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Saturday, September 25, 2010

EDITORIAL 25.09.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month september 25, edition 000635, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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























































The driver of the goods train that rammed into a herd of elephants, killing seven of them including a calf in the Jalpaiguri forest division, should be prosecuted under the most stringent provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, since from all available accounts he was speeding on a stretch that is known to be frequented by pachyderms. The excuse being offered by the railway authorities — who are working overtime to save their skin and wash their hands of the incident — that the animals appeared suddenly on the tracks for the driver to save them is a feeble one. The accident site, dotted by tea gardens, has an unobstructed view for miles and the driver could not have missed the herd of elephants. He failed to save them because he was speeding when he ought to have slowed down. That he hit the herd not once but twice in quick succession goes to demonstrate his reckless driving. The authorities unabashedly claimed that the stretch is not among the ones identified as a vulnerable spot for the driver to slow down. Even if we admit for a moment, for argument's sake, that the location is not identified as a vulnerable spot, surely the elephants did not know that. The Railways, on the other hand, are aware that the stretch snakes through a forest where jumbos are found in plenty and move about freely across the tracks. One does not know at this moment whether the forest officials there had informed the Railways about the movement of the elephants towards the track, as they should have. If they had done so, the Railways have even more to answer for. Using the same logic, if the Forest Department has failed in informing the Railways, it, too, should be hauled up for negligence of duty. There has to be a systemic failure for such incidents to happen. The latest tragedy is, after all, not an isolated one, although it is perhaps for the first time that a single incident has taken a toll of seven elephant lives. On several occasions in the past, elephants have been victims of train hits where the railway tracks pass through their habitats and corridors, yet no measures have been taken to avoid such gruesome accidents.

This brings us to the futility of conferring titles on animals. The elephant has recently been declared the National Heritage Animal and here, we are doing little to protect them from threats to their very existence. Strong and swift action against offenders would send a firm message across to erring officials. Further, the Government should hasten the formation of the proposed National Elephant Conservation Authority, create more forest reserves and lay down clear guidelines — like it has done for tiger conservation — to ensure greater protection to pachyderms. While we may take solace in the fact that we have a 25,000 plus population of elephants, let's not forget that the numbers have steadily dwindled over the century and that the International Union for Conservation of Nature has actually put the Indian elephant on its 2009 list of endangered animals. That's good enough reason for a wake-up call. Alongside, we need to sensitise people on the need for a humane approach towards wildlife. Animals, too, have emotions and feel pain — rampaging elephants have hit back, destroying structures at the place of incident a day after tragedy struck their lot. That's good. 








There was a time when developing nations like India stood at a disadvantage owing to their growing population — a factor that had been labelled an obstacle to economic growth and a catalyst to poverty and hunger. However, the Population Reference Bureau's latest report on the World Population Data Sheet has turned the tables, exposing verities about population, productivity and proportion. The rich nations, which have so long taken pride in being able to control their population, are facing a shrinking pool of working-age individuals. On the other hand, the enhancement in remedial, dietary and several other facilities associated with well being and sanitation has seen the proportion of old age population increasing considerably in these countries. Today, this change in demographic profile will leave developed countries struggling to support their elderly populations of 65 plus, jeopardising their pension guarantees and long-term healthcare programmes. The chronically low birth rates in developed countries are "beginning to challenge the health and financial security of their elderly", says the report. As the population ages, these countries — not really in the pink of financial health and making a slow, laboured progress towards economic recovery after the unprecedented meltdown witnessed in 2009 — will face a mammoth task of meeting social security and healthcare expenditures in the coming years. The total spending of the United States, for instance, will spiral from today's level of 8.4 per cent of the gross domestic product to 12.5 per cent in 2030. 

The global population rose to 6.9 billion in 2010 and developing countries shared most of that growth. Ironically, what was once considered a curse, now stands the developing countries in good stead because they will have a low dependency ratio — that is, the ratio of the dependent population to the working-age population. Thanks to the high fertility rate of Indian women, the country today has a sizeable number of people in the age group of 0-15 years. By 2050, when Japan will have only one working-age adult for every elderly person, Germany and Italy will each have two, India will have double that number at 4.2 working age adults for every elderly couple. Further, having a young work force would mean the country's coffers will be full to the brim as people tend to save more during their prime working years. India's savings rate as a percentage of the GDP has been rising since 2003. At 33 per cent, it is almost nudging China's 40 per cent. This fact alone should lead developed nations to consider ways to promote population growth. The worldwide recession seems to have caused declines in birthrates in the US, Spain and some other countries. Perhaps, we would see rich nations coming up with attractive incentives coupled with slogans like 'We two, our four' to push up the birth rate. Who knows? 






The filthy underbelly of Delhi, best described in Kipling's words as a 'packed and pestilential city', has been exposed by the CWG mess

August 24, 1690. This day at Sankraal, I ordered Captain Brooke to come up with a vessel to Chuttanuty, where we arrived about noon, but found the place in a deplorable condition, nothing being left for our present accommodation, the rains falling day and night." The "deplorable condition" of 'Chuttanuty' (Sutanuti), laid to waste by the Nawab of Bengal three-and-a-half years ago, would have dampened the spirit of any other official, but Job Charnock, no stranger to Bengal, had set his mind on building the headquarters of East India Company at this place and remained undeterred. His persistence paid off when Calcutta was born of the union of three villages — Sutanuti, Gobindapur and Kalikata. Much later, it was to become the Empire's Second City, the centre of British affairs in India.

Yet, for all its economic, political and social importance, Calcutta was not free of blots and blemishes. Two centuries after Charnock landed in Sutanuti, the celebrated chronicler of British India and for a while Assistant Editor of this newspaper, Rudyard Kipling, visited Calcutta and was not impressed either by its magnificent buildings that symbolised the power of the Raj or the splendorous lifestyle of the 'White nabobs' who controlled trade and commerce. Rather than lavish praise on the city and its residents, Kipling caustically wrote:

Thus the midday halt of Charnock — more's the pity! —

Grew a City

As the fungus sprouts chaotic from its bed

So it Spread

Chance-directed, chance-erected, laid and built on the silt

Palace, byre, hovel — poverty and pride —

Side by side; 

And, above the packed and pestilential town, 

Death looked down. 

Kipling was accused of being cynical and allowing his antipathy towards Hindoos who, though restricted to native quarters, shared the city with their colonial masters, get the better of his judgement. In retrospect, Kipling was just being prescient in his own inimitable style. Even before the Union Jack fluttering atop Governor House was replaced by the Tricolour at Raj Bhavan and the last British official, trader and fortune-seeker-turned-boiler operator at Victoria Jute Mill left Calcutta, the city had begun to crumble. Garbage and poverty, hunger and disease, death and decay enmeshed to become the leitmotif of Calcutta, compared to which Delhi, Bombay and Madras were small towns.

As Calcutta's collapse gathered speed, Delhi — or rather New Delhi — emerged as free India's First City, pampered at the expense of every other urban centre. Over the decades, Delhi has grown, "As the fungus sprouts chaotic from its bed; So it (has) Spread; Chance-directed, chance-erected", but it has never had either the glitz and glamour of Bombay or the sedate respectability of Calcutta. It's a city of ghettos, both real and of the mind, where the elite live in what are referred to as 'posh colonies' while politicians and bureaucrats occupy sprawling bungalows in Lutyens's Delhi. Then there is another Delhi where people live in festering urban slums and 'unauthorised' colonies of various kinds. The chrome-and-glass malls, bridges and underpasses are an alluring distraction from the city's filthy underbelly. If Calcutta was India's 'pestilential city' in the 19th century, Delhi best fits Kipling's description in India of the 21st century. For evidence, look at the alarming outbreak of dengue and swine flu. Neither class nor cash serves as a protective barrier in this "packed and pestilential town, (where) Death looks down."

Despite the huge sums of money that are spent every year to make Delhi a "world class city" — a phrase popularised by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit — there really is little to show by way of public services that are in any manner better from those provided in India's other, and lesser, cities. A corrupt administration supervised by venal politicians who believe glib talk is a substitute for governance cannot be expected to perform any better. Delusions of grandeur no different from those that clouded the mind of the last Mughal Emperor whose writ did not run beyond the walls of his serraglio prompted Delhi's rulers to believe they would be able to stage the "best-ever Commonwealth Games" and stun the world.

In the event, the preparations for the Games, which have cost India's honest tax-payers upwards of `70,000 crore, have turned out to be no more than the Great Indian Rope Trick. Initial audit reports suggest limitless loot by those entrusted with the task of creating new and refurbishing existing infrastructure; a final assessment would reveal the enormous scale of the thievery that has taken place in the name of hosting the Games.

It would, however, be dishonest to blame politicians, bureaucrats and contractors alone for fetching such ignominy and abiding shame: India is being laughed at by the entire world; this nation has been reduced to an object of ridicule and pity. More than politicians and organisers, bureaucrats and contractors, it is the people of Delhi who are to blame. There is a certain callous disregard for values and ethics that sets apart the elite of Delhi from their counterparts in other cities. So long as their lives are not adversely affected, they are reluctant to take a stand on behalf of others, leave alone the nation. Scrutiny of Government's actions that involve spending taxpayers' money by citizens is an alien concept in Delhi.

Nor are the elite of Delhi easily moved by the horrific realities of life to which others are subjected in this city — poor sanitation, non-existent civic services, corrupt babus, rationed water, endless power cuts, ill-equipped hospitals and a criminally indifferent police force. It is amusing that there should be widespread anger over Games Organising Committee secretary-general Lalit Bhanot insisting that excreta-encrusted toilets and bathrooms at the CWG Village (which Ms Dikshit says is better than the one built for the Melbourne Games) are "clean to both you and us" but "may not appear so to some others". If only newspapers had published, equally prominently, the bathrooms and kitchens at All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, we would have known that accepting filth and squalor as 'normal' is a way of life, and not an exception, in India's "world class" capital city.

By this time next month the Games will be history; what will remain are the leftovers of an orgiastic feast at the taxpayers expense: Bridges that are badly designed and poorly built, roads that are no more than a layer of asphalt and stadia with leaking roofs nobody will use. Life will go on as usual. The slums will become more squalid than before. Yamuna will once again be reduced to a fetid drain. And we will still be ruled by the same lot who have let India down. As for the guilty men and women, none of them will be either shamed or shunned. 









It was around 11.30 am on September 11 that former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's Fairview House at Gupkar awoke to a telephone call of hightened interest and excitement. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi wanted to convey Eid greetings to him and his daughter Mahbooba. It was for the first time since the Muftis pulled out of their alliance with the Congress in Jammu & Kashmir in 2008 which resultantly brought down Ghulam Nabi Azad-led government that the Congress supremo was showing such 'courtsey'. In Kashmir's uncertain political culture, social and considerate actions like Eid greetings (by politicians) are read and interpreted with suspicion. Many people read a political statement in Sonia's call to Muftis.

It was a moment of worry for Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. The reason was cogent. Such communications between New Delhi and Srinagar have culminated in inauspicious developments. Omar may have remembered hearing of the Eid season of 1953, when his late grandfather Shaikh Mohammad was dislodged by Delhi. In his own life, he had seen his father, Farooq, being brought down around Eid back in 1984. 

This time around, too, the usual joy and happiness of Eid was missing. Srinagar was virtually on flames. Mirwaiz Omar Farooq had led a protest demonstration of several thousand people from Eidgah to Lal Chowk, which turned violent and put some government buildings on fire. Omar left everything behind and airdashed to Delhi. He had little time to douse the flames in Lal Chowk. He himself was under fire from all sides. The BJP had demanded his removal. The same evening, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had called the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) to take stock of the Kashmir situation. Omar took recourse to populism in Delhi and demanded the withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act as a confidence building measure to bring calm on the streets of Srinagar. But he did not find many takers. He finally called his father, who was in South Africa to watch a T20 cricket championship. To Omar's luck the CCS could not meet that evening. It was postponed till September 13. 

It was not the worsening situation in Kashmir that was a matter of concern for Omar Abdullah, but the growing proximity between the Muftis and the Congress president. It was against this backdrop that the J&K chief minister issued a threat, albeit through one of his confidants — Choudhary Ramzan — that he would resign if AFSPA was not withdrawn. The CCS on September 13 ignored Omar Abdullah's demand (withdrawal of AFSPA) and came out with a strong indictment of the governance deficit in Srinagar. Omar Abdullah's worries grew further when Sonia Gandhi personally called Mahbooba Mufti to attend the September 15 all-parties' meeting. As if that was not enough, Omar's real bugbear, the Mufti, was also called to Delhi, where he had meetings with Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.

That indicated that New Delhi is considering a change of guard in J&K. A day after Rahul Gandhi, Congress's prime minister-in-waiting, said that Omar Abdullah should be given support and time, here came elderly advice from his mother Sonia Gandhi "Rahul's assertion was not a binding on the government if it wanted some creative and quick action to bring peace in Kashmir". 

But what marred New Delhi's creative and quick action was lack of options. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the only option available was reluctant to take over in the prevailing conditions. He is reported to have suggested Governor's rule (with placing state Assembly in suspended animation) for 2-3 months assisted by some CBMs to cool down the anger in streets. Mufti also wanted assurances in black and white in the form of a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) from the Congress. 

Besides one-to-one meetings with the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi, Mufti had meetings with left parties' leaders too. For his cordial relations with the Opposition BJP as well, Mufti could have been a unanimous choice of the all-parties' delegation (APD), but for his pre-condition that barely suits the Congress in the present situation. 

Two other major reasons also worked in favour of Omar Abdullah. One: the Congress does not want to take direct blame for what is happening in J&K. In all, 109 persons have been killed and 2,000 others wounded in police action since June 11 this year. As the situation rolls on, there are no signs of immediate peace in Kashmir's streets. And for the Congress think-tank, there could be no better choice than Omar Abdullah to escape the blame of failures in Kashmir. 

Rahul Gandhi is another major factor. The Congress is in the process of 'Rahulising' the party, politics and government at the centre. The Congress think-tank fears that Omar Abdullah's removal might cast a shadow on Rahul Gandhi's future. Omar was marketed by Congress strategists as the idea of young leadership to the younger generation. India would have 400 million people in the age group 0f 18-40 by the next general elections in 2014. Rahul Gandhi, who like Omar Abdullah, has touched 40 just recently is projected as leader of this age group.

Seeing his position as "invincible", Omar is back to the basics. The gleam of hope left behind by the APD visit on September 20 and 21 has eclipsed under the cloud of fear let loose by the Jammu & Kashmir government in its attempt to outwit the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference. 

The 39-member delegation met almost 1,000 people from a cross section of society in the state and heard people until the midnight. The highlight of the visit, however, remained the meeting of some delegation members with the separatist leaders. The members met hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani twice on September 20 and 21, and also visited moderates — All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front's (JKLF) Yasin Malik in Srinagar and jailed president of the Jammu Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party Shabir Shah in Jammu. The visit was being touted as a big "success". 

Omar is acting on a plan that, in all likelihood, would further the gap between Srinagar and New Delhi. The state administration is imposing curfew on days when separatists permit normalcy. Syed Ali Geelani, leader of the hardline faction of Hurriyat Conference, had issued a 'calendar' for the people, marking days on which they should work and do business and days on which people should strike. September 22 was supposed to be a 'normal day' as per the 'calendar'. But the state government imposed severe curfew restrictions and relaxed it only for a few hours later in the day. Geelani, again, asked people to resume normal work on September 23 and 24, the authorities again clamped curfew on peoples' movement.


The writer is editor, Honour Srinagar








September 13 was not only the bloodiest day in the ongoing turmoil in Jammu & Kashmir, it also triggered a plethora of political activity in the region, both internally and internationally. On this day, 18 persons were killed by security forces in the Valley and Mendhar area of Jammu, the apparent provocation being their acts of protest against the alleged desecration of the Quran in the United States of America. 

The disproportionate police action coincided with the meeting of the union Cabinet Committee on Security, which deplored "governance deficit" in the embattled state and urged for a national consensus to explore solutions to the explosive situation. The idea of holding the September 15 all-party meeting had its seminal moment at that assemblage. It eventually resulted in the 39-member Parliamentary delegation headed by Home Minister P Chidambaram heading for Srinagar this week, an unprecedented public relations exercise which is the subject of this week's Saturday Special. 

By the time the all-party delegation touched curfew-bound Srinagar on September 20, the turmoil had clocked its 100th day, with an average of one civilian falling each day to police or paramilitary bullets. The Parliamentarians visited the hospitals in the city where more than 1,500 wounded civilians have been attended to, mostly injured with firearms, bamboo-sticks, non-lethal pellets or teargas shells.

On September 23, most members of the delegation met with the Home Minister at South Block to offer feedbacks based on which the Home Minister began preparing his report on Jammu & Kashmir to submit to the Government, an exercise likely to coincide with External Affairs Minister SM Krishna's speech at the United Nations. Undoubtedly the stretching of the turmoil and continuation of avoidable civilian killings has landed New Delhi in deep embarrassment. For example, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, despite retracting his earlier statement on Kashmir, this week re-expressed concern over the prevailing situation. Similarly, the Organisation of Islamic Conference called for resolution of Kashmir issue and expressed "disappointment over the use of force and violence against the people". Certainly, Pakistan played an important role in this. Both Houses of the Pakistani parliament passed resolutions reiterating support for the Kashmiri "freedom struggle" and vowed to continue "political, moral and diplomatic support". The resolutions were immediately turned down by India who questioned the locus of Pakistan, which itself is in "illegal occupation" of some parts of the former princely state.

The all-party delegation's visit to Kashmir ahead of the annual UN General Assembly was a communication to the world community that Kashmir is an integral part of India and New Delhi is seriously pursuing to address the grievances of the people whether political or economic. This explains why the sub-groups of the delegation took the initiative to meet separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Shabbir Shah and Yasin Malik, despite their unwillingness to interact with the delegation members. No doubt the separatists were content to put across their point of view, but Pakistan has taken it with a pinch of salt. Pakistan's foreign office statement is quite reflective of this observation. It said: "Unless India takes a fresh look at its Kashmir policy, does some introspection, stops treating Jammu & Kashmir as its integral part and stops harping on seeking a solution within the Indian Constitution, we do not believe that we can really have any meaningful or result-oriented discussions with India on this (issue)". The Indian reaction to this statement was equally hard-hitting. SM Krishna showcased the all-party delegation's visit as proof of India's consciousness of her responsibilities. "Institutional mechanism and individual mechanism will be put in place so that the genuine grievances of Kashmir and the people of Kashmir will be addressed squarely and directly," he said.

When CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yachuri emerged from South Block after briefing the Home Minister, he boasted over the change in the ground situation in Kashmir following the all-party delegation (APD) visit. There has been no major incident of violence, he said. What he did not mention was the continuation of curfew since September 12, which was relaxed intermittently for 12 hours in as many days. The entire population of the Valley is subjected to unprecedented hardship. Hardliner Geelani, who issues protest calendars, had asked the people to resume routine work on September 23 and 24 but in order to show that Geelani does not run a parallel Government in Kashmir, the authorities persisted with the curfew. The net result of this friction is more disenchantment. Worse, the publication of local newspapers stopped during this period. The authorities imposed a virtual ban on the Press without formally announcing it. 

The short-term measures suggested by the APD include the release of political prisoners and youngsters accused of stone-pelting, some economic packages, area-wise withdrawal of the Armed Force (Special Powers) Act, or even the change in guard for which PDP patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed is being actively consulted. But these measures are unlikely to change the ground situation unless long-term measures to address the political aspect of the problem are not initiated. The disappointing track record of the UPA Government on this count brings in pessimism. The Manmohan Singh Government unilaterally terminated the dialogue process with the sections of Kashmiri separatists in 2007, which they had plunged into at the cost of their security and credibility. This Government moved lackadaisically with the fifth working group assigned to find out ways and means to develop centre-state relations. Justice (retd) Saghir Ahmad's report has not been pursued ever since it was submitted to the Government.

There is complete mismatch between the narratives in Kashmir and New Delhi on the prevailing situation. Common Kashmiris are waiting as to how South Block, which has acknowledged the uniqueness and history of the Kashmir problem, would address the political aspect of the issue. For the moment fingers are crossed. 

The writer is The Pioneer's Srinagar correspondent







The national Opposition showed considerable grace and responsibility in the Kashmir imbroglio even though it was well known that the all-party-delegation idea was nothing but a face-saving gamble employed by Omar and Sonia Gandhi

An impartial observer would be hard pressed to put his finger on the exact cause of discomfort to the average Kashmiri on the plane of living conditions or general prosperity. So it could be inferred that their pain is psychological, or even psychosomatic and perhaps comes out of a sense of dismemberment, or cultural catharsis or perhaps even a persecution complex brought about by accession to a secular milieu. But the astute chronicler may see through the plasma of borrowed angst and imagined pain and throw open the argument of azadi with the caper, after azadi what? And that's where it all unravels, because nobody wants to talk about that. After azadi, what: an independent Kashmir? Really? Not with Pakistan round the corner; and certainly not with China breathing down from the heights of Baltistan and Gilgit. 

The articulation of the deafening argument against any notions of azadi should have been done in normal course by the State — both at the centre and regionally. But that is where successive regimes — trading outposts really, considering the constant negotiations on packages —reneged and created for us the conundrum we face as a nation, weaving into the warp and weft of Kashmiriyat enough disincentives for any real solution-seeking. It is in that context that I charge moderates with the bigger crime — of wanting to leave wounds always half open, for the oozing manna that comes with the status quo. The clamour for packages like an alley travel agent selling you a trip, the chimera of AFSPA as a stumbling block, the demands of reduction of security or freeing the guilty are all proposals merely designed to frustrate any chance of progress. The recent all-party delegation was another such face-saver sought by the ruling National Conference and its alliance partner, the Congress. The opposition showed grace — and concern — and complied. Their views have since been recorded. 

There has been some unwarranted controversy about the issue of meeting separatists and the BJP leaders rightly opposed it, for if the all-party delegation was merely taken to Kashmir to validate the separatist viewpoint, the purpose stood defeated. It is a matter of regret that some leaders chose to ride a little longer for the sake of their constituencies back home and forgot to dismount after the brief was met. There was little reason to commiserate with the likes of Geelani who can finally be called the Pied Piper of Kashmir for leading so many Kashmiri youths to their pointless deaths. If the cheerleaders of azadi would see clearly, their enemy lies truly within, for nothing will come of this, like nothing has come of it earlier.

But I do not state that out of a sense of nationalism only — facts buttress my prophecy. The reason there will be no azadi for the Kashmiris is because they do not hold it dear in the first instance. That a people who were given sop after sop, shown leniency at every stage, got a 'package' each time the Muezzin called and drafted a separate constitution for themselves could not find anything of value in that freedom, are asking for more! It not only belittles the concept of freedom, it exhibits the patently disingenuous Kashmiri leadership of decades and a failure of any intellectual class to build up resistance to this opiate desire.

The BJP has put forth by far the most logical, comprehensive and humane presentation of the visit so far. The party has called for a careful and discriminate separation of locals with a grouse from locals with an agenda; from people who want to go about their lives normally from those who are willing to become ammunition in someone else's gun. The party has also asked for serious introspection within the ruling combine and assess if the Nehruvian line has got the country anywhere near a solution and accept that decades of crony Congress politics in the state has been a sorry tale of trust, mistrust and bust.

Members of the BJP, who were part of the delegation, have shared their views publicly and proposed pragmatic and doable steps to first defuse the crisis, then segregate the issue into its dimensional portions and prepare responses and finally, ideate and seek —not one big-bang solution to the issue — but a host of concomitant solutions to the various aspects of the issue. 

In effect, the party has pressed for a holistic understanding of the problem and a sectoral approach to problem solving. This is a first, and it would mark a creative shift of tactics and strategy on behalf of the state if the BJP's suggestions are taken up sincerely, because this approach holds the promise of not only projecting the issue of Kashmir in its proportionally smaller dimensions than the one big problem that the world has got used to seeing, but it also proffers a proactive and intuitive roadmap to solution finding for the future. This approach also instinctively echoes the wishes of the majority in the Valley while addressing any specific or even general complaints of citizen or groups of citizens as they should be, in normal course in a normal democracy. 

-- Spokesperson, BJP Delhi







THE Supreme Court's decision to stay the adjudication of the title suit in the Babri Masjid case by the Allahabad High Court is disappointing for more reasons than one. The Babri Masjid dispute has been festering for decades and had led to large- scale violence and communal unrest in the early 90s. We are at the stage where both sides want a closure— evident from the response to SC's stand on Thursday — almost irrespective of the manner in which the judiciary interprets the issue.


To then put a stay on the HC verdict, hoping that an out- of- court settlement will be reached, is nothing but wishful thinking even if Justice H. L. Gokhale, who has sought it, may have been driven by a noble impulse. As his companion judge on the bench, Justice R. V. Raveendran noted, it is too much to expect that reconciliation will be reached now when this has not happened all these years.


The judiciary is setting itself on a wrong course if it is going to baulk at delivering verdicts because it fears a public backlash. As it is, adequate arrangements had been made in the areas where trouble was anticipated.


The SC bench seems to have forgotten that the high court verdict would have been only the semifinal in the case, with the losing party certain to approach the apex court.


It is imperative that the SC considers the two points of view and comes up with a definite finding when it next hears the matter on September 28. More so, since one of the judges on the HC bench will soon retire, which means things going back to square one. If the bullet has to be bitten, we may as well do it now and get the matter out of the way.







THE all- party delegation's visit to Kashmir earlier this week has given the Centre a small window of opportunity. The relative calm in the valley is manifest from the appearance of local newspapers after a gap of nearly two weeks.


It is of paramount importance that the Centre and state government build upon this by initiating certain concrete confidence building measures.


The Centre's decision to release those accused of stone- pelting is a step in the right direction. But as these young stone- pelters are mere foot- soldiers in a larger political confrontation, their release has to be backed by certain policy measures. The government must also order an inquiry into the excesses committed by the security forces without any further delay as proof of its sincerity.


Though the army hasn't been involved in the present conflict, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is an emotive issue which cannot be ignored. It was enacted way back in 1958 and many of its clauses need to be reworked and its tone and tenor altered. It should also be made subject to judicial review especially given the army's reluctance to bring its guilty personnel to justice.


These measures would prepare the ground for political dialogue with all the major stakeholders in the valley.








THE Delhi University administration is well within its rights to deduct the salary and allowances of teachers for the days they have abstained from teaching to participate in strikes and demonstrations. The teachers cannot be allowed to hold the university to ransom by using the suspension of classes as a means of protest.


Nearly 20 working days have been lost this session on account of strikes. It is the students who have suffered the most in the standoff between the vice- chancellor and the Delhi University Teachers' Association over the introduction of the semester system.


Academic reforms are always desirable in a university but they can be counter- productive if implemented in a ham- handed manner.


The vice- chancellor should have made greater efforts to evolve a consensus among the teachers on the semester system. The new system obviously increases the quantum of teaching and therefore should have been backed by altering the teaching schedule and the appointment of more teachers.


Salary deductions might be a necessary punitive measure, but the effective implementation of the semester system will need more thorough policy- level changes.









IN AN interview with the Washington Post in March 2009, counter- insurgency expert David Kilcullen declared that " We are now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state." In June that same year, Bruce Riedel, wrote an article suggestively titled " Armageddon in Islamabad" in The National Interest pointing to the emerging possibility of a jihadist, nuclear armed Pakistan.


Fortunately today Pakistan is no nearer to collapse, nor further from it. But, the situation has, if anything, become more complicated. A cataclysmic flood has broken even the tenuous link that the people have had with their wayward government.


This is alarming because some of the worst affected areas are in southern Punjab which has been on a watch- list for a while because of the growth of Punjabi Islamist militias there. This is but a newer layer of volatility upon the older problems of Pakistan— the expansion of the Taliban in the Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa province, the vicious sectarian strife and its non- functioning government.




When it comes to the health of states, nothing is foreordained, especially something as rare as state failure. There are two ways in which a state can fail— a catastrophic collapse arising from defeat in a war, an internal coup d'etat or mutiny in the army, or, in an even more far- fetched scenario, a decapitating nuclear strike. Actually the other way is the more likely— a slow collapse of institutions, the loss of control over territory due to civil war or external aggression, a loss of legitimate authority because of the failure of governance institutions, financial atrophy, along with collapse of the business climate, accompanied by an inability to provide public services.


Many of these criteria could well fit parts of India, as much as Pakistan. But there are two important differences— first, India's size which allows failure to be localised, and second, a flourishing economy.


Since 2008, Pakistan has gone steadily downhill and there are few positive prognoses for its recovery.


Alarmingly, the Pakistani establishment's reaction seems to confirm the failure of state institutions. On Thursday, the government announced that they were revising the federal budget — the defence expenditure was being hiked by Rs 110 billion and that for development reduced by Rs 73 billion. According to Dawn , the money is being allegedly appropriated for a new operation in the tribal area. This doesn't wash because the US reimburses Pakistan the money for its tribal operations, and don't the worst floods in the century have the absolute priority? Another pointer came earlier this week, when the Public Accounts Committee of the Pakistan National Assembly were told that the government had made a one- time release of Rs 5.55 billion to the ISI for unspecified reasons in the 2007- 8 period.


Spending money to expand its geo- political footprint— clearly the ISI and Army got the money for their India and Afghanistan operations— is folly given the domestic political and economic realities.


Pakistan's economic growth is around 2 per cent, its inflation at 13.5 per cent.


Some years ago, Pakistan used to argue that it could not open its economy for fear that Indian industry would swamp it.


Today, it has been swamped by the Chinese.


Most of its textile mills have been mothballed and there is little other industry functioning. Significantly, the years of détente with India, 2000- 2007, were years of high economic growth.


Senior Indian officials argue that in many ways, they are already dealing with Pakistan as a failed state. The Indian experience is that it is no longer possible to deal with a Government of Pakistan— you need to deal with different institutions of Pakistan at their own level— the military, the prime minister, the presidency, the judiciary, civil society, various provincial governments and parties and so on. This itself is not a new development because in the case of Pakistan, successor governments do not automatically uphold the decisions of the predecessors, especially if the latter happen to be military dictatorships.




What can you do to deal with a failing state? The most important thing is to remain engaged. But that, as experience shows, is easier said than done. Pakistan has steadfastly refused to allow India most favoured nation status for trade, neither will it permit Indian goods to transit to Afghanistan. To top it all, it also refused Indian aid in the wake of the floods, accepting it finally with bad grace in the form of a cheque in New York, instead of readily available and much needed materials across the common border in Punjab or Sindh.


The Ministry of External Affairs is trying its best to resume the stalled dialogue with Pakistan, but to little avail. It would seem now that far from feeling the continuing Indian pressure over its indifference, if not culpability on the 2008 Mumbai attack, Pakistan is the one posing as the injured party and is stalling the resumption of the dialogue and playing hard- toget on the proposed meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York.


On Thursday, its official spokesman declared that no decision had been taken on the New York meeting as yet. He then excoriated India over Kashmir, and declared that Qureshi's return visit to India would depend on whether or not India was agreeable to a " comprehensive and sustained dialogue with Pakistan." The hardened Pakistani position is based on its belief that India is on the back foot because of the developments in Kashmir and the embarrassment over the Commonwealth Games arrangements.


But Pakistan cannot see that Indian selfcorrection mechanisms are already at work. The Indian political class and media have compelled the government to introspect on its tactics in Kashmir. But that is not the case in relation to terrorism and Pakistan. The long denial of the Pakistani establishment continues, even as the Islamist threat expands.




In trying to arrest the free fall that Pakistan seems to have entered New Delhi has shown that its heart is in the right place.


The problem, however, is the head. What seems to be evident from the knee- jerk responses that we are seeing in South Block is that no one is really thinking through the Pakistan policy.


The issue is not the composite dialogue, or Kashmir and terrorism. The situation has qualitatively changed. We are dealing with a failing/ failed state and need to throw away the old text book. India needs to focus on trying to engage the Pakistan Army in a dialogue whose aim will be to convince them that the last thing we seek is a broken or breaking Pakistan.


This is not an easy task, not only because the Pakistan Army is not particularly eager to enter into a dialogue. The problem is that the Indian political class which disdains its own army when it comes to policy- making, cannot quite figure out how to deal with the army of another country, one that plays so much of a role in that country's policies.


Another issue is China's nuclear assistance to Islamabad. It makes little difference to India strategically, yet we insist on making an issue of it instead of trying to deal with it head on and negotiate a solution to a dangerous problem.


As we noted earlier, when it comes to states, nothing is pre- determined. There are things that can be done with a failing Pakistan that can prevent state collapse; on the other hand, it should be quite clear that should state failure occur, we won't have too many options to deal with it.


manoj. joshi@ mailtoday. in







THERE is no respite for tigers, be it forests or zoos, especially in Karnataka.


The Bannerghatta Biological Park ( BBP), located on the outskirts of Bangalore, has virtually turned into a death trap for the endangered cats. In the last two weeks, five tigers, including a cub, succumbed to a bacterial infection. Six more are critically ill.


Not only tigers, the life- threatening bacteria claimed the lives of two lions and one sloth bear. Shockingly, the BBP authorities are yet to ascertain the source of the bacterial infection. While fingers are being pointed towards the meat suppliers, local contamination at the BBP cannot be ruled out.


The Bannerghatta Biological Park, spread over 105 square kilometres, is home to a zoo, butterfly park and tiger and lion safari. The BBP has been in the news always for the wrong reasons.


More than 10 years ago, a tiger snatched a child from a safari van window and mauled it.


Elephant poaching is common inside the park. On several occasions, elephants have strayed into Bangalore localities.


Conservationists dub the BBP as a " dying reserve" considering the urban pressure it is facing from all sides. " It has become an isolated patch of forest. Elephants used to migrate to the eastern and western ghats from BBP. But all the elephant corridors have been cut off. It is only a matter of time before BBP becomes just another park," said conservationist AM Anand.


But the death of the tigers and other big cats in the zoo and safari has shocked the conservationist fraternity. The BBP authorities are yet to find out the cause of the infection though theories of rotten chicken meat being supplied are doing the rounds.


Karnataka's Principal Chief Conservator of Forests BK Singh, however, maintained that the source of the bacterial infection could be anything: " It could be food- borne or water- borne.


The infection can come through any source." Following the public outrage, the Forest Department has started screening the meat being supplied to the remaining animals in the zoo. The Institute of Animal Health and Veterinary Biologicals ( IAHVB) has deputed two laboratory experts at the BBP and six veterinary doctors from the UAS Veterinary College are monitoring the situation round the clock.


" We are analysing the meat supplied to the animals. We see an improvement in the condition of the animals at the zoo," IAHVB Director Dr Renuka Prasad, claimed.


Seven tigers, including three cubs, which have shown symptoms of bacterial infection, have been isolated for observation.


The rapid developments at BBP have forced the Central Zoo Authority ( CZA) to examine the issue.


The CZA has constituted an expert team that will visit BBP on September 25. The team comprising three experts — Dr MN Achardeo from Nandankannan National Park, Orissa, Dr RG Jani, head, Department of Wildlife, Anand Veterinary College, Gujarat and Dr AB Shrivastava from Jabalpur University Veterinary College — will present its report to the CZA on or before September 27.


There are two main issues surrounding the death of the tigers.


One is the lack of experts in wildlife medicine at the BBP. " The BBP has hired the services of regular veterinary doctors who do not have exposure to wildlife medicine. It is high time the BBP hires experts in wildlife medicine to ensure that the animals are regularly monitored," Anand pointed out.


Another issue is that the BBP has become a dumping ground for all kinds of wild animals, including species that are not endemic to the country. " The BBP authorities have exchanged Indian wildlife for Siberian tigers. The Royal Bengal tiger and Siberian tiger differ genetically. Besides, Siberian tigers cannot survive for long in the harsh Indian environment.


There is no point in bringing exotic animals to our country," Anand contended.




THE SCION of the Mysore royal family, Srikanta Datta Narasimharaja Wadiyar, has come up with an innovative plan to attract tourists to the Bangalore Palace — an audio- guided tour of the heritage site.


Wadiyar has partnered with a renowned tour operator for this facility.


Visitors will be provided with MP3 players. All they have to do is plug in the ear phones and select a language of their choice for the audio guide. The hour- long audio guide is available in Kannada, English, Hindi, French, Spanish, German and Italian.


The audio tour focuses on the history, art and architecture of the palace, which is a replica of the Windsor Castle in England.


The audio guide describes 21 different spots of the palace. " We get millions of visitors every year. With the launch of these audio tour guides, site interpretation service will help them understand and appreciate the collections and history better. This will also be of importance to bridge the language barrier between the multilingual visitor and us," said Wadiyar.


Of course, the service is available for a fee — ` 175 for Indians and ` 350 for foreign tourists. According to Wadiyar, the service has generated tremendous response among the visitors.


The scion now intends to introduce a similar service at some of the other heritage sites belonging to the Royal family of Mysore.









Smells like mean spirit. Phoren nitpickers are hampering our authorities' valiant bid to stage the Commonwealth Games without glitch or hitch. Okay, okay, there may be a few "minor glitches and hitches", as Delhi's CM concedes. Such as a wall collapse or two or "water dripping somewhere". But, rest assured, the "whole thing" our grand sporting prom night to rival China's Olympic day out isn't caving in. If disasters are striking, it's only khel khel mein. 

Urban development minister Jaipal Reddy too recently dismissed mishaps in the Games run-up. With good reason. Athletes can surely wrestle, volley and run races even while artfully dodging slippery puddles, accidental missiles and flying debris. It's just a test of their reflexes. Why train in highly competitive sport if you can't face challenges thrown at you, such as falling footbridges and breakaway false ceilings? 

The Organising Committee's Lalit Bhanot, stout defender of Indian standards of (non) hygiene, will agree. Ask him about the Games Village's yucky lodgings and icky loos, and he says: muck ado about nothing. Our organisers may keep up with the global Joneses by clearing city streets of roadside vending and cud-chewing cattle. But, mind it, the only 'standard' they swear by is desi double standards. So, no "cleanliness", please, we're Indians. Arre bhai, why object to a 3D dirt, dust, dog poo show in the athletes' accommodations? Isn't sport all about getting your knees dirty? Grappling with filth off-field can serve as matchless practice. And, as our sports minister has said, the Games are a big, fat Indian wedding: the groom arrives, chaos subsides. With Village fumigation rites now being performed, official germ-busters have become jharu ka ghulam. See? 

Pardesi perfectionists could see how 'clean' the Village is by comparing it to the Jungle out there. Consider the dirty tricks department of political sport in India. Some netas are crafty poll-vaulters, instigating society's encashable poll-arisation to reach lofty gaddis. Others play pre-poll netball in one team, but turn gymnasts if the enemy camp wins. Some are skilled riders. Out of power, they trade horses. In power, they ride high horses. Saddled up, they shoot horses. In power play, expediency, arrogance and treachery make for plain horse sense. Among other games politicos play, there's numbers-wrestling, tables-turning tennis, squash-'em-all and fish-in-deep-water aquatics. As for marathon men, they run into the ICU, panic attacked, when scandals break. Politics, like sport, is stressful. It needs a good pair of legs. 

Why, sometimes you don't even need to run. Take this talk about Games-related corruption. No organiser has drowned in the pool Big B once called it cesspool despite diving into the deep end of the public till. No sharp-shooter has come into the rifle range of our ruling big shots. Rather, there's consensus on making the high-level firing squad sit out till after the event, by which time any anti-graft match can be 'fixed'. 

Politics is about synchronised swimming (or sinking). It always smells like team spirit.








News items and articles have recently appeared questioning the reliability of electronic voting machines. The Election Commission has consistently denied their tamperability but anti-EVM campaigners have claimed otherwise. This is an attempt to put things in perspective. 

An EVM operates on software not based on any commercial operating system prepared independently by the BEL and ECIL and fused into a chip. The campaigners have accepted that this fusing 'prevents the software from being electronically reprogrammed', which is at the heart of the EC's claim of non-tamperability. A group of three researchers, two foreigners and an Indian, however showed, by replacing two of its parts, that an EVM with added parts can become manipulable. Thus, physical capture of a machine and addition or alteration of components are essential for 'tamperability'. Since it took five days to prepare a tampering-enabled part, their refrain now is that only 'retail fraud' is possible. 

But this ignores the built-in safeguards in EVMs. The machines each carry a unique number and those of 2006 vintage onwards display the numbers on starting. Older machines have numbers inscribed on them. During pre-poll preparations, the functional reliability and integrity of the machines are checked. Under the EC's new instructions, testing would be done by polling, on at least 10 per cent of randomly selected machines, as many votes as representatives of political parties desire. That should set at rest doubts about the machines having been 'fixed'. 

The two-stage randomisation of EVMs when being allotted, first, to assembly constituencies and, second, to polling stations insures against any preferential allotment of the machines to a particular polling station or constituency. 

Anti-EVM campaigners deem the strength of the EVM as a drawback, as the fused software cannot be examined in its original position. Further, it is said that a mock poll may not reveal the presence of 'trojan' or malicious software. Notwithstanding the fact that the manufacturers may be checking the integrity of the software prior to fusing in the chips and, if only to satisfy the doubters, the EC would do well to ask some independent expert security analysts to run tests on the software. That, combined with a transparent, extensive pre-poll testing of the machines in the presence of all stakeholders, should set at rest any wild speculation. 

The fact that EVMs at present allow verification of how a voter has voted is not widely known, leading to criticism of lack of verifiability. However, it is possible by getting a printout and reading it with the information in Form 17 A. But rules allow this only under court orders. Such an exercise was actually carried out in Kerala in Election Petition 4 of 2002. 

Should we go back, as some demand, to the era of ballot papers? That would be an immensely retrograde step. Would we abandon computers and go back to the paper era in banks because of instances of breach of banks' security systems? Despite the 2000 Florida election imbroglio and some complaints in the 2004 and 2008 elections, with no proven instances of stealing of votes by software hacking, local bodies in the US responsible for conducting elections have not abandoned networked computer-based voting on the basis of mere allegations. 

The question is whether interventions are needed at all and, if so, what they are. The campaigners have raised the spectre of technicians writing malicious software, manufacturers switching to dubious chips, components being changed prior to or after polls, with criminal intent to manipulate display or data, and so on. Even so, acknowledging the difficulty of physical access in significant numbers, they speak only of 'retail' tampering. These mostly speculative arguments do not justify abandoning the EVM. Nor do they in any way cast doubts on the legitimacy of past elections, as conceded by one of the three security analysts. 

A vigilant EC has to constantly update the machines, incorporating more security features. The commission should also create dedicated storage facilities for EVMs and ensure end-to-end physical security through access control measures with standard operating procedures and records made widely available to political parties and concerned citizens for information and verification. 

Campaigners have demanded use of a paper trail as one solution. The EC would do well to consult all stakeholders, carefully examine the suggestion and not rush into a decision. The proposed solution has enough potential to be a problem. There are technical, logistical and administrative issues that require thorough research. The printer is a mechanical device prone to failure while the printed receipt has the potential to become a source of bribery, intimidation and disruption. 

Finally, a word about the origin of the current debate. The anti-EVM campaign started with allegations of rigging, because the results of the 2009 general elections were different from the prognostication of pre-poll and exit-poll surveys. It did not matter a wee bit to the campaigners that, in this country, such surveys have widely varied and mostly been off the mark. The entire edifice of the campaign against EVMs has thus been built on that poor and weak base. The campaigners would do well to reconsider the stridency of their campaign even as the EC initiates corrective steps. 

The writer is former chief election commissioner of India








Country singer Shania Twain wants the world to have an "honest and complete account" of her life, "in her own words". She came into prominence only a decade back, and she's still only in the middle of her career. For some, it may be a stretch to describe her music as having great artistic merit. Is that reason enough to insist that she has no business to write an autobiography? In other words, should only great men and women write about themselves, that too only after they have ended their careers and lived a complete life? 

If Twain or anyone else believes that they have a story to tell, they ought to do so. History has enough writers who were utterly unknown when they first wrote, but their story merited intrinsic interest. Nirad C Chaudhuri is a great example. As its title suggests, Chaudhuri was unknown when he wrote The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian. But the publication of the book became a landmark event in the history of Indian writing in English. It marked the birth of an erudite, even if controversial, stylist. Autobiographies are often drafts of history, both personal and public. In the Indian context, autobiographies paved the way for the emergence of a broad category called Dalit literature. Many of these testimonials were by first-time writers. These books were not testimonials of great men, but broken people reflecting on cruel and unjust social institutions and customs and the pain of living under them. Not to forget, some of these were beautifully crafted as well. 

The point to remember is everyone has a story to tell. How well it's told and how intense the story is will influence the outcome. Some of the autobiographies/testimonials may be windows to unseen worlds. Shania Twain believes that the tragedies in her life contain sufficient material for a book and a reflection of life in general. That's justification enough to pen an autobiography.




                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA




Another year, another soul-baring autobiography. At the tender age of 45, country music star Shania Twain has decided she feels an urgent need to "document my life before i [run] out of time". Running out of time doesn't seem a particularly pressing problem at her age, but at least she has some achievements to write about as a successful artist with a massively successful album to her name. Too many others who have given in to the same urge she has don't even have that. Why this desperate need to record their inner lives for posterity, to create a narrative about themselves and put it out there before any other interpretations of their lives can take hold? 

There was a time when autobiographical works made up one of the most potent literary genres. From Henry Adams to Gandhi to Vladimir Nabokov, they have cast a light not just upon the personal lives of the writers, but also upon the social and political landscapes they inhabited, and upon the evolution of those environments. They have enabled us to see the world as extraordinary individuals saw it. But no longer. Now, they are the literary equivalent of a guest appearance on an Oprah episode; cynical ploys for generating cheap publicity with no inherent literary or moral value whatsoever. 

There are a few exceptions, certainly. But for every Barack Obama with his Dreams From My Father, there are a dozen doorstoppers churned out. Witness the mad scramble by a number of players from the 2005 Ashes-winning English cricket team to churn out one execrable autobiography after another this by men in their 20s and early 30s, some of whom had played only a few years of international cricket but want to get out on the market as soon as possible to cash in on their popularity. To add insult to injury, the majority of these works are ghostwritten, killing off any shred of literary value they might have had. We have come a long way from the days when an autobiography meant a probing look at oneself and one's times. 



                          THE TIMES OF INDIA





For close to four decades after his death, the name of Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi did not ring a bell outside a small circle of academics engaged in the study of ancient Indian history, society and culture. But interest in his prodigious output revived in India and abroad on the occasion of his birth centenary three years ago. Younger generations of scholars discovered a man of many parts: a polyglot fluent in Sanskrit, Pali, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, German, French, Italian, Portuguese and Russian, not to mention English and Marathi; an internationally-acclaimed mathematician, statistician, Indologist, Sanskritist, archaeologist and expert in numismatics; a creative, if contested, Marxist; a peace activist and, not least, what in today's parlance is known as a 'public intellectual'. 

One sad consequence of his towering achievements, however, was the near-eclipse of attention to the achievements of his father, Dharmanand Kosambi, that were, in some respects, even more remarkable. These have now been brought into focus thanks to Meera Kosambi who represents the third generation of this family of scholars extraordinary. She has brought together, for the first time in English, the essential writings of her grandfather prefaced with a succinct account of his fascinating life and career. 

Born on October 9, 1876 in a humble Gowd Saraswat Brahmin family in a small village in Portuguese-ruled Goa, Dharmanand, beset with persistent health problems, dropped out of school and was compelled to manage the family's coconut grove. The routine asphyxiated his restless mind. Adding to his despair was his marriage at the age of 14. He sought and found salvation in books in Marathi, particularly books about Maharashtra's saint-poets like Tukaram and about the Buddha. The latter's teachings made such a strong impression on him that he resolved in his early 20s to devote all his energies to the study of Buddhism and to propagate Buddhist philosophy throughout the Marathi-speaking world. 

Soon after his father's death in late 1899, Dharmanand left behind his wife and infant daughter in the village and, on borrowed money, headed for Pune, then recognised as one of the foremost educational and cultural hubs in the subcontinent. Here he began to study Sanskrit in earnest and, thanks to Dr R G Bhandarkar, a fellow Saraswat, came in contact with the Prarthana Samaj. Over the next six years, he travelled, penniless and often on foot, to places in India and in neighbouring countries including NepalBurma (where he was ordained a monk) and Ceylon to deepen his knowledge of Buddhism. 

It is in Calcutta that he got a break to enter the mainstream of academic life. His principal mentors were the linguist Harinath De, Prof Manmohan Ghosh, (brother of Sri Aurobindo Ghosh), Satyendranath Tagore and, above all, Justice Ashutosh Mookerjee. The latter invited him to introduce Pali in the curriculum of the National University and, later, at the University of Calcutta. From here his reputation as a scholar of Buddhism spread wide and far in academic circles. 

As a result, Dharmanand launched on the international lecture-cum-research circuit that included four stints at Harvard University (also the alma mater of son Damodar), teaching assignments in Leningrad and, at different intervals, at Pune's Fergusson College and finally at Gandhi's Gujarat Vidyapeeth and the Vernacular Society in Ahmedabad. Along the way, he became more and more drawn into the Mahatma's inner circle, took part in the salt satyagraha, spent time in jail and worked among mill workers in Bombay. He continued to write prolifically on Buddhism and socialism in Marathi periodicals, making sure, as Meera Kosambi notes, to anchor his social and political concerns in spirituality and moral uprightness. 

In 1947, much against his son's wishes, Dharmanand chose the Jain manner to end his life he fasted unto death at Gandhiji's ashram at Wardha. A deeply anguished Mahatma paid tribute to him saying that he was a scholar who "preferred to work silently in the background and never blew his own trumpet". It would have embarrassed Dharmanand Kosambi who disdained money and celebrity no end to learn that six decades after his death there is a surge of curiosity about his work on Buddhism, especially among young Ambedkarite scholars; a surge that will now doubtless soar on account of his granddaughter's diligent labours.








If there is one fundamental difference between the rise of China and the rise of India, it is that the former is arousing security concerns across Asia while the latter worries almost no one. China's near hysterical response to Japan's detention of a ship crew near a disputed group of islands has only further heightened a sense that the maturity of the world's superpower-to-be is inversely proportional to its burgeoning power. India has already experienced this combination of ultra-nationalism and unpredictability over the past year. But there is no shortage of countries who have been left bruised and worried by Beijing's bullying ways in the past few years. They range from the innocuous like Australia and the Philippines, to potential rivals like the United States and Vietnam.


What is genuinely perplexing about China's new assertiveness is that it does not seem to be a product of a calibrated policy. Rather it seems to be the consequence of a fragmentation of the ruling party leadership's famed coherence. China's foreign ministry seems to have been sidelined by the People's Liberation Army. Even provincial governments are straying down paths unknown to Beijing. It says something that optimists argue this breakdown is merely a fallout of a coming succession struggle within the party. The present dispensation has only about two years left in power and each faction is pandering to each and every interest group. The pessimists worry that this incoherence is structural: a nation of a billion people with the world's second largest economy has outgrown a 300-strong leadership whose members are more likely to be engineers than politicians.


It is only to be expected that China's political structure should transform as the country develops. The question is what path of development the country will take. The evidence so far is troubling. Beijing's bursts of nationalistic fervour over useless bits of territory, paranoia about its minorities and preference for muscle-flexing at multilateral fora are not reassuring. India has long been a supporter of a multipolar world and is realistic that China has become one of those poles. India and others may need to reassess that if China continues to be unclear if it wishes to hold up the international system — or bring it down.








Ask someone from the government or a United Nations-supported NGO to name any event in history that took place a millennium ago. You could draw a blank. Ask someone outside the governments and UN-supported NGOs what Millennium Development Goals are, you could get: "Millennium? Isn't that the name of a park near the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata?"


Few remember, fewer even know, that 10 years ago something extraordinary took place: heads of 189 countries left their shores eager to find in the turn of the millennium the magic of a new spirit. That these persons deliberated on poverty, peace and justice for three days and spoke at the plenary for just five minutes each so as to give every delegation a chance to participate was equally extraordinary. But the most extraordinary achievement of that summit was unveiling of the Millennium Declaration. Crafted with care as well as spontaneity, with wisdom as well as compassion, it is a masterpiece of intention and accomplishment.


If the deeply introspective U. Thant had been UN Secretary General in 2000, he would have found the Millennium Summit and the Millennium Declaration deeply fulfilling. U. Thant was a just man and would have liked to see the scope of justice in the world enhanced.


Each of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be achieved by 2015 begins with a transitive verb: eradicate, achieve, promote, reduce, improve, combat, ensure and develop. Did they come from unhurried understanding, from unagitated thoughtfulness, measured speaking and deliberated action about the millennial concerns shared by those in and beyond the apparatuses of State?   


Fast forward the scene five years for the answer. By the time of the 2005 summit, when the MDGs' first five-year review took place, the dramatis personae had changed. Presidents and PMs had changed, including the US's, Britain's and India's. Secretary General Kofi Annan represented continuity but he too was in the twilight of office himself. At the Second Millennium Summit, he naturally reflects anxiety more than confidence when he says that this second Millennium gathering represents the "best, perhaps the only chance," for a just world.


Annan's fears were more than justified. At that 2005 summit, the US stunned the gathering by asking for the very words Millennium Development Goals to be dropped. Quite a change, that, within five years of the resounding adoption of the MDGs and with ten packed years of promise opening up ahead for reaching the target year, 2015.


The situation was to become even more complex. Seven years after the first summit and two years after that second, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, battling dissension within his ranks, recession in the economy, and progression in Tory prospects, said with terminal honesty about the MDGs: "… we are not on track… We have just seven years to go… We need urgent action… we now need an international effort that harnesses the power of everyone: the private sector, individuals, consumer groups, civil society, faith groups… as well as governments… to work together".


Speaking at the 60th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said with characteristic restraint: "The international community is generous in setting goals but parsimonious in pursuing them. We must make greater efforts to mobilise the resources necessary to meet the MDGs". A lag, a slide, was, therefore, admitted at the highest levels.


Fast forward again to now.


On the eve of the Third Millennium Summit in September, another honest statement came from the present UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon. "It is clear that the improvements in the lives of the poor have been unacceptably slow and some hard-won gains are being eroded by the climate, food and economic crises". All three, climate, food and the economy are inextricably intertwined.


Will the Third Millennium Summit do no more than follow the first two? Who are the MDGs ultimately for? Are they for the end-of-term report cards of governments? "Climate, food and economic crises," the three culprits identified by the UN Secretary General are triplets born of the same parentage, the blind and blinding avarice of the resource-rich.


With the experience of two decades of self-admitted failures behind us, we should own that more of the same would not work any longer. We need something new. Can we consider not in substitution, certainly not in competition, but in co-extensive mutuality with the eight MDGs the following eight millennium aspirations, in a Buddhist sequence, for the urgent needs of today's world but with specific salience to India:


* Understand that the expropriating of our scarce resources will leave us nowhere;


* Think about the whys and wherefores of food insecurity to see how different the determinants of food security are today from those of the past;


* Speak to farmers, herders, fishers, who are going to face a worsening of soil degradation and sharp water scarcities, in order to learn from them about as much as to suggest to them ways of coping with those that will be ecologically intelligent;


* Act with speed to check the loss of plant and animal diversity that work as a natural bio-shield;


* Retrieve livelihoods from manipulators and monopolists, including from those trade unions and NGOs who by their creation of dependence bring trade unionism and voluntarism into disrepute;


* Set in motion efforts by those NGOs and trade unions or 'faith groups' to ensure that bulk users of energy and water cut waste and callous extravagance, and are not able to hide behind the 'per capita' principle;


* Be mindful of how rapidly villages are becoming towns, towns turning into cities and cities morphing into metropolises, see if we are not consigning ourselves to a future where we will all have to wear masks before venturing outdoors;


* Contemplate that the good intent of all those at the third summit, hope against fears that India which can stop a Vedanta in its tracks, and make the Lower Subansiri Project answer the world's questions on its advisability, can also give us that gift of seeing, as U. Thant might have done, the practical wisdom of the Tathagata, or (adaptively) the 'One Who Walked That Other Way'.


(This is an abridged version of the author's UN Millennium Development Goals Campaign Lecture, New Delhi, September 11, 2010)


Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor. The views expressed by the author are personal



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





In the heat and dust raised by the Commonwealth Games and the Babri Masjid title suit, BlackBerry stepped almost unnoticed over the September 22 deadline for giving the Indian government access to its encrypted network for security reasons. Meanwhile, the issue has assumed global proportions and in India, it has become a matter of public interest. At least five governments which propose to ban the service are watching events in India. And everyone who uses encrypted communications has become an interested party, even if they have never seen a BlackBerry.


But the debate has become so confused that we need to clear the air. First, the government wants to scrutinise not only BlackBerry but any encrypted service. The watchlist includes anyone who uses Gmail or Skype, or makes financial transactions over the internet or cellphones. A recent UN report claims that during the recession, cash-strapped banks had allowed $383 billion to be laundered through their accounts, so why shouldn't banking transactions be watched?


Second, the government's battle is not with BlackBerry but with itself. It is a battle between its duty to protect us from terrorism and crime and the countervailing duty to protect our privacy. However, the government's tone is discomforting. Officials have used words like "free", "complete" and "unrestricted" to describe the government's right to access private communications. The word 'unconditional' never found utterance, but the tone said it all — the government wants to trawl the sea of personal data in the ether, and not seek specific access to suspects after due legal process. It regards surveillance as the norm rather than the exception.


Indiscriminate surveillance is illegal in a democracy, but officials will privately assure you that everyone does it all the time. But on closer scrutiny, 'everyone' turns out to be the Americans. They do fund the National Security Agency for massive communications surveillance but that's no rationale, since the US is certifiably mad about security. The issue is, do we want India to become a surveillance state, too?


BlackBerry gave access to its messenger on September 1 but maintains that it cannot unlock enterprise email. The system is designed so that even Blackberry can't snoop on its own network. That sounds incredible in jugaad country, where life itself is a workaround, but BlackBerry has its back to the wall. Its encryption makes it essential bling for people with secrets — government officials, spooks, corporate executives, philanderers, thugs and terrorists. The government is officially concerned about the last two, and with reason. But its minions wouldn't be very upset if they got the goods on the others as well. Information is power, and power very readily liquefies into cash, which is such a comforting thing to line your pockets with.


What happens if BlackBerry's encrypted email is banned? Nothing. People will use Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), which offers stronger encryption than BlackBerry's AES standard. Another option is steganography, the art of concealing data in unexpected formats like photographs. Terrorists will use anonymising software which make it look like you're in Kamchatka while you're in Karachi. So by forcing encrypted communications services to open up, are we giving away our privacy for nothing? That is the real question that the BlackBerry issue raises.


Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine. The views expressed by the author are personal








Now that everybody's seen pictures of Shabana Azmi's birthday cake, two questions, rather elemental in character and ambition, arise: first, does the tendency to associate one's name in perpetuity with a good deed negate the so-called goodness of the deed? Second, is there any selfless deed at all? There's an entrenched school of philosophical suspicion that doubts the human ability to sunder the ties of the individual ego to one's words and actions. Subsequent reference to such actions, by oneself or others, deliberate or otherwise, would seem to endorse the suspicion. What then of a seeming joke that turns on that legend or fact of selflessness — an attempt to lighten the heaviness of "good" acts or a mockery of the same?


Javed Akhtar's "joke" in the form of a cake designed like a ubiquitous urban slum, to celebrate Azmi's 60th birthday, not only provokes these fundamental inquiries about human agency and intent but also, rather tritely and unwittingly, punctures the penchant for fashionable causes. Which is not to depreciate the work done in slums by people like Azmi, but her husband has engendered a very public debate now about the sincerity or hypocrisy of such do-gooders. In her defence, of course, Azmi perhaps hadn't planned this self-critique. But can she blame those talking now of "poverty porn" and excoriating the Bollywood elite for the way it really looks at Mumbai's slums, even though they all cried murder when Danny Boyle made history with his slumdogs?


Perhaps it might have been possible to cut Akhtar some slack and at least entertain his appeal to look at the humorous side. Except that the cake is, above all, aesthetically revolting. Nobody in her senses would endorse a mirthless proscription on irreverence, but Akhtar's cake crossed a dangerous line in seeming to mock a grim, sad reality. He should know it's no longer about Azmi the do-gooder but one social class's view of another. And it's not funny at all.







The tension thickens, as the Supreme Court put off the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suits verdict by another week. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has personally requested the BJP to help with the government's efforts to keep the peace. Though the BJP itself hasn't verbalised its intentions, it's clear the party is making a serious effort to make sure its radical "fringe" elements don't end up hijacking its agenda after the sensitive judgment. The party appears to have realised, after several stabs at playing it both ways, that the Ram Mandir and issues of that polarising ilk have been wrung out. They might have once propelled the party into becoming a national force, but now they only diminish its all-round appeal among voters and political partners.


Certainly, the fact that the BJP gets into the Bihar election campaign soon is another reason some rules of engagement are being sought to be established, to ensure that irresponsible rhetoric in the electoral fray doesn't end up destroying its delicate political alignments. But the BJP acting all grown-up has rattled its more aggressive brethren, including the VHP, which has long been preparing for the verdict with a largescale agitation, the Hanumat Shakti Jagran. Though its plans have now been somewhat deflated, it resolved to soldier on with the Ram temple agitation. The VHP insinuated that powerful forces ("mahashakti"), seeking reconciliation and settlement, were behind the deferral.


The BJP and the Congress have the greatest stake in stability. Though they might rip into each other in the legislative arena and take their political disagreements very seriously, they have to forge a common discourse on matters affecting India's larger well-being. There has been a series of productive positive exchanges, like the nuclear liability bill, based on this realisation that, as the potential government-in-waiting, the BJP has more to gain by displaying a constructive, governance-focused bent of mind. The BJP and the Congress know their interests align in ensuring that India remains calm and unshaken by the Ayodhya verdict, whatever it may be.







If Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's statements on the Commonwealth Games did not so obviously convey her inexperience in the conduct of diplomacy, one could have seen a grand conspiracy afloat. Reacting to the fever-pitch speculation on Delhi's preparedness for the Games, she made the obvious point that athletes would decide whether they wanted to show up for competition or not. But she went on to violate that very sentiment by issuing an impromptu travel advisory: "Our travel advice has made clear that there is a high risk of terrorism in New Delhi and since 2000 there have been at least 14 major terrorist attacks in New Delhi." What on earth could she be implying?


If Gillard's purpose indeed was not to sabotage the Games, she must be charged with inexcusable insensitivity. International sport these days, anywhere in the world, is conducted amidst an extraordinary security bandobast. It doesn't just invite the motivated sort of violence that eventually scarred the Munich Olympics; it's a magnet for perpetrators of random violence. At least that's the assumption on which all organisers proceed. The hosts are not always as overt in their security preparations as the Chinese were in Beijing in 2008, with security cameras sweeping the city and anti-aircraft missiles on the ready during the opening ceremony. No host can declare its events foolproof, as the Americans found at the Atlanta Games, and as participants understood. But the abandon on the field of competition is almost always secured by some very stringent measures at the gates, to the unavoidable inconvenience of spectators. It's unfortunate, but that's the way of things these days. In fact, if Gillard had spoken to her countrymen currently in India for a cricket series, she may have been counselled better.


Or maybe not. Perhaps appended to Gillard's insensitivity is an immature attempt to show clout — and the temptations to do so for a politician running a minority government are evident. The Commonwealth is a strange organisation. At one level, especially in competitions like these Games, there is immense charm in the diversity: where else would you have Indians competing with Pakistanis, Rwandans, Barbadians, Samoans, Scots, but no American or Chinese champions? Look up the list of nations in the fray: it's enough to put you in company with the atlas for hours. But it's also a grouping where certain countries seek to reinforce a dominance harking back to the 20th century. They should take care, lest the grouping be consigned to the history books as a relic of another age.









HEY, and guys in Delhi especially, let me first tell you this exciting bit of news, ok? Heard it on news TV. NDTV said the Brahmaputra has come to Delhi. Ok, it didn't quite say that, but I am just excited, because a NDTV journalist said, looking at the Yamuna, that our humble neighbourhood river bears a strong resemblance to the mighty one that flows thousands of miles away. See, this is great imagination. You don't say it's raining heavily, all rivers may swell up more than usual. You say the Yamuna looks like the Brahmaputra. Then and only then will viewers be impressed, no? I mean I drive to my office near Delhi's ITO crossing five days a week. If I take a turn from that crossing I can be close to the Yamuna in minutes. Boring. Now, suppose I think I can drive close to the Brahmaputra. I will probably bunk office, pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the proximity to one of the world's greatest rivers.


I have developed a sophisticated theory on news TV and monsoon. The energy of TV anchors and journalists (e) equals the intensity of monsoon (m) multiplied by the square of coverage time (c). Yeah, e=mc2. I acknowledge the great scientist's contribution, of course. When the 'm' relates to rains in metros like Delhi or Mumbai, the 'c' is very high, imagine then the value of c2. And then imagine how high a value 'e' has. That's when anchors go: the situation is extremely serious in city X, and we see visuals of a chap driving a scooter in rain and ankle-deep water. I will soon publish in these columns a ranking of major news TV channels according to this formula. For this week, I award it to NDTV.


So, on to the disputed structure, on which the verdict has been passed. Am I nuts, you are thinking. The Supreme Court has postponed the Ayodhya ruling. Use your imagination. I am talking about the CWG village. What's remarkable about news TV's verdict is not what it said — everyone has a view on this, all kinds of views — but how it said it.


If I was really brought up well, I would have been blushing in front of my TV. But, no, I admit, I know some, as our teachers used to say, bad words. Hearing some of them on evening TV chat shows was something else, though. Like Jerry Springer had become the news chief of every major news channel.


On CNN-IBN, a panelist said the CWG preparations have been "screwed". At least I can write out that word, although being a humble hack I will never dare use it in media communication the way prominent news TV personalities can. But I can't write out s**t. NDTV can say it, on The Buck Stops Here. Cool, these TV guys. I can never say, were I to be writing on Lalit Bhanot, that he should take a stray dog to bed. But, man, you can say that on news TV, as Mani Shankar Aiyar did on The Buck Stops Here. The anchor said something on the lines that they were all saying stuff that's not to be said on TV. Very jolly, everyone on the show was on hearing that. I can't write that such and such policy, programme, project is all s**t , put a smiley after that sentence and joke, hey I am writing stuff that's not to be written in newspaper articles. Such privileges are for news TV people, who call for death sentences for the corrupt and ask whether nuclear missiles should be deployed after 26/11.


When a Times Now panelist seemed to be calling a CWG official a rotten egg, it seemed positively polite. Another Times Now panelist said a dog has sat on a CWG village bed. He said "sat", I was listening carefully, not you know…well, I will have to leave that to your imagination.


I use bad words sometimes in private conversations; as I said, I wasn't brought up well enough. And I find censorship of Hollywood movie dialogues on Indian movie channels utterly stupid (when a character says "s**t", the subtitle replaces it with "cr*p; I mean, is that a morality enhancer!). So, it ain't the bad words by themselves that offend me, folks. I was just pretty amazed to hear them on news TV shows. Like I would have been had news TV told me that the big and growing rainwater puddle outside my house looked like the Yamuna.


Wow! The Yamuna outside my house! No s**t, as a


Hollywood movie character might say. Sorry. Make that "no cr*p".








UPA-II will complete 500 days in about a week. The government had, through the president's address to Parliament in June 2009, announced a 100-day agenda. That address also mentioned several bills on the task list. What progress have the bills that were proposed made?


The following eight bills were part of the 100-day agenda: Three bills related to reservation for women in Parliament, state assemblies, panchayats, and municipalities; two bills to establish national councils on health and on higher education; an amendment to the Right to Information Act; a food security bill; and the Public Services Bill. Of these, one has been passed by the Rajya Sabha and is pending in the Lok Sabha, and two have been introduced in Parliament.


The bill to provide 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and state assemblies was passed by the Rajya Sabha on March 9. Even though a large part of the budget session and the whole monsoon session has been held since then, the bill was not taken up for discussion in the Lok Sabha. Two other bills have been introduced, which seek to increase the reservation for women in panchayats and municipalities from 33 to 50 per cent


The government had announced that it would establish a national council for human resources in health. The health ministry is reportedly preparing a bill to revamp the regulatory system for medical education and professional practice. In the meantime, the Medical Council of India has been replaced by a board for a period of one year; this followed the arrest of its president on charges of corruption.


A national council for higher education had also been proposed to implement the recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission and the Yash Pal Committee. The HRD ministry had asked for public comments on a draft bill. The ministry has also introduced four other bills related to higher education.


We know the food security bill is being discussed by the National Advisory Council. But two bills we do not have any real information about are the amendment to the RTI — which proposed disclosure by government in all non-strategic areas — and the public services law, which was designed to commit all functionaries providing social services such as health and education to their duties.


In addition to these eight bills on the 100-day agenda, the president's address mentioned five bills. These were the land acquisition amendment, the rehabilitation and resettlement bill, the communal violence bill, the right to elementary education, and the pension bill.


Of the land acquisition and rehabilitation bills, the president stated in her address: "It will be our endeavour to have these bills reintroduced and enacted in the budget session of Parliament." That referred to the July-August session of 2009. Four sessions later, the bill has not yet been introduced. These bills narrow the purposes under which land may be compulsorily acquired, and increase the compensation to be paid. They also require that all displaced persons must be resettled and rehabilitated. Given the various disturbances related to land acquisition — such as the Mathura incidents last month — it is important for Parliament to develop legal mechanisms to resolve the conflict between development needs and the rights of landowners.


In the address, too, we were told that "government will seek early approval of the bill introduced in Parliament for the prevention of communal violence." This bill, pending in the Rajya Sabha since 2005, was also mentioned in the action taken report of the Liberhan Commission on the Babri Masjid demolition. Recently, the NAC has formed a committee to redraft the bill.


The Right to Education Act is the only successful item in this list. The bill was passed a year ago, and came into effect this April. It provides the right to elementary education to every child between the age of six and 14 years.


The pension bill has a long history. An ordinance issued in 2004 lapsed, and a bill was introduced in 2005 in the Lok Sabha; that, too, lapsed, in 2009. However, a regulator has been established by notification. Pension fund managers and depositories have been approved, and they have started to provide fund management services. As the regulator does not have statutory backing, the service providers have entered into agreements to abide by its regulations. One wonders what will happen if the regulator wants to take punitive action; presumably it will have to approach a civil court with a breach of contract plaint.


To sum up, the government had listed 13 important bills, with eight of them in its 100-day agenda. Of these, one bill has been passed, another has passed one House, and two have been introduced. There is no visible progress in Parliament on the other nine bills.


The writer is with PRS Legislative, Delhi









The Supreme Court has stopped the Allahabad high court from delivering, on the announced date of September 24, its much-awaited verdict on the ownership of the disputed land at Ayodhya. The Court has agreed to hear the plea on September 28. Justice H.L. Gokhale has rendered us a great service in ensuring peace prevails, preparing the ground for a peaceful settlement. Justice Gokhale observed that, if there was even a 1 per cent chance of a settlement, it should be given a try. As the former chief justice of the Allahabad high court, where he had a distinguished tenure, Justice Gokhale knows the ground realities and the stakes involved.


During my term as governor of Uttar Pradesh from 2005 to 2009, I had occasion to visit the Ayodhya-Faizabad complex soon after the Lashkar-e-Toiba's attack on the makeshift temple was thwarted by security forces posted around it. The Ayodhya complex and the Faizabad area have a large number of temples and masjids strewn all over; this dispute is about one particular site there, even though after the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid claims and counter-claims were made regarding the site of the Ram temple. There is also a proposal for the reconstruction of the Babri Masjid at the exact spot where it was brought down.


I saw the diggings of the Archeological Survey of India at the site, in front of the makeshift temple. The pits were dug right up to ground level to examine if there were traces of a historical temple. Reports appeared that the ASI had found what was possibly the basement of a Hindu temple in their exploratory diggings; but what the report that the ASI sent to the court finally said is not clear.


One of the three judges on the high court bench, Justice D.V. Sharma, is due for retirement on October 1, and whether he has to be given an extension is being examined by the apex court. This writer knew Justice Sharma, as law secretary of the UP government. He was known to be a very strict man. If I remember correctly, he chose to remain single and cooked his own meals. He used to take his own water-bottle to the office and did not drink either tea or coffee.


The apex court has called the attorney-general to make a submission on the issue when the case comes up before it on September 28. The home ministry may have to take the initiative by assembling a "dharam sansad" on one side and the Waqf Board on the other — and whoever else are stakeholders in the case for ownership of the site.


Eventually, it has to be a mutual settlement with full understanding between the two parties. They need to come to a compromise, in the highest traditions of the country. There is ample land available at the site which could accommodate both the construction of a new temple as well as the construction of a new masjid. The ownership issue could well be side-stepped if both parties could agree upon specific sites on which their respective constructions could in due course come up.


"Ishwar, Allah, tero naam" used to be sung at Mahatma Gandhi's prayer meetings. In that Gandhian spirit, Hindus should contribute for the construction of a new masjid and Muslims should likewise contribute for the construction of a new Ram mandir. Let peace continue to prevail in the Ayodhya-Faizabad area, the state of UP, and in the country as a whole. It is, therefore, earnestly hoped that the Supreme Court's initiative at the instance of Justice H.L. Gokhale results in healthy and happy developments.


The writer is a former IB chief and governor of Sikkim, West Bengal and UP







At a dinner hosted by American Jewish leaders for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, I was seated with a senior US diplomat to my left, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation to my right, and Abbas opposite. It was like listening to a rousing peace overture as an ominous leitmotif of disaster keeps returning with ever greater insistence.


While Abbas referred to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as his "partner in peace" and said it would be "criminal" if Palestinian and Jewish leaders failed, the American diplomat and Yasir Abed Rabbo of the PLO kept whispering in my ear that the mother of all train wrecks was looming. "Netanyahu is playing games," Rabbo said.


I came away from the dinner convinced the United States is on the brink of a diplomatic fiasco. Less than a month after President Obama put the imprimatur of a White House ceremony on renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks, the negotiations are close to breakdown. If that happens, as Netanyahu and Abbas know, Obama would look amateurish.


The two leaders need the United States, an incentive to avoid humiliating Obama. But with just a couple of days to the expiration Sunday of an Israeli freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank, both sides are digging in. Despite Obama's public plea to Netanyahu — "It makes sense to extend that moratorium" — the Israeli government seems to have rejected a formal extension.


That would be a terrible mistake. Obama should fight it until the last minute. His international credibility is on the line.


Abbas made nice at the dinner, inching back from earlier statements that he would abandon the talks if settlement construction resumes. He could not say he would walk out but it would be "very difficult for me to resume talks." Bottom line: Renewed building would be a body blow to the latest peace effort.


Why, Abbas asked, could Netanyahu not tell his centre-right cabinet he needed a three-month extension because direct talks were at a delicate stage? Good question, in response to which Netanyahu could ask another: Why did the Palestinians wait until the moratorium was about to expire to resume talks? Dan Meridor, Israel's minister of intelligence and atomic energy, got philosophical: "The end of the freeze is a test case for the concept of compromise. Neither side will get all it wants."


Fair enough in principle, but Meridor misses the point. This decision is a symbolic test case of something much deeper. It is a test case of Israeli seriousness about peace. It is a test case of whether the two-state idea really outweighs the lingering Messianic one-state Judea and Samaria illusion.


If there is to be a two-state solution, it cannot be that the physical space for a Palestinian state keeps diminishing, square metre by square metre, as settlements expand. Two plus two cannot equal five.


The 43-year history of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank has been painful and corrosive, a cycle of harsh repression and Palestinian terror. In The Yellow Wind, the Israeli novelist David Grossman, whose New Yorker profile by George Packer is a must-read, put it this way: "I could not understand how an entire nation like mine, an enlightened nation by all accounts, is able to train itself to live as a conqueror without making its own life wretched."


Do Israelis, in their majority, want to continue to lord over another people? Or are they ready, with the right security guarantees, to make the painful choices that would, in restoring dignity to a neighboring people, also confer riveting new dignity on Israel?


I believe they are ready to take that risk — peace is also risk — but Netanyahu has to lead them there. He has not yet made the decision to do so. He's a politician with his finger to the wind. What he senses from within his own Likud party and others further right is that he cannot extend the freeze and hold things together.


Or so it seems. Oh, sure, he'll commit privately to limiting West Bank construction to a bare minimum. But that won't cut it with a Palestinian leadership that has taken courageous steps to stabilise the West Bank and needs a clear signal — now — that Israel understands peace will involve reversing the settlements, not growing them further.


Abbas is serious about peace. His prime minister, Salam Fayyad, is very serious and has done enough on the West Bank to prompt a World Bank statement this week saying: "If the Palestinian Authority maintains its current performance in institution-building and delivery of public services, it is well-positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future." Both men have done an enormous amount to curb violence, renounce it as a method, and establish credible security services. Israel will not find better interlocutors.


But the progress is fragile, as recent clashes have shown. That's why Obama must now break some bones to get his way: "Bibi, read my lips. It makes sense to extend that moratorium by a few months. For Israel and for the United States."








Once again, Pakistani papers were inundated with stories about the fragility of the current PPP-led government. Daily Times reported on September 20: "PM Yousaf Raza Gilani has said change through non-political means may prove hazardous for the federation. However, he added, there was no harm if any change takes place within the parliament, through democratic means." The News quoted him as saying further that the PPP had a healthy relationship with the chief opposition party, the Nawaz Sharif-led PMLN, and would be glad if Sharif returned to the National Assembly. "Gilani called upon 'the change rumour-mongers' to have 'some pity on nearly 20 million flood-affected people' of Pakistan and stop the practice," the report added. Sharif, meanwhile, asserted that while the PMLN continues to support democracy, "it would not extend blind support to the government, whom it accused of committing mismanagement and irregularities," reported Daily Times.


The NRO's ghost


Pakistan's Supreme Court had declared the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) null and void last year and also directed the government to implement its verdict. The government has since been dragging its feet on the issue. The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, has rapped the government on its knuckles once again, reiterating that it should uphold the court's pronouncement.


Two high-ranking retired government officers became victims of the unimplemented NRO verdict, reported The News on September 22: "The former head of the Intelligence Bureau, Brigadier Imtiaz Ahmed, and ex-managing director of the Oil and Gas Development Company Limited, Adnan Khwaja, were arrested from the SC courtroom... while the three-member bench of the apex court was hearing a suo motu case against the non-implementation of the SC judgment on the NRO. Chief Justice Chaudhry wondered how a convict, Adnan Khwaja, got appointed chairman of the National Vocational and Technical Education Commission, and later as the OGDCL managing director."


The SC later summoned the law secretary to explain why graft cases against President Asif Zardari hadn't been taken up with the Swiss government yet, as required by the NRO verdict. The News reported on September 22 that the secretary, Masood Chishti, "was confused whether to obey the SC's orders to write letters to the Swiss authorities, or to follow the orders of his minister." Dawn added on September 24: "Giving rise to fresh fears of a possible confrontation between the government and judiciary, the law ministry sent to Prime Minister Gilani a summary suggesting no case could be initiated against President Zardari in Swiss courts." The office of the president enjoys constitutional immunity.


In a startling development, the chief justice sent a strong warning to Gilani. Dawn reported on September 24: "Attorney General of Pakistan, Anwarul Haq told the Supreme Court that PM Gilani had approved the summary regarding the reopening of Swiss cases against President Zardari. However, the summary's contents could not be disclosed... Chaudhry ordered the attorney general to present the summary in the court. Chaudhry said PM Gilani should know the consequences of defying the apex court's verdict. He said the verdict's implementation rests with the PM, adding that the ruling must be implemented."


Petrol-less in Punjab


Pakistani Punjab faced a petrol crisis this week. Dawn reported on September 20: "Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif has called upon the federal government to take immediate action to solve the problem of petrol shortage in the province... Sharif said he could not keep quiet on the situation because the scarcity of petrol had severely affected people's lives at a time when business activities were already down because of 'inflated rates of electricity and gas.' The PM is reported to have taken notice of the crisis and asked Petroleum Minister Naveed Qamar to take immediate remedial measures. Motorists in Lahore had to wait in queues for hours at a few filling stations which offered a limited quantity of petrol. Besides Lahore, other cities in the province have also been facing a shortage of petrol since Eid." Soon after, it was reported the government may deregulate oil prices and allow refineries to fix the price of petroleum products, except for diesel. This could hike petrol rates by Re 1.


Kashmir resolution


Dawn reported on September 21: "In what appeared to be a government-sponsored move to coincide with the arrival of the Indian fact-finding mission in Srinagar, identical resolutions were adopted unanimously by the National Assembly and the Senate at the start of their new sessions, condemning 'state terrorism' in the region and reaffirming Pakistan's 'diplomatic, political and moral support' for Kashmiris in their struggle."


India, quite naturally, objected to these resolutions. Pakistan defended its stance; Daily Times, on September 24, quoted the foreign office spokesman as saying: "India should 'take a fresh look at its unhelpful Kashmir policy... Jammu and Kashmir is an international issue and the subject of several UN resolutions...' The resolutions reflected the 'concerns of the people of Pakistan on the gross violations of human rights by Indian security forces.' The UN secretary general had also called for an end to deadly violence in Kashmir."


Dr Aafia sentenced


Dawn reported on September 24: "Pakistanis burned tyres and chanted anti-US slogans after a New York judge handed down an 86-year sentence to Dr Aafia Siddiqui, an American-trained Pakistani scientist convicted of trying to kill US agents and military officers in Afghanistan. The strange case of Aafia Siddiqui has long stirred passions in Pakistan."








After the big failure over its Niyamgiri mining licence, Vedanta may finally get some respite. Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) protested against the sale of Cairn India's shares to the Vedanta Group, probably at the government's behest, but finally appears to have backed down. Its chairman RS Sharma is on record saying his company took a conscious decision not to make a counter-bid for Cairn. After the news of the deal first came, the government's view was that, as Cairn's partner, ONGC had the right of first refusal as it were.


In addition, the government had argued that it was an Indian asset that was being sold and this was against the production sharing contract that the company had signed. This didn't fly since the operating company, Cairn Energy India Pty, wasn't changing hands, so the production sharing contract hadn't been violated.


The story may not, though, be fully over yet since there is still the issue of royalties on the fields. Right now, estimates are ONGC will have to pay Rs 12,000 crore of royalty on behalf of Cairn until 2020—this will rise further if, as is likely, oil prices stay beyond $60. The official argument is that there is no reason why ONGC should continue to pay Cairn's royalties since the company has been sold for a huge profit. If the government does attempt to shift some of the royalty payments to Cairn-Vedanta, that will be unfortunate. For one, it's not as if ONGC is paying the royalty just like that—ONGC got its stake in Cairn as a result of a government promise that it would pay the royalty and cesses on the finds. Second, if ONGC is to be relieved of the responsibility of paying the royalty and cesses, while benefiting from the appreciation of its share in Cairn, a similar treatment would have to be given to other oil/gas fields—many Indian firms also have ONGC/OIL as partners and they pay the royalty/cess. Now that the government has done the right thing by getting ONGC to back down on the counter-offer, the sensible thing would be to go all the way and to not disturb the royalty agreement either.







With India's growth picking up the way it is, foreign investment continuing to pour in, and the Sensex crossing the 20,000-mark and looking good for more, the Commonwealth Games would have been the perfect coming out party. Sure, the Commonwealth is nowhere as glamorous or prestigious as the Olympics that China hosted, but India's GDP and growth story still has a long way to go in comparison with China. Seven years, as Commonwealth Games Federation CEO Mike Hooper said on Thursday, is a very long time to prepare for the Games. And a Games, mind you, which are being held in the national capital region, where a large part of the infrastructure already existed. Stories of corruption have been hitting the headlines at regular intervals, but they have long been overshadowed by the sheer incompetence in the way the preparations for the Games have been handled. The falling tiles and the dirty toilets could have been dismissed as one-off incidents, but the bridge falling suggested the problem was a lot more serious.


More so when it was reported, the next day, that the firm that had designed the bridge was the same that designed the pillar of the Delhi Metro that collapsed near the Lady Shri Ram College in south Delhi—in other words, there is no system of information-sharing or coordination that ensures a firm blacklisted for doing a shoddy job does not get a free hand to work elsewhere. Many large PPP projects have seen allegations of corruption, but their superior quality and better performance has always worked as an effective defence. It is likely, even after all this, the Games may finally go off all right. But the made in India brand, which was just about beginning to get some traction with Indian manufacturing firms acquiring global firms, has suffered a big blow. No amount of spin doctoring is going to be able to fix that.









Now that Sebi has rejected MCX-SX's application that it be allowed to deal in interest rate derivatives, equity, futures—essentially, allow it to work as a full-fledged stock exchange like the BSE and the NSE—MCX-SX will go to the Securities and Appellate Tribunal (SAT), the appellate authority for rulings made by Sebi. SAT will decide whether, as Sebi has ruled, MCX-SX approached it with unclean hands (jargon for suppressing information); whether the MCX-SX promoters' scheme to lower their equity to the Sebi-prescribed ceiling of 5% each was aimed at meeting the letter of the law instead of its spirit; whether, as Sebi says, even the letter of the law was vitiated by the buyback arrangements the two promoters of MCX-SX had entered into.


The real issue, however, is different and SAT can't possibly go into that. The real issue is something only the finance ministry, or a high-level committee set up by it, can resolve, the issue of common standards for different aspects of financial markets—stock exchanges, insurance firms, banks, commodity exchanges and so on.


The brief facts first. MCX-SX, which was promoted by commodity exchange MCX and tech solutions firm FTIL, applied to Sebi for a stock exchange licence and got this in September 2008. Sebi gave this permission, subject to MCX and FTIL complying with what's called MIMPS (Manner of Increasing and Maintaining Public Shareholding in Recognised Stock Exchanges). MIMPS essentially said that no promoter could have more than a 5% stake in any stock exchange (there are some exceptions, of which later). MCX-SX was given a year to do this, couldn't and so got another year to do so. The promoters first started selling their equity to other partners like IL&FS, IFCI and Punjab National Bank. In some cases—PNB and IL&FS—they even entered into what Sebi says was a buyback deal. Later, it decided to extinguish a part of its shares—in return, the promoters got warrants which could be converted to shares later, presumably to sell to other investors later, while keeping their shareholdings to the stipulated 5%.


Sebi rejected this on various counts. One, it said, MCX-SX should have come clean on the buybacks on its own. Second, it says that while the warrants would technically help reduce MCX and FTIL's shareholdings to 5%, the spirit behind the law was to get more players to own the exchange—this didn't really do that.


It's not quite clear how Sebi reaches this conclusion. MCX and FTIL's warrants could get converted to shares after six months, but since MIMPS made it clear neither could own more than 5% each of MCX-SX, these converted shares would have to be sold to other investors. So, the spirit of the law would also be met, the only thing the warrants were doing was to give MCX and FTIL more time.


It is here that the finance ministry comes in. It is near impossible to start any business with 20 persons with a 5% equity each. So, the normal solution is that a few people start a business with a higher amount of equity and, once the business gets profitable, they can sell their equity to others, either through a private placement or through an IPO. This is MCX-SX's grouse, one that Sebi has dismissed as saying the promoters were being greedy; MCX-SX argues that it could not get investors in unless it had a viable business and Sebi was preventing it from getting this viable business. Chicken and egg, basically.


The point, however, is that other financial regulators have very different rules. The RBI, for instance, keeps the promoter's equity at a minimum of 40% (as opposed to Sebi's 5%); promoters can come in with more, but RBI allows them a year to reduce this; this time period can be changed with RBI's permission—there are some private banks where promoter holdings are more than even 50%, more than 5 years after they began business. In the case of commodity exchanges, the minimum is 26% and there is no restriction on the maximum. Insurance firms have a maximum of 26%, but a promoter gets 10 years to divest down to this level. In all these cases, the banks/commodity exchange/insurance firm can do all business from day one; in the case of MCX-SX, however, Sebi allowed it to operate in just currency futures. So, the ministry of finance needs to figure out why the rules should be different for different segments of the financial market. Also, if the rules are to remain the way they are, is it possible for a well-capitalised stock exchange to come into being?


It does appear, though, that Sebi was aware of the problem this could cause so, in 2008, it came up with an amendment to the original 2006 rule. A discussion paper talked of representations Sebi had got from certain shareholders of NSE and OTCEI—in December 2008, Sebi said that the 5% rule would be relaxed to 15% per promoter in case the promoters were "a stock exchange, a depository, a clearing corporation, a banking company, an insurance company and a public financial institution". The finance ministry needs to see, SAT can't, as to whether this exception needs to be extended to other groups of investors (by the way, if the Sebi amendment had said "exchange" instead of "stock exchange", MCX would have found the going easier).


Postscript: For those looking at the lighter side, Sebi has said the buyback arrangements were "in the nature of forward contracts in securities" and in contravention of the Securities Contract Regulation Act (SCRA). MCX-SX's lawyers argued the SCRA applied only to securities that were listed on stock exchanges. Sebi then cites various judgements, both for and against, to show the SCRA applies even to securities that are not listed!









Climate change is affecting all of India, but is particularly devastating to millions of vulnerable farmers who struggle year after year to support their families. Climate change scientists have warned that as the world gets warmer, we will experience a stronger hydrological cycle. In layperson's terms, we will get more intense rain and more intense droughts. Heavy rainfall, prolonged heat waves and other extreme weather conditions will become more commonplace, and we will see greater variability on a year-to-year basis. Extrapolating temperature patterns from the past 60 years, the heat wave in Russia is a once every 400 years event! The Pakistan floods have no parallel in recorded history.


India has a National Action Plan for Climate Change, a comprehensive document that has prompted eight different National Missions. Moreover, the government has declared it will charge a Rs 50 per tonne tax on domestic and imported coal that will raise Rs 3,000 crore this year and eventually over Rs 10,000 crore per year. Along with other centrally sanctioned funds, the government has set aside Rs 25,000 crore to focus on climate change mitigation and adaptation.


While national plans and central funding are needed, actually helping vulnerable populations in some of our poorest states is a daunting challenge. Droughts and floods afflict our vulnerable hinterlands of UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Orissa, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. Jharkhand is this year's example. The state's farmers rely largely on rain-fed crops, because barely 9% of the fields are irrigated. This year, as the drought drags on, rice seedlings cannot be transplanted, and harvests are going to fail. Farmers are abandoning agriculture and moving to the cities to find jobs. This is the same pattern of agricultural collapse as in Andhra Pradesh and Vidharbha in prior years.


Dryer weather also means ground water levels continue to drop precipitously. Farmers who rely on tube well water will soon find that they have to dig deeper and use more energy to irrigate their crops. With less water for irrigation, today's wasteful irrigation systems will have to become more frugal. Ancient water reservoirs are evaporating rapidly, and drinking water is becoming harder to get from traditional sources.


Agriculture-based lifestyles that have existed for thousands of years are under threat. India is already seeing large-scale migration of farming families—this is likely to accelerate with the effects of unpredictable weather cycles.


To prevent these dire outcomes, we have to rethink our traditional agricultural technologies and come up with sustainable business models for new technology solutions. Low-cost drip irrigation systems, solar powered water pumps, filtration plants for clean water, rain water harvesting and storage, drought-resistant seeds—our entrepreneurs will have to develop a wide range of technologies to protect our farmers from unpredictable weather. Government funding will have to stimulate market-based approaches to solving these problems; traditional big government approaches cannot scale fast enough or work alone.


In addition to agricultural innovation, financial inclusion is critical. Farmers need access to micro-insurance, forward contracts, and other financial products that will help to smooth erratic agricultural earnings. They need loans so that they can invest in new technologies and livestock. Children need access to student training and educational loans in order to find a way out of agriculture. Our financial system has to transform itself so that it can serve unbanked rural customers.


Our hinterlands contend with abysmal poverty, corrupt local governance, Maoist insurgency, and now unpredictable weather patterns triggered by a warming planet. Moreover, unpredictable weather compounds many of our other major challenges such as urbanisation, job creation in the formal sector, and domestic security. Jared Diamond's book Collapse documents how societies have disappeared because they could not cope with climate changes. Our history warns us too—the Indus Valley civilization collapsed when its rivers dried up. While state and local governments struggle to deliver even basic services such as education and food security, we must tap market-based approaches, agricultural innovation, and financial inclusion to prepare rural India to cope with climate change and prepare for the future. India has the opportunity to learn from the lessons of history.


—The author is MD, Omidyar Network India Advisors. These are his personal views






In 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act became law in the US. While the likes of US-based Viacom and Spain-based Telecinco were big media businesses at the time, neither YouTube nor Google had been incorporated. The latter acquired the former in 2006, when YouTube had been in business for a mere 19 months. In that short period YouTube had expanded at an astronomical pace, serving up 100 million videos a day. The following year, long before Google had figured out how to make profits off its $1.65 billion acquisition, Viacom sued the Google-YouTube combine for copyright violation, for deliberately building up a library of infringing works to draw traffic, command market share and earn significant revenues. In 2008, Telecinco did the same in Spain. In June this year, a US federal judge ruled that Google couldn't be held responsible for a 'general awareness' of copyrighted material being posted on YouTube. This week, a Madrid court has ruled similarly. In both cases, it has been noted that YouTube tools alert media owners to their content being uploaded on the site.


Nobody has been able to prove that the site violates 'safe-harbour' provisions of the kind incorporated in the 1998 US Act, whereby it should remove copyrighted content as soon as owners request this. It looks like content generators now have few options but to work with YouTube. Thankfully for them, the site has been actively pursuing revenue-sharing pacts. And on the other side, while it can take a breather, YouTube can't afford to just relax. After all, it still faces copyright-related claims in Belgium, France, Italy and other countries.





Question time

After the main speakers, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and his German counterpart Rainer Bruederle, finished their speeches, the organisers of the conference said a limited number of questions would be allowed, two each to the ministers. As it happened, just one question was asked. Mukherjee joked, "Since you have no further queries, it means all doubts have been erased." When one of the organisers later thanked the reporter for asking a question, the reporter said the FM's private secretary had asked him to ask the question on Indo-German trade relations.


Friends now


Civil aviation minister Praful Patel doesn't seem to be interested in carrying on a confrontation with environment minister Jairam Ramesh. When asked if he was satisfied with the environment ministry's way of handling infrastructure projects in the country, Patel said, "The environment ministry has done a great job by declaring Nagzira-Navegaon a tiger reserve in my parliamentary constituency."


Global outlook


When apparel firm Cantabil Retail was asked why it said, below its logo, that it was an international company, the company's managing director, Vijay Bansal, said that they visited international fashion destinations and got their ideas from there—these were then used in the designing of their clothes. Hence the 'international' in their logo. A case of how far in ingenuity a firm can go in thumping its global chest.








It achieved nothing, the cynics claim. But this week's visit of an all-party delegation of Members of Parliament to Jammu and Kashmir could mark a paradigm shift in political India's engagement with the troubled State. The MPs provided a graphic demonstration of what Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's administration and the State's politicians ought to have been doing: reaching out to the victims of violence and giving a fair hearing to hostile voices. But the real gain is this. For decades, India's major parties have had little real engagement with politics in J&K. Instead of developing a genuine political dialogue on Kashmir, successive regimes in New Delhi have relied on opaque deal-making. The Delhi Agreement of 1952, which endorsed the main elements of the State's Constitution, was forged through negotiations between governments, not political engagement. The Accord of November 1974 was concluded between two individuals with no constitutional or democratic legitimacy. In more recent times, New Delhi has sought deals with Kashmiri secessionists, often through the dubious offices of the intelligence services, bureaucrats, or quasi-official envoys. In practice, this has created a dysfunctional political culture built around the twin poles of supplication before, and defiance of, New Delhi.


New forms of political engagement are desperately needed. The India-Pakistan crisis of 2001-02 brought home the potential costs of failing to arrive at a resolution of the six-decade old conflict. In secret meetings that began in 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's envoy, S.K. Lambah, and General Pervez Musharraf's representative, Tariq Aziz, hammered out the contours of an agreement — demilitarising the Line of Control, allowing for free movement across it, ensuring autonomy for both sides, and creating joint administrative institutions. But the political gale that swept President Musharraf out of office caused significant shifts in Pakistan's strategic thinking. The military decided that, at a time of grave internal crisis, it could not be seen to be making concessions to India. Now political India has taken the first, tentative steps forward. Secessionist leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik have endorsed the process by "asking not for unilateral political concessions but rather a joint commitment to a meaningful process." Even Kashmir's Islamist patriarch, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, met with MPs who visited his home — and that hours after he rejected calls for a formal dialogue. This fledgling dialogue did not aim to bring about a final resolution of the conflict. Nor will it automatically still the anger on Srinagar's streets. The challenge now is to institutionalise these conversations and build a durable dialogue between political India — not just the government of the day — and the troubled State's politicians.







A terrible famine has taken hold of Niger, despite warnings sounded almost a year ago by aid agencies and the United Nations. Nearly 12 million people, or about 80 per cent of the population, are now food insecure. In the four worst-affected provinces, one child in five is malnourished, and the country's Global Acute Malnutrition rate for under-fives has risen from 12.3 per cent to 16.7 per cent in a year. Comparisons have been made with the 1984 Ethiopian famine. Niger, for its part, is one of the poorest countries on the planet, and its Human Development Index is the lowest. It has the world's highest raw birth rate; on average, every woman has seven children, and 20 per cent of the children are unlikely to reach the age of five. Secondly, this year's drought, which followed the unusually heavy and destructive rain in 2009, has been a severe setback to the people's own success in reclaiming three million hectares of desert; in addition to destroying crops and killing cattle, it has wrecked the purchasing power of the 90 per cent of the population who depend on agriculture. Thirdly, neoliberal agriculture policies mean that Niger exports food to neighbouring countries. Unlike many other countries, Niger cannot import enough food to compensate for insufficient domestic production.


The international response to the famine has been slow and grudging. Donations so far amount to less than half the $348 million promised. The U.S., the U.K., and the EU have met their commitments, but several other states are yet to contribute. Some of the latter have lucrative uranium mining operations in Niger; those have, however, been criticised for causing radioactive contamination and related diseases. The news magazine Der Spiegel has called Niger the Saudi Arabia of uranium production, but ordinary citizens have hardly benefited from this industry. If there is anything good about the situation, it is that the military government which took over in a coup earlier this year is, unlike its civilian predecessor, not denying the problem. Given the country's poverty, sheer size (it covers nearly twice the area of Texas), and woeful infrastructure, the government cannot deal with the famine on its own. Unless the rest of the world responds much faster and more generously, Niger will continue to suffer what the former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Food, Jean Ziegler, calls "silent mass murder."









Marking the completion of five years, in September 2010, of the enactment of the Right to Information Act, the Central Information Commission (CIC) held the fifth annual convention on "RTI: Challenges and Opportunities," in New Delhi on September 13 and 14. It was largely a gathering of Information Commissioners from the States and the Centre.


The five technical sessions had presentations by Commissioners and other experts. I had actively taken part in the earlier four annual conventions organised by the CIC more or less on similar lines. Six things stood out at this latest meeting.


First, the key leadership role played by Wajahat Habibullah, as the Chief Information Commissioner, in ushering in the RTI regime was acknowledged and he was credited for ensuring the independent standing of the Commissions.


A second outcome was that the fact that Section 4 of the RTI Act has not received the kind of attention it deserves in order to sustain the right to information regime — Mr. Habibullah himself has highlighted this aspect more than once — was echoed on both the days, but no specific suggestions emerged. Governments at the Centre and in the States need to do more in this regard than what the Information Commissions themselves could do.


Third, most participants reiterated that awareness about the Act, its provisions and potential was very low, and that more serious efforts are required. Also, efforts to sensitise the functionaries concerned were not good enough.


A fourth and more sensitive question that became evident during the deliberations was who, between the Commissions and civil society, has taken the Act to the people and are responsible for prompting the imagination of the people. Surprisingly, the divide in this regard was open. The Commissioners ought to have acknowledged the active role played by civil society and reiterated the need to work together even more in the future. The keynote speaker and other speakers expressed their concern about certain "belligerent tendencies" on the part of individual activists. Such isolated instances should not weaken the critical role played by civil society groups on this front.


Threats to activists


Fifth, the convention expressed concern over threats that some activists faced in the course of their work and condemned the killing of certain RTI activists that have occurred. In this context, Union Minister for Law and Justice M. Veerappa Moily, who inaugurated the convention, confirmed that the Union Cabinet was determined to bring forward the whistleblowers bill ['The Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons making the Disclosure Bill, 2010'] in the coming session of Parliament.


Sixth, the delay in disposing of applications and the backlog in the process that the Commissions are confronted with was yet another issue that was deliberated upon. But no options or alternatives came up. It was agreed that the RTI Act had kept the bureaucracy on its toes. But a general view was that the pile-up of applications was caused by the fact that the government and its agencies were not forthcoming in providing information promptly. One of the sessions dwelt on how the judiciary, the subordinate judiciary in particular, was largely apathetic and non-cooperative in responding to RTI petitions.


According to a PTI news report, the Minister who inaugurated the event said "RTI should not be a casualty of corrupt bureaucrats." Shailesh Gandhi, a proactive Central Information Commissioner with the distinction of having been an RTI activist himself in Maharashtra before becoming Commissioner, said later in his presentation that the RTI Act need to be guarded from three potential threats — from the government, the judicial processes and the Commissions themselves.


Mr. Gandhi wanted Information Commissions to take an initiative on issues with wide-ranging and long-term implications: it would be too late to do anything if the Commissions have to wait. He himself had asked the Delhi government to put all its contract agreements concerning consultancy arrangements for the Commonwealth Games in the public domain within a week.


Gajendra Haldea of the Planning Commission, in a presentation on the Public-Private Partnership model, theorised that 20 years from now a third of the land in India would be in the hands of a few private corporates, going by the manner in which Special Economic Zone agreements were being entered into (with public scrutiny).


Mrinal Pande, chairperson of the Prasar Bharati Board, wanted the media to be brought under the preview of the RTI Act. (This was a suggestion that this writer had made at the second annual convention in 2007 and has been advocating since then, without success.)


The session should have deliberated on the media's role and acknowledged the sustained interest taken by some media outlets such as the Telugu newspaper Eenadu and NDTV, and the difference they have made to the situation.


The convention failed to note that women in sufficient numbers are not taking advantage of the provisions of the RTI Act, or what steps could be taken to correct the situation. It also failed to look at why the academic community has not been taking a real interest in studying the impact of the RTI Act and in promoting it.


There was no evidence of annual reports of Information Commissions in these four years ever having been discussed in Parliament or in State Assemblies. How is it so? It should be examined how many Commissions could not come up with their annual reports and why even the annual reports that were available did not make any difference.


In his valedictory address, Minister of State in the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology Sachin Pilot talked about the shift in the balance of power and the equitable growth that the RTI Act should strive for. He wanted the RTI movement to take advantage of communication technologies.


Conventions and sessions


The CIC has been holding annual conventions in Delhi as an "official programme," attended mostly by Information Commissioners, their staff, one or two Ministers and bureaucrats. The participation of civil society representatives has been marginal: those who did come were mostly from the National Capital Region. There has not been any acknowledgement of the role of civil society organisations in taking the RTI movement forward. At all the five conventions in Delhi, access was controlled. The CIC, nevertheless, deserves praise for holding the conventions.


This writer had the opportunity to take part in all the five official CIC conventions held in New Delhi as well as in organising five Open House sessions on the RTI in Hyderabad. The Social Audit Council of Andhra Pradesh, comprising a group of civil society organisations and backed by CMS, has been holding annual Open House meetings over the last five years on the implementation of the RTI Act. These were open to anyone but were attended mostly by RTI activists from the districts. The deliberations were based on their presentations and insights to realise the potential of the Act. At least one activist from each district gave such a review. A couple of bureaucrats concerned with the implementation of the RTI Act were specially invited to the Open House. V.S. Ramadevi, former Governor of Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, was the chief guest in 2006. Wajahat Habibullah, Shailesh Gandhi, C.D. Arha and freedom fighter Purshotham Rao were the chief guests in the subsequent years. The State Information Commissioners were invited to all the five events, although only one or two chose to attend. Each year the Open House sessions honoured activists, officers and mediapersons for their initiatives in taking the Act forward.


The Fifth Open House session in Hyderabad on August 23, 2010, came up with some specific suggestions on the threats against and the killing of activists. It decided to prepare a directory of activists district-wise, form a network of activists, create a website, start counselling centres in districts and launch a helpline.


The sixth convention in 2011 in New Delhi should be an Open House. The participants should be predominantly from civil society, and include academics and women's groups in particular.


( Dr. N. Bhaskara Rao is the Chairman of CMS based in New Delhi.)










Over the two decades of rapid growth of the Indian economy, the urban economy is generally perceived as having done very well. However, high urban economic growth need not by itself imply improved living standards for all urban residents. In particular, the recent and continuing phenomenon of rising food prices reminds us that considerable sections of the urban population may face serious food insecurity even while the urban economy grows rapidly.


Evidence from the National Sample Surveys of 1993-94, 1999-2000 and 2004-05, ably marshaled by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS), has shown that the rate of growth of employment in urban India fell sharply between 1993-94 and 1999-2000 as compared to the period 1987-88 to 1993-94, but it picked up smartly in the period 1999-2000 to 2004-05. However, practically the entire growth of employment in this latter period was in informal work, and the quality of employment, as indicated by wage/income levels, insecurity, other conditions of work and coverage in terms of social protection, was extremely poor. This has serious implications for urban food insecurity, since a large segment of the urban working population is mostly without productive assets and relies primarily on wage or marginal self employment to survive. In other words, a large segment of the urban population faces food insecurity in terms of access to food. Such employment-linked food insecurity is especially severe in small and medium towns which have been largely bypassed in the urban growth that has occurred.


Rapid growth of the urban economy, largely unplanned, has also meant haphazard growth of urban centres and proliferation of urban slums lacking in basic amenities such as decent shelter, safe drinking water and toilets and sanitary facilities. This has implications for the absorption dimension of food security, since lack of safe drinking water and sanitation leads to poor biological utilisation of food and repeated episodes of morbidity.


A recently completed study of urban food insecurity explores these issues through an exercise of constructing an Index of urban food insecurity for the major States (M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai (2010), Report on the State of Food Insecurity in Urban India, being released in Delhi on September 25). Using several outcome indicators such as the incidence of anaemia and chronic energy deficiency among women in the fertile age group, and of anaemia and stunting/underweight among children below three years of age, as well as some input indicators such as the percentage of urban population without access to safe drinking water and that without access to toilets, the study shows that the period of economic reforms and high GDP growth has not seen an unambiguous improvement in urban food security across all States.


A comparison of the Index values for the periods 1998-2000 and 2004-06 suggests a rather modest improvement of the urban food security situation as measured by official data. But there should be a qualifying remark: that the data on access to safe drinking water and to toilets may in many cases overstate the actual access on the ground, in view of the reality of non-functioning or provision, or inadequate functioning or provision.


The overall marginal improvement in urban food security in India as measured by the composite Index in all its variants is accompanied by a significant improvement in the poorer States. The fact that the picture looks much less rosy when a purely outcomes-based measure is used suggests that there is no room for complacency on the issue of urban food security. If anything, it is disappointing that urban economic growth has made little dent on urban food insecurity.


While the poorer States have done better than before, they account for only a small part of the country's urban population. On the other hand, States such as Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Haryana, which are relatively more urbanised, have done poorly. This suggests that the food security situation may have worsened rather than improved for a sizeable segment of the urban population between 1998-2000 and 2004-06. Considering that urban inequality has worsened in the period since 1991, the implications for the food security status of the urban poor or slum-dwellers are worrying.


What can the government do to address the challenge of urban food security?


Points for Action


Expansion of productive and remunerative employment needs to be enabled through special assistance to the numerous small and tiny enterprises in the urban economy from credit to marketing support to infrastructure provision, along the lines suggested by the NCEUS. Based on an Urban Employment Guarantee Act, urban employment schemes can be designed and integrated in a synergistic manner with the need to improve urban amenities, especially in the small and medium towns.


Urgent action is needed to improve access to safe drinking water and to toilets. Special attention needs to be paid in this regard to small and medium towns which happen to be most poorly provided for in this respect.


Interventions in flagship programmes such as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and other urban schemes should focus on the needs of small and medium towns and on the needs of slums in all cities, taking care to address the needs of the poor with regard to shelter, water, sanitation, drainage and nutrition education. Urban infrastructure cannot and must not mean only flyovers and six-lane roads in the metropolitan cities.


The urban Public Distribution System must be made universal. However, it is important to recognise that the

PDS is only a part of a comprehensive food security strategy. Policy must address hidden hunger. It must also address the special needs of the vulnerable sections such as street children, orphans, HIV-AIDS patients and so on through such initiatives as community kitchens. Designing and implementing a nutrition literacy movement across all urban centres will also be worthwhile.


Promotion of urban and peri-urban agriculture, especially horticulture, can make a vital contribution to food and nutrition security. It can also be a source of sustainable livelihoods. Issues of governance in urban food and nutrition programmes need to be addressed through, among other things, democratic decentralisation and local body capacity-building.


Finally, urban food security is as much a matter of the fiscal policy framework as it is of programme implementation on the ground, and a precondition to achieve targeted outcomes is adequate outlays. Economic reforms therefore need to be 'reformed' if inclusive urban development that addresses the needs of urban food security for all is to occur.








A 151-nation meeting of the U.N. nuclear agency narrowly defeated an Arab push on Friday to censure Israel for not opening its nuclear activities to inspection in a closely watched result that the U.S. said was a positive signal for ongoing West Asia peace talks.


Of nations present at the International Atomic Energy Agency assembly, 51 voted against a resolution called "Israeli Nuclear Capabilities." Forty six voted for, 23 abstained and the rest were absent.


Before the vote, the U.S. and other allies of Israel had maintained that passage of the resolution would threaten both the talks and the chances of staging a high-level on a West Asia nuclear free zone in two years — arguments countered by Islamic nations and their supporters, who said the resolution would advance the creation of a nuclear free zone.


Israel itself warned against what it said were attempts by Islamic nations to deflect attention from Iran and Syria, the two nations under IAEA investigation.


Both Iran and Syria deny allegations that they are or were interested in secretly developing nuclear weapons.


The resolution expressed "concern about the Israeli nuclear capabilities," while urging the Jewish state to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and to open its nuclear facilities to IAEA inspection. — AP








Richard Falk, the United Nations Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Israeli-occupied Territories of Palestine, is sceptical whether the negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, guided by the U.S., would produce results, unless the Hamas is taken on board and Israel returns to the pre-1967 position. The best hope for Palestinians is a 'legitimacy war' similar to the campaign that undermined the apartheid government in South Africa, says the Professor Emeritus of international law and practice at Princeton University. Excerpts from an interview he gave C. Gouridasan Nair in Thiruvananthapuram, while there for a conference on climate change:


You've been U.N. Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestinian Territories since 2008, but have not been allowed to enter Israel or the Israeli occupied areas. How do you propose to deliver on your mandate?


The U.N. is not regarded by Israel as a critical voice. They feel they can ignore or refuse to cooperate with the U.N., though as a member they are obligated to cooperate. They're backed almost invariably by the U.S. government. So they feel diplomatically secure in being defiant… This has become more pronounced in the last two-three years because of the Gaza war which has led to international criticism and a sense of outrage about the degree to which Israel had used its military superiority against an essentially defenceless people.


The incident of the flotilla in the Mediterranean again showed that Israel feels it can act without regard to international law and use its aggressive military style on international waters to interfere with a humanitarian mission... And then you have the somewhat troubled relationship between the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, that of the people of Gaza not being really represented by the P.A. because Hamas is their elected government and they've been excluded from any kind of participation at the international level.


I've just made a report to the U.N. which argues that prolonged occupation combined with the expansion of settlements amounts to de facto annexation. Israel has been establishing more or less permanent settlements throughout occupied Palestine. It's more realistic to look at it as a situation of de facto annexation, de jure occupation. So you've this tension between what is the factual reality and what is the supposed legal situation. At the present time I'm very sceptical that inter-governmental diplomacy can achieve any significant results. The best hope for the Palestinians is what I call a legitimacy war, similar to the anti-apartheid campaign in the late-1980s and 1990s that was so effective in isolating and undermining the authority of the apartheid government. I think that's happening now in relation to Israel. There's a robust boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign that is capturing the political and moral imagination of people, NGOs and civil society are beginning to have an impact on Israel's way of acting and thinking. And Israel itself says the de-legitimisation project is more dangerous to their security than the violence on the part of Palestinian resistance…


What do you expect the U.N. to do on your report?


I'm very sceptical that the U.N. as an inter-governmental body will be responsive to a political and legal analysis of the realities of the occupation. And my analysis, I think, is widely shared by independent opinion that has examined these issues; by reliable NGOs that are active in the region and so on. It is an intensely political issue at the inter-governmental level and even within the U.N. bureaucracy. Ironically, though Israel is defiant towards the U.N., the U.N., in its bureaucracy, is quite deferential to Israel, partly through U.S. influence. So you have this double reality, that on the one side Israel makes a great public display of things saying the U.N. is biased against it, and on the other side, it joins with the U.S. in manipulating the U.N. to do very little, if anything, that is effective in supporting the implementation of international law with respect to the occupation of the Palestinian territories. This situation is accentuated by the degree to which the P.A. will not take any position that is deeply opposed by the U.S. or Israel. So you don't have adequate representation for the Palestinian struggle within the U.N. system.


You've not been allowed to enter Israel… How did you prepare your report?


Well, there're a lot of people outside the country who come from there. There are very good NGOs reporting on different aspects like the health conditions and employment conditions there. It would not be anything that I could get if were to go there myself. The U.N. itself has offices in Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza, and they prepare very good reports on the conditions. So I have the information, and the patterns of behaviour are more or less matters of public record. The real challenge is to interpret the information that's available or, in other words, to convert information into knowledge. That is the challenge I found as Rapporteur.


There's the accusation that the Hamas is trying to torpedo the Abbas-Netanyahu negotiations by mounting attacks on Israel and Israelis…


I think Hamas has made it clear that unless it is included in the process of negotiations, it will repudiate the process, and it's acting this way to show that. Without bringing it into the process, no negotiation can succeed. I don't agree with killing civilians and terrorist tactics. Of course, the armed settlers are an ambiguous category…


There were 37 reported incursions into Palestinian areas in the last week of August…


You've to see what's happening on both sides. There is a tendency in the Western press to just look at Hamas' violence and never look at the Israeli violence in the same way. In all of these situations, I think, one needs a balance between the criticism of terrorism by those organisations of Hamas, and state terrorism...


There was a time when Palestine was a major foreign policy issue and domestic policy issue for governments in India. There is this accusation in India, particularly from the Left, that there has been a definitive pro-Israeli shift in the Indian stand…


I think there is no question that there has been a shift. It has partly to do with India's changing role in the world system. Its search for nuclear technology and its counter-insurgency warfare related to Kashmir and the Naxalite issue have led India, I think, into a position almost quiet supportive of Israel. And Israel, of course, has tried very energetically to promise that it can do things that would be useful for India… So you've a mixture of considerations that has led a more globalised India and left India more concerned with economistic criteria of statehood and progress than was the case with the Nehru era, which was more concerned with its moral standing in the world and its political relations with all the countries in the South, the Non-Aligned Movement, etc. India has moved away from that identity. It's a loss for the world: India played a unique role in the Nehru era, creating a kind of moral voice in international affairs.


Can your role as U.N. Rapporteur, and U.N. intervention, at some point make a difference for Palestine? What can make a difference?


One of the reasons why Israel feels so vulnerable to criticism from the U.N. is that the U.N., despite U.S. influence, still reports the reality and it is reality that they don't want. They're not afraid of anti-Israeli bias. They're afraid of truth telling. That's what they want to oppose and resist. And so long as the U.N. is a place where you have some opportunity to report the reality as it is, it is one way the international community gets information and knowledge and forms its judgment and determines its policy. Churches and other groups are talking about divesting from companies that do business with Israel, sell weapons to Israel or give bulldozers for the demolition of houses. There's a lot going on, even in the U.S.








Although so much has happened in respect of the forthcoming Commonwealth Games to be held in New Delhi that should never have been permitted to mar the national mood, all Indians — indeed all sports lovers — would hope that nothing further should go wrong in the days that remain before the grand event begins.


Recounting the long list of unpleasant facts that have dogged the Games preparations would serve no purpose here. It is enough to say that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appears more than conscious of the terrible consequences that are likely to follow if dire newspaper headlines — such as "India awaits its lap of dishonour" that sat atop a piece in London's influential Financial Times on Thursday — come to pass. About a month ago, appreciating the sensitivity of the issue, the Prime Minister had placed the last lap preparations in the hands of trusted civil servants headed by the Cabinet Secretary, in effect sidelining the ill-fated organising committee led by Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi, who is the head of the Indian Olympic Association. When this was found to be not enough, on Thursday he called an emergency stocktaking meeting which urban development minister S. Jaipal Reddy, sports minister M.S. Gill, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrashekhar and national security adviser Shivshankar Menon were asked to attend.

It is clear that the Games are no longer just a sporting matter. The import of a failed enterprise will point to a severe denting of national prestige and lead to political consequences for the UPA government. There is no getting away from the fact that Dr Singh's stewardship of the government is likely to be called into question. After all, it is nearly a year since Mike Fennell, the head of the Commonwealth Games Federation, sounded the first warning on the completely shoddy state of preparedness. And yet the government chose to continue trusting the Games organising committee against which charges of malfeasance have been whispered for so long. At the very least, this bespeaks poor judgment. The current state of affairs stand in such contrast to the splendid organising of the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi, coordinated without a hitch by the late Rajiv Gandhi. It is hard to believe that a government led by the Congress Party has slipped up so badly this time round.

It says something for the unprepossessing state of affairs that in New York, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, external affairs minister S.M. Krishna was besieged by complaints and warnings by the foreign ministers of Commonwealth countries whose athletes are to arrive in New Delhi. The stinging comments of several Commonwealth Prime Ministers and foreign ministers will continue to remind us what the world thinks of us. India's much-vaunted soft power is veritably under siege. In the event, the main Opposition party, the BJP, has just about managed to keep shrillness out of its criticism of the government as the party virtually directs the Prime Minister to take charge and responsibility.

Arguably, the India story is much too big and diversified in the current historical phase to be swept away under the cascade of denunciations, some of which may well be motivated. And yet, who can blame the world if it now entertains second thoughts over India's ability to meet infrastructure, industrial and commercial deadlines, and to maintain the credibility of its commitments in multiple fields. In short, the basis of India's power and its much-vaunted leadership potential is likely to be called into question. We had seven years in which to deliver the Games, and it is "two seconds to midnight" — as someone tellingly commented — and we are struggling to bring a semblance of order to the proceedings. All we can do at this stage is to hope and pray.







"Let the clown and con-man wear Their many-coloured coats;

Let the fool and charlatan speak From a dictionary of quotes..."

From The Quotations of Bachchoo


The Duke of Edinburgh, notorious for stirring up hornets' nests, putting his foot in it and being something of a bull in a China shop, all at once, was on an occasion inspecting a new building somewhere in Britain. He and his hosts, who were showing him around, were confronted by an unfinished corner of the edifice through which a tangle of electrical wires hung out like that proverbial hornets' nest.

"That looks like it's been installed by Indians", said the Duke.

The accompanying journalists promptly recorded and reported the remark. It made the headlines in the guise of "Prince Philip in Racial Slur" et cetera. Certain members of the Indian community, who generously assume the role of spokespersons, expressed, on our behalf, their outrage. How dare he? Racism! Colonial exploitation! Burra sahib talk! And that from grubby little Third World UK to the Emerging Power!... and so on.
The truth is, as anyone with eyes to see knows, that one of the great and distinctive features of our Indian streets and even of our best, newest and "17 star" installations, is the bush of wires protruding from the ceiling or from a corner or cornice; the overflowing tangle of wires which leap out of one of those metal boxes on the pavement which seem to lie open for no reason or indeed the criss-cross of what looks like a demented weave over the crossroads of small towns and crowded localities of large cities, hanging from precariously standing poles. The matted nature of our electrical enterprise would throw Edison and even Maxwell into a panic. It should be a matter of pride that these encumbrances are intelligible only to our super electricians.

The other explanation for the Duke's remarks, one which I proffered at the time to alleviate the anger of my fellow Indians, was that Prince Phillip didn't mean us subcontinental Indians at all! The middle classes of Britain refer to bad workmen, people who leave things half done, especially in the building and electrical-installation trades, as "cowboys". Phillip was attempting to recall this description and hit on the wrong word from the pairing of "Cowboys and Indians". He was, blunderingly, being somewhat unfamiliar with bourgeois idiom, referring to native Americans.

I did extend this explanation at the time but it wasn't taken seriously. The cry of "racism" didn't die down.
How times have changed. Recently the news in England, on BBC radio and TV bulletins, was headed by the disgrace heaped upon India's preparations or non-preparedness for the Commonwealth Games scheduled to start on the 3rd of October. Spokesmen for the Australian, New Zealand and Canadian teams voiced their deep disapproval of the accommodation their athletes would be required to live in. They said it was filthy, unhygienic and dysfunctional. It was also alleged that when the rains came some of the bedrooms got flooded. And for good measure they said malaria and dengue fever were rife in the city.

The spokesman thrust forward by the relevant authorities, a brave individual called Lalit Bhanot, fearlessly faced the international press. He said it would be all right on the night. He didn't say, as he might have, that the rains abate by October so there may be no flooding.

Mr Bhanot emerged from the interview as something of a relativist philosopher. He said, in his own way, that one man's spic-and-span is another man's squalor. He said a lot of the clean-up had already taken place. The reports didn't exactly say what shape or form the filth and unhygienic conditions actually took. From the severe way in which the New Zealand official expressed himself, one knew that it was more than tangles of wires hanging out of the corners of ceilings. But what was it? Rats running about? Cockroaches crawling out of kitchen crevices as they do in the best of Indian houses and hotels? Was it just muck and mud from the workmen's feet which hadn't been swept? Were the toilet bowls filthy and did the toilet seats, being screwed on too far back, prove incapable of being lifted for a gentleman's use? Were the flush handles inoperative? Did the showers spew out muddy water on a hapless bather's head? Did the water supply collapse and the electricity dunk out at odd intervals in the day? Did the bathrooms of one floor leak into the rooms of the floor below?
Of course, Mr Bhanot is right. Standards do differ. Sometimes sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander. It doesn't take an Einstein to note that all the complaining countries were white and neither Malaysia nor Kenya had any opinion on the cleanliness or suitability of the accommodation in the Games complex. Or perhaps they did and their standards were as flexible as some Indian ones. Britain hasn't pronounced on the facilities yet, but that's probably out of diplomatic decency.

Yes, standards differ. I remember when I was first preparing to come to England as an undergraduate, an old uncle Behram Bumshowerwalla (a second cousin several times removed — sometimes by the police!) warned me against going too close to Englishmen, saying that the cold climate caused them to not bathe regularly. Arriving in England, I found this not to be quite true and I put it down to a bit of Parsi racist prattle.
However, the other thing that "Behramji mama" said had, I discovered, a bit more truth to it. Claiming as he did to be the inventor of the bum shower, he inevitably and at great length bored people with the statistics of his trade. He would tell all and sundry at breakfast, lunch and dinner, at weddings, navjotes or on any occasion where he could coerce some hapless person into lending him an ear, how slow the European trade in bum showers was. The Europeans regularly returned the concessional packages he offered on a sale-or-return basis. Few sales, lots of returns. He attributed this slackness of trade to there being a differential in the hygienic standards of Europeans and Indians, the grubby details of which he forced on his listeners but which I will spare the gentle reader.

I wish he were alive. He would have enjoyed meeting Mr Bhanot and providing him with a real and national example of Bhanot's First Law in operation.








You know someone is in trouble — big trouble — when the SMS jokes about him/her go into overdrive. As of now, most jibes are directed at Villain Number 1 — Suresh Kalmadi. Sample this: "Baba Kalmadi, Have you any shame? No sir, no sir, we are hosting Common Loot Games. Crores for my partners, crores for the Dame. Crores for me too for putting India to shame".


Black Sheep Kalmadi is in deep s**t. Err… should that read Dik-s**t? And a lot of smelly faeces has literally hit the fan in those pricey rooms meant for international athletes. Never mind. Lalit Bhanot has hit headlines worldwide (80 newspapers, and still counting) by baring India's butt. Those "different standards of hygiene" are likely to sink the Games in a sewage tank even before they have begun. Desi attitudes to what is sweetly called "Number 2" (in schoolkids' parlance), deserves an entire tome to itself. Indians are obsessed by where, when and how to defecate. It is a national preoccupation, and has been so for centuries. That we do our job anywhere and everywhere, and pretty much anytime, is well known. What poor Mr Bhanot has done is gone public with India's dirty secret. It is true — our standards are different from anybody else's. He has not specified better or worse. Just different.

It is only in India… that too, in a crowded, busy megapolis like Mumbai, that one can see grown men, their genitals hanging over railway tracks, as they crap companionably, discuss the news with other s**ters and walk away, lota in hand, like it is the most normal thing to do. Right across from where we live (and very close to where India's richest brothers reside) is a narrow pathway jutting into the sea that cuts the bay. It is an open lavatory that functions 24x7. From the crack of dawn till late at night, one can see a steady line of men and children walking down this strip, carefully selecting their spot, squatting precariously and then opening up their gut without the least shame or self-consciousness. Most of the pavements in this area, one of the supposedly poshest in the city (if not in India), are covered with piles of excreta (human and animal). There isn't an inch left to walk on… dogs, goats, cows and people nonchalantly s**t together… nobody notices, nobody cares.
We are crucifying the wrong man for the wrong reasons. Mr Bhanot naively dismissed the charges regarding filth and unsafe conditions in the Village by saying it is not "such a big issue". You know what, he is absolutely right. Toilets can be cleaned up… stray dogs removed from beds meant for sportspeople. The other clean-up is far more crucial, far more critical and no amount of heavyduty industrial-level cleaning operations can rid India of this dirty stain.

What the country is witnessing is corruption of the filthiest kind — undertaken on a scale that may be unprecedented in the world. The fact that the money that has been stolen by these crooks is our money — the public's money — compounds the crime still further. Were we asked before these monster budgets were cleared? Were the people of India consulted on the rightness/wrongness involved in allocating such monies for what is nothing but an empty PR (public relations) exercise we can ill afford? And now that we know how systematically we've been hoodwinked, is there any way to make up? Recover the money? Cancelling the Games at this stage, is an immature, impractical suggestion. But giving citizens an assurance that the guilty will be punished (jail the buggers instantly!) will go a long way in keeping collective tempers down. Aha — here comes the catch. Who will decide which persons are guilty? What will they be charged with? Where is the proof? It will be another Lalit Modi-Indian Premier League (IPL) saga… another Ramalinga Raju eyewash, another Koda cover-up. To anybody with some common sense it is obvious that Mr Kalmadi was not working alone (just as Mr Modi wasn't). It is equally obvious, everybody from Manmohan Singh to Sheila Dikshit must have guessed what was going on — and if they didn't, it reflects poorly on their administrative skills. Why aren't they assuming responsibility? Why look for scapegoats when everybody knows who the looters are? Mike Fennell's role is suspect as hell, and he really has some cheek writing to the Cabinet Secretary to express his "great concern with the preparedness" for the Games, considering it is he who should be in the dock himself! What audacity. Sorry to bring race into this, but we always tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the White Man — any White Man. Let's put it down to our colonial hangover… we still bow and scrape, cringe and kowtow when dealing with Westerners. Go to hell, Mike!

Mr Bhanot should take the cleanliness debate to its next logical level, if you ask me! Why not? The only hope left to salvage our tattered pride is to let the world know how superior we are and how scrupulously we clean ourselves after performing daily ablutions. We can also talk about how we consider our left hand to be "dirty" ( for obvious reasons). Mr Bhanot can present an international paper on — you've guessed it — toilet paper! And how Indians believe in the efficacy of using water to clean bums. These sort of diversionary tactics may pay some dividends at least, while bridges collapse, catwalks fall apart, loose tiles kill a couple of workers and strangers from foreign countries stroll into the Village unchecked with explosives packed into large, very noticeable suitcases. As for all those star athletes and even countries pulling out — big deal!

These Games were never about sports. Just as the IPL was never about cricket. Both were about making money. So much money that the amounts one hears about could have taken care of basics like roti, kapda aur makaan for millions in India. But since the poor of India are nobody's priority in the first place, why play spoilsport? Let the Games begin. And let us console ourselves that thanks to Mr Bhanot, at least now the world will know that Indians probably have the cleanest bottoms on earth. Those who criticise us are just jealous.

— Readers can send feedback to








The Roma or Romanies (in the singular Rom or Romany) have been in the limelight since July 2010 when their camps in France were demolished and they were sent back to Romania, France's fellow member of the European Union (EU). The deportees are citizens with Romanian passports and full civil rights like any other EU or Romanian citizens, though heavily discriminated against.


This attitude towards Roma people is not exclusive to the French. The Roma received a similar hostile welcome in Italy not so long ago. Both the Italians and French claim that the Roma are a "threat to public order".
The EU law gives citizens of the EU — as the Roma are — the right to cross internal EU national borders and stay for 90 days in search of employment or gainful work, failing which they have to return to their country.
The EU Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding, referred to the French expulsions of the Roma as "a situation I thought Europe would not have to witness again after World War II", invoking images of wartime European deportment of Jews and Roma to Nazi death camps. The EU Commissioner says France can be prosecuted for its actions. The Pope and the French Catholic Church too have voiced concern. This, and the reaction of several other countries, has highlighted Europe's worst, and most ill-managed social problem. The treatment that millions of Roma face is at best discriminatory and at worst persecution.
Central and Eastern Europe — Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia have always had the most hostile attitude towards the Roma. But after these countries became a part of the EU, the Roma became free to travel across national borders and migrate to any country of their choice within the EU. France is a preferred destination and the Roma try their luck again and again as their standard of living is better in France than in their home countries.
Most European countries see the Roma as a lawless and hopeless underclass living in shabby conditions, moving around in caravans, surviving on petty sales, thieving and tinker work. However, the Roma, like any other ethnic group, include rich and poor, success stories and failures.
The Roma are estimated do have a population of anything between four to 14 million and this is after Hitler killed an enormous number in Nazi death camps. Professor Ian Hancock of the University of Texas, head of the department of Romani studies, suggests that a million-and-a-half Roma were killed in the Nazi death camps, while Sybil Milton, formerly senior historian of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, has a more conservative estimate of between 220,000 and 500,000. Had this received even half the attention that the killing of six million Jews in the Nazi death camps received, their lot would have been different today.
While the South Asian origin of the Romanies has been long considered a fact, the exact group from whom they have descended is still a matter of debate. Genetic evidence supports the theory of medieval migration from India. The Romanies are generally believed to have originated in Rajasthan, moving to Punjab around 250 BC. The discovery of "Jat mutation", which causes a type of glaucoma in Romani populations, suggests that the Romani people are the descendants of the Jats of northern India and Pakistan. Linguistic and genetic evidence also indicates that the Romanies originated from India, moving towards the northwest no earlier than the 11th century.
Their emigration from India most likely took place in the context of the early 11th century raids by Mahumud of Ghazni who captured whole populations, enslaved them and took them to Afghanistan, even across the Hindu Kush (in Persian "Kush" means "killer" — so named for the death by cold and fatigue of many captives of Ghazni) and incorporated as ethnic military units, along with their camp followers, wives and families.
Most of this is confirmed by language studies, blood groupings, DNA tests and the writings of Muslim historians and other scholars at the Ghaznavid court of Mahumud and later, the Persians, Armenians, Turks and Greeks.
The theory goes on to explain that in 1040, the Ghaznavid empire was overthrown by the Seljuks and that the Indian contingent, numbering around some 60,000, was forced to fight for the Seljuks and spearhead their advance in their raids into Armenia. The only other option was to flee to Armenia and fight for them.
In any event, the Indians ended up in Armenia and later, in the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm. These Roma-in-the-making remained in Turkey for 200 to 300 years, abandoned their military way of life and took up a nomadic lifestyle based on artisan work, trading, animal dealing and entertainment. Gradually, small groups wandered westwards, across the Bosporus to Constantinople and from there up into the Balkans to reach Central Europe by 1400, leaving small groups of Roma in all the regions they passed through.

The Roma have their own language, which is studied by scholars in the West and has regional variations. The use of the language is fading as the Roma try to integrate. However, their skin colour distinguishes them from the rest of their fellow Europeans. This and the fact that they retain many of their ancient customs, habits and dress make them stand apart from the rest. Their major problem is lack of education, largely due to discrimination and their nomadic lifestyle. The Roma apparently do much better in the United States where some of them migrated from Europe.

Roma made their home in almost all countries of Europe, especially in the Turkish-ruled Balkans. In the past the Roma have been persecuted by both Christian and Muslim states — despite them adopting the religion of the local power.


As a result of the recent controversy in Europe there is much interest in the Roma these days. Indians, however, have lost sight of these unfortunate people, perhaps due to their lack of historical interest. In the 1970s, W.R. Rishi, an Indian Foreign Service officer, set up the Indian Institute of Roma Studies at Chandigarh, and organised two International Roma Festivals where, in 1983, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi delivered a stirring speech, saying: "I feel kinship with the Roma people". Do a billion Indians feel the same way?


Gautam Pingle is director of Centre for Public Policy, Governance and Performance, ASCI









With embarrassing revelations coming to light about the insanitary state of toilet facilities at the Commonwealth Games Village in Delhi, the human excrement has truly hit the ceiling. The stink has risen sky-high, and the 'gutter press' has revelled in and gone to town with it. And at least one man who has made no secret of his desire to see the Games fail is rejoicing in the toilet humour possibilities thrown up by the latest embarrassing disclosures. With trenchant potty-mouth humour calculated to piss off the Games organisers, Mani Shankar Aiyar noted that "we have fallen not only on our faces, but on our faeces!"


Photographic evidence of the soiled state of the Games Village johns clearly points to the inadequacy of toilet training when plebians ascend the porcelain throne to carry out theiralimentary activities. That dirty secret is something that international airline stewards on most Indian routes willattest to, which points to a widespread Indian unfamiliarity with 'dry toilet' protocol.


The general inability or unwillingness to abide by socially acceptable standards of water-closet hygiene is particularly striking for the descendants of the Mohenjodaro-harappa civilisation — which, historians record, had perhaps the most advanced sewage system for those ancient times. It's worth recalling also that Mahatma Gandhi himself used to clean his toilets — as part of his social campaign against the practice of untouchability.


At the Toilet Museum in Delhi, set up by Sulabh International founder Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, are recorded the elaborate details of the "toilet code" that Indians were required to abide by in an earlier time. Pathak, who has done as much as one man can to get large masses of Indians to forgo the pleasures of alfresco toileting in favour of hygienic pay-to-use public toilets, notes that these included the recitation of toilet shlokas and the proper manner of ablution.


Curiously, that tradition has much in common with the Japanese value system as well, where there are Japanese toilet ballads: in the Japanese pantheon, which has many common elements with Hindu traditions, there's even a Japanese 'toilet god' — perhaps intended to reinforce the importance of personal hygiene. Perhaps there's a case for bringing our own commod(e)ious traditions out of the closet — and into the water closet.


The toilet door has been flung open exposing our lack of lavatory etiquette to the great wide world. We may never get a chance to be flush with success over these Games, but we can yet retrieve what's left of our chamberpot honour. But that needs a sincerity of purpose — not the clogged-drain mentality that says: "We have our standards of hygiene and you have yours".


But when you pull the flush handle, the gushing sound you hear will be taxpayers' money going down the drain…








Doesn't it happen all the time? We take our time ordering a dish in a restaurant and just when our order is being served, we see the guy at the next table being served something that appears far more scrumptious and appetising than what we ordered. We nearly wish we could switch our order! Tongue in cheek, they say, even marriage is something similar! Now, have you wondered why that sense of regret invariably creeps in when you had every chance to choose whatever you wished in the first place?


Well, behavioural scientists have devoted some time investigating this phenomenon. They have found evidence that when we wish to choose something, we tend to reinforce our choice with


positive attributes associated with the choice, and when we wish to reject something, we focus more on the negatives.


For example, assume that you are considering renting a house. One of them is just 15 minutes' drive from work, is centrally


located, has breezy balconies, with high rent, and a noisy neighbour. You get a periodic waft from food cooking at a restaurant close by.The other one is about 40 minutes from work, a little on the edge of the city, in a nice neighbourhood, with a personal lawn and clean air, with a park next door, average rent, with a hum of highway traffic.


If willy-nilly you are inclined in favour of the first house, you are more likely to rationalise your choice by dwelling on its proximity to work, the breezy balconies and easy access to all segments of the city, while rejecting the second option on account of its greater distance from work, the remoteness of its location and the drone of the highway traffic, and so on.


Then one day you visit your friend, who happened to rent the second house. You find him relaxing on the lawn with a mug of beer in hand, and in a comely neighbourhood. What is worse, he's


paying less for it all. Now suddenly these attributes, which were foregone in your choice of the first option, become an 'opportunity loss'. By choosing what you did, you failed to choose the nice neighbourhood, the park, the lawn and the lower rent.


Now we know from an earlier piece in this column that losses typically loom larger than profits. This means that the loss of a


certain magnitude causes us much more distress than a gain of an equal magnitude gives us pleasure. Thus, the opportunity losses of our choices loom larger than the attributes favouring our choices. As a consequence, the regret of not making the other choice overpowers the pleasure of the choice that we made for ourselves, and we wish we had opted for the second house instead.


The same recurrent theme runs through all facets of our lives.


After considerable deliberation you decide to buy a car of certain make. You probably chose it for its low price, low maintenance,


extensive dealer network, and comfortable interiors. Having bought this car, you happen to meet that guy in the office who has bought this sporty model built for power and speed, with a long nose and most attractive interiors in real leather. Suddenly you


encounter attributes that you had to forgo in the choice that you made and this 'loss' immediately looms larger than the favourable attributes, and causes that tinge of regret.


Interestingly, the greater the alternative choices, the higher the level of regret in one's original decision. This is because the greater the choice, the more the total number of attributes spread over all the choices. One also forgoes a lot more options. Think of it this way. In a McDonald's, your level of regret is low because the choices available are few. On the other hand, in a typical Indian restaurant, where the choices on offer may be large, the regret is typically higher.


It is precisely this tendency of human beings that gives rise to a whole family of jokes. My favourite is: Anything that is delicious and yummy is either high in cholesterol, fattening, bad for the heart or married to someone else!








Fears of a creeping 'Islamisation' of Europe have provoked a cultural backlash in the form of a proposed ban on the hijab in France and a ban on new minaret construction in Switzerland. But such fears, says demographer and economist Richard Hokenson, are "based on false premises". In an interview to DNA, he debunks this and other demographic myths: it's not a population explosion that the world should worry about, but a population implosion, with deflationary tendencies. And although India is in a demographic sweet spot, it can realise its potential only if it invests in education for all and improves labour productivity.


What are the most profound demographic trends influencing our world today?


Planet Earth is ageing, and for the first time ever, generations are not replacing themselves in the population pool. The global population today is 6.8 billion; it may start to shrink before we get to 8 billion. Thirty years ago, the major concern was population explosion: that there would be wars and famines and pestilence because birth rates were high. But birth rates peaked in 1971, when globally the average woman had five children each. Today, the birth rate globally is below 2.5 — close to the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman — and falling fast. In less than 10 years, it will be below replacement level. Now we confront the issue of population implosion: that is, a shrinking population.


The worst example of that is Japan, which represents the dark side of an ageing population: you get caught in deflation and you never get out.


But aren't some countries doing better?


Yes, India does better, as does Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines: their birth rates are still above replacement levels. But even their birth rates are falling, but slowly; in China and Japan, they fell rapidly.


What are the social and economic implications of population implosion?


We'll all be working many more years. People can't retire like in their parents' generations because there aren't enough workers to support them: labour force growth is slowing everywhere, including in India. Additionally, a 'race to zero interest rates' globally — as a result of slowing labour force growth and deflationary tendencies — makes it difficult for people to save enough during their working years in order to retire. We see that tension in Greece and France today.


Is India really in a demographic sweet spot? What does it take to harvest that dividend, and what can go wrong?


India's demographic pyramid is a good one, but there are a couple of key issues. Economic development in Asia is driven by improvements in productivity as people move from agriculture to manufacturing or services. In India, the trend is moving the wrong way: the number of people on the farm has quadrupled — in part because India tries to protect its farms: it's very sensitive about being self-reliant in food. But you can protect farmers the wrong way by disincentivising them from becoming productive. The right way is to encourage people to be more productive — invest in tractors and so on — and free up surplus labour to come to the cities.


The second aspect is education. Out of every dollar spent on education in India, 85% is spent at the university level.


Unlike China or Japan, where literacy levels are high across the board, India has a relatively small cadre of very well-educated and well-trained workers and a big pool of semi-literate and illiterate workers. It needs to improve educational quality across the board. If India commits itself to investing to improve education quality, it could be the demographic powerhouse in 20 years. If it doesn't, it won't fulfil its potential.


What about changes in 'religious demographics' given the widespread fears of an 'Islamisation' of Europe and the influx into India from Bangladesh?


It's the world's biggest myth. It's in the Muslim world that birth rates are falling the fastest, including in Uzbekistan,


Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Yemen and Iraq; in Iran it's already below replacement level. And even in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it's falling at a slower rate.When women from high birth rate countries move to low birth rate countries like those in Europe, they adopt the local standard. The fear about the 'Muslimisation' of Europe is based on false premises.


But demographic change can also be brought about by proselytisation and Islam is the world's fastest growing religious order…


Would it not be fair to have said the same thing about Christians 2000 or even 1000 or 500 years ago? I don't think there's much risk of that.


What accounts for the rage in Europe: the ban on the hijab and controversies over mosques and minarets?


It's born of fear, but it's not a legitimate fear. That doesn't mean politicians don't play on it. Particularly during difficult economic times, it's easy to blame the immigrants.


Do Muslim societies have high female literacy rates?


No, and that's the critical issue. The most fundamental driver for lower birth rates globally is education and enfranchisement of women. If women get an education and that translates into economic opportunities, birth rates fall. Which is why when the Taliban goes in, they pull girls out of schools. It's also an issue in Pakistan — and in some parts of northern India, where for instance, girls don't go to school because schools don't have toilets!


In Saudi Arabia today, there are more women enrolled in college than men; the same is the case with Iran. When Boeing sells a 747 to Saudi Air, there are twice as many rest rooms in the business class than on any other configuration. That's because as the plane leaves Riyadh, women grab their cosmetic cases and run into the loo, strip off their burqas, wear a western dress and spend 30-45 minutes on their make-up. So, it's changing for women in Saudi Arabia, although slowly. Likewise in the Emirates: these women will be catalysts for change in their country.


How much of China's ageing problem is because of the one-child policy?


The consensus view is that if China reveres its one-child policy, it can solve its ageing problem. But I believe the one-child policy played a very minor role; birth rates had already collapsed in


China when the policy was implemented. China could reverse the policy tomorrow, and not much would happen.


What implications will the gender ratio imbalance in China and parts ofIndia?


We don't know; there's no precedent.







Now that they are back home a few members of the all-party delegation who just visited the State have made all the correct noises. They have shown a better appreciation of the existing situation. Mr Arun Jaitley, Bharatiya Janata Party Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, for instance, has recognised that there is a sense of alienation among the people that would have to be removed. He has remarked: "The people are Indians, the land is India's... Then the Government has to work out something to ensure that a sense of alienation is not there among the locals…The distant dream of a separate State has to be removed. There has to be an eradication of the idea of separatism and the State has to function within the Constitutional framework of India." His impression is that the people in the State "want to be free to live their daily lives in an atmosphere devoid of fear. Their biggest source of anxiety springs from being told on a daily basis that they are acting at the behest of Pakistan." His opinion is: "The Government must be willing to wage a war of ideas in Kashmir, a war that must win over the minds of the common people of Kashmir, the students and housewives, a war to fight against the feeling of victimhood and against separatism. And in this task, India must show determination." Dialogue, according to him, is the way forward. Communist Party of India-Marxist Politburo member Sitaram Yechuri has asserted that any solution to the Kashmir imbroglio has to be found within the framework of the Constitution and through discussions. "We are prepared to reach out to every section to work out a solution within the Constitution," Mr Yechuri has added.


Communist Party of India (CPI) veteran Gurudas Dasgupta has been more specific. He has called upon the Government to take "calculated risks" to defuse the situation. He has echoed the suggestions made by Mr Jaitley and Mr Yechuri for holding talks with "all sections" of the people. At the same time, he has made the following proposals: (a) selective withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), (b) release of all protesters who have not been slapped with serious charges; (c) creation of a Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir; and (d) an economic package that includes revival of all Central public sector undertakings in Jammu and Kashmir. Mr Ram Vilas Paswan (Lok Janshakti Party) has supported unconditional talks and consideration of maximum possible autonomy of the State given its special status and historical background. There are differences among leaders on whether or not the AFSPA should be withdrawn.


For its part the Congress has said what is expected of it as the leader of the ruling United Progressive Alliance at the Centre and coalition partner in the State: "It (the visit) is not focused on results. It is beginning of a journey. If stakeholders move in a positive spirit, then an acceptable solution can be found in the national interest." If one looks back on developments right up to 1947 and goes strictly by the above utterances one will notice a positive difference in the perception of the BJP and the Communists with the passage of time. Whether it is just momentary or lasting only the time can tell.







It is not possible to miss the timing of the resolution on Jammu and Kashmir passed by Pakistan's Parliament this week. It has coincided with the visit of the all-party delegation to this State. Clearly designed to fish in the troubled waters of the Jhelum its purpose can also be to mislead the international community. The move has failed on both the counts. From all accounts, the visit of the Central team headed by Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has been fairly successful. By undertaking tours to different corners of the Valley its members have sent a firm message that the country cares for its people. The neighbouring country was least expecting something like this to happen. Once again it has been caught in a maze of its own making. The resolution passed first by the Pakistan Senate and then by the National Assembly contains nothing new. It has harped on the same old theme condemning "brutal use of state force" in "occupied Kashmir." It urges the other countries to stop being silent spectators to the "brutalities" in the Valley. It calls for the withdrawal of troops from the State, repeal of "black laws" and the lifting of curfew in Kashmir. It expresses dismay over the situation in Kashmir and demands an end to the media blackout, the release of arrested Kashmiri leaders and youngsters, and access to human rights organisations in Kashmir. Lest it missed out on its familiar jargon, the resolution said that Pakistan would always provide the Kashmiri people "moral, diplomatic and political support for their right to self-determination." We know it from a long experience that these are all euphemism for material and monetary backing to an agitation whipped by Pakistan in pursuance of its two-nation theory based on religion. This is the second time in a week Pakistan has shed copious tears about Jammu and Kashmir, a state which it wants to grab by hook or by crook.


For its part New Delhi has again done well to remind Pakistan that it has no locus standi in its "purely internal affair." In an extremely mature response, it has pointed out: "In the spirit of true rationality, India desires good neighbourly relations with Pakistan. We are committed to resolving all outstanding issues through dialogue. Crucially, Pakistan must fulfil its stated commitment of not allowing territory under its control to be used for terrorism directed against India in any manner." It has told Pakistan to tackle the issues of constitutional safeguards, democracy, extremism, terrorism and human rights violations in the part of the State that is under its "illegal occupation." Only the other day it had told the neighbour: "Pakistan should take credible and effective action against infiltration from across the Line of Control (LoC) and dismantle the terror infrastructure that exists in the territory under its control…This would be an important contribution towards safeguarding the welfare of the people of J&K who suffer the consequences of terrorism fomented from across the LoC and the International Border (IB)" The difficulty with Pakistan is that it refuses to learn. It is already split into two parts and on the current reckoning is heading for further fragmentation. Yet, it does not stop playing mischief with us. Can we help it in any way?












Chances are that this piece might not see the light of day considering that it is being written exactly as 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, it is that the people in the valley have little expectation from the proposed talks. The all-party 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 in the valley, now well, into its third month, 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 of with emissaries unless these were preceded by acceptance of conditions laid down by him. Mirwaiz Umar Farook and Yaseen Malik the leaders of the moderates having boycotted the meetings would not in any case not carry much conviction given the mortal combat launched by Geelani and his bunch of Islamist leaders, most of them young, to wean all separatists away. 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 kind of influence. In fact the Geelani phenomenon has created a situation in the valley in which the octogenarian pro-Pakistani separatists Islamist second rung has taken charge of this new unique form of protest which 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, and 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 their 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 it 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, 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. But 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, he 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 Abdullah too had decided to surface in Delhi. Their combined presence in the capital may have seemed reassuring to some but it hardly convinced critics of Omar's style of running the government and his failure to stop the protestors right at the beginning.

To fall back on the lastest 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 organizer. She has out manoevred New Delhi yet again by refusing to attend the Srinagar parleys. This has paid rich dividends to his 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 Pak military dictator, Gen. Musharraf's marked activism on Kashmir.

The Prime Minister, 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 doing so. What's the big point in mouthing inanities when you know these are meaningless What use does it to serve calling 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 of India 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 incharge of youth congress go out of his way in far away Kolkatta to give a clean chit to the Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. This certificate to the Chief Minister, 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 ij well" as long as his party is sharing part of the pie. May be 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 Youth Congress members. I can assure him that if only a quarter of that number were true Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mr. Mussarat Alam would have to work out some other strategies. Besides, the young Congress General Secretary should have realized 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 disovered after some 20 phone calls and the odd peep at TV screens, Chidambaram's team did finally manage to see on Monday the separatist trinity - Geelani, Umar Farouk and Yaseen Malik - for all three to be able to read over the rules of the game on Kashmir, essentially the valley to the Indians. 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 had the advantage of listening to perorations of the some of those present at in New Delhi itself only a few days ago should instead have insisted on hearing the dissenting voice. 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 lakhs to the families of each victim. All this money put together would not have amounted to more than a mini-mini fraction of 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 CWG10 have pushed many a 'emergency' situation into the background for all the wrong reasons and sadly as a Nation we will get maligned for a issue which actually should have gone in our favor. We have built a airport in record time, we have the Metro which matches the best in the World and now we have a man made disaster in CWG10 and while everyone will play the blame game the fact remains that while the decision was taken in 2003 nothing happened till 2008 and the issue like many others was consigned to the GOM and predictably while Ministers squabbled the issue remained in the files and then the agencies were asked to produce a 'miracle' with a tainted chain of command and Minister's known for poor decision making and in this situation all these factors have contributed to create a catastrophe and we will still be in denial and insist that 'all is well'! All is not well and what makes it worse is the everyday misery of existence for the 'Aam Aadmi' and everyone else who is not in the power circuit which is confined to a few miles around Parliament house and should we be surprised by stray street dogs and in Mehrauli in addition to stray dogs we have cattle [large numbers], abandoned mules and even a old camel along with a army of monkeys! We have every ailment which the Village is suffering from in Delhi city and everywhere else in India and why must we act like hypocrites and pretend to be surprised by these disclosures in the media. We have suffered a serious setback and the credibility of the government has been dented and it is time to take a reality check and not to take public opinion for granted. 
We still have a few days to go and it would be a pity if 99% of the work done will be wrecked by a numbers of residential blocks recently completed which have not been cleaned and this should be done at a war footing and is it not reasonable to expect both the Ministers involved [Jaipal Reddy and MS Gill] to be present on the premises on a 24x7 basis and get the job done and we will have challenges on many a system which has not been put to the test and hopefully better sense will prevail and no one will pull out of the games. The excessive rains have caused immense damage and these are beyond our control and we have a tragic situation in many parts of the country as most of the dams are overflowing and we have floods in many rural villages and some towns but as I write this article the sun is shining and hopefully we will see better days and our thoughts are with those who have suffered in the floods and the games will go well and the 'cleaning' process will be completed. This is not the time to discuss the question of political accountability but the countries image cannot be held to ransom by a few individuals in authority and the 'buck' has to stop at the political level. 
The anger on the CWG is being generated as it hurts our pride and as have shown over the last decade we are capable of great things and our growth over the last decade of over 8% does not only reflect on the immediate past but pays tribute to our past and our foresight to create the foundations of the growth we have today. The World is coming to India because we present wonderful opportunities for global interests and Indian talent in every field has made its presence felt in the global community. We must look into CWG10 in this context and over a seven year stretch we could have completed everything a year in advance and tested everything over a six month period if we had started work in 2006 instead of 2008. We cannot accept this kind of performance as it reflects on all of us and there has to be action initiated and this must start at the top! We have achieved wonderful things but we have miles to go and with greater exposure and a better understanding of issues by our youthful demographic pattern we will need a better political response in the future than we have had in the past. The CWG 10 mess has many a lesson for the future and this must never happen again . 
The Bihar elections will no doubt generate a great deal of activity and we see some movements from the RJD LJP and this is understandable as the Congress comes into the frame and may well double their tally from the existing ten seats to twenty plus and if this happens they then they will be the main challenge for the JD[U]/BJP in the next election. My knowledge on the caste calculations in Bihar is not very good but as things stand the reputation of Nitesh Kumar extends far beyond anyone else in the State and along with high integrity standards there is also the additional factor of work done in the rural area's on law and order which has improved dramatically along with roads and 6-8 hours of electricity. My figures given last week are based on conventional anti incumbency trends but the public is always ahead and we may well see both the JD[U]/BJP gaining along with the Congress at the expense of the RJD/LJP. Rahul Gandhi throws a few political punches and receives a few in return and this is a good sign as there is no other way to recover lost ground in the State. 
The same position exists in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu where the Congress have ceased to exist as a cohesive force over a few decades and the challenges in all the three States are very similar to Uttar Pradesh. We all talk of change but we tend to cling to conventional political wisdom and few parties have concentrated on member ship drives to generate votes and considering that major political changes can come by a small swing of 2-3% the policy of the Congress General Secretary may well yield the electoral space the Congress is looking for in these critical four states which contribute 200 seats plus in the Lok Sabha.








The sustained campaign by the civil society organisations has resulted in the introduction of The Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosures Bill, 2010. The bill seeks to establish a mechanism to receive complaints relating to disclosure on any allegation of corruption, wilful misuse of power or wilful misuse of discretion against public servants.

The bill needs to be fine tuned in the light of the similar laws available elsewhere. It has ignored some of the recommendations of the Administrative Reforms Commission and the Law Commission. It was expected that the bill will take care of the security concerns of those who are using the Right to Information Act (RTA).


During 2009 at least nine RTI users have been murdered and many cases of physical attacks have gone unreported. The bill belies such expectations.

The bill is applicable to Central as well as state government departments, institutions, local bodies, societies and institutions that may be notified by the governments. The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) will be the nodal agency to receive information from whistleblowers in respect of offices under the Central government.
The states are expected to set up similar bodies. Perhaps the existing lokayukta or anti corruption bureaux may be designated for this purpose. The bill calls such institutions a 'competent authority.'

When it comes to the nature of 'disclosure', the bill tries to restrict it to certain offences and lay down conditions for others. Under the bill, a disclosure means a complaint relating to an attempt to commit or commission of an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. In case a citizen wants to blow the whistle he can do so only when the misuse of power or misuse of discretion has lead to loss to the government or gain to the public servant.

Information about an attempt to commit or commission of a criminal offence by a public servant can also be disclosed to the competent authority. Here again the bill does not indicate the issues on which information could be disclosed. The Law Commission Bill said that 'disclosable conduct' include 'mal-administration', meaning any action taken or purporting to have been taken or being taken or proposed to be taken in the exercise of administrative or statutory power or discretion can be a ground for disclosing information.

The word 'mal-administration' included any action which is (a) unreasonable, unjust, oppressive or discriminatory (b) where there is negligence (c) where there has been reckless or unauthorised use of power (d) where such action amounts to breach of trust (e) where action would result in wastage of public funds and or (f) where such action is outside the authority of law or amounts to violation of systems and procedures.

The present bill is woefully inadequate in its coverage of offences relating to environment, health, safety and economic crimes. The UK Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 aims to protect whistleblowers from victimisation and dismissal, where they raise genuine concerns about a range of misconduct and malpractices. For example a worker who blows the whistle will be protected if the disclosure is made in good faith and is about (a) a criminal act (b) a failure to comply with a legal obligation, etc.

Unlike in other countries where whistle blowing is allowed in the private sector, the bill does not contain such a provision. Increasingly private sector participation in many public services is being allowed. Besides, some of the activities of the private sector directly affect the public. It follows that if something goes against public interest within the private sector, it needs to be divulged.

One of the foundations of whistle blowing is the public's right to know. Jeffrey Wigand who was the head of the R&D of Brown & Williamson (a tobacco company) spoke about the company's knowledge of nicotine's addictive properties, its reckless use of harmful additives, its quashing of research on safe cigarettes. He was the witness in the US government's lawsuit against the tobacco industry, which eventually led to the $246 billion federal tobacco settlement. Who knows there may be many Satyams in the pipeline?

According to the bill disclosures can be made only to the Competent Authority, the CVC in this case or any other similar body in the state.

The aim of the bill is to protect the identity of the informers. But section 4(5) of the bill goes against the spirit of the law. It says that the competent authority may reveal the identity of the whistleblower to the head of the department or organisation against which information has been provided. This provision also is enough to make the law remain on paper. This part of law assumes that information will be provided only against the staff or employees of the organisation.

What happens when a citizen has to disclose information which is against the head of the department itself? Finally, the bill is silent about the benefits that may accrue to the whistleblower. Instead it penalises persons who make vexatious and frivolous complaints. The bill needs to be amended to provide for some sort of incentives to whistleblowers. (INAV)









LIKE many other civil court cases in the country, the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit has been hanging fire for six long decades. Even when it came close to conclusion, it was certain that if the decision of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court went in favour of one of the parties, the other would go in appeal to the Supreme Court. That would mean many more years of legal wrangling. Interestingly, the two main representatives of the Hindus and Muslims have expressed their willingness to accept the High Court order as the final and not go to the higher court. Ninety-year-old Hashim Ansari is the original and oldest surviving petitioner in the case, and Satyendra Das is the head priest of the makeshift Ram Janmabhoomi temple at the disputed site. They want this 60-year-old dispute to be "buried in Lucknow and not in Delhi".


One thing common in the local representatives of the two communities is that they have not let the legal dispute sour their relations. They maintain cordial ties and visit each other often. Moreover, they are also critical of political parties who stoke the communal fires for petty vote gains. Satyendra Das, who has been managing the Ram temple since 1992, even goes to the extent of saying that the "demolition of Babri Masjid has harmed Lord Ram, harmed Ayodhya and harmed us". They are also unanimous that the nation is supreme.


Their reasonable voices are very significant and deserve to be held out as an example. In sharp contrast to their sanity at the ground level, there are higher forces at work which would do anything to keep the communal cauldron boiling. They would be eager to appeal further in case of an unfavourable verdict. But all sane persons should prevail on them to bury the hatchet. All the political mileage that could be had from the issue has already been extracted. The common man is more concerned about his daily bread. One hopes that the leaders will desist from using the renewed interest in the subject for political gains. 









THE Supreme Court's directive to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory, New Delhi, to submit a report to it on the status of facilities available in various forensic science laboratories in the country and the kind of scientific support being extended to the investigating agencies in the matter of detection of crime is timely and welcome. A Bench consisting of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice T.S. Thakur has ruled that as the country does not have adequate forensic science laboratory facilities, investigations are poor and this, in turn, allows criminals to go scot- free. It said the situation in Western countries was quite the opposite when compared with India. In those countries, the authorities are able to make the best use of science and technology to investigate crimes. They also have hi-tech facilities to test the criminals' fingerprints, DNA, blood and so on. The reason why India lags behind in proper investigation in criminal cases is because of the authorities' failure to provide the investigators the necessary scientific training as also the equipment.


While the apex court directive is expected to goad the government to take steps to streamline this vital discipline, all is not well with forensic scientists in the country. They suffer from lack of resources, poor infrastructure, understaffing, absence of proper national policies and support. Because of the lack of vision, forensic science has failed to develop when compared to other disciplines of pure and applied sciences. More important, owing to poor infrastructure and bleak career prospects, the forensic science laboratories in the country seem unable to attract talent.


While it would be interesting to see what the Central Forensic Science Laboratory would report to the Supreme Court, the Union Government cannot overlook the imperative need to revitalise forensic science education in the universities to provide human resource to the forensic science laboratories. There is merit in the argument of some experts that these courses in the universities, instead of being run by police officials, should be entrusted to experts so that these institutions could be exposed to scientific culture, temper and vision. 









IT is not surprising that Pakistan has substantially increased its defence budget. It has done so in the past also. What is alarming is that this has happened despite the fact that the outlays for development and non-development purposes have been reduced by nearly 50 per cent and 20 per cent respectively. The defence budget now stands at Rs 552 billion against the previous year's Rs 442.2 billion. The argument that has been advanced for reducing the allocations for development purposes is that funds have been saved for the rehabilitation of the flood-hit. What a strange logic it is! Development projects can be allowed to suffer, but not the interests of the defence forces. The Pakistan government can justify it with the help of the "doctrine of necessity", even if people consider it illogical.


The increased defence outlays for the next fiscal have come to light before the formal presentation of the country's budget because the government has presented a "country paper" to the International Monetary Fund as per its requirement for the grant of funds. Otherwise there was no way to get matters related to army operations disclosed, as Pakistan's chief military spokesman has said. The defence forces have got their funds increased manifold on the pretext of fighting the Taliban, Al-Qaida and other such terrorist elements. That is alright, but this required a marginal rise. The most pressing requirement before Pakistan today is how to get the uprooted people rehabilitated. As the whole world knows, Pakistan has been faced with the worst kind of floods in its history. That is why it has got enormous donations from different countries despite the initial reservations.


Increasing the defence allocations in such a situation cannot be justified. But the hard reality is that no government in Pakistan can go against the wishes of the armed forces. The argument goes that, after all, Pakistan is there in one piece because of its armed forces. So, looking after the military's interests is the country's primary responsibility. However, this is a flawed logic. No army can discharge its responsibilities properly if people turn against it. The Pakistan Army has already suffered considerable erosion in its image during the fight against the Taliban. It will imperil Pakistan's existence if the army gets further alienated from the people.

















AMIDST a general deterioration in Sino-India relations in recent days, India has taken a particularly strong line on the Indian Ocean. Finally, the Indian government has acknowledged what many have been warning for years: China's role in the Indian Ocean is growing at a rate that underlines much more than a normal expansion of capabilities. External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna has informed Parliament that "the Government of India has come to realise that China has been showing more than the normal interest in the Indian Ocean affairs." He went on to assert that the government is "closely monitoring the Chinese intentions." But monitoring the intentions of a state is a fool's errand. Intentions cannot be empirically verified and even if one could determine China's intentions today, there is no way to know what they will be in the future. What India should instead focus on is China's rapidly rising naval capabilities in and around the Indian Ocean.


For some time now Indian naval expansion has been undertaken with an eye on China. Yet India has nautical miles to go before it can catch up with its powerful neighbour, which has made some significant advances in the waters surrounding India.


Just last year, China's growing naval capability was on full display as it paraded its nuclear-powered submarines for the first time as part of the celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) navy. Gone was the reticence of yore when China was not ready to even admit that it had such capabilities. Chinese commanders are now openly talking about the need for nuclear submarines to safeguard the nation's interests, and the Chinese navy, once the weakest of the three services, is now the focus of attention of the military modernisation programme that is being pursued with utmost seriousness.


China's navy is now considered the third-largest in the world, behind only the US and Russia, and superior to the Indian Navy in both qualitative and quantitative terms. The PLA navy has traditionally been a coastal force, and China has had a continental outlook to security. But with a rise in its economic might since the 1980s, Chinese interests have expanded and acquired a maritime orientation with the intention to project power into the Indian Ocean.


China is investing far greater resources in the modernisation of its armed forces in general and its navy in particular than India seems either willing to undertake or capable of sustaining at present. China's increasingly sophisticated submarine fleet could eventually be one of the world's largest, and with a rapid accretion in its capabilities, including submarines, ballistic missiles and GPS-blocking technology, some are suggesting that China will increasingly have the capacity to challenge the US.


Senior Chinese officials have indicated that China would be ready to build an aircraft carrier by the end of the decade as it is seen as being indispensable to protecting Chinese interests in oceans. Such intent to develop carrier capability marks a shift away from devoting the bulk of the PLA's modernisation drive to the goal of capturing Taiwan.


With a rise in China's economic and political prowess, there has also been commensurate growth in its profile in the Indian Ocean region. China is acquiring naval bases along the crucial choke-points in the Indian Ocean, not only to serve its economic interests but also to enhance its strategic presence in the region.


China realises that its maritime strength will give it the strategic leverage that it needs to emerge as the regional hegemon and a potential superpower — and there is enough evidence to suggest that China is comprehensively building up its maritime power in all dimensions.


It is China's growing dependence on maritime space and resources that is reflected in the country's aspirations to expand its influence and to ultimately dominate the strategic environment in the Indian Ocean region. China's growing reliance on bases across the Indian Ocean region is a response to its perceived vulnerability, given the logistical constraints that it faces due to the distance of the Indian Ocean waters from its own area of operation.


Yet, China is consolidating power over the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean with an eye on India — something that comes out clearly in a secret memorandum issued by the PLA General Logistic Department Director: "We can no longer accept the Indian Ocean as only an ocean of the Indians [...]. We are taking armed conflicts in the region into account."


Given the immense geographical advantages that India enjoys in the Indian Ocean, China will find it very challenging to exert as much sway in the Indian Ocean as India can. But all the steps that China will take to protect and enhance its interests in the Indian Ocean region will generate apprehensions in India about Beijing's real intentions, thereby engendering a classic security dilemma between the two Asian giants.


Tensions are inherent in such an evolving strategic relationship as was underlined in an incident earlier this year when an Indian kilo-class submarine and Chinese warships, on their way to the Gulf of Aden to patrol the pirate-infested waters, reportedly got engaged in rounds of manoeuvring as they tried to test for weaknesses in each other's sonar systems. The Chinese media reported that its warships forced the Indian submarine to the surface, which was strongly denied by the Indian Navy.


Unless managed carefully, the potential for such incidents turning serious in the future remains high, especially as Sino-Indian naval competition is likely to intensify with the Indian and Chinese navies operating far from their shores. The battle to rule the waves in the Indian Ocean may have just begun. And India will have to do more than merely monitoring Chinese intentions. 








WHILE there are serious concerns in the entire country about the success of the Commonwealth Games, members of the Organising Committee seem smug that they have done the best they could in the seven years that they had at their disposal. I got talking to one of the leading lights.


"Sir, you had said that the facilities being provided at the Games Village and the venues will be the best ever. However, officials of the participating countries do not seem to agree."


"Of course, these are the best. We got the flats checked by some of the people living in DDA flats and they said that the Games Village flats were far far better than what they have to live in."


"But everyone is talking about the dirty toilets."


"Well, hygiene standards vary from country to country. I think we should have accepted the suggestion of one of the organisers to make the athletes go out in the fields, lota in hand, to have a true Indian experience."


"But you will agree that the spectacle of dogs lying on the beds meant for participants was not in good taste."


"So what? Every dog has his day. If there can be underdogs there, why not some dogs as well?"


"Roads, bridges, stadia should have been ready years ago."


"Sporting traditions are very strong in our country. We always race against time. We win some, we lose some".


"Come on, sir. You will agree that the collapse of an under-construction overbridge was a big embarrassment…"


"Heavens have not fallen. You should understand that after lining so many pockets, it is very difficult to spare money to season sand with cement".


"But another bridge cannot be constructed in a week. How will people go from the parking lot to the main venue now?'


"No hassle. We will hang some ropes. Those wanting to cross the road will use them, Tarzan style.


"Even the false ceiling of the weightlifting arena of the main stadium fell off."


"That was deliberate, of course. We were trying to convert it into an open-air stadium, so that no exasperated sportsperson tries to commit suicide by hanging himself."


"My God, you seem to have thought of everything. How about the complaints that one has to wade through water to reach some of the residential towers?"


"Reminds you of Venice, doesn't it?"


"But, sir, there are serious worries about sickness, with flies and mosquitoes around."


"We are sick of the allegations made by these pampered guests. If they are lily-livered, what can we do? When Indians can live in similar conditions for generations, why cannot they do that just for a fortnight? We believe in giving everybody a level playing field. Where is their sportsman spirit?"


"One last question. What have you done about terrorist threats?"


"All victims will not only be given Rs 10 lakh each but they will also be declared martyrs". 








The armed forces are involved in several internal conflicts, requiring that rules of engagement be formulated imaginatively, with safety and well-being of the local populace being central to all operations and the fundamental goal being the restart of the political process


TERRORISM and insurgency are not a new phenomenon but in recent years have come into special focus. Operations to tackle insurgencies and terrorism are above the level of peaceful coexistence but below that of war. Although not universal, this type of warfare underscores the capacity of the weak to impose considerable military and political pain on the strong. The aim of the terrorists is to change the perception of the populace and show the state in bad light. Their modus operandi is characterised by irrationality, indiscrimination, unpredictability and ruthless destruction.


Regular forces usually fail to grasp the essentially political nature of the conflict. Nor do they understand the limits of their own conventional military power in such political and operational settings. A major characteristic of such operations in our country is application of combat power to enhance "civil control" rather than cause attrition. In this respect the Indian Army is quite different from many others, including those of USA and Pakistan.


The Indian Army believes such operations need to be people-centric and conducted in a manner that they generate a groundswell for stability and peace. Rules of engagement are formulated imaginatively in the backdrop of political, legal and moral parameters. The populace constitutes the "centre of gravity" and therefore winning their "hearts and minds" is central to all efforts. Effective interface with media, as part of public information and perception-management, is also necessary.


Suicide terrorism, motivated by blind faith, is a strategy of coercion employed to compel a target government to change policy. Democracies are particularly vulnerable to such attacks for three reasons. First, their threshold of intolerable pain is lower than that of dictatorships. Secondly, democracies are more restrained than authoritarian regimes in use of force, and thirdly, suicide attacks may also be harder to organise or publicise in authoritarian states.


The Army has been dealing with a large number of internal conflicts. It has been fighting the Naga insurgency for nearly five decades and insurgencies in practically all other north-eastern states for over 40 years. In the 80s and 90s, a large part of the Army was deployed in Punjab to tackle Sikh insurgents, who at the behest of and with the full support of Pakistan, had let loose a reign of terror.


In Punjab, the Army had deliberately assumed a supportive role, with the police in the lead role, as the army did not want to alienate the populace in a state that is crucial for its operations against Pakistan. The police did a good job, but they could not have succeeded without the unobtrusive, yet crucial role played by the Army over a prolonged period in stabilising an extremely sensitive situation and bringing a modicum of confidence amongst the populace.


Since l989, the Army is the lead force for operations in Jammu and Kashmir to tackle insurgency, terrorism and proxy war unleashed by Pakistan, using both indigenous and foreign insurgents, and totally backed by it in all respects.


We have had two successes in the last fifty years, one in Mizoram and the second in Punjab. Both were resolved with the cooperation of the local people. Both took a long time because all counter insurgency operations are deliberate, time consuming and need a great deal of patience and perseverance.


In recent decades, terrorism has been directly linked to religious fundamentalism. In South Asia, Pakistan has been exporting Jihadi fundamentalist terrorism to Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India, as a matter of state policy. At times, it has managed to coerce some of our neighbours to assist it in this nefarious activity. Exporting terrorism is double-edged, as Pakistan is now discovering; for now they themselves have become the target of the insurgents they have trained and supported!


What is of grave concern to all nations and particularly to our country is the possibility of insurgents getting hold of material for mass destruction, especially by countries like Pakistan that sponsor fundamentalism, either as state policy or by ignoring its spread. There is an ever-present danger of terrorists getting hold of nuclear, biological or chemical material, access to which must be denied by all nations as a major priority task.


The Army has evolved a unique perspective for fighting insurgents and terrorists in the last six decades, since it was first employed in Nagaland. Its view has always been that it is fighting fellow-Indians, albeit misguided ones. These insurgencies had to be managed, but not in a manner that would further alienate the populace. Operationally, this led to the renunciation of heavy weapons and making the "hearts and minds" campaign a central part of the strategy.


The Army believes that insurgencies are political struggles and hence their solution also lies in the political domain. Therefore, the fundamental goal is creation of conditions for restarting the political process. This is encompassed in the concept of "restoring normalcy", which requires that the level of violence be brought down for the political process to restart. It needs to be noted that the army views its role as "conflict management" and not "conflict resolution".


Uniqueness of the Indian doctrine is particularly dramatic when compared with similar operations by other countries. In US operations in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan; Soviet intervention in Afghanistan; Israeli operations in Lebanon; Russian operations in Chechnya and operations by Pakistani Army against their own nationals, attrition has dominated with the use of heavy firepower including air power. In contrast, the Indian Army has refrained from using heavy weapons or air power, which results in collateral damage and alienates the locals.


A major tenet of operations in India is the use of minimum force, creating a secure and conducive environment and finally aiming at addressing the root causes of the conflict. The underlying aspect is a humane approach towards the populace in the conflict zone and use of measured force against insurgents and terrorists. The policy underscores respect for human rights, upholding laws of the land and encourages "neuteralisation" of terrorists by surrender and apprehension rather than only seeking "kills".


This strategy pays careful attention to political imperatives and thus represents a significant doctrinal evolution. The Army has paid a heavy price by incurring casualties in its efforts to save innocent persons from collateral damage. It does so to ensure that innocent civilians do not become casualties of continuing violence by terrorists who are least concerned with deaths, maiming and psychological ill effects of their actions. The huge number of Army's casualties in such actions is a testimony to the sense of duty, professionalism and the discipline of all ranks.


The writer is former Vice Chief of the Army Staff







ONE of the innumerable suggestions being thrown up to combat Maoists in the red corridor is to recruit ex-servicemen on a three year contract to fight the insurgents, and to engage retired sappers to clear mines. Undoubtedly ex-servicemen are in need of financial support, but not desperate enough to take up any job. Certainly not as mercenary soldiers to be used as cannon fodder and then be discarded, despised and dumped, when the job is done.


Such suggestions spring from another wrong notion that ex-servicemen by themselves will perform at the same level they did during their stint with the military. They did well and met all challenges during their active service because they formed part of well knit, highly motivated units with abundant 'spirit-de-corps' and above all, ably commanded by officers who led them from the front and ran greater risk than their men.


When these veterans are now called upon to come forward and join the Central Police Organisations (CPOs), it would be wrong to expect them to do as well as they did while in the military. In fact, and in all probability, they would very soon acquire the police culture and mores of the CPOs and descend to its level of morale and motivation. Their performance will conform to that of the CPO personnel with whom they would be so grouped.


Another factor to bear in mind is that veterans are a disillusioned lot, who were discharged in the prime of their lives and denied adequate compensation for early retirement. When the same government, which continues to treat them shabbily, turned a deaf ear to their pleas for justice and fair play and retracted from all promises made even by the highest authorities in the country, calls upon them to take on yet another heavy burden - a burden which the Home Ministry's much pampered police forces' are unable to carry -- what could be their response? Are they to be once more exploited and then discarded? Surely they are not mercenaries or labourers to take up a 3-year contract to bale out the country from this ever expanding, and as the Prime Minister calls, the most serious threat to the country.


If the government is serious about tackling the Maoist problem and wants to draw veterans into the fight, then it must as a first step, establish its sincerity and credibility and give them what their Supreme Commander, several prime ministers and defence ministers promised in public. The government must first win back their confidence and give them the promised One Rank-- One Pension. A soldier still falls much short of his civilian equivalent in monetary benefits and this disadvantage and disparity keeps increasing as the soldier advances in years due to the consequences of successive Pay Commissions. The government must show grace and give what it repeatedly promised. Additionally they must have the cover of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA.).


Any serious attempt in drawing veterans into this fight and expect them to deliver calls for a worthwhile package to be put on the table for them. Among the possibilities are taking retired army personnel to organise training schools in jungle warfare and counter-insurgency operations. Besides ex-servicemen below 44 years of age, invite soldiers who are left with two years of service and give them full pension to join the new set-up. They can be enrolled for a minimum of 12 years and their pay fixed as per their length of Colour service.


Form units, or at least companies of these veterans, preferably as per their regimental grouping. Draw maximum ex-servicemen from the states/areas where Maoists are active. Similarly invite retired and released short service commission officers to join units thus formed. They too must be engaged for a period of 12 years with pay to be followed by pension, over and above what is already being drawn as applicable.


To start with, a formation on the lines of an infantry division be created and deployed in one of the effected states along with the state police with a joint control centre. They must also consider the inadvisability of deploying a plethora of CPOs in one area, which often results in petty rivalries.


The Maoist menace is not going to go away in a hurry nor will it be possible to remove in a short span of time. It will require genuine and purposeful efforts to ameliorate the misery of the affected groups. Establish fair and friendly administration and bring about some minimum acceptable level of development.


The writer is former Deputy Chief of the Army Staff 




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For all one knows, the Commonwealth Games may go off without a hitch. How much that will repair the damage already done to Brand India is a matter of guesswork. All that can be said just now is that if the Games were to be a coming-out party for the country, it has been a botched affair.


 The more important question is whether the "misfeasance, malfeasance and non-feasance" (to borrow a phrase from the classic film, Front Page) that have been on display are special to the Games organisers, or typical of the system. When Mr Bhanot uttered his immortal line ("My hygiene and cleanliness standards may be different from theirs"), was he saying more than he knew? What, after all, is the state of our public toilets (few as they are)? What toilet facilities are made available to the many thousands of pilgrims who make their way to Amarnath and Sabarimala every year? By all accounts, they are worse than "filthy" and "unliveable". Mr Bhanot, you hit the bull's eye.


As for missed deadlines and ramped up costs, how come our TV anchors don't go hysterical at the trebling of the bill for Delhi airport's new Terminal 3? Or cry "scandal" when the Delhi chief minister stalls the electricity regulator's report that calls for a cut in Delhi's power tariffs? Or cry "national shame" when most of the country suffers long power cuts every day? If all it takes for public consciousness to be raised to fever pitch is for Mr Hooper and Mr Fennell to periodically address the press and use some choice epithets and seek meetings with the prime minister — who then bestirs himself to call daily review meetings — perhaps we should hire these gentlemen as citizens' voices.


In other words, what the Games preparations have shown up in terms of "misfeasance, malfeasance and non-feasance" is what is normal and everyday when it comes to the functioning of our governments — which explains why Sheila Dikshit dismisses the collapse of a foot overbridge (the lead story on the front page in newspapers in half a dozen countries) as a minor issue, and why Jaipal Reddy is able to say that as far as he is concerned the work of the group of ministers overseeing Games preparations was over a week ago. This when New Delhi's showpiece city centre remains in an unbelievable shambles, the Shivaji Stadium work will remain incomplete even when the Games are over, and no one hears anything about the special metro line to the airport that was sanctioned as a Games project.


What has been obvious for some time is that, even as India's private sector has got better (more effective, more innovative, and more technologically accomplished), the government's ability to deliver — whether it is social infrastructure like public health and education, physical infrastructure like electricity, a public distribution system that reaches the poor and new technology for agriculture — has steadily deteriorated. We could organise the Asian Games in 1982; we can't organise the Commonwealth Games in 2010.


But what gives one sleepless nights is the worry that the same government might be approaching India's defence preparedness with the same incompetence and corruption — even as China builds new roads and railway lines up to the border, and places more powerful missiles on the Tibetan plateau. The government's own representatives have written despairingly about the state of the country's border roads, defence hardware acquisitions miss target dates repeatedly, and allocations are unspent year after year, even as the defence budget has been squeezed to the lowest level (in relation to GDP) since 1962. Risking international embarrassment is bad enough; what about risking national security? And what kind of wake-up call do we need on that front?









The proximate trigger for the trans-Atlantic financial crisis lay in the US sub-prime housing market. Most analysts, however, trace the ultimate origins of the crisis to the interrelated phenomena of weaknesses in financial regulation and monetary policy in advanced markets on the one hand, and to the build-up of global imbalances on an epic scale on the other.


The most concerted response to the global financial crisis, that may have averted a second Great Depression, came from the G20, which has since assumed the mantle of the premier multilateral forum for economic cooperation. Eminently successful in crisis situations, going forward, the challenge before the G20 lies in proving its efficacy in addressing structural issues in non-crisis situations.


 The "Framework for Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth", agreed upon by G20 leaders at their fourth Summit in Toronto in July 2010, needs to be perceived against such a backdrop. Groups of advanced and emerging surplus and deficit countries committed to appropriate baskets of policy actions to reduce imbalances and raise potential growth. Since country circumstances within the same group can vary, they also agreed that at their fifth Summit in Seoul in November 2010, they would commit to country-specific policies to further refine the Framework.


The assumption in the Framework exercise is that future risks to the global economy would be considerably mitigated if countries moved towards external balance. Since much of the demand behind high global growth in the period preceding the crisis came from leveraged consumption in advanced deficit countries, it is also assumed that as advanced deficit countries move towards greater external balance and clean up their financial systems, global growth could decline permanently, unless structural policies, such as those recommended by the OECD in its "Going for Growth" framework, are implemented to raise the growth potential of all, but particularly advanced, economies.


Despite this ambitious exercise, the IMF expects global imbalances to widen further rather than wane. Moreover, there needs to be a single storyline that is consistent with imbalances, growth, development, climate change, demographic transition and fiscal consolidation, all of which are being debated directly or indirectly within the G20.


Implicit in the Framework is the assumption that growth and development should primarily be based on domestic savings. However, according to traditional development economics, developing countries should run current account deficits to top up domestic savings with external savings for boosting investment. The size of the deficit should, of course, be prudent and sustainable, or contained at levels that can reasonably be expected to be funded over the medium to long term. There could be liquidity crises from time to time, deriving from financial shocks and consequential sudden stops, but the IMF exists to provide liquidity backstop.


The problem arose because the equation was reversed, and developing countries started running huge current account surpluses, and developed countries similarly large deficits. This led to a "savings glut" that lowered the cost of capital, fuelling excessive consumption via a leveraged asset price boom in developed countries through financial innovation in a lightly regulated financial system.


If this analysis is correct, should the IMF and the G20 shift their focus from imbalances per se to their structure and direction? While the American and Chinese imbalances appear anomalous, it is not clear why the surpluses of Germany and Japan are a major problem. As developed countries, they should run surpluses to smoothen global developmental imbalances by generating savings for investment in developing countries. Of course, if developed countries end up exporting low-technology consumer goods, they could stifle growth in developing countries. But this is patently not the case, as both Germany and Japan increasingly specialise in high-technology/productivity products and capital goods.


From the viewpoint of climate change too, the wisdom of advising some developed countries with high per capita incomes to further increase consumption, while at the same time inducing them to agree to stiff and binding emission cuts to create environmental space for developing countries to grow, seems contradictory.


Traditional development economics overlooked the growth dynamics of ageing. As the share of the working population shrinks, savings in developed economies can be expected to decline, although structural reforms, such as raising the age of retirement and liberal immigration policies, can stagger this process. Nevertheless, one would expect developed economies to eventually move from external surpluses to deficits, which would need to be funded through current account surpluses of either younger, newly emerged countries and/or middle income developing economies, like China.


Since America is not an advanced ageing economy, its huge deficits are anomalous. They are sustained at their present levels only through the reserve currency status of the US dollar. Being a low middle income developing country, Chinese surpluses are also anomalous, and sustainable only on account of American deficits, which they mirror.


To the extent American household consumption might decline through deleveraging and repair of household balance sheets, Chinese surpluses should shrink. However, the increase in US government deficits has countervailed the rise in US private savings. But such expansion cannot be sustained indefinitely, and the G20 countries have consequently separately agreed on a road map of fiscal consolidation. The moot question is: Will staggered US fiscal consolidation result in the long-awaited disorderly unwinding of global imbalances and collapse of the dollar? It is intriguing that the IMF had long anticipated a financial crisis through a disorderly unwinding of global imbalances and collapse of the dollar fuelled by private deficits. The global crisis, however, further strengthened the safe haven status of the global reserve currency. There are now even fewer signs of public deficit-fuelled imbalances weakening the global reserve currency.


It is only when public deficits in advanced countries shrink significantly can we expect global imbalances to start unwinding. This unwinding can be expected to adversely affect global trend growth — the so-called "New Normal" — unless difficult structural changes are effected to sustain growth in advanced deficit countries and boost domestic demand in emerging surplus countries. Such changes are politically challenging and take time to take effect. Even so, capital may continue to flow uphill and, therefore, the financial system needs to be strengthened to prevent past excesses.


The writer is a civil servant responsible for G20 in the Union finance ministry. The views expressed are persona








When a newspaper reporter hoodwinked Buckingham Palace into employing him as a royal footman no one thought the security lapse justified deposing the Queen and abolishing the monarchy. But the Commonwealth Games are believed to be in jeopardy because an Australian journalist "waltzed past a police cordon into the main stadium with a suitcase-sized bomb detonator kit" as a London paper put it. However, Western double standards don't excuse the misplaced values of India's status-obsessed elite. It was whispered in 2003 when Delhi trounced Hamilton in the bidding for the October 3 Games that each member nation had been offered $100,000 for its vote. International sports are riddled with such allegations, and the motive is both pecuniary and political. Hosting the Commonwealth Games was expected to convince the world that India can host the 2024 Olympics, thus providing the great equaliser in the race with China.


It is impossible to associate Manmohan Singh's serene realism with such banal calculations. He must know that China is too far ahead in the conventional stakes and that India can best make a mark by remaining true to her own genius. But I fear that many of his colleagues, mainly short-term power brokers, think India is in the big boys' league because its multibillion dollar economy boasts the world's second-fastest growth rate, while nuclear bombs and the ability to send a man to the Moon satisfyingly enables Delhi to thumb its nose at European donors. They are dazzled by the prospect of lording it over a member of the United Nations Security Council. Singh alone seems to be concerned about the other India of 700 million people who survive on a pittance.


Indians abroad are embarrassed to read and listen to details of the fiasco. But however much we might bubble with righteous anger about race prejudice and Third World stereotyping, we know it's all true. Open manholes, leaky roofs, stagnant water and exposed wires are like the beggars we round up and hide when foreigners come a-visiting. Our own standards are more indulgent.


Take construction. A brand new government hostel started life with rusty bathroom fittings. The fitted bedroom cupboards looked smart until one tried to open a drawer … the front dropped off. The Indian construction firm that makes elegant palaces for Gulf sheikhs turns out shoddy buildings at home where no one demands excellence and only a fraction of the sanctioned money reaches them.


India is no different in this respect from Pakistan where the Pakistan People's Party's Abdul Qayyum Khan Jatoi famously says, "Corruption is our right. Corruption has become a part of our culture. If a thousand people are engaging in corruption, the one who does not is only hurting himself."


A week is a long time and the Games might still be salvaged. One must perforce hope they will be. Lord Billimoria gallantly reminds us they were planting roadside trees in Athens on the actual day the 2004 Olympics opened. A kindly Mike Fennell, president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, dismisses critics as "Western snobs".


We can also draw solace from Hugh Robertson's view that though formidable, the obstacles don't yet amount to "a show-stopper". But then, unlike Mani Shankar Aiyar, Robertson still has a sports ministry to defend and cannot afford to be a spoilsport. Moreover, though the British empire became the British Commonwealth with the prefix British dropped in 1978, and Britain itself disclaiming any proprietary interest, others still think in terms of a constellation of former colonies. Hence the indignation at Queen Elizabeth not opening the Games. Many feel they are being fobbed off with second best in the person of Prince Charles.


That's part of the yearning for tinsel glory. Even if the run-up doesn't demonstrate that banana republics come in all shapes and sizes, it does expose the false gods that can lead nations astray and delude the grasping and opinionated buffoons in charge into squandering resources on what is billed as the most expensive Games ever.


Delhi should be more concerned about the message of so many Indians trying to escape India. Eight Indian states have more poor people than the 26 poorest African countries. Malnutrition is twice as high as in sub-Saharan Africa. The stark truth is that large armies, lethal weapons and the banners and bunting of gala international events do not a superpower make. Wealth redistribution, education, housing, medicare and employment matter more than jamborees.


The £2-billion cost of the Games could have assured millions of deprived Indians of a new life.










Rana, more friend than relative, went distinctively off colour as soon as I asked how his house was coming up. It was his dream taking shape, as getting to build your own house is for most of us. And he had been lucky, securing a decent plot of land a few years ago at what now seems a throwaway price in North Bangalore, on way to the new airport. As the airport has landed and property prices around it have shot up, people like Rana have felt nicer by the day.


So what's gone wrong? Was it the architect, or the contractor? Neither. It was the dirty trick that the developer had played on him. No, it was not that the plot was smaller in reality or prone to water-logging. On one of his frequent visits to the site, he spotted a tractor with trailer trundling down the little road before his house. It was a nearby farmer taking a short cut through the development.


 A former armed forces person and a disciplinarian, he immediately confronted the security staff. Then the story came out in bits and pieces. Yes it was a running gated community with a wall around it, with many houses already up and people living there. But the people in the area had a right of passage through the development. Those were the terms of the sanction; otherwise the development would have created a local revolt.


Rana was upset on two counts. The developer sold him the plot in a gated community, which would have a wall round it and security staff at the gate, not mentioning that a public road would run through it. If Rana had known, he would have at least tried to secure a plot off this particular road. The developer had made a material suppression. But Rana's greater concern was what this right of passage does to the security of the whole development.


I could only tell him what I had learned over a decade ago while setting up house in a similar gated community in Gurgaon and the reality that I came to know when, as a member of the managing committee for a short while (the rest threw me out soon), I got to see some of the files. Yes, the Haryana town and country people had sanctioned the internal road plan and a wall around it but the crucial letter clearly said there must be a gap in the wall where an existing road from outside "abuts" it.


But we built the wall right through. So there was this peculiar sight of a road from the adjoining DLF area suddenly meeting a dead end at our boundary wall. There were no local farmers to exercise their right. They had sold off and gone long ago, and the large plots around our development were mostly owned by absentee NRIs who were waiting for the capital appreciation before deciding to build or not.


I tried to gently explain to Rana that no local authority will sanction a development that denies the existing community the right of passage it has exercised for long. The way to get around it is to cheat, as we did in Gurgaon. They could keep a gate open, allow people to pass but keep making it increasingly difficult for them to do so (checks at the gate, etc.). Then, as more and more locals sell out to developers and agriculture declines in the area, someday put a barrier and thereafter build the wall, across the road. But Rana was keenly unhappy. He was a former fauji, law abiding.


Then I tried another track. The rattle and exhaust of tractors are indeed off-putting, but what security does a wall give? Can't thieves climb over walls? I told him how my car was broken into in Gurgaon but the thief was such an anari that he could not get the stereo out. So I got away with having to only change the car door-lock. But, said Rana, at least you can keep the petty thieves out. What he didn't spell out and what I could guess was that the whole situation where anybody can walk in and out, when you had assumed otherwise, offended his sense of order.


Then, after I was onto my second peg of whisky while he nursed his single regulation glass of wine, I became emboldened and inflicted on him my views on gated communities. They are a severe black mark against a society. One in which you want to feel safe by living in a gated community is going downhill. It is no wonder that South Delhi communities have put up walls around them, at times cutting off well-used pathways, having several gates across roads but keeping most of them closed after a particular hour. I am sure it has not led to any decline in serious burglary. All that it has probably done is make residents feel better by keeping the riff-raff out.


When I found that I was still making no headway, I tried international comparisons. Between Europe, America and Latin America, where do you think are the most and the least of the gated communities? Now arrange these in terms of their social stability and general sense of security. Who has more violence, where do people carry more guns, and where do you walk out of your house any time of the day without feeling insecure? More gates, more insecurity, I declared grandly. My cousin, Rana's wife, familiar with my post-second drink lecturing, cut me short. Dinner is served, she said.







Is there a quantifiable cost to economic freedom (EF)? Do democracy and EF go together? Does crime increase with EF? There are knee-jerk answers but they're usually driven by political convictions rather than data.


 The Cato Institute's annual Economic Freedom of the World (EFW) Report provides some hard data. (Since the Cato Institute is right wing liberal, the report may be safely ignored by left wingers.) The EFW 2010 ranks 141 nations on the following: size of government (relative to economy); legal structure and security of property rights; access to sound money; freedom to trade internationally; and regulation of credit, labour and business. It is based on 2008 data.


As in the EFW 2009 (2007 data), this time also Hong Kong and Singapore are No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. The rest of the top 10 are New Zealand, Switzerland, Chile, the USA, Canada, Australia, Mauritius and the UK. The bottom 10 are Algeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Venezuela, Angola, Myanmar and Zimbabwe (also last in 2009).


A random sampling of other rankings: Germany (24th), Japan (24th), France (35th), Republic of Korea (37th), Spain (39th), Italy (66th), Mexico (69th), China (82nd), Russia (84th), India (87th), and Brazil (102nd). India retains its relative position.


Correlation between wealth and EF is very clear. Nations in the top 25 per cent (quartile) — that is, ranked between 1 and 35 — had an average per-capita GDP of $32,744, while the bottom 25 per cent (106-141) had an average per capita of $3,858. In the top quartile, the per capita of the poorest 10 per cent of citizens was $8,474 compared to $910 for the same group in the bottom quartile.


Life expectancy is 79.3 years for the top quartile and 59.9 years for the bottom. The top quartile has an average score of 7.4 for corruption on an ascending scale where 10 is least corrupt, while the least-free quartile has an average score of 2.6.


Nations in the top quartile also have an average score of 1.6 for political rights and civil freedoms on a descending scale of 1 to 7, where 1 is most free, while those in the bottom quartile have an average score of 4.3.


There isn't a single bottom-10 nation, which qualifies as a "full-service" democracy. But Hong Kong and Singapore themselves don't make the cut as full-service democracies. Also, some nations that are relatively low EF (Spain and Italy, for example) have high ratings for political and civil rights. The best one can say is that democracy makes EF much more likely.


One trend was that the world became less economically free in 2008, for the first time in decades. It was obviously due to the economic crisis. Regulation went up, the size of government increased, the soundness of money got worse.


Perhaps the most interesting chapter in the EFW 2010 is on the linkage between crime and EF. One issue is that some regimes under-report incarcerations and crime in general. As the authors admit, crime data are highly unreliable and they could get them only for 1995-1999.


The EFW used homicide data (usually reported objectively) as a proxy for all crimes. They found that inequality (measured by GINI) and literacy rates had significant correlations with homicide and, by their hypothesis, crime rates in general. The higher the inequality, the more the homicides. The lower the literacy, the more the homicides. Also, the lower the literacy, the more the inequality.


This represents an interesting conundrum for nations like the BRICS. Inequality always increases during phases when GDP grows quickly, until literacy rates catch up. This implies (if you believe the EFW) that crime is also likely to rise. The EFW recipe for India would probably be to encourage PPP in schools, liberalise trade, and deregulate labour, capital and business.







For my travel books, I travel on a theme. And the theme of The Masque of Africa is African belief. I begin with Uganda, at the centre of the continent, do Ghana and Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Gabon, and end at the bottom of the continent, in South Africa. My theme is belief, not political or economic life; and yet at the bottom of the continent the political realities are so overwhelming they have to be taken into account. Perhaps an unspoken aspect of my inquiry was the possibility of the subversion of the old Africa by the ways of the outside world. The theme held until I got to the South, when the clash of the two ways of thinking and believing became far too one-sided. The skyscrapers of Johannesburg didn't rest on sand. The older world of magic felt fragile, but at the same time had an enduring quality. I had expected that over the great size of Africa the practices of magic would significantly vary. But they didn't. The diviners everywhere wanted to "throw the bones" to read the future and the idea of "energy" remained a constant to be tapped into by the ritual sacrifice of body parts. In South Africa, body parts, mainly of animals but also of men and women, made a mixture of "battle medicine". To witness this, to be given some idea of its power, was to be taken back to the beginning of things. To reach that beginning was the purpose of my book.

— V S Naipaul: The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief (Picador India, Rs 595)


Naipaul knows Africa well. He has lived and worked in East Africa: "Home Again" in A Way with the World (1994) is based on his time there. In a Free State (1971) and A Bend in the River (1979) are both "about" Africa. Overall, Naipaul's vision of Africa has been remarkably constant, you might say even rigid: The Masque of Africa merely reiterates his earlier views that Africa is a dreamlike and threatening place that resists understanding, that eats away at reason and the technological products of reason. Joseph Conrad, the man from the fringes of the West has been one of the major influences on Naipaul and many of the images of Naipaul's Africa have come out of Heart of Darkness. Unlike his three books on India — An Area of Darkness, India: A Wounded Civilisation and India: A Million Mutinies Now — which reflect a growing understanding of the complexity of the subcontinent within the framework of history, there is little such generosity with Africa as a whole.


 In a letter to Paul Theroux in January 1970 (they were friends then), Naipaul had said that "fantasy, illusion, make-believe have been the themes without deliberation of his work" and it is this philosophy that informs the six essays in this book: The Tomb of Kasubi, Sacred Places, Men Possessed, The Forest King, Children of the Old Forest and Private Monuments, Private Wastelands. Over the years, Naipaul has perfected a style in which historical reportage and social analysis mesh into autobiographically coloured travel memoir, a mixed code that is Naipaul's principal contribution to travel literature. The picture we get of East and West Africa is so much witchcraft and sorcery that it takes you back to "the beginnings of things" as he puts it in his introduction to this anthology.


The Tomb of Kasubi is on Uganda, the best-informed essay on Africa because Naipaul had been there earlier at Makerere University, Kampala, as a writer in residence in 60s. But the old Kampala was now gone: urbanisation and growing population plus the demands of development had ravaged both town and countryside.

Naipaul always locates his travel writings within the context of history (this is especially so when dealing with his Islamic travels) that makes his books more fact than fiction and imagination. You could describe it as "faction" — part fact, part fiction — but the factual references never weigh too heavily on the mind or interrupt the flow of the narrative. In fact, some of the fiction could be more true to life than the descriptions of the place and certainly makes for delightful reading.

Sacred Places is about West Africa-Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Gabon — all of which have the same cultural and social milieu and can be lumped together. Naipaul gets it spot-on about Nigeria — the stench of corruption and the arrogance of the power elite — that had made its easy money on oil. "Someone had checked in (at London airport) with his luggage and then disappeared. We waited a while and then the pilot said that the absent passenger had checked in with nineteen pieces of luggage. I thought I misheard. But the Nigerian passengers didn't turn a hair; and later, in Nigeria, I understood why. Why fret about nineteen pieces when at the moment there was a bigwig travelling the world with thirty-seven suitcases, and doing so on a diplomatic passport to which he was not entitled?... ." The corruption starts at the airport and goes all the way down to every nook and corner of the country. And the saddest part of the story, which extends to West Africa as a whole, is that it is accepted as part and parcel of everyday life.


All travel writings, it is said, are an exercise to discover the past before it disappears. Yet, the past is never quite past and Naipaul tells you why.








A Business Standard headline on September 11 read "'IIP up 13.8% on capital goods." With manufacturing growing at 15 per cent in July, the finance minister was quoted as saying that "…it is a good sign as high industrial growth would result in more job creation".


Some may celebrate but for others this growth raises a red flag. At a recent discussion among global business leaders, the big question on India was whether this high industrial growth is a bubble — the common refrain being the lack of infrastructure to support it — or whether it shows India on a new, sustained growth trajectory. Sceptics rightfully question statistics since they can hide more than they reveal. Both points of view are right and wrong. Let me explain.


I was delighted when in this year's Budget speech, our finance minister said the manufacturing sector has been the growth engine for the economy. It marked a recognition that at this stage of our industrial development, when a large number of unskilled and semi-skilled people will migrate from rural to urban areas, creating manufacturing jobs is critical for absorbing these vast numbers.


But is manufacturing growth creating these jobs? The last two decades has seen India's manufacturing sector growing at six to seven per cent a year, second only to China. In this same period the growth in formal employment in the sector has been, at best, marginal. It is not that the capital intensity or labour productivity has dramatically increased. Most of the employment has grown in the informal sector. So the notion that manufacturing growth equates formal employment growth is not strictly true.


Two critical indicators cause concern. First, manufacturing productivity is not growing fast enough. Between 1995 and 2008, productivity growth has been in low single digits. By comparison China's productivity has grown at around 13 per cent in the same period.


Second, we are not "deepening" our economy fast enough. The fact is that India imports most of its capital goods requirements. In the five-year period from 2003 to 2008 manufacturing GDP has grown by about 1.5 times, but net imports of industrial machinery and equipment have grown nearly 7.5 times.


Although the recent performance of the capital goods sector is heartening, I believe we have reached a cross-road in the development of our industrial base. India needs over 220 million jobs between now and 2025. The manufacturing sector has to provide at least 100 million of these. We all know that the labour intensity can vary dramatically from one industry to another. The paper and wood products industry requires 45 times more people than the metals industry for the same output in value terms. Do we need to make specific choices on the industries to incentivise and support to create more jobs? Clearly, industries like paper and wood products, textile, leather and food products have a much higher capacity to create jobs for the same level of investments than, say, transportation equipment or chemicals.


Growing PangsBut we also need to create jobs in the formal sector where there is better pay and greater protection of workers' rights. It is paradoxical that the labour laws our trade unions fight to protect from change have resulted in not more but less potential membership. The government has appointed numerous commissions to study the labour laws and recommend changes. The issue is not what to do but whether we have the political will to do it.


The demographic advantage of India's low-cost abundant labour has been touted by one and all. It is an advantage only if this labour is productive and competitive. In 1995 India's manufacturing sector had a higher labour productivity (measured in value of output to labour cost) than China. By 2000 China's overall labour productivity had overtaken us, and now it is improving annually at nearly double India's improvement rate.


Five factors have contributed to this: (i) better infrastructure which allows bigger scale plants; (ii) higher availability of lower cost funds which also support larger plants; (iii) faster project execution which means faster time-to-market and higher revenues; (iv) government-induced consolidation and phasing out of low-tech plants; (v) strong clustering actively promoted by the government.


A plant in a competitive cluster can have as much as an eight per cent lower operating costs compared to a plant outside a cluster. Our industrial clusters like the pharma cluster in Hyderabad or the automotive cluster in Chennai have largely evolved on their own. Clusters are not only about physical co-location of plants or supply chain partners. Having a knowledge centre in the form of a university is equally critical. We have the choice to move forward with the policies of "asset play" in the form of SEZs and the proposed National Manufacturing Zones or to a more integrated "knowledge play" to build and sustain competitive clusters.


My final agenda is on strengthening the fundamental building blocks of industrial economy — the capital goods industry. It is no surprise that the global leaders of telecom, power, construction equipment and several other industries are now Chinese players. These sectors are part of their policy of creating "pillar" industries. They have actively designed and implemented policies to build global competitiveness of specific industries of national importance. Having served their own economy well, these players are now playing an increasingly important role in the global market.


The choice facing us is whether we are happy to simply grow our industrial capacity to feed domestic demand or whether the government should actively influence the type and quality of these investments as a prerequisite to building a globally competitive industrial base.


A well-known CEO of an Indian manufacturing company told me the story of an Indian player setting up a plant in China as base for exports to Africa. He lamented the reasons that force our industry players to take such decisions. This may be a one-off example, but it forces us to take notice of the underlying challenges facing the manufacturing sector today. Unless we demonstrate leadership and make the right choices to create the 100 million jobs and build sustainable global competitiveness, I fear we will find it difficult to sustain our celebrations!


The writer is Managing Director, The Boston Consulting Group. The views expressed are persona








The first priority in administrative reforms must be to re-define the respective responsibilities of the Centre and states to implement programmes


Over the past few weeks, there has been a visible sense of despair among columnists, experts and other observers of the Indian scene about the government's inability to "do anything at all" or deliver even the most ordinary public services to the people. Thus, on September 4, The Economist, which a few weeks ago had hailed India as the emerging power of the 21st century, carried a cover story with the caption "Good Growth, Bad Government". A couple of weeks earlier, on August 23, India Today, reported the findings of its latest poll on the mood of the nation. An overwhelming proportion of people expressed their dissatisfaction with the government's performance and "inertia" in the administrative system.


 There is nothing new about the disappointment of citizens and columnists with the indifferent performance of ministers, bureaucratic inefficiency and widespread corruption. What is new is that, cutting across different sections of media and policy preferences of editors and columnists, there is an emerging consensus that government has become largely non-functional.


Discontent with government and its leadership has been so vociferous that, on September 5, the prime minister decided to engage in a rare interaction with a group of editors to dispel the impression that the United Progressive Alliance-II was drifting and there was a disconnect between government and party. During the meeting, he dealt with a host of issues, including reports of Chinese belligerence, unrest in Kashmir, Naxalism, Ayodhya, rotting foodgrain, rising disparities between India's rich and the poor, environmental disputes and the mess surrounding the Commonwealth games. He also outlined the government's resolve to improve governance and ensure that cabinet and party operate with cohesion.


If the government is serious about restoring credibility, the least that should be done is to initiate some simple administrative and institutional reforms to improve delivery of public services, reduce scope for corruption and increase ministerial accountability. At present, India has by far the largest number of administrative ministries and departments among democratic countries. Multiple ministries — as many as 10 or 12 — are likely to be involved in implementation at the Centre and states, with little co-ordination.


The first priority in administrative reforms must be to re-define the respective responsibilities of the Centre and states to implement programmes. Central ministries' primary role should be to announce policy parameters for the delivery of public services and rules for reimbursing states for providing such services. The modalities of implementation must be left to the states. Thus, for example, the centre may decide that it will reimburse a minimum wage of "x" rupees per day for jobs provided under the rural employment guarantee programme. However, states should be left free to decide what kind of work can be undertaken under this scheme. If they wish to pay a higher wage because of prevailing market conditions in their states, they should be free to do so at their own cost.


In most schemes, including rural employment, the procedure for releasing funds to states/districts is most cumbersome and arduous. In future, reimbursement by the centre should be "automatic" and sent directly to states as certified by them.


A second administrative priority is to reduce the discretionary power of ministers in allocating public resources. Why should a minister decide who should be allotted telecom spectrum or mining rights for iron ore or copper or merger of public sector enterprises? Let the minister concerned and cabinet collectively decide only on policy for allocations. The question of which entity should be given allocations should be left to an autonomous agency with adequate powers.


India has some distinguished public institutions, such as the Election Commission, Central Information Commission, and Union Public Service Commission, that have rendered excellent service to the country. Appointments to these institutions are made by government. However, once appointed, members have full authority to carry out the tasks assigned to them without any interference or approval by the ministries concerned. Similar autonomous institutions should be created for allocating all valuable national resources, including oil and gas.


Third, except in selected areas, such as security and defence, it is desirable to cut through elaborate red-tape and rely on "self-certification" by chief executives of registered companies and organisations. Such simplification, which automatically reduces demand and supply of corruption, has already been introduced in some areas with perceptible success (for example, foreign exchange regulations). There is simply no reason India cannot have a rule-based system of administration, which is not dependent on ministerial discretion.


Finally, the depoliticisation of bureaucracy is an important priority. It is necessary to confer greater authority on the civil services for self-regulation, particularly transfers and postings, and empower them to take administrative decisions based on announced policies. Greater empowerment of the civil service must, of course, go hand in hand with greater accountability.


There is, of course, a lot more to be done. But let us begin with the above minimum programme of administrative reforms to improve delivery, reduce corruption, and restore public confidence.


Bimal Jalan is former RBI Governor and author of The Future of India — Politics, Economics and Governance




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Although so much has happened in respect of the forthcoming Commonwealth Games to be held in New Delhi that should never have been permitted to mar the national mood, all Indians — indeed all sports lovers — would hope that nothing further should go wrong in the days that remain before the grand event begins. Recounting the long list of unpleasant facts that have dogged the Games preparations would serve no purpose here. It is enough to say that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appears more than conscious of the terrible consequences that are likely to follow if dire newspaper headlines — such as "India awaits its lap of dishonour" that sat atop a piece in London's influential Financial Times on Thursday — come to pass. About a month ago, appreciating the sensitivity of the issue, the Prime Minister had placed the last lap preparations in the hands of trusted civil servants headed by the Cabinet Secretary, in effect sidelining the ill-fated organising committee led by Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi, who is the head of the Indian Olympic Association. When this was found to be not enough, on Thursday he called an emergency stocktaking meeting which urban development minister S. Jaipal Reddy, sports minister M.S. Gill, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrashekhar and national security adviser Shivshankar Menon were asked to attend. It is clear that the Games are no longer just a sporting matter. The import of a failed enterprise will point to a severe denting of national prestige and lead to political consequences for the UPA government. There is no getting away from the fact that Dr Singh's stewardship of the government is likely to be called into question. After all, it is nearly a year since Mike Fennell, the head of the Commonwealth Games Federation, sounded the first warning on the completely shoddy state of preparedness. And yet the government chose to continue trusting the Games organising committee against which charges of malfeasance have been whispered for so long. At the very least, this bespeaks poor judgment. The current state of affairs stand in such contrast to the splendid organising of the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi, coordinated without a hitch by the late Rajiv Gandhi. It is hard to believe that a government led by the Congress has slipped up so badly this time round. It says something for the unprepossessing state of affairs that in New York, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, external affairs minister S.M. Krishna was besieged by complaints and warnings by the foreign ministers of Commonwealth countries whose athletes are to arrive in New Delhi. The stinging comments of several Commonwealth PMs and foreign ministers will continue to remind us what the world thinks of us. India's much-vaunted soft power is veritably under siege. In the event, the BJP, has just about managed to keep shrillness out of its criticism of the government as the party virtually directs the PM to take charge and responsibility. Arguably, the India story is much too big and diversified in the current historical phase to be swept away under the cascade of denunciations, some of which may well be motivated.


And yet, who can blame the world if it now entertains second thoughts over India's ability to meet infrastructure, industrial and commercial deadlines, and to maintain the credibility of its commitments in multiple fields. In short, the basis of India's power and its much-vaunted leadership potential is likely to be called into question. We had seven years in which to deliver the Games, and it is "two seconds to midnight" — as someone tellingly commented — and we are struggling to bring a semblance of order to the proceedings. All we can do at this stage is to hope and pray.






Like his boss, the Chief Minister's principal secretary, Mr C.V.S.K. Sarma, loves his siesta. But he does not want anyone to know about it. So he has told his attendants to lock him inside his chamber for an hour or so every afternoon. So as soon as Mr Sarma finishes his lunch and is ready to retire, he is locked into his chamber and visitors are told that "sir is out." This little ruse effectively keeps out politicians who have the bad habit of barging in without asking for permission. The other day, an MLA tried to push his way in but was thwarted by the locked door and had to accept the attendant's bland explanation that "sir is out". However, immediately on his heels arrived a bureaucrat who is a close pal of Mr Sarma's who wanted to see him. The attendant had to unlock the door and let the friend in, which left the surprised MLA fuming at the hapless attendant.



Getting a massive mandate from the people is not always a good thing for the candidate concerned. In the recent by-elections, Telangana Rashtra Samiti MLAs were elected with unprecedented margins ranging from 50,000 plus to nearly one lakh. In the Siddipet segment, for example, Mr Harish Rao won by 98,000 votes and others in the fray lost their deposits. Now, the accepted and unavoidable custom is for MLAs to become involved in the family affairs of their constituents, and to be present on important occasions and even extend financial help. The MLA must also visit villages from where he got a majority and avoid villages that voted for his rivals. With the TRS getting such huge majorities, their MLAs have been on a continuous and exhausting round of village tours. "What can we do? Other parties lost their deposits as almost everyone voted for us. We have no other go except to digest the massive mandate and the increased financial burden on our pockets," one TRS MLA lamented.



Photographs usually rekindle pleasant old memories, but they can sometimes make one relive the bitter past too. Recently a photograph of actor N. Balakrishna and former city police commissioner, Mr R.P. Singh, travelling on an RTC bus was splashed all over the media. The occasion was the launch of a direct bus service between Secunderabad railway station and the Indo-American Cancer Institute at Banjara Hills. The Balakrishna-Chandrababu Naidu family has taken absolute control over the cancer institute with the film actor becoming the chairman of the trust which runs the hospital. The photo caption revealed that Mr Singh was made Chief Executive Officer of the hospital. The photograph took the readers back to the time when Balakrishna was lying in the VIP suite of Care Hospital after producer Bellamkonda Suresh was shot at in Balakrishna's residence. Mr Singh, who wastwice made commissioner of city police by Mr Naidu, had headed the force and came under severe criticism for lack of action in the case.







Although so much has happened in respect of the forthcoming Commonwealth Games to be held in New Delhi that should never have been permitted to mar the national mood, all Indians — indeed all sports lovers — would hope that nothing further should go wrong in the days that remain before the grand event begins. Recounting the long list of unpleasant facts that have dogged the Games preparations would serve no purpose here. It is enough to say that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appears more than conscious of the terrible consequences that are likely to follow if dire newspaper headlines — such as "India awaits its lap of dishonour" that sat atop a piece in London's influential Financial Times on Thursday — come to pass. About a month ago, appreciating the sensitivity of the issue, the Prime Minister had placed the last lap preparations in the hands of trusted civil servants headed by the Cabinet Secretary, in effect sidelining the ill-fated organising committee led by Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi, who is the head of the Indian Olympic Association. When this was found to be not enough, on Thursday he called an emergency stocktaking meeting which urban development minister S. Jaipal Reddy, sports minister M.S. Gill, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrashekhar and national security adviser Shivshankar Menon were asked to attend. It is clear that the Games are no longer just a sporting matter. The import of a failed enterprise will point to a severe denting of national prestige and lead to political consequences for the UPA government. There is no getting away from the fact that Dr Singh's stewardship of the government is likely to be called into question. After all, it is nearly a year since Mike Fennell, the head of the Commonwealth Games Federation, sounded the first warning on the completely shoddy state of preparedness. And yet the government chose to continue trusting the Games organising committee against which charges of malfeasance have been whispered for so long. At the very least, this bespeaks poor judgment. The current state of affairs stand in such contrast to the splendid organising of the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi, coordinated without a hitch by the late Rajiv Gandhi. It is hard to believe that a government led by the Congress has slipped up so badly this time round. It says something for the unprepossessing state of affairs that in New York, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, external affairs minister S.M. Krishna was besieged by complaints and warnings by the foreign ministers of Commonwealth countries whose athletes are to arrive in New Delhi. The stinging comments of several Commonwealth PMs and foreign ministers will continue to remind us what the world thinks of us. India's much-vaunted soft power is veritably under siege. In the event, the BJP, has just about managed to keep shrillness out of its criticism of the government as the party virtually directs the PM to take charge and responsibility. Arguably, the India story is much too big and diversified in the current historical phase to be swept away under the cascade of denunciations, some of which may well be motivated.


And yet, who can blame the world if it now entertains second thoughts over India's ability to meet infrastructure, industrial and commercial deadlines, and to maintain the credibility of its commitments in multiple fields. In short, the basis of India's power and its much-vaunted leadership potential is likely to be called into question. We had seven years in which to deliver the Games, and it is "two seconds to midnight" — as someone tellingly commented — and we are struggling to bring a semblance of order to the proceedings. All we can do at this stage is to hope and pray.








You know someone is in trouble — big trouble — when the SMS jokes about him/her go into overdrive. As of now, most jibes are directed at Villain Number 1 — Suresh Kalmadi. Sample this: "Baba Kalmadi, Have you any shame? No sir, no sir, we are hosting Common Loot Games. Crores for my partners, crores for the Dame. Crores for me too for putting India to shame".


Black Sheep Kalmadi is in deep s**t. Err… should that read Dik-s**t? And a lot of smelly faeces has literally hit the fan in those pricey rooms meant for international athletes. Never mind. Lalit Bhanot has hit headlines worldwide (80 newspapers, and still counting) by baring India's butt. Those "different standards of hygiene" are likely to sink the Games in a sewage tank even before they have begun. Desi attitudes to what is sweetly called "Number 2" (in schoolkids' parlance), deserves an entire tome to itself. Indians are obsessed by where, when and how to defecate. It is a national preoccupation, and has been so for centuries. That we do our job anywhere and everywhere, and pretty much anytime, is well known. What poor Mr Bhanot has done is gone public with India's dirty secret. It is true — our standards are different from anybody else's. He has not specified better or worse. Just different.


It is only in India… that too, in a crowded, busy megapolis like Mumbai, that one can see grown men, their genitals hanging over railway tracks, as they crap companionably, discuss the news with other s**ters and walk away, lota in hand, like it is the most normal thing to do. Right across from where we live (and very close to where India's richest brothers reside) is a narrow pathway jutting into the sea that cuts the bay. It is an open lavatory that functions 24x7. From the crack of dawn till late at night, one can see a steady line of men and children walking down this strip, carefully selecting their spot, squatting precariously and then opening up their gut without the least shame or self-consciousness. Most of the pavements in this area, one of the supposedly poshest in the city (if not in India), are covered with piles of excreta (human and animal). There isn't an inch left to walk on… dogs, goats, cows and people nonchalantly s**t together… nobody notices, nobody cares.


We are crucifying the wrong man for the wrong reasons. Mr Bhanot naively dismissed the charges regarding filth and unsafe conditions in the Village by saying it is not "such a big issue". You know what, he is absolutely right. Toilets can be cleaned up… stray dogs removed from beds meant for sportspeople. The other clean-up is far more crucial, far more critical and no amount of heavyduty industrial-level cleaning operations can rid India of this dirty stain.


What the country is witnessing is corruption of the filthiest kind — undertaken on a scale that may be unprecedented in the world. The fact that the money that has been stolen by these crooks is our money — the public's money — compounds the crime still further. Were we asked before these monster budgets were cleared? Were the people of India consulted on the rightness/wrongness involved in allocating such monies for what is nothing but an empty PR (public relations) exercise we can ill afford? And now that we know how systematically we've been hoodwinked, is there any way to make up? Recover the money? Cancelling the Games at this stage, is an immature, impractical suggestion. But giving citizens an assurance that the guilty will be punished (jail the buggers instantly!) will go a long way in keeping collective tempers down. Aha — here comes the catch. Who will decide which persons are guilty? What will they be charged with? Where is the proof? It will be another Lalit Modi-Indian Premier League (IPL) saga… another Ramalinga Raju eyewash, another Koda cover-up. To anybody with some common sense it is obvious that Mr Kalmadi was not working alone (just as Mr Modi wasn't). It is equally obvious, everybody from Manmohan Singh to Sheila Dikshit must have guessed what was going on — and if they didn't, it reflects poorly on their administrative skills. Why aren't they assuming responsibility? Why look for scapegoats when everybody knows who the looters are? Mike Fennell's role is suspect as hell, and he really has some cheek writing to the Cabinet Secretary to express his "great concern with the preparedness" for the Games, considering it is he who should be in the dock himself! What audacity. Sorry to bring race into this, but we always tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the White Man — any White Man. Let's put it down to our colonial hangover… we still bow and scrape, cringe and kowtow when dealing with Westerners. Go to hell, Mike!


Mr Bhanot should take the cleanliness debate to its next logical level, if you ask me! Why not? The only hope left to salvage our tattered pride is to let the world know how superior we are and how scrupulously we clean ourselves after performing daily ablutions. We can also talk about how we consider our left hand to be "dirty" ( for obvious reasons). Mr Bhanot can present an international paper on — you've guessed it — toilet paper! And how Indians believe in the efficacy of using water to clean bums. These sort of diversionary tactics may pay some dividends at least, while bridges collapse, catwalks fall apart, loose tiles kill a couple of workers and strangers from foreign countries stroll into the Village unchecked with explosives packed into large, very noticeable suitcases. As for all those star athletes and even countries pulling out — big deal!


These Games were never about sports. Just as the IPL was never about cricket. Both were about making money. So much money that the amounts one hears about could have taken care of basics like roti, kapda aur makaan for millions in India. But since the poor of India are nobody's priority in the first place, why play spoilsport? Let the Games begin. And let us console ourselves that thanks to Mr Bhanot, at least now the world will know that Indians probably have the cleanest bottoms on earth. Those who criticise us are just jealous.


— Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade [1].








Einaudi, the Italian publishing house, has recently issued a book with a curious title. The English translation would be something like: "Sorry I'm early, but I got one green light after another". For readers who may not immediately understand the meaning, this is merely a common phrase — "Sorry I'm late, but I got one red light after another" — turned on its head.


The book's author, blogger Alfredo Bucciante, collected 500 of his favourite such expressions — cliches that have been flipped around to create amusing, often thought-provoking notions. One of the more obvious is: "Venice is the Amsterdam of the south". The cleverest, I think, is: "White people have rhythm in their blood".


Here are a few more random examples from the book:


"Sometimes fiction is stranger than truth."


"Hard drugs are the first step toward smoking marijuana."


"Perfect makes practice."


"I'm senile all right, but I'm not old."


"Let's get on last-name terms."


"Greek is maths to me."


"There was a time when this was all city."


"Don't know yourself."


"The butler didn't do it."


"It's not so much the humidity, it's the heat."


"Your brain will fry the TV."


The book is certainly an entertaining read. Once you've finished it, you'll probably be inspired to create some of these "upside-down" expressions of your own. Here are a few of mine:


"In today's world, no one knows what you're doing anymore."


"He transferred all of his cash onshore."


"How can I lead if everyone rows in the same direction as me?"


All of us use the normal form of these common phrases quite frequently in everyday


conversation. Often, they reflect an obvious truth. But there's nothing wrong with telling the truth, even if everyone already knows it. The fact is, such phrases have a phatic function in language. Phatic expressions (for those who are not familiar with the work of the respected Russian-born linguist Roman Jakobson) are those used solely for the purpose of establishing social contact with another person. Also known as "small talk," these utterances usually do not convey any useful information or even genuine queries. For example, when we pass someone on the street or in a corridor, we say, "How are you?" We don't really need to know the answer; we're just making a social connection before we go our separate ways.


- Umberto Eco's most recent book is On Ugliness. He is also the author of international bestseller Baudolino, The Name of the Rose







The Roma or Romanies (in the singular Rom or Romany) have been in the limelight since July 2010 when their camps in France were demolished and they were sent back to Romania, France's fellow member of the European Union (EU). The deportees are citizens with Romanian passports and full civil rights like any other EU or Romanian citizens, though heavily discriminated against.


This attitude towards Roma people is not exclusive to the French. The Roma received a similar hostile welcome in Italy not so long ago. Both the Italians and French claim that the Roma are a "threat to public order".


The EU law gives citizens of the EU — as the Roma are — the right to cross internal EU national borders and stay for 90 days in search of employment or gainful work, failing which they have to return to their country.


The EU Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding, referred to the French expulsions of the Roma as "a situation I thought Europe would not have to witness again after World War II", invoking images of wartime European deportment of Jews and Roma to Nazi death camps. The EU Commissioner says France can be prosecuted for its actions. The Pope and the French Catholic Church too have voiced concern. This, and the reaction of several other countries, has highlighted Europe's worst, and most ill-managed social problem. The treatment that millions of Roma face is at best discriminatory and at worst persecution.


Central and Eastern Europe — Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia have always had the most hostile attitude towards the Roma. But after these countries became a part of the EU, the Roma became free to travel across national borders and migrate to any country of their choice within the EU. France is a preferred destination and the Roma try their luck again and again as their standard of living is better in France than in their home countries.


Most European countries see the Roma as a lawless and hopeless underclass living in shabby conditions, moving around in caravans, surviving on petty sales, thieving and tinker work. However, the Roma, like any other ethnic group, include rich and poor, success stories and failures.


The Roma are estimated do have a population of anything between four to 14 million and this is after Hitler killed an enormous number in Nazi death camps. Professor Ian Hancock of the University of Texas, head of the department of Romani studies, suggests that a million-and-a-half Roma were killed in the Nazi death camps, while Sybil Milton, formerly senior historian of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, has a more conservative estimate of between 220,000 and 500,000. Had this received even half the attention that the killing of six million Jews in the Nazi death camps received, their lot would have been different today.


While the South Asian origin of the Romanies has been long considered a fact, the exact group from whom they have descended is still a matter of debate. Genetic evidence supports the theory of medieval migration from India. The Romanies are generally believed to have originated in Rajasthan, moving to Punjab around 250 BC. The discovery of "Jat mutation", which causes a type of glaucoma in Romani populations, suggests that the Romani people are the descendants of the Jats of northern India and Pakistan. Linguistic and genetic evidence also indicates that the Romanies originated from India, moving towards the northwest no earlier than the 11th century.


Their emigration from India most likely took place in the context of the early 11th century raids by Mahumud of Ghazni who captured whole populations, enslaved them and took them to Afghanistan, even across the Hindu Kush (in Persian "Kush" means "killer" — so named for the death by cold and fatigue of many captives of Ghazni) and incorporated as ethnic military units, along with their camp followers, wives and families.


Most of this is confirmed by language studies, blood groupings, DNA tests and the writings of Muslim historians and other scholars at the Ghaznavid court of Mahumud and later, the Persians, Armenians, Turks and Greeks.


The theory goes on to explain that in 1040, the Ghaznavid empire was overthrown by the Seljuks and that the Indian contingent, numbering around some 60,000, was forced to fight for the Seljuks and spearhead their advance in their raids into Armenia. The only other option was to flee to Armenia and fight for them.


In any event, the Indians ended up in Armenia and later, in the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm. These Roma-in-the-making remained in Turkey for 200 to 300 years, abandoned their military way of life and took up a nomadic lifestyle based on artisan work, trading, animal dealing and entertainment. Gradually, small groups wandered westwards, across the Bosporus to Constantinople and from there up into the Balkans to reach Central Europe by 1400, leaving small groups of Roma in all the regions they passed through.


The Roma have their own language, which is studied by scholars in the West and has regional variations. The use of the language is fading as the Roma try to integrate. However, their skin colour distinguishes them from the rest of their fellow Europeans. This and the fact that they retain many of their ancient customs, habits and dress make them stand apart from the rest. Their major problem is lack of education, largely due to discrimination and their nomadic lifestyle. The Roma apparently do much better in the United States where some of them migrated from Europe.


Roma made their home in almost all countries of Europe, especially in the Turkish-ruled Balkans. In the past the Roma have been persecuted by both Christian and Muslim states — despite them adopting the religion of the local power.


As a result of the recent controversy in Europe there is much interest in the Roma these days. Indians, however, have lost sight of these unfortunate people, perhaps due to their lack of historical interest. In the 1970s, W.R. Rishi, an Indian Foreign Service officer, set up the Indian Institute of Roma Studies at Chandigarh, and organised two International Roma Festivals where, in 1983, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi delivered a stirring speech, saying: "I feel kinship with the Roma people". Do a billion Indians feel the same way?


- Gautam Pingle is director of Centre for Public Policy,Governance and Performance, ASCI








EVEN as opinion remains deeply divided over the continued application of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which cannot be divorced from the legislation pertaining to Disturbed Areas, another controversy has developed on the sidelines ~ is the military leadership entitled to present its "case" on an issue under intense public debate? Are its inputs not relevant, particularly if public opinion is to steer the course of events? The slamming of the "talking generals" by commentators with clearly pre-conceived mindsets, and political leaders who (fortunately?) have never held office requiring preservation of national security, reflects an obsolete, egoist mindset. The days of "theirs but to do and die" have long ended; "transparency" is the contemporary mantra, and with just about every issue being discussed threadbare on TV, surely the defence forces are entitled to have a say. After all they are the ones ~ not the netas and newspaper-tigers ~ who face the adversary, put their lives on the line. The army chief has drawn flak for pointing out the legality of AFSPA, but at no stage did he indicate that there would be any questioning the decision government ultimately took. So he never stepped out of line. Those who pressure the government to accept their view must have the courage to accept the validity of a counter viewpoint: democracy entails listening to what one may not like to hear. It must also be noted that the recent observations of the army and air chiefs were responses to media queries ~ were they expected to offer "no comment" on an issue so critical to their interests? Had they kept silent their men would have felt let down. It is, admittedly, not healthy for top officials (civil or military) to be tempted by a TV camera, but that is a disease spread by the politicians.

Ideally, and perhaps the only valid forum for the AFSPA debate is Parliament: it enacted that law, it is entitled to re-visit it in the light of some army personnel using it to camouflage unacceptable atrocities. Much is being made (selectively?) of the recommendations of the Jeevan Reddy panel ~ let its report also be tabled and debated in the apex legislature. That would end the sinister sniping. The final argument, however, rests with the politicians heading state governments. Let them cease to call out the troops to counter insurgency: no army-no AFSPA, simple. The soldiers would be happy at not being tasked with sorting out problems created by inept political governance.



Twenty years after Aung San Suu Kyi won a famous victory ~ no good came of it ~ the vindictiveness of the junta in Myanmar is virtually complete. The icon of democracy has been barred from voting in the 7 November elections. It would be an understatement to describe the election as a sham. From not being allowed to assume power in 1990 to Monday's deletion of her name from the electoral rolls, the suppression of democracy could hardly have been more oppressive. The junta has confirmed its agenda several weeks before the world takes a call on the genuineness of the electoral process. To bar the National League for Democracy from contesting the polls was the first sign of subversion. To wean away a pliable section of the party to the electoral game was a move to drive a wedge within the NLD. To strike off Suu Kyi's name from the voters' list marked the final turning of the screw. Was it an afterthought? Her name did appear in the electoral list for the constitutional referendum in May 2008.

The latest action is pregnant with symbolism; the junta has denied the right to vote to a citizen who has fought for democracy for as long as she has. The sartorial change effected by the generals ~ from the uniform to the longyi ~  is a cosmetic exercise in self-deception. The election will only reinforce the authority of the junta and, no less crucially, the representation of the military in parliament. Suu Kyi has suffered an affront too many ~ denial of  power, imprisonment, house arrest and now the loss of voting rights. The country's  electoral laws stipulate that convicts are not eligible to vote. This may be the rule in several other countries as well. Myanmar, however, is a different kettle of fish. Has the junta reduced Suu Kyi to the level of a convict?  The comity of nations ought now to reflect on its motives. Not least Barack Obama who would rather negotiate with an isolated government even as Suu Kyi languishes under house arrest. And also, of course, India which has consistently been impervious to the trampling of democracy in a neighbouring country.



Keshav Rao's renewed assurances that the alliance with Trinamul is in place were aimed at those who had grabbed metaphors used in the Trinamul leader's recent speeches to suggest she was disturbed by Rahul Gandhi's references to "self-respect'' during his visit to Bengal. That the AICC representative deputed to cement the alliance has been camping in the state should be signal enough of the party's intentions. What he hasn't been able to do is to restrain volatile followers of faction leaders who feel they have been left out in the present scheme of things. A reorganisation of district units had taken place after the municipal elections. This produced a fresh dose of tensions and upset the high command's calculations for installing a state unit president through consensus. Manas Bhuniya has assumed charge but the formality of an election is still required. If the AICC observer Virendra Kataria had come to feel the pulse of the state unit, he could hardly have expected to be greeted with protests over a passing reference to a sick leader that was not only distorted but followed up with threats over the telephone by anonymous callers. It suggested that Rahul's visit may not, after all, have left the state Congress in the right mood for a turnaround.

This is confirmed by nagging suspicions each time a Congress leader chooses to visit Mamata Banerjee. Pradip Bhattacharya was working president under Pranab Mukherjee and may have cherished hopes of being the replacement. Mr Bhuniya was chosen instead while Mr Bhattacharya was shifted to a new responsibility in the Congress-led Intuc, a position he may not have wanted because a sizable section of the union was controlled by Subrata Mukherjee. If this has fuelled further speculation, it makes nonsense of the understanding between Congress and Trinamul. Mr Bhuniya is far from convincing in his assurances that over-enthusiastic expressions of factional sentiment as well as reprehensible acts like anonymous calls to the AICC observer are "internal matters'' to be sorted out within closed doors. Mr Bhuniya needs to demonstrate that the state unit is not functioning with a vacuum at the top and that he is capable of holding the different factions together. It would not only cause fewer headaches to the party leadership but would also strengthen its bargaining powers.








THE Supreme Court's deferment of the Babari case verdict by four days provides one last desperate chance for an out-of-court settlement of the dispute that has bedeviled Hindu-Muslim relations for the last 60 years. The dispute has its roots in history and in legend. There are four ancient petitions related to the dispute still pending in court. The only remote chance for a settlement of the dispute depends upon whether people can overlook the past and focus on the future. Here is why both Hindus and Muslims should do precisely that and achieve a miracle solution before the court's verdict. Let us forget both history and legend and determine what the Hindus and Muslims can do to end the dispute retaining honour for both communities. 

 This is what the Hindus should do. They should accept that the court can only decide on the basis of evidence about who owns the land on which the Masjid is built. The court cannot sift history from legend to decide whether or not the Ram Temple existed on the disputed land. It is true that for millions of Hindus it has been a matter of faith through centuries that Lord Ram was born on that land and a temple in his honour existed there once. But the courts cannot take cognizance of that. Only Parliament can consider that and enact law to declare the disputed land sacred and, therefore, reserved for the Hindu community. Parliament has not done that. The Hindus are free to persuade Parliament. They should not expect the court to rule on a matter outside its jurisdiction. 

What then is the best option for Hindus? The Hindus can re-emphasize their feelings of faith on the subject and tell the Muslims that they do not wish to dispute the legal ownership of the land. Consequently they should withdraw their petitions before the court and surrender their claim to the land on the basis of law. After expressing their sentiments and withdrawing their claim they should advise the Muslims to use their good sense and honour the sentiments of the majority. They should renounce pressure. However disappointing the Muslim response might be, they should confirm they would respect it. They might seek change only through legislation in Parliament. 

This is how Muslims should respond. They should accept the request of the Hindus and allow construction of a national shrine on that land to honour Lord Ram. A new mosque may be relocated in neighbouring land. There can be many innovative suggestions on the nature of the shrine. It need not be simply a temple. It could be in addition to a temple a hospital reserved exclusively where children may be born. Children of all communities may have the privilege of being born on the birthplace of Lord Ram. That would be the greatest tribute to the memory of Lord Ram defining him as the symbol of India . 

Why should Muslims respond in this fashion? They should do so in recognition of what they have earned from the Hindu community. The extremist Hindu fringe does not represent the Hindu community. There is no single Hindu religion. There is a Hindu family of religions that differ from each other but follow certain core beliefs common to all. That is why the Supreme Court defined Hinduism as a way of life. That is why the late KR Malkani consistently described Hinduism in the same fashion. What is the central belief in this way of life? It is to live and let live. It is to be tolerant of all faiths. It is this way of life that persuaded many foreign conquerors to settle down in India and integrate with Indian society instead of returning to their lands of origin. How has the Muslim community in India benefited from this way of life? 

Consider this. Arguably the Muslim community in India is the best Muslim community anywhere in the world. India has the third largest number of Muslims among all nations of the world. It is estimated that 10-13 per cent of the world's Muslims are Shiite, with 154 to 200 million Shiite Muslims worldwide. Although a minority in the Muslim world, the Shiite community constitutes the majority of the population in Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Iraq. More than 67 per cent of the world's Shiites lives in four nations ~ India, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan. Iran has few Sunnis. Other large Muslim populated nations such as Indonesia have very few Shiites. What has to be noted is that India has roughly the same percentage of Shiites as does the world's Muslim population that is 10-13 per cent. But significantly India is the only nation with a large Shiite minority that lives in peace and harmony with the Sunni majority! In Pakistan and in Iraq the Shiites and the Sunnis bomb and kill each other. May not Hindus take justifiable pride in that the unique harmony which exists between India's Sunni and Shiite is due to the Hindu way of life? Should not Muslims acknowledge this advantage the community has derived from the Hindu way of life? 

If this truth is recognized there is tremendous opportunity to capitalize on it. That is why it is necessary to rise above narrow prejudice and exploit this untapped source of influence for the Indian nation. The Indian government can exploit this unique Shiite-Sunni harmony to play India's Muslim card worldwide. Sunni and Shiite leaders of India should jointly on behalf of the government and in cooperation with the Ministry of External Affairs intervene in the Middle East. They can help reconcile differences between Israel and Palestine, between Hamas and Hezbollah, between Iran and Iraq. India could provide a template for peace and harmony if it first succeeded in defusing Pakistan's hostility.

Before achieving that India must put its own house in order. That is why a resolution of the Babari dispute is urgently required. That is why Hindus and Muslims must think out of the box and come up with a miracle solution. A united India could help the world. A Babari solution could help India's unity.

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist 








 "Nightingale of India" Lata Mangeshkar has dominated Hindi playback singing for over 60 years. Her mellifluous voice leaves her fans spellbound even today. She turns 81 on 28 September but is not ready to slow down. Her maiden song was released back in 1942 and she was in the studio for her latest recording just a few days ago. The singing diva, who was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 2001, is admired by millions for her soulful melodies. Many top music directors are willing to wait for months to record with her. She has sung in almost all Indian languages and was also registered in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most recorded artiste. In a telephonic interview with KARAN BHARDWAJ, she spoke about her life, hobbies and her latest fad, Twitter. 

How was the Ganesh Chaturthi celebration? 

Bahut achha (very nice). I believe in Lord Ganesha.My family started celebrating the festival even before I was born. My father introduced this tradition of feting Ganpati at our home. After his demise, we kept the tradition alive. My sisters ~ Usha and Meena ~ decorate our Ganpati with different embellishments. Though we kept our Ganpati very simple this year, BMC gave us the Best Residential Ganpati Award. The Commissioner himself came home to do the honours. We felt so happy. 

Why do you prefer to stay away from celebrations on your birthday? 

Let me be very honest. There are certain principles that my parents inculcated in me. We are not used to unnecessary celebrations. Even when I was a kid, my mother used to do aarti (prayer) on my birthday and I would wear new clothes. Sometimes, my father would buy me a doll. That's it. I came across all the opulence and showing off after shifting to Mumbai. I don't like any hoopla on my birthday. Therefore, I prefer to maintain a distance from celebrations. However, my fans send me letters, phone me and now even send messages on Twitter & Facebook and I respond to them. They are also like me and do not believe in dhoom dharaka. 

You surprised your fans by joining social networking sites lately. Do you enjoy interacting with fans? 
Absolutely! I have got on to the Internet to share my thoughts with them. My nephew and niece told me about Twitter and Facebook. They said it would be a great medium to communicate with fans across the globe. I can share anytime whatever I want directly with them. Therefore, I joined Twitter, Facebook and created a blog also. But I don't know how to operate these websites. My nephew, Adinath, operates my online accounts on my directions. I tell him my views, messages and responses before he publishes them online. 
I got completely shocked when Usha gifted me my first laptop a few days back. I am not acquainted with technology. I asked Adinath to train me a bit on how to operate it. I only play songs and watch movies on it. Sometimes it's fun but I do get bored soon. 

Do you surf the Net? 

Not really. I don't use Internet and I don't want to. People get addicted to it once they indulge in it. I don't want to be a victim of Internet addiction. I know that there is a whole world out there in cyberspace which talks about me. but frankly, I am not used to it. I have spent my whole life in a simple manner. Now, it's very difficult to get onto it. You may be surprised but I don't even remember my mobile number. I only play games on it. 

Music lovers are crazy about your voice. But who are the singers you admire? 

I have been a huge fan of KL Saigal, Noor Jehan, Mehdi Hassan, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and some other classical singers. I also adore my father. In my childhood, I used to hear only his light and classical music. On 11 June 1945, I became a student of Ustad Amanat Ali Khan. Maine unhe Ganda baandha tha(Ganda bandhan or thread-tying ceremony is a ritual to symbolise the formal relationship between a guru and his disciple). 

Your passion for KLSaigal is quite well known. 

My father never allowed us to listen to film music. Only Saigal Saab's songs were played in my home. As a kid, I always wanted to meet him. Perhaps it's a deep regret in my heart that I couldn't meet him ever. So much so, when I bought my first radio set to tune in to his songs, I heard the saddest news. It was about his death. I never turned on that radio set again. 

How do you spend your free time? 

I read books, listen to music. I was a voracious reader spending nights reading novels, shayari and poems. I have read compositions of Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Pt Narendra Sharma, Maithilisharan Gupt and Suryakant Tripathi Nirala. 

Among Urdu poets, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Mirza Ghalib are my favourites. I have also read all the novels of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee which were translated from Bengali to Marathi. I studied a lot about Swami Vivekananda and Lokmanya Tilak. Not many know, I have read Sherlock Holmes too. But then, my eye power was diagnosed and I got dependent on chashma (glasses). I can't read much now. 

Are you interested in art and photography? 

Quite interested. I have been to several renowned galleries of the world. I have seen art works of many acclaimed artistes. Usha likes to paint, she has learnt it. I don't like modern art; I love fine art. I like the works of Ravi Verma, Baburao Painter and some others. I have also visited French artist Claude Monet's home in Paris. 
Photography is my lesser-known passion. I bought my first camera in 1949 to immortalise our family moments. Earlier, whenever we used to go out, I would use my camera to click stills. I have also captured some beautiful moments of family functions. I don't intend to do it for any exhibition. It's just my hobby. 

You still remember your childhood. What's the secret of your great memory? 

There is no secret. It's natural and god's gift. There are certain things that are beyond human control. 

You rule over a million hearts, yet you are so humble. 

I am thankful to God, my parents. I strongly believe that their blessings have helped me becoming a successful Lata Mangeshkar. I cherish it when people come and shower their affection. What can be greater than that they still want to hear me? 

When would we hear you next? 

I have recorded the title track for the film Dunno Y…Na Jaane Kyun which is currently being aired. A ghazal album with Mayuresh is almost complete. Hariharan, Usha Mangeshkar, Rekha Bhardwaj, Suresh Wadekar, Ghulam Ali and Sonu Nigam have recorded songs in this album. I have a duet with Menhdi Hassan. In one of the songs, Nevaan Nigam (Sonu Nigam's son) and Saanjali (Meena Mangeshkar's granddaughter) have also lent their voices. I just recorded a song with my brother Hridayanath for a Marathi film. We have also planned an album on Meera, which is our favourite subject. 

How is it singing with Menhdi Hassan? 

Hassan Saab is quite unwell these days. Earlier, he composed a few songs for me in his voice. I asked him to send us those songs. We selected one and I recorded my part in that song. It's really a nice song. Everyone will like it. 

You like AR Rahman among contemporary composers. But he has been criticised for the official song for the Commonwealth Games. 

Yes, I like his style and music. But I would frankly say that I haven't heard the CWG song yet. I can't give my opinion unless I hear it.







The United States Constitution is a spare and functional document, and pretty much everything a constitution should be. It eschews the high rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence, prescribing instead how the system should work. It has been widely admired and imitated, and where it has not been imitated – as with the voluminous and ill-fated European Union constitution – it probably should have been. 

As Washington correspondent, I carried a copy around with me through the high dramas of the second Clinton term – the President's impeachment over his lies about the Monica Lewinsky affair and the tied election of 2000. It stood up well under those stresses, providing a solid framework for what should happen in some of the most uncertain and extreme situations a country has to face. Ten years on, though, I wonder whether the confused and desperate aftermath of the 2000 election in Florida was not an early sign that the US Constitution, or maybe the processes that have grown out of it, need to be revisited. Is the US Constitution running out of road? 

Several recent developments show that, at very least, the US system of government is not functioning particularly well. Exhibit A might be Bob Woodward's latest book, Obama's Wars, which – according to the excerpts and advance reports – shows a new President completely at sea and at loggerheads with half his staff and the top brass.

Granted that journalists tend to focus on discord (while diplomats tend to tune it out) and that spats between political leaders and military commanders have a long line of precedents, Woodward's sources still reveal a President of frightening inexperience sometimes at a loss to deal with hostile views and vested interests. This, at a time when the economy was languishing and crucial decisions had to be taken about campaign pledges on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Exhibit B might be the slew of early departures from Obama's team, the most recent being the head of the National Economic Council, Larry Summers. Again, early departures in themselves are not novel. Clinton suffered a similar haemorrhaging of his early appointees. Arguably, George Bush was unusual in the number of senior figures who served two terms. Some people fail to settle in Washington; others find the work of government, as opposed to campaigning or advising, not to their taste. Sometimes chance intervenes, as with the unexpected decision of the long-serving mayor of Chicago not to run for another term, which could deprive Obama of his White House Chief of Staff. Or it could be that a new president has a relatively limited pool to choose from and tries to play safe, while a more experienced President discovers that there are people better suited to his purpose out there. 

This is not to argue that presidents require more experience before they take the job. Exhibits A and B do, however, make the case for more continuity higher up the echelons of a new administration. Would the system not benefit from something more akin to Britain's non-partisan civil service to advise and manage both the official Transition and beyond? This might be anathema in a system that deliberately relies so much on patronage. But the number of posts that have to change hands can leave a new president flailing. With Obama, many lower-level posts were still unfilled after he had been in office a year. 

Worse, because it unnecessarily hobbles a new administration, is the extent to which possibly significant proposals broached by another country to the outgoing administration can go missing. While the US takes it for granted that a new administration starts with a blank page – outgoing officials take their files with them – others do not appreciate how total the disconnect is, and may feel offended when the new administration fails to follow up. All in all, the ignorance, bickering and sheer incompetence that the present system fosters in a new administration is not worthy of a world power in the modern age. 

Exhibit C relates to the legislature. The functioning of government is predicated on a degree of bipartisan give and take in the two houses of Congress. Fiercely adversarial party politics was for the likes of Britain and its Parliament. What the US faces now is a Republican Party that will brook no compromise, within a system that requires members to reach across the aisle. Nor is there any immediate prospect of that changing, as the Republican mainstream feels the populist Tea Party movement pushing it further right. The long-standing US political analyst, Thomas Mann, of the Brookings Institution, describes the split between Democrats and Republicans as more absolute than it was even in 1994 when Newt Gingrich rallied Republicans with his Contract for America. Nor is he alone in seeing it as quite possibly permanent. 

Mid-term Congressional elections in November will show how successful the Republicans' policy of no-holds-barred opposition to Obama and the Democrats has been. But the way Congress works – with almost all major legislation requiring a two-thirds majority in the Senate, and thus vulnerable to filibuster – means that a President in such circumstances is effectively stymied. His administration is severely circumscribed, if not paralysed; the power of the White House is compromised. 

It is possible that the stalemate will turn out to be temporary; possible, too, that the Tea Party tendency will turn out to be the last gasp of a dying demographic group and that US politics will slot back to the more productive equilibrium of before. The sharp decline in social conservatism and the greater tolerance charted in surveys of younger voters – attitudes which helped Obama to the presidency – could eventually shift the centre of US politics to a different, more European, place. This, in turn, could bring all sorts of changes of its own. 
But that is to jump ahead. In the meantime, the US Constitution and the way US politics functions are looking somewhat frayed around the edges. President Obama's inexperience may have made his first 18 months more difficult than they might have been, but his country's outdated institutions made things much, much worse. 

the independent







The interesting announcement is made that the University of Cambridge has acquired the control and copyright of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It appears that the connection between the Times and the Encyclopaedia ceased on January 1 of this year, but it was only recently that the fact was definitely announced. The University is to be congratulated on the public spirit which has induced it to accept this opportunity of making a further advance in the great secular movement of university extension, with which the Cambridge University Press is already so prominently associated. The aim of Richard Bentley, the great English scholar, who founded that press in the seventeenth century was the production of works held by the University to be of value in a fashion worthy of them. This has ever since been the policy of the Cambridge University Press, and the publication of the new edition of the Encyclopaedia could not be in better hands than those which have already given us the Cambridge Modern History, the Cambridge History of English Literature, and the collected works of such leading men of science as Adams, Cayley, and Rayleigh. The new edition is to be published complete in twenty-eight volumes either at the end of this or early next year and it will bring its survey of the worlds events down to the summer of 1910.

If the Trade Unionists of Great Britain are in a state of ferment because they consider their rights to have been assailed by the Osborne Judgment, their case is not to be compared to those in the United States to whom Mr Justice Goff, of the Supreme Court, has just administered a shock by practically declaring that strikes are illegal. This the judgment does not say in so many words, but it lays down that, if the strike has the effect of closing factories by calling out the workers, the parties are guilty of conspiracy in restraint of trade. No sooner was the decision known than thousands of excited strikers paraded the streets, denouncing the judge, and the police were called out in every ward of the city of New York. The judgment was given in a test action begun by a number of big clothing manufacturers, who had been involved in or affected by, the East Side strike which has been in progress some time. The case will, of course, be taken to the Appeal Court.









It is said that one of the dictums of the former prime minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, was that not finding a solution is also a solution. If this sounds too cynical and characteristic of a prime minister who disliked taking decisions unless he was forced to, it is important to remember that there are problems in life which are insoluble or not susceptible to any resolution. The case over the title deed of the land on which Babri Masjid stood appears to be one such. The Allahabad High Court was to have ruled on the matter yesterday and was perhaps saved by the bell with a stay order emanating from the Supreme Court. The matter is now in limbo and there is no guarantee that it will be dealt with on September 28, the time frame set by the apex court. There are grounds to believe, as many do, that it would have been better if the verdict had been given instead of having been postponed for an indefinite period.


There are two issues thrown up by the case that deserve some comment. The court has been asked to deliberate and comment on whether the plot was Ram's birthplace and also on whether Muslims prayed in the structure which was seen as a mosque. Neither of these issues pertain to law; they are matters of history. Judges are trained in law and jurisprudence and therefore have the expertise to pass judgment on legal matters. Judges are not trained historians, archaeologists or specialists in architecture. Yet the court will have to pronounce on such matters and its opinion will have the seal of authority and be treated as fact. The other issue concerns the shivers of fear experienced by the government at the prospect of a court verdict on the Ayodhya issue. This fear points to the perceived absence of respect for the rule of law in India. It is apprehended that interested parties, affected by the verdict one way or the other, would incite violence. In other words, there are people in India who have little or no respect for the courts of law and the verdicts they give. Such people think that they can undermine a court judgment through sectarian violence. There exists enough evidence in contemporary India to argue that such fears are not baseless. This only shows how fragile and shallow the roots of democracy are in India.


That the judgment on Ayodhya preoccupies the official and the public minds is also a comment on the priorities that prevail in India. There are so many problems in the country but the one that excites the strongest emotions relates to a plot of land over which a dispute has been created by divisive and vested interests. The importance ascribed to the Ayodhya judgment is an indicator that the Indian mind is obsessed with communal issues. Very little has been done to eradicate that obsession. On the contrary, political parties like to perpetuate it since it enables them to play with religion for electoral purposes. This will not go away, whatever be the court's verdict and whenever it is delivered.










In the spring of 1907, the London publisher, John Murray, published a book on Persian mystics by one F. Hadland Davis. The book appeared in a series called "The Wisdom of the East", whose editors desired their publications to be "ambassadors of good-will and understanding between East and West, the old world of Thought, and the new of Action". Through the books in the series, it was hoped that the Western (and Christian) reader would acquire "a deeper knowledge of the great ideals and lofty philosophy of Oriental thought [which] may help to a revival of that true spirit of Charity which neither despises nor fears the nations of another creed and colour".


One of the first readers of the book was an Easterner educated in the West, Mohandas K. Gandhi. Then based in Johannesburg, Gandhi may have acquired the book from a local store, or perhaps ordered it from London. At any rate, he was deeply impressed, writing about it in Indian Opinion, the journal he then edited. Of the mystics whom Hadland Davis had profiled, Gandhi was charmed most by Jalaluddin Rumi, who aspired to "a pure heart and love of God". Gandhi quotes Rumi saying, when asked where one could find god, "I saw the Cross and also Christians, but I did not find God on the Cross. I went to find him in the temple, but in vain. I saw him neither in Herat nor in Kandahar. He could be found neither on the hill nor in the cave. At last, I looked into my heart and found Him there, only there and nowhere else." Gandhi ended his review by saying that he would "like to recommend the book to everyone. It will be of profit to all, Hindus and Muslims alike".


Gandhi's meditation on Rumi was published in June, 1907. That November, the Gujarati New Year, Nutan Varsh, fell on the same day as the great Muslim festival, Eid. Gandhi used this coincidence to offer a brief homily on the significance of inter-faith understanding. "If the people of different religions grasp the real significance of their own religion," he wrote, "they will never hate the people of any religion other than their own. As Jalaluddin Rumi has said or as Shri Krishna said to Arjun, there are many rivers, and they appear different from one another, but they all meet in the ocean."


A hundred years ago, Jalaluddin Rumi was known only to the specialist, but because of the efforts of more recent translators and publicists this 13th-century mystic is — according to an article in a recent issue of the Times Literary Supplement — the most widely read poet in America today. As it happens, after those two occasions in 1907, Gandhi did not write about the Sufi mystic again. However, the lesson he took from Rumi he upheld and affirmed all his life.


Twenty-five years after his review of Hadland Davis's Persian Mystics, Gandhi received an anguished letter from an English disciple named Verrier Elwin. A licensed priest of the Church of England, Elwin was threatened by his bishop with excommunication, because he refused to take the Gospel to the Gond tribals he then lived with. The priest had learnt from Gandhi that there were many paths to god; while he himself had chosen the one laid down by Christ, he would permit the tribals to follow the road of their ancestors. The bishop vehemently disagreed, saying that Jesus commanded his followers to make Christians of unbelievers.


Faced with expulsion from his Church, Elwin wrote to Gandhi for advice. The Mahatma asked him not to take to heart what the bishop had told him, since the message of Jesus was "in the main denied in the churches, whether Roman or English". Even if he was thrown out of the Church of England, he could remain a Christian according to his own lights. For, as Gandhi consolingly told the confused young man, "Your pulpit is the whole earth. The blue sky is the roof of your own church."


This last piece of advice is highly pertinent to the once very intense, then moribund, and now revived dispute in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya. For Jalaluddin Rumi and Mohandas K. Gandhi did not need structures of marble and stone to find god in. Nor should we. One can be good, godly and devout without ever entering a temple or mosque or church.


Twenty-four years have passed since the locks were opened in the makeshift shrine to Ram; 21 since L.K. Advani led a blood-soaked 'rath yatra'; 18 since the Babri Masjid was brought down by a mob. In this time, a generation of Indians has come of age with no memories of the dispute that once polarized the country. Do we need to open the wounds again? When asked this question by a visiting journalist earlier this month, a student in Ayodhya answered by saying that he hoped that instead of a temple or a mosque, a hospital would come up on the disputed site.


Before and after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, various suggestions were offered on how to put an end to the controversy. A well-meaning Gandhian suggested a multi-faith centre. Another gave this idea more specificity; we should, he said, build a "Ram-Rahim Darwaza", a large archway signifying openness and dialogue. The proposal of the young student is as noble as any other, and perhaps more practical. What could be more meaningful than a structure tending to the poor, the sick and the wounded in a place whose mythic and historic resonances once provoked riot and mass murder in the name of faith?


This week the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court was to decide who owned the title-suit to the site in Ayodhya. The court's sitting has now been postponed; however, whatever its decision, the matter will surely be taken by one or other party to the Supreme Court. The arguments will drag on. The sangh parivar will insist that a grand Ram temple come up on the site. Muslim extremists will argue that the Babri Masjid must be rebuilt.


In my view, rather than leave the matter to the courts, the Central government should intervene decisively to end the dispute. Under the Land Acquisition Act, the State can acquire property from individuals and communities in the name of the "public purpose". This act has been grossly abused in the recent past, to allow private companies to grab land owned by peasants and tribals. (The conflicts at Singur, Nandigram, Kashipur and Niyamgiri were all sparked by the misuse of this act.) Here now is a chance for the State to redeem itself and simultaneously to put an end to this religious — or shall we say pseudo-religious — controversy. Nothing would serve the "public purpose" better than if the government of India was to acquire the land being fought over in Ayodhya, clear it of intruders, and build a new, well-equipped and adequately staffed hospital for the residents of the town.


Mahatma Gandhi was the greatest Ram bhakt since Tulsidas; yet once he had reached adulthood, he never entered a Ram temple (or any other). Jalaluddin Rumi turned away — or was turned back — from the mosques in Herat and Kandahar. Both men knew that the path to god was independent of physical structures and self-appointed preachers. Had they been alive, I think Gandhi and Rumi would both have approved of a hospital being built at the disputed site in Ayodhya.


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





The supreme court's deferral order on the Allahabad high court's verdict on the Ayodhya title suits, which was to be delivered on Friday, is uncalled for and unprecedented. Is a higher court competent to stop a lower court from pronouncing a judgment? That amounts to exceeding its powers and interfering in the working of the lower court. The issue before the court was not an appeal on the merit of a judgment, which it has the power to entertain or reject, but the timing of the judgment. If it is taken as a precedent, the courts in future will have to accept requests to keep in cold storage judgments inconvenient to parties on some ground or the other. The normal judicial process, which is as it is tortuous and slow, will suffer more if the power to give a judgment is suspended for any reason.

The plea before the high court to postpone the judgment had been rightly rejected by a majority bench on the ground that the petitioner had no locus standi in the matter. He was also fined for his attempt to interfere in the court's working. The supreme court could have at best reviewed the quantum of his punishment but not the reiterated decision of the court to deliver its judgment on schedule. The plea for postponement was based on the argument that the security forces, which are overstretched for various reasons, might not be able to deal effectively with any communal disturbance in the wake of the judgment and the parties to the Babri Masjid dispute should be given another chance for an out-of-court judgment. But the governments at the Centre and the states had said they had made adequate security arrangements. That is the responsibility of the executive and why should the court doubt its ability? The high court also had given a last opportunity for a negotiated settlement between the parties but there was no result. Does the supreme court think that a negotiated solution which was not possible for many decades will be found in the next few days?

As part of the security preparations, governments had made deployments of personnel, declared holidays and made other precautionary arrangements. The supreme court has probably unsettled those plans by introducing an element of uncertainty into them. The court should have allowed the legal process to take its course, leaving other considerations to those whose duty it is to handle them.








Relations between China and Japan have soured considerably in recent weeks, following Japan's detention of the captain of Chinese fishing boat near disputed islands. In order to pile on pressure on Japan to release the detained captain, Beijing has snapped high-level contacts with Japan and even halted crucial exports to the country. A war of words has broken out between the two countries with statements by politicians and officials stoking hostile public sentiment. China's prime minister Wen Jiabao has warned of 'further action.' While the immediate provocation for the ongoing spat is the collision two weeks ago of a Chinese fishing boat with two Japanese patrol ships, its roots go back to a festering territorial dispute between the two countries. The collision happened near some uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and the Diaoyu islands in China, over which Japan, China and Taiwan lay claim. Together the islands cover just 7 sq km of land. Their value is in their location near strategically important shipping lanes. Besides, these islands are believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits as well.

This is not the first time that a fracas has erupted that is linked to the contending claims over the islands. Whenever activists of one or the other country have sought to sail to the islands in a bid to cement their country's claims to it, tensions have grown. However, this time temperatures have been raised to a much higher level, which is worrying. As with some of its other territorial disputes with its neighbours, China's approach to the dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands has been to put off settlement of the dispute to a future generation. In the current face-off, Japan seems to have acted aggressively in detaining the Chinese captain. However, Beijing's response too appears excessive. But this strong response should not be seen in isolation. China has been taking a tough posture in asserting its claims over disputed islands and waters in the East and South China Seas in recent months.

The confrontationist positions being taken by the two governments seem aimed at appeasing hardliners at home. However angry words can quickly slide to hostile actions. This is in nobody's interest. Japan can defuse the situation by releasing the captain.







The less said the better for the Centre's profound inaction on Kashmir. But now that it has stirred, let us keep our fingers crossed.


Last week's all-party meeting on Kashmir followed the cabinet committee on security, which dithered on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act but said something about 'governance deficit' in the state which, in simple English, means that the state government is incompetent, weak or indifferent. The all-party meet was silent on that one.

I am not for a moment suggesting that the participants had been gagged by Rahul Gandhi, who, by hint and gesture, had given his support to Omar Abdullah. Now that he has come out openly in his support, it will be interesting to see whether this reinforcement enables Omar to control the Valley.

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, the anger of youth whether in newspaper offices or in university auditoriums! Why can't 'Bharat' let us be? Why are we in this prison house? Do you know that every house in the valley has a painful story to tell? Where was the chief minister during Shopian? There are mini Shopians strewn across the state. Do you know all this?


Sometimes their anger may have been unreasonable. But give them an honest, sincere, hearing and they are willing to be mollified. In fact they bought me a meal just outside the campus — at the Hattrick.

There was no anger with Omar Abdullah then. Yes, Srinagar journalists had begun to call him Pilot project II. The implication was that just as the late Rajesh Pilot was a 'buddy' of Farooq Abdullah, so is Sachin Pilot a close friend of Omar's. Indeed Sachin's wife is Omar's sister. Pilot projects were mentioned with humour.

I would be lying if I did not mention one common complaint. Since Omar's children study in a school in New Delhi, his wife has to live with the kids. This involves his having to spend his weekends in New Delhi — from Friday noon to Monday. As the administration moves to Jammu for six months of winter, the weekly absence of the chief minister leaves the valley without an on-hand administrator for extended spells.

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

It is my belief that both father and son, Farooq and Omar, are not sufficiently 'provincial' to manage a province. They are cosmopolitan men with considerable potential on the national turf — and we are short of such personalities on the national stage. Imagine Omar campaigning alongside Rahul Gandhi throughout the country. The minority vote would be electrified — as would voters across the spectrum.

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

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

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

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

But let's not forget, for the politically motivated among the Kashmir protesters an almighty global audience is in readiness.







Try to reconcile a few facts before you decide whether or not our MPs deserve more than three times increase in their emoluments they have voted for themselves in parliament...


More than half of them admit they are crorepaties. They occupy big bungalows with large gardens or flats in the poshest areas of New Delhi. Then take a look at their performance in the parliament. Some rarely show up to keep up their memberships, some make their maiden speeches and speak no more. Some like Lalu Yadav and Mulayam Singh make mockery of the Lok Sabha by performing 'nautanki'. Others make 'hangamas' by yelling slogans and forcing adjournments or staging walk-outs.

Allow me to quote Somanth Chatterjee who is considered to be the best Speaker we had. In his memoirs published recently he writes: "Out of 1,738 hours and 45 minutes the 14th Lok Sabha wasted 423 hours because of disruptions and adjournments due to disorderly scenes. This amounted to 29 per cent of the time of the House which constitutes an all-time record".

Now make your own assessment: Do they deserve three fold increased in their salaries, first class travel, fringe benefits and pensions. I am with the rest of my fellow Indians and say definitely they do not. We are ashamed of our MPs. The matter should have been left to a panel of retired judges of the supreme court to decide.

Guru darshan

Shivani, the celebrated Hindi novelist, mother of Mrinal and Ira Pande spoke Bengali fluently because she was schooled in Shantiniketan. She has written a memorable account 'Amader Shantiniketan' of the image that Gurudev Tagore left on her mind.
She writes: "Let me start from the very beginning: from the day I first met Gurudev in 1935. My older sister, Jayanti, our brother Tribhuvan and I had come to Shantiniketan all the way from Almora. As the youngest of the three siblings, I was admitted to Path Bhavan, the school section of the ashram. Soon after we settled in, the Path Bhavan principal, Dr Dhirendra Mohan Sen, took Jayanti and me to Gurudev. We reached Gurudev's home, 'Uttarayan', and were told that he was writing in another part of the house known as Shyamali."

"The evening shadows were falling and the blood-red earth turned dark as we neared Gurudev's chair. Dressed in a long black gown, the black cap he wore on his head highlighted his broad forehead and glowing face, and his eyes seemed lit up with an inner light. No wonder the ashramites considered him the Guru of gurus. And yet, this towering figure was also among the gentlest and kindest of men. His serene and compassionate game included everyone in a warm embrace — rich or poor, big or small."

"All of us, whether we came from India or Japan, or China, or Sri Lanka, or wherever — stood every morning before him as children who had come to an enchanted garden. At the morning prayer assembly held every day in front of the ashram library, we met the Buddhist scholar Fanchu, who had come all the way from China, as well as Khairuddin, a Muslim student from Sumatra, Susheela from Gujarat, and Kumudini from — what then seemed to us a foreign land — Kerala. All of us stood, with folded hands and closed eyes, as we sang the hymns he had composed. Not once do I remember anyone trying to jostle someone or giggle or push. Such was the respect Gurudev evoked in all of us that whenever we were in his presence, we became better human beings."

Carry burdens with smile

A husband comes home from satsang — he greets his wife, lifts her up and carries her around the house. His wife is surprised and asks: "Did the Swami preach about being romantic today?"

Her husband replies: "No, he said we must carry our burdens and sorrows with smile."

(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, Delhi)







He is the one who makes it his duty to suggest, advice or even order the rest of us.


Most families have one or more individuals who I will refer to as 'Mr Know-it-all' though it could just as easily be a woman. He is the one who makes it his duty to suggest, advice or even order the rest of us socially inadequate individuals on various topics right from which movie to see to the hottest funds to invest in. Nothing is too personal for him.

I recall one such person, a far-off relative of my wife. That did not stop him from introducing himself at a family function. As is the case with these unique species, he somehow knew most of our family history such as the number of kids and their ages while we did not even know if he had any children! In a few minutes he was probing me to increase that knowledge and find potential areas where he can dish out sage advice.
"So, your daughter must be in PUC now. What combination has she taken?" he started. Uh-oh. Not a direction I wanted the conversation to take. "Arts," I mumbled, bringing the inevitable response. "Arts? what! Not engineering or medicine? Why did you let her?" I could have told him it was her choice since she loved writing. However, that route was fraught with danger.

A Mr Know-it-all typically turns a blind eye to emotions or preferences and will respond with a barrage of facts and examples to support their pre-conceived viewpoints. So, to make it easier for him to digest I said, "Well, she was adamant about becoming a journalist and would not listen to our advice," with a suitably aggrieved parental look which begged for sympathy on this betrayal from ones own progeny. Did not help.

"Journalism? Children are too carefree these days. Journalists have to work hard but get paid very less. She will have to travel a lot also. Bad decision," he opined, looking accusingly at me for not being a more authoritative father. Other times, a Mr Know-it-all will point out facts regarding any decision which we have already taken as completely foolhardy, making us feel like imbeciles for not having sought their astute advice beforehand. It is not possible to avoid it by concealing the information as he will come to know one way or other.

I was visiting another Mr Know-it-all when he suddenly asked, "So, I hear you invested in an apartment on Kanakpura Road?" I nodded dumbly. "How much did you pay?" "30 lakhs," I answered giving additional details of the property before the inevitable questions that would follow. "Too much!" He shook his head in pity as though a calamity had befallen me. "That was not very smart. Renting in that area is difficult. You should have asked me. I know of similar apartments for 25 lakhs on Bellary Road. As this location is closer to the new airport, it is a better investment."

The best course was to look distraught and curse my stupid decision openly. Giving your line of reasoning is futile as it will be countered and you will be left feeling even more insecure. "I made a mistake. Next time, I will ask you first," I surrendered and slunk away with my head lowered.









With health insurers jacking up their premiums by double-digit amounts for people who buy their own policies, Republicans have been predictably eager to blame health care reform. Consumers, and voters, beware.


If your premiums are spiking suddenly, you can blame economic reality. The cost of medical care continues to soar upward, and the recession led many healthy people to drop coverage, leaving less-healthy enrollees who cost more to insure.


As for health care reform, the major elements, and major costs, don't even kick in until 2014. The only provisions with the potential to affect premiums right now are a handful of consumer protections that are popular with the public, and not especially costly to implement.


Starting this week, insurers are prohibited from setting lifetime limits and restricted in setting annual limits on what they will pay for care, banned from rescinding policies after a beneficiary becomes sick and prohibited from excluding children with preexisting conditions. The new rules will also allow dependents up to the age of 26 to remain on their parents' policies; preventive care will be provided without cost sharing; and there are new processes to appeal insurance company decisions. The critics aren't saying anything about the huge value of those immediate benefits.


These new requirements do impose some new costs on insurers, but they certainly can't be blamed for the double-digit increases many insurers have been seeking. If you listen closely to the insurers, they admit that.


The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the average premium increase to pay for the new benefits should be about 1 percent to 2 percent, roughly consistent with an independent evaluation by the Urban Institute. If those estimates are optimistic, they are unlikely to be off by much. A Wall Street Journal analysis found insurers in various states seeking increases of 1 percent to 9 percent to pay for the new requirements and often even more to cover rising medical costs.


Some of the largest health insurers created a stir this week when they announced that they will no longer issue new child-only policies to people who buy their own policies. They were worried that, with no immediate mandate that every child carry insurance, parents would hang back until their children got sick.


It is disappointing but less draconian than it seems.


The market for child-only policies is small, and such children can still be covered through family policies, public programs for low-income people and new high-risk pools. The problem should disappear in 2014 when everyone will be required to carry insurance.


Not all the news about the insurers is bad. As Reed Abelson reported in The Times on Thursday, some companies are preparing to meet the challenge of reform by upgrading information technology systems, training employees and reducing overhead costs. Of course, the critics of health care reform aren't mentioning that either.






Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic nominee for governor of New York, may have imagined that he could coast into office without the messy inconvenience of actually campaigning. It is time to set that illusion aside. The Republican candidate, Carl Paladino, may be a blowhard without a serious plan to govern New York. But he is clearly ready to give Mr. Cuomo a fight.


Voters are fed up with Albany's corruption and incompetence. Many who would not dream of letting Mr. Paladino inside their front door might be willing to send him to the state capital just for spectacle's sake. So far, Mr. Cuomo, the current attorney general, has not connected with that widespread disgust. He also has not challenged Mr. Paladino's utter lack of substance.


Indeed, Mr. Cuomo is barely campaigning. He rarely grants on-the-record interviews (NY1 News has a clock showing that it has been nearly four years since Mr. Cuomo was on "Inside City Hall"), goes for days without a campaign event and leaves it to surrogates and commercials to criticize his opponent. The voters have noticed.


Things are not as bad for Mr. Cuomo as indicated in a recent poll by Quinnipiac University. It gave him only a six-point lead but left out of the equation Rick Lazio, who is running on the Conservative Party line and is likely to draw away some Republican votes. Two more recent polls — which used different methods and did include Mr. Lazio — showed Mr. Cuomo with significantly more comfortable margins. But they also showed that Mr. Paladino was gaining momentum.


The Cuomo campaign has released a television commercial reminding viewers that Mr. Paladino is a wealthy landlord and developer who has given large sums to Albany politicians and has received millions of dollars in state office leases and tax breaks.


That instinct is correct, as far as it goes. But Mr. Cuomo has to do a lot more. He has to make it clear that he, too, is disgusted by Albany, has worked to fight corruption as attorney general and has specific policies — including good ideas on campaign finance reform and ethics laws — to fix things. Mr. Paladino says only that he plans to "take out the trash."


Most important, Mr. Cuomo needs to stop hand-wringing about how seriously to take his opponent and realize that Mr. Paladino is a formidable candidate who must be countered. He should agree to a series of debates on specific topics and bore in hard on the Republican's highly unspecific plans to cut the budget. Mr. Cuomo could also flash some of his own considerable temper (within reason), making it clear that he has the toughness as well as the substance to do the job. A passionate speech in Rochester on Friday was a good start, but it did not mention Mr. Paladino.


Few Democratic candidates will have an easy time this year, but those who demonstrate a fierce optimism about

the role of government and a daily willingness to stand up for firm principles will have a fighting chance. New York needs a serious governor who can show that he is willing to fight.







China and Japan have wisely stepped back from a confrontation in the East China Sea. The incident showed the alarming potential for territorial disputes to quickly escalate and why the players need to work a lot harder to resolve competing claims.


We don't know who was at fault when a Chinese fishing trawler collided two weeks ago with two Japanese patrol boats in waters near islands that are claimed by both sides (plus Taiwan) and controlled by Japan.


Japan returned the trawler to China and released the crew but detained the captain and threatened to prosecute him for obstructing officials from performing their duties after he rammed the patrol boats. China then cut diplomatic communications, detained four Japanese nationals and suspended exports of rare earth minerals that Japan needs for hybrid cars, guided missiles and wind turbines. With tensions rising, Japan finally freed the captain, and, on Saturday, he headed home.


The ownership of the islands — in waters rich with fish and oil and natural gas deposits — has been disputed for decades. China's claims have become increasingly shrill in recent months; Beijing has even started calling the South China Sea, where Vietnam and the two Koreas also have claims, a "core national interest." In the diplomatic world, those are fighting words.


China forced Japan to back down but still did itself no favor. Its bullying behavior will only make its neighbors even more anxious about Beijing's intentions. There are also questions about Tokyo's motives. Japanese coast guard officers often board Chinese fishing vessels found in waters claimed by Tokyo to send a message and then send them on their way without incident. The collision this time seems more serious, largely because Chinese warships are also increasingly crossing into Japanese waters. The scars in China over Japan's long and brutal occupation have not healed. But the two countries have tried to work together to rein in North Korea's nuclear program. The United States, which has a strong alliance with Tokyo, also is rightly eager to encourage China to become a more responsible regional player.


The Obama administration has offered to "facilitate" talks that would ensure freedom of navigation and encourage all states to settle their claims peacefully. That won't solve the territorial disputes, but it should make confrontations less likely. The time to act is now.







An extraordinary front-page newspaper editorial on Sunday in Ciudad Juárez cast a chilling light on the mortal dangers faced by journalists in Mexico's escalating drug wars. The editorial, in El Diario, was an open letter to the drug cartels who have slaughtered tens of thousands, including dozens of journalists — two from El Diario in the last two years.


"Explain to us what you want from us," the letter said. "What are we supposed to publish or not publish, so we know what to abide by? You are at this time the de facto authorities in this city, because the legal authorities have not been able to stop our colleagues from falling."


The letter came a day after the funeral of a young El Diario photographer, Luís Carlos Santiago, who was cut down by gunmen at a shopping mall. A message was later hung on a street corner warning the police that they would be killed in the same way.


El Diario has shown great courage in the past. We hope it will not silence itself now. Whatever happens, the editorial provides a terrifying description of the state of anarchy in Juárez — and a reminder of the federal government's failure to protect the press.


El Diario, whose police reporter was killed two years ago, is far from the only victim. The prosecutor investigating that death was also killed. The Committee to Protect Journalists says more than 30 journalists have been killed or have disappeared in Mexico in the last four years. Four were abducted this year. Last month, a car bomb exploded outside an office of Televisa, a leading national network. In a report this month, the group also found "vast self-censorship" taking hold in Mexico, as reporters and editors choose survival over freedom.


The Mexican government needs to do more to aggressively investigate and prosecute violence against the press. And it needs to do more to protect judges, mayors, civil servants and human-rights workers and police officers. The United States also has a clear responsibility to rein in the guns and money that allow the cartels to spread this reign of terror. What is at risk here is nothing less than the survival of Mexico's democracy.








IN the face of drastic cuts in the Metropolitan Transit Authority's bus service, the Bloomberg administration recently decided to allowprivate vans to carry passengers along several routes in Brooklyn and Queens where city buses once ran. One company began service earlier this month, and four more will be operating by October.


The vans, licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, are meant to be a quick solution to the service cuts caused by the transit authority's $800 million budget gap. But relying on a private-sector solution to a public-sector shortfall will also incur significant social costs and possibly doom Mr. Bloomberg's long-term vision for New York's transportation system.


If you've ever spent time in a city in the developing world, chances are you've experienced a transit system that relies almost entirely on private commuter services. Thanks to low barriers to market entry — often anyone with a working van or bus can pick up passengers — the streets are clogged with a motley assortment of vans and buses, few of them in optimal working condition. The results are, not surprisingly, higher levels of pollution and more accidents and traffic fatalities than in cities with strictly regulated public services.


Mr. Bloomberg and the Taxi and Limousine Commission have offered assurances that better regulations will keep the city from becoming an American Calcutta or Rio de Janeiro. But that's an easy promise to make, and probably an empty one: New York's experiences with crane and building-code regulations demonstrates that enforcement usually costs more than policymakers are willing to spend, especially in lean fiscal times.


Indeed, even though the van companies are already operating on the former bus routes, the Taxi and Limousine Commission has not added enough personnel to cover its new regulatory responsibilities. (It's worth asking why, if such funds were available, the city shouldn't reinstate some of the bus routes instead).


Moreover, history and recent experience shows that when it comes to poorly regulated private-service providers, informal cartels often step in to provide their own "regulation" — a problem that the city's original taxi regulations, adopted in the 1930s, were created to prevent. Such cartels, whether organized by the owners themselves or by enterprising local gangs, can easily turn to bribery and even physical violence to keep competition out.


And once in place, informal services like commuter vans, controlled by powerful operators, can become difficult to dislodge, thanks to the political influence they wield. Consider the situation in Johannesburg: the city was able to open its new bus system only after the government agreed to pay about $7,000 for each private taxi it displaced.


Private transit service will also incur social costs. For starters, because the new vans don't accept MetroCards, passengers who want to transfer from them to a public bus or train have to pay twice — a significant burden for residents with modest incomes who live along the affected routes.


Second, relying on private service means replacing well-paying transit employees with a lower-paid and typically untaxed labor force. Private van operators have reported working 14-hour days, seven days a week, for about $200 in daily pay — before maintenance expenses. These drivers have no health insurance, retirement or disability benefits. Adding more informal workers to the New York work force, even as the number of public employees is decreased, is no way to build a robust local economy.


Finally, increased dependence on fragmented transit service could be an obstacle to Mayor Bloomberg's environmental agenda, PlaNYC 2030, a vision for the next 20 years that relies heavily on an expanded and well-integrated public transit system to all parts of the city. Lobbying by newly entrenched private operators would likely pressure the city to retain inefficient parts of the status quo — to their benefit and at the public's expense.


True, the Bloomberg administration considers private transit services a temporary solution, to end as soon as the money to restart the affected routes is found. But City Hall needs to adopt a clear end date and make a meaningful investment in rigorous public regulation, including oversight and inspection, to ensure high-quality labor and vehicle standards.


On the other hand, if the operations are to continue indefinitely, then they need to be quickly integrated into the Metropolitan Transit Authority system, with MetroCard connectivity.


Above all, City Hall needs to recognize that when it comes to public programs, seemingly convenient stopgap measures can easily take on a pernicious life of their own. If it doesn't, one of the nation's most forward-thinking mayors will be responsible for taking his city's transit system back into the past.


Elliott Sclar is a professor of urban planning and the director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia. Robert E. Paaswell is a professor of civil engineering at the City College of New York.








Wallingford, Conn.

Marcus Vogt is 20 years old and homeless. Or, as he puts it, "I'm going through a couch-surfing phase."


Mr. Vogt is a Wal-Mart employee but he was injured in a car accident and was unable to work for a couple of months. With no income and no health insurance, he quickly found himself unable to pay the rent. Even meals were hard to come by.


(His situation is quite a statement about real life in the United States in the 21st century. On the same day that I spoke with Mr. Vogt, Forbes magazine came out with its list of the 400 most outrageously rich Americans.)


I met Mr. Vogt at Master's Manna, a food pantry and soup kitchen here that also offers a variety of other services to individuals and families that have fallen on hard times. He told me that his cellphone service has been cut off and he has more than $3,000 in medical bills outstanding. But he was cheerful and happy to report that he's back at work, although it will take at least a few more paychecks before he'll have enough money to rent a room.


Other folks who make their way to Master's Manna are not so upbeat. The Great Recession has long since ended, according to the data zealots in their windowless rooms. But it is still very real to the millions of men and women who wake up each morning to the grim reality of empty pockets and empty cupboards.


Wallingford is nobody's definition of a depressed community. It's a middle-class town on the Quinnipiac River. But the number of people seeking help at Master's Manna is rising, not falling. And when I asked Cheryl Bedore, who runs the program, if she was seeing more clients from the middle class, she said: "Oh, absolutely. We have people who were donors in the past coming to our doors now in search of help."


The political upheaval going on in the United States right now is being driven by the economic upheaval. It's sometimes hard to see this clearly amid the craziness and ugliness stirred up by the professional exploiters. But the essential issue is still the economy — the rising tide of poor people and the decline of the middle class. The true extent of the pain has not been widely chronicled.


"The minute you open the doors, it's like a wave of desperation that's hitting you," said Ms. Bedore. "People are depressed, despondent. They're on the edge, especially those who have never had to ask for help before."


In recent weeks, a few homeless people with cars have been showing up at Master's Manna. Ms. Bedore has gotten permission from the local police department for them to park behind her building and sleep in their cars overnight. "We've been recognized as a safe haven," she said.


In two of the cars, she said, were families with children.


It's not just joblessness that's driving people to the brink, although that's a big factor. It's underemployment, as well. "For many of our families," said Ms. Bedore, "the 40-hour workweek is over, a thing of the past. They may still have a job, but they're trying to survive on reduced hours — with no benefits. Some are on forced furloughs.


"Once you start losing the income and you've run through your savings, then your car is up for repossession, or you're looking at foreclosure or eviction. We're a food pantry, but hunger is only the tip of the iceberg. Life becomes a constant juggling act when the money starts running out. Are you going to pay for your medication? Or are you going to put gas in the car so you can go to work?


"Kids are going back to school now, so they need clothes and school supplies. Where is the money for that to come from? The people we're seeing never expected things to turn out like this — not at this stage of their lives. Not in the United States. The middle class is quickly slipping into a lower class."


Similar stories — and worse — are unfolding throughout the country. There are more people in poverty now — 43.6 million — than at any time since the government began keeping accurate records. Nearly 15 million Americans are out of work and home foreclosures are expected to surpass one million this year. The Times had a chilling front-page article this week about the increasing fear among jobless workers over 50 that they will never be employed again.


The politicians seem unable to grasp the immensity of the problem, which is why the policy solutions are so woefully inadequate. During my conversations with Ms. Bedore, she dismissed the very thought that the recession might be over. "Whoever said that was sadly mistaken," she said. "We haven't even bottomed-out yet."


Charles M. Blow is off today.








Congress is staggering toward recess. I'm going to go way out on a limb and guess that they're not going to accomplish anything major before they leave. But as long as they're still in town, taking up space, the least they could do is approve the National Women's History Museum bill.


Honestly, I would not be making this plea if everybody was knee-deep in the budget or reforming the tax structure. But they can barely summon the will to open the mail. And the museum bill always has been uncontroversial. It's a great idea; it doesn't cost any money; and virtually everybody in office has already supported some version of it in the past.


The legislation would simply allow a private group, conveniently named National Women's History Museum, to buy an unlovely piece of federal land on Independence Avenue for the site. "We will pay fair market value and pay for construction," said Joan Wages, the president. The bill allows five years to raise the money and break ground. If the group fails, the land would revert back to the government, which would get to keep the purchase price.


The problem, Meryl Streep pointed out at a fund-raiser for the museum this week, is getting the government to take the money. At the gala, Duane Burnham, the former chairman of Abbott Laboratories, announced a donation of $1 million in honor of his four granddaughters. Streep then put up $1 million herself.


"I was a little mad that a man did it first," she later said to me. "I was just jumping on his caboose." She was en route to London to play Margaret Thatcher in a movie and was inspired to make a grand, albeit non-Thatcherian, gesture.


As Streep likes to point out, Washington already has a postal museum, a textile museum, a spy museum and the Newseum. You may be wondering why there is any problem getting Congressional support for a women's history museum. Especially since the bill has already passed the House unanimously and come out of its Senate committee with unanimous approval. And since the bill, which is sponsored in the Senate by Susan Collins of Maine, has 23 co-sponsors from both parties. The Senate itself passed a different version of the plan unanimously a few years ago when the museum people were hoping to lease a government building rather than construct a new one.


The answer — and, people, how many times have you heard this story? — is that two senators, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, have put holds on the bill. A hold is one of those quaint Senate traditions that ensures that each individual member of the chamber will have the power to bring all activity to a screeching and permanent halt.


The bill's supporters seem to feel that DeMint, who is now famous as a leader of the new Republican far right, is the chief obstacle to getting the project sprung. He was raised by a single mother who helped support her family by running a dance studio. He also has daughters. Perhaps he just puts holds on things as a matter of habit, like a compulsive twitch, and does not have any actual objection to celebrating the American women's story in the nation's capital. Perhaps he will call up Collins on Monday and tell her it was all a terrible mistake.


Coburn's office said the senator was concerned that taxpayers might be asked to chip in later and also felt that the museum was unnecessary since "it duplicates more than 100 existing entities that have a similar mission."


The office sent me a list of the entities in question. They include the Quilters Hall of Fame in Indiana, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Texas and the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Washington.


There also were a number of homes of famous women and some fine small collections of exhibits about a particular locality or subject. But, really, Senator Coburn's list pretty much proved the point that this country really needs one great museum that can chart the whole, big amazing story.


Beginning in the late 1960s, the restrictions and prejudices that had hobbled my sex since the beginning of Western civilization began to be questioned, repudiated and overturned. It happened so fast that it was easy to forget all the women who had dreamed and fought for that moment but never lived to see it. And it was easy for the next generation to grow up unaware of what happened.


I lived through what was perhaps the greatest social shift in the history of our culture. You all did, too, unless you're young enough to have been born into a brand-new platform of gender equality that was created, really, just for you. There will never be a time more appropriate to celebrate this great fact.








FIVE years ago I was a soldier with the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, N.C. But rather than heading to Iraq or Afghanistan, I was getting ready to go to New Orleans, where I would assist in the relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina.


Such work would normally be performed by the Louisiana National Guard; after all, responding to domestic emergencies is one of the Guard's core tasks. But roughly 35 percent of the state's Guardsmen were in Iraq, so soldiers from my unit were deployed to fill in.


This wasn't an isolated incident — the Pentagon has grown increasingly dependent on the Guard to perform military operations at the cost of ignoring its other duties. Even today, as a soldier in the New York National Guard, I spend much of my time preparing to fight. Unless the military can realign its priorities, the country runs the risk of being dangerously unprepared for the next major domestic disaster.


I don't mean to criticize the active-duty Army; the paratroopers deployed to Louisiana performed their job admirably (my own deployment was called off at the last minute). But the response might have been faster and more effective had it involved more of the soldiers who called that area home.


For example, the pilots in my unit sent to find stranded New Orleans residents would have benefited from a thorough knowledge of the city's layout — something many in the Louisiana Guard certainly possessed.


Despite the end of combat operations in Iraq, the situation is no better today. During a typical drill weekend, the members of my unit, the National Guard's 69th Infantry Regiment, known as the Fighting 69th, maintain our marksmanship skills at a rifle range, learn the latest anti-insurgent tactics and participate in field exercises that simulate a battlefield environment.


Given the multiple roles that the National Guard plays, this is important work. Yet during my three years with the Guard, I have had no training to prepare for a domestic emergency.


We are based at the Lexington Avenue armory, but we haven't discussed which areas of New York City are most vulnerable to terrorist attacks or natural disasters. Nor have we conducted joint training with local law enforcement to coordinate our response protocols.


The difficult fact is that, with deployments looming over every National Guard unit in the country, there is simply no time for non-combat training.


Unlike active-duty units, the National Guard trains only one weekend a month and two weeks each summer. This means that a unit facing deployment in a year has just over a month, all together, to get its soldiers ready. And thanks to the uncertainty of deployment timelines, combat training has to be done even if overseas duty isn't on the schedule.


Moreover, because Guardsmen spend the rest of their lives as civilians, free of the discipline imposed by a military lifestyle, training them is harder and takes longer than training active-duty soldiers.


As a result, the country's emergency-response structure is left with a gaping hole. Congress and the Pentagon should fill it by setting new priorities for National Guard training and deployment to emphasize domestic responsibilities.


Planners should examine which units are most likely to be needed by their home states — places like New York, which faces a heightened risk of terrorist attacks, or Louisiana, where another hurricane could wreak havoc — and remove them from overseas deployment lists.


Those units should then receive extensive training for responding to domestic emergencies, with a special focus on the challenges faced by their home states.


As the conflict in Iraq winds down, the Pentagon needs to let the National Guard go back to what it does best: responding to natural and manmade disasters.


Stephen Snowder, a sergeant in the New York National Guard, was an intelligence analyst for the Army in Iraq from 2006 to 2007.










TWO noteworthy events took place in the Federal Capital on Thursday sending confusing and depressing signals all around about what is going to happen in the days and weeks to come. These indicate thinking of the Government on some of the vitally important issues and in which direction it wants to proceed.

One is the crucial meeting of the Central Executive Committee of the ruling PPP, which was held in the backdrop of all sorts of rumours, that debunked them but at the same time the party workers were asked to get ready for the worst. Insiders say President Asif Ali Zardari, who is also Co-Chairman of the PPP, was in a defiant mood and said that he could go to any extent to deal with 'undemocratic' forces. In another development, Law Ministry has, at last, forwarded a summary to the Prime Minister opining that the President enjoys immunity and references cannot be re-opened against him during his tenure in the presidency. The Ministry has advised the PM not to write any letter to the Swiss authorities in connection with reopening of corruption cases, which were closed after the much-maligned NRO deal. This seems to be in direct conflict with what the Supreme Court of Pakistan has been asking the Government during the last several months i.e. write letter to Swiss authorities for reopening of all cases. The Law Ministry is entitled to its view but we are confident that the learned judges of the apex court, while considering the case and delivering the historic judgement in NRO case, must have given thought to the question of so-called immunity and their direction to the Government to initiate proceedings for restoration of Swiss cases clearly means that the apex court was not convinced about any such blanket immunity. Therefore, the stance of the Law Ministry, would further deepen the crisis and generate more heat. It is understood that the head-on-collusion course recommended by the Ministry would offend the apex court and rightly so. The prudence demands that the Government should write letter to the Swiss authorities and leave it to them to decide whether or not these can be reopened. In any case, as the country is already passing through a delicate phase, the move of the Law Ministry would fuel clash between institutions and efforts should be made to avert that.








CHAMPIONS of human and women rights stand fully exposed as they manoeuvred sentencing of a Muslim woman to a record 86 years and that too in a case that is full of contradictions and errors. Judge Richard Berman of a US federal court would go down in the history as one of the most prejudiced adjudicators who delivered the judgement against Dr. Aafia Siddiqui not on the basis of merits of the case, record and facts and figures but apparently under influence of sustained anti-Muslim venomous propaganda in the West.

Dr Aafia committed no crime and the charges that she grabbed rifle during investigation in Afghanistan and 'tried' to gun down a group of US servicemen proved evidently wrong as there were no fingerprints of the lady on the rifle; even otherwise no one was either killed or injured. How Dr Aafia, a highly qualified lady and frail mother of three small children, can undertake a Hollywood film like adventure of fighting or killing fully armed and trained US marines? As against this, Dr Aafia was brutally tortured and humiliated and even shot at by American soldiers but alas instead of getting justice she has been punished further by the American justice system. This is the 'model' that Americans are trying to impose and enforce all over the world — what a shame! While the entire trial was unconvincing, the judgement has flabbergasted the civilised members of the international community as it smacked of deliberate attempt to infuriate and humiliate Muslims in general and Pakistanis in particular. What is worth mentioning is that Dr Aafia case is a classical example of total failure and apathy of the Government of Pakistan which did not respond to the situation in a way it was expected despite hue and cry by all segments of the public opinion. The leaders only indulged in cosmetic statements and did not take up the issue in a serious manner with the right quarters in the United States. We hope it would make amends for its uncaring attitude and launch an effective and aggressive campaign to seek repatriation of Dr Aafia to Pakistan at the earliest.






IN the backdrop of indigenous freedom struggle by the Kashmiris which has unnerved the Government in New Delhi, Indian External Affairs Minister has come out with a statement asking Pakistan to end its occupation of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian Minister made the statement at the UN Headquarters ignoring that the world body through its Resolutions recognises Kashmir as a disputed territory and had committed for a plebiscite to enable the people to decide about their future.

The ridiculous statement by the Indian Minister was no doubt aimed at diverting the attention of the international community from flagrant violations of human rights and it also proves that New Delhi has no regard for the Resolutions of the Security Council while it is hell-bent to become its permanent member. He appears to be living a in fool's paradise that in this age nobody would go along with his contention that AJK is part of India. People are protesting in Indian Held Kashmir demanding India to quit and not in Azad Kashmir. We would like to remind Krishna that it was India which went to the United Nations when Kashmiris had taken up arms against the occupation forces in 1948 and it accepted the Resolutions for a plebiscite. The AJK was got freed by the people of Kashmir themselves at that time while those still being persecuted by the occupation forces are giving supreme sacrifices to get their fundamental rights. IHK cities and towns are under continuous curfew but the brave Kashmiris are defying the prohibitory orders and taking bullets on their chests. In order to arouse the world conscience Kashmiris are placing the shocking images of brutalities and killings on the websites to expose the real face of India. New Delhi must now realise that it cannot delay the issue for a longer period under one pretext or the other as the Kashmiris won't let it be kept under the carpet, they are up in arm and an Intefada-like popular revolt is being witnessed against the Indian occupation of Kashmir.









For over a year, print and electronic media have been forecasting a change in the government setup, and many analysts and wise panelists have written obituary many a time during this period. But now, PML-N Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif's patience is wearing thin, and he has indicated that there could be an in-house change. It is incomprehensible as to how he would have the numbers to oust the government through no-confidence vote, especially when Awami National Party is not in a mood to join the conglomeration. Rumours abound that the present democratic setup may be wrapped up but except MQM Quaid Altaf Hussain, no other leader has openly demanded that honest generals should come forward to cleanse the system. The PPP leaders have reacted to the rumours for the change of their government. The federal cabinet reiterated on Tuesday its resolve to defend and ensure the supremacy of parliament and rule of law, and resist any move to change the government by unconstitutional means. 

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani said on the floor of the national assembly that the government would implement verdicts of the apex court provided they are according to law and the Constitution, implying that president, having been given immunity in the Constitution, cannot be tried in the court of law. Last but not the least the law ministry reportedly stated that the Swiss cases against President Asif Ali Zardari could not be reopened, as doing so would endanger the country's sovereignty. Meanwhile, some elements are trying to drag military into the fray by suggesting that the apex court should invoke article 190 of the Constitution to force the government to implement the court's decisions. However, ineptness and failure of the civilian governments and three martial laws are responsible for the trust-deficit between the elected government and top military brass. Anyhow, if the elected government can ensure good governance, and solves the problems faced by the people, no one can remove it.

In addition to the conflict between the parliament and judiciary, there seems to be uneasiness between the government and the military establishment. True enough, in a democratic dispensation, military leadership has to obey the orders of the elected government, but it has to be borne in mind that throughout the world, governments act on the advice of military so far as matters relating to national security are concerned. In Pakistan the question is often raised whether the military leadership has the right to give its assessment of threats to internal and external security? There is no denying that all countries of the world have professional armies to protect their borders, and also to ensure law and order internally, as it is the responsibility of the government to establish the writ of the state and protect the lives and properties of the people. But how that objective is achieved? Max Weber in his treatise 'What is politics' stated: "A state is a human community that claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a given territory". 

In the US, Britain and even in India - the largest democracy in the world - political leaderships take decisions on the basis of the information provided by intelligence agencies and advice of military leadership. It is matter of record that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had in principle agreed to withdraw from Siachen and agreement to that effect was about to be inked when the army prevailed upon the prime minister and convinced him that India would lose strategic advantage, and Indian forces would be vulnerable if India withdrew from Siachen. In 2006, the then Indian Army Chief of Army Staff, General JJ Singh had expressed concern stating: "We have conveyed our concerns and views to the government and we expect that the composite dialogue between the two countries will take care of all these concerns". US and NATO's Admirals and Generals often address press conferences, issue statements and warn their governments of the consequences of flawed decisions. 

Last year, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen wrote an essay, in which he was critical of US government's efforts regarding strategic communication with the Muslim world, stating that no amount of public relations will establish credibility, if American behavior overseas is perceived as arrogant, uncaring or insulting. He wrote: "The Muslim community is a subtle world we don't fully - and don't always attempt to - understand. Only through a shared appreciation of the people's culture, needs and hopes for the future can we hope ourselves to supplant the extremist narrative." There was yet another example of former Commander NATO/ISAF Stanley McChrystal criticizing his leadership, though he was sacked when he and his subordinates passed derogatory remarks against military top brass and top civilian leadership.

McChrystal's disagreement with the government did not evoke much furor, but he was criticized when he delivered a speech at International Institute of Strategic Studies London giving detailed account of events and reasons for the failure in Afghanistan. He had rejected calls for the war effort to be scaled down from defeating the Taliban insurgency to a narrower focus on hunting down Al Qaeda, as suggested by Vice President Joseph Biden as part of the White House strategy review. In his speech he had talked about plight of the Afghan people and crisis of confidence. He rejected proposals to switch to a strategy more reliant on drone missile strikes and Special Forces operations against Al Qaeda. He had gone to the extent of saying that the formula, which is favoured by Vice-President Joe Biden, would lead to "Chaos-istan". Some British generals are also known for their candid remarks. 

In 2006, a blistering assessment of British policy in Iraq from the country's top soldier General Sir Richard Dannatt had left Tony Blair reeling when he said that troops should come home within two years - contradicting the then Prime Minister's policy that the military will stay "as long as it takes". In unprecedented comments, he had warned that the army could 'break' if British soldiers are kept too long in Iraq. He even criticized the then prime minister Gordon Brown for his government's failure to arrange proper gear and equipment for the forces in Afghanistan, holding him responsible for the deaths of British soldiers. But in Pakistan there has been at least one incidence whereby the then Chief of Army Staff Jehangir Karamat was asked to resign by the elected prime minister for having suggested formation of National Security Council. 

In a democracy, it is quite normal that the government can be changed through a successful vote of no-confidence against it. However, there is a perception that the opposition and detractors of the present government would go to any length to get rid of this government through fair or foul means. At the same time, the PPP has to realize that the mandate is for five years but it has to ensure good governance and must avoid appointment of NRO beneficiaries or unqualified people like Adnan Khwaja showing utter disregard to merit. There could be difference of opinion over the interpretation of clause of the Constitution giving immunity to President Zardari, and the PPP may have point there, but other verdicts of the apex court should be implemented. If President Zardari had any vision, he should not have made appointments of NRO beneficiaries, and he should have taken measures to prove that his image was tarnished through propaganda. By showing disregard to the apex court's verdicts, he has lost the support of the sensible strata of society.

The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.








Since its inception, Pakistan has been steadily leaning towards becoming more Islamic, almost ignoring its founding father's definite tilt towards secularism. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was much more moderate than any other leader since the foundation of Pakistan in 1947, would be dismayed to see thousands of unregulated Madaris and mosques mushrooming all over the land of the pure, but no one has paid much attention to his message of Unity, Faith and Discipline. Granting that no one had seen Jinnah rushing to a local mosque to pray five time a day, but did he not stand tall as a Muslim by possessing all characteristics of a Momin? As a matter of fact, Jinnah never deviated from displaying his graceful manners on all occasions. An attorney with impeccable code of ethics, the secularist Jinnah had remained incorruptible throughout his life. So, please name a Muslim, who prays five times a day, in today's Pakistan, whose flawless character, could surpass that of Jinnah? However, the subject matter of this article is the ubiquitary nature of mosques and Madaris and not Jinnah's Islamism.

Reminding Pakistanis of their ideologue's dig at some of them, "Masjid tu bana di shab bhar mein…," it is much easier to construct a mosque, but quite harder to nurture a truly Islamic character. Sure, putting up a mosque or madrassa is easy enough, but what you pray and what you teach there is quite another matter. Besides, when it comes to setting up mosques and Madaris, there are really no zoning laws in Pakistan. The source of their finances is often unknown; who provides finances and are they non-Pakistanis? Contrarily, are there any well-connected native money grabbers involved in the business? And then, who is promoting sectarianism in certain mosques and from which madrassa are children learning suicide bombings? Why is it that there is no thorough research done on the subject? Shouldn't funding sources for construction of mosques and Madaris be openly discernable? Would it be fair to ask, why is there a need for a second mosque, when one is enough for the whole village? Is there a body that sets up the upper limits of the congregation, within a particular locality, before constructing another mosque? Prior to the construction approval, do local leaders and builders ascertain infrastructure requirements, such as sufficient water supply, transportation/parking, and shoe depositories? And, why is blasting of Azan through loudspeakers at high decibels within the earshot of another mosque tolerable by so many pious Muslims, particularly when Muazzan even lacks melodious voice? Turning to the prayer leader, how is he selected and by whom? What are his qualifications and is he familiar with Islamic history? 

Since Pakistan is part of the global village, does the prayer leader possess sufficient knowledge about other religions and world affairs. Shouldn't there be an organization, composed of government and non-government experts, plus religious scholars of every sect, who would set up certain minimum standards for all Pakistani imams? After appointment, each imam would seek approval of his congregation through a simple majority, and contributions of his congregation, and perhaps Zakat money, could be used as sources of revenue for local imams. Same standards would apply to a teacher, who would seek approval for his or her appointment from the independent body of education experts, who would then set up a minimum curriculum standards for all Pakistani Madaris? Madaris would be set up either by private or semi-private organizations, but both Madaris and mosques must be registered in order to become fully operational.

We know not what happened to those valuable suggestions, made by Dr. Saleem H. Ali, in August 2009, about raising standards of the Pakistani Madaris and bringing them up to the level of other public and private schools. At the time, Dr. Ali, who was a Visiting Fellow at the Brooking's Doha Center, had written an excellent paper, Pakistan's Madaris: The Need For Internal Reform And The Role of International Assistance. He thought that the noble purpose of education and enlightenment, for which Madaris were originally intended, has been hijacked by Pakistani extremists and preachers of sectarianism. While, one could barely add any additional suggestions, it would be interesting to ascertain if any of his suggestion was ever implemented? Again, has anything been accomplished to resolve the core problem of the curricular reforms?

It is absolutely essential that the curriculum should go well beyond Islamic studies, and it must teach respect for diversity and appreciation of pluralism. Since Pakistan is part of the global village, it is imperative that the concept of this universality must reach the exclusionary nature of the Pakistan Madaris, particularly those located in the tribal areas. Also, the importance of maintaining a peaceful co-existence within and without the Muslim sects ought to have the highest teaching priority. The local and state education officials must devise a mechanism in which principals, head teachers, Ulema, local village and urban community leaders, and madrassa administrators, jointly form boards of education for every locality.

Lack of balanced curriculum, poor infrastructure, ill-equipped rural and tribal area Madaris have been producing semi-literate young men, who are simply not employable. In fact, limited employment opportunities have turned the youth to radicalism, and the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have taken full advantage of the situation by offering them employment and promising them rewards in the hereafter through their half-baked Islamic ideology. In order to alleviate this imbalance, education standards must be raised so that graduates of Madaris are acceptable for higher education by all traditional colleges, universities, and vocational institutions.

But, without enforcing the strict rules of registration, there is no accountability of these Madaris; in fact, their numbers have increased many folds in the last four years. Will Pakistan make registration of all Madaris and private schools mandatory? It should be understood, however, that Madaris are not likely to disappear from the land of the pure, and even though the world at large may consider Madaris as the breeding ground of Islamic extremism, Muslims can proudly trace their medieval history when Madaris had advanced the cause of science and learning. Granting that in modern age, Muslims no longer have the mastery of science and learning, and since Pakistan has difficulty maintaining its writ in certain tribal areas, Madaris there are being run by a bunch of half-illiterate theologians. Instead of raising children who should value life, these misguided Taliban-inspired leaders teach them suicide technologies. Shouldn't these Madaris be real learning centers instead of factories for churning out Islamic nihilists?

In fact, while children acquire knowledge of their own religion and culture there, they simultaneously ought to become familiar with other religions and cultures. Nonetheless, Madaris and mosques must be registered and regulated. Madaris must follow a duly approved curriculum, while mosques should become less political and moderately less theological. Indeed, mosques are holy grounds for Muslims, where they submit to their Creator, pray for health, peace and tranquility, and seek answers to the mysteries of the universe. However, despite the fact that violence is prohibited within mosques, sectarian violence is being perpetuated within mosques in Pakistan. Who promotes and who ferments such violent outbursts? Peace and tranquility would eventually return to the terrorist-ridden Pakistanis, but it is imperative that their children not only learn the peaceful nature of their own religion but that they must also become reasonably familiar with other religions. Therefore, to improve quality of learning and praying, sprouting of Madaris and mosques ought to be curtailed and rigidly regulated throughout Pakistan. Jinnah's vision of Unity, Faith, and Discipline would become reality only when Madaris become citadels of true Islamic learning, mosques become pillars of faith through prayer and compassion, and discipline that leads to building strong nations.

—The writer is the Chief Executive Officer of an Information Research & Analysis Company in the United States.







An old man was desperately walking fast in the rubble of a demolished house, which once was his home. His torn dirty vest hardly covered his emaciated body exposing his brown skin to the burning sun. His weak hands were holding his curved back as if it was going to give way. There was dust on his wrinkled face, dirt in his bushy white beard and clay on his bare feet. There were signs of despair and pain in his lustreless eyes. Now and again, he would take off his dirty white cap, rub his head with his mucky hands and wipe his face of pouring sweat. It was difficult to guess how old he was as the hard life he lived had disguised his actual age. He looked old; a Baba. Someone introduced him to the visiting TV team as Baba Banaras. 

A well-known media personality was assessing post-flood devastation near Nowshera in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Let us call him Mr. 'H'. Coming closer, the pain in Baba's eyes changed into confusion and a faint ill-defined smile appeared on his face which failed to take away the obvious misery haunting him. He was short of breath from the hard work he had been doing rebuilding his home with his bare hands. Mr.' H' started asking questions in Urdu; the poor man hardly understood the language. He started answering in typical half baked lingo mixing Pakhtu with Urdu. Now and again, he would lose a thread and looked for help from a youngster standing opposite him. An interesting conversation revealed he was a retired Chaukidar and getting a pension of Rs 1500/ per month. At the time of retirement, he received Rs 2 Lacs lump sum on which he built the home which the floods turned into ruins. In his broken language he said that he sold part of his house and donated the money to the village mosque in the name of Allah. There was pronounced innocence and sincerity in his utterance. 

Further questioning revealed he had one daughter, three granddaughters and no son. In Pakhtun culture, a man without a son is called 'Meeraath' meaning by; such person is doomed as he has no one to look after him when he is old. That seemed to be the case. There was no one except his womenfolk to give Baba Banaras a hand to rebuild his home. He said he bought dowry worth Rs 90,000/ for his granddaughter's marriage which was due if floods had not washed away everything. When asked what would he do? His blank face showed traces of ache and a few tears appeared in his eyes. All he could utter was, 'what can I do?' He turned his face to look the other way trying to control his emotions. Then he looked up to the sky leaving everything to Allah; so strong was his Faith. After a while a boy came to him and told him something in Pakhtu. A touch of anger appeared in his tone, slapped his own forehead and cursed his luck. 

Then, without saying anything, he left the place in hurry and disappeared behind the heap of rubbles. On enquiry Mr. 'H' was told that Baba had asked the boy to get soft drinks for the guests and the boy told him the shopkeeper wanted Baba to go there himself. Powerful emotions appeared on the face of Mr. 'H'. He was witnessing an illustration of Pakhtun hospitality called 'Mailmantob'. On his return, Baba told him in simplistic but honourable pitch that he couldn't let his guest go without serving him. Despite all the misery he was in, he couldn't lose his Pakhtunwalay. Mr 'H' squatted on the ground next to Baba with bottle of cold drink by his side and continued to ask him question upon question. Like always Allah's name was visible in his replies. 

Then suddenly, Mr 'H' surprised everyone by offering him his help. Initially Baba didn't understand and asked the interpreter what he was talking about. He was told that he was offering help to rebuild his home and to help with his granddaughter's marriage. He turned his face toward Mr. 'H with astonishment and took off his cap, held it in his outstretched hands and burst into tears. It was his way of thanking him. Then he looked up yet again into the sky praising Allah for sending an angel to help him. Mr. 'H' told his partner to tell him in Pakhtu that it was not his money he was offering; it belonged to decent donors who wanted to help people like him. The translator tried to make Baba understand, but his actions showed that it was Divine help reaching him through Mr 'H' at this time of need. In his husky voice he tried to argue that Mr. 'H' could be sitting somewhere in a cosy place doing something else; instead, he was going from place to place helping needy people. His simple argument carried weight. He kept his cap in his hands for a long time and kept praying for Mr H and his family. Not once did he mention the government in his praises or prayers. One could sense an emotional tempo developing in the scene and feel a spiritual beat in the environment. 

This was a typical picture of misery spread all over the country in the flood-hit areas. There are millions of Baba Banarases working with their bare hands to build what they lost in the floods. And there are many TV personalities, independent entrepreneurs, NGOs, religious groups, Pak army and even foreigners reaching to them and helping them. Unfortunately, the help is uncoordinated and ill planned because of sheer mismanagement on behalf of the government resulting in unnecessary loss of resources. 

It is make or break point for the government. If the slackness of the government continued, it will add to the miseries of the deprived ones increasing their resentment. Their anger is multiplied when the independent media report that the dishonest high ups give irregular extensions or fresh appointments to their corrupt cronies and buy expensive properties in posh areas abroad during these appalling times. With exception of a few, most of the political figures especially from the power corridors have failed to act like their saviours. All they seem to do is to visit the affected areas for photo sessions and disappear without interacting with the affected people like Mr. 'H' did in the case of Baba Banaras. As a result, they are fast losing faith in the government. Our society is full of good, decent and talented people; why can't the political elite and the government officials follow their example and show the world community that we are capable of turning flood-hit Pakistan into a new modern country as Germany or Japan did after devastations of WWII with added technical and monetary support of the world.







We are a society with no values and principles.The proposition may sound unpalatable and rather a sweeping statement to many people but unfortunately it is an irrefutable reality. We talk about morality, honesty and principles not out of conviction or as an inner core reaction against impropriety, corruption and dishonest behaviour but only to use it as a convenient instrument to malign somebody, sully the reputation of the opponents, gain political mileage at the cost of others or to spoil the show for our petty self interests. The call to the patriotic Generals to impose martial law to fix the corrupt feudal lords, politicians and bureaucrats, is the best manifestation of this social ailment. 

Coming from a politician who has been crying hoarse from every convenient roof top to prove his democratic credentials, It is simply outrageous, unconstitutional and an affront to the civil society which has unequivocally given its verdict in favour of change through democracy. We have had enough experience of Generals trying to root out corruption and ending up by taking it to dizzying heights. We are, in fact suffering from the legacy of their indiscretions. Wishing them back sounds sinister and alarming.Pakistan unfortunately enjoys the dubious distinction of having a rating of one of the most corrupt countries in the world. What that means is that the corruption is rampant among all the sections of the society and the government. Be it the business community; the people supposed to pay their taxes honestly; the judiciary charged with the responsibility to dispense justice; the politicians expected to sculpture the cherished destiny of the state; the Generals who repeatedly ruled the roost; the representative governments having the obligation to look after the well-being of the masses and even the media supposed to act as a watch-dog against corruption and wrong-doing, the cancer of corruption is all permeating. We all know it but regrettably no honest efforts has ever been made to find a panacea for this dreadful disease.

One thing is certain that there is no quick fix solution to address this menace and it can only be cured through an evolutionary, constitutional and democratic process. The much fancied Revolution is not a plausible solution. Revolutions are disruptive in nature and Pakistan which is already at the edge of a precipice cannot afford to confront another disruptive phenomenon. We have a democratic set-up in the country, though struggling to find a firm foothold in the transitory period, that should not shake our faith in its strength to surmount the difficulties and the ability to put the nation back on track. We have an independent judiciary in the country. We have a free and vigilant media which has already proved its power by mobilizing the civil society. Freedom of the media is the best thing that has ever happened to this country. John Wilkes, the pioneer of media freedom in the UK has said "freedom of expression is a bulwark of all other freedoms" Free media is an essential ingredient of the consolidation of the democratic process and its gains. It can help in strengthening the democratic institutions and also provide an informed guidance in morphing the public opinion against corruption and building pressure on the politicians and the government to devise a fool-proof anti-corruption mechanism as well as bringing necessary changes in the way the country is governed. 

We have already seen democracy at work: politicians from across the political divide sitting together to undo the constitutional aberrations introduced by the dictators as well as settling the question of provincial autonomy through the abolition of concurrent list. That undoubtedly is a significant achievement. The first ever equitable distribution of financial resources through the 7th National Finance Award is another ranting proof of the wonders that democracy can produce. The government that spearheaded these feats also deserves to be complimented irrespective of its inadequacies in other areas. There are no two opinions about the fact that the people are wary of the prevalent corruption and the system of governance. We need to show perseverance in effecting the required changes. The onus for these desirable and inescapable reforms however does not solely rest with the government. All segments of the society have to contribute to this national effort. The civil society, intelligentsia and particularly the media have a very significant role in bringing about the change that we need. As they say " the worst form of democracy is better than a benign dictatorship" We must continue on this path and have faith in its resilience and capacity to deliver under all circumstances. 

Democracy is a global culture and the nations that are on top of the world, achieved those coveted positions through democracy. That also is the legacy and vision bequeathed to us by the Father of the nation. We are duty bound to zealously guard and nurture it. Any deviation from this course will be a betrayal of the objectives of our independence. The only way we can grapple with the acrimonious circumstances that threaten our very existence as a nation and re-choreograph the path to our cherished destination, is to show unswerving commitment to the vision of the Quaid. Therefore, our political leadership needs to shun the politics of self-aggrandizement and adopt a national outlook if they are really serious and honest in removing the afflictions that are obstructing our social, political and economic progress as well as jeopardizing our national unity.









Many Americans have suggested that more moderate Muslims should stand up to extremists, speak out for tolerance, and apologise for sins committed by their brethren. That's reasonable advice, and as a moderate myself, I'm going to take it. I hereby apologise to Muslims for the wave of bigotry and simple nuttiness that has lately been directed at you. The venom on the airwaves, equating Muslims with terrorists, should embarrass us more than you. Muslims are one of the last minorities in the United States that it is still possible to demean openly, and I apologise for the slurs. I'm inspired by another journalistic apology. The Portland Press Herald in Maine published an innocuous front-page article and photo a week ago about 3,000 local Muslims praying together to mark the end of Ramadan. Readers were upset, because publication coincided with the ninth anniversary of 9/11, and they deluged the paper with protests.

So the newspaper published a groveling front-page apology for being too respectful of Muslims. "We sincerely apologise," wrote the editor and publisher, Richard Connor, and he added: "we erred by at least not offering balance to the story and its prominent position on the front page." As a blog by James Poniewozik of Time paraphrased it: "Sorry for Portraying Muslims as Human." I called Mr. Connor, and he seems like a nice guy. Surely his front page isn't reserved for stories about Bad Muslims, with articles about Good Muslims going inside. Must coverage of law-abiding Muslims be "balanced" by a discussion of Muslim terrorists? Ah, balance — who can be against that? But should reporting of Pope Benedict's trip to Britain be "balanced" by a discussion of Catholic terrorists in Ireland? And what about journalism itself?

I interrupt this discussion of peaceful journalism in Maine to provide some "balance." Journalists can also be terrorists, murderers and rapists. For example, radio journalists in Rwanda promoted genocide. I apologise to Muslims for another reason. This isn't about them, but about us. I want to defend Muslims from intolerance, but I also want to defend America against extremists engineering a spasm of religious hatred. Granted, the reason for the nastiness isn't hard to understand. Extremist Muslims have led to fear and repugnance toward Islam as a whole. Threats by Muslim crazies just in the last few days forced a Seattle cartoonist, Molly Norris, to go into hiding after she drew a cartoon about Muhammad that went viral.

And then there's 9/11. When I recently compared today's prejudice toward Muslims to the historical bigotry toward Catholics, Mormons, Jews and Asian-Americans, many readers protested that it was a false parallel. As one, Carla, put it on my blog: "Catholics and Jews did not come here and kill thousands of people." That's true, but Japanese did attack Pearl Harbor and in the end killed far more Americans than Al Qaeda ever did. Consumed by our fears, we lumped together anyone of Japanese ancestry and rounded them up in internment camps. The threat was real, but so were the hysteria and the overreaction.

Radicals tend to empower radicals, creating a gulf of mutual misunderstanding and anger. Many Americans believe that Osama bin Laden is representative of Muslims, and many Afghans believe that the Rev. Terry Jones (who talked about burning Korans) is representative of Christians. Many Americans honestly believe that Muslims are prone to violence, but humans are too complicated and diverse to lump into groups that we form invidious conclusions about. We've mostly learned that about blacks, Jews and other groups that suffered historic discrimination, but it's still OK to make sweeping statements about "Muslims" as an undifferentiated mass. In my travels, I've seen some of the worst of Islam: theocratic mullahs oppressing people in Iran; girls kept out of school in Afghanistan in the name of religion; girls subjected to genital mutilation in Africa in the name of Islam; warlords in Yemen and Sudan who wield AK-47s and claim to be doing God's bidding. 

But I've also seen the exact opposite: Muslim aid workers in Afghanistan who risk their lives to educate girls; a Pakistani imam who shelters rape victims; Muslim leaders who campaign against female genital mutilation and note that it is not really an Islamic practice; Pakistani Muslims who stand up for oppressed Christians and Hindus; and above all, the innumerable Muslim aid workers in Congo, Darfur, Bangladesh and so many other parts of the world who are inspired by the Koran to risk their lives to help others. 

Those Muslims have helped keep me alive, and they set a standard of compassion, peacefulness and altruism that we should all emulate. I'm sickened when I hear such gentle souls lumped in with Qaeda terrorists, and when I hear the faith they hold sacred excoriated and mocked. To them and to others smeared, I apologise. —The New York Times









JULIA Gillard says Tony Abbott has broken his promises over the Speaker, but the Prime Minister herself stands charged with a much broader breach of trust with the Australian electorate. In an interview with Fairfax newspapers last weekend, she said she would not be bound by the promises she made to voters during the election campaign. The "new environment" of the hung parliament meant all bets were off. Ms Gillard has already acted on that new approach by putting a carbon tax on the table and changing tack on asylum-seekers. By any standards, her admission that she will use the excuse of minority government to backflip on policy is a far more serious issue for voters than Mr Abbott's change of heart over parliamentary procedures. Mr Abbott's agreement was with a handful of politicians; the Prime Minister had a deal with the 6.2 million Australians who voted for her or gave her their first preferences. She got away with sidestepping her own mandate in that soft interview in the Fairfax press, but the Prime Minister cannot expect the rest of the media to be part of her "rainbow coalition".


A month ago when Ms Gillard signed with the Greens, The Weekend Australian warned of the dangers to her party of an alliance that would take Labor to the Left, away from the values that would ultimately help it rebuild its support among the new "enterprise class". Our fears have been realised, with the added problem that focusing on the Greens' platform poses a danger for the public, as well as the party. Far more pressing issues are ignored as Bob Brown takes centre-stage. This week, instead of addressing the serious economic issues that confront Australia, Ms Gillard allowed the policy vacuum to be filled by euthanasia -- an issue not even raised during the campaign. Instead of talking about productivity, infrastructure and the two-speed economy, she played party politics over the Speaker. Indeed, she all but admitted her policy gaps when she said that little of the legislative program she will introduce in this parliament "will make headlines or nightly TV bulletins", Yet the case for hard thinking on structural reform is urgent. The Treasury yesterday called for extensive tax reform; earlier in the week Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens warned of the challenges created by a runaway mining boom; and today, business leaders spell out in our pages their frustration with the government's policy black hole.


It is a long way from the days of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, when Labor's goal was to modernise the economy and ensure competitiveness. Back then, the government was able to float the dollar, deregulate the financial sector, and address labour-market rigidities, even though it did not hold power in the Senate. It was a time when the correctness of the reform agenda encouraged consensus across party divides, a time when the Coalition more often than not found itself on the same side of the argument as Labor. Ms Gillard should follow this model rather than backing down on policies or sulking over Mr Abbott's tactics on the Speaker. It is not Mr Abbott's job to support the government, but it is his obligation to act in the national interest. If the government wants parliamentary support for reform, it needs to generate a program the Coalition cannot legitimately reject. Ms Gillard must avoid the so-called progressive agenda of the Greens and instead pursue truly progressive policies that build on the reforms of the Hawke-Keating era and the vision articulated by Tony Blair when New Labour took power in Britain in the 1990s. At the heart of these administrations was the belief that economic growth is central to the wellbeing of a nation's citizens. This is inimical to the Greens' anti-growth stance, but it accords with conservative values and beliefs. Indeed, Labor and the Coalition have more in common with each other than either has with the Greens, or for that matter the independents, with their penchant for protectionism and pork-barrelling. That, rather than listening to Senator Brown, should be Labor's compass as it sets out to govern, as the Prime Minister said in her Ben Chifley speech in Bathurst last weekend, "as though we had won a landslide".


Making excuses for backflipping on electoral promises even before parliament sits is not a good start.








TONY Abbott's decision to backtrack on the parliamentary reform agreement and not provide a pair for a Labor speaker provoked a disproportionate storm of indignation in some media quarters. Much of it smacked more of political partisanship and naivety than of a mature understanding of political tactics. And, as we note above, the Prime Minister's own backflips seem to be attracting far gentler treatment.


The ABC's morning radio host in Sydney, Deborah Cameron, sounded more disdainful of the Opposition Leader than Ms Gillard yesterday when she asked whether Mr Abbott had thrown political honour out the window and whether anybody who signed a deal with him could trust him. Adding to the push for group hugs rather than incisive analysis and robust reporting, ABC's Lateline noted the demise of "a kinder, gentler politics in Australia". Even a Skynews interviewer seemed nonplussed that former Democrat leader Cheryl Kernot could see some reason in Mr Abbott's actions.


Unlike some in the media, The Weekend Australian is less concerned with which political party forms government than with the policies it pursues. Over the years, we have backed both Labor and Coalition governments. We continue to be more interested in the quality of government and how well it advances the national interest by setting and carrying out policies that encourage enterprise and productivity than in narrow party politicking. But we seem to be outnumbered these days by media -- and indeed politicians -- calling for a new world order. Tony Windsor, one of the independents who now find themselves with unaccustomed power, was even moved to lament a return to "business as usual" this week, as if there had really been a new political paradigm created by the election. He, like others, needs to drop the notion that a hung parliament was the intention of voters rather than an electoral accident. At least the dust-up over the Speaker has put paid to the idea of politics as a group hug.


The Coalition's initial agreement to provide a pair for a Labor Speaker was foolish. Now the government has decided to renominate Harry Jenkins -- with or without the benefit of Liberal Alex Somlyay as Deputy Speaker -- perhaps Labor can get down to governing flat-out, while the Coalition focuses on constructive opposition and the media holds both to account.








WHATEVER else might be said about the ABC's retiring 7.30 Report host, Kerry O'Brien's contribution to politics and journalism cannot be denied. On form, O'Brien is a clever and penetrating interviewer, tying up interviewees on subjects he has studied in greater depth than they have, as Tony Abbott found out the hard way on more than one occasion.


But we cannot agree with the ABC's claim that the program "has consistently set the news agenda". Regrettably, for all O'Brien's vast knowledge, talent and experience, the early evening current affairs program has lost much of its nerve and influence. Its coverage of the pink batts debacle and school building program waste was so light-on that viewers must have been surprised when the government went into damage control on both. The impression was left far too often that O'Brien was selective in his targets, while his long interjections told us more about the host than the guest.


ABC news director Kate Torney says a 7.30 Report without O'Brien will be a "new paradigm". Not before time. Former ALP pollster Rod Cameron, an ABC supporter, admitted yesterday that informed people these days turn to Sky News to find what is going on.


O'Brien's replacement will have a big task if the 7.30 Report is to recover its flagship status.








THE strategy of the opposition in the present hung parliament is becoming clearer with each day. The objective appears to be to make the newly elected parliament unworkable, and a new election necessary, which the opposition obviously believes it will win.


A wrecking strategy is the only way to explain Tony Abbott's decision this week to renege on the so-called group-hug agreement over the office of speaker, sealed little more than two weeks ago. That agreement, between the opposition's manager of business in the house, Christopher Pyne, the leader of the house, Anthony Albanese, and the independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, was the first step towards making the newly elected parliament work. It provided that whichever side did not form government would give a pair to the speaker. That ensured that whoever held power would have a workable majority of two or perhaps three.


That has now gone by the board on the grounds that it might be unconstitutional. The Commonwealth Solicitor-General does not believe it unconstitutional. He found no objection to a pairing arrangement provided it remained informal. But the opposition has obtained a contrary legal opinion. Its advice, from Senator George Brandis, says any such arrangement could be challenged in the High Court. To which the public might reply: well he would say that, wouldn't he?


Labor's attempt to get the former opposition whip, Alex Somlyay, to accept the deputy speaker's job and grant the speaker a pair collapsed yesterday when Somlyay said he would stand for the deputy's post, but would keep to the opposition position on pairs.


The upshot is that the government will have to provide a speaker from its own ranks. That will be Harry Jenkins, the Speaker in the last parliament, a capable holder of the office and the only government member with a reason to smile at present. His election will cut Gillard's majority to one. That is still a majority - but the opposition is doing its best to make it still more fragile. The new opposition whip, Warren Entsch, has also threatened not to provide pairs for ministers who are absent from the House when it is sitting, unless their absence is in the national interest. Tanya Plibersek, the Minister for Human Services, is expecting a child. Is childbirth an acceptable reason for absence, according to the the opposition? What about sickness?


In reneging on the agreement about an independent speaker, Abbott has certainly confirmed the independents who aligned themselves with Labor in the rightness of that strategy. Their only hope of influence is if Labor stays in power. Abbott has also angered the single independent who chose the Coalition - Bob Katter. That may have consequences for Abbott's future attempts to exploit the House's finely balanced numbers.


In fact there is no legitimate reason suddenly to withdraw the normal courtesies of parliamentary behaviour and practice, or to be wilfully obstructionist. The government has barely been formed; the parliament has not yet met. No decisions have been made which could be objected to. If there were evidence of scandal or malfeasance - genuine evidence, not the faked-up outrage over trivia that the opposition is peddling at present - there might be grounds for the opposition's obstructionism. But there is none. The government has not been derelict in its duty: rather, as we reported yesterday, it has a full legislative program ready for parliament when it does finally sit. The independents have their own legislative agendas also, as has the opposition. There is much work to do.


But though there is no legitimate reason, there is a good political reason. Creating a constant air of crisis around the Gillard government, ensuring it can do as little as possible and looks always chaotic, will help to reduce its stature in the eyes of the public. As Kevin Rudd, who faced only a hostile Senate, found out to his cost, endless obstructionism eventually wears away the public's patience. Though the government may not be at fault for achieving little, or less than it wants, it tends to be blamed. Gillard's strategy will have to be to pin all the negative tactics on the opposition.


Voters, meanwhile, will not look on this positioning and posturing with much joy. Politicians never stand terribly high in the public's esteem - least of all when all they do is bicker. They will judge, rightly, that their elected representatives should just get on with what they were elected to do - governing the country, not indulging in empty gamesmanship.










SUDDENLY, Vegemite's strategy in launching the baffling iSnack 2.0 this time last year makes sense. Makers of this incomparable breakfast staple must have been aware of the way Australian attitudes are changing towards the best-known brands. As we reported yesterday, Vegemite's grip on our slippery consciousness is becoming butter-fingered. Vegemite slid to 10th this year from third last year. Places one to nine were brands from the digital world. Different versions of Google are first and third, two types of Microsoft are second and fourth. Apple also appears twice, in seventh and ninth position. Clearly Vegemite's self-cloning strategy was an attempt to regain its place. Having failed, the company renamed the product something else, which we have forgotten. We do recall that it was a lightish brown. Is colour a factor? Other brands struggling this year - Tim Tams, Coca-Cola - also involve edible brown things. They should get the colour experts in to restyle themselves after their digital competitors. Pale aqua yeast extract anyone?







THE 2010 AFL season had the feel of a footballing fin de siecle. Geelong's glorious reign came to an end, as all good things must. So, perhaps, did the time at Geelong of its best latter-day player, Gary Ablett, who is still sweating over a move to join the gold rush on the Gold Coast. So did the Cats' way of playing the game, which was a joy to purists and made for the most benign of tyrannies.


In its place is a kind of ultra-football, a postmodern game based on relentless physical pressure in every part of the field - too clever to be called thuggish, too bruising to be called stylish - modelled by Hawthorn in 2008, adapted by St Kilda last year and further refined by Collingwood this year. Today the Saints and Magpies play off for a premiership, and perhaps to prefigure a dynasty.


The twist is that this new way is being lit by two grand dames, both foundation clubs of the VFL in 1897, both with roots deep in this city's soil. St Kilda is famously the competition's least successful team, with one premiership to its name, and Collingwood is famously the most star-crossed, winning only one pennant in the past half-century from a dozen grand finals. For supporters of both clubs - Collingwood's are the most plentiful and deafening in the land and St Kilda's admirably numerous and staunch - the future is a foreign country where they can do things as differently as they like. All that matters is today.


But the future is rushing headlong at the AFL. Next season Gold Coast joins the fray and in 2012 a team from western Sydney. Already, we have an idea of what the Gold Coast Suns will look like, an understanding of how desperately it needs Ablett both as a footballer and a figurehead, and an inkling of how recruiting for the new clubs is going to shake up all football codes. Western Sydney's only confirmed senior footballer is Israel Folau, currently a rugby league superstar but untried in the AFL. Truly, it can be said that the goalposts have moved.


Rules - written, unwritten and rewritten - are in focus. One set is the rules of the game, which might be amended next season to set a limit on interchanges, which is certain to have an effect on aesthetics.


Another is the three-strikes drug code. The airing of the Ben Cousins' documentary helped to soften public sentiment towards so-called drug ''cheats'' (about most, that is a misnomer) and meant that when Hawthorn's Travis Tuck emerged as the first three-strike footballer, he was treated with kid gloves. A divide remains between some clubs, who insist on their right to know, and their doctors, who do know, in confidence, and say that is enough. So do we.


Other rules enjoin footballers to protect the image of the game. Two big names loudly transgressed this year. Jason Akermanis's career was in so many ways storied; he was a brilliant and much-decorated footballer but also a media loudmouth. His legacy will be forever tarnished by the fact that twice in four years he was cut loose from good clubs in bad odour.


Akermanis at least offended only with words. Brendan Fevola, traded from Carlton to Brisbane, left a trail of destruction that began with drunken antics at last year's Brownlow Medal count (shamelessly amplified by Channel Nine), finished last week with yet more allegations of antisocial behaviour and threatens to dangerously destabilise the Lions. Fevola is, like Peter Hore, a serial pest - but vastly better paid.


But the most far-reaching revelation about Fevola was that he is a gambling addict. This highlights perils that lurk for athletes with excesses of money and time, and no mind for guidance. But it also is an issue on which the AFL is hopelessly conflicted. Since the laws of the land were loosened to allow bookmakers to promote themselves, the AFL looks to have become one big betting shop. Betting is legal, of course, but on Brownlow Medal night it appeared to become compulsory. It was tacky.


The AFL has only to look at cricket to know what a Pandora's box it has opened. Its response was to put in public stocks a handful of minor functionaries for making bets as small as $2. This was nitpicking, and ominous for the grasp of the biggest and richest sport in the country at a time when it is on the threshold of massive growth and metamorphosis.


But that is for another day, which may never come. Reliable reports say that if Collingwood wins, the world will end. St Kilda's burden today is more onerous than it can ever know.


Source: The Age







Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is making the sane course of action much harder to take


Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a press conference in New York yesterday. Photograph: Bebeto Matthews/AP


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not look like a man who is ready to talk about his nuclear programme. Toying with the theory that the attack on the World Trade Centre was an inside job, and doing so blocks away from where it happened, may play big in tribal areas of Pakistan, but it is not designed to win friends and influence where it matters in the United Nations.


The annual works outing of the Iranian president to New York began with a series of hints that his government was considering returning to the negotiating table. He released the American hiker Sarah Shourd and toldChristiane Amanpour that Iran had a plan to relaunch talks with the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, the so-called P5 Plus One. If such a plan exists, it is not clear how pouring salt in the open wound of Ground Zero will smooth its path. It can only stiffen the nation's resolve to make punitive sanctions work. This is the last thing that should be happening.


The US administration is already planning the biggest arms sale in its history to Saudi Arabia, with the explicit intention of containing Iran. This is no more than a continuation of the policies that George W Bush used. It could have a short-term effect but in the long run it will make Iran more dependent on China, which will not serve US interests. It is also difficult to argue that you get more stability in the Middle East by flooding it with arms.


The arms deal could also be seen as a way of containing Israel's desire to clear up the ambiguities surrounding Iran's nuclear programme by bombing it. But while Israel and Saudi Arabia are on the same side when it comes to buying US warplanes, they are on opposite sides of the Arab peace initiative, which would normalise relations between Israel and the Arab world in exchange for a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. Saudi Arabia has on more than one occasion threatened to displace Egypt as a negotiator between Fatah and Hamas. This would put more pressure on US and Israeli efforts to keep the rejectionist wing of the Palestinian national movement out of talks. Using arms to contain Iran could have unintended regional consequences.


The P5 Plus One group gave no serious attention to the deal that Turkey and Brazil brokered, in which Iran agreed to export half of its low-enriched uranium for reprocessing abroad. But if talks were to restart, they would be on the basis that Iran would keep some of the uranium that it is enriching. Ahmadinejad is making the sane course of action much harder to take. The US and Iran are past masters at winding each other up; only today, the urgent task at hand is de-escalation. If Ahmadinejad says he wants to talk, Obama should call his bluff.










New York during this week's MDG summit. Photograph: Hannibal Hanschke/EPA


Ten years ago, the millennium development goals held out the prospect for a transformation in the life chances of the global poor. In 2000, every member of the UN agreed the millennium declaration, encompassing eight goals that included halving extreme poverty and hunger, improving health, bringing primary education to every child and empowering women – all measurable objectives to be delivered by national governments. They were designed to focus government effort in developing countries which, in a new venture in global community, would be backed by the rich world.


With just five years left to meet the objectives, the MDGs' proponents at this week's UN summit began to look anxiously at progress. Like all extravagant gestures, the goals contain the implicit danger that they will be revealed as just that: a gesture. Failure would be not just a billion individual preventable tragedies; it could be a devastating blow to the recognition of the mutual dependence on which the world's future depends. That is why the Guardian, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has launched a website to provide a base from where progress can be tracked, policy debated and a toolkit of best practice assembled.


There are cogent arguments to be made against the grandiose scale of the MDG project and its top-down structure. As the British government has learned in the past decade, by their very nature targets can distort outcomes. It is true, too, that progress on individual targets can be less than meets the eye: primary enrolment has soared, but investment in education has not always kept pace. Class sizes are often unmanageably large; children sometimes too hungry to learn. Other goals, like improving maternal health or empowering women, were never going to be readily solved. The whole idea of globally dictated standards to be achieved in just 15 years is unquestionably flawed.


But there are strengths too in setting out a globally supported programme. It has been a powerful lobbying tool, helping to keep the rich world heading in the right direction on aid commitments, even if promises made at summits are lamentably easy to forget on the plane home – and the more so when economic meltdown threatens. This week's MDG summit has squeezed out another $40bn to try to keep up the momentum on achieving the goals. Yet, despite the embarrassment of discussing hunger and poverty over a glass of wine and a little poached chicken in New York's plush hotel lounges, some of the continuing sense of common endeavour leaked through into the verbose outcomes document that was agreed at the end of the summit on Wednesday.


Global economic recession and now a food price shock provoked partly by commodity speculation will make progress over the next five years harder than in the first 10. Where China and India are likely to score well across most of the targets, other Asian countries and sub-Saharan Africa are struggling. If progress is to be maintained, it is essential that donor nations meet their pledges. But there is a second challenge that cannot be solved by cash. It is imperative that falling short of the goals is not interpreted as total failure. The non-governmental organisations that depend on us as donors are sometimes guilty of implying that aid can be transformative, a kind of magic wand constructed out of dollar bills. It is not. In emergencies, a pound can stop a child dying of diarrhoea. In development aid there is no exact link between input and outcomes. This should be the real lesson from the MDGs: development comes slowly and unevenly. Sometimes it stops altogether. Sometimes it produces unintended consequences. Every project is shaped by local circumstance, local culture, local need. The MDG experience should be treated as one more step in a long, hard road, but it remains a road we travel together.








From left to right: Andy Burnham, David Miliband, Diane Abbott, Ed Balls and Ed Miliband. Labour's method of selecting a leader could one day embarrass the party - perhaps today. Photograph: Katie Collins/PA


Andy Burnham may not become Labour leader this afternoon. But he is surely right to have called for a fresh look at the party's leadership election rules. Labour is now the only one of the three major parties which does not choose its leader on the basis of a one-member-one-vote system. The Liberal Democrats have always done so. The Conservatives have done so since 2001. Labour, uniquely, still uses an electoral college in which MPs, party members and members of affiliated trade unions and other bodies each have one-third of the votes. All this makes Labour's system a bit of a relic. It also offends democracy on many counts. An MP's vote is worth around 600 times the vote of an ordinary member (and an MP gets one of these lesser votes too). The vote of a union-affiliated member is worth correspondingly less too. This year, as reported today, the GMB has also found ways around the rule that forbids the promotion of a preferred candidate when the voting papers are sent out (courts have nullified strike ballots for less). Finally, Mr Burnham says, the campaign finance rules need tightening too. Labour is lucky, save in the 1981 deputy leadership contest, that it has never elected a leader or deputy in the modern era against the majority wishes of ordinary party members. But it will happen one day, perhaps today, and Labour will deserve to be embarrassed when it does. In a democratic party, each member should have just one equal vote. Labour needs to rethink its system, whoever wins today.





            THE JAPAN TIMES




Land prices across Japan fell in the year ended July 1 at 21,457, or 98.5 percent, of the 21,786 locations surveyed annually by the land and infrastructure ministry. There was almost no improvement from the previous one-year period, when Japan was hit by the global recession and land prices showed a decline at 98.8 percent of the locations surveyed.


The nation's average price for residential land fell 3.4 percent from a year before, marking the 19th straight year of decline, and the average commercial land price fell 4.6 percent for the third consecutive annual drop. A long deflationary period, the slow pace of economic recovery as well as a graying population are apparently working to push land prices down.


Although land prices in the Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya regions fell for the second year, the average rate of fall in the regions' residential land price decreased from the previous 5.6 percent to 2.9 percent and the figure for the regions' commercial land price dropped from 8.2 percent to 4.2 percent. Housing demand at popular residential areas did pick up, helped by tax reduction measures for those who take out housing loans, while low interest rates encouraged real estate investment in commercial areas.


Outside the Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya regions, the average residential land price fell for the 18th straight year and the average commercial land price dropped for the 19th year.


The survey shows that efforts to make cities and towns more convenient for residents or more attractive to tourists contribute to raising land prices or making them level off.


In Ise, Mie Prefecture, the restoration of old streets helped to attract more worshippers to Ise Shrine. An increasing number of foreign tourists are visiting the Niseko ski resort in Kuthcan, Hokkaido, because of free bus services linking the town's center to lodging areas.


The central government should push steps that help local governments make their towns and cities attractive through proper urban planning, such as the concentration of stores, hospitals and nursing care facilities in their central areas.







A business report for fiscal 2009 of the Japan Students Services Organization (JASSO), a student loan provider under the wing of the education ministry, shows that many borrowers are having difficulty repaying their debts, apparently because of the economic downturn, which makes it difficult for graduates to get stable jobs.


JASSO's outstanding loan balance is ¥6.2337 trillion. Loans in arrears for three months or longer amount to ¥262.9 billion, roughly twice the corresponding figure of ¥136.3 billion in fiscal 2002. Some 70 percent of those loans are overdue for one year or longer and about 10 percent overdue for 10 years or longer.


In fiscal 2009, JASSO extended ¥959.5 billion in loans — ¥248.5 billion without interest and ¥711 billion with interest — to 1.18 million students. As of the end of March 2010, out of 2,627,000 people who had to repay, 336,000 were delinquent borrowers, owing ¥79.7 billion.


During the same fiscal year, JASSO filed 4,233 lawsuits against delinquent borrowers. The number of such lawsuits has been rapidly rising — 58 in fiscal 2004, 266 in fiscal 2005, 547 in fiscal 2006, 1,407 in fiscal 2007 and 1,504 in fiscal 2008.


To cope with an increasing number of delinquent borrowers, JASSO joined an organization that logs individuals' consumer credit histories. Last spring, it started providing the organization with information on delinquent borrowers' names, addresses and amounts owed. Some of them may become unable to use credit cards or get housing loans.


A JASSO survey of borrowers who are in arrears for six months or longer shows that they are suffering from

financial difficulties — with 40.8 percent mentioning their low income, 37.3 percent their parents' financial difficulties and 19.8 percent their unemployment. The government should make serious efforts to prevent a situation in which students have to give up going to school because of financial difficulties. It should remember the Democratic Party of Japan's 2009 Lower House election manifesto, which called for granting scholarships carrying no repayment obligations to students who need them.








Special to The Japan Times


HONG KONG — My old friend Yoh Kurosawa just threw his head back and laughed: "How can you say that the rising yen is a danger. It proves we are strong, the world regards us as best."


Sadly, Kurosawa was not around to impart his wisdom to the new Japanese economic establishment. My conversation with him took place several years ago when the yen was panicking Japanese business, financial and industrial circles as it hurtled toward 95 to the U.S. dollar. Kurosawa was chief executive of Industrial Bank of Japan, the principal financing arm for Japan's postwar economic miracle. Things were simpler then. Foreign exchange markets were big, but not as massive as the $4 trillion a day today — meaning that by intervening Japan risks spitting in the wind.


The irony, which seems to have completely escaped Prime Minister Naoto Kan is that he is trying to forestall the yen's rise to protect the one sector of the Japanese economy big enough and strong enough to look after itself. He has not yet given any indication that he understands that it is past time to reform and rejuvenate the ailing sectors of the Japanese economy.


Intervention cannot have done much for Tokyo's relations with Washington, especially when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was talking tough, telling Beijing to stop preventing the renminbi from appreciating. China is still a poor if rapidly developing economy; yet here is super-developed Japan, with per capita income of almost $40,000, intervening. Moreover, Japan also has a massive current account surplus, $163 billion this year or 3.1 percent of GDP, according to IMF estimates.


I have some sympathy with Kan. The yen at 85 to 90 against the dollar reflects economic fundamentals. Japan took action after a rapid appreciation of more than 11 percent in the value of the yen since mid-May, whereas the rise in the yuan has been a pitiful 1 percent since Beijing heralded measures to free its currency. One point is the exchange rate of the currency and the other is the speed of appreciation (or depreciation).


Japan has already seen a considerable hollowing out of its industry, and industrialists warn that more jobs may be lost. Carmaker Suzuki is set to produce more cars in India than it does in Japan. Toyota President Akio Toyoda has said that his company will not abandon Japan, but says nothing about the number of cars it will make or workers it will employ in Japan. Mikio Katayama, president of electronics maker Sharp, announced that the company was moving some production of flat-panel televisions to China and called for the government to do more to soften the yen. Japan's Cabinet office in February said that ¥92.90 to the dollar or cheaper helped to keep companies profitable.


To multinational companies, it hardly matters whether cars or computers are made in Japan or China or India or the U.S. as long as they make profits. But from the point of view of a country, its economy and jobs, continuing to manufacture quality products is much more important than many modern economists pretend.


The Anglo-American model of shifting away from manufacturing to services and especially to finance does not look so attractive now. Japan has at various times tried to present Tokyo as the essential partner in 24-hour financial markets but has shied away from the social implications. The government is pressing Shinsei Bank, in which it has a stake, not to pay executives more than $230,000 a year, including bonuses, a laughably small amount by international standards of pay.


A few maverick critics contend that industrial products still being made in Japan are of such a high technology and high quality — for example, the machines and machine tools that make the manufacturing machines — that it has no rivals. This is an exaggeration: Germany is a key rival and Germany, hiding behind the ramparts of the battered euro, has been picking up orders as the yen has appreciated against the euro, too.


Nevertheless, Kurosawa is right: Japan's big exporting industrial companies are well able to protect themselves, and the appreciating yen is a mark of their success.


Japan's forex intervention opens manifold dangers. Last time the government intervened — between 2003 and 2004 when the yen was at about 110 — Japan spent $300 billion trying to stem the yen's rise, but saw the currency appreciate by 13 percent. By not working out a credible plan for the economy as a whole, Kan risks pushing Japan to the tipping point — where its economic fragility will be recognized and account taken of its massive government debts, its rapidly aging population and the fact that the government has no economic plan. Kan might see the yen drop disastrously, by 50 percent or more once the markets get real.


Kan has talked of his plans to create jobs, as if jobs grew on trees or could be bought at the local corner shop. But so far he has shown little new creative thought, except to suggest that corporate tax cuts might depend on jobs created, something easier to say than to do.


Japan increasingly looks like a society set in its ways and isolated from the rest of the world. Even some high-tech gadgetry, notably in mobile telephones, has been so closely developed for the closed Japanese market that Sharp's Katayama acknowledged the danger of the "Galapagos effect" — in which exotic animals evolved for those isolated islands.


But too much of Japan is evolving as exotic, expensive, antiquated and anti-competitive — from agriculture, where the average age of farm workers is almost 66 and the cost of pampering them with subsidies is almost the same as the value of their production, to construction (the corruption device beloved of leading bureaucrats and politicians) and education, where standards have fallen so far that Chinese universities are regarded as better than Japanese ones by international peers.


The answers are clear: reform and liberalization to promote competition and create new jobs and bring domestic

manufacturing and services to the levels of the export industry that Kurosawa was proud of. But if you advocate reform, you will hit a knee-jerk reaction that this would destroy ancient Japanese culture with wasteful Western excesses.


It does not have to be so. Why should Japanese farmers not produce rice that can compete in quality and price with the rest of the world AND grow wheat and vegetables and fruits? Why should exquisitely slow Japanese service be so expensive? And is it an essential part of Japanese culture that towns are such an ugly excrescence of concrete?


Kevin Rafferty is author of "Inside Japan's Powerhouses," a study of Japan Inc. and internationalization.








It seems unlikely that the territorial spat between China and Japan will escalate into a more open and dangerous conflict, since the leaders realize all too clearly the consequences of playing with fire on such sensitive issues. Still, we want to remind both sides that there is a limit they cannot pass beyond, because not only the peoples of these two countries, but also the entire population of Asia and even the world would pay a price for any irresponsible acts on their behalf.


On Tuesday evening, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao warned Japan it would face retaliation from China unless it "immediately" freed a Chinese captain whose boat, according to the Japanese government, deliberately struck two Japanese Coast Guard vessels near islands in the East China Sea that are disputed by both countries.


Although Japan released the Chinese captain on Friday but tension between the two countries remain high.


PM Kan knows very well that there is much frustration among Japanese leaders as the country's economy has been sluggish for nearly two decades.


The Kan administration also realizes that when it is too accommodative toward China, the rise of ultra-nationalists can get out of control, but when it is too confrontational the economic costs will be too dear for Japan.


Chinese leaders must accommodate the anger of their citizens toward the country's former colonial master, and they do not want to be perceived as too weak against Japan, whose No. 2 position in the world economy was just replaced by China. But they also know very well that the real target of the Chinese people could shift to their own government. So the Chinese will tolerate a certain level of street demonstrations or anti-Japan sentiment.


The political elite in China and Japan should also remember that open confrontation between these two Asian economic superpowers would scare their neighbors. Such a movement could backfire onto other nations that could suffer as a result. Both have no choice but to use diplomatic channels to settle any disagreements.


We call on both sides to immediately refrain from trading accusations and threats and maintain a cool-headed approach, no matter how sensitive or explosive the matter is for their domestic politics.







Miscalculation, poor analysis and ignorance are perhaps the perfect terms to describe the reasons for the collapse of a 100-meter section of Jl. RE Martadinata connecting Tanjung Priok and Ancol, North Jakarta, on Thursday last week.


A statement issued by Winarno, the director of PT Bina Marga Area II overseeing road construction, that the collapse was caused by land subsidence resulting from recent dredging of the canal running parallel to the road, confirms that the construction of the newly completed road and dredging activities in the area failed to satisfy standards of prudence, accuracy and thoroughness.


It is true that related institutions have started to rebuild the collapsed section. However, these measures are essentially more curative than preventive. And the collapse is only one example of many incidents that have occurred and may continue to occur in the future.


Still fresh in our minds is the recent collapse of part of the Pesanggrahan River dam in nearby Bintaro, and last year's collapse of the Situ Gintung embankment in Ciputat, both obviously reflections of the poor performance of related government institutions and/or officials.


Government aside, last week's incident in North Jakarta, the recent events in Bintaro, and last year's Situ Gintung disaster all had one thing in common: they were largely the result of the destruction of the environment and ecosystems of Jakarta.


It has become a public secret, supported by research and surveys, that the city's shorelines have been badly damaged, particularly by the intrusion of seawater. And the salt water from the ocean has contaminated underground water reserves at an increasing rate over the last few years.


Reports show that seawater has penetrated all the way into parts of Central, South and West Jakarta and is even predicted to have reached neighboring Bekasi and Tangerang. Reports also show that the intrusion of seawater has also occurred as a result of the decreasing size of mangrove forests. As we all know, mangroves play a crucial role in protecting shorelines against strong waves and storms — preventing seawater intrusion.


Protecting and rehabilitating mangrove forests is thus critical, since our failure to do so will result in further degradation of the ecosystem and considerable changes to underground water reserves, particularly in coastal areas.


Besides decreasing the size of mangrove forests, groundwater use in the capital has reached alarming levels, with immediate and apparent impacts seen in land subsidence causing many areas to become highly susceptible to flooding.


This environmental degradation needs more serious commitments and actions — not only from authorities, but also from Jakartans themselves. For example, campaigns and commitments to build 1-square-meter biopores in residential areas and office complexes. These are expected to absorb excess water and prevent street flooding. Re-greening shorelines should be an obligatory measure for all Jakartans.


We must be committed to bringing an end to all environmental destruction and put all these necessary plans for recovery measures and prevention of further destruction into action. Otherwise, we must ask ourselves if we have the heart to let our children and grandchildren suffer from all the bad things we continue to do now?  Certainly not.








The well-known idiom "it takes two to tango" definitely does not refer to politics.


At least that's what we can conclude from Australia's parliamentary composition resulting from a nail-biting federal election drama in which Julia Gillard from the Australian Labor Party and Tony Abbot from National Coalition acted as the main protagonists.


During the election there were weeks when a hung parliament was imminent as both Gillard and Abbott shared the same number of seats. In a country with a de-facto two-party parliamentary system such as Australia, a brittle situation from hung parliament — a condition where parliament is divided and no political party has an absolute majority over the opposition — is the last thing any prime minister would want to have.


Fortunately, after weeks of vagueness, Australians were able to breathe a sigh of relief when Gillard finally secured 76 seats (the number required for outright victory from the 150 seats in parliament) with last-gasp support from the Australian Greens Party and three independent members. This partly ended Australia's political limbo, but the predicament is far from over since Gillard's road ahead is still paved with loose stones.


The major reason why some people remain skeptical about the stability of Australia's future government is that a parliament with a ruling party without power over its opposition may be incapable of performing at full throttle.


This could be nasty: During times when government policies urgently require approval from parliament, political intervention from the strong opposing party may be a hindrance to implementing such important policies.


As a country that has reeled through both the eras of autocracy and democracy (and also experienced a thorny transition in between), several examples could be drawn from Indonesia, Australia's closest neighbor to the north, in terms of parliamentary matters.


In our not-so-distant past, former Indonesian president Soeharto could run his top-down politics and an extremely stable government because he had almost no one to oppose him in parliament. In addition to the autocratic culture that stemmed from his leadership style, the fact that the Golkar Party always came out victorious with overwhelming support in every election led the party to earn most seats in parliament, which allowed Soeharto to implement government policies as he pleased.


Soeharto's example goes to show that the more power a ruling party has in parliament, the better its chances of implementing government policies smoothly. Under such conditions political interference from opposing parties is unlikely to be seen because of the overwhelming power the ruling party boasts in parliament.


More recently, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono tried to emanate Soeharto's success by embracing other parties to form a giant coalition that holds 75 percent of the seats in parliament, with the expectation that such a powerful coalition would weaken the bargaining power of the opposition and ensure the stability of his second-tenure government.


So what would happen in a situation like Australia's, where the parliament is divided into two fractions, with the ruling party only holding a wafer-thin majority over the opposition? If you were the leader of the ruling party in Australia, like Julia Gillard in the current parliamentary composition, then you could expect your powerful opposition to confront and grill you every time you came out with new policies.


And with her experience as a former minister and policymaker, Gillard surely realizes politics can get really nasty. Several lecturers at my university were once policymakers in government, and some said how crucial economic policies could lose their timing and credibility, and eventually become ineffectual, since such policies usually must undergo an arduous and protracted process of Indonesian politics before they can be put into action.


In the United States, very often Barack Obama has had to endure torrid times first from the Republican lawmakers before his policies could be implemented. Indeed, maintaining checks and balances on government by confronting the ruling party is precisely the job of opposing parties, such as the Republicans. But from an academic perspective — particularly in the field of economics where timing does matter and economic policies need to be implemented at the right time — there are times when an opposition party that is too strong can create lengthy political processes that ultimately reduce the efficiency of government itself.


However, in 2010 Gillard is not the only newly-elected head of state facing difficult challenges. One of her

peers in a similar situation is Philippines' Noynoy Aquino who was just elected this year, and already has to deal with the problem of national security and restoring the Philippines' image following the Hong Kong tourist carnage incident.


Then there's Colombia's new president, Juan Manuel Santos, who presided over the country as president amid

growing domestic tension between the state, guerillas and drug kingpins, as well as the problem with the threat of war from Hugo Chavez because of the infamous 2010 Colombia-Venezuela diplomatic crisis.


There's also UK Prime Minister David Cameron who is unfortunate enough to occupy 10 Downing Street this year in the middle of anti-British sentiment from environmentalists following the British Petroleum fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico.


Having only a slim power difference against her opposition in parliament means with even a single lawmaker defecting her plans could be turned upside down: The government during Gillard's tenure will be fragile indeed. In a world where encountering an uphill battle has become a trend for every newly elected leader this year, how to tame her stronger-than-ever opposition in parliament will be a challenging test for our beloved neighbor's first female prime minister to overcome. 

The writer is a student at the University of Indonesia's School of Economics.








Last month national newspapers reported that the MRT might replace the Transjakarta Busway corridor concept. According to a report, the Transportation Ministry proposed discontinuation of the Transjakarta Busway Corridor 1 (Blok M – Kota) in 2015 because it will overlap the MRT Phase 1 (Lebak Bulus-Dukuh Atas) route. This proposal is based on expectations of 200,000 — 300,000 future MRT passengers per day.


Is it really necessary to discontinue the busway service? Further analysis of potential passengers (demand) along Lebak Bulus-Dukuh Atas route is necessary, especially considering that last year vice minister for transportation Bambang Susantono warned that the services of both the busway and the MRT may not persuade commuters to stop using their personal vehicles in favor of public transportation.  
According to a 2008 Instran (Institute for Transportation Studies) survey sample, it was estimated that the number of cars passing the Sudirman — Thamrin area presently covered by the Transjakarta Busway, and by the MRT in the future, will soon reach more than 200,000 vehicles.


If each car carries an average of two passengers, this would indicate at least 400,000 potential public transportation users. This number does not include motorcyclists and people who travel by non-busway public transportation.


It's not likely that all private vehicle passengers will become Transjakarta Busway and MRT passengers, but even if 50 percent opted to use the busway and MRT services, there would be a potential demand of 200,000 new passengers.


It is now being suggested that this demand should be met by the MRT alone, at the expense of the Transjakarta Busway, which would no longer be able to provide service to its regular passengers. 

"Busway will remain an attractive public transportation alternative if the MRT fares are more expensive." 

As a result, there could be another public transportation shortage if the Transjakarta Busway Corridor 1 (Blok M-Kota) route is discontinued.


Elimination of the Busway Corridor 1 service should be rejected for three reasons.


Demand along Lebak Bulus-Kota route is very high and cannot be accommodated by the MRT alone. It is important to re-emphasize the existence of Busway Corridor 1 after the MRT is in operation, especially because initially the MRT plans included plans to improve, not exclude, the corridor.


The new proposal comes at a time when the Jakarta administration is working to increase the Busway Corridor 1 load capacity by replacing single carriage busses with articulated busses in 2011, the corridor's 7th year anniversary, and the end of the existing contract with the corridor's current operator.


The proposal to discontinue the Corridor 1 service could push the Jakarta administration to reconsider their plans to increase busway capacity.


Officials are hesitant to commit to massive investments in articulated busses if the corridor is expected to be closed to make way for the MRT. The need to continue the Busway Corridor 1 service after the MRT needs to be re-emphasized to assure that the government's investments will not go to waste.


Jakarta needs various modes of mass public transportation that are comfortable, safe, punctual and affordable, so that residents have options when deciding to use public transportation.


If the government is worried that its mass public transportation endeavors will lack passengers, it needs to better

educate the public — especially owners of private vehicles.    


Educating the public is an often neglected necessity. In the past, plans to build infrastructure often overlooked public participation and education. The public was regularly unaware of government services and activities being offered, and had little knowledge of the funding behind various projects. This may have been a result of past technocratic dominance over the processes of drafting plans for infrastructure projects.


Busway will remain an attractive public transportation alternative if the MRT fares are more expensive. This mode of transportation will attract different market segments based on affordability and destination. 
There are passengers who would choose to ride the busway because it is more affordable, and there 
are those who will choose the MRT because it fits their travel destinations.


Last but not the least, a multi-mode transfer station needs to be constructed so that it will be easier for passengers to switch from the busway to the MRT, and vice versa.


Synergy between modes of transportation in many other cities around the world has proven effective in encouraging broader use of mass public transportation.

The writer is a transportation observer at the Institute for Transportation Studies (Instrans).








Currently, Jakarta and surrounding cities (Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi, or Jabodetabek), which has a population of more than 23 million people, is the world's fifth most populous metropolitan area after Tokyo, Bombay, Lagos and Shanghai.


That means about 10 percent of the population of this country live in the Greater Jakarta area, which covers about just 1 percent of the land area of Indonesia. Meanwhile, no less than 59 percent of Indonesia's population is concentrated in Java, which covers just 6.8 percent of the total land area of Indonesia. Data from the Indonesia Vision 2033 team mentions too that no less than 80 percent of industry is concentrated in Java.


World Watch, an independent research institute in Washington warned that the rapid population growth would become an unbearable burden for metropolitan infrastructure. Still not imagining what would happen if a "gigantic city" died.


There are examples from the 1970s, when the New York City administration almost went bankrupt several times. Only after an injection of funds from international banks did the "Big Apple" returns to normal.


It is very difficult to perform a similar miracle for metropolises in developing countries like Jakarta. There is such a rapid growth in population and in vehicles. In Jakarta, more than a third of the population is estimated to live in the slums.


According to World Watch (2002), the river of people who flow into the cities in developing countries is not generally due to the prosperity of the city, but because of rural poverty. Millions of peasants are no longer able to produce adequate harvests as a result of the unequal distribution of land and continuous erosion.


Considering the various developments above, the discourse on the removal of the capital, particularly to the eastern part of Indonesia, becomes increasingly urgent. There is popular opinion that does not agree the capital should be moved to around Jakarta or stay in Java, which has become the world's most populous island.


Lessons from Tokyo will show how hard it is to move the capital of a country. A quarter of the population of Japan are Tokyo residents who live crammed on an acreage of land that is only about 2 percent of Japan's land.


Almost 70 percent of Japanese companies' headquarters are located in Tokyo. Here too around 30 percent of national products and 60 percent of stock are traded. As a center of cultural, economic and political life, Tokyo is a locomotive pulling the whole country forward. Without a breakthrough, many foresee a bleak future for Tokyo, starting soon.  


In early 1970s, there was an attempted breakthrough. At that time, prime minister Noboru Takeshita declared the decentralization of Tokyo, one of the most important political policies of his administration. The treatment program for the "disease" was named Tokyo Furosato, which means "back to the village".


As the first dramatic step, Takeshita required every important government ministry and department to move a single directorate or department to another city. Initially, there were plans that 290 directorates should be transferred from Tokyo. However, in the end, none of the important directorates was willing to leave Tokyo.  


Like Tokyo, Jakarta has plenty of charm. Jakarta is the center of the cultural, economic and political life of this republic. The circulation of money in Jakarta is estimated at more than 80 percent of the total circulation of money in Indonesia. Almost all government departments and ministries are based here. The wheels of government spin in Jakarta. Here too expert and cultural institutions gather.


From Tokyo's experience, we can see it will be very difficult for Indonesia to find a new capital city.

The writer is an urban observer and a member of the Eastern Indonesia Forum (FKTI)











Premier Wen Jiabao's speech on the government's self-regulation, delivered late last month, is a worthy guide for people interested in the Communist Party of China (CPC)'s governance philosophy.


It is first a prescription of hope for the protection of civil rights in the country. Reading between the lines, one cannot miss the CPC's increasing awareness of the need for a change in its relationship with the people. That in itself is good news.


Wen's speech gives the impression that there has been wider agreement within the CPC's national leadership on how to deliver good governance.


We have seen two milestones in that direction: the 2004 Administrative License Law and the 2007 Regulations on Government Information Disclosure. Under the 2004 law, getting central government permits for 2,176 items has become unnecessary or easier. More government licensing requirements have been removed at local levels. Despite the reluctance of public offices, getting government information is no longer an impossible task. The 2007 decree makes it mandatory for government agencies to make public all information, except State and commercial secrets and individuals' privacy.


Besides such major initiatives, government institutions have also become more committed to public service.


Yet the actual performance of government institutions and officials still falls short of public expectation and stipulations in documents. The root of such problems lies in the way some officials position themselves and their institutions.


Despite the rhetoric about the rule of law, officials' behavioral pattern suggests, wrongly though, that they are somewhat beyond and above the law. That explains why, in spite of stipulations to share information, many government agencies still try to keep the public in the dark on certain important issues.


Only a government that respects the rule of the law can guarantee fairness and justice, Wen said. The government has the bounden duty to safeguard all civil rights bestowed by law.


To translate that into action, officials should be aware of the limits of their power, and should not try to cross them.


"It should be up to the law to determine what the government can do and cannot do," Wen said. "The government can only practise powers the law has bestowed upon it. All acts of administration should be based on law, and with due procedure."


Wen singled out departmentalism in legislation and policymaking as a threat to public well-being, and prescribed legitimacy check. A fair and just rule is essential for creating conditions to make sense of due procedure. But that again depends on the political will of the government.


China Daily






Thursday's meeting between Premier Wen Jiabao and United States President Barack Obama in New York will help expand common interests and bridge the gaps on issues of mutual concern.


Frequent high-level contacts and timely exchange of views between China and the US will ensure that the world's most important bilateral ties have a smooth sailing. Stronger cooperation between the US and China in significant international affairs and other major issues will better serve their global interests and contribute to world peace and development.


As two important members of the international community, China and the US could better fulfill their international responsibilities by closing ranks to help relieve the world of its financial woes and fight climate change.


As the second largest trade partner for each other, China and the US have by and large maintained a sound bilateral economic and trade relationship. The momentum that they have maintained in bilateral ties has helped them raise their trade volume to more than $350 billion from just $ 2.5 billion in 1979, when diplomatic ties were established.


For bilateral ties to grow more healthily, Washington and Beijing could forge an even closer and wider economic relationship. This would be in line with the interests of the two countries and help the world economy recover faster.


The two countries should respect each other's core interests and major concerns. Political and strategic mutual trust is a precondition for maintaining sound bilateral trade ties. But instead of trying to build mutual trust, the US has linked the value of the yuan to its trade deficit with China. This is unfair, for the US has trade deficits with about 90 other countries.


Putting pressure on China to revaluate the yuan faster is no solution to the US' problems. A higher yuan will neither decrease the US' trade deficit nor create jobs in that country. The US' trade deficit with China, about $200 billion a year, is the result of the Sino-US investment and trade structure.


For a more balanced and sustained bilateral trade, the two countries have to cooperate on large-scale investment, based on equality, mutual trust and benefit. Plus, the US has to reform its export control regime to allow more China-bound exports.


As always, bilateral ties have suffered major setbacks recently because of the US' ignorance of and indifference to China's territorial integrity and security concerns. The US multi-billion-dollar arms sales to Taiwan, an inseparable part of China, Washington's muscle-flexing in the waters off China's eastern coast and interference in the South China Sea issue are provocative actions. They have not only eroded bilateral political and security trust, but also put regional peace and stability at risk.


Sino-US ties have advanced beyond the bilateral scope and create a major impact on the world. And since their common interests far outweigh their differences, the US and China should work to deepen political and strategic mutual trust, and solve their differences through dialogue and consultation.

China Daily







The world has to increase food production by 50 percent by 2030 and double it by 2050 to meet future demand. This seems to be the consensus among economists, scientists, politicians and representatives of the agricultural industry. But does the world really have to do so?


Even if the global population crosses 9 billion by 2050, which looks likely given the present trend, the world may not need to double its food production if food is not wasted and dietary habits change to healthier ways.


The need for a 100 percent rise in food production was based on a UN Food and Agriculture Organization report. But recent studies show the report implies that global food production during the 45 years from 2005 need to be raised by about 70 percent. The 30 percent gap is huge. In fact, it is equivalent to the food produced by the whole of the American continent.


So, what is the message? The world has to increase, by hook or crook, the output of agricultural and livestock (milk, meat and eggs) products by at least 70 percent. But isn't that a tough task, because urbanization across the world is eating into agricultural land, and once agricultural-surplus nations have been forced to become food-scarce countries today? For example, Mexico, the land where corn originated has to import corn.


Isn't it surprising that China, where rice was first cultivated and which is still its largest producer, has to import its staple? Isn't it surprising that not China, where tea originated and which is still its largest producer and consumer, but Kenya is its largest exporter? Isn't it surprising that India, which introduced sugar to the world, has to import sugar today? And isn't it surprising that India and Pakistan, where cotton was first cultivated, have to import cotton today?


The answer to all the questions is "no", for that is the natural outcome of market economy and globalization policies. Global food production and distribution no longer depends on the simple laws of demand and supply. Instead, they depend on the intricate and complicated policies of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the whims of multinational companies.


Such policies and whims have given rise to supermarkets (even in the developing world) that waste food products, especially perishables, the most. (To see how, one needs to just watch veteran French documentary filmmaker Agnes Varda's The Gleaners and I.)


If we can save food from being wasted (wasting food is a common phenomenon throughout world, but more intense in the West), and if we can change our unhealthy eating habits, the world may not even have to increase the food production by 70 percent to feed the projected population of more than 9 billion people by 2050. But that would be contrary to the demands of market economy.


Market economy is all about increasing production infinitely and making money. So, if millions of tons of food grains rot in Indian government warehouses, we should let them rot, instead of trying to distribute them among the poor and hungry people of the country. Why? Because distributing food for free goes against the laws of market economy.


Despite what Economics Nobel laureate Amartya Sen says, a democratically elected government is no guarantee against famine. Or else how starvation can be explained in a democratic country like India?


Food is no longer dependent on the backbreaking labor of farmers? It is not dependent on the whims of nature or proper irrigation, either? It depends on market laws worked out by international organizations such as the WTO, International Monetary Fund, World Bank and multinational corporations. It is their laws and schemes that have forced almost all or most of the African nations to become food-insufficient. It is their plans that force most of the developing world to depend on supplies from the developed countries, which perforce subsidize their agricultural products.


The world today has more than 1 billion hungry people. And even it were to double its food production, as demanded by international organizations, by 2050, it would still have 290 million hungry people.


Where will this cycle of poverty and hunger end? The answer is no one knows, not as long as the Bretton Woods institutes and multinational corporations are allowed to decide the fate of the world.


The author is a senior editor at China Daily. He can be reached at









Host city of 2012 Olympic Games asked to learn from China'scapital how to enforce pollution-control measures successfully


The pollution wheel has come full circle, this time to haunt the 2012 London Olympic Games. Environmental concerns now threaten to derail the London 2012 publicity train, reminding one of the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.


London now has been advised to learn from Beijing's experience to restrict road traffic during the 2012 Games by Frank Kelly, professor and director of the King's College London (KCL) Environmental Research Group. Those who remember what China - especially Beijing - was made to go through during the run-up to the Games would call this a pleasant irony.


London's air quality is one of the worst among major European cities. "There have been no major innovations or advances in the way we regulate traffic emissions. So pollution is no better than it was. In fact, it hasn't improved much since the turn of the century, since 2000," Kelly says.


The heavy traffic is the main source of the city's two major pollutants, particulates and nitrogen dioxide. "If a vehicle is powered by diesel, it will produce a lot more pollution than a petrol-powered" automobile. "And unfortunately, a lot of our transport depends on diesel. All the 7,000 buses and 22,000 taxis, and over half the private cars now are diesel (powered) vehicles".


Pollution has "a lot to do" with the weather, he says. "In fact, the biggest influence on what the air quality is on a particular day is the weather As we can't control the weather, the only other option we can have is to control how much pollution we emit." He suggests London authorities either regulate transport more tightly or insist on the use of very low polluting form of transport.


Peter Brimblecombe says in his book on air pollution, The Big Smoke, that London's dirty air dates back to medieval times, when soft sea coal was burned in homes, breweries and factories. King Edward I tried to ban the high-sulphur fuel in 1306. In 1661, London diarist John Evelyn observed that the city was covered "in such a cloud of sea coal, as if there be a resemblance of hell upon earth".


In 1879, smog hung over London for four months. The Great Smog befell London on Dec 5, 1952, and lasted until Dec 9, and caused or advanced the deaths of thousands of people and became an important impetus to the modern environmental movement. It also prompted the UK parliament to pass the Clean Air Act in 1956, hastened the replacement of coal with natural gas in most homes, and eliminated the city's so-called "pea soup fogs".


The UK will spend 9.3 billion ($14.56 billion), according to Bloomberg, to build facilities for the Games, making it one of Europe's largest construction projects. But despite the huge spending, the authorities haven't done enough to improve London's air quality during the Olympics, says Kelly, whose KCL team runs 160 monitoring sites across the city and analyses data for the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.


London Mayor Boris Johnson, who is also a member of the Olympic Board that is overseeing the Games' planning, has said larger vans and minibuses will not be required to meet low-emission zone (LEZ) standards until January 2012. These vehicles were originally due to be included in the LEZ from October 2010 and would have had to pay fines for not meeting emission standards.


The former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, introduced the LEZ in February 2008, which required large trucks, buses and minibuses to meet emission standards.


Johnson's cleanup plan includes buses powered by diesel-electric hybrid engines, banning older taxis and upgrading the public transport system. And his office has said that "the smooth running of London's Olympic Games will not be affected by poor air quality".


But Kelly is not so optimistic. If the weather is not good then there's a possibility that "we will have air pollution episodes". To improve the air quality, he suggests local authorities extend the LEZ and the government upgrade "all our buses and taxis as quickly as financially feasible".


But since the 2012 Olympics is less than two years away, London doesn't have enough time to accomplish the massive upgrade, he says. "Therefore, I think they'll have to consider having plans in place if the weather is not favorable and that will involve some kind of traffic regulation."


During the 2008 Games, Beijing authorities implemented tough measures, shifting polluting factories from the city to other places and restricting the number of cars on the roads by allowing drivers of vehicles with odd and even plate numbers to drive on alternate days.


Describing Beijing's measures a "successful scheme", Kelly says regulating traffic, the main source of London's air pollution, would be a useful way to improve the city's air quality during the 2012 Games. "(If) you don't have vehicles, you don't have pollution in London. That is very simple," he says.


"The last thing we want is very bad weather and not have any controls in place, and end up with headlines saying: 'Pollution concentration in London exceeds the European guidelines, WHO levels'. That will not be good publicity for London."


To have "controls in place" for eventualities, Kelly hopes that London officials would talk to their Beijing counterparts "who implemented those successful schemes". This sure is taking a green leaf out of Beijing's book on its Olympic chapter.


The author is a European correspondent of China Daily.


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