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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

EDITORIAL 22.09.10

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in

 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

Editorial

month september 22, edition 000632, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. COMMENDABLE EFFORT
  2. MOTIVATED DISSIDENTS
  3. THE LARGER CONFLICT - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY         
  4. BEWARE THE DECEITFUL LEFT - BARRY RUBIN
  5. PAKISTAN UNLEASHES FLOOD OF RESTRICTIONS - ALI SALMAN
  6. MANMOHAN SINGH MUST CLARIFY STAND TO PARTY - CP BHAMBHRI 

MAILTODAY

  1. REASON TO PRESS THE PANIC BUTTON OVER CWG GLITCHES
  2. BE CAREFUL WITH THE MONEY
  3. DON'T HARM THE STUDENTS
  4. ANOTHER VIEW FROM THE VALLEY - BY NASEER GANAI
  5. METRO RAIL IS A THREAT TO THE CITY'S HERITAGE - A SRINIVASA RAO
  6. CHOWMAHALLA BACK TO ITS FORMER GLORY

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. NOT GETTING BETTER
  2. RAISING A STINK
  3. MAKING A POSITIVE DIFFERENCE - CONSTANTINO XAVIER
  4. 'HIV PREVALENCE IS DECLINING IN A NUMBER OF COUNTRIES IN ASIA' - ADITI BISHNO
  5. AYODHYA ALTERNATIVE - JUG SURAIYA 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. LISTENING AS A PROLOGUE
  2. SETTLING SCORES
  3. MAKING PARLIAMENT WORK - NK SINGH
  4. THIS TOWER OF BABEL - ASHOK MALIK,
  5. DON'T DISCONNECT INDIA - S RAMADORAI

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. CLASS ACT
  2. LISTENING IN
  3. GAMES ADVISORY
  4. TARGET PRACTICE - SUNIL JAIN 
  5. LAST YEAR'S STORY? - RAHUL VERMA 
  6. OBAMA AND IRAN - C. RAJA MOHAN 
  7. DEMOCRACY IS STILL WORTH THE FIGHT - ROGER COHEN 
  8. WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE AMERICAN NOVEL? - DAVID BROOKS 
  9. INDUS WATERS CIVILISATION - UTTAM KUMAR SINHA 
  10. FLYING LOW

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. DIAL A SOLUTION
  2. NOT OPPOSITION POLITICS
  3. TIME TO RE-RATE INDIA - SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN
  4. GET SMART - NISTULA HEBBAR
  5. COLLAPSING BRIDGES
  6. EAVESDROPPER

THE HINDU

  1. FUELLED BY FOREIGN FLOWS
  2. MEANINGLESS ELECTIONS
  3. THE WINDING PATHS OF A TEMPLE TOWN - VIDYA SUBRAHMANIAM & J. VENKATESAN
  4. U.K. RECOMMITS ITS PROMISES TO THE POOR - ANDREW MITCHELL
  5. POPULATION AGEING: AN AREA OF DARKNESS - DR. ENNAPADAM S. KRISHNAMOORTHY
  6. DOUBTS OVER LOCAL SOUTH LONDON CURRENCY - FREDERIKA WHITEHEAD
  7. BRAZIL'S ETHANOL FUEL PRODUCTION TO REACH 64 BILLION LITRES IN A DECADE

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. INDIA'S GAMES SHAME GROWING
  2. HOPELESS SOLUTIONS - VIKRAM SOOD
  3. BIG BANG AND OTHER PREJUDICES  - JAYANT V. NARLIKAR
  4. CABINETS & COHESION - INDER MALHOTRA

DNA

  1. WILL CCTVS HELP CLEAN UP CRICKET?
  2. HELP FOR AIRLINES TO KEEP ON FLYING
  3. THE BULL IS IN FORM, THANKS TO HOT MONEY
  4. CASTE, A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD - NILOTPAL BASU
  5. LET THE PAST GO
  6. COMMON ETHOS VS SMALL IDENTITIES - VINAY SAHASRABUDDHE

 THE KASHMIR TIMES

  1. THEATRICS OF ABSURD
  2. ANOTHER EMBARRASSMENT IN CWG
  3. KASHMIR'S SUMMER OF DISCONTENT IS NOW AN AUTUMN OF WOE - SUMANTRA BOSE 
  4. DIDI IS VERY CLEVER..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. SEPARATISTS' REPLY
  2. BE PREPARED
  3. OMAR AND KASHMIR TANGLE - BY PROF. JAVED MUGHAL
  4. IMPLEMENT ANTI-NAXAL STRATEGY - BY M K DHAR
  5. INDIA'S DEFENCE DIPLOMACY - BY BRIG. ( RETD. ) S.N. SACHADEVA

THE TRIBUNE

  1. AFSPA IN KASHMIR
  2. NO END TO RAIL MISHAPS
  3. NO FREE LUNCH
  4. AYODHYA CONTROVERSY & CASTE CENSUS - BY B.G. VERGHESE
  5. OUR REALITY - BY B.K. KARKRA
  6. SHARING VALUES AND BENEFITS FOR A SAFER WORLD - TIMOTHY J. ROEMER
  7. PAKISTAN FLOODS 

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. THE NAME'S HOLMES. SHERLOCK HOLMES

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. COMPENSATING THE DISPLACED
  2. MANAGING SURPLUS WATER
  3. IMPLICATIONS OF THE N-LIABILITY ACT - RONEN SEN
  4. MONSOON MAGIC FOR PARLIAMENT - A K BHATTACHARYA
  5. WAITING FOR A CRASH COURSE - M J ANTONY
  6. SHOULD NEW 2G LICENSEES BE BAILED OUT?

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. THE SENSEX RIDES AGAIN
  2. BJP SUBVERTING GST?
  3. CAFFEINE KILLS
  4. DON'T CAP MICROFINANCE LENDING RATES - SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR
  5. SINGLE CONSUMER PRICE INDEX?
  6. EASING FDI NORMS FOR EXISTING VENTURES - SATVIK VARMA 
  7. CURB YOUR FORESIGHT - VITHALC NADKARNI 

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. INDIA'S GAMES SHAME GROWING
  2. HOPELESS SOLUTIONS - BY VIKRAM SOOD
  3. THE RIGHT WAY TO PLAY RACE CARD GAME - BY CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS
  4. BIG BANG AND OTHER PREJUDICES - BY JAYANT V. NARLIKAR
  5. THE MEEK WILL BE HAPPIEST - BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL
  6. CABINETS & COHESION - BY INDER MALHOTRA

THE STATESMAN

  1. OMINOUS EXPOSÉ 
  2. NO END TO MISERY 
  3. AFGHANISTAN VOTES 
  4. NO DEPARTURE FROM THE KNOWN SCRIPT
  5. LEARNING LANDSCAPES - ANIL BHATTARAI
  6. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. FLYING HIGH
  2. TROUBLED WATERS
  3. CASTE AND THE CITIZEN - ANDRÉ BÉTEILLE
  4. OLD WINE IN AN OLD BOTTLE - SUMANTA SEN

DECCAN HERALD

  1. GAPS IN SECURITY
  2. LOW TURNOUT
  3. A LOSING GAME - BY BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
  4. HURTLING TOWARDS ECONOMIC DOOM - BY SUDHANSU R DAS
  5. SHADES OF PREJUDICE - BY D K HAVANOOR

THE JERUSALEM  POST

  1. CONSEQUENCES FOR TURKEY
  2. TIME FOR A NEW JEWISH CONVERSATION - BY TZIPI LIVNI  
  3. WASHINGTON WATCH: BASHAR ASSAD'S BAR MITZVA - BY DOUGLAS M. BLOOMFIELD  
  4. TERRA INCOGNITA: COEXISTENCE PARTNERS WITH OURSELVES? - BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN  
  5. LION'S DEN: THE RUSHDIE RULES REACH FLORIDA - BY DANIEL PIPES  
  6. MEDINAT SUCCA - BY JASON GITLIN  

HAARETZ

  1. WHEN GOD HOLDS THE SEAT OF POWER
  2. BY SEFI RACHLEVSKY
  3. THE SETTLERS ARE HUMAN - BY YOSSI SARID
  4. AN IMPORTANT JUDICIAL REFORM
  5. BE A MAN, FREEZE THE SETTLEMENTS - BY ALUF BENN
  6. A NEW MEDITERRANEAN - BY AVIRAMA GOLAN

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. WE ARE WHAT WE EAT
  2. BENEFITS AND BURDENS OF MEDICAID
  3. POLITICALLY CHARGED CLERKS
  4. MILITARY EQUALITY GOES ASTRAY
  5. FAIR PAY ISN'T ALWAYS EQUAL PAY - BY CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS
  6. TOO MANY HAMBURGERS? - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  7. TRULY MADLY PURELY JIMMY - BY MAUREEN DOWD

USA TODAY

  1. OUR VIEW ON CONSUMER PROTECTION: WHEN CABLE GUYS DON'T SHOW, GIVE CUSTOMERS SOME DOUGH
  2. OPPOSING VIEW ON CONSUMER PROTECTION: 'WE'VE MADE GREAT STRIDES' - BY JANA HENTHORN
  3. WITH NO JOBS, GRADS 'GAMBLE' ON EDUCATION - BY LAURA VANDERKAM
  4. TODAY'S JOURNALISTS NEED NOT HIDE THEIR POLITICS - BY PHILIP MEYER

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. DEMOCRATIC GOALS STILL LEAD
  2. SEASON TURNS, BUT HEAT REMAINS
  3. WHEN IS RECESSION 'OVER'?
  4. HORRIBLE MONTH OF FORECLOSURES
  5. MAKE ALL NEW LOCAL JOBS WELCOME
  6. LOCAL WATER A GREAT BARGAIN

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - A TONGUE-TIED KURDISH EDUCATION POLICY
  2. TURKEY'S FIFTH OPTION – UNMENTIONED BY HUNTINGTON AND RICE - BURAK BEKDİL
  3. A HISTORIC OPPORTUNITY - CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER
  4. 'SECULAR' DOESN'T MEAN 'LIBERAL' - MUSTAFA AKYOL
  5. HAS ERDOĞAN CHANGED TURKEY? - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  6. PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE - YUSUF KANLI
  7. CABIN CREW OUTFITS TO BE RECYCLED - UĞUR ÇEBECİ

THE NEWS

  1. LEAKY AND CORRUPT
  2. VIOLENCE RETURNS
  3. GRILLING MUSHARRAF
  4. LET'S BEGIN NOW - ZAFAR HILALY
  5. CHILDREN OF THE STONES - FAROOQ SULEHRIA
  6. INNOVATIVE FLOOD-FINANCING - shimDR SANIA NISHTAR
  7. A MONUMENT TO OBLIVION - MIR ADNAN AZIZ
  8. READY FOR PAKISTAN TEA PARTY? - ANJUM NIAZ
  9. RESPONSE AND RESPONSIBILITY - TAYYAB SIDDIQUI

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. THEY CRIPPLE KARACHI ONCE AGAIN
  2. NOTORIOUS NATO SMUGGLING CASE
  3. CHINESE OFFER 1-GIGAWATT N-PLANT
  4. THE MONEY GAME! - KHALID SALEEM
  5. TACKLING CORRUPTION - RIZWAN GHANI
  6. A WAY OUT OF PRESENT POLITICAL IMPASSE - ALI ASHRAF KHAN
  7. GLOBAL GENEROSITY - IBN-E-REHMAT
  8. DEMOCRACY STILL MATTERS - ROGER COHEN

 THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. ON THE DEATH OF JOSEFA RAULUNI
  2. BACK TO THE BAD OLD DAYS ON SITE
  3. GILLARD, NOT ABBOTT, MUST APPOINT A SUITABLE SPEAKER

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. SPEAKER ROW IS A BAD OMEN
  2. REFORM, OR JUST ANOTHER TRICK?

THE GUARDIAN

  1. GENOME RESEARCH: THE COMPLEXITY OF CHOCOLATE BISCUITS
  2. PUBLIC BORROWING: IRISH LAMENTS
  3. IN PRAISE OF … THE LONG(ER) VIEW

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. LAY JUDGES AND THE CELEBRITY
  2. A SINO-CENTRIC ASIA UNLIKELY - BY RALPH COSSA
  3. DIM OUTLOOK FOR JAPAN'S MUDDLED LEADERSHIP - BY MASAHIRO MATSUMURA

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. PROTECTING FINANCIAL REGULATORS
  2. US-RI RELATION: HISTORY, PROGRESS AND PROSPECT - MARTY M. NATALEGAWA
  3. PURSUING GROWTH, LESS POVERTY AND HUNGER - ROBERT B. ZOELLICK
  4. COMPLICATIONS FOR INDONESIA'S UNSKILLED MIGRANT WORKERS - VIDHYANDIKA D. PERKASA

CHINA DAILY

  1. SHARING TOGETHERNESS
  2. CHARITY CHALLENGE
  3. CHINA, THE US AND ASEAN - BY PANG ZHONGYING (CHINA DAILY)
  4. TV SERIALS ARE FOR FUN, BOOKS FOR KNOWLEDGE - BY ZHU YUAN (CHINA DAILY)

THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. TURNING DRIVERS INTO SLAVES - BY YULIA LATYNINA
  2. EUROPE SHOULD PAY MORE ATTENTION TO UKRAINE - BY GRIGORY NEMYRIA
  3. WHY RUSSIA NEEDS A STRONG NATO - BY YEVGENY BAZHANOV

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

COMMENDABLE EFFORT

ALL-PARTY DELEGATION HAS DONE A GOOD JOB


Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj is entirely correct in pointing out that groups of MPs calling on separatist leaders at their homes was not part of the mandate given to the all-party delegation that visited Srinagar and Jammu over Monday and Tuesday. The remit of the team was to talk to a cross-section of society and representatives of political parties and organisations to gauge the prevailing mood in Jammu & Kashmir and communicate its views to the Union Government. Those views are supposed to help the Prime Minister and his team to formulate their response to the strife in the Kashmir Valley, which has witnessed rapid escalation in recent weeks, and a strategy to contain the insidious influence of separatists. The MPs who met the leader of the pro-Pakistani faction of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the leader of the so-called 'moderate' faction of the APHC Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and the JKLF chief, Mr Yasin Malik, to seek their views (as if this needed to be done!) did so on their own. Did they err? Not really. While it is true that nothing can be achieved by talking to Mr Geelani and his ilk, it is equally true that neither he nor Mr Malik can pretend their views have been ignored by the all-party delegation. That does not, however, mean that what they had to tell their interlocutors should get undue prominence in the team's report to the Union Government. More importantly, hopefully those who called on the separatists did not do so to impress their communal constituencies: Mr Sitaram Yechury in West Bengal and Mr Ram Vilas Paswan in Bihar. Cynical politicians should desist from fishing in the troubled waters of Jammu & Kashmir.


What is disquieting is the attempt by authorities to prevent the Kashmiri Pandits living as refugees in Jammu from meeting the all-party delegation. It is shocking that the police should have used strong-arm measures to keep them at bay; but for the State unit of the BJP threatening to boycott the delegation, the Pandits would have remained unheard. Ever since they were driven out of their homes in Kashmir by the separatists with the sole purpose of cleansing the Valley of all Hindus and making it 100 per cent Muslim, the Pandits have been made to suffer silently, denied official assistance and stripped of dignity. The many promises made to them have been forgotten by successive Union Governments, including the NDA regime led by the BJP. Yet, it is an indisputable fact that despite the Pandits remaining loyal to their motherland and steadfastly refusing to endorse the demand of the separatists, their views are never factored in while discussing the 'Kashmir issue'. This is a flaw in New Delhi's policy that needs to be corrected if it wishes to defeat separatism in the Kashmir Valley. Indeed, it would be wrong to settle on a 'Kashmir policy' without consulting the people of Jammu, the people of Ladakh and the Pandits. The separatists and their supporters in the Kashmir Valley by no means represent the majority in the State. Any dispassionate analysis would show that they are in a minority. This should not be lost sight of by the all-party delegation when it conveys its findings to the Union Government. 


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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

MOTIVATED DISSIDENTS

BJP CAN DO WITHOUT THEM IN KARNATAKA


To the extent that a Chief Minister has the right to select the members of his Cabinet, Mr BS Yeddyurappa was perfectly justified in dropping Ministers he did not want and including those who enjoy his confidence in the BJP Government that he heads in Karnataka. When he had to drop some of his trusted colleagues from the Ministry as part of a deal to save the Government from collapsing on account of trouble engineered by the 'Bellary Brothers', he must have done so in the belief that once things settled down, he would not only re-induct them but also sack some of the 'troublesome' members from the Council of Ministers. Now that he has sacked three Ministers and decided to expand his Cabinet, he will have to ensure that the move does not unduly threaten his Government. Mr Yeddyurappa will have to decide whether it is worthwhile to risk the Government's stability for the sake of cutting some of his colleagues to size. While there is no doubt that some senior Ministers and State party leaders have been actively working to undermine the Chief Minister's authority and that they ought to be dealt with firmly, Mr Yeddyurappa needs to be mindful of the pitfalls. If his detractors were to get a chance, they would once again go on the offensive. That would be unfortunate because the focus would then shift away from the good governance he has provided to Karnataka.


This does not mean that the Chief Minister should continue to allow dissidents and their sponsors a free run to sabotage the Government's functioning, but only that he must be cautious and not rock the boat. It is a fact that although he has been extremely accommodative so far, the dissidents have not reciprocated in equal measure. It is unacceptable that a handful of legislators and dubious party leaders should want to hold the Government hostage to their wiles. Mr Yeddyurappa has waited long enough in the hope that his detractors will see reason and come around to accepting his leadership. But that has not happened and he has had to finally act because his very authority has begun to fray which neither he nor the BJP can afford. Now that the Chief Minister has got what he more or less wanted, he should work to enhance his Government's performance. For instance, he must effectively tackle the illegal mining issue that the Opposition parties have been using to try and discredit the BJP. As for the immediate crisis at hand, the central leadership of the BJP should not yield to the pressure tactics of Mr Yeddyurappa's detractors; their bluff should be called. The supremacy of the party must be kept in mind at all costs. After all, while the Cabinet can reflect the preference of the Chief Minister, the matter of governance impacts the BJP, not just in Karnataka but across the country. 

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

THE LARGER CONFLICT

THE REAL CLASH OF CIVILISATIONS PITS CHRISTIAN AGAINST NON-CHRISTIAN, EUROPE AGAINST ASIA. THE CONTROVERSY OVER FAITH IS ONLY ONE ASPECT

SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY


It took Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain for Catholics and Muslims, hereditary arch enemies who have battled for centuries in Spain, Palestine and elsewhere, to make common cause on at least one issue. The peril that civilisation faces, they agreed, is not from religious fundamentalism breeding terrorism but from the danger of "aggressive secularism" which threatens to overwhelm the world. Even some Sangh Parivar hearts on the sidelines of the Clash of Civilisations might be gladdened by that diagnosis.


A British Muslim leader of the Muslims4UK organisation, Mr Inayat Bunglawala, summed up the Islamic reaction. "The Pope's remark about aggressive secularism will strike a chord with many Muslims," he was quoted saying. "Across Europe we have seen moves to restrict the rights of Muslims to wear the niqab, the religious garment of their choice." Despite their more than 1,500 mosques, Britain's 2.4 million Muslims — three per cent of the population — are convinced White Christian society victimises them. 


When six North African cleaners were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to assassinate the Pope, the international Muslim media denounced it as an "Islamophobic ploy". British Muslims maintained a stony silence. Their refusal publicly to uphold the law or condemn terrorists — also characteristic of even moderate Muslim countries like Jordan — compounds the impression of ambivalence. 


Mr Bunglawala may hope that once secularism is banished, Europe will be transformed into an Islamic paradise where moving black tents are really females, sharia'h courts sentence people to dozens of lashes of the whip, and women like Iran's Sakineh Mohamadi Ashtiani are stoned to death for adultery. Schools will close on Friday, not Sunday, in that elysium; pork banished from homes and markets; the only available meat will be halal; and nursery books for infants cleansed of blasphemous stories like 'The Three Little Pigs'.


For saffron enthusiasts, the absence of secularism might mean a ban on beef, an abundance of reclaimed temples, a constitutional amendment to read "Hindu" for "Indian", and the end of what some stalwarts call "minorityism". Zionists no doubt see Israel taking over the entire West Bank in a non-secular West Asia. How Sikhs, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and members of sects like Bahai and Subud view secularism is less clear, but history leaves us with no doubt and much fear about Rome's concept of the Christian state that last existed in Britain under the Queen known as Bloody Mary.


Simon Hoggart wrote in the Guardian about His Holiness's reference to "aggressive secularism" that even at its most aggressive, secularism cannot be "half as ferocious as the Catholic church used to be — few atheists organise inquisitions, torture and live immolation". These atrocities were not perpetrated only in Spain though Spanish Inquisition is a verbal Siamese twin. Portuguese colonists burnt heretics at the stake in Goa and in Portugal's other Indian colonies. 


France prides itself on a more humane past but history records the horrors of St Bartholomew's night when Protestants were butchered. Shades of that intolerance may have accounted for the recent acrimony at European Union summits over the Roma, as Gypsies, believed to have originated in India, are called. President Nicolas Sarkozy was outraged at criticism by the Luxembourg Prime Minister of his expulsion of 8,000 Roma folk this year alone. But tiny Luxembourg could be disregarded since Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary and the Czech and Slovak Republics are all bent on getting rid of Romas. 

This is the real clash of civilisations. It doesn't just pit Christian against non-Christian, but also Europe against Asia, White against coloured. The controversy over faith is only one aspect of this bigger confrontation.

 

The papal visit to Britain highlighted it because, while he epitomises unyielding religion, when all's said and done, Britain is a secular society. Few modern Britons might go out of their way to declare "god is an anachronism" as Arthur Koestler did, or canvass for the Pope's arrest on account of sexual crimes committed by priests under him and allegedly condoned by the Vatican like Prof Richard Dawkins did. But Queen Elizabeth's position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England is no more meaningful than her right to veto a Bill passed by both Houses of Parliament. 


Referring to His Holiness as "Mr Ratzinger," the highly popular science writer denounced him as "head of the world's second most evil religion". Presumably, Prof Dawkins, who is an atheist, regards Islam as even worse. He accused the Pope of taking an "illiberal, inhumane and immoral" stand "on almost all issues concerned with sex, contraception, population and reproduction" and of "criminally shielding child-raping priests from justice".

However, the very vehemence of this attack invests the Pope and Catholicism with greater importance than ordinary folk would do. The Pope himself may not have been far off the mark in complaining of "the increasing marginalisation of religion" in public life. This was a more telling description of British indifference than the phrase "aggressive neo-atheism" used by a leading papal aide, Cardinal Walter Kasper. The Sanskrit expression dharma nirapekshata — indifference to religion — more accurately describes the attitude of most people in a country where even the sacrament of marriage is more and more regarded as an unnecessary and dispensable formality.


Secularism seems more natural, less forced, in Britain than, say, in Lebanon or India. The former recognises 18 different sects with 18 different sets of rules and no common civil code so that secularism could become the recipe for disintegration. India's secular ideal assumes that muscular versions of all the religions can flourish vigorously side by side without impinging on each other. 


Mr Tony Blair gauged Britain's public mood rightly when he deferred his conversion to Catholicism until after he had left Downing Street. It's not his new faith that would have upset his constituents, as it might once have done. It's the very fact that he takes religion so seriously that many voters would have found difficult to digest. As has been said, the dominant view during those years of Labour Party rule was that only "oddities, foreigners and minorities" were quaint enough to believe in faith and worship.


Now, apparently, Mr David Cameron's Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition Government "does god". It believes in "unleashing the positive power of faith". Testimony to the new entente mentioned earlier, the announcement comes from ethnic Pakistani Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim woman member of a British Cabinet.


-- sunanda.dattaray@gmail.com

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THE PIONEER

OPED

BEWARE THE DECEITFUL LEFT

THE MOST SINISTER THREAT THAT ISRAEL AND JEWS FACE TODAY IS NOT POSED BY THE PALESTINIANS AND THE ARABS BUT LEFT-WING JEWISH INTELLECTUALS WHO EXCEL AT THE GAME OF RUNNING DOWN THEIR OWN PEOPLE. THIS IS NOT A RECENT PHENOMENON: THE LEFT WITHIN HAS STALKED JEWS FOR A CENTURY NOW, HARANGUING AND HARASSING THEM TO DEFLECT ATTENTION FROM THE CRIMES OF OTHERS

BARRY RUBIN


It's always fascinating to find historical parallels to contemporary events. When one discovers an obscure gem of this type, cutting the stone to let it reflect the light of truth is irresistible. 


For well over a century, the Jewish people have been beset by an eleventh plague inside their own house: Extreme Left-wing intellectuals who urge they throw away their own interests, concerns, and even lives for the supposed higher ones of humanity or the chimera of being morally perfect. 


According to this view, their supposed true interests lie in bringing about utopia for everyone, paved by abandoning their own aspirations, dissolving their identity while other groups are encouraged to do the opposite.

While I admire Bertram Wolfe for things he did in later life, he spent 30 earlier years campaigning for Communism. During that period he produced one of the greatest examples in this genre of Left-wing calls for Jewish suicide. On April 6, 1939, Wolfe made a speech to the Keep America Out of War Congress, opposing US involvement in the looming war in Europe against the Nazis, the worst persecutor of the Jewish people (so far) in modern times.


Wolfe was then an exemplar of what has become known recently by the name, "As-a-Jew". That is, those who never identify as a member of the Jewish people or religion except when bashing some aspect of it, usually in our era, Israel. So they start their rant by saying, "Äs a Jew..." I oppose this or that thing. (With the implied meaning: Aren't I a great and noble person!)


In this tradition, Wolfe's speech ordered Jews to sacrifice themselves for a Left-wing cause based on a distorted Left-wing view of reality: "The element that makes the war party [who want to fight Nazi Germany] so much larger in New York than elsewhere in this country, [are] those whose anguish blinds their visions as each day their spirits are bruised and shocked afresh by the daily budget of news of Jewish persecutions throughout the world. Profiting by their anguish which amounts to hysteria, there are those who would sell them the coming war as a war against anti-semitism. And this is the more dangerous delusion because the growth of militarism and reaction in this country is bringing with it the growth of anti-semitism.


In those days, "New York" was a code word, often used by anti-semites, for Jews. True, he expresses sympathy to gain credibility but only uses it to warn that the worst thing Jews could do was to advocate a war against Hitler. 

Why? The Left always portrays the true threat to Jews in America as being from the Right-wing. Of course, historically there was real truth in it — Charles Lindbergh made a similar anti-semitic speech at the time — and of course it was quite true in Europe at the time. Still, everyone remembers that the conservative British Prime Minister Nevil Chamberlain practiced appeasement; nobody remembers that the Labour Party voted against Chamberlain's last-minute reversal of that policy to rearm Britain's Army.

The threat to the east came from fascism, but the danger in the West came from not fighting fascism. You are free to make a modern-day parallel to that sentence.


Those conservatives in America — as well as the more numerous liberals doing so — advocating the US ally with Britain and France to fight Nazi Germany weren't anti-semitic. On the contrary, the isolationists were anti-semites. And those anti-semites on the extreme isolationist Right held precisely the same view as Wolfe and the communists or pacifists on the Left. Both extremes were enemies of the Jews, not just one. And you are also free to make a modern-day parallel to that paragraph.


Why were Wolfe and his comrades against American involvement in war? Not because they were pacifists or defenders of the poor and downtrodden but because they were following the interests of the Soviet Union, interests which in a few weeks would lead that country to ally with Hitler and seize the Baltic states and eastern Poland. Indeed, that very Soviet state so idealised by all too many Jewish intellectuals was systematically destroying the Jewish religion and culture while killing Jews in numbers far exceeded in modern times only by the Nazis and their loyal allies.


To summarise, Wolfe, in line with the current Communist political line, was warning Jews not to support war against Nazi Germany claiming that such a war would be against Jewish interests and stir up anti-semitism in the US. He and his comrades advocated standing by and watching while the Nazis conquered most of the world and murdered all of the Jews there. When they changed their line, in June 1941, it was only because Germany attacked their Soviet idol, not out of concern for the Jews of Europe or the defence of democracy.


Wolfe concluded his argument by saying: "There is no way of putting an end to your endless torture except by putting an end to militarism, reaction, war, and capitalist imperialism which begets them all."


Of course, as even Wolfe himself was to realise a few months later, the USSR and its allies were equal or indeed bigger agents of militarism, war, and dictatorship. 


But today the idea that Jews should throw away having a country achieved after two millennia of suffering in exchange for the alleged pie-in-the-sky utopia still lives on. The enemies of this aspiration today in the US is represented by a small, relatively isolated segment of the isolationist Right — exemplified by my old neighbour Patrick Buchanan and by Ron Paul — and a large, powerful far Left, much of which is currently pretending to be liberal.


Ironically, the Left's argument for the Third World is the same as that used by radical Arab nationalists, Islamists and assorted demagogic dictators to subordinate their people to ideological distractions. They tell their masses to fight, sacrifice, shed their blood, and postpone their material progress until the Jewish and Western enemy is wiped out or chased out. 


This claim that victory must precede progress is the bane of the Middle East today. All of these ideologies also use fomenting hatred and externalising blame to conceal their long record of failure.


Back to Wolfe, at the end of his speech came another threat: "Take care, I beg you, lest…those who desire to keep this country out of war should get the idea that you are working to put America into it." In other words, shut up or you will be blamed for wanting to get the US in war with Germany against its own interests and then the pogroms in America will begin. 


What delightful parallels to today when Jews are blamed by some mainly on the American Left for the war in Iraq and for wanting to get America into war with Iran. How quickly the Left resorts to using anti-semitism as a whip to keep Jews in their place and blame them for international problems.


This intimidation does work to a considerable extent, though the scape-goating is less effective in America. Many Jews — especially in Europe but also in America — are frightened into silence lest opposition hurt their careers, reputation, or be used to smear them as Right-wing or bigots. College students have been frightened into passivity. Intellectuals want to prove themselves to be fair, cosmopolitan, and untainted by "primitive tribal" impulses. Yet just as our ancestors would have been fools to keep silent about the Nazi or Communist threats and need to combat them — and were proven right to the American people for doing so — there are equivalent tasks for today. 


Oh, when asked in 1946 whether he considered himself to be Jewish, Wolfe replied: "Because Jews are so persecuted today I would gladly proclaim myself a Jew if that would help this persecuted people in the slightest. But, by the same token, I should gladly proclaim myself a Negro, if that would be of use to Negroes, a Chinaman or a Korean or a Pole or member of the defeated German people if that would help them..."


Yes, but who else but a Jewish intellectual would have lived the life Wolfe lived or made such statements as he had in 1939 and 1946? How could he reconcile this claim with his behaviour a few years earlier? 


There is also something very sinister behind these clichés despite their surface nobility: The substitution of oneself for others. For if one is going to "proclaim" oneself to be of these groups then one is also defining them, telling them how they ought to think and behave, thus taking away their freedom to do so themselves. 

 

--The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal. 

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

PAKISTAN UNLEASHES FLOOD OF RESTRICTIONS

THE HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN PAKISTAN DEMANDS RATIONAL AND HARD DECISIONS FOR THE LONG TERM THAT SHOULD INCLUDE SUBSTANTIAL TAX EXEMPTIONS ON ALL FLOOD-RELATED EXPENSES AND DONATIONS BY INDIVIDUALS AND CORPORATIONS

ALI SALMAN


In response to floods unprecedented in Pakistan's history, the authorities are taking popular steps that seem obvious — stricter price controls, a flood surcharge-tax and controls on charities. What we really need is bold, non-populist and counter-intuitive thinking.


History reminds us that in 1770 Lower Bengal's rice harvest failed utterly and fully a third of the population died. The Government's response to the shortages was to prevent prices from rising and thereby prohibit what it called the monopoly of grain. The predictable result was to intensify the famine and discourage transporting food from areas where it was more plentiful.


A century later, in 1866, the Government of Bengal faced a famine and reacted with a very different policy. Far from trying to control prices the Government facilitated competition by publicising weekly returns of prices in every district, causing businesses to transport rice from areas of relative abundance to places of worst scarcity.

Pakistan solved the problem of electricity shortage in late 90s by relaxing the price of electricity. We can also ensure the availability of food and other essential items in flood areas by relaxing price controls.


As for supply, donors and Government would find it more effective to introduce some kind of "flood vouchers" to help the needy purchase their daily needs instead of Government supplying food and other aid.


The Government is also considering a flood tax aiming to raise `138 billion (US$ 1.6 billion). In the current economic meltdown, such a claim looks very implausible. Moreover, taxes always discourage private and philanthropic giving. If I were taxed in the name of flood relief, I would obey but would then refuse to give to all charitable organisations. Thus a flood surcharge would only increase the flow of cash to Government coffers instead of going to the many fairly effective humanitarian charities.


The counter-intuitive policy would be substantial tax exemptions on all flood-related expenses and donations by individuals and corporations. This would encourage more private contributions to direct, reliable and rapid flood relief and rehabilitation aid.


But national and provincial Governments are imposing licences to collect funds on all charitable organisations. Although financing terrorism remains a problem, such a requirement will only discourage the people's spontaneous response and will only increase Government intervention in times of emergency. The major brunt of such restrictions will almost always be taken by the most deserving groups. The Government must immediately lift all such bans.


Altaf Hussain, the London-based leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement which dominates Karachi, the commercial capital of Pakistan, has advised flood victims to grab the private property of landlords. The protection of private property remains the top responsibility, after protection of life, of a Government. If some individual landlords have violated any laws, they must be taken to task in law, before the courts. Under no circumstances can people be allowed to grab private property. That way lies anarchy and chaos.

Avoiding populist and intuitive thinking defines true leadership. The unprecedented crisis demands rational and hard decisions for the long term, not the temptation of the short term gains.


--The author is an associate of the independent non-profit think-tank, Alternate Solutions Institute, Lahore.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

MANMOHAN SINGH MUST CLARIFY STAND TO PARTY

HIS POLICY PRONOUNCEMENTS MUST BE GIVEN DUE ATTENTION AND HE SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR IMPLEMENTATION, WRITES, CP BHAMBHRI 


The Prime Minister's public statements and pronouncements deserve to be taken very seriously not least because the implications of the speech of any head of political executive in a democracy have a great deal of import.

Besides, Mr Manmohan Singh, who leads a difficult coalition, needs to clarify his political standing within his own party from time to time. An impression of leadership deficit exists in the public mind and this is another reason why his statements assume more significance. Perhaps, if Ms Sonia Gandhi were president of Congress rather than also the United Progressive Alliance chairperson, Mr Singh's authority would have been seen as less disputed. 

In a meeting with select editors on September 6, Mr Singh, therefore, divided his utterances into two parts — the first a declaration of his own status as Prime Minister and his standing in the Council of Ministers and the second a statement on important public policy priorities and challenges faced by his Government and the country. 

It deserves to be clearly stated that as the chosen and official nominee of Ms Gandhi it is imperative for Mr Singh to convey to the whole country that he is safe in his seat of power. Ms Gandhi reserves the right to nominate Pradesh Congress Committee presidents and other functionaries of her party including Mr Singh who knows full well that there are many contenders for the post of Prime Minister. 


Former Minister for External Affairs Natwar Singh frequently claimed direct access to Ms Gandhi on the basis of his proximity to Mrs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Mr Natwar Singh claimed foreign policy was solely in his domain and the Prime Minister's Office had nothing to do with it and that he enjoyed special status in the Government. Old warhorse Arjun Singh never tired of reminding Ms Gandhi that it was he, along with Mr Narayan Dutt Tiwari, who helped Ms Gandhi establish a hold in politics. How could such a 'loyalist' be ignored and an 'outsider' brought in to head the Government led by the Congress? 


A demand was also raised for creation of the post of Deputy Prime Minister. The not-so-subtle message was that Mr Singh's wings be clipped. Ms Gandhi publicly dismissed the idea of 'special loyalists' and Deputy Prime Ministership during UPA's tenure of 2004-2009. The machinations of factional heavyweights in the Congress continued despite the dishonourable exits of Mr Natwar Singh and Mr Arjun Singh from the Cabinet and the idea of bringing Mr Rahul Gandhi into the Cabinet was pursued. Mr Singh is intelligent enough never to claim that he is taller than a Nehru or an Indira and, by citing the right examples, nipped in the bud schemes of those who had aspirations tied to the creation of the post. 


His assertion of cohesiveness in the Council of Ministers is, however, off the mark. Every coalition partner exercises his or her 'veto' to Cabinet proposals not acceptable to it as witnessed in Trinamool Congress' opposition to the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill and Mr M Karunanidhi's role in Mr A Raja's continuance as Union Minister. 


The second and more important part of the Prime Minister's pronouncements on September 6 include his observations on the Maoist crisis and India's policy towards Pakistan. Also, for the first time, he warned the nation about a growing threat from China. It is the duty of a Prime Minister to frequently take public opinion into confidence because, in a democracy, political leaders have to inform, even educate, the citizens on critical issues.

On the Maoist issue, Prime Minister stated unambiguously that "there are no quick fixes". He observed that for tackling the problem "valid economic and social issues have to be addressed but law and order has also to be enforced". The Prime Minister also defended Home Minister P Chidambaram's handling of the matter. This assumes great importance in the light of veteran leader Digvijay Singh's differences with Mr Chidambaram. 


Mr Singh stated that the "lines of communication" with Pakistan must be kept open irrespective of complexities in Kashmir. The UPA Government's policy towards Pakistan is well-known but it is for the first time that the Prime Minister has stated that "China wants India to be in state of low-level equilibrium". He chose to bring out areas of Sino-Indian conflict in public. "China would like to have a foothold in South Asia and we have to reflect this reality. We have to be aware of this," he clearly said.


A week later, while addressing the Combined Commanders Conference that included the three Service Chiefs with Defence Minister AK Antony on September 13, he referred to "China improving its military and physical infrastructure". Mr Antony went a step further and stated that "in fact, there has been an increasing assertiveness on the part of China". The Prime Minister contextualised it by stating that "the fact is that we cannot realise our growth ambitions unless we ensure peace and stability in South Asia. The countries of the Gulf, West Asia and Central Asia are our natural partners". 


The Prime Minister's meetings of September 6 and 12 are to be analysed as one whole framework of his thinking, leaving aside his battles within the Congress. Coalition partners in the UPA and all Opposition parties should focus their attention on the Maoist problem, Pakistan and China and put the Prime Minister under scrutiny on these subjects. Has he been able to provide leadership in resolving these contentious issues or offer some alternative lines of policy in the national interest? 

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

REASON TO PRESS THE PANIC BUTTON OVER CWG GLITCHES

 

THESE days it doesn't just rain, it pours. On Sunday it was the terrorists, on Monday a complaint about the ' filthy and uninhabitable' Commonwealth Games village, and on Tuesday we have had a foot overbridge, leading to the main Games venue, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, collapsing, leaving 26 injured. Alarm bells have been ringing for the Organising Committee of the Games and the United Progressive Alliance government for a while now; it's time they heard them.

 

It is not only the CGF President Mike Fennell who thinks that the Village is ' seriously compromised'. Advance parties from New Zealand, Canada, Scotland and Ireland too have seriously objected to the condition of the accommodation given to them.

 

A bridge collapse today is an unfortunate accident; had it taken place 10 days later, on the day the Games are to be inaugurated, it would have been a disaster. At least the Games Village, citizens had hoped, would pass muster and win credit for the country. After all, what India has done for creating a Games village is not common. It allowed construction on the Yamuna river bed, braving opposition from environmental activists. It also decided to set up permanent structures, as against the makeshift accommodation provided to athletes at most such events.

 

The authorities must attend to the issues that have been raised on war- footing since they haven't much time on their side. Any more incidents of the kind we witnessed on Tuesday could well doom the Games and result in a national humiliation for the country.

 

As for the accounting, we certainly hope that the promised review of the shoddy work style and poor management of the Games will take place once they are over.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

BE CAREFUL WITH THE MONEY

 

THE floods are far from over, the damage yet to be assessed, but Uttarakhand has already demanded a package of Rs 5,000 crore from the Centre. Indeed, all this has happened even before the state has opened its own coffers to provide for relief. This seems to be one of a piece with state governments seeing New Delhi as a cash cow to be milked in the name of relief and rehabilitation.

 

It is not that the people of the state do not need relief; they do. But the paramount need is to ensure that they get what is their due and that it is not diverted into the pockets of various middle- men, contractors and crooked politicians who infest the poor state.

 

Considering the poor reputation of the state government, which recently promoted all its ministers to Cabinet status, the Centre should be very careful indeed before advancing any money. In fact, the Centre would be advised to send its own team to assess the damage and devise means to bypass the corrupt politicians of Dehra Dun altogether.

 

The money for relief comes from taxes and revenues collected from hard- working people.

 

They, as much as the people who need relief, deserve an accounting for the manner in which tax revenues are spent.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

DON'T HARM THE STUDENTS

 

WHILE the Delhi University Teachers' Association ( DUTA) might be justified in its anger against the autocratic functioning of the university administration, it must not harm the interests of the students.

 

Clearly the three- day strike called by the teachers only adds to the woes of the students who are already reeling under the irregularity of classes and the uncertainty due to the semester system row.

 

The root of the crisis in the university is the lack of effective leadership. The incumbent Vice- Chancellor Deepak Pental shouldn't have been allowed to continue till the appointment of a successor, given his rather turbulent tenure.

 

From the leakage of the radioactive cobalt- 60 to the autocratic manner in which the semester system was introduced, Prof Pental's term has been dogged by one controversy after another.

 

The teaching community, as well as the students, are both victims of the university administration's insensitivity and ineptitude.

 

DUTA should have made common cause with the students against the Vice- Chancellor, rather than plunge the university into more uncertainty.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

ANOTHER VIEW FROM THE VALLEY

BY NASEER GANAI

 

NEARLY 100 people have been killed and over 2000 have sustained injuries due to bullets and pellets fired by the police and CRPF in the past three months. Even so, some politicians in New Delhi claim that the UPA government's response to the Kashmir crisis is spineless. It would seem that the number is not enough when it comes to Kashmir.

 

There is a need to understand the nature of the present protests and the response of the state before passing judgments on Kashmiris. After 9/ 11 things started changing on the ground in Kashmir.

 

Militancy started declining and subsequently we saw a decrease in infiltration cases, as admitted even by the Army.

 

The present protests have their roots in a piece of legislation passed by the State Assembly in 2000. The legislation declared that the Governor of the state would be the Chairman of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board ( SASB) if he happens to be a Hindu. The J& K Chief Minister is the Chairman of the Waqaf Board, if he is a Muslim. The legislation was apparently passed in good faith to manage the affairs of the SASB. At the same time the then Governor Lt General S. K Sinha, being the chairman of the SASB, increased the duration of the Amarnath Yatra from fifteen days to two months, despite stiff opposition from the then Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed. Mufti, however, cited environmental grounds as the reason for his opposition. Governor Sinha overruled the objection and went ahead with his decision to prolong the yatra.

 

Background

 

As time passed and the number of yatris started growing the PDP continued its opposition to the duration of the yatra.

 

Many local officials in the state administration supported the PDP view. The perception started growing in Kashmir that the yatra was a tool to change the demography of the state. The perception gained ground with every passing year.

 

All this happened at a time when, after the 2002 elections, the younger generation was more concerned about their career and had become more or less apolitical.

 

The economic success of India had impressed them. The separatists were being confined to seminars and conferences.

 

The situation in April 2008 seemed so normal that it was expected that several separatist politicians would participate in the elections.

 

But that did not mean that the azadi sentiment had vanished completely. It was always there under the surface. It doesn't take much to trigger it. At times even an agitation against power failure turns into an Azadi rally. The rigging of elections in 1987 led to the uprising of 1990.

 

In May 2008 the Ghulam Nabi Azad led government passed a Cabinet order with the consent of the PDP, allowing diversion of some 40 acres of forest land to the SASB in the Sonmarg area. Knowing the consequences, the then government however didn't talk about the order, as in 2006 a similar order to transfer land to nonstate subjects in Gulmarg for construction of hotels had evoked a strong reaction, forcing the government to rescind it.

 

But on June 6, 2008 when it surfaced that an order to divert forest land to the SASB had been passed by the government, the separatists came out of the conference halls. They described it as a move to change the demography of the state and the people started buying this argument. Massive protests were unleashed across the state.

 

Chief Minister Azad revoked the order taken by him in the cabinet with PDP's consent. But the PDP played the victim and blamed Azad for everything. It withdrew its support to the government and with it, Azad became the first chief minister to be hounded out of office by protests.

 

The revocation of the order led to a counter- agitation in Jammu- Kathua districts of Jammu division and the subsequent economic blockade of the Kashmir valley. The economic blockade in turn led to pro- freedom rallies in the Valley of Kashmir.

 

Inconsistency

 

Though over a million people participated, the Amarnath Yatra went off peacefully. Thus the movement against perceived or real attempts to " Hinduise" Kashmir turned into an Azadi movement.

 

The land order only served as a trigger.

 

Realising that the number of rallies was growing, the government went in for a massive crackdown and didn't allow protests. The younger generation that had been apolitical till now came out on the streets and started pelting stones.

 

Earlier stone pelting was confined to downtown Srinagar, but 2008 made it a valley- wide phenomenon. Police and CRPF action against protesters led to the killing of nearly 60 people that year.

 

The protests in Jammu- Kathua were more ferocious. However, the police and security agencies adopted a policy of maximum restraint there, even though some policemen were nearly lynched by the agitators. The inconsistent response of the security apparatus in the two parts of the state baffled Kashmiris. Mehbooba Mufti in an interview to a local newspaper described it as being Hindu India versus Muslim Kashmir.

 

The question is that if police and security forces feel they could be called to account for their actions in the Jammu- Kathua belt, why do they behave with impunity in the Kashmir valley, and Poonch, Rajouri and Doda districts of Jammu? Why do the killings continue in Kashmir even today when the government claims that maximum restraint is in place? These questions needs an answer.

 

But the successful elections of November 2008 again dampened the spirits of the separatists and sent them back to their seminars and conferences again.

 

The huge participation of the people in the Assembly elections prompted Sajjad Gani Lone to give up separatist politics.

 

As a result of this he participated in the 2009 parliamentary elections.

 

Perception

 

But in June 2009 another uprising broke out after two women were found dead on the banks of a rivulet in Shopian district.

 

People in the district accused the security forces and police of raping and murdering the women. Fearing a repeat of 2008 with lengthy pro- freedom processions, the government clamped curfew and the people responded by pelting stones on the police.

 

Since 2008 the government seems to know only one way to tackle protests in Kashmir— through curfews and restrictions. The restrictions lead to stone pelting, and action against stone pelting youth lead to deaths of teenagers and a fresh cycle of protests.

 

On the other hand, the lifting of the restrictions means allowing pro- Azadi processions.

 

There is a perception in Kashmir that the security forces have the patronage of the state to crush Kashmiris. And the state has not done anything to remove that perception.

 

The killings continue and the state continues to avoid any decision on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act ( FPSA) and the Public Safety Act ( PSA). Under the PSA, which is a state law, thousands of Kashmiris have been booked without trial for the past 20 years. Both the NC and the PDP have used the law during their regimes to crush dissent in the valley.

 

These are desperate times. Even then the youth in Kashmir have adopted what JKLF Chairman Yasin Malik says are non- violent means of protests like stone pelting. They shouldn't be pushed to the wall and forced to opt for violence. The time has come to invest in peace and the onus lies with the state. It can begin with the revocation of AFSPA and punishment of all security forces personnel responsible for civilian deaths in the past three months.

 

naseerahmad. ganai@ mailtoday. in

 

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MAIL TODAY

DECCAN BUZZ

A SRINIVASA RAO

METRO RAIL IS A THREAT TO THE CITY'S HERITAGE

 

AFTER crossing several hurdles, the much-awaited Hyderabad metro rail project is all set to kick off from January, 2011. The Andhra Pradesh government signed a concession agreement with Larsen and Toubro to execute the `12,132 crore project in the next four years.

 

But the problems have just begun for the gigantic metro rail project. Heritage lovers and conservationists are raising objections to the project stating that it would completely change the cityscape of the 400-year old Hyderabad.

 

Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Hyderabad Chapter, Hyderabad Bachao and several other concerned citizens' forums are expressing apprehensions over the impact of the metro rail on the fabric of the city, which is still famous for its old world charm despite being acknowledged as a hi-tech city.

 

According to P Anuradha Reddy, convener of the Hyderabad chapter of INTACH, the people of Hyderabad have so far not been given an idea of what the metro rail project will look like. "No environment impact assessment has been done; nor was there any public hearing for such a gigantic project. Nobody has any idea how many buildings have to be demolished and where. It will lead to a chaotic situation, if the public are not sensitised about the project in advance," she says.

 

Three lines of metro rail will pass through the city, all of which will be completely above the ground on elevated flyovers passing through the median of the roads at a height of 12m to 18m ( 4 floors to 6 floors).

 

There will be a station for every one or two km and at every station, there would be a building complex, 200m long and upto 5 floors in height suspended in the air in the middle of the road.

 

" As a result, our roads are going to be a series of tunnels through which we have to drive.

 

Every kilometre of our busiest roads is set to turn into a traffic junction, with cars halting, autos hovering, buses stopping and hawkers crowding the space and totally blotting out the city skyline," she said.

 

INTACH architect G Shankara Narayana, who presented a simulated design of how the project will look like expressed concern over the way the precious heritage structures of Hydeabad are being ignored. " The Metro runs through some core heritage areas and open spaces like Assembly, Public Gardens, Moazzam Jahi market, Sultan Bazaar, Parade grounds and Secunderabad Clock Tower.

 

Though it does not zoom through the arches of the Charminar, it travels down the parallel road only to join back on the axis after a distance and some heritage structures may have to be demolished in its course. Bangalore and Delhi Metros, though largely elevated, have at least been sensible enough to go underground in the core areas like Vidhana Soudha and Rajpath and Chandni Chowk respectively," he said.

 

Anuradha Reddy demanded that the project be thoroughly reviewed and all alternatives explored before the grounding.

 

A public exhibition with detailed area- wise plans and views of all stations and heritage zones should be immediately organised and feedback incorporated to make this a citizen- friendly venture, she suggested.

CHOWMAHALLA BACK TO ITS FORMER GLORY

CHOWMAHALLA Palace, one of the spectacular monuments of the Asaf Jahi rulers of Hyderabad, won the prestigious Asia Pacific Heritage Merit Award from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation ( UNESCO) for cultural heritage conservation for the year 2010.

 

The palace, located close to the Charminar, is the only monument from India to win the award, out of 33 entries from 14 countries. The award presentation ceremony would be take place in Hyderabad in November. According to Chowmahalla Palace director G Kishan Rao, the UNESCO had acknowledged the restoration of Chowmahalla Palace as a unique achievement, rescuing an extraordinary complex from years of abandonment.

 

Chowmahalla Palace was the royal court of the Asaf Jahi rulers ( 1724- 1948). It was called Chowmahalla Palace because it is a complex comprising four palaces — Afzal, Aftab, Mehtab and Tahniyat mahals — constructed around beautiful gardens. The construction of the complex began during the rule of Nizam Salabat Jung ( 1751- 1762).

 

" The palaces, among the finest royal edifices in India, served as venues for most of the ceremonial functions of the Asaf Jahi dynasty including gala state receptions for British Viceroys and imperial emissaries for nearly two centuries," Rao said.

 

The palace once covered an area of nearly 30 acres. The rambling grounds were fragmented and by the turn of the 21st century, the site had diminished to less than a third of its original extent. Conservation for the palace was initiated in August 2000 by Princess Esra, wife of Prince Mukarram Jah Bahadur, Nizam of Hyderabad. The work was completed in 2005 when the palace was thrown open to the public.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

NOT GETTING BETTER

 

Last weekend's parliamentary elections in Afghanistan saw commendable turnouts with ordinary Afghans braving threats from the Taliban to exercise their franchise. Disappointingly though, allegations of fraud and rigging have been rife. Coming after last year's less-than-perfect Afghan presidential elections, it bodes ill for the country's nascent democracy and does little to inspire confidence in the stability of the country. The future of Afghanistan looks anything but simple. Frustration is building up and plans for an early US exit strategy are doing the rounds. This is bound to have serious consequences for regional players. 


The current surge in American troops in Afghanistan needs time to bear fruit, but meanwhile the Obama administration is facing flak at home. Alternative scenarios being floated are not at all satisfactory, but it's doubtful whether the administration has the nerve to stay the course. The alternative plan that seems to be gaining support is one that hands over de facto control of Pashtun-dominated south and east Afghanistan to the Taliban with Pakistan as the guarantor. This would also see an end to the US combat mission in Afghanistan and the relocation of a few thousand American troops to the non-Pashtun north and western parts of that country. It is easy to see why this arrangement would be satisfactory to short-term American and Pakistani strategic interests. It would however sink Afghanistan into a deeper quagmire. 


The virtual partitioning of Afghanistan into two geographical halves, coinciding with ethnic divides, will plunge the country back to the days of the Taliban regime. Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups would find south and east Afghanistan an ideal base for their activities. All this and more has dire implications for India, which has legitimate interests in Afghanistan. Hitherto Islamabad's concerns have prevented the Americans from considering New Delhi as a serious player in politically stabilising Afghanistan, notwithstanding their appreciation for Indian development activities. But if the fallback plan kicks in, Indian concerns stand to be sidelined. 

It is very important that 
India builds up its diplomatic heft in Afghanistan to safeguard its economic and security interests. The proposed trilateral India-Afghanistan- Iran foreign ministers' meeting on the sidelines of the ongoing UN General Assembly in New York is a step in the right direction. Efforts should also be made to get Russia on board. To avoid great game-playing propensities, it would be ideal if broader consultations with all the regional powers involved could be organised on the future of Afghanistan. But if New Delhi gets left out of the proceedings, it must have its own fallback plan as well.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

RAISING A STINK

 

The Commonwealth Games were pitched as an event to enhance the soft power of New Delhi. But indications just days ahead of the CWG are that India's international image is in for a beating. The stink of corruption has already overwhelmed the preparations for the Games. Now it appears that the Games Village, declared open with much fanfare last week, is not worthy of habitation. Mike Hooper, chief executive officer of the CWG Federation, confirmed at a press conference yesterday reports in this newspaper about the filthy and uninhabitable state of apartments in the Village. Federation president Mike Fennell has written to the Union cabinet secretary to fix the problem. With just a day left for the teams to start arriving in India, there's not much time to clean the mess. The authorities responsible for the upkeep of the Village have no option but to complete the work on a war footing. 


At stake is the country's prestige. One factor that prompted New Delhi to bid for the Games was it provided an opportunity to showcase the country's organisational capability for hosting mega events. But people responsible for the conduct of the event have failed to live up to the task. Deadlines were missed and there's apprehension about the quality of infrastructure built for the sporting events. The collapse of a footbridge at the Nehru Stadium, the main venue, is only the latest example of shoddy work. It was hoped that the authorities would get things in order at the last minute and save the country from embarrassment. We can't even be sure of that any more. 

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 THE TIMES OF INDIA

 TOP ARTICLE

MAKING A POSITIVE DIFFERENCE

CONSTANTINO XAVIER

 

Two schools of thought guide most of India's debate on Africa. On the one hand, you have the emulationists who believe that India should match Chinese moves in Africa without any delay or hesitation. But the reality is that New Delhi simply lacks the capabilities and profile to compete. India's public companies have a record of bids lost to the Chinese, starting with the 2006 Angola oil debacle and, more recently, in a large Ethiopian rail project. On the political front, the 2008 India-Africa summit in Delhi attracted merely 14 African leaders, as compared to 48 who visited Beijing in 2006. 


On the other hand, you have the singularists who refuse any comparison to China and underline India's "absolute uniqueness". These optimists take particular pleasure from African accusations that depict the Chinese as "mercantilist mandarins" and, as if in a zero-sum game, they like to believe that Africans will eventually recognise the long-term costs of the Chinese model and "choose" India. Unfortunately, their overconfidence has bred strategic inertia and a disinterest in looking at Africa in comparative and critical terms. 


Instead of emulating China in blind competition or stubbornly refusing any comparison with its northern neighbour, New Delhi should focus on a long-term exploration of five dimensions that distinguish it positively and could develop into a strategic advantage over Beijing. 


First, New Delhi should not shy away from publicising that instead of just "giving fish" and thus perpetuating Africa's dependence, it is teaching the continent how to fish for itself. Unlike the state-centric Chinese model based on resource extraction, India's presence in Africa is marked by the predominance of its private sector, mainly small and medium enterprises focussing on education, skilling and health services. 


India's Pan-African e-Network links 53 African countries and plays a crucial role in fostering skills and human resources that are critical for the continent to develop in a sustainable way. These projects require considerable investments but, in the long run, they will pay off as African countries start to recognise India's added value in contributing not only to the quantity, but also to the quality of their economic growth. 


Second, India and Africa share an enviable geographical proximity in the western Indian Ocean. The piracy threat along the Somali and East African coast offers the Indian Navy a superb opportunity to develop into a regional security provider. India could maximise this by keeping sea lanes of communication like the Gulf of Aden or the Mozambique channel secure, and by developing the naval capabilities of the East African states through increased joint exercises, new listening posts and the supply of vessels. The Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (from which China is excluded) and the revival of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation are important steps in this direction. Tactical triangulations with other partners, such as the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) naval forces, the US AFRICOM, the EU or NATO, could further leverage this advantage over China. 


Third, India could start thinking on the lines of a possible "Delhi consensus" and develop its democracy and human rights discourse in Africa. As a founding member of the Community of Democracies, Delhi could explore this "regime advantage" over China in Africa and dismiss the spurious advantages and supposed popularity of the "Beijing consensus". Several African countries have expressed interest in learning from India's successful experience with federalism. 


Others are keen in working with the Election Commission of India to study and replicate India's unique electronic voting system. India's vibrant base of local government institutions and its independent judicial system based on the rule of law are two other areas in which India can outflank China by sharing its expertise through technical cooperation and responding to specific African needs. 


Fourth, India needs to explore its diplomatic capital as a "bridging power". India's role as a non-aligned power and consistent support to the African independence movements have also earned it a persisting respectability as a "Southern power". Unlike China, which is increasingly seen from a G2 perspective, it is a founding member of the G-77 of developing nations and held its presidency twice. India is also a member of the Commonwealth organisation and at the heart of the impressive tri-continental IBSA axis that gives it an advantage to engage the Southern Africa Development Community and sub-Saharan Africa. 


A final advantage resides in the cultural proximity between Africa and India. Almost 100,000 Indian citizens and one million people of Indian origin live in Africa. Unlike the radically segregated Chinese "labour diaspora" that has often provoked violent protests in host countries, Indian communities are fully integrated, as well as interested in offering their local expertise and privileged access channels as consultants to Indian interests. At the same time, India could also explore the added value it offers as an English-speaking and culturally familiar country to the increasing number of Africans who look for opportunities abroad. 


The writer is a research scholar at the Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies, Washington DC.

 

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                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA

Q & A

'HIV PREVALENCE IS DECLINING IN A NUMBER OF COUNTRIES IN ASIA'

ADITI BISHNO

 

HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, the focus of MDG 6, remain a major source of concern in South East Asia. Any progress? 


The region is on track in terms of achieving MDG 6. Of course, given the diversity between and within countries, it could be considered uneven. Overall, though, it has been good. For example, take TB. All the countries have expanded DOTS and nationwide coverage has been achieved. As a result, we see a reduction in the risk of infection and TB-related mortality. IndiaIndonesiaMyanmarNepal and Bangladesh are some of the countries spearheading this progress. HIV prevalence is declining in a number of countries in the region. On malaria, while there has been some progress, we need to do a lot more in ensuring accelerated scale-up of bed net distribution and in adopting new treatments that not only cure malaria but also help limit its spread. 

Some population groups have reportedly developed resistance to TB drugs. 


Drug resistance is a major concern. In the context of TB, it renders treatment more difficult, more expensive and a challenge to cure. Drug resistance is a global phenomenon. It can occur naturally, but more often because of the irrational use of medicines. Some important strategies to combat it include the rational prescribing of medicines by doctors and healthcare workers and the appropriate use of drugs by the patients themselves. Regulation also has an important role to play. For example, the sale of scheduled drugs over the counter contributes to this situation. 


How well are we doing in addressing the issue of people crossing international boundaries who may be carrying "infections" like HIV and TB? 


When people cross borders, along with them disease agents also cross borders, as they do not require passports! The cross-border spread of infection is a rather complex and politically sensitive issue, requiring inter-country collaboration. 

What are the general principles to keep in mind while addressing communicable diseases in the region? 


First, a complete understanding of the disease and its determinants. Without good understanding of the disease distribution and risk factors, we can neither plan properly, nor set realistic targets. Second, partnerships and collaborations are essential. Health is not the responsibility only of health ministries; it has to become everyone's responsibility. Third, improving health system capacity to be able to deliver on health promotion and disease prevention. Finally, ensuring equity and providing good quality and affordable health services particularly to those who need it the most. 


Child and maternal mortality MDG 4 and MDG 5 remain a major concern in the region. 


Yes, of course! While there has been progress over the past few years, it is neither substantial nor fast enough, especially in MDG 5. There are also great social disparities to contend with most of the deaths among children below five years occur in the poorest populations. It is tragic that in spite of simple and cost-effective interventions available today, more than 1.3 million children below five years of age die in this region of pneumonia and diarrhoea. There are many factors responsible for this, including poverty, under-nutrition, poor sanitation and personal hygiene and, of course, lack of access to health services, information and safe water. Clearly, this is a multifactorial problem that needs a comprehensive and broad inter-sectoral approach. 

Women's Feature Service. 

 

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                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA

AYODHYA ALTERNATIVE

JUG SURAIYA 

 

This piece is a comment

 

The country is holding its breath before the high court judgement on Ayodhya on September 24. Will the masjid/mandir issue erupt again in violence? Both the government and the BJP have appealed for peace. In the meantime, however, the UP government has, as a precautionary measure, asked for substantial reinforcements for the 30,000 paramilitary troops already stationed there.

 

The long-standing Ayodhya deadlock currently coincides with another controversy concerning another proposed mosque, halfway across the globe. The proposal to build a mosque on Ground Zero the site where the twin towers of the World Trade Centre stood before the devastation of 9/11 has sparked a fierce and wide-ranging debate which has drawn the White House into its vortex.

 

Ayodhya and Ground Zero are worlds apart, literally and metaphorically. But despite their many and obvious differences, they share something in common: the need to heal the scars of violence.

 

The perpetrators of 9/11 were terrorists, and as such beyond the pale of any religion. An obscene travesty of religion, terrorism has been unequivocally condemned by leaders of all faiths. The call to build a mosque on Ground Zero in Manhattan is a praiseworthy attempt to disassociate from each other the word 'Islamic' and the word 'terrorism', a connection that tragically is only too often made, not just in the US but in many other parts of the world, including India. A Ground Zero masjid sounds a good idea: it would help to start a much-needed psychological and emotional healing process, in the US and wherever else the shock tremors of 9/11 and subsequent terror attacks have been felt.

 

But what of Ayodhya? Whatever the high court decides, it will not be the end of the matter. If sanity prevails, there won't be violence. But the issue will be taken up to the apex court, and perhaps to Parliament. There will be combative media commentaries and street agitations. What to do about Ayodhya?

 

To the proponents of Ramjanmabhoomi, there is no question mark. The mandir is Ram's birthright, and he must have it. The minority advocates of the masjid not all of them Muslim are equally insistent about their claim. Various compromise suggestions have been made, including that of a combined mandir-cum-masjid, like the Santa Durga temple-cum-church in Goa. None of these has been found acceptable by either camp.

 

The problem is that the Ayodhya issue has over the years become intensely localised, when it should instead have a symbolic resonance that is universal, like that of the proposed Ground Zero mosque in New York City.

 

Both the faith inspired by Ram and that inspired by the Prophet are universal in their common injunction of tolerance and compassion. Tragically, that universal commonality that applies not just to Hinduism and Islam but to all great religions, is trampled underfoot in the turmoil of politically-inspired sectarian strife. Only too often, organised religion becomes organised violence.

 

So, while there is no such thing as an 'Islamic terrorist', any more than there is a 'Hindu terrorist', or a 'Sikh terrorist', or a 'Christian terrorist', or a 'Buddhist terrorist', crimes of violence have been committed in the usurped names of all these and other faiths.

 

Perhaps the most fitting tribute Ayodhya could pay both to Ram and Islam would be to have a non-denominational shrine to all the countless victims of religious violence, in all places and of all times: in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, during the Nazi holocaust and the Christian crusades.

 

It won't happen, of course. But that doesn't mean we can't try and imagine it. Ram would have approved. And so would his spiritual brother in Islam, Muhammad.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

LISTENING AS A PROLOGUE

 

Once a much-needed, logical step is taken, it sometimes seems obvious, even too obvious. For many following the 39-member all-party delegation from Delhi visiting violence-wracked Jammu and Kashmir over the last two days, the 'obvious' step taken by many members of the delegation of going that extra mile to meet separatist leaders in the Valley may not have amounted to much. But for those who know that a 'big picture' solution comprises incremental yet paradigm-shifting steps, Monday's interaction between mainstream national leaders and those in the Valley — including separatists such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik — is a gesture rife with possibilities of forward movement. For too long, the Government of India has found it difficult to manoeuvre in the space deemed as its 'stated position'. This continues to be true for political parties on both sides of the 'J&K divide'. These 'talks' also took place with political leaders looking over their own shoulders and registering the presence of their own electorates.

 

But despite such adherence to stated positions, pure politics did take a backseat. Critics of the exercise would rather explain this temporary suspension of disbelief as a result of gesture-politics being served on a platter; supporters would think of the two-day exercise as the act of sidestepping the dogma of not listening to a position not one's own. Messrs Geelani, Umar Farooq and Malik restated their positions to the visitors — demanding New Delhi recognises J&K's 'disputed' status. This should not surprise anyone. As we had argued last week on this page, airing of (and listening to) these differences at an official level is an important step to any future resolution.

 

At the same time, however, it would be foolish to think that the delegation's visit is, by itself, the first step of a planned trajectory. It is simply a prologue without which there can be no meaningful 'Kashmir solution' narrative. The delegation's visit on Tuesday to Jammu, their listening to people's aspirations of 'complete integration' with the rest of India — that run counter to the more voluble aspirations of  the Valley — reaffirm the complexity of the issue. But unlike the naysayers in the Valley, Delhi had the advantage of making the first move; it has now made the first move. By itself, this is a momentous event. By itself, it's also, however, just the start before any beginning.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

SETTLING SCORES

 

One standard operating procedure of dealing with an accusation is to state loud and clear that everyone else is guilty of the same thing. That the subcontinental mind reaches for this mode of 'defence' was once again on display when Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) president Ijaz Butt 'accused' England of conspiring to "defraud" — we guess that 'malign' is what he must have meant — Pakistan cricket. And just as a follow-through, the Pakistani cricket official went on to add that there is "talk in bookies' circles that some English players were paid enormous amounts of money to lose". It seems that Mr Butt was underlining the fact that the England players were supposedly paid "enormous" amounts to lose, as opposed to the relatively piddly amount always offered to ('and never accepted by') Pakistan's cricketers. In case we had all been in Mars all this while,

 

Mr Butt was responding to charges against cricketers from his country being involved in 'spot-fixing' for which three players had been sent home earlier.

 

For something like corruption and 'fixing' in cricket, the jury in the past has been incredulously lax. Which isn't that much of a surprise when you consider that the accused and the jury are from the same powerful entity called subcontinental cricket. With the cricketing establishment and the media in India-Pakistan-Sri Lanka always hovering their finger around the 'racism' trigger, it becomes that much more difficult for anyone to point fingers at them with utter confidence.

 

But accusing the England Cricket Board (ECB) of 'defraud' and of having match-fixers of their own in the team may have been an act of over-reach on PCB's part — even if it was by insinuation. Now England has threatened to sue Pakistan for libel. Watch this space for 'race relations' willy nilly brought into the cricketing pitch as the usual shutting-up weapon.

 

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.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES

COLUMN

MAKING PARLIAMENT WORK

NK SINGH

 

Parliament reconstituted its standing committees last week. These 24 committees have now existed for over 17 years and were designed to improve parliamentary oversight and the quality of legislations. This entails interaction with experts, multiple stakeholders and the concerned ministries. The committees comprise of a chairperson and 31 members nominated from both Houses of Parliament on the basis of their interest, past experience and the spectrum of political parties they represent.

 

Countries like Britain, America and Canada have a more robust committee system. While in Britain the committees have powers to amend a Bill and present it in an amended form to Parliament, in America they decide the very Bills that may be considered by the Senate. In Canada, they can examine subjects on their own initiative, not necessarily referred by the Senate.

 

In India, our experience has been a mixed one. On the positive side, the merit of the committee system can be gauged from the recently enacted Civil Nuclear Liability Bill. It was an important piece of legislation that underwent significant changes. The standing committee made 18 recommendations and the government initially accepted 17 of these changes. The only unresolved issue was related to the liability of suppliers of equipment. When the Bill was discussed in Lok Sabha, the government accepted the formulation proposed by the opposition parties.

 

Conversely, there are other examples where the recommendations of the committee have been wholly ignored by the ministry concerned. Three recent cases illustrate this point. The Bill relating to central universities that came up during the UPA 1 ignored many valuable recommendations made by the standing committee. There were suspicions about the anxiety to appoint vice chancellors and other officials before the elections. The Right to Compulsory Education Bill had a similar

 

experience. In the recent monsoon session, the debate in the Rajya Sabha on the Educational Tribunals Bill 2010 saw a divided House. It brought into focus that the government had again disregarded the recommendations of the departmental-related standing committee.

 

The government has often taken shelter under the pretext that the recommendations are advisory and not of a binding nature. If this practice persists, all Bills would need to be debated at a much greater length in Parliament itself. It would be riddled with controversies, political posturing and detract from efforts at consensus-building. Parliamentary time is expensive and it is hardly sensible to overlook the consensus-building opportunity that standing committees are designed to foster. Ministries may find this a dampener in making up the lost time. Their enthusiasm may be laudable. However, the checks and balances embedded in our parliamentary process is a reasonable equilibrium between haste and diligence, durability and change with conformity with the accepted norms.

 

Notwithstanding the many strengths of our democracy, the parliamentary practices are tilted in favour of the executive. A well-functioning committee system is one way to correct this bias. The vice president recently made a number of suggestions to strengthen the committee system — the presence of ministers at the standing committee, forbearance on the issue of party whip except on Money Bills, enhancing public awareness on our parliamentary device, etc. Permitting legislations to be debated strictly on party lines may not subserve the larger public good. Amending legislations doesn't always amount to loss of face, much less confidence in the government. These suggestions are worth pursuing.

 

It's also necessary to reverse a growing public cynicism that Parliament does no useful work. This perspective overlooks the very valuable work undertaken by standing committees as well as other organs like the Public Accounts Committee, the Estimate Committee and the Committee on Public Undertakings. Keeping them out of the public domain may encourage bipartisan participation but shuts out public information on the  work conducted in these committees. This is a good time to open these committee deliberations to the media for a wider public dissemination.

 

We need to redesign executive accountability in the somewhat altered distribution of power and engage legislature more meaningfully on today's concerns. Building bipartisan support has a larger purpose. It makes for more informed and purposive implementation. It lies at the heart of a healthy polity.

 

NK Singh is a Rajya Sabha member. The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES

COLUMN

THIS TOWER OF BABEL

ASHOK MALIK,

 

On Friday, the Allahabad High Court will give its verdict in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title case, India's most contentious property dispute. What will the verdict be and will it resolve the Ayodhya problem? Essentially, the High Court has to decide on three questions:

 

* Did a temple or Hindu religious structure pre-date the Babri Masjid, believed to have been built in 1528 by Mir Baqi, a general of Babar, the first Mughal?

 

* Does the fact that a mosque existed at the site from, at least, 1528 to the night of December 22-23, 1949, when idols of Ram, Lakshman and Sita were placed inside the shrine, give Muslims ownership?

 

* Does the fact that a functional temple has existed at the site since 1949 give Hindus ownership?

 

A court case can result in a moral victory, a victory on substantive legal points or a victory on the basis of legal technicalities. Typically, the Ayodhya case has seen all these parameters being deployed in the courtroom.

 

To determine whether the mosque was built on the ruins of a temple, the High Court will go by the report of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). In 2003, the court tasked the ASI with excavating the area around the site — where a makeshift temple has stood since the demolition of December 6, 1992, and where the worship of the idols continues — and finding out whether another structure predated the mosque or whether it had been built on terra nullius (literally, 'no man's land').

 

Other than the ASI report, the court may or may not take into account artefacts believed to have been found at the site during the demolition 18 years ago. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has long argued that its strongest evidence is a shila lekh (stone tablet) with an inscription referring to a Vishnu temple and dating back to the 12th century. The shila lekh was found buried beneath the debris on December 6.

 

Whatever the ASI report may point to, the title suit itself is another matter. This is where the 'statute of limitations' and the 'law of adverse possession' could play a role. As per Indian law, if X walks into Y's property, usurps it (comes into "adverse possession") and is unchallenged for 12 years, the property becomes his. Y has to take legal action against X within 12 years to get back his property, otherwise he loses it.

 

Presuming a temple existed in 1528, by 1949 the statute of limitations had long come into effect. There are precedents to support this. In January 1885, a Hindu priest filed a case before the sub-judge of Faizabad district seeking to build a temple right next to the Babri Masjid. After two years of courtroom battle, the sub-judge, the district judge and finally the judicial commissioner rejected the petition. "There is nothing on record," wrote the commissioner in November 1886, "to show that the plaintiff is in any sense the proprietor of the land." Eight months earlier, in March 1886, the district judge, one F.E.A. Chamier, had said in his judgement: "It is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus, but as that event occurred 356 years ago, it is too late now to remedy the grievance."

 

VHP lawyers disagree. The deity in a temple is a legal 'person' who may own property and pay taxes. The deity in Tirupati is a case in point. As per Indian law, the deity in a temple is a perpetual minor. As per Indian law as well, the statute of limitations doesn't apply to minors. A two–year-old who has been deprived of his house can move court to get it back at the age of, say, 17, well after the 12-year limit. It's the sort of Catch-22 lawyers just love.

 

The issue of adverse possession reversed directions after 1949, when Hindu idols and priests entered the building. The Sunni Central Wakf Board moved court on December 18, 1961, just as the 12-year deadline was expiring, and sought to exercise its rights on its property.

 

This, too, has been contested. On the morning of December 23, 1949, a first information report (FIR) was filed by Sub-Inspector Ram Dubey of the Ayodhya police station on the basis of an enquiry by Constable Mata Prasad. While reporting the appearance of the idols, Prasad alluded to the fact that Hindu groups had gathered at the Babri Masjid a full week earlier. Citing this, opposing lawyers contend the Wakf Board petition missed the 12 year deadline by three days.

 

From Lord Ram's 'perpetual minor' status to those crucial three days, the Ayodhya case has had its share of legal stratagem. This may seem engrossing, but will it swing the verdict? It is unlikely that a case as important as this one will be decided on charming technicalities.

 

Having said that, a situation where the ASI report hints at the existence of a Hindu temple and the title suit itself goes in favour of the mosque and its caretakers can't be ruled out. That will leave the VHP the moral winner and the Wakf Board the legal winner. Both sides will declare (half a) victory; and Ayodhya will remain intractable as ever.

 

Ashok Malik is a Delhi-based political commentator. The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

COLUMN

DON'T DISCONNECT INDIA

S RAMADORAI

 

India's attempt to connect all of its 626,000 villages with telecom and broadband services is more than a grand plan to put a telephone in everyone's hands. It's about connecting India that will give an opportunity to improve various sectors like education, health care and agriculture, and introduce services like information technology and business process outsourcing (BPO). To grab such opportunities, we need to keep pace with technological advancements. The recent controversy around BlackBerry services needs to be seen in this context.

 

Leading global corporations have set up software development, BPO and R&D centres in India because they have the confidence that their data is safe thanks to secure networks. Unfortunately, recent terrorist threats have resulted in a greater need for what is known as a 'lawful interception'. As a result, there have been threats to 'turnoff' the BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) because it uses secure encryption. Skype, Yahoo! and Google have also come under the scanner, as has any VPN (virtual private network) that transmits encrypted data.

 

The demands for unlimited access at any time by law enforcement and investigating agencies are both understandable and a serious concern. But we need a more balanced approach for lawful interception, as in America and Britain, where it is facilitated through a combination of intelligence gathering and profiling of suspects without crippling legitimate businesses. The call for a ban on BES seems to be unreasonable and draconian. It's not that Research In Motion (RIM), the developer of BlackBerry, won't give the keys to decrypt its data; it's just that it cannot.

 

BlackBerry is popular in countries across North America, Europe and Asia. Many of these nations are under constant threat from terror. Yet none of them has called for a ban. This makes some people suspicious that RIM has provided other nations with decryption keys. This is a misplaced assertion for two reasons.

 

One, what will RIM gain by hiding this knowledge from only certain governments? It's easier to grant the access and move on. Two, one only has to study BlackBerry's encryption technology to realise that data transmitted between BES and BlackBerry phones is encrypted using advanced encryption standards. Private encryption keys are generated in a secure environment and are assigned to each BlackBerry user. Each key is stored only in the user's secure account and on his or her BlackBerry smartphone. Data remains encrypted in transit and is never decrypted outside of the corporate firewall. As a result, no third party, not even RIM, has the keys to unlock or decrypt the encrypted data.

 

The challenge of misuse is rooted not just in one device or technology but in society in general. The solution to this threat lies in collective intelligence by investigating agencies with the cooperation of industry, civil society and law-enforcement agencies.

 

We need to implement the following on a fast track:

 

n Upgrade and modernise intelligence and investigating agencies so that they are equipped with the latest tools and technologies to intercept data.

 

n Provide organisations like the National Technical Research Organisation with requisite funding to enhance their capabilities so that they can assist law-enforcement and investigating agencies.

 

]n Prepare a lawful interception policy that can be implemented uniformly with full cooperation of industry in a way that supports the needs of investigating agencies and protects the data security needs of corporations.

 

Bans and calls for bans aren't a solution. They'll disconnect India from the rest of the world. We can't allow that to happen, because then terrorists will win without even firing a bullet.

 

S Ramadorai is Vice Chairman, Tata Consultancy Services Limited, The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CLASS ACT

 

Sanskriti school in New Delhi is a shining, solitary example of what our civil servants can do when their own interests are involved. Run by the Civil Services Association, and attended by the children of government officers, it is easily one of the best schools in the city. Now, a Department of Personnel and Training proposal in the works wants the Sanskriti model to be replicated in state capitals across the country. In return for free land, it will reserve some seats for the children of state government officers. While the Right to Education Act mandates that a fourth of the seats be given to poor children, these schools have only 15 per cent to spare.

 

It's true that Central government officers have to schlep their families to various parts of India, uprooting their children, and many areas where they are posted lack decent schools. But Kendriya Vidyalayas (KVs) were set up for the explicit purpose of educating these children. The DoPT proposal weakly claims that they "do not work very well" because they prioritise children from other KVs. It's hard to imagine a Central school refusing to take in a civil servant's child. Of course, the KVs may not pass muster on other fronts when compared to a Sanskriti-level experience. But it's still the best our public school system has to offer — so isn't this energy better invested in shoring up KV standards and expanding access?

 

This kind of proposal, in fact, feeds into the stereotype of the Central officers' attitude to the areas they are posted to — their families live in private bubbles of their own, largely interacting with each other and waiting for the term to end. If they had a little more shared experience with the average citizen, in areas like schooling and health, then there's no question that they would pay greater attention to improving them. It's a fact that there are not enough top-tier schools to go around — but public administrators reveal their own narrow vision by walling off a specially-created school for their own children.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LISTENING IN

 

When an all-party parliamentary delegation arrived in Srinagar on Monday, they must have found the quiet of the security cordons forbidding. They were in Jammu and Kashmir to meet a cross-section of people and, as per the statement issued after the prime minister's all-party meet last week, "gather all shades of opinion", so that they could return to Delhi and provide inputs to the government in moving forward in addressing the spiral of protests that have seized the Valley. That's not an easy task in towns whose residents have been caught out of the rhythms of ordinary life by protests, confrontation between stone-pelters and the police, and curfews. In addition, some shades of opinion had appeared to be beyond reach, with separatists threatening to stay away. Yet, the fact that MPs improvised their schedule, and took the initiative to call on those political leaders instead, and visited the injured in hospital, is a valuable reminder of the maturity of our politics to absorb diversity and divergence of opinion.

 

Instead of being detained by protocol, for instance, some groups of MPs went and called on Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik. Around the formal table, these meetings may not be possible, but the courtesies that were exchanged at these impromptu visits are revealing.

 

Politics gets some pretty terrible press on most days, but it is what keeps our democracy supple and resilient. It pervades spaces other, more formal, instruments of government cannot. The talks the MPs held across the state may not directly yield a solution; that's a mandate they neither had nor would presumably seek. They also did not go as a homogenous group. In fact, in the raucousness of the political shades they themselves represent, and drawing on their strength as elected representatives, they dispensed a collective duty to watch, to listen, to pay attention, to offer a healing touch — and to say that they are seized of the distress and disquiet in the state. It is the raucousness of Indian politics that allows our democracy to absorb different points of view as well as devastating critiques of its writ. Hearing them out is not to adopt them or to rewrite the terms of sovereignty — it is to keep the idea of Indian nationhoodcapacious and updated.

 

]The treasury benches are not always fleet-footed enough to call on their opposite numbers in Parliament to get on the same page on issues, not to diminish political difference but to draw on the House's — and by extension the country's — collective robustness. Here's a reminder why they should.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

GAMES ADVISORY

 

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.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

TARGET PRACTICE

SUNIL JAIN 

 

Now that it's Millennium Development Goal (MDG) week, expect a host of studies/ articles/ commentaries around how India has failed to meet the important MDGs, on how parts of India are worse than sub-Saharan Africa or Bangladesh when it comes to nutrition, and so on.

 

The UN set the ball rolling when it said that "with just five years to the 2015 deadline for achieving the MDGs, the country as a whole will not be on track for a majority of the targets related to poverty, hunger, health, gender equality and environmental sustainability." It goes on to add: "It is possible that poverty will be halved by 2015 but by no means certain... on hunger there are disappointing failures." Others have jumped on to the bandwagon. Just the other day, Standard Chartered Bank and Cranfield University came out with a study showing that just 5.6 per cent of those in the boardroom were women. The Economic & Political Weekly had an article talking of the jump in inequality levels. The list goes on... a giant with, to use the sub-title of Pranab Bardhan's book, feet of clay.

 

While obviously all this is true, the question is how true, and can an economy really be growing at 9 per cent a year for so long if a fourth of its men are anaemic (56 per cent for women), 28 per cent have a body mass index that's below normal (33 per cent for women) and 45 per cent of children under the age of three are stunted? It does strain the credulity more than just a bit, doesn't it?

 

The poverty numbers are the easiest to tackle, and not just using the Surjit Bhalla argument that all poverty estimates in India are based on the National Sample Survey and the NSS systematically captures less and less of India's consumption, currently more than half the consumption is left out. Take the 37 per cent figure that Suresh Tendulkar has for poverty in India, as compared to the Planning Commission's 25 per cent or so. Analysis from NCAER's income surveys show that 11 per cent of Tendulkar's poor actually own a two-wheeler and 9 per cent of them have TVs! If you hike the minimum expenditure below which you're considered poor, the way Arjun Sengupta did to get his poverty number of 78 per cent, you get even more bizarre results — the NCAER data show a fourth of these households have a two-wheeler and a colour TV. In other words, the poverty numbers are hugely dodgy and, in all probability, India has already met the MDG goal on this front.

 

What of hunger and the "disappointing failures" in reducing the proportion of the hungry by half between 1990 and 2015 that the UN talks of? By the way, the Indian government report on the MDG, by the CSO, has a zero sign before this MDG and explains this to mean "slow or almost off-track". I have no independent data, of the NCAER type, to contest this, but it does seem funny that hunger should increase when, even after taking into account inflation, income levels for the poorest fifth of the population, to use NCAER data, rose 4.5 per cent per year between 1994 and 2005 and by 6.5 per cent between 2005 and 2010. Is it possible, just possible, that as people get richer, they eat food that's poorer in calorie counts? It does strain the credulity to juxtapose this hike in income levels (which, like it or not, is a by-product of the economy growing as fast as it is) with what the CSO has to say on this in its MDG report. "The proportion of population that has dietary energy consumption below 2100/ 2400 kcal in India tends to rise since 1987-88 with about 64 per cent below the norm in 1987-88 increasing to 76 per cent in 2004-05."

 

C'mon guys, give me a break. It gets worse. Not only does the CSO rue the fall in calorie intake of the poorest fourth in rural India, it says, "The total of calorie intake of the top (that's TOP) quartile of the rural population has similarly declined from 2863 kcal in 1987-88 to 2521 kcal in 2004-05."

 

Perhaps the focus on calories is excessive and also driven by age-weight height-weight ratios that aren't strictly relevant today?

 

What of gender equality, the boardroom barometer? At 5.3 per cent, the number of women boardroom directors in India is lower than Australia's 8.3, Hong Kong's 8.9, the UK's 12.2 and the US's 14.5. But surely the years of development have something to do with this, the levels of GDP and per capita incomes? Let's take women in Parliament — the US was just7 per cent in 1990 and this rose to 17 per cent in 2008; the figures for India were 5 per cent and 9 per cent, respectively. That's not bad given the 250 years of US democracy versus our 60, isn't it? All of this, needless to say, is related to the proportion of women in the labour force — well, that in urban India rose from 15 per cent in 1999 to 20 per cent in 2004. In other words, as urbanisation increases, so will the proportion of working women, and those in board positions.

 

It is true, of course, that while the proportion of boys to girls is roughly equal in primary and secondary levels of education, it is pretty bad at higher levels of education (around 72 per cent at the tertiary level). Concentrating on the 72 per cent figure is fine, but this is rear-window economics. Look at Pratham's Annual Status of Education Report and you find that the proportion of girls getting schooled is rising steadily — these are tomorrow's graduates, GDP and urbanisation willing (why would a woman, or a man for that matter, want to be a graduate if s/he is going to remain in a village with few job opportunities?). Keep in mind, by the way, that the 72 per cent women-to-men ratio in tertiary education was just 54 per cent in 1990.

 

India has a long way to go, and various systems are in a mess, whether in public healthcare or education. But let's not be so hard on ourselves by applying first-world standards to third- or second-world incomes.

 

The writer is opinion editor, 'The Financial Express'

 

sunil.jain@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

LAST YEAR'S STORY?

RAHUL VERMA 

 

The Congress resurgence in Uttar Pradesh in last year's general election has generated hope among the party faithful in Bihar. Following Rahul Gandhi's message at a Bihar rally — "what we did in UP, we will also do here" — party workers almost believe that this election could end their two decades of political oblivion in the state. It would be naïve to not recognise the dangers of over-interpreting the UP Congress revival saga. Notwithstanding the specificities of the two states, the Congress should not expect a replay of UP results in Bihar, for four reasons.

 

First, Rahul and Sonia's charismatic appeal may pull large crowds, but that may not convert into votes for the party. The reason is that the Congress lacks a coherent organisational structure in Bihar. The party organisation not only helps in gathering and transmitting accurate information upwards but also in the micro-management of the electoral process. Making a Dalit (Mukul Wasnik) the general secretary in charge of party affairs in the state and a Muslim (Mehboob Ali Kaiser) the president of the Congress Pradesh Committee may do well only as far as the paperwork of electoral arithmetic is concerned. The party lacks clear formulae for selecting candidates. And showcasing the number of enrolments for the party's youth wing doesn't add much weight — "young voters" in this country have not emerged as a distinct political bloc so far. It needs local leaders who have the ability to mobilise the masses, and not a leader from Delhi.

 

Two, Indian voters are mature enough to de-link national and state politics. The thesis that even during national elections, state-level factors play a primary role in shaping the voter's choice is not borne out in India. Thus, a vote for the Congress in UP in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections could well have been a vote in favour of the Congress for control over the Central government and not necessarily a sign of change in UP's state politics.

 

Third, there is no denying that the Congress's decision to contest alone would make the Bihar polls three-cornered in many constituencies. However, the experience of the last two decades suggests that the electoral landscape in the state has always been guided by coalition calculations. The incumbents were only challenged when the opposition shed their differences and managed to form strong pre-poll alliances — whether the erstwhile Janata Dal's alliance with the Left Front in the first half of the '90s or the BJP-Samata Party [later Janata Dal (United)] coalition in the latter half, which got the better of its opposition. Lalu Prasad survived the assembly elections in 2000 because the BJP-led coalition was highly divided and NDA partners ended up fighting each other in nearly half of the state's seats. Jharkhand's separation in 2000 completely changed the equations. In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP-JD (U) were routed by the combined might of Lalu Prasad, Ram Vilas Paswan and the Congress. But this coalition withered away before the 2005 assembly elections. The fractured verdict of this election gave a fresh lease of life to Nitish Kumar's tune of "nutan Bihar" (new Bihar) and the BJP-JD (U) won the majority in the November 2005 elections. The BJP-JD (U) alliance humbled the divided opposition in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Electoral fortunes were made or marred by the intensity of political polarisation.

 

Fourth, the Congress's achievement of 10 per cent vote-share in the last elections in Bihar has given the party workers a much-needed boost. But the party should not forget that this increase in vote-share was for two reasons — the party contested in nearly all the seats (from four seats in 2004 to 37 in 2009) and Congress candidates like Meira Kumar, Mohammed Asrarul Haque, Shakeel Ahmad, Sadhu Yadav, Lovely Anand or Ranjeeta Ranjan rarely relied on the party machinery for votes.

 

The non-alignment strategy may not be fruitful for the Congress in this election, but is likely to reap benefits in future. It rectifies the party's mistake of the last two decades. In states where two or more regional parties became more powerful (UP, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Jharkhand), the Congress inconsistently aligned with one or the other. In the process, both regional parties grew at the expense of the Congress. Rahul Gandhi seems to have realised that the party can only grow if the cadres perceive an opportunity within the party either through contesting elections as party nominees or by being appointed to some post within the party structure. Thus, a pre-poll alliance may better the electoral fortunes of a party in the short run, but it simultaneously weakens the party organisation.

 

The ekla chalo ploy is pretty clear — stop the growth of the RJD and the LJP, and in doing so, attract Dalit and Muslim votes. The critical mass gained from these two communities would act as a magnet for others. It would not be surprising to see the Congress snub more regional parties in future — watch out for a replay in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, both up for polls next year.

 

The writer is with Lokniti, Centre for Study of Developing

 

Societies, Delhi

 

express@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

OBAMA AND IRAN

C. RAJA MOHAN 

 

As Delhi reaches out to Tehran to protect its interests in Kabul, some in Washington argue that the United States too must explore the prospects for a dialogue with Iran on how to stabilise Afghanistan.

 

The US and Iran have had conversations on Afghanistan in the the wake of the Taliban's ouster. They also occasionally talked about Iraq. Neither of these initiatives could survive the gathering confrontation between Washington and Tehran on the question of Iran's nuclear weapons programme.

 

As the US debates its options in the faltering Afghan war, the idea of a regional approach to stabilise the nation has been in play for a while. Those who underline the importance of the regional approach naturally emphasise the centrality of Iran, which has a long border with western Afghanistan.

 

Shia Iran also has a big ideological problem with the Sunni extremism of the Taliban. It had joined hands with India, Russia and the Central Asian Republics to help the opponents of the Taliban in the late 1990s.

 

President Barack Obama apparently favours a separate track of engagement with Iran on Afghanistan and might be ready to explore the opportunity to build on their shared interests in combating drug trafficking and preventing the return of the Taliban to power.

 

Obama has reportedly told a group of American newspaper columnists that Iran should and could be a "constructive partner" in Afghanistan. But most observers of US-Iran relations are sceptical whether Washington and Tehran can really build on their visibly shared interests in Afghanistan.

 

For Washington, the problem is that a dialogue with Tehran on Afghanistan might undermine the current efforts of the administration to compel Iran to slow down and eventually abandon its nuclear weapons programme. The Obama administration has expended much political and diplomatic capital in building an international consensus on tightening the UN sanctions against Iran and got many Western countries to impose further unilateral sanctions to squeeze the Iranian economy.

 

Opponents of the Iran engagement in Washington point to the dangers of letting the Afghan imperative undermine the larger challenge of containing Iran's defiance of the non-proliferation regime. American supporters of the sanctions say they are beginning to bite and hope that they will force Iran to count the costs of its nuclear defiance.

 

That Tehran had slapped down Obama's hand when he extended it to Iran early on in his presidential term last year, has also sapped much of the enthusiasm in Washington for engaging Iran.

 

When last year's street protests led by the Green movement against the rigging of presidential elections shook the Iranian regime, Obama was reluctant to castigate Tehran's repression in the hope of finding a breakthrough on the nuclear question. That breakthrough never came. If Washington is conflicted about dealing with Iran, Tehran is apparently even more divided on how to deal with the US.

 

An open podium

As Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is in New York this week, holds forth from the unique global platform that the UN General Assembly offers there will be considerable international interest in the next moves by him and Obama.

 

Ahmadinejad's decision to release American hiker Sarah Shourd, who was held captive in Iran for many months, on the eve of the UNGA session has raised expectations for some diplomatic movement between Washington and Tehran.

 

In his speech on Thursday, Obama is likely to stress that it's the basic question is not about an unending quarrel between the US and Iran, but about Tehran's nuclear obligations to the international community. As he did last year, Obama will insist that "the door is open to engagement" and that Iran must make the first move by offering nuclear concessions.

 

Whatever the impact of the sanctions, Iran's contentious domestic politics will not allow Ahmadinejad to be seen as making any consequential compromise in New York. He must look defiant and sound triumphal to his domestic constituencies even if he chooses to signal flexibility on the nuclear issue.

 

A big deal

 

As Iran's nuclear programme continues to advance, Tehran's nervous Arab neighbours are turning to massive purchases of sophisticated arms. According to reports in Washington, the Obama administration is preparing to notify the American Congress about the sale of advanced fighter jets and helicopters worth $60 billion to Saudi Arabia. This is said to be the single biggest arms deal ever announced by the US.

 

raja.mohan@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

DEMOCRACY IS STILL WORTH THE FIGHT

ROGER COHEN 

 

One mystery of the first decade of the 21st century is the decline of democracy. It's not that nations with democratic systems have dwindled in number but that democracy has lost its lustre. It's an idea without a glow. And that's worrying.

 

I said "mystery". Those who saw something of the blood expended through the 20th century to secure liberal societies must inevitably find democracy's diminished appeal puzzling. But there are reasons.

 

The lingering wars waged partly in democracy's name in Iraq and Afghanistan hurt its reputation, however moving images of inky-fingered voters gripped by the revolutionary notion that they could decide who governs them. Given the bloody mayhem, it was easy to portray "democracy" as a fig leaf for the West's bellicose designs and casual hypocrisies.

 

While the democratic West fought, a non democratic China grew. It emerged onto the world stage prizing stability, avoiding military adventure and delivering 10 per cent annual growth of which Western democracies could only dream.

 

China's "surge" was domestic. It was unencumbered by the paralysing debate of democratic process. When the West's financial system imploded in 2008, the Chinese response was vigorous. A "Beijing consensus" gained traction.

 

The borderline between democracy and authoritarianism grew more opaque. The dichotomy between freedom and tyranny suddenly seemed oh-so 20th century. The new authoritarianism of China or Russia was harder to define and therefore harder to confront.

 

"Regimes like the one in Russia are stabilised by the fact that they have no ideology," said Ivan Krastev, a fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. "There is really no ideological means to attack them."

 

They also derive resilience from the fact that their borders are open. "The middle class is not interested in changing the system because if they don't like it they can fly to London," Krastev noted. Having grown up in Communist Bulgaria, he believes democracy was oversold in the 1990s. All good things, at the Cold War's end, were shoveled into the democratic basket: prosperity, growth, peace. When democracy stopped delivering, it suffered. Too little was said about democratic values, including freedom.

 

Meanwhile technology kicked in with what the author Jonathan Franzen has called its "trillion little bits of distracting noise". People, synched with themselves, retreated into private networks and away from the public space — the commons — where democratic politics had been played out.

 

Democracies seemed blocked, as in Belgium, or corrupted, as in Israel, or parodies, as in Italy, or paralysed, as in the Netherlands.

 

There were exceptions, particularly the heady mass movement that brought Barack Obama to power in 2008.

But he soon found himself caught in the gridlock of the very partisan shrieking he had vowed to overcome. Less than halfway through his presidency the prospect of legislative paralysis looked overwhelming. The world's most powerful democracy, its promise so recently renewed, seemed mired once more in its frustrations and divisions.

 

So what? So what if money trumped democracy and stability trumped open societies for hundreds of millions of people? So what if the rule of law or individual freedom was compromised, the press muzzled, and media-controlling presidents thought they could use "democracy" to rule for life with occasional four-year breaks.

 

So what if people no longer thought their vote would change anything because politics was for sale? Perhaps liberal democracy, along with its Western cradle, had passed its zenith.

 

Wrong. It's important to stanch the anti-democratic tide. Thugs and oppression ride on it.

 

If anyone needs reminding of that, read the remarkable Tony Judt, the historian who brought the same unstinting lucidity to his death last month from Lou Gehrig's Disease as he did to the sweep of 20th-century European history. Judt was a British intellectual transposed to New York whose rigorous spirit of inquiry epitomised Anglo-American liberal civilisation. Nobody knew better the repressive systems that create captive minds. Nobody wrote more persuasively about the struggle against them for pluralism, liberty and justice.

 

Judt died as I moved the other way, from New York to London. It's a move across a continuum of language — even if I can't get used to "letter box" or "white" coffee — but also, still, across the continuum of Anglo-American civilisation, the civilisation of Locke and Adam Smith and Isaiah Berlin, however marginalised those dead white men may appear in the dawning Asian century.

 

So I'm grateful to Timothy Garton Ash, in his tribute to Judt in The New York Review of Books, for finding in the words of a 17th-century Englishman, Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, a quintessential expression of the democratic idea: "For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he: and therefore truly, sir, I think it's clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government."

 

From that utterance in 1647 to Lincoln at Gettysburg in 1863 — "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" — is a natural progression. And democracy is still an idea worth the fight.

 

The New York Times

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE AMERICAN NOVEL?

DAVID BROOKS 

 

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 over-obsessed 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.

 

The central male character, Walter, is good but pushover-nice and pathetically naive. 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.

 

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.

 

The New York Times

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

INDUS WATERS CIVILISATION

UTTAM KUMAR SINHA 

 

Reaching 50 years is a milestone. Landmarks are also often accompanied by reality checks. It is a remarkable achievement that the Indus Waters Treaty, signed between India and Pakistan on September 19, 1960, has survived wars and a tumultuous relationship. Yet, the robustness of the treaty has come under serious strain, threatening to undercut peace efforts and create a flashpoint. Fifty years on, it needs to be asked whether "water rationality" that led to the IWT will continue to hold in the future?

 

Partitioning the Indus river system, compromising the six rivers, was inevitable after the partition of India in 1947. The sharing formula, devised after prolonged negotiations and the World Bank's good offices, sliced the Indus system into two halves. The three western rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab) went to Pakistan and the three eastern rivers (Sutlej, Ravi and Beas) were portioned to India. Equitable it may have seemed, but the fact remained that India conceded 80 per cent of the total flow of the rivers to Pakistan. It also gave £62 million to Pakistan to help build replacement canals from the western rivers. Such generosity is unusual of an upper riparian. Having been signed off on, the water sharing for all purposes stands settled.

 

What is disputable today has nothing to do with water sharing but to whether the Indian projects on the western rivers conform to the technical stipulations. Storages on rivers indeed create anxiety for lower riparian states and India, as an upper riparian, cannot disregard such concerns about water supply. However, it must be noted that there is not a single storage dam that India has built on the western rivers even though the IWT allows storage entitlement of up to 3.6 MAF (million acre feet). The 33 projects India has undertaken, of which 14 are in operation and 13 under construction and the remaining either at the proposal stage or deferred, are run-of-the-river with a capacity of 10 MW or less. Each project, in accordance with the IWT, requires India to provide specified information to Pakistan at least six months before the commencement of the works. Clearly the question of India acquiring capacity to manipulate or withhold the flow of water is, under the IWT's provisions, not only untenable but can be monitored.

 

This, however, does not mean that Pakistan is not using the water issue to drum up hysteria over Indian regional hegemony and there are good reasons why the propaganda machinery works overtime. Pakistan receives 67 per cent of international waters, making it a boxed-in-lower-riparian not only with India but also with Afghanistan vis-a-vis the Kabul river. It articulates its vulnerability and victimhood by raising water as a "lifeline" issue, suggesting clearly that the sharing of the waters with India still remains unfinished business. A section of Pakistan's political-military leadership, given its feudal and industrial background, believes that the water issues not only help divert attention from Pakistan's inefficient water management policies and inter-provincial water dispute between Punjab and Sindh but would also provide a "back door" for international involvement, once again, in the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.

 

The raison d'etre of the IWT was precisely to delink the water issue from territorial disputes and settle any

differences within the mechanism of the Permanent Indus Commission. By linking the waters to Kashmir, Pakistan is trying to reframe the water discourse through territoriality. Pakistan needs to understand that India has been far more open to talks and concessions on water issues than territory. In the case of the Salal dam and Tulbul navigation project, India conceded to Pakistan's demands by making structural changes to the former and suspending work on the latter, having suffered excessive siltation thereon. The only possible way Pakistan can secure its long-term water requirements is to engage with India on water needs.

 

Remarkably, the means to overcome some of the predicted water woes between India and Pakistan are in the IWT itself. Article VII opens up a range of possibilities for future cooperation through "common interest in optimum development of the rivers" and "undertaking engineering works on the rivers". This will require a new set of skills and approaches, but above all a radically different mindset. Issues such as food and energy will increasingly have intricate linkages to water while demographic pressures on water availability and climate change will critically impact water management. Since the Indus and Sutlej originate in Tibet, cooperation with China will at some point become necessary for purposes of data exchange on the flows, especially with evidence of permafrost melting in Tibet.

 

The IWT has shown that water-related interests are not always incompatible. The treaty has worked and it does no one any good to disturb the equilibrium.

 

The writer is a research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

FLYING LOW

 

An article in the CPM's weekly journal People's Democracy focuses on the defence ministry's decision to begin trials for the purchase of some 75 Basic Trainer Aircraft.

 

Criticising the move, it says "aircraft industry boffins, defence ministry bureaucrats and an ignorant or uncaring political leadership" have failed to achieve self-reliance through the many technology transfers and licence manufacture agreements, and that they have not developed indigenous upgrades or replacements and dilly-dallied over essential acquisitions.

 

It adds: "And finally, when severe force depletion in the IAF has reached its worst and the bargaining position is at its weakest, they have gone in for massive foreign acquisitions at exorbitant costs, killing domestic capability in the process... The story of the Indian aircraft industry is one of self-reliance now fully in reverse gear — at its best a story of incompetence and mismanagement, and at its worst a massive con job even in the vital defence sector."

 

The article says trainer aircraft is one area in which the Indian aircraft industry has had reasonable successes and cites the examples of aircraft like the HPT-32 'Deepak', the HJT-16 'Kiran' intermediate jet trainer and the HJT-36 'Sitara'.

 

Before the verdict

 

The lead editorial in the CPI journal New Age claims that the RSS and its various front organisations are planning to plunge the country into communal violence after the Ayodhya verdict in the Allahabad high court later this week.

 

It says the RSS and the VHP apprehend the verdict may go against them. Hence, they are making noises that, whatever may be the verdict of the court, they will go on demanding the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya.

 

It adds that the UPA government should have come out firmly against the threats of violating the court orders by the Sangh Parivar, but is instead keeping silent.

 

On Rahul Gandhi

 

The weekly news bulletin of the CPI(ML), ML Update, questions Rahul Gandhi in the light of his recent statements about funds despatched from Delhi not reaching the deserving beneficiaries in Bihar, the plight of migrant Bihari workers, and the need for the youth to join politics.

 

It asks: "Why is it that the crown prince who swears by youth power has not a word for the Kashmiri students and youth who are being gunned down by the dozen for daring to come out on the streets in protest against repression?"

 

Besides, before promising security and dignity for the migrant Bihari worker, it wonders, should he not say why

Bihari workers engaged in Commonwealth Games-related construction work are subjected to sub-human living and working conditions and abysmally low wages? Gandhi is urged to throw some light on why the UPA government is refusing to honour the Supreme Court directive to distribute foodgrain free of cost among the starving poor before bragging about Central funds.

 

Compiled by Manoj C.G.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DIAL A SOLUTION

 

Given how this newspaper has campaigned against telecom minister A Raja's largesse to nine telecom firms in 2008, going along with Raja's attempt to bail them out seems a huge U-turn. More than a U-turn, it is being pragmatic. The companies made a fortune in that the minister gave them much-sought after licences for a song, but taking this back from them isn't going to be easy, certainly it is going to be time-consuming and litigious as well. Meanwhile, the country will remain starved of spectrum—the 3G spectrum has provided some relief to the beleaguered industry, but the quantum available is so small, it will get exhausted once there is a reasonable number of people doing serious amount of downloading/uploading of data on 3G networks. Apart from the fact that it is in the country's best interests not to have stranded spectrum as it were, there is the issue of what it will do to the industry's fortunes. The entry of so many new players ensured the competition in the industry was getting destructive—allowing mergers and acquisitions will ensure that the number of players settles to what the industry can bear.

 

That said, what should the solution be? Should it be, what the CAG has objected to, to simply allow firms to exit after the three-year lock-in period in their licences gets over in a few months from now—the CAG has said that no sale should be allowed until the rollout obligations are fulfilled. This, however, is easily done since, if the government acts upon the Trai's recommendation to allow virtual mobile operators (MVNOs), the firms will be in business—they won't have invested anything, but they will have "rolled out" their networks. The trick, as the CAG has said, is to ensure these firms pay a large share of the gains they make to the government, and not just in the form of capital gains tax—it should be interesting to see how many of these firms are registered in tax havens and so can escape even paying this tax. As in the case of the 3G licences, a final solution on an exit route—keeping in mind the licences are on shaky ground anyway since these firms have defaulted on their rollout obligations—should be under the aegis of an EGoM, not the telecom ministry since it was this ministry that first favoured these firms.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

NOT OPPOSITION POLITICS

 

The repeated failure of the Centre and the states to come to a consensus on the mechanisms for the GST rollout points to a stalemate that could seriously jeopardise one of the most ambitious indirect tax reforms ever attempted. Introduction of the GST would have helped not only usher in a single common market, unleash the competitiveness in the economy and boost growth, but also improve the resource mobilisation efforts of both the Centre and the states. However, trying to explain away the deadlock as pure obstructionist politics by the opposition groups is a disservice to the states that were earlier successfully cajoled into replacing the sales tax with the state VAT. And it is not just the BJP-ruled states that are opposing the moves, UPA allies like the DMK government in Tamil Nadu and also partial allies like the BSP government in UP have opposed the moves.

 

One reason for the slow progress in the GST negotiations was the lack of political acumen in hustling forward the reforms that would usher in a win-win scenario for all stakeholders. The tone was set by the ham-handed approach adopted earlier by the Thirteenth Finance Commission, which tried to ram a model GST plan down the throat of the states by unfolding a grand bargain and tying up compensation payments of Rs 50,000 crore, for any loss of revenue after the rollout of GST by the states, to the full acceptance of its GST regime. To add to the problems, the earlier draft of the GST regime tilted the balance almost entirely in favour of the Centre by conferring on it the power to even veto decisions of the GST council—this was later given up. Yet another major obstacle that has stood in the way of concession is the Centre's haste in introducing a uniform rate across the country. Although such uniformity would have smothered out various procedural hurdles, it would have heavily skewed the outcomes with some states making substantial gains and the others sliding down to become perennial losers as the revenue neutral rates vary substantially across the states—in the case of VAT, the post-VAT tax growth for many major states was less than that in the pre-VAT period. But now that these issues seem to have driven an ideological wedge between the ruling coalition and the Opposition, it is for their national leaders to sit together and thrash out an acceptable way out of the quandary.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

TIME TO RE-RATE INDIA

SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN

 

If the Sensex is at 20,000, it's because foreign institutional investors (FII) are coming to India in droves. That's evident from the numbers; already $16 billion worth of equities have been bought by FIIs in 2010 so far. It's not as though there's a fire sale on. As Morgan Stanley has pointed out, India's 12-month trailing PE premium, versus Emerging Markets, had increased to 60% at the end of August and given that since then India has outperformed its peers it would have become even more expensive.

 

Looking at it another way, the Sensex, at 20,000, trades at a trailing twelve month PE multiple of close to 20

times while the Korean Kospi trades at a trailing twelve month of just under 14 times and the Taiwanese Taiex commands a multiple of 15 times. The Shanghai SE Composite trades at close to 18 times. So, compared with its peers, the Indian market is by no means cheap and even at a disaggregated level there are clearly no basement bargain deals to be struck. Indeed, valuations seem positively stretched, given that India Inc's performance in the June 2010 quarter didn't really live up to the Street's expectations and that there could be downside risk to earnings estimates for future quarters. Citigroup makes a pertinent point when it says that the headline profits for the three months to June may have grown a robust 34%, but nearly 80% of this was generated by the foreign subsidiaries of Indian firms, which turned around, causing a huge swing in the numbers. The 'domestic only' earnings growth, the brokerage emphasises, was an anaemic 7.5%.

 

But the FIIs seem to be looking at the big picture; the promise of 8% sustained GDP growth for the next four or five years, driven by a large home market that will consume the goods produced and the potential for investment in a country lacking adequate infrastructure. Right now they seem to be willing to overlook the near-term concerns of high inflation, rising interest rates, a possible slowdown in exports, missing private sector investment and a government that's not really rushing ahead with reforms because it's struggling with other problems. They're betting big on India because they believe it will be among the two or three larger economies left standing in an otherwise debilitated world and are willing to wait it out.

 

It's hard to disagree with their perspective. There's no doubt that India has a lot going for it and so even if the growth and earnings numbers don't always come in as expected every quarter, there is enough entrepreneurial spirit and ambition to ensure that in the long run enough companies will deliver the goods. There's too much evidence of that in enterprises like an Infosys or a Bharti Airtel to ignore and that's what makes the country such an attractive investment destination.

 

Also, with the world's biggest economies having been virtually brought to their knees in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, there is much respect today for the wisdom and prudence of the country's central bank.

 

Indeed, given that emerging markets today are way less leveraged than their global peers and have many more profitable firms, there is a clear case for a re-rating relative to developed markets. Already emerging markets' share of world equity capitalisation moved up to around 25% in August from 22% a year ago. Since most emerging markets are now most certainly going to be growing at a much faster pace than developed economies, which could actually see a slowdown, this share is tipped to go up. Goldman Sachs forecasts that over the next two decades or by 2030, China's market capitalisation may exceed that of the US. And even before that, BRICs' share of world equity capitalisation is tipped to grow to 30% by 2020 from the current 18%.

 

Seen in this context, the current run rate of nearly $2 billion a month that's flowing into the market, whether through primary market issuances or the secondary markets, could well sustain for some more time. At a macroeconomic level, this would be driven by the quantitative easing that is already taking place, leaving the western world awash with liquidity. And because experts predict QE2 (that's the second round of quantitative easing) is around the corner, money managers don't really have too much choice when US bonds are fetching 2%. EPFR data indicates that global funds, which have close to $1.7 trillion in assets-under-management, have 0.65% of their assets in India, an underweight position of 0.38% compared to the benchmark weight of 1.03%. So, even if there are not further inflows into these funds, simply shifting to a neutral stance would result in about $7 billion flowing into India.

 

In addition, there are the Global Emerging Market (GEMs) Funds and Asia ex-Japan Funds that could potentially invest about $300 million a month. Fund managers back home, too, are sitting on reasonably large amounts of cash estimated at close to $9-10 billion. That's probably what makes merchant bankers so confident that the IPO of Coal India and the follow-on issues of Power Grid or SAIL, which together are expected to target Rs 28,000 crore, will not be short of institutional takers. The huge supply of paper hitting the primary market this year might take some of the zing out of the Sensex, but that should soon be back.

 

shobhana.subramanian@expressindia.com

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

GET SMART

NISTULA HEBBAR

 

Much of the developmental debate hinges on how our policies are all very well intentioned but we fail when it comes to implementation. The road to social security is literally paved with well-constructed legislation and faulty execution. As policymakers and politicians debate the whys and wherefores of a new Food Security Bill, the old hoary chestnut of just how to ensure delivery has raised its head yet again.

 

The Planning Commission is advocating the use of a smart card, which like a cash card issued to urban buyers would help route food subsidies directly to beneficiaries of the schemes and also help diversify the range of products from which nutrition security can be derived. For example, if a below poverty line (BPL) farmer and beneficiary of the Food Security Bill has enough grain stored at home and has no use for the monthly quota of 35 kg of rice or wheat, then the card can be used at the same fair price shops to access other items like sugar, kerosene, spices, etc.

 

Ultimately, this card could be expanded in order to route benefits of other social security schemes as well. It is hoped that by the application of technology the leakages in delivery could be plugged. But can technology be the saviour of failed social security programmes? There has been much technology and even more corruption in all spheres in Indian policy making.

 

So, will the introduction of one more card or method of identification work where all others have failed?

 

Naysayers abound and have very convincing arguments on why, however superior a technology is, it cannot circumvent an exploitative social system which would ensure that the poor remain deprived and state benefits never reach them. To a certain extent, these are powerful arguments and empirically backed up by our long history of dealing with failed policies. And yet, is it reason enough to give up?

 

My sister, who spent many years in the tribal backwoods of Jharkhand researching her PhD thesis, would recount one particular anecdote about systems and people's response to them. A forest guard in the village where she was staying would make periodic appearances if only to forcibly snatch away poultry whenever he had guests visiting. Now ordinarily that should have made him totally unpopular among the local populace. Surprisingly though, that was not so. The reason being that the guard was the only representative of the state that the people had access to, and who chose to engage with them.

 

The lesson from all this, of course, is one which is not easily palatable to many. That if systems, even technologically sound systems, have to work, they have to often be implemented through exploitative systems.

 

However faulty the system, if it engages with the local population, there is a relationship there that has to be understood, accepted and then subverted to deliver.

 

One of the more successful examples of delivering on food security has been in the state of Chhattisgarh, where on the 7th of the every month, food grain is distributed in the presence of people's representatives and officials to ensure multiple levels of scrutiny. The existing system has been subverted to deliver rather than collude in corruption.

 

If delivery systems have to work therefore, a realistic assessment has to be made. Not so much the technology as much as the hierarchical systems which are expected to deliver. If the public gaze is the determining factor ensuring delivery in Chhattisgarh, it could be something else in Maharashtra, and yes, there are many states where the smart card could indeed work.

 

nistula.hebbar@expressindia.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLLAPSING BRIDGES

 

Rain gods haven't helped the Commonwealth Games' cause

 

For those of us who have kept batting for the Commonwealth Games despite rising odds, the going just keeps getting tougher. The latest setback involves the collapse of a footbridge next to the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, the main Games venue. This comes right on the back of various countries declaring 'grave concerns' about accommodation. There have been dengue and terrorist attacks, which couldn't have been anticipated exactly. Rains have been overwhelming. The bottom line is that in a week in which international athletes are scheduled to pour into the Indian capital, Shera is looking soggy.

 

When the Union sports minister gave his now infamous Monsoon Wedding analogy, he would have done well to take it literally. When Suresh Kalmadi toured the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium and declared that "everything is 100% ready", was he wearing blinkers against the rubble and stagnant water? Much as the Olympics showcased Beijing's abilities to deliver, the Commonwealth Games were supposed to play up New Delhi's competence. But even its best-wishers are getting concerned now. A collapsed footbridge isn't necessarily significant in the larger scheme of things, where big infrastructural achievements hold more significance. But in an environment where everything about the Games has become suspect (including the AR Rahman ditty), the collapse makes everyone fearful that this particular 'wedding' isn't going to be particularly fortuitous.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EAVESDROPPER

 

BAD TIMING

It's not just Yuvraj Singh whose poor timing saw him getting dropped from the test team yesterday. Telecom firm MTS sent out a press invite, in association with Reebok, inviting people to participate in an unforgettable MBlaze (MTS' USP is the speed of data downloads on its phones and Internet cards) experience with Yuvraj Singh whom it describes as 'swashbuckling cricketer' and Sameera Reddy, 'Bollywood Actor'. One doesn't know if MBlaze's media department never read the news of Yuvraj being dropped or whether it just decided to use its rival's tagline, to just do it.

 

DIFFERENT FLIGHT PATHS

The civil aviation ministry has said it cannot put a blanket ban on all private jets wanting to land and park at the crowded Mumbai airport. It has, however, decided to restrict the movement of smaller ATR planes at the airport. A top ministry official said if a top industrialist's jet wasn't allowed to land, the press would term it an industry-unfriendly move. If a global businessman's jet wasn't allowed, it would be termed anti-foreign investment.

 

GOOD TIMES

Vijay Mallya's Kingfisher Airlines might be losing money but this isn't affecting the company's morale. Nearly 30 executives in the company's sales department were flown to Bangkok, Thailand, as a treat since they'd exceeded the sales target—given the airline's falling market share, from 23 per cent in March to 20 per cent in August, it would appear the airline scaled down its sales targets.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

FUELLED BY FOREIGN FLOWS

 

On Tuesday, India's benchmark stock indices, the Sensex and the Nifty, surged past the important psychological milestones of 20,000 and 6,000 respectively. Given the current momentum — the markets have gone up by 10 per cent in a short two-week period — it is very likely that the indices will surpass their all time-highs recorded in early 2008. Government spokespersons have reacted with moderation: there have been no exaggerated claims about the heady rise. Nor have there been hasty inferences. The continuing positive macroeconomic news from the domestic front is boosting the investor sentiment. The economy seems capable of registering a nine per cent annual growth rate and possibly moving on to an even higher trajectory. Manufacturing especially, and also services, have shown robust performance, and agriculture seems poised to recover on the back of good monsoons. However, it would be wrong to attribute the stock market behaviour to just one or two factors. While strong corporate earnings and a sound capital market edifice have been two other positive factors, India's strength has to be seen also in relative terms. With cross-border capital flows into stocks becoming a major factor in a globalised economy, Indian markets are perceived as a haven by those who fear a double-dip recession in the United States and are concerned about the debt crisis in Europe. Foreign institutional investors have pumped in more than Rs.3,300 crore in just two trading sessions recently.

 

Indian stock markets have consistently been outperforming their peers. The crucial question is whether Indian stocks are overpriced. Stock indices are currently quoting at more than 21 times earning for the trailing 12-month period. Brazil, Russia, and even China have lower price-earning (P.E.) multiples. Unlike in the stupendous rally of early 2008, domestic investors, especially the retail investors, have been circumspect. Even the domestic institutions and mutual funds have been sellers, preferring to book their profits. The over-dependence on overseas investors is surely a handicap. The rally can reverse itself without any warning. The foreign flows are guided, to a large extent, by the economic circumstances in the developed countries. This was amply proved by the abrupt reversal during the second half of 2008 when the financial crisis acquired menacing proportions. High stock prices, insofar as they are prone to sharp corrections, pose a variety of threats to the individual investor and the economy. Small investors might be tempted to enter the markets at these high levels. For the macroeconomy, the foreign inflows have not been an unmixed blessing. Apart from fuelling asset price inflation, they have brought about a sharp appreciation of the rupee.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

MEANINGLESS ELECTIONS

 

It is remarkable that an estimated 3.6 million people braved threats from the Taliban to vote in the September 17 elections to the Afghan parliament. More so is that the election could be held at all. Officials of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission are already calling it a "success." But it would be delusional to assume that as a result Afghanistan is now a more stable place. NATO counted 500 incidents of violence on voting day, and at least 23 people, among them four candidates, were killed in the run-up to the election. In many places, the candidates were afraid to step out of their homes to campaign. More than 1,000 polling booths, out of nearly 6,835, could not open because of security concerns. To top it all, allegations of ballot-stuffing, fake voter-cards, not-so-indelible ink, and other electoral fraud are rife. As for the voter turnout this time, it was the lowest for any of the four elections held since 2001. As well as an indicator of the steadily deteriorating security situation, the number is a stark illustration of people's weakening faith in the ability of the system to provide governance. In contrast, seven million people voted in 2004 in the first presidential election, as many as 6.5 million voters queued up for the parliamentary elections a year later, and even as late as last year, 4.6 million exercised their franchise in the presidential election.

 

Contested as they will be, the results could take weeks to be announced. If the allegations of fraud are proved, it can only further undermine President Hamid Karzai's position, already weakened after his controversial re-election last year. Even if the elections are pronounced free and fair, installing a new parliament in Afghanistan is akin to giving band-aid to a patient suffering from multiple organ failure. The 249-member Wolesi jirga, as the parliament is called, does not have teeth and can hardly demand accountability from the President or his cabinet or even lower officials on issues such as governance-deficit and widespread corruption. The political party system is almost non-existent. Those who contested the elections are mostly warlords or ethnic leaders seen by the people not as their representatives but as members of a political elite fattening themselves on Western patronage. The election has just served to highlight that such a self-serving system would only increase the hold of the Taliban and make it more difficult for Afghans to retrieve their country from the mess that the United States has made of it.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

THE WINDING PATHS OF A TEMPLE TOWN

THE POLITICAL HISTORY OF THE RAMJANMABHOOMI-BABRI MASJID CONFLICT IS OF RECENT VINTAGE. HOWEVER, THE LEGAL CASES GO BACK TO 1885.

VIDYA SUBRAHMANIAM & J. VENKATESAN

 

What are the key issues involved in the consolidated Ayodhya title suits to be decided by the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court on September 24? How are the political movements built around the dispute different from the civil suits, the earliest of which dates back to 1885?

 

While there is much folklore around centuries-long battles fought over the Ramjanmabhoomi and the Babri Masjid, the dispute's violent political history culminating in the destruction of the Babri Masjid is of very recent vintage. On December 6, 1992, the Masjid was brutally brought down by Ram kar sevaks in the presence of a stellar cast of Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, among whom was Lal Krishna Advani.

 

The Ram temple movement was launched by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in 1982; the BJP officially adopted the issue in June 1989 with a resolution passed at its national executive in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh: "The BJP holds that the nature of this controversy is such that it just cannot be sorted out by a court of law. A court of law … cannot adjudicate as to whether Babar did actually invade Ayodhya, destroy a temple and build a mosque in its place … The sentiments of the people must be respected, and Ramjanmasthan handed over to the Hindus — if possible through a negotiated settlement, or else, by legislation. Litigation certainly is no answer."

 

Two major twists

 

However, two major twists in the story came courtesy the Rajiv Gandhi government. Acting with alacrity on a February 1, 1986 decision of the Faizabad District Judge, it ordered open the locks of the Masjid, thus paving the way for the politicisation of the movement. The unlocked doors were a huge symbolic victory for the VHP which ramped up its agitation with the Muslim side retaliating by forming the All-India Babri Masjid Action Committee. On November 9, 1989, with only days to go for the Lok Sabha election, the Rajiv Gandhi government allowed the VHP to perform the shilanyas (foundation laying ceremony) of the temple, thus implicitly accepting that the sangh parivar was within its rights to build a temple on the disputed site.

 

For the sangh parivar and the BJP, there was no looking back after this. Starting 1989, the movement steadily gathered pace, growing in size and violence even as the BJP formally came into the picture. The agitation scaled two major peaks: Mr. Advani's Ram rath yatra of 1990 and the December 6, 1992 demolition of the Masjid. Through all this, the sangh's position remained steadfast: since Ram's birth was a matter of faith, Hindus must be given possession of the land, either by negotiations with Muslims or by legislation enacted in Parliament.

 

The legal history of the dispute (source: Babri Masjid, A.G. Noorani) shows that other Hindu organisations, themselves deeply divided, had no reservations about fighting out the case in court. In fact, Bhagwan Rama Virajman (presiding deity Bhagwan Ram) was himself listed as a party in one of the suits filed in the Court of the Civil Judge, Faizabad (case no 236 of 1989). Arrayed against the Lord in this case (now part of the consolidated suit and registered as original suit number 5 of 1989 in the High Court) are Hindu as well as Muslim defendants, among them Rajendra Singh, son of the original plaintiff, Gopal Singh Visharad; Mahant Paramahans Ramachandra Das, regarded as the mascot of the temple movement; Nirmohi Akhara, one of Ayodhya's oldest religious institutions; and the Sunni Central Board of Wakfs, the main litigant from the Muslim side.

 

The dispute was dragged to the court for the first time in 1885, when Mahant Raghubar Das filed suit no 61/280 of 1885 in the Court of the Sub-Judge, Faizabad, against the Secretary of State for India, seeking permission to construct a temple on the Ram chabutra (adjoining the Babri structure). The stage for the next batch of litigation was set on December 23, 1949, when a mob of 50-60 people laid siege to the mosque and surreptitiously placed the idols of Ram and other objects right under the central dome. This led to the property going into the hands of the receiver, and to puja being conducted by a pujari appointed by the receiver.

 

On January 16, 1950, Gopal Singh Visharad filed a suit in the Faizabad civil court (suit no 2 of 1950 now registered as other Original Suit no 1 of 1989 in the High Court) seeking exclusive rights for performing puja for Ram Lalla. He sought a restraint order on the removal of idols on which the judge issued a temporary injunction. This order was later confirmed by a Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court.

 

On December 5, 1950, Mahant Paramahansa Ramachandra Das (now dead) filed a suit (no 25 of 1950 now registered as other Original Suit no 2 in the High Court) for the continuation of puja and keeping the idols in the Babri structure. In August 1990, out of sheer frustration, the Mahant withdrew the case.

 

The third suit (no 26 of 1959, now registered as other Original Suit no 3 of 1989 in the High Court) was filed on December 17, 1959 by the Nirmohi Akhara seeking transfer of charge of the disputed site from the receiver. The fourth suit (no 12 of 1961 now registered as other Original suit no 4 of 1989 in the High Court) was filed on December 18, 1961 by the U.P. Sunni Central Board of Wakfs for the declaration and possession of the Babri site. Significantly, this suit was filed with days to go before the expiry of the 12-year limitation period. The fifth suit, in the name of Bhagwan Ram Lalla Virajman, was filed after a gap of 28 years on July 1, 1989. While the first four suits were filed during periods of relative political calm, the fifth suit coincided with the escalation in the political movement. Only a month earlier, the BJP had officially joined the movement.

 

With suit No 2 withdrawn, only four title suits remained in the Faizabad civil court. In 1989, on an application by the then Advocate General of U.P., these suits were transferred to the High Court. On October 10, 1991, the Kalyan Singh government acquired 2.77 acres of land around the disputed dacha. After the demolition, the Narasimha Rao government at the Centre, with the consent of Parliament, took over some 67 acres of land all around the disputed area and sought a Presidential reference to the Supreme Court to find out whether a Hindu place of worship predated the construction of the Masjid. The Supreme Court declined to answer the reference.

 

Muslims claimed in their suit that the shrine had always remained a mosque and prayers were being offered there up until 1949, when the gates were locked following the illegal installation of idols. They sought a declaration that the area in dispute be declared a Babri Mosque.

 

On the other hand, on behalf of Hindus it was argued that the right to worship the deity of Ram Lalla at the disputed site in Ayodhya must be recognised by the court, as millions of Hindus believed it to be the birthplace of Lord Ram. Further that in Hindu ethos and Hindu customary law, unlike in other religions, the concept of deity was a very distinguishing feature. The Hindu side quoted the Valmiki Ramayana, the Skanda Puran, the Gita as also a whole range of other literary and cultural evidence to claim that Ram was born in Ayodhya. It cited many accounts by foreign travellers of the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th Century besides a series of Gazetteers to argue that not only before 1528 but even thereafter Hindus held possession of the place.

 

Main issues

 

The following are the main issues (not all) framed by the Court to decide the dispute.

 

— Whether the building had been constructed on the site of an alleged Hindu temple after demolishing the same. If so, its effect?

 

— Whether the building in question described as a mosque was a mosque as claimed by the plaintiffs.

 

— Whether the building stood dedicated to almighty God as alleged by the plaintiffs.

 

— Whether the building had been used by members of the Muslim community for offering prayers from times immemorial.

 

— Whether the idols and objects of worship were placed inside … or were in existence even earlier.

 

— Have the Hindus been worshipping the place in dispute as Sri Ramjanmabhoomi and visiting it as a sacred place of pilgrimage as (a matter) of right since times immemorial?

 

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THE HINDU

NEWS ANALYSIS 

U.K. RECOMMITS ITS PROMISES TO THE POOR

ANDREW MITCHELL

 

'The new government will maintain its commitment to reducing poverty around the world.'

 

This week leaders from around the globe are meeting in New York for the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Summit. The actions they take over these three days could hold the key to creating a stable, successful future for millions of the world's poorest people.

 

The MDGs were agreed 10 years ago with a palpable sense of urgency. Something needed to be done to save the lives of mothers dying needlessly in childbirth, to get the millions of children missing out on an education into school, to fight the spread of killer diseases and first and foremost to halve the number of people living in poverty across the world.

 

Those leaders, a decade ago, set themselves a deadline of 2015 to achieve the goals. So with the clock ticking down to 2015, now is the time to take stock, review progress and press hard on the accelerator pedal to speed up in the areas which need the most urgent attention.

 

The economic climate

 

The Summit takes place in the tailwind of the global financial meltdown. In this difficult economic climate the temptation is for nations to pull back from the international commitments they have made. It is a temptation that the U.K. government is determined to resist. The new coalition government has been clear — we will keep the promises made to the world's poorest people, and maintain our commitment to reducing poverty around the world.

 

India is critical to success in meeting the MDGs both because of its global influence and through the pace of growth and poverty reduction in India itself. The Indian Government has already made impressive progress in some areas, notably on primary education (MDG 2). As the U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said during his visit to India in July, the U.K. wants to renew and relaunch the relationship between India and the U.K. We remain committed both to working in partnership with India to achieve global progress and to supporting India's own development goals. We are in close touch with the Government of India on how we can best help do that in the future.

 

The way out

 

But aid is only part of the story. Trade and investment are the engines of economic growth, offering the only sustainable way out of the grinding poverty that afflicts nearly a billion people across the globe. Boosting private investment and enterprise has the potential to help us meet every single one of the MDGs. People with secure jobs and fair wages have the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty. India has a vibrant private sector and Indian businesses are already contributing to better education, health and livelihoods across India.

 

The U.K. goes to the Summit with the intention of putting women and girls and tackling malaria at the forefront of our efforts. Investing in them will reap dividends.

 

How can countries propel themselves towards sustainable economic growth when 50 per cent of its talent are not given the opportunity to make a contribution? Every day about 1,400 women die in pregnancy or childbirth, nearly all of them in the developing world. There are the 2,000 deaths a day — mostly children, the vast majority preventable — from malaria. This cannot be allowed to continue. The U.K. will be making a huge effort at the Summit to bring an end to this daily tragedy. By improving the quality of health services we can start to ensure that pregnancy is no longer a life threatening condition.

 

Every one of us has an interest in meeting the MDGs, but they can only be met with the determination of governments, charities and businesses, civil societies and citizens. The U.K. is committed to making this Summit a success. We hope others attending the Summit will join the U.K. in agreeing a course of action that will meet the MDGs by 2015, setting us on the path to eradicating poverty once and for all.

 

( Andrew Mitchell is the U.K. Cabinet Minister for International Development.)

 

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THE HINDU

NEWS ANALYSIS    

POPULATION AGEING: AN AREA OF DARKNESS

DR. ENNAPADAM S. KRISHNAMOORTHY

 

•The elderly in India suffer a double-whammy effect — the combined burden of infectious and lifestyle related diseases

•There is little doubt that the care of the elderly must remain vested within the family unit

•The organisation and delivery of elder health care must be approached with enthusiasm, altruism and generosity

 

It is a challenge for policymakers, care providers and society as a whole.

Population ageing has emerged as the grand challenge of this century; for policymakers, care providers and society as a whole. A review of India's population census is insightful. In 1961, the population of the elderly was placed at 24 million; it increased exponentially to 43 million in 1981; 57 million in 1991; and about 77 million in 2001. The proportion of the elderly in the total population also rose from 5.63 per cent in 1961 to 6.58 per cent in 1991 and to 7.5 per cent in 2001. India has thus joined the rank of "Greying nations" with over seven per cent of its population in the 60-plus years segment. A United Nations report has predicted that India will have 198 million 'Old' (60+) people in 2030 and 326 million in 2050. Currently, there could be around 100 million 'senior citizens' in India.

 

The problems

 

Studies have shown that elderly people in India suffer a double-whammy effect; the combined burden of both communicable (usually infectious) and non-communicable (usually chronic and lifestyle related) diseases. This is compounded by an impairment of special sensory functions like vision and hearing that decline with advancing age. Thus, elders have a considerable burden of both infectious diseases like tuberculosis and chronic illnesses such as diabetes mellitus, ischemic heart disease, and cancer. Indeed, a survey of elder health in Kerala showed that over a third of all elders suffer from chronic diseases and have a medical consultation or admission necessitated by illness in each year. Notably, the majority prefer to use private health-care services, even though they are more expensive, service quality being an important reason for such a preference.

 

It is also clear that disability and frailty accompany aging, especially after the seventh decade. Thus 25-27 per cent of Indian elders have visual impairment; 12-14 per cent are hearing deficit; eight pre cent are immobile and confined to home or bed, this figure rising to 27 per cent after 80 years, women being more vulnerable. Falls are a common problem causing disability; with over half of all the elderly in some studies having suffered a fall with or without serious injuries like fractures and dislocations. While aging is not synonymous with disability, a large proportion of the Indian aged population is disabled, the severity of disablement increasing with age: 36 per cent in the young-old (60-64); 42 per cent in the middle-old (65-69); 51 per cent in the older-old (70-74) and 61 per cent in the oldest old (75 and above).

 

No safety net

 

The absence of a safety net for the elderly has exacerbated the problem. Traditionally, the joint family in India took care of its elderly. These traditional care arrangements have been lost in the context of rapid urbanisation and an exodus of people from rural to urban areas and from urban areas to foreign countries. In the absence of such community support in the form of kinsmen or the extended family, and an inability to continue to earn their living, the elderly are often rendered destitute, if not financially, from a pragmatic perspective. While these problems plague most traditional societies that are in transition, their rapidly enlarging scope and scale, demand and necessitate an urgent response from our policy makers.

 

The Government India, supported actively by civil society, unveiled its National Policy on Older Persons (NPOP) over 50 years after Independence. A comprehensive document covering every aspect of the elder's life, ambitious, with a clear cut action plan, it proposed a role for the State in the elder care: health, shelter, financial security and protection against abuse. It recognised the need for affirmative action favouring the elderly, viewing them as national resources, creating opportunities for their development. Training, empowerment and partnership with elderly were seen as important in providing equality and dignity to all groups of elderly. Unfortunately, a decade later, the NPOP awaits complete implementation in all States and Union Territories of India, much of its promise remaining unfulfilled, prompting the Government of India to seek its revision to suit contemporary needs.

 

Discussions among civil society groups and concerned senior citizens in the run up to a re-organised NPOP, reveal many consensus points for the future organisation of elder health care. There is little doubt that the care of the elder must remain vested within the family unit and based within the community the elder resides in. Incentives for families that care for their elders are necessary; as are the development of community health-care resources; doctors, nurses and paramedics specialised in elder health care; and rehabilitation facilities for those with disability. The importance of Government and civil society partnerships needs to be underscored here; as is regulation of such elder health-care services for quality and cost. While the focus is often on in-patient (hospitalisation) care, there is a clear need to develop other models relevant to the elder: out-patient care, day care, palliative care, rehabilitation care, respite care and step down care. Developing community level health-care worker pools that will both screen the elderly for risk factors, disease and disability; and provide simple home based interventions is necessary; as is tiered access for the elderly to a range of professionals: from generalist to specialist doctors. Most importantly, perhaps, those working in this area feel the need for unitary, sustainable and replicable models of screening and assessment: health checks that would address apart from routine risk factors like hypertension and diabetes, areas of potential disability: vision, hearing, falls, bone and joint, respiratory and cardiac disability; and neurodegenerative disorders — strokes, Parkinson's disease and that looming public health challenge; brain degeneration and dementia!

 

The five 'A' test

 

A second area of concern for those engaged in this sector is that of healthcare costs. A survey in 2001 revealed that nearly two-thirds of elders live in rural areas; nearly half are women, out of whom over half are widows. Two-thirds of all elderly persons are illiterate and dependent on physical labour; 90 per cent existed in the unorganised sector with no regular source of income; one-third living below poverty line. In sum, the majority of Indian elders are in potentially vulnerable situations without adequate food, clothing, or shelter. Providing health care that passes the "Five 'A' Test" (Availability, Affordability, Accessibility, Acceptability and Accountability) to such a large vulnerable group, is a challenge that has to be confronted. Insurance cover that is elder-sensitive is virtually non-existent; insurance premiums increase in an unsustainable manner with age and there is rampant age-discrimination in the health insurance sector. Further, pre-existing illnesses are usually not covered, making insurance policies unviable for the elder. Indeed, senior citizens point out that they pay far more for health insurance than their utilisation justifies; and that elders end up subsidising the care of younger citizens, who form the bulk of health insurance consumers. Government sponsored comprehensive cover for those living below poverty line, and in elderly and destitute homes is necessary; as is family based insurance cover that addresses comprehensively, the unique health care needs of the elder.

 

Most importantly, perhaps, is the need for sensitivity and sensibility in making these plans. The elder citizen is a national treasure; one who has contributed to both national growth and familial development. As they approach the autumn of their lives, they experience diminishing ability to generate income, increasing vulnerability to illness and disability, and increasing dependency on their families and communities. Rather than view this dependence as a burden to be endured, we must as a society embrace it whole-heartedly, as a pay back opportunity; to thank senior citizens for their many unconditional contributions. The organisation and delivery of elder health care must therefore be approached with enthusiasm, altruism and generosity. Mature health policy for the elder combined with a generous dose of pragmatism in organising, delivering and funding health care services is the need of the hour. World Alzheimer's Day has just passed — September 21, 2010, and we should be reminded about the challenge of population ageing; the looming burden of elder disability; and the need for a comprehensive and pragmatic National Policy for Older Persons.

 

Acknowledgements: Mr. K.R. Gangadharan (Chair), Prof. Indira Jaiprakash (Member), and other members of the sub-committee on Healthcare of the NPOP for their inputs.

 

(Dr. Ennapadam S. Krishnamoorthy is a senior consultant in Clinical Neurology and Neuropsychiatry and Honorary Secretary of the Voluntary Health Services (VHS) in Chennai.)

 

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THE HINDU

 

DOUBTS OVER LOCAL SOUTH LONDON CURRENCY

FREDERIKA WHITEHEAD

 

The Brixton pound has just celebrated its first year in circulation. But the local currency, whose notes carry the faces of famous former residents of this corner of south London, including artist Vincent van Gogh and Trinidadian author C.L.R. James, is only legal tender for another 12 months. The £2,00,000 worth of notes printed last year — of which just B£30,000 are in circulation — are valid until September 2011. Transition Town Brixton — the organisation behind the currency — has until then to come up with a way to keep it going.

 

Supporters of the Brixton pound ( B£1 is equal to £1) use the slogan "money that sticks to Brixton". They want to preserve the area's unique identity, foster community spirit, strengthen local bonds, and defend local businesses from the onslaught of chain stores by paying for goods and services with the local money. They also want to cut down on food miles and would like their traders to source goods locally. But therein lies the rub: there aren't many inner-city residents growing fruit and vegetables, coffee or cotton.

 

On the streets of Brixton the pound divides opinion. I had to walk past countless shops that don't take the money to find a place that did. Aziz Cash & Carry no longer takes the pounds because it says they are too much trouble to bank. The manager of D Convenience Store grimaced slightly when I proffered it. "Does he take very many?" I asked. "No, not many", he replied. Tony Benest, manager of Brixton Wholefoods, is perhaps surprisingly, one of the currency's most vociferous critics. He accepts the notes in order to "indulge" customers who have fallen for what he calls its "touchy-feely image". He takes at most B£40 a week. The man behind the till in the Dynamic Discount Store, however, thinks the naysayers are the problem: "I just want more people to realise what we are trying to do here," he says.

 

Noel Longhurst was part of the team that set up the Totnes pound four years ago. He is now at the University of East Anglia researching local currencies. "I would be hesitant to encourage another town to set up a transition currency under the current [paper notes] model," he says. " A digital platform would allow businesses to trade amongst themselves in much greater volume than paper." Josh Ryan-Collins, a founder member of Transition Town Brixton and researcher on monetary reform for the New Economics Foundation (Nef) acknowledges the Brixton pound's limitations.

 

"The main problem with the currency as it is at the moment is the transaction cost, [the effort involved] for the consumers, but more for the businesses because they can't put it in the bank," he says. But he defends the ethos of the project. "The challenge really is respending it within the community," he says.

 

Totnes in Devon, Lewes in East Sussex, and Stroud in Gloucestershire have each established local currencies, but they are all in rural areas where most goods are sourced from the local economy.

 

Ryan-Collins is working on a map of Brixton supply chains, and hopes to encourage local businesses to sell to each other. He also suggests that transition towns could trade with each other, "bread and herbs from Lewes could be traded for services from Brixton".

 

Transition Town Brixton is working alongside Nef and the Social Trade Organisation to develop a digital platform that will work across the mobile phone network. Users will be able to send a text message to the bank with their account details, the amount and the shop's account number.

 

But he defends the decision to start a local currency with paper notes. "The physical note has symbolic power," he says, citing Lambeth council's estimate that the media coverage of the launch was equal to £1,00,000 in positive coverage for the area.

 

In Kenya and Uruguay

 

The idea of a local currency may seem very radical in the U.K., but in Kenya it has totally "revolutionised the farming system", says Ryan-Collins. Farmers now use the mpesa local currency scheme, which allows them to make payments by mobile phone rather than travelling hundreds of miles. In June 2009, Uruguay introduced the charrua, a digital currency aimed at businesses, which runs in tandem with the Uruguayan peso.

 

Steph Butcher, Brixton's town centre director, describes the currency as "the single most important thing that has happened to Brixton in a long, long time in terms of economic development." She says the council is trying to find a way to take the Brixton pounds in payment for bills.

 

For Ryan-Collins the main purpose is to democratise money. "We are trying to make people aware that money is something that we can actually try to take control of ourselves, we don't have to leave it to the state." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE HINDU

BRAZIL'S ETHANOL FUEL PRODUCTION TO REACH 64 BILLION LITRES IN A DECADE

 

Brazil's ethanol fuel production will reach 64 billion litres in the year 2019, more than twice the amount currently produced, the Mines and Energy Minister Marcio Zimmerman said on September 20.

 

"Brazil produces 26 billion litres today and the figure will reach 64 billion litres in 2019. With that, we will even have a surplus to export," Zimmerman said in Sao Paulo.

 

Zimmerman explained that 47 per cent of Brazil's energy came from renewable sources, one of the highest rates in the world. According to him, that is due to sugarcane-based products, which are responsible for the production of 18 per cent of the country's energy.

 

The Minister defended a rise in the investments in the sector, in order to keep up with other countries which are trying to improve the efficiency of the ethanol fuel production. He pointed out, however, that he believed Brazil will keep on being one of the most efficient countries in the world in this sector.

 

Along with the U.S., Brazil is one of the leading ethanol fuel producers in the world. The country has a high domestic demand for the product, since the fuel used in automobiles must be blended with ethanol. In addition, most cars produced in Brazil in the last few years are 'flexi-fuelled', which means that consumers can choose which fuel to use. — Xinhua

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

INDIA'S GAMES SHAME GROWING

 

The stain is spreading. With just 11 days to go for the start of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, it is no longer possible to judge just how much shame and embarrassment a bunch of inept, inefficient and corrupt administrators will heap on this nation's head. Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell's letter to the Government of India reports that the delegates of at least four participating countries had been escorted to dirty, incomplete flats in the Games Village, and finally the collapse of a vital footbridge at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Tuesday afternoon was a triple whammy that knocked the bottom out of every claim that Suresh Kalmadi and his cohorts have been making these past few months that all will be well when it comes to the rollout of the Games themselves. The third incident in particular raises some troubling questions. If a relatively insignificant structure can collapse — injuring 27 labourers, four of them critically — just how safe are the rest of the structures that have been erected in a tearing hurry after years of inactivity? Virtually every venue has been rebuilt from the ground up and every one of them has missed deadline after deadline — precious time lost each time that could and should have gone into testing their soundness and readiness to host a mega-event of the size and scope of the Commonwealth Games, where about 5,800 athletes are expected to perform and many thousands more are expected as support staff and spectators.


Yet, even after the footbridge went down on Tuesday, there were denials and increasingly hollow assurances that all would be well from all and sundry, from the Union urban development minister to the Delhi chief minister to the chief engineer of Delhi's public works department and the secretary-general of the Games Organising Committee. It is all terribly clear that between them, the entire lot of people responsible for every aspect of the Games are taking this country for a ride, and are careening headlong towards a precipice. Long back, when it first became evident that there were problems with so many areas related to the event, action should have been taken and those responsible removed or sacked. Nothing was done other than mouthfuls of platitudes to try and reassure an increasingly nervous and frustrated nation — not to mention the completely alienated citizenry of the host city — and it is now starkly evident that inaction at that critical juncture sent out the signal to the inept and corrupt that they could continue on their merry way and indeed walk away into the sunset when all had been said and done. Tuesday's list of three sorry happenings was thus inevitable and even on the day, the secretary-general of the Games Organising Committee had the gall to defend the filth and dirt in the Games Village as being a matter of perception! It is this casually dismissive attitude that has led to this pass in the first place, and with no one willing to say that the buck stops with him or her, fears about the Games ending up in a mess are real and understandable. In many societies, those guilty of such massive fraud — for this is nothing less — and misuse of public funds would have long ago been severely punished or at least got the boot. We, however, have not only had to lump their doings, but look on in increasingly impotent rage as tales of mayhem and mismanagement continue to sprout and proliferate. Shame on us!

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

HOPELESS SOLUTIONS

VIKRAM SOOD

 

THE DISCOURSE heard most loudly in New Delhi is that it wo uld be magnanimous to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), as if this were the cause of the trouble, overlooking the fact that it has been the failure of governance both in New Delhi and Srinagar that has led to the present unhappy state. This misplaced grandst­anding establishes an unfortun a te equation between terrorists and a sovereign Army by sugge s ting that if the AFSPA were withdrawn, i.e. the Army went ba ck to the barracks, then the terrorists would also withdraw as a quid pro quo. The AFSPA is a legal empowerment given by the nation to the Army to legally pr o tect the Army while it physically protects the nation against the kind of elements we have seen in Jammu and Kashmir. True, there have been very bad slippages and an empowered Army must also be accountable and transparent. But to pretend that if the AFSPA were to go away the violence and the political mess in Jammu and Kashmir would ma g ically disappear, is being self-delusional. The Army has not fired a single bullet on the streets of Srinagar or at any demonstrators elsewhere during the recent troubles. Let us not blunt our own instruments. On the other ha nd, any concession that is gi ven now without bringing the situation under state control might only buy temporary peace without solving anything.
The other expression frequently heard is "the legitimate aspirations of the people of Kashmir". How are these aspirations different from those of the people of the rest of the country? Surely all of them want for themselves and their families a quality of life — health, education, employment and security — that improves steadily with time, along with the freedoms and equalities guaranteed by our Constitution. Any demand outside the Constitution is, therefore, illegitimate and cannot be entertained by the rest of India. Besides, any demand must also relate to people from Jammu, the Srinagar Valley and Ladakh — to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Gujjars and Bakarwals and not only a section of the Muslims from the Valley. Meanwhile, the Kashmiri Pandits have been pushed into the arid desert of our votebank politics and sacrificed to our secular beliefs. The writings that come out from Jammu and Kashmir are only about the aspirations of the people of the Valley, the Muslim majority and not about the rest of the state. Farooq Abdullah's recent comment that Jammu and Kashmir was a part of India that did not want to be part of Pakistan has to be repeated, over and over again.


One of the country's mainline newspapers carried a picture of a young Kashmiri man with two stones in each hand. These sharply jagged pieces of rock hurled at some speed at anyone would be quite lethal. So those whose hearts bleed should understand that this is not the age of innocence. The destruction and burning of a school in Tangmarg in protest against Quran burning in the US which never happened was an opportunity for the likes of Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Massarat Alam to arouse religious-Islamist feelings among the youth and had little to do with political aspirations. Ensuring closure of schools and specialised institutes like the National Institute of Technology for long spells is in itself a tactic. It leaves students uneducated and, therefore, the right material for indoctrination or unemployable for want of qualifications. There is frustration either way.


It is true that there is anger on the streets that will not go away easily. The problem is political but it is one that has been created and nurtured all these years for sectarian and regional gains by one side and allowed to fester through political ineptitude on the other. One mistake has been that we have tried to reach Srinagar through Islamabad without realising that Islamabad will never let a solution be found. We have assumed that peace with Pakistan will get us peace in Jammu and Kashmir. This will never happen because it is in Pakistan's interest to have India in this impasse. There are signs that Pakistan, beleaguered as it might be with its own existential problems, seeks to impose itself in Jammu and Kashmir once again. Statements emanating from Pakistan foreign office, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader Nawaz Sharif and, not to be out done, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the ideological inspiration for Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, indicate an overt pattern. The covert pattern is evident from the kind of money being handed over to violent demonstrators and the increased numbers of encounters with infiltrators. One should expect that the situation will be ratcheted further till at least US President Barack Obama's visit in November.

The question is what to do next. Surely the writ of the state must be seen to be running first. The people of the Valley have to be made to understand that the rest of India will not allow another partition; nor allow any kind of autonomy that the rest of the country does not have. It has to be made clear to the people of India — Jammu and Kashmir included — that no government in the country has the mandate to alter the status of the Valley.
The main demand in the Valley would be to ensure that justice is delivered and seen to be deliver ed. It is no use throwing in more mo ney now; the state is not exactly poor with its high rate of subsidy and a nationally competitive per capita income. The youth of Jammu and Kashmir need to be drawn out of their feeling of discrimination and deprivation. Instead, New Delhi should be offering opportunities to them to seek education in the rest of the country which makes them employable and accepted all over where they will get what the rest of the youth in India get nothing more nothing less. This will broaden their horizons and keep them away from the growing influences of bigotry which, in turn, has to be tackled separately.


There will be resistance to all these efforts, even sabotage. It is a long haul but we need to persist. It will take time. Amalgamation always does.

 

Vikram Sood is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

BIG BANG AND OTHER PREJUDICES

JAYANT V. NARLIKAR

 

I once heard the following anecdote from a senior scientific colleague.


Once God applied for a research grant from the National Science Funding Agency, in order to do further research on creation. He cited in his CV his earlier work of creating the universe. After due deliberation his application was turned down by a peer review committee for three reasons. Firstly, he had not worked in this field for a long time and so was out of touch with the latest developments. Secondly, nobody had been able to duplicate his work, and so scientifically it was suspect. Thirdly, an account of his work had not appeared in a refereed scientific journal but was published only in a book.


The story highlights the present state of science funding. A committee of experts in the field examines an application for funds by looking at the previous work of the candidate, where it was published, how long ago and whether it was duly tested by repeated experiments. This modus operandi creates safeguards to filter out any cranks or incompetent workers. Known as the peer review system, it relies on the collective judgment of a body of like-minded experts in the field.


Some selection process like this is needed because the applications for funds inevitably exceed the capacity of the funding agency to satisfy them all. Also, everyone would like the process to select high quality applications, eliminating the bad and the mediocre. As responsible citizens, the jury of peers wants to ensure that funds are not wasted. Their selection process therefore leans towards "safe" ideas, that is, ideas that are not too outlandish with respect to what is already known and accepted. While this seems reasonable on the whole, the danger is that this system may sometimes miss the really exceptional proposal. Alt hough the above anecdote about God highlights the weaknesses of the present system, history tells us of several such instances.


Take the example of Copernicus and Galileo. The deeply ingrained Aristotelian geocentric paradigm meant that anyone stating that the earth is not stationary would be branded as an unbeliever or a crank. The establishment, consisting of intellectuals dominated by Aristotle's ideas, not only banned alternative ideas, but by making Galileo subject to the dreaded inquisition, saw to it that a free thinker like him recanted. Nevertheless, slowly but surely the heliocentric theory of Copernicus became acceptable. In the late 20th century even the Vatican conceded that Galileo was right after all and the inquisition set up by the Church was wrong.


Even the great scientist Isaac Newton was not beyond personal prejudices about scientific ideas. He was a firm believer in the corpuscular theory of light; that is, he believed that light was communicated by tiny particles. There were experiments that suggested that light travels as a wave, but this concept had to take a back seat while Newton was alive. Thus, research on subjects like interference, diffraction and polarisation was delayed by several decades.


Science, by nature, flourishes in an objective atmosphere. It ru ns under the maxim: Trust no the ory unless it is backed by experiment. So if there are two theories, A and B, in the field, let exp eriments and observations decide which one, if any, is right. Theory A, howsoever popular, mu st be abandoned if it fails an experimental test. If Theory B meets the experimental requirements, it survives. But, as the philosopher of science Karl Popper said, a theory is always on probation until it fails some experimental test in which eventuality it has to be abandoned. This is what objectivity in science demands.


With such historical examples to guide us, is the present era more conducive to objectivity? In the 1950s, the Cambridge astrophysicist Fred Hoyle proposed the idea that the interstellar space, that is, the empty region between stars, may contain molecules. He suggested that giant molecular clouds exist in our galaxy. The majority of astronomers believed that nothing more complicated than the hydrogen atom could survive in this space and so attempts by Hoyle to get his ideas published in a reputed scientific journal failed. He finally wrote a science fiction novel around this idea. The novel called The Black Cloud was an immense success. In the following decade, new antennas receiving millimetre wavelength radiation from interstellar space confirmed the existence of organic as well as inorganic molecules distributed in vast clouds in such regions.


Today, objectivity is under threat because of huge funds that frontier level science requires to test its theories. A classic example is the Big Bang theory which states that the universe originated in a big explosion. This theory is currently believed and a lot of money is being spent in research furthering this doctrine. The original version of the theory proposed that after its explosive creation, the expansion of the universe slows down because of its own gravitational attraction. It also predicted how its present rate of expansion is related to its present density of matter. However, observations showed that the expansion is accelerating instead of slowing down, that the density of matter it needs to have is several times the density of matter actually observed, and this extra unseen (dark) matter cannot be the "normal" form of matter that we see around us. With these major discrepancies, the model should have been abandoned. Instead, it is argued that there is a dark energy that repels rather than attracts and that the universe is predominantly made of some abnormal form of matter the li k es of which has not been found in the terrestrial laboratory or in the cosmos. There is no independent evidence for these beliefs and their sole objective is to keep the Big Bang model alive.


Back in 1970, Fred Hoyle had ca utioned that the physics of the un iverse may be much more co m plex than what the human br a in can understand. He made this statement in a conference where the Big Bang supporters were ma king strong claims that the problem of the universe was so l v ed. Now 40 years on, the Big Bang model has to be considera b ly modified but similar claims are being made today. Perhaps a little humility and objectivity is called for?

 

Jayant V. Narlikar is a professor emiritus at Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune University Campus, and a renowned astrophysicist

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

CABINETS & COHESION

INDER MALHOTRA

 

TO NOBODY'S surprise, the media has played up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's claim, during his recent interaction with editors, that his government has functioned with "greater cohesion than any other Cabinet, including those of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi". With utmost respect one must submit that there may be a grain of truth in this magnum of exaggeration, but the good doctor is comparing the incomparable. The Cabinets of Nehru and Indira Gandhi were as different from what exists today or has existed at any other time after father and daughter, as cheese and chalk, to reverse the aphorism for obvious reasons.


Moreover, while the reference to the "almost daily" exchange of letters between Nehru and Sardar Patel is relevant, it is not in the same class as the petty and public bickering, sometimes bordering on personal attacks, among today's Cabinet colleagues. Current exch anges of compliments are seldom secret or private. The media never invents them though it may embellish them. In sharp contrast, not a word of the letters exchanged betw e en Nehru and Patel — including the Sardar's fa mous one on China, sent only five weeks before his death — was ever le aked. Their historic correspondence — usually on high policy though minor administrative issues also crept in — became public long afterwards.


Both Nehru and Patel were leaders of the freedom movement of titanic stature. In independent India's first Cabinet, full of talented personalities, they dwarfed all others. Furthermore, Patel was the only "near-equal" that Nehru ever had. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that for over three years after the tryst with destiny, India was ruled by these two men. (There is again a two-person rule in the country but of an entirely different kind; in special circumstances, power lies, since 2004, in the hands of the Congress president, not those of the head of government.)


No two men could have been more unlike in outlook and basic approach than Nehru and Patel. But however acute their differences or however br u ised their personal feelings, neither violated the discipline and decorum that underpin the Cabinet's collective resp ons i b ility. At one time each had insisted that he be allowed to resign so that the other could run the co u ntry; neither wanted to push the other out — a strange reversal this of the pehle aap (you first) syndrome.


In April 1950, Nehru and his Pakistani counterpart Liaqat Ali Khan, with great difficulty sig ned a pact to avert a war between the two countries over the atrocities on the minority community in East Pakistan, the consequent exodus from there, and the inev itable reaction in eastern India. There was strong opposition to it even wi thin the Congress, especially in West Bengal. That is when Patel, who had earlier advocated "mi litary occupation" of East Pakistan, rose to his full height. After taking care of critics among party MPs, he flew to Ca l cutta, calmed Bengali op inion and secured support from even those qu a­rters that had refused to listen to the Prime Minister. "Vallabhbhai", wrote Nehru to C. Raja g o pala ch ari, "has been a br ick during these days". Compared to those lofty he i g h ts the current political la ndscape is distressingly flat.


One more point about the Nehru Cabinet is in order. Beginning with V.P. Singh to Atal Behari Vajpayee to Dr Singh, successive Prime Ministers have spoken of being hemmed in by "compulsions of coalition politics". There has been no coalition as rainbow-like as the one Nehru formed on August 15, 1947, though he had overwhelming majority in the Constituent Assembly that also doubled as provisional parliament. R.K. Shanmukham Chetty, who had nothing to do with the Congress or the freedom movement, was finance minister. Defence was with Baldev Singh, an Akali. B.R. Ambedkar, the tallest harijan leader opposed to the Congress, was law minister and chairman of the committee that drafted the Constitution. The most startling of all was the inclusion of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of the Jan Sangh (forerunner of the Bharatiya Janata Party). Except for Chetty who was accused of favourtism, some other non-Congress ministers also resigned but always on policy issues — Moo kerjee because he was opposed to the Nehru-Li aqat Pact, and Ambedkar because the Hindu Code Bill was not being pushed through strongly enough. Others stayed. At no time, however, was there anything like Mamata Banerjee's tantrums, Azhagiri's abs e nteeism, Sharad Pawar's preoccupation with international cricket rather than his portfolio or ironclad security for alleged perpetrators of the 2G mega scam.


Indira Gandhi-Morarji Desai clashes cannot be compared to either the complex Nehru-Patel relationship or the present goings on. Desai never got over the feeling that the "syndicate" had "cheated" him of his due by "masterminding" Lal Bahadur Shastri's succession to Nehru. He stood against Indira and lost heavily. His determinati on to challenge her again after the 1967 general election was shot down by the party driven by its self-preservation instinct after the huge losses it suffered in the poll. It virtually directed Desai to become deputy Prime Minister in Indira's Cabinet. The arrangement was phoney — what Dr Singh has said about that time is absolutely accurate — and inevi tably broke do wn. Desai lasted in Indira's Cabinet only from March 1967 to July 1969. Needless to add that after 1971, Indira be c ame su preme in the government and the party. Her grip on both was co m plete. No minister dar ed to express any dissent even in private. During her second innings (1980-84) she ac c epted the "resignation" of an errant mi n ister that the poor fellow had never submitted. Th e re wasn't a squeak from him.


It is noble of the Prime Minister to declare that he does not want his Cabinet ministers to "shut up". He also wants Cong r ess MPs to be free to sp e ak out at appropriate pa rty forums. But the tr o ub le is that with the exception of the Congress Core Group that meets only be h ind closed doors, hardly any party forum, All-In d ia Congress Committee or Congress Parliamenta ry Party, discusses policy matters or anything else. No wonder even senior partymen call the Union home minister "intellectually arrogant" and "wro ng on policy" in front of TV cameras. Others take recourse to wrecking their own government's bills on the floor of Parliament.

 

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DNA

            EDITORIAL

WILL CCTVS HELP CLEAN UP CRICKET?

 

Will cricketers be less greedy if they are being watched by big brother? The International Cricket Council (ICC) seems to think putting closed-circuit TVs inside players' dressing rooms is one way to keep betting syndicates away from them. The ICCproposal, which is by no means the final word on the issue, is tantamount to saying that by intruding on players' privacy the latter will behave more responsibly. But has crime ever been stopped anywhere by treating everyone as a potential suspect?

 

The point is, more policing is not always the answer to crime prevention. If a player wants to earn quick money by throwing no-balls or giving away his wicket, a CCTV in the dressing room is not going to prevent him from doing so.The ICC wants to be seen as doing something to save the reputation of the game, but paranoia is not the answer. What if CCTVs don't deliver? Will it be polygraph and narco-testing next for players?

 

The ethical dilemma aside, if one were to look at the practicality of the suggestion, CCTVs may, at best, help us get a handle on spot fixing. Match-fixing, which involves conspiring with a larger group of players, will be tougher to police even with cameras in the dressing room. Hopefully, the ICC has empirical evidence tojustify the expense and the effort. The only way to defeat crooked players is to build a climate of public opinion that frowns on match-fixing, and tougher penalties for known transgressors.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

HELP FOR AIRLINES TO KEEP ON FLYING

 

The decision of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to provide relief to Air India, Jet Airways and Kingfisher by allowing them torestructure their debts reveals many of the problems bedevilling the civil aviation sector cutting across public and private sector. There is additional relief from the finance ministry to enable Jet and Kingfisher to borrow cheaply abroad and clear higher cost domestic debt.

 

While the aviation industry faces common problems like high fuel costs, the main carriers also have issues unique to them. Air India's problem is that it has lesser autonomy than the private sector. It also made huge investments in aircraft and refurbishing them at the wrong time. Jet and Kingfisher also expanded crazily in an era of cutthroat fare wars. This makes it important to give the industry a long-term helpline. But despite the debt restructuring, one can't be sure that it will be enough. While the private sector airlines will have to find answers to the price challenges from the no-frills airlines, the public sector carrier will have to fight for autonomy if it is to survive. The aviation minister has not been of great help, having merged Air India and Indian Airlines without thinking through the consequences.

 

Running an airline is a dicey business. Thanks to deregulation and the development of online fare comparisons, airlines have lost control of their costs and their customers. To make matters worse, India does not have enough low-cost airports that can help airlines differentiate services offered to full-fare paying customers and no-frills flyers. Their costs are almost the same, but airlines are still forced to cut fares to ensure that they have enough "bums on seats" to make it worth flying.

 

More recently, airlines have invested in long-haul aircraft to fly to international destinations, but it is doubtful if they are going to be making too much money anytime soon. The only advantage of flying abroad is that you get to tank up at airports where fuel costs less.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

THE BULL IS IN FORM, THANKS TO HOT MONEY

 

The stock markets are having a ball. Bullishness has been apparent over the past few weeks, with the Bombay Stock Exchange Sensex vaulting over the 20,000 mark on Tuesday, and promising a good shot at the all-time high figure of 21,206 achieved in January 2008. The National Stock Exchange Nifty also surged above the 6,000 level, indicating the robustness of fund flows into the market. The average retail investor — late as usual — has started returning to the markets, as evidenced by rising investment in mutual funds' systematic investment plans (SIPs). But they better be warned: momentum investing has its risks.

 

To understand the long-term sustainability of the current bull run, we need to know why the Sensex is jumping over the moon. The main reason is the worldwide gloom. Outside Asia and Latin America, there are no big growth stories that can absorb global investment surpluses in the near future. The US is still not out of the woods, and Europe continues to be under the weather. Japan never really emerged from its 1990s gloom, and that leaves India and China as worthwhile destinations for hot money flows. The numbers tell the same story. In 2010, it is foreign institutional investors (FIIs) who have been driving the market forward,

 

having pumped in a net Rs79,000 crore in equity, and another Rs42,000 crore in debt. The problem for FIIs is that the correction they were waiting for in the Indian markets never happened, and now, if they don't buy Indian stocks, they risk underperforming their peers. In contrast, domestic mutual funds have been actually selling most of this year, with the year-to-date net sales crossing Rs20,000 crore. The reality is clear: foreign investors are driving the bulls crazy, not domestic ones.

 

The big question is: will all this come crumbling down? The short answer is — not as long as liquidity is strong. But the fundamentals tell a more nuanced story. The economy is doing well, and with a good harvest inflation should start moderating by the end of the year. The RBI will still keep pushing up interest rates, and this will lower growth some time in 2011, especially if exports continue to face rough weather. For retail investors, the watchword is caution. Indians are still grossly underinvested in equity, and so there is no harm investing through SIPs. But they shouldn't count on a bonanza in 2011.

 

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DNA

MAIN ARTICLE

CASTE, A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

NILOTPAL BASU

 

It is about capitalism and hierarchy

The government has now reached a final conclusion on the raging controversy over the caste-based census in the country. In order to reconcile with the contending positions, the government has decided to conduct a separate stand-alone exercise of a parallel house-to-house enumeration of the caste affiliations of households. It is not yet clear as to whether the results and the data of the census proper and this separate exercise will be integrated in the end.

 

Caste has managed to sustain itself because of the

 

nature of the underlying economic relations and processes. It grew as part of our pre-feudal and feudal phase of history. Today, though, feudal relations have given way to semi-feudal relations with a great degree of penetration of capitalist market forces in our countryside. Post-independent governments and the ruling elite have not only refused to deal a death blow to caste, but have actually used it as a major instrument of political, and more particularly, electoral mobilisation.

 

The contemporary political process has become more complex. On the one hand, hitherto socially oppressed sections like Dalits and OBCs have come to question discrimination on the ground of social stratification and, on the other, campaigned aggressively for a share in the political process. However, what is absent from such an articulation is the question of equality in the economic sphere of which the most notable is the need for agrarian reforms and commensurate change in the land relations.

 

On the other hand, major shifts in the overall economic paradigm of international finance capital-driven globalisation have accentuated economic inequality. It is obvious that this development in the economic sphere has impacted socially-oppressed sections more adversely. This has led to a stronger demand for social justice. The consequent consolidation of the socially deprived sections and castes has resulted in obscurantism and medievalism in the traditionally advanced social groupings and castes.

 

Phenomena like honour killing have, thus, become part of the contemporary social responses. It is unfortunate that this phenomenon has come to threaten the very vitals of our society and polity. The unity and reconciliation which was part of our freedom struggle and which led to the modern vision of the composite and plural Indian nationhood has been jettisoned. And, this vision did get institutionalised and enshrined in our Constitution. Unfortunately, the realisation of this ideal has remained an elusive goal. The present neo-liberal developmental paradigm has actually accentuated the gulf between precept and practice.

 

While it can be nobody's brief to deny the legitimate concern for social justice, it is equally important to recognise the dual character of caste. At one level, the aspirations of the oppressed castes represents an extremely legitimate concern. Unless linked with the process of achieving economic equality, such an approach can end up reinforcing caste and its implied

 

hierarchy. Therefore, the battle for social justice cannot achieve what it intends to unless it transcends the demand for reservation and integrates with the larger question of achieving a holistic equality. While the need for a social profile of our demography is important, it cannot be done in a manner which would strengthen the retrograde process of the use of caste for electoral mobilisation — particularly those of the dominant castes.

 

Therefore, the need for differentiating the two processes — that of the census and caste enumeration was a real democratic requirement. Additionally, there was a technical complexity. The nature of OBCs does not have pan-Indian homogeneity. So a separate exercise for ascertaining this break-up would not have been effective but for a differentiated exercise. Therefore, this decision of the government seems to have addressed this concern.

 

Hopefully, this will bring down the curtain on the raging controversy.

 

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DNA

MAIN ARTICLE

CASTE, A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

NILOTPAL BASU

 

It is about capitalism and hierarchy

The government has now reached a final conclusion on the raging controversy over the caste-based census in the country. In order to reconcile with the contending positions, the government has decided to conduct a separate stand-alone exercise of a parallel house-to-house enumeration of the caste affiliations of households. It is not yet clear as to whether the results and the data of the census proper and this separate exercise will be integrated in the end.

 

Caste has managed to sustain itself because of the

 

nature of the underlying economic relations and processes. It grew as part of our pre-feudal and feudal phase of history. Today, though, feudal relations have given way to semi-feudal relations with a great degree of penetration of capitalist market forces in our countryside. Post-independent governments and the ruling elite have not only refused to deal a death blow to caste, but have actually used it as a major instrument of political, and more particularly, electoral mobilisation.

 

The contemporary political process has become more complex. On the one hand, hitherto socially oppressed sections like Dalits and OBCs have come to question discrimination on the ground of social stratification and, on the other, campaigned aggressively for a share in the political process. However, what is absent from such an articulation is the question of equality in the economic sphere of which the most notable is the need for agrarian reforms and commensurate change in the land relations.

 

On the other hand, major shifts in the overall economic paradigm of international finance capital-driven globalisation have accentuated economic inequality. It is obvious that this development in the economic sphere has impacted socially-oppressed sections more adversely. This has led to a stronger demand for social justice. The consequent consolidation of the socially deprived sections and castes has resulted in obscurantism and medievalism in the traditionally advanced social groupings and castes.

 

Phenomena like honour killing have, thus, become part of the contemporary social responses. It is unfortunate that this phenomenon has come to threaten the very vitals of our society and polity. The unity and reconciliation which was part of our freedom struggle and which led to the modern vision of the composite and plural Indian nationhood has been jettisoned. And, this vision did get institutionalised and enshrined in our Constitution. Unfortunately, the realisation of this ideal has remained an elusive goal. The present neo-liberal developmental paradigm has actually accentuated the gulf between precept and practice.

 

While it can be nobody's brief to deny the legitimate concern for social justice, it is equally important to recognise the dual character of caste. At one level, the aspirations of the oppressed castes represents an extremely legitimate concern. Unless linked with the process of achieving economic equality, such an approach can end up reinforcing caste and its implied

 

hierarchy. Therefore, the battle for social justice cannot achieve what it intends to unless it transcends the demand for reservation and integrates with the larger question of achieving a holistic equality. While the need for a social profile of our demography is important, it cannot be done in a manner which would strengthen the retrograde process of the use of caste for electoral mobilisation — particularly those of the dominant castes.

 

Therefore, the need for differentiating the two processes — that of the census and caste enumeration was a real democratic requirement. Additionally, there was a technical complexity. The nature of OBCs does not have pan-Indian homogeneity. So a separate exercise for ascertaining this break-up would not have been effective but for a differentiated exercise. Therefore, this decision of the government seems to have addressed this concern.

 

Hopefully, this will bring down the curtain on the raging controversy.

 

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DNA

COMMENT

LET THE PAST GO

 

Our minds are actually like a farm. Whatever you plant there, grows. If you plant hatred, it blooms. If you plant love, it blooms. Decide what you want in life before you plant thoughts in your mind. If you plant revenge, it grows.

 

In a recent book, I read about the famous motivational writer and speaker, Dr Wayne Dyer. His first book, Your Erroneous Zones, sold over 35 million copies. His subsequent books changed the lives of millions. But as it turns out, Dyer was quite a failure even in his thirties. He was unsuccessful, overweight, stressed out, trapped in an unhappy marriage and feared he might get a heart attack.

 

What was the turning point in his life then? Dyer says that he hated his father who was an alcoholic and used to batter his mother. One day he walked out on them. He soon died but Dyer never

 

forgave him. One day, when he was sitting beside his grave, he decided to forgive him for all the pain he had inflicted; Dyer decided to move on. From that day, his life changed. He never looked back as he started succeeding and became an international figure.

 

The past affects us only if we allow it to. If we junk it and move on as Dyer did, then it cannot hurt or mutilate anymore. Often, people say that they can never forget the past, and cling to miserable memories. They live with anger and bitterness and carry them to their graves. There is no point in being stubborn about it. It is best to realise that the past is over and it is the present and the future has to be built on. Release the past and step into the future.

 

The writer is a journalist and corporate trainer

 

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DNA

MAIN ARTICLE

COMMON ETHOS VS SMALL IDENTITIES

VINAY SAHASRABUDDHE

 

Finally, it is going to happen. After a semblance of

debate in the Parliament and outside, now it seems a certainty that the 2011 census will incorporate caste as well. If one goes by what Pranab Mukherjee had said in the Lok Sabha on August 12, the Central government will not allow caste-based census to affect the integrity of the head count in the country. Assuring members of the Lok Sabha on this issue, Mukherjee said that the views of all political parties would be kept in mind while determining the process and mechanism to be adopted for the caste-based census.

 

It is a fact that in all major national political parties, there are equally strong voices arguing in favour of as well as against caste census. This is bound to happen mainly for two reasons. But before explaining these reasons, I am tempted to draw a parallel to the present debate of sorts on this issue to something that happened in Maharashtra a few years before. The state government — some time in 2000-2001 — decided to introduce English right in Grade 1. Regardless of the fact that it is the mother tongue that is always regarded as the best medium of instruction, the government went ahead with its decision which was widely acclaimed at the popular level. Educationists who had opposed "English at Grade 1" policy were dubbed as experts with typical general-caste approach. There were whispers that these experts (mainly belonging to the general castes) were those who "do not want the school children of the poor and backward sections to be smartly speaking in English".

 

The foremost reason for equally strong voices emerging on the issue of caste census is the view that the approach is largely determined by your place in the caste system. Many believe that for those of general castes, their caste identity becomes an obstacle rather than a facilitating factor. Hence, when a general-caste individual opposes caste-based census it is easily dubbed as a typical general-caste approach as to him/her caste-identity is more harmful than helpful. Hence, the progressivism of the opponents of caste census becomes suspicious in the eyes of those who are aggressively favouring the same. The unending debate is unlikely to lead to any genuine consensus because — whether one admits it or not — caste continues to cast its thick shadow over our public life as well and politics is integral to that.

 

Many believe that caste, especially to the disadvantaged sections of the society, continues to give a sense of community based security. As a consequence, it also provides them a strong sense of identity. Some of those who are in favour of caste-based census argue that social (read: caste) identity is critical to the weaker sections in multiple ways. Hence to include caste in census needs to be looked at from the weaker sections' angle. To those who are already deprived of social justice, recognition to (their) caste is seen as a victory. Those who oppose caste based census are bound to be looked at as pseudo-progressives.

 

Many believe that caste census will hamper social cohesion and sharpen existing cleavages. They believe that to include caste in a 'secular' and largely technical exercise like census and still hope for social harmony is like "fighting for peace".

 

Howsoever ironical it may appear, I believe accepting the idea of caste census is perhaps a lesser evil as against rejecting it. This is primarily because of the emotional

 

integration deficit that still exists between various social groups in our country. We have a common ethos, but when it comes to identity we tend to harp upon our smaller identities than the larger and the unifying ones. Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay had rightly observed that smaller identities are important and it is hard to ignore them, much less making them vanish. But, one has to evolve a mechanism by way of which smaller identities are merged into larger ones thereby ensuring real social and national integration. The decision of the BJP to accept caste census without

 

affecting the integrity of headcount provides the same.

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

THEATRICS OF ABSURD

FROM A POSITION OF INERTIA NEW DELHI HAS EMBARKED ON ROAD TO PRETENCE


Monday may have been a big day in Kashmir for the entire country with the all-party delegation's visit consuming much of the space and time in both print and electronic media. The highlight of the day being a section of the delegation calling upon three separatist leaders, a move packaged and projected as the great Indian magnanimity in Kashmir, television anchors jumping the fence and talking about it now being the turn of the separatists to respond by joining the talks offer. But for the Kashmiris, the entire farce of the visit or the goodwill gesture of a select few failed to even create a ripple. The reasons are not far to seek. The 39 member team of parliamentarians headed by union home minister P.Chidambaram, inclusive of the state government's point-man union minister Farooq Abdullah, reached Srinagar, turned into a fortress, with a stringent curfew and barren roads. While they were safely driven off to SKICC, the common masses were kept inside their homes at gunpoint. The handful of delegations that met the visiting contingent, barring the mainstream parties who only parroted what they did, in Delhi, few days prior to the visit in their allotted 15 minutes time symbolised the deep disconnect between the delegation and the ordinary Kashmiris, some of whom busied themselves with the routine of street protests and battles with the men in uniform, while the majority bore the brunt of the curfewed roads. In run up to the meeting, the army was called out and a 72 hour curfew imposed to ensure that the visit remained by and large uneventful, barring the routine and officially accepted and legitimised injuries and killings. Though no death took place on the day that the delegation visited, the graph had spiraled up in three days preceding the visit, revealing that the disconnect was tailored enough to suit the interests of the government. There was no attempt to meet the victims and their families, most affected by the last over three months of crisis in Kashmir. There was basically no attempt to reach out to the affected masses, guage their suffering, pain and anger, or to find out what people wanted. There was talk about visit to the hospitals to meet the injured but perhaps the delegation was too busy listening to the action replay of the mainstream parties to bother to go beyond the cosmetic ritual. A select group of the delegation did take the extra step to visit the separatists, who had good enough reasons to turn down the invitation of the combined delegation. But it might be an erroneous mistake to consider this as a genuine initiative in pursuit of engaging the separatists or hail it is as beginning of a peace process. A group of parliamentarians in their individual capacity meeting with the separatists can at best be a goodwill gesture on part of these individuals. They neither represented the parliamentary delegation, nor the government. It was not a collective decision and without a collective mandate. They mostly belonged to the marginalised left and socialist parties and have little say in decision making at the national level. The two major parties, the Congress and the BJP, which have the maximum decisive role in Indian politics, and whose presence could have made a little difference, were not part of these efforts to reach out to the separatists. It would be not just silly but a folly to analyse the meeting with separatists as something more than a goodwill gesture on part of a few individuals. 


A farce is a farce and cannot be construed as a meaningful exercise. The non seriousness of the entire exercise began with the curfewed streets and distanced masses. It is finally culminating with the planned balancing act of the delegation visiting Jammu and spending an equal amount of time in the winter capital that has been fairly calm and needs no immediate attention, giving an impression that nobody really cares about the acute distress of the masses of the Valley. This is not to say that Jammu region does not require the attention of the Centre or that the inter-regional conflict does not need to be addressed. But when an entire body is mildly ailing and a vital organ of the body is seriously affected, the doctor doesn't forget about that organ and start prescribing remedies for other minor ailments; he focuses on the major ailment first. It seems the doctor heading the country is not familiar with this basic rule of elementary medication. No wonder he gave the green signal to this theatrics of absurd without even taking the basic steps of reducing the intensity of military action against unarmed protestors, violent or otherwise, without any apology for the killings perpetrated by the security agencies controlled by his government, and without any promise of the necessary action against the guilty men among them. 


It is not surprising that the Centre is trying to play up the initiative of the all party delegation, preceded by an equally sham all party meeting. From a position of complete inertia, it has embarked on the road to pretence, believing this to be concrete action in addressing the deep rooted alienation and anger in Kashmir. In its own make believe world of sweet diplomacy, it shuns the kafka-ist reality of the streets as a myth. It turns its face away from the anger, from the angry mobs armed with a slogan or a stone with bullets, whimsical arrests, raids, crackdowns, harassment, stringent curfews, more troops and more lethal weapons, branded and tagged as 'non-lethal'. It has the dutiful media with its friendly journalists being air dashed to the Valley, whenever the need be, to maintain that the 'violent Kashmiris' deserve this in language that varies from harsh to subtle. Actions certainly speak better than words.

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

ANOTHER EMBARRASSMENT IN CWG

OVERHEAD BRIDGE COLLAPSE EXPOSES THE QUALITY OF CONSTRUCTION WORK


After questions have been raised over the preparations, cleanliness and corruption issues, the central government and Commonwealth Games organizers faced another embarrassment when an under-construction foot-bridge collapsed outside the main venue of the mega event at Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium on Tuesday. Moreover, at least 27 people, mainly the workers involved in the providing finishing touches to the foot-bridge were injured for no fault of theirs. The engineers blamed the beams and supporting columns for the mishap and breakdown of the facility. Unfortunately, this was the second such mishap since yesterday when a canopy erected at the stadium gave way injuring an additional deputy commissioner of police and a policemen. There has been no explanation from those charged with the responsibility of looking after the construction work and its stability in terms of their durability even after the conclusion of the mega sporting event. If this is the state of affairs ten or twelve days ahead of the sporting event, the condition of other structures can be very well imagined. This can also be gauged from the manner in which some of the participating countries and their representatives have threatened to pull out of the Commonwealth Games because of security risks and unhygienic conditions in the residential towers constructed for this purpose. Anybody, whosoever is somebody in the government or the organising committee has tried to push the scandalous issues under the carpet advising others to wait for the events to be over and then hold an inquiry into the issues which are causing embarrassment to every citizen in this country.

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

COLUMN

KASHMIR'S SUMMER OF DISCONTENT IS NOW AN AUTUMN OF WOE

SUMANTRA BOSE 

 

Kashmir is on the boil - again. A summer of discontent is yielding to a bitter autumn amid a mounting roster of deaths.


It was not supposed to be this way. 


From November to December 2008 people turned out in droves in the Kashmir Valley to choose between pro-India parties competing to form the Jammu and Kashmir regional government. 


Respite 
Unlike previous elections in 1996 and 2002, Indian security forces did not directly or indirectly pressure people to vote and participation was high in most pro-"azadi" (freedom) strongholds.
The 2008 election followed four years of declining insurgency in the state.


It steadily declined after 2003, when the Indian and Pakistani militaries agreed a ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Indian- and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.


It meant that the population and the security forces got their first respite since insurgency first gripped the region in 1990.


As Lashkar-e-Taiba - the Pakistan-based group which spearheaded the Kashmir insurgency from 1999 to 2003 - attacked Mumbai, Kashmiris flocked to the polling stations even in notoriously restive areas. 


A troubled summer of 2008, which saw rival protest campaigns by Muslims in the Kashmir Valley and Hindus in the Jammu region to the south, blew over by the autumn. 


Not so this time. A combination of near-term, medium-term and long-term factors have come together to generate the most severe unrest seen in Kashmir since the early 1990s.


In the near term, the Congress party-led government that has been in power in New Delhi since mid-2004 has aggravated a festering problem by neglecting it. 


Lethargy and neglect 


Over six years, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's two governing coalitions have shown no initiative to take forward an opportunity to mend the fraught relationship with the people of the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. 


The lethargy and neglect evident since 2004 stand in contrast to several efforts between 1999 and 2003 by the previous Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, to take Kashmir seriously and cautiously reach out to the valley's people. 


Delhi's response to the latest turmoil has been a combination of hand-wringing, indecision and the familiar although well-founded claims of Pakistani instigation (the inter-governmental dialogue between India and Pakistan that began in 2004 is virtually defunct).

In fact Delhi's failure to grasp the nettle has been compounded by the indifferent performance of the state government elected at the end of 2008. 


The head of that government, Omar Abdullah, is the grandson of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Kashmir's most important political leader from the 1930s until his death in 1982.


Unlike his grandfather, the present incumbent is no man of the masses. He has been out of touch with the grassroots of even his own party, the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference.


'Stone pelters' 


The renewed turmoil must be understood in a much longer time-frame, however. The last 20 years have seen the brutalisation of local society, particularly in the Kashmir Valley.


An entire generation has grown up and come of age in an environment of repression and violence. 
This is the generation of "stone-pelters", for whom the stone has replaced the AK-47s wielded by so many of the previous generation during the 1990s.


The defining image of the intifada - or uprising - that erupted in the Palestinian Territories in the late 1980s was that of legions of stone-throwing teenagers. 


The stone supplanted the gun as the weapon of protest once the Palestine Liberation Organisation's armed struggle, waged since the late 1960s, reached a dead-end.


Despite the sharp decline of insurgency to near-negligible levels, the Kashmir valley remains a police state. 


The new generation are unwilling to put up with such a situation in the absence of the threat posed by insurgency.
The deep sense of oppression and grievance being vented by the stone-pelters goes back 60 years. 


Bloodshed 


Their grandparents' generation recall the 1950s and 1960s, when popular leaders - most notably Sheikh Abdullah himself - were cast into jail, harsh police methods used to muzzle protest and elections doctored to install Delhi's favoured clients in office.


Their parents' generation grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, when any tentative liberalisation of India's Kashmir policy relapsed into draconian control and election-rigging. By the mid-1980s the young generation was already a long way down the path to insurgency.


The experience of several generations over the years has been defined by the bloodshed of the insurgency and the Indian state's response to it. 


There are not many families in the valley, or in the insurgency-prone areas of the Jammu region, who have not been affected in some way. In fact, thousands of families have been destroyed.
Stone-pelting is the latest manifestation of an unhealed trauma and an unaddressed political problem. 
The Koran controversy in the United States has added further fuel to a combustible mix. 


Recent protests triggered by that issue led to deaths in communities outside the core base of "azadi" sentiment - in an area of the valley dominated by the Shia minority and in a Muslim-majority area of the Jammu region.
In the concluding scene of the classic 1966 film The Battle of Algiers, which depicts in riveting style the struggle for Algeria between France and Algerian nationalists, a harried French police officer exhorts a stone-throwing crowd of Algerians over a hand-held loudhailer: "Go home! What do you want?"
After a brief pause, a chorus of voices answers from behind a curtain of tear-gas: "Istiqlal! Istiqlal!"

(Independence!).
The Kashmiri equivalent of the French solution in early 1960s Algeria - the withdrawal of Indian troops and Kashmir's independence - is neither viable nor desirable in Indian-administered Kashmir today. 


The state of Jammu and Kashmir is diverse, and most of the Jammu region and the entire Ladakh region are not at all involved in the agitation against Indian authority which is gripping the valley.


Yet 20 years after the start of the insurgency, hostility and resentment remain in Kashmir. A fundamental improvement of this poisoned relationship is no easy task, but it must still be attempted.


(Sumantra Bose is Professor of International and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics. His books include Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace (Harvard, 2003), and Contested Lands: Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Cyprus and Sri Lanka (Harvard, 2007)

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

COLUMN

DIDI IS VERY CLEVER..!

ROBERT CLEMENTS


".21 Killed as trains collide in Madhya Pradesh." 


-Hindustan Times, Sept 21st


"Hurrah!" shouted didi, "Hurrah! Hurrah!"


"Has didi gone mad?" wondered the chief of railways, "There's been another railway accident and didi is rejoicing! Didi are you okay?"


"More than okay, I am overjoyed!"


"But there has been another accident didi!"


"I know that, you think I cannot read?"


"But you are happy?"


"Yes!"


"How can you be happy didi?"


"Because my plan is working stupid; didi's plan always works, that's what you people should understand, didi's plan what?"


"Always works!" repeated the chief of railways. "But what was didi's plan?"


"How many people died?"


"Twenty-one didi!"


"Is twenty- one a big number?"


"Yes didi, twenty- one dead is a very big number!"


"Now see how clever didi is! Which page have they put the accident in?"


"In page number five didi!"


"Now do you see!"


"See what didi?"


"That train accidents are not important in this country anymore. I have slowly, but surely built up accident immunity! It is not headlines anymore on page one! What a master plan no? Ha, ha, ha! Didi is very clever no?"
"Yes didi!"


"In one year nobody is interested whether twenty-one people are dead in my trains or a hundred people die!"


"Very clever didi!"


"And do you know how I did it?"


"No didi!"


"By having accidents everyday, ha, ha!"


"Didi is very clever!"


"And I will do the same when I become Chief Minister! In one year whatever happens in Kolkota, famine, riots, strikes, will be in page ten, then page sixteen and soon out of the newspaper!" 


"Didi is very clever!"


"Yes I know..!"


The chief of the railways looked at his boss and the news item in the back page of the newspaper and whispered to himself, "Didi is very clever, but I never thought our people could become so stupid..!"


bobsbanter@gmail.com

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

SEPARATISTS' REPLY

 

By no stretch of imagination can the separatists' response to the all-party delegation, which is now on a tour of the State, be called disappointing. They have met all those who have cared to find time for them. It was indeed thoughtful on the part of some members of the delegation to have separately engaged Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Moulvi Umar Farooq and Mr Yasin Malik in particular in discussions. It was a good gesture by one and all. After all, there is no alternative to solving a problem through dialogue in an environment free from rancour and violence. The secessionist leaders had made it known well in advance that they would not talk to the visiting team. However, they did not shut their doors on those who came to their houses in their individual capacity. On the other hand, our democratic system works on a certain sound premise. It is taken for granted that the non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) panel members proceeded in three different directions with the knowledge and concurrence of the Union Home Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, who is heading them. This does not mean that they represented the Government's views or carried out their exercise on its behalf. They indulged in a free exchange of ideas. One would appreciate the lead taken by Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Communist Party of India-Marxist) and Mr Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI) especially in this regard. The former met Mr Geelani. The open telecast of the dialogue between Mr Dasgupta, a Parliamentarian of long standing, and the Mirwaiz was quite serious. The CPI veteran was able to effectively convey the country's concerns about the situation in the Valley and its feelings for the families who had lost their kith and kin in the recent wave of violence. 


The Mirwaiz referred to the demand for "azadI' with which Mr Dasgupta expressed his disagreement. The overall genuine display of sentiments overshadowed the amusement that the CPI veteran's repeated references to the Mirwaiz as "Mir sahib" could have evoked. Mr Yasin Malik (met by Mr Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti party and others) called for heeding the urge for peaceful resolution through non-violent means. In a strongly worded joint memorandum to the delegation Mr Malik and the Mirwaiz have called for establishing and empowering "an official body, Kashmir Committee, consisting of senior representatives of all major Indian political parties to develop and enter into a process of engagement with the representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir." They have called for a similar committee to be set up in Pakistan. They have stated that they are "ready and willing to engage and sustain a meaningful and irreversible process of dialogue" and "implement a solution to the Kashmir dispute that is acceptable to all sides --- India, Pakistan and above all the people of J&K." 


Citing examples the memorandum tellingly points out that the stance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the principal opposition party presently is quite different from the noises it has made while being in power. Mr Geelani, as expected, stuck to his known conditions which, among other things, call upon New Delhi to accept Kashmir as a dispute. Where were the affected common masses in all these meaningful initiatives? We will return to that after the delegation ends its tour. 

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

BE PREPARED

 

Admittedly, the security forces have slowly but surely got the better of the practitioners of terrorism in the State. The people too have also become wiser and more alert than ever before. Nevertheless it needs to be said that there is no respite for anyone as yet. The neighbouring country refuses to improve its behaviour. It keeps trying to push armed militants from across the Line of Control (LoC) and the International Border (IB) to play havoc with our normal lives. That it seldom succeeds these days again underlines the supremacy of our uniformed men. The militants are mostly stopped at the Line itself. In recent days they have made two attempts to cross over in the Poonch sector in this region. Both of them have been foiled. According to a report in this newspaper there were as many as 16 Pakistani and local militants involved in these exercises in two groups of eight each. More than 70 militants are said to be still waiting opposite Jhalas, Banloi, Mendhar and Krishna Ghati in the same zone to force their way into this side. The available information suggests that all of them belong to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). The majority of them consist of Pakistani citizens. There are a few who are believed be from this part of the State ---- Doda district and the Kashmir region. Intelligence intercepts indicate that the top brass of the Pakistan army is bent upon sending as many as of them and as early as possible. The idea is to replenish their depleted ranks. On a broader level, of course, their aim is to fish in the troubled waters of the Jhelum river on the one hand and create communal trouble in this province on the other. They are still pursuing the two-nation theory based on religion despite the fact that it has already failed to hold their own country in tact. Indeed, the possibility can't be ruled out that they and the members of their ilk would seek to disrupt the coming Commonwealth Games in the national capital. Already they have served a signal near as holy a place as Jama Masjid in New Delhi. Prima facie it is obvious that they had done their homework well before opening fire on a tourist bus injuring two Taiwanese documentary makers close to the grand mosque. It should not be at all surprising that foreign countries have been quick to issue advisory alerts to their citizens. 


The Union Home Minister (law and order in Delhi is looked after by the Central Government contrary to the general notion that is the elected State Government's baby) downwards all concerned agencies have reacted fast enough towards this serious incident. Such quick reflexes are very reassuring. The message for us in this State anyway is loud and clear. There are agents of mischief, murder and mayhem prowling among us. There are then several others, as the latest experience in Poonch district confirms, who are itching to join them. We should not drop our guard. Instead, we should remain in a state of preparedness. As citizens the minimum that we can do is to keep our eyes and ears open. We should not allow any suspicious element to escape our attention. The first object of our hearts should be our country.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

OMAR AND KASHMIR TANGLE

BY PROF. JAVED MUGHAL

 

No, never, not at all. I have utterly failed to understand why are some of the people in State linking the Kashmir issue with the resignation or installation of a Chief Minister. The temperament of Kashmir tangle has its roots in chaos and confusion and the ulterior motives of some defeated souls. The disgruntled lot of the valley does not have to do anything with the resolution of the problem or the confirmation of the truth behind all that is there at the moment claiming tolls of lives. They are simply on the roads face to face with the guns because their minds have been stuffed with one-point programme and i.e. they and their Islam is unsafe on the soil of India. And the fact remains that they could never justify their stand. Islam is not safe nor in peril on the soil of India but in the hands of immature Muslims who could never understand it at all. They are doing it because they have been told by Geelani Uncle to do so and unfortunately is not even an elected leader nor could he prove the legitimacy of his claim over the sentiments and emotions of Kashmiris anytime. He is plainly misusing Kashmiris to wreak vengeance on India for a long list of aspirations not fulfilled. A common Kashmiri has been oriented in such way by the hardliners that they have taken Islam to be under the shadow of danger which is not true. 
The Government has been put on the job of maintaining law and order by using sometimes hard measures because the situation has been designed to be so by the clever misleaders and the saboteurs are succeeding in letting the innocent stake-holders of The Paradise to get washed away in the flood of misconception and misunderstanding. The Hardliners claim to have total grip over the will of Kashmir without any formal certificate of the people thereof and are not ready to accept the existence of those who have sufficient proof of having been elected. Mr. Omar and the Congress have qualified for ruling Jammu and Kashmir. They are the verdicted voice of the people. The sensible lot of the valley admits it although not publicly. Hooligans are in every society and their exploitation is always there because they don't have much mind to apply to the situation and the entire political systems of Kashmir including the intellectual segment does not and can not support it at all. Mr. Omar is unacceptable to some of the Kashmiris at the moment because he has used some strong measures to control the over growing deterioration of situation when the dissidents literally failed to understand the peaceful appeals of the Government and it was clearly felt that a peace loving Kashmiri was almost at the close grip of life-seeking danger. Had there been any Government, even Mr. Geelani, operating as Chief Minister, he would have also done the same to restore peace and security in the Valley. But if the Coalition Government steps down respecting the non-genuine demand of some selected and rented Screamers, who will come forward to form the Government? No political party at least. Mr. Mufti is the only option left behind then but he is one of the most mature and practical leaders and knows that at this stage of time holding the snaffle of the Jammu and Kashmir Government is to take a stray bull by the horns and is tantamount to killing the political career. If Mr. Geelani is offered the enticing seat Chief Ministership he will surely not accept it at this critical juncture since he knows by doing so he will lose the remaining days of his life on the sharp edge of Kashmiri ire. Then what happen to the people of Jammu and Kashmir in regard to the Governance? The last option left before the state is the Governor's rule. Does a common Kashmiri not understand the style of a Governor's rule? Have they not relished this taste in the past? Kashmiris should think hundred and one times before paving a way for the imposition of Governor's rule. Mr. Omar is the leader of the entire state and what he has to do is not only to be decided by the 14000 sq. km area only but there is another host of about 70 lacs people of Jammu and Ladakh divisions who too have a significant role to play. If we look at the things without tainted glasses, we shall, of-course, find that no Government wants that the situation under its regime should get out gear. No Government allows any such thing to happen as can prove suicidal for it consequently. Every machinery strives to maintain peace and security keeping their public in good humour. Whenever the volcano uneven situation or the dissidence erupts, it is due to the working of anti-establishment forces who exploit the situation for their petty considerations. 

Hence Mr. Omar can not be held responsible for the gloomy scene of Kashmir; it is the gift of hardliners to their blind followers. If any party would have been in power, it would have adopted the same measures to streamline the situation in the Valley. Omar's ceaseless attempts to restore peace and security by deputing his officers to various villages of Kashmir to ventilate the grievances of the people; calling upon Governor to chalk out further strategies to calm down the situation; talking to Delhi every now and then; and above all his heart-felt concern about his state hold a mirror to what he thinks of his people and is a point-blank answers to many ill-bred questions. 


The problem lies in the approach of the self-styled leadership of Kashmir. They are misusing the energy of the masses on the roads for the purpose of having Pakistan on the soil of Kashmir, the integral part of India, which can not be achieved even in dreams because this is not the India of 1953 but of 2010 having far better and thousand and one times stronger position in the international arena. Today the same US, that was the Godfather of Pakistan till yesterday, is inclined towards India because it has ultimately manifested upon the US that the friendship with a languid and parasite nation like Pak is beneath the dignity and the tie with the country like India is of-course, a matter of pride. The resignation of an elected Chief Minister is slap on the face of peoples' verdict and the democratic character of the state. It is beyond doubt that the resignation of the CM under the prevailing circumstances will surely be succeeded by the Governor's Rule which will not suit the lovers of freedom and will be as strict as the treatment of a step mother. 


The problem with the common people in the Valley is that under the present scenario where they should apply reason to the situation, they are acting like robots operated by some selfish brains. The very genesis of the turmoil can be eradicated if the slogans are carefully scanned before being raised and issues properly studied from logical point of view before being highlighted. And unfortunately the same is not happening in Kashmir. Resignation of the CM is not going to culminate into the fulfillment of unreasonable agenda of some ineffective mindset rather it will further worsen the situation in the Valley since there is another segment of people in Kashmir who have placed Omar on the seat of Governance and is silent because Omar is there as Chief Minister with his intelligent Ministry. If he steps down, one clamorous lot will be quite but another will rise up who will also be uncontrollable. Hence those who have stood against the established system should not be preferred to those have ever supported the establishment. It is disgusting the people vote one party and dance to the tune of those whom they have never legitimately confided in. All the elected members of Kashmir en-bloc are forcefully voicing for the peaceful and systematic projection of demands, being not even a bit in favour of killings and bloodshed. By doing so we are stabbing at the back of our beloved Kashmir and innocent youths.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

IMPLEMENT ANTI-NAXAL STRATEGY

BY M K DHAR


Congress President Sonia Gandhi also having finally woken up to the need of addressing the problem of tribal land alienation and zero development -- principal causes of the spread of Naxalism one hopes that the hitherto unresponsive Central Government will initiate necessary action to remove the genuine grievances of a neglected and exploited section of out people. Mr. Rahul Gandhi, who is showing strong political instincts and realises the cost in terms of loss of tribal votes to his party, has also cast his lot with them, calling himself a soldier in the cause of their struggle. Ms. Mamta Banerji, anxious to rout the Marxist Government in West Bengal at next year's Assembly elections, too has taken up the cause of the Maoists and offered to be their interlocutor to initiate talks with the Centre.


Though well-meaning persons, such as, Swami Agnivesh, Arundhati Roy and others have tried their best to rouse consciousness about the grievances of the tribals, they have not succeeded in either persuading the Maoists to halt operations, or the Centre to sit across the table with the rebels. But, Home Minister P. Chidambaram does not favour talks at this moment because he feels that they are under intense pressure form the security forces and need a pause in fighting to recoup their losses in men and material. He is, however, open to any formal offer of a cease-fire from Maoists conveyed directly to the Centre which would then take serious note and act accordingly. The three conditions are: they should stop the orgy of murder and loot, give up the gun, repose faith in the democratic process and seek solution of their grievances through genuine dialogue.
The leaders have been talking about removing the "root causes" of the revolt, which has spread to over a hundred districts across nine states and made certain areas ungovernable. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi has talked about the human cost of development and demanded that no land should be acquired for industrial purposes where agricultural activity is taking place, or is covered by forests. Even where land is acquired adequate compensation to owners, or those displaced, should be paid and they should be rehabilitated suitably and ensure life-long employment to sustain themselves. There are other underlying issues of social injustice crass exploitation by forest contractors, minerals licenses and harassment by officials and the police, which deserve attention but have been wantonly neglected. It appears that the tribals have yet to enjoy the fruits of the country's freedom and, in some areas, their condition has worsened because they have been deprived of their traditional right to collect forest produce and sustain themselves.


There are signs that thanks to the interest shown by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, things are beginning to move. The Planning Commission has proposed an outlay of Rs. 14,000 crores for comprehensive infrastructure and economic development of tribal areas, as well as, proper implementation of Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act and related Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act. Under the proposed outlay about Rs. 5,700 crores would be spent on road connectivity, Rs. 1,600 crore on education, Rs. 850 crores on health services, Rs. 835 crore on rural electrification and Rs, 600 crore on irrigation to bring the least developed areas on par with national development.


Another important proposal is to give 26 per cent share in mining profits to tribal people and set up a regulatory body to check illegal mining. The draft of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Bill also has provisions to deal with ecological balance in mining. It has been observed that illegal mining with the connivance of the state administration has divested large tracts of forest land and the tribals living on it have been just pushed out, without any relief or succor, into the waiting arms of the Maoists who give them the gun to take revenge on those who rendered them landless and jobless, with the state government looking the other way. It is surprising that the states seem at a loss to understand the causes of Maoist violence and its rapid spread when it is their own policies which have made the tribals to revolt against alienation and injustice.
The Centre should pursue the proposal to give equity to the displaced tribals in industrial enterprises set up on land which previously belonged to them, besides immediate compensation and rehabilitation assistance, to ensure life-long sustenance. The essence of the matter is that development must personate to the tribal areas, who still live in primitive conditions, without education, healthcare or gainful employment. At the last National Development Council meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also emphasised that action against Maoists had to be taken with effective implementation of the Forest Rights Act and PESA. Failure to implement them reduced the credibility of the government's commitment to bring development to these neglected regions.
However, since October 1999, when a separate Union Tribal Affairs Ministry was carved out of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to give more focused attention to development of the Scheduled Tribes, a successive of indifferent minister has ensured little real work, though on paper it remains the nodal ministry for overall policy planning and coordination of programmes and schemes for the development of the tribes. With Environment Ministry playing a pro-active role in tribal welfare and the Union Government turning its attention to with a slew of initiatives located outside it, the Tribal Affairs Ministry has been getting even more obviously marginalised.


Thus, police strategy must be accompanied by a development strategy and the alienated section of the population must be won over with positive programmes leading to progress which is visible on the ground. In areas where the local governments have tried to initiate welfare measures, opened schools and dispensaries and provided them with means of livelihood, the response has been positive. This has persuaded some Naxals to give up the gun and surrender to the administration, such as, in Palamu district of Jharkhand. The surrender-and-rehabilitation policies of some states need to be implemented with understanding and a vision of the future. The Centre has provided revised guidelines for the policy Naxal-hit states, including an immediate grant of Rs 1.5 lack, a monthly rehabilitation stipend of Rs. 3,000 for three years, vocational training and incentives for surrender of weapons. (NPA)

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

INDIA'S DEFENCE DIPLOMACY

BY BRIG. ( RETD. ) S.N. SACHADEVA

 

As India contemplates the dawn of a new decade, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must watch with satisfaction the glints in the eyes of foreign nations as they salivate over the $100 billion defence market that India will offer over the next seven to 10- years.


The biggest jewel in this star-studded constellation of high-tech avionics, gargantuan platforms and generation next weaponry is the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) deal, where 126 jet fighters worth $12 billion are up for grabs, for which five nations-and six companies-are both ready and willing to give their eye teeth.


On offer are Lockheed Martin's F-16 and Boeing's F/A-Super 18 Hornet, both from the US; the Russian Mig-35; Sweden's Saab Gripen; European consortium EADS's Eurofighter Typhoon; and France's Dassault Rafale. Trials are expected to be completed by the year-end.


The winner of the jet fighter deal will be a clear indicator of the direction in which India will pursue its strategic vision in the decades to come.


The aircraft on offer are more or less equal on most indices, including price; the question is, on which country will India bestow its affections?


Will the US, who did most of the heavy lifting over the Indo-US nuclear deal, win the cake and eat it too?


Or will it be Russia, invoking its decades-old friendship with India, which it supplemented with the offer of the aircraft carrier 'Admiral Gorshkov' and sweetened with the lease of the Nerpa nuclear submarine to the Indian Navy this summer? No one else is giving Delhi a nuclear sub, nor did any other country offer to help design and build the INS Arihant, India's own nuclear submarine, that came on stream last year.

 

Will it be France, the only country which weighed its words carefully when India went nuclear in 1998-when the US imposed sanctions against all high-tech imports by India?


Sweden has been lobbying for the Gripen over the last couple of years, indicating that it was willing to drop its objections to India's nuclear deal at the Nuclear Suppliers Group.


Lastly, there's the European Euro fighter. But if the MMRCA deal is a strategic one, which means that India is going to exercise the leverage it receives from awarding the contract to a particular country, the big question is,

what does India want from Europe?


The relationship between India and the UK is strong on trade and low on strategy, said a defence ministry source. India bought 66 Hawk jet trainers in 2005 from Britain, although it needed at least a hundred more, which is why another request for information was recently made.


The decision over the MMRCA as well as other big-ticket defence items should be based on a projection of India's place in the world over the next 20- years and the reliability of its friendships with key countries.
Question is, will the US or Russia be more reliable in the near future? The answer is uncertain. Since 80 per cent of the Indian Air Force (IAF) is of Russian-origin, giving the 126-fighter deal to the Americans would reduce the IAF's dependence on the Russians only by about 20 per cent."


Highly placed sources in the government, nurtured on a diet of Soviet/Russian-Indian bhai-bhai, said on condition of anonymity that while the reliability factor with the Russians remained high, there was a lot of dissatisfaction over the manner in which the Russians had behaved over the "Admiral Gorshkov" deal.
When the agreement was signed in 2004, Russia agreed to give India the aircraft carrier for free, but asked for about $894 million for refitting the ship. Several problems over the years inflated the final price, negotiated only a few weeks ago, to $2.3 billion. 


The Russian threat didn't endear them to the Indians, thereby further pushing them into the arms of their all-too willing rivals, the Americans. In fact, in the decade after the nuclear tests, as India slowly emerged from the US-sponsored sanctions regime, US defence companies began to earnestly lobby to sell high-technology as well as large platforms to India. The US administration, meanwhile, opened up a new chapter in training and defence exercises, in the air "Yudh Abhyas", on the ground "Red Flag" and at sea "Malabar". India responded enthusiastically.


So, just as the Indo-US nuclear deal began to mature, the Indian defence establishment put out some contracts for the Americans: The INS Jalashwa and six C-130 transport planes, among others. The pro-US argument that began to gain ground in Delhi was that it is not safe to put all our eggs in one basket (meaning the Russians).
Pointing to the Fifth Generation or "stealth aircraft" that was being jointly developed in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in Russia, Kadakin pointed out that the aircraft was "much more sophisticated and had more teeth than the American one." He added, "We understand that India is a superpower-in-the-making, therefore it is natural that you will have several new relationships. But there are some things that Russia sells to India which no one else can give. Can the Americans supply tanks to you? No. Will they give you missiles? No. As for the prices of civil nuclear plants that France has offered, well, the Russian ones are much cheaper…I was in the Kremlin when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Russia last December, and I can tell you that there is no change in India's relations with Russia."


But just as the Americans began to capture the hearts and minds of the Indian military some years ago, a rethink on India's strategic vision seems to have recently overtaken the Indian defence establishment. Now the question is: Can India afford to buy top-of-the-line fighter jets from a country that not so long ago imposed sanctions on India and wouldn't allow India to source spare parts not only from the US, but also its allies, like the UK?
Jasjit Singh rubbishes the concerns. "Sanctions against India were lifted by the US within several months of being imposed by them…The question is not of sanctions, but of strategy. Why should India want to buy American or Russian or French equipment? What leverage is such a decision going to give us?" he asked.
The obvious answer to that one, said a third-country diplomat, is India's need to shore up its defences against China. The question whether India should buy Indian or Russian equipment also has to deal with how far it is willing to go along with Washington's vision of a league of democracies.


Considering that Beijing is increasingly accepted as Delhi's chief strategic opponent, one that is far more dangerous than Pakistan, the Indian establishment, burnt by China's opposition on several counts, including on the nuclear deal, seems infinitely more interested in allying with the US.


Defence ministry officials point out that India has several defence cooperation agreements-with Russia, the US, UK, Germany, Italy, France, Qatar, Oman, and now even with China.


A range of issues is discussed in this dialogue, not only about buying and selling equipment, or the percentage of offsets, but increasingly on strategic partnerships that India can and should forge, for example, with countries like Afghanistan.


Clearly, as India enters a new decade, the horizon is littered with both opportunities and challenges. It is now up to Delhi to decide how far and to what extent it wants to reach for the sky .(INAV)

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

AFSPA IN KASHMIR

REVIEW THE ACT, DON'T DILUTE IT

 

THE disconcerting chorus from the Kashmir valley for the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), or diluting some of its allegedly draconian provisions, calls for a closer scrutiny. It is certainly a matter of concern that the demand, which is at the core of the seperatists' agenda, has been co-opted by not only the main opposition party in the state, the PDP, but also by the Chief Minister, Mr Omar Abdullah. Both the mainstream parties, the National Conference and the PDP, seem to be vying with each other to take the credit as and when the Act is partially or fully withdrawn from the state. There is thus a remarkable convergence of views on the AFSPA between hardliners like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and moderates like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq on the one hand and between Ms Mehbooba Mufti and the Chief Minister on the other. All of them now say that some dramatic concessions on the AFSPA must be made before peace is restored and dialogue resumes in the valley.

 

The AFSPA can, however, be withdrawn from the state only if the government withdraws the "disturbed area" tag from it. Given the current situation in the state, it will be foolish to do any such thing. And as for diluting its provisions, only Parliament has the authority to do so. With most political parties in Parliament firmly opposed to any dilution in the Act, it again appears an unlikely possibility. More importantly, the demand appears designed to deflect attention from core issues. The Army, for example, has played no role whatsoever in the disturbances which have rocked the state in recent months. Indeed, the Army has been involved in only one or two clashes in the cities during this period. Most of the time it was the state police and paramilitary forces, to whom the AFSPA does not apply, which opened fire on stone-pelting mobs.

 

No decision on the AFSPA should, therefore, be taken in haste or on emotional or political grounds. While the armed forces must ensure zero tolerance to the abuse of the Act, the state government cannot allow the street and the Hurriyat to set the political agenda. It must address the governance deficit and trust deficit that precipitated the crisis in the first place and stop using the AFSPA as a pretext for its inaction.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

NO END TO RAIL MISHAPS

MAMATA CANNOT COMPROMISE ON SAFETY

 

THE sickening regularity with which train accidents are occurring, claiming the lives of many passengers, shows Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee and her administration in poor light. The toll in Monday's accident at Badarwas station in Shivpuri district of Madhya Pradesh when a goods train rammed into the Indore-Gwalior Intercity Express has been increasing. The fact that it resulted in the death of over 25 passengers is cause for concern. An expeditious probe will reveal the exact cause of the accident. However, preliminary reports suggest that the driver of the goods train apparently overshot the signal at the station as the cabin man had not yet changed the track of the train. The head-on collision is also being attributed to heavy rain and poor visibility.

 

The Commissioner of Railway Safety and the Railway Board would do well to get to the bottom of what went wrong and fix responsibility. However, what is surprising is that the anti-collision device (ACD), designed by Konkan Railway, has not yet been commissioned in all the railways though it had gone through trials. Indeed, the ACD is meant to prevent an accident like the present one, of a train ramming into another. The ACD units in the engines and the rear guard van are tracked by global position system satellites and they communicate with stationary ACD units installed at stations and along the track. Whenever the sensors judge that two trains are within a range of 3 km of one another, they automatically trigger the breaks. How many more accidents should take place before Rail Bhavan takes the final call?

 

Reports that some liquor bottles were recovered from the Badarwas Station Master's room point to a serious collapse of authority and accountability at the operational level. If these are true, the Station Master and all others involved need to be given exemplary punishment. Whether it is a signal failure or human error, the Railway Ministry should address the key issues with a sense of urgency — the modernisation of the safety equipment, the maintenance of track and signals, the failure of top officials to put in place the hi-tech full-safe mechanisms and re-training and fitness of the staff — to prevent the recurrence of such accidents.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

NO FREE LUNCH

THE BILL FOR RECKLESS BEHAVIOR

 

AN obscure pastor of a church in Florida hogged headlines and kept the media spotlight on himself for many tense days as he threatened to burn a copy of the Quran on the ninth anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks on the US. The "land of the free" was hobbled by its laws, and it took much high-level intervention before the pastor backed down from his threat. The world did not have to pay a price for an act that would have ignited passions in an already volatile situation, and many heaved a sigh of relief.

 

In 1891, Rudyard Kipling was so impressed by the American practice of providing a "free" lunch to those who purchased at least one drink, something that prompted him to point out that "for something less than a rupee (sic) a day a man can feed himself sumptuously in San Francisco, even though he be a bankrupt." However, this very practice led to the popular adage, "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch". Now, Pastor Terry Jones has got to the truth of this adage in the form of a $1,80,000 bill for the security services rendered. The very city where his church is located, Gainesville, Florida, has asked him to pay up for the commotion he had caused.

 

No doubt, the bill will make anyone with such disruptive intentions pause and think of the consequences of what they are about to do. If only leaders devoted more thought to the consequences of their actions, they would desist from troublemaking. In 2004, the Bombay High Court fined the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party Rs. 20 lakh each for organising a bandh on July 30, 2003. The court thereby laid down the principle of public accountability. Public misconduct must be punished, and in a body-political where imprisonment has become a badge of honour, large fines or bills for enforcement will prove to be an effective deterrent. Many irresponsible public figures develop a feeling of impunity, which is neither warranted nor desirable. Sooner or later, we have to face the consequence of our actions, as Pastor Jones has found.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

AYODHYA CONTROVERSY & CASTE CENSUS

DON'T PERPETUATE SOCIAL DIVIDES

BY B.G. VERGHESE

 

THE country is girding itself to face the possibility of extreme reactions in the wake of the Allahabad High Court's ruling on September 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 December 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 Quran in the United States where a nondescript, fundamentalist evangelical Christian pastor was persuaded to abandon the crazy idea of burning the Holy Book on September 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 Mirwaiz 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 2200 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 targetting the SCs, STs, OBCs and other marginalised groups at less cost and without the political overtones of blatantly cultivating caste consciousness.

 

If the purpose of targetting 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?

 

This is warped logic and will only create new classes among the poor and the 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 is 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 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 Kailash-Mansarowar only compounds communal folly. When will they ever learn?

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

OUR REALITY

BY B.K. KARKRA

 

SOME years back, my children had a domestic help by the name of Chandan. He was a 'bhola' (simple-minded) alright, but not a block-head. He responded fairly intelligently to what we asked him to do and had even started anticipating our usual needs.

 

Encouraged by his seemingly good I.Q., my daughter-in-law, Sakshi, a medical super-specialist, had a brainwave to educate him and thus push him towards a higher quality of life. She purchased the necessary books and stationery for him and squeezed some time out of her routine to teach him.

 

To our surprise, the boy seemed to have such a big mental block against learning as would not allow a single letter or a numeral to pass by. When pressed harder by my zealous daughter, he felt exasperated and came out in the end, "Mem Sab, padhai se dar kar hi to mein aap ke pass aya tha". (Madam, I had come to you exactly to avoid being forced to learn).

 

It was a situation where our Sakshi had driven the buffalo to the pond alright, but sadly she could not force it to drink. This was a case of a sincere citizen wanting to pay back to society. If it did not work it was too bad.

 

We tried to understand what exactly the problem with the boy was. His uncle — we did not know how near or distant — would drop in at our place right in time to claim his salary. He seemed to have no other interest in him. We were reluctant to hand over his earnings to him, but Chandan was always prevailed upon by him to ask us to pay his dues to him. It was perhaps this man who had put the dread of education in the boy's heart, because his illiteracy suited him.

 

We could understand that the problem of empty stomachs and idle hands had to take precedence over education. Still, there is no denying the fact that education is the way out of backwardness. But what can you really do when people develop a vested interest in backwardness itself? His uncle seemed to fear that we would ultimately force some literacy down his throat and thus, asked us to relieve him. Possibly, he had got a more lucrative placement for him also. The boy had served us well and we would have liked to retain him, but we could not.

 

When the man had collected his final dues, we called Chandan aside and put a 50-rupee note in his pocket, advising him to keep the money to himself. We do not know how his uncle came to know about this. Right within the visual distance from our house, he gave him two slaps and the currency note promptly shifted from one pocket to the other.

 

Sakshi was sad at the failure of her literacy mission. But we consoled her that after all, the three best administrators of our country — Sultan Ala-ud-din Khilji, Shehanshah Akbar and Maharaja Ranjit Singh — were also illiterate.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

SHARING VALUES AND BENEFITS FOR A SAFER WORLD

IN TODAY'S GLOBALISED WORLD, IT IS IMPORTANT THAT COUNTRIES HELP OUT ONE ANOTHER DURING CATASTROPHES. PROBLEMS IN ONE COUNTRY CAN HAVE A DIRECT BEARING ON ITS NEIGHBOURS, THE REGION AND THE WORLD

TIMOTHY J. ROEMER

 

FIVE years ago Hurricane Katrina hit the southern shores of the United States in what became one of the worst natural disasters in United States history. Over 1,800 people died, making it the deadliest U.S. hurricane in eighty years.

 

With an estimated $81 billion in property damage, Hurricane Katrina was also the costliest hurricane in U.S. history. Over one million people were displaced from their homes and communities, many never to return.

 

In the aftermath of such a disaster, the United States received an outpouring of offers of assistance from all corners of the world. Rich countries like Kuwait and developing countries such as Bangladesh offered money; historical allies like South Korea and Israel offered help and even a country with strained relations with the United States such as Venezuela offered material assistance and technical experts like doctors.

 

Not surprisingly, India also made generous offers of financial assistance and supplies. India pledged $5 million and sent tarps, blankets, and hygiene kits. On September 13, 2005, the Indian Air Force delivered 25 tonnes of relief supplies.

 

I say "not surprisingly" because providing humanitarian relief in time of need is one of the core values that the United States and India share. It is why India sends its men and women into harm's way as U.N. peacekeepers in Africa.

 

It is why the United States lent military capabilities to the government in the wake of the Haiti earthquake in 2010. It is why both the United States and India have offered support to Pakistan in response to the recent flooding crisis.

 

It is in this spirit that I visited Leh on Monday (September 20) to deliver supplies, blankets and bedding materials for families in need through NGO relief efforts, provided by both the United States government and by donations raised by the students at the American Embassy School in New Delhi.

 

In today's inter-connected world, it is imperative that countries assist others during catastrophes and in time of adversity. Transnational problems in one country can directly impact neighbours, the regions and the world. The flooding in Pakistan could reverse years of development efforts, making it more difficult for Pakistan to fight insurgents and for the United States and other countries to bring aid to Afghanistan. Without assistance to Pakistan, it will be more difficult for the United States, India and the world to achieve its objective of bringing peace and security to South Asia.

 

Recognising the need to help other countries during a humanitarian crisis, the United States and India are working closely to expand our bilateral relationship to include joint assistance to third countries. In April, we extended our Bilateral Disaster Management Support Project for another five years. Through this project our two countries have worked together for more than six years to share best practices and build capacity in key institutions to enhance the quality of disaster preparedness and response. It will continue to strengthen our capacities to plan for and respond to disasters, including integration of disaster risk reduction to climate change.

 

Beyond natural disasters, transnational threats such as terrorism, cyber-warfare and pandemic disease require countries and governments to cooperate in ways not foreseen just a few years ago. The United States and India recognize our common strategic security interests in preserving the free passage in the Indian Ocean and surrounding waterways, countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and re-building Afghanistan.

 

The US-India strategic dialogue is responding. With our Counter-terrorism Cooperation Initiative signed in August, our two countries will now expand our collaboration on transportation security, maritime security, border security, cyber security, countering terror finance threats and much more. We are working to identify areas of common strategic interest in the global commons realm.

 

In Afghanistan, our two countries are finding opportunities to work together in several sectors, including energy and women's empowerment, to help bring development and ultimately prosperity and security to the Afghan population.

 

These are just a few of several regional strategies where the United States and India are combining our efforts, capabilities and expertise to meet the challenges in the world.  In future we hope to collaborate on a wider range of global challenges around the world such as providing food security, combating trafficking-in persons and working together on global disease detection.

 

From New Orleans to Leh, helping others in times of hardship is one of many shared values which deliver shared benefits to neighbours and drives our strategic partnership forward. Helping others is not limited to times of hardship but includes meeting the challenges of transnational problems. These challenges cannot be solved by one nation but require cooperation amongst many nations. Providing aid to the residents of Leh, assisting in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, or safeguarding sea, air, and space domains, the United States and India are working together and answering these challenges. We are defining the indispensable partnership of the 21st century.

 

The writer is the U.S. Ambassador to India

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

PAKISTAN FLOODS 

PICKING UP THE PIECES

 

The waters have receded but new perils trail in their wake: deadly disease and abject poverty
Patrick Cockburn

 

WALI Khan shifts his eyes nervously from side to side as he points to the tumbled walls which are all that remain of his mud-brick house. The 45-year-old labourer is frightened that his neighbours in the battered town of Charsadda will suspect he is receiving help denied to other flood victims. He says: "I mustn't be seen with foreigners for too long or people will think I am getting special treatment."

 

As water levels in the rivers drop in this part of north-west Pakistan, victims of the flood are divided between those who have lost everything and those with just enough left to get back on their feet. Mr Khan, living with his wife and six children in a tent in a camp with 650 other people a mile from his old home, recalls: "The first I knew of the flood was when four foot of water came pouring into my house at ten in the morning. I came back today for the first time, but there is nothing left."

 

Most of the better-built buildings in his old neighbourhood are still standing, with a water-mark over the doorways showing where the flood peaked at about 10 feet above street level. The future of some houses is still in doubt. Kashif Jan, who sells soap for a living, points to the dun-coloured side wall of his own home just behind the ruins of Wali Khan's house, where the central part of the wall has given way so that the topmost bricks are precariously held in place by a wooden pole.

 

Mr Jan is dubious how long the wall will survive and adds that he lost all his savings, which he kept in cash, along with his soap supplies, on the day of the flood. Otherwise, standing in a clean brown robe amid the wreckage of his home and business, he sounds surprisingly confident that he will soon be back in business, though all the local shops are still shuttered.

 

His neighbours agreed that the government had done nothing for them and that any aid they received came from international non-governmental organisations. The local transformer had been knocked out by the floods but was now back in operation. Shahid Ali, an electrician, said: "Our main need is clean water and rope beds to sleep on."

 

For those like Mr Khan, who were already poor before the flood and have now lost their houses, the future looks grim and uncertain. At his camp, set up by the National Rural Support Programme and funded by the government and the World Bank, officials say it will be three months to a year before the houses which were destroyed can be rebuilt. The people in the tents are given tea in the morning and two meals a day but are without jobs and have no money for clothes.

 

Charsadda is normally a prosperous Pashtun town at the centre of a well-watered agricultural area in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Its fields and orchards benefit from being close to the Kabul and Swat rivers, which made it particularly vulnerable to flooding following this year's epic monsoon rains. But in the centre of the town it is already difficult to see signs of disaster. The havoc wreaked by the flood water only becomes obvious close to the banks of the rivers, where the buildings and land look as if they have been smashed by an artillery barrage.

 

As the flood waters recede in northern Pakistan the losers are the poor, who have lost their houses and livestock, and those living close enough to the rivers to be in danger. In some areas flood victims claiming compensation from the government are furious that they are outnumbered by fraudulent claimants whose houses and lands were unaffected by the rising waters.

 

The falling water levels in the rivers may mean that the worst is over but a fresh danger now threatens. All over Pakistan, pools and small lakes left behind by the floods provide ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying the parasite that causes malaria. The disease is endemic in Pakistan and its incidence normally increases after the monsoon. But this year there is far more stagnant water at the right temperature for the mosquitoes to breed in, the local health system is in disarray and people are on the move and more likely to be bitten.

 

"If you sleep outside because your house is gone you are vulnerable to mosquito bites," says Dr Naeem Durrani, a malaria specialist for the medical charity Merlin. "We must be prepared to respond to as many as many as two million cases of malaria over the next four months in all areas that are mildly or severely flood affected." He adds that effective treatment simply means taking a few pills – but if victims don't do so, the death toll from the illness could be as high as 40,000.

 

The Independent

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MUMBAI MIRROR

VIEW

THE NAME'S HOLMES. SHERLOCK HOLMES

A MODERN-DAY BBC ADAPTATION CELEBRATES EVERYTHING WE LOVE ABOUT THE GREATEST DETECTIVE OF ALL


In the BBC's overwhelming new adaptation of Sherlock Holmes – titled simply Sherlock, and set in the present day – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's master detective is a young genius the local constabulary routinely refers to as a freak, and Dr Watson is an Afghanistan-returned Army doctor who can barely keep from gaping when the sleuth explains his deductions. Business as usual, except now the adventures find a new home in a modern-day setting – complete with cellphones, search engines and surveillance cameras – and while it may sound blasphemous to see Sherlock stick on nicotine patches instead of sucking on a Meerschbaum pipe, or John Watson writing out the adventures on his blog, it all works. Beautifully, in fact. 

 

Martin Freeman (you may remember him as Tim from legendary british TV series The Office, or as Arthur Dent from the hideous adaptation of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy) is perfectly cast as Watson – appropriately hapless and sincere in equal measure. The first episode, a feature-length masterpiece, introduces us to Holmes through Watson's goggling eyes, eyes that provide a rare spotlight Holmes is only too glad to bask in, his gigantic ego taking all its time to preen even as Watson's jaw stays low with awe. Played by Benedict Cumberbatch, this Holmes is a wiry and energetic youth, fashionable as a black-loving dandy while being on the ball every minute. 

 

The cases itself are wonderfully crafted tributes to the originals, and while plot and motivations have obviously been transformed, there is a constant, wonderful connect to the old stories. In opening episode A Study In Pink, for example, the way Holmes detects Watson's sibling troubles based on the scratches on his wristwatch in the books are here turned into cellphone scratches. There are tributes to the original text around every major plotpoint, and yet the series stands majestically original, true to the spirit of Holmes but being every bit its own magical monster. 

 

Sherlock Holmes has always been all about the deductions, and the series almost gets them as right as Doyle – which is to say that powerfully crafted writing can sell a possible implication well enough to make it appear like fact. The stories always involved Holmes coming up with elaborate explanations for his seemingly miraculous instant readings of people and clues, but these have always been obvious, yet beautiful hokum. The fact comes first, and then a clue is skillfully drawn up, and then asserted as if it is the one and only truth. Told as well as the master writer did, we swallowed it whole. The TV show, not as capable at subterfuge, makes the clockwork behind the process somewhat obvious, and shatters the veneer of invincibility accorded to the book-fact. The tragedy of figuring out just how a wonderful magician actually pulls it off is sheer heartbreak. 

 

Still, this is exquisite television, something that must be making Guy Ritchie kick himself. Created by veterans Steven Moffat – Coupling, Doctor Who – and Mark Gatiss, a Dr Who writer who stars in the new series as Sherlock's brother Mycroft, the series consists of three movie-sized episodes, the first and third of which will fill you with awe. The DVDs were released in the UK at the end of August, and I strongly recommend asking friends and relatives living on the little island for this favour first. Television rarely seems this smart, and the game, as the man himself says, is afoot.

 

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******************************************************************************************BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

COMPENSATING THE DISPLACED

DEFINE LANDOWNER'S STAKE CORRECTLY, DON'T MESS WITH PROFITS

 

The government appears to be moving towards finalising legislation to ensure that those displaced by mining projects get 26 per cent of the profit accruing from them. This is in response to the growing realisation, after the rise of militancy in central India, that those dispossessed by such projects, mainly forest-dwelling tribals and cultivators, need to be made a part of the development process as winners, not losers. The intention is sound but the device chosen is not. Government cannot pre-empt revenues like this and hurt mining interests. There are other ways in which government can raise revenues rather than eat into profits, and that too in perpetuity. After all, there is also the issue of inter-generational equity involved here. Industry associations have opposed the idea on the ground that this may make such projects unviable. While that was seen as largely the stance of the private sector, the opposition to the idea has now been strengthened by public sector giant Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) joining the naysayers. The SAIL chief's contention is that currently mines are owned by the company which handles the entire steel-making process; creating a separate entity for mining will be problematic. It is also worth noting that a share of the profits may not be good for the displaced in the long run as there can be periods of losses (mineral prices can crash during a serious economic slowdown) and imaginative accounting can turn black into shades of red even in good times.

 

The best way to proceed in this matter is not to lose sight of the fundamentals. If tribals and cultivators, deprived of their traditional means of livelihood by development, should benefit and not suffer from it, then how best to go about the task? Paying the entire compensation as a lump sum is not a good idea. Those not used to seeing big money can blow it up, aided and abetted by sharks. The cardinal aim must be for the displaced to acquire new skills and new means of livelihood with the help of the capital available as compensation. Hence, the Haryana model of splitting up the compensation into a lump sum component and an annuity that runs for 30 years is gaining acceptance. But the question of training and help to start new ventures remains, as also the need to recreate displaced communities and preserve at least some parts of their tradition. Tata Steel, the other integrated steel maker which says it has always shared its prosperity with neighbouring communities, has made some suggestions. Make the social cost of resettlement a part of operational costs, not profits, during the life of the mine. It can be levied in the manner of mining royalty. It also focuses on the utilisation of the levy. This should be done in consultation with the community, possibly through a trust or local development body in which the community, government and the corporate house in question participate. In reality, money is only a part of what it needs to help people learn new means of livelihood and sustain and rejuvenate their communities after the disorientation of shifting. Knowledgeable public-spirited individuals have to help, hence the notion of a trust.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

MANAGING SURPLUS WATER

BETTER COORDINATION NEEDED TO REDUCE CHANCES OF FLOODS

 

The fury of the ongoing flash floods that have devastated vast stretches of northern India and neighbouring Pakistan, could have been minimised, if not wholly averted, had the water flows in the river systems and reservoirs been managed better. Most floods and flash floods in India owe their origin to human causes, ranging from deforestation, poor land conservation, miscalculated storage of water in reservoirs and its ill-timed release downstream. Unchecked silting of rivers and canals, and poor upkeep of their embankments have made matters worse. Floods in the Yamuna river in Haryana and Delhi, posing threat to even the Common Wealth Games Village, where the athletes and other participants in the Games are to stay, are the outcome largely of massive water discharges at irregular and mistimed intervals from the Hathnikund barrage in Haryana. Regular offloading of water in manageable quantum could have prevented this from happening. Similar is the case in some of the flooding events in Uttar Pradesh where the River Ganga and its offshoots could not cope with water outflows from the rivers and dams upstream in Uttarakhand. Last year's massive floods in southern India were also a consequence of a lack of coordination between authorities manning a series of barrages on the River Krishna in different states. Surplus waters of Almati and Narayanpur dams in Karnataka went unchecked into Srisailam reservoir at a time when it was already full up. The resultant heavy discharges from Srisailam added to water stocks downstream in the Nagarjuna Sagar and Prakasam barrages. Waters released from here submerged large stretches in Andhra Pradesh before flowing into the sea.

 

In the north, rivers emanating from the Himalayas are prone to carry a heavy load of silt, which clog riverbeds and are not dredged out. This has contributed to a rise in the riverbeds, eroding their water-holding capacity and threatening adjacent land with flooding. The result is that even marginally abnormal inflows cause the water to spread to surrounding areas. This year's unprecedented floods in the Indus river in Pakistan have largely been the result of such neglect of the river system. Indeed, the commonly followed approach of raising embankments, rather than de-silting the riverbeds, creates more problems as these bunds often cave in under pressure of gushing water. The catastrophic deluge in Bihar in 2008, which affected over 2.3 million people and took more than 500 lives, was the result of a breach in the Kosi river's embankment and the consequential change in its course. All this is not insurmountable. What is needed is proper planning and better management of reservoirs. Improved coordination is needed in the management of waterworks in different river basins. That the rainfall in the month of September would be 15 per cent above normal due to the emergence of La Nina (cooling of Pacific Ocean waters) was predicted by the weather office in August-end itself. There was, therefore, little reason to allow an over-accumulation of water in the barrages only to be released in bulk, causing flooding. The politics of water management in seasons of plenty ought to be better managed than in seasons of scarcity.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

IMPLICATIONS OF THE N-LIABILITY ACT

WE SHOULD NOT PROCEED UNDER THE ASSUMPTION THAT WE WILL BE PERPETUAL OPERATORS AND IMPORTERS

RONEN SEN

 

We should not proceed under the assumption that we will be perpetual operators and importers

 

The passage of the legislation on civil nuclear liability was, in several respects, a positive development. Despite the controversy on Article 17(b) of the Act, relating to liability of suppliers, there was broad political support to the legislation. This was welcome, and bodes well for the future. The debate on the nuclear liability Act, both in our Parliament and in our media, however, was not a dispassionate one. One of the significant factors was the perceived US double standards, in the wake of the court judgement on the Bhopal gas leak tragedy, which coincided with the multi-billion dollar liability slapped on BP by the US for the large oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

I will not go into the legal details of this legislation. I will focus on some aspects of its international dimensions and, more importantly, on possible implications in terms of our national interests. My observations are based on my involvement since the 1970s in our civilian and subsequent strategic nuclear programmes, and my ambassadorial assignments in major world Capitals.

 

Our outrage at US abrogation of the Tarapur agreement was based on our belief that the bilateral agreement could not be unilaterally terminated by legislation in the US Congress. The Tarapur experience, and the uncertainties we sensed about future developments in the Soviet Union, led to the insertion of a clause in the 1988 Indo-Soviet agreement on non-retroactive application of subsequent laws for setting up two Russian 1000 Mw VVER reactors at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu. Thus, Russia could continue to implement this agreement, despite its subsequent joining of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG), and adjusting its laws to conform to NSG guidelines. Russia could claim reciprocal treatment for the two reactors for which contracts are signed and under implementation. Our system, however, does not permit differential treatment in terms of applicable laws. We had also conveyed clear commitments to the US in our Letter of Intent of September 2008. This includes the commitment to adhere to the Vienna Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC).

 

One notable characteristic, which has set India apart from many countries, including the US, France and others, is our unbroken record of fully honouring all our international commitments, despite facing virtually all conceivable challenges and crises since our Independence. This characteristic is rooted in our civilisational heritage. It was the US, more than any other country, which took the lead in freeing India from its global isolation in civil nuclear commerce. It would thus be shameful if, for one reason or the other, our inability to honour our commitments resulted in the US being shut out of the Indian market, while others who piggy-backed on the US-led initiative derived all the benefits.

 

It is natural for the US to expect to benefit from a large potential nuclear power production market in India. However, assertions that US corporate interests motivated the Bush administration to conclude the historic Indo-US deal are false. If US business interests were indeed of paramount interest, the US would have reversed the sequence and sought completion of all aspects of the Indo-US deal before seeking the NSG exemption permitting nuclear commerce with all other interested countries. The vast majority of US corporate leaders who lobbied for the deal in the US Congress had no stake in the nuclear industry. Both the major US nuclear industry companies had significant Japanese stake-holding.

 

An important factor, which I had repeated ad nauseum for over a decade in the context of defence supplies, also applies to the global nuclear industry. The global supply chain is becoming more integrated and inter-dependent, with acquisitions, joint ventures and tie-ups with cross shareholding. This global trend is gathering momentum. Westinghouse is owned by Toshiba. Hitachi and General Electric have major mutual shareholding and global collaboration, while GE also has cooperation with Mitsubishi and others. Areva's traditionally close collaboration with Siemens did not prevent the latter from its recent collaboration with Russia's Rosatom. Areva has a joint venture with Northrop Grumman for manufacturing reactor components. All Russian exported power reactors have the Siemens-Areva digital instrumentation and control systems. These are just a few illustrative instances. Our failure to fully comprehend the collaboration in the midst of competition had cost us dearly in defence procurements. We need not repeat such mistakes in civil nuclear cooperation.

 

]India was the first Asian country to build a nuclear reactor. It is among a handful of countries in the world with full nuclear fuel cycle capabilities. Hence we should not proceed under a self-demeaning assumption that we will be perpetual operators and importers and not emerge as exporters and suppliers. We will have to endeavour to get global suppliers to provide for local content of around 70 per cent of total costs, both for reducing costs of power generation and for meeting our vital economic interests. This should involve not just specialised construction but also manufacture of reactor and other components. This will necessitate a domestic regime which would encourage foreign suppliers to have licensed production at major Indian companies and sourcing of supplies from a wide base of Indian SMEs. Modernisation of our nuclear industrial base should also involve transfer of technology and joint research, and development of new technologies. One of the most effective ways of promoting technology transfer and collaboration is through joint ventures, ideally with 50:50 equity participation. These would, of course, involve both private sector participation and encouraging FDI.

 

I am convinced that rapid growth in nuclear energy generation in India will be facilitated by opening up this sector to both Indian and foreign private sector participation. There would be no insurmountable security implications since these plants would be under IAEA safeguards. By encouraging our private sector to participate in collaboration as well as in parallel with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, we should be able to allocate more of our scarce public resources to education, health and basic infrastructure in our rural areas.

 

It remains to be seen how our nuclear liability law and subsequent measures will contribute towards meeting the longer term interests of our country, including those I have referred to.

 

The author is former Indian ambassador to the United States, Russia and Germany

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

MONSOON MAGIC FOR PARLIAMENT

MS SWARAJ HAS MADE THE FIRST OVERTURE ON BEHALF OF THE BJP. IT MAKES SENSE FOR THE CONGRESS PARTY TO GIVE A POSITIVE RESPONSE TO THIS OFFER

A K BHATTACHARYA

 

It is difficult to agree with what Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sushma Swaraj said at a recent interactive session with a media house. Her contention was that the BJP had evolved in the last couple of months as a responsible opposition political party. Now, given the BJP's past record, this is a debatable view, but if indeed it became a responsible party, providing constructive opposition to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the proof of the pudding should have been in the eating.

 

 That is where the surprise lies. The data on the UPA government's performance with regard to conducting its legislative business have seen a significant improvement during the last Monsoon session of Parliament. You may agree or disagree with the reason for this improvement, but this is an undeniably significant development and marks an interesting turn in the way the UPA government has been looking at its legislative agenda.

 

Ms Swaraj may take credit for this and attribute the improved record to BJP's becoming a responsible opposition party. The Congress party, on its part, may claim that the government's improved performance is due to the intrinsic merits of its legislative moves and better floor management in both the houses of Parliament. That debate is not likely to be resolved soon, but the ruling party leaders will do well to draw the right lessons if they take a closer look at the data on how Parliament functioned during the Monsoon session.

 

PRS Legislative Research, a division of the Centre for Policy Research, comes out with a compilation of data on how Parliament functioned at the end of each session. The print and electronic media quickly grab such research reports and highlight them if the record shows deterioration in the government's performance in fulfilling its legislative agenda. The same alacrity, however, goes missing when the data throw up significant improvements in the government's performance. For instance, the pathetic performance of the government in the 2010 Budget session of Parliament received wide media coverage. In sharp contrast, the improvement in the performance during the Monsoon session has gone virtually unnoticed.

 

The 2010 Monsoon session of Parliament began on July 26 and ended on August 31. The two houses had planned for 24 sittings each, but ended up with 26 as the duration of the session was extended by two days. This, in itself, was an improvement over the 2010 Budget session, when the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha managed only 32 sittings each, compared to their plan for 35 sittings each. This improvement also became evident in the number of scheduled hours for which the two houses worked in the Monsoon session — 94 per cent of the scheduled hours for the Lok Sabha and 100 per cent for the Rajya Sabha. In the 2010 Budget session, the lower house worked for only 66 per cent of the scheduled hours and the upper house for 74 per cent.

 

Longer hours of work in the Monsoon session also meant that Parliament approved as many as 24 legislative Bills, compared to only 15 in the Budget session. In other words, our parliamentarians in the Monsoon session cleared 60 per cent more Bills than what they did in the 2010 Budget session. Mind you, our parliamentarians cleared more Bills while they worked for 19 per cent less time than in the previous session. Even in terms of introduction of new laws, the government introduced 26 Bills, almost one new Bill per sitting.

 

The point to be noted here is that the UPA government could have managed to get more legislative Bills cleared in the Monsoon session, if only it had not wasted almost a week due to interruptions and walkouts on the questions of inflation, petroleum price increase, delays in the preparations for the Commonwealth Games and illegal mining. This is where Sushma Swaraj's assessment of the BJP playing the role of a responsible opposition party assumes significance. Indeed, the Congress party and the BJP did come to an understanding on several knotty issues pertaining to the civil nuclear liability Bill. That is how the Bill got cleared in spite of its provoking intense controversy and opposition from different political formations.

 

The Congress party is not likely to forget the lessons it drew from the controversy around the civil nuclear liability Bill. It would not have lost almost a week over the nature of the debate that Parliament should have on prices, if the Congress party had addressed the BJP's concerns separately and in advance. On many contentious legislative Bills, like the Constitution amendment needed for the introduction of the goods and services tax, the Congress party leadership may now be inclined to enter into an understanding with the BJP. This may result in policy compromises, but the country will see less of parliamentary stalemate over the government's legislative business.

 

Ms Swaraj has made the first overture on behalf of the BJP. It makes sense for the Congress party to give a positive response to this offer.

 

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

WAITING FOR A CRASH COURSE

MOTOR ACCIDENT VICTIMS MUST BE A BAFFLED LOT AMIDST A WELTER OF CONFLICTING LEGAL GUIDEPOSTS

M J ANTONY

 

If all the forensic surgeries suggested by the Supreme Court over the years are conducted on the Motor Vehicles Act, the amputations, sutures and implants would make the 1988 law unrecognisable. Law makers and draftsmen are not ready even for an airbrush. So the recommendations pile up.

 

The value of human life lost in a road accident cannot be measured as in a logarithm table. The court conceded this point in a recent judgment that "the determination of compensation is not an exact science and the exercise involves an assessment based on estimation and conjectures here and there as many imponderable factors and unpredictable contingencies have to be taken into consideration." (Leela Gupta vs State of UP).

 

 The Motor Vehicles Act has a table trying to make the calculation of compensation easier. But it has been ridiculed by the Supreme Court for wrong arithmetic as the figures do not add up (UP State Road Transport vs Trilok Chandra). The matter has been referred to a larger bench, which is yet to be formed.

 

In last year's judgment in the case, Sarla Verma vs Delhi Transport Corporation, the Supreme Court set down its own chart to compute damages according to the age of the victim, income and loss to dependents. In addition, several principles were drawn from Indian and English judgments to help judges in the motor accidents compensation tribunals.

 

With all the original sins in the Act and so many attempts by the apex court to plug loopholes and interpret phrases, the judges in the tribunals must be a confused lot. The more confounded must be the victims and their dependents in this slough of despond. The Leela Gupta case took 15 years to snake its way to the Supreme Court. Many dependents leave it halfway due to expenses and delays.

 

The plight of the dependents was described by the court itself in a recent judgment: "Motor accident victims are doubly unfortunate — first in getting involved in an accident, and second, in not getting any compensation." (Jai Prakash vs National Insurance Co). Those who do not receive compensation include victims who are involved in hit-and-run mishaps when the vehicles remain unidentified, vehicles without insurance cover and those vehicles that carry unauthorised passengers without third party insurance. According to the Supreme Court, around 20 per cent of those who do not get compensation belong to this category.

 

The second serious problem is the widespread use of goods vehicles for passenger traffic. It is a harsh reality, raising legal and moral questions.

 

The third problem identified by the court is the procedural delays in adjudication of the claims before the tribunals.

 

The fourth problem is that the full compensation amount does not reach the victims and their families, especially when they are poor and illiterate. "Ambulance chasers" take away most of it in contingency agreements.

 

The court has recommended several measures addressed to the police authorities, the claims tribunals and insurance companies so that all accident victims get compensation. It also recommended a comprehensive law dealing with accidents, in place of one dealing only with road accidents. But as usual, follow-up steps by the court and the authorities have been poor.

 

Meanwhile, several questions that have been referred by smaller benches to larger benches are waiting for a hearing in the Supreme Court. For instance, can the tribunal ask the insurer to pay the dependents even when it is not liable and recover the amount from the owner? The courts have given different answers.

 

Last year, the court decided to take up some 20 issues relating to accident compensation. The insurance companies have also raised their problems in a series of petitions before the court. The court heard some of them at special sittings, but after some time, the effort seems to have been suspended.

 

Some of the questions are: The liability of insurance companies when the driver of the vehicle that was involved in an accident had no valid licence at the time of the mishap; passengers injured while travelling in a goods vehicle; claims of guests in a passenger car; overloading of vehicles and bouncing of cheques paid as compensation.

 

Another batch of appeals moved by insurance companies seeks a definitive judgment on Sections 146, 147, 149 and 166. These provisions deal with overloading and negligent driving. In these days of terrorism and armed robbery, a legal dilemma has arisen about the murder of the driver and abandonment of the vehicle. Some courts have held that it would be an "accident" and, therefore, the insurer would be liable. Some others do not think so. Above all is the question of inflation, which has not been recognised by the Act and rarely offset by the judges, so damages tend to be low.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

SHOULD NEW 2G LICENSEES BE BAILED OUT?

 

Doing so would reverse a dubious set of licensing decisions but the government must also consider the question of 'moral hazard' with the government as the last guarantor of industry risk.

 

MAHESH UPPAL

DIRECTOR, COM FIRST (INDIA)

Doing so would reverse a dubious set of licensing decisions but the government must also consider the question of 'moral hazard' with the government as the last guarantor of industry risk.

 

It sounds perverse to sympathise with companies who wish to surrender the mobile licences they received in early 2008. The over 100 licences were awarded at a time when India had more players in each service area than anywhere else in the world and call rates were among the lowest any consumer had ever experienced.

 

No one doubted that the companies who had applied were lured by the throwaway price of the licence — which came bundled with spectrum that was easily worth over five times what the government had charged for it. The lucky ones, Unitech and Swan, sold equity at the new price to Etisalat from the Emirates and Telenor from Norway respectively. There was a huge controversy even before these licences were awarded. Therefore, the new players, whether they were the original licensees or subsequent buyers, took a calculated risk.

 

However, the risks that come with these licences were not theirs alone. The presence of these players also exacerbated the acute shortage of spectrum that caused the frequent call drops that we experience these days. Telecom Regulatory of India's data shows that India might soon run out of spectrum for wireless companies. The recent high bids for 3G spectrum are partly explained as being an attempt by operators to secure future supplies of spectrum for their services.

 

Indeed, shortage of spectrum could jeopardise the growth of sector. Over 90 per cent of India's users depend on wireless for affordable voice calls and are likely do so for broadband. Unfortunately, India is as much a laggard in delivery of broadband as it is a leader in voice calls. Since laying down copper cables and fibre is time-consuming, locking up spectrum is hardly an option.

 

It would have been reasonable to oppose the exit of the new entrants if it reduced the level of competition in the market to unacceptable levels, leading to higher prices, lower quality of service or a near monopoly situation. Fortunately, this is not a problem. Even discounting the sparse presence of new licensees, most consumers enjoy a choice of over six players in each service area. This is a level beyond which — economists have shown — the benefits of increased competition are negligible. Anyway, speculators are arguably riskier for consumers. Also, allowing these players to exit is not, and need not be, the same as barring the entry of those who wish to compete in future.

 

The bailout will probably involve a refund of part, if not all, of the fees for acquiring the licences. That would be undeserved but the lesser evil. The government would recover an asset with considerably greater value. In fact, the big haul from the auction of spectrum for 3G and Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) is an important clue to the value of spectrum. Also, the recent recommendations of Telecom Authority of India that are pending with the government, despite their glaring anomalies, largely support a move away from the low administrative prices charged by the government till now to ones discovered through auctions. Undeniably, it would make sense for the government to maximise its own stocks by encouraging surrender of unused spectrum with a refund of the price paid to acquire it.

 

It would have been preferable if the spectrum could simply be withdrawn from the players in question. However, given the inevitable litigation, that would involve a much longer process. Given the government's blatantly flawed process of licensing players in the last few years, it is unlikely that litigation would end soon. It would make sense to debar these players from acquiring licences again. In any case, if spectrum is in fact auctioned in the future, as seems likely, it would be less attractive for speculators. A de facto reversal of a dubious set of licensing decisions, which the bailout really is, is the "least bad" option.

 

Yes, the bailout will allow some rogue players to benefit from the bailout or at least cut their losses. But ironically it will do the same for the government.

 

Com First (India) Pvt Ltd advises on telecom regulatory issues.

ALOK SHENDE

PRINCIPAL ANALYST & FOUNDER-DIRECTOR, ASCENTIUS

The transformation oftelecom penetration is one of the hallmarks of India's coming of age as an emerging nation. Much of this success is the result of telecom players' enterprise; it does not coincide with the initiatives of telecom policy per se, to put it benignly. On the contrary, our bumbling and fumbling policy craft is a prime illustration of policy as political mediation between special interests.

One emerging theme in this long line of misguided policy developments is the proposal to bail out new 2G licensees. The reasoning is as follows. Some new 2G participants have either not been able to acquire market traction or launch their services so there is merit in bailing out such players. The proposed mode for doing so is to have them surrender spectrum to the government and receive their licence fees in return. This argument is not only flawed in its economic logic but will allow the government to forgo an opportunity to correct wrongdoings of the past.

 

Some of the new 2G players made huge sums of money by acquiring the licence cheap and selling majority stakes to foreign investors at a significant market premium. The loss to the exchequer from offering licences at a subsidised price is estimated at Rs 70,000 crore. So why should the government bail them out now when the risks for the new operators have turned otherwise? It is classic case of privatising profits and socialising losses.

 

Such a policy initiative is also likely to set a bad precedent. One of the unintended consequences of a bailout will be promoting the notion of "moral hazard". The knowledge that the government stands as last guarantor for all industry risks will encourage operators to take higher risks since they will not be required to take ownership of the consequences of their actions.

 

Further, the current universal service licence (USL) does not have a provision for returning the licence. Although the government is within its rights to tamper with the licence agreement and accommodate new 2G players, a better strategy would be to evolve policy that creates exit options for floundering 2G players.

 

This approach has two merits. First, it will influence genuine price discovery for spectrum, which the practice of bundling licence and spectrum under the 2G policies has long avoided. Second, it will help clear the impression that telecom policy is hostage to internal and external special interests. New operators that have not launched services should be asked to pay a penalty in line with the provisions of the USL agreement.

 

The second initiative that policy makers need to take is a new merger and acquisitions (M&A) policy between domestic players. The current USL agreement does allow for M&A activity but it is severely restrictive when it is applied to two existing USL players. Currently, the choice for new 2G players are severely restricted when it comes to exit options, given foreign players' current disenchantment with the India telecom story owing to excessive competition and price wars. Domestic incumbents, however, may still find the story attractive since they are well entrenched in certain circles but might be falling short of spectrum to expand their user base.

 The government could enable M&A activities between domestic players by allowing the acquisition to be treated as a new USL licence instead of additional spectrum under the current one. This move has a precedent since the government allows dual services with two USL licences each for operators offering both GSM and CDMA services. Also, given the government's avowed technology-neutrality, allowing GSM players to hold two USL licences should follow from this principal. Such a provision will also alleviate operator concerns, since they are not allowed to hold spectrum beyond 6.6 MHz under the current regime.

 

To ensure that the new 2G operators do not walk scot-free after pocketing profits from M&As under this special provision, the government should provide for transfer pricing mechanisms so that the excess profits go to government coffers. With such a clear signal to the market, buyers will have no incentive to hoard spectrum only because it's cheap.

 

(Ascentius is a technology research and consulting firm)

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE SENSEX RIDES AGAIN

WATCH OUT, REAL ECONOMY

 

AS THE Sensex crossed the 20,000 mark on Tuesday, and settled at 20,002 at market close, the temptation is strong to pop the champagne. Marketsmen aside, others should hold back. What is good for the stock market is not always good for the real economy. In tandem with the rise in the Sensex, we have strong appreciation of the rupee, as well. As gung-ho overseas investors pumped money into the stock market, the rupee rose to a four-month high of Rs 45.58 against the dollar in intra-day trade on Monday. That an overly strong rupee is not good for exports is widely appreciated. But that is far from the only, or the most serious, problem created by an overly strong rupee. The country's current account deficit now stands at about 3% of GDP, 50% higher than the 2% that India has been comfortable with. A strong rupee encourages imports and discourages exports, leading to a wider trade deficit and a wider current account deficit. The current account deficit measures how much of external savings the economy absorbs in a year. The higher the deficit, the higher the domestic growth that is not supported by domestic savings. A current account deficit is fine, so long as someone is willing to finance it. Right now, capital flows are gushing in, so why worry? Foreign willingness to finance a large current account deficit hinges on confidence that things would run fine. But the moment such confidence is shaken, for reasons that are entirely out of Indian control, inflows could collapse and turn into outflows, creating multiple problems. Suppose oil prices spike, the result would be to widen an already large current account deficit, shaking confidence. Or a European debt crisis could trigger a flight of global capital to the safety of the dollar. And it would not be just the Sensex that comes crashing down in consequence. Growth based on excessive external financing is vulnerable to wrenching slowdowns. And the rupee would collapse. 

 

There are limits to how much the RBI can intervene to hold down a rupee bubbling up on a wave of portfolio inflows. Such intervention has huge costs: increase in liquidity when the RBI buys up dollars and releases rupees, at a time when the need is to rein in inflation, upward pressure on interest rates when the RBI sells bonds to suck in excess liquidity, and a substantial loss arising from the interest payable in India on the bonds sold to suck in the rupees released by buying up dollars, which are then deployed in dollar and euro bonds earning next to nothing. In such a scenario, the government and the RBI may have no option but to restrict excessive capital inflows.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BJP SUBVERTING GST?

OBSTRUCTIONIST MOVES BY BJP-RULED STATES


STATES ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, are reported to have raised fresh hurdles in the path of rolling out the long-awaited goods and services tax (GST), at Monday's meeting of the empowered committee of state finance ministers. Madhya Pradesh has rejected the constitutional amendments needed to transit to the GST regime and, instead, proposed an interim framework for the new regime: states to tax goods up to the retail stage and share the proceeds with the Centre, and the Centre to tax services and share the proceeds with the states. This brainwave comes late in the day and serves no purpose other than to subvert the entire GST project. Two amendments in the Constitution are a prerequisite to implementing a dual GST, comprising a central GST and a state GST. These include new powers for the Centre to tax goods up to the retail stage and for the states to tax services. Most states support these amendments. This is logical as giving states the right to tax services will only strengthen their autonomy and boost revenues. In a federal structure, the Centre must ensure that it does not infringe on the autonomy of the taxation powers of states. They should have the flexibility to change GST rates, if they want to, although they should ideally not. The Centre has done well to address this concern and drop the controversial proposal to grant itself a veto on rate changes made by states. The proposed GST council, with majority representation from the states, will be a useful forum for the Centre and the states to work out fiscal sense. 

 

However, the rollout of GST can start only if states come on board. The Centre should keep the dialogue on with the BJP, as well as with BJP-ruled states, to forge a consensus on implementing GST in the next fiscal year.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CAFFEINE KILLS

GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER

 

SOME criminal cases seem to put a new spin on the phrase 'getting away with murder'. Quite a few people around the world have claimed, after being accused of murder, downright weird reasons as legal defence for their lethal actions. Of course, being 'directed and commanded by voices', or 'being in the grip of evil spirits or characters from outer space' are, by now, not-so-rare defence pleas in this post-X factor world. They are almost as common as 'temporary insanity'. Now, this is not to suggest that everyone who pleads thus is lying, or that there are not individuals with health and psychological issues who might actually not be fully responsible for their actions. But when some chap in Kentucky in the US says imbibing lots of caffeine in the form of sodas and energy drinks left him so insane as to bump off his wife with the aid of an extension cord around her neck, one can't but help feel that something might be amiss. What makes the defence in this wife-killing case — which argues that the chap had had so much caffeine that he was basically turned into a nut-case — peculiar is that there is apparently a precedent. Reports say a defence involving 'caffeine intoxication' resulting in a man running down two people with a car has worked before, in 2009 in Washington state. The only surprise is that the lawyer has not advised his client to sue the soda and coffee companies for damages arising from the loss of his wife. 

 

Other notable cases involve a man claiming 'gay panic defence' to stab another man who, apparently, threatened to molest the former. Another chap, again in the US, claimed that at the time of shooting a man to death, he only had an IQ of 75, and, hence, was a tad retarded. In such cases, if someone is still sentenced, one can, echoing the words of the American-on-death-row, simply say the last words, 'someone needs to kill my trial attorney'.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

COLUMN

DON'T CAP MICROFINANCE LENDING RATES

RETAINED PROFITS ARE VITAL FOR MFI EXPANSION, BUT WILL DISAPPEAR WITH CAPS. ALSO, CAPS WILL DISCOURAGE MFIS FROM ENTERING REMOTE AREAS MOST IN NEED OF INCLUSIVE FINANCE, SAYS SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR


SHOULD lending rates of microfinance institutions (MFIs) — often 28-36% — be capped? Some folk think so. Officials in Andhra Pradesh once closed down MFIs for usury, but the RBI came to the rescue, declaring there could be no cap on lending rates. Banning MFIs would only drive poor people into more expensive loans from moneylenders. MFIs have provided finance to 20 million poor people, whom nationalised banks could not reach. The RBI itself has promoted microcredit by classifying bank loans to MFIs as priority sector loans.

But now capping has again come to the fore. The finance ministry has apparently told banks to ensure that MFIs to whom they lend cap their lending rates at 22-24%. This directly contradictstheRBIpolicythatthereshouldbe no interest rate caps, and the RBI is the regulator of banks. It remains to be seen whether the RBI will assert itself or give way on this. 

 

Charging poor people 30% interest sounds terrible. Resentment is building up after the IPO of SKS Microfinance, India's biggest MFI. Its shares were launched at . 1,000 and have soared to . 1,400. Other MFIs are queuing up for fresh IPOs. A sector that started as a service to the poor now looks a moneyspinner, attracting private equity funds with no social aims whatsoever. Some MFIs have a return on assets of 5-6%, much higher than banks. 

 

Is this unwarranted loot? Not at all, say the poor. They clamour for more such loans, and repayment rates exceed 99%, suggesting the interest rates are affordable. 

 

Critics say the poor are financially ignorant and being duped. Wrong: the poor are astonishingly sophisticated money managers, simultaneously handling multiple assets and liabilities. Indeed, their annual financial turnover, as they juggle assets and liabilities, can be three times their net assets. This is detailed in a seminal new book, Portfolios of the Poor by four microfinance experts — Collins, Morduch, Rutherford and Ruthven. It should be compulsory reading for the finance ministry and all other critics. 

 

MFI lending rates in India are lower than in Mexico or South Africa. Compartamos in Mexico lends at up to 100%, yet borrowers repay. How so? An annual rate of interest is meaningless for businesses with a daily churn. A vegetable vendor borrows . 300 to buy vegetables wholesale, selling these for . 450. Even if he pays 100% per year interest on his loan of . 300, it amounts to just 90 paise/day, a negligible portion of his profits. 

Many poor Indians use MFI loans to pay off moneylenders. An MFI loan at 30% to pay off a moneylender's loan at 100% is a blessing. 

 

The poor try to save with chit funds, store cash at home, or deposit cash with 'moneyguards', who look after it. Yet all these bear risk: chit funds go bust, homes are robbed, moneyguards disappear. The poor will happily pay a fee for the safety, regularity and reliability of MFIs. If you exclude the loan processing fee or security deposit charged by MFIs, their effective interest is often just 24%. 

 

The book tells the story of a woman who collects savings from poor housewives and returns these in a lump sum at the end of the year after deducting her fees — so the rate of interest is actually negative! Yet her services are popular because she enforces discipline in savings, and for this, people are willing to pay a fee. The same holds for the discipline of MFIs. 

 

CRITICS say that since banks give priority sector loans to MFIs, they should control lending rates too. Others say MFIs with an IPO bonanza do not deserve priority sector loans. But why not? Exports are a priority sector, and Tata and Ambani are not denied export finance because they are big. Nor are they subject to caps on prices or profit margins. Some software exporters have operating margins of 100%. 

 

Large MFIs can and have cut lending rates. But new MFIs lose money for years before breaking even at 36% interest. Weekly meetings with clients are expensive but inescapable: this enforces group solidarity and loan discipline. As loans rise from . 5,000 to . 15,000, operating costs fall and interest rates can be cut. When MFIs make large business loans with monthly rather than weekly repayments, then too interest rates can be cut. In semiurban areas a single agent can handle 1,000 clients a week, but in remote areas no agent can handle over 200 clients, and that's costly. 

 

With such diverse conditions for different MFIs, a cap of 24% is a blunt, arbitrary instrument. Retained profits are vital for MFI expansion, but will disappear with caps, which will also bankrupt small, new MFIs. Caps will discourage MFIs from entering remote areas most in need of inclusive finance. A cap will benefit the haves (who already get microcredit) at the expense of have-nots. 

 

Many MFIs want to become low-cost distribution networks for consumer goods. The poor buy tiny quantities of such goods, and so miss scale economies in buying. MFIs can agglomerate zonsumergoodsfortheirclients,lowering prices. However, such diversification will entail initial losses. An interest cap will strangle diversification in the womb, financial infanticide so to speak. 

 

Competition between MFIs is already lowering rates. Vinod Khosla, who has invested both in non-profits (Casper) and for-profits (SKS), says part of the bonanza from an IPO should go back to the clients. This excellent idea should become standard practice. MFIs should include this in their code of conduct. 
    If the finance ministry insists on MFI curbs, the least bad solution may be a cap on dividends. If high profits are ploughed back into expansion, it benefits new borrowers. That's not the case if high profits go out as high dividends. Capping MFI dividends at 12% for the next five years will be better than an interest cap of 24%. This will still discriminate against MFIs: Infosys, Tata and Ambani don't even try to promote inclusive finance, yet face no dividend cap. 

(The author is an angel investor in MFIs)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FAC E - O F F

SINGLE CONSUMER PRICE INDEX?

 

SIDDHARTHA ROY 

Economic Adviser Tata Group Wage negotiators may have reservations 

 

THE government is planning to introduce two new consumer price indices (CPI): CPI-Urban and CPI-Rural. The idea is to combine them later for a national CPI index. A robust indicator of inflation has to provide an understanding of the erosion in purchasing power due to price movements. Secondly, it should capture consumption from all sectors of the economy, including services. Like the old and new WPI series, it cannot be impervious to pricing developments in the services sector. Thirdly, it has to capture the impact of price movements on the consumption of all segments of the population. Fourthly, it needs to take into account the periodic shifts in consumption basket and substitution possibilities. 

 

The country has four CPIs: CPI for industrial workers (CPI-IW), CPI for urban non-manual employees (CPI-UNME), CPI for agricultural labour (CPI-AL) and CPI for rural labour (CPIRL). In any consumer price index development, several things are critical: an exhaustive list of the items of consumption, the weights that are given to different items of consumption, and the price movements vis-à-vis a base year. Further, in the interest of stability of the index, the base year should be a normal year. 

 

In the existing CPIs, the consumption baskets belong to a period when choice in consumer goods and services was limited. Consequently, food, beverages and tobacco have a high weightage in these indices as the coverage of items is restricted to the prevalent consumption basket of the reference year. Supply shocks in our economy are mostly restricted to food and fuel. So, in 2009-10, the inflation rate as measured by CPI-IW was 12.28%, by CPI-UNME 13%, by CPI-AL 13.91% and by CPI-RL 13.76%. This lacunae will partly get corrected when 2004-05 NSS survey-based weights are introduced in the new indices. 

 

The societal acceptance of a new price index is unlikely to be easy. Stakeholders in wage negotiations and cost escalation contracts are likely to have serious reservations initially. It is better to have the new indices of CPI urban and rural and national CPI in addition to old indices for some time and then develop a consensus for a switchover.

 

SHUBHADA M RAO 

Chief Economist Yes Bank One each for monetary & fiscal policy 

 

IN RECENT months, inflation and inflation indices have received significant attention from analysts and policymakers. The volatility and, in some cases, structural rigidities have prompted a fresh review and an overhaul of the country's inflation indices. A sound measurement of inflation is an imperative for policymakers as the direction and magnitude of economic activity is determined by the policy actions that are based on these highly-sensitive parameters. 

 

 India 'suffers' from a plethora of inflation indices with varied frequencies and coverage that pose a significant challenge for the policymakers to make timely policy interventions. With a divergent population base, it may be inappropriate now to have a single measure of inflation, especially when consumption pattern remains significantly diverse between a rural and an urban household. The latest NSS survey on household consumer expenditure (2007-08) reveals that food accounts for 51.8% of total monthly per-capita consumption expenditure in a rural household against 39.3% in an urban household. 

 It is an appropriate step to consolidate and regroup the CPIs into two broad groups: CPI-Urban and CPI-Rural. Having just two CPIs would be useful from both monetary and fiscal policy perspective. For the RBI, this would give a better understanding of inflationary pressure at the retail level for two distinct sets of consumers covering the entire consumer base. Juxtaposing this information with the price level data from the wholesale side, the central bank can conduct a superior analysis for its monetary policy. 

 

For the government, the implications would be much more important as Plan expenditure tends to be channelised for both rural and urban sectors. Since wages paid by the government are generally indexed to some measure of consumer price inflation, the process of indexation could be streamlined with the adoption of CPI-Urban and CPI-Rural. This would enhance the coverage of the target population and, as a result, avoid wasteful leakages. The final objective should be to arrive at a comprehensive and consolidated CPI for the country as a whole in sync with international practices.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GU EST COLU M N

EASING FDI NORMS FOR EXISTING VENTURES

SATVIK VARMA 


" PRAISE, like sunlight, helps all things to grow." Hence, much praise is due for the recent initiatives of the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP), functioning under the commerce ministry. In keeping with its promise to ease, and further liberalise, the foreign direct investment (FDI) regime in India, the DIPP has issued a series of discussion papers. All in the last six months, the latest discussion paper, relates to the prerequisite for foreign investors to seek government approval for fresh investments where they had existing business collaborations. The DIPP appears keen to either do away or substantially modify this requirement. 

Currently, under the consolidated FDI policy (policy), if a foreign investor had a joint venture, technology transfer or trademark agreement existing on January 12, 2005, and if such foreign investor proposes a fresh investment, which would operate in the same field as its previously existing venture, then the fresh investment requires government approval. The policy doesn't define 'same' field but provides guidance that the four-digit National Industrial Classification (NIC) code should be used to make the determination. Thoughtfully, the onus to provide justification, that the fresh investment would not jeopardise the existing venture, lies equally with the foreign investor as it does with the Indian partner. The policy exempts certain fresh investments from obtaining government approval particularly where inter alia the existing venture is defunct/sick or where the parties have invested less than 3% in the existing venture. 

 

Notably, the cut-off date of January 12, 2005 has no sanctity other than it was the date when the DIPP originally revised its historical guidelines. At the time of such revision, the guidelines prescribed that all agreements entered after January 12, 2005 may embody a conflict of interest clause to safeguard the interests of the joint venture partners, in the event one of the partners wanted to set up a new business in the same field. 

 

The latest paper observes that the existing venture/tieup condition requires review to determine its relevance in the present day economic context. Intended originally to protect domestic businesses, the paper notes that, Indian industry today is much stronger than it was in the 1990s, thus this condition may have outlived its significance. In fact, foreign investors, caught on the wrong end, have often argued that this condition has the effect of overriding the contractual terms agreed with their Indian partners. 

 

The DIPP notes that in the present era of globalisation, industry has become extremely competitive. Therefore, there is strong argument that nothing should restrict inflow of foreign capital or technology into the country. However, the stand taken by the DIPP in the latest discussion paper that "government should not be concerned about commercial issues between two business partners" is a bit extreme. The author has always argued in favour of lesser restrictions and open markets, but given the complexities of doing business in India, some amount of government oversight is necessary. The answer is not over regulation, but it's also not adopting a hands-off attitude. Does this mean that a calibrated approach towards relaxation of the existing venture/tieup condition should be introduced? Practically, this is not ideal especially if the government is considering applicability of the conditions based on the life of projects. In reality, some ventures have a longer gestation period over others. Hence to apply the same rule to an automobile manufacturing unit as is applicable to say amilk producing factory may not be fair. 

 

Additionally, any approach where an investor is expected to demonstrate that a new venture is different from the activity of the existing venture, even though it has the same NIC code will only lead to protracted debates. Given that out of the 566 proposals reviewed by FIPB in 2009, 16% related to the existing venture/tieup condition it would be best to avoid any further subjectivity and review of cases. 

In the final analysis, for good commercial reason, it is advisable to completely abolish the requirement that, a foreign investor, who had a business venture existing as on January 12, 2005, should seek prior government approval before making fresh investments. With India poised to be the secondmost popular destination for FDI globally over the next two years, the endeavour should be that maximum activities fall under the automatic route umbrella so they don't require government approval. 

 

Further, since the DIPP has pledged to review the FDI policy only on a bi-annual basis, it would have been ideal if a decision on abolishing this rule could have been taken before the next edition of the policy is issued on September 30. In any event, the discussion paper is a step in the right direction and abolishing the rule will alleviate factors that act as a trade restraint and one expects will help promote long-term economic growth in India. 

(The author is a corporate lawyer based in     New Delhi. Views are personal.)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CO S M I C U P LI N K

CURB YOUR FORESIGHT

VITHALC NADKARNI 

 

AT THREE in the morning in a small hotel in Paris, Richard Schaub had his first panic attack. The New Yorkbased psychotherapist was supposed to fly home with his wife and colleague, Bonney, who had a severe ear infection. Their pregnant daughter could be heard retching in the next room. Schaub imagined they would miss the flight and would be stuck in France till their money ran out. 

 

To add to his woes, Schaub had been getting a pain in the head since two days. In the dead of the night, he convinced himself that it was really due to a malignant tumour. "I tried to go back to sleep, but some bad door in my mind had swung open and more fears came crowding in," he writes in his handbook on the art of turning towards your fear with love, The End of Fear. 

 

Nothing really happened after all this drama except a crazed, sleepless night, he adds. The next morning they went to the American hospital, consulted a wonderful doctor and some medicine, got okay for the flight. His daughter felt little better and they flew home as scheduled. He sums up the moral of the story with an aphorism of theologian-philosopher Paul Tillich: "To be aware is to be anxious." 

 

Nor is that your fear is irrational or unfounded or something to be suppressed or denied, he explains. "That's just the point," he says. "Fear is to be treated as a fact that can be appreciated, understood and transformed… 
    "In that way, you can be freed to realise more and more fully your potential for joy, oneness and love — the innate spiritual qualities that you brought with you when you came into this world and that reside, dormant, in you right now." 

 

What complicates this process of fear transformation is our capacity for 'self-awareness'. 

 

The activist farmerpoet Wendell Berry calls this 'forethought of grief' in his poem, The Peace of Wild Things: "When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear," he writes. "I go and lie down in the wood… where I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief." 

 

Stopping that forethought is another way of paraphrasing Sage Patanjali's definitional insight of Yoga as chitta-vritti nirodha. 

 

Nirodha or stoppage of excessive (or wrongful) thought also implies choice of appropriate or skilful action, which is also how the Bhagavad Gita defines Yoga in its third chapter: Yoga karmasu koushalam. 

Don't fret. Act.

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

INDIA'S GAMES SHAME GROWING

 

The stain is spreading. With just 11 days to go for the start of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, it is no longer possible to judge just how much shame and embarrassment a bunch of inept, inefficient and corrupt administrators will heap on this nation's head. Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell's letter to the Government of India reports that the delegates of at least four participating countries had been escorted to dirty, incomplete flats in the Games Village, and finally the collapse of a vital footbridge at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Tuesday afternoon was a triple whammy that knocked the bottom out of every claim that Suresh Kalmadi and his cohorts have been making these past few months that all will be well when it comes to the rollout of the Games themselves. The third incident in particular raises some troubling questions. If a relatively insignificant structure can collapse — injuring 27 labourers, four of them critically — just how safe are the rest of the structures that have been erected in a tearing hurry after years of inactivity? Virtually every venue has been rebuilt from the ground up and every one of them has missed deadline after deadline — precious time lost each time that could and should have gone into testing their soundness and readiness to host a mega-event of the size and scope of the Commonwealth Games, where about 5,800 athletes are expected to perform and many thousands more are expected as support staff and spectators. Yet, even after the footbridge went down on Tuesday, there were denials and increasingly hollow assurances that all would be well from all and sundry, from the Union urban development minister to the Delhi chief minister to the chief engineer of Delhi's public works department and the secretary-general of the Games Organising Committee. It is all terribly clear that between them, the entire lot of people responsible for every aspect of the Games are taking this country for a ride, and are careening headlong towards a precipice. Long back, when it first became evident that there were problems with so many areas related to the event, action should have been taken and those responsible removed or sacked. Nothing was done other than mouthfuls of platitudes to try and reassure an increasingly nervous and frustrated nation — not to mention the completely alienated citizenry of the host city — and it is now starkly evident that inaction at that critical juncture sent out the signal to the inept and corrupt that they could continue on their merry way and indeed walk away into the sunset when all had been said and done. Tuesday's list of three sorry happenings was thus inevitable and even on the day, the secretary-general of the Games Organising Committee had the gall to defend the filth and dirt in the Games Village as being a matter of perception!

 

It is this casually dismissive attitude that has led to this pass in the first place, and with no one willing to say that the buck stops with him or her, fears about the Games ending up in a mess are real and understandable. In many societies, those guilty of such massive fraud — for this is nothing less — and misuse of public funds would have long ago been severely punished or at least got the boot. We, however, have not only had to lump their doings, but look on in increasingly impotent rage as tales of mayhem and mismanagement continue to sprout and proliferate. Shame on us!

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

HOPELESS SOLUTIONS

BY VIKRAM SOOD

 

THE DISCOURSE heard most loudly in New Delhi is that it would be magnanimous to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), as if this were the cause of the trouble, overlooking the fact that it has been the failure of governance both in New Delhi and Srinagar that has led to the present unhappy state. This misplaced grandstanding establishes an unfortunate equation between terrorists and a sovereign Army by suggesting that if the AFSPA were withdrawn, i.e. the Army went back to the barracks, then the terrorists would also withdraw as a quid pro quo. The AFSPA is a legal empowerment given by the nation to the Army to legally protect the Army while it physically protects the nation against the kind of elements we have seen in Jammu and Kashmir. True, there have been very bad slippages and an empowered Army must also be accountable and transparent. But to pretend that if the AFSPA were to go away the violence and the political mess in Jammu and Kashmir would magically disappear, is being self-delusional. The Army has not fired a single bullet on the streets of Srinagar or at any demonstrators elsewhere during the recent troubles. Let us not blunt our own instruments. On the other hand, any concession that is given now without bringing the situation under state control might only buy temporary peace without solving anything.

The other expression frequently heard is "the legitimate aspirations of the people of Kashmir". How are these aspirations different from those of the people of the rest of the country? Surely all of them want for themselves and their families a quality of life — health, education, employment and security — that improves steadily with time, along with the freedoms and equalities guaranteed by our Constitution. Any demand outside the Constitution is, therefore, illegitimate and cannot be entertained by the rest of India. Besides, any demand must also relate to people from Jammu, the Srinagar Valley and Ladakh — to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Gujjars and Bakarwals and not only a section of the Muslims from the Valley. Meanwhile, the Kashmiri Pandits have been pushed into the arid desert of our votebank politics and sacrificed to our secular beliefs. The writings that come out from Jammu and Kashmir are only about the aspirations of the people of the Valley, the Muslim majority and not about the rest of the state. Farooq Abdullah's recent comment that Jammu and Kashmir was a part of India that did not want to be part of Pakistan has to be repeated, over and over again.

 

One of the country's mainline newspapers carried a picture of a young Kashmiri man with two stones in each hand. These sharply jagged pieces of rock hurled at some speed at anyone would be quite lethal. So those whose hearts bleed should understand that this is not the age of innocence. The destruction and burning of a school in Tangmarg in protest against Quran burning in the US which never happened was an opportunity for the likes of Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Massarat Alam to arouse religious-Islamist feelings among the youth and had little to do with political aspirations. Ensuring closure of schools and specialised institutes like the National Institute of Technology for long spells is in itself a tactic. It leaves students uneducated and, therefore, the right material for indoctrination or unemployable for want of qualifications. There is frustration either way.

 

It is true that there is anger on the streets that will not go away easily. The problem is political but it is one that has been created and nurtured all these years for sectarian and regional gains by one side and allowed to fester through political ineptitude on the other. One mistake has been that we have tried to reach Srinagar through Islamabad without realising that Islamabad will never let a solution be found. We have assumed that peace with Pakistan will get us peace in Jammu and Kashmir. This will never happen because it is in Pakistan's interest to have India in this impasse. There are signs that Pakistan, beleaguered as it might be with its own existential problems, seeks to impose itself in Jammu and Kashmir once again. Statements emanating from Pakistan foreign office, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader Nawaz Sharif and, not to be out done, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the ideological inspiration for Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, indicate an overt pattern. The covert pattern is evident from the kind of money being handed over to violent demonstrators and the increased numbers of encounters with infiltrators. One should expect that the situation will be ratcheted further till at least US President Barack Obama's visit in November.

 

The question is what to do next. Surely the writ of the state must be seen to be running first. The people of the Valley have to be made to understand that the rest of India will not allow another partition; nor allow any kind of autonomy that the rest of the country does not have. It has to be made clear to the people of India — Jammu and Kashmir included — that no government in the country has the mandate to alter the status of the Valley.

 

The main demand in the Valley would be to ensure that justice is delivered and seen to be delivered. It is no use throwing in more money now; the state is not exactly poor with its high rate of subsidy and a nationally competitive per capita income. The youth of Jammu and Kashmir need to be drawn out of their feeling of discrimination and deprivation. Instead, New Delhi should be offering opportunities to them to seek education in the rest of the country which makes them employable and accepted all over where they will get what the rest of the youth in India get nothing more nothing less. This will broaden their horizons and keep them away from the growing influences of bigotry which, in turn, has to be tackled separately.

 

There will be resistance to all these efforts, even sabotage. It is a long haul but we need to persist. It will take time. Amalgamation always does.

 

- Vikram Sood is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE RIGHT WAY TO PLAY RACE CARD GAME

BY CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS

 

At the beginning of the summer, my conservative friend David Frum made a joking remark that stayed with me. The evolution of right-wing abuse of US President Barack Obama, he said, was not unlike the evolution of pornography in the United States. It took a long time for bare breasts and pubic hair to become commonplace, but once those thresholds had been crossed, it didn't take long for the most lurid things to be freely depicted and for the competition for obscenity to become ever more extreme. "Everybody's afraid now of being outdone from the Right", he told me. "So when somebody eventually comes out and calls Obama an 'Afro-Nazi', it will go mainstream quite fast".

 

High marks for prescience. For Dinesh D'Souza to label Obama the equivalent of a Kenyan Mau Mau was one thing, but for former Speaker Newt Gingrich to endorse the analysis with such dispatch was quite another. What will they do for an encore?

 

The "race card" game, when I was young, was a simple one. It used to be George Wallace and Orval Faubus (at the time, the governors of Alabama and Arkansas, respectively), shouting racial epithets. As the 1960s advanced, this became less respectable more a matter of codes and signals. I would say that this began to change with Bill Clinton.

 

While running a poor campaign and beset by sex scandals in New Hampshire in 1992, Clinton left the campaign trail and returned to Arkansas to supervise the execution of a mentally disabled black man named Rickey Ray Rector, a prisoner so lobotomised by his own attempted suicide that when the executioners came to his cell, he left part of his last meal behind "for later". Try imagining what would have been said about a Southern Republican governor who did the same thing as Clinton during a tight election. But then, try imagining a Southern Republican President, impeached for perjury and obstruction, rejoicing in the defence that he was, as Toni Morrison called him in the New Yorker, "the first black President".

 

The man who did actually become the first black President has been unusually forbearing when it comes to the race card, and he was originally very fortunate when it came to those who played it against him. As Obama notes in his memoirs, few could have predicted that the Republicans in Illinois would run a black man against him in the Illinois Senate race — an out-and-out extremist named Alan Keyes, who denounced him for not being the descendant of slaves and therefore not "truly" black!

 

When the terrain shifted, and the question became whether or not Obama was being too much of an African-American, or in some critiques too likely to be a Muslim, most of the innuendoes originally came from Hillary Clinton's camp. ("There's nothing to base that on. As far as I know", was her tooth-gritted reply to the question about whether her rival was a Muslim.) Long before Glenn Beck accused the President of being motivated by hatred for white people, it was thought that the Hillary camp was circulating the rumour that Michelle Obama could be heard on tape denouncing "whitey" in a speech. It's true that Rahm Emanuel later vetoed the appointment of her chief propagandist, Sidney Blumenthal, to a job at the state department, but by that time Obama had rewarded Hillary with the job of secretary of state.

 

The vagaries of the race card have, if anything, only increased since the 2008 election. A huge number of liberals have already decided that in some way Muslims constitute a race of their own, or at any rate that criticism of their religion can be construed as racist. (The fact that the Quran contains many racist observations about Jews will mean that this card can and will be used to turn an almost infinite number of tricks.)

 

And if there is anywhere in particular where Obama could have learned the dangers of the same card, it could well be — as described in The Bridge, David Remnick's biography — from his father's bitter experience of Luo-Kikuyu tribal fratricide in Kenya, which led to the murder of the country's most promising politician, Tom Mboya, just six years after Kenya the nation gained independence. Aside from a minor and avoidable gaffe when Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr was clumsily arrested at his own front door in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Obama has done little or nothing to raise the racial temperature and has endured a pelting of vulgar defamation with remarkable patience.

 

It would be or ought to be dangerous if we ever get to the point where the charge of racism becomes so overused and hackneyed as to be meaningless. Such a term ought to retain its potency as a weapon of shame and disapproval. Yet there are times, I must confess, that I almost wouldn't miss it. Last week in Washington, D.C., we saw the culmination of a long and dire campaign to sabotage the reform of the city's schools. For years now a rumour has been circulated in the black wards of the capital that there is a thing called The Plan. This sinister scheme involves the deliberate erosion of black neighbourhoods and communities in the interests of a white/Hispanic ascendancy. That would make its supposed leader a Korean-American named Michelle Rhee who as the city's chancellor of public schools was willing to close hopeless schools and to fire illiterate and unqualified teachers.

 

Despite the support of the Obama administration, the reform and the reformers have now been voted down. In a succession of articles, the Washington Post's leading black columnist, Colbert I. King, encouraged citizens to think with their epidermis. So, in voting for the re-election of a black mayor and for the approved programme of a black President, I can be held to have played a race card without even knowing it. It is not only on the Right that the auction of demagogy is operating, and the bids are headed downward.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

BIG BANG AND OTHER PREJUDICES

BY JAYANT V. NARLIKAR

 

I once heard the following anecdote from a senior scientific colleague.

 

Once God applied for a research grant from the National Science Funding Agency, in order to do further research on creation. He cited in his CV his earlier work of creating the universe. After due deliberation his application was turned down by a peer review committee for three reasons. Firstly, he had not worked in this field for a long time and so was out of touch with the latest developments. Secondly, nobody had been able to duplicate his work, and so scientifically it was suspect. Thirdly, an account of his work had not appeared in a refereed scientific journal but was published only in a book.

 

The story highlights the present state of science funding. A committee of experts in the field examines an application for funds by looking at the previous work of the candidate, where it was published, how long ago and whether it was duly tested by repeated experiments. This modus operandi creates safeguards to filter out any cranks or incompetent workers. Known as the peer review system, it relies on the collective judgment of a body of like-minded experts in the field.

 

Some selection process like this is needed because the applications for funds inevitably exceed the capacity of the funding agency to satisfy them all. Also, everyone would like the process to select high quality applications, eliminating the bad and the mediocre. As responsible citizens, the jury of peers wants to ensure that funds are not wasted. Their selection process therefore leans towards "safe" ideas, that is, ideas that are not too outlandish with respect to what is already known and accepted. While this seems reasonable on the whole, the danger is that this system may sometimes miss the really exceptional proposal. Although the above anecdote about God highlights the weaknesses of the present system, history tells us of several such instances.

 

Take the example of Copernicus and Galileo. The deeply ingrained Aristotelian geocentric paradigm meant that anyone stating that the earth is not stationary would be branded as an unbeliever or a crank. The establishment, consisting of intellectuals dominated by Aristotle's ideas, not only banned alternative ideas, but by making Galileo subject to the dreaded inquisition, saw to it that a free thinker like him recanted. Nevertheless, slowly but surely the heliocentric theory of Copernicus became acceptable. In the late 20th century even the Vatican conceded that Galileo was right after all and the inquisition set up by the Church was wrong.

 

Even the great scientist Isaac Newton was not beyond personal prejudices about scientific ideas. He was a firm believer in the corpuscular theory of light; that is, he believed that light was communicated by tiny particles. There were experiments that suggested that light travels as a wave, but this concept had to take a back seat while Newton was alive. Thus, research on subjects like interference, diffraction and polarisation was delayed by several decades.

 

Science, by nature, flourishes in an objective atmosphere. It runs under the maxim: Trust no theory unless it is backed by experiment. So if there are two theories, A and B, in the field, let experiments and observations decide which one, if any, is right. Theory A, howsoever popular, must be abandoned if it fails an experimental test. If Theory B meets the experimental requirements, it survives. But, as the philosopher of science Karl Popper said, a theory is always on probation until it fails some experimental test in which eventuality it has to be abandoned. This is what objectivity in science demands.

 

With such historical examples to guide us, is the present era more conducive to objectivity? In the 1950s, the Cambridge astrophysicist Fred Hoyle proposed the idea that the interstellar space, that is, the empty region between stars, may contain molecules. He suggested that giant molecular clouds exist in our galaxy. The majority of astronomers believed that nothing more complicated than the hydrogen atom could survive in this space and so attempts by Hoyle to get his ideas published in a reputed scientific journal failed. He finally wrote a science fiction novel around this idea. The novel called The Black Cloud was an immense success. In the following decade, new antennas receiving millimetre wavelength radiation from interstellar space confirmed the existence of organic as well as inorganic molecules distributed in vast clouds in such regions.

 

Today, objectivity is under threat because of huge funds that frontier level science requires to test its theories. A classic example is the Big Bang theory which states that the universe originated in a big explosion. This theory is currently believed and a lot of money is being spent in research furthering this doctrine. The original version of the theory proposed that after its explosive creation, the expansion of the universe slows down because of its own gravitational attraction. It also predicted how its present rate of expansion is related to its present density of matter. However, observations showed that the expansion is accelerating instead of slowing down, that the density of matter it needs to have is several times the density of matter actually observed, and this extra unseen (dark) matter cannot be the "normal" form of matter that we see around us. With these major discrepancies, the model should have been abandoned. Instead, it is argued that there is a dark energy that repels rather than attracts and that the universe is predominantly made of some abnormal form of matter the likes of which has not been found in the terrestrial laboratory or in the cosmos. There is no independent evidence for these beliefs and their sole objective is to keep the Big Bang model alive.

 

Back in 1970, Fred Hoyle had cautioned that the physics of the universe may be much more complex than what the human brain can understand. He made this statement in a conference where the Big Bang supporters were making strong claims that the problem of the universe was solved. Now 40 years on, the Big Bang model has to be considerably modified but similar claims are being made today. Perhaps a little humility and objectivity is called for?

 

- Jayant V. Narlikar is a professor emiritus at
Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune University Campus, and a renowned astrophysicist

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

THE MEEK WILL BE HAPPIEST

BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL

 

In the Judeo-Christian tradition there are interesting episodes about fallen angels who lost the war that erupted in heaven between good and bad angels. "Bad angels, an oxymoron", you might say. Well! Angels became bad, it is said, because in their pride they wanted to equal God. It is not important whether an actual war broke out in heaven but the point of the story is that the pride of the angels made them challenge God. This, of course, brought about their fall. As the Bible says, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18).

 

Pride brings much misery, first to the victim of arrogance, followed by the misfortune to the proud themselves. The problem with pride is that it keeps one focused on oneself instead of others, be that "other" one's neighbour, a colleague, a classmate, a fellow traveller or even a friend.

 

The opposite of pride is humility which focuses on others first. A humble person is often in the background, rarely claiming any attention for oneself. S/he is a joy to be around as this person, instead of having an intimidating presence, puts everyone at ease. S/he does not try to prove her/himself by pulling others down.

 

The supreme example of humility in the Bible is Jesus himself. Before sitting down with his disciples for his last earthy meal he performed an unprecedented act. Having washed their feet he said, "…If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you" (John 13:13-15).

 

 

This was a total turnaround from the Jewish practice of the time. St. Paul once wrote to the people of Philippi, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:5-8).

 

Teaching his disciples humility, he once said, "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee prayed, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men — extortionists, unjust, adulterers or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess'. And the tax collector, standing far off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:10-11). Thus, as evidenced in the lives of all saints, we find that holier the person, the more humble s/he is.

 

While the call to be humble might appear demanding in this time and age, where we can probably all begin our exercise in humility is by trying out one simple example as suggested by Jesus and which can come handy in several situations.

 

 

Once when Jesus was invited to someone's house, he noticed how people chose the best places and he told them, "When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honour, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, 'Give place to this man', and then you begin with shame to take this lowest place" (Luke 14:8-9).

 

— Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India. He can be contacted at frdominic@gmail.com [1]

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

CABINETS & COHESION

BY INDER MALHOTRA

 

TO NOBODY'S surprise, the media has played up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's claim, during his recent interaction with editors, that his government has functioned with "greater cohesion than any other Cabinet, including those of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi". With utmost respect one must submit that there may be a grain of truth in this magnum of exaggeration, but the good doctor is comparing the incomparable. The Cabinets of Nehru and Indira Gandhi were as different from what exists today or has existed at any other time after father and daughter, as cheese and chalk, to reverse the aphorism for obvious reasons.

 

Moreover, while the reference to the "almost daily" exchange of letters between Nehru and Sardar Patel is relevant, it is not in the same class as the petty and public bickering, sometimes bordering on personal attacks, among today's Cabinet colleagues. Current exchanges of compliments are seldom secret or private. The media never invents them though it may embellish them. In sharp contrast, not a word of the letters exchanged between Nehru and Patel — including the Sardar's famous one on China, sent only five weeks before his death — was ever leaked. Their historic correspondence — usually on high policy though minor administrative issues also crept in — became public long afterwards.

 

Both Nehru and Patel were leaders of the freedom movement of titanic stature. In independent India's first Cabinet, full of talented personalities, they dwarfed all others. Furthermore, Patel was the only "near-equal" that Nehru ever had. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that for over three years after the tryst with destiny, India was ruled by these two men. (There is again a two-person rule in the country but of an entirely different kind; in special circumstances, power lies, since 2004, in the hands of the Congress president, not those of the head of government.)

 

No two men could have been more unlike in outlook and basic approach than Nehru and Patel. But however acute their differences or however bruised their personal feelings, neither violated the discipline and decorum that underpin the Cabinet's collective responsibility. At one time each had insisted that he be allowed to resign so that the other could run the country; neither wanted to push the other out — a strange reversal this of the pehle aap (you first) syndrome.

 

In April 1950, Nehru and his Pakistani counterpart Liaqat Ali Khan, with great difficulty signed a pact to avert a war between the two countries over the atrocities on the minority community in East Pakistan, the consequent exodus from there, and the inevitable reaction in eastern India. There was strong opposition to it even within the Congress, especially in West Bengal. That is when Patel, who had earlier advocated "military occupation" of East Pakistan, rose to his full height. After taking care of critics among party MPs, he flew to Calcutta, calmed Bengali opinion and secured support from even those quarters that had refused to listen to the Prime Minister. "Vallabhbhai", wrote Nehru to C. Rajagopalachari, "has been a brick during these days". Compared to those lofty heights the current political landscape is distressingly flat.

 

One more point about the Nehru Cabinet is in order. Beginning with V.P. Singh to Atal Behari Vajpayee to Dr Singh, successive Prime Ministers have spoken of being hemmed in by "compulsions of coalition politics". There has been no coalition as rainbow-like as the one Nehru formed on August 15, 1947, though he had overwhelming majority in the Constituent Assembly that also doubled as provisional parliament. R.K. Shanmukham Chetty, who had nothing to do with the Congress or the freedom movement, was finance minister. Defence was with Baldev Singh, an Akali. B.R. Ambedkar, the tallest harijan leader opposed to the Congress, was law minister and chairman of the committee that drafted the Constitution. The most startling of all was the inclusion of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of the Jan Sangh (forerunner of the Bharatiya Janata Party). Except for Chetty who was accused of favourtism, some other non-Congress ministers also resigned but always on policy issues — Mookerjee because he was opposed to the Nehru-Liaqat Pact, and Ambedkar because the Hindu Code Bill was not being pushed through strongly enough. Others stayed. At no time, however, was there anything like Mamata Banerjee's tantrums, Azhagiri's absenteeism, Sharad Pawar's preoccupation with international cricket rather than his portfolio or ironclad security for alleged perpetrators of the 2G mega scam.

 

Indira Gandhi-Morarji Desai clashes cannot be compared to either the complex Nehru-Patel relationship or the present goings on. Desai never got over the feeling that the "syndicate" had "cheated" him of his due by "masterminding" Lal Bahadur Shastri's succession to Nehru. He stood against Indira and lost heavily. His determination to challenge her again after the 1967 general election was shot down by the party driven by its self-preservation instinct after the huge losses it suffered in the poll. It virtually directed Desai to become deputy Prime Minister in Indira's Cabinet. The arrangement was phoney — what Dr Singh has said about that time is absolutely accurate — and inevitably broke down. Desai lasted in Indira's Cabinet only from March 1967 to July 1969. Needless to add that after 1971, Indira became supreme in the government and the party. Her grip on both was complete. No minister dared to express any dissent even in private. During her second innings (1980-84) she accepted the "resignation" of an errant minister that the poor fellow had never submitted. There wasn't a squeak from him.

 

It is noble of the Prime Minister to declare that he does not want his Cabinet ministers to "shut up". He also wants Congress MPs to be free to speak out at appropriate party forums. But the trouble is that with the exception of the Congress Core Group that meets only behind closed doors, hardly any party forum, All-India Congress Committee or Congress Parliamentary Party, discusses policy matters or anything else. No wonder even senior partymen call the Union home minister "intellectually arrogant" and "wrong on policy" in front of TV cameras. Others take recourse to wrecking their own government's bills on the floor of Parliament.

 

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THE SATESMAN

EDIT

OMINOUS EXPOSÉ 

POLICE PRESENCE NO 'SECURITY'

 

THAT it is universally admitted there is no such thing as "foolproof security" is small comfort. Regardless of whether the shooting outside the Jama Masjid in the Capital was the handiwork of some localised mischief-makers or the opening foray in a campaign by a hard-core terrorist group(s) to disrupt the Commonwealth Games, the fact that a duo on a motorcycle could get away with it is disturbing. And worse, there was no breakthrough in the investigation 48 hours later. The historic mosque is in a congested area that for a variety of reasons is always heavily policed, and the only response was a cycle-rickshaw operator throwing a stone and a lone constable giving brief chase. This projects in very poor light the capability of the police to react to such situations. Residents of the city are already apprehensive over the disruption of normality during the Games; now that tourists and tourist attractions are "somebody's" target lends added cause for fear. There is, yet again, reason to suspect (particularly if the involvement of the Indian Mujahideen or allied outfits is established) that an upgrade of the Intelligence apparatus has been accorded lesser attention than the very elaborate "arrangements" that officialdom mistakenly believes equates with security. It is so simple for the chief minister to say "don't panic", and for the CWG organising committee to declare ~ on what basis nobody knows ~ that participation will not be impacted. A more telling commentary was the home minister's evading the media when he visited the hospital where the victims of the shooting were being treated: discretion proved the better part of valour. Vulnerability has been reconfirmed. If denizens of the city, tourists and others took Sunday's shooting in their stride it is because they have little alternative ~ which is not to be interpreted as a display of confidence in the policing mechanism. 


Of no less grave concern is the manner in which security is likely to be "beefed up" ~ heavier deployment, more stringent checking of people at CWG venues, tourist centres, markets, closing parking lots etc. All of which adds to the woes of aam aadmi. The security arrangements at events leading to the CWG were roundly condemned as "oppressive", and experience suggests we could now have more of the same. With a host of other ordeals in store, many a Dilliwallah is praying for 15 October to dawn.


NO END TO MISERY 

THE FARCE CONTINUES IN NEPAL

THE Maoists' chances of regaining the ascendancy in Nepal is uncertain, with party supremo and former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ~ he ruled for about 11 months after winning majority seats in the 2008 elections to the constituent assembly ~ looking confused today. After failing to get him elected even in the seventh round of the prime ministerial poll early this month, his party's decision to withdraw his candidature seems appropriate. What is surprising, however, is that the statement to this effect was signed jointly by the Maoists and the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist), giving rise to the suspicion of there being some understanding between the two in the event of a fresh accent on the formation of a national consensus government. Communist caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal had asked both the Nepali Congress and the Maoists to withdraw their candidates and opt for a consensus government or amend the interim constitution for a new election process. 


Now with NC nominee Ramchandra Poudel remaining the sole aspirant in the field, the eighth round of prime ministerial elections, slated for 26 September, looks as good as doomed. Poudel should have echoed his counterpart and listened to the caretaker Prime Minister's advice to pull out as both the Communists and the Terai parties are still firm on not participating in the voting.  Without their votes, no one can hope to win. The CPN(UML)'s "leverage" to the Maoists puts paid to the NC's hopes of winning support from it. Nepal has been without a Prime Minister for nearly three months now and any further delay means the task of promulgating a new Constitution by the end of May next year may not be possible. Having failed to meet the deadline ~ May this year ~ the life of the constitution assembly was extended by a year. If the exercise fails yet again, Nepal could emerge as a Himalayan laughing stock.


AFGHANISTAN VOTES 

FAR REMOVED FROM UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE

COUNTING in Afghanistan's weekend parliamentary election has only just begun. And considering the protracted procedure ~ irrespective of a fraud ~ it may be some time before the results are known. The second parliamentary election since the US invasion of 2001 has in the process thrown up certain ominous portents ~ 18 killed in Saturday's Taliban strike, delayed opening of polling stations, allegations of fraud and a low voter turnout.  It was estimated at 40 per cent, down by a fifth of  the turnout in the 2005 parliamentary election. The democratic engagement still remains in a slow-cooker. Far from an advancement under US tutelage, the fractious country has been witness to a reversal. The disillusionment is partly embedded in last year's fraudulent presidential election. This time, the conduct of the polls was itself defective. Even in Kabul, one in six polling stations didn't open at all. The use of forged voting cards and bribery made the deception complete. Yet the West may be mildly satisfied that the election, postponed in May, has been held at all.


  Remarkably guarded has been the UN special representative's reaction, "The election is still an election, even if it might not fit in with the Western ideal of democracy." It clearly doesn't. Fears that the result may not be generally accepted, if the electorate is convinced of the fraudulence, are not wholly unfounded. The crisis can only deepen if the stalemate is long and divisive. 


Nonetheless, the result will have a crucial connotation. It will reaffirm the strength or even the inherent weakness of President Karzai, whose election last year hasn't convinced the world, far less Afghans. And should the result testify to the resilience of democracy, it will ironically expose the fragility of the Afghan  state, such as it is. Either way, the Karzai dispensation is on test. Victories of Opposition candidates will buttress a representative political system. And should the result strengthen Karzai's clout, he will be under renewed pressure to  negotiate with the Taliban. Meanwhile, the conduct of the polls signifies that universal suffrage may take years to evolve, if at all. This must be the stark message for the Western democracies, whose forces are duly represented in Afghanistan.

 

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THE SATESMAN

COLUMN

NO DEPARTURE FROM THE KNOWN SCRIPT


This piece is being written exactly when New Delhi's newest magic wand, the all-party group, unleashes itself on a gravely unsettled Kashmir Valley, followed by a visit to Jammu. If you trust me, though, New Delhi's hopes of the all-party mission being anything worthwhile are sadly misplaced.


More than New Delhi's hopes about the outcome of the long-delayed mission, the people in the Valley have little expectation from the proposed talks. The mission's best hope is to be able to talk to fringe groups which have lost their relevance in the new phase of street-fights, now well into its third month, with some hundred-odd young men killed, not to speak of the casualties suffered by the police.


Syed Ali Shah Geelani who, at 82, has finally found his "leadership" role in the Valley had said "no'' to the talks with emissaries unless these were preceded by acceptance of conditions laid down by him. Mirwaiz Umar Farook and Yaseen Malik, leaders of the moderates who have boycotted the meetings, would not in any case not carry much conviction given the combat launched by Geelani and his bunch of Islamist leaders, most of them young, to wean away the separatists. The Mirwaiz's desperation shows in the alliances he has sought to forge during the past few days with some other separatist forces, lying low lately.


His sophisticated posturing no longer appears to command any influence. In fact, the Geelani phenomenon has created a situation in which the octogenarian pro-Pakistani separatist's Islamist second rung has taken charge of this new form of protest. It involves stone-pelting youth confronting the police and the security forces and burning government property if required. Geelani, try to recall, is so sure of his success that a fortnight ago he urged the protesting youth not to torch government property since "it belongs to us". Mussarat Alam, his right hand man, Director of Operations if you will, continues to be the principal conduit between Geelani and the youth. And reports suggest that, while agreeing with Geelani's approach in principle, he is beginning to have other ideas, perhaps more radical than those of his peer. 


Anger, more of it against the state government and New Delhi, is the cornerstone of the present war of nerves in the state. Not that it has not been so in the past but now it has very cleverly been converted into hate what with nine-year-olds, teenagers and the youth combining forces with the womenfolk in the daily street combats with the police and other security forces. Within a couple of hours of its arrival, the all-party delegation was hard put to find a bridge to reach the masterminds of the street fights. Instead, they were up against the sullen silence of a curfew-bound Srinagar. Probably this may have prompted Geelani, while confirming his refusal to attend, to say that his doors were open to guests.


The Prime Minister's all-party meeting in New Delhi which decided to send an all-party mission to Srinagar, was a non-starter, if you ask me. For Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's People's Democratic Party, it essentially appeared to be a meeting of the like-minded. The chief minister, who obviously did not wish to be put in the dock, had preferred to give that meeting a miss. His father, Dr Farooq Abdullah, who has never looked older than he did that day, was just a presence and swung into action only the next day by which time Omar too had decided to surface in Delhi. Their combined presence in the capital may have seemed reassuring to some but it hardly convinced critics about Omar's style of running the government and his failure to stop the protesters right at the beginning.


To fall back on the latest political coinage, the "trust deficit" between Omar and his party, Omar and his administration and Omar and his father has, indeed, taken toll of the National Conference-Congress government in the state. I have heard many state Congress leaders wanting to break away from the National Conference, indeed asking for half the six-year-term of the chief minister.


If PDP could do it with Congress, why can't National Conference share the term with the Congress. But those were different times in the sense that Mufti had led the government firmly during the first three years. He chose to leave the coalition with the Congress late into Ghulam Nabi Azad's part of the chief ministerial tenure. Mufti was, of course, playing his own game with daughter Mehbooba Mufti turning out to be an asset as an organiser. She has outmanoeuvred New Delhi yet again by refusing to attend the Srinagar parleys. This has paid rich dividends to the PDP which continues to be seen in better light than Omar. Cleverly, the PDP has also managed to incorporate some "positive" elements of the separatist agenda, particularly after the Pakistani military dictator, General Musharraf's marked activism on Kashmir.


Dr Manmohan Singh sometimes puts on lofty airs which have no bearing on the ground realities of the state. I sat down the other day to count the number of times he has referred to his willingness to talk to anyone and everyone in Kashmir. It came to an astounding 35 times in less than four months. What prevents him from doing so? What's the big point in mouthing inanities when you know these are meaningless? What use does it to serve to call Geelani to join him for talks or asking Mirwaiz Umar to do the same. Even Mufti Sayeed, if recall is right, did not attend one such all-party meeting in Srinagar. 


The Prime Minister should not keep on offering to talk when there is no one willing to talk from the other side without a settled agenda. Why doesn't he use some of the old channels if he means business or believes that the other side is having second thoughts? 


Even in the case of the all-party group's present visit to Kashmir, why should his party general secretary in charge of the Youth Congress go out of his way in faraway Kolkata to give a clean chit to the Kashmir chief minister. This certificate to Omar, who is under a cloud, was most unwarranted. Instead of advising the young chief minister to tighten up his administration and to be receptive to people's aspirations, Rahul Gandhi seemed to suggest to him "all is well" as long as his party is sharing part of the pie. Maybe Rahul has taken seriously the myth that the Youth Congress has enrolled a bizarre figure (between two to three lakh) of young Kashmiris in the Valley as members. I can assure him that if only a quarter of that number actually existed, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mussarat Alam would have to work out some other strategies. Besides, the young Congress general secretary should have realised that an all-party delegation, including two very senior members of the Union government, are visiting the state. A clever politician would have allowed his colleagues to take his chestnuts out of the fire and enjoy the fun.


As the day wore on, I discovered after some 20 phone calls and the odd peep at TV screens, that Chidambaram's team did finally manage to see on Monday the separatist trinity – Geelani, Umar Farouk and Yaseen Malik. There was no departure as such from the known script of the three separatists.
The only difference one noticed, though, was the formal identification with the separatists of the Muftis' Peoples's Democratic party. With the Delhi-based electronic media just half a length away, Mehbooba and her men were very voluble. "They gave us 15 minutes each to make our case". How could they? And this when the principal separatists were away.


Chidambaram who had the advantage of listening to perorations of the some of those present in New Delhi itself only a few days ago should instead have insisted on hearing the dissenting voices. How different would the scene have been if the Indian delegation had instead spent time with the families of the 100-odd youth slain in the three-month-old violence in the Valley. 


The Prime Minister who is usually very generous in announcing aid packages to all such or similar victims should have announced a grant of Rs 10 lakh to the families of each victim. All this money put together would not have amounted to more than a miniscule fraction of the thousands of crores already sunk in "saving" the Dal Lake. On the morrow of the delegation's fruitless visit to the Valley, the leaders were set to leave for Jammu, to hear the Jammuites' version of how grossly they were discriminated against by Srinagar.


The writer is a veteran journalist and former Resident Editor, The Statesman, New Delhi

 

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THE SATESMAN

PERSPECTVE

LEARNING LANDSCAPES

ANIL BHATTARAI

 

It is slowly sinking in among a small but growing number of people that the current education system is highly dysfunctional and is not adequate to address the social and ecological challenges of our time. However, very little thought has gone into exploring the reorganisation of educational process and how physical landscapes of schools could be actively incorporated in teaching-learning process.


Last week I suggested that a creative parent could engage a kid in the learning process both at home as well as outside -- such as while taking her to school, working in the kitchen garden, exploring neighbourhoods, or even while watching television. Often all it requires is asking them questions or telling them stories. Many in fact do that without realising it. 


One of the pervasive myths of modern times has been that learning takes place mostly in classrooms. This myth is most prominently played out in the way the teachers near-exclusively focus on textbooks in classrooms. Exams are conducted to test the ability of students to memorise textbooks, and exam marks are taken as exclusive indicator of educational progress.


Perhaps this is the reason why both teachers and parents do not see spaces outside the classroom as sites of learning. Most schools get away with largely barren, monocultured, landscapes precisely because of this. The school grounds are either empty or littered with waste papers and plastics. Classrooms are hot in summer and cold in winter. In cities, classrooms lack natural light. The ventilation is bad. In private schools, the imperative to make quick-bucks often leads to cutting down on necessary investment for learning-friendly classrooms. In state-managed schools, the classrooms are built with minimal regard for the need of those who spend long hours in them -- the students. Contractors need to make quick bucks, and the politicians and bureaucrats need some cuts.


This is also the result of lack of creativity on the part of teachers. Schools - private, community-managed, and state-managed - could create classrooms and the larger school landscapes as meaningful sites of learning.
Once as a teaching assistant for a course on globalisation at the University of Toronto, I asked students to, first, make a list of items in the classroom - the overhead projector, the desks, benches, their own laptops, their school bags, pens, among others. And then, I asked them to read their "made in'' labels. Well, expectedly, most items were made in China. 


This was followed by speculative discussions on the process through which some of those items were assembled and transported. The raw materials that made up some parts of their laptops perhaps came from African countries, container-shipped to China. Large fleets of oil tankers and vast networks of pipes transported petroleum that fuelled the factories and transportation system in China. These materials were worked on by Chinese workers from the Chinese hinterlands. Once manufactured, the stuffs were then shipped around the world. Thus, just by examining the flow of materials involved in the making of a laptop, we were able to map out the globalisation process. 


With an innovative teacher, this could be done right from day care centres for infants and toddlers onwards. Let me be clear here: I am not suggesting teaching globalisation to an infant, or toddler or even to a six-year old. What I am suggesting is the landscape - both inside the classroom as well as within the school boundary - could be meaningful sites for the learning process. 


Infants and toddlers learn through sensory experiences - through seeing, touching, feeling, moving and remaking of objects. In the name of learning, most of our schools deprive small kids from these experiences as they are made to sit still and listen to their teachers. Classrooms of toddlers and infants are often cluttered with desks and benches that hinder their mobility. They have very little to explore. 


For higher-age kids, schools can create landscapes that impart both functional skills such as maths, reading and writing as well as make them explorers of the world around them. As an aspiring ecological designer, I have always been fascinated by patterns in nature - in the shapes and sizes of trees, the leaves, the way water flows, or the patterns on land. For one, teaching numbers could be easily done outside the classrooms. Teachers could ask their kids to collect dry leaves from trees and ask them to do basic counting. They can ask them to make a pile of stones and count them. They can teach addition and subtraction by making different piles and either adding to or taking out some stones. Or ask why certain grass has certain number of petals in their flowers. The empty school grounds could be lined up with new tree saplings. The students could count the number of saplings. They can group them into different varieties - such as fruits, vegetables or herbs. They can measure their growth periodically. 


When it comes to organising landscapes for learning, mind often is the limit. One can teach about science by exploring those landscapes. One can teach about society through them. Why do people plant fruits? Who has land large enough to plant them? What do people make out of those fruits or vegetables? Who gets to eat? How is food prepared? Who prepares them at home?


Or we can teach the science of gravity by walking students in the ground and throwing a stone up. Or we can teach them biology by exploring how plants grow, fruits ripe or rot, or by showing them how diverse the natural world is. Well there are many more questions that students can explore while learning from landscapes. By near-exclusively focusing on textbook rote learning, most of our schools have not been able to see making and remaking of landscapes as important parts of teaching and learning process. Let's also not forget: teachers will be surprised how much they themselves could learn in this process.


the kathmandu post/ann

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THE SATESMAN

PERSPECTVE

100 YEARS AGO TODAY


A shop-keeper in Ferozepur was said to have been maltreated by a probationary sub-inspector of police who bought some materials from him. The shop-keeper on demanding payment was taken to the thana and is alleged to have been maltreated on the ground of having demanded a high price. The matter was reported to the Deputy Commissioner of Ferozepur, who sent for the sub-inspector and asked him to apologise to the shop-keeper, remarking to the former that it was officers like him who brought the Government into bad odour with the people. The sub-inspector at first hesitated, but ultimately did as he was bidden. The Deputy Commissioner has suspended the sub-inspector and has reported him to the authorities for dismissal. 


Our Sholapur Correspondent wires : - A meeting representative of all classes was held here on Saturday to consider steps for a memorial of King Edward. It was unanimously resolved to raise a fund from which not more than one-third should go to the Presidency fund and the remainder to the erection of a new Civil Hospital in Sholapur named after the late King-Emperor. A committee of about 100 gentlemen from town and district were appointed to carry out details.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

FLYING HIGH

 

When the Reserve Bank of India raised its policy interest rates more than expected last week, it should have been bad news for the stock market. It was not: markets went up instead of down, and on Tuesday, the Sensex closed at just over 20,000. Except for one day, the stock market has been rising every single trading day in September thus far. Granted, September has been good for global stock markets, not just India's: American indices are up, as are those in other Asian economies. September's gains are the largest contributors to annual gains. On Indian shores, every single piece of economic data has been given a positive spin, from industrial production figures through inflation to interest rates; the markets have ignored all the caveats. Duvvuri Subbarao, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India, has suggested in recent speeches that economic growth is fairly well grounded. And somehow, markets have interpreted Mr Subbarao's statements in the central bank's policy review as indicative of the end — or, at least, a long pause — in the aggressive interest rate hiking cycle.

There has been other news that appeared to suggest that deposit rates would also be freed completely (only two are regulated — the savings bank rate and the rate on small savings). So, interest rates, instead of being bad for the economy, have ended up being good for the banks, whose stocks are among the biggest movers. Many banks are trading at prices much higher than those that prevailed when the Sensex was over 21,000 in January 2008. HDFC Bank is now 36 per cent higher than its January 2008 price; another private sector bank, Axis Bank, is trading at nearly 30 per cent higher than its January 2008 price. ICICI Bank, however, is about 24 per cent lower than its January 2008 price levels. But a key fact to remember is that almost all of this market revival is led by institutional investors — mostly foreign ones — bringing in large amounts of capital inflows.

 

The retail investor has been almost completely absent. Taking advantage of the positive sentiment (or spin), many companies are raising capital through public equity offerings that could attract retail investors; the response to them, however, has been spotty. And at some point, the RBI may have to worry about the impact of excess liquidity created by all the capital inflows into the markets, and take some aggressive steps to control it before it has an adverse impact on inflation. The elephant in the room is whether this upturn is sustainable; after all, the market is the combined behaviour of thousands of people responding to information, misinformation and whim.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

TROUBLED WATERS

 

Nationalism has long replaced communism as New China's red badge of courage. At every hint of trouble, domestic or foreign, its rulers seek to whip up jingoistic sentiments. So the current anti-Japanese cry in China is not exactly a new thing. What is new is the intensity of Beijing's reaction to the arrest of the captain of a Chinese boat, which had collided with two Japanese coastguard vessels in the East China Sea earlier this month. China first suspended all high-level diplomatic exchanges with Japan. And now it has ruled out any meeting between the prime ministers of the two countries on the sidelines of the United Nations general assembly session later this week. Worse, sections of the official Chinese media have called for "retaliation", including the use of force, in order to establish Chinese claims of sovereignty on the group of islets in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. This sabre-rattling is new even by the standards of China-Japan rivalry. Japan has only warned against the dangers of "narrow-minded, extreme nationalism".

 

A worse danger seems to be a new aggressiveness that marks Chinese expansionist aims not only in East Asia but also in South Asia. This has gone hand in hand with China's rise as an economic power. Only last month, China edged past Japan as the world's second biggest economy after the United States of America. Ironically, it is the economy that might also hold Chinese ambitions in check. China replaced the US as Japan's biggest trading partner in 2009, when trade between the two neighbours stood at $253 billion. The economic impact of the boat row could, therefore, be limited. But Beijing could end up losing more than it could hope to gain by baiting Japan too much. What Beijing does on the boat issue will be watched not only by Japan but also by other countries. It can do China a lot of harm if its rise is feared, rather than admired, by the world. Power has its rewards, but it also has its risks.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

CASTE AND THE CITIZEN

COLONIAL CENSUS COMMISSIONERS ARE SMILING IN THEIR GRAVES

ANDRÉ BÉTEILLE

 

The decision to include caste as a part of the census of 2011 will be viewed as a turning point by future students of society and politics in India. Such a proposal came up before the census of 2001, but the National Democratic Alliance government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani turned it down in the end. The present government, too, gave some indication of resistance at first, but yielded to pressures from some of its coalition partners. It is doubtful that either the prime minister or the home minister would have made such a move on his own. Those who run a coalition government have to skate on thin ice. They have to make compromises in order to buy peace, and they cannot think too hard about the consequences for the future of buying peace for the present.

 

Some social scientists have tried to make a virtue of a necessity and argued that the more data we have the better it will be for research. This is a shallow argument that ignores the political uses to which census data are put everywhere. In our case the enumeration and classification of castes will be used as weapons of offence and defence in campaigns for identity politics. This is very well understood by those hard-headed politicians who have pressed for the inclusion of caste.

 

The enumeration, classification and ranking of castes became an important part of census operations under colonial rule. Colonial civil servants, such as H.H. Risley and J.H. Hutton, both census commissioners in their time, were notable anthropologists. But their primary interest was not in research but in governance. They were not above using, and in that process reinforcing, the divisions of caste and community to maintain their hold on Indian society. The nationalists, in their turn, were quick to spot the divisive uses to which the preoccupation with caste was being put by the colonial administrators. It is in this context that the first government of independent India decided to exclude caste from the census of 1951.

 

It will be wrong to attribute only malign motives to the colonial rulers of the country. Some were honourable men who took a sympathetic interest in the people of India. But they acted according to their own understanding and judgement. Their understanding of India a hundred years ago was that it was a society of castes and communities and not a nation of citizens. They carried that understanding of Indian society from the 19th to the 20th century. If we look back on our own society beyond the middle of the 19th century, we will have to admit that there is a great deal to be said for such a judgement.

 

Those who believed that India was at bottom a society of castes and communities were, from their own point of view, justified in taking a sceptical attitude towards the prospects of democracy in the country. Such an attitude could never be taken by the leaders of the nationalist movement who were fighting for independence in the name of democracy. For them what was at stake was not India's past but its future. They believed that, whatever India may have been in the past, their endeavour should be to look beyond the divisions of caste and community in order to create a nation of citizens. That is what nation-building meant for them.

 

A whole succession of nationalist leaders from Gokhale, Motilal and C.R. Das to Jawaharlal, Patel and others took up the challenge of transforming India from a society of castes and communities into a nation of citizens. It is unlikely that any of them seriously believed that the task before them was an easy one or that it could be accomplished in a year or a decade. But they took it as a matter of duty and honour to accept the challenge if only to prove to themselves and to the world that the colonial representation of Indian society was fundamentally wrong.

 

Nobody can deny the reality of caste divisions or the consciousness of those divisions in contemporary Indian society. The reality and the consciousness are both present and reinforce each other. That is not the question before us today. The question is whether we should act so as to weaken or to reinforce the role of caste in public life. The leaders of the past on the whole acted so as to weaken it whereas many of our contemporary political leaders act in ways that are bound to strengthen it.

 

Those who brought independence to the country were inclined to believe that caste was changing, and that the secular trend of change was towards a weakening, rather than a strengthening, of caste. That belief was widely shared among the Indian intelligentsia at that time. It does not appear to have been an unreasonable view in the light of the evidence then available although the euphoria created by the freedom from colonial rule led to much wishful thinking. Although the secular trend of change was towards a weakening of caste, the system had a great deal of resilience such that it could be given a new lease of life by deliberate political action.

 

Whether in the constituent assembly or in the first Union cabinet, the political climate was definitely opposed to the revival of caste. The basic unit in the architecture of the Constitution was the individual as citizen whose fundamental rights were defined without consideration of race, caste or community.

 

The solidarity of the nation and the rights of the citizen were the two ends that were stressed repeatedly in the early years of independence. These were the ones that had been ignored or denied under colonial rule. Kaka Kalelkar, the chairman of the first backward classes commission wrote in 1955 that "nothing should be allowed to organize itself between these two ends to the detriment of the freedom of the individual and the solidarity of the nation". Such a view, which might have appeared natural in the 1950s, is bound to appear utopian today.

 

In a pluralist democracy, the State can hardly prohibit the formation of associations based on caste and community and designed for the promotion of sectional interests. But should it turn its back on the representation of India as a nation of citizens and bring back in its place its representation as a society of castes and communities?

 

The census of India is not a private, but an official, undertaking. The classification it adopts is an official classification, which will provide a basis for the representation of Indian society that will bear the stamp of the State's authority. The colonial government had put its own stamp of authority on the representation of India as a society of castes and communities through the census it conducted every ten years. In 1951, the government of independent India tried to make a new beginning by setting aside the classification of the Indian population on the basis of caste. By returning to the old categories established under colonial rule, the present regime will be making an admission of our failure to transform ourselves into a nation of citizens. Risley and Hutton will be smiling in their graves.

 

The author is Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, and National Research Professor

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

COLUMN

OLD WINE IN AN OLD BOTTLE

SUMANTA SEN

 

It is not even as though old wine has been served in a new bottle in Jharkhand — rather, it is the same old wine gone flat in the same old and leaking bottle. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha have shared power in the state and fallen out. Now they have come together once again under the leadership of Arjun Munda, and are enjoying the blessings of Shibu Soren, who, clearly, has nothing new to offer.

 

Yes, President's Rule has ended, but for how long? In Jharkhand, the ritual of going through the motions of democratic procedure has become tiresome by now, with all the principal players routinely failing the state. Those who may still retain hopes of Jharkhand going places under the latest regime would do well to note that it has had a halting start with senior BJP leaders — like Lal Krishna Advani, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj — having reservations about the party tying up with Soren, who has proved himself to be an unreliable customer.

 

Munda may feel that as long as the BJP president, Nitin Gadkari, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are by his side, he need not worry. But Gadkari is based in New Delhi and the RSS bosses in Pune. Nearer home in Ranchi and Hazaribagh, there are the state BJP president, Raghubir Das, and the former Central minister, Yashwant Sinha, to constantly breath down Munda's neck and create obstacles. Sinha, who was considered a possible chief ministerial candidate while the idea of a tie-up with the JMM was being discussed, is likely to prove particularly difficult. Gadkari, however, would have none of that. He wanted his own man in. Now, a sulking Sinha may well turn out to be a thorn in Munda's flesh, especially as he has the support of a fair section of the saffron brigade. After all, the BJP is no longer a monolithic structure, as it was once perceived. It has also been infected with the disease of factionalism.

 

Shaky arrangement

 

Then again, the government has two deputy chief ministers, one from the JMM and the other from the All Jharkhand Students Union. Such an arrangement is often a recipe for disaster, as the deputies soon begin to harbour ambitions. This may not have happened in neighbouring Bihar. But the same may not be said of the situation in Ranchi. In Ranchi, there is an alliance without a programme, unlike the National Democratic Alliance in Patna.

 

The fate of the government is, however, its own problem. Even the people of the state cannot be bothered about it, let alone the nation as a whole. What is of concern to the nation is how Jharkhand goes about meeting the challenge posed by the Maoists. In the past, Jharkhand has not been tackling the Maoists in the way other concerned states, particularly West Bengal and Orissa, would have liked it to. There has always existed a suspicion that cutting across party lines there is sympathy for the Maoists, and Calcutta has complained that Ranchi is not that interested in joint operations in the jungles along the common border. If Munda insists on remaining inactive, then the Central home ministry may have a thing or two to say about this. The Maoists in Bengal are showing signs of being on the run and it is essential that Jharkhand rises to the task. Nobody would be helped if Soren remains in the backseat.

 

On the whole, the question arises as to why the Centre decided to lift President's Rule, well aware as it is of the situation in Jharkhand? The only answer seems to be that, with cynical disregard for the people, the Congress played politics to make both the BJP and the JMM stew in their own juices — which may fetch the Congress dividends in the next elections. However, for Jharkhand, a shaky arrangement in Ranchi would be of no help.

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

EDITORIAL

GAPS IN SECURITY

'THERE WAS NO QUICK RESPONSE FROM SECURITY FORCES.'

 

 

The firing incident in Delhi's Jama Masjid area on Sunday, with just a few days left for the start of the Commonwealth Games, was not serious, going by the usual level of damage  caused by terrorist strikes. There were no casualties and only two persons were injured. But the fact that it was foreigners who were targeted shows that the aim was to create a scare among Games tourists and participants. The import of the incident should neither be exaggerated nor underestimated but should be taken as a warning to the authorities who have promised the best security arrangements to be put in place for the Games. The firing shows that there may still be loopholes in the arrangements. The terrorists might even have been trying to test the preparedness of the authorities and to find out the gaps which they could make use of.


What is cause for concern is that the group that claimed responsibility for the incident, the Indian Mujahideen, which is connected with the Lashkar-e-Toiba, was on the radar of the intelligence agencies for long and its activities were supposed to be monitored. The area where the firing took place was under surveillance. The argument that terrorists can choose the time and place of their attack is not valid here because there was always the possibility of attacks in Delhi during the run-up to or the duration of the Games. The response of the security forces was also not very satisfactory after the attacks. The commando units did not reach the area in time and the search and cordon operations were not conducted effectively. Swamping Delhi with security personnel is not enough. There are closed circuit cameras all over Delhi but some of them are reported to be not working. 

There were concerns among foreign participants about Delhi's security preparedness. Sunday's incident may have aggravated those concerns, though there is no drastic reaction to it. It is the responsibility of the Games authorities and the Central and Delhi governments to ensure that there are no further scares. The preparations for the Games as such are under a cloud because of  delays, poor workmanship and corruption charges. The biggest challenge, however, is about conducting the events efficiently and, most importantly, allowing the event to pass without any security-related mishap. That is why the Jama Masjid attack should not be underestimated.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

LOW TURNOUT

'KARZAI POSSIBLY HOPES TO HAVE A PLIABLE PARLIAMENT.'

 

Voter turnout in Afghanistan's general election has been extremely disappointing. It was lower than that during the presidential election last year. Although violence on polling day was less than anticipated, Taliban attacks in the run-up to voting and the resurgence in its clout over the past couple of years appear to have kept voters away from exercising their franchise. The courage of those who defied the Taliban and showed up to vote must be applauded. Large-scale vote rigging too has been reported which is another blow undermining Afghanistan's nascent democracy. Less than a year ago, the country voted in Presidential elections, which were deeply marred by rigging. Not only did that fraud result in apolitical impasse that lasted several months but also it served to undermine Afghan democracy and the stature of the presidency. The legitimacy of President Hamid Karzai has been under question since.


The parliamentary election is important because of the role parliament has played in recent years as a check on Hamid Karzai's authority. Soon after his re-election last year, Karzai appointed several loyalists, many of them with questionable records, to key posts in his administration. But parliament managed to clip his wings by refusing to approve several of his ministerial appointments. It is likely that Karzai was hoping that the election would put in place a pliant parliament. It is in this context that the vote rigging must be seen. Afghans will have to wait for several weeks more before they know what kind of parliament they will have and who will represent them. It will take time to transport ballot boxes to counting centres. Besides, thousands of complaints against vote rigging will have to be investigated before the verdict can be made public.


While Karzai could benefit politically in the short run if the election throws up a pliant parliament, this outcome could be disastrous for Afghan democracy in the long run. An all-powerful President with an emasculated parliament will encourage the growth of authoritarianism and unbridled corruption. The Taliban, which is growing military by the day, will also be empowered politically as democratic institutions lie discredited. If those who sit in parliament are not the ones the people voted for, then it will be the Taliban that comes out victorious from the just-concluded election.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

A LOSING GAME

BY BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA


There is no need to get overly worried. The anti-India measure will rebound and hit the US in the long run.

 

The United States' government has made a hefty increase in H1B Visa fee payable by software engineers and other professionals seeking to enter the US. Professionals are allowed to take employment for six years under this visa. Previously applicants had to pay Rs 1.06 lakh as fee which has been hiked to Rs 1.98 lakh. Consequently, it will become difficult for Indian software engineers to migrate to the US.

 

The US government hopes that this move will reduce the competition faced by US engineers and open up job opportunities for them that were till now being grabbed by Indians. American engineers will not have to face competition from Indians who were willing to work for lesser wages. Indian software companies like Infosys and Wipro offer services to US companies from their US-based offices.


The increase in fee has been made under pressure from the American voter who perceives that Indian engineers are taking away jobs that truly belong to them. Unemployment at 9.5 per cent is forcing the US lawmakers to abandon their traditional stance of free markets and to take the direction of protectionism.


The measure is specially targeted towards Indian companies. The increase in fee will only be applicable to those companies that have more than one-half of their US employees on H1B Visa. Companies like Microsoft employ larger number of professionals from India than many Indian companies. But their overall payroll in the US is larger hence H1B visa holders constitute less than one-half of their payroll and they will not be hit by this law. On the other hand, Indian company with fewer H1B visa holders will be hit because its total payroll in the US is smaller.

The increase in visa fee appears to be harmful to India and beneficial to the US on the first reading. Indeed, immediately fewer engineers will migrate to the US. This short term impact has led our commerce minister Anand Sharma to condemn the increase in fees. Indian officials have even threatened to take up the matter in the World Trade Organisation.


While we must certainly pursue to contest this anti-India measure, there is no need to get overly worried. This measure will rebound and hit the US in the long run. Gary Shapiro, president & CEO of Consumer Electronics Association of the US says on the basis of a study by Vivek Wadhwa of Duke University that "immigrants to the US founded more than half of all Silicon Valley start-ups created in the past decade. Half of all Silicon Valley engineers are foreign born, up from 10 per cent in 1970, and about 40 per cent of all US patents go to immigrants.

These immigrant-founded companies employed 4,50,000 workers and generated $52 billion in revenue in 2005. In the same tone, Microsoft Corp chairman Bill Gates has urged the US administration and lawmakers to increase the immigration limits for foreign workers who can be hired by US companies on the H1B visa programme.

Flaw of the system


The US education system is producing fewer math and science graduates than countries like India and China, and top IT workers in those countries and others are more often opting to stay home instead of work at a US company, Gates said. Availability of fewer skilled engineers from India will force American employers like Microsoft to employ high-paid low-skilled Americans. This will erode their global competitiveness and hurt the US economy.


The long term impact on the Indian economy is likely to be beneficial. Web-conferencing has made it possible to talk to persons sitting thousands of miles away just as they were sitting on the same table. This has led to a decline in the number of engineers being sent to America by Indian companies lately.


Infosys had requested 4,559 H1B visas in 2008. This had declined to mere 440 in 2009. A similar decline is seen by Wipro, Satyam and TCS. Till recently the H1B quota used to get lapped up on the very first day of opening. This year, however, only 28,000 applications were received many months after opening of the 85,000 visas that were available. The demand for H1B visas is declining in tandem with improvement of communication technologies. Increase in visa fee in this situation is like flogging a dead horse.


According to one report, Infosys' revenues from onsite provision of services in the US were 47 per cent and offshore revenues from operations in India were 53 per cent. 


Infosys is capable of raising the share of offshore operations in India to 95 per cent. The company has already conducted pilot programmes with couple of clients in the US in this direction successfully.


The immense value to H1B visa that prevailed in the yesteryears has clearly evaporated into thin air. It means that software contracts will continue to flow to India. Difference will be that previously a large part of these contracts was executed onsite in the US. Now most will be executed in India. This will be harmful for the US. The spread effects of technological innovation will accrue in India, not in the US. This will erode the technological lead of that country. Money that was being spent by Indian engineers in the US will now be spent in India.


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

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

HURTLING TOWARDS ECONOMIC DOOM

BY SUDHANSU R DAS


Politicians across the world devote more time in marketing products than to improve the quality of life.

 

Professor Fenner, an eminent scientist who drove out chicken pox predicted human being will be wiped out in 100 years. The two decade long globalisation has robotised human civilisation to the point of no return. Maximising profit by any means is the governing principle of economic policies which look at human being as a tool for mass production.


Economic slowdown, climate change, loss of happiness and terrorism are the symptoms of a kind of ailing civilisation. Today, political leaders across the world devote more time in marketing products than to improve the quality of life. In India, systematic efforts have also been made to market products through societal behaviour change which has become the biggest threat to India's path to self-reliance.


Way back in 1850 when British introduced tea, it was distributed to people free of cost with half paise incentive per cup. Within a short time tea had substituted more nutritious morning diets like lemon juice, coconut water, lassi and many other herbal syrups. Between 1857 to 1947, British mill made clothes devoured most of India's finer quality handloom clothes.


Swadeshi movement

Had Mahatma Gandhi not started his Swadeshi movement the Indian cottage industries would have disappeared. Gandhiji said Swadeshi was not vituperative against British but aimed for self-reliant society which can meet its basic requirements from available resources. Today Indian artisans produce goods worth $1.8 billion.


Economic historian Angus Maddison in his book 'The World economy — A Millennial Perspective' noted from 1st century AD to 15 th century AD, India had the world's largest economy with 32.9 per cent share of world GDP.

Indian muslin clothes were dear to Roman Women in the 1st century AD. Roman senate imposed a trade embargo on the import of Indian clothes.


The popularity of Indian textiles compelled William III of England in 1700 AD to enact law to prohibit sale of Indian textiles. Luke Scrafton who was a member of Clive's council wrote in his book 'Reflection of the Government of Hinduism' that "the manufacturers, commerce and agriculture flourished exceedingly and not felt the hand of oppression... nor is there a part of the world where arts and agriculture have been more cultivated of which the vast plenty and variety of manufacturers and the merchants were profit sufficient." In later period, Indian products lost its competitive edge due to lack of research and development and societal behaviour change which came over due to aggressive marketing strategy of global traders.


Today many climate friendly Indian dress materials, indigenous skill and techniques are gasping for breath due to societal behaviour  change.


In most of the urban centres Salwar Kameej, Kurta Pyjama and sarees have been replaced by jeans, barmunda and short shirts. Along with it many jobs have also been lost as many tailors and traditional shops have closed their shutters. Societal behaviour change is the main reason why India has 5.134 million HIV positive cases.

There will be huge labour loss if this menace is not controlled as HIV positive cases are rampant among migrant labours. This is going to be worse because pirated DVD and CDs showing violence and sex of different countries are easily accessible to illiterate people and minor children in India. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) a woman is being raped in every 29 minutes. Unsafe society causes huge productivity loss.

Majority of Indian cinemas affect societal behaviour as they devote themselves in marketing consumer products and in popularising urban lifestyle.  Had the Indian cinemas worked to make cinema an artistic pursuit it would have lifted millions of people above poverty line.


The productivity of western Maharashtra's agriculture land is the highest in India because the socio cultural behaviour has not deteriorated due to various religious santh traditions. The number of theft in Maharashtra villages is far less compared to other rural parts of India and cooperation among villagers is exemplary. Forty years back, there were Vagbat Tungis (community centre for moral science) in every village of Orissa where illiterate villagers used to listen to religious discourses. Today, those things are replaced by liquor shops, beauty parlours and pirated video shops.


Misdirected subsidy flow and free distribution of foodgrains to food sufficient families has caused huge entrepreneurship loss and large scale labour shortage in rural area. This has deteriorated societal behaviour across the country. Unless urgent steps are taken to prevent societal behaviour change it may lead to an economic doom and large scale unrest.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

SHADES OF PREJUDICE

BY D K HAVANOOR


It is ridiculous that we pass racist comments based on colour against people.

 

Every morning between 7 and 8, my seven-year-old daughter, my wife and I browse through newspapers. My daughter, unable to make sense of the entire article, manages to understand a few news stories by reading headlines and looking at the pictures. 


During this session we often discuss current topics ranging from sports, arts, entertainment, social, etc. My daughter always attentively listens to the conversations between me and my wife. Being as inquisitive as children her age are, she always has questions on the news items she reads.


There was one time when she seemed very confused and asked about the racism controversy in Australia and then the ill-treatment of people of African origin in India. In her little seven-year-old mind she has become conscious of her not-so-fair complexion and that has led to a bit of inferiority complex at school. The jury is still out on whether white Australians are racist, but why criticise them when our own society, made largely of people with brown complexion, prefers people with the lighter shade of brown? Most south Indians are darker than their northern countrymen, so it makes the scene ridiculous when some of us pass racist comments based on colour against people of African origin.


Some time ago, I read a newspaper article that by the end of the millennium, there will be just one race of beige complexioned people in the entire world due to the mixing of races. I wonder how people would behave in such a world; would some people with a fairer shade of beige still hold onto their superiority complex? Our generation or several generations down the line will not see this. Probably, the hardy Lichens plant sprouted now can see it change by 3000 AD.


Do we not like black people? If so, why? Is it because we're a lighter shade of black? Then why do we complain when the whites treat us that way? It just doesn't make sense; it's a bit like the ragging phenomena in colleges. A batch of students get ragged by their seniors, they scream and shout and complain and weep. When they become seniors, they themselves treat their juniors badly.


Listening to all these arguments my little daughter asked my wife why she was dark while some of her friends were fair?  My wife said, "You're dark because I am dark." Snap came the solution from my daughter, "Mama, you apply Fair and Lovely and when you become fair so will I."

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

EDITORIAL

CONSEQUENCES FOR TURKEY

 

Since it came to power in, Turkey's AKP leadership has shifted away from the West into the orbit of mullah- run Iran. It should be forced to pay the consequences.

Talkbacks (9)

Turkish President Abdullah Gul has been going out of his way to make it clear where his country's loyalties lie.

In New York for the UN General Assembly, Gul, in a calculated push to reassert Turkish antagonism toward the Jewish state, invoked the name of the Mavi Marmara and noted that "in old times" Israel's ill-fated raid would have been casus belli – a justification for war.


Gul hinted that Israel had to perform a public act of contrition. "It is up to Israel. They have to do what is necessary since they are the ones that created the incident," he said.


Gul's audacious comments followed a nasty diplomatic tussle between Gul and President Shimon Peres. The two had planned to meet on the sidelines of the General Assembly. But Peres was forced to cancel after he refused Gul's precondition of offering an official Israeli apology for what happened on the Mavi Marmara on May 31.


Even in international forums, notoriously slanted against Israel, not everyone has concluded that Israel was to blame for the bloody confrontation, which ended with the deaths of nine Turks. Both the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, and a separate UN panel formed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, are looking into the incident in which dozens of "peace" activists violently attacked IDF commandos when they boarded the ship to enforce a naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.


Gul, as has been his country's consistent wont, ignored these inconvenient facts. Peres, in a remarkably conciliatory tone, explained to reporters at the UN, "I got some conditions which made this meeting in my judgment not a positive one. We do not intend to worsen the situation, but neither can we agree to preconditions that are totally unacceptable."


In yet another jab to Israel, Gul declared his country's support for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons – which was essentially a call, already made by several Arab nations, to force Israel, reportedly the only country in the region with nuclear capability, to disarm.


And parallel to his assault on Israel, Gul reached out to the Islamic Republic, publicly announcing he would be holding a special meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


TIES BETWEEN Ankara and Teheran seem to have grown closer in direct relation to Turkey's deteriorating relations with Israel. In a recent visit to Istanbul, Iranian Vice President Moammad Reza Rahimi was moved to declare, "Turkey is the best friend of Iran in the world."


There is good reason for Rahimi to be appreciative.


Turkey has become a veritable safe haven for Iranian banks, including those with suspected links to Teheran's nuclear programs, as Ankara leads the way in undermining a UN-sponsored boycott campaign aimed at halting Iran's nuclear enrichment project.


Turkish-Iranian trade has increased by 86 percent this year. In a bid to keep Gul's ruling AKP party in power, Teheran has pledged $25 million to its campaign ahead of Turkey's July 2011 elections.


Besides Israeli tourism, Turkey has little to lose from pursuing its present foreign policy. Only Turkish banks with business in the US that also deal directly with Iranian companies blacklisted by Washington risk facing US penalties. But Turkey has much to gain, such as exclusive Iranian business deals and the admiration of Muslim masses happy to see waning Western influence in the Middle East.


That imbalance needs to change. Since it came to power in 2002, Turkey's AKP leadership has gradually shifted away from the West into the orbit of mullah- run Iran. It should be forced to pay the consequences.


The US, the EU, Israel and others should cut back military cooperation and consider economic sanctions.


Just as Iran has openly pledged support for the AKP, so too should the US and the EU actively back the secular opposition in Turkey ahead of the upcoming elections. Gul has made it abundantly clear where his country's loyalties lie. It is now the turn of the US and the EU to do the same.

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

COLUMN

TIME FOR A NEW JEWISH CONVERSATION

BY TZIPI LIVNI  

 

The leader of the opposition, and head of Kadima, on the rift between young Diaspora Jews and Israel – and what we can do to bridge it.

 

Talkbacks (6)

Like any good family, the Jewish people have shown time and again how we can unite in times of crisis. When Israel faced its enemies on the battlefield or when Jewish communities abroad have been threatened, we have come together and recognized our collective responsibility for one another.


But if this alone is the nature of the ties that bind us, it constitutes a failure of vision and of leadership. To define ourselves only by the threats we face is to allow our adversaries to define us. It is a definition founded in fear. This may be a mechanism for Jewish survival but it is not a prescription for vibrant and meaningful Jewish living.

Israel – as the homeland of the Jewish people – has a central role to play in developing a positive and unifying vision for the Jewish world. And yet, in my meetings with Jewish leaders and citizens from around the world I have been struck by the growing sense that Israel's place in Jewish life is eroding.


For too many young Diaspora Jews that I meet, Israel is not the source of pride or inspiration that it was for their parents' generation. Living in vibrant Jewish communities abroad – within states that embrace multiculturalism and respect religious and minority rights – too many Jews no longer feel they need Israel as a safe haven or as an anchor for their identity. What's more, they feel they have been taken for granted – their loyalty to Israel is expected, but their voice and their concerns are not heard.


Within this country, identity is increasingly pulled between two poles: one, a secular Israeli identity centered around army service and the Hebrew language; the other a growing but narrowly defined Orthodox or haredi Jewish existence. In the process, a common commitment to the ideas and values that unite us as a people and that can resonate with Jews here and around the world seems increasingly tenuous These trends should alarm anyone who cares about the unity and future of the Jewish people. They not only threaten to fragment the Jewish people, but they place the Jewish communities here and in the Diaspora on radically different trajectories which undermine and weaken both.


THIS STATE of affairs requires a dramatic reframing of the role of Israel in Jewish life and the nature of the relationship between it and world Jewry that should be built around four key principles: First, if Israel is to realize its mission as the national home of the Jewish people, it must act like one. It must find ways to welcome rather than alienate Jews regardless of their opinions or the stream of Judaism with which they are affiliated. It must embrace an inclusive and pluralistic Jewish agenda that respects our traditions without denying the legitimacy of difference.


While Israel must retain its sovereign authority to determine its own future, decisions taken in Jerusalem that affect the Jewish people as a whole require that we listen to, consult with and take account of the concerns and interests of Jews beyond our borders.


Second, the relationship between Israel and world Jewry cannot be founded on shlilat hagola (negating the Diaspora), nor on the mistaken idea that Israel is no longer central to Jewish life. For the first time since the Babylonian age, the Jewish people live in vibrant communities both in their ancient homeland and abroad. The relationship between these communities should be seen as mutually reinforcing rather than hierarchical.


As Zionists, we must continue to encourage aliya, but we also have a vital interest in the vibrancy and welfare of Diaspora communities.


Similarly, Diaspora Jews have a critical stake in Israel's success and prosperity.


This is not only because Israel must always be a place of refuge in times of need. It is also because Israel – through its rebirth and its very existence – gives sovereign expression to our people's collective right to self-determination and creates unimagined opportunity for Jewish renewal, creativity and engagement with the world.

Third, if we are to encourage a common sense of purpose and belonging, there must be a place within Jewish discourse for responsible criticism of Israel's policies, even from overseas, without it being considered an act of betrayal. To equate supporting Israel with supporting the policies of any given government at any given time risks distancing Jews by forcing upon them a false choice between their commitment to Israel and their personal worldview. Israel is a confident and strong democracy and it is able to withstand and contain this kind of criticism.

AT THE same time, those who criticize from within the family – those who criticize out of love – have responsibilities as well. They must be conscious of the fact that their criticism may be exploited for more sinister ends by Israel's enemies and they should shape the context and form of their criticism accordingly. They must also show sensitivity to the excruciating dilemmas and constraints under which Israel operates and not fall victim to the double standards that so often characterize its critics.


Fourth, and most important, while in many ways Israel has realized the Zionist vision of establishing a Jewish state, we have yet to succeed in creating a Jewish society. By this, I do not mean a theocratic society founded on Torah. I mean a society that is inspired by Jewish values, tradition and experience – a society that is a source of meaning, identity, culture and spiritual growth for Jews around the world, and a source of leadership and moral example for the world as a whole.


It is a society that answers the questions of what we stand for and what we contribute not because we are threatened by enemies that seek to delegitimize us, but because we owe it to ourselves and our children. This is not just a project for Israelis, it is a project for Jews worldwide – it is a responsibility that both communities share and neither can abandon.


In 1897, at the First Zionist Congress in Basel, the overwhelming majority of the Jewish people were able to unite around a profound idea that transformed Jewish history – the miraculous rebirth of a state for the Jewish people in their ancient homeland.



It is time for us to embark upon a new Jewish conversation with that same revolutionary spirit – a conversation that recognizes that Israel and world Jewry are together writing the next chapter of Jewish history. 


It is within our power and our responsibility to generate that conversation and articulate a new Zionist vision that transcends political differences and gives expression to the unity and vitality of the Jewish people, its values and its potential.


The writer is leader of the opposition and head of the Kadima party.

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

COLUMN

WASHINGTON WATCH: BASHAR ASSAD'S BAR MITZVA

BY DOUGLAS M. BLOOMFIELD  

 

The Syrian president is as ready to make peace with Israel as he is to commit to the Jewish mitzvot.

Talkbacks (1)

Syrian President Bashar Assad had two high profile visitors last week bringing startling different messages: This is a good time to make peace with Israel, and don't you dare.


First came US peace envoy George Mitchell to say Washington wants to see a comprehensive peace and promising the Israeli-Palestinian talks would not conflict with restarting the Israeli-Syrian track.


That prompted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to quickly jet to Damascus to make sure Assad had no plans to desert the Terror, Inc. camp. He declared Iranian-Syrian relations were "solid and strategic with a unified view on all issues."


He also made it clear that Iran not only opposes any peace with Israel but would "disrupt" efforts to "change the political geography of the region." Assad likes to declare his desire for peace, but that message can be lost amid his more frequent threats of war.


Some on the Israeli Left criticize Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for failing to engage Assad, but the Syrian dictator has done nothing to back up his rhetoric.


Why should he? He has the best of both worlds right now – wooed by the West to join its camp and by Iran to remain in its camp with more like-minded players like Hizbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaida. Two of his old enemies have become friends, thanks to the American removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the election of an Islamist government in Turkey, which is shifting its focus from West to East.


WASHINGTON'S GREATER interest is not in restarting the Syrian track but in protecting the Palestinian talks from outside interference. When those began last monthPresident Barack Obama sent a message to Assad warning him and his pals not to sabotage the Netanyahu-Abbas negotiations.


Obama's outreach to Assad has been fruitless. The US is returning its ambassador to Damascus and has lifted some trade and travel restrictions, but it has gotten nothing in return. Arms continue to flow to Hizbullah; Assad is reoccupying Lebanon with no resistance from Washington or Paris, continues to give sanctuary to terrorist groups, refuses international inspection of his nuclear program and staunchly stands by his Iranian ally.


Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and President Shimon Peres have all in recent days reiterated Israel's readiness for peace with Syria, although there are indications that may just be for show. The French and the Turks are competing to see who will be Syria's go-between, but peace with Israel is the last thing on Assad's agenda.

That's the assessment of Oded Zarai, an expert on Arab affairs. "Syria will play the game of peace but it won't reach peace. Assad can't afford the price Israel and the West wants, namely to give up his relationship with Iran and those other evil players," he said.


"The most important thing for Assad is survival of the regime. His standing in the area is very high because of his relations with Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas, al-Qaida and now Turkey. Without them, Syria is zero. Because of them, Israel and the West are paying attention to him.


"They treat him like he's important and tell him they want him to be the new [Anwar] Sadat, a bold peacemaker, but to him that means being killed by the extreme forces inside his own country. The moment Assad will sign peace with Israel, the Assad family will disappear and he will be assassinated," Zarai said.


There is no great motivation on either side to make peace. Assad would like to regain the territory his father lost in two wars, but he is unwilling to pay Israel's price and unable to take it by force.


"Getting out of the Golan is worthless because we get nothing in return," said analyst Dan Schueftan.


"The only thing Israel wants is to cut Syria off from Iran. Assad is getting best deal he ever had with Iran and Turkey and chances he will abandon that for Israel are nonexistent."


Assad may be as ready to make peace with Israel as he is to be bar mitzva, but that doesn't mean the US should stop pursing dialogue with his regime in an effort to ease regional tensions and to do everything possible to prevent Damascus from moving further into Teheran's orbit.


Syria may support and encourage Islamist groups outside its borders, but inside it is growing uneasy with their influence in a traditionally secular society.

 

In 1982 Assad's father massacred as many as 40,000 followers of the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama when he thought the organization was getting too strong.



The younger Assad likes to talk tough, but he cannot want his more radical – and religious – friends in Iran and Hizbullah to further inflame the volatile situation in Lebanon and draw him into a war with Israel.

Assad's greatest goal is not, as his father once said, getting back the Golan Heights and wading in the Kinneret. It is the survival of his regime in a fastchanging region. And for now that means not turning his back on his Iranian brothers.


bloomfieldcolumn@gmail.com

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

EDITORIAL

 

TERRA INCOGNITA: COEXISTENCE PARTNERS WITH OURSELVES?

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN  

 

Where are the billboards in Ramallah and Nablusshowing Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak asking the Palestinians to be Israel's partners?

 

The shocking, but comical, news that the Palestinian Authority's two most powerful politicians had withdrawn their support for a US-funded coexistence campaign encouraging average Israelis to be "partners" in peace is part of the larger failure of misguided coexistence projects.


The latest story goes something like this.


As a background to the peace talks now under way, USAID, a US government humanitarian and economic assistance organization, supported a Geneva Initiative ad campaign aimed at encouraging Israelis to support peace. The campaign created 30-second video clips of Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat asking Israelis, "Are you my partner" and purchased 280 billboards across the country. The billboards are modeled on Facebook and show a photo of leading Palestinians asking people to accept their "partner request."


On September 7 it was announced that Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad had asked not to be associated with the peace partner campaign because it was "too Israeli."


Fayyad complained that the Geneva Initiative had not gotten his consent to be used in the campaign and according to reporter Avi Issacharoff, "Fayyad also reportedly noted that it wasn't clear to him why the campaign did not also feature Israeli figures addressing the Palestinian public."


This is a question others have raised.


Where are the billboards in Ramallah and Nablus showing Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak asking the Palestinians to be Israel's partners? But the history of the partner initiative, which should never have been funded by the US government in the first place, is only part of the larger coexistence picture.


MANY COEXISTENCE groups seek to foster only a one-sided kind of coexistence. A list compiled by the website engageonline.org.uk proves the point. At the top is the Abraham Fund. The six "initiatives" displayed on its home page include the teaching of Arabic in Jewish schools, efforts to fight for equal opportunities for Arab citizens and "promoting the employment and integration of Arab women in the workforce."

 

A fourth initiative seeks to work on relations between police and the Arab community.

The fourth initiative seems to be slightly in line with coexistence, but it seems to place all the burden on the police, encouraging them to learn "Arabic culture" for instance. The program doesn't seem to include any discussion with the Arab community's youth, encouraging them to cooperate with the police rather than, for instance, throwing rocks at them.

The Negev Coexistence Forum is the most egregious example of one-sided nationalism masquerading as coexistence.

Founded in 1997, it offers tours of Beduin communities and lobbies internationally on behalf of the Beduin by sending delegations to places like the UN to get them recognized as an "indigenous" people. It also claims to work in illegal Beduin villages in the Negev, renovating kindergartens, constructing roads and working on water supply initiatives. They also provide legal aid.


How is any of this "coexistence" work? There is no work on behalf of, say, impoverished Jewish communities; all the work is only for one group and it is work designed to reward that group for illegal behavior and encourage greater nationalism among it. All that is fine, but why call it "coexistence"; why not call themselves the Negev Beduin Forum? Almost all coexistence efforts in Israel and the Palestinian territories break down on a fundamental level. There is a recognition that the types of activities coexistence groups want to do are simply not acceptable in the other community, so what ends up happening is that only Jewish Israelis are exposed to coexistence initiatives, while the other side remains blithely in the dark. In some cases the coexistence work seems to achieve the opposite, by caving to pressures by one group, the coexistence group actually becomes a mouthpiece for nationalism and irredentism, fostering radical Beduin or Israeli-Arab causes, such as Nakba education or lobbying at the UN on their behalf.


There have been several initiatives that appear to have gone in a more honest direction. A Geneva Initiative-sponsored women's circle of Shas-affiliated women and leading Palestinian women is one example, as is the program Seeds of Peace that brought together Israelis and Palestinians and sent them to summer camps abroad.



But on a fundamental level the expensive "partner" billboard program is a fiasco, and just the kind of thing that does nothing to advance peace. At the entrance to Ramallah the most visible sign is a mural of Marwan Barghouti, currently serving five life sentences for murder, and Yasser Arafat. No one will put up a sign of Israel's prime minister seeking peace next to that mural, and that fact symbolizes that, while peace may come, coexistence certainly will not.


The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

OPED

 

LION'S DEN: THE RUSHDIE RULES REACH FLORIDA

BY DANIEL PIPES  

 

The pressure on Terry Jones to cancel his Koran-burning plans further eroded freedom of speech about Islam and implicitly established its privileged status in the US.

Talkbacks (4)

Pastor Terry Jones's plan to burn copies of the Koran at his church in Gainesville, Florida, let it be emphasized, is a distasteful act that fits an ugly tradition. That said, two other points need be noted: Buying books and then burning them is an entirely legal act in the United States. Second, David Petraeus, Robert Gates, Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pressured Jones to cancel only because they feared Muslim violence against Americans if he proceeded. Indeed, despite Jones calling off the Koran burning, five Afghans and three Kashmiris died in protests against his plans.


That violence stems from Islamic law, the Shari'a, which insists that Islam, and the Koran in particular, enjoy a privileged status. Islam ferociously punishes anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, who trespasses against its sanctity. Codes in Muslim-majority states generally reflect this privilege; for example, Pakistan's blasphemy law, called 295-C, punishes derogatory remarks about Muhammad with execution.


No less important, Shari'a denigrates the sanctities of other religions, a tradition manifested in recent years by the destruction of the Buddhist Bamiyan statues and the desecration of the Jewish Tomb of Joseph and the Christian Church of the Nativity. A 2003 decree ruled the Bible suitable for use by Muslims when cleaning after defecation. Iranian authorities reportedly burned hundreds of Bibles in May. This imbalance, whereby Islam enjoys immunity and other religions are disparaged, has long prevailed in Muslim- majority countries.

 

THEN, IN 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini abruptly extended this double standard to the West when he decreed that British novelist Salman Rushdie be executed on account of the blasphemies in his book, The Satanic Verses. With this, Khomeini established the Rushdie Rules, which still remain in place. They hold that whoever opposes "Islam, the prophet and the Koran" may be put to death; that anyone connected to the blasphemer must also be executed; and that all Muslims should participate in an informal intelligence network to carry out this threat.

Self-evidently, these rules contradict a fundamental premise of Western life, freedom of speech. As summed up by the dictum, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," that freedom assures protection for the right to make mistakes, to insult, to be disagreeable and to blaspheme.


If the Rushdie Rules initially shocked the West, they since have become the new norm. When Islam is the subject, freedom of speech is but a pre-1989 memory.


Writers, artists and editors readily acknowledge that criticizing Islam can endanger their lives. British Muslims burned The Satanic Verses in January 1989.


Western leaders occasionally stand with those who insult Islam. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher resisted pressure from Teheran in 1989 and stated that "there are no grounds on which the government could consider banning" The Satanic Verses. Other governments reinforced this stalwart position; for example, the US Senate unanimously resolved "to protect the right of any person to write, publish, sell, buy and read books without fear of violence."

LIKEWISE, DANISH prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen stood strong in 2006 when disrespectful cartoons of Muhammad in a Copenhagen newspaper led to storms of protest: "This is a matter of principle," he stated. "As prime minister, I have no power whatsoever to limit the press – nor do I want such a power."


Both those incidents led to costly boycotts and violence, yet principle trumped expedience. Other Western leaders have faltered in defense of free expression.


The governments of Australia, Austria, Canada, Finland, France, Great Britain, Israel and the Netherlands have all attempted to jail or succeeded in jailing Rushdie-Rule offenders.


The Obama administration has now joined this ignominious list. Its pressure on Jones further eroded freedom of speech about Islam and implicitly established Islam's privileged status in the US, whereby Muslims may insult others but not be insulted. This moved the country toward dhimmitude, a condition whereby non-Muslims acknowledge the superiority of Islam. Finally, Obama in effect enforced Islamic law, a precedent that could lead to other forms of compulsory Shari'a compliance.



Obama should have followed Rasmussen's lead and asserted the principle of free speech. His failure to do so means Americans must recognize and resist further US governmental application of the Rushdie Rules or other aspects of Shari'a.


The writer (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. His article, "Two Decades of the Rushdie Rules" will appear in the October issue of Commentary magazine.

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

OPED

 

MEDINAT SUCCA

BY JASON GITLIN  

 

Despite its achievements, the painful history of the Jewish people and the looming Iranian threat continue to keep Israel succa-like in its sense of security.

 

In addition to providing a festive atmosphere, the scores of succot dotting Jerusalem's neighborhoods remind us how recent events defining Israel and the state of Zionism relate to the holiday and its booths.


Succot, the last of the three pilgrimage festivals, celebrates the eternal journey toward freedom as experienced in the challenges of everyday life. At Passover, we mark the exodus from Egypt. In Zionist terms, one can see this as the national awakening that characterized the visions of Theodor Herzl, Ahad Ha'am and A.D. Gordon, along with the pioneers and those who fled the ashes of Europe. As Moses led the people to receive Torah at Sinai, as commemorated during Shavuot, David Ben-Gurion led the Jewish people before the world to declare statehood.

"But what happens the morning after redemption?" asks Rabbi Irving Greenberg, in his spiritual exploration of Succot in The Jewish Way. "The real achievement of freedom does not come in one day... The liberated person is the one who learns to accept the daily challenges of existence as the expression of self-fulfillment and responsibility. Succot commemorates the maturation of the Israelites... It is relatively easy to rise to one peak moment of self-abnegation and courageous commitment. It is more taxing and more heroic to wrestle with everyday obstacles without highs or diversions."


THIS IS where Israel is today. The swamps have been drained, the deserts been made to bloom and the conventional armies smitten. Having experienced these heroic, nearly mythological events, the country is now more intensively grappling with the nature of its identity, the rights of its citizens and the locations of its borders.

The first chapter of Mishna Succa opens not with an explanation of the holiday and its meaning, but rather with instructions on how to build a succa.


One of the first things we learn is that the succa is a temporary structure, strong enough to withstand the elements, but impermanent enough to remind us of our vulnerability.


Despite its achievements, the painful history of the Jewish people and the Iranian shadow continue to keep Israel succa-like in its sense of security. Prime MinisterBinyamin Netanyahu has sought to begin the latest round of peace talks by addressing Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and a willingness to declare an end to the conflict. While Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas prefers to first define the borders. Whether or not Abbas has been studying his mishnayot, his demand holds ancient wisdom. If clearly defined borders are required for some sense of security in a temporary structure, how much the more so for a permanent one, like the state of Israel. In order to gain a national consensus, remove the settlement issue, and attain international recognition, Israel needs permanent borders.


AND WHO should be inside those borders? Judaism celebrates the value of hospitality to guests by inviting a special ushpizin each night in the succa. This is traditionally accomplished by inviting biblical personalities who represent human traits, kabbalistic sefirot and the experience of uprootedness (such as Abraham, who left his father's home).


However, this spiritual invitation is offered only after inviting human guests, such as the needy. Who in Israel today has these characteristics and warrants a place in the succa? Perhaps one night the succa should be opened to the children of foreign workers who have left their ancestral homes and thrown their lot in with the Jewish people. Another night for one of the hundreds of thousands of Russian-speaking immigrants not considered halachicly Jewish but who, nonetheless, have served or sent their children to serve in the army. Then there are those who after converting to Judaism overseas have decided to make their lives in the Jewish state only to be denied citizenship by the Interior Ministry.


And don't forget the actors of the Cameri Theater Company and the academics of Ben-Gurion University, who have been delegitimized for exercising their artistic and academic rights. And, finally, how about the Beduin left homeless after the recent demolition of the unrecognized village of Al-Arakib.


It seems highly unlikely that Im Tirtzu, Ovadia Yosef or Eli Yishai will invite these members of Israeli society to their succot.


The rest of Israeli society will need to decide if the goals of Zionism and a Jewish state can accommodate, or perhaps demand, these individuals inclusion.


Succot's universal message may provide guidance. The Talmud ties the 70 sacrifices that were offered at the Temple during the seven days of the the holiday to the 70 nations of the world, who will come to celebrate the holiday one day.



On the eighth day, Shmini Atzeret, there will be just one sacrifice, representing the relationship between the Jewish people and God. Perhaps this progression teaches that God's favor, and just sovereignty, can be achieved through an inclusive and universal orientation to our religious and political outlook.


The writer, a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, is currently studying at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

WHEN GOD HOLDS THE SEAT OF POWER

THE VERY ACT OF GRANTING POWER ENCOURAGES EXTREMISM IN EVERY MONOTHEISTIC MOVEMENT.

BY SEFI RACHLEVSKY

 

Time after time, scholars and intelligence agencies make the same mistake. Apparently it is convenient for them to go on wishing that being in government will tone down movements of extreme, and sometimes even messianic, religious monotheism and make them more pragmatic. That was the hope with the Justice and Development Party in Turkey, with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, with Hezbollah in Lebanon, with the Taliban in Afghanistan and with Iran's Islamic revolution. But taking on responsibility for the lives of millions does not moderate religious extremism. Just the opposite, in fact.

 

The reason for this is simple. At the core of monotheism, especially those parts that are affected by messianic movements, lies the desire to bring the rule of heaven to earth. Only Compromise is permitted only on account of practical considerations. When there is a gap between desire and reality and insufficient power to bridge it then there is a strictly temporary religious duty to make concessions. That is the iron wall of reality. Only when it exists can there be religious justification for the temporary surrender to the will of God, as manifested in the difficult situation.

 

When the religious apparatus gains autonomous ruling power, there are no limits to its potential for messianic radicalization. The power encourages the authorities to realize the "pure," original divine will, while also signifying God's selection of his representatives and bringing the dialectic between "theory and practice" to its conclusion.

 

This dialectic characterizes all monotheistic civilizations. In all of them, a distinction arose being between the a priori and the a posteriori. Into the world of the a priori were put the most extreme desires. The a posteriori is the concession to the dictates of reality. Regretfully, that is the main path to compromise from the perspective of the monotheist regime and not internal principles.

 

Thus, for example, halakha (Jewish religious law ) forbids a priori the burial of Jews with the members of other peoples. But in times when Jews lacked power, when necessary and a posteriori the prohibition was violated so as to prevent possible revenge by the gentiles in power, who might take offense at Jewish customs. As a result, Jews were even buried alongside non-Jewish rioters. But in contemporary Israel, where ostensibly there is no one to fear and we have a "deluxe," subsidized autonomy, it was deemed necessary, for example, to disinter an Israeli officer who died while rescuing civilians near Kibbutz Kabri, at the start of the second intifada, and to reinter him beyond the fence simple because his mother was not a purebred Orthodox Jewish woman.

 

This is the dynamic of religious law and practice that has existed throughout history in every monotheistic movement, certainly in those affected by messianism. The power of rule clearly enhances responsibility. The responsibility to carry out God's most radical commands.

 

So it is in our land, with every demonstration of religious autonomy, so it is with the rising radicalization in the settlements, and it is also the reason for the interior minister's abuse of non-Jews. The very act of granting power encourages extremism.

 

The same process frequently obtains also for strongly held nonreligious beliefs in the monotheistic world. It was true for the administration of president George W. Bush, which while inspired by religious sources created its own secularized, militaristic version, and it is true of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Although his attitude toward the world of the settlements was never genuinely emotional, the same cannot be said of his "war against the elites."

 

Whether or not this is the belated reaction of an ambitious boy who experienced what seemed to him to be the academic establishment's political abuse of "his father, the brilliant scholar," Netanyahu's dedication to the injury and delegitimization of the "leftist elites" is almost religious.

 

Every time he approaches the apex of ruling power, the actions intensify. Witness the support for the rebellion that surged around him with its calls to drive out prime minister Yitzhak Rabin "with blood and fire," when he was the aggressive head of the opposition and his deafening whisper, "The left has forgotten what it means to be Jewish," during his first term as prime minister. Now, again at the top, the same ill wind is blowing for a third time in the form of institutionalized backing for Im Tirtzu movement, of metaphorically putting opponents beyond the fence, within the theater and without, and of the racist assaults on Israel's democratic foundations through legislation and by the branches of government. No "peace process" can save a nation from such destruction and internal collapse.

 

In this case and others, only an iron wall of democracy can prevent the implementation of radical force. Otherwise, the power of rule will ignite a conflagration that will consume not only the cedars of Lebanon.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THE SETTLERS ARE HUMAN

UNTIL RECENTLY, SETTLER LEADERS CONSIDERED JOURNALISTS THE REPRESENTATIVES OF A HOSTILE MEDIA, BUT NOW THEY ARE INVITED TO VISIT.

BY YOSSI SARID

 

Sukkot is also the festival of the ushpizin, the traditional biblical guests. And because every sukkah is a sukkah of peace, and because there is no Jew who doesn't want peace - as we all know - there are many potential guests.

 

A very long line is forming this year at the invitations counter of the Yesha Council of settlements. When the council understood that neither the seven traditional ushpizin - those great leaders of ancient Israel - nor their tombs had succeeded in implanting the settlers into people's hearts, it decided to invite new shapers of public opinion, mainly journalists.

 

Until recently, settler leaders considered journalists the representatives of a hostile media. But now they have discovered among them inquisitive types with open minds. Only donkeys will not change their opinions, and opinionated journalists are the opposite of donkeys.

 

Operation "Get to know the other" has been crowned with success: Senior journalists have been invited and accepted, become acquainted with the revivers of Zionism and their enterprises - after all, seeing is believing - and left their moods and their prejudices at home.

 

These are guests who are not hasty, who are not quick to ostracize brothers only because a Jew is also a settler. As civilized people, they see personal acquaintance and a heart-to-heart talk as preferable to separation and alienation.

 

]How did they fail to think of this earlier? How did both sides waste decades in vain arguments, as if Yesha [the territories] had not always been here, as though it would disappear soon? Why did the journalists become enemies when it's so easy to buy them as friends, to brainwash them and wash away grudges?

 

The visitors return home from their safari full of good impressions. Suddenly, the cataracts have been removed: The settlers don't have horns, they look like human beings. They speak in the language of human beings, milk and honey on their tongues. They have cute children who behave like children. Their wives are as attractive as their homes. They are broad-minded.

 

So why do the visitors need politics when the view is beautiful, there is a pleasant breeze, the watermelon is cold, and the sabras - you can't get sabras like these in "Israel" any more - are fresh and tasty? Why do they need politics when they can exchange shared experiences from their military service, when there is not a single Palestinian as far as the eye can see, when once again "the city square is empty," once again there is "a land without a people"?

 

Now comes the high point of the visit: Did you know that the Land of our Fathers is full of boutique wineries, small and wonderful dairies, modern oil presses? Did you know that they have built luxurious bed-and-breakfasts that overlook both east and west, a pleasure for the eyes? Aren't all these evidence of good neighborliness and a normal life? Should we not eat a chunk of cheese and drink a bottle of wine and taste pure olive oil made with the sweat of the brow of non-Jewish workers?

 

It was worth coming, to see with our own eyes, to return satisfied and write an article. And all 25 minutes from the Tel Aviv bubble.

 

And what do they need politics for when, for a change, they can make the talkbackers happy? "A great article." "Wow, what fun to read." "Yosh [the West Bank], not what you thought. I liked it." In every journalist hides a small talkbacker who wants to grow.

 

]What's going on here, friends? What's happening to you? Where have you been and what have you been doing for the past 43 years?

 

Nabot of Jezreel also had a vineyard, and a king wanted to inherit it. He offered the owner another plot of land, or alternatively, monetary compensation. But Nabot refused to give away his ancestral land. His refusal cost him dearly: He didn't live to see the grape harvest.

 

Ahab sat under the vine, Jezebel raised organic fruits and vegetables, and both began to entertain in their beautiful vineyard. On the holiday, they built a large sukkah and gladdened the hearts of the guests with new wine and oil. Even journalists from the coastal cities got drunk there. Until that purist Elijah showed up and ruined everything.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

AN IMPORTANT JUDICIAL REFORM

THE SUPREME COURT DEALS WITH ISSUES OF LITTLE FUNDAMENTAL IMPORTANCE AND IS STRUGGLING UNDER AN EXCESSIVE WORK LOAD; REAL REFORM IS REQUIRED.

 

The Supreme Court was intended to set norms and rule on issues of fundamental judicial importance. In countries like Britain, the United States and Canada, it is customary for the supreme instance to choose the issues it deals with. But in Israel, the situation is different. The Supreme Court, apart from its role as the High Court of Justice, serves mainly as an appeals court for criminal and civil cases referred to it by the district courts.

 

Thus the Supreme Court deals with issues of little fundamental importance and is struggling under an excessive work load. More than 10,000 cases a year are refered to it, and its justices write hundreds of reasoned decisions every year, compared to the dozens issued by supreme courts in other countries.

 

This explains Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch's call for establishing an appellate court to handle appeals of district court rulings, while the Supreme Court would deal only with fundamental issues in the criminal and civil realm, as well as serving as the High Court of Justice.

 

The Orr Committee considered but rejected a proposal to establish a separate appellate court in its 1987 report. The committee believed setting up such an instance would rock the system, hurt judges who are not appointed to it and require considerable resources. Instead, the committee supported expanding the magistrate's courts' authority, so that the district courts would function mainly as appellate courts. That would mean their rulings would no longer be automatically appealable to the Supreme Court.

 

Since then, some authority has been transferred from the district to the magistrate's courts and from the Supreme Court to the district courts, but the burden on the Supreme Court has not been alleviated much. The district courts continue to function as a first instance in many cases, while the Supreme Court still deals with appeals, most of which have no significance as precedents.

 

A real reform is required, with its centerpiece being a national appellate court consisting of experienced district court judges. This would strengthen the Supreme Court and improve service to the public.

 

But Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman objects. Apparently, he assumes the Knesset would refuse to grant the Supreme Court the superior status that would follow from entrusting it solely with important matters.

 

Such an excuse, however, is unacceptable. Strengthening and streamlining the judicial system are vital public goals, and the necessary political support must be mobilized to advance and implement them.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

BE A MAN, FREEZE THE SETTLEMENTS

NETANYAHU MUST NOT WAIT; IF HE TRIES TO PLEASE EVERYONE, HE WILL SLIDE DOWN THE SLIPPERY SLOPE UNTIL HE IS KICKED OUT OF OFFICE ONCE AGAIN.

BY ALUF BENN

 

Leaders are tested by their ability to spot opportunities and leverage them for their own benefit. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now has such an opportunity. He must convene the cabinet on Sunday and inform it that the freeze on settlement construction will be extended by three months, during which he will conduct intensive negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the future border between Israel and Palestine. From the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu must set out for his residence on Balfour Street, invite Abbas there and present him with a daring, unexpected and original map of the border.

 

What would Netanyahu achieve? First of all, he would surprise everyone. They expect him to be evasive and to surrender to pressure from the settlers and the right, who are demanding that settlement expansion resume. They think he is unwilling and unable to promote a peace treaty centered around withdrawal from the West Bank, and that all his speeches and promises were designed to buy time. But if he placed the "Bibi map" on the table, he would prove his seriousness, and the discussion would be about details rather than his credibility.

 

Second, Netanyahu would take the initiative and lead the agenda, instead of being dragged behind Abbas and U.S. President Barack Obama, who are portraying him as a rejectionist. Instead of conducting a defensive war from an inferior position, as he has done until now, Netanyahu would seize the strategic hilltop. That is what Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and prime minister Menachem Begin did when they drew up a separate peace agreement and neutralized U.S. president Jimmy Carter's comprehensive peace initiative. That is what Ariel Sharon did with his disengagement from Gaza, which removed all other ideas from the agenda.

 

]Third, the Bibi map would force Abbas to decide quickly whether he is a partner for a deal or only a propagandist who wants to cling to power and embarrass Israel. A fourth Palestinian rejection of a partition offer - after the UN Partition Plan of November 29, 1947, Camp David and Annapolis - would give Netanyahu freedom of action and alleviate Israel's international isolation. But if Obama were smart enough to twist Abbas' arm and get him to say "yes," there would be a big bang in the Middle East: The moderate axis would be strengthened against the radical axis led by Iran, and the credit would go to Netanyahu.

 

Fourth, Abbas has proposed focusing on borders and security, and accepting his proposal would be very advantageous for Israel. The more generous Netanyahu is in drawing the border, the more he can receive on the security issue. Drawing the border would enable the sides to discuss the future instead of the past, promote the establishment of a Palestinian state and postpone discussion of the "narrative" demands - recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and a "right of return" for Palestinian refugees - so that they would end up neutralizing each other.

 

Fifth, Netanyahu doesn't even want to build in the settlements. He understands that it's folly, that it won't contribute a thing to Israel, that it will paint Israel as recalcitrant and extremist and weaken its position in the negotiations. His excuse for not extending the freeze - that it's an unfair precondition being posed by Abbas, while Netanyahu himself is ignoring the incitement against Israel in the PA - is weak and unconvincing. There is also incitement in Israeli government circles (Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ) and vocal opposition to the negotiations (Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai ). Expanding the settlements is meant to prevent the division of the land and to undermine the objectives that Netanyahu himself proclaims. Why should he work against himself by resuming construction? Sixth, no deal with the settlers would help Netanyahu - not construction "only in the settlement blocs," not an undeclared freeze with "exceptions," not "natural growth." They would fight him in any case, and would only paint him as a pathetic dishrag. Instead of crawling to them, he must stand up to them like a man and say: That's enough. He must challenge Yishai and Lieberman to decide whether they are in the government or against it. Seventh, drawing the border would make it clear once and for all which territories Israel will annex - and in those, it will be able to build freely - and which settlements will be frozen now and evacuated later. In that way, the oppressive cloud of the settlements would be lifted from Israeli-American relations and Netanyahu would be able to justly claim that he was more successful than his predecessors at getting the settlement blocs included in Israel and expanding the Green Line's narrow and threatening waist near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

 

Netanyahu must not wait. His political status is at an all-time high, and he must exploit the opportunity and embark on a peace initiative now. He has to take a risk and take sides. If he tries to please everyone, he will slide down the slippery slope until he is kicked out of office once again.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

A NEW MEDITERRANEAN

WE DO NOT HAVE TO DREAM ABOUT WESTERN EUROPE. WE CAN CERTAINLY MAKE DO WITH THE NEIGHBORLINESS OF GREECE AND TURKEY.

BY AVIRAMA GOLAN

 

For 30 years, Lazarus Lazarakis has been getting up at dawn, opening the blue windows of his restaurant, spreading paper cloths on the tables and pinning down the corners so the wind will not blow them into the sea. The sea, whose waves lap the chairs of the restaurant on the edge of the wharf, is the source of his income - from the fish and the tourists who come to eat.

 

Every day, between May and October, hundreds of tourists arrive by ferry or boat at the jetty on the island of Kastelorizo, one of the smallest and most beautiful of the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. The past few years have seen the number of visitors from Turkey in particular increase. The economic prosperity of the Turks and the fact that the Greeks have lowered their prices have had an effect. The tourism, however, is two-way.

 

On the other side of the bay, some 20 minutes by motor boat, lies the attractive Turkish town of Kas. The ferry carrying residents of the island and other Greek tourists leaves Kastelorizo twice a day. Kas can offer the residents of the isolated island that lacks sweetwater, fresh fruit and vegetables, a change of ambience and an opening to an intriguing and expansive continent. This year, during the spring and summer, the two communities, Greek and Turkish, held film and theater festivals, an art fair, sports competitions and exhibitions. All of these were staged together.

 

Israelis who take consolation from the troubles of others tend to view the relations between Turkey and Greece through the keyhole of their ancient national conflict, but the reality is far more complex and, in fact, holds out a message of hope. True, rivers of blood flow between the two nations, and they have had bitter and serious fights. There is plenty of salt for old wounds - the 400 years of Ottoman occupation of Greece, the terrible war that ended in humiliating defeat for the Greeks and in the exile of some one million Greeks who were citizens of Turkey to Greece, which they had never seen and where they did not feel at home for years. Border skirmishes continue to this day; because of the island of Ro, an arid rock close to Kastelorizo, a war almost broke out recently. And there's friction over illegal migrants that Turkey expels to Greek territorial waters, and the conflict in Cyprus.

 

Nevertheless, the necessities of economics and tourism and the natural feeling of closeness have succeeded in covering up the hostility in a close-knit web of local and human relations that is impressive. Most of the Dodecanese Islands (12 of them stretch from Kastelorizo in the south to Patmos in the north ) and a few of the sporadic islands in the north east of the Aegean Sea have a twin sister in the form of a Turkish seaside resort within easy reach. No political or military tension has harmed the feelings of good neighborliness that exist between the two areas on the tourist periphery of the two countries.

 

On Saturdays, for example, the ancient port of the island of Kos is inundated with Gulet boats bearing giant red flags with a white crescent moon and star - the upper middle-class from Bodrum hop over with their families to spend the weekend on the Greek island. Thousands of Greek tourists visit the Aya Sofia church in Istanbul, which has been turned into a museum, some of them descendants of the Greeks from Asia Minor who still cling to the memories of their grandparents and speak a little Turkish. A Greek coffee shop was opened this year in Izmir. The latest book by the Greek writer Petros Markaris, who was born in Turkey, about the adventures of an Athenian detective in Istanbul, is a tremendous success.

 

Life, it seems has overcome fear and the settling of accounts. Fact: Lazarakis fumes that Turkey is eyeing his island but nevertheless is happy to sit down at the table with a friend from Kas in Turkey, whom he kisses warmly on parting. Looking at them from the side, one sees the two look like relatives. And the friendship between them arouses the yearning for a similar relationship one day between us and the Palestinians.

 

We do not have to dream about Western Europe. We can certainly make do with this version of Mediterranean neighborliness, which is conceited, suspicious and nervous, but unpretentious and welcoming - and remarkably pragmatic.

 

 

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE ARE WHAT WE EAT

 

Most of the antibiotics sold in the United States — 70 percent — go to the animals we eat, especially pigs and chickens. To speed up growth and to prevent the spread of disease in crowded conditions, growers put small amounts of antibiotics into animals' daily feed. The result is nearly the same as if we were eating the antibiotics ourselves: an increase in antibiotic resistance in humans and the emergence of drug-resistant microbes.

 

In a July letter to Congress, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that there is "a clear link between antibiotic use in animals and antibiotic resistance in humans." Despite that warning, the regulatory agencies have been too slow and timid in their response.

 

After more than a year of review, the Food and Drug Administration is preparing to issue an extremely modest set of guidelines, which merely recommend that agricultural producers use antibiotics only under veterinary supervision and only in cases of illness and emergency. We far prefer the approach taken by Representative Louise Slaughter, a Democrat of New York, who submitted a bill last year that would make those recommendations mandatory, while gradually phasing out the agricultural use of medically important antibiotics.

 

Livestock producers do not agree. Nor, apparently, does Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. In a recent speech to cattlemen, he alluded to Ms. Slaughter's bill and said, "Antibiotics need to be used judiciously, and we believe they already are." Mr. Vilsack and the producers need to listen to Dr. Frieden. The F.D.A. needs to make its guidelines mandatory, and the entire Obama administration needs to get on board.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

BENEFITS AND BURDENS OF MEDICAID

 

The vital importance and the staggering cost of Medicaid have become painfully clear over the last two years. Millions of out-of-work Americans have turned to Medicaid to help pay their medical bills. State governments, which share the cost with Washington, have had to struggle to find the money; many have cut back on other vital programs to try to balance their budgets.

Consider New York State, which currently covers more than 4.5 million poor residents. Of this year's projected $52.6 billion Medicaid price tag, the federal government will pick up $31.1 billion. The state will pay $14.2 billion and local governments another $7.3 billion.

 

Federal stimulus funds that have been easing the strain will expire in June. The new health care reform law will expand Medicaid enrollments in 2014 and will increase the state's costs, even with enhanced federal support. That means New York and all states have to rein in Medicaid spending. In a new report, Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch offers some sensible recommendations.

 

Short of cutting eligibility and benefits, which Mr. Ravitch is rightly not proposing, the states have limited tools, so long as health care costs continue to soar. The next governor should consider Mr. Ravitch's ideas.

 

New York's Medicaid program is administered by several state agencies and 58 local governments. Mr. Ravitch would give the state director more control to ensure tighter, more efficient management. He also would take the power to set reimbursement formulas for hospitals, doctors and other health care providers away from the Legislature and give it to the state Medicaid director. The director would be advised by an expert panel, similar to one that has long advised the federal government on Medicare reimbursements, with modest success.

 

Mr. Ravitch also highlights the need for a comprehensive strategy to finance long-term care for the chronically ill, which accounts for almost half of New York's Medicaid spending. Whether the solution is greater reliance on managed care organizations, as he suggests, or some other coordinated care would have to be debated.

 

Mr. Ravitch has other longer-term ideas. He would establish an innovation center (analogous to a federal office created by health care reform) to develop new ways to deliver and pay for health care; increase support for preventive care; and reform medical malpractice. That is a worthy objective, but more study is needed to determine how capping awards harms patients.

 

Mr. Ravitch is also urging the state's political leaders to push for changes in Medicaid financing formulas so New York and other states with large numbers of poor get more help from Washington. That is long overdue. Mr. Ravitch is right that New York and all states need to start thinking hard about what they can do to make Medicaid more efficient, while also ensuring that millions of vulnerable people have access to care.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

POLITICALLY CHARGED CLERKS

 

As Adam Liptak recently reported in The Times, Supreme Court justices are increasingly choosing clerks who reflect and reinforce their political leanings, the more conservative justices especially but also the more liberal. Just as striking, perhaps, is that this practice isn't sparking many objections in Washington.

 

A half-century ago, the threat that politically minded clerks might exercise undue influence on justices was the focus of considerable alarm — at least by conservatives. In a 1957 essay in U.S. News & World Report, William Rehnquist (then a recent clerk, later the chief justice) wrote that "a majority of the clerks I knew" showed "extreme solicitude for the claims of Communists and other criminal defendants." He suggested that clerks' biases were skewing which cases the court decided to hear.

 

A few months later, Senator John C. Stennis, a conservative Democrat from Mississippi, quoted extensively from the Rehnquist article in a speech on the floor and exhorted Congress to consider imposing hiring standards for clerks to ensure their competence and lack of bias. He urged his colleagues to "determine whether or not Senate confirmation should be required for these positions of ever-increasing importance and influence."

 

That declaration stemmed from a charge by a single clerk. The evidence today about political polarization in the hiring of clerks and about its impact on the outcome of cases is a lot more extensive and worrisome.

 

Senate confirmation is unlikely to solve the problem. But there are other ideas worth considering.

 

One option raised by scholars would be to have the justices as a group hire all clerks into a pool; the clerks would then be assigned randomly to justices, case by case. Another approach would have a nonpartisan committee of former clerks, law professors and lawyers who appear before the court choose clerks and assign them.

 

Or the justices — notoriously resistant to change or any loss of prerogatives — could behave more judiciously and more like former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. In her 25 years on the court, she hired half of her almost 100 clerks from judges appointed by Republicans, half from judges appointed by Democrats.

 

In addition to finding promising clerks who are smart, honorable, well trained in the law and adept in researching and writing about it, each of these approaches would underscore what's at stake. Whatever a clerk's political allegiance, it must be secondary to his or her legal commitment. That is essential for the court's work and for its credibility.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

MILITARY EQUALITY GOES ASTRAY

 

The best chance this year to repeal the irrational ban on openly gay members of the military slipped away Tuesday, thanks to the buildup of acrimony and mistrust in the United States Senate.

 

Republicans, with the aid of two Arkansas Democrats, unanimously voted to filibuster the Pentagon's financing authorization bill, largely because Democrats had included in it a provision to end the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

 

Another vote to end the policy could come again in the lame-duck session in December, but now there is also a chance it will be put off until next year, when the political landscape on Capitol Hill could be even more hostile to gay and lesbian soldiers.

 

The decision also means an end, for now, to another worthy proposal that was attached to the Pentagon bill: the Dream Act, which permits military service and higher education — as well as a chance for citizenship — for young people whose parents brought them to this country as children without proper documentation.

 

Republicans said the inclusion of both items in the defense bill was a blatant political attempt by Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, to bolster his chances for re-election by invigorating the party's base. This is, in fact, an election year, but the debate over the military's discrimination policy has gone on for years, and the looming balloting does not absolve Congress of the duty to address this denial of a fundamental American right.

 

No evidence has been found that open service by gay and lesbian soldiers would harm the military; in fact, a federal judge recently found the opposite. The policy has led to critical troop shortages by forcing out more than 13,000 qualified service members over the last 16 years, according to the judge, Virginia Phillips.

 

A Pentagon study now under way may help guide the implementation of a nondiscrimination policy, but it is unlikely to change the basic facts of the question.

 

President Obama, the House and a majority of senators clearly support an end to "don't ask, don't tell," but that, of course, is insufficient in the upside-down world of today's Senate, where 40 members can block anything.

 

The two parties clashed on the number of amendments that Republicans could offer. Republicans wanted to add dozens of amendments, an obvious delaying tactic, while Democrats tried to block all but their own amendments. In an earlier time, the two sides might have reached an agreement on a limited number of amendments, but not in this Senate, and certainly not right before this election, when everyone's blood is up even more than usual.

 

If the military's unjust policy is not repealed in the lame-duck session, there is another way out. The Obama administration can choose not to appeal Judge Phillips's ruling that the policy is unconstitutional, and simply stop ejecting soldiers.

 

But that would simply enable lawmakers who want to shirk their responsibility. History will hold to account every member of Congress who refused to end this blatant injustice.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

FAIR PAY ISN'T ALWAYS EQUAL PAY

BY CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS

 

Washington

AMONG the top items left on the Senate's to-do list before the November elections is a "paycheck fairness" bill, which would make it easier for women to file class-action, punitive-damages suits against employers they accuse of sex-based pay discrimination.

 

The bill's passage is hardly certain, but it has received strong support from women's rights groups, professional organizations and even President Obama, who has called it "a common-sense bill."

 

But the bill isn't as commonsensical as it might seem. It overlooks mountains of research showing that discrimination plays little role in pay disparities between men and women, and it threatens to impose onerous requirements on employers to correct gaps over which they have little control.

 

The bill is based on the premise that the 1963 Equal Pay Act, which bans sex discrimination in the workplace, has failed; for proof, proponents point out that for every dollar men earn, women earn just 77 cents.

 

But that wage gap isn't necessarily the result of discrimination. On the contrary, there are lots of other reasons men might earn more than women, including differences in education, experience and job tenure.

 

When these factors are taken into account the gap narrows considerably — in some studies, to the point of vanishing. A recent survey found that young, childless, single urban women earn 8 percent more than their male counterparts, mostly because more of them earn college degrees.

 

Moreover, a 2009 analysis of wage-gap studies commissioned by the Labor Department evaluated more than 50 peer-reviewed papers and concluded that the aggregate wage gap "may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers."

 

In addition to differences in education and training, the review found that women are more likely than men to leave the workforce to take care of children or older parents. They also tend to value family-friendly workplace policies more than men, and will often accept lower salaries in exchange for more benefits. In fact, there were so many differences in pay-related choices that the researchers were unable to specify a residual effect due to discrimination.

 

Some of the bill's supporters admit that the pay gap is largely explained by women's choices, but they argue that those choices are skewed by sexist stereotypes and social pressures. Those are interesting and important points, worthy of continued public debate.

 

The problem is that while the debate proceeds, the bill assumes the answer: it would hold employers liable for the "lingering effects of past discrimination" — "pay disparities" that have been "spread and perpetuated through commerce." Under the bill, it's not enough for an employer to guard against intentional discrimination; it also has to police potentially discriminatory assumptions behind market-driven wage disparities that have nothing to do with sexism.

 

Universities, for example, typically pay professors in their business schools more than they pay those in the school of social work, citing market forces as the justification. But according to the gender theory that informs this bill, sexist attitudes led society to place a higher value on male-centered fields like business than on female-centered fields like social work.

 

The bill's language regarding these "lingering effects" is vague, but that's the problem: it could prove a legal nightmare for even the best-intentioned employers. The theory will be elaborated in feminist expert testimony when cases go to trial, and it's not hard to imagine a media firestorm developing from it. Faced with multimillion-dollar lawsuits and the attendant publicity, many innocent employers would choose to settle.

 

The Paycheck Fairness bill would set women against men, empower trial lawyers and activists, perpetuate falsehoods about the status of women in the workplace and create havoc in a precarious job market. It is 1970s-style gender-war feminism for a society that should be celebrating its success in substantially, if not yet completely, overcoming sex-based workplace discrimination.

 

Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor, most recently, of "The Science on Women and Science."

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

TOO MANY HAMBURGERS?

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

 

Tianjin, China

 

To visit China today as an American is to compare and to be compared. And from the very opening session of this year's World Economic Forum here in Tianjin, our Chinese hosts did not hesitate to do some comparing. China's CCTV aired a skit showing four children — one wearing the Chinese flag, another the American, another the Indian, and another the Brazilian — getting ready to run a race. Before they take off, the American child, "Anthony," boasts that he will win "because I always win," and he jumps out to a big lead. But soon Anthony doubles over with cramps. "Now is our chance to overtake him for the first time!" shouts the Chinese child. "What's wrong with Anthony?" asks another. "He is overweight and flabby," says another child. "He ate too many hamburgers."

 

That is how they see us.

 

For the U.S. visitor, the comparisons start from the moment one departs Beijing's South Station, a giant space-age building, and boards the bullet train to Tianjin. It takes just 25 minutes to make the 75-mile trip. In Tianjin, one arrives at another ultramodern train station — where, unlike New York City's Pennsylvania Station, all the escalators actually work. From there, you drive to the Tianjin Meijiang Convention Center, a building so gigantic and well appointed that if it were in Washington, D.C., it would be a tourist site. Your hosts inform you: "It was built in nine months."

 

I know, I know. With enough cheap currency, labor and capital — and authoritarianism — you can build anything in nine months. Still, it gets your attention. Some of my Chinese friends chide me for overidealizing China. I tell them: "Guilty as charged." But have no illusions. I am not praising China because I want to emulate their system. I am praising it because I am worried about my system. In deliberately spotlighting China's impressive growth engine, I am hoping to light a spark under America.

 

Studying China's ability to invest for the future doesn't make me feel we have the wrong system. It makes me feel that we are abusing ourright system. There is absolutely no reason our democracy should not be able to generate the kind of focus, legitimacy, unity and stick-to-it-iveness to do big things — democratically — that China does autocratically. We've done it before. But we're not doing it now because too many of our poll-driven, toxically partisan, cable-TV-addicted, money-corrupted political class are more interested in what keeps them in power than what would again make America powerful, more interested in defeating each other than saving the country.

 

"How can you compete with a country that is run like a company?" an Indian entrepreneur at the forum asked me of China. He then answered his own question: For democracy to be effective and deliver the policies and infrastructure our societies need requires the political center to be focused, united and energized. That means electing candidates who will do what is right for the country not just for their ideological wing or whoever comes with the biggest bag of money. For democracies to address big problems — and that's all we have these days — requires a lot of people pulling in the same direction, and that is precisely what we're lacking.

 

"We are not ready to act on our strength," said my Indian friend, "so we're waiting for them [the Chinese] to fail on their weakness."

 

Will they? The Chinese system is autocratic, rife with corruption and at odds with a knowledge economy, which requires liberty. Yet China also has regular rotations of power at the top and a strong record of promoting on merit, so the average senior official is quite competent. Listening to Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China tick off growth statistics in his speech here had the feel of a soulless corporate earnings report. Yet he has detailed plans for his people's betterment, from universities to high-speed rail, and he's delivering on them.

 

Orville Schell of the Asia Society, one of America's best China watchers, who was with me in Tianjin, put it perfectly: "Because we have recently begun to find ourselves so unable to get things done, we tend to look with a certain overidealistic yearning when it comes to China. We see what they have done and project onto them something we miss, fearfully miss, in ourselves" — that "can-do," "get-it-done," "everyone-pull-together," "whatever-it-takes" attitude that built our highways, dams and put a man on the moon.

 

"These were hallmarks of our childhood culture," said Schell. "But now we view our country turning into the opposite, even as we see China becoming animated by these same kinds of energies. I don't idealize China's system of government. I don't want to live in an authoritarian system. But I do feel compelled to look at China in an objective way and acknowledge the successes of this system." That doesn't mean advocating that we become like China. It means being alive to the challenge we are up against and even finding ways to cooperate with China. "The very retro notion that we are undisputedly still No. 1," added Schell, "is extremely dangerous."

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

TRULY MADLY PURELY JIMMY

BY MAUREEN DOWD

 

Christine O'Donnell has accomplished the impossible: She's made Jimmy Carter look like a libertine.

 

The last time the phrase "lust in your heart" swept through American politics was in 1976 when Carter admitted to Playboy that, while he had always been faithful to soul (and sole) mate Rosalynn, he had committed adultery in his heart.

 

"I dropped 15 percentage points, and I almost lost the election," Carter, about to turn 86, recalled in a chat during his book tour in Manhattan this week, adding with some wry hyperbole: "It was the most copies of Playboy ever sold."

 

O'Donnell's stance on the auto-erotic is auto-idiotic. "The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery," she once said. "So you can't masturbate without lust."

 

Carter, who liked to recite the Bible in Spanish with Rosalynn just for fun, told me that while the Old Testament story of Onan warns against wasting thy seed on the ground, he doesn't agree with O'Donnell.

 

It's not easy being Jimmy.

 

When Carter brags about how his "role as a former president is probably superior to that of other presidents," Pat Buchanan mocks him on MSNBC for making a "very gauche and very offensive" comment. When he bites old rivals, accusing Teddy Kennedy of squashing his health care plan and crediting Mikhail Gorbachev's "enlightened administration" rather than Ronald Reagan for toppling the Berlin Wall, former Carter aides shrug, calling such bluntness "pure Jimmy."

 

One of his military commanders admiringly called Carter "tough as woodpecker lips." His former strategists still cringe when they recall the flash of contemptuous blue steel the president would level at them when they would go into the Oval Office to suggest a politically expedient move. Famously and infamously candid, Carter is just as hard on himself, writing in an afterword that he could have been "somewhat less rigid" and "autocratic," that he was not "a natural politician" and that he's sorry he alienated Jews and the press.

 

In the last 30 years, Carter has accomplished many grand and important things in the world. Yet it must hurt, I say, that his name is synonymous with presidential ineptitude. Before he got elected, Barack Obama praised Reagan as a "transformative" president. Now in a slump, Obama morphs into Carter, an eat-your-peas president for an ice-cream-sundae nation.

 

Carter agrees that unfavorable comparisons are odious, before protesting: "But I don't think I failed."

 

In an era of Protean populist pols who can go from fresh face to sorceress to scofflaw in a matter of days, Jimmy Carter is who he is. In 1976, the former peanut farmer from Georgia exploded out of his shell, buoyed by the same sort of antiestablishment frenzy — or "malaise," as he puts it, recycling the word that caused him so many problems — that we see now.

 

Carter does not consider the Tea Party to be racist, noting "strangely enough, my approach to politics is very similar to what the Tea Party is doing." But he does worry about anti-intellectualism becoming "a political advantage," and about kowtowing to extremism.

 

"I think the Newt Gingrich of five years ago would be embarrassed by the Newt Gingrich of today," he says of his fellow Georgian.

 

He thinks Gingrich's wacko Kenyan rant and Carl Paladino's e-mail to friends showing an African tribal dance with the caption, "Obama Inauguration Rehearsal," are "slightly concealed racism."

 

Carter says Obama has it worse than he did because of the psycho-polarization and because for most of his presidency there was no cable news. "Fox News deliberately lies about Obama's religion and about his beliefs and about what he has in mind for the country and about his racial background," Pure Jimmy says, adding that Fox has kept up an anti-Islamic drumbeat as well. (Continuing his nonsensical insinuations against Obama, Newt said the U.S. should pass a bill that outlaws Shariah, or Islamic law.)

 

I asked about the strange evangelist feel of the Beck-Palin rally on the Mall. "I worship the Prince of Peace," Carter said, emphasizing the peace part. "But I think nowadays faith is being used by Glenn Beck and Ms. Palin and others as a political ploy."

 

Bill Clinton calls Sarah Palin "somebody to be reckoned with." But when I ask Carter if he thinks she will run for president, he responds crisply: "I don't think she should. I don't think she will."

 

He said he believes that "the strange series of mishaps" that upended his attempt to rescue the American hostages in Iran upended his presidency, but he is still disappointed that we have not been communicating with Iran.

 

"I think it's always best to have diplomatic relations with countries with whom we have differences of opinion," he says. "America, more than any other country, doesn't do that. If we have a falling out with a particular faction that's in authority, we sever all relations with them. I think to constantly threaten Iran with atomic attack is one of the incentives that might lead them to move toward a nuclear arsenal, even if they weren't otherwise inclined to do so."

 

Finally, he wants you to know, as he told Jon Stewart: He was never a teenage witch.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OUR VIEW ON CONSUMER PROTECTION: WHEN CABLE GUYS DON'T SHOW, GIVE CUSTOMERS SOME DOUGH

 

In one of the many memorable episodes ofSeinfeld, Kramer gets revenge on a cable TV repairman who never shows up at his apartment by making the cable guy wait — for days — when the company tries to disconnect premium channels it has mistakenly provided for free. In the end, the frustrated repairman promises that the company will never again make customers wait at home for hours. It will make appointments. "For God's sake, if a doctor can do it, why can't we?" the cable guy says plaintively.

 

This is fantasy, of course, but tormentedNew York City cable customers might be about to get a small measure of Seinfeld-style revenge. In response to complaints about bad repair service, the city has drafted a contract with its major cable TV providersTime Warner and Cablevision, with this provision: If a technician fails to show up inside the promised service "window," the company has to give the customer a month's service for free.

 

Not only that but, according to The New York Times, repair techs would have to call, text or e-mail (customer's choice) to say that they're on their way, and customers calling for service would have to be connected to a live human being within 30 seconds.

 

Wow. Here's a concept that deserves to go nationwide in a New York minute.

It's not perfect — how about narrowing those obnoxious, hours-long service "windows"? — but it's progress. New York City Comptroller John Liu, while carefully saying he doesn't want to "demonize" the cable companies, says the new rules grew out of deep consumer unhappiness.

 

Cable's defenders insist the industry has changed for the better now that it has to compete with satellite TV, and with phone companies such as Verizon and AT&T that offer fiber-optic TV and Internet. Perhaps. The American Consumer Satisfaction Index has registered an uptick in consumer feelings about cable companies, but they still rank at or near the bottom of a long list of industries.

 

Too many cable companies continue to routinely act as if their time is much more important than their customers' — it's not uncommon to have to wait days for a service window that can be hours long or even all day. Do the companies think their customers don't have to work for a living? Or that those who work from home can go days without the Internet service they now get from their cable providers?

 

Cable officials may resent having government treat them like out-of-control teenagers, but often the subscription TV market still is less than competitive. In Philadelphia, for example, Comcast denies its satellite competitoraccess to pro basketball, hockey and baseball.

 

Cable TV customers benefit from the fact that cable franchises are still at least partially regulated — hence New York City's ability to impose consumer-friendly rules. It would be nice if every company that gives its customers hours-long service windows — washing machine repair, appliance delivery, furnace adjustment and plumbing, to name a few — voluntarily followed suit. Sure, some repairs take longer and make precise scheduling difficult, but why should the customer always be the one who has to adjust?

 

It took the threat of huge fines to get airlines to stop holding fliers hostage for hours on the tarmac. Maybe

bigger monetary penalties could do the same for TV viewers held hostage while they wait for the cable guy.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OPPOSING VIEW ON CONSUMER PROTECTION: 'WE'VE MADE GREAT STRIDES'

BY JANA HENTHORN

 

Years ago, cable companies learned quickly how personally connected people are to their TVs when, during electrical outages, they'd get calls from customers wondering why their sets weren't working. Today, after adding 22 million digital telephone homes and 41 million broadband Internet service households to 60 million cable video customers, it's even clearer that cable is an integral part of people's lives — crucial for entertainment, communications and business. When there are disruptions for any reason, customers are frustrated, understandably.

 

We know that cable must do more to meet customer expectations. And we've taken big steps to improve the consumer experience. We're listening to customers and responding more effectively. We're making it easier for customers to conduct business, report problems and get them resolved on the first call. We're using social media to provide timely support and information. Platforms such as the Web, digital phone management, chat and interactive voice are being used to better reflect customers' lifestyles and preferences. Cable companies are conducting better customer research to identify needs and design response systems accordingly.

 

The cable industry has invested $165 billion since 1996 to upgrade its infrastructure, improving not just services but customer support as well. Cable companies are now the top-ranked local phone providers in every U.S. region, according to J.D. Power and Associates. And the Federal Communications Commission recently reported that 91% of broadband subscribers are satisfied with the speed of their Internet service.

 

Many companies are investing substantially in recruiting and training smarter and more empathetic personnel and using new technologies to improve response.

 

At The Cable Center, we've established the Customer Experience Management Committee, representing the top cable companies in North America and the largest in Europe, which meets regularly to share ideas, information and best practices.

 

We've made great strides, and will continue to, becoming more flexible and proactive in how we connect with our customers, and listening, tweaking and Tweeting to address customer care more successfully.

 

Jana Henthorn is senior vice president of programs and education for The Cable Center, the non-profit educational arm of the cable TV industry. She leads the Center's Customer Experience Management Committee.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

WITH NO JOBS, GRADS 'GAMBLE' ON EDUCATION

BY LAURA VANDERKAM

 

Kiki Okaly has a great résumé for a young engineer, with a bachelor's degree from Lehigh University and multiple internships. Unfortunately, when she graduated this spring, she faced the bleakest job market in decades. She handed in her résumé at "countless" career fairs, but despite a few interviews, "none of them resulted in job offers."

 

Her solution? She took out loans and enrolled in a masters program in structural engineering at Lehigh, wagering that "having my masters puts me on the top of the pile for all job applicants this coming year."

 

Plenty of other people are making the same bet. The Council of Graduate Schools reports that applications from American students rose 9% in 2010. When the economy slumps, "school becomes a safe haven" from un- or under-employment, says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown UniversityCenter on Education and the Workforce. You gain skills and bide your time. The question is, "Does that do you any better when you get out?"

 

Unfortunately, despite the rising cost of education, the answer is no longer as clear as it once was. As we are discovering with home loans, "anytime you borrow money to gain upward mobility, it's a gamble," notes Jodi Nelson, a filmmaker who is pursuing a Ph.D. in film/media.

 

It's often a smart gamble (in Okaly's case, the engineering market seems to be reviving), but here's something that isn't in doubt this back-to-school season: Life in the modern economy is uncertain. You can hit that uncertainty at age 18, 22, 25, 30, or later, but eventually you're going to have to spin the wheel. Whether you go to grad school or not, the smartest thing to learn might be how to enjoy the game.

 

An outdated mindset

 

The model that "most Americans walk around with in their heads — and it used to work — is that the longer you stay in school, the more money you make," Carnevale says.

 

Degrees do confer some advantages; the unemployment rate among those with bachelor's degrees or more is 5%, vs. 9.6% overall.

 

Even so, "the gains from going to college have stagnated" for certain groups and occupations, reports Richard Vedder, an economist at Ohio University. One potential explanation? College students these days spend about 14 hours per week studying, according to a new report from the American Enterprise Institute, vs. 24 hours in 1961. This decline has happened within majors, among those at highly selective schools, and even among students who don't have part-time jobs. Perhaps college is worth less (in some cases) because we're studying less. Or, perhaps the problem is that 70% of high school graduates now enroll in college, "most of them to get a piece of paper that they think will let them lead an upper-middle-class life," says Vedder. "It's becoming mathematically impossible for that to happen." We cannot all earn more than average.

 

If most of us try college, though, few Americans attempt graduate education, which suggests that a graduate degree might offer the edge that a college degree does not. More training can be helpful; Okaly says that "in three months of grad school, I've learned more than during all of undergrad," with a focus on the practical aspects of engineering projects.

 

Yale economist Lisa Kahn famously found that college-educated white men lost 6%-7% in initial earnings for every 1 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate. Even after 15 years, the gap was about 2.5%. Less reported: One of the reasons the gap narrowed is that those who graduated in recessions were more likely to go to grad school which, over time, raised their earnings.

 

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USA T