uttarakhand Government and the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation ( THDC) napping.


The state government has been particularly ineffective in dealing with the floods which have already killed 65 people and left many more stranded across the state.


The state government and the THDC should have gotten their act together, at least after Friday, when the Supreme Court had pulled them up for their failure to rehabilitate the people affected by the flooding of the Bhagirathi River.


As a state where natural disasters like landslides are common, Uttarakhand needs much better disaster- preparedness. Even now much of the relief work is being carried out by the National Disaster Response Force and the Army. Even after the water level at the reservoir crossed the 825 metres danger mark, the Uttarakhand government and the THDC were engaged in a blame- game instead of working in coordination.


The Uttarakhand government should be aware of the controversy that surrounded the creation of the Tehri Dam in the first place. It should therefore go out of its way to reassure people that not only is the dam safe, but that people downstream will not suffer because of any mismanagement or mishap.







MC MARY Kom has done the country proud by winning her fifth gold medal in the boxing World Championship in Barbados. As a mother of two, the 27- year- old boxer's appetite for success remains undiminished, having won her first medal in a world meet in 2001.


As one who had to graduate to a higher weight category this time, Mary Kom showed that her fighting skills are intact and she can throw more than a punch in the ring. Accolades have come in from the highest level, but what should really make her feel happy is how even the Indian male boxers respect her for her feats.


Mary Kom, who hails from Manipur, is representative of the champions who hail in disproportionate numbers from the North- east.


What's missing from Mary Kom's drawing room is an Olympic medal. However, as the International Olympic Council has now included women's boxing in London 2012, the Indian has set her sights on it. Surely, her feat is going to inspire many more boxers at home.








THE turmoil in Kashmir continues and government's nerve seems to be cracking. Curfews, police firings, dying protesters have not broken the momentum of the street protests.


Pressure to find a " political" solution to the problem has increased, as if the government hasn't tried to find one in the last 63 years with a frustrating lack of success. This has included accords with leaders like Sheikh Abdullah, organising of credible elections in recent years to remove the taint of past election- rigging, various dialogue initiatives, overtures to separatists, development outlays for removing the economic roots of Kashmiri discontent etc.


While force used to quell terrorist violence in J& K has badly hurt the civilian population, yet India has restrained its military hand internally. A comparison with the methods used by both China and Pakistan in suppressing challenges to state authority should have been instructive for the neighbouring Kashmiris. Unlike Pakistan's conduct in Baluchistan and FATA, India hasn't used heavy military equpment and air power against the Kashmiris, causing massive internal displacement as in the case of the Pakhtuns. China's suppression of Tibetan and Uighur resistance, coupled with policies to change the demographic complexion of these territories and restrict religious freedom, have obviously not registered on the political mind of Kashmiri population challenging Indian rule.




India has been unusually humane in its treatment of Kashmiri separatists, giving them considerable political space despite their abrasive anti- national postures, allowing them to meet India's external adversaries in its own capital city and travel to foreign countries for garnering political and financial support, tolerating the open alignment of their political strategies with Pakistan, permitting them access to the national media etc. All this has been part of a pressing but doomed search by a democratic India for a political way out of the highly vexed Kashmir problem.


Externally too India has favoured a political solution rather than a military one.


Indeed, India gave up the military option in 1947 itself, when rather than expelling the Pakistani invading forces from the whole of J& K, it appealed to the UN for a negotiated political solution. In 1965, confronted with renewed Pakistani aggression, India again chose the political route to finding a solution under Soviet auspices, even restoring the strategic Haji Pir Pass to Pakistan to show political flexibility.


In 1971, India had Pakistan on its knees militarily, but, once again, it let long term political considerations over- ride short term perspectives, and sparing Pakistan more humiliation than necessary and trusting it more than prudence dictated, agreed to the ambiguous 1972 Simla Agreement. Vajpayee's Lahore visit, the decision not to escalate the Kargil conflict by retaliatory action across the LoC, the back- channel dialogue with Pakistan under Musharraf's watch, steps to allow travel and trade across the LoC in J& K, have all been part of a policy of resolving the Kashmir problem " politically". The problem has always been what a " political" solution means for the principal actors. India rejects categorically the right to " self- determination" by the Kashmiris.


It wants a solution within the parameters of its Constitution, which implies that the Kashmiris must accept that the state belongs to India and no " dispute" over its status exists. Are the Kashmiri separatists and the stone- pelters willing to acquiesce in this? This stipulation probably means that short of secession any viable adjustment in constitutional arrangements with Kashmir can be made. Is there parliamentary support for this? The government is willing to talk to all those in Kashmir who abjure violence. But then, it is not enough that the Kashmiris in J& K abjure violence, those from Pakistan must do also. Is it the expectation that our Kashmiris will repudiate Pakistan supported elements and make a separate peace with India on acceptable terms?




Pakistan has lately begun stressing the Kashmiri self- determination demand as part of its more aggressive

posture towards India under General Kayani, though it knows India will never agree. What Pakistan might

ultimately agree to is some form of shared sovereignty over parts of J& K, which was the sense of General Musharraf's back- channel efforts with India. Pakistan will not settle for the status quo in J& K, and any perception that " making the border irrelevant" would not involve some major compromise by India would be erroneous.


It is important to have clarity over this as we are officially projecting the back- channel results as positive and want the present Pakistan government to endorse them.


The Kashmiri Muslims see a political solution very differently from India. They harp incessantly on " azadi", which literally means independence, but is interpreted as an amorphous term which could mean " self- rule" and not necesssarily sovereign status. It is supposedly the culminating expression of the Kashmiris sense of alienation from India, their desire to live in dignity, free from repression and over- bearing Indian authority.


The assumption here is — and this is echoed by Kashmiri leaders of all hues — that India bears all the resposibility for the prevailing sense of alienation the Kashmiris feel because of its political mistakes, broken promises, the brutality of its security forces etc. The Kashmiris, in this narrative, are hapless victims, driven to desperation by an insensitive and neglectful India. The guilt is all India's, the victimhood all theirs. While the government feels it is dealing with its own people, the Kashmiri Muslims, by and large, don't think they are " Indian".




All Kashmiri leaders are one in claiming that the issues involved are political, not economic. The mainstream leaders want the pre- 1953 autonomous status of J& K restored. The " moderate" separatists speak of self- determination, the hardline ones demand patronisingly that as a dialogue pre- condition India must accept that Kashmir is an " international dispute". The demand for AFSPA's revision or its removal from selected valley districts — rightly resisted by the armed forces — is a red herring as the current protests have been provoked by police not military action. Any Indian concession under duress will become the baseline for further demands by the Kashmiri Muslims in the next phase of their agitation in an attrition strategy now drawing on globally tested Muslim protest techniques.


Sections of the Kashmiri Muslims have never given up their determined assault on the Indian state. The mosque- based politics of their leaders offends India's secularism; their unwillingness to accept their Indian identity is a prolongation of the twonation theory. The latest strategy of " stonepelting", borrowed from the Palestinian intifada, is not spontaneous. It is an effective movement orchestrated by well organised informal networks that see the Indian government flummoxed in its reaction.


Hints of concessions have come from the Home Minister speaking about past promises inscribed in various accords not kept by India. This moral capitulation will only make the Kashmiris more self- righteous in their breast beating. The hardliners are being approached for defusing the situation.


Our press is propagating the impression that our security forces have run amuck and are firing on innocent Kashmiris indiscriminately. Most of these coloured stories are from Kashmiri reporters.


We are seeing the reactions of a soft state, persisting in the grave mistakes it has always made in Kashmir. We must deal with the Kashmiri attack on our nationhood more firmly.


The writer is a former Foreign Secretary( sibalkanwal@ gmail. com)









THE elections in Bihar have the potential of breaking a number of stereotypes about the state. It could destory the preconceived notions of Bihar politics as being dominated by caste and criminalisation.


It is for the first time that an election is being fought on the development agenda in the state. Chief minister Nitish Kumar says that he will seek votes only on the basis of the work of his government.


Nitish is convinced that caste will be relegated to the backseat.


He says that women and the youth in particular, will defy identity considerations and vote decisively for development. But is he being too optimistic? In a state obsessed with caste politics for the past six decades, will it not be a miracle of sorts if the voters shun the caste factor altogether? The coming polls will also ascertain whether muscle power still plays an important role in the state. Many tainted candidates with criminal records are in the fray. And those who have been debarred from contesting the polls will put up their spouses as their proxies. In the last assembly elections, about a dozen bahubalis named in different murder cases had become legislators effortlessly.


This election will show if they still have their clout to make it to the Bihar assembly.


The electorate will also give their verdict on the large number of fair- weather politicians who have switched parties. In the past one month or so, many turncoats have left their parties in search of greener pastures. They are all expected to fight the polls.


In the assembly by- elections last year, the voters had decisively rejected leaders like Shyam Rajak and Ramai Ram who had left the Rashtriya Janata Dal and contested on Janata Dal- United tickets. This time around, all the parties have admitted a large number of the defectors.


The people's mandate in the polls will shape up the future of coalition politics in Bihar. The ruling JD( U) and the Bharatiya Janata Party have had a rocky relationship. The Narendra Modi contoversy issue widened the chasm between the two. A fractured verdict may well throw up many possibilities which might be detrimental to the future of their alliance.


The results will impact the RJD- Lok Janshakti Party ties as well. Lalu has given 75 seats to his ally despite opposition from many senior leaders in his party.


In the parliamentary polls, the LJP had lost all the 12 Lok Sabha seats it had contested. The party has to perform well to remain relevant in politics.


Last but not least, the polls will give an indication about the future of the Congress which is going solo for the first time in many years. The results will definitely show if the national party can provide a viable alternative in Bihar which has been ruled by regional satraps for the past two decades. Let us wait for the people's verdict on all these issues.



ONE does not expect a Bhojpuri film actor to do a Richard Gere but a debutant did imitate him by kissing a female co- star in full public view. Recently, the stars of Lahariya Loota Ae Rajaji arrived at a cinema hall in Patna to promote their movie. The audience was happy to see the stars in the midst of the show. But they were in for a bigger surprise.


The two stars of the film — debutant Manoj Pandey and actress Suprerna Singh got carried away and kissed each other in full public view. They even repeated their act on pressing public demand. But the incident shocked others from the crew of the film present on the occasion.


They said that Bhojpuri films had already earned a bad name for their double meaning songs and dialogues and such ' indecent' acts would tarnish the reputation further.


Unlike the Richard Gere- Shilpa Shetty episode this lip- lock in public almost went unnoticed and did not help the box- office prospects of the film either. But then, it proved one thing: Bollywood stars will have to learn from the stars of Bhojpuri cinema as far as promotion of their new films is concerned.



SOME leaders of the ruling coalition partners — Janata Dal ( United) and Bharatiya Janata Party — are locked in a confrontation over Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.


They have divergent views on whether Modi should campaign for the upcoming state assembly elections in Bihar. Modi may or may not come to the state for electioneering but the controversy over it has certainly earned him a few admirers in the state.


The state's cooperative minister Giriraj Singh, for one, says that he would like to invite Modi for campaigning even if the BJP decides against it. Former union minister Sanjay Paswan believes that Modi's presence in Bihar during polls will add ten per cent votes to the party's share. The duo went on to celebrate Modi's birthday, putting tilak on Modi's forehead and offered sweets to his large poster put up on the occasion.


The birthday bash was organised by the Narendra Modi Mitra Mandali in Patna. Interestingly, Modi's birthday was celebrated on September 16, a day before his actual birthday.


It was said that it had been done so because all the newspaper offices were closed on September 17 because of Vishwakarma Puja in Bihar. They apparently did not want to celebrate Modi's birthday without the presence of the local media persons.



RASHTRIYA Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad has been overseeing all the poll- related moves of his party. Every morning, Lalu lands at the Birchand Patel Marg office of his party and to chalk out RJD's strategy. But his wife Rabri Devi has quietly moved out of the political scene.


Apparently nobody misses Rabri despite the fact that she has been the state's chief minister for a period longer than her husband. But then, knowing Rabri's apparent discomfort in politics, one can safely assume that she would be happy to stay away from the rough and tumble of electoral politics.


Lalu's opponents, however, do not want the lady to disappear from the scene so quietly.


Deputy chief minister Sushil Modi wants to know why she is missing from the poll battleground.

Modi says that Lalu has intentionally kept her in the house on the eve of elections to hide her non- performance as the chief minister as well as the leader of the opposition.


He said that Rabri had spoken barely for 20 minutes in the House during all the assembly sessions in the past five years. Looks like the Opposition would not let Rabri stay in peace where she wants to.


giridhar. jha@ mailtoday. in







After seven unsuccessful rounds of voting to elect a new prime minister, Nepal's Maoists appear to be veering towards a compromise. Last Friday, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN) withdrew from the prime ministerial elections, citing the futility of the process. Simultaneously, it struck an agreement with the CPN-UML to work towards the formation of a consensus government. This is indeed welcome. The Maoist candidate, UCPN chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, was a polarising figure and clearly did not command the support that is needed to head a majority government. 

With the Maoists and the CPN-UML resolving to abstain from the eighth round of voting, it would be best for the Nepali Congress and the remaining candidate, Ram Chandra Paudel, to withdraw from the election process. It is clear there can be no winner in this race. The inconclusive elections have meant that Kathmandu has been without an effective government for over two months. Nepal is a fledgling republic and it needs all its political forces to give the country a solid foundation. This can only be achieved through expediting the writing of a new Constitution, which has long been overdue. Besides, it is only consensus that can help provide a permanent solution to contentious issues such as the integration of former Maoist guerrillas with the Nepali army, the return of properties seized during the civil war and the dismantling of the Young Communist League, which the Maoists have been known to use to intimidate their political rivals. 

The focus should now shift towards the evolution of a common minimum programme that is acceptable to all political parties. It is on the basis of this minimum agenda that a unity government must be formed. A stable Nepal is desirable for the security and growth of the region at large. The surfacing of audio tapes that indicate Chinese money was being used by the Maoists to buy MPs in the prime ministerial vote is truly unsavoury. Such heavy-handed interference in Nepal's political process could lead to a nationalist backlash. 

India and Nepal share a historical and cultural bond that cannot be ignored. New Delhi would do well, on its part, to facilitate a political consensus in Kathmandu without taking sides or otherwise appearing to meddle in domestic affairs. It could provide its services in terms of Constitution drafting and support the new government through renewed bilateral ties in trade and investment. But before that, it is imperative that Nepali political parties rise above their differences and come together on a common platform. 







The shooting incident outside Delhi's Jama Masjid on Sunday has triggered a response from many quarters far in excess of the actual impact of the event. Two men on bike fired at a Taiwanese tourist group and injured two foreign tourists. Indian Mujahideen (IM), a shadowy terrorist group, suspected of involvement in bomb blasts in the capital, has claimed responsibility for the attack. An e-mail attributed to IM claims that the attack was meant to commemorate the death of two of its activists at Batla House in Delhi two years ago. Though Delhi Police is yet to call the incident a terror strike, there is widespread concern since the firing has come just ahead of the Commonwealth Games. The IM e-mail includes a threat against holding the CWG. Games authorities have assured that security measures will be in place before the event and have ruled out the possibility of any breach. There is no reason to doubt their assurance. 

Sunday's incident happened at a thoroughfare in one of the city's busiest areas. Clearly, it was an unsecured place. The delay in preparing the Games venues and other related infrastructure may have prevented the imposition of security measures, deployment of personnel and trial drills. The Jama Masjid firing should serve as a wake-up call for the security agencies. The targeted attack on tourists, a rarity in the capital, may have been a deliberate attempt to scare away foreign visitors including athletes. There is no time to be lost in securing the city for the Games. And, it ought to be done without forcing a shutdown of the streets.








The QS ranking of world universities was released recently. Like all such rankings, this one too has many critics who question its methodology and hence the accuracy of its ranking. But Indian universities and educational institutions fare far too badly for this to be attributed to faulty methodology. The highest-ranked Indian institution is IIT, Mumbai, with a rank of 187 in the world. What is perhaps more disheartening is that 35 other Asian institutions have been ranked above it. Clearly, we are falling far behind even countries like South Korea, ThailandMalaysia and, of course, China and Japan in higher education. 

Why should we care whether we have a world-class university when we do not have enough primary schools and inadequate healthcare facilities? This may well be the reaction of large numbers of Indians, who view top-quality higher educational institutions as a luxury good that cannot be afforded by developing countries. Unfortunately, this is an extremely myopic view. The absence of Harvards and Cambridges in India has resulted in gigantic outflows of the best Indian students leaving the country to study abroad. In fact, sometimes i feel that i hear more students speaking in Hindi in theUniversity of Warwick campus than, for instance, in the Delhi School of Economics! 

This migration would not have mattered if it had been temporary. It is not an overwhelming fraction of Indians who go abroad to study do not return to India. The sheer magnitude of the brain drain from India is mind-boggling. India does benefit from their presence abroad through remittances and goodwill earned overseas. But we suffer a far bigger loss because the direct benefits of their skills as managers, doctors, innovators and researchers accrue to the countries where they reside. 

The UPA government started its second innings with the promise to build several world-class universities. We have not yet been told how it intends to keep its promise although half its term is over. Perhaps, the government believes that all it has to do is construct some new buildings and the rest will follow. But what we actually need is a dramatically new approach. 

The strategy followed so far in developing higher education in India has been to gradually increase the number of universities, all of them with roughly the same scale of facilities. This emphasis on quantity has had a deplorable effect on quality because resources have been spread too thinly. Even the most well-funded university or research institute in India receives no more than a fraction of the funds available to comparable institutions in several Asian countries. 

Consider, for example, the salaries on offer in Indian universities. Despite the quite large increase in salaries after the last pay commission report, university salaries remain grossly inadequate compared to remunerations available elsewhere. A bright young researcher who, after finishing a PhD abroad, has just received an assistant professorship in any North American university would have to attach an exceedingly high premium to the intangible joys of working "back home" in order to actually return to India. 

Is it surprising then that even leading universities and research institutes find it impossible to reverse the brain drain? Similarly, a comparison of salaries in the corporate world with those in academia explains why increasingly large numbers of bright students opt for a career in the private sector instead of entering academia. 

Of course, salaries are just one component of what young researchers look for when they evaluate alternative job offers. Although the internet, skype and e-mail have made the world a smaller place, it is imperative for young academics to have generous research grants so as to be able to travel abroad to attend conferences and workshops, to collaborate with foreign co-authors. Experimental scientists need state-of-the art laboratories. Which Indian university offers these facilities? 

So, the financial requirements of "world-class" universities are very large. This means that the only feasible option is to discard the current policy of uniformity same salary scale, same rules regarding travel grants, etc, across all universities. Instead, the government should build perhaps three or four universities with research facilities and salaries comparable to the best in Asia. Moreover, these universities must be truly autonomous institutions. And they must be completely free from the draconian formulaic regime imposed by the UGC in particular and the government in general. For example, imagine that Harvard wants to hire an outstanding young academic as an associate professor, but is unable to do so because the person has not completed eight years after his PhD! 

Ideally, these universities should have both undergraduate and graduate programmes. Moreover, the size of the undergraduate programme should be sufficiently small so that the entire teaching is done by the graduate faculty instead of being farmed out to affiliated colleges. This practice, which has also been advocated by the vice-chancellor of Delhi University in a recent newspaper article, will improve the quality of undergraduate teaching dramatically. 

Of course, this will mean inequality in the education sector both in terms of the quality of teaching available to students as well as the remuneration package available to faculty. This will inevitably attract the charge of elitism. Unfortunately, this is the additional price which has to be paid for setting up world-class universities! 

The writer is professor, University of Warwick.




                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA




Just turned 60, film star Shabana Azmi asks actresses to embrace their age the way she has. At a personal level, the advice is fine. Not so her reported suggestion that, professionally, they should decline roles needing them "to look 10 years younger" and "start playing mothers". Coming from Azmi, known for her trail-blazing performances and social activism, this is unexpected. She doesn't seem too discomfited by the assumption that, for women actors, the only choice should be between playing nubile heroines who dance, prance and romance and gone-grey mothers generally typecast in Bollywood as long-suffering women living life vicariously through their children. 

Surely Azmi should rather have called for better, bolder scripts that don't just see actresses as maternal figures or cameo-playing sidekicks once they're thought past their physical prime. Aren't off-beat, author-backed roles written for older male stars? Amitabh Bachchan, at 67, is still going strong as a bankable lead. Nor are the relatively 'younger' men ruling Bollywood today in their 20s or even 30s. These ageing actors on rigorous fitness regimes to look 10 years younger! are nowhere near preparing to play the proverbial papa. 

In the West, stars like Catherine Deneuve, Meryl Streep or Julia Roberts didn't settle for 'character' roles when they hit the wrong side of 40. In films like It's Complicated or Mama Mia, Streep's role as mother is secondary to her playing women who live, laugh and love passionately. It's true not all actresses get such parts. Gender biases do exist in showbiz. But bias needs resisting by highlighting the contributions not-so-young women have made to cinema when offered pivotal roles. Let's not put age limits on how long brilliant, beautiful women can take centre stage. Let's ask filmmakers to do justice to talent, irrespective of gender or age.



                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA





When Shabana Azmi talks about career progression and the evolution of an actress's screen persona and roles, it behoves one to listen. Few women in the industry have the professional heft to speak with as much authority on the subject as her. And the point she has made following her 60th birthday is an apt one. An actress who is not willing to evolve but prefers to play it safe, clinging on to a persona she may no longer suit, is all but signalling the end of her own career. 

Eminent Hollywood film critic Roger Ebert summed it up rather pithily when he wrote after seeing a recent Bollywood release, "In Bollywood,...all the actresses are either breathtaking or playing mothers." Constraining though it might feel, it is the reality. And those who accept that reality and deal with it benefit witness a Sharmila Tagore or Waheeda Rehman, both leading heroines of their time who graduated seamlessly into elder stateswomen roles. On the other hand, Bollywood is strewn with actresses who tried to cling on to leading lady status too long or tried a comeback with the kind of role that might have suited them a decade ago but no longer. Not even Madhuri Dixit, undisputed queen of the Hindi film industry for so long, could survive that ordeal. 

And this is not something that is peculiar just to Bollywood. From the luminous 
Julie Andrews to the elegant Helen Mirren, many actresses in western film industries have grown into older screen personas as well. And even the in-between lot the likes of Halle Berry and Julia Roberts are not afraid to play middle-aged mothers on screen, reflecting reality, something that Bollywood actresses seem to be loath to do for the most part. But sooner or later, it must be a choice between that or being frozen into a plastic, botoxed youth.








Nathu La Pass : Located along the Old Silk Route at 14,150 feet, it is one of our highest borders with China. The drive up to Nathu La is spectacular; towering snow peaks and sheer drops to valleys below. Waterfalls of melting snow running down thousands of feet glisten like crystal in the steep gorges cut into hard rock. The sheer scale of the scenery is breathtaking but, in the splendour, there is isolation. Few hamlets and humans abide here only those that can brave the elements and the extreme climate that allows only snow, moss and lichen to survive. 

The Border Roads Organisation has not been able to keep our side of the mountain roads as well maintained as the Chinese side. That much was obvious from our first glimpse across the border. The neatly tarred two-way highway on the other side was so much better than our bumpy and at times practically non-existent road. Why is our infrastructure so lacking always? 

At the top of the mountain the air was so thin we gasped as we climbed the few hundred feet to our main building where a young captain greeted us. He was from Chandigarh he looked so heartachingly young and so upbeat about his work guarding our border with China that it made me want to bring all the bar-hopping, angry young men up here to witness what makes their uncaring lives so safe. 

I asked the captain how he kept himself busy and he said there was so much to do like training and being with his men. They also had TV, he said proudly, but at that altitude even a tot of rum was not allowed as alcohol and heights can be dangerous for the health. His tenure would be at least six months. I wondered what made him a soldier. It was his grandfather, he said. The army gene had skipped a generation. His father did not join the army but it was obvious he came from an illustrious military background. His speech and manners would have made any parent proud. 

He gave us hot tea and showed us to the formal meeting room where Indian and Chinese military officials meet on various occasions. One side had little tricolours on the table in front of which each officer would sit and the other had Chinese flags. I could just imagine a formal meeting in progress. Later, i met the Indian officer who was the official translator a vivacious young lady who said that the Chinese officers did not speak much and were quite formal. 

On the other side of the barbed wire was the Chinese headquarters. Ours looked more spruced up than theirs from the outside. The Chinese also host the official meetings. Both sides take turns and try and serve their best cuisine. This sounded quite sumptuous. So there is something to look forward to even at 14,200 feet! 

As we were leaving, the clouds rolled in and suddenly the buildings and the road became vaporous. Then it started to snow at this height it happens even in May. Astonishingly, on our side of the border tourists were allowed while the Chinese side looked empty of life. Later, we lunched at the Brigade headquarters and the brigade commander told us how the tourists who come up are so grateful because sometimes they have to be rescued from snowbound roads by the army but mostly just because they see what the soldiers have to go through. They write such touching notes in the visitor's book that guarding our borders seems even more worthwhile, said the brigadier. It is a morale booster to hear how much the soldiers are appreciated by their countrymen. I left wishing more young people would go up to Nathu La and ask what they can do for their country.








Midway into his rate-hiking cycle, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Duvvuri Subbarao has reason to pause. After raising interest rates for the fifth time this year — bringing the repo rate at which banks park money with the RBI to 6 per cent from 4.75 per cent at the beginning of the year — Mr Subbarao's monetary stance can be described as neither expansionary nor contractionary.


Overnight money today costs a third less than what it did just before the financial crisis struck India and therein lies the space for monetary policy as the economy, in the central bank's view, "rapidly converges to its trend growth rate". How fast interest rates climb from here on will depend on whether the rate hikes thus far can rein in inflation expectations. If wholesale inflation does slow down, as is expected, from 9.8 per cent now to 6-6.5 per cent by March next year, Mr Subbarrao's softened position will be fully warranted.


One area of immediate concern for the central banker is the negative real rates of interest available in India at this juncture. This has a direct bearing on the slowdown in deposit generation by banks, which in turn affects their ability to lend. The incremental credit-deposit ratio peaked at close to 180 per cent and raises the prospect of growth being constrained by credit unless real interest rates for savers turn positive. On its part, the RBI is nudging up the nominal interest rate. But the denominator—inflation — has to decline perceptibly for bank deposits to become attractive.


Possibly, this could be the window when this occurs. Then again, inflation ran up from zero in April 2009 to 11 per cent a year later and has since then eased only marginally to 9.8 per cent. Banks will need to see a bigger drop before they start offering higher interest rates on fixed deposits, even if their access to the call money market has been tightened by the mere one percentage point band between the repo and reverse repo rates.


The RBI has flagged an issue that merits consideration by the wider policy establishment. The "high volatility in industrial production over the last two months does raise doubts about how effectively the index captures underlying momentum". Data capture presents a whole range of problems in India that affect key indices from prices to output. While some efforts are on to make the numbers we put out more robust, a lot more needs to be done on an urgent footing.







Don't be surprised if every little thing that goes wrong in Delhi over next 12 days and beyond is willy nilly perceived as being caused by the dreaded Commonwealth Games. Gunmen opening fire in the Jama Masjid area of Old Delhi may have been, as in the past, a case of extreme lawlessness for which restaurants in the city put up signs telling customers to leave their firearms outside. But with the two gunmen going on a 'shooting spree' that injured two Taiwanese tourists boarding a bus, people — goaded by the ever-hyperbolic media —  are already convinced that the 'terror-mongers' (if not 'terrorists') are using Delhi's spotlight as an international sporting venue to have their proverbial 15 minutes of fame.


That may well be the case. The supposed mail claiming the attack to have been carried out by the very poor man's Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, the Indian Mujahideen, doesn't discount an 'anti-State' attack. But even the pelting rains, in the hysterical minds of many, seem to have been ordered by the likes of anti-sports renegade Congressman Mani Shankar Aiyar.


In all the chhappar phar ke situation, genuine grievances like traffic pile-ups caused by the forever-being-constructed Commonwealth Games projects are being mixed and mashed with 'problems' that range from rains and the outbreak of dengue to robberies and migraines.


Lest we forget, things were not hunky-dory before the Commonwealth Games and its ancilliary effects kicked in. But then, after the Games are done and the medals lost and won, the perception may well be that Delhi, with the Games behind it, is the finest city that the world has ever seen — the occasional shootings notwithstanding.



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





India has long been simultaneously a country of enormous wealth and desperate poverty. In recent decades, the distance has only grown between those who enjoy living standards comparable to the finest in the world, and the millions left far behind. Even as Indians crowd the lists of the world's richest dollar billionaires, an estimated 200 million people sleep hungry. Half our children are malnourished and nearly a fifth severely so. This means starkly that their brains and bodies can't develop because they lack adequate nourishment.


Today the country produces sufficient food, and if it chooses, the government can afford to spend what it takes to reach this food to each of its billion-plus people. But for this to happen, the government must first believe that this is where it should spend its money. Economists caution the government that it must restrain public spending, that it should invest in promoting work rather than distribute food, and that cheap or free food will disincentivise farmers from production. I wish that at such times economists think more from their hearts and pay heed to an alternative 'economics as if people matter'.


The key word in today's world is 'investment'. But what better investment can there be than in our people? Our demographic dividend will multiply manifold if young people were nourished sufficiently to grow to their full physical and intellectual potential. A legal guarantee of reaching food to all will require the government to purchase the produce of all farmers at remunerative prices wherever they offer it. This will protect farmers from the uncertainties of price fluctuations. At present, the government purchases most of its grain from two-and-a-half states: Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. A food guarantee will require the government to penetrate its procurement to all parts of the country, and thereby extend a safety net to farmers as well. This will be the best incentive for them to produce more. And if people have to spend less on food, they can invest on other needs, which again could spur growth.


But the key argument for a legal food guarantee is not economic, or even political (that it will fetch votes). It is, above all, a moral imperative: to end the enormous suffering associated with the inability to feed one's children, and to fill one's stomach. In many years of work among people who live with hunger, I have witnessed destitute people cutting back to eating just one meal a day or consuming poisonous tubers and grasses only because these come free. And hunger generates desperate choices — offering oneself in bondage, sending small children out to work, distress migration and accepting oppression.


The first claim of a Right to Food legislation would be of these people who routinely live — and die — of hunger. The greatest numbers are of children. Therefore, the law must guarantee supplementary nutrition to every child below the age of six and free school meals to all older children. It must ensure facilities to prevent and effectively treat severe malnutrition. Pregnant and nursing mothers should similarly be guaranteed both supplementary nutrition, as well as maternity benefits and crèches at workplaces to enable them to breastfeed their children and rest.


Apart from children, I have encountered the greatest hunger among destitute people, mainly households without any able-bodied male member — single women and their dependents, the abandoned aged, disabled people, households of persons with tuberculosis, leprosy and HIV/Aids — and the homeless. I believe that the law must guarantee to all such destitute persons who seek it, at least one free hot cooked meal daily. In the past, free feeding was organised by religious charities but they have declined drastically with modernity. The State must fill the vacuum — as it indeed is done in many parts of the world. Such people must also be guaranteed pensions. Starvation deaths are also endemic among the most vulnerable tribal and Dalit communities like Musahars and Sahariyas. They require intensive food coverage. Urban homeless people and migrants require not free but affordable food in community canteens.


Apart from special food and pension guarantees for these most-disadvantaged people, the law should guarantee subsidised food to a much larger population, ideally to all or most households. The cheapest food must be for the destitute, to Scheduled Castes and Tribes, landless agricultural workers, small farmers, artisans, fisher-folk, homeless people and slum residents. But food deprivation and malnourishment extends far beyond the numbers, which the government economists identify to be poor. If the government purchases food at remunerative prices from farmers across the country, there will be much more available to distribute. This grain should be offered to all people who seek it at half the price at which the government purchases the grain from farmers. It would then be possible to actually cover all or most households with affordable food.


If we get the Food Rights Bill right, it can change India. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) altered the destiny of millions by guaranteeing them work. This law can create not one but many such legally enforceable guarantees, of direct feeding, pensions, maternity entitlements and subsidised food. Another India — where children are not stunted because there is no food; and where grain does not rot when people sleep hungry — would then become a reality. Food is essential for life and, thereby, citizenship. Surely, no price tag or limits can be imposed on life and citizenship.


Harsh Mander is Director, Centre for Equity Studies The views expressed by the author are personal



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





Kashmir is a burning house. Everyone seems to have a formula to defuse the crisis. A collective for mula is being sought by an all-party del egation that arrived in Srinagar on Monday, while the general buzz is that people need `freedom' from everything that has gone wrong in the past 60 yea rs. In the last 100 days, 105 people have died in the Valley.


The basic task of the delegation led by Home Minister P. Chidambaram whose "quiet dialogue and quiet diplo macy" has become a signature tune since late last year, is to assess the situ ation and suggest a lasting solution Initiating a dialogue seems to be a nec essary step forward.


In a way, the central government has a clear mandate to lay a foundation for a multilateral engagement in Kashmir But more important than a dialogue is the need to rebuild the institutions in the state. Almost all have collapsed.
. In the last three months, government offices have been shut, curfew has been in force for more than 80 days, police officers are afraid of wearing their uniform and avoid travelling in their official . vehicles lest they become targets for stone throwers. Education and the economy in Kashmir have also gone for a toss. Till date, no one seems to have an idea as to what is the goal of those behind the current unrest. The protestors are being led by a section of radicals, who have been joined by some members of the mainstream parties as well. For the latter, it's become a matter of political survival: either they join the protests or face the ire of the protestors.


In the meantime, a fierce contest is taking place between the state and the separatists. The issue at stake: whose writ runs in the Valley. Both sides are resorting to extreme ways to show their strengths with the common people being sandwiched in between.


The state government's heavy-handed attempts to quell dissent -calling out for the army and clamping a continuous curfew -have backfired, undermining the very political legitimacy that it's supposed to uphold. It has proved to be a focal point for the separatists and opposition groups to highlight `state atrocities'. This sort of crackdown is transporting Kashmir back to the dark days of 1990s, exposing that the claim of `normalcy' was just temporary. In 1990, the Valley had erupted because the 1987 elections were seen as rigged. In 2010, it has erupted even after the universally proclaimed `free and fair' 2008 assembly polls.


It is here that the all-party delegation faces its biggest challenge. It will have to understand the ground situation.

Kashmir today is a semi-artificial portrayal of the situation where real anger of the youth and silence of a vast majority have merged. The delegation from Delhi will have to read that nuanced picture. Will the delegation be able to gauge the real situation during its brief visit?

Can the leaders in the delegation look beyond their constituencies in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal? A clear distinction needs to be made between what can be done and what's acceptable.


If anything is to be given as a `concession' as a way to find a starting point, the all-party delegation needs to assure itself that there are indeed takers and sellers in their important exercise.







An incident outside Delhi's Jama Masjid on Sunday morning remains mired in mystery. Two Taiwanese nationals, part of a group that was in town to film a travel show, were injured when two men shot at them as they were boarding their bus. The identities of the assailants were not immediately obvious, and the police were wary of taking a terror group's claim at face value. The police said they could not rule out the possibility that they were local mischief-makers and perhaps unaligned to a terror group or organised crime. But with the city bustling with advance security teams for the Commonwealth Games, the incident has inevitably become more than an isolated case of possibly petty crime.


Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit was quick to reassure edgy participants that security for the Games is under control, and there is no need to panic. Big sport anywhere in the world now operates in an arena of heightened security threat. The very fact of the congregation of athletes in a high-profile event makes security preparations a key concern, and it is right that government authorities are straining to instil confidence that they are in command of the situation.


The Jama Masjid shooting recalls the way Beijing was on edge when a relative of an American Olympic coach was killed in the Forbidden City. In the end, the attack turned out to be isolated, but it highlighted how easy it was to perturb visitors, never mind the awe-inspiring photographs before the Olympics of paramilitary personnel on Segways taking aim.







The mob has taken on the law once again, as Pune-based advocate Sushil Mancharkar announced his willingness to defend Himayat Mirza Baig, the prime accused in the German Bakery blast case. The BJP enacted a protest outside his home and tried to prevail on his family to stop him. The Shiv Sena tried a different tack, saying it was all very well to debate the constitutional rights of the accused, but prominent lawyers should not take up such "heinous" causes. The Sena's youth wing was more forthright, promising to visit trouble upon Mancharkar if he went to court.


This is an all too familiar situation in India, where angry groups decide who is indefensible, and then pillory lawyers for daring to take on the case. A couple of years back, some lawyers' groups rejected Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab's case on similar grounds, and others demonstrated outside lawyer Anjali Waghmare's house, trying to intimidate her into dropping the case. As Ram Jethmalani reminded the rest of us then, no lawyer has the right to refuse an accused fearing unpopularity among her peers, and the Bar Council of India explicitly says so. The idea of constitutional rights has been imperfectly internalised, if many of us think that the courts are a courtesy to those who deserve it, and others, guilty of "heinous crimes" should be left without legal representation. As a lawyer, it is Mancharkar's prerogative and professional duty to defend Baig.


The right to legal defence is an integral part of the international covenant on civil and political rights. Trial without legal aid is patently unconstitutional. It might be inconvenient and even infuriating for some, but our commitment to the legal process even for those who seek to harm us is precisely what keeps the rule of law meaningful. Even in cases like Kasab's or Baig's, nobody but the court has the right to assign guilt, through legal procedure. In fact, having a professional defence is the way to ensure progress on the case, rather than allowing the accused to defend themselves unpredictably and reduce the event to theatrics. Either way, to declare them guilty by popular sentiment and then to coerce lawyers into not taking up their case is an insult to our liberal democracy.







Ten years ago, the largest ever group of world leaders assembled in New York at what was called the Millennium Summit. The agenda was ambitiously open-ended: to determine "the role of the UN in the 21st century". That needed narrowing down, and then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was one of those who called for "a fresh global initiative to fight poverty". This resulted in what came to be called the Millennium Development Goals. The MDGs were supposed to focus global energy on reducing extreme poverty and deprivation; but to demonstrate that they were a break from a past which had privileged noble, hand-waving speechifying instead of accountability, the goals would be accompanied by measurable target indicators.


Two-thirds of the way in, another summit has been called, to examine how we've done so far. Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna will presumably praise what India's growth has done for poverty here. And the summit in general will, no doubt, call for more targeted investment, and send out a reminder that the siphoning off of social-sector funds is the biggest hurdle for successfully meeting MDG targets. Which raises the questions that seriously need addressing: what have the MDGs done to spur India's own governance structures? And what can India suggest or commit, to the world and to its own people, about easing the constraints on the development process?


In spite of India's growth, and the social sector-centric approach of the UPA government, the ministry of statistics and programme implementation's recent report on India's progress about the MDGs makes for less-than-optimistic reading. India could conceivably make the major goal — halving the number of people that live on a dollar a day as compared to 1990 — but only if low-performing heartland states get their act together. Much else is worrying: progress on gender-related indices is particularly problematic. Buried in that is one major lesson: that, even with targeted, outcome-oriented policies, there's no getting away from the stranglehold that regressive power structures or local political corruption have on the last step of the development process. The MDGs, as befits a set of targets dreamed up by world leaders in New York, are a top-down set of ideas, as top-down as the Central social-sector schemes that followed them. India's lessons suggest the crucial twists the last lap of the MDG race require — bottom-up implementation, accountability and transparency mechanisms. That's a case we will hopefully hear made in New York.









The all-party delegation to Kashmir will, doubtless, be hearing complaints about police and paramilitary forces. But the issue is wider than Kashmir. Nothing exemplifies the contorted character of our civic commitment more than our attitudes to our police. Our future depends on this institution. The state of our democracy will be measured by the safety of citizens in the presence of the police. In a modernising society, the nature of the police will determine whether society has crime and repression or safety and freedom. Indian society will occasion many protests. But whether those protests are artfully handled, or degenerate into violence, creating their own vicious cycles of resentment, will depend on the police. And as we have seen from Kashmir to West Bengal, policing has become our single biggest national security challenge.


There have been endless reports on police reform. But we need to more deeply diagnose the shamelessness with which we refuse to move on any of these reports. It was observed as early as the 1902 Police Commission Report that the nature and support for policing depends a lot on wider social attitudes. So what does our shamelessness reveal? First of all it reveals a warped and often paradoxical sense of nationalism. Strangely enough, we often loathe the police, but are also too often, under the guise of national interest, willing to stand behind its excesses. But the only thing we are not willing to do is create the conditions under which our contempt for the police and defence of its excesses both become unnecessary. And creating those conditions will require a measure of political commitment and investment in resources and thinking through new institutional architectures.


Second, the police, of all the state institutions, exemplifies the tenuousness of equal citizenship in India. The lives of policemen and paramilitary forces are cheap in every respect, as if they were simply an army of surplus labour. A state that does not take the lives of those who discharge its sovereign functions seriously is unlikely to be able to send a signal to anyone else in society that it takes their lives seriously. But the complex relationship between inequality and the police has another dimension. Recently, there was a horrendous incident of a female SP being dragged for almost a mile by two junior policemen when she challenged their bribe-taking. There was almost surely a gender dimension to this incident. But it also exposed a sociological fact that is going to make policing even more difficult in years to come.


Within the police forces, there is often pretty open class warfare. What we are not realising is the extent to which the standard police hierarchies of command and control can no longer be taken for granted. The idea that a senior IPS officer can give an order and it will be pursued by someone at the level of the SHO is simply gone. Part of this is due to the fact that, often, lower-level police officers feel more beholden to politicians than they do to their professional superiors. But part of this is also due to the fact that there is a growing sense of resentment at the social distance between senior IPS and rank-and-file policemen. Caste was always an issue in police-society relations, particularly as far as Dalits were concerned. But new forms of caste consciousness and conflict, now often exacerbated by the practice in some states of recording the castes of all complainants, is giving the lie to the idea that we have a unified police force, instead of a myriad social groups playing out their aspirations and resentments inside the force. Police reform that does not address the complex sociology of the police will not be worth the paper it is written on.


Third, like all institutions, the police have also become victims of self-fulfilling scepticism. It is difficult to maintain a sense of professional identity without social support. Many studies, including one by former IPS officer Arvind Verma show that the police are driven often by their sense of social norms. Encounter killings, for instance, draw succour from the sense that they have social approval. But this puts the police in a vicious circle: they often act indiscriminately because they are weak; we condone their excesses because that is a way of getting policing on the cheap; but once you condone excesses, it corrodes the whole professional structure.


On the positive side, a generalised scepticism often makes it hard to reinforce esteem for jobs well done. Think of numerous instances where the police have delivered, albeit not perfectly: controlling violent crime in Mumbai, facilitating social participation to prevent riots in Bhiwadi, or more recently, securing successful convictions against the Ranvir Sena in Bihar. But it is difficult to piece these stories together in any way that reinforces the positive self-esteem of the police.


Fourth, the state has treated the police in unconscionable ways. On any measure of state support, whether it is as simple a thing as buying reliable bullet-proof jackets, to training and providing for better means of crowd control, the state has failed. The CAG Compendium of Performance Audit Reviews on Modernisation of the Police Force catalogues every shortcoming you can imagine. In states like Bengal and Bihar, live training was not imparted to police forces, UP has slightly over a fifth of the required vehicles it needs for normal patrolling, the incorporation of new technologies was abysmal. States like Rajasthan took less than half of their Central allocation; many spent only a fraction of their allocation. The housing crisis for policemen is dire. A lot of this is the characteristic inefficiency of the state. But it sends a powerful signal about how cheap we think policing is, in both a social and a financial sense.


The debate on police reform has focused on simple institutional remedies. Supreme Court directives concentrate on professional control of recruitment and transfers, etc. But these are limited measures. They are not linked to any serious strategic assessment of police needs. It does not address the fact that the crisis of the police is symptomatic of a wider social crisis. You have two levels of challenge: convincing the people that the police can be made credible. But the police also need to be sent a signal that state and society are going to make credible commitments to them, or else they have no incentive to cooperate. Our sullen policing is generating more national security crises than any external power could dream of. All-party delegation on this, anyone?


The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi








The regulator for the commodities market, the Forwards Market Commission, was fleetingly empowered in February 2008 through an ordinance that amended the Forward Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1952. In the six weeks the ordinance was in force, the FMC swooped in on dabba trading — trading that is illegal, doesn't take place on stock exchanges, and where players neither maintain margins nor pay taxes or transaction fees. The FMC, for that brief period, also had the powers to investigate and attach books.


FMC chief B.C. Khatua's team put the fear of God among dabba traders, since they could impose penalties as high as three times the profits made by them. Were the ordinance to be enacted by Parliament in due course, the FMC would have seen to it that transactions were undertaken only on official commodity exchange platforms. Price discovery and risk management, the two primary reasons why futures markets exist anywhere in the world, would have been ensured. But that was not to be. The ordinance lapsed and dabba traders were back in business by April 2008.


It is true that an amended FCRA will allow the regulator and commodities exchanges (two very active, and many waiting in the wings) to introduce options and open up trading opportunities for banks and financial institutions. It will bring depth and breadth to the market besides presenting better hedging strategies on both sides. While futures allow you to lock in prices today for purchases at a later date, options let you take advantage of price increases. Here, you can offer to sell at a given price. If prices move up, you can still choose to exit at a higher price by paying a small premium.


But more than anything else, once the bill is cleared by Parliament — which may take at least six months — it will create tremendous confidence in the commodities market, which has always fallen prey to political whims. For one, it will settle the debate that the regulation of commodity derivatives will be with the FMC and not the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) as suggested some years ago. And the amendments will arm the FMC with powers to actually regulate. Today, the FMC, of 1953 vintage, has less power than the much newer Sebi, the regulator for capital markets.


The bugbear of high prices or inflation, like anywhere else in the world, invariably directs political attention to commodity futures. There is, however, a difference between India and the rest of the world when it comes to this regulation. Developed countries let the market grow, allowed it to develop a robust price discovery and risk management system, and if it went overboard, introduced curbs. In India, we strangled it right at the beginning.


Futures prices always react to developments that would affect the demand-supply situation in a particular commodity in the coming days or months. Many imagine a strong correlation between the future and spot prices. Even the Abhijit Sen committee that closely studied this aspect could not establish such a link with certainty. The irony in India is that though the regulator always claims that the futures market is just a messenger, the government prevails upon it to issue orders suspending trading of products whenever prices shoot up in the spot market, making the FMC look like a puppet.


The futures market in agri-commodities has been especially fraught in India. The UPA has also picked on it whenever prices turn politically uncomfortable. In January 2007, the government or the FMC banned futures trading in tur and urad. It has been more than three years, but the ban is still in force. Wheat futures were banned in February 2007 and lifted after more than two years in May 2009. In 2008, forward trading in potato, soya oil, chana and rubber was suspended, to be re-listed after six months in November 2008. It is now said that since prices of sugar are depressed, futures in the commodity may be allowed again!


Globally, in most developed nations, turnover in the commodities market is three to four times that in the equities market. But, in India, it is skewed in favour of equities. The average daily turnover in the commodities market is about Rs 40,000 crore compared with Rs 120,000 crore to Rs 140,000 crore in the equity derivatives market. Though the commodities futures market is growing at over 50 per cent a year over the last two years, the lack of institutional players will eventually show.


It is not really in the country's interest to put barriers to the growth of the commodities market. With such a big domestic market and with some 400 corporates having big global treasuries and multinational operations, the country cannot afford to be a price-taker. For instance, two years back, India had to pay a huge price when it tapped the Chicago Board of Trade to buy wheat despite being one of the top three producers and consumers of wheat in the world. We need to be there as price-setters. And this can happen only when the FMC is a strong regulator, institutional players are provided access to the market and products are not banned because of political reasons.








As 140 heads of state and government gather at the United Nations for the Millennium Development Goals summit, they and the public will ask what has come out of this decade-long effort.


The answer will surprise them: A great deal has been achieved, with some of the most exciting breakthroughs occurring in Africa.


I recall how the Millennium Development Goals were initially greeted with cynicism — as unachievable, pie-in-the-sky, a photo-op rather than a development framework. Cynicism has been replaced by hope, born of experience, commitment and breakthroughs.


Back in 2000, the situation in Africa was widely regarded as hopeless. Roughly half of Africa's population was living on less than one dollar a day. AIDS, malaria and TB were out of control. Wars were pervasive; Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Uganda, Somalia and the biggest of all, Congo, were all entangled in conflicts. The African economies had stagnated or declined for a generation.


When my colleagues and I suggested that AIDS, malaria and other epidemic diseases could be controlled and that Africa's economic growth could be spurred if the world helped the continent to achieve the MDGs, we were often greeted with derision. Africa, I was told, was simply too violent, too corrupt, too divided.


A decade later, the picture has changed dramatically. AIDS incidence has declined, from an estimated 2.3 million new cases in 2001 to 1.9 million in 2008; longevity has risen tremendously, with millions of Africans now on antiretroviral treatment. Malaria is dropping decisively because of programmes to distribute bed nets and provide medicines. Primary school net enrollments have risen from 58 per cent in 2000 to 74 per cent in 2007. Most of Africa's major wars have subsided.


Africa's economy has also picked up. During 1990-2000, Africa's per capita GDP declined by 0.3 per cent per year. Between 2000 and 2010, per capita growth was around 3.1 per cent per year. Extreme poverty is declining, though not yet fast enough to meet the MDG targets.


The MDGs themselves deserve a lot of credit by providing a powerful organising framework and a bold but realistic time horizon. Dozens of African governments have now adopted national planning strategies based on the MDGs. Nations around the world now have specific, time-bound, outcome-oriented plans that are showing real progress because they are tapping into the synergies of poverty reduction, increased agricultural output, disease control, increased school enrollments and improved infrastructure as targeted by the MDGs.


Asia and the Middle East have become major markets for African agriculture. African leaders broke old donor-led shibboleths by establishing new government programmes to get fertiliser and high-yield seeds to poor peasant farmers who could not afford these inputs. Farm yields soared.


The MDGs have always recognised the need for a global partnership to end poverty, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UN agencies have been persistent in their support of this ambitious agenda. Ironically, though, the main obstacles to achieving the goals by 2015 in Africa are international in origin, many due to high-income countries.


The first challenge is the donor shortfall in honouring specific financial commitments to Africa. The second is human-induced climate change, another visitation upon Africa from the outside world. The region that has contributed by far the least to human-induced climate change is the one bearing the highest price in terms of drought and crop failures. The third threat is large-scale corruption, often fuelled by major American, European and Asian companies. The fourth threat is rampant population growth. The Roman Catholic Church, politically powerful throughout Africa, continues its opposition to birth control and family planning. The fifth threat is trade. Europe and the US preach free trade, but close their markets to African agricultural products.


The sixth risk is that of neglect. US President Obama has spent only one day in sub-Saharan Africa, and has hardly said a word about the Millennium Goals to the American people. Ironically, it is precisely the goals themselves, rather than hundreds of billions of dollars of annual military spending, that can offer the US and other countries a path to security in places like Afghanistan, Yemen and the Horn of Africa.


The world leaders will agree on the right principles at the summit: targeted investments for agriculture, education, health, energy and microfinance; gender equality; the complementary roles of development aid, trade and private financing. When the donor nations have not just talked but have actually pooled their funds to support the national plans of poor countries, the speed of advance has been breathtaking.


On their 10th birthday, the Millennium Development Goals offer the world a realistic path to ending extreme poverty. -JEFFREY SACHS


The writer is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and was from 2002 to 2006 director of the UN Millennium Project







As children, teachers and parents sprint, slink or stumble into the new school year, they also find themselves labouring once again in the shadow of standardised 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 memorised 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, analysing 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 authors amid 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 analysed 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 analyse 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


The writer is a senior lecturer in psychology and the director of the teaching programme at Williams College, Massachusetts








Karnataka's BJP made history a little over two years ago when it formed the first BJP government in south India. But since then, sex, lies and scandal have led to a steady ride downhill.


Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, who favours safari suits to khadi and changed the middle letter in his name from 'i' to 'y', pledged when elected that he would turn Karnataka into a model state. But scandal after scandal has hit the government in the past months, and the state is not even remotely the idyll the chief minister promised.


The state BJP's scandal roster is rather long. Last week, the state's education minister, Ramachandra Gowda, quit — or, more accurately, was sacked — after gross irregularities were uncovered in his hiring of over 300 employees such as nurses in government-run hospitals and laboratory technicians in medical colleges. The government was forced to cancel the illegal appointments.


Haratal Halappa quit as food and civil supplies minister in May this year after being accused of raping his friend's wife. DNA tests indicated that the body fluids on the woman's clothes were indeed the minister's. Halappa denies the charge. Local tabloids say he is in a quandary. If rape is proved, then it is a long jail term; else, a shorter one for adultery. Ludicrously, Yeddyurappa explained away the episode as a "conspiracy" against his government.


Not long ago, S.N. Krishnaiah Setty, the religious endowment minister, was accused of irregularities in the purchase and sale of land to the government-run Karnataka Housing Board. Setty was later dropped.


In another salacious scandal, a nurse accused the MLA from Honnali, north of Bangalore, M.P. Renukacharya, of luring her into a relationship and then threatening her life when she insisted on marriage. As a clincher the nurse released some telling photographs of herself with the married Renukacharya, lodged a police complaint and then petitioned the governor against the man. Renukacharya became the excise minister of Karnataka and many twists and turns later, the case culminated in a patch-up between the two in April this year.


An early humiliation for the BJP came in June 2008. Udupi MLA Raghupathi Bhat's wife Padmapriya, 32, mysteriously disappeared leaving behind two young children. A massive manhunt was launched, backed by Karnataka's home minister, V.S. Acharya, whose protege Bhat is. In a shocking end to the scandal, Padmapriya's body was discovered hanging in a fully-furnished apartment in New Delhi rented just three days before. The brand new car she had just bought was parked outside. Acharya said it was a case of suicide. The MLA blamed a close aide for leading his wife astray. The question of whether Padmapriya's death was a straightforward case of suicide still lingers.


Further, there are matters of a different gravity afflicting the government. Two ministers and an MLA of the BJP, all brothers and mine owners, are in the thick of Karnataka's mining controversy where thousands of crores of rupees worth of minerals have been looted in northern Karnataka. Tourism Minister Janardhana Reddy, Revenue Minister Karunakara Reddy and MLA Somashekhara Reddy have been accused of large-scale, illegal mining on the Karnataka-Andhra border. The Reddy Brothers, or the Bellary Brothers as the powerful troika is referred to here, have survived the national-level scandal apparently because they have the blessings of party bosses in New Delhi. In India, ill-gotten money usually bankrolls political parties, so the "blessings" may well mean approval.

Yeddyurappa has balked at acting against corrupt and scandalous colleagues and shown himself to be a weak chief minister. Take this example. In a case (granted, not a very significant one) following a private complaint, nine non-bailable warrants have been issued against his tourism minister, Janardhana Reddy. Serial offenders and criminals on the run ignore such warrants. But this is a minister we are talking about. Janardhana Reddy has spurned the warrants and yet remains in full public view. And Yeddyurappa continues to keep him in the ministry.








Anticipating the possible fallout of developments involving an issue as deeply contentious as the long-standing dispute in Ayodhya is hazardous. Yet, whatever the Allahabad high court decides on Friday afternoon, there are at least two certitudes.


First, as indicated by the cabinet resolution of September 16, the authorities will encourage seeing the verdict in its "proper perspective", as "part of a judicial process". In other words, an appeal to the Supreme Court by the losing side is more or less obligatory. Returning the mandir-masjid dispute to the judicial slow cooker will ensure that any resolution (if this is at all possible) of this delicate problem will be put off till another day. For the moment, the pujas of Ram lalla won't be disturbed.


Second, despite the understandable fear of civil strife in the aftermath of the verdict, it is unlikely that either the Commonwealth Games or Bihar elections will be marred by riots. There may well be some localised disturbances but nothing remotely on the scale of the post-demolition troubles in 1992-93. Any rise in the emotional temperature has to be preceded by religious and political mobilisation. And for a variety of reasons, there are no indications that India is in a mood to revert to sectarian conflict in a big way. This equanimity may well be temporary but as of nowit is real.


That the verdict is likely to be greeted with anodyne observations about the "majesty of the law", the "triumph of constitutionalism" and so on is not to suggest that it will be a non-event. The verdict will inevitably trigger a ferment whose impact will take some time to be felt.


The Congress, which has bitter memories of being derailed by Ayodhya in the 1990s, is understandably nervous about another round of Hindu-Muslim polarisation. General Secretary Digvijaya Singh's endorsement of a negotiated settlement — an approach identified with the now-reviled P.V. Narasimha Rao and, subsequently, the NDA government — would indicate that the Congress is loath to confront a situation where one side nurtures a grievance while the other side gloats triumphantly.


If the Congress is uneasy about the turn of events after September 24, the BJP is on the edge. It has reposed hope in a judicial endorsement of its claim that the Babri Masjid was built on the site of a pre-existing Hindu temple. This would not only establish the moral legitimacy of the movement it so successfully led, but would offset any possible adverse ruling on the title suit. Whatever the judicial pronouncement on the issue of "adverse possession", if the archaeological and historical evidence are found to be weighed in favour of the Hindu claimants, it would make it extremely difficult to consider shifting the makeshift Ram temple from the "garbha griha" of the erstwhile Babri Masjid.


Politically, a judicial victory would allow the BJP to make the strategic shift it has been attempting since 1998: easing out its image as an exclusivist Hindu party. There is recognition in the BJP that the Ram temple movement has lost its cutting edge in the age of coalitions and economic growth, and is best left to the sadhus and the VHP. A judicial victory in the Ayodhya dispute will enable the BJP to move on, honourably.


A "Hindu" win on Friday will, paradoxically, facilitate the evolution of the BJP as a conventional, right-of-centre party. In time, if it responds to the emerging India, it could well emerge as the party of aspirations, an alternative to the Congress' politics of entitlements. If Ayodhya is out of the way, the "New BJP" that L.K. Advani once alluded to in 1998 could take shape in the years ahead, with the RSS assuming the role of a stakeholder, not sole proprietor.


However, if the bush telegraph is any indication, the BJP should also be prepared for an adverse verdict on Friday. True, the RSS chief has asserted that in the event of a judicial setback the Sangh Parivar will appeal to the Supreme Court and not deviate from the constitutional path. However, since the disappointment is certain to be profound, the TV channels may witness angry outbursts by BJP functionaries ranging from the ridiculous to the inflammatory. The party hasn't prepared the political script to handle adversity.


For the BJP the immediate challenge isn't likely to be Muslim triumphalism. In the event of an unfavourable verdict, it is certain to face assaults from two very different quarters. The first will emanate from secularists who will view the judgment as confirmation that BJP is a reckless and abnormal party that must be severely punished for wilfully transgressing the law. There may even be calls for a ban on saffron outfits.


The second assault will certainly be from hardliners who will charge the BJP with betrayal of Hindu interests. This may strike a chord among the recklessly committed and put pressure on the party to revert to Hindu identity politics. The BJP "modernisers" will resist this regression but they are likely to find the going tough in the face of an emotional upheaval among those who function within ghettos. If the BJP succumbs, it will guarantee itself a place in the fringes.


Today's India seems disinclined to return to the age of sectarian confrontation. The Hindu middle classes that backed the Ram temple movement now have different priorities linked to economic growth. They will be loath to take needless risks in the quest for a Holy Grail.


There are two circumstances in which the mood could change. First, any attempt (now or subsequently) to change the denominational character of the disputed site is certain to invite fierce political resistance. Secondly, if the interregnum between the high court and Supreme Court judgments trigger Muslim belligerence centred on either triumphalism or victimhood, it could provoke a countervailing response and re-energise Hindu atavism. The BJP could well profit but at an unacceptably high social cost.


This week, Ayodhya will again throw up many future possibilities. India will have to choose wisely.


The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator








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








Civil society is happy now that the government is all set to pass a Bill that ensures mining companies have to share 26% of their profits with tribals and others living in the lands their mines are in. Now that the tribals are not going to be shortchanged any more, perhaps the troubles associated with mining will reduce dramatically, though environment clearances will still be required of course. Not surprisingly, this has been opposed by India Inc, arguing that if 26% of the profits go away, what's left? Public sector SAIL has pointed out, and validly, that the scheme is difficult to implement since it is difficult to figure out what profits are in captive mines—and there is no way SAIL or anyone else is going to be sharing 26% of the overall steel sector's profits. Slowly, one can assume, there will be similar noises from other sectors—Vedanta would have said the same had it been allowed mining in Niyamgiri presumably.


The proposal, like so many others that look good on paper, is fraught with all manner of problems. So, in the case of captive mines, it is likely a solution will be for the government to mandate a transfer price between the captive mine and the end-user industry. There's then the question of what constitutes profits and what is revenue? In the case of the Delhi airport, while the franchisee won the project by bidding to share 46% of topline revenues with the government, the franchisee wanted to exclude the interest-free deposits taken from those leasing commercial land from it on the grounds that this was a liability, not a revenue—never mind that, the higher the interest-free deposits, the lower the annual rentals that are to be shared. This should thrill bureaucrats since that's another job avenue that's been opened up, along with the attendant discretion it involves. The other problem that needs some thought relates to how this 26% promise is to be delivered, assuming a solution is found to the captive and other issues. The government has not been able to run a PDS and identify beneficiaries, and that's in cities, not in dense forests. Perhaps some of these questions will get asked, and answered, during the time the Bill gets passed in the Cabinet and then goes through the standing committees of Parliament. The annuity proposals, by way of contrast, in the Haryana and Uttar Pradesh land acquisition Acts seem more manageable. Substantially hiking royalty rates on minerals, and the government sharing this with tribal groups, is another possible solution.







The demands for the relaxation of caps on the number of visas provided to foreign workers to work in India by the steel and power ministries points to the different set of standards being applied on flow of skilled labour across the borders. While India is trying hard to persuade developed countries to outsource work to within its borders and further relax the norms for the movement of skilled labour from India, it continues to limit the use of foreign workers to 1% of total skilled manpower or a maximum limit of 40 under 'Project Visas' regime. In sectors like steel, however, firms would like to raise the inflows to 10% of the skilled workers or 300 persons per million tonne of steel capacity in all greenfield projects. Such restrictive policies and the tardy pace of visa processing have forced many foreign companies to circumvent the rules and smuggle in workers using tourist and business visas. For instance, the numbers show that Chinese companies had earlier resorted to the use of business visas to ensure that their workers gain easier entry into the country, thus pushing up the total business visas issued almost four-fold to close to 60,000 between 2004 and 2008. But the clampdown on such entries has now jeopardised the timely completion of many projects, especially that of roads, power and steel. The requirement of skilled labour will increase as the country accelerates the introduction of critical new technologies in the power sector and implements new steel projects.


While the continuation of the restrictions on the inflows of unskilled labour is prudent policy, the growing shortage of the skilled manpower and its poor quality requires that all supply constraints in the the labour markets be met by imports. Such a policy has been successfully implemented in sectors like aviation where the growing shortage of skilled pilots was fully met through unrestricted foreign hiring. There is no reason why such policies cannot be now successfully replicated in other sectors like steel or power.








Coinciding neatly with the second anniversary of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, the Group of Governors and Heads of Supervision, the oversight body of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, announced a substantial strengthening of capital requirements on banking entities, known as Basel-3, endorsing the capital and liquidity measures originally proposed in December 2009 and amended in July 2010. The coincidence is all the more remarkable given how much of the proposed measures seem to have been driven by the individual eccentricities of the Lehman meltdown, in the perspective of the much wider canvas of the financial crisis.


Much of the proposed measures are already familiar in India, having gradually been implemented by RBI in the run-up to the events preceding the Lehman cratering. Our financial and economic fortunes will be increasingly tied with the global architecture. Hence, how effective will these proposed measures be at, if not preventing, at least mitigating the effects of the next crisis?


Besides higher capital ratios, the measures propose two new capital buffers—conservation and counter-cyclical—a non-risk weighted leverage ratio (most of the others are risk weighted), new and substantial capital charges for non-cleared derivatives and revisions to the rules on the types of instruments that would qualify as bank capital. In brief, these measures are as follows. An increase in "Core Tier-1" from the existing 2% of risk weighted assets to 4.5%, this is to comprise "common equity", i.e., common shares and retained earnings. Total Tier-1 goes up from 4% to 6%. Total Tier-1 plus 2 capital remains at 8%. Tier-3, used solely for market risk, is completely eliminated. In addition, the capital conservation buffer is 2.5%, consisting only of common equity, and a contingent counter-cyclical buffer ranging from 0.5-2.5% depending on the economic cycle and geography. New liquidity coverage and funding ratios add to this bolster. Specifically, banks' exposures to OTC, i.e., non-exchange traded derivatives, particularly repo, financing operations.


Basel-3 obviously views capital reinforcement as one the principal tools in its arsenal. The other rules address the extensively discussed problematic practices of the global financial system leading to the crisis. Leverage has never been part of the previous Basel regulatory structure, and a non-risk amount of 3% is to be tested over a transition period.


All of these reforms will definitely contribute to preventing a future financial "Three Alarmer". But how much of this is likely to fundamentally change the incentives that will shape the financial architecture of the future? Is the increased banking capital sufficient to increase banking strength? (Ethical disclaimer: the following observations are based on publicly available analysis).


The core of the evolving risk mitigation is the basic question whether the Lehman bankruptcy filing was a liquidity or solvency event. Lehman's then chief had argued strenuously that had the Fed then extended liquidity support, Lehman would have survived, and by a logical extension, substantially dampened the consequent turmoil. The Fed's decision not to extend a backstop still remains shrouded in mystery, despite the extensive documentation of the examiner's report and congressional hearings. The Fed by then had opened its discount lending windows to all institutions—commercial as well as investment banks—provided they had good collateral. The fact that the Fed was unwilling to oblige a Lehman bailout pointed to massive problems with the underlying assets.


Why is this distinction important? Because it is related to the measurement of capital relative to risk weighted assets, leading thereafter to the extent of appropriate leveraging. Capital ratios were artificially increased. Simon Johnson and James Kwak have documented this in detail. Lehman, on paper, was more than adequately capitalised, with an 11.6% Tier-1 capital. Unfortunately, at least some of what was described as Tier-I capital turned out to be not so safe. This was partially due to aggressive and misleading accounting. The Repo 105 transactions, for instance, enabled Lehman to move as much as $50 billion off its balance sheet. A rampant use of regulatory arbitrage by many large financial institutions using synthetic securitisations, structured investment vehicles, etc, enables banks to essentially evade capital requirements.


This is also relevant since Basel-3 talks of systemically important banks being subject to higher capital requirements; being "too big to fail", they should be particularly safe. But this requires a realistic understanding of the amount of capital needed to withstand a relatively rare financial shock. As we now know, adequacy of capital in Basel-2 was predicated on mathematical models, particularly Value at Risk (VaR), which got "tails" hopelessly wrong. Methods of calculation of risk weights still remain a holdover from Basel-2. Given these infirmities, should oversight prevent banks from becoming too big or too complex to fail in the first place?


Where do we go from here? The sad truth is that there is no one set of rules that will ensure the solvency of the financial system. Banks will need to hold more "common equity" than ever, which increases their incentive to find low risk weighted assets with some incremental returns.


Predicting the source of the next crisis is difficult, but one instinctively comes to mind. Sovereigns still enjoy exalted status; lending to AA-rated sovereigns still carries a zero risk weight. One outcome of Basel-3 is to encourage banks to increase lending to sovereigns. No prizes, then, for guessing where the next crisis is likely to start.


The author is senior vice-president, business & economic research, Axis Bank. These are his personal views







Most discussions on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) have focused on one of few things, the leakages in the implementation of the scheme, the inadequate number of jobs created, and some even talk of how NREGA has resulted in food inflation going up in various districts as well as increasing mechanisation due to unavailability of farm labour. It is, of course, true that you can't have food inflation and disappearance of labour due to NREGA if its implementation is not good—critics have to decide which way they're going, they can't have both views at the same time.


What is true, and NREGA may have something to do with it, is there has been a sea change in rural India in even just the last five years. The NREGA Website tells us that 45 million households have NREGA cards. That's equal to around 30% of all rural households. It is clear that not all these households have got jobs from NREGA, nor is it true that all of them have got the legislated 100 days of employment in a year. But what NREGA has done is change the way rural folk view employment. In 2004-05, NCAER conducted its National Survey of Household Income and Expenditure across the country—a survey we have been conducting almost annually since the mid-1980s. What it showed was that 41% of the rural population was drawing their income from self-employed in agriculture; 35% reported labour as their major source of earning and 11% said they were salaried.


In 2009-10, we repeated the exercise in the form of the National Youth Readership Survey. This showed an interesting shift. Those reporting themselves as self-employed in agriculture fell to 23% and those who earned their principal income from labour rose to 42%. You could argue both are essentially related to agriculture, so the change isn't that high. That's not true, since the proportion of households reporting their principal income as coming from salaries rose from 11% in the 2004-05 survey to 19% in 2009-10. But surely the fact that a lot more persons, even if they continue to remain within agriculture, are reporting labour as their income source. This is the real victory of NREGA: the change in perception of labour as a means of livelihood.


Equally interesting, according to a NCAER-PIF study, Evaluating Performance of NREGA (Sharma, 2009), there has been a 49% jump in employment generation for women, leading to the fulfilment of one of the key objectives of the programme, viz 33% share for women. It must be pointed out here that the credit for the national average striking 43% in this area goes wholly to the southern states—elsewhere, female participation rates ranged from 1% in J&K to 19% in West Bengal.


The shift of rural folks from agriculture to labour may be seen in the wider context of falling levels of protection, reducing acreage and lowering of social security nets in the sector. The Economic Survey (2009-10) says that public investment in agriculture, in real terms, has steadily declined in the Sixth and Tenth Plan periods (1980-2007 at 1999-2000 prices). In the first two years of the Eleventh Plan, the agriculture and allied sector recorded a growth of 4.7% in 2007-08 and 1.6% in 2008-09. All of which would suggest agriculture is less of a lucrative profession nowadays.


The news isn't all good though. The National Youth Readership Survey (2009) found that of the total literate youth population (333 million), 62%, or 207 million, lived in rural areas. Not all these youth can find satisfying jobs in rural India. Logically, the solution has to be more urbanisation. But with urban India not able to absorb them, urban slums are the result. NREGA can help reduce the pressure for migration for a while, it cannot provide a permanent solution, and it cannot provide a solution for the educated. The policy message is: do not restrict NREGA to digging trenches and sinking wells but link it to skill development for the younger generation through entrepreneurial education and training so that there can be micro industrialisation in rural areas, both farm and non-farm based.


The author is director, NCAER-CMCR








The BJP has emerged as a responsible Opposition party. It is trying to meet the government half way on all important issues and even though the government was unfair on the appointment of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj plans to take part in the selection of the Chief Information Commissioner. This, and lot more, such as the BJP's stand that diluting the Armed Forces Special Powers Act would be a mistake at this point in time, form part of Swaraj's conversation at The Express Group's Idea Exchange.


What is amazing is what Swaraj had to say on the Reddy brothers, accused of illegal mining in Bellary, and on the BJP's moral high ground going for a six in Jharkhand as well. Swaraj spoke of the art of the possible and her nuancing would make a top-notch lawyer proud—the party had a problem with Soren, so the morality lay in not going with Soren. To use her exact quote: "In politics, we decide according to circumstances, but still remain a party with a difference." Swaraj's sense of hurt led her to disclose another secret, relating to the bargain the BJP made with the Reddy brothers. This is the first BJP government in south India and when it was apparent it would fall without the support of the Bellary Brothers, she said then president Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley personally called her to say the government was collapsing. If she used her personal relations to save the government, it would be an "award-winning performance". "I save the government and I am accused of supporting corruption?" she cried. Does this sound like the BJP or some Congressman about A Raja? Same difference.








Last year Indian Olympic Association chief Suresh Kalmadi assured the estimated 4,000 athletes and tens of thousands of fans who will participate in next month's Commonwealth Games that their safety was his "number one concern." Sunday's terrorist attack in Delhi, which left two tourists injured, has made clear that the promise — like so many others to do with the Games — wasn't worth much. Delhi is supposed to have a central control room manned by personnel trained to respond in real time to a terrorist attack. It didn't function. There were several police squads around the historic Jama Masjid area on Sunday, but no plans to seal off exit routes and ensure an orderly evacuation. Delhi Police commando units took too long to reach the area to launch an effective cordon-and-search operation. Police believe the attack was most likely carried out by one of the Lashkar-e-Taiba-linked cells that are collectively referred to as the Indian Mujahideen — a prospect India's intelligence services have been anticipating for months. It is possible that the systematic degradation of the Indian Mujahideen's network since 2008 prevented a larger attack: the terrorists were equipped only with pistols, and a bomb planted in a nearby car failed to detonate properly. But that is no reason to believe other attackers might not be better equipped and prepared.


For more than a year, alarm bells have been ringing in India's intelligence services on the poor state of Games-related security — but not loud enough, it would seem, to compel the Delhi Police to wake up. Instead of paying attention to the need for careful planning, Games security has relied on an ineffective method: pumping in large numbers of personnel in the hope of deterring attackers. The central government has made available 175 companies of the Central Reserve Police Force to supplement Delhi's own 64,000-strong force. Police in neighbouring States, including Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, have also pitched in to help. But it is clear that the bulk of the forces deployed to protect Delhi during the Games are there to 'reassure' the public — not to serve any useful counter-terrorism function. Few of the personnel now visible on Delhi streets seem up to handling a crisis. No drills have been conducted to test emergency-response preparedness in hotels, malls, and markets. Institutions and crowded public areas have been fitted with closed-circuit television cameras but many, including those at the Jama Masjid, aren't working. Delhi is fortunate that lives weren't lost on Sunday — but good luck is no substitute for good management. The Delhi Police must be pushed to set their house in order as best as is possible in the days that remain before the Games begin.







After a torrid and unusually hot summer, the monsoon rains could not have been more welcome when they set in over Kerala at the end of May. But the progress of the rain-bearing clouds northwards was sluggish and, by the end of June, the nationwide rainfall deficit stood at 16 per cent. After last year's bad drought, there were some jitters over whether the monsoon might slip once again into the red. In its first seasonal forecast issued in April, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) had predicted that it would be a 'normal' monsoon with a deficit of only two per cent. In a normal monsoon, the nationwide rainfall is within 10 per cent of the long-period average. An updated forecast issued in late June said that the monsoon could finish with a slight surplus of two per cent, and it mainly relied on the "very high probability" of a La Nina developing in the Pacific Ocean. A La Nina, characterised by the waters of the equatorial eastern and central Pacific being cooler than usual, is beneficial for the Indian monsoon. That is indeed what has happened. From the third week of July, the rains have been bountiful. With the exception of eastern and north-eastern India, which currently shows an 18 per cent deficit, the rest of the country has received above-average rain.


Year after year, floods create havoc in some place or other during the monsoon. This year the focus has been on Pakistan where the rising waters have caused millions to flee their homes with livestock and destroyed crops across the country. Although India was spared disaster on such a scale, reports of heavy rains and consequent flooding have come in from many places. The ravages wrought by torrential downpour can be compounded by water being suddenly released from dams and reservoirs that are rapidly filling up. Of course, it is only when the water rises alarmingly that it is released. However, scientific methods are now available to monitor rainfall as it occurs and then estimate the amount of the water that will in due course flow into a reservoir. These methods aid better management of the reservoir, helping to decide in advance when and by how much various sluice gates need to be opened. Such real-time monitoring and management systems are expensive and need extensive customisation. Moreover to minimise flooding downstream they must be put in place for all reservoirs and dams in a river basin. With the grim possibility that climate change could make extreme rainfall a more frequent occurrence, the government needs to take all possible steps to limit flooding and the damage it causes.










An unseen passenger would have travelled in the special aircraft ferrying the "all-party delegation" to Srinagar on Monday [September 20]. The distinguished parliamentarians might not have noticed the American's discreet presence. He came straight from a fateful conclave in a five-star hotel in Islamabad last Wednesday. For the first time in the 60-year post-colonial history of our region, the political and military leadership of the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan sat together under a chandelier in Islamabad to choreograph a new security architecture for the region and it was a dazzling display of American influence in our part of the world.


A momentous chapter in regional politics is unfolding as the nine-year-old Afghan war slouched toward a denouement. Kashmir cannot remain unaffected when such a phenomenal tectonic shift in the regional balance of power gets under way. The narrative could as well have been plucked out of Henry Kissinger's immutable magna opera on the politics of power, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace. The Islamabad conclave was every bit about the reconciliation of turbulent relationships, matching of differing concerns of respective countries and the changing nature of diplomacy that is needed to influence the final shape of peace.


Pakistan brokered brilliantly to bring the U.S. and the Taliban to the vicinity of a settlement. The picture that emerges is that in a near future the 1,00,000 U.S. troops would stop fighting and dying in the Taliban's Pashtun strongholds in the south and east in a futile counter-insurgency operation and would thin out to relocate to the predominantly non-Pashtun regions in the north and west. The U.S's "combat mission" will end and what remains will be a few thousand troops (like in Iraq) to ensure that the affiliates of al-Qaeda do not regroup.


The U.S. can deploy air power or the special forces if an odd al-Qaeda fellow pops up somewhere while the Afghan army will incrementally come on stream. The end of bloodshed will remove the war from being a domestic political haemorrhage for the Barack Obama administration. At the same time, it will be a geopolitical coup insofar as the U.S. military presence in Central Asia will be put on a long-term footing, which, in turn, enables the U.S. to effectively pursue its global strategies in terms of the containment of China and Iran, the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation as a real-time provider of security for the Central Asian states and the perpetuation of the western dominance over the oil-rich Middle East, which is under growing challenge.


To be sure, for all this to happen the U.S. will depend on Pakistan's cooperation in the stabilisation of the southern and eastern regions. Indeed, the Taliban is under heavy Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) influence and the Pakistani military too has a stake in stabilising the Durand Line on a durable basis so that it can pay adequate attention to the eastern borders facing India.


There is a question mark regarding the political future of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He is expected to cede to the Taliban the southern and eastern regions and the U.S.-Pakistani deal places him in a precarious position vis-à-vis the unforgiving Pakistani generals. His dash to Islamabad on Wednesday and his joint meeting with the Pakistani army chief Pervez Kayani and the U.S. commander David Petraeus tells a sad story by itself. Indeed, Mr. Karzai has to walk a tight rope calibrating the Afghan aspirations of independence and sovereignty when there is an overflow of adrenaline through the Pakistani veins, having come so close to realising "strategic depth". Can Mr. Karzai count on no-holds-barred U.S. backing? Most certainly, not. Washington has its own national interests vis-à-vis the Pakistani military leadership. Washington will not want to squander away the excellent chemistry between the Pentagon and Mr. Kayani for which it worked hard.


India's regional policy, too, finds itself at a crossroads. The cementing of the U.S.-Pakistani axis in Afghanistan cannot but affect Indian interests and it leaves a lousy feeling of being let down by the Americans. However, it should be left to historians to dispassionately judge whether the Americans really did lead the Indians up the garden path. Or, was it a matter of the Indian diplomacy having been needlessly supine in the critical years between 2001-2006? If you submit as a doormat, others are bound to see you that way.


Be that as it may, New Delhi will still place hope that the U.S. acts as a "moderating influence" on the Pakistani military. It is always good to hope. In ideal conditions, the U.S.'s moderating influence could work in three directions: a) India has legitimate interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot exercise a veto over it; b) the ISI should not use the Taliban-held regions as sanctuaries and training camps for terrorists operating against India; and, c) Pakistan should dismantle its own terrorist infrastructure and opt for settlement of differences through dialogue.


The reasonableness of the Indian case is certainly not in doubt. But then, life is real. The U.S. will be foolish to spend out of its capital of goodwill with the Pakistani military. Look at it this way. The settlement in Afghanistan strengthens the U.S's standing in the region but, paradoxically, it also makes the U.S. strategies in the downstream predicated on the Pakistani military delivering on the stabilisation of the Afghan situation. The equation, you may say, is a serious one for Washington's future strategies. Put simply, Taliban is the best-organised Afghan group today, the creation of a viable Afghan national army is a long haul, and Pakistan can create mayhem in Kabul if it chooses to be a spoiler.


Arguably, U.S. airpower and special forces may deliver shock and awe but wars are ultimately won and lost on the ground and it is inconceivable that the U.S. troops would return to a combat mission in Afghanistan. The Taliban can comprehend the paradigm; the Pakistani military leadership knows it; and the U.S. knows that the two protagonists know it. In sum, therefore, the Pakistani military will be holding the Afghan settlement by its jugular for the foreseeable future. Not that the Pakistani military will necessarily opt for strategic defiance of the U.S. Why should it kill the goose that lays the golden egg? The Americans are good paymasters and Pakistan needs a lot of money these days to simply to stay afloat.


The most crucial variable for Delhi is that the U.S. too would have expectations of India's good conduct in Afghanistan. It is all-too delicate an issue but India can no more stall the Pakistani demand for the closure of our consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar. Nor is the U.S. going to plead our case. Much depends on whether Delhi is prepared to work with Washington's Asia-Pacific enterprise. In anticipation, the pro-U.S. lobby and the Indian middlemen for Americans arms manufacturers are already on overdrive expounding bizarre theses — India should prepare for wars on two fronts simultaneously, Indian armed forces deserve better civilian leadership, etc. These lobbyists and commission agents are tirelessly drumming up a war psychosis and Sinophobia in order to pedal their case that Delhi should embrace all-round military cooperation with the U.S. and work with the American global strategies. These bellboys have unabashedly become stakeholders in creating xenophobia and in keeping the nation's nerves on edge at a time when no one with a modicum of sanity would say India faces threat of armed aggression. Today India is a major military power already with near-Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability. And India's security challenges are internal.


The commission agents of U.S. arms manufacturers salivate over kickbacks but where do our national interests lie? We can't be "coolies" in the U.S.'s Asia-Pacific enterprise as it imperils our normalisation with China and will inevitably trigger a cold war in our region that sidetracks the priorities of development. Besides, we simply can't appease the American manufacturers by atrophying the time-tested friendship with Russia since if the push comes to the shove on Kashmir, whereas the U.S. position remains ambivalent (although we unilaterally insist on interpreting it to be in our favour), we may need to shout across the Himalayas to our Russian friend. Most important, the U.S.-Pakistan axis is pivotal for the U.S. regional strategies in Central Asia and in a not-too-distant future Mr. Kayani will seek his pound of flesh on Kashmir. The Intifada unfolding in the Valley has diverse moorings and the killing of innocents may well turn out to be a sideshow in the 20-year deadly game that is far from played out.


The political reality is that Pakistan has escalated its rhetoric on Kashmir. The government's invitation to China to invest in the development of J&K indeed underscores our growing sense of awareness. We need to carefully measure the timeline available to normalise the J&K situation. A regime change in Srinagar is not the priority today. Politicising the crisis will be a most irresponsible thing to do.


(The writer is a former diplomat.)










Shanti Bhushan is a distinguished Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court. The former Union Law Minister has been a public-spirited counsel of corrective strategy. Now he has, in a stroke of seemingly egregious expression of national conscience, raised a historic, heuristic challenge. He has questioned the integrity of the top brethren of the highest judiciary of the Republic, hurling charges of corruption against eight of 16 Chief Justices of the past. He has defiantly desiderated them in a militant manner. Take action for contempt of court against me, if you dare, he seems to say. And the media have publicised Mr. Bhushan's action, which sounds much like bravado.


Now it is left to the nation to move on this matter of paramount importance. This is an astonishing event — the rarest of the rare kind. If India is not a coward, if its swaraj is not merely soft and formal but firm and phenomenal, an appropriately high-level investigation, with consequential follow-up action that is punitive and reformatory, is imperative. This is no time to hesitate or involve in an exchange of rhetoric. Nor is this the time for a guarded and diplomatic reaction. This is unprecedented: a succession of Chief Justices have been publicly accused by a Senior Advocate of standing, risking his career.


Take action or face collapse. This is not a matter for ordinary public interest litigation. Until now, in no democracy would such an event have happened. There is not a moment now to relax or show amoral indifference or inaction. Should India keep quiet and go into slumber in the face of Operation Bhushan Bravo now, the world will judge this democracy as a bundle of brave words that, when it comes to action, is a flop show. This is not an hour to relax or retreat from duty. This is an open offensive against the highest court. The court, with vast powers of adjudication of justice and writ jurisdiction, has been put in the dock, so to say. To remain deaf or dumb to this situation will be a shock and a shame. When the judicial system suffers seppuku, we become a society sans justice.


This is a crisis beyond Mr. Shanti Bhushan and Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia themselves. The extraordinarily epic charge demands a trial. How can the courts close its eyes and pretend to be asleep? Wake up and walk with your head high, and create a tribunal as unique as the situation. To fail here will put the nation's reputation under grave suspicion.


The judiciary is constitutionally empowered to be critical, to quash and be a corrective. It could issue creative writs or directives binding the functional process of the Executive and the Legislature. What about the judges if they are not efficient, competent and capable, and with a vision and mission to transform the social dimension of any policy or action that is violative of suprema lex? In the United States, Chief Justice Earl Warren produced a racial revolution that U.S. President Eisenhower could not achieve. In the Commonwealth, visionary judges have shown their ability to transmute society through judicial activism.


Even in India, public interest litigation has revolutionary potential if our 'robed brethren' are really socialist and secular. They do not always possess in plenary fashion such a dimension in terms of perception or vision. On the contrary, some of them often tend to yield to class bias and political pressure by multinational corporations, or class-oriented prejudices. Indeed, some of them seem to be slowly succumbing to corruption by powerful vested interests. This is a grave danger.


Yet, the controversy raised by Mr. Shanti Bhushan poses a serious peril before this Republic's crimson future. Our tryst with destiny, articulated in the historic address by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, cannot be implemented since final adjudicatory powers under Article 141 and 144 lie with the highest court. To remain inert and indifferent to the attack is to be amoral and unethical to constitutional mandates. If this Republic is a live constitutional instrumentality, it has received stab wounds on its chest. Our Supreme Court Judges do have a moral stature.


If Parliament has a sense of shame, now is the time to act: it cannot wait till tomorrow. Mr. Shanti Bhushan has dared the court. Of course, he will get an opportunity and has an obligation to the nation to prove the truth of his charges. Not to act on the matter will amount to cowardice, timidity, bankruptcy, and an unworthy submission to his audacious invasion on the credibility of India's highest moral authority, the Supreme Court.


Parliament must act. Let the Prime Minister move a resolution asking the two Houses to meet and pass a motion appointing the highest-ever quasi-judicial body to sit and inquire into any judicatural retreat from their oath of office. This will involve issues of grave importance. It is no longer Bhushan vs. the Supreme Court. It is the people's right to have a paramount Supreme Court of justice. This nation is greater than Mr. Shanti Bhushan and it cannot have a moral backbone if these charges are not publicly enquired into and consequent changes are made — so that the Supreme Court may shine supreme.


Any Commission or Tribunal that is created should not be confined to the charges in its ambit of enquiry. The public must be able to bring any other charges against the judges of the highest court. This will be a historic, epic tribunal to try its own judges without fear or favour and cleanse the system of any bad elements. Frame a performance prescription, punish any guilty judges.


Or if Mr. Shanti Bhushan fails in his bid, let him face the consequences of his phenomenal folly. There should be no secrecy but only transparency, no contempt proceedings to hide delinquent conduct. This will be an epic battle more important than the making of the Constitution — a national hearing by a superlative tribunal. I suggest the Chief Justices of all the High Courts plus the Speaker and the Chairpersons of the two Houses sitting as a body assisted by the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General. During the course of these proceedings, ad hoc judges may be appointed to hear cases. The marathon process will involve sittings on three days a week. The other four days could be set apart for their regular judicial work. Such a tribunal will be unique — a brave judicial odyssey. For, never has there been such a spiritual or civil challenge to a nation's supreme body.


Let us not be afraid of doing the right thing at the right time. Anybody who comes up with charges must suffer punishment if these turn out to be unproven. Nobody can escape after levelling allegations frivolously, nocently, malignantly and mendaciously. Mr. Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan will either go down in history as tremendous challengers of evil or run afoul of the law for having raised frivolous charges. Justice shall be done to the judges, and equally to those who have levelled unproven charges. Those who seek to defile the system through blackmail will be punished, unless they are able to back up and prove the charges.


The collegium


Meanwhile, there is one more item of great relevance and importance to be considered by Parliament. This involves the collegium created by a judgment of the Supreme Court to make appointments and recommend the transfer of judges of the higher courts. This instrumentality is the creature of a judgment with no foundation in the Constitution. It constitutes an usurpation of the powers of the Executive with no guidelines whatsoever. It has played havoc and deserves to be demolished by parliamentary correction, by means of an amendment to the law. The collegium is answerable to none, and acts without transparency. Instead of waiting for a larger bench to eliminate it, a constitutional provision must extinguish this instrument.








BP's bill for containing and cleaning up the oil spill has reached nearly $10 billion, as the U.S. government declared that the blown-out well has finally been plugged, five months after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig.


The beleaguered oil company revealed that its total cost of the spill had climbed to $9.5 billion.


BP also said payouts to people affected by the spill such as fishermen, hoteliers and retailers had dramatically increased since it handed over authority for dispensing funds to a White House appointee.


BP has set up a $20 billion compensation fund, which has so far paid out 19,000 claims totalling more than $240 million. The fund is run by lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, the Obama administration's former executive pay tsar. The oil company previously paid out about $3.5 million a day in compensation, but this has risen to $12.5 million a day since Mr. Feinberg took over. However, BP's incoming chief executive, Bob Dudley, who takes over from Tony Hayward on October 1, told the City a week ago that the company expects to pay out less than the committed $20 billion.


The oil well that spewed millions of gallons of crude into the sea has been sealed for good. Thad Allen, the former coast guard Admiral heading the U.S. government response to the spill, declared the well "effectively dead" following a pressure test by BP on Sunday. The spill was halted in July with a temporary cap while a relief well was completed. That well finally reached the main shaft on September 16, permitting a cement plug to be pumped in. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








As the oldest son of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King III is carrying forward the legacy of his parents into the 21st century. President and chief executive of the Martin Luther King Jr. Centre for Non-violent Social Change, Atlanta, his main focus on this brief goodwill trip to India is to reconnect the ties that his father and the King Centre have had in India. Mr. King spoke to Meena Menon of racism, non- violence, and his optimism for the future. Excerpts:


Your movement is committed to civil rights, human rights and non-violence — something which your father started. How difficult is it for you to take his dream forward, and is it a burden as some say?


I have never looked at it as a burden. I have always seen it more as a blessing, to be at the helm of an incredible legacy, an opportunity; and there are always phenomenal challenges. Wherever there are great challenges, there are also great opportunities. I think this culture and our nation and the world is more violent than it has been — we are not as peaceful as we purport to be. There are wars always brewing, whether it's Middle East, whether it's the conflicts that exist here, whether its with Afghanistan or Iraq and others or things that are going on in China — there's conflict all the time and what we must learn is how to resolve a conflict without destroying either person or property. That's what the non-violent philosophy teaches us and man has just refused to learn that yet but we got to learn that. My dad used to say we must learn non-violence or face non-existence and so we are at that point now where it is crucial, critical and essential that we learn non-violence and learn how to live together as brothers and sisters.


How do you reconcile this whole philosophy of non-violence in a violent world? How will you spread Gandhi's and your father's message of peace?


Part of what we do is a lot of non-violence training which teaches people how to live together without destroying either person or property. That entails going into school systems and teaching children. Just recently we had a training at the King Centre at Atlanta. I don't know how it works in India, but in the U.S. various parts of the city are cordoned off by zip codes and in one particular area or zip code, 60 per cent of the violence is occurring. We identified 100 or 150 community leaders and brought them — mostly young people — and taught them the methods of non-violence. This is a six-day training that they will do again and again. The goal is for them to go back out into the community and teach others how to use this method so that no conflicts will be engaged in, the violence will be reduced and ultimately the goal will be for it to be eliminated. That can be done online as well but it is always better to come to the centre. At a national level, we are looking at identifying global partners, collaborators or partners; that's part of what we are talking about with some of the leadership here — how can we do work together with some of the Indian business leaders and NGOs and others to create a collaborative project that works here in India and also works in U.S. and other places around the world.


In terms of racial equality and discrimination in the U.S., which has a long history of civil rights movements, what is the situation today?


One of the issues related to race before the elections was that of election of the President. Once he was elected, the discussion changes because racism actually has reared its ugly head in a number of ways... Compared to 40 years ago it's far better now as a nation but racism is not totally resolved. For example, if you look at whether or not people of colour, and particularly black people, have access to capital — this is not a good example because of the economy, but it is an example. One of the largest problems any business has is access to capital. In the African-American community there is still no access to capital even with an African-American in the White House. The reality is that nobody can get capital much now (laughs).


That's why I said it is not a great example but it's real — very few people can get access to capital, period. How do we get business' to get start up capital, how do we promote entrepreneurship and how do we get this economy out of this tailspin? I think part of that is an equality issue.


You still have housing discrimination; these are individual incidents and this is not in thousands, that is why I say every now and then racism pops its head up. The other day a gentleman was trying to buy a home and it was a several-million-dollar home and when the owners of the property found out he was African-American they said it was no longer for sale. And he was paying a premium dollar. It was a three- to five-million-dollar home that he was going to purchase and they decided not to sell even though they had been trying to for three or four years. He was one of the few people who had capital and [was] ready to purchase. So those are the kind of things that still happen but that's not constant.


These are small examples but by and large we are making progress and I say if the economy was doing well, a lot of issues would subside but because the economy is doing so poorly, and the world economy too, the President's hands are full.


After 9/11 there has been a rise in anti-Muslim feeling. You have race and culture issues as well to deal with in it. How do you see this resolving?


Well, the media didn't help and what I mean by that is that they create an issue — it is perplexing and am dumbfounded. 9/11 was one of the most tragic incidents that ever occurred on American soil but the gentlemen accused of 9/11 — I say accused because it is a different discussion when you really flesh it out — were Muslim. Why would you condemn all Muslims and Muslim activity when you did not ask the question — somebody should ask the question — [that] Timothy McVeigh was a Christian and he blew up a building in Oklahoma City [and] nobody even brought that up.


To me that attitude is very tragic because we would take an entire religion and condemn it; and to me, again the media is responsible. I don't know if division sells.


To me the real issue is there are hundreds or thousands of teachers who are losing their jobs because schools don't have funding. So you need to be focused [on the fact] that your children are not getting educated because there are no funds for education. Not focus on one particular group or community or culture which decides to build a community centre. In the scheme of things they are Americans too. There were Muslims who were killed in 9/11 so it's kind of an issue. My grandfather used to say they are not talking about what they are talking about.


So it's a cultural issue and there is hatred and hostility. Again when we learn the philosophy of non-violence then that issue goes away because we have tolerance, we accept others. I am a Christian but I understand and not just accept I have brothers who are Muslim, I have brothers and sisters who maybe Hindu or Buddhist, maybe even some who are non-religious but they still are my brothers and sisters even though they may not agree with what my Christianity says. But I don't say if you don't believe in this there is something wrong with you. We can't exist in a world like that. Yes, you can condemn those individuals, you can condemn those particular religious leaders but how do you condemn an entire religion. There are a lot of issues brewing and there always have been. I would love to see journalists operate differently. Most recently, the man who was going to burn up the Koran — did he burn the Bible after Mc Veigh bombed the building in Oklahoma? I mean it's a double standard. First of all it is wrong to take anyone's religion or philosophy and decide you are going to desecrate it because you don't understand it.


With all this conflict and violence, what drives you and gives you the optimism in such a situation?


Every morning that I am blessed to wake up, probably the greatest inspiration I get is from my child. My wife and I have a beautiful daughter, we hope to have more children and I want to make the world better for her, so she does not have to deal with some of the issues that I am having to deal with. She is the only grandchild of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King and it's a continuation of our lineage and our legacy and that is where I derive my inspiration.


Before I had her I would draw inspiration from those in front of me, my father and grandfather and others who gave their lives so that our lives were not so difficult. These men and my mom they went through and overcame insurmountable odds to make the world better so can't I just do a little something? Now I am driven by the fact that I've got a daughter and I want the world to be better for her.








The excitement in the stock market is palpable as the BSE's benchmark Sensex is once again on the verge of touching the 20,000 mark — which it had last done in January 2008. Even if one accepts that there is many a slip between the cup and the lip, the 20,000 mark is still very achievable. Uncertainty and unpredictability is the hallmark of the stock market, almost its mystical USP. There could also be a correction anytime, but the market will then go northwards again. It's like waiting for a storm to pass and carrying on again! There are many characteristics that suggest caution about the scorching pace at which the Sensex has shot up: many are not impressed by this rise because it is fuelled more by liquidity rather than fundamentals; and second, it was mainly the large cap stocks that led the rally. The rise was not across the board. For instance, if you chart the movement of the Sensex from its recent low of 17,819 on August 31 to September 20, when it closed at 19,906, it is a rise of 11.7 per cent. In comparison, the BSE's mid-cap stock index went up 8.5 per cent, and the small cap stock index rose 8.9 per cent in the same period. In addition, only 437 players accounted for 50 per cent of trading volumes. The point to remember is that India remains one of the best markets in the region, while China has been going down in the past 15 days. The foreign institutional investors (FIIs) have thus been hotfooting it to India while the going is good. In most of these FIIs' home countries, interest rates have been at their lowest, and their markets too are not doing as well as ours. So the money will keep pouring in, and the party will continue. The FIIs have put in close to `2,000 crore per day — in the past five days this has amounted to around $2 billion. Indian domestic institutions have by and large been net sellers — to the tune of `2,095 crore this month.

But the flip side is that when these FIIs, for whatever reason, want to withdraw, the domestic market literally collapses because our domestic institutions do not possess the kind of financial muscle needed to keep the market at such high levels. Retail investors are yet to come into the market on any substantial scale — one reason perhaps could be that they have burnt their fingers time and again, the last time being in 2008 when the Sensex plunged to 8,000. You need to be a braveheart and a confirmed risk taker to participate in such a market — because no one has any idea when a "correction" will set in, wiping out those who do not have the capacity to bear substantial losses. Retail investors have over the years lost over `10,000 crore of hard earned money, and have not got a paise back. The case of Satyam is a major pointer to the kind of raw deal that investors get. The promoter had admitted to fraud and lakhs of investors lost several crores of rupees, but when an investors' organisation tried to get compensation — initially from the National Consumers Redressal Forum and then the courts — it was told there was nothing in the law to help them.

Despite this, however, the market will relentlessly climb north and the party will continue — unless it is interrupted by some unforeseen calamity. India is a strong growth story and it is, after all, the second fastest growing economy in the world.









News reports, mainly in the Kerala media, reporting arrests on May 28 by the Indian Coast Guard of a group of 11 Somali nationals, allegedly pirates, in the Lakshadweep Islands, drew fleeting attention towards a part of the world otherwise almost totally off the radar screens in this country. Somalia has been in a state of total internal flux ever since the Central government of the country, never fully in command even at the best of times, finally collapsed in 1991, abandoning the field to a bewildering spaghetti of tribal factions, warlords, criminals and jihadi fighters of various inclinations and persuasions all in a state of perpetual internecine conflict. Foreign intervention in the form of Ethiopian troops (latest being in 2006) and African Union peacekeepers since 2007 to maintain some semblance of sanity have all failed, and now the internal scene is dominated by jihadi groups and pirates, sometimes in temporary alliances, at violent odds at other times. The country is in a state of total anarchy, with the strife showing no signs of abating.

Not surprisingly, therefore, organised international crime has exploited the power vacuum and taken strong roots in Somalia over the past two decades. Pirate "fleets" preying on commercial shipping in the Arabian Sea and along the East African littoral around the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden, are now being reported from around the Seychelles, Reunion Island and, according to some reports, even Mauritius, earning these waters the sobriquet of "Pirate Alley".

The main maritime trade routes linking India with Europe and beyond through the Suez Canal traverse these regions, and increasingly pirate activity is obviously a matter of concern for India's commercial and strategic interests. It is in these contexts that the recent arrest of Somali intruders (or infiltrators) in India's island territories in the Arabian Sea is a disturbing indicator of a new range of threat which could be gathering in these relatively remote and unfrequented regions of India's western maritime borders. However, it may be appropriate to mention here in passing that by an utterly strange paradox, World Bank trade briefs indicate that India is Somalia's largest trading partner, where the ports of Berbera and Mogadishu constitute the most important destinations for high-volume dhow cargo from India's west coast, since these ports cannot receive or handle container traffic.

For India, the potential impact of Somali piracy is multiplied by the more serious "double hazard" factor of jihadi terrorism as well, because Somalia also constitutes the home base for the Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, more widely known as Al-Shabaab ("The Youth"), the Somali version of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. Al-Shabaab is the spiritual and temporal heir of the Islamic Courts Union, an earlier jihadi organisation associated with the twin bombings in 1998 of the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar-e-Salaam in Kenya and Tanzania respectively. Al-Shabaab has appropriated the mantle of propagating radical fundamentalism in the countries of East Africa, and received official affiliation with Al Qaeda with whom it shares common objectives. As the successor organisation, Al-Shabaab carried out twin bomb blasts in July 2010 in Uganda's capital city of Kampala targeting television spectators watching the finals of World Cup soccer.

For Indian planners it would be prudent to anticipate a Pakistan connection superimposed on the entire Somali situation because the opportunities for exploitation against India are simply too tempting to pass up. Pakistani "command groups" are reportedly guiding the activities of some of the Somali pirate fleets which could be focused against the fairly substantial Indian commercial functional linkages with Al-Shabaab.
In fact, some reports seem to indicate that this may already be in progress if accounts regarding the remains of two allegedly Indian jihadis recovered amongst those of seven foreign terrorists (including three Pakistanis and two Somalis) killed in a car-bomb accident on August 23 in southern Mogadishu have any factual basis. The activities of Al-Shabaab have the potential to generate intense violence in East Africa with every possibility of its spillover to India if a "Somali corridor" to the Lakshadweep Islands is ever established.

India's island territories, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal (572 islands, of which 36 are inhabited), and the Lakshadweep Islands in the Arabian Sea (12 atolls of which two are inhabited) are essentially mini-archipelagos offering almost ideal conditions for surreptitious entry and concealed residence by illegals, undesirables and down right criminal entities (pirates, narcotics smugglers, gun runners and terrorists of various entities). These territories require special surveillance and security because of their relative isolation.
By all accounts, initial reports about the intruders in the Lakshadweep Islands came from local fishermen operating out of Kaveratti Island, recalling Kargil a decade earlier where Pakistani infiltration were similarly reported by local shepherds. It might be interesting to examine in this context whether the lessons learnt from intelligence and surveillance failures at Kargil in 1999, and Mumbai 26/11 (2008) have been implemented.
The new cross-border threat through the Arabian Sea highlights the vulnerability of the Lakshadweep Islands as a potential target for radicalisation. India has to establish its defence perimeters across the Arabian Sea by establishing a presence in the East African littoral region through strong security agreements and intelligence-sharing relationships with East African countries, particularly those like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda which have already been targeted by Al-Shabaab.

India launched Operation Cactus in November 1988 as a quick-response tri-service joint operation to rescue the tiny island nation of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean from a takeover by fighters of the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam. The lessons of that operation have acquired fresh relevance in the context of the recent incidents on the Lakshadweep Islands. They must not be lost sight of.

Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and aformer member of Parliament








Our subcontinent has just experienced one of the worst natural disasters in recent memory. The massive and unprecedented floods in Pakistan have already killed at least 2,000 people and affected around 20 million people. The devastation and misery obviously cannot be simply quantified, but the sheer numbers of those affected by the destruction is more than the total of all those affected by the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the Kashmir earthquake in 2005 and earthquake in Haiti in 2010. They also constitute as much as one-tenth of the entire population of Pakistan.

The unprecedented monsoon rains in July and August caused rivers to rise and areas to be submerged. Houses collapsed (more than one million have been completely destroyed), roads became unpassable, rail tracks were damaged, bridges were broken. The flooding started in the Northern Province and moved to the Swat Valley, causing it to be completely cut off for some time. The Indus river burst its banks in Sindh in early August, submerging towns and villages and creating havoc. As the flooding moved to western Punjab, it destroyed standing crops, killed livestock and swept away large amounts of stored grain. By late August new flood surges sweeping down the mountainous tracts gave rise to the fear of landslides. Now, in addition to these calamities, the threat of epidemics of water-borne diseases looms large.

The logistical challenges of dealing with this huge emergency are enormous. These have naturally been made worse by the fragility of the official administration in several of the most ravaged parts of the country and the ongoing conflict with a resurgent Taliban and other fundamentalist groups. Indeed, fears have been expressed by several observers that in addition to the human consequences of the disaster, there can be significant security implications as well.

The displacement and destitution caused by these floods may well generate ethnic and social tensions, and if relief is not forthcoming quickly and adequately, these will aggravate local resentment against the government and support for violent opposition. Indeed, even a calamity of this scale was not sufficient to stem the rampant violence in the country, which has made the official provision of relief even more difficult.

The sheer scale of this tragedy has meant that the government of Pakistan has not been shy of accepting international assistance. The complicated past and present of Indo-Pak relations did create an initial resistance to offers of aid from India, but it was agreed that such aid could be routed through the United Nations. The Government of India initially offered only $5 million, but this has now been increased to $25 million. Of this, $20 million is to be contributed to the "Pakistan Initial Floods Emergency Response Plan" launched by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and $5 million will be given to the World Food Programme for its relief efforts in Pakistan.

This may appear to be a formal official gesture at the Central government level. But in fact there is a genuine and deeply felt public concern within India at the plight of flood-affected Pakistani citizens, and a sense of wanting to express solidarity and provide assistance in whatever ways possible.

What else can explain the move of the state government of Kerala to offer $1 million to the relief efforts in Pakistan out of its own tiny budget? This is a very large sacrifice for a state with a relatively small state domestic product, an even smaller government budget, and which is struggling to cope with the reduced fiscal transfers coming from the Centre. The very fact that this offer was made so quickly and unreservedly indicates the degree of fellow feeling and solidarity in the subcontinent.

There is other evidence of solidarity in the region, coming from other countries. The government of Bangladesh has pledged $2 million in aid, and also sent medical teams and material assistance to help in the relief work. From Sri Lanka, there have been donations of medicine and relief items for the flood victims. The tiny country of Maldives managed to collect around $1 million to send as relief. Even the cash-strapped government of Nepal has provided some money for emergency assistance to Pakistan. What is particularly encouraging about such offers is that they are not constrained by narrow political interests and strategic concerns.

Of course the nature of the aid spending and the humanitarian assistance provided will be crucial in determining the extent to which those affected by this disaster are actually helped to emerge from it. And these rightly should be the focus of attention and active involvement of the citizenry to ensure that the money is spent in the best interests of the flood victims and to help them build a viable future.

But there are moments in history when the most compelling urge to action must come from the basic sense of common humanity and of solidarity in suffering. Such an urge must obviously be all the greater within the subcontinent, with its all too pervasive commonalities of experience, so that emergency relief can be given with grace and accepted with dignity.

So the assistance offered by various governments and concerned citizens' groups all deserve to have a wider ripple effect and encourage greater generosity from other groups and governments.








Girish Chandra Saxena, a former head of India's external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), was twice governor of Jammu and Kashmir in the most sensitive periods in the 1990s and the early 2000s. In this interview he tells Anand K. Sahay that several questions relating to the demand for autonomy can be addressed in the larger context of Centre-state relations.

Q. The visit of the all-party delegation to Jammu and Kashmir, in the wake of the recent turbulence, is meant to bring to policy-making an informed assessment of the local situation and sentiment by experienced politicians. Would you say a single such venture will throw up the nuances of the situation?

A. They could face difficulty talking to some sections, and some preparatory work could be necessary. But the message from our political leaders should be that we are open to political accommodation. Kashmir already enjoys a special status. The governor of J&K takes oath on the J&K Constitution, and no Central law is applied without the concurrence of the state.

It should be clear that there are realistic parameters beyond which no Prime Minister or Parliament can go, and that some things are not for negotiation. Also, we can't keep Kashmir in isolation from Jammu and Ladakh, or the rest of the country. There are Centre-state problems as regards most states of India, not just J&K. And yet there is a sincere desire and effort to accommodate legitimate aspirations and reasonable demands.
All this may require several rounds of serious dialogue. Kashmiri leaders could visit Delhi and MPs could return to J&K. Separatist leaders who don't favour resort to armed violence should be encouraged to participate. The message should be that Kashmiris should express themselves freely and also not impose conditions on our political leaders.

Q. Most casualties since June have been of young civilians. What are the ways to calm the situation?
A. The leadership of the forces has to ensure that their personnel exercise the utmost restraint. When force has to be used, it should be done on the principle of using the minimum force to control the situation. When on rare occasions firing cannot be avoided, there should be the most stringent fire control.

Q. What about political steps, and the means to find the "elusive starting point" with the Kashmir people that home minister P. Chidambaram has spoken about?

A. The cadres of political parties, and even the district authorities, including the police, can directly or through their contacts reach out to the restive youth. These kinds of violent demonstrations are only causing unnecessary casualties and hardships. They create an environment in which sincere and meaningful dialogue on a sustained basis becomes difficult.

Q. How should our political leaders respond to the demand for autonomy for Kashmir?

A. Certain issues relating to the demand for autonomy can be considered in the context of the larger question of Centre-state relations in the country as a whole. There is scope for addressing issues even under the terms of the 1975 Accord with Sheikh Abdullah. I have already mentioned above the limiting factors to be kept in view. We can't also gloss over the very human problem of the return of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits to their former abodes in the Valley, and their rehabilitation in a secure and dignified manner.

In the context of autonomy, the mode of the appointment of the state's governor comes up. Here the principle of active consultation with the state government is desirable, and not only in respect of J&K.
Under autonomy, the question of making Article 370 of the Constitution permanent also comes up. The formulation can be agreed to that it would not be tampered with unilaterally.

Q. What's the difference between what is happening in Kashmir today, and in the early '90s when you were governor?
A. Armed militancy and terrorist activities were taken over by jihadi terrorist organisations operating from their sanctuaries across the border. Even now militant organisations that have a sizeable local component are operating under the direction and control of mentors from across the border. But most of the demonstrations witnessed in recent months are carried out by instigated, restless youth. Even the demonstrations that can hardly be called peaceful do not generally include people with firearms.

Q. Is the ideological and political fervour seen today in the Valley akin to what was witnessed in your first term as governor?
A. In those days, many thought azadi (in the sense of independence) was round the corner, but soon realised it was turning out to be a prolonged affair, and two or three-thousand people surrendered. Even in 1991, about 1,000 surrendered with firearms. The numbers in demonstrations were much larger then, and there was every chance of lethal violence. So, the challenge to the security forces was of a much higher level till 2001.


Afterward, there was a drop in infiltration, in the level of terrorist violence, and of civilian casualties.

Q. How do you see the current debate round the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)?
A. The act gives legal cover to the Army in disturbed circumstances. The essential purpose is to give them powers that the police enjoy regarding arrest, search and seizures; otherwise, they can only come in aid of civil power. The situation of armed militancy and terrorism does not permit this. If the situation permits, the Government of India, the state government and the Army will be only too happy to withdraw this act from all areas that are not disturbed.








British MP Vince Cable has thrown down the gauntlet by suggesting that unemployed young Brits be sent to India to find work. Since the economy is booming compared to the recession in the west, this reverse flow of labour appears to make sense. In fact, Cable says he got the idea from Wipro boss Azim Premji who had suggested that young Brits be sent to India to get training in cutting edge technologies.


On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with Cable's suggestion of a freer flow of labour since we are all equal partners now. In Britain however, the David Cameron government is planning to cut immigration by tens of thousands to increase jobs for locals. A call for reverse migration may backfire on Britain, feel some.


Yet in recent times, plenty of foreigners have been coming to India to work : some of it started with the burgeoning call centre and BPO industry and the rest with the boost in the Indian economy. Recently we have seen more numbers coming in than before. Even if Cable spoke in jest, it will be interesting to see how his suggestion is taken by our own 'jobs for locals' political classes.







The drive-by shooting of two tourists in Delhi's Jama Masjid area on Sunday highlights once more the concerns surrounding the Commonwealth Games due to start in the national capital next month. Coupled with the attack has come a threat from the Indian Mujahideen, that the Games will be a target. This adds to the pressure on an already beleaguered New Delhi government as it has to deal with the ongoing problems with incomplete infrastructure, arrangements for the Games, unprecedented rainfall, a rising Yamuna and now, a heightened security threat. Ironically, police detail around the Jama Masjid area was reduced because of the demands of the Games. Where you win on the swings, you lose on the roundabouts.


Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit has begun her usual refrain: "there is no need to panic". But these mere assurances are not likely to be enough, not with what is at stake. The turbulence in Kashmir and the Ayodhya judgment have both put national security on the front burners and anodyne responses are not likely to increase confidence. The haphazard and slipshod manner in which India operates has been exposed once more by the Jama Masjid attacks where CCTVs were installed but were subsequently removed because they never worked. If this is how we treat sensitive areas which have already seen terrorist strikes, it is clear why platitudinous official-speak is hardly reassuring.


We are all aware that terrorists strike at will and without warning. But we also know that intelligent policing combined with due diligence can also contain if not prevent such attacks and minimise damage. Tourists in Delhi have been sanguine: the whole world is under threat.


Rather than capitalise on this lack of international hysteria and fear, the Centre and the New Delhi government must work doubly hard. Not only must the Games be held in a safe environment, all pending work must be completed in time and all the t's crossed and i's dotted to ensure that the Games go off without a hitch. The stakes have already gotten higher and if no one else does, Sheila Dixit needs to start panicking.







The flood situation in many parts of north India, stretching from Uttarakhand to Bihar through Haryana, Delhi and western Uttar Pradesh, with the two major rivers, Ganga and Yamuna and their tributaries in spate, is hovering between critical and catastrophic. Hundreds of villages have been inundated, and nearly 200 people have died. It is a rare coincidence that the flood situation in Pakistan and China too has been bad, particularly in Pakistan. The causes remain obscure though many would like to infer that this is one more sign of the climate change crisis. A more plausible reason seems to be that after the near-drought situation of 2009, this year appears to be going through a counter-El Nino phase of a heavy monsoon.


What is puzzling about the flood situation is that the harnessing of rivers through construction of dams has not helped. For example, at the moment, the dam at Tehri in Uttarakhand, is posing a problem as the water in the reservoir has crossed the danger mark. The dam of course is not giving way but water has to be released and this is going to result in widespread inundation. It is the same situation in the Yamuna canals in Haryana. The excess flood waters amounting to hundreds of thousands of cusecs of water have to be released which could pose a problem to low lying areas in and around Delhi.


The harnessing of rivers needs to be examined all over again and solutions have to found in the light of the latest situation. Meteorologists cannot predict yearly situation, but they can look at the statistical patterns which are extremely useful.


The reason that periodic floods — there is a certain statistical pattern to it and it is not as random as it is made out to be — seem to stump the authorities is that not enough is done to update information and to use it to deal with the situation. There is a certain sense of complacency all round that with superior scientific and technological know-how we have mastered much of the challenges posed by natural disasters. The fact is that there is much that still remains unexplored and unexplained about the environment around us, including the weather and river systems.


Politicians and educationists talk about relevant and appropriate local knowledge, but there is no evidence of it in what happens in our universities and research institutions. A modern society needs to constantly update its knowledge and information. It is part of the preparedness of a government.








A number of events taking place recently point to a massive backlash building up against immigrants in Europe. Some of this is predictable — in times of economic trouble, rich white countries look for scapegoats and immigrants usually fit the bill, especially if they are non-white, as we have seen in the US over illegal immigration from Mexico.


There is also the little-expressed European fear of being swamped by culturally alien, demographically fearsome, and demonstratively religious Muslim populations that have been rapidly increasing on their continent. There is a fear of Eurabia where white Europeans — with their comfortable welfare states, decadent lifestyles and their disdain for their church - worry about being overwhelmed by what they imagine as Muslim hordes imposing their muscular cultural mores.


This has led to the controversy over the French ban on the veil or hijab, the Swiss ban on minarets, and perhaps more subtly the recent success of Geert Wilders' determinedly anti-Muslim party in the laid-back Netherlands, and, surprisingly, the entry of a far-right party into the Swedish parliament this weekend, with the possibility that they will offer key support to a minority government in a hung parliament.


The far-right in Europe has gained a new legitimacy, far removed from the earlier antics of the likes of Enoch Powell in Britain and Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, both of whom were considered gadflies with no particular chance of influencing the government.


Today's right-wing, anti-immigrant parties are serious contenders for power. The tide is apparently turning, and Europe, which has a nasty history of intolerance, is reverting to that norm, of racism, religious animosity and strife.


The obvious target of all this anger is the increasing numbers of Muslims, especially in ghettos like the inflammable banlieues of France. On the other hand, the Europeans are also quite conscious that Muslims are not to be messed with: the lessons of 9/11, the British subway bombings, and the uproar over the Danish cartoons have convinced Europeans that it is best to treat Muslims with kid gloves.


Therefore, they have chosen the usual suspects to victimise: the Gypsies or Roma. There is no fear of retaliation because the Roma are powerless. The other favourite victims in Europe, the Jews have now acquired their own state and will not tolerate abuse.


So the Roma are left to take the brunt of Europe's hatred. They have been the chosen victims of racism and large-scale oppression for centuries. The Roma are not originally from Egypt — it is a mistaken impression that is where the term 'gypsy' came from — but from India. It is clear that they are the remnants of formerly Hindu Indian migrant groups, some of which were enslaved and sold by Muslims invaders such as Mahmud of Gazni. There are similarities — both genetic and cultural — with some itinerant tribal populations in India.


Thus the Roma have been doubly unfortunate: enslaved and/or uprooted first, then dispersed as marginal, despised populations throughout much of Europe (the typical adjective used for them is 'thieving'; also remember the gypsy girl Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame: she did not have too many rights).


Later, they were among the groups targeted for genocide by the Nazis, and large numbers perished in death camps and gas chambers.


There have been continuous pogroms against Roma for centuries. There was Roma slavery in Romania until 1855. Ten thousand Roma were rounded up in Spain in 1749. In the 18th century, the Austro-Hungarian Empire banned Roma marriages and forcibly took away Roma children. Fascists in Italy in 1926 ordered the expulsion of all Roma. 19,300 Roma were killed in Auschwitz, and 90% of the Roma were killed in areas such as Lithunia that Nazis took over.


The contemporary situation for Roma is not too good. There was a recent act by the French State, which decreed that it was deporting many Roma to Romania (despite the similarity, the words are not related; it just so happens that these particular people were indeed immigrants from Romania). This has brought out a lot of condemnations and charges of discrimination everywhere.


There is a feeling of déjà vu in all this. We, in India, have heard about how poorly Harijans are treated. Loudmouthed vested interests equate casteism with racism, and condemn the Hindu society. Much of this is instigated by conversion-focused churches. But when Christians in Europe who belong to these very same churches are brutalising Roma, where are the voices of righteous indignation? This just goes to show the extent of hypocrisy among Europeans and churchmen. They, as it is said, "see the mote in their brother's eye, but not the beam in their own". Amnesty International, anyone?








The Indian economy appears to be doing well. The 8.8% growth for the second quarter this financial year and the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) looking to touch the 20,000-point peak seem to spell good news. The mood however is not sanguine despite the positive figures. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is cautious and so is his economic advisor Kaushik Basu. Both believe that the worryingly high inflation rate will go down by the end of the fiscal and that the growth rate will be a healthy 8.5%. What is casting a shadow on India is the persisting economic woes in the United States and Europe. Indian pundits are not willing to acknowledge that unless the recession in the west recedes completely, India will not be able to breathe easy.


The connection between the Indian and world economies is crucial as well as interesting. For many decades, and especially since the 1980s, it was the Western economy that provided the inspiration and the model. There was the additional factor that when India started off with the liberalisation process, it seemed imperative that we needed both foreign investments as well as foreign participation. It is not clear as to how much these two factors really helped the Indian success story of the reforms era.


Many economists poring over the fine print are now saying that the foreign direct investment did not amount to more that six to seven per cent of the GDP. It will be a long time before Indian investments and takeovers abroad will have some bearing on the home economy though there is now a distinct trend of overseas acquisitions as well as investments.


Similarly, the foreign participation in India has not been too spectacular. Many may want to forget that Enron was ever in India but that would be more than intellectual dishonesty. The Enron lesson has been quite painful. One learnt not to be starry-eyed either about Western quality or with Western probity. The harder lesson was that even after the company collapsed in the US and in Europe, India was left with Enron's liabilities and its settlement remains one of those dirty secrets.


The other West-related aspect has been exports, including the IT-enabled services. It did bring in the much needed foreign exchange earnings but again it was not the main engine of growth.


The fact that the economy is growing at a respectable 8% when the West is in an economic trough tells its own tale.


But the teasing question remains. Why is it that India cannot hope to reach its full potential until the Western markets revive? Why is it that instead of looking out to the west, we are not able to look in to step up the growth rate? It is not necessary to jump to the conclusion that India is in a position to shut its door on the world.


The crucial issue is that of ideas. The technological and market innovations are still made in the West. If India wants to be on its own, then it has to take a lead on thinking on its own. That is the only way to shed this uneasiness about the bad times over there. It is not in a position to turn the tide for itself or for the world.


India can hope to become a world leader only if it can bring ideas to the table. There is the conspicuous example of Japan, which did everything that the West did and sometimes even better than the West. It did not really bring in ideas that make the difference. This would need more than getting American universities into India.

The aspirational class as yet seems inadequate to take on the big challenge.








Almost everything about this all-party delegation's Kashmir visit decided at the all-party barren meeting in New Delhi last week seems to be unreal. Firstly, there is nothing for the delegation to know by coming here that is already not known to one and all in New Delhi and everywhere else. Secondly, the all-party meeting amply brought out wide divergence in approach and attitude of participating parties whose partisan interests appeared to be the determining factor behind their respective positions on Kashmir. Thirdly, the eerie setting for the two-day visit of the delegation almost reads as a pre-written epitaph of its end-result. The delegation landed against the deafening silence of empty roads and empty streets. Entire population of the Valley has been locked in under worst ever curfew slapped by the state government. Nobody is going to be taken in by the state government's unconvincing justification that curfew would not prevent people from meeting the delegation. It is an open secret that the state administration is acting as the screen to filter out 'desireable' from the undesirable'. Fourthly, it is difficult to imagine that a delegation which is the brain child of all-party meeting that could not agree upon a single point regarding the situation on Kashmir or issues thrown up by it can end up differently. With assembly elections in Bihar about to be held, the BJP and the Congress can ill afford to spare each other for the sake of unanimity over sorting out the mess in Kashmir. Rivals with high existential stakes in the Bihar poll outcome are in no position to relent for the sake of forging a common approach over Kashmir.
During the last Lok Sabha elections the LK Advani's pet theme was that Dr Manmohan Singh was 'the weakest prime minister'. However, that expression did not click with the voters. But Kashmir being a tested and trusted ammunition to attack the Congress for its 'weakness', the BJP cannot afford to compromise its stance for any reason. Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj are both known for their hardline sectarian approach in this matter. That the delegation would also visit Jammu after spending time in Kashmir makes it doubly sure that the BJP members of the team will have enough 'input' from the ground to put across their case when the delegation sums up its findings.

Mehboobah Mufti might be playing nerve-politics with Omar Abdullah government by threatening to pull out of the all-party delegation but her allegation that the coalition government was sabotaging the exercise cannot be wished away. Everything happening on the ground in Kashmir on the eve of the delegation's visit showed that there was method in the madness. Apparently, for no reason the population was shut indoors with indefinite curfew enforced harshly. Curfew passes are not honoured by police and CRPF. Local media has been put out of action for nearly two weeks. Local network of cable TV channels have been blanked out with imposition of ban on their news telecasting. Media persons are being targeted for venturing out even with curfew passes. Intimidation is by all accounts pre-meditated and not sporadic. Obviously there is a design behind these tactics.
What is surprising is that the state government which has been in acute paralysis for a long time with collapse of its authority has suddenly swung into action on the crutches of the military might at its disposal. Security apparatus is being unabashedly misused to terrorise people, intimidate government's opponents and muzzle the media to suppress the genuine discontent. Government-sponsored groups are being drafted to meet the visiting delegation. An artificial situation is being created to present a misleading picture. Already, there are not many expectations from this motley crowd whose role, in any case, is confined to provide a fig leaf for whatever the central government might eventually decide to do-or not do-to retrieve the deteriorating situation in Kashmir. By curtailing its scope further through local manipulation, the entire exercise might end up as a forgettable venture. There is a precedent. Soon after the outbreak of armed militancy a similar delegation from New Delhi headed by the then deputy prime minister Devi Lal and including leader of opposition Rajiv Gandhi had visited here in March 1990. Its script was exactly the same as that of the present delegation: 'To provide input for the government's decision and policy making apparatus'. Nothing was ever heard of any such 'input' after the 'fact finding' mission was back in the union capital. Constituents of the delegation did not waste any time and straight away went for each other's throat, using 'Kashmir' as a convenient punching device. History looks to be repeating itself yet again. No prize for guessing the outcome of the PC Chidambaram-led all-party delegation.







Even as accidents on roads continue to be a routine feature, taking a heavy toll of precious human lives, the concerned authorities refuse to make a serious endeavour to address the issue and chalk out a wholesome strategy to check the occurrence of road mishaps. Statistics have shown that more number of people are killed on the roads of Jammu and Kashmir than in militancy related incidents. There is a death or two almost on a daily basis, very often the number is higher. But the government wakes up from its slumber only when major accidents take place on the highways mostly in rural areas where the casualities are very high. And after liberally doling out sympathy or paying a meazly ex-gratia relief, an even more paltry compensation for the injured not in keeping with the nature of the injury, the government comfortably dozes off into its slumber. At best, some minor piece meal steps are taken, like checking over-crowding in passenger buses and cracking down on drivers driving rashly. But these too are taken very half-heartedly and do not last very long. The basic realization that there is something seriously wrong with the system of roads, transport and traffic in Jammu and Kashmir has yet not dawned upon the enlightened souls in power. That accidents is a major issue needs to be acknowledged firs of all. This should be followed by a serious process to make suitable amends, beginning first of all with roads. It needs to be ensured that roads, particularly on the highways are in good condition; if repairs are going on, there should be clear and visible signs. Second comes the fixation of route permits for passenger buses, which have been found out to be most vulnerable, and the issuance of licenses. Besides, there needs to be an adequate mechanism for regulating traffic and checking indiscipline and violations of any kind. If there are adequate rules and regulations before driving licenses why are these not being adhered to? Adequate bus service for different areas would automatically check overloading which is otherwise accepted even by the traffic cops out of sheer complacency or in lieu of certain favours that they get from the bus owners and drivers. These steps need to be taken, without waiting for another major accident to happen so that precious human lives can be saved.








In the midst of the total incarceration of the population in the valley by curfew enforced by paramilitary forces and three more people killed, a massacre in Tangmarg the health resort of Kashmir where hundreds are injured some of whom are still missing and some dead including a horse, 8 killed in Palhalan village alone with indiscriminate firing on demonstrators the toll crosses 100 mark in 100 days of killing fields of Kashmir and Jammu today 18 September, the All Party Conference in New Delhi deliberated on Kashmir for 5 long hours on the 15th recently. Mixed bags of political initiatives were announced. There were a few positives for the people of Kashmir. The Conference nominated cross party delegation to visit Kashmir on Monday September 20 and perhaps approach Hurriyat leadership as well as other parties to initiate a dialogue. 

The other positive sign appears to be the change in the adversarial perception and attitude towards people in Kashmir, a paradigm shift led by Mrs Sonia Ghandi that all aspirations of the youth have to be empathised with and not merely economic aspirations. There is also a glint of support for deliberations to be unconditional that may persuade the parties at the vanguard of political activism to join the talks. One common factor that will run through all antecedent preconditions for talks with the political leadership and civil societies in this initiative will be immediate withdrawal of forces to their barracks and releasing prisoners held in recent clashes released before talks begin. At the same time it will be crucial to receive with earnest concentration every little positive point proffered by the delegation and in response bid quality fodder into the process to get strength and flow and justice to dominate the proceedings. That fodder is emotion free comprehensive recipe of pleas based on established facts of history and law. Let us consider the negatives first. 

There are hardliners in the delegation who need to be mellowed down by getting substantial arguments against their overtures of holding talks within the framework of Indian Constitution. I will elaborate on this caveat that will be the most vital stumbling block in the whole process and overriding other strident issues that will feature and dampen progress. Autonomy and Self-rule are peripheral issues and trivial. They can come and go and come again. The high ground stood by the delegation will be that the talks will start only under the ambit of Indian Constitution. J&K has been incorporated in the constitution of India and 28 constitutional orders have been issued to integrate the State to Indian Union. 

What are the salient points of defence to plead before the delegation?

 The Supreme Court of India rules that Parliament does not enjoy unfettered powers to legislate and violate the concept of rule of law (see: Kashmir Times Sep. 19, 2010 p.9) Justice Radhakrishnan wrote that unqualified parliamentary sovereignty is antithesis to the rule of law. Incorporation of J&K into the Constitution was against this premise of law. It was rushed in contravention to the basic structure of procedures. 

That the key decision of constitutional incorporation with importance of this magnitude was taken to decide the fate of 15 million people of the State and their posterity with complete disregard for the wishes of the people. This action was taken unilaterally without the knowledge or consent of the incumbent population. That is why this issue becomes a moot point and can be argued that it is reversible.

 It must be borne in mind that constitutional cession is permissible if conditions are forceful enough and legitimate to warrant the exigency. 1970 Declaration passed resolution 2625 (XXV) as a datum of customary international Law that if rights of a population have been infringed international law permits constitutional change to be made including changing borders. 

 People of J&K have a very long history of rights violations to validate their claim of right to self-determination, including the right to independence. 

 There are other claims to constitutional cession in normative and legal fields. The State Assembly that framed the J&K constitution (24 Jan 1957) and adopted the State's constitutional integration (C;3) was deemed ultra-vires by all parties and the International Community (see: UN. Res. No. 122 Jan. 1957). 

 How can a territory in the midst of wars and strife be subject to constitutional incorporation even if it is totally occupied and in full possession of that country? Sadam Hussain was not permitted to incorporate Kuwait as its 19th province. 

 Constitutional integration process of Kashmir was in speedy progress concomitantly as India was debating with Pakistan and United Nations about merits of the accession process and the disputed status of Jammu & Kashmir State. The UN Resolution 1172 of 6 June 1998 urged dialogue after nuclear tests and reaffirmed that the core of the conflict was the undecided Kashmir dispute (A-5). How could Kashmir have been integrated to the Union of India as red raw disputed region still being debated? 

 Quoting Sheikh Abdullah from his monograph Flames of Chinar on Mr Nehrus' visit to Kashmir on 16 May 1953; 'To my utter amazement he (Mr Nehru) suggested summoning the constituent Assembly to ratify the Accession to India. I reminded him of our public and formal commitment regarding a plebiscite' unquote. Three months on from then on August (9) Sheikh Abdullah was arrested as a serving Prime Minister. 

 Kashmir was still a unique case as Delhi Agreement was signed on 24 July 1952 and the State was declared autonomous, when in fact full constitutional integration was contemplated at the same time. This Accord (1952) did not specify any terms for integration in the constitution of India. The law is in conflict. Constitutional integration and a Treaty for Autonomy are inconsistent. 

 Quoted in P.L Lakhanpal's Essential Documents and Notes on Kashmir Dispute 2nd Ed. Delhi 1966 p.55 Maharaja Hari Singh says 'Nothing in this instrument (IOA) shall be deemed to commit me in any way to acceptance of any future constitution of India...' Instrument of Accession (1947) is the only foundation stone of claims to Indian sovereignty over Jammu & Kashmir and that document must be examined by the delegation and deconstructed using critical analysis and synthesis methodology. 

 Other Princely States incorporated by India did not get a mention in the constitution, Why Jammu & Kashmir? 

 Have J&K borders been delineated in the constitution? 


It is my opinion that a constitutional cession of J&K State is one possible avenue to consider and the following antecedent principles applied as an expedient path; 

 People to people relationships between Jammu & Kashmir (JK) and India have resonance and compatibility. There is a future for them together. 

 JK is not a territory like the Gobi desert. It is also not full of oil wells. The best use is in its independence as a retreat and a place for joy and comfort. 

 As a commodity it will always be a liability for India. The best way to get benefits from it, like its water, energy, minerals or forest products would be a peace and partnership package. India and Pakistan are both in a stronger bargaining position and having made JK an associate in a Treaty the best share of benefits can be secured. 

 Political associations are durable; depending on how you structure them. Metaphorically it is no good being married when the wife or husband are only in name and do not contribute in the partnership, no work, no caring, no communication, no love or no children of love. A peremptory relationship will be a relentless antithetical diatribe in perpetuity. 

 Adding territory by accretion, discovery, annexation, prescription or intervention yields no benefit if the territory is not productive of a lasting yield and friendship. 

There are so many different ways that people of Jammu & Kashmir and Indian Union could bond together and help the other part of Kashmir to come close because the permutations to configure alternative paradigms have endless possibilities. I hope members of the delegation and political leaders in Kashmir caste away built-in prejudices and priori knowledge of bitter events and make these deliberations an exemplary epoch of history. 
(The author can be contacted at








At the disputed spot in Ayodhya a man wearing khaki shorts under his starched dhoti held the blueprint of the proposed temple in his hand, a little farther another with a beard looked in the same direction a blueprint of a mosque in his hand. They both looked at the disputed spot as the first muttered:

"Pillars of bronze that will rise to the sky!"

"Ah!" sighed the bearded man, "Minarets fancier than the Taj!"

Both didn't notice a hungry beggar creeping up and staring hungrily at both of them from under their blueprints: "Bread!" he cried, "Bread! Give me bread to eat!"

"Marble flooring!" said the man wearing khaki shorts under his starched dhoti
"Bread! Bread!" cried the beggar desperately.

"Carvings carved by craftsmen from Saudi Arabia and designs that will be the envy of the world!" smiled the bearded man.

"I'm starving!" cried the beggar as he held onto the leg of the old man wearing khaki shorts under his starched dhoti, and with his other held the leg of the bearded man carrying the blueprint of the mosque.
"Domes!" cried the man with the khaki shorts, "Domes that will resound with the silence of a people who will stand under and awe at its magnitude and glory!"

"Domes!" whispered the other, "Domes that will resound with the call to prayer for the faithful!" 

"I am hungry!" wept the beggar, "Give me something to eat!"

"Gold idols and silver vessels!"

"Verses from the Holy book!" 

"Bread! Bread! I'm hungry! I'm going to die! Bread! Bread!"

The man wearing khaki shorts under his starched dhoti held the blueprint of the proposed temple in his hand, and with the bearded man, who held a copy of the proposed mosque, both looked in the direction of the disputed spot.

"Marble flooring!" cried the man with the khaki shorts.

"Carvings from Saudi Arabia!"

"Sculptures that will be the envy of the world!"



"Bread! Bread!" cried the thin, starving beggar at their feet, "Bread, give me bread. I am dying, I need food in my belly. Bread, give me bread!"

"Gold idols and silver vessels!"


"Bread! Bread!" whispered the beggar as he fell.

The man with the khaki shorts inside his starched dhoti smiled as he imagined his temple rising high, looking beautiful, splendid in the rays of the setting sun. The bearded man with the blueprint of the mosque, also smiled as he imagined his mosque rising high, looking beautiful in the rays of the setting sun. 

They did not see the beggar fall, they did not see him die, they did not hear his last whisper, "Roti first, then masjid or mandir..!"






Is there anything wrong with the uniformed forces expressing their opinion about the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which concerns them? In his latest assertion the Army chief, Gen V.K. Singh, has described the Act as an "enabling provision" that is not "arbitrary": "It is not something which is arbitrary and I think the Government will take a correct stand on what is to be done about it." Earlier he had astounded one and all with his observation: "The Kashmir situation has been tense for quite some time and the reasons are many. The basic reason being that we have not been able to build on the gains that have been made…So far as the Army is concerned, I think as security forces, a lot of work has been done. The situation has been brought to a particular level when other initiatives should have started to make way for betterment." This did not leave any doubt that he was referring to our failure on the political front to do the requisite follow-up. Not very long the Indian Air Force boss, Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik, too had spoken in favour of the AFSPA. His view was that the armed forces needed legal protection to operate in insurgency-hit areas. That he had made this remark on the eve of an all-party meeting convened by the Prime Minister in New Delhi was interpreted in some circles as an intervention in a decision-making process thereby posing a question or two to the civilian leadership. Any such inference seems to be far-fetched at least at this point in time. How can the uniformed forces fight what is more than a proxy war in this State in particular against enemies who have infiltrated with the sole objective of playing havoc with the lives of its citizens and the unity of this country?

What do they do when they are time after time ridiculed despite doing an honest job? How long are they supposed to keep silent in the face of entirely unjustified criticism even by those whom they are defending? It is unfair to read a threat to democracy in their statement. It is to be noted that their views have been sought even by the Union Government in formulating a strategy about the AFSPA. There have been reports that the Defence Minister, Mr A.K. Antony, has conveyed their "inputs" to larger ministerial panels. In any event they have not questioned the authority of their political bosses. They are not the only ones to feel that the political leadership in the State has not shown requisite will and strength to strike rapport with the masses in the Valley mainly. Just the other day the Union Cabinet Committee on Security itself has talked of "trust deficit" and "governance deficit" in the State. 

In a democratic dispensation like ours a healthy divergence in perceptions among various limbs is a sign of vitality. By no stretch can it be deemed to be a weakness. The ultimate objective of all concerned is to find a lasting solution to a problem. There is no difference with respect to the final arbiter in case of a dispute. It is for the political leadership to have the last word. Whether it is well informed or not is another issue.







Instead of fomenting terrorism in this State and the country Pakistan is well advised to look within. Our adjacent country spares no effort to trouble us as it carries out its pledge of "moral, political and diplomatic" support to separatists and gun-wielding militants in this State in particular. Elsewhere too it has played havoc through armed extremists it has brought up on its own soil with an eye on this State. In no way we can forget the murder and mayhem it has unleashed on our land through violent proxies. Its stance is baffling for a country that is smouldering under the impact of the radical monsters it has created. Its utterances too continue to be as shrill as ever. The joke is that it continues to define the "movement" in this State as "indigenous" forgetting what it openly admits that it contributes at least three vital inputs --- mentioned above --- all of which in fact are euphemism for monetary and material support. In the latest outburst Pakistan Foreign Minister S.M. Qureshi has said that his country has taken a "serious note of the deteriorating situation" in the State and that "the Kashmiris are unanimous in their demand for self-determination." He has advised India to "exercise restraint" and accused our security forces of using "blatant force." According to him, "the indigenous movement has gained a new momentum and speed." For its part New Delhi has done well to tell Pakistan to mind its own business. It has rejected as "gratuitous" Pakistan's statements and, very rightly, described them as interference in the internal affairs of this country. Once again it has sent a reminder: "Pakistan should take credible and effective action against infiltration from across the Line of Control (LoC) and dismantle the terror infrastructure that exists in the territory under its control. This would be an important contribution towards safeguarding the welfare of the people of J&K, who suffer the consequences of terrorism fomented from across the Line of Control and the International Border." It has been correctly mentioned that as a vibrant democracy India has sufficient mechanisms and Constitutional safeguards to address issues raised by its citizens in any state. 

Clearly the ruling establishment in Pakistan is indulging in acrid rhetoric against this country to divert attention from its internal problems. On the one hand it is fraying at its fringes. It is on the other hand being rocked by brutalisation of its social order. Its rulers are oblivious to the voices of concern expressed by serious sections of its society. We will quote one such voice: "It is not surprising that deteriorating conditions in Pakistan, amongst them spiralling poverty and a worsening security situation, have rendered society brutal to the extreme. It seems that employing violent means comes almost naturally to a citizenry that has witnessed countless atrocities that include mass killings, suicide bombings, lynchings, beheadings and the stringing up of corpses by groups such as the Taliban. While these grim realities can be used as a route to understanding how Pakistanis have become inured to violence, there are many individual cases where the scale of brutality simply beggars belief, and points to the lava that may erupt at any point from the simmering volcano that is Pakistan." Do we need to add more?











Common Wealth Games, have been embroiled in the alleged corruption. Some have called and compared it, with a highway robbery committed by the modern day dacoits in the garb of gentlemen. A free media in our country is the greatest blessing, in exposing the rot in the system, which has set in.

The games will see 8000 athletes participating in the games from 3rd to 14th October, 2010 and will have for grab, 272 gold, 272 silver and 282 bronze medals. The games will have 17 sports disciplines, including Archery, Aquatics, Athletics, Badminton, Boxing, Cycling, Gymnastic, Hockey, Squash, Shooting, Table Tennis, Weightlifting and Wrestling apart from a number of sports little known in India, like Netball, Rugby seven and many others.

The cost of the games, is billed at Rs. 11,494 crores, though some have put it, at Rs. 35000 crores, due to hidden costs for the works, being undertaken by other Government agencies.

Naturally, when there is a huge money involved, leakages and overpayments, for little or no services, disproportionate to their cost, are not something unknown in our country.

Cornered by allegations of corruption in the Commonwealth Games' preparations, and underfire, Organising Committee Chairman says, that he is prepared to face any scrutiny by (Comptroller and Auditor General) CAG or even a judicial probe for all financial transactions being reported by the media. He says that all the people found guilty will be punished and brought to book." Such statements are commonly made, though hardly anybody believes them.

The point, to be kept in view, is that all inquiries, whether judicial or by the CAG or CBI or CVC's reaction are all post dated and after the event. They amount to looking the stable after the horses had fled. They do not help in preventing the nicking of the money.

Basically the vigilance watchmen or those engaged in fighting corruption, do not have the power to end the corruption. The only power that they have is that of the Doctor conducting post mortem. Nobody takes the preventive vigilance seriously and most organisations, would give vigilance work to a totally ignorant or an indifferent person, apart from most heads down playing corruption or embezzlement.

There is no culture of pre checking. It is amazing but true, that when the same public servant wishes to spend his own money, he is, not only doubly careful, but visits a couple of commercial establishments, before he lays his own hard earned money on the table.

A welter of skeleton continue to tumble out of the 2010 Commonwealth Games cupboard regarding every imaginable aspect of the event.

At least 20 contracts related to the supply of materials to the Commonwealth Games venues are being scrutinized by the revenue intelligence agencies as well as other probe agencies. Initial reports say that "technical criteria" as well as the list of "approved vendors" have been blatantly violated by the Organizing Committee of Games.

It is also believed that the estimated budget of Rs. 1,000 crores for up gradation and construction of five stadia crossed the limit of Rs. 2,460 crores.

Apart from the construction of stadia, 15 other projects, in Delhi, including flyover at Shastri Nagar (East Delhi) elevated road from Sarai Kale Khan to Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium, grade separator in Ghazipur, flyover at Naraina-T point, covering of the Sunchari nullah, construction of CWG village and upgradation of Shivaji Stadiums are also under the scanner.


Besides, the CBI is also probing works awarded by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) for upgradation of street lights in the city for the games. The CBI has also registered a case against four MCD officials in this regard. However, CBI says the case was not registered in connection with the Commonwealth Games.

There is a Hindi saying, Lootna hey to loot ley, Ram nam ke loot hey, Phir Pehecy Pachutaying, jab pran Jayenge Choot (It is simple English means that if you want to loot, Loot God's name. Otherwise you will repent, after you are dead). This has been turned upside down, that Common Man's Wealth has been looted in the name of Common Wealth Games. Corruption is endemic in India and affects all sections of society.

In 2009, India was ranked 84 most corrupt country, out of 180, in the Corruption Perceptions Index with an integrity rating of 3.4 (O being the most corrupt and 10 being the least), indicating that the country is perceived to be highly corrupt experts.

In the last five years, India's CPI ranking has been pretty much the same - going up or down a rank or two - which indicates that not enough is being done towards tackling graft.

The Global Corruption Barometer (GCB), a survey aimed at gauging the views of the general public, says people have no faith in politicians. They say politicians are the most corrupt in India.

There is no real indication of how much money we are losing through graft. Poor people pay money to get basic services which should be free, rich corporates pay money in procurement and tendering. In the present case of Common Wealth Games, there is a continuous corruption in construction with roads, stadias and the misuse of funds.

Games may be held in Delhi, but they affect the poorest of the poor in the country especially, the people below the poverty line as the money is being diverted from their welfare.

Despite the claims of the Government, corruption continues to be thriving at a higher rate than any other sector. It has become a high profit and a low risk activity, with the Governments at the Centre and State adopting the line, that let the law takes its own course.

If you have tons of money, you can drag any case comfortably to 15 to 20 years, like you have the fodder scam, Bhopal Gas Tragedy and Anti Sikh Riots of 1984, to quote a few examples. Whenever something ghastly takes place, the Government announces the setting up of a Judicial Commission of Inquiry.

Any Commission of Inquiry is a tooth body, which can neither do investigation under the Criminal Procedure Code, nor punish and body like a Court of Law. Its out put has to reinvestigated and sent to a court of law to take cognizance of the offence. Most problems in the country, including the Maoism and Naxalism are the results of corruption, as the benefits of the development do not reach the intended beneficiaries.
What have been exposed, in Common Wealth Games, is not a even a tip of the ice berg, which is covering our whole country. There is hardly a section of Government in the country, which can be called corruption free. The old antiquated laws have failed to inspire any fear of wrong doing. The Government has all the power to do justice instead of leaving it to investigating agencies and criminal justice system, which will show results after decades, when most of us are no more.

Excuses are not enough and one thing is not clear, as to for whose benefit the games are being held in cluttered Delhi, half of which is dug up and the other half is a victim of dreadful traffic, where in citizens have been advised to stay in door both at the time of opening and closing ceremonies. It appears that our National has become a great manufacturers, of either making good, or making trouble or making excuses.

A small body of determined leaders fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission, to root out the open shop lifting in Common Wealth Games can alert the course of our country's history. This is what is needed at the moment. (PTI)








Questions about the significance of the visit of US President Barak Obama in November are taking rounds in academic as well as media circles. Will the visit open new vistas in the burgeoning Indo-US relations with areas of bilateral cooperation expanding and mutual understanding on regional and international issues increasing or Obama's coming to India will be another exercise in futility. 

In order to comprehend the importance of the Indo-US ties, let us look at some facts. The Obama administration and the UPA government of Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh are very keen to expand the mutual ties and there exists a vast scope for doing that too. 

The growing clout of China and the current aggressiveness being displayed by the present Chinese leadership make it all the more important for the two countries to evolve a thorough long-term understanding on regional and international issues. 

Obama's official visit to India is the third by a US president in last 10 years beginning with Bill Clinton in 2000 and by George Bush in 2006. Real significance and the point of departure from his two predecessors is the fact that while Clinton and Bush chose to come during the second tenure at the While House, Obama is coming here in his first term. 

Though details of the visit of the US President are being worked out, it is hoped that the architecture of the bilateral ties prepared by two previous US presidents will be further strengthened and developed by Obama by adding solid contents to the existing relationship. 

At the moment, there are irritants in the bilateral relations. Obama's domestic concerns are casting a dark shadow on the developing ties between the world's oldest and largest democracies. A row over outsourcing and a sharp hike in visa fee are hurting the Indian economic and business interests. Indian techies going to the US are facing hardships. Outsourcing by the US companies to Indian firms is an issue which is confronting Indian business community. Ban rather reduction in outsourcing is the direct result of the global recession which hit the US economy hard.

Under domestic pressure, Obama has favoured a ban on the outsourcing which in turn has created fears in the minds of the Indian business community particularly among the Information Technology industry. 
Undoubtedly, there are other areas which hold promise of growth but there are serious doubts over Obama's capacity to deliver. In the background of Obama's nose-diving popularity graph, it is being said that the US President may not be able to give a decisive push to the growing bilateral ties. 

Notwithstanding Obama's difficulties at home, the two governments are trying their best to make the visit a success. Series of visits to India and from India are in the pipeline to prepare the ground for the visit. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao is traveling to Washington to firm up the agenda of the visit. Final touches to the visit will be given during US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Willam Burn's visit to New Delhi next month.

With the objective of deepening the bilateral ties and providing real value contents to it, two US delegations came to New Delhi this month. Both Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had committed to taking practical steps to advance global food security and increase Indo-US agricultural cooperation when the two met in 2009. As a follow-up of the commitment, a high level US official delegation held talks in New Delhi with Indian officials to identify areas of cooperation in Agriculture and Food Security; Food Processing, Farm-to market linkages and Extension; and crop and Weather Forecasting.

Seriousness and the keen interest of the US President in India can possibly be assessed by the visit of another high level visit of Obama's Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and Secretary of State's Senior Advisor for Innovation Alec Ross to Delhi and Rajasthan. This delegation is an important first step of the US-India Innovation Exchange, which was announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna during the June 4 US-India Strategic Dialogue. 

The Technology delegation is designed to leverage US and Indian expertise to help produce real world technology solutions in three areas of energy, education and e-Governance. The talks between the US delegation and Indian officials held intensive discussions for preparing projects which are ready for investment and ultimate market entry.

"Given that the US and India share strong cultures of creative idea generation and innovative risk taking, we are optimistic about the potential of new projects arising from the Delegation", a US State Department press statement pointed out before the commencement of the visit. 

Apart from it, cooperation in the field of defence is one area in which there is tremendous potential. Defence Minister A K Antony is going to Washington at the end of September to hold talks for boosting mutually beneficial ties in the vital sector of defence.

But even here, there are hurdles. Washington wants India to sign three agreements namely Logistic Support Agreement (LSA), the End-User Agreement and the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement (CISMOA)- But New Delhi has reservations about some of the aspects of these agreements. 

Inter-operability is the most crucial aspect of the Indo-US defence ties without which doors to real high tech defence technologies cannot be opened. The agreements are important steps towards building confidence.
US Under Secretary of Defence on policy Michele Flournoy came last to New Delhi and he said that the three military agreements are "foundational" in nature. Flournoy further informed that similar agreements have been signed with other US partners for whom Pentagon had opened the doors to cutting edge defence technology.
In this background, both Obama as well as Man Mohan Singh will have adopt a determined approach to take the Indo-US ties to the higher stage so that the two democracies could work jointly against forces of terrorism and destablisation. (NPA)








When it comes to the topic of declining human values in all of us (Indians) we almost stand one irrespective of caste, creed, region or religion. It is not that decline in human values is not taking place in other countries but situation is really serious/grab in India. India being a populated/over-crowded country with un-deserving democracy is facing lots of problems on the account of loss of human values. 

Decline in human values in Indians at an alarming rate does not only pose serious threat to the future course of development of the country but even for its survival, respect and authority itself. When we see all around, Indians are facing all types of problems in each and every corner of the world. Cases of Indians being continuously isolated, attacked, expelled, and forced to leave countries all over the world are increasing day by day. It is all due the reason that young generation of Indians are migrating to other countries with mentality of unwanted competition, corruption, indiscipline and in-humanity. Our predecessor/ancestors were respected in those countries because of their inherited human values of humanity, discipline, honesty and respecting others.
Japan is not the only country and society which stands itself for superior human values to Indians but people in countries like Ethiopia also see Indians with suspicion. Author has an experience of this humiliation during his stay for two years in Gondar University as a teacher when bags of expatriates (Indians in general) were screened every time by university security staff when they (expatriates) used to board university buses for return to residences from the university campus. On asking about this treatment, it was told that many years back this type of screening was not there but then an Indian teacher was caught involved in stealing some electronic items from the university. After that act of dis-honesty by one Indian, all others to follow were subjected to suspicion and humiliation.

Japanese, no doubt, is a society full of principles, discipline, honesty and respecting others. Author has an experience of stay for one and half years in Japan as a MONBUSHO (Japanese govt.) post doctoral fellow back in 1991-1993 and has full praise for their culture, genes and method of bringing up their younger generation. Though, change in social/human values in younger generation is inevitable with time but the decline in Indian younger generation is at an alarming rate as compared to any other country all over the world. India's age old philosophy, Guest is God, has lost it meaning at all in present context. When you visit countries like Japan you cannot resist to act as an ambassador to that country for its human values throughout your life. During our stay in international hostel of the university in Japan, we all foreigners were always taken to parties/fairs/cultural events by local NGOs for free of cost. When asked about the basis for this type of nice hospitality/treatment by NGOs, answer was that if "you will be treated well, it will generate a good will between you and Japan and you will always act as good will ambassadors of our country". They used to say that politically Japan can have only one ambassador in any country but on your (foreigners) return to your nations you will act as our good will ambassadors.

There are numerous accounts in every respect of our human values where all people (whether Japanese or Ethiopians or any other national) are much better than our own countrymen. In the last, parents, teachers and society are missing/shunning their responsibility in imbibing the desired human values in the younger generation. Charity should begin at home and every parent should teach/tell their children to imbibe good human/social values so that they not only be useful for the Indian society but will be respected everywhere.









THE ease with which two motorcycle riders on Sunday opened fire outside Delhi's Jama Masjid and made good their escape would no doubt add to the worry of the organisers of the Commonwealth Games. The incident exposed the weak links in the security blanket put in place and raised question marks over the supposedly fool-proof arrangements made in the national capital ahead of the Games. Indeed, had a poor rickshaw- puller not mustered enough courage to hurl a brick at the two miscreants, thus forcing them to scoot, the shooting would have left a much worse trail of blood. What is even more worrying is that the riders should target a tourist bus within shouting distance of a police station. Paradoxically, the Delhi Police has been gearing up over the past several months to cope with precisely this kind of an eventuality. But when desperate elements did choose to strike, the police actually failed the test. Their failure to stop the culprits from escaping from a crowded area is bound to raise questions about their preparedness. It is of no consolation that a police constable tried to run after the motorcycle riders. That neither the policeman nor anyone in the crowd was able to correctly note down the registration number of the two-wheeler, which might well have been fake though, indicates poor reaction, coordination and even poorer support from citizens.


Security personnel are undoubtedly doing a thankless job. But Sunday's incident does underscore how vulnerable we still are to terror strikes. The Delhi Police has been exuding confidence in dealing with threats to the Commonwealth Games. Police spokesmen have also been quick to boast of the four-layered security, electronic surveillance, aerial reconnaissance, real-time communication, quick-reaction teams, patrolling by plainclothesmen, snipers, commandos, etc, that, they were certain, would help keep Delhi secure. People have repeatedly been reassured that unprecedented use of technology would keep miscreants at bay. But on Sunday it took just two motorcycle riders and arguably less than two minutes to call the bluff.


There is, clearly, no room for complacency. Threats to the Games are real and one must presume that terror groups would try their utmost to strike. The only effective deterrent is the ability of the security establishment to plug escape routes and catch the culprits. Sunday was an early alarm that tested the security for the Games. It would hopefully act as a catalyst for a higher degree of caution.









AT a time when the nation awaits with bated breath the outcome of the court verdict in the 60-year-long litigation into the Babri Masjid title suit, local communities of two Uttar Pradesh villages have shown that left to themselves, they can preserve communal harmony without any fuss. They deftly defused complicated situations which had the potential to cause a communal conflagration. As reported in this newspaper on Monday, residents of one village, Dhuswa Kala in Maharajganj district, showed statesmanship — which could be the envy of any politician — when labourers stumbled on a Shivlinga and an idol of Nandi while digging to restore an old tomb. The local community leaders met immediately and agreed to divide the land, half for the tomb and half for a temple. Not only that, they signed a written agreement so that there was no dispute on the issue in future also.


An equally heartening incident took place the same day at Katra village in Mainpuri district of western Uttar Pradesh. Two goats of a Muslim woman barged into an old door-less temple and damaged the idols there. We know that incidents even smaller than this have caused riots in the past. But before troublemakers could exploit the situation, the local Muslim community collected donations to install a new idol in the temple.


Every such instance of traditional brotherhood is a slap in the face of the politicians who are always out to fish in troubled waters. It is also a lesson that the common man is the least bothered about Mandir and Masjid matters. He is more concerned about eking out a living — the mundane "roti, kapda, makaan" stuff. Leaders who are supposed to provide good governance deflect attention from their failures by pitting one community against the other. Enough blood has been shed at their bidding. Now is the time to tell them once and for all that the common man is no longer willing to be the pawn in their unholy game.









IF deficient rain was a problem last year, an excess of it has played havoc in northern states this year. While the scale of devastation in Leh is unprecedented and people are still trying to come to terms with the harsh reality, incessant rain during the weekend caused the death of at least 60 people in Uttarakhand alone. The water level in many rivers flows above the danger mark. Dehradun has got the heaviest rainfall in 44 years. The supply of essential items of daily use to Nainital and other towns has been disrupted. Infrastructural failure in the hills as well as the plains, in villages as well as cities is self-evident.


The poor, as usual, are the worst sufferers. Many have not only lost the roof over their heads but also sources of income as the inclement weather disrupts normal life and development work. Only experts can tell us if these aberrations in weather are linked to global warming. Definitely, the shrinking green cover, haphazard development at the cost of the environment, indiscriminate felling of trees and frequent widening of roads to cope with increasing traffic in the hills contribute to the damage done by heavy rain.


The increased pressure of population, buildings and vehicles has rendered the fragile hills prone to disaster. Landslides and accidents are becoming common. Given the tragic situation in Leh and elsewhere, the phenomenon of cloud burst needs to be studied in detail so that the development of towns could be planned accordingly. The Japanese have after all learnt to cope with frequent earthquakes. The Central and state governments will have to make coordinated efforts to ensure an efficient management of our water resources so that the problems of excess and shortage are dealt with effectively. Instead of scoring brownie points over development versus the environment at international forums, the government should evolve an environment-friendly growth model with the involvement of all stakeholders.

















DAY after day Srinagar and many other towns in the Kashmir valley are placed under curfew. Groups of people defy curfew orders and indulge in stone-throwing, making sure to escalate it to a level to leave the Kashmir police with no alternative but to open fire after trying out teargas shells.


Inevitably, this results in a few deaths and some people getting injured. They understandably attract enormous attention in the national electronic and print media. Media people wax eloquent, to a great extent justifiably, on the sufferings of the common man, being denied access to hospitals, educational institutions, shopping facilities, etc. An impression is created that the government and the local police are responsible for people being subjected to such enormous hardship for weeks on end.


Opposition leader Mehbooba Mufti has called Omar Abdullah as "the most repressive" Chief Minister in the country. An eminent columnist and TV personality has raised a very justifiable question why National Conference legislators or, for that matter, separatists do not seem to have any control over the streets. What has not received adequate attention in the print and electronic media is that more than 1600 policemen, including senior police officers, have been wounded in the last three months. There are no estimates of the loss to the exchequer in terms of public property destroyed.


There appears to be a widespread assumption among various political leaders and most sections of our media that these sustained stone-throwing campaigns constitute outbursts of frustration and anger among the jobless youth of Kashmir. That assumption leads to the conclusion that there has been a governance deficit specific to Kashmir. The logical conclusion of this line of reasoning is to have an all-party delegation to go to Kashmir and ascertain the grievances of the youth. At the same time, separatists have made it crystal clear that the agitation is related to the demand for "azadi". This situation calls for some sustained thinking instead of platitudinising. Unfortunately, that process does not seem to be evident either in the government or the media.


Let us assume that the curfew is lifted and the security forces are ordered to stay in their barracks. Will stone-throwing and public property destruction stop? No. The intensity of stone-throwing and the large number of policemen getting wounded, not adequately reported in our media, lead to the conclusion that stone-throwing is not an impulsive act but a planned one to compel the security forces to open fire and cause casualties.


If governance deficit brings young men in Kashmir to throw stones at the police, then in most states where governance is equally poor, young men should be throwing stones day after day. Thanks to the permissiveness of many of our politicians, we have enough stone-throwing in many parts of India but not the sustained stone-throwing of the Kashmir variety, which brings normal life to a halt for weeks. There is only one explanation why this happens in Kashmir and not in other states, where also there are angry and frustrated young men. The Kashmir campaign is being organised and directed by terrorist elements from outside.


A well-informed article in The Hindu brought out that when one person opened his shop ahead of the time prescribed by the separatists, he was beaten up and his shop was vandalised. That may be the valid explanation why legislators and other non-separatist leaders are inactive. That may even explain why people complain that the performance of the Kashmir police is below par and why they always ask the CRPF to open fire. Their families are hostages to terror. Sitting in Delhi and not having been to the spot for years, I have no tangible evidence to offer, but as a person with a background in intelligence analysis I cannot find an alternative explanation to the happenings in Kashmir


Surely, the stone-throwers know full well that their action will not remove their frustration, get them jobs or "azadi". What they are aiming at is to escalate the situation when the Army will get involved, and they can go to town on the Indian Army's atrocities, invoke Amnesty International, the UN Human Rights Commission and the UN General Assembly. It is timed to coincide with President Obama's visit. For Pakistan's ISI, the Kashmiri population is just cannon fodder and their normal modus operandi is to use suicide bombers to cause indiscriminate casualties of children, young men and women. That will explain why there are young men and children in the stone-pelting crowds. The ISI needs such casualties.


This is no Palestinian "intifada", as some people make inapt comparisons. Palestinians do not destroy Palestinian property and prevent Palestinian children from getting milk or going to school. Palestinians do not throw stones at the Palestinian police.


How is this regime of terror operated? All it requires is some 39-40 trained dedicated jihadi terrorists introduced in each town as sleeper cells over the years with enough resources at their disposal. They get embedded in stone-throwing crowds and direct and manipulate their operations. They are in a position to use the separatists who are in a small minority but in sufficient numbers to provide such jihadis logistic and other backing. Their aim is not to get "azadi" or jobs for youngmen but to create chaos in the valley and rebut the Indian claim that constitutional democracy prevails in Kashmir under a government elected in a free and fair poll. Unfortunately, parochial politics in Kashmir becomes exploitable for those who want to denigrate constitutional democracy in Jammu and Kashmir


The strategy to deal with terrorism, imposed on Kashmir through a sizeable number of jihadis introduced as sleepers with the collaboration of local separatists and operating in an embedded manner among the stone-throwers, has to be different from the present one which depends on the Kashmir police out-enduring the jihadis, a kind of battle of attrition. This is a reactive strategy. What is called for is a proactive one which will identify the jihadi elements embedded in the stone-throwing crowds and neutralise them.


It is a pity that the responsibility for the sufferings of the Kashmiri people is not attributed to those who in reality inflict this enormous hardship — the stone-throwing embedded jihadis. Misperception about the entire phenomenon as a spontaneous expression of anger by youngsters has diverted attention from the underlying reality and the consequent appropriate strategy to deal with it. It is high time a thoroughly professional assessment was carried out to enable the formulation of an effective strategy.








NOT fair, sir", a smart young undergrad grumbles with good humour, in a break between classes. "Girls shouldn't cover up like the Taliban on the roads. We can't even guess what they look like when they flash past on their scootys and mopeds. "It's pathetic!"


His friend disagrees: "They look awesome, man! Real cool with big black glares on. I can always make out how pretty they would be from their trendy clothes".


The girls listen with great amusement. "Listen up, guys", they chorus, all giggly and animated. "Covering up is far better than using dollops of anti UV SPF-30 sun block cream. All of us want Aishwarya's peaches n' milk complexion; otherwise you idiots won't marry us!" One perky young lass looked up from doing up her nails to add with typical teenage candour: "Stops pesky boys from chasing you; whatever", with a toss of her pretty head. The girls burst out in paroxysms of laughter. The young can be infectiously irreverent…


Indeed, masks add to the female mystique. In the West, the 1950s and the 1960s threw up masked characters that lived up to the ultimate feline fantasy in the form of Batwoman and Batgirl, the comicbook love interests of Batman and his companion, Robin. In fact, the depiction of the Barbara "Babs" Gordon incarnation of Batgirl as a career-oriented woman, coupled with her alter-ego as a crime fighter, was considered to be symbolic of women's empowerment in the 1960s.


In India, the trend of young women using masks began in Pune, about a decade ago. Young girls in two wheelers started covering their faces almost completely, leaving just their eyes uncovered (protected by trendy shades anyway). This caught on and Chandigarh's hep young ladies followed suit; the fashion enveloping the Tricity within no time. It is now a common sight across metropolitan India.


Whereas young lads used to open admiration of the gentler sex are taken askance, intrigued as well as amused by the girls covering themselves up in this manner, older people sometimes attribute darker motives to this trend. A recent article on the net gloomily (but amusingly) forecasts that if this remains unchecked and reaches the shores of France and Belgium, both already preoccupied with restrictions on the Hijab and Burqa, they may soon be flooded with 'masked girls' from India.


Some darkly wonder whether masked "Banditas" (female robbers) will be the next challenge for our overburdened cops. They are undoubtedly influenced by the Hollywood film Banditas, a wacky western comedy about two female bank robbers: Latina heartthrobs Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek. I am sure our cops are amused and look forward to this challenge!


Given the gross, suffocating pollution in our metros, the merciless sun and its debilitating effects on skin tone, on smart clothes and the genetic young need to be different, the Bandita trend is a practical, sensible way of coping with the effects of heat, grime and bleaching. Sense, however, demands that, whereas keeping hands encased in shoulder length gloves and wearing your brother's discarded shirt over your smart tee is fine; wearing helmets (instead of dupatta masks) while breezing along on two wheelers to college or for a date is even better — and safer!







Christopher Charles Benninger is busy doing in Bhutan what Le Corbusier did in the fifties in Punjab- creating a capital city. The much-acclaimed architect spoke toNidheesh Tyagi on his work and town planning


Besides the new capital project, this Harvard and MIT trained American architect is just beginning to design the Premji University in Bangalore. Benninger made India his home some forty years back when he founded the School of Urban Planning at Ahmedabad with Balkrishna V Doshi (a member of Team Corbusier in India), followed by the Centre for Development Studies and Activities (CDSA) in Pune.


Richly acclaimed and awarded for his projects, which include prestigious projects like Suzlon One Earth Global Headquarters, IIM Kolkata and the Supreme Court of Bhutan. He has contributed to the urban planning of Thane and Kalyan in Maharashtra.


How differently do you visualise the Premji University ?


The Indian University campus has a rather problematic prototype, best seen in the IITs and in all large post-Independence campuses. These are all well spread-out over several hundred acres, resulting in very inefficient services-network and roads connecting all of these components.


The barriers on movement slows down and impairs the entire learning process. The planning is done much as a cantonment, or early twentieth century Garden City, with each function put in a zone: faculty housing divided into Professor, Assistant Professor, etc and students divided into boys and girls and undergraduate and graduate students and messes and " administrative block".


Even the faculties are divided into different blocks for different areas of study. Thus what we call a "university" is in fact the opposite! It is uniform into which a pluraform is divided up and separated. Nothing is integrated and unified. Even the staff has Class One to Four Housing Blocks.


The Premji University will be a "pluraform" where there is an integration of so called disciplines and faculties. Thus, the architecture will also be an expression of integration and holism! Everyone on the campus will be a "learner " and a "sharer" of knowledge, skills and sensitivities, even the drivers and the cooks and their children.


Thus, we are looking at a compact, walkable, cozy KNOWLEDGE CITY that is more based on functionality than trying to be a map of social status and segregation. The campus will be "walkable", it will integrate functions, it will be a pedestrian enclave with streets off which more intense activities occur and these will lead into quiet cul de sacs and gardens facilitating thought and contemplation.


Learning needs a balance between the wondering and the searching eye and the focused and directed eye! A good campus composition facilitates and catalyses thought; creates a yearning to learn and exposes everyone to key sensitivities and skills.


Your work has already been much acclaimed. So how do you see this particular project?


The Premji University is a cutting edge idea. It is the need of the country and the people involved are full of optimism and passion. Working as a part of this team and trying to give shape and spatial experiences that mirror and facilitate the core concept is a huge challenge.


As an architect and urban planner with a long journey behind me, this future exploration holds open many promises to make something useful and beautiful that will be remembered, and I dare say mimicked in the coming decades and over the next century. Any senior architect would see this as the ultimate project! It is the place to pull together a life's work, one's ideals and one's love of humanity and turn that into stone and mortar.


How do you see Chandigarh? How has it developed from the way Le Corbusier made it?


Le Corbusier and his team created "a framework" for urban life to evolve. It was never meant as a straight jacket like a perfect sculpture or a painting. It is a living, growing and morphing "machine for living" as Corb would have put it.


Looking at the way other cities in India have been going, Chandigarh is an amazing example of good administration and considered development. Now that its population is rapidly expanding, the challenge will be to find new patterns and structures that address the future, yet capture and maintain the beauty of Chandigarh. It is difficult to make something beautiful and very easy to destroy it. I would say Chandigarh is one of the most beautiful and livable cities I have seen.


As part of the team preparing Chandigarh's master plan, how are you helping in furthering the city's growth? In what way is it philosophically different from or similar to Corbusier's own ideas ?


There is a committee focused on this task and I am just one humble member of this august committee. The committee is primarily addressing immediate issues that confront the people of Chandigarh and trying to resolve them within the Le Corbusier plan and spirit.


There are matters that may seem trivial, like signage and hoardings, but they could destroy the city if not considered in a very clear manner. There are profound and structural decisions that are being made that will stand the city well in the future.


An example is to ensure that the proposed Metro for Chandigarh is underground ! This will avoid the destruction of the city with humongous overhead bridges crashing through the Garden City. The same philosophy is being applied to parking lots that are needed but must go underground, using the tops for parks in the cores of shopping areas.


Likewise the committee is against "fly-overs" and other plagues that are destroying the urban cityscape in the country. These are new elements introduced to the old plan. But they are being thought of in a sensible and rational manner. That is what good planning is all about.


Do you notice deviations in the way the city and its executive handled its design?


Every plan has its counter intuitive results. The mere beauty of the city attracts investments from NRIs, IT Parks and a host of other unexpected outcomes. The population has long passed the ceiling proposed by Le Corbusier and there are other cities right on the edge of Chandigarh. In fact all of these are one city!


It will take administrative imagination not to see Chandigarh as an island and to see it as the core of an urban region. The real challenge is to plan for that region!


Seeing it just as a machine for living and a functional model, why do you think this was not replicated in other parts of India?


Chandigarh has profoundly influenced the planning of Gandhinagar and the CIDCO plans for New Mumbai. Then each of these manifestations has its own political life and its own social-economic reality. Chandigarh is a Union Territory. That has protected it from the ravages of vested interests that stalk our cities. CIDCO is on a more massive scale and falls in a state where the past four Chief Ministers have been "builders". Conviviality and "the good life" are not really the bottom line for builders and the mixture of politics and city making has never proven very constructive in working for the public good`85even in a democracy.


You are yourself making a city in Bhutan now. How is it shaping up? How do you balance your global insights to the local microcosmic realities?


The new capital city of Thimphu is a Structure Plan laid over an existing cluster of settlements in a fragile Himalayan valley. The approach is " organic" as opposed to "geometric" which we see in Chandigarh. So the plan grew out of the Wang Chu Valley's ecology and its form. We adapted the plan to the context, rather than the other way around. We had a wealth of heritage structures also and a Buddhist society with its own sense of community and spirituality. The plan is a response to all of these things, not an abstract intellectual idea imposed on a flat slate!


How do you see the Indian urban scene changing ? We see fast urbanisation, very chaotic town planning and slums mushrooming everywhere...


As the national economic base shifts from agriculture and raw materials to industry and services, the configuration of the people who carry out those functions will dramatically change over the next four or five decades. Growth is inevitable. We really have no urban planning in most states. The so-called planners are just following the procedures laid out in the legislation. There is no creative thinking or "design". There are just administrative rules and procedures.


This will impact on even Chandigarh negatively if the matter is not considered at the highest level. For example slums: the town planners in our country did not even show slums on their plans until a decade ago. They were illegal and so in the minds of administrators, they did not exist.


It took a sea change of thinking to admit that poor people are essential to run our cities and even the government. We had a City Commissioner of Mumbai who tried to physically evict slum dwellers and to his surprise he found out that 76% of his municipal employees lived in slums. Slums are now the real cities of India. This is where either our success or our failure lies. Most of our urban thinking is focused on middle class dreams and expectations. We have to create a better dream!


Are there any good models of solving this imbalance?


A good start would be to look at processes instead of physical templates! The principles of intelligent urbanism lay out a common charter of values that could under pin the process of planning. These are the planning axioms I developed in the Thimphu planning process and they are gaining acceptance slowly but surely around the world.

What is your take on cities like Pune and Gurgaon shaping the new urban metaphor of India?

These are not really cities in the sense of planned urban settlements anymore. These are playgrounds for

builders and politicians to generate huge fortunes. That is the reality of these urban fabrics. They are not built for the people who inhabit them but for the people who build them.








If there's one thing Indian tennis players know how to do well, it's taking a victory lap. Every once in a while, they climb on a colleague's shoulders, hold a tricolour in their raised, outstretched hands, put on winning smiles, and send the crowd into raptures after a nail-biting 3-2 win in a Davis Cup tie no one ever thought they'd win. 


This week, it was Rohan Bopanna's turn. A few months ago, it had been Somdev Devvarman's. And for most of the last 15 years, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have put aside their personal differences to ride piggy-back on each other as India's Davis Cup story has remained incredibly dramatic despite the lack of rankings points and professional tennis silverware. 


How do you measure a nation's overall ability in an individual sport such as tennis, where borders are immaterial, and where you could, if you would, imagine there was no country? Do you look at how many people from there are in the top-100? Or count the number of titles its players have won in the last five years? Or simply decide on the basis of the Davis Cup, the only official country vs country tournament men's tennis has to offer? 


If you go by the first, India would perhaps end up ranked somewhere in the unflattering early hundreds. At no time in history, save for when Vijay Amritraj and Ramesh Krishnan were both active in the late 70s and early 80s, have two Indian players been in the top-50, or even top-100, for a sustained period of time. 


If you go by the second yardstick, the ranking would perhaps be even lower, because the grand total of singles titles won in the last five years is zero, in the last 10 also zero, and in the last 15 a princely 1. 


But if you make Davis Cup the deciding factor, India's history in the tournament - its three finals, its years spent in the elite World Cup - would make it a certainty in the top-20, and until two decades ago, perhaps even a contender for the top-10. 


Such dichotomy in results for what is essentially a different way to answer the same question is incredible, and unique to Indian tennis. It can't happen in any other sport, and for no other country in the tennis world. 

 So it's clear that normal forces are not at play when it comes to India at the Davis Cup. The factors that usually define who wins a tennis match - talent, skill, temperament, fitness, hard work - somehow cease to exist. The tie becomes an adrenaline-driven, history-inspired, rising-to-the-occasion that makes you play better than you've ever done before and simultaneously makes your opponents worse than they've been at any match all season. You want the win so badly that, to borrow from Paulo Coelho, the universe starts conspiring to make sure you do. 


Of course, it's hard work even for the universe considering the difference in rankings and ability, and so most of India's great Davis Cup wins have come in live fifth rubbers. It's not how USA or Spain or France win - 3-0, or 4-1 if they lose the doubles. India's wins are hardfought, dirty, grimy, cat-fights with lots of clawing and hardly any clean strikes. They're squeezed out, with help from everything around: the partisan crowd, the team's own cheering squad, the captain's words, the heat, the humidity, and the surface. 

In India, tennis stars are not made by how players do on the world tour - for, apart from the doubles success of Leander and Mahesh, it's been decades since anybody did anything. They're made on the basis of the Davis Cup, the one thing that we have, that we want to protect at any cost. 


Therefore, for all our natural cynicism about how singles players have failed the Krishnans and Vijay Amritraj, it doesn't sound incongruous when Bhupathi says India is back where it belongs. Forget that the three-hundred-and-somethingranked Bopanna is perhaps the most unlikely Davis Cup hero of all time, even by our standards. Bring out the tri-colour, World Group, here we come.





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The last couple of weeks have confirmed that the stock market moves in stochastic fashion. For weeks, pundits had been saying that stock prices and major indices would be range-bound, with only a minority putting out optimistic forecasts. Now that the market has moved up 10 per cent in a short fortnight, India is among the better performing markets; for emerging markets as a whole, stock prices have moved up by only about 5 per cent through 2010, while prices have dipped in the developed economies (anyone wants to make the de-coupling argument again?). India also happens to be among the more expensive markets, with stock indices now quoting at 21 times earnings for the trailing 12-month period. Among the Bric countries, both Brazil and Russia have price-earnings (P:E) multiples that are in single digits. Even China has more modest valuations, with a P:E multiple that is just short of 18.


If Indian P:E multiples are in a league of their own, and climbing higher, it is because the growth story here has attracted international attention; indeed, the current surge in prices has been driven entirely by the inflow of foreign money, while the domestic mutual funds (run by all the pundits who speak on television) have been pulling money out of the market. The revised conventional wisdom among the same pundits is that prices are now headed further "north"; optimistic forecasts about future corporate profits have made some observers point out that the P:E on 2012 earnings is a modest 14 or 15.


 That would more than justify the current price levels for shares, even on the basis of "fundamentals", and in fact leave some headroom for a further upswing. Indeed, Indian stock market bull runs have usually ended with P:E levels well above what prevails now, so the pundits may well be right. Besides, there is the general expectation that interest rates will rise slightly in the coming weeks and, therefore, bring about a dip in the bond market, thus encouraging punters to look at stocks instead. Nevertheless, since few of the pundits had predicted that the benchmark Sensex would be sniffing at the 20,000 level in the third week of September (a level last seen in early 2008, with the unwinding of the bull run before the global financial crisis), retail investors should be careful about taking any forecasts as gospel. The price movements have been driven mostly by foreign flows, and there is no knowing when such flow-driven trends get reversed.


In tandem with stock prices, both gold and real estate have also tested higher price levels. The gold market, even though influenced by domestic demand, is driven by global price trends, and reflects the uncertainties that hinge on the question of whether the developed economies will dip into a second recession. In contrast, the boom in the real estate market has domestic causes. It would seem that at least some of the money that has been pulled out of mutual funds is finding its way into real estate. This is mostly speculative buying and, therefore, could be seen as the beginning of an asset price bubble.








The railways have at one go raised container haulage charges by between 100 and nearly 300 per cent for such major bulk items as iron and steel, cement and petroleum products. This is what the railways levy on third party — private and public — owners of freight trains for using the railways infrastructure. As this comes in the wake of a much smaller 3-6 per cent rise in these charges in January, it raises several questions. What are the extraordinary developments beyond the control of the railways which prompted such drastic action in the middle of the financial year? If it is a desperate move to shore up a seriously deteriorating financial position, then it puts a question mark over the sanctity of the budgetary exercise. Why should railway revenues falter when the economy is growing at 8 per cent plus, having put behind itself the slowdown of 2009?


The next issue is what this will do to the economics of container train operators. As the railway charges make up three quarters of the operators' costs, their business fundamentals will change drastically. They are unlikely to be able to avoid passing on a good part of the charges to their customers. This will affect their demand scenario and also future revenue potential. According to analysts, the latest railway move will deal a blow to a business that is not making any money for the newer private operators (that is other than the railways' own incumbent Concor) even at the old rates. In the process, the railways may have dealt themselves a blow that will harm them in the long run. The new players were trying to create a market in private rail haulage which, if it got going, would in the future reduce the railways' need for investment in rolling stock.


 It may well be that the railways feel that the market can take a somewhat higher level of charges. The January rise by the railways led to a higher-than-commensurate rise in the private operators' rates. But the question is how much? A 3-6 per cent rise cannot be compared to 100 to nearly 300 per cent. There is indeed a need for independent determination of costs of both the railways and the operators. In allowing third party use of its infrastructure, the railways are really playing the role of a common carrier, the same way as electricity boards allow their networks to be used for private trade in power against the payment of charges determined by electricity regulators. An independent regulator should determine costs and fix user charges which will both recover costs and create incentives for efficiency gains by all parties. Unless this is done, the railways stand in danger of shooting themselves in the foot. If private freight train operators' charges go up drastically, then it will lead to even more of inland freight being carried by road. The Indian Railways do poorly in this regard, according to a McKinsey study, accounting for 36 per cent of total haulage, compared to 47 per cent in the case of China and 48 per cent in the case of the US..








Two years after the world economy suffered a nervous breakdown in the wake of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, global financial markets remain unsettled, and the recovery that started so vigorously in 2009 seems to be stalling.


The slowdown has predictably led to calls for further fiscal and monetary stimulus. The argument seems simple: only a massive dose of government spending and massive central bank support for the financial system prevented a slide into a second Great Depression, so more of the same medicine is now needed to prevent a slide back into recession.


 This argument seems particularly strong in the United States, which, during the long boom years, grew accustomed to unemployment rates of around 5 per cent and steady growth in consumption. But, in assessing the outlook for the US economy, one should not compare low quarterly growth rates (the data for April-June are particularly disappointing) and the current unemployment rate of almost 10 per cent to the "goldilocks" bubble period. A longer-term view is required, because the US is facing a structural adjustment challenge that will be accompanied by high unemployment.


Like Southern Europe, the US economy must move away from the consumption/housing-led growth model of the last decade. US President Barack Obama has encapsulated this challenge by setting the goal of doubling US exports over the next decade. But this is easier said than done.


The structural shift towards exports will be difficult and time-consuming mainly because producing the high-tech goods that the US should be exporting requires a skilled workforce, which has largely been lost and cannot be recreated overnight. During the 10 years preceding the peak of the bubble in 2007, about four million jobs were lost in the US manufacturing sector, whose share in total employment fell from more than 17 per cent to 12 per cent. Unemployment remained low because the booming domestic economy created enough jobs in services and construction.


Reversing this shift quickly seems impossible. Most construction workers are rather low-skilled and thus cannot be redeployed to modern, high-tech manufacturing. The same applies to real estate agents, social workers and managers of credit-card accounts. During the bubble years, the situation was exactly the opposite: most of the workers released by a rapidly shrinking manufacturing sector could be employed easily in construction and social services, which require only low skills (likewise, real estate services demand only rather general skills).


The key point is not that manufacturing jobs are somehow better, but rather that we must consider the asymmetry in the structural adjustment process. It is relatively easy to manage a structural shift out of manufacturing during a real estate boom, but it is much more difficult to re-establish a competitive manufacturing sector once it has been lost.


Post-bubble economies thus face a fundamental mismatch between the skills available in the existing workforce and the requirements of a modern, export-oriented manufacturing sector. Unfortunately, there is very little that economic policy can do to create a strong exporting sector in the short run, except alleviate the social pain. Labour market flexibility is always touted as a panacea, but even the highest degree of it cannot transform unemployed realtors or construction workers into skilled manufacturing specialists. Experience has also shown that retraining programmes have only limited success.


Ironically, Germany might provide the most useful template for the problems facing US policy-makers. Germany experienced a consumption and construction boom after unification, with full employment and a current account deficit. After the boom peaked in 1995, one million construction workers were laid off and could not find jobs elsewhere. The German economy faced a decade of high unemployment and slow growth.


Exports initially did not constitute a path to recovery because the deutsche mark was overvalued, and some manufacturing capacity had been lost during the unification boom. "International competitiveness" became the mantra of German economic policy-making. But it still took more than 10 years for Germany to become the export powerhouse of today.


It is unlikely that the adjustment process will be much faster in the US, where the manufacturing base has shrunk much more sharply. Moreover, with the introduction of the euro, Germany had the advantage of pegging its currency to Southern Europe, which was experiencing a housing boom even more extreme than in the US, thus providing German exporters with growing markets and little competition. By contrast, the US dollar is tied to the renminbi, whose issuer — China — has the world's largest and fastest-growing export sector.

How long will the US adjustment take? Since the peak of the bubble, the US economy has not even been moving in the right direction. The contraction in manufacturing output and employment has actually accelerated — and faster than output and employment which have fallen in the sectors on which the economy remains dependent for much of its growth: domestic services, such as health care, and finance, insurance, and real estate services (the sector responsible for the crisis).


So long as this trend continues, only high and continuing doses of fiscal and monetary expansion will be able to sustain domestic demand. And, given that many goods are no longer produced in the US, stimulus measures would suck in more imports, further undermining the trade balance. A self-sustaining recovery is, of course, possible, but it presupposes a massive structural adjustment aimed at restoring US competitiveness in global markets.










I was taken aback last week to receive an invitation from BAE Systems, the world's third-richest arms corporation, for a four-day media tour to the UK. What surprised me was not the invitation. The rate at which India is buying up foreign weaponry, global arms merchants, eager for publicity, would happily pay for our small defence journalist community to globetrot through the year. What was remarkable in the BAE invitation was the company's proposal to fly us to Glasgow for the launch of a new Royal Navy destroyer and a tour of other warships. Why, I wondered, was British shipbuilding being showcased to India in the absence of a plan to buy a warship from the UK?

 A few phone calls later I had my answer! A cash-strapped UK defence ministry, unable to pay for the two aircraft carriers on order with BAE Systems, had offered one of them to New Delhi. In the circumstances, a few news reports in India on "high-quality British shipbuilding" could only be useful.


Given that the Indian Navy already has four aircraft carriers in the pipeline — the lame but functional INS Viraat; the infamous Gorshkov (renamed INS Vikramaditya), being constructed in Russia; a third (so far unnamed) carrier being built in Cochin Shipyard; and another to follow that — Britain's offer of yet another carrier might be considered wildly optimistic. But desperate times demand desperate measures and the UK is conducting its greatest strategic downsizing since the 1968 retreat from the Suez. David Cameron's new government has initiated a strategic defence and security review (SDSR), which involves defence spending cuts of 20-30 per cent to bring down military expenditure to below 2 per cent of GDP.


Amongst the several multi-billion pound programmes that seem certain to be pared is the Carrier Vessels Future (CVF) programme: the £5 billion ($8 billion) construction, mainly in British shipyards, of two 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers called the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the HMS Prince of Wales. These were ordered before the global economic downturn; the Labour government thought they were essential for the Royal Navy to retain its centuries-old capability to project power across the globe. Even amidst today's cost-cutting, current defence secretary Liam Fox had hoped to build both carriers, operating only one with the other kept in reserve. But just days ago, BAE boss Ian King revealed that the government had asked BAE Systems to evaluate the cost of cancelling the CVF programme entirely.


With £1.2 billion ($1.8 billion) already spent on the CVF, and 4,000 skilled workers busy fabricating the Queen Elizabeth, London knows that an outright cancellation would ruin Britain's shipbuilding industry. And so, one of the aircraft carriers hopes to wash up on India's shores.


The government of India must quickly decline the British offer. London could be forgiven for concluding from the fact that four Indian warships are on order from Russian shipyards, and the Indian Navy wants to build more abroad, that Indian shipyards cannot meet the country's maritime security needs. The truth, however, is that India looks abroad for warships because of the MoD's inability to streamline planning, sanctions and procedures, and to bring together the skills of the multiple agencies that contribute towards developing and building a warship.


Consider our production facilities. The MoD owns and controls four defence shipyards: Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL); Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE); Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL); and the recently (and misguidedly) acquired Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam (HSL). Then there is Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL), a central PSU, which is building an aircraft carrier for the MoD since none of the MoD shipyards has facilities large enough for this. And, very recently, there is the emergence of state-of-the-art private sector shipyards — L&T, Pipavav and ABG Shipyards — with global-quality facilities.


Also in the production loop is the Directorate General of Naval Design (DGND), which has achieved notable success in the conceptual design of the Indian Navy's recent warships. Each shipyard, too, has its own design department, which translates the DGND's conceptual design into engineering drawings of the thousands of components that make up a ship. Then there are Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) laboratories, which produce high-technology systems like sonars, radars, torpedoes etc., many of which money cannot buy. The existence of these technology labs is a key attribute of a warship-building country.


Finally, there are the educational institutions that feed into, and off, these agencies: the departments of naval architecture in IITs and universities; research departments in colleges and universities that feed into DRDO laboratories and assist them by taking on research projects.


India has, in varying degrees, every component of this ecosystem. The MoD must bring them together, compensating for one component's weaknesses by harnessing another's strengths. Instead, South Block's proclivity to view each entity individually creates the impression of a shortfall of capacity.


Consider how the MoD is processing India's second submarine line, allowing two of the six submarines to be built abroad although massive capacities will lie unutilised in L&T and Pipavav (Business Standard has carried a four-article series on this from August 30 to September 2). Here is the MoD's logic: Pipavav has the facilities but not the experience; L&T has the experience, but not the facilities; MDL has both, but it doesn't have the capacity!


Astonishingly, South Block considers it preferable to buy submarines from a foreign shipyard, rather than bringing together Indian capabilities that could produce them far cheaper, create jobs and build capacities. The MoD must be stopped from building abroad. India needs a significant navy but it can only afford to build up quickly if the MoD brings together the warship-building eco-system. Indian money must build Indian capabilities, not pay for British shipbuilding industry to survive.    








I think it's very good to ask yourself who you are and why you're here and what has made you." In 1974, when V S Naipaul made that statement to an audience of students, he had been asking himself those questions for over a decade. Twelve years had passed since he had written The Middle Passage, his first collection of travel writings; 16 since he had written his first novels.


 The Middle Passage is still an essential Naipaul work. It was a brave book to write at the time, and it set some of the rules by which Naipaul would travel, then and later. Intended as a kind of triumphal tour — the prime minister of Trinidad sponsored the trip around the Caribbean and some of the colonies of South America — The Middle Passage became a savage portrait of lost men, living in a "borrowed culture", unaware of the extent of the losses colonialism had inflicted on them. He set down his own responses — flinching, as when he infamously described the sound of the steel bands of the West Indies as noise, often repelled — as faithfully as he did the lives and responses of those whom his open, merciless gaze fell upon.


"Other travellers, more haunted, carry questions, not answers or explanations, around with them wherever they go, and look to everywhere to give them some understanding, or even movement towards resolution, of the issue that is their lifelong companion (V S Naipaul is the archetype of this)," wrote Pico Iyer in a recent essay on different kinds of travellers. This is an accurate portrait, perhaps more accurate than the one we currently have of Naipaul the curmudgeon, or Naipaul the genius: polarising labels that over-simplify one of the world's most complex writers.


In his seventies, Naipaul had no need to embark on a journey to Africa. This decade is set aside for the writing of memoirs, for late novels, or collections of essays: it is not, conventionally, an age at which most writers would set themselves the task of another exploration, or undertake the discomfort, physical and mental, of a journey with the intention of understanding the beliefs of a continent. But in the decade before he wrote The Masque of Africa, Naipaul had remained a traveller, choosing to meet revolutionaries in India as part of the research for his most recent novels, Half a Life and Magic Seeds. (It was a journey of mutual disillusion.)


The Masque of Africa will not go down in the ranks of Naipaul's greatest travel writings. "I found the place eluding me," he writes of his return to Uganda after 42 years, and as he travels through Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Gabon and South Africa, the continent remains elusive. His explorations take him to witch doctors, animist shrines, forest initiation ceremonies. His observations on the thoughtless cruelty of some Africans to animals, especially to cats, that may be killed in a variety of ways of ascending brutality, become a running refrain, a sideways comment on the conflicts and bloodshed he doesn't directly address. He ends by referencing Rian Malan, the author of My Traitor's Heart — handing us over to a writer whose understanding of Africa is deeper and more nuanced than Naipaul can manage himself.


The Masque of Africa has been judged harshly for its stereotypes ("rubbish is the African way", he comments of the piles of garbage he sees everywhere in Uganda), and for its limitations — Naipaul, once the most incisive of travel writers, can barely go beyond the surface of things in this book. This is Naipaul as a tourist rather than a travel writer, and it is his honesty about the narrowness of his journey that stands out.


Naipaul struggles with the difficulties of understanding cultures where the history is oral, not written. (In his view, not shared by Wole Soyinka and others, the oral tradition is always inferior to the written, because memory will not last beyond a few generations and may be wiped out entirely in a bloody war, a famine.) It is the practice in this century for journalists and travel writers to edit out the many filters between them and their experiences: the reader rarely sees the fixers, the interpreters, the useful local characters who will offer potted histories of a place.


Naipaul makes it clear that his African visit is mediated: he is too often at the mercy of those who take him around, as in one comic case where he walks too far, and is offered a wheelbarrow (inadequate to the task) for the next leg of his journey. He sets down the omissions and the gaps in each stage of his journey, and it is this honesty that may redeem an otherwise unconvincing, limited travelogue. As an inquiry into belief, The Masque of Africa falls short of Naipaul's other journeys into faith and belief; but as an explication of the necessary limitations of travel writing as a genre, it is a surprisingly candid work.








Are rural areas ill-suited for the organised retail business? This question has assumed significance in the ongoing debate on direct foreign investment (FDI) in retail, especially given the government's misconceived notion that such investment should be restricted to those cities with a population of above one million.


Such a stipulation automatically debars the entire rural belt from access to efficient marketing by reputed global retail chains. Indeed, only 35 cities are populated beyond one million and they, together, account for only a little over 10 per cent of the country's population. Limiting organised retailing to these urban centres will amount to depriving around 90 per cent of India's people of this modern facility.


 This is untenable. In fact, FDI in retail can be more relevant and beneficial for rural areas than urban centres which are already serviced by various kinds of markets. A strong case to this effect, based on well-founded arguments, has been put forward to the government by DCM Shriram Consolidated Ltd (DSCL) which runs a hugely successful rural retail chain, Hariyali Kisaan Bazaars. Operating on an innovative business model that caters to most needs of the rural population at one spot, these outlets have become virtual hubs of rural development.


"The government should, in fact, make the presence in small towns and rural areas binding for the FDI-based organised retail projects," asserts DSCL Chairman and Senior Managing Director Ajay S Shriram. "Retailing is a specialised activity and international companies have gone through the learning process to acquire the relevant expertise. Why not to capitalise on it?" he adds.


That modern retail in rural markets is viable, more so if it also includes the marketing of agri-inputs and services for farmers, has been amply borne out by the experience of the leading Indian retail companies as well as by that of the modern retailers operating in the agrarians belts of countries like Australia and China.


The biggest problem that farmers normally face is the want of timely availability of inputs and a range of

products of good quality, correct weight and at genuine prices. The modern retail trade can ensure all this in a transparent manner.


Besides, such outlets can also have links with the banks, which can put up their counters there, and provide other services, including farm extension, for the benefit of the farmer-customers. The Hariyali bazaars, for instance, have employed agricultural graduates and post-graduate to guide their farmer-clientele. This has resulted in higher farm productivity and production.


A major advantage of modern retailing is that it would pave the way for a two-way engagement between retailers and farmers. Although retailers can source their supplies of farm products from the local cultivators, the farmers can get assured market for their produce. More significantly, this can help reduce the number of intermediaries and middlemen between growers and consumers. This would, in turn, bring down transaction costs in rural marketing to enable farmers fetch higher returns for their produce even as consumers get the goods at lower than usual prices.


Indeed, one of the key arguments by the opponents of the FDI in retail is that this will kill local shopkeepers and will, thus, create unemployment. This fear is unfounded. This is evident from the Chinese experience where both these sectors have coexisted and flourished. In fact, as Shriram pointed out, modern retail will generate additional employment in the rural belt without hurting traditional traders. Each of the Hariyali Bazaar outlets employs 200 to 250 workers, mostly hired from local areas.


The underlying message of DSCL's well-argued submission to the government is that efficient retail chains can be a boon, and not a bane, for small towns and rural areas and can actually spur all-round development there.  








INDIA faces a massive shortfall in domestic steel capacity in the foreseeable future, according to LN Mittal of ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steel producer. This would imply huge national cost and forgone industrialisation. It is the sheer lack of proactive policy that prevents sustained capacity addition in steel to meet the fast-growing demand. Given the scale of resources available for steel-making here, only dither and delay on the policy front keep projects pending for years. The proposals for new productive capacity of Korean major Posco, ArcelorMittal and Tata Steel are all either stuck in red tape or have failed to take off due to the lack of land acquisition, or both. Projects should either be spiked or, if approved, implemented with speed. We do need to boost greenfield capacity addition in steel with holistic, coordinated policy design, and actualise long-pending investment proposals. 


Fortunately, there's stepped up brownfield addition and expansion in steel, to feed strong demand growth. Reports say that India Inc is expected to increase its existing steel capacity of 63 million tonnes by almost a third next year. But with demand growing at 10-12% every year, the increased output would hardly suffice. In any case, despite the expansions total capacity pan-India would fall far short of the steel ministry's projections of 124 mt by 2011-12. Meanwhile, Japan remains the world's second-largest producer of steel — and is especially strong on value-added products — with a capacity of 87.5 mt. The way to move ahead of Japan in steel output is to focus on greenfield investments construction. Tata Steel says the steel sector requires a separate policy for ultra mega steel plants. Instead, we need transparency in linkage for iron ore and other attendant clearances, to end routine distortions in mining and ore pricing. Specifically, we need to phase out captive mining for steel plants, and have a thriving domestic market for minerals with ore prices duly reflecting international scarcity value. Arm's length ore prices would actually incentivise value-addition in steel.







THE deeply troubling aspect of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's success in bringing in a constitutional amendment that does away with the two-term limit on a president, as well as the guilty verdict handed out to former army commander and erstwhile challenger for the presidency, Sarath Fonseka, is the danger of Sri Lanka slowly slipping into some form of autocratic rule. Indeed, allegations of a vendetta, the opaque nature of Fonseka's trial and the general situation in Sri Lanka have cast a very dark shadow on events. It is yet possible, given that Fonseka's sentence now awaits presidential conformation, that Rajapaksa would decide to play the statesman and decree a pardon. But that can't hide the fact that Rajapaksa and his family now exercise unbridled power over the island nation. The 18th Amendment allows Rajapaksa to run for president as many times as he wants, and empowers him to appoint whoever he wants in key positions. The president already is the commander-in-chief of the army, the minister of defence, finance and planning, ports and aviation, and so on, being directly in charge of between 80-90 institutions. The president's three brothers control everything from the coast guard, police, intelligence, immigration to wildlife conservation, and the post of speaker of the parliament. 


Such a degree of one-family control over virtually all aspects of the government is scary. What makes the situation worse is that Rajapaksa seems to have privileged gathering all these powers over proceeding on the critical reforms needed to devolve power to the Tamil minority, a promise made repeatedly during the last phases of the war on the LTTE and afterwards. Add the fact of a divided, confused opposition, the continued state of emergency, and serious allegations of muzzling the press, fears of autocratic rule don't seem misplaced. For its part, India must now evolve an all-round strategy to deal with a Lanka where Rajapaksa has all the clout, while keeping in mind basic democratic principles and objectives — including a political package for the Tamils.







ADVENTURE-tourism no longer just implies climbing Mt Everest or rafting down a waterfall. Tourists who visit Delhi can experience non-stop adventure. The Delhi Belly is now passe. For those visitors who survive dengue caused by mosquitoes breeding in stagnant pools formed by the large-scale digging to do up Delhi for the Commonwealth Games, there are other adventures in store. And one is not just referring to tripping over the debris lying all over the place or waiting for hours to cross the road on which a VVIP motorcade is scheduled to pass. A visit to even high-security zones at historic sites like the Jama Masjid could give the tourists a chance to duck bullets being fired at their deluxe luxurybus or to escape from car bombs which fail to explode just like the one that didn't in New York's Times Square. 


What makes these shoot-outs more exciting is that the tourists even have a chance of playing hide-and-seek with those firing bullets by taking evasive action behind either their bus or the nearest police station which is never more than 100 metres away. Those who get shot will be treated gratis at the best hospitals and will receive their adventure-tourism medals personally from Delhi's tourist-friendly CM whose soothing manner will quickly dissipate all traces of panic. If more than one visitor is being treated in more than one hospital, the adventure-tourism medals could even be handed over by Commonwealth Games Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi, who is renowned the world over for his expertise in trying to finish major projects only at the last minute. Those who haven't yet firmed up their travel plans to experience the fun and games first-hand should immediately do so since this is a not-to-be-missed, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and no one — not even Mr Kalmadi — knows when Delhi will be hosting the Commonwealth Games again!






TWO days after the government scrapped a bauxite mining project in Orissa, Rahul Gandhi visited Niyamgiri, the ground zero of the anti-mine protests and told tribals that he was their sipahi in Delhi. Around the same time, farmers in Uttar Pradesh said they wouldn't sell their land at the rates the government was offering. India is growing fast, but hassles over the acquisition of land are going to be the greatest brakes on growth and social peace in the immediate future.


There are several reasons why this is likely. The law governing land purchases in India is 116 years old. It was amended once, three years ago, but those changes were never legislated in, and have now lapsed. Here's one big problem with the law: it gives the government the right to buy land anywhere for a compensation to the original owners — provided the land is acquired for a public purpose. The sarkar, whether at the state or at the central level, is, therefore, the ultimate zamindar. 


As India rolls out infrastructure projects at a breakneck pace, it's hard to determine what is a project for the public good, and what is designed to maximise profits. Many infrastructure projects are partnerships between the government and private players, where the role of the government begins and ends after it acquires land for the developer and then sits back to collect rent. 


For example, when the Uttar Pradesh government bought land to build the Noida to Greater Noida expressway around 10 years ago, it paid farmers between . 50 to . 300 for one sq m. Today, the Jaypee Group, a property developer, is selling plots there at . 15,000 per sq m. Prices have climbed at least 50 times in a decade. And remember, one arm of the Jaypee Group is also the main contractor to build the expressway that'll connect Noida with Agra. 


Is the Noida-Agra Yamuna expressway aproject for the public good? You could argue that it is because after all there's a road that's being built to connect the two places. But what about the high rises, golf courses, for-profit schools and even a Formula-1 racetrack that's supposed to come up along the expressway? Why should the government buy huge chunks of land cheap, and hand it over to private builders? 


 Similar questions were asked when the government in West Bengal tried to acquire land for private projects. The trouble began in Singur almost three years ago, where Tata Motors wanted to locate its factory to build the Nano. As protests dragged on, the government went ahead with another attempt to acquire land in Nandigram, for a dodgy Indonesian company to set up a chemicals complex. This ended in violence, and rising anger against the ruling CPI(M) in a state where it had been in power continuously for over 30 years. 


Should the government buy any land if the end-user is private business? The amended — and now lapsed — version of the land law says it can buy up to 30% of the total project land for private businesses. Many people, including rail mantri Mamta Banerjee, say that this should be zero, the government should never buy land for private businesses. 


The new law tried to smoothen over the differences by saying that when the land is sold at a profit, 80% of the increase in prices should be handed over to the original owners. Ask yourself if, even with the best intentions, that's possible in a country where most land is held by poor people without papers or proper legal deeds. 

AMASSIVE rumpus has already started over where to build a second airport in Mumbai. The shortlisted zone near Navi Mumbai is ecologically fragile, and environment mantri Jairam Ramesh, who shot down the Vedanta mining project in Orissa, has shot down the Navi Mumbai airport as well. 


In a recent paper in the Economic and Political Weekly, environment experts Debi Goenka and Gautam S Patel go through the pros and cons of the airport debate and conclude that it'll make much more sense to expand the existing airport than build a new one. It's hard to disagree with their argument, especially when they point out that the only serious opposition to this comes from two MLAs, who depend on support from the slums surrounding the Chhatrapati Shivaji airport. 


Naveen Patnaik, chief minister and leader of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) of Orissa, must be a worried man. New Delhi has not only scuttled the Niyamgiri mining project, it has also started asking uncomfortable questions about the embattled project of Korean steelmaker Posco in the state. The Centre says environmental rules are being violated and that tribal councils that opposed the sale of their land weren't being heard. There's also a fiveyear old controversy about how exactly people, who include tribals, small farmers, paan leaf growers and prawn farmers, should be compensated for their land. 


The roots of all these problems go back to one major problem: Indian state governments have quietly turned into a bunch of property brokers. The main commercial activity for these governments — and the parties that run them — has changed from collecting taxes, revenues and party membership fees, to buying land cheap and selling it dear. Almost always for kickbacks. 


Most businesses know that governments have power over land, and cultivate political parties and state governments to get access to that. This, as economist Raghuram Rajan points out, has led to the development of a peculiar kind of crony capitalism in India. It has spawned a nexus between parties and businesses within individual states. 


So, what if governments help businesses get land and start working? The real problem is that in the long term, this scratch-my-back way of doing business is bad for business — it'll crowd out newer start-ups without the connections and reward incumbents. That, in turn, will stop innovation, growth and new jobs. In the long term, it's also bad politics: if farmers and prawn growers feel cheated out of their land and livelihoods, they'll vote against the regimes that cheated them. 


India needs to untangle its land rights mess. Better property records and automation might help, but won't solve the problem. When India rewrites its new land laws soon, it should write the government out of the picture. For private projects — even those masquerading as public ones — let the developer negotiate and buy all the land.








RAHUL Gandhi's show of solidarity with Omar Abdullah might have halted premature speculations about a Congress-PDP regrouping. But even those Congressmen who think Gandhi could have avoided publicising his by-now-politicallyunpresentable friendship with the battered chief minister feel a Congress-Mufti realignment, in any case, would not have been possible so early. Since sacking the tottering state government is ruled out at this juncture, ruling party leaders admit they are, for now, stuck with the burden of the young CM. So, what is the way out? There are hints that J&K governor N N Vohra will henceforth act as Omar's authorised 'informal tutor'. Given Vohra's administrative experience and his earlier role as the Centre's interlocutor on J&K, it might not be a difficult brief for him. But then, the success of a teacher does also depend on the reflexes of the student! 



THE Congress revival bid in Bihar has created some piquant situations. A state party unit that had been struggling to prop up presentable faces is now seeing a surprise tug-of-war between the "loyalists" and the "converts". Last week, JD(U) rebel Rajiv Ranjan alias Lallan Singh met AICC in-charge Mukul Wasnik at 24, Akbar Road and handed over a list of some upper caste politicians willing to join the grand old party, provided they got the party tickets to contest. Days before RJD rebels Nagamani and Akhilesh Singh joined the Congress, they too presented the AICC a list of their ex-colleagues who 'want to contest on the Congress symbol'. Alerted by these outsiders' pitch, some senior Bihar Congress leaders have met Wasnik, saying the AICC should not overlook the loyalists to accommodate the 'migratory birds'. AICC managers, not used to a house-full show in Bihar for two decades, are now working on a please-all formula. 



AS THE rains continue to lash Delhi, giving organisers of the Commonwealth Games last-minute nightmares, Mani Shankar Aiyar has become the flavour of the Congress' in-house pre-games gossip sessions. Those who support Aiyar — the Games' most vocal critic, who famously wished the rains to last long enough to wash away Suresh Kalmadi & Co's party — say the man was wise enough to foresee the shady organisers pushing the deadline right into the showers. The increasingly desperate members of the Kalmadi-Sheila Dikshit camps have now started arguing that the real villain of the act is "a black-tongued prodigal family member". But since Aiyar has vowed not to return to Delhi before the Games, there is no scope, for now, to have a proper repartee session. 



THE UGC has recently put out an advertisement declaring a Delhi-based management institute illegal under Section 22 of 2(f) of the UGC Act, 1956, and not qualified to confer degrees under Section 22(3). But then, there is a weak spot in the UGC's resolve to crack down on fraudulent institutes. The UGC Act says: "Whosoever contravenes the provisions of Section 22 or Section 23 shall be punishable with a fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, and if the person contravening is an association or other body of individuals, every member of such (an) association or other body who knowingly or wilfully authorises or permits the contravention shall be punishable with a fine which may extend to one thousand rupees." A Rs 1,000 fine as a sure-fire deterrent?!








ASURFEIT of declarations, commitments and pledges to banish poverty in the developing world culminates in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) summit in New York (20-22 September, 2010). What lends urgency to this mega event is the fact that there are just five years left to achieve, say, MDG1 (i.e., halve extreme poverty) by 2015. The optimism that preceded the food price crisis in 2007-08 and the financial crisis that rapidly engulfed the global economy in quick succession gave way to dire and alarming predictions of millions descending into acute poverty. Worse, there were apprehensions that these reversals would get worse if remedial policy initiatives — by governments, donors and multilaterals — were few and far between. 


At the Summit in September, 2000, world leaders committed the global community to halving the proportions of people experiencing poverty and hunger by 2015. They also pledged in the UN Millennium Declaration to achieve other MDGs encompassing education, gender equality and women's empowerment, health and communicable diseases and environmental sustainability. In brief, these goals aim for a broader and more inclusive process of human development. 


The MDGs are ambitious as they represent clear and direct challenges both to individual countries and to the global community. Achievement of these goals in the Asia-Pacific — especially South Asia — is of considerable importance because of the pervasiveness of deprivation in this region. 


While the progress achieved in meeting MDG1 is laudable, new estimates of poverty in the developing world by World Bank researchers raise concerns, as the incidence of extreme poverty they report is considerably higher than the previous estimates that formed the baseline for MDG1. The updating of poverty estimates was necessitated by new purchasing power parity estimates for 2005. As the trauma of the two crises are far from over — despite impressive growth rates recorded by India and China in the last two quarters — it is necessary to review the prospects of achieving MDG1. Our study [K Imai, R Gaiha and G Thapa, 2010: Is the Millennium Development Goal on Poverty Still Achievable? The Role of Institutions, Finance and Openness, Oxford Development Studies, 38(3)] throws new light on key issues. 


Following the new estimates, MDG1 implies a reduction of the poverty headcount ratio to 17.3% in 2015. If the historical growth rate of GDP per capita over 1980-2006 is maintained to 2015, the estimated poverty falls to 15.7%, lower than MDG1. This goal is thus achievable without any growth acceleration at the country level. An exception, of course, is sub-Saharan Africa. All other regions, including South Asia, will meet this goal in the sense that the predicted poverty headcount is less than half of that in 1990. 


In the scenario in which all developing countries improve their institutional quality to the average of top 30 countries — using World Bank institutional quality indicators (e.g., rule of law, corruption control) — all developing countries and regions will meet MDG1 because of a dramatic effect of an improvement in institutional quality. Of particular interest is the case in which the rule of law or corruption control improves. If, for example, the rule of law improves to the level of top 30 performers, the predicted poverty headcount ratio will fall from 15.4% to 9%. 


Recent estimates of the effects of the financial crisis are alarmist — an additional 53 million were trapped in poverty in 2009 alone. These, however, cannot be taken at face value as the channels through which the financial crisis impacted various segments of the population in the developing world are not specified. Confining to the adverse effects of contraction of private credit on consumption stabilisation and overall growth, a reversal in the progress towards MDG1 is indicated, but well below the scale of alarmist predictions. 
    Two related findings are particularly worrying in the context of South Asia. Elasticity of poverty with respect to income (i.e., per cent reduction in poverty for 1% higher growth) has declined in recent years. This is largely a manifestation of a stronger positive association between poverty and income inequality. 


The lessons for India's policymakers are hard to overlook in the context of poverty reduction, regardless of how it is measured. If our analysis has any validity, some of the priorities are greater attention to 'triggers' for institutional reform (e.g., speedier implementation of the right to information to restrict corruption) and a more inclusive growth through easier access to both human and physical capital. The challenge is whether the euphoria over impressive growth in recent months will be matched by measures designed for better health and education among the deprived, and institutions that will enable more equitable sharing of growth. 


(Raghav Gaiha is professor of public policy, FMS, University of Delhi; Katsushi Imai is lecturer in economics, University of Manchester;   and Ganesh Thapa is regional economist for     Asia and the Pacific, International Fund for     Agricultural Development)








THERE was a palpable picnic atmosphere in the air and much laughter rang out among the animals as they gathered once more to witness the most famous rematch in their record books. Yes, the tortoise and the hare were planning to race each other yet again for the coveted title of the fleetest creature amongst all the denizens of the underbrush. The local press had already given the event fanciful labels such as 'Fastest in the Forest' and 'The War of the Woods' and an extensive coverage was expected. The track was festooned with ribbons and spectators had lined both sides to witness the contest much before the scheduled starting time. 


What had ignited their enthusiasm all the more was that for the first time, the race was going to be run backwards! However, nobody knew that this was actually the cunning brainchild of the hare who, tired of being defeated by the ridiculously slow and steadiness of the tortoise for centuries, had decided that if they ran backwards he would always be able to keep an eye on his opponent. "This way I'll know exactly where he is all the time," he said to himself. Also, as he had explained to the tortoise in an unpublicised pre-race meet, "It will give both of us an even play i- ng field, right?" The carapaced creature had immediately agreed. 


 Of course, what the hare didn't tell him was that he had secretly been practising running backwards for thousands of years and now was as proficient at it as running forwards. So, the moment the referee's gun popped and off they went, he outstripped the tortoise by many stretches till the slow creature was a mere speck on the horizon. In a matter of moments, he was not even visible. But then, alas, as was his forebears' wont — and against the advice of seasoned onlookers — the hare decided to take a short nap. Luckily, when he woke and peered back down the road he could still not see the tortoise anywhere. "I'll just amble across the finish line now," he thought. 


As he approached, he could hear applause and when he neared it grew deafening in his ears but the throng of animals were not looking at him. Rather, their eyes were fixed on something behind him. It was too late by the time he turned back finally and looked. The rest is also history. Moral: "We are walking backwards — eyes fixed on what we're attached to and, of course, we call what's behind us, the unknown. How can we know it if we don't even face it?" — Rilke.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The excitement in the stock market is palpable as the BSE's benchmark Sensex is once again on the verge of touching the 20,000 mark — which it had last done in January 2008. Even if one accepts that there is many a slip between the cup and the lip, the 20,000 mark is still very achievable. Uncertainty and unpredictability is the hallmark of the stock market, almost its mystical USP. There could also be a correction anytime, but the market will then go northwards again. It's like waiting for a storm to pass and carrying on again! There are many characteristics that suggest caution about the scorching pace at which the Sensex has shot up: many are not impressed by this rise because it is fuelled more by liquidity rather than fundamentals; and second, it was mainly the large cap stocks that led the rally. The rise was not across the board. For instance, if you chart the movement of the Sensex from its recent low of 17,819 on August 31 to September 20, when it closed at 19,906, it is a rise of 11.7 per cent. In comparison, the BSE's mid-cap stock index went up 8.5 per cent, and the small cap stock index rose 8.9 per cent in the same period. In addition, only 437 players accounted for 50 per cent of trading volumes. The point to remember is that India remains one of the best markets in the region, while China has been going down in the past 15 days. The foreign institutional investors (FIIs) have thus been hotfooting it to India while the going is good. In most of these FIIs' home countries, interest rates have been at their lowest, and their markets too are not doing as well as ours. So the money will keep pouring in, and the party will continue. The FIIs have put in close to `2,000 crore per day — in the past five days this has amounted to around $2 billion. Indian domestic institutions have by and large been net sellers — to the tune of `2,095 crore this month. But the flip side is that when these FIIs, for whatever reason, want to withdraw, the domestic market literally collapses because our domestic institutions do not possess the kind of financial muscle needed to keep the market at such high levels. Retail investors are yet to come into the market on any substantial scale — one reason perhaps could be that they have burnt their fingers time and again, the last time being in 2008 when the Sensex plunged to 8,000. You need to be a braveheart and a confirmed risk taker to participate in such a market — because no one has any idea when a "correction" will set in, wiping out those who do not have the capacity to bear substantial losses. Retail investors have over the years lost over `10,000 crore of hard earned money, and have not got a paise back. The case of Satyam is a major pointer to the kind of raw deal that investors get. The promoter had admitted to fraud and lakhs of investors lost several crores of rupees, but when an investors' organisation tried to get compensation — initially from the National Consumers Redressal Forum and then the courts — it was told there was nothing in the law to help them.

Despite this, however, the market will relentlessly climb north and the party will continue — unless it is interrupted by some unforeseen calamity. India is a strong growth story and it is, after all, the second fastest growing economy in the world.







Anger is sweeping America. True, this white-hot rage is a minority phenomenon, not something that characterises 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 US President Barack 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, "anti-colonialist" agenda, that "the US 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 civilised (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 civilised 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 three or four 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.








News reports, mainly in the Kerala media, reporting arrests on May 28 by the Indian Coast Guard of a group of 11 Somali nationals, allegedly pirates, in the Lakshadweep Islands, drew fleeting attention towards a part of the world otherwise almost totally off the radar screens in this country. Somalia has been in a state of total internal flux ever since the Central government of the country, never fully in command even at the best of times, finally collapsed in 1991, abandoning the field to a bewildering spaghetti of tribal factions, warlords, criminals and jihadi fighters of various inclinations and persuasions all in a state of perpetual internecine conflict. Foreign intervention in the form of Ethiopian troops (latest being in 2006) and African Union peacekeepers since 2007 to maintain some semblance of sanity have all failed, and now the internal scene is dominated by jihadi groups and pirates, sometimes in temporary alliances, at violent odds at other times. The country is in a state of total anarchy, with the strife showing no signs of abating.


Not surprisingly, therefore, organised international crime has exploited the power vacuum and taken strong roots in Somalia over the past two decades. Pirate "fleets" preying on commercial shipping in the Arabian Sea and along the East African littoral around the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden, are now being reported from around the Seychelles, Reunion Island and, according to some reports, even Mauritius, earning these waters the sobriquet of "Pirate Alley".


The main maritime trade routes linking India with Europe and beyond through the Suez Canal traverse these regions, and increasingly pirate activity is obviously a matter of concern for India's commercial and strategic interests. It is in these contexts that the recent arrest of Somali intruders (or infiltrators) in India's island territories in the Arabian Sea is a disturbing indicator of a new range of threat which could be gathering in these relatively remote and unfrequented regions of India's western maritime borders. However, it may be appropriate to mention here in passing that by an utterly strange paradox, World Bank trade briefs indicate that India is Somalia's largest trading partner, where the ports of Berbera and Mogadishu constitute the most important destinations for high-volume dhow cargo from India's west coast, since these ports cannot receive or handle container traffic.


For India, the potential impact of Somali piracy is multiplied by the more serious "double hazard" factor of jihadi terrorism as well, because Somalia also constitutes the home base for the Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, more widely known as Al-Shabaab ("The Youth"), the Somali version of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. Al-Shabaab is the spiritual and temporal heir of the Islamic Courts Union, an earlier jihadi organisation associated with the twin bombings in 1998 of the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar-e-Salaam in Kenya and Tanzania respectively. Al-Shabaab has appropriated the mantle of propagating radical fundamentalism in the countries of East Africa, and received official affiliation with Al Qaeda with whom it shares common objectives. As the successor organisation, Al-Shabaab carried out twin bomb blasts in July 2010 in Uganda's capital city of Kampala targeting television spectators watching the finals of World Cup soccer.


For Indian planners it would be prudent to anticipate a Pakistan connection superimposed on the entire Somali situation because the opportunities for exploitation against India are simply too tempting to pass up. Pakistani "command groups" are reportedly guiding the activities of some of the Somali pirate fleets which could be focused against the fairly substantial Indian commercial functional linkages with Al-Shabaab.


In fact, some reports seem to indicate that this may already be in progress if accounts regarding the remains of two allegedly Indian jihadis recovered amongst those of seven foreign terrorists (including three Pakistanis and two Somalis) killed in a car-bomb accident on August 23 in southern Mogadishu have any factual basis. The activities of Al-Shabaab have the potential to generate intense violence in East Africa with every possibility of its spillover to India if a "Somali corridor" to the Lakshadweep Islands is ever established.


India's island territories, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal (572 islands, of which 36 are inhabited), and the Lakshadweep Islands in the Arabian Sea (12 atolls of which two are inhabited) are essentially mini-archipelagos offering almost ideal conditions for surreptitious entry and concealed residence by illegals, undesirables and down right criminal entities (pirates, narcotics smugglers, gun runners and terrorists of various entities). These territories require special surveillance and security because of their relative isolation.


By all accounts, initial reports about the intruders in the Lakshadweep Islands came from local fishermen operating out of Kaveratti Island, recalling Kargil a decade earlier where Pakistani infiltration were similarly reported by local shepherds. It might be interesting to examine in this context whether the lessons learnt from intelligence and surveillance failures at Kargil in 1999, and Mumbai 26/11 (2008) have been implemented.


The new cross-border threat through the Arabian Sea highlights the vulnerability of the Lakshadweep Islands as a potential target for radicalisation. India has to establish its defence perimeters across the Arabian Sea by establishing a presence in the East African littoral region through strong security agreements and intelligence-sharing relationships with East African countries, particularly those like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda which have already been targeted by Al-Shabaab.


India launched Operation Cactus in November 1988 as a quick-response tri-service joint operation to rescue the tiny island nation of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean from a takeover by fighters of the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam. The lessons of that operation have acquired fresh relevance in the context of the recent incidents on the Lakshadweep Islands. They must not be lost sight of.


- Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former member of Parliament





'Discussions without conditions'

Girish Chandra Saxena, a former head of India's external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), was twice governor of Jammu and Kashmir in the most sensitive periods in the 1990s and the early 2000s. In this interview he tells Anand K. Sahay that several questions relating to the demand for autonomy can be addressed in the larger context of Centre-state relations.

Q. The visit of the all-party delegation to Jammu and Kashmir, in the wake of the recent turbulence, is meant to bring to policy-making an informed assessment of the local situation and sentiment by experienced politicians. Would you say a single such venture will throw up the nuances of the situation?
A. They could face difficulty talking to some sections, and some preparatory work could be necessary. But the message from our political leaders should be that we are open to political accommodation. Kashmir already enjoys a special status. The governor of J&K takes oath on the J&K Constitution, and no Central law is applied without the concurrence of the state.
It should be clear that there are realistic parameters beyond which no Prime Minister or Parliament can go, and that some things are not for negotiation. Also, we can't keep Kashmir in isolation from Jammu and Ladakh, or the rest of the country. There are Centre-state problems as regards most states of India, not just J&K. And yet there is a sincere desire and effort to accommodate legitimate aspirations and reasonable demands.
All this may require several rounds of serious dialogue. Kashmiri leaders could visit Delhi and MPs could return to J&K. Separatist leaders who don't favour resort to armed violence should be encouraged to participate. The message should be that Kashmiris should express themselves freely and also not impose conditions on our political leaders.

Q. Most casualties since June have been of young civilians. What are the ways to calm the situation?
A. The leadership of the forces has to ensure that their personnel exercise the utmost restraint. When force has to be used, it should be done on the principle of using the minimum force to control the situation. When on rare occasions firing cannot be avoided, there should be the most stringent fire control.

Q. What about political steps, and the means to find the "elusive starting point" with the Kashmir people that home minister P. Chidambaram has spoken about?
A. The cadres of political parties, and even the district authorities, including the police, can directly or through their contacts reach out to the restive youth. These kinds of violent demonstrations are only causing unnecessary casualties and hardships. They create an environment in which sincere and meaningful dialogue on a sustained basis becomes difficult.
Q. How should our political leaders respond to the demand for autonomy for Kashmir?
A. Certain issues relating to the demand for autonomy can be considered in the context of the larger question of Centre-state relations in the country as a whole. There is scope for addressing issues even under the terms of the 1975 Accord with Sheikh Abdullah. I have already mentioned above the limiting factors to be kept in view. We can't also gloss over the very human problem of the return of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits to their former abodes in the Valley, and their rehabilitation in a secure and dignified manner.
In the context of autonomy, the mode of the appointment of the state's governor comes up. Here the principle of active consultation with the state government is desirable, and not only in respect of J&K.
Under autonomy, the question of making Article 370 of the Constitution permanent also comes up. The formulation can be agreed to that it would not be tampered with unilaterally.

Q. What's the difference between what is happening in Kashmir today, and in the early '90s when you were governor?
A. Armed militancy and terrorist activities were taken over by jihadi terrorist organisations operating from their sanctuaries across the border. Even now militant organisations that have a sizeable local component are operating under the direction and control of mentors from across the border. But most of the demonstrations witnessed in recent months are carried out by instigated, restless youth. Even the demonstrations that can hardly be called peaceful do not generally include people with firearms.

Q. Is the ideological and political fervour seen today in the Valley akin to what was witnessed in your first term as governor?
A. In those days, many thought azadi (in the sense of independence) was round the corner, but soon realised it was turning out to be a prolonged affair, and two or three-thousand people surrendered. Even in 1991, about 1,000 surrendered with firearms. The numbers in demonstrations were much larger then, and there was every chance of lethal violence. So, the challenge to the security forces was of a much higher level till 2001. Afterward, there was a drop in infiltration, in the level of terrorist violence, and of civilian casualties.

Q. How do you see the current debate round the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)?
A. The act gives legal cover to the Army in disturbed circumstances. The essential purpose is to give them powers that the police enjoy regarding arrest, search and seizures; otherwise, they can only come in aid of civil power. The situation of armed militancy and terrorism does not permit this. If the situation permits, the Government of India, the state government and the Army will be only too happy to withdraw this act from all areas that are not disturbed.








On the 28th of September falls the 706th Urs, death anniversary of Hazrat Amir Khusrau, who lies buried inside the compound of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya's dargah. Like most devotees, I follow the tradition of first offering prayers at Khusrau's tomb before seeking blessings from his Master.


With his playful riddles, songs, melodies andpoems, Amir Khusrau remains a household name throughout the subcontinent. Tooti-e-Hind, Nightingale of India, wrote ghazals, qasidahs, mathnawis and rubais along with prose in Arabic, Persian and Hindawi. He played a pivotal role in the evolution of Indian classical music, both vocal and instrumental. The invention of the sitar and tabla, several musical compositions set in qawaali, khayal, tarana and naqsh, as well as several ragas are attributed to Khusrau. The mystic, philosopher, musician and litterateur enjoyed the patronage of seven successive Sultans of Delhi. Along with Sadi, Nizami and Firdausi, Khusrau is one of the four great pillars of 14th-century Persian literature. The historian Ziauddin Barani records in Tarikh-e Firuz Shahi, "The incomparable Amir Khusrau stands unequalled for the volume of his writings and the originality of his ideas, and in addition to his wit, talent and learning, he was an advanced mystic". Deeply influenced by the spiritual philosophy of Hazrat Nizamuddin, Khusrau believed in tolerance and affection between people of separate faiths. Khusrau loved Hindustan, India, with all its fragrant flowers, fruits, vegetables, trees and animals and likened it to paradise:


"The heavens said that of all the countries which have come out of the earth,

Among them it is Hindustan that has achieved the height of excellence".


Khusrau would present his verses to the Master for correction, remaining a disciple in both spirituality and literature. The Shaykh (a Sufi authorised to teach) would pray for his disciple's success. Often, the poet brought some sugar and placed it under the Master's cot. Later, the Shaykh would sprinkle some over Khusrau's head and ask the disciple to eat some of it. Almost all of Khusrau's diwans begin with sincere tributes to the Master: "Wherever his breath has reached; Thousands of the mountains of grief have melted away".


Hazrat Nizamuddin loved Khusrau and called him "MyTurk" admitting, "Khusrau is the keeper of my secrets. And I shall not set foot in paradise without him. If permissible by Islamic law, I would have willed that Khusrau be buried in the same grave as me".


Hazrat Nizamuddin would often tell Khusrau, "Pray for my life, for you will not be able to survive me long". While in Bengal with the army of Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq, a sudden sadness overcame Khusrau's heart. The poet took permission from the Sultan to return to Delhi. On his arrival, he heard of the demise of his beloved Master. He immediately rushed to the Shaykh's tomb and began shrieking, "The sun has gone underground and Khusrau is alive". The poet blackened his face, tore his garments and laid face down on the tomb of the Master, reciting his last verse:


Gori sove sej par, mukh par daare kesChal Khusrau ghar aapne, rain bahi chahun des.(The fair one lies on the couch,black tresses scattered over her face,O Khusrau, go home now,for night has fallen over the world.)


After the Shaykh's death, Khusrau distributed his wealth to the poor, spending the rest of his days beside the Master's tomb. Khusrau's health deteriorated and he died exactly six months after the death of his Master, on 18 Shawwal 725 Hijri/1325 AD.


 Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at [1]







Our subcontinent has just experienced one of the worst natural disasters in recent memory. The massive and unprecedented floods in Pakistan have already killed at least 2,000 people and affected around 20 million people. The devastation and misery obviously cannot be simply quantified, but the sheer numbers of those affected by the destruction is more than the total of all those affected by the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the Kashmir earthquake in 2005 and earthquake in Haiti in 2010. They also constitute as much as one-tenth of the entire population of Pakistan.


The unprecedented monsoon rains in July and August caused rivers to rise and areas to be submerged. Houses collapsed (more than one million have been completely destroyed), roads became unpassable, rail tracks were damaged, bridges were broken. The flooding started in the Northern Province and moved to the Swat Valley, causing it to be completely cut off for some time. The Indus river burst its banks in Sindh in early August, submerging towns and villages and creating havoc. As the flooding moved to western Punjab, it destroyed standing crops, killed livestock and swept away large amounts of stored grain. By late August new flood surges sweeping down the mountainous tracts gave rise to the fear of landslides. Now, in addition to these calamities, the threat of epidemics of water-borne diseases looms large.


The logistical challenges of dealing with this huge emergency are enormous. These have naturally been made worse by the fragility of the official administration in several of the most ravaged parts of the country and the ongoing conflict with a resurgent Taliban and other fundamentalist groups. Indeed, fears have been expressed by several observers that in addition to the human consequences of the disaster, there can be significant security implications as well.


The displacement and destitution caused by these floods may well generate ethnic and social tensions, and if relief is not forthcoming quickly and adequately, these will aggravate local resentment against the government and support for violent opposition. Indeed, even a calamity of this scale was not sufficient to stem the rampant violence in the country, which has made the official provision of relief even more difficult.


The sheer scale of this tragedy has meant that the government of Pakistan has not been shy of accepting international assistance. The complicated past and present of Indo-Pak relations did create an initial resistance to offers of aid from India, but it was agreed that such aid could be routed through the United Nations. The Government of India initially offered only $5 million, but this has now been increased to $25 million. Of this, $20 million is to be contributed to the "Pakistan Initial Floods Emergency Response Plan" launched by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and $5 million will be given to the World Food Programme for its relief efforts in Pakistan.


This may appear to be a formal official gesture at the Central government level. But in fact there is a genuine and deeply felt public concern within India at the plight of flood-affected Pakistani citizens, and a sense of wanting to express solidarity and provide assistance in whatever ways possible.


What else can explain the move of the state government of Kerala to offer $1 million to the relief efforts in Pakistan out of its own tiny budget? This is a very large sacrifice for a state with a relatively small state domestic product, an even smaller government budget, and which is struggling to cope with the reduced fiscal transfers coming from the Centre. The very fact that this offer was made so quickly and unreservedly indicates the degree of fellow feeling and solidarity in the subcontinent.


There is other evidence of solidarity in the region, coming from other countries. The government of Bangladesh has pledged $2 million in aid, and also sent medical teams and material assistance to help in the relief work. From Sri Lanka, there have been donations of medicine and relief items for the flood victims. The tiny country of Maldives managed to collect around $1 million to send as relief. Even the cash-strapped government of Nepal has provided some money for emergency assistance to Pakistan. What is particularly encouraging about such offers is that they are not constrained by narrow political interests and strategic concerns.


Of course the nature of the aid spending and the humanitarian assistance provided will be crucial in determining the extent to which those affected by this disaster are actually helped to emerge from it. And these rightly should be the focus of attention and active involvement of the citizenry to ensure that the money is spent in the best interests of the flood victims and to help them build a viable future.


But there are moments in history when the most compelling urge to action must come from the basic sense of common humanity and of solidarity in suffering. Such an urge must obviously be all the greater within the subcontinent, with its all too pervasive commonalities of experience, so that emergency relief can be given with grace and accepted with dignity.


So the assistance offered by various governments and concerned citizens' groups all deserve to have a wider ripple effect and encourage greater generosity from other groups and governments.









Raul Castro's Cuba would seem to be consciously deviating from the traditional certitudes of socialism. In a watershed move to downsize what it admits is a bloated establishment, half a million people are set to be laid off from the public sector. Unmistakable is the essay towards an economic transformation. The President has clearly begun his "radical overhaul" by shedding the excess baggage of workers in the state sector. He may also have reflected on the legacy he inherited when he lamented that motivation and the will to perform were the major casualties of the state support for a "bloated bureaucracy". He may well be on course to start a new phase in the history of Cuba with his statement to the National Assembly, made with disarming candour. "We will have to erase forever the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world where one can live without working." There is a searing message there for the establishment in India, cutting across the political divide but especially relevant for the Left.

Raul is determined to signal a departure from brother Fidel's paradigm. This is apparent not merely in the dramatic downsizing of the state sector, but no less crucially in the allocation of land. The increasing trend towards a market economy signals a new chapter in the country's economic history. It marks a profound change from the Soviet-style centralised economy. Already thousands of acres of farmland, hitherto under the possession of the state, have been sold to private farmers. The market has thus been freed up for agricultural supplies.

Unfortunately, however, the changes have been effected in the midst of a crisis, at a particularly critical juncture for the economy. For the past two years, Cuba has been grappling with the impact of the 2008 global meltdown and the withering effects of a natural calamity ~ the murderous hurricane in the same year.  This has resulted in a shortage of rice and sugar, a sharp decline in tourism revenue and a 37 per cent drop in imports. And yet Raul Castro has the support of the Cuban Workers' Central, the only recognised labour federation. The working class in a Communist state has acknowledged the fact that "Cuba faces the urgency to advance economically."  That moral support is a shot in the arm for the President though the hope that the laid-off workers will be absorbed by the private sector must remain an open question. Suffice it to register that the forces of change have won over the forces of continuity.



Faced with the approaching deadline of the Central Zoo Authority for relocating the zoo from Kolkata's Alipore area, the government appears to have settled for a place that is virtually inaccessible. A zoo is a major attraction of a city, anywhere in the world.  For all its shortcomings, the cramped Alipore Zoological Gardens is one of the major landmarks of Kolkata. Jharkhali in the Sundarbans is the back of beyond. To relocate the zoo there may provide the animals and birds with a spacious sanctuary. It will virtually cease to be a place of interest, the raison d'etre of any zoo. According to a report in this newspaper, the Chief Minister is said to have decided on Jharkhali after the initial move to shift the zoo to somewhere near the EM Bypass fell through. And thereby hangs a tale.

The site that was initially considered is home to encroachers, and showcases the development of under-development as with large stretches along the lucrative and convenient Bypass. It turned out to be a vicious cycle as the authorities set about with its plans to relocate the zoo. To have allowed encroachers to settle in that area underscored the failure of planning that might be too embarrassing for the Chief Minister to admit at this juncture. To shift the encroachers would have entailed huge compensation that the government would rather avoid. Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is said to have turned down the proposal of the forest department and the district administration of South 24-Parganas to pay Rs 5 lakh to every family that had encroached upon the 170 acres of vested land at Bhagabanpur mouza. Why were they allowed to encroach upon the area? Over time, the number of families has risen from 149 to 373. The settlers have refused to shift. And with compensation ruled out, they have unofficially been accorded the status of permanent residents of the area.  The Chief Minister's directive to consider Jharkhali in the Sundarbans as an alternative site may help the government to abide by the Central Zoo Authority's deadline. But if local visitors, let alone tourists, can't get there conveniently, it will scarcely qualify to be called a zoo. Kolkata will be the poorer with the relocation.



AS in Tripura, the controversy over the selection of a Pradesh Congress Committee chief also dogs Assam, where it took the PCC three days to pass a unanimous resolution authorising Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to have the final say. Whether or not she retains the incumbent, Bhubaneswar Kalita, remains to be seen but if the party is to come back to power in polls early next year, it cannot reduce power politics to a joke. It is not certain yet whether the Congress will again ally with the Bodo People's Front, with whose support it runs the government now. The latter is said to be angry with Dispur's silence over its demand for a separate state.


Muslim voters have shunned the Congress for its failure to protect the now repealed Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act. The BJP has already sent a message while severing electoral ties with the Asom Gana Parishad that it is working hard to install a BJP chief minister next year.

The Tripura Congress needs revitalisation more than any others, simply because it has been in a shambles since its electoral defeat in 1993. This is the only state unit that has not conducted organisational elections for years together because there are too many contestants in the fray. Last year, the AICC general secretary in charge of Tripura, after a visit to Agartala, said that if the Congress was to make its presence felt in the 2013 Assembly elections there was no alternative to removing deadwood. Time is certainly of the essence if this indeed is the objective.







A JOURNALIST, concerned over the Kashmir problem, wrote this Urdu couplet as the epitaph for his grave: 
Fateha padhnay say pahlay I musafir tu bata: Masia'e Kashmir abhi hull hua ya nahin (Oh visitor! Before you recite fateha (prayer) on my grave, tell me if the problem of Kashmir has been resolved). 
Like the late journalist, I have been talking about the Kashmir problem both as an Indian and as a Muslim for more than 60 years. I was in my teens when the Maharaja of Kashmir signed the Instrument of  Accession to India after irregular Pakistani forces launched an unsuccessful attempt to annex the Valley. I read a graphic account of this secret, hastily planned and clumsily executed attack in an essay titled "A Spring in Kashmir" by Tariq Ali in the London Review of Books. These forces, according to Tariq Ali, got stuck in Baramulla where they found a nunnery with dozens of young and attractive nuns. Instead of heading towards their destination, Srinagar, they raped the nuns and plundered the town. 

I belong to a South Indian secular Muslim family, which was implacably opposed to Partition, and which to this day is convinced that it was a gargantuan political blunder of the 20th century. My family's faith in the unity of India has been fully vindicated because this is the only country in the world where nearly 150 million Muslims ~ about 15 per cent of its population ~ live in a secular democracy enjoying total freedom of religion. I was glad that the imam at the 'Last Friday of Ramzan' (Jumat-ul-Wida) prayers, which I recently attended in Hyderabad, mentioned this reality to the vast congregation. 

When I look at the Kashmiri Muslims on the television screen, I feel saddened, depressed and dejected. The sadness stems from constantly viewing their suffering and the deaths of thousands of civilians over the past 60 years. I feel depressed because of my helplessness and inability to be empathetic. I am dejected because there seems to be no solution in the forseeable future. 
For over six decades, leaders of India and Pakistan have turned Kashmir ~ which legally acceded to India in 1948 ~ into a political quagmire. Let me explain their respective roles. 

India has been indifferent. As soon as the Maharaja of Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession, the government should have made it as much an integral part of the country as UP or Tamil Nadu are. India should not have referred it to the UN in 1948. Today we are told that this was done  under pressure from Mountbatten, the last Viceroy. After the publication of a cataclysmic essay on Mountbatten by the Oxford historian Andrew Roberts in his book, The Eminent Churchillians, Mountbatten's reputation lies in tatters. His image as a naval commander and Viceroy is irreparably tarnished. Roberts sums up Mountbatten in these memorable words. "... he was also a mendacious, intellectually limited hustler, whose incompetence and negligence resulted in many unnecessary deaths ~ the numbers of which increased exponentially as his meteoric career progressed... He was promoted wildly beyond his abilities, with consistently dangerous results... Mountbatten deserved to be court-martialled on his return to London". 

By taking Kashmir to the UN, India turned a purely domestic issue into an international one. Besides, the government decided to accord special status to Kashmir through Article 370 of the Constitution. This was both unnecessary and counter-productive. As a result, Sheikh Abdullah became the first Prime Minister and not the first Chief Minister  (he became CM much later). These two crucial steps created the impression to the  world that Kashmir posed a problem. 

Instead of winning over the Kashmiri Muslims and Hindus, India adopted a policy of apathy and neglect towards them. When I asked my three Kashmiri classmates in my engineering course in late 1950s as to why they had come all the way to Hyderabad to study, they replied. 'We have no engineering colleges and there are no plans to build them in the near future'. Instead of building new colleges and new universities, developing new industries and promoting Kashmir's vast tourism potential, we treated Kashmir as if it was not an Indian state. Much later,  a UN colleague from India ~ chief of a development department in charge of agricultural projects both in India and Pakistan ~ confessed to me: 'I send development missions to PoK regularly, but I haven't sent a single mission to Indian Kashmir'. 

An economic survey of Kashmir in a recent issue of India Today presents staggering statistics: unemployment is well above the national average and per capita income much lower than the national average. Of the 23 public sector undertakings, only four make a profit. An economist is quoted as saying that Kashmir 'has virtually no private sector'. The solution was within the grasp of the three most popular Prime Ministers, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee, but they never pursued the matter with the vigour that it deserved.  
Let me now examine the role of Pakistan as aggressor as well as beneficiary. Rather than wait patiently till the fate of Kashmir was decided after Independence, Pakistan's aggression in 1948 created the problem. It  benefited Pakistan because, instead of vacating the occupied part of Kashmir after the ceasefire, it still hangs on to it illegally as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), Pakistan went to war with India twice on this issue. Its foreign policy and defence strategy are solely aimed at acquiring Kashmir. It has set up madrasas where teenagers are trained to become jihadis in the cause of Kashmir. In recent years it has not only become a cradle and training ground for international terrorists, but it has also turned Kashmir into a terrorist haven. Kashmiri terrorism, sponsored by Pakistan, now poses the biggest threat to the peace and prosperity of the state. 
Pakistan has succeeded in creating the impression in the West that terrorism in Kashmir is indigenous and not a Pakistani export. Whether it is terrorism, sectarian violence or cricket scams, Pakistan seems to be in a state of total self-denial. 
The Kashmiris are confused and demoralised. They imagine that they are losing control over themselves. Political leaders, comprising predominantly the dynastic Abdullah family and their kin, have let them down badly. Sheikh Abdullah, the friend and confidant of Nehru, changed his goalposts in his advancing years after a visit to Pakistan and ended up in an Indian jail. Corruption and sloppy governance plague the Valley's body politic. Opposition leaders are simply exploiting the worst fears of their followers. One such leader exhorted his followers on the eve of Independence Day this year that they should regard 15 August as 'a black day' and 14 August as the 'freedom day'. This was  a frantic call of a desperate leader. A day earlier, four Kashmiris were killed on the streets of Srinagar. How could any Kashmiri leader tell his followers that their future lies with Pakistan and not India? Which Pakistan is he recommending ~ a failed state ruled largely by military dictators until recently, a haven of international terrorism and a country which heaps more and more shame and stigma on Muslims, all over the world every day. 

 Any Kashmiri politician dreaming of an autonomous or independent Kashmir must realise that this is both geographically and geo-politically impossible. The future of all Kashmiris lies with India and India alone because Indian Muslims live in a truly democratic and secular country. Indira Gandhi used to call India the second biggest Muslim country in the world. Don't the Kashmiri Muslims know that the Islamic countries are in a state of turmoil and chaos and most of the 56 Muslim countries in the world are ruled by despots, dictators or absolute monarchs? Their governance is not based on Islamic law. In the midst of such chaos and turbulence, the Kashmiri Muslims should decide their future with their heads and not their hearts.
The writer has worked or travelled in 35 of the 56 Muslim countries in the world







Pakistan never tires of claiming that Kashmir belongs to it. Pakistan believes in the two-nation theory. Kashmir is predominantly Muslim. Therefore, Pakistan claims, Kashmir belongs to it. But Pakistan, though wrong, is consistent. It was created on the basis of the two-nation theory. This Pakistani mindset is at the heart of the problem. India believes that Kashmir belongs to it. Whether or not the people of Kashmir are Muslim is irrelevant to their nationality. India , although right, is inconsistent. That, too, is at the heart of the problem. 
The Partition of the subcontinent took place on the basis of the two-nation theory. The leaders of Pakistan propagated that theory and achieved Partition. The leaders of India rejected the two-nation theory but they accepted Partition. How are both positions compatible? If they accepted Partition which took place on the basis of the two-nation theory, then Muslim Pakistan logically should have been accompanied by Hindu India. By that logic the extremist fringe of the Hindutva brigade would, like the Pakistanis, be wrong but consistent. If India was divided by creating a Muslim Pakistan then surely, this fringe can argue residual India must be Hindu. 

The leaders of Independent India hugely deceived the public by continuing to pretend that they did not compromise on the most cherished principle and pledge they made during the freedom struggle to never accept the Partition. They couldn't have the cake but pretended they ate it! Later, they and the courtier class of intellectuals and media persons surrounding them propagated the lie that Partition was made unavoidable by the horrendous riots. This monstrous lie can be nailed by going back to 3 June, 1947 when Partition was formally accepted by the Congress. In March just about 1,000 people had been killed in Punjab during the Rawalpindi riots. Lahore and most of Punjab remained peaceful after those riots. Only there was tension among the politicians. The bulk of the one million victims in the riots of Punjab were slaughtered immediately after Independence from 17 August onward through September. If the Partition was indeed unavoidable, why did Mahatma Gandhi seek to undo it by wanting to settle down in Lahore just before he was killed? Why did Pandit Nehru use Sheikh Abdullah as emissary to attempt confederation with Pakistan just before he died?   
Pakistan says that Kashmir is the unfinished business of Partition. It is no use disputing the Pakistani claim unless Indians start claiming that the Partition was an interruption in our struggle to achieve an independent united India. Otherwise, the extremist fringe among Hindus can well claim that Partition remains unfinished business as long as all Muslims are not expelled from India. Unless we confront this core contradiction that has distorted India's history after Independence, we will never succeed in stabilising relations in the subcontinent. 
Before leading the all-party delegation to Kashmir, home minister Chidambaram said in a newspaper interview: "Over the years, several promises have been made to the people of Jammu and Kashmir , and we should act on those promises…Based on the agreements and accords of 1952, 1975, and 1986, we must address these promises." Fair enough! But what about the promises made to the people of undivided India for two decades that the country will not be partitioned? After Independence, the victims of the Partition riots were too battered and bewildered to realise the enormity of the betrayal perpetrated on them. Now there remains no excuse for the Indian public to acquiesce in one of the greatest betrayals against their own people by any leaders of any nation throughout history. 

After the Kargil war, this scribe wrote an open letter to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on 2 July, 1999. The letter concluded with the words: "I am a believer. I know that one day India and Pakistan will get together. Through diplomacy if possible, through war if necessary. This is the tide of history. It is the destiny of South Asia."

India can never be secure unless Partition's consequences are undone. Diplomacy's success remains possible but appears highly improbable given current developments in Pakistan. Success through war should never be attempted because success can be achieved by pursuing the hard diplomatic-cum-political line advocated in these columns earlier. Without changing the Indo-Pak borders, conditions can be created to induce Pakistan's acceptance of a South Asian Union. Many would argue that after 60 years it is too late to undo the substance of the Partition. They need to be reminded that 60 years is just a comma in the history of a nation. 

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







We were quite heart-broken when our son got transferred to Bangalore. It meant the migration of our little grandson. We enjoyed his pranks, his wisecracks, his obstinacy but most of all his joy in the little things of life. It made us promise him anything in the world. On that solemn promise, he would ask only for a "balloon, blue like the sky, and round like the moon". This is what a child teaches his grandparents - to look at the world again and take pleasure from intangibles which money cannot buy. 

He made us look at our neighbourhood anew, something we never had time for prior to his birth. The Golf Green complex had been set up in the 1970s and I am glad that it is not fenced from all sides and boxed in by a gate manned by a security personnel. Like the old para of yesteryears, roving salesmen frequent the area. The range of wares and services is truly wide and it is amazing what you can get sitting in the comfort of your home.
Guddu got his first practical lessons in biology by identifying vegetables from the sabjiwala's basket and the fish sold at the doorstep. He watched with fascination whenever the umbrella repairer was at work or the zip fastener fixed our bags. He once turned "assistant" to the carpenter, handing over his tools one by one when he came to repair our windowpane.


A huge krishnachura tree right next to his bedroom was a fascinating commentary on the seasons. the summer saw the tree in red bloom, followed by vivid green rain-soaked leaves in the monsoon, bare branches with dry pods in winter and twittering birds making their nest among the new leaves of spring. Guddu was fascinated by the krishnachura and its transformation through the years. He was most excited in the nesting season when he kept day-to-day track of the baby birds as they hatched, thrived and learnt to fly. He relieved the labour of the mother crow by keeping bread crumbs and dry rotis on the verandah sill every morning and kept up a lively interaction with her as she flew up and down feeding the hungry shrieking babies.

This cohabitation with animals was reinforced by the monkeywala who came often with his two chelas named Aishwarya and Abhishek. Guddu jumped up and down with them and, at the end of the show, handed over a couple of bananas followed by warm handshakes. Once a snake-charmer came playing the ever popular tune from Nagin and Guddu peeked out from a safe distance to catch a glimpse of the slithering snakes raising their hood along with the musical notes. He was a picture of the "brave hearted" boy of Sukumar Roy's Baburam Shapure and ventured close only when the snakes were safely recaptured in the basket.

The Central Park was his territory. Whatever ambitious outings we may have planned in the city or outside, he was most comfortable playing there with his friends. His treat would be complete if we gave him a balloon, bought him an ice-cream and some ghoti garam kept warm by an aluminum vessel full of glowing charcoal placed in the middle of the basket of chanachur.

When we were planning our visit to Bangalore, Guddu was all anticipation. "Is the park still there"? he asked on telephone, "Does Sabjikaku still give vegetables? Does Padma still eat ghoti garam?" When we were debating what to carry for him, it struck his grandpa that nothing could be a better gift than the sights and sounds of his old para. So he meticulously went about procuring the jingling chain of the key-maker, the musical instrument of the snake charmer, the aluminum ghoti from the chanachurwala and so on. One bag was an assortment of these curious objects and our biggest reward was when Guddu took out each one with great enthusiasm and in the end told us, "When I come home next time, you must ask them to come". We knew he would be looking forward to that.






UN spokesperson  Martin Nesirky has told reporters that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has noted with  concern the decision by the Union Election Commission to dissolve ten political parties prior to the general election in Myanmar, including the National League for Democracy and four others for failing to renew their registration. He also noted that the Union Election Commission had issued campaigning guidelines for the remaining 37 parties registered to contest the elections.

Mr Nesirky said that Mr Ban had again urged the Myanmar authorities to ensure conditions conducive to a fully inclusive and participatory electoral process. He added that a ministerial-level meeting of the Group of Friends of Myanmar was expected to be held in New York on 27 September.

Indian aid: Indian Permanent Representative to the UN Hardeep Singh Puri has met the Secretary-General  and handed over a cheque for $ 20 million as India's contribution towards the Pakistan Emergency Response Plan launched by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the presence of Pakistani ambassador to the UN Abdullah Hussain Haroon in New York, according to a press statement issued by the Indian mission. 
Mr Puri recalled the messages of solidarity, sympathy and support from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and external affairs minister SM Krishna to their Pakistani counterparts in the aftermath of the devastating floods this year. He also said, "Natural disasters do not respect national boundaries. This is a small but significant gesture from the highest levels of the Indian government conveying the message that the people of India stand by the people of Pakistan in their hour of need." 

This amount is in addition to $ 5 million that India has contributed to the WFP for its relief efforts in Pakistan, the statement added.

Meanwhile, the UN and its partners have launched the largest natural disaster appeal, seeking over $2 billion for Pakistani flood victims. The UN said that the floods in Pakistan had affected more than 20 million people, equivalent to over 10 per cent of the total population, and the new $2.07-billion appeal will provide aid for up to 14 million people during a 12-month period. "All of this makes the Pakistan floods the worst natural disaster the UN has responded to in its 65-year history," Mr Ban said. 

Nepal: The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal has urged government of Nepal to expedite the implementation of a Supreme Court ruling that upholds equal rights in granting of citizenship and identity documents to members of sexual minorities. 

OHCHR-Nepal voiced concern over what it described as structured forms of discrimination and stigmatisation faced by self-described members of the third gender and lack of respect for their human rights by the state. It pointed out that under key instruments and decisions of the UN human rights mechanisms, lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender and other sexual minorities have the right to non-discrimination and equality. 
"In fact, Nepal is to be commended as the only South Asian country to extend equal rights to the LGBTI members via a historic Supreme Court ruling," said Mr Jyoti Sanghera, acting head of OHCHR-Nepal. "My office has deployed a team of human rights monitors for the first and second day of the protests by members of sexual minority in Kathmandu. Our monitors have reported that the protests are peaceful and the police have acted responsibly," he said. 

Meanwhile, the Security Council voted to end the UN mission supporting Nepal's peace process in January after the opposition political groups reached agreement to complete the final tasks of the stalled process by that date. The UN Mission in Nepal was set up in 2007. It held constituent assembly elections in May 2008, abolished its 240-year-old monarchy and declared a republic. But the peace process has slowed and threatened by tensions and mistrust. 

Nepal's caretaker government and political parties reached an agreement earlier this week to complete the remaining tasks of the peace process by 14 January 2011. Security Council decided unanimously to extend UNMIN's mandate until 15 January 2011, after which the mission is to leave Nepal. 

Dengue in Asia: The world health agency has warned that dengue fever, for which there is no treatment or vaccine, is sweeping across Asia, with the number of hospitalisations and severe cases growing, according to a press release issued in New York. The agency said that some 2.5 billion people are at global risk of contracting dengue, one of the world's fastest-emerging infections, with over 70 per cent living in the Asia-Pacific region. 

Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam are the countries are badly affected by the disease, while Singapore is witnessing a decline, WHO stated. 


A flu-like illness spread by mosquitoes, dengue fever often emerges when the insects are able to breed in large numbers in areas exposed to still water, such as improperly managed garbage and flower pots. The disease is prevalent in sub-standard housing areas with poor sanitation. 

WHO said that the rise in cases in Asia is due to higher temperatures and rainfall in many areas this year, growing population densities and greater international travel. The increase in cases has not yet been conclusively linked to global warming. Climate change plays a key role in the spread of dengue with mosquitoes being found in areas where they were once not common - South Korea and the highlands of Papua New Guinea. 

There is no treatment or vaccine for dengue. Early detection and prompt supportive treatment can substantially lower the risk of developing the disease. The principal symptoms include high fever, severe headache and pain behind the eyes, joint pain, rash and mild bleeding in the nose or gums. 

Human rights: The Secretary-General has met the panel of experts on human rights issues in Sri Lanka to advise him on alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during the final stages of conflict between government forces and LTTE. According to a statement released by his spokesman, Mr Ban met the three panelists - Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia, Yasmin Sooka of South Africa and Steven Ratner of the United States on Thursday. "The meeting marks the formal commencement of the panel's four-month mandate," the spokesman said in a statement. 

Anti-gay laws: The Secretary-General has reiterated his appeal to nations that criminalise people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity to take the steps necessary to remove such offences from the statute books and to encourage greater respect for all people. "No one, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, should be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. No one should be prosecuted for their ideas or beliefs. No one should be punished for exercising their right to freedom of expression," Mr Ban said in his message delivered on his behalf by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi PillayHe said that laws criminalising people on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity violate the principle of non-discrimination. They also fuel violence, help to legitimise homophobia and contribute to a climate of hate. 

anjali Sharma








It is too early to know how much Rahul Gandhi's recent visits to West Bengal would energize the Congress in the state. But there is one unmistakable sign that Mr Gandhi's plan has begun to work. This is evident from Mamata Banerjee's reaction to his visits. Never one to mince words, she has compared Mr Gandhi's visits to the calls of the cuckoo in spring. Not one to be a seasonal bird in politics, Ms Banerjee is a seasoned enough politician to know that a resurgent Congress can spoil her party in Bengal. It is the season of change in Bengal's politics with the long-reigning Left Front almost certain to find itself out in the cold in next year's assembly polls. Ms Banerjee thinks that the credit for an Opposition victory should go entirely to her. But she has to live with what, to her, is a rather unpleasant fact — that she needs the Congress in order to oust the Left from power. The last state-wide civic polls in Bengal proved precisely that. Her party, the Trinamul Congress, may have won the polls in Calcutta on its own, but the rest of Bengal was still beyond her reach without the Congress's help. She has to also contend with the fact that the Congress would like, as much as she does, to occupy the space vacated by the declining Left.


Congress leaders in Bengal should actually be happy with Ms Banerjee's reactions to Mr Gandhi's visits. But they cannot expect him — or any other national leader of the party, for that matter — to do their job. Mr Gandhi has given them a roadmap and possibly a push, but it has to be their own journey. Ms Banerjee's party remains a part of the United Progressive Alliance at the Centre. It will probably continue to be an ally of the Congress for next year's polls in Bengal. But the Congress's revival in the state should be important to its leaders and followers, irrespective of any alliance. Having been out of power in Bengal for 30-odd years, the party's leaders tend to forget what it stands for. No matter what its strength is in any state, the Congress is a national party with not just a history but also an ideology that makes it distinct from regional parties in India. This was why Mr Gandhi repeatedly told his partymen in Bengal not to surrender the party's "honour" while carrying on with the alliance with Ms Banerjee's party. But the weak are rarely honoured in the competitive world of mass politics. Even if it is a war of the allies, it has to be fought and won.








Any visit of the Pope to Britain acquires a salience because in the early 16th century, Britain, or, more correctly, England, under Henry VIII broke most decisively with Rome.Prima facie that decision followed the king's decision to annul his first marriage in order to wed Anne Boleyn. But, in fact, it began the process of England's emergence as a powerful nation state under an absolutist monarchy committed to promoting trade. Since that time, the relationship between Britain and papacy has never been easy and the memory of the persecution the Roman Catholics suffered in England in the 16th and 17th centuries continues to linger. Through the years, the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England have drifted apart. This is in sharp contrast to the ecumenical optimism that prevailed when Pope John Paul II visited Britain in 1982. It seemed possible then that the two churches would come together. Now there is no such hope. Over and above the long-term contradictions between the two sects of Christianity is the shadow of the abuse scandal that has fallen over the papal visit. Not everyone in Britain is happy about the State visit and the money spent on it. Voices have been raised against the Vatican doctrines on gay rights, condom use and abortion.


Pope Benedict XVI tried to disarm critics by admitting that the Roman Catholic Church, by not dealing "swiftly and decisively" with clerical abuse, had erred. But this was somewhat offset by his description of paedophilia as an illness. The Pope normally refers to sexual abuse as a sin or a crime. By describing it as an illness he seemed to empty the act of any agency. More generally, his message to Britain to reclaim its Christian roots will be resented as a challenge to the secular values that are so embedded in British public life. The Britons, like people in other parts of the developed world, have successfully segregated their private religious beliefs from decisions affecting public life. This is one reason for the decline in religious sectarianism and of anti-Catholicism in Britain. That same ambience has also nurtured, before it was rudely disturbed by radical Islam, the growth of a pluralist society in Britain. The papal visit and the Pope's various pronouncements have suddenly turned the limelight on matters religious. The Pope's visit is historic because of historical reasons but it has been rightly viewed in Britain with mixed feelings.









In 1982, as Dilip Shanghvi graduated BCom from Calcutta University, he wondered what he was going to do. Agitation was not his style; his voice was not made for shouting. He picked up five psychiatric drugs, and tried flogging them to psychiatrists and chemists in Bengal and Bihar. In the first year, he managed to sell drugs worth a million rupees; the profit was enough for a modest life. But his ambition went beyond that. He set up a small tabletting facility in Vapi in south Gujarat, so that he could package drugs of his choice. He was looking for drugs with a large market. In 1988, he got into drugs for the heart, and next year into drugs for the stomach; with these, he achieved a 0.1 per cent share in the Indian pharmaceutical market that year.


That was the era of patent-breaking. India had abolished product patents in pharmaceuticals in 1970 and opened the way for any Indian firm to read foreign patents, reproduce a drug and sell it in India. But in the Uruguay round of trade negotiations, India was offered a bargain by industrial countries: reintroduce product patents, and we will give your textiles duty-free access. The end of the era of patent-breaking was nigh. Shanghvi felt that he needed his own stable of drugs that were sufficiently different from those patented by foreign companies. So, in 1993, he set up a research laboratory.


By then, Sun Pharmaceuticals, Shanghvi's company, had crossed a turnover of Rs 10 crore. The stock market was booming; investors were lapping up shares of unknown entrepreneurs. Sun made an initial public offer that was oversubscribed 55 times. With the war chest, he set up his first plant for active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) in Panoli, an industrial estate of Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation near Broach. He bought Knoll's Ahmednagar plant, and merged Milmet, Gujarat Lyka, TDPL and Pradeep Drug with Sun Pharmaceuticals.


By 2002, Sun Pharmaceuticals had captured 1/40 of the country's drug market; expansion within its specialities was becoming difficult. So it started looking out of India. It got its Halol plant inspected and approved by the drug regulators of the US, UK, South Africa, Brazil and Colombia. It bought into Caraco in Detroit in 1997, and in 2004, got a controlling stake in it. In the next two years, it set up a joint venture in Dacca, bought a plant in Bryan, Ohio, the business of ICN in Hungary, and the patents and assets of Able Labs, a bankrupt firm in New Jersey.


World War II left Britain enfeebled. It gave up India in 1947, and looked likely to leave Palestine as well. Anticipating its departure, Palestinian Jews rebelled and set up an enclave in 1948. The enclave which they called Israel received support — money, men, arms — from rich Jews in America. Amongst them were two mutually related families, Levitt and Moros. They began exporting medicines to Israel, and set up a company called Taro in 1950. Since Israel was always short of foreign exchange, they then started importing active pharmaceutical ingredients and packaging them into formulations. Then they began to manufacture APIs. The company made an initial public offering in 1961, and was listed on Nasdaq in 1982. Its market capitalization was under $5 million then.


The fortunes of this modest company were transformed by the acquisition of a small Canadian manufacturer in 1988 which manufactured gels and ointments, especially for skin ailments. This facility enabled Taro to enter the US market. As it got familiar with the US regulatory environment, Taro learnt the game, and worked out how to develop variants of medicines, file abbreviated new drug applications with the Federal Drug Authority of the US, and start making and selling them. With this formula, Taro reached $100 million in sales in 2000; next year it did an IPO and netted $126 million. In 2002, its sales were 87 per cent in the US, 6 per cent in Canada, 5 per cent in Israel, and 2 per cent elsewhere; it had become a North American company in effect.


As often happens with private businesses going public, Taro went on a buying spree; it bought a manufacturing unit in Ireland in 2003, and a huge 315,000-sq-ft distribution centre in New Jersey in 2004. The company ran short of cash. It issued $60 million of bonds. They got superlative ratings from investment analysts; no one asked why a company which had shown $115 million cash in its last balance sheet needed to borrow more. A few months later, it issued another $50 billion of bonds. Its share price continued to rise; some investors were obviously not watching the company's cash position. In April 2003, Robert J. Mauro, the son of one of the founders who had headed Taro's generics division, left.


What followed is not entirely clear; but Taro's financial accounts for the next three years could not get past auditors. There are two interpretations. First, the company tried to push sales, and built up inventories to be ready to feed the market, and it sold drugs on credit to wholesalers who did not pay. What the traders owed the company and what stocks they held was not clear. Second, the company fiddled accounts to show a better financial situation than actually obtained. It does not much matter which was the case. The point is that the number of people with money who were prepared to trust the management dwindled, and the company ran out of cash. Shareholders sued it for having misled them.


Taro shares, which in 2003 had gone over $60, were trading close to $6 in 2007. That was when Sun offered to buy Taro. In May 2007, it offered to buy out the Levitt and the Moros families, at $7.75 a share — except that Levitt would get nothing for his 2,600 founder's shares, which carried a third of the voting power. Templeton Asset Management, which held 9 per cent of Taro's shares, wanted more, but at that point, the Taro management supported the Sun takeover.


Over the following year, however, Taro's finances started looking up. In July 2008, the Taro board asked shareholders to reject the Sun offer. Taro went to court, alleging that Sun had not complied with Israeli Special Tender Offer requirements. The district court dismissed Taro's plea. Taro appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court. It also filed a suit in the US alleging that Sun misappropriated confidential information about Taro gathered as part of the proposed merger transaction, and used such confidential information to disrupt and harm Taro's customer relationships and undermine Taro's revenues.


Two weeks ago, the Israeli Supreme Court dismissed the case against Sun, and allowed Sun's tender offer to proceed. But the victory of Sun was short-lived; its tender offer, which could now proceed, attracted holders of only 0.07 per cent of the shares. Sun now has to go back to negotiating with the Levitt-Moros families for purchase of their shares. Meanwhile, they have obtained the support of Jewish American financiers, who are prepared to buy off the shares Sun has acquired. So the war will continue.








India remains an adolescent democracy, full of the tantrums and petulance of a kid trying to mature into a responsible adult. The sad truth is that when one political dispensation replaces another, the incoming head of government spends his valuable and limited time and resources undoing all the initiatives and experiments of the outgoing chief minister in a rather unnecessary manner. More often than not, this is a knee-jerk reaction that hardly brings about any positive result. As we know, corruption is all-pervasive in India, and no individual or party in the political or administrative arena has addressed this debilitating illness.


There are examples that illustrate this reality. In one particular case, a section of the Central Secretariat was cleaned and spruced up, and transformed into a place where the public could arrive with its grievances, and also when summoned. The partitioned office cells, which have become the hallmark of a government office, were replaced by open spaces where officers could either be seen working or doing nothing. The bureaucrat, as a rule, hates such architecture because it compels him to at least pretend to work. Incompetent chief executives too — men and women who are the political bosses, who are insecure about their ability to govern well and with integrity — prefer closed-door cubicles from where they can operate under cover.


One sachivalaya was restored and reinvented, and made to look, feel and smell like an open and clean space. It was embellished with wonderful art, both antique and contemporary, which lay unattended and decaying in the basements of government institutions earlier.


Gross misuse


Today, with a change in the government of that state, the treasures are back in the basement, the restored carpets have been folded back to collect dust and mould, accusations of every kind are flying about, and the horrid smells and filth, along with lethargic babus presiding over their tiny cubicle kingdoms, have returned to haunt, insult and embarrass the public.


Often, a chief minister who is well acquainted with the changing mores and is conscious of the aspirations of a new generation steps out of the box, so to say, restructures cultural policy, initiates new projects, and then the new incumbent just damns those changes, stalls them and more often than not, throws them into the waste bin. This amounts to a gross misuse of municipal and public funds. Other initiatives for good governance are also jettisoned. Such a way of functioning is not democratic, but frighteningly dictatorial.


To be austere and 'Gandhian' does not mean one must discard beauty, art, restoration projects and suchlike. Sadly, there is a breed of politicians in this country who know no better, who are unable to comprehend a changing modern world where the demands for clean governance are becoming extremely important. The time has come to celebrate the good work done. Let us not get into parochial positions that demean the larger good and, in turn, the people of India.


We need a radical overhaul in the cast of characters who rule us. We desperately require modern, creative, non-dogmatic and energetic minds regardless of age. We cannot tolerate regressive leaders who prefer the obsolete and strangle change. Political parties must make their redundant members retire, and let in fresh faces with new ideas and an inclination to shake up the sleeping, lazy system. India will be caught in the status quo that our top leaders have shielded themselves with as they wait for the 'term' to end. In this atmosphere, individual likes and dislikes take precedence over change and reinvention.








What does the term, 'primitive tribe', conjure up in one's mind? Ever since Rahul Gandhi became the self-proclaimed sipahi of the Dongria Kondhs of Niyamgiri hills, we have been treated to photographs of a smiling Gandhi posing with blushing tribal girls in their traditional dress. In the pictures, the latter indeed look like "museum pieces", the phrase used for the Jarawas by Bishnu Pada Ray, the MP from Andaman and Nicobar islands, when he objected to the forced isolation of this primitive tribal group and demanded that it be brought into the mainstream. With the images of Gandhi's Niyamgiri tribals fresh in my memory, I went looking for West Bengal's very own primitive tribe, the Totos of Totopara in Jalpaiguri district, half expecting to find a people like the Jarawas, resolute and independent in their ways, touchingly attached to their customs and land, shying away from contact, and occasionally hoping for the passing knight of Gandhi's ilk to carry their news to the greater world.


I should have known better, for the Totos are already going places, quite literally. Recently Rita Toto, 22, made headlines when she became a graduate, the first woman from her tribe to earn the distinction. When I called her up (almost all the Totos carry cellphones) to fix an interview at her home, she informed me that she would be travelling to Calcutta to explore further career options. Disappointed, and somewhat rebuffed, I decided to make the journey to Totopara nonetheless to learn the ways of life of Rita's tribe, which seemed primitive and modern at the same time. (I caught up with Rita later, not in Totopara, but in Madarihaat town, where she had halted en route to Calcutta.)


Totopara, falling under the Madarihaat subdivision of Jalpaiguri district, is a study in contrasts. I approached the village through mountainous paths, dense forests, flowing rivulets, and the first thing I encountered on entering it was a man washing an SUV. Thatched bamboo huts on stilts, which, I learnt later, were the traditional houses of the Totos, were interspersed with concrete and wooden houses, on some of which workers were laying roofs of corrugated sheets. Totopara boasts of a primary school, a high school, a hostel for students, a primary health centre, a hospital with an attending MBBS doctor, and a Grameen Bank. With almost all the shops displaying the familiar boards of cellular phone companies, Totopara could have been the ideal global village. Yet as soon as it rains in the Bhutan mountains, at whose foot Totopara lies, the two rivers flowing past the approach to the village begin to swell up, and Totopara is cut off from the world.


Naved Akhtar, the block development officer of Madarihaat, says that communication is the chief problem for the Totos, especially during the long monsoons in the Dooars. But the state government is all for the Totos, and a flyover connecting the navigable road at the rivers' end with the village is part of its future plans for Totopara. In the meantime, government officials remain active in the village, distributing ration cards, pension and scheduled-tribe certificates. Under the backward classes welfare department's housing development scheme, Amar Bari, Totos with a monthly income of less than Rs 8,000 are being helped to build their own houses. That explained the brick houses with tin roofs.


Bhabesh Toto, one of the well-to-do villagers, who has a pucca house as well as a guesthouse for tourists, said that the Totos' traditional huts have become a liability since they require frequent thatching — and bamboos, as well as straw, are expensive nowadays. Then there is the problem of land ownership. A concrete house being more permanent than a bamboo hut, those who can afford the former go for it to firmly establish their rights on the land.


I was surprised to learn that there are more Nepalis than Totos in Totopara. There are also Marwaris, who own most of the shops, and Biharis, who, according to Bhabesh, are largely into moneylending. Poorer Totos keep losing their lands to the richer classes from other communities, and it is perhaps in this context that the debate over endogamy, which is one of traditional practices of the Totos, acquires a different dimension.


In 2009, the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Cancer Research Institute of Calcutta identified thalassemia resulting from endogamy as one of the chief reasons behind the low life expectancy of Totos, whose population has never exceeded 1,400. Totos who marry outside the group are excommunicated. But as a natural result of sharing space with other communities, many Toto men have already married outside the tribe. Now the Toto girls are being zealously guarded. Although no Toto woman till date has married an outsider, someone just might, and then not just the tribe's identity, but, more important, its lands, would come under greater threat.


Education has proved to be a double-edged sword for the Totos. It has made them more aware of their rights on the one hand and, on the other, has made them realize some of the practical disadvantages of their beliefs. According to Biswajit Saha, who has worked for the local panchayat samiti's education department, even primary school children in Totopara know the truth about thalassemia today. The kaizis, village chiefs, stick to their customs, but, being aware of the possible health and economic hazards of endogamy, are not unwilling to bend the rules.


Most of them look mildly amazed when asked about the traditions of their tribe. Yes, they have their own gods, who represent natural forces, but there is no sacred space, no Niyamgiri hill, dedicated to the deities. The 'temple' is more of a community hall where villagers meet to eat, drink and dance during festivals. "The gods have moved from the outside to the insides of households," says Bhakta Toto, who works for the Grameen Bank. There are village shamans, but when the Totos fall sick, they largely repose their faith in the doctors working for the PHC. Farming in oranges, ginger, cardamom and betel nuts may constitute the Totos' traditional sources of income, yet nowadays many hold government jobs and the educated younger lot is migrating outside the village for better opportunities. And notwithstanding their animistic beliefs, the Totos are cleaning the surrounding forests of trees, inviting an ecological disaster upon themselves.


The elders concluded all conversations by dutifully reiterating the need to preserve their vanishing customs, while looking relieved that the interrogation about their beliefs was over. The younger men emphasized how their ST cards do not always fetch them jobs, especially when they have to compete with other, more advantaged ST groups.


Ultimately, the 'contrasts' that Totopara offered were all made up of the differences between the actual Totos and my expectations of them as a primitive tribe. In speaking to the kaizis, I often felt like Wordsworth grilling the leech gatherer, desperately trying to make him stand for something he was not. Sometimes, it takes a visit to a place to find the true meaning of terms and the reality that photographs exclude.









Toto customs are being slowly transformed, with some help from the government


The Totos are polyglots. They speak the Toto language among themselves, Nepali or Meche while interacting with their neighbours in Totopara, and Bengali outside the village. The schools in Totopara have Bengali as their medium of instruction, and this proved to be a major difficulty for Rita Toto when she was pursuing her studies. She had to read, and write her exams in a language that she spoke occasionally. She hopes to be a teacher in Totopara in future, because, she feels, as a Toto she will be better suited than a Bengali to the task of educating the village children.


While the Toto language may not be on its way to extinction, it certainly is threatened. In the absence of a script, it uses the Bengali alphabet. But the strangest feature of the language is the fact that the version used in the old songs and hymns is completely different from the one spoken by modern Totos. So much so that the Totos do not understand a word of the hymns chanted by priests during ceremonies, and even more strangely, neither do the priests themselves. Some say that the mantras are in Dzonkha, the national language of Bhutan, and point to the Totos' place of origin. The hymns constitute an oral tradition handed down the generations, and since most of the elderly priests today are unlettered, there is the fear of the language dying with its present practitioners.


Young men like Bakul and Satyajit Toto compose songs in the spoken Toto language that are sung alongside the traditional ones during weddings and festivals. The Totos make a distinction between their ancient songs and the modern ones, which will perhaps replace the former eventually. If the chants are changing, so are the dance forms. The state information and cultural affairs department reportedly did not find the original Toto dances attractive enough since they did not involve the use of instruments. So a new fashionable dance form was created for the Totos in consultation with the officers of culture, and it is this dance that is performed in government-sponsored cultural fests throughout West Bengal.


Jhuma Toto (picture), the elder daughter of Bhakta Toto, is in her late teens. If her younger sister, Sanchita, has earned distinction by passing the Higher Secondary examination in the first division this year, Jhuma has excelled as a dancer. She leads the dance troupe from her locality. Yet she didn't have the faintest idea of the Toto dances even a few years back. Ironically, it was in Calcutta that Jhuma got to know the elderly Toto women who were giving dance lessons, and mastered the art.


The dances are performed in 'traditional' dresses, which, again, have been decided upon and distributed by the department of culture. Jhuma showed me her dress, which comprised a simple white bodice with a coloured apron, and a white head scarf. The modern dancers wear no jewellery though necklaces made of silver coins might have been a part of the original regalia.


Jhuma says that the dancers today match steps to the tunes of Bollywood or Nepali songs during weddings, even during the village festivals. Unlike her father, she doesn't seem to think that the ancient is the repository of all values. She has good company in the officers of the cultural affairs department who are all ready to present the Totos as just adequately primitive for the modern palate.


Anusua Mukherjee


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





Former law minister Shanti Bhushan's affidavit before the supreme court which claimed that eight of the 16 former chief justices of India were 'definitely corrupt' has shock value, though the idea of corruption in judiciary is not new.Even the judges of the higher courts have admitted the prevalence of corruption. A supreme court chief justice had said 20 per cent of the judges might be corrupt and a high court chief justice had openly said that "in our judiciary anybody can be bought." What Shanti Bhushan said is much the same but it is more damning because he is more specific and has named the judges in the affidavit. 

He has challenged the court to haul him up for contempt, the ultimate weapon of the court against which defence is difficult, and laid his head on the chopping block. He might or might not be punished for his effrontery, but unfortunately in the present environment his action would carry credibility with the public.

The Ramaswamis, the Dinakarans and the Nirmal Yadavs of our higher courts, and those who have defended and protected them have created that environment. The stories of misconduct and sleaze that course through the corridors of courts, lawyers' offices and even public places thicken that environment. Hardly has any judge been made to pay for any wrong-doing. It is difficult to get away with charges against a judge, even if the charges are true. It is known that judges shield themselves from scrutiny and criticism and misuse the immunity given to them which is meant to ensure that they are not subjected to wrongful attacks. A privilege accorded to them to maintain the high status of the judiciary is often misused.

When judges themselves pass judgement on them, as is the present practice, it is difficult to punish a judge. The legislation that promises to introduce a new system is hanging fire for years. There is no certainty if it will improve the system, if the rot is so deep and widespread as Shanti Bhushan has charged, but is necessary to hasten with it. It would be unfair to hold that  the former law minister was driven by personal motives or sentimental reasons when he made his charge. He has for long campaigned actively against judicial corruption and had even named some judges in the past for wrongdoing. His professional standing and his past position of privilege make him credible.








When pride, commitment and passion take over, rankings and reputation mean little on the field of play. Over the years, India's Davis Cup players have proved it time and again, slaying many a fancied team in world tennis' premier team competition. In Chennai on Sunday, another glorious chapter was added to the story when Rohan Bopanna outclassed Brazil's Ricardo Mello in the fifth rubber, handing his team an improbable 3-2 win in the play-off tie.

Improbable, because, never in history had India reversed a 0-2 deficit despite their strong record of punching above their weight. In a city that has given the country some of its finest exponents in Davis Cup play, India's fate seemed sealed after day one when both Bopanna and Somdev Devvarman lost their singles matches. But the tried and tested combination of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi earned them a toe-hold on the tie with victory in doubles before Devvarman — aided by a bit of luck as his opponent pulled up short — and Bopanna applied the finishing touches to ensure that the team stayed in the elite World Group of 16 teams. Viewed from any angle, it is a remarkable story, for the country does not have even one singles player ranked in the top-100. But then, India have a habit of scripting miracles in Davis Cup play — as they did when making it to the title-deciding rounds of the contest three times in the past with inspirational performances that should be the envy of many nations with established singles players in their ranks.

Every time the country gears up for a Davis Cup contest — and invariably after every famous victory — concerns pop up about the lack of depth in Indian tennis and the need to find support for the main players. While India's options in terms of mounting a serious challenge at the world level are severely limited, it has to be said that the nation has always found men for the moment — from Ramanathan Krishnan to Vijay Amritraj and from Ramesh Krishnan to Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna now. As we mark the fall of another major rival, it will only be right to salute the never-say-die spirit of the tennis aces who will face far stiffer tests in the World Group next year.







Flogging caste as a means of economic and social advancement is to put a premium on this evil rather than seek to remove it.


The country is girding itself to face the possibility of extreme reactions in the wake of the Allahabad high court's ruling on Sept 24 on the title suits pertaining to the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid controversy. Appeals for calm are in order, but must be backed by careful bandobust. Dubious elements and agents provocateur are ready to create mischief to earn 10-paise worth of martyrs' glory. After Dec 6, 1992, nothing should be left to chance.

The court verdict will not necessarily settle the issue. Either side could go to the supreme court. Even otherwise, matters of faith are not legally determined. But this does not entitle people to take the law into their hands. Unfortunately, all such issues are political fodder for those who brazenly rouse passions to garner votes.

The Babri issue is a squeezed political lemon from which the sangh parivar has extracted every drop of juice. It has become an embarrassment for some of the faithful but they can neither hold not drop this hot potato at this juncture. Meanwhile, there has been no follow up on the much delayed Liberhan Report which itself took 17 years to state the obvious.

In Kashmir, Eid was marred by violence sparked by false reports of alleged desecration of the Koran in the United States where a nondescript, fundamentalist evangelical Christian pastor was persuaded to abandon the crazy idea of burning the Holy Book on Sept 11 to avenge 9/11. The ensuing rioting and arson in Srinagar and elsewhere was used to stoke the separatist cause. Having stirred the pot, the Mir Waiz  piously looked on.

The Union government has caved in to pressure and has agreed to a separate caste census months after the main count, ostensibly more accurately to deliver affirmative action programmes to target communities. This at a financial cost of over Rs 2,200 crore and an incalculable social cost from a body blow to fraternity and inclusiveness. Every political party has elaborate, up-to-date figures of the caste composition of all constituencies throughout the country. It is on this basis that candidates are nominated — to win or woo away caste votes. The NSS could probably do a far better job of targeting SC, ST, OBC and other marginalised groups at less cost and without the political overtones of blatantly cultivating caste consciousness.

If the purpose of targeting underprivileged castes/classes accurately is to overcome income, educational and health deprivation, then why exclude other categories of deprived such as the poor in general. Are historically deprived categories today a superior class vis-a-vis other destitutes who may belong to higher castes or other faiths?

New classes among the poor

This is warped logic and will only create new classes among the poor and deprived. It is for this reason that the Sachar commission pleaded for an Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) to address the problems of all categories and classes of disadvantaged Indians. This cause has been advocated by the Minorities Commission, which has, however, been told to limit its concerns to minorities alone.

Surely this should be the task of an enlightened and empowered EOC that could deal with the deprivation of all disadvantaged groups while leaving the minorities, SC, ST and women's commissions to take care of other concerns relating to these categories. An alternative might be to make these other bodies limbs of the proposed EOC.

Flogging caste as a means of economic and social advancement is to put a premium on this evil rather than seek to remove it. Witness the Gujjar and, now, the Jat agitation in Rajasthan and Haryana and similar exclusivist throwback movements elsewhere. The historical process of Sanskritisation and de-tribalisation is being reversed in order to massage political ambitions and egos. This not moving towards but away from an inclusive India.

Take the extraordinarily perverse and anti-secular attitude of all parties across the board in preventing the enactment of a uniform civil code, which is now a dire necessity in a fast modernising and integrating Indian society that has no desire to be bound in chains to the dictates of an obscurantist clergy and 'social leaders' of all hues.

The khap panchayats, with their barbaric and bloody 'honour' killings, exemplify this tribe. It is amazing that the Haryana chief minister should defend the khap panchayats as innocent 'social organisations' which should not be held accountable for 'honour' killings. 

Now Jats are on the rampage in Hissar and elsewhere, committing arson and damaging public property to demand reservation. Rather than tame them, the state registered cases against police officials who tried to stem the rot, an action against which has evoked strictures from the Punjab and Haryana high court.

Finally, the parivar has taken umbrage at the use of the term 'saffron terror' after Narendra Modi, Varun Gandhi and other Hindutvadis for years named Muslims terrorists with unbridled venom. Terror has no religious colour, whether saffron or green, nor any denominational label. And why should the government be once again offering Haj subsidies, a wholly un-Islamic practice that cost the exchequer Rs 680 crore last year and could cost more this year? Balancing this with subsidies for Hindus undertaking the pilgrimage to Kailas-Mansarowar only compounds communal folly.

When will they ever learn?








Ahmadinejad has not been able to dismiss challenges mounted by fellow hardliners against him.


Divisions within Iran's ruling elite have widened and deepened since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a second term by a hotly disputed landslide in June 2009. Today bitter rifts are tearing apart conservatives who triumphed in that election and undermining the unity of the regime when Iran's economy is sinking and sanctions imposed by the West are biting harder than ever.

Following the ousting of the Shah in 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who became supreme leader, played off conservative and liberal factions to create a balance of forces and ensure his grip on power. After his death in 1989, the power centres initially emulated him. While Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a conservative, held the post of supreme leader, the first two post-Khomeini presidents were Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate, and Mohamad Khatami, a liberal reformer.

Khamenei not only neutralised them, but he also strove to concentrate power in the hands of the conservatives. He was aided in this endeavour by the leadership of the Revolutionary Guard corps, the Basij popular militia, the judiciary, and conservative political factions. The culmination of this effort was the election in 2005 of Ahmadinejad, an appointed mayor of Tehran who had reversed liberal policies pursued by predecessors.

Confrontational policies

As president, he has adopted controversial and confrontational policies which have marginalised liberals and maintained his mass support but alienated the West, particularly the US. Only a few credit his claim to have won 24 million votes over his nearest rival, liberal Green Movement candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

While Ahmadinejad has managed to counter accusations of fraud and personal attacks by the Green Movement, he has not been able to dismiss challenges mounted by fellow hardliners over the past 15 months. He has been criticised by conservative in parliament, the judiciary, and even Khamenei who has commented adversely on Ahmadinejad's conduct, policies and appointments.

Two opposing camps have emerged. The Revolutionary Guards, Basij members, and officials have coalesced around Ahmadinejad and have taken on the clerics headed by Khamanei. Ahmadinejad's aim is to erode the power of those who seek to check his rule. He has done this by developing a popular base and giving free rein to the Guards, Basij and the intelligence apparatus. Khamanei, however, continues to enjoy the backing of the still powerful politico-clerical establishment and parliament.

Ahmadinejad began his second term by offending Khamenei. He nominated an in-law and ally, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, to the post of first vice president, and appointed three women to his cabinet. Mashaei is seen as suspect by the clerics because he is a proponent of Iranian nationalism rather than adherence to the regime's promotion of Muslim identity. Surprisingly, Ahmadinejad made him chief of staff — an act of defiance of the supreme leader. Ahmadinejad also proposed the appointment of special envoys to West Asia, Afghanistan, Asia, and the Caspian region. This was rejected by the foreign ministry and parliament which argued that such appointments must have the approval of Khamenei.

On the all important issue of Iran's uranium enrichment, he refuses to concede western demands to freeze the effort but has also signaled to the West that he is prepared for a dialogue. This is rejected by the clerics.

In the past two weeks, the president has suffered humiliating reverses. Ahmadinejad announced he would pardon Sarah Shourd, detained along with two other US citizens after straying into Iranian territory. He planned a major press event at the presidential palace as a prelude to his appearance at the UN General Assembly.  However, the judiciary said the correct paper work had to be completed, demanded a $5,00,000 ransom, and eventually sent her off on a flight to Oman.

Rafsanjani castigated Ahmadinejad for failing to take seriously western sanctions, imposed to compel Iran to end uranium enrichment. Rafsanjani also warned against 'dictatorship'. Rafsanjani backed the Green Movement in 2009 but has recently swung behind Khamenei.


Iranian analysts argue that Khamenei will eventually ditch Ahmadinejad if his ambition to expand presidential powers threatens the survival of the regime. They also believe the Guards and Basij will go along with Khamenei who is seen by a large number of Iranians as the voice of God on earth. Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad is in New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly which he is set to address on Thursday.







Retired people who are living on their own often find it hard to cope.


"I wouldn't have to cook! All our meals would come from a common kitchen." My 50-year-old friend is filling out forms. "We're applying towards a retirement home," she explains. She has neither children nor other family members living nearby. Between her arthritis and her husband's heart condition she finds it difficult to run an independent household.

This was the second time I was having such a conversation in the last week. Earlier, I called on my mother's cousin who had just returned from the US. "I had no one to talk to.

My daughter-in-law was completely indifferent." Unlike her earlier exuberant trip tales, she sounded a tad disillusioned. "I couldn't even turn on the television as they felt it was interfering with my grandson's studies."

Retired people who are living on their own often find it hard to cope. Some have moved to be closer to their children. The trigger could be a hospital stay or a declining health condition, financial necessity or even sheer loneliness. "I feel I'm going through my second childhood," admits my septuagenarian uncle who visits his children in the US regularly. But my uncle's solution doesn't work in most cases. Escalating medical costs  acts as a deterrent, and so does boredom stemming from a lack of social activity.

Working adults who have not grown up in a joint family environment find themselves sandwiched between the needs of their children and their ageing parents. The transition is not always smooth for all generations as urban India is headed towards a nuclear family system. But what happens when there is no support system for these old folks?

Retirement homes are just one answer to this problem. Mushrooming all over India, the idea behind such homes is to take care of their old residents' needs. It's time to put on our thinking hats for more solutions. Granted older folks can sometimes be interfering, even obdurate at times, but they are still ours. After all each one of us is going to cross this bridge sooner or later. We'd better have answers before our children are faced with these questions!








Shas will be victorious, agunot will be the losers, and yet another example will be provided of the destructive effects of mixing religion with politics.


In the coming days, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, in consultation with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, will choose a new administrative head for the rabbinical court system.

A qualified woman should be given a fair chance at the job. But due to Israel'sproblematic mixture of religion and politics, which often leads to appointments guided more by political efficacy than the better good, there is little hope of this happening.

Rabbinic courts, which rule in accordance with Halacha, have exclusive jurisdiction over all Jewish divorces. (Druse, Muslims and Christians have their own divorce courts.) Central to the role of the courts is their power to determine the fate of "chained" women, known as agunot in Hebrew. These are women whose recalcitrant husbands refuse, for a variety of reasons – sometimes economic, sometimes personal – to finalize their divorces.

Under Jewish law, neither husband nor wife can divorce without mutual consent, though Halacha is more strict about the need for the husband's consent.

And since monetary issues are often a major obstacle to completing divorce proceedings, men, who tend to be the primary breadwinner and own most of the couple's combined assets, are more likely to be the cause of delay.

Also, a child born to a woman from extra-marital relations – known as a mamzer or bastard – is prohibited by Jewish law from marrying anyone but another mamzer. A mamzer's offspring retain the same pariah status and pass it on to their offspring ad infinitum.

In contrast, a man who fathers a child out of wedlock transmits no such blemish, according to Halacha.

As a result, women – especially religious and traditional- minded women who attach significance to religious decrees – suffer much more than men from this state of limbo. It is only natural that a woman would be more sensitive to the plight of agunot.


THE HIGH Court recently ruled that according to the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, the state is obligated to make a sincere effort to appoint a woman to bodies such as the Turkel Commission, which is charged with investigating the fateful May 31 IDF interception of the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara. The imperative for this kind of effort is all the more important regarding the appointment of an administrative head for the rabbinical courts.

However, the rabbinic powers that be, in complete disregard for gender equality protected by the State of Israel's Basic Law, have adopted a criterion that effectively excludes women: All candidates for the position must be ordained rabbinical judges or city rabbis.

This criterion is seemingly designed to keep women out. Why must one be a rabbi or rabbinical judge to serve in a purely administrative position? There is no dearth of women who are well versed in divorce law, both halachic and secular, and have the requisite managerial skills as well as a women's special sensitivity to the agunot problem. Several women's rights organizations have already petitioned the High Court to intervene and ensure that qualified women receive the basic courtesy of serious consideration.

Attorney Atara Kenigsberg, executive director of the Ruth and Emanuel Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women, is precisely such a woman. Undeterred by the gender-restrictive criterion published in the public tenders for the job, which scared away most women, Kenigsberg, intimately familiar with the plight of agunot, knowledgeable about the workings of the rabbinical courts and with extensive managerial experience, has already been shortlisted by a five-member search committee, which, thanks to Supreme Court intervention, includes a woman – attorney Batsheva Sherman.

But Kenigsberg knows better than to entertain false hopes. When Amar and Neeman sit down to choose the new administrative head, they will undoubtedly be guided primarily by political considerations, rather than the best interests of agunot.

Shas, the largest religious party in the government coalition, with close ties to Amar and a political platform that rejects women as MKs, is expected to have crucial influence over the key appointment.

Shas will score a major victory. Agunot will be the primary losers. And yet another example will be provided of the destructive effects of mixing religion with politics.









The US, Europe's refusal to consider implications of Turkey's abandonment of the West in favor of Iran goes hand in hand with their abandonment of liberalism throughout the Mideast, world.

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You have to hand it to Turkey's Islamist leaders. They sure know how to get their way. In the seven years since they first took power, the Islamist AKP party has successfully transformed Turkey from a staunch ally of the US and Israel and a member of NATO into a staunch ally of Iran and a member of NATO.

And that's not all. Turkey's Islamist leaders have used the Western language of democracy and freedom not only to abandon the West. They have used that language to destroy the foundations of Turkey's Western-style secular democracy and transform the governing system of NATO's sole Muslim member into a hybrid of Putinist autocracy and Iranian theocracy.

On September 12, the AKP took an enormous step toward consolidating its achievements and expanding its power. The Islamist regime won a national plebiscite on constitutional amendments that remove the remaining obstacles to its absolute power.

As a National Review reader noted, the vote was a mockery of democracy. It was held at the end of Ramadan during which the AKP provided 30 consecutive free post- Ramadan fast dinners to voters in key voting districts.

SINCE TAKING office, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party have used both lawful and unlawful means to intimidate, repress and silence all significant organs of secularist opposition to their rolling Islamic revolution. The media, civil service, police and business community have all been co-opted and intimidated into submission.

According to the Kemalist constitution, the military was the constitutional protector of secular Turkey. It was constitutionally bound to combat all threats to Turkey's secular regime – including threats posed by political parties and political leaders. Over the past seven years, the AKP has done everything it could to demoralize and criminalize the military's leadership and eviscerate the military's constitutional powers and organizational independence. Most recently, President Abdullah Gul began intervening in promotions of generals to block all non-Islamists from acquiring command positions.

The constitutional amendments just passed further emasculate the military, placing it under the jurisdiction of AKP-controlled civilian courts.

In 1980, in accordance with its constitutional responsibility, the military ousted a precursor of the AKP from power in what the West incorrectly characterized as a coup. The new constitutional amendments make the military commanders who ousted the Islamists vulnerable to criminal prosecution for their actions. No doubt, in the near future these generals will be brought into court in shackles and charged with subverting the will of the people.

The message to any general with any thought of removing Erdogan and his colleagues will be crystal clear.

Aside from the chastened military, the only remaining outpost of secular power in Turkey has been the judiciary. In the past, the judiciary has overturned many of the government's actions that it ruled were unconstitutional and illegal. The new constitutional amendments will work to end judicial independence by giving the government control over judicial appointments. The AKP's justice minister will also have increased power to open investigations against judges and prosecutors.

Not surprisingly, Erdogan has praised the results of the plebiscite. As he put it, "The winner today was Turkish democracy."

Now, with his constitutional amendments in hand, the only thing separating Erdogan from absolute power are next year's elections. If he and his party win, with their new constitutional powers, they will have no obstacles to remaining in power forever. If they win, whether Erdogan declares it or not, Turkey will be an Islamist state with no effective domestic checks on the power of its rulers to do what they wish at home and abroad.

Erdogan also promised that the new amendments will facilitate entrance into the European Union. And judging by the EU's initial response to the vote, he may be correct. The European Commission's enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fule, hailed the vote as "a step in the right direction."

Fule said that the constitutional changes "address a number of long-standing priorities in Turkey's efforts toward fully complying with [EU] accession criteria."

The EU has been one of AKP's primary enablers. Ruled by their ideology of multiculturalism, European leaders have refused to recognize the unique role the Turkish military played in securing the country's secular regime. That regime was of course, the EU's most vital strategic asset in Turkey. And so they gave the AKP the international cover it required to remove the greatest threat to its Islamic revolution.

AS FOR the US, President Barack Obama praised the plebiscite as proof of the "vibrancy of Turkish democracy." As Michael Rubin has noted in National Review, not only has Obama approved the sale of 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Turkey, the Defense Department has demurred from conducting a study to see whether the sale will threaten US interests in light of Turkey's burgeoning strategic ties with Iran. And not wishing to embarrass the administration that has given a full-throated endorsement to Erdogan's regime, the Democrat-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee has refused to ask the Pentagon to conduct such a review.

After the Obama administration canceled the F-22 project, the F-35 will be the US military's only advanced fighter. In light of its strategic alliance with Iran, Turkey's possession of the jets could constitute a serious threat to US air superiority in the region.

As for NATO, the US's most important military alliance had no comment on Turkey's rolling Islamic revolution. This is not in the least surprising. NATO has stood at a distance as Turkey has undermined its mission in Kosovo and transformed it into a virtual Turkish colony. So too, NATO has had no comment as Turkey has worked consistently to disenfranchise Bosnia's non-Muslim minorities and intimidate the Serbian government. At this late date, it would have been shocking if NATO had a comment of any kind on the AKP's consolidation of its Islamist thugocracy.

Iran, for its part, is not at all squeamish about both recognizing the significance of events in Turkey and extolling them. It has reportedly agreed to contribute $25 million to the AKP to help Erdogan in his bid for reelection next year. Turkish-Iranian trade has gone up 86 percent in the past year.

In a visit to Istanbul this week, Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said, "Turkey is the best friend of Iran in the world. Turkey is very important for Iran's political and economic security. Our Supreme Leader [Ali] Khamenei also asks for acceleration of political, economic and security relations with Turkey."

And still the West sleeps.

As it watched the AKP's steady transformation of Turkey from staunch ally to staunch enemy, for seven years Israel tried to make light of what was happening. Indeed, its decision to opt for denial over strategic disengagement prompted it to continue selling Turkey state of the art military equipment. The IDF now acknowledges that Turkey has shared this equipment with the likes of Syria and Hizbullah.

Israel hoped that Turkey would grow so dependent on its military relationship that it would abandon its intention to ditch the alliance. That foolish hope was finally destroyed when Turkey committed an act of war on the high seas on May 31 with its terror flotilla to Gaza.

EVERY MOVE since then to make light of Turkey's actions has been shot down by yet another Turkish affront. In its latest slight, Turkey loudly – an apropos of nothing – announced that Gul will not have time to meet with President Shimon Peres at the UN General Assembly in New York next week.

And still, perhaps out of deference to Obama, Israel has remained circumspect in its statements about the dangers Islamist Turkey poses not only to it but to the free world as a whole. And this is a shame. But then, it is hard to imagine Israeli warnings making any difference.

The US and Europe's refusal to consider the implications of Turkey's abandonment of the West in favor of Iran goes hand in hand with their abandonment of the cause of liberalism throughout the Middle East and the world as a whole. Among other things, their dangerous behavior is emblematic of their consummate elitism.

The likes of Obama and the heads of Europe view their own publics as mere nuisances. For Obama, the groundswell of opposition to his radical and failed economic reforms doesn't indicate that there is something wrong with what he is doing. As he has made clear in repeated statements in recent weeks, as far as he is concerned, his steady loss of support is simply proof of the American people's ignorance.

As for Europe, it is not a great stretch to say that the entire EU is an elitist project consolidated against the will of the peoples of Europe. The EU leadership thought nothing of ramming its expanded powers down the throats of its unwilling constituents. After the Lisbon Treaty was rejected in referendum after referendum, Europe's leaders conspired to pass it by bureaucratic fiat.

This contempt for their own people leads the leaders of the West to disregard human rights abuses from China to Syria as unimportant. So too, it has paved the path for Obama's courtship of the Muslim Brotherhood in the US and Egypt and his decision to back the mullahs against the Iranian people in the aftermath of the stolen presidential election in June 2009.

Making deals with authoritarian leaders is so much easier than actually selling the case for the West and its values to the peoples of the world. This is particularly so given the contempt with which Western leaders hold their own publics.

Unfortunately, it is this contempt for the peoples of the West, of Turkey, Iran, China and the rest of the world that is making Erdogan's revolution a preordained success. At this late date, the only possible way for the Turkish opposition to win next year's fateful elections is if it receives massive political and other support from the West. Only if the US, the EU and NATO state outright that they view the turn to Islamism as dangerous to their interests and to their relations with Turkey will the opposition gain the necessary momentum to put up a fight. Only if the West puts its money where its mouth is and matches Iran's generosity toward the AKP with generosity of its own toward its political opponents will there be any chance that the until now unstoppable Islamist transformation will be checked.

Obama and his European colleagues may believe that they will not be blamed for the loss of Turkey. After all, its transformation into Iran's best friend started seven years ago. But they are wrong. If they continue to sit on their elitist laurels, Turkey will be lost on their watch and they will not be forgiven by their own peoples for their failure to act in time.







The president is a foreign policy addict, even as the finances of the average American family collapse all around him.


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Recently, on my radio show, Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican whip, argued that President Barack Obama seems largely unmoved by domestic concerns, particularly when it comes to jobs and the economy. The president is a foreign-policy addict, even as the finances of the average American family crumble all around him. The example Cantor cited was telling.

In delivering an Oval Office speech about the end of combat operations in Iraq, the president tacked on an unrelated mini-speech about the need to now focus on unemployment and America's crumbling finances. So far so good. Yet the very next morning there he was on television conducting a summit with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The president's inability to sustain a consistent focus on jobs and the economy – which frankly seems to bore him – explains why the Republicans are set to trounce the Democrats in the midterm elections which will make Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the House, the youngest majority leader since 1947. It also forces us to ask the question of whether the interests of the US are served by this latest American foray into the snarled world of Israeli-Arab relations.

I ARRIVED in Israel on Sunday evening and was suitably impressed, as usual, with its never-ending, rapid progress. Its highways, for instance, now rival anything the US has to offer. Its economy suffered little effects from the global recession, unlike the US which remains mired in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. While Israel is booming, the US is suffering like few times in its history, with a recent CBS News poll showing that a staggering 65 percent of all Americans believe the US is in "serious decline."

Yet our president, encumbered as he is already with the war in Afghanistan and increasing Iraqi violence, feels the need to add to his burden the gargantuan task of Middle East peace.

But whose interest is served in this effort? Certainly not the US which will gain no brownie points with either the Taliban or al-Qaida even if it were to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Likewise, Israel's interests seem hardly served by this latest effort, given that any peace treaty with Abbas will not placate its far more serious enemies of Hamas, Hizbullah and their patron Iran. In other words, this peace will not bring peace. And yes, I understand that Netanyahu is probably thinking that if he submits to Obama's pressure to make concessions to Abbas, the US will do more to preempt a nuclear Iran.

But how realistic is that? Come November, Obama is probably going to be a lameduck president, with both Republican and Democratic pollsters predicting a Democrat thrashing of epic scale. If a strong Obama, whose party controls both the House and the Senate, has made next to no progress on Iran, are we to believe that a miniaturized Obama will suddenly loom large in Iran's eyes? 

TWO WEEKS ago Time magazine ran a cover story on why Israel is not interested in peace. Many Jewish Americans were aghast and accused Time of an anti- Israel bias it has sometimes demonstrated in the past. Now granted the wording of the cover made it sound as if Israel is the obstacle to peace. But the truth of the matter is that I made the same argument in the pages of The Jerusalem Post more than a year ago when Dan Senor and Saul Singer's excellent book, Start-Up Nation, was published. In essence I argued that Israel needed a new narrative. Not the tragic nation that was engaged in a protracted struggle with Arab enemies whom it was always begging for peace, but rather a nation which is known primarily for its booming economy and one of the most prosperous hi-tech sectors in the world.

South Korea is in a perpetual state of conflict with its northern neighbor and has had, for more than a half century, tens of thousands of American troops stationed on its border to protect it from North Korean aggression. But Obama has not endeavored to end the stalemate and create a lasting peace. Why? Because everyone recognizes Kim Jong Il as a ruthless, nuke-obsessed, Stalinist dictator with whom it is impossible to make any progress. So South Korea moves forward with one of the world's most robust economies, preferring unity with the North but being realistic about its possibility.

Has anyone tried to broker a peace between Cuba and the US or do we simply accept that so long as Fidel Castro and/or his brother continue a dictatorship, the possibility of peace is slim and American sanctions will continue.

I recognize that Obama would reject these analogies because he believes in linkage, that solving the Israeli-Arab conflict is the key to broader Middle East peace and that Islamic militants use Israeli checkpoints as rallying cries for recruitment.

Really? Netanyahu and Abbas shake hands and the Taliban soldiers slowly return to their homes? Or will they just find another pretext, perhaps something as simple as a clown of a pastor threatening to burn a Koran, or New Yorkers opposed to a mosque at Ground Zero, to recruit all over again? 

The writer is the international best-selling author of 23 books. He has just publishedRenewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.


Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.










At a recent dinner with the British envoy, the emphasis was on the British-Israel Research Exchange program, which came as a partial response to the boycott calls in the UK.


Only two days after his arrival in Israel to take up his post as the British ambassador last week, Matthew Gould hosted a small dinner at his residence to honor the work of BIRAX, the British-Israel Research Exchange program which was set up just two years ago. In his opening remarks, Gould emphasized the importance of focusing on scientific links, especially in a period when voices are continuously heard supporting an academic boycott of Israel amongst a small, but radical and vociferous, group of British academics.

The BIRAX program, which is mostly funded by private donors in the UK has already been responsible for bringing small groups of highlevel scientists from the two countries together. The respective ambassadors, Ron Prosor in London and Tom Philips in Israel (Gould's predecessor) were active in bringing their respective governments into the project. In terms of scientific funding, the projects are small scale, but they serve to bring scientists together to discuss ideas and share knowledge as a means of creating larger project proposals which are then submitted to the international funding agencies.

As was clear from the participants at the dinner, it also enables, as an offspin of the scientific endeavor, researchers from both countries to visit each other and get a better understanding of the complexities of the social and political situations within which each, but especially the Israeli scholars, live and work. While the projects are not intended to directly influence the political beliefs of the scholars, it is clear that the joint meetings and discussions enables a more balanced understanding of the complexities of the situation in Israel, vastly different to the one which has been disseminated by the pro-boycott faculty in the UK.

While Ambassador Gould is obviously aware of the challenges he faces as a representative of one of the major EU countries and that he will, whether he likes it or not, be drawn into the international negotiations of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and will have to make clear his government positions on such issues as Palestinian statehood, the settlement freeze and Israel's longterm security, he rightly decided that for a firsttime event at his residence, it was important to focus on the combined scientific potential of the two countries. It was clear to the dinner participants, which included leading Israeli academics, and some of the scientific awardees from the Weizmann Institute and Tel Aviv University, that while the conflict tends to push aside all other events, Israeli and British scientists had the joint capability of solving some of the critical problems facing the world through joint endeavor and the sharing of knowledge.

BIRAX CAME about as a partial response to calls for boycott in the UK. While there have been isolated incidents of individual academics refusing to work with Israeli scientists, the boycott threats remain largely hot air and very little implementation, despite the fact that it attracts a great deal of media attention. There could be no better response to the attempt to close down on academic cooperation than to demonstrate a growth in joint scientific endeavor. No one is interested in the political views of the British or Israeli scientists involved in these projects – some of them may indeed share the criticism of the Israeli government and its policies – but they are all agreed that boycotts do not provide answers, that they are unethical and that they only serve to shut down any serious Israeli- Palestinian dialogue and discourse which may be taking place between scientists.

And in order to ensure balance and equality, the British government is now working on a similar project linking British scientists with their academic colleagues at Palestinian universities and research centers. It is perhaps a sad comment on the political situation that a single, trilateral, program could not be set up, although our British colleagues could contribute to this by hosting joint workshops of Israeli and Palestinian scientists at institutions in the UK, in "neutral" territory.

IN THIS context it is disappointing that Israel no longer has formal or professional science attachés at any of its embassies or legations throughout the world. The boycott threats have been combatted by well-meaning embassy staff, who do not really understand the structures and organizations of the university worlds, or through informal channels of peer meetings between Israeli and European academics and university heads. The Foreign Ministry decided, some years ago, to cancel the position of science attaché – in the same way that it recently decided not to renew the position of economics and business attachés at its British embassy following the completion of a highly successful four-year tour of duty by its representative, Shmuel ben- Tovim, due to lack of funds.

In the long-term, this is self defeating given the fact that the short-term financial savings are greatly outweighed by the long-term scientific or economic contacts and projects which can be created by professionals working in the field.

Britain and Israel are two of the leading scientific countries in the world. The two countries have warm and friendly relations, even if they do not always see eye to eye on issues relating to the conflict. By choosing to focus on scientific cooperation for his first official duty, the new ambassador has rightly played up the very real contributions that each of our societies can make. He, along with the supporters of BIRAX, have reminded us that the sum total of the two is far greater than the individual contribution of the separate parts. Other foreign governments should consider the creation of similar projects, or strengthen their existing bilateral scientific links, regardless of and in parallel to, the rights and wrongs of the political situation.

The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.









If Barack Obama offered the convicted spy's release in exchange for the continuance of the freeze for another three months, Netanyahu could not say no.

Talkbacks (2)

For years American leaders have lectured Israel about the need to make "sacrifices for peace," and we have the tombstones to prove that we have, indeed, paid a heavy price when Palestinian terrorists exploited our security "sacrifices" to murder us in our cities and on our roads.

But is the peace process important enough to Washington that it also is willing to make sacrifices? 

President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other key American officials are now publicly pressing Israel to unilaterally extend the settlement construction freeze for another three months.

And as of writing this, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is set to honor his very public promise to end the freeze next week.

But the truth is that Washington knows exactly what has to be done to force Jerusalem to extend the freeze by three months. A move that requires neither the cooperation nor the consent of any third parties.

If, as Army Radio reported Monday morning, Obama publicly offers to release Jonathan Pollard in exchange for a three-month extension of the settlement construction freeze, Netanyahu will have no choice but to accept the offer. He won't have any reasonable excuse to justify rejecting the initiative.

After all, there is absolutely no doubt that the cabinet would overwhelmingly approve the deal. Just as important – if not more – none of the parties in the ruling coalition would threaten to leave the government in the event that such a deal is implemented.

Yes, there may be some right-wing politicians who will decry this as American "blackmail," but the "price" of a three-month extension of the freeze, though a bitter pill, is magnitudes more palatable than "payment" in the form of the release of terrorist murderers or permanent territorial concessions.

WHAT DOES Pollard think about the swap? Who cares. He is a pawn, not a player.

Would Netanyahu breathe a sigh of relief or will the extension seriously complicate his game plan?

That's not Obama's concern. So the onus is on the White House.

After years of talking the talk about making sacrifices for peace, this is a clear-cut test of just how serious America is about the peace process.

Obama doesn't need anyone's cooperation to force Netanyahu to extend the freeze. All he needs to do is promise to deliver his pen stroke on the presidential document that would release Pollard.

The scenario, should the White House offer the deal, is fairly straightforward: a special vote of Netanyahu's cabinet extending the freeze for three months, followed by the immediate release of Pollard and a photo op at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Add to that, it sends a clear message from the Obama administration to Israel, the Palestinians, the Arab nations and the world in general just how committed President Barack Obama is to advancing the peace process.

But what happens if Washington ignores this opportunity to extend the freeze? What impact will this have on Obama's credibility? 

Now it would have been one thing if the possibility of a Pollard-freeze extension swap only became public after the freeze ended. But this isn't a case of Monday morning quarterbacking. The moment that news of the possible deal was broadcast on Army Radio and picked up by The Jerusalem Post as well as many other news organizations, it became very public knowledge.

And there isn't a player in Israel, the region or the world who thinks that Netanyahu could reject the offer.

What message would Washington send if it took the position that keeping Pollard behind bars is more important than continuing the peace process? What example would this set for America's allies and foes when Obama asks them to make concessions for the benefit of the "greater good"? And just how big a concession would releasing Pollard be? 

IT WAS a last-minute secret memorandum to the court submitted by then-secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger which prompted the judge to ignore the plea agreement and sentence Pollard to life. Yet Weinberger himself recanted nearly two decades later, admitting in a 2002 interview that "the Pollard matter was comparatively minor. It was made far bigger than its actual importance."

Other key officials concur. Former CIA director James Woolsey wrote a compelling letter to president George W. Bush urging him to commute Pollard's sentence to time served before leaving office in January 2009. Similarly, former US senator Dennis DeConcini, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time of Pollard's arrest, wrote to president Bill Clinton in 1996 and Bush in 2009 urging them to release Pollard.

Releasing Pollard in exchange for a three-month extension of the building freeze would not only resolve the current crisis in the peace process – it would be a superb humanitarian gesture, given his rapidly deteriorating health.

Mr. Obama, the ball is in your court.

The writer is director of Independent Media Review and Analysis.









Government officials must understand that Beduin children who live in unrecognized villages in the Negev are not part of the ongoing land struggle.


In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of children have returned to school and preschool. Most families take this for granted. By contrast, in the unrecognized Beduin village of Rahme, like in most unrecognized Beduin villages in the Negev, there is no school.

For Rahme at least, this is about to change.

Following a court ruling, a kindergarten will soon be opened there. This unusual occurrence – if it comes to fruition – will be the culmination of a civic and legal struggle led jointly by Beduin residents of Rahme and their Jewish neighbors in Yeroham, under the auspices of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel's civic action group and Commitment to Peace and Social Justice.

Rahme and several dozen other Beduin villages in the Negev do not have kindergartens and schools. This is because the state has never recognized these villages whose residents are treated as illegal squatters. Some of the villages have existed in their current location since before the establishment of the state, and others are located in an area called the Siyag, where many Beduin citizens were forced to relocate in the 1950s and '60s.

As a result, the government does not provide them with basic rights and services – electricity, paved roads, water, educational facilities, public transportation and more.

Two years ago, a governmental committee headed by retired Supreme Court justice Eliezer Goldberg recommended that the state recognize these villages. However, the implementation may take a long time. In the meantime, more and more Beduin children do not attend preschools. In light of this, the residents of Rahme and Yeroham decided that they shouldn't wait any longer to take action.

For the members of the civic action group in Yeroham and Rahme, it took years of lobbying, an unofficial preschool that was demolished by the authorities and a legal petition to force the state to build an official kindergarten in Rahme. The landmark ruling handed down by Beersheba District Court in May forced the authorities to begin establishing a kindergarten by the start of the current school year. Moreover, it served as a decisive statement to the authorities: They cannot hold children hostage in the struggle over unrecognized villages. The right of the children of Rahme to an accessible kindergarten should not be dependent on the resolution of the Negev's problems.

EDUCATION IS an empty word without accessible schools. The problem is especially acute in preschool education. Although all Beduin children are legally entitled to free education, official kindergartens exist in few Beduin villages, and most children are expected to attend schools far from home. Moreover, there is no transportation enabling three and four year olds to reach existing preschools, and most parents are unable to drive them or to send them alone so far away.

It doesn't take billions of shekels to remedy this problem; in practice, it is easy. The bigger challenge is a shift in the way the state views the situation.

Politicians and government officials must understand that the children who live in unrecognized villages are not part of the ongoing land struggle and that building a kindergarten is not a political act. Accessible education must come first, regardless of the future solutions – and not vice versa.

Whether the villages are recognized or a future dialogue between the state and Beduin communities ends the conflict differently, accessible kindergartens and schools must be built immediately. Each year that passes not only violates those children's rights but also reduces the chances for a better future for the Negev.

Let us first hope that the children of Rahme can start attending preschool – close to home – as soon as possible. Let's also hope that Rahme will serve not only as a model for future successes but as a wakeup call to the Education Ministry and to other government authorities to change their way of thinking about the Beduin and education in the Negev. If this happens, maybe next year fewer children in the Negev will be left without places to learn.

The writer is an attorney with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.









The quarrel between Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, which the public became aware of with the release of excerpts of the former premier's memoirs, continues in this tradition. Olmert wants public recognition for his responsibility for "courageous security efforts" and portrays the defense minister as cowardly and hesitant for having tried to foil them.


Military acts often pose disagreement about who gets the "credit." If they succeed, the differences concern who demanded to attack right away and who asked to stall and reconsider; if they fail, it is over who gave the order and who evaded responsibility.


Such differences stood at the center of political rivalries and government crises that shaped Israel's history. David Ben-Gurion versus Moshe Sharett and Pinhas Lavon over the reprisals, the arms purchase from France and what became known as the Lavon Affair; Moshe Dayan versus Levi Eshkol over the Six-Day War; Yitzhak Rabin versus Shimon Peres over Operation Entebbe; Ariel Sharon versus Menachem Begin in the first Lebanon war.


The quarrel between Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, which the public became aware of with the release of excerpts of the former premier's memoirs, continues in this tradition. Olmert wants public recognition for his responsibility for "courageous security efforts" and portrays the defense minister as cowardly and hesitant for having tried to foil them.


As far as Olmert is concerned, recognition of his daring would be belated compensation for the harsh criticism he endured for recklessly rushing into the Second Lebanon War. The allegations Olmert has hurled in public at the defense minister are intended to take revenge on Barak, who brought about Olmert's resignation as prime minister following the "cash envelopes affair." The confrontations between them continued throughout the previous government and even made headlines during Operation Cast Lead.


It is difficult for the public to assess which of the two is right in the dispute, as the details are censored. But the public has a right to know whether the "courageous decision" Olmert is so proud of was influenced by a political squabble between the prime minister and the defense minister, and to decide whom it believes.


Is Olmert right? Is the defense establishment headed by a hesitant man, who is afraid of taking responsibility and shirks its consequences? Or is Barak right, and the former prime minister was driven by panic and needlessly rushed into battle?


Olmert resigned from his post, but the troubling questions his memoirs raise are of crucial public importance, both to understanding the past and regarding similar events in the future. It's time to lift the censorship and let the public judge.









It is hard to believe that just two years have passed since the Days of Awe were made truly awful by a hurricane that devastated the world and paralyzed Israel's economy. All businesses ground to an abrupt halt, and businessmen awaited the future in terror. Banks stopped giving credit; stocks plummeted; and people started to worry about their jobs and pensions. This is the end of capitalism, said the angry prophets. The United States is sinking, they gloated, adding that the situation was worse than 1929 - they had glee in their eyes.


Regrettably, for these critics, capitalism has not become extinct, and the U.S. is not drowning in the Atlantic Ocean. It's now clear to everyone that capitalism remains the best available economic system.


That said, the crisis taught us that capitalism is not immune to hard times, and when the crises come, only the state has the power to intervene and stave off collapse. That is its job. For that reason, it takes taxes from the public. Modern capitalism is not 19th-century laissez faire. Modern capitalism reserves considerable room for government intervention. In fact, Western governments intervened in the crisis with all their might. The U.S. government, in particular, presented a $700 billion recovery and incentive plan. That prodigal sum is almost equivalent to Israel's gross domestic product. Custom says the crisis began on Monday, September 15, 2008, when the venerable investment bank Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. Yes, the world convulsed: The public lost confidence; stock markets crashed, banks went bankrupt; and around the world people began to panic. Despite the magnitude of the surprise, the collapse could have been forecast. It resulted from an entire decade of the good life in the U.S. and some European states. The Americans increased their standard of living by buying on credit heedlessly; house were purchased, as were cars and all sorts of technological wonders. The government acted in a similar fashion; its deficit spending upped the national debt.


Everyone was happy, until it became clear in 2007 that the public was unable to repay its debts - the sub-prime crisis. In 2008, the sub-prime problem transmogrified into a huge financial crisis, accompanied by bank and insurance company bankruptcies. So 2009 was a year of government-sponsored recovery programs. In 2010, the world started to worry that Western governments would also prove unable to repay their debts, and the problems would turn into a government debt crisis. Greece (with huge debts ) was the first to crash, and then came spending cuts in Britain, France, Spain and Portugal.


The thread running through all the years of this crisis comes down to one thing: debts, debts and more debts. The financial free-for-all involved citizens, banks and governments. Stated simply, people were living beyond their means, at the expense of someone else until he finally stood up and said: enough. Then came the crisis.


Israel managed to get out of the crisis quickly. Here we are now enjoying nice growth and low unemployment because we behaved responsibly.


The public did not go wild with private consumption; the banks did not follow adventurist policies; the government followed a course of low-deficit spending and lowering the debt burden. In addition, we experienced a long series of reforms and privatization policies over the past 25 years, which strengthened the private sector and enabled it to absorb the blows without collapsing.


The conclusion is clear: Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, and Israel Bank Governor Stanley Fischer should return us to the policies that saved us during the crisis. They should encourage private saving, convert the budget deficit into a surplus and continue with reforms and save the banks.


Despite successes up to now, Israel remains a country confronted by security threats. A regional crisis can strike us, without any connection to wider global trends. So we must establish right now a protective shield against the next hurricane.









Haldor Topsoe is an international Danish corporation with extensive business ties in Iran. It is busy setting up two large methanol refineries for the enormous Fars gas field in Iran. Thus the company is watched by the U.S. administration as it compiles a list of American and international corporations developing the Iranian economy, and particularly its gas and oil industries, which is the main source of Tehran's revenue. Obviously, the Danish corporation is not alone in this. There are hundreds of other companies from dozens of countries that trade with Iran in a variety of areas. Nonetheless, this does not lessen the seriousness of the matter.


So it is disturbing that the Israel Electric Corporation is going to great lengths to grant Haldor Topsoe (described as a subcontractor for a German firm ) a NIS 500 million contract to build air purifiers for the power plants in Ashkelon and Hadera. Haldor Topsoe is a finalist in the IEC tender; the other is the Japanese firm Hitachi.


While the bid from the Danish company is substantially lower than Hitachi's, is financial consideration the only criterion for Israel's decision? What about the political and ethical considerations?


For years, the government of Israel has preached to other countries about the need to tighten sanctions against Iran to urge it away from its nuclear program. The Foreign Ministry, indirectly and with the help of Jewish organizations, has conducted an extensive international campaign - demonstrations, petitions, rallying of parliament members and the media against governments and companies trading with Iran.


It appears, however, that Israel's government is not practicing what it demands of others; this is both hypocritical and cheeky. About a year ago, Haaretz uncovered the existence of a NIS 150 million deal between the Airports Authority and Siemens, the largest trading partner of Iran in Germany. The Airports Authority also justified its decision on the basis of the attractive price the company had offered to win the tender.


There is a law in Israel stating explicitly it is forbidden to invest more than $20 million in corporations trading with Iran, but the law is not being enforced. Even worse, there is no central authority dealing with this important issue. The issue was brought to the attention of the Prime Minister's Office and of National Security Adviser Uzi Arad, but both Netanyahu and Arad, who do not lose an opportunity to remind everyone of the existential threat posed by Iran, do nothing. If this does not interest them, then what does?


The IEC's tenders committee has decided to sign a contract with Haldor Topsoe, arguing this is a company with a subsidiary in the United States. This is true, but legislation being prepared in the U.S. will prevent American firms or foreign companies operating there from investing in Iran's energy sector.


Following a last-minute bid by the rival Japanese firm, the IEC brought the issue to Minister of National Infrastructure Uzi Landau for a decision. His spokesman said that "the minister is seriously considering the issue."


This is not enough. Israel must take a clear stand and not evade the issue. It must be at the front of the campaign and not lag. Companies and corporations (regardless of their cover ) assisting Iran's economy are bolstering the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is threatening to destroy Israel. Israel must make it clear that whoever does business with Iran cannot benefit from doing business with Israel.










I first met Ehud Barak in the office of Eitan Haber, whose was then-defense minister Yitzhak Rabin's media adviser and right-hand man. In those days, Barak was head of Military Intelligence, and his frequent visits to Haber's office seemed to me like an effort to cozy up to the man closest to Rabin. When he discovered that my family comes from Turkey, Barak quickly dubbed me "Yoeliko."


Aside from the fact that Barak had been a fighter in the elite Sayeret Matkal unit - including in Operation Spring of Youth, in which he dressed up as a woman - he was a fascinating conversationalist. He was always sought after at the high-society events in Tel Aviv that were attended by key cabinet ministers and famous businessmen.


As the most decorated soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, Barak easily attained the chief of staff's job and promptly declared that "whatever doesn't shoot will be cut." His first target, and his first failure, was Army Radio. Fact: Army Radio is still broadcasting today.


Barak was described as someone whose high IQ practically oozed from his head. He created the mistarvim, a force of undercover soldiers who posed as Arabs. The then-head of the Shin Bet security service thought Barak's subsequent revelation of this gimmick was a mistake. But Barak argued that in this region, blood vengeance is considered obligatory, and if we didn't practice it, we would be seen as weak.


He also, according to foreign media reports, considered assassinating Saddam Hussein to avenge the Scud missiles launched at Israel in 1991. But that idea was scrapped following a deadly training accident at Tze'elim.


Barak used the waiting period between leaving the army and entering politics to make money. And that is no surprise. For years, he had frequented the houses of the rich, and doubtless thought that if idiots like them could get to where they had, surely he could do even better.


So he invited a well-known businessman to lunch and asked him how to make a million in six months to a year. Barak always planned carefully: first money, then the Prime Minister's Office. That is the trajectory he marked out for himself.


Barak became prime minister as head of the Labor Party in the direct election of May 1999, defeating Benjamin Netanyahu with a 56 percent majority. That victory was memorable for his choked-up announcement, "This is the dawn of a new day," written by Moshe Gaon.


All the important people who held parties for him before his election, and with whom he had promised to celebrate after his election, promptly slipped from his memory.


Shortly after the election, Barak interviewed Labor members who had worked on his behalf. MK Dalia Itzik left that meeting with tears in her eyes. "I've never seen such arrogance," she said. When then-MK and former minister Uzi Baram walked out, he said he had been offered nothing.


Anyone seeking the roots of what Ehud Olmert wrote about Barak in his new autobiography will find them in this period. Olmert, then mayor of Jerusalem on behalf of the rival Likud party, had done Barak a substantial favor: He appeared in a campaign advertisement saying "Barak won't divide Jerusalem" - a pledge that, coming from a rival, was priceless. Barak showed his gratitude by dawdling for about six months before finally acceding to Olmert's request for a meeting on Jerusalem's problems.


When Olmert became prime minister, Barak reverted to his old tricks used back in Rabin's day, as Olmert describes in the second chapter of his book: "He ingratiated himself; he suggested firing Amir Peretz and appointing him as defense minister [instead]. Only after the Second Lebanon War, when Barak defeated Peretz [in Labor's leadership primary], did his appointment as defense minister become unavoidable ... The Barak I learned to know as defense minister was completely different from the image I had formed over decades. Mainly, he was hesitant, an obsessive motormouth, lacking in acuity and, to my astonishment, also without any ability to make decisions."


When I revealed, in a column written after last year's war in Gaza, that "Barak wanted to stop the war earlier, but Olmert was opposed," Olmert raged at him. Barak then raged at me, and since then, I have ceased to be "Yoeliko."


Olmert reveals that worst of all was Barak's treatment of his subordinates. He screamed at the IDF's best commanders in cabinet meetings. The peak came when he cut a senior general off - Ido Nechushtan, now head of the air force - in the middle of his briefing and ordered him to "sit down and shut up."


Barak displayed similarly embarrassing behavior at the last General Staff meeting, just before the holidays, and indeed has done so ever since his office first charged that a "conspiracy" was afoot to extend Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi's term of office.


"Only one person is to blame for this impossible atmosphere, and that is Barak himself," said his admirer Eitan Haber, breaking a long silence.


Contrary to Ari Shavit's claim in Haaretz last month, there has been no colonels' mutiny. The putsch against Ashkenazi came from above. From the very top.









Officials at the Israel Lands Administration and the National Infrastructure Ministry take every opportunity to show off the rehabilitation work at various mining and quarry sites. Soon they will be able to add the Samar dunes, among the last in the Arava. Mining work is scheduled to begin there soon, to create cement for construction work in Eilat.


Nature restoration work is usually a worthy endeavor; as long as we need quarries and mining, it should be done in a considered and efficient manner. The problem is that nature in Israel has turned into a major rehabilitation project. Winter pools on the country's coasts have been almost completely destroyed, and those that remain urgently need rehabilitation.


In the northern Jordan Valley, Lake Hula is drying out; it's now a lot smaller. The Dead Sea needs rehabilitation work, and sand dunes in the Arava and coastal regions have virtually disappeared. Other sites have either disappeared almost entirely because of mining and quarrying or have been buried under houses and asphalt.


Rehabilitation is usually a poor substitute for the original. Its results cannot compete with the richness and beauty of nature that has been irretrievably lost. Rehabilitation is particularly pointless in areas where the fabric of life has been taken away. That's the case with the Samar dunes, where there will be nothing to restore if all the sand is lost.


Mining plans for the Samar sands have been drawn up for economic purposes. According to the Israel Lands Administration, this is a cheap alternative compared to bringing in sand from other sites. The estimates are based on projected transport costs and price increases that homebuyers in Eilat would incur if raw materials were brought in from afar.


What the Israel Lands Administration does not include in its calculations is the value of the Samar sand dunes as they are now - and this value cannot be measured entirely in shekels. Sand dunes host entire systems of plant and animal life that have adapted to these surroundings. The Samar site has become even more important and special because most sand areas in the Arava were transferred to Jordan as part of the 1994 peace treaty. The dunes are a source of knowledge; studying them can provide insight in various research areas linked to life in arid regions. Such research can enhance the quality of human life.


No doubt, the Samar dunes are worth much, and no economist could come up with a figure that would reflect their attractions and virtues. Officials at the Israel Lands Administration might view these sentiments as a blasphemous denial of their holy truth, but the preservation of a rare natural treasure means paying a price. In this case, preservation compels decision-making; the decision must be that the dunes' contribution to society and science justifies the transporting of raw materials for construction in Eilat from sites further away.


Alternately, a survey can be conducted to examine possibilities for using deeper layers of sand in the Samar region where sand mining has been done in the past. Since sand from the site in question would be exhausted very quickly, there would be a need to bring in sand from another site. In the end, we would be left without the added value provided by the landscape's plant life.


Officials at the Israel Lands Administration ought to look beyond the sand and gravel quarries and grasp that the trend around the world is not to view nature as a resource that can be destroyed and rehabilitated later on. Instead, nature is seen as a provider of essential resources and a source that enhances human life. The rarer it becomes, the more we have to invest to save it so it does not disappear.










The United States military has never been better at helping soldiers survive the battlefield with sophisticated advances in treatment and transportation. Service members who come home with psychic wounds and hidden traumas are still not getting enough support.


Last year, there were 239 suicides among active-duty personnel across the Army, and more than 1,700 attempts. There were 32 suicides in June, a grim high. Nobody is exactly sure how many veterans take their own lives, but the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that veterans make up about 20 percent of the more than 30,000 suicides each year.


The military is becoming more aware of the problem. At an event dedicated to suicide prevention this month, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was joined by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who acknowledged the toll the epidemic has taken.


The causes of suicide can be mysterious and solutions elusive. But advocates for troubled soldiers say the military can save more lives by acknowledging that it is overmatched and directing more people to outside help.


Linda Bean, whose son Coleman committed suicide in 2008, four months after ending his second tour in Iraq, has testified to Congress and pleaded with the Veterans Affairs Department to deepen and widen its outreach.


Many soldiers don't live near a veterans' hospital, she said. Many are hard pressed to leave jobs and families to make mental-health appointments. Soldierly reticence is a huge problem. Before Mr. Bean's second deployment, he received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder from doctors at the Veterans Affairs Department. The Army didn't know, and Coleman didn't tell his superiors.


Ms. Bean points to nonprofit groups like Give an Hour and the Soldiers Project, which provide confidential counseling, and the National Veterans Foundation, which runs a hot line staffed by trained veterans. She sees hope, too, in small peer groups, like Vets 4 Vets, an Arizona-based organization that organizes weekends for veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.


The military and the Veterans Affairs Department have been adding mental-health staffing and studying the suicide problem. But they still need to plug gaps in care for people who shun or live far away from government services. Ms. Bean's family was also among the many that sent body armor to undersupplied troops. They learned that when the official program isn't working, you improvise.







Four years ago, bipartisan majorities in the California Legislature approved a landmark clean energy bill that many hoped would serve as a template for a national effort to reduce dependence on foreign oil and mitigate the threat of climate change.


Now a well-financed coalition of right-wing ideologues, out-of-state oil and gas companies and climate-change skeptics is seeking to effectively kill that law with an initiative on the November state ballot. The money men include Charles and David Koch, the Kansas oil and gas billionaires who have played a prominent role in financing the Tea Party movement.


The 2006 law, known as AB 32, is aimed at reducing California's emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80 percent at midcentury. To reach these targets, state agencies are drawing up regulations that would affect businesses and consumers across the board — requiring even cleaner cars, more energy-efficient buildings and appliances, and power plants that use alternative energy sources like wind instead of older fossil fuels.


The prospect that these rules could reduce gasoline consumption strikes terror into some energy companies. A large chunk of the $8.2 million raised in support of the ballot proposition has come from just two Texas-based oil and gas companies, Valero and Tesoro, which have extensive operations in California. The Koch brothers have contributed about $1 million, partly because they worry about damage to the bottom line at Koch Industries, and also because they believe that climate change is a left-wing hoax.


They have argued that the law will lead to higher energy costs and job losses, arguments that resonate with many voters in a state with a 12.4 percent unemployment rate. But this overlooks the enormous increase in investments in clean energy technologies — and the jobs associated with them — since the law was passed.


Overturning AB 32 would be another setback in the effort to fight climate change. The United States Senate has already scuttled President Obama's goal of putting a price on carbon. The Environmental Protection Agency, while important, can only do so much. This leaves state and regional efforts as crucially important drivers — and if California pulls back, other states like New York that are trying to reduce emissions may do so as well.


The Kochs and their allies are disastrously wrong about the science, which shows that man-made emissions are largely responsible for global warming, and wrong about the economics. AB 32's many friends — led by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California — have therefore mounted a spirited counterattack in defense of the law.


Another respected Republican, George Shultz — a cabinet member in both the Nixon and Reagan administrations — has signed on as a co-chairman of this effort. Mr. Shultz credits AB 32 for an unprecedented "outburst" of technological creativity and investment.


Who wins if this law is repudiated? The Koch brothers, maybe, but the biggest winners will be the Chinese, who are already moving briskly ahead in the clean technology race. And the losers? The people of California, surely. But the biggest loser will be the planet.







The Environmental Protection Agency is about to begin a much-needed study of the health and environmental effects of extracting natural gas through hydraulic fracturing. The issue isn't whether the country should keep drilling for natural gas, which is vital to our energy future. It is whether it can be done this way safely.


A 2004 E.P.A. study of hydraulic fracturing was rightly criticized as superficial and skewed toward industry. The new investigation, authorized by Congress, must be thorough and transparent, with extensive visits to areas where critics say the process is polluting water supplies.


Hydraulic fracturing involves blasting underground rock with a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals. It has been used in more than 90 percent of 450,000 operating natural gas wells, mostly without incident. But environmental concerns have risen about huge deposits in miles below the earth's surface, which would require more water and chemicals, increasing the risks.


Among the largest and deepest deposits is the Marcellus Shale, which stretches from West Virginia through Pennsylvania into New York's Southern Tier, and embraces the million-acre watershed that supplies New York City with unfiltered drinking water. New drilling in New York has been on hold pending the completion of environmental reviews later this year. In Pennsylvania, drilling is under way. Residents have complained about foul-smelling well water, deformed fish and itchy skin.


We have long believed that carefully regulated drilling in the Marcellus Shale might be feasible, but the state should put the city's watershed permanently off limits. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council share this view. There are simply too many points in the drilling process where toxic chemicals could escape.


Nationwide, hydraulic fracturing has been implicated in dozens of water pollution cases, but much of the evidence is anecdotal. The E.P.A.'s job is to figure out the risks, order changes in drilling practices where necessary and develop federal regulations to replace the present state-by-state patchwork of laws.


The drilling industry says its technology is fundamentally sound. BP said pretty much the same thing. We need more credible assurances this time.








This is a story of two farmers, Laotian immigrant brothers who grow vegetables in Hawaii. People love their onions, melons, Asian cabbage, herbs and sweet corn, and their Halloween pumpkin patch is a popular field trip for schoolchildren all over Oahu. They count local politicians and community leaders among their many friends, and run a charitable foundation.


Though they are relative newcomers, their adopted home is a state that honors its agricultural history, where most longtime locals are descendants of immigrant plantation workers. The brothers fit right in.


But they had an ugly secret. A captive work force: forty-four men, laborers from Thailand who were lured to Hawaii in 2004 with promises of good wages, housing and food. The workers sacrificed dearly to make the trip, mortgaging family land and homes to pay recruiters steep fees of up to $20,000 each.


According to a federal indictment, the workers' passports were taken away. They were set up in cramped, substandard housing — some lived in a shipping container. Many saw their paychecks chiseled with deductions for food and expenses; some toiled in the fields for no net pay. Workers were told not to complain or be sent home, with no way to repay their unbearable debts.


The news broke last August. The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice filed charges of forced labor and visa fraud. The farm owners agreed to plead guilty in December in Federal District Court to conspiring to commit forced labor. They admitted violating the rules of the H-2A guest worker program, telling the workers that their labor contracts were "just a piece of paper" used to deceive the federal government.


I wish I could say that at this point the case so shocked the Hawaiian public that people rushed to aid the immigrants, who reminded them so much of their parents and grandparents. That funds were raised and justice sought.


But that didn't happen.


In an astounding display of amnesia and misplaced sympathy, Hawaii rallied around the defendants. After entering their plea deal, the farmers, Michael and Alec Sou of Aloun Farms, orchestrated an outpouring of letters begging the judge for leniency at sentencing. Business leaders, community activists, politicians — even two former governors, Benjamin Cayetano and John Waihee, and top executives at First Hawaiian Bank — joined a parade attesting to the brothers' goodness.


The men were paragons of diversified agriculture and wise land use, the letter writers said. They had special vegetable knowledge that nobody else had, and were holding the line against genetically modified crops. If they went to prison, evil developers would pave their farmland. Think of the "trickle down impact," one woman implored the judge. Besides, their produce was delicious.


The friends pleaded for probation, fines, anything but prison. The workers, now scattered to uncertain fates and still in debt, have seen no such empathy.


The Sous were supposed to have been sentenced months ago, but at a hearing in July they made statements that muddled and seemed to contradict their plea agreement. The vexed judge, Susan Oki Mollway, postponed sentencing to Sept. 9, so they could get their story straight. Back in court this month, the men recanted some of their sworn testimony, so the judge threw the plea deal out. Now there will be a trial in November.


Another shocking story emerged in Honolulu this month: a federal grand jury indicted six people on charges of enslaving 400 Thai farm workers on Maui and elsewhere — the largest trafficking case in American history. In Hawaii, no uproar ensued. The pumpkin-patch field trips are still booked.


Hawaii has a state motto: Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono, or the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness. Hawaiians use "pono" to mean what is just or right, in harmony with nature and with other people. The words hang on huge bronze seals at the State Capitol, and I feel sure that most longtime residents of Hawaii can easily recall and recite them, in Hawaiian and English.


Whether some of them ever think about what the motto means, or care, is another question.








Maybe it was just a coincidence, but it was striking, nevertheless.


The mayor of Washington, Adrian Fenty, one of the so-called postracial black leaders, suffered a humiliating defeat in his bid for re-election last week when African-American voters deserted him in droves. The very same week President Obama, the most prominent of the so-called postracial types, was moving aggressively to shore up his support among black voters.


Mr. Obama, who usually goes out of his way to avoid overtly racial comments and appeals, made an impassioned plea during a fiery speech Saturday night at a black-tie event sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus. "I need everybody here," he said, "to go back to your neighborhoods, to go back your workplaces, to go to the churches and go to the barbershops and go to the beauty shops. And tell them we've got more work to do."


It's no secret that the president is in trouble politically, and that Democrats in Congress are fighting desperately to hold on to their majorities. But much less attention has been given to the level of disenchantment among black voters, who have been hammered disproportionately by the recession and largely taken for granted by the Democratic Party. That disenchantment is likely to translate into lower turnout among blacks this fall.


The idea that we had moved into some kind of postracial era was always a ridiculous notion. Attitudes have undoubtedly changed for the better over the past half-century, and young people as a whole are less hung up on race than their elders. But race is still a very big deal in the United States, which is precisely why black leaders like Mr. Fenty and Mr. Obama try so hard to behave as though they are governing in some sort of pristine civic environment in which the very idea of race has been erased.


These allegedly postracial politicians can end up being so worried about losing the support of whites that they distance themselves from their own African-American base. This is a no-win situation — for the politicians and for the blacks who put their hopes and faith in them.


Mr. Fenty was cheered by whites for bringing in the cold-blooded Michelle Rhee as schools chancellor. She attacked D.C.'s admittedly failing school system with an unseemly ferocity and seemed to take great delight in doing it. Hundreds of teachers were fired and concerns raised by parents about Ms. Rhee's take-no-prisoners approach were ignored. It was disrespectful.


Blacks responded last week by voting overwhelmingly for Mr. Fenty's opponent, Vincent Gray, who is also black. This blowback undermined whatever Ms. Rhee and Mr. Fenty had hoped to achieve. Thanks to their ham-handed approach to governing and disregard of the sensibilities of their constituents, both of them will soon be gone. But the children they claimed to care so much about will still be locked in a lousy school system.


Black voters across the country are not nearly as discontented with Mr. Obama as blacks in Washington were with Mr. Fenty. But neither do they have the same enthusiasm that they had in the historic 2008 election.


Mr. Obama has seldom addressed black concerns directly, although many of his initiatives have benefited blacks. What has taken a toll is the perception that the president has consistently seemed more concerned about the needs and interests of those who are already well off, who are hostile to policies that would help working people and ethnic minorities, and who in many cases would like nothing better than to see Mr. Obama fail.


Most blacks are reluctant to publicly express their concerns about the president because they are so outraged by the blatantly unfair and often racist attacks against him from the political right. But many blacks are unhappy that Mr. Obama hasn't been more forceful in the fight to create jobs. And there is disappointment over the dearth of black faces in high-profile posts in the administration.


The Shirley Sherrod fiasco fed the belief that the Obama administration was excessively concerned about the racial sensibilities of whites. The secretary of agriculture fired Ms. Sherrod without even giving her a hearing after an excerpt from a video appeared to show that she had discriminated against a white farmer. She had done no such thing, and she would later decline an offer to rejoin the administration.


There is real danger here for black people. In many cases, because of an excess of caution, policies that would help people in need are never even seriously considered, much less implemented. Forces that are hostile to blacks are not aggressively confronted, which, of course, empowers them. Perhaps more important, when you have to tiptoe around absolutely anything that has to do with blacks, it can leave the insidious impression that there is, in fact, something wrong with being black, something to be ashamed of.


We need to be careful not to corrode the joy and pride felt by blacks in the triumphs of African-American leaders.








Very few novels make clear and provocative arguments about American life anymore, but Jonathan Franzen's important new book, "Freedom," makes at least two. First, he argues that American culture is overobsessed with personal freedom. Second, he portrays an America where people are unhappy and spiritually stunted.


Many of his characters live truncated lives. There's a woman who "had formerly been active with the SDS in Madison and was now very active in the craze for Beaujolais nouveau." There are people who devote their moral energies to the cause of sensitive gentrification. One of the "heroes" experiences great fits of righteous outrage when drivers ahead of him change lanes without the proper turn signals.


The central male character, Walter, is good but pushover-nice and pathetically naïve. His bad-boy rival, Richard, is a middle-aged guy who makes wryly titled rock albums and builds luxury decks to make ends meet. He is supposed to represent the cool, dangerous side of life, but he's strictly Dionysus-lite.


One of the first things we learn about Patty, the woman who can't decide between them, is that she is unable to make a moral judgment. She invests her vestigial longings into the cause of trying to build a perfect home and family, and when domesticity can't bear the load she imposes, she falls into a chaos of indistinct impulses.


In a smart, though overly biting, review in The Atlantic, B.R. Myers protests against Franzen's willingness to "create a world in which nothing important can happen." Myers protests against the casual and adolescent language Franzen sometimes uses to create his world: "There is no import in things that 'suck,' no drama in someone's being 'into' someone else." The result, Myers charges, "is a 576-page monument to insignificance."


But surely this is Franzen's point. At a few major moments, he compares his characters to the ones in "War and Peace." Franzen is obviously trying to make us see the tremendous difference in scope between the two sets of characters.


Tolstoy's characters are spiritually ambitious — ferociously seeking some universal truth that can withstand the tough scrutiny of their own intelligence. Franzen's modern characters are distracted and semi-helpless. It's easy to admire Pierre and Prince Andrei. It's impossible to look upon Walter and Richard with admiration, though it is possible to feel empathy for them.


"Freedom" is not Great Souls Seeking Important Truth. It's a portrait of an America where the important, honest, fundamental things are being destroyed or built over — and people are left to fumble about, not even aware of what they have lost.


"Freedom" sucks you in with its shrewd observations and the ambitious breadth. It'll launch a thousand book club discussions around the same questions: Is this book true? Is America really the way he portrays it?


My own answer, for what it's worth, is that "Freedom" tells us more about America's literary culture than about America itself.


Sometime long ago, a writer by the side of Walden Pond decided that middle-class Americans may seem happy and successful on the outside, but deep down they are leading lives of quiet desperation. This message caught on (it's flattering to writers and other dissidents), and it became the basis of nearly every depiction of small-town and suburban America since. If you judged by American literature, there are no happy people in the suburbs, and certainly no fulfilled ones.


By now, writers have become trapped in the confines of this orthodoxy. So even a writer as talented as Franzen has apt descriptions of neighborhood cattiness and self-medicating housewives, but ignores anything that might complicate the Quiet Desperation dogma. There's almost no religion. There's very little about the world of work and enterprise. There's an absence of ethnic heritage, military service, technical innovation, scientific research or anything else potentially lofty and ennobling.


Richard is an artist, but we don't really see the artist's commitment to his craft. Patty is an athlete, but we don't really see the team camaraderie that is the best of sport.


The political world is caricatured worst of all. The environmentalists talk like the snobbish cartoons of Glenn Beck's imagination. The Republicans talk like the warmonger cartoons of Michael Moore's.


The serious parts of life get lopped off and readers have to stoop to inhabit a low-ceilinged world. Everyone gets to feel superior to the characters they are reading about (always pleasant in a society famously anxious about status), but there's something missing.


Social critics from Thoreau to Allan Bloom to the S.D.S. authors of The Port Huron Statement also made critiques about the flatness of bourgeois life, but at least they tried to induce their readers to long for serious things. "Freedom" is a brilliantly written book that is nonetheless trapped in an intellectual cul de sac — overly gimlet-eyed about American life and lacking an alternative vision of higher ground.









A WOMAN calls 911 to report that a baby in her care has gone limp. Rescue workers respond immediately, but the infant dies that night. Though there are no external injuries or witnesses to any abuse, a jury convicts the woman of shaking the baby to death.


More than 1,000 babies a year in the United States are given a diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome. And since the early 1990s, many hundreds of people — mothers, fathers and babysitters — have been imprisoned on suspicion of murder by shaking. The diagnosis is so rooted in the public consciousness that, this year, the Senate unanimously declared the third week of April "National Shaken Baby Syndrome Awareness Week."


Yet experts are questioning the scientific basis for shaken baby syndrome. Increasingly, it appears that a good number of the people charged with and convicted of homicide may be innocent.


For the past 30 years, doctors have diagnosed the syndrome on the basis of three key symptoms known as the "triad": retinal hemorrhages, bleeding around the brain and brain swelling. The presence of these three signs (and sometimes just one or two of them) has long been assumed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the person who was last taking care of the baby shook him so forcefully as to fatally injure his brain.


But closer scrutiny of the body of research that is said to support the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome has revealed methodological shortcomings. Scientists are now willing to accept that the symptoms once equated with shaking can be caused in other ways. Indeed, studies of infants' brains using magnetic resonance imaging have revealed that triad symptoms sometimes exist in infants who have not suffered injuries caused by abuse. Bleeding in the brain can have many causes, including a fall, an infection, an illness like sickle-cell anemia or birth trauma.


What's more, doctors have learned that in many cases in which infants have triad symptoms, there can be a lag of hours or even daysbetween the time of the injury and the point when the baby loses consciousness. This contradicts the idea that it's possible to identify the person responsible by looking to the baby's most recent caregiver.


Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome be discarded and replaced with "abusive head trauma," which does not imply that only shaking could have caused the injury.


The new understanding of this diagnosis has only just begun to penetrate the legal realm. In 2008, a Wisconsin appeals court recognized that "a shift in mainstream medical opinion" had eroded the medical basis of shaken baby syndrome. The court granted a new trial to Audrey Edmunds, herself a mother of three, who had spent a decade in prison for murdering an infant in her care. Prosecutors later dismissed all charges.


Troublingly, though, Ms. Edmunds's case has been a rare exception. Most shaken baby convictions have yet to be revisited. New cases are still being prosecuted based on the outdated science.


Despite the shift in scientific consensus, debate about the legitimacy of the shaken baby syndrome diagnosis continues. Some scientists point to studies using dummies modeled on the anatomy of infants as evidence that shaking cannot possibly generate sufficient force to cause the triad of symptoms — or that it could not do so without also causing injury to the infant's neck or spinal cord. But others challenge the validity of these studies and maintain the belief that shaking alone can (though it need not) cause the triad.


What's needed is a comprehensive study of shaken baby syndrome to resolve the outstanding areas of disagreement. The National Academy of Sciences, which last year issued a comprehensive report on the scientific underpinnings of forensic science, would be the ideal institution to undertake such a study.


In the meantime, however, there remains the question of justice. In Ontario, an official investigation concluded that there are deep concerns about the science underlying the triad, and now the province is reviewing all convictions based on shaken baby syndrome. Similar inquiries should be conducted on a statewide level here in the United States.


For decades, shaken baby syndrome has been, in essence, a medical diagnosis of murder. But going forward, prosecutors, judges and juries should exercise greater skepticism. The triad of symptoms alone cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an infant has been fatally shaken.


Deborah Tuerkheimer, a professor of law at DePaul University, is a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan.








In this era of intense partisanship, it often seems as if Republicans and Democratswouldn't be able to agree on the religion of the pope or the direction of the sunrise.


So it's notable that inklings of a bipartisan consensus are forming about one highly contentious issue — the age at which workers should be able to collect Social Security benefits.


House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, supports gradually raising the retirement age for full benefits to 70 from the current 66. A number of key Democrats, most notably House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., have miffed liberals in their party by saying that some unspecified increase should be on the table.


Good for them. Perhaps a presidential commission studying how to tame the national debt can build on this emerging consensus when it releases its ideas in December. Fixing Social Security is an obvious place to start. It would not only instill confidence in today's young workers that the program would be there for them, it would contribute to a healthier overall federal budget.


The main reason the retirement program is in trouble is that people are living longer, and therefore collecting benefits for longer. When Social Security was created in 1935, average life expectancy in the U.S. was 60. Now it's 78.


Raising the age for full benefits to 70 would solve as much as two-thirds of Social Security's long-term shortfall, depending on how quickly the increase is phased in. The current age for full benefits is already slowly rising to 67, in accordance with a law passed in 1983 that shored up Social Security for a generation. Workers can also take early retirement at 62, with a reduction in benefits, and more than half do so.


Bumping up the age (or penalty) for early retirement is, if anything, more important than raising the age for full benefits. Retirement at 62 was not an option until 1956 for women and 1961 for men, so the average age at which people collect their first Social Security check has dropped even as life spans have increased.


There is, to be sure, one major problem associated with raising the retirement age, particularly the age for early benefits: the roughly 30% of the workforce employed in manual labor. Many of these workers would have difficulty working longer, particularly if they have health issues.


Promising ideas for dealing with those with blue-collar jobs include expanding disability coverage; creating a new tier of benefits for people who move into lesser-paying jobs that are not as physically demanding; and tweaking benefits to reward people who start work earlier in life and tend to be the ones engaged in manual labor. Another concept is to scrap the idea of full benefits and simply offer a sliding scale of retirement ages and benefits.


The difficulty of dealing with the problem shouldn't be an excuse not to raise the retirement age for able-bodied workers.


All of this is painful, but some form of pain is unavoidable. Having long run a surplus as Baby Boomers reached their peak earning years, Social Security is now running a deficit as a result of the recession and Boomers retiring. It is projected to be in the red permanently beginning in 2015. When the Boomers are fully retired, there will be only two workers to support every retiree, half as many as in 1980.


The longer policymakers wait to shore up the program, the more distasteful the choices will be. If Republicans and Democrats can come together to do it sooner rather than later, who knows what else they might be able to accomplish?








Americans are scared about their retirement, and with good reason. The retirement income deficit is about $6.6 trillion. That's how far behind American households already are in saving enough to maintain their standard of living after they retire, even assuming they sell their homes in reverse mortgages and live off the income. Cutting the one source of income people can rely on — Social Security benefits — will only make matters worse.


And that is exactly what raising the retirement age would do: cut every future retiree's benefits. The last increase in the retirement age, from 65 to 67, which is still phasing in, cut benefits for an age 65 retiree by 13%. That change and others Congress enacted will reduce the average replacement rate from 39% of pre-retirement income to 28%. Remember, the average benefit now is a very modest $14,000 a year — less than the minimum wage.


And given the disappearance of traditional pensions, the failure of 401(k) plans to weather stock market crashes and recessions, and the fact that only half of full-time workers have any employer-provided retirement plan at all, we should be raising benefits, not cutting them!


According to Social Security Chief Actuary Stephen Goss, the decline in the worker-to-beneficiary ratio is driven primarily by a drop in birthrates, not rising life expectancy. Life expectancy has risen faster among working-age adults than among retirees, and improvements have also been concentrated among high-income workers. The life expectancy of lower-income women has actually declined in recent years.


The fact that Social Security won't be able to pay full benefits in 2037 if revenues aren't raised is no reason to cut benefits now. The answer is to make high-income workers and their employers pay the Social Security tax on more of their salary, or even all of it, as they do for Medicare.


CEOs making $1 million pay Social Security taxes on about 10% of their salaries; secretaries pay on 100%. That's not fair, and it has led to underfunding of this vital program. Social Security can pay 100% of promised benefits for more than two decades even without this added revenue. With it, Social Security will be sound forever, without raising the retirement age or making other benefit cuts.


Ross Eisenbrey is vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C.









Concerned about the national debt? Alarmed by politicians' inability to balance budgets? Worried that certain programs will be cut? If so, Uncle Sam needs you ... to smoke like it's a Mad Men episode, drink booze like a frat boy, gamble like a high-roller and glug soda like a parched child.


That's because during this recession, politicians are increasingly resorting to sin taxes to help close budget gaps. Aware thatAmericans, facing high unemployment and underemployment, won't rush to support (or re-elect) those who raise income taxes, politicians are devising less obvious ways to boost revenue. Raising fees on government services is one such way; increasing or instituting sin taxes is another.


And so, politicians have rushed to raise these new levies as if they're the policy equivalent of rescuing kittens. In the past fiscal year, 11 states have increased cigarette taxes, while five states upped their gas taxes. (Yes, even driving is seen as a sin in some quarters today.) Earlier this year, Coloradostopped exempting sugary drinks and fatty snacks from a 2.9% sales tax, while Washington state hiked taxes on beer and soda. And the proposals keep coming: Californians will vote in November whether to legalize and tax marijuana, more than 130 Maryland General Assembly candidates have signed a pledge to vote for a 10-cent tax on all alcoholic drinks, and in Oregon, the Public Health Division is pushing for a soda tax.


Hurting the poor


Washington is also jumping on the bandwagon: Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., has introduced a bill to legalize and tax Internet gambling. The intended jackpot: up to $42 billion over 10 years. While the legislation still has several hurdles, it has attracted 70 co-sponsors in the House — a significant number considering that a bill that included an Internet gambling ban passed almost unanimously in 2006.


With the nation's economic wheels still spinning in the mud, expect sin taxes to be in for the foreseeable future. Though politicians will still argue that they're still being chaste when it comes to keeping hands off the middle class and economically impoverished, the sin tax says otherwise. Low-income Americans, who are already the hardest hit by the recession, will lug the load of any sin tax. Unlike income taxes, which exempt the poorest and have lower rates for those making less, there's nothing progressive about sin taxes.


Amounts less noticeable to affluent professionals — such as California's 35 cent per gallon gas tax or Washington state's 50 cent per gallon beer tax — can pose a genuine economic hardship on say, a single mother. For those buying the average amount of gas per year, California's tax adds $403. For a $100,000 household, that's less than 0.5% of annual income, but for a minimum wage worker in California making $8 an hour, that $403 is 2.5% of income. Fair enough for you?


Sin taxes are also frequently targeted at "vices" more common among low-income Americans, such as a greater reliance on gas. In 2008, when gas prices averaged $4 a gallon, The New York Times reported that in some rural counties, "the combination of low incomes, high gas prices and heavy dependence on pickups and vans is putting an even tighter squeeze on family budgets," with the average resident spending 13% of income on gas, compared with the 4% spent by the average American.


It's the same with cigarette taxes, which range from 17 cents a pack in Missouri to a whopping $4.35 in New York. For the 12% of smokers making $90,000 or more annually, these taxes might constitute a relatively trivial expense. But what about the 53% of smokers that a 2009 Gallup poll identified as making less than $36,000 a year?


Soda and junk food taxes also have a disproportionate impact: a 2008 study from the Journal of Urban Healthfound that twice as many low-income New Yorkers drank soda as their more affluent neighbors, while higher obesity rates among low-income Americans suggest that they also consume more sugary foods. Gambling taxes, too, fall more heavily on those of lesser means.


But the revenue!


The solution isn't to target the vices of the affluent (although why aren't crusading politicians trying to rescue Americans from excessive caffeine or early hearing loss by taxing Starbucks or iPods?) or to devise a way to make sin taxes progressive. Instead, it's to stop raising or creating such taxes altogether.


To be fair, sin taxes do add much-needed revenue to state coffers. Washington state's beer, soda and bottled water tax gave the state $122 million in revenue last year, helping to close a $2.8 billion deficit. Colorado's tax on sweets is expected to raise $18 million annually — no small change for a state facing a $60 million deficit. California would rake in roughly $1.4 billion a year with a marijuana tax, at least a start toward closing the state's $19 billion budget deficit.


The point isn't to demand that politicians swear off all tax increases. Certainly, some see no other way out of the deficit crisis. What's reprehensible is when weak-kneed politicians fail to provide responsible budgets, lack the courage to make necessary cuts in those budgets, and so resort to picking the pockets of society's most vulnerable — while arguing, of course, that they're for the little guy.


If politicians continue to enact sin taxes, voters should recommend a new sin tax, one that taxes lawmakers who use cheap tactics to avoid making the tough budgeting decisions. Because when it comes to vices that impact the long-term welfare of the nation, that's a sin much more destructive than driving a gas-guzzling vehicle or enjoying a Coke.


Katrina Trinko is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C., and former editorial page intern at USA TODAY.








Asked about the recent revelation that famed civil rights photographer Ernest Withers spied on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for theFBIAndrew Young downplayed the significance of this betrayal. "The movement was transparent and didn't have anything to hide anyway," the King disciple and former Atlanta mayor told The (Memphis)Commercial Appeal.