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Monday, September 27, 2010

EDITORIAL 27.09.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month september 27, edition 000636, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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














































































The Left Front Government's decision to enhance the Other Backward Classes quota in Government jobs from seven to 17 per cent in West Bengal and thus reward 49 Muslim groups in a list of 56 beneficiaries is a blatant, though futile, attempt at minority appeasement. Since it comes days after the State Cabinet decided to increase the number of Government jobs by 21,000, it is obvious that the latest move is aimed at filling the new vacancies with as many Muslims as possible. While in itself any decision to empower India's largest minority community is not objectionable, what makes the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee regime's attempt suspect is the timing: It comes ahead of nest summer's State Assembly election that the CPI(M) and its allies in the Left Front are widely expected to lose. The Communists have done precious little in the 34 years they have been in power in West Bengal to economically empower Muslims, as is evident from the observations of panels like the Sachar Committee. In fact, as several studies show, the West Bengal Government is among the worst performers in that category, notwithstanding its repeated claims of consistently meeting its 'social obligations'. That the latest fulfilment of its 'social obligations' should follow the Left Front's drubbing in the 2009 general election and months before it faces the electorate again, demonstrates the communal politics of a supposedly secular Government. But with its credibility at an all time low, the latest desperate measure will surely fall flat and meet the same fate that its recent similar attempts have.

Recall, for instance, its decision to accord Urdu the status of State official language in certain parts of West Bengal. This was not done to facilitate administrative work or make governance more people-friendly, but as a symbolic gesture to the Muslims. Similarly, the CPI(M) had organised riots in Kolkata with the help of Muslim goons who ran amok ostensibly to register their protest against Taslima Nasreen. Subsequently, the dissident Bangladeshi writer was banished from West Bengal by the Communists in the hope that this would please the fanatics and fetch their support for the party. But such efforts to please mullahs has not stemmed the drift of Muslims away from the Left Front. Nor did the announcement to provide reservation to Muslims as a religious community leave the community cheering for the Communists. Because the Government's attempt to extend religion-based reservation to the Muslims had to be scrapped — a similar move by the Congress Government in Andhra Pradesh has been struck down by the courts — it has now sought to 'reach out' to the Muslims through a sleight of hand by taking recourse to OBC quotas. Since more than 85 per cent of Muslim population is expected to be covered by the job reservation, the CPI(M) and its allies believe their minority vote-bank has been strengthened through this move. Such shameful recourse to rank communal politics is also prompted by the Trinamool Congress and its leader, Ms Mamata Banerjee, mobilising Muslim support by brazenly pandering to the lowest common denominator of West Bengal's Muslims. That such capitulation is having an impact is demonstrated by the recent riots in Deganga where a Muslim MP of Trinamool Congress led a mob baying for Hindu blood. The goons knew they would be protected by politicians. 








The Oil & Natural Gas Corporation has taken a welcome step in foraying into shale gas exploration. The public-sector energy major has spudded its first well, the RNSG-1, at Ichapur village near Kolkata to assess the potential of a 700-metre thick shale of Permian age. The ONGC plans to drill three more shale gas wells in the Damodar basin in West Bengal and Bihar. However, the programme does not discount the fact that the Government has failed to pursue a sound energy security policy. When neighbouring China was matching steps with developed countries like the US, France, the Netherlands and Canada to explore tomorrow's most important source of fossil fuel energy, it was yet to catch the imagination of our authorities. By the time we woke up to the reality, finished our deliberations on the potential of such a programme and exchanging notes on formulating a comprehensive shale gas pilot programme, China had moved far ahead. Today, it is producing more shale gas than the US. Even Reliance Industry's recent interest to buy a stake in Eagle Ford shale gas project, owned by the US-based Chesapeake Energy, should not be viewed just as an effort to expand its businesses beyond petrochemicals, refining, oil and natural gas exploration. The decision highlights the company's conscious decision to stay competitive in the energy sector because its last natural gas find, the Krishna-Godavari Basin D6, happened some seven years ago. 

Even as India is poised for a healthy 8.5 per cent growth, the stark reality of rapidly increasing demand for energy is staring us in the face. And the problem is compounded by the fact that we lack in hydrocarbon resources. What is surprising is that India has failed to exploit its proximity with countries which are treasure troves of hydrocarbons. Qatar, for instance, has the largest availability of natural gas in the world. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in Central Asia are also repositories of hydrocarbons. Burma, with whom we share borders and good diplomatic relations, is supplying gas to Thailand. But we have made no arrangements to pipe this gas to our country. In April 2006, China signed a framework agreement with Turkmenistan on constructining a pipeline for long-term gas supply. The inflow of Turkmen gas will significantly help China in meeting its energy demands and stabilising its overall consumption structure. India woke up to such a possibility only last Monday when it signed an initial agreement for laying a pipeline to bring gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan. The World Energy Outlook, published by the International Energy Agency, projects that India's dependence on oil imports will grow to 91.6 per cent by 2020. If we fail to put our act together, we will be left stranded in a seller's market. 







It's futile to believe that Islamists in the Kashmir Valley can be talked out of their campaign to separate the State from India

The Congress-led UPA Government is exposing through its serial demonstration of weakness the vulnerability of the Indian state to its avowed enemies. Islamist extremism is at play not just in Jammu & Kashmir but is spreading to other parts of the country. Unfortunately, the Union Government, instead of taking on the separatists, is seeking to buy peace: On Saturday, it announced an eight-point package to appease the recalcitrant elements.

The communal virus has been hibernating in the Kashmir Valley for decades now. The widespread impression that the separatists had bitten the dust after the people of Jammu & Kashmir rejected their call for boycotting the elections in 2008 and 2009, was perhaps a hasty assessment. And, if this assessment was correct, then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah needs to explain how the goodwill that catapulted him and the National Conference to power has waned in a short span of two years.

Mr Rahul Gandhi was primarily responsible for projecting Mr Abdullah as the Chief Minister even after his father, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, had announced he would be at the helm. Despite Mr Omar Abdullah's demonstrated failure to inspire his flock to counter secessionist activities, Mr Gandhi has once again come to his rescue. This has put a spanner in all 'out-of-the-box' thinking to find a solution to the 'Kashmir issue', let alone putting in place a Government that could inspire the people.

What has the all-party delegation that visited Srinagar and Jammu achieved? It has only served the interests of the secessionists who were able to demonstrate that it is their writ that runs in the State capital. They rebuffed the delegation by enforcing a boycott. Still, some members of the delegation took the unusual step of calling on these leaders at their homes and listening to their anti-Indian diatribe. The leader of the hardline faction of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has in his five-point agenda stopped short of asking India to quit Jammu & Kashmir. One would not be surprised if the leader of the APHC's moderate faction, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, who is now in competition with Mr Geelani for winning mass support, soon starts singing the same tune. 

What surprises most is the UPA Government slipping into denial mode. It refuses to face the truth that its constant reference to the 'future' of Jammu & Kashmir and reiteration of the "sacred pledge we have given to the Kashmiri people" have only emboldened the secessionists to poison young minds with anti-India hatred.

One cannot talk of Jammu & Kashmir being an integral part of India and 'crucial' to India's secularism while retaining Article 370 in the Constitution. The political establishment in New Delhi has year after year lacked the courage to seal the full and final integration of Jammu & Kashmir with India by abolishing Article 370.

In a recent interview, Union Minister for Home Affairs P Chidambaram has insisted that the plebiscite promise of 1950 is no longer relevant and that Jammu & Kashmir has moved forward. In that case, shouldn't the Union Government move to abolish the exclusivist Article 370? The Kashmiris must find out that being part of India, which is emerging as an economic super-power, would enable them to reap benefits like all other Indians. So long as the separatist nature of Article 370 remains unrecognised, the true nature of the agitation being led by separatists like Mr Geelani cannot be understood, much less countered.

Mr Omar Abdullah failed to see the invisible hands of the trouble-makers when the Sopore incident involving the death of two women by drowning happened. Look at the sequence of events since then. The incident immediately led to the levelling of outrageous charges against the security forces, alleging that they had raped and killed the women. The doctors called in to do the autopsy were complicit in this campaign of calumny: They switched forensic samples taken from the bodies to make out that the women had indeed been raped. It was later proved to be false.

Mr Oman Abdullah failed to take charge of the situation and instead was led by the mob hysteria on the streets of Sopore and Srinagar. The Central Bureau of Investigation was then brought in to establish the truth; the bodies of the women were exhumed; and, a fresh post-mortem was conducted. Result: The charge that the women had been raped and killed was found to be false. Extensive forensic tests established that the women had drowned after they fell into a canal in spate. The family of the victims refused to accept the CBI's findings and insisted that the women had been raped and killed; this fuelled further mob hysteria and violent street protests.

The Chief Minister, instead of taking a firm stand, comes across as far removed from the realities of the Kashmir Valley. If the National Conference has the political support that it claims it has in the Valley, then what has prevented the party's leaders from reaching out to the people rather than letting the Islamists lead them to participate in violent agitations like pelting security forces with stones? 

In fact, it is not even the Islamists of the Valley who are setting the agenda. There are dark forces at work. This is demonstrated by the fact that when members of the all-party delegation went to meet the separatist leaders, the latter insisted that they would talk only in the glare of television cameras. The significance of this cannot be overstressed. The separatist leaders, in reality, are afraid of holding any meeting with mainstream political leaders for fear of offending their behind-the-scene masters who are orchestrating the agitation in the Valley.

There is a method to this apparent madness; a familiar pattern that is being repeated day after day. The separatists provoke the people to protest with stones. They organise marches to public buildings and police stations. When the security forces step in, they are met with a hail of stones which in turn provokes them to fire at the protesters. This leads to death and injury. Which in turn fuels further violence and the cycle continues. This serves the purpose of the separatists to show the Indian state as a ruthless oppressor of 'innocent' people and 'peaceful' protesters in the Kashmir Valley.

Separatists like Mr Geelani want nothing less than India to 'quit' Jammu & Kashmir. Talking to them is a futile exercise. The Congress-led UPA Government must send out an unambiguous message that the entire nation stands united to defend the integrity of India: Jammu & Kashmir is and shall remain an inseparable part of the country, no matter what it takes. 







Deterioration in institutional functioning, particularly that of the regulatory bodies, has resulted in reform initiatives falling flat in the education sector at all levels. A lethargic 'system' which is resistant to change and reform is likely to ensure that the Right to Education falters and fails in its purpose. Will Kapil Sibal be able to defeat the 'system'?

The implementation of the Right to Education Act began on April 1. What would be the outcome of the process of implementation, say, after three years? I am sure Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal would not only be aware of this poser directed at him from various quarters but also be concerned about preparing a suitable answer. By now, he must have assessed pragmatically how the system in the education sector works. The Indian education system continues to adhere to its long reputation of being change-resistant. No Minister will accept that there are strong apprehensions on the possible outcomes or the lack thereof of an Act promulgated at his initiative although it is another matter that in terms of numbers, it would be certainly possible to project progress and even success. 

In spite of serious efforts, no Minister has been able to change the work culture in the Ministry of Human Resource Development. As a case in point, take the appointments of heads of major national institutions and universities that function within the purview of the Ministry. Exceptions apart, these vacancies are never filled on time. The positions of the Vice-Chancellors of two major universities in Delhi — University of Delhi and Jawaharlal Nehru University — are awaiting regular incumbents. The post of the director of the National Council of Educational Research and Training fell vacant in September 2009 and remains so. 

One would certainly want to believe that the Minister would have liked the selection process or search completed well before the expiry of tenure of the previous incumbents. But the sluggishness and indifference to the affairs of autonomous institutions defeat even the best of initiatives and intentions. If such is the situation in the capital, what would be the future of the plan to have a national register of all those aspiring to become Vice-Chancellors in universities all over the country? 

There are two major problems that the education system faces: Over-bureaucratisation of the system and archaic selection procedures for the posts like those of the Vice-Chancellors and heads of top academic institutions. No one has been able to chip away at these problems. The political set-up in power shall expectedly always attempt to achieve results that could be projected as achievements. They would announce plans and programmes accordingly and direct the system to fix targets and achieve results. By the time they realise the hindrances they face from within the system, it is too late. The major insurmountable hurdle is the well-known and globally-established capacity of the system to resist new ideas and innovations and reduce each of these to another routine activity.

This is an expected consequence of over-bureaucratisation of the system that has been achieved by the pampered civil services. The system could not be dented by any of the Ministers during the last four decades. Maybe, some could not arrive at a pragmatic assessment of the damage that was being inflicted upon educational developments in the country. In some instances, the Minister concerned may not have taken any interest and allowed his favourite bureaucrats to run the Ministry. Probably, they had other priorities before them. The Indian Administrative Services officers needed more slots both in New Delhi and in the State capitals. They managed to occupy every single significant professional and academic position at the State and Central levels which were being occupied by academics and professionals in the 1950s and 1960s.

In the States, whether it is the director of education and public instruction or the director of the State text-book corporations or director of the State council of educational research and training or director of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan or even chairman, Board of School Education, some bureaucrat or the other would be occupying the post. This arrangement has serious repercussions on policy formulation, implementation and monitoring. The approach and attitude in the system becomes 'inspectorial' instead of one of 'providing academic support and remedial inputs' and the sincerity and commitment of teachers and academics are always viewed with suspicion. 

Whenever any occasion arises they are treated just like any other law-breaker. It is not infrequent to observe footage on television showing teachers being lathicharged for the crime of taking out processions in support of their demands. We all know how the district-level officials and administration works. They devote most of their time to control law and order, look after politicians and their conveniences and get a better posting. During this period they develop certain attitudes and approaches on how to deal with law breakers and subordinates who do not follow instructions. When some of them are given the charge of senior positions in the education department, they treat education as they would do agriculture, mining or irrigation. This approach will certainly not work with teachers, principals, professors and Vice-Chancellors. 

As a result of the resulting alienation, there is lack of communication and much-needed regular interaction. A sense of resignation afflicts the teaching community and the learners are the ultimate sufferers. It is well-known that civil service officers who get a posting in the education department are generally keen to move to departments of their choice. Many of them serving in the State capitals or those who have completed their central deputation but are keen to get a posting in New Delhi use autonomous organisations as temporary assignments. Once they succeed, they put in every effort to shift to Shastri Bhavan or North or South Block and join the mainstream.

Now imagine a situation when Vice-Chancellors visiting Shastri Bhavan have to interact with persons of the stature of Mr KG Saidain, Mr Humayun Kabir, Mr JP Naik or Mr Kireet Joshi. Why cannot such a situation be created in both New Delhi and the State capitals? Can it not be acceptable that at least 50 per cent of the senior officers in the Ministry are academics of known standing? That would make it a prerequisite for such persons not to be selected or invited on the basis of their ideological credentials or their ability to 'think alike'. It is often discussed among academics and university dons how some of their colleagues become the blue-eyed boys of the Ministry. The Minister may not know this but the system encourages it. If officers who are supposed to stay only for five years are retained even beyond their tenure through promotions or other alternative strategies, they do develop a coterie of their own and also a list of those who must not be permitted anywhere near the system. This greatly hampers the functioning of the Ministry.

From May onwards, the Ministry made several announcements and gave indications of bringing in certain much-needed reforms. It generated a sense of reforms taking place not only in the schools sector but also in higher education and professional institutions. Several of the ideas have met stiff resistance from quarters with vested interests. This is not entirely unexpected to those who know the levels of deterioration in institutional functioning, particularly that of the regulatory bodies. It appears that all these initiatives are being flagged down. That would be unfortunate. Perhaps, it is time to look within. 







Given the dramatic differences between Russia, European Union and the United States over sanctions on Tehran's nuclear programme, resumption of talks between the six-nation group and Iran seems to be the best option at the moment

We have reached an agreement; it was a very good meeting," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said about the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the six world powers that monitor Iran's nuclear programme at the EU mission in New York.

Russia, US, China, Britain, France and Germany have been trying to force Iran to stop its uranium enrichment programme and to engage in a dialogue on nuclear issues with them since 2003.

Western powers suspect Iran of building nuclear weapons under the guise of a nuclear programme that Tehran claims is entirely peaceful and focussed on power generation.

Iran cut all communications with the six-nation group in 2009 and has not altered its stance even after the UN Security Council adopted tougher sanctions against it on June 9. Despite this, the six countries' Foreign Ministers met in New York during the 65th session of the UN General Assembly this week.

It's worth noting that the international community interacts with Iran in a highly complicated manner, and that this six-nation group should not be confused with the UN Security Council. But there is one issue common to both agencies — Moscow's attitude to sanctions against Iran.

On June 9, the Security Council adopted a fourth set of sanctions on Iran purely concerned with elements related to its nuclear programme. The sanctions were a compromise between the resolutely anti-Iranian US proposals supported by Europeans and the ideas posited by Russia, China and some other Security Council members. However, many Security Council members remained dissatisfied even with that compromised version of the sanctions.

The Russian delegation then warned the US and the European Union that balanced UN sanctions should not prompt them to introduce unilateral, much harsher, sanctions against Iran that would be detrimental to the country's economy and its people. What's the point of hammering out agreements in the UN if some countries opt to act unilaterally?

But the US and the EU did adopt their own sanctions, prohibiting their companies from investing in Iran's oil and gas sector, the key industry generating the country's livelihood.

This has created a complicated and very delicate situation. Analysts say that Russia's warning to the Americans and the Europeans could indicate that it will not support the Security Council's next set of sanctions against Iran.

Asked if these sanctions are indeed the last to be adopted by the UN, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said immediately after the six nations' meeting in New York that my question concerned the future while the immediate task is to implement those decisions that have been approved.

This is a logical stance; it is also clear that Moscow is dissatisfied with these "additional" sanctions. Mr Lavrov said in his address at the 65th General Assembly: "There has long been a general consensus about the need to abide by the humanitarian limits of sanctions, and to prevent these measures from adversely affecting either the civilian population or the country's socio-economic development. However, we must express our serious concern over individual countries' persistently taking unilateral forcible measures (...) exceeding the provisions set out in the UN Charter and the decisions made by the Security Council. We believe that this practice must be stopped."

Are we returning to an age of confrontation? No, the times have changed. The fragile but growing cooperation between the key political players — Russia, US, EU and China — is now recognised as having intrinsic value. Moreover, it is just as important as the goal of fostering interaction with Iran over its nuclear programme. All the meetings about this problem, including the latest meeting of the six-nation group in New York, signify the sides' attempts to find a delicate balance.

While the world leaders and foreign ministers met in New York for the 65th UN General Assembly, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree prohibiting the delivery of the S-300 air defence missile systems, armoured vehicles, combat aircraft, helicopters and warships to Iran, or their transit to Iran across Russia. It also prohibits financial transactions with Iranian partners that are related to Iran's nuclear programme and the entry into Russia or transit across Russia of Iranians connected with the country's nuclear programme.

This decree was written in strict compliance with the UN Security Council's sanctions of June 9, for which Russia voted and which are currently binding for all countries. Russia's sanctions do not suggest any covert desire to place a strangle-hold on Iranian fishing or oil companies, and in this way they differ dramatically from the separate sets of sanctions adopted by the EU and the US.

Overall, the general aspiration is to resume the talks between the six-nation group and Iran. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke about this in New York during his meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip Crowley has advocated this too. He said: "A P5 plus one meeting (should) review where we are in terms of trying to encourage Iran to come forward and engage constructively with the international community."

Let's hope the resumption of talks with Iran will eventually lead to a solution to the Iranian nuclear problem.

The writer is a political and strategic affairs commentator based in Moscow. 






Security of civil aviation has always remained an issue of great importance for countries all over the world. This year 190 member-states and international organisations will be coming together for the 37th assembly of International Civil Aviation Organisation at its headquarters in Montreal, Canada, from September 28 to October 8 to establish a worldwide aviation policy for the next three years.

India is one of the ICAO's founding members. It has participated in organisational and well-defined initiatives of the ICAO. Taiwan, like India has made several efforts to prevent all kinds of harm and maintain safety of its people and aircrafts. We cannot leave any room for complacency and have to act in tandem with other countries in order to make our aviation secure and impenetrable by any anti social elements. To enhance the universal goal of global security, Taiwan needs assistance and cooperation from countries like India under the guidance of ICAO. 

Taiwan has long been an important contributor to international civil aviation thanks to its provision of civil aviation services. Yet this key East Asian nation continues to be excluded from the meetings and activities of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a sad state in existence since 1971 that has been to the detriment of international aviation security. 

Taiwan's exclusion is incompatible with its importance to international civil air transport. Situated alongside major Asian flight routes, Taiwan is responsible for the Taipei Flight Information Region, which abuts the Fukuoka, Manila and Hong Kong flight information regions. Every year, over 1.13 million flights pass through the TFIR, while 49 airlines operate regular flights connecting Taiwan with 104 cities around the world. The TFIR is central to air transport in East Asia, with some 34.38 million passengers and 14.40 million tonnes of cargo passing through it annually.

ICAO oversees civil aviation safety and the orderly growth of the aviation industry. Its mandate covers the entire world. Since Taiwan's absence from ICAO began, it has been difficult for Taiwan's civil aviation authorities to update aviation standards and regulations in line with international norms. 

This has had negative consequences for both Taiwan and ICAO. Taiwan has had to expend considerably more time, money and effort than ICAO members on improving aviation safety and security. For the aviation body, Taiwan's absence means its goal of seamless global air traffic management operations can never be reached. 

Countries around the globe have invested a great deal of resources into improving aviation security since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US. All this effort notwithstanding, terrorist activity still rears its ugly head from time to time, with the December 2001 "shoe bomber" and the 2009 "Christmas bomber" being two striking examples. 

Such examples highlight a shift in terrorist methodology: As target countries have made their security nearly impenetrable, terrorists now board aircraft at locations where security is less tight. Thus any nation whose air security efforts differ from or are less effective than the global norm may find itself serving as the take off point for an attack. Should terrorists ever be successful in carrying out an attack from such a location, the consequences would be felt globally.

To address this problem, ICAO initiated the Universal Security Audit Programme in December 2000. The second cycle of USAP audits began in July 2008, and the process has been helpful in evaluating participating nations' aviation security. Besides ensuring implementation of Annex 17 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, USAP audits have helped countries plug holes in their security. 

The programme will not result in a seamless global aviation security network, however. Despite ICAO's stated fundamental principle of universality, not all nations are included in the scope of the audit. Air security concerns will remain even after the programme has been completed. 

Therefore, ICAO should invite Taiwan to participate in its meetings and activities as an observer. This would ensure that uniform aviation security measures are in place worldwide and allow for seamless air traffic management operations, meaning safer passengers and cargo in Asia and around the globe. 


The writer is the Minister for Transportation and Communications, Republic of China, Taiwan. 








AFTER floundering in its handling of the unrest in Kashmir for over three months, the Centre finally seems to have found its bearings.


The eight- point programme, announced by Union home minister P. Chidambaram on Saturday, addresses the immediate need for restoring normalcy in the Valley, as well as creates space for a sustained dialogue with the various political stakeholders.


By backing the programme with the foreign minister's initiative for talks with Pakistan on " all issues" including Kashmir, the Centre has asserted the seriousness of its intentions.


The release of those arrested under the Public Safety Act ( PSA) was long overdue. It is important that the Act itself is reviewed as it has its roots in the draconian Defence of India Act used during the British period to suppress the freedom struggle.


It is of utmost importance that both the Centre and state governments walk the talk and implement these decisions on the ground. The Centre must ensure that the Omar Abdullah government does not drag its feet in carrying out these measures.


A case in point is the state police's arrest of 40 young men under the PSA for stonepelting, in spite of the Centre's initiative.


The National Conference has time and again scuttled the Centre's efforts to preserve its own political turf.


The ball is now in the court of the separatist leaders. It should come as no surprise that they have rejected the Centre's initiative and Syed Ali Shah Geelani has announced a new schedule for mass protests.


Openness to negotiation has never been part of his politics over the last two decades. Even so, the government must persist. Geelani has his agenda, and the government must have its own, which is to resolve the vexed Kashmir problem.







THE release of the captain of a Chinese fishing boat who had rammed two Japanese ships has Tokyo looking weak and vulnerable.


Though the incident had taken place near the Senkaku islands which are disputed between China and Japan, the fact is that the Chinese captain had deliberately attacked the Japanese vessels, and the Japanese authorities had been within their rights under international law to arrest him.


But the Chinese reaction seems to have cowed Tokyo down. First, the Chinese broke off ministerial level contacts with Japan and thousands of Chinese tourists cancelled holidays to the country.


Then the Chinese let it be known that they would ban exports or rare earths used in the making of sophisticated electronics to Japan, and finally, they arrested four Japanese nationals on a trumped up charge of espionage. These hardball tactics compelled the Japanese to climb down. To rub Japan's nose in the mud, the Chinese then demanded an apology, which at least the Japanese had the grace to refuse.


While the obvious lesson for India is that it is important to settle boundary disputes to have stable relations, the more important one may be that Beijing is not squeamish about using its brute strength to get its way.








THE Gujarat High Court's decision to create a special investigation team to probe the alleged encounter that led to the killing of Mumbai student Ishrat Jahan and three other persons is welcome. However, the fact that the three- man team of Indian Police Service Officers is headed by Karnal Singh, a joint commissioner of Delhi Police, is a bit disturbing.


The reason is that Singh was the person who was in- charge of the controversial Batla House incident in which two alleged Indian Mujahideen cadres were gunned down and a police officer in charge of the raid was himself killed by gunshot wounds.


There is enough evidence to show that the Batla House encounter was not what the police claim it was. And this is evident from the fact that even two years after the incident, cases are yet to be launched against a number of persons who had been arrested at that time for their involvement in the bomb blasts in New Delhi and several other cities.








THE PUBLIC outcry over the magnitude of the Commonwealth Games scandal finally led to high level intervention that may well salvage some of the country's pride. But the larger denouement has made everyone realise something not usually associated with a Congress- led government: the absence of a clear line of authority.


How the party whose leadership has famously been identified with the words ' High Command' since the 1920s failed to set up such a system for a major sporting event requires closer scrutiny. A few of the problems that have reared their heads today are new.


A comparison with Asiad 1982 will throw fresh light on the present. The predecessor government was headed by Charan Singh, who was an outspoken opponent of the Asian Games. His magazine, Asli Bharat was consistent in opposition, arguing that the same resources, some ` 1,000 crore could and should be used to develop villages and not the capital city.




When the Congress returned to office in January 1980, it faced a messy situation.


Politics and sports bodies are closely intertwined and a Special Organising Committee was created under Bhalindra Singh. Indira Gandhi in the 1980s, not less than in the previous decade was deeply aware of rural voters and farmers' issues, but unlike Charan Singh she saw the Games as equally important.


It was not one or the other but both that mattered. Rajiv Gandhi, as general secretary of the party and newly elected MP from Amethi entered the picture late.


But aided by Buta Singh, he played to his strengths. As the science journalist Dinesh C. Sharma points out in his work " N. Seshagiri Rao of the National Informatics Centre helped set up the communications network. Information and the exercise of authority went hand in hand". The Asian Games remained controversial.


The city's young environmentalists raised concerns about tree felling; archaeological concerns about the Siri Fort were aired by scholars. A democratic rights group probed and published reports of poor sanitation and non- compliance with the Minimum Wages Act at the building sites of flyovers.


There was of course little question then as now of a turnaround on the question of hosting the Games. But in a little- noticed interview to the now defunct tabloid weekly Blitz , Rajiv Gandhi distinguished between different sets of critics. The construction of amenities he felt would benefit Delhi in the long run. Sports stadia would be used by youngsters, wider roads would ease the traffic.


But on the de- greening he not only conceded there were serious concerns but felt that they needed to be addressed frontally in the future at the planning stage. He did not refer to it, but in at least one case — at Kushak Nalah ( a stone's throw from 1, Safdarjung Road) — clearing of a scrub jungle and red bed patch was halted as it was part of the green belt.


Contrast this picture to the present situation.

The Delhi government was hellbent on the present Games Village site, though it was clearly in the river bed of the Yamuna. This, despite the then sports minister arguing for a site in Bawana where the land is dry, the area underdeveloped and the long term benefits to residents manifold.


On a broader scale, if 1982 saw leadership in a party and government work together seamlessly, the reverse was the case in the new century.


True, in 1982 Delhi did not have an elected government and the Metropolitan Council polls were only held the following February. But the longest serving Congress government of chief minister Sheila Dikshit has been in office since 1998.




Its older image of a modern administration of a city state has been seriously damaged. Let alone the poor, who backed her in record numbers in the winter 2008 assembly polls, even the middle class seems in a mood for rebellion.


But above all it is the gulf between party and government at the apex that has made a difference. Ours is a system where authority flows from the head of government.


In 1980- 82 there was never any doubt that the combined legitimacy of the PM and the ruling party's most significant Lok Sabha MP were fully behind the project.


By 2010, it was all running on auto pilot till literally the eleventh hour.


This does raise a question: why unlike his father, then a fresh and by all accounts reluctant entrant into politics, did Rahul Gandhi stay away from the Games? Perhaps, his priority lies elsewhere, not in priming the pump of the modern sector of the economy but in reaching out to the underclasses who will make or break his party in 2014.


Contrast his strong advocacy of Adivasi rights or farmers' travails of land acquisition with his silence on the Games. Or with the strong intervention on the side of an ally, the embattled chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Better still, his insistence that it was time India moved on beyond the Ayodhya dispute to issues of bread and butter.


But politics is a strange beast, and it will not be so easy for the general secretary or the president of the All India Congress Committee to put the Games or rather what they may soon symbolise behind them. Along with the Prime Minister, they had crafted a new image of a clean party that worked for the people and had put corruption and scandal behind it. Will the Games and their aftermath crack that mirror?




And as for the common Indian, the political mosaic has shifted considerably from the summer of 2009. The Congress has not broken through into the bastions of its opponents in states as diverse as Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, Karnataka and Bihar.


The urban voter is also restive. The rout in the Delhi University Students' Union polls is a warning signal. With its 4,00,000 strong electorate ( though very few students actually vote), it has been the launching pad for many national leaders ( including Arun Jaitley and Ajay Maken).

The cadre power of the Bharatiya Janata Party's student wing prevailed over the ruling party's youth wing for the first time in eight years. Money power was checked by the new norms suggested by the Lyngdoh committee. Rahul Gandhi's outreach evidently did not help his party in the country's largest Central University.


Under the surface, political India is stirring.


Rather sooner than it anticipated, the second UPA government is seeing seeds of future troubles. Its success in the elections last year may have deepened complacency in its rank and file that the old days are back with no credible rival in sight. It is clear the populist wing of the party realises the newly recaptured ground cannot be held unless the poor are shielded from inflation.


Its most vocal and increasingly influential leader openly calls for a cleansing of politics. All for the good, but it is the record of its governments and not the speeches of its leaders that may well be the touchstone for the voter.


The division of responsibility at the top served the Congress well in its first term and got a seal of electoral approval. But now as déjà vu sets in will it be a source of its nemesis? Time will unfold itself.


comment@ mailtoday. in







IF ANYONE ran Suresh Kalmadi close on the front pages of newspapers and on TV last week, it wasn't Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee or any of the usual suspects. It was Ramesh Chandra Tripathi. Tripathi who, you may be tempted to ask. He is the 71- year- old retired bureaucrat who cited, among other things, the chances of disturbance to communal harmony while approaching the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court to seek postponement of the Ayodhya verdict which has been awaiting its denouement for over 61 years now.


Last week, the Bharatiya Janata Party accused Tripathi of being a Congress plant, set up by the ruling party that did not want to deal with the political and social consequences of a judicial verdict that, whichever way it went, was bound to pit one community against the other.


Last Friday, the BJP which had earlier decided to maintain a discreet silence on the matter till the verdict of the Lucknow bench was out, broke the silence and blamed the judiciary for failing to resolve the issue.


After a meeting of its core group, the party said it " was of the opinion that judicial delays over the last 61 years have contributed to the failure of the resolution on the issue… we hope that the resolution of this issue is not delayed any further" . Why the sudden turnaround? My instincts tell me that the BJP is as wary of an early judgment as the Congress. Both national parties have their reasons to believe that the more the issue is allowed to linger on, the less they will be compelled to take a stand.


Take the Congress. The government at the centre already had its hands full even without the near fiasco of the Commonwealth Games. A judgment either way would have forced it to display some steely resolve in dealing with an issue with immense potential to inflame communal passions.


The BJP's dilemma was no different: if the verdict went against its cause, it would have been left with no option but to take a strident stand, something that the party does not want to do at this juncture.


You can pin it all down to Bihar, where assembly elections are due to take place in the next couple of months. Electoral considerations have always dictated the agenda of political parties. But what we are witnessing now, and for the first time perhaps, is how parties are using their political convenience to cloud the judicial delivery mechanism.


The BJP turnaround came on a day that its leader L. K. Advani R. C. Tripathi was in Somnath from where, — exactly 20 years ago — he started the Rath Yatra. It was when the yatra entered Bihar that Lalu Prasad, then Janata Dal chief minister, ordered Advani's arrest which led to the BJP withdrawing support to the V. P. Singh government at the Centre and its subsequent fall.


The political landscape may have changed much in 20 years but Bihar remains as polarised now as it was then. The BJP is a partner in the Janata Dal- United- led coalition government of Nitish Kumar who wears his pro- minority credentials on his sleeve. As electioneering picks up, Nitish has told Narendra Modi that he is not needed for campaigning in Bihar. But the party's central office is facing tremendous pressure from the party's state unit and RSS cadres to dispatch the BJP's most charismatic votecatcher to Bihar.


A similar pressure is now being put on the central office from the RSS and hardcore party faithful. In the last few days, as the apex court and the high court tossed the ball back and forth, the RSS and the VHP top brass have meet several times to take stock. Both agree that the issue cannot be resolved through reconciliation and would rather opt for an early verdict from the Lucknow bench. Both have also assured the BJP that whatever outcome will be dealt with peacefully.


While the BJP deals with its internal pulls and pressures, the message is the government is willy- nilly allowing the perception to gain ground that administrative convenience is more important than judicial pronouncements.


In the process, the clear message that goes out is that a state that is scared of implementing a judicial verdict is impeding the judiciary from delivering justice.


Govt hands senior spies a ' RAW' deal


MORE on the Research and Analysis Wing ( RAW). Of late, we have seen a woman official trying to commit suicide by consuming poison outside the Prime Minister's Office.


There have also been cases of senior officers suddenly vanishing and ending up as citizens of other countries, both friendly and unfriendly.


Now there is more worrying stuff. The agency has recently been rattled by the protest leave of seven senior officials on grounds that they were superseded. The genesis of the revolt was when Avdhesh Mathur, a 1975- batch IPS officer from the Manipur cadre, was promoted as Special Director General. Mathur came to the RAW in 2007 from the Intelligence Bureau ( IB), superseding, among others, P. M. Hablikar, Sharad Kumar and Chakru Sinha, who were all additional secretaries and from the 1973- batch of the RAW Allied Services cadre.


Mathur was empanelled in June this year and was soon promoted. Insiders see a pattern in this unusual move and feel Mathur's promotion could clear the decks for his elevation to secretary when the current chief, K. C. Verma, retires in January 2011.


Well placed sources tell me that four other officers who were passed over were upset enough to go on leave.


The cabinet secretariat will hold a Departmental Promotional Committee ( DPC) meeting next week, but it is doubtful if it will be able to redress the grievances of everyone.


The officers will probably get a hearing but nobody can say how the crisis will be resolved.


The government is planning to hold an emergency meeting to consider their case but as things stand now, only one among the seven can get his promotion and there is no way they can be brought on parity.


The bickering within has ended many of the myths surrounding our super spies.



AFTER the fiasco over the appointment of P. J. Thomas — a man whose name is still listed as an accused in a case of corruption in Kerala— as the new Central Vigilance Commissioner, the government seems keen to tread very, very cautiously in the matter of several crucial appointments to key posts that are likely to fall vacant in the next few months.


There are six top posts for which new incumbents will have to be appointed by January next year.


Among them are the Central Information Commissioner, the chief of the National Technical Research Organisation, the super spy organisation in charge of the country's technical intelligence, the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing.


Of these, while the last three are very sensitive jobs that are shrouded in secrecy, the CIC's is all about public scrutiny and transparency.


The term of incumbent CIC Wajahat Habibullah comes to an end soon.


About a year ago, in a bizarre turn of events, the CIC was appointed the Information Commissioner of Jammu and Kashmir, which is I suppose the equivalent of say, H. D. Deve Gowda stepping down as prime minister to resume innings as chief minister of Karnataka. He still continues as CIC because the government and the Opposition could not come to a consensus on his successor.


The manner in which the government rammed through corruption watchdog Thomas's appointment earlier this month earned the government and the prime minister in particular a lot of negative publicity. It seems to have convinced the good doctor that consultation is better than confrontation.


Feelers have already been sent to the BJP — whose parliamentary leader Sushma Swaraj is also on the selection committee for the CIC — to begin talks on a possible successor to Habibullah.


Given the nature of their operations, selection of heads of intelligence and counter espionage agencies should entirely be that of the government. But with four candidates in the running for the post and each of them having powerful political backers, it is to be hoped that the one who is chosen is there on merit and not because he has powerful relatives and backers.








In a welcome development, small cities and towns appear to be doing more to power India's growth story than big metros. Confirming this are the latest income tax statistics, which indicate that Tier II and Tier III cities like Patna, Lucknow, Meerut and Kanpur have far outstripped Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata in terms of growth in personal and corporate tax collections. In fact, Patna has seen as much as 95 per cent growth in personal income tax figures over the 2009-10 period compared to a measly 4 per cent for Delhi and 6 per cent for Mumbai. Such a shift towards growth driven by regional centres can help mitigate the problems ensuing from unequal development and, therefore, needs to be encouraged. 

The current growth and development model centred on big metros is unsustainable. Having experienced years of economic migration, these large cities are literally bursting at the seams. They are left with creaking infrastructure - compounded by shoddy urban planning - and poor civic amenities, all of which is reflected in the fast depreciating quality of life. Yet people continue to be drawn to metros due to the allure of better career prospects. The only way to reverse this trend is to have multiple growth poles spread across the length and breadth of the country. It is encouraging that many of the small cities showing robust economic growth are located in the BIMARU regions. They could serve as magnets for intra-state migration and take the burden off traditional metropolitan hubs. 

As emerging markets within the Indian economy these small urban centres can become hotspots for new investment opportunities. Many outsourcing companies are already setting up operations in Tier II and Tier III cities to minimise their running costs. Conducive conditions need to be created to encourage India Inc as well as foreign investors to increasingly invest in small cities and townships. Crucial to this is creating sound infrastructure. There needs to be a significant number of quality schools and colleges to churn out skilled professionals to cater to the needs of emerging businesses. This in turn will have a positive trickle-down effect and galvanise the rural economy of the respective states. 

In planning these new urban hubs, errors of the past that have given rise to chaotic and dysfunctional cities must not be repeated. Our metros may have reached a point of saturation. While they should by no means be ignored, pay attention to Tier II and III cities as well to continue India's growth story and make it more inclusive. 







Tokyo might have released Chinese fishing boat captain Zhan Qixiong captured after his vessel collided with two Japanese coast guard ships off the coast of disputed islands in the East China Sea but the damage has been done. Beijing has, not surprisingly, reacted strongly and nationalist sentiments have vitiated the atmosphere. The truly interesting aspect of the entire affair is what it highlights about China's relationship with its neighbours in the recent past. The fishing boat spat has more to do with China's claims over a vast area of the East China Sea separating the two countries, an area which is believed to hold large deposits of oil and natural gas. Similarly, China's claims over the South China Sea again, rich in resources and strategically vital for trade have made South East Asian nations wary while its backing of North Korea over the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel antagonised the latter. 

One reason for these spats, perhaps, is the rise of nationalist factions within the Chinese administration, resulting in a dissonance between Beijing's stated policy of a peaceful rise and its actions. A consequence of this is the re-emergence of Washington previously sidelined as Asian nations sought to make good with China as a major player in the region with China's neighbours looking to it as an insurance policy. Given the resultant potential for messy geostrategic manoeuvring, New Delhi must start to work more closely with potential partners in Asean and East Asia. It must also be prepared to stand up for itself should Beijing grow more unpredictable. Instability in the region would benefit no one. 









There is an obvious disconnect between the tehreek on the streets of Srinagar, Baramullah and Sopore and the leaderspeak in the havelis of the Geelanis, Farooqs and Andrabis. Geelani has said Kashmiris want independence (i am sure many of them do) but that is not practicable. And then he gives a strange logic India, Pakistan, China and Russia will accept an independent Kashmir, so it is better Kashmir should join Pakistan. This is a subtle attempt to fulfil the Pakistani and not the Kashmiri agenda of annexation. 

Geelani may have a problem with "Hindu India" (as he often says) and his own reasons (financial and ideological) to conspire to merge the whole of Kashmir with Pakistan, but what can Kashmiris expect from Pakistan? Pakistan is a failed state. Sindh and Baluchistan are seething with discontent and what about Kashmiris in Pakistani Kashmir? Do they enjoy any democracy, any voice in a Punjabi (and military) run regime? Bengali Muslims were 65 per cent of the population of undivided Pakistan. But they didn't have any share of political power and their resources were exploited with no ploughback into the East Pakistan economy. Even after winning the majority of seats in the Pakistani National Assembly in 1970, 'Bangabandhu' Sheikh Mujibur Rahman never got to be the prime minister of Pakistan. 

When the Awami League asked for power, the Pakistani army killed 2.5 million Bengalis Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and even gypsies and raped and molested half a million women of all ages in a mere eight months. There is no parallel of such brutality anywhere in South Asia's history, Nadir Shah's plunder of Delhi included. If Bengali Muslims, being the demographic majority in undivided Pakistan, got nothing but blood and bullets, what can Kashmiri Muslims expect? 

India has been ruthless in dealing with the tehreek in Kashmir. There is a serious problem if this is the way the world's largest democracy deals with its own people. More than 100 Kashmiris have died in as many days of the tehreek. Why can't Indian security forces use rubber bullets, water cannons, stun grenades, pepper guns and so many other crowd control options? Why is it that the CRPF has to fire to kill every time it is confronted with stone-pelters? There are many more questions on Kashmir that will confront India's collective conscience in days to come. The most important being why Delhi did not take the political initiative to resolve the Kashmir question when the militancy graph was at its lowest. How long will the country pay for the indecisiveness of its political leaders? 

But just to remind Kashmiris, Indian crowd-control methods were equally harsh in Assam during the 1979-85 agitation when 130 people died in police firings in January-February 1983 in the rundown to state assembly elections. And is there a comparison between India's handling of the Kashmir tehreek and Pakistan's handling of the agitation in East Pakistan? 

There are two other things Kashmiris will have to give India credit for, much as they have every right to complain that they have usually been denied democracy. India has not tried to change the demography of the Kashmir valley as China did in Tibet and Chinese Turkestan. Bangladeshdid this in the Chittagong Hill Tracts under a military dispensation by sending Muslim settlers to the tribal homeland. Indonesia did this in Aceh. The list goes on. India is perhaps the only post-colonial Third World state which did not seek a "demographic answer" to separatist challenges. 

Secondly, Indian intelligence, regardless of its endless conspiracies to divide the movements, has fought shy of physically attacking leaders; it has never driven the local Kashmiri leaders to a stage they have to seek exile. Contrast this to Pakistan. Altaf Hussain and his MQM leaders are inLondon, as are many of the Baloch and Sindhi nationalists. The ISI has perhaps used its Taliban surrogates to hit at MQM leader Imran Farooq outside his house in the heart of London. 

As a Bengali who has seen the 1971 Bangladesh liberation struggle at close quarters, i can appreciate the spirit of azadi in the Kashmir valley. It is the Bengalis who buried Jinnah's two-nation theory in the low-lying marshes and river islands of East Bengal. But Jinnah's ghost will return to haunt Kashmiris in the midst of their tehreek. Bengal and Punjab were partitioned, Kashmir was not. Now, at the peak of the tehreek, two of its non-Muslim regions, Jammu and Ladakh, will surely demand their own right of self-determination and exercise it to stay with India. And unless Pakistan accepts Azad Kashmir, how can Geelani ever expect India to do so? 

The answer to the tehreek is the "special federal relationship" that India has been trying to develop for the Nagas during its long negotiations with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland. Properly formulated and articulated, this package may be the answer for India's "million mutinies", especially the separatist movements, not just in Nagaland but also in Assam, Manipur and Kashmir. That would fall short of Azadi for the youth of Kashmir, but they will soon realise Pakistan is no option for them. Some of them should visit the Mukti Juddho Jadughor (Liberation War Museum) in Dhaka to understand that. 

The writer is an author and senior journalist. 




                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA




Ilan Pappe is an Israeli academic and one of Israel's 'new historians', who has argued that Israel forcibly expelled Palestinians in 1948. Formerly a senior lecturer at the University of Haifa and chair of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian and Israeli Studies, he currently teaches history at the University of Exeter, UK, and is co-director of its Centre for Ethno-Political Studies. Recently in India he spoke to Aditi Bhaduri : 

You are one of Israel's 'new historian'. 

The official historical narrative of Israel had been that when Israel was founded in 1948 the Palestinians voluntarily left the land and Israel had the right to take over their possessions. We are a few historians who after researching Israeli, British and UN archives found that Israel had systematically dispossessed the Palestinians, expelling one million in 1948, which was half the Palestinian population. This is ethnic cleansing, a crime and imposes responsibility on Israel. The fate of these refugees is at the heart of the Arab-Israel conflict. I support their right to return to Israel. 

Do you think a one-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, which will dilute Israel's Jewish character, is feasible? 

The land is too small to be divided. A one-state solution is difficult but not impossible. Both Israelis and Palestinians have to compromise, as there is no place for Israelis to go back to and neither are Palestinians immigrants. Both have the right to remain in the land and form a binational state. I prefer a secular democracy as you have in India, without any religious identity. 


We often hear the word apartheid used to describe Israel's treatment of Palestinians. Is it comparable to the South African apartheid? 

It is similar but not identical. If we refer to Palestinians inside Israel proper, who are Israeli citizens, then their situation is better. They can individually reach similar standards as Jews in Israel, which Blacks in South Africa could not. 

The situation of Palestinians in the occupied territories is much worse than had been in South Africa. These Palestinians are in constant existential danger of losing their jobs, homes, lives simply because they are Palestinians. And the situation in Gaza is still different where 1.5 million people have been incarcerated inside the strip. 

The term apartheid is symbolic as far as the international community is concerned because when it decided that there was apartheid in South Africa it caused things to change there and now it can help change the situation in Israel- Palestine

As an Israeli academic do you find the call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, including academic boycott, ethical? 

Yes. In South Africa too many conscientious academics supported the boycott call even though that hurt them. So we have to sometimes support things that hurt us. Next, it is the non-violence of the act that is ethical. The number of academics in Israel against the occupation is quite small, and the university should be more democratic space than the state. I support a boycott of the institution and not individuals. BDS is gradually working and more Israelis are now supporting it and they are being challenged by the state. 

How hopeful are you of the ongoing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians? 

I'm not very hopeful and see it more as an opportunity for individual politicians to further their ambitions. I hope that people understand this. It is mandatory for Israel to negotiate with Hamas, which is an elected political party and should be integrated into the political process. 








Most flyers know that flight delays can lead to harrowing experiences. With many more people taking to travelling by the skies these days, airports tend to resemble fish markets. Spending an extra hour at an airport can thus be a mind-numbing experience. 

Multiple airlines, their staff, their equipment, their rigmarole, the frequency of their announcements and, not to forget, the hundreds of passengers who jostle around at any given moment; all these factors contribute to the pitiable plight of the frequent flyer. 

Announcements are something that we as a nation do not excel at. The squeakiest of voices tend to go on repeating stuff that is superfluous and inane over public address systems. If one is in the mood for a snooze while waiting for the cheerful news that one's flight is finally to take off, one can forget it. Most announcers who are entrusted with the task of apologising for flight delays have clearly never been to a pronunciation class. What is worse is that they tend to scream at their loudest and probably don't need mikes at all but still use them. 

Worse still, if one ends up at an airport in uncertain times, i.e., days of fog or of heavy rain, one is never likely to get a correct answer to a simple query about when one's flight will take off. The airport staff, without exception, look utterly clueless and probably are just that. 

People's tempers tend to rise with alarming alacrity on such occasions. The ground staff, for no fault of their own, have to face a barrage of verbal volleys fired by impatient passengers. Some passengers cross all limits of propriety at such times and even fisticuffs may result. 

On one such occasion, a passenger had to be adjusted on a subsequent flight as his connecting flight had flown off much before he eventually landed to catch it. Harried he rightly was, but that was no excuse for his subsequent behaviour. The man went to a booking counter, wanted some adjustment in his seat and was directed to a neighbouring queue. Having no stomach to go to the end of the line, he thrust his papers at the booking clerk and demanded a window seat, much to the chagrin of others waiting patiently for their turn. 

He then picked a quarrel with the booking clerk and charged him with not having improved things for the "last 63 years". This unprovoked and uncalled for accusation riled a young man at the head of the queue and he sprung to the clerk's defence. 

The result was that all hell broke loose. The intruding complainant got an earful from his fellow passengers and had to beat a hasty retreat. The clerk at the counter looked bemused at this unexpected turn of events for he was used to bearing the brunt of the ire of passengers, day in and day out. He had never expected to be defended in this manner. 

Flight delays can also lead to pleasant experiences at times. A young girl found this out to her delight one day. She was rather hassled and bored while awaiting the expected shrill boarding announcement when she noticed a young Bollywood hero seated just metres away. The TV-star-turned-film-actor was trying to hide his face behind a large hat but had let his guard slip for enough time to give the lass a glimpse. 

There was no stopping the girl after that. She squealed and jumped and hounded the star for a photograph with her. The entire airport was soon posing for pictures with the shy young actor who was perhaps still too new to have acquired airs. 

One thing is for sure. Those who plan to fly the skies in future better carry with them three additional items anti-stress medicines, earplugs and an autograph book. 








The tidal wave of anger, despair and shame that has engulfed us for the past few months seems to be ebbing at last. While there is still many a slip between the preparations and completion of the controversial Commonwealth Games (CWG), we now have the hope that we will be able to pull it off, though with no claim to this being anywhere near the best CWG ever. None of this takes anything away from the colossal collapse of our hopes of projecting ourselves as a nation capable of miracles like our economic growth. Rather, if it goes halfway smoothly, it will be attributed to our legendary ability at jugaad. This is nothing to be proud of. We can only hope now that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself has told the authorities concerned to just get the work done, some form of damage containment can begin.


It will take some doing to erase the ugly manner in which the whole exercise was undertaken, but as one of our readers put it perceptively, it is time to focus on what the people, not the officials, can offer to those who will come to see the Games, and hopefully, a bit of India. An event of this kind should have been held in a carnival-like atmosphere. This is unlikely given the levels of security that will be involved. In addition, many people will give it a wide berth after all the unpleasantness of the past few months. But, as Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has said, now that Delhi has got many more amenities, it would not hurt to try and make the stay for visitors that much more enjoyable and smooth. For this, it is not necessary to wipe away, temporarily, the existence of the poor by asking many without the proper papers to leave Delhi. This only reinforces negative perceptions about India as a country that does not care. And the practice of commandeering hapless children to attend such events should also be shelved.


Where the police could help is to see that visitors are not harassed or fleeced and that they are able to move about with the minimum of restrictions. Relevant information could be posted in the media regularly and volunteers could also be used for this. Many may say all this is a little too late. But, this should not stop us from trying to salvage the remains of the day. The official CWG anthem may not inspire too many, but if we begin the process of setting things right now, hopefully it will inspire belief that India can be Incredible if it puts its best foot forward.






With the 2010 Commonwealth Games getting our spirits down for some time now, most of us long for something familiar and comfortable to fall back on. And what better to take our minds off whether everything will hold up till the Games begin than that good old India-Pakistan dance on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York? This is always a therapeutic way to vent our frustrations over the myriad problems that both nations have. In normal times, we just take up the dance where we left off. But this time around we have started from step one.


It is called the 'gimme' pas de deux in which each wants the whole stage which, for the sake of the argument, we will call Kashmir, for himself. In the days ahead, we can hope to have more variations of the dance form with the Pakistani foreign minister performing Mikhail Baryshnikov-like leaps on the world stage while our own gentle S.M. Krishna will probably content himself with a few mudras in the background.


S.M. Qureshi will, of course, ask that other UN members join him on the stage while he turns operatic and sings a throaty lament, while Mr Krishna may prefer a solo rendition of a midsummer ditty to keep temperatures down. This has given us the idea that instead of improvising while in the UN, we could perhaps write an Andrew Lloyd Webber sort of production called Border Dreams for both sides to act, sing and dance out.


This might require a few props, which neither side is short of. Why, if things go well we might even get the Inter- Services Intelligence (ISI) to do a chorus in tights. That should lighten things up for a while. But nothing comes for free and unless we get a bit of the loot, maybe from the $5.5 billion missing from the ISI's coffers, our services might not be on offer. And let us assure you, that unlike A.R. Rahman, we really are cut-rate. Let's hope the two sides think about this; it's well worth making a song and dance about.



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





The visit of the parliamentary delegation to Jammu and Kashmir gave to some of us a feel of the ground situation. The neglected regions of Jammu and Ladakh nurture a profound sense of discrimination. They feel that in terms of sharing of political power and economic resources they are the discriminated regions. Their emotions and arguments were hugely persuasive.


In the Kashmir Valley the situation is diametrically the opposite.  Members of the mainstream political parties could see their space shrinking. This was not the position prior to 2010. In December, 2008, just 21 months ago, the electorate — even in the Kashmir Valley — participated overwhelmingly in the elections, ignoring the boycott call and threats of violence.


The acquisition of Kashmir is unquestionably a part of Pakistan's unfinished agenda of Partition. Initially Pakistan succeeded in snatching away one part of our territory. It resorted to conventional war but realised its futility because of India's superior strength. It then pursued two decades of armed insurgency and cross-border terrorism. That tactic did not succeed for two reasons.


First, there is a global distaste for terror and an unwillingness to allow its instigators to enjoy the political fruits of violence. Second, the capacity of the Indian State to confront terrorism has substantially increased. Consequently, the separatists and their handlers have now resorted to a new strategy: mob violence, stone pelting and arson.


Yet, amid the dark clouds in the Kashmir Valley there is a silver lining. Armed insurgency has been substantially eliminated. There is a hostile reaction from the population to even a slight suggestion that the


protestors are instigated by Pakistan. The youth and the students we met were extremely intelligent and articulate. One could see an apparent conflict between political anger and aspirational desires within the same individuals.


There was also a downside. The historical blunder of allowing a separate status gave rise to demands like grant of autonomy and self-rule. The 63-year-old journey of separate status has been in the direction of separatism. The dithering of the central government, the efforts of mainstream state parties to weaken the constitutional and political relationship between the nation and the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and the increased nervousness of a section of India's political establishment to deal firmly with the protests has transformed the distant dream of azadi into a possible, realisable and romantic reality. At the same time, no one could explain to us the exact political content of azadi. Was it a sustainable proposition or a recipe for anarchy?


Violence is a key instrument of the separatists. In a peaceful Kashmir, the leaders of azadi are only Friday speakers.  They, therefore, consciously instigated violence in the form of insurgency, stone pelting and arson — activities that inevitably attract a response from the security forces. These, in turn, prompt a larger security presence, security checks, searches, and obviously, harassment of the citizens.


The strategy of the separatists is clear. In a peaceful Kashmir, the separatist movement does not pick up. It is the anger, despair, frustration and harassment, which is caused by violence and the consequences of violence that give rise to a feeling of Kashmiri victimhood and adds to the support for azadi.

There are two factors that support separatism. First, a weak central government that dithers and can be pushed around adds strength to the separatists. Second, the violence of the separatist movement leads to the harassment of citizens and, consequently, adds to popular support for the protests. The demand for autonomy and self-rule weakens the constitutional and political relationship between India and the state of J&K.


Similarly, the demand for either the dilution or the de-notification in some areas of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) is only intended to stigmatise the security forces. Not one death has been caused by the bullets of the Indian Army. If the AFSPA were to be denotified, on the grounds that there is no Army present in some districts of the state, it still cannot be ignored that the AFSPA enables and shields "other armed forces of the Union" which include the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. Do we expect the CRPF to handle the sensitive areas of Srinagar, Badgam, Anantnag and Sopore without the protection of AFSPA so that prosecutions are filed against officers of these agencies every time there is a conflict?


There is a need to delegitimise the separatist leaders.  When former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee spoke of a settlement within the ambit of 'Insaniyat' — a principle which the separatists today accept, it did not include insurgency, stone pelting or even the need for police firing. The Constitution of India is a humane document which epitomises Insaniyat. Insaniyat is the converse of Haivaniyat and it is this message which needs to be squarely conveyed to the separatists.


Our national policy must clearly redefine the debate among the Kashmiris. Azadi is neither viable nor realisable; it's an impossibility. No nation barters away a part of its territory.            


Kashmir and the Kashmiri people belong to India. We must not allow them to be alienated from the mainstream; we must alienate them from the separatists. The deaths caused by police firing are unfortunate. It is the separatists who engineered a confrontation for which ordinary people paid the consequences. We must distinguish between the separatists and the commoners; we must  never blink before the separatists; but the approach towards the common man must be humane. Effective steps to secure his trust and his future must be based on the tenets of 'Insaniyat'.


Arun Jaitley is a BJP MP and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. He was a member of the all-party delegation of MPs to Kashmir. The views expressed by the author are personal



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





It is now clear that the mess during the run-up to the Commonwealth Games has been due to the delays and shoddy work by various government agencies and not so much because the Organising Committee (OC) has botched things up. It is true that Suresh Kalmadi has become the face of the Games largely because he has decided to accept the blame for the shortcomings of many others. But the time has come to perhaps make Shera, the mascot, the face of the Games and conduct them to the best of our ability.


This certainly does not mean that the people responsible for the goof-ups, like the Delhi government and its allied agencies, the urban development ministry, the sports ministry, the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) and others should be allowed to get away with it. In fact, the prime minister, who himself should share the blame along with the Congress for sleeping over matters, should order an inquiry and have all those responsible for corruption and apathy brought to book.


The Games have shamed the nation during the preparatory stage and it is time that we do our best to make up for the lapses in our hospitality. Equally condemnable has been the attitude of some of the developed countries, Australia in particular, whose prime minister, by her distasteful remarks, has tried to contribute to the increasingly poor relations we have with her country — known for its racism.


A visit to the Games Village indicates that there are world-class facilities available. As many veteran sports journalists said, they are as good as anywhere and certainly better than many Commonwealth and Asian Games they have been to. It has become evident that despite our limitations we may have pulled a rabbit out of the hat but the government agencies have let us down badly.


It is in this context that heads must roll and the Congress, in particular, which heads the government, must prove that it is not status quoist as the prime minister's media adviser put it a few days ago — a fact borne out by his continuation in his position despite the indiscretion by an official of his standing. So far the media has singled out Kalmadi. As the prime minister himself has put it, he is not the only one to be blamed. Possibly he is the least to be blamed, given that none of the Games venues or the Village have been constructed by the OC but are the creations of the government agencies.


Efforts are on to pass the blame around. In Delhi, the state's Public Works Department Minister, Raj Kumar Chauhan, may become the first scapegoat, as some of his colleagues put it.


What has been intriguing is the low-key role of the Lieutenant Governor who — by virtue of his position as the administrator of Delhi, the head of the Delhi Development Authority and the nodal authority for interaction with the home ministry and the urban development ministry — should have played a bigger role. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Urban Development Minister S. Jaipal Reddy, Sports Minister M.S. Gill and Tourism Minister Kumari Selja will have to answer many uncomfortable questions. The sports minister has, by his bureaucratic approach of long-range supervision, made himself vulnerable and if the Congress decides to prove that it does not believe in status quo, he should not be surprised. The same goes for the others since it is the country that has been shamed and they, as stakeholders, have let Brand India down.


There is less than a week to go and the Delhi and NCR roads are in a mess. The need of the hour is to get down to work on a war-footing and save whatever prestige is possible. In future, no international event of such a nature should be held till we have a strong leadership at the Centre and people of integrity and capability as stakeholders. We must recognise our limitations and should not falsely believe that we are a world power. We are a long way from it. Between us.








After a leadership contest that stretched over four months, the UK's Labour Party finally has a new leader, the 40-year-old Ed Miliband. He will now take over as the leader of the opposition and prime minister-in-waiting. In the narrowest of victories, he upstaged his closest rival, older brother and arch-Blairite, David Miliband. It wasn't a victory without controversy though. David, after all, won the support of a majority of Labour MPs and MEPs. He also won more votes than his brother from those cast by ordinary party members. However, under Labour's peculiar system for electing its leader, members of affiliated trade unions and socialist societies have an equal say (along with parliamentarians and members) in determining the party's leader: the more left-leaning Ed Miliband won by a thumping margin in this electoral college which enabled him to squeeze past his brother by a margin of just 1.3 per cent of the vote in the end.


It would, however, be unfair to paint the victory as lacking legitimacy. Even the best designed electoral systems have their peculiarities which can deliver odd results. The fact is that it was an open contest and it was a vibrant contest with candidates traversing the country while campaigning and participating in four televised debates. And, in the end, a relative outsider won the top prize.


It isn't, of course, a prize without thorns. Recent history suggests that the people of the UK tend to keep defeated parties in opposition for a long time. On the other hand, Labour has the opportunity for a quick comeback if the unprecedented and sometimes fractious coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats stumbles. Ed Miliband may just start moving to the centre ground and not lurch to the left if he seriously hopes to be the UK's next prime minister.







Four lakh people appeared for the civil services preliminary examination in 2009. A thousand or so eventually made it through to various tenured positions in the Union government, a uniquely minuscule success percentage. Those hopeful lakhs had to deal with a "general studies" paper, on such crucial questions as why fluorescent lamps use mercury, the proximate reason Ahmed Shah Abdali invaded India, and what the Greendex is. But in case this paper doesn't sufficiently test one's grasp of Bournvita-quiz-contest arcana, there's also the "optional paper" where a candidate can demonstrate his grasp of geology, animal husbandry, or philosophy. Naturally this has been subverted over time; few of those who take the biology option will have trained as biologists, most will have been told that it is a "scoring paper", increasing their chances of surviving the dreaded "normalisation" or scaling of results.


This system's clearly not optimal, though it has been in existence since before the oldest 2011 applicant was born, since 1979, and survived one major reorganisation in the '90s because it was "performing its screening function." Possibly, but there's little doubt that it was also creating enormous costs: for one, three lakh-plus of India's brightest would devote their energy to becoming artificial, prelim-exam experts on some subject rumoured to be higher-scoring. And it is far from clear whether screening for those who successfully game the system is a good idea.


Which is why the plan to replace the optional paper with an aptitude exam is both welcome and overdue. The nature of the replacement isn't yet known but there's no doubt it will both lighten the workload of the average applicant and increase the system's efficiency and fairness. It may also revive more thoughtful ways of determining candidature, like the long essay. But reform shouldn't stop there. As long as we have an examination dedicated to picking out bright generalists that so many people do participate in, their efforts shouldn't be wasted; as with the IIT's entrance examination, other institutions, state services and the private sector, should be encouraged to use the results too. And, eventually, their requirements should be taken on board in any further redesign.







We know that nations use sporting events as a bid for the world's attention — to show off their systems and prowess, demonstrate how far they've come. Whether it was China's Olympics or South Africa's World Cup, they are occasions for the hosts to compose their own image. Our government, after having grandly mismanaged the Commonwealth Games opportunity, is now trying to strangle the event with its own ideas of "unity in diversity" entertainment.


A group of ministers headed by Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy is personally supervising the sounds of the ceremony, making sure it echoes with the plurality of India. It's going to be a polyphony of India's religions — Vande Mataram, "audible and identifiable" dohas from Kabir, Buddhist chants, appropriately "Islamic elements" like the azaan and qawwali soundtracks, and Guru Gobind Singh's shabad will go into the background score for the CWG ceremonies. The opening song, "Swagatham" will include all 22 of India's official languages. Sticks, swords and fire, essential for a full representation of India's martial arts traditions, will also be provided for. In short, they'll make this edition of the CWG exactly like all our official celebrations — tacky, contrived attempts at "national integration". They suck all the fun and energy out of events, they manage to insult all these splendid old traditions by abridging them so awfully, and they entertain nobody.


This is not the point where the CWG needed close attention and micro-management. This very important group of ministers was nowhere to be seen when it came to the arrangements that mattered — ensuring strong and durable sporting infrastructure and that stadia were ready on time. What the government needed to do was take charge of the processes and preparations, put in the patient work that goes into organising a high-stakes sporting event. Now, it's trying to take over the party. It doesn't take high-level government intervention to demonstrate India's glorious syncretism — that speaks for itself. Our religious and cultural diversity is evident to every first-time visitor, it suffuses our popular culture, it doesn't need to be ground in by a clanking ceremony. The inept "monsoon wedding" metaphor, which came back to bite the sports minister, is a disastrous choice of words when used as a cover for sloppiness, last-minute scrambling and second-rate results — but it is exactly right as a description for the spontaneity and pure joy of our celebrations.









Poor thinking gets sanctified the quickest and apparently most convincingly when it is done in the name of the poor. When such arguments find a target that apparently drips power, privilege and pelf, it has a multiplier effect on poor thinkers' moral conviction. Therefore, we have this proposal, thanks to both the finance ministry and an RBI committee, that the urban rich who lend money to the rural poor must be prevented from making too much money on their investment.


North Block and Mint Street are already being critiqued for their recent position that micro finance institutions (MFIs) are gouging their customers, who are all poor. MFIs give tiny loans to the poor at rates of interest that are often over 25 per cent. These loans are typically unsecured — MFIs don't demand collaterals. MFI service is typically personal contact-intensive; the loan money is delivered to the borrower at his/ her home.


North Block wants a cap on MFI loan rates. RBI is thinking whether MFIs should continue to be beneficiaries of scheduled banks' cheap priority sector lending. Moral conviction has been strengthened by SKS Microfinance, a big MFI, getting a warm reception in the equity market. Its IPO was a hit. If moneymen like a firm that lends to the poor then surely there's something wrong with that firm's business model — that's the thinking.


Critiques of the finance ministry and the central bank are pointing out that this thinking is wrong because of three reasons. One, the so-called high interest rates are a reflection of finance reaching people who otherwise finance never thinks of. For the poor, getting a Rs 10,000 loan from someone who isn't a thuggish moneylender or a thug who occasionally lends money and charges 100 per cent-plus interest is a very big thing. People like us should sometimes ask our drivers and domestics — rural migrants to cities — how they finance their big expenditures. Many of them borrow money at 100 per cent-plus. We should ask them whether they would like a loan at, say, 28 per cent (North Block wants a MFI rate cap of 24 per cent) with a well-thought-out repayment schedule. Their answer will be humbling.


Two, loaning tiny amounts of money to lots of poor people is a high-cost business. You need frequent and close personal contact with your clients, who get doorstep financial services. Interest rates in MFI business models partly reflect that. Should MFIs lower interest rates so that they can never make money? Who will then lend to the poor? Public sector banks can't — the tiny loans make no sense for banks. Concern for the poor shouldn't lower competition for exploitative moneylenders, should it?


Three, and this is Economics 101, if MFI business decisions are not interfered with, there will be more MFIs as financial entrepreneurs see that there's money to be made, and more MFIs mean more choices for customers, which means lower prices, that is lower interest rates. Why are cellphone call rates dirt cheap and why are cellphones available for as little as Rs 1,000 or below? Not because mobile service providers and handset manufacturers are barefoot entrepreneurs who march for every good cause. It's because people who we classes call the masses represent a big market. MFIs can make financial services mass market products.


One should add to these the following question — how did North Block decide that a ceiling of 24 per cent on MFI lending rates is most optimally pro-poor? Bibek Debroy, a columnist in these pages, had once observed that such figures are arrived at in government offices by employing the ceiling method — ministers and officials look at the ceiling of their office rooms, think, and come up with a number.


The most fundamental discomfort one should have with the ministry/ RBI's position on MFIs is something else: the imposition of metropolitan assumptions on the poor's utility functions. All of us nice people know that the poor don't have access to many basic services. We want that to change. Public services should be universal, effective and cheap. That perhaps will happen one day. But in the interim let's recognise that the poor are forced to pay massive premiums, relative to their spending capacity, for goods and services — from cooking fuel to basic medical care to reasonable quality education — that we won't dream of paying through our noses for.


Expenditure by the poor on privately provided services has been steadily increasing. If there are private sector solutions that address the problem of the poor paying massive premiums and if they do that through a viable business model shouldn't official agencies encourage this? By thinking of light-touch, intelligent regulation. Lending rates of 30 per cent look medieval to us, who can crib about 15 per cent rates and take Rs 30 lakh house loans. But that MFI rate works out to small absolute repayment obligations on a small loan for a poor borrower who otherwise has a choice between zero loans or loans at 100 per cent rate of interest.


Similarly, for innovative private sector solutions for medical care or education, prices offered may offend us. But the government should think of the effective price the rural poor face when they, say, travel miles and miles to a city/ town government medical centre, and where they are often treated with that special contempt that India's sarkari staff reserve for social groups the sarkar calls economically weaker. Or, of course, the poor go to quacks; some of them certified by the official Medical Council of India.


The official position that asks for seats for poor children in private schools is a small recognition of this reality. But it's a quota-based solution, nowhere near enough. Education and health vouchers that guarantee need-specific spending power for the poor is the big way to think — the private sector will be interested in mass markets for education and health. These will be efficient use of subsidy, just as RBI allowing MFIs to borrow from banks at priority sector rates is.


Fixing prices and not delivering services don't help the poor. Fix the service (encourage/ subsidise the private

sector) and free the price. And ask the poor. They will agree.








Exposed, untreated excrement can kill by the million. One of the hardest-won UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is a 2015 target of halving the proportion of those without sustainable access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. Even if achieved, the target would still leave some 500 million on the planet without this basic requirement for survival and dignity. As many as 79 per cent of rural and 46 per cent of urban Indians have no access to improved sanitation. Of the 40 per cent of global population (some 2.6 billion people) forced to defecate in the open, some 665 million are Indians.


Diarrhoea claims 5,000 children every day worldwide, most of them on this subcontinent. The loss in lives, work days and school attendance (particularly by girls) is estimated at $38 billion per year.


Water and sanitation are inextricably linked: without sanitation, safe water cannot remain safe. "Access" is a key word with a variety of interpretations. In planning circles, targets are set in terms of coverage. "Coverage" is normally measured by the number of latrines, hand-pumps, water pipes and sewerage systems installed. Whether these are functioning, properly used and well-maintained is quite another matter.


India's response is centred largely on its Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), admired globally for its scale and effort to move beyond infrastructure towards a demand-driven, people-centred approach. Yet dependency on mobilisation and communication capacities at district and village levels has meant that huge outlays remain unspent. Again, TSC is not really "total". It is targeted at rural India, with incentives only for those below the poverty line, a division flies and germs do not respect. India's urban population lacks a comprehensive sanitation plan, affecting most of all the vast numbers of slum dwellers who are unrecognised, with no land rights and in constant danger of displacement. At the Centre, responsibility for sanitation is divided between the rural development ministry and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, while as a state subject, no set pattern of administrative responsibility exists. While drinking water is politically charged, particularly at election time, no comparable will exists for sanitation. Politicians stay clear of toilets, even in a land where the Mahatma made clean latrines and the end of human scavenging central to his ideals of freedom and dignity.


It is not as if India cannot do it. The TSC has achieved important successes in several locations, reaching over 210 million citizens between 1990 and 2008. Nine states claim 75 per cent achievement of targets. The Nirmal Gram Puraskar is given by the president, making it a force for recognition, despite slippages that have led to serious second thoughts. NGO Gram Vikas in Orissa has achieved 100 per cent open defecation-free villages within some of the most difficult tribal conditions.


Another NGO, Gramalaya in Tiruchirappalli, has achieved wonders through women activists in an urban environment. The Sulabh Corporation is known worldwide for extraordinary achievement in providing public facilities at an affordable cost. SPARC in Mumbai and Pune is a model for urban community-centred action. Elsewhere, Karachi's Orangi Pilot Project, established by the legendary Akhtar Hamid Khan, is perhaps the most celebrated slum sanitation project in the world — and entirely community financed. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal also have important achievements to share. Yet the subcontinent remains burdened with the largest share of a global shame.


Many answers lie in institutional reform factors. Sanitation, seldom recognised as a priority in its own right, is usually twinned with water —- which gets all the attention and funding. Accountability is scattered and most solutions remain largely driven by engineering, not the sustainability that comes from decentralised community action. Despite rhetoric, the empowerment of women remains ignored, while experience clearly shows that unless women, as managers of household health, are put firmly in charge, sanitation simply does not happen. Political will remains slow, despite flashes of commitment. Hygiene education is another powerful weapon that remains devalued. Decisions on defecation take place within the mind, an area closed to government, medical and engineering diktats unless awareness leads to acceptance, and acceptance leads on to behaviour change. This needs a mission approach, including hygiene education within schools. That in turn will depend on functioning school toilets, separate toilets for boys and girls. This critical need will remain unattended until India gets its sanitation act together.


The writer was executive director of the National Insitute of


Design, and works on water and sanitation issues









Suspecting corruption in just about any corner is so pervasive an Indian trait, it will be difficult to find any other pan-Indian theme as popular. In this season of the Commonwealth Games, that trait has become, if possible, even sharper.


Yet a recent shot by the government to comply with a global covenant on corruption might be the missing trick that could unleash the power of private and public sector partnerships that India so desperately needs.


For the last few months, government officers have been tossing the file on corruption across ministries. The file in question is the global compact on corruption that India has not ratified so far — the United Nations Convention against Corruption — five years after it "came into force." Among the major world economies, that makes India a loner, putting it in a small club that includes Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Thailand and some of the former Soviet republics. The problem the Indian government has not been able to fix is how to evolve a machinery to track private sector corruption without it degenerating into a witch-hunt in the hands of successive administrations.


Usually UN conventions are generally exercises of goodwill, like the one that gave us the Millennium Development Goals. After all it does not cost much to say "we believe in stamping out corruption." But this one is different — and therefore has given India a reason to hold back.


Among the must do-es of this convention is the need to prosecute any domestic entity accused of giving bribes abroad. If you thought that was easy, just glance at the list of Indian companies that the World Bank has put up on its site for suspected corruption. None of them have faced any penal action in India so far.


One obvious area where this can create trouble is defence contracts for the Indian armed forces. The Quattrocchi case is only one of those. In other sectors, too, there could be trouble, like during the oil-for-food scam. In addition to nailing them, the convention will require India to make public every year, in the General Assembly, details of the punishment handed out — and if there are delays, the reasons for them. In the cloak-and-dagger world of Indian investigations, where few cases ever wind to their logical conclusion, this is a horrendous possibility.


The reason for the delay has, therefore, got a lot to do with the trouble we have in not being quite able to follow through cases that we've launched. This could become rather too public. In other words, once India signs the convention, our investigative agencies will have to tell the world why they could not follow up. This is despite the loose wording of the convention, as per international practice. So the CBI et al will not have to share the precise details of the cases they have tracked, but only the bottom line. Yet even this imposes a high compliance cost.


In the case of private-sector corruption, the major reason for the file to be shuttling across the bhavans is that no ministry wants to take on the responsibility. Relations with foreign countries are determined by the foreign affairs ministry, while how grains will be distributed through ration shops are determined by the food ministry. We even have a ministry for culture, as we are a ministry-led nation. But there is no ministry in India that seeks to stamp out corruption. In the first few decades it was assumed that only government agencies were capable of big-ticket corruption, so the department of personnel and training was handed the job of keeping track of errant government employees. Thus the CBI and the CVC came into being under that department.


But now that the private sector has taken up a large space in India's economic life, the CVC or the CBI can do precious little to keep tabs on them. The CBI is, for sure, often roped in — but each time that has to happen on the basis of a specific mandate from the government.


In other words the trouble we face in ratifying the convention makes it apparent why it is so difficult to keep a lid on corruption in India. We do not have a full-fledged architecture to tackle the disease.


The work in progress across different ministries is therefore a very critical piece of governance. The various ministries are not sure if they should set up one more bit of investigative machinery, but that too on the table. Corruption, incidentally as per the convention, includes not only bribes but also trading in official influence and general abuses of power.


Setting up the mechanism will be important for India to cede more space to the private sector in freely working with the government and the public sector. It will be like a strong referee, who knows when to blow the whistle in a fast-paced soccer match.


For the private sector, attempts to work with the state most often get wrapped in layers of accusations of corruption. Just check out the award of contracts for highways or the PPP model for non-metro airports. This makes those corporates who have a reputation to protect give up. The net loser is the economy, as costs climb.


But it is essential. Corruption is the first and often the most effective card losers and other interested parties in any deal use, with deadly effect, to paralyse decisions. As I said earlier, it will be difficult to work out a legal structure that can overcome this problem. The government has a job on its hands. The whistleblower bill can be one of the first steps to deal with the problem. While regulatory laws like the one that set up Sebi, or the Companies Act, do run to some penal provisions, these are just not enough to police corruption.


The writer is Executive Editor (News), 'The Financial Express'








As another monsoon season comes to an end, it leaves behind a fresh set of questions for weather scientists to ponder. The monsoon is one of the most complex and least-understood weather phenomena in the world, something highlighted yet again by its highly erratic behaviour this year.


While seasonal data (from June 1 to September 30) can be compiled only after the end of this month, the consolidated rainfall in the country from the start of the season to September 22 was four per cent above normal. This is consistent with the forecast from the Indian Meteorological Department which had predicted that rainfall this season would be 102 per cent of the long-period average, with a model error of four per cent.


But within this overall agreement with the forecast, the monsoon gave quite a few anxious moments this year. While its onset, over the Kerala coast, happened around the normal date, the formation of tropical cyclone Phet over the Arabian Sea interfered with its northward progression during the first week of June. After the cyclone dissipated, monsoon winds travelled quickly to cover all of peninsular India by the third week of June.


However, the monsoon went into a prolonged weak spell after that and did not move forward for about two weeks. By July 1 it was almost 17 days behind its normal schedule. It had not even entered Uttar Pradesh, where the normal date for the arrival of the monsoon is June 14. Talk of a second consecutive year of drought, at least in the northern half of India, had already started.


But yet again, the development of a cyclonic circulation and its interaction with western disturbances in northwest India resulted in widespread rainfall in most parts of northern India; and by July 6, it had covered the entire country — 10 days in advance!

These fluctuations are being attributed to the irregular behaviour of "Mascarene High" — a high-pressure area over the Mascarene islands in the southern Indian Ocean, which makes a crucial contribution to the strength of monsoon winds.


More surprising even than the fluctuations was the prolonged spell of rain over the northwestern parts of the country in the second half of the season. When it was time for a retreat, monsoon rains were lashing western UP, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Punjab,


Himachal Pradesh and adjoining areas, resulting in major flooding. Barring the monsoon season, India's northwest is dominated by westerly winds through most of the year. These winds are associated with the perpetual passage of western disturbances that originate in the extra-tropical region extending beyond Pakistan. In the monsoon months, rain-bearing winds from the Bay of Bengal generally push the westerlies back. This year, they were too weak to do so. This was the cause for the delayed rain in the first half of the season. In the second half, however, an interesting feature developed over this region. A north-south trough of an extra-tropical nature anchored over northwest India, extending up to Pakistan and Afghanistan. This system interacted positively with the tropical low-pressure areas that get formed routinely this time of the year. This extra-tropical trough, which persisted over the area for the last two months, not only resulted in heavy rainfall but was also the reason for extreme weather events like the cloud-burst in Leh and the flooding in Uttarakhand.


The most remarkable feature of this year's monsoon has, however, been the complete absence of any depression in the Bay of Bengal. Normally, a depression is formed almost every week in the monsoon season. These low-pressure systems over the Bay of Bengal are absolutely crucial for the movement of monsoon winds over the eastern, northern and northwestern parts of India. In the last 120 years, there has been only one instance where not a single depression was formed in the Bay of Bengal. This was the year 2002. Not surprisingly, that was one of the worst drought years in the last two decades.


But this year has brought good rainfall despite the absence of depressions — the only instance of its kind. Scientists are at a loss to explain this unusual event. One of the reasons, they say, could be the fact that this year's monsoon rains have been engineered mainly from the Arabian Sea side. The strength of the monsoon on the Bay of Bengal side was weak for most of the season. As such, the absence of depressions over this area did not have a large adverse impact on the rainfall, as is expected in normal situations. But it is an interesting subject for further investigation by the researchers and scientists that study the behaviour of monsoons.








Contrasts don't get much sharper than this: when Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping visited Cambodia last December, he announced soft loans and grants worth $1.2 billion to one of the poorest countries in the ASEAN bloc. When President Pratibha Patil visited Cambodia last week, the first visit by an Indian president in over 50 years, India offered Cambodia just $15 million (plus $246,000 for a rural school) in the form of aid. It isn't hard to see which of the two countries is likely to come out on top in the battle for influence in Cambodia. President Patil may have reiterated the prime minister's view that there is enough room for both India and China to grow simultaneously. But on the ground, it appears that China has already occupied much of the space.


In Cambodia, at least, India ought to have had a clear lead over China in the game of influence. To start off with, of course, India's civilisational links stretch back thousands of years. The world heritage site of Angkor Vat, built originally as a temple for Vishnu by the Khmer king Suryavarman II, is the most famous symbol of those links. But even in more contemporary times, India has played its diplomatic cards better than China. China supported the notorious Khmer Rouge regime which presided over the mass murder of an estimated one to two million Cambodians. India, on the other hand, was one of the first countries (in fact, the first non-Soviet bloc country) in the world to recognise the government that replaced the Khmer Rouge regime in 1980 after a Vietnamese-led invasion.


Cambodia's current prime minister, Hun Sen, was one of the leaders of the Vietnam-assisted rebellion against the Khmer Rouge and was foreign minister in the government that Indira Gandhi recognised as the official government of Cambodia. He isn't likely to be favourably disposed to the Chinese for reasons of history, but finds it difficult if not impossible to look away from the massive amounts of money China is pumping into the Cambodian economy. Consider the scale: Chinese investments in Cambodia over the last four years total $6 billion; the total size of the Cambodian economy is just $10 billion. The economy is practically breathing on Chinese-infused dollars.


Andrew Burmon, an American national and associate editor of the English-language Cambodia Daily, worries about the excessive influence of China in this country and in the region that surrounds it (Laos and Burma in particular). He says, "The US and India need to get together to form a strong counterweight to Chinese interests in this region." The US, of course, ceded its space in this region after the Vietnam War. In more recent times, the US has been too pre-occupied by the Middle East and Afghanistan to worry about East Asia, a region where it once wielded considerable influence, especially in the Cold War period.


Kay Kimsong, editor-in-chief of the Phnom Penh Post's Khmer edition believes that people in Cambodia are ambivalent about China's influence. "It's 50-50 as far as China is concerned... the investments are, of course, an attraction." He also points out that India's visibility in his country, even in soft power terms, has actually declined over the last two decades.


"Indian films used to be big in the '80s, but now South Korean films dominate the market," says Kay.


That isn't particularly good news for India as it tries to extend its influence in this part of the world. India is unlikely to be able to compete with China in either hard power or the doling out of dollars (even though we can do better than just $ 15 million): we aren't, after all, a huge surplus economy like China's. India's best bet in the near future is soft power, and not simply films.


India's great strength is to be a role model for countries like Cambodia. China, for all its success, is too unrealistic a role model for countries such as Cambodia to ape. It may not even be desirable given its continued disdain for democratic freedoms. On the other hand, India's solid, even if sometimes slow-moving, democracy and experiment with free markets led by individual entrepreneurs rather than the state are better role models for countries which are following similar institutional paths.


Writing in the Phnom Penh Post during President Patil's visit, columnist Steve Finch made this argument powerfully. In a column titled "Let's learn from India's wealth of rural expertise", Finch wrote about how Cambodia's telecom infrastructure, terribly lacking in rural areas, could take out a leaf from the Indian telecom sector's book. His overall argument was best summed up by the following line: "In many ways Cambodia can glean more from India's economic model than that of China."


What the government of India needs to do more forcefully is to project these ideals, and share India's knowledge base more openly. These would be useful and powerful counterweights to China's dollars.








China is doing moon shots. Yes, that's plural. When I say "moon shots" I mean big, multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, gamechanging investments. China has at least four going now: one is building a network of ultramodern airports; another is building a web of high-speed trains connecting major cities; a third is in bioscience, where the Beijing Genomics Institute this year ordered 128 DNA sequencers — from America — giving China the largest number in the world in one institute to launch its own stem cell/ genetic engineering industry; and, finally, Beijing just announced that it was providing $15 billion in seed money for the country's leading auto and battery companies to create an electric car industry, starting in 20 pilot cities. In essence, China Incorporated just named its dream team of 16-state-owned enterprises to move China off oil and into the next industrial growth engine: electric cars.


Not to worry. America today also has its own multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing moon shot: fixing Afghanistan.


This contrast is not good. I was recently at a Washington Nationals baseball game. While waiting for a hot dog, I overheard the conversation behind me. A management consultant for a big national firm was telling his colleagues that his job was to "market products to the Department of Homeland Security." I thought to myself: "Oh, my! Inventing studies about terrorist threats and selling them to the US government, is that an industry now?"


We're out of balance — the balance between security and prosperity. We need to be in a race with China, not just Al Qaeda. Let's start with electric cars.


The electric car industry is pivotal for three reasons, argues Shai Agassi, the CEO of Better Place, a global electric car company that next year will begin operating national electric car networks in Israel and Denmark. First, the auto industry was the foundation for America's manufacturing middle class. Second, the country that replaces gasoline-powered vehicles with electric-powered vehicles — in an age of steadily rising oil prices and steadily falling battery prices — will have a huge cost advantage and independence from imported oil. Third, electric cars are full of power electronics and software. "Think of the applications industry that will be spun out from electric cars," says Agassi. It will be the iPhone on steroids.


Europe is using $7-a-gallon gasoline to stimulate the market for electric cars; China is using $5-a-gallon and naming electric cars as one of the industrial pillars for its five-year growth plan. And America? President Obama has directed stimulus money at electric cars, but he is unwilling to do the one thing that would create the sustained consumer pull required to grow an electric car industry here: raise taxes on gasoline. Price matters. Sure, the Moore's Law of electric cars — "the cost per mile of the electric car battery will be cut in half every 18 months" — will steadily drive the cost down, says Agassi, but only once we get scale production going. US companies can do that on their own or in collaboration with Chinese ones. But God save us if we don't do it at all.


Two weeks ago, I visited the Coda Automotive battery facility in Tianjin, China — a joint venture between US innovators and investors, China's Lishen battery company and China National Offshore Oil Company. Yes, China's oil company is using profits to develop batteries.


Kevin Czinger, Coda's CEO, who drove me around Manhattan in his company's soon-to-be-in-production electric car last week, laid out what is going on. The backbone of the modern US economy was locally made cars powered by locally produced oil. It started us on a huge growth spurt. In recent decades, though, that industry was supplanted by foreign-made cars run on foreign oil, so "now every time we buy a car we're exporting $15,000 of capital, paying for it with borrowed money and running it on foreign energy sources," says Czinger. "We've gone from autos being a middle-class-making-machine to a middle-class-destroying-machine." A US electric car/ battery industry would reverse that.


The Coda, 14,000 of which will be on the road in California over the next year and can travel 100 miles on one overnight charge, is a combination of Chinese-made batteries and complex American-system electronics — all final-assembled in Oakland (price: $37,000). It is a win-win start-up for both countries.


If we both now create the market incentives for consumers to buy electric cars, and the plug-in infrastructure for people to drive them everywhere, it will be a win-win moon shot for both countries. The electric car industry will flourish in the US and China, and together we'll tackle the next challenge: using auto battery innovations to build big storage batteries for wind and solar. However, if only China puts the gasoline prices and infrastructure in place, the industry will gravitate there. It will be a moon shot for them, a hobby for us, and you'll import your new electric car from China just like you're now importing your oil from Saudi Arabia.


The New York Times







Media reports notwithstanding, WTO's dispute resolution report on the Boeing case isn't public yet. There are two complaints, both originally dating to October 6, 2004. In one, the US complained about unwarranted subsidies to Airbus by the EU, with a supplementary complaint on January 31, 2006. In the other, the EU complained about unwarranted subsidies to Boeing by the US, with a supplementary complaint on June 27, 2005. Since the report isn't public, one doesn't know what WTO has ruled on the quantum of subsidies. The actual figure is probably lower than the EU claims of more than $20 billion to Boeing. However, the precise number doesn't matter. All subsidies aren't prohibited under the WTO. Trade-distorting subsidies can be illegal, but even there, there is leeway and some subsidies can be made WTO-compatible. Inevitably, negotiations between the EU and the US will follow, with subsidies made WTO-compatible. Civil aviation is one sector where developed countries have resisted liberalisation and sought to justify state intervention. That's the reason agreement on trade in civil aircraft is still a plurilateral (and not multilateral) agreement.


That's also the reason very few air transport services figure in market access proposals on GATS. How much competition exists in the Brussels-Geneva sector, a popular route for WTO negotiators? While, as with agriculture, the two rulings together substantiate developed country interference through subsidies, one should be careful how one interprets this. First, strategic trade theory has evolved to justify state intervention in instances of market failure. But few governments possess requisite information to intervene effectively. All government intervention is definitionally static, though markets develop dynamically. In 1991, how many in India would have picked software as a sunrise sector? Second, though this proposition has changed a bit after 2007, developing countries rarely possess fiscal space developed countries have. Resources have opportunity costs and money spent on subsidising industry or services can be deployed better elsewhere. Third, subsidies are sectoral, thereby distorting resource allocation. All three are compelling arguments against selective subsidisation, even if some subsidies are permitted under WTO. In general, developed countries have now turned protectionist and some developing countries are pushing for liberalisation. Therefore, folly of developed countries should not be interpreted as models to follow. Instead, they are models to avoid, even if there are temptations to subsidise production of small civilian aircraft, whether it is through National Aerospace Laboratories or otherwise.







The government's decision to raise the cap on FII investments in the debt market by a third to $30 billion is welcome, given the growing demand for funds in both the domestic and external markets. Most recent numbers show that the growth of bank deposits have slowed down by 2.5 percentage points in the first five months of the fiscal year even while the demand for credit has surged up by 2.2 percentage points over the period. And these trends are likely to be aggravated in the second half of the year as the demand for funds picks up much more sharply. Similarly, in the external sector the sharp increase in the trade deficit in the current fiscal year indicates that the current account deficit will now move up more sharply to over 3% of the GDP and larger capital flows would be required to bridge the gaps and maintain some stability in the foreign exchange reserve levels. So, the raising of the FII investment limits in the debt markets will help reduce the growing pressures in the both the banking sector and the external markets.


However, what is surprising is that, unlike in the past, the government has increased the FII investment limits in the debt markets with a caveat saying that the additional flows of $5 billion each to government securities and corporate bonds is to be restricted to instruments with a residual maturity of over five years. This ostensibly to protect the financial markets from volatility in case of any domestic or external developments. But given that the FIIs are close to exhausting the previous limits, and that the flows have been buoyant in recent months, the caveat is unlikely to deter the investors. And the timing of the move is also apt as the higher caps on the debt market investments would now provide new opportunities for the FIIs whose surging investments in recent months have raised equity valuations much above those in the competing markets. But above all, the higher caps on FII inflows will hopefully give a much needed boost to the domestic bond markets, which have remained stunted as compared to most other nations. In fact, the most recent numbers show that the total bonds outstanding was just 48.8% of the GDP in 2009, which is much below the Asian average of 65.5% and very much lower than in the US or Japan, where it is more than three times that of India.








For decades now, India has operated on a set of fundamental assumptions. These assumptions are wrong and yet the country has marched on to greater heights. Of course, the paradox is explained by the fact that the progress has been achieved when these assumptions were challenged and abandoned. The progress is disowned or minimised by the fundamentalists. Now, at last, we have a spectacle that the fundamentalists cannot shrug off.


The assumptions are, of course, that the private sector, or the market, if you like pompous expressions, cannot be trusted with the people's welfare. Only the government, or the state, if you prefer, can achieve effective progress when it comes to the nation's interests. The spectacle, of course, is the CWG preparation such as it is. Within less than 12 hours of having arrived back in London, I am aghast at how disparagingly all the newspapers and TV channels speak of India. The contempt with which newsreaders treat the latest episode of dirty toilets, use of child labour, falling ceilings and collapsing bridges is shocking.


Barack Obama not so long ago warned students in the US that they faced competition from Bangalore and Beijing. That may be but Delhi will invite nothing except for guffaws of laughter at its presumption to rival Beijing in staging the games. Indeed, the entire experience as exposed in the media is a perfect illustration of the kind of disaster Indians have to put up with from their public sector but cannot complain about. Bad construction, leakages, broken bridges, pools of water spreading diseases are not news to anyone subject to anything done by the public sector. Most of the time there is no publicity and no redress.


Now at last the masterpiece of Delhi bureaucracy is on public show for the world at large. The alphabet soup of governance institutions in charge of Delhi—NDMC, MCD, the government of Delhi, the various ministries of the Union government—all have had a hand in this disaster. The Prime Minister has been inveigled into this mess. He will regret this since this will dent India's reputation harder than a military debacle.


Excuses will be made; the buck will be passed. There will be threats of dealing with the miscreants. Yet we all know nothing will happen. This is the team that has failed to punish those with blood on their hands in 1984. Ramalinga Raju has not even been dealt with to begin with. So, don't have any hopes on that score. The smugness of Lalit Bhanot in face of the appalling hygienic fiasco or of the chief engineer of PWD speaking to the media after 27 workers had been injured (he would admit only two injured), the arrogance of the organisers tell you that the Delhi power structure is unfazed by such things. They are safe in their jobs and perks and patronage. The market may or may not work; the system works for them.


Some form of games may yet happen. Let us hope no one gets injured or falls ill, or, even worse, dies during the CWG. But I do hope that someone somewhere will draw the lesson that it is the private sector that has enhanced India's international reputation by delivering faultless competitive performance. It is Nandan Nilekani we can trust to execute the national identity number system. It is Ratan Tata, Sunil Bharti Mittal and the Ranbaxys along with countless private sector entrepreneurs who put India on the global map.


The revenues that they generate have allowed the public policymakers to dream up even more wasteful schemes of intervention in the vital tasks of poverty removal. Moneys will be spent, but poverty will not be removed since the system is dysfunctional. It thrives on rising BPL numbers.


We should be grateful to the people in charge of CWG. They have shown to the whole world how badly dysfunctional government in India is. If only we could harness this humiliation to turn away from the habitual reliance on the public sector, we may yet have learnt a lesson.


Recall the idea of making Mumbai into Shanghai. I see no progress possible until someone gives over the whole task to a single entrepreneur, not from municipal or state bureaucracy but the private sector if that task has any hope of being done. Indeed, given the debacle of CWG, we may begin the task of rethinking urban governance in India. Big metros like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore should be freed from the hydra-headed governance structures where many authorities collide. We should make them autonomous and be run by an elected mayor with an elected assembly. London's governance has improved immensely since we have an elected mayor with an elected assembly. India has now the perfect chance to learn from the CWG debacle and follow suit.


The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer








Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in the world followed by English. This, however, needs to be interpreted with caution. Spoken language estimates include both native and secondary speakers. The former are those speaking the primary or official language of their country. The latter are the ones speaking the language in addition to another primary language.


Given its large size, China is expected to contribute substantively to native speakers in Mandarin. Estimates of spoken language prepared during the later part of the last century by Bernard Comrie and George Weber put native Chinese speakers between 836 million to 1.1 billion. Similar estimates for English were between 320-330 million. There were 150 million secondary speakers of English, compared with 20 million speaking Mandarin. Thus, of a total English speaking population of around 500 million, about a third was secondary. For Mandarin, only 2% of the total speakers were secondary.


This is how it was at the end of the last decade. How are things now?


The US Census Bureau estimates current world populations for Mandarin and English at 1.4 billion and 1.3 billion, respectively. The estimates obviously involve some double counting since there are many who speak both. Nonetheless, compared with earlier figures, the number of people speaking English has experienced an almost four-fold increase. On the other hand, the number of Mandarin speakers has increased by around 23%.


Much of the increase in the English-speaking population has ironically come from China and India. China has had a sharp increase in the number of people speaking English. At the turn of the century, less than 1% of the people in China spoke English. A study released by the British Council in 2009 pointed out that every year China is adding 20 million to its English-speaking population. This sharp increase is on account of the English language becoming a compulsory subject in primary schools in China.


There is a clear tendency of learning English—at least spoken English—in non-English-speaking parts of Asia represented by China and India. But this does not mean that English will replace Mandarin as the most widely-spoken language in future. Indeed, it is questionable whether English will remain the leading language for global communication in future.


The search for the global language should begin by identifying the 'global' community. Netizens are the best representatives of global citizens since the Internet is the most potent medium of communication in an integrated world. Statistics on Internet users reveal interesting insights on languages used on the Net. Of approximately 2 billion Internet users, 536 million use English while 445 million use Mandarin. Between them, the two languages account for almost half of total Internet users. Spanish, Japanese and Portuguese—the three other popular Net languages—have 153 million, 99 million and 83 million users, respectively.


Two trends are worth noting. First, over the last decade, the number of Internet users in Mandarin has increased by 1,162%. In comparison, the number of users in English has gone up by 281%. Thus, the growth in the number of Mandarin Internet users has been nearly four times that of English users. Second, Internet penetration among Mandarin speakers is 32% compared to 42% among English speakers. Internet penetration measures the ratio of Internet users of a particular language to the total population speaking that language. Large chunks of Mandarin speakers are yet to hook on to the Internet as the main mode of communication. But as the Internet penetrates deep and wide among Mandarin speakers, the volume of Mandarin netizens will increase exponentially.


The current trends indicate that Mandarin may well overtake English as the language of the Internet community in distant future. Ironically, China is expected to contribute to the growth of both Mandarin and English Net users. Deeper Internet penetration and emphasis on English will be responsible for the twin growth. However, the number of new Mandarin users from China is expected to be much more than new English users. India will also contribute to the growth of Net users in English as its own Internet penetration increases. To what extent this will match the growth of Mandarin speakers will be interesting to watch. But there is no doubt that no other third language appears capable of challenging the lead enjoyed by Mandarin and English. The success of English in remaining level with Mandarin depends largely on how much more of China and India start speaking English. Colonialism could not have hoped for a more virtuous response!


The author is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. These are his personal views







The Prime Minister is reportedly quite upset with the increasing number of Cabinet ministers jetting off for private trips using the private aeroplanes of top corporate houses. The Cabinet Secretariat, it appears, is readying an official circular, warning the ministers against such indulgences. A few days ago, when a senior Cabinet minister was contacted to ask whether he had gone abroad on a top industrialist's plane, he asked why we were not concentrating on another colleague who flew a lot more than he did.



The race for one of the most powerful posts in the government has just begun. The current CBI director is retiring on October 31 and IPS officers ranging from the 1973 to 1976 batch are jockeying for the coveted position, needless to say with the backing of their regional political patrons. Three 1973 batch officers are in the race. Ranjit Sinha who's DG, CRPF; AS Raut, DG in Madhya Pradesh; and AP Singh who's currently special director in CBI. The lone 1976 batch officer in the fray is Balwinder Singh who's also serving as special director in CBI.



BPO firms are not taking a chance with the Commonwealth Games and the expected traffic jams with one lane reserved for athletes/officials. Several Gurgaon-based firms are asking employees to shift to their guest houses near the offices or looking for accommodation there. Some employees are also being given the option to work from home as well.





The US movie rental chain says goodbye to its moment in the sun


Inside its walls, ubiquitously spread across the US coasts and heartland, Indian immigrants found the Dil Se DVD, Spaniards pounced upon Almodóvars and Quentin Tarantino introduced Americans to Wong Kar Wai. In its heydays, there was a new store opening a day. As for the Hollywood hits, of course they continue to swamp the Blockbuster shelves. But the late fines were always a killer. When Netflix conjured up deadline-free options, which would additionally just turn up in the mailbox after you had put in an online order, lining up along that rental outlet on Main Street began to look less and less cool. So it comes as no surprise that the movie rental chain has filed for bankruptcy.


To give Blockbuster its due, it did try to get "with it". From getting Icahn on board to getting into online orders and stocking up the stores with candy and games, Blockbuster tried it all but the game just kept getting away from it. Netflix was joined by the likes of Redbox and Amazon. Now, there is streaming video-on-demand over the Internet and so on. Think about the bankruptcy as the passing away of the VHS era. It was cool and then it was dead.








Cabinet reshuffles are crisis-laden affairs for governments that have only a wafer-thin majority in the


legislature. But for Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, the reshuffle was an opportunity to assert his constitutional authority, seriously eroded last year during the dissident activity spearheaded by the mining lobby of the Reddy brothers. Although Mr. Yeddyurappa did not touch the portfolios of the two brothers, G. Janardhan Reddy and G. Karunakara Reddy, he did bring back their bête noire Shobha Karandlaje as Minister. Ms Karandlaje, a close associate of the Chief Minister, had been dropped from the cabinet in November 2009 as part of a compromise formula to appease the Reddy brothers, who found her too meddlesome in the reported illegal aspects of their mining interests. In the latest reshuffle, marked by uncharacteristic boldness, Mr. Yeddyurappa also dropped the Independent, Gulihatti D. Shekhar, who was considered a part of the coterie of the Reddy brothers. The changes have strengthened Mr. Yeddyurappa and diluted some of the extra-constitutional authority wielded by the brothers within both the cabinet and the bureaucracy. The post-reshuffle dissidence also appears to have died down with many of the party legislators being promised posts as heads of government boards and corporations. There are no more ministerial berths to be offered as sops, with the cabinet strength now at the maximum permissible limit of 34.


Mr. Yeddyurappa found it easier to have his way because of the legal tangles that the Reddy brothers had got into on account of the charges of illegal mining. The brothers from Bellary have deep pockets, and could boast of friends in high places, especially among the national leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party. But with the Supreme Court suspending mining activity in the iron ore mines owned by the brothers, and the backroom manipulations of the mining lobby out in the open, any blatant support for the brothers would involve a huge political cost. In the months after the revolt inspired by the Bellary mining magnates, Mr. Yeddyurappa slowly won the full backing of his party leadership, as also of many of the legislators in the rival camp. His hands were also further strengthened by the successes of the BJP in the by-elections. The Chief Minister can now concentrate on the tasks of governance without having to constantly look over his shoulder. The hard-won political authority should not be wasted in petty factional wars, but must be spent in ensuring a better-functioning government than what was provided in the first half of his term.







The death of seven elephants in a train hit in West Bengal's Jalpaiguri district is a grim reminder that little has been done to stop such slaughter in various States. Assam and West Bengal account for two-thirds of elephant mortality in train hits, followed by Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, and Orissa. Only a month ago, a comprehensive report of the Elephant Task Force of the Ministry of Environment and Forests titled "Gajah: Securing the Future for Elephants in India" presented a road map to reduce elephant mortality in train accidents. Aided by extensive research, it identified key factors that raise the risk for the animals. These include dispersed water sources, steep embankments along rail tracks, sharp turnings, and sheer speed of trains. Scientists have empirically tested the evidence in Rajaji National Park, Uttarakhand, and achieved excellent results in saving elephants.


Overall, elephants may be doing better than tigers in India going by their estimated populations. But their long-term future depends on a science-based conservation plan. Gajah's historical range may have shrunk but the fact that 18 States host elephant populations making up an estimated national total of 26,000 (not counting the 3,500 in captivity) is cause for some optimism. Besides train hits, there are significant issues affecting conservation, such as human-elephant conflict, the diversion of land for mining and similar incompatible uses, the degradation of habitat, and the loss of forest cover. The Task Force is correct in its view that, given the magnitude of the task, it will take a statutory National Elephant Conservation Authority to address the problems. A virtue of the panel's report is that it is imbued with as much concern for communities as it is for the species. State governments should welcome the recommendation to substantially increase the allocations made for compensation to be paid to victims of conflicts. Agricultural losses suffered in elephant raids affect nearly half-a-million families annually. Enhanced financial compensation for such losses is a must. States that have the privilege of enabling elephant movement must also support the 32 existing and proposed elephant reserves, and secure the identified corridors used by the animals. Crucially, the Forest Conservation Act must be vigorously applied wherever diversion of land is proposed, and elephant habitat declared ecologically sensitive under the Environment (Protection) Act. Finally, why not make the Indian elephant the national heritage animal, as the Task Force recommends? This newspaper made it a centrepiece of its masthead, symbolising strength and power, many decades ago.









Instead of being alarmed at China's growing inroads in the region, India needs to take a harder look at its own role and find new ways to win neighbours and increase influence in the region's growth story.


No one would accuse Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of being alarmist. So when, addressing the Heads of Missions last month, he spoke of paying close attention to "global powers exercising influence in the Indian Ocean Region," it was assumed that the Prime Minister was genuinely concerned about China's growing role in the region. When he spoke to editors some days later about his concerns on China again, the assumption was sealed.


India's growing concern rose from two factors — the first, Beijing's sudden decision to provide Northern GOC General Jaswal with a stapled visa, saying his command includes a 'disputed' region; and the other, newspaper reports that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) had approximately 11,000 soldiers in Gilgit-Baltistan, digging tunnels and posing a direct threat to India across the LoC.


Diplomats on both sides now say they are 'sorting out' the visa issue, with Beijing on the back foot, particularly given that General Jaswal has travelled to China in the past. Meanwhile, the reported build-up in PoK was aggressively denied by Beijing and Islamabad, both insisting that the troops are there to help contain flood damage, and the impending threat of the Hunza dam overflowing, and also to work on the Karakoram Highway project. India's suspicions that China's army is now securing its land route to the Arabian sea via PoK have nonetheless grown, given that China has also wrested control of the Gwadar port back from the Singaporean Port Authority. The development ties in with the fear of India being choked by a strategic "String of Pearls" — a U.S. Defence Department term for China's ambitions for bases in the Indian Ocean Region. With Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Chittagong in Bangladesh, and the Sittwe port in Myanmar, it would seem the string is slowly turning into a choke-chain for India.


At one level, the fears of China overrunning Pakistan to open a front with India may seem far-fetched, even hysterical. At another, it may be a much needed wake-up call for India to reassess its preparedness to counter an increasingly assertive Chinese military. At an entirely different level, New Delhi's alarm in the past few weeks could be most constructive if it ensures that India takes a closer look at its own role in the region, and why China is making headway with so many of our neighbours.


Take Sri Lanka that has many reasons to welcome Indian investment. Whether it has been the tsunami, the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or the post-war demining and rehabilitation effort, Indian agencies have been at the forefront to help. And yet, as Sri Lanka recasts itself as the Singapore of the region, it is China that is its biggest infrastructural investor, bagging many coveted projects given China's deeper pockets. Much of it is a result of Indian apathy – the Hambantota port, for example, was offered to India first. New Delhi's lack of interest in developing this strategically located harbour was easily the gain of China, which worked double time to complete the project with $60 billion funded from China's Exim bank, building the port, the city centre, the airport, a stadium, and a massive convention centre. Many in India worry that Hambantota's future could include a Chinese naval base too.


While Indian concerns about Hambantota are well known, practically no one speaks of the port project that India does have, in the northern town of Kankesenthurai (KKS). Originally, after the tsunami, the project was handed to the Dutch, but after India showed interest, the Sri Lankan President tore up that contract and invited India to build the port. Yet 18 months later, this harbour near Jaffna has seen little by way of construction; even a feasibility survey taken in June 2010 has not yet been finalised. Meanwhile Hambantota will receive its first ship in November, some six months ahead of schedule. The contract for the Colombo port has just gone to a Chinese consortium — no Indian company having even tried to bid for it. Given that the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC)-Sampur coal 500-MW plant is already delayed years beyond its 2011 deadline, it is hoped that other projects India has committed itself to including the northern rail line, the Palaly airport and the Jaffna stadium will be dealt with more expeditiously.


While many in India would see these projects essentially as aid to a needy neighbour, it is time to invert the prism and see them, just as we accuse China, as ways of increasing our footprint and extending our ambitions to a sphere of influence well beyond our land mass.


]In January this year, a historic agreement with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina seemed to redefine how India would deal with its neighbours. Amongst a slew of agreements came India's $1-billion credit line — for 14 infrastructural projects. Even while the agreements were being finalised — Dhaka delivered some of the most wanted United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) militants. Despite opposition cries of a sell-out, Sheikh Hasina's India deal won her accolades in Bangladesh. Yet it took eight months before Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee flew to Bangladesh to operationalise the credit line, and by the time he reached, India had decided to change its earlier offer of $1bn at one per cent interest to 1.75 per cent — terms that took many in Dhaka by unpleasant surprise. Also, unless India relaxes its trade barriers to Bangladeshi goods, it will be accused of exploiting the transit rights only for its own benefit. It is hoped that Dr. Singh, whose trip to Dhaka is imminent, will address some of those concerns. Meanwhile China has moved into the delay gap on projects like the Chittagong port with ease, funding much of its refurbishment, as also the construction of the second Padma bridge, as it vigorously pushes MoUs on road links via Myanmar and a rail line connecting Beijing to Dhaka — as part of a $2.2-billion Chinese package on infrastructure.


A bolder move, but one that would win many hearts is to consider lifting tariff and non-tarrif barriers and duties unilaterally in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) region altogether. Suspend the reality of our relations with Pakistan for a moment to think about the impact of ending such protectionism in a year that has so devastated Pakistan's economy. According to estimates, the destruction of standing crops on two million hectares has virtually wiped out Pakistan's staple revenue from export of cotton, rice, and sugar. The country will be dependent on importing these for the next few years. With 77 million people likely to go hungry, and Pakistan's projected growth likely to fall by half to about two per cent, it is only natural that China's interventions in flood relief, rebuilding destroyed roads, schools and bridges, aid and trade will grow. The question is: will India watch with its customary alarm but do nothing?


On our other frontiers, it must be said, the government has made some moves — increasing development aid to Afghanistan to $1.2 billion and discussing a $1-billion dollar credit line to Myanmar as well. Describing some of these initiatives at Harvard University this month, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said: "Today, with sustained high economic growth rates … India is in a better position to offer a significant stake to our neighbours in our own prosperity and growth." It is equally important to stand that assumption on its head, and consider India's stake in the prosperity and growth of its neighbours. Whether it's Mauritius or Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Afghanistan or yes, Pakistan — these are countries with close cultural, linguistic, historic ties to India no other country can match. As a result, it shouldn't be possible for China or any other superpower to encircle a country like India. The only thing that encircles us is our fear that they will.


( Suhasini Haidar is the Deputy Foreign Editor, CNN-IBN.)








It should be clear to everyone, most of all to the judges who ordered the judgment deferred, that if the issue has defied a solution for a hundred years, no miracle is likely in less than a week.


The Supreme Court of India on September 23 gave a pause to the vexed Mandir-Masjid controversy and the contending title claims to the site made by the Muslim Waqf Board and the Hindu Dharam Sansad, by directing the Allahabad High Court to defer the pronouncement of the long-awaited judgment. Now, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia is set to decide on the matter on September 28.


The learned judges of the Supreme Court, whatever their publicly stated positions, are not so naïve as to believe that within less than a week a solution could be found for the contentious case. It should be clear to everyone, most of all to the judges, that if the issue has defied a solution for more than a hundred years, no miracle is likely to happen within less than a week. All the water that has flowed down the Sarayu river through all these years has not helped Ayodhya to recover the meaning of its name — a place without war. On the contrary, the claims and counter-claims by the parties involved in the dispute have only helped to harden the respective positions, which have spread the hatred and distrust thus generated to the whole country.


Given these facts and the situation, what prompted the judges last week to grant a stay could not be the possibility of an imminent solution. They were probably trying to convey a message to the nation, particularly to those who are party to the dispute, as well as to the government. The case has dragged on for such a long time under the assumption that it could be resolved by the intervention of the judiciary. The court now seems to suggest that it is not the case; a real solution lies in the political domain, with the active participation of civil society.


The salience of the civil suit lies in the fact that it is implicated in the larger issue of the dispute pertaining to the Mandir and the Masjid on which the court cannot really pronounce a judgment, even if it gathered evidence from historians. The government was using the judiciary as an escape route. And the judiciary, instead of dismissing the case, attempted to overreach itself. As far as the civil suit for the title of the land is concerned, it was in fact decided in 1885-86. It was in the post-1857 period when political conditions were fluid that the mahant of Ayodhya constructed a chabutara on the land leading to the masjid and started worship, claiming it to be the janmasthan of Sri Ram. The mahant filed a case in 1885 claiming title to the land, but it was dismissed. So were his appeals to the superior courts. The British officials favoured the status quo, for religious and political reasons.


Record of aggression


The history of the Mandir-Masjid dispute during the post-Independence period is but a record of aggression by Hindu communal forces, and a series of compromises and reconciliation bids by the Central government led by the Indian National Congress, particularly under Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao.


In 1949, Hindu communal forces conducted a seven-day continuous recitation of Ramcharitamanas, which proved to be the precursor to the installation of an idol of Ram Lalla in the mosque. The fact that they got away with the defiance of the state not only emboldened them to indulge in further aggression, leading ultimately to the demolition of the Masjid. During this period, the Sangh Parivar not only organised a series of agitations to mobilise Hindus in the name of Ram but also made preparations for the construction of the temple. It assiduously built up a tempo of aggression, with Uma Bharti and Rithambara leading the charge. The finale of this carefully constructed aggression was the Rath Yatra led by Lal Krishna Advani 20 years ago, which finally led to the demolition of the Masjid in 1992. The demolition was a criminal act according to the laws of the country, as the mosque was a 400-year-old historical monument that the state was committed to protect.


While the Hindu communal forces were engaged in a progressive assault, the state was unable to solve its own political dilemma. The Congress which led the government during this period was committed to secularism in principle, but the party realised that it was not possible to survive without the electoral support of Hindus. As a consequence, the party indulged in secular rhetoric, but followed communal politics in practice. It pursued what has now come to be termed 'soft Hindutva'. Through this means it hoped to outsmart the Hindu communal forces.


The leader who initiated this disastrous policy was Rajiv Gandhi. He ordered the opening of the locks of the Masjid, thereby permitting Hindus to perform puja inside. He did this in order to steal the thunder from the Hindu communal forces. His successor-Prime Minister pursued the policy of compromise much more vigorously, and 'officially arranged' the shilanyas of the temple. The Congress thus became an appendage of communal forces; that is what emboldened a mob to demolish the Masjid, thus inflicting a major blow on democracy and secularism.


Decisive factor


The failure of the Indian state was a most decisive factor behind the act of demolition. As is evident from the account given later by Narasimha Rao, it is clear that the state failed to discharge its duty of protecting the monument. It failed to prevent Mr. Advani's Rath Yatra, which led to the loss of several lives: everybody knew it would have disastrous consequences. Even after the demolition, the construction of a temporary temple was not stopped. At least now the state can rectify its mistakes by charting out a bold and innovative step in line with the principles of secularism.


The parties to the dispute and those who indulged in violence in the name of Ram are not representatives of India's Hindus and Muslims. They have no authority to speak on behalf of Hindus and Muslims. They are actually seeking to coerce the members of these communities by claiming to speak on their behalf.


(Dr. K.N. Panikkar is a former Professor of Modern History with Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. He is currently Vice-Chairman of the Kerala State Higher Education Council, Thiruvananthapuram.)







The United States should treat Pakistan today the way it treated South Korea after the Korean War.


In the first week of this month, several new publications drew attention to the overly ambitious strategy being pursued in Afghanistan. In late 2009, those who were sceptical of the United States' embrace of a counter-insurgency (COIN) approach to Afghanistan were overruled in government and sidelined in the public debate. These other voices, this author included, favoured an approach closer to, but not as narrow as, the counter-terrorism (CT) approach advocated by U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden.


Focus on Pakistan


Those in the U.S. with an understanding of the South Asia region have long tried to explain to policymakers that Pakistan, not Afghanistan, was the more serious, and driving cause of insecurity in the region. One important, and often-neglected, means of mitigating Pakistan's destabilising force in the region is a bottom-up approach to mitigating the instability within Pakistan and its fragile political structure.


Empowering business people and individuals in Pakistan is the way out of South Asia for the U.S., and the way up for Pakistan. It is also the best way to redress the imbalance that favours the military in that country's political structure. Making a final market for Pakistani goods has always been key. The U.S. should treat Pakistan today the way it treated South Korea in the 1960s, encouraging trade and investment. However, the opposite is the case. Lawmakers from southern U.S. States may be largely responsible for the legislation that has these effects.


Rather than help Pakistani business people, workers, and the state-institution-enhancing process of tax collection and revenue management, the U.S. public law is actively obstructive. Cotton and associated value-added industries such as textiles and garments are a great example. And, tragically, the floods in Pakistan recently prove the point.


World prices of cotton have spiked in recent weeks. Why? The floods in Pakistan have spooked the global cotton market. Pakistan is the world's fourth largest producer of cotton and the floods have made traders worry about a future thinning of supply. Today, the U.S. subsidises cotton prices through national legislation, and then dumps it on the world market depressing prices. In addition, it limits the import of garments and textiles from Pakistan. This limits the integration of value-added industries with Pakistan's cotton growing. That in turn limits investment, employment, and tax revenue in Pakistan.


The last point about taxation and revenue management is a subtle but profound point. Yet, it is one that three decades of comparative politics research has strongly suggested. It is important to state-capacity building and state-legitimacy enhancement; two key issues in Pakistan. Taxation and revenue management, comparative politics research suggests, are processes that enrich in positive ways state-civil society relations and state-apparatus development.


The U.S. should treat Pakistan today the way it treated South Korea after the Korean War. Handouts to Pakistan's military only reinforce the cycle of Punjabi-military dominance and its cynical use of national security issues to perpetuate that dominance. A trade-based, bottom-up approach also works around the kind of resentment produced by U.S. policies that Pakistanis perceive as condescending, such as the 2009 Kerry-Lugar aid bill.


New thinking on AfPak


The IISS has called for a new strategy in Afghanistan that emphasises allied efforts in the North and goes with a lighter touch in the South. The South, after all, is where the Pashtun ethnic group dominates. There has been an aspiration for "Pakhtunistan" in that region since the retreat of the British Empire.


Just as the U.S. failed to understand that the Vietnam conflict was one of national aspiration, it has failed to understand that the Taliban, at least in part, gives voice to this Pashtun nationalism in the south of Afghanistan, and to the Pashtun areas of Pakistan (particularly the Federally Administered Tribal Areas — FATA — that border Pakistan).


Three publications suggest a new understanding of the issue. The first is highlighted in this year's International Institute for Strategic Studies annual Strategic Survey and a Herald Tribune editorial by IISS president John Chipman. See, "A Strategy for Afghanistan." (


The second is an article by Dr. Christine Fair, at Georgetown University, "Clear, Build, Hold, Transfer": Can Obama's Afghan Strategy Work?


(˜db=all˜content=a926661837˜frm=titlelink). Important here is Ms Fair's effort to focus on Pakistan, not her view of how to do it. Certainly, Ms Fair's now (in)famous call for a nuclear deal, much like the one the U.S. arranged with India, is not appropriate at this time. But, this shift of focus to Pakistan is necessary.


Finally, Dr. Kanti Bajpai argues that "Exit is a Smarter Strategy." Here too is a prominent Indian strategist arguing for what others advised in the Fall of 2009; a limited, "fight from afar" strategy in Afghanistan.


Varied voices

These three varied voices may help spur renewed consideration for a more circumspect involvement in Afghanistan in contrast to the "Toughing it Out in Afghanistan" approach advocated by Dr. Michael O'Hanlon and by the President's National Security team. That team, and Dr. O'Hanlon lacked the regional experience to understand the nationalist character of the Taliban-Pashtun dynamics on the Pak-Af borders, and the complexity of a "win" in Afghanistan. They also seem to have misunderstood the role of Pakistan and the logic of Pakistani politics. Dr. O'Hanlon reasoned in his book that CT was what the Bush administration had done for 10 years with such little success; as if all CT tactics and approaches were the same.

Nine months later, a lacklustre Marjah operation behind the U.S., and with a Kandahar operation under way that it seems even General David Petreus does not fully understand, it seems the CT approach, with a renewed emphasis on engaging in the long-slog of ameliorating Pakistan is now getting the attention it should have had long ago.

(Dr. Matthew C.J. Rudolph is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Government Department at Georgetown University.)







A boat carrying Jewish activists from Israel, Europe and the United States on Sunday set sail from Cyprus bound for Gaza, in a bid to run Israel's blockade of the Palestinian territory, an AFP reporter said.


The boat, named 'Irene,' left the port of Famagusta in the Turkish-held north of the divided eastern Mediterranean island in the early afternoon carrying eight activists, three of whom are crew members, and two journalists.


Reuven Moskovitz, an 82-year-old passenger who survived the Nazi Holocaust, told AFP he felt duty-bound to attempt the voyage, which is expected to take around 36 hours. "It is a sacred duty for me, as a [Holocaust] survivor, to protest against the persecution, the oppression and the imprisonment of so many people in Gaza, including more than 800,000 children," Mr. Moskovitz said.


Yonatan Shapira, a former Israeli soldier and crew member on the British-flagged sailing boat, said they were not looking for a confrontation. "We have a policy of non-violence and non-confrontation," he said.


"But if the Israeli army stops the boat, we will not help them to take it to Ashdod," he said, referring to a port in southern Israel where other blockade runners have been taken after being stopped by the navy. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has repeatedly warned that Israel will intercept any ship nearing Gaza, which is run by Hamas.


"The boat's cargo includes symbolic aid in the form of children's toys and musical instruments, textbooks, fishing nets for Gaza's fishing communities and prosthetic limbs for orthopaedic medical care in Gaza's hospitals," said a statement from the organisers, Jews for Justice for Palestinians.


It quoted Richard Kuper, a member of the organising group, as saying that "the Jewish Boat to Gaza is a symbolic act of protest against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the siege of Gaza, and a message of solidarity to Palestinians and Israelis who seek peace and justice ... We call on all governments and people around the world to speak and act against the occupation and the siege."


In May, Israeli forces tried to stop a six-ship flotilla heading for Gaza but the raid went badly wrong, and nine Turkish activists were killed, prompting a wave of international condemnation. Last week, a report by the U.N. Human Rights Council found there was clear evidence to back prosecutions against Israel for killing and torture when its troops stormed the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara.








As New Delhi unveiled an eight-point plan to bring about peace in Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday, formulated by the Cabinet Committee on Security to help soothe the troubled state, to key question is whether this formula goes far enough. More important, with the world (mainly Pakistan) watching, whether the Centre and the state government can work in tandem in a long overdue effort to calm the unrest in the Valley to reverse the public relations disaster that Kashmir has become for this country. While the carefully-crafted statement makes no clear mention of what will happen to the proposal to dilute or withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, advocated by much-maligned chief minister Omar Abdullah as a one-stop solution for all of Kashmir's ills, the state government must, as a first step, convene a meeting of the Unified Command and review the areas marked as "disturbed". The call on which parts of the state must see a stepped-up presence of security forces and which must see a thinning is well within the purview of the chief minister.
A soldier's presence in the state's cities and towns — and not the borders — can only add to the perception of the Kashmiri that he is under the jackboot of an occupying force. The task of maintaining law and order must, therefore, be entrusted to an apolitical police that does not allow political affiliations to get in the way of keeping peace on the streets. There certainly must be no repeat of the trouble that ensued at Lal Chowk where a flag — not the Indian tricolour — was allowed to be run up the flagpole. As the 39-member all-party parliamentary delegation saw firsthand last week, the state's elected representatives and chief minister Omar Abdullah no longer enjoy the complete confidence of the people. While losing popularity is par for the course for any inept politician, Mr Abdullah could try regain some credibility by reducing the number of bunkers from the heart of Srinagar. He could follow that up by easing the daytime curfew so that people can go about their normal lives and not be held hostage to the separatists who came out of the woodwork, hijacked the protests and made it their own. Indeed, hunting down the separatists who forced the apolitical Kashmiri to pull down the shutters and egged on an army of stone-pelters, who became the face of the agitation, must also be high on the agenda. Whose drums do they march to? Islamabad? Politicians ranged against Omar Abdullah? In addition, if the majority of the 245 people who have been detained by the authorities for pelting stones are indeed children, then their release is of the utmost urgency. Bringing them home and reopening the schools is therefore a welcome move.

Equally, however, any move to drastically bring down the security footprint is fraught with peril. The onus is on the Centre to work in tandem with the state apparatus to restore a semblance of order on the streets, without allowing a descaling of the armed forces which could be seen as a nod to separatists.

But the biggest challenge for the Manmohan Singh government might lie in picking the right man as its chief interlocutor. Many have tried and failed in the past. As the name of highly-respected former foreign secretary M.K. Rasgotra — himself a Dogra — does the rounds as the man who may head the team entrusted with reaching out to the Valley, the government must already have factored in that both hardliners and moderates have rejected the formula.

More than any other state in the Indian Union, Kashmir is where India's domestic and foreign policies intersect. As Pakistan attempts as always to fish in Kashmir's muddied waters, New Delhi's man in Kashmir must be able to weigh local concerns with India's wider strategic interests.








A recent visit to the Madras high court, to address young lawyers enrolling in the Bar Council, left me completely amazed. In the distant past, when I enrolled as an advocate to practise in the Madras high court, perhaps 50 to 75 young lawyers enrolled along with me. My enrolment was moved by K.K. Venugopal, a senior advocate and one of India's most eminent jurists and legal minds. His professional ethics as well as those of V.P. Raman, in whose chamber I began working as a junior lawyer, and K. Parasaran who was then a senior lawyer in high court, served as a shining example for all young lawyers who joined the Bar on how to uphold the highest standards of integrity in the noble profession of law. One of the first things my senior told me was how lawyers were really officers of court and thus had to maintain very rigorous standards of professional integrity. In fact, senior advocates were not even suppose to interact directly with clients — they only talked to clients through junior advocate on the record. Senior advocates did not charge fees but had a little pouch behind their black robes into which clients were suppose to deposit whatever fees they wished to give.
The days and years that followed were an incredible learning experience. I worked in the company and under the guidance of great legal minds and absorbed the unique experience of analysing law, drafting litigation based upon the specific needs of a particular party, applying the law to it with logic and precision, finding precedents of other such cases and arguing the case before judges who were informed, sharp and well-versed with law. We observed rules of procedure and professional etiquette, including following quaint British customs such as the robes and dress code. They are still followed but are completely unsuited to our climate. Cases were won and lost, lawyers were paid and they grew rich, but through all those years what stood out was the astounding intellectual calibre and the unimpeachable integrity and moral standards of the leaders of the Bar.
Today, one hears stories about senior advocates resorting to case-fixing, corruption among the judiciary, professional misconduct of some advocates and above all, my own personal experiences of the astronomical fees charged by senior and junior lawyers today. When a dispute reaches court, litigants stake so much on the outcome that for some unscrupulous lawyers the sky is the limit in charging professional fees.
Some say that law is a noble profession. However, when I went to the Madras high court last week to speak to the newly-enrolled lawyers, I rediscovered that being an advocate is one of the most promising vocations in our democracy. The 50 or 75 lawyers who enrolled during my time have given way to 1,500 young lawyers enrolling on that day alone. Also, at least 40 per cent of them were young girls. When I interacted with them after the function, I found they were sharply focused and very committed. Many had come with their families to be enrolled. Some had the entire village accompanying them to see the first lawyer of the village join the Bar. The atmosphere was positively festive.
I spoke to them about the demands and rigours of the profession. Of how there were four stages in a lawyer's life. Stage one: where there was no work and no money. Stage two: where there was some work and no money. Stage three: where there was some work and some money. And stage four, for a very lucky few, who had no work but lots of money. I spoke to the young lawyers about our democracy and how it would be utterly meaningless if citizens did not know about or could not exercise their rights. I told them how thrilling it would be for a lawyer to fight for his client's rights and win a case. I explained to them how lawyers were uniquely placed to study law and bring law and presumably justice to the service of their fellow citizens. Nothing could possibly be more noble a cause or vocation, except perhaps medicine.
I told them how many of our country's most illustrious sons and daughters had been lawyers, starting from the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi. How law was an incredible magical force that could carry them into every part of our democracy and economy, but above all, how it could arm them to bring justice and rights to ordinary citizens. I explained how, it was therefore important for them to use this power wisely and with great responsibility and how important it was to always maintain high integrity.
I shared with them the plight of a litigant who had probably spent his life's savings to save his house or ancestral property. He would have waited 10 or 20 years going through appeal after appeal, and if the court dismissed his petition, as often happens, in about five minutes he would stand in the Supreme Court and watch his life savings go down the drain. I requested them to remain conscious of the fact that the property, sometimes the future of their clients depends on them and this is an onerous responsibility.

While I spoke, I could see that young lawyers were full of hope and confidence and they listened in rapt attention. I explained to them that apart from the nobility of the profession, law is also a profession where there could never be a recession or downturn as the only people who make money during recession are lawyers. Also, in any case legal disputes are bound to exist as long as human society endures. They all smiled in agreement.
In conclusion, I requested them to always attempt to help a client to settle cases out of court and save them and the system unnecessary litigation. I deliberately refrained from mentioning the more shady side of law practice — the corruption in some place, the strikes by lawyers or the seamy tales of deal-making. I felt there was no need to sully a solemn occasion as they will soon find out for themselves. When I left, I was confident that those and the thousands of new lawyers who come into the system every year will uphold the integrity of the profession and will never allow it to be destroyed.


Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.
The views expressed in this column are her own.







As New Delhi unveiled an eight-point plan to bring about peace in Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday, formulated by the Cabinet Committee on Security to help soothe the troubled state, to key question is whether this formula goes far enough. More important, with the world (mainly Pakistan) watching, whether the Centre and the state government can work in tandem in a long overdue effort to calm the unrest in the Valley to reverse the public relations disaster that Kashmir has become for this country. While the carefully-crafted statement makes no clear mention of what will happen to the proposal to dilute or withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, advocated by much-maligned chief minister Omar Abdullah as a one-stop solution for all of Kashmir's ills, the state government must, as a first step, convene a meeting of the Unified Command and review the areas marked as "disturbed". The call on which parts of the state must see a stepped-up presence of security forces and which must see a thinning is well within the purview of the chief minister.

A soldier's presence in the state's cities and towns — and not the borders — can only add to the perception of the Kashmiri that he is under the jackboot of an occupying force. The task of maintaining law and order must, therefore, be entrusted to an apolitical police that does not allow political affiliations to get in the way of keeping peace on the streets. There certainly must be no repeat of the trouble that ensued at Lal Chowk where a flag — not the Indian tricolour — was allowed to be run up the flagpole. As the 39-member all-party parliamentary delegation saw firsthand last week, the state's elected representatives and chief minister Omar Abdullah no longer enjoy the complete confidence of the people. While losing popularity is par for the course for any inept politician, Mr Abdullah could try regain some credibility by reducing the number of bunkers from the heart of Srinagar. He could follow that up by easing the daytime curfew so that people can go about their normal lives and not be held hostage to the separatists who came out of the woodwork, hijacked the protests and made it their own. Indeed, hunting down the separatists who forced the apolitical Kashmiri to pull down the shutters and egged on an army of stone-pelters, who became the face of the agitation, must also be high on the agenda. Whose drums do they march to? Islamabad? Politicians ranged against Omar Abdullah? In addition, if the majority of the 245 people who have been detained by the authorities for pelting stones are indeed children, then their release is of the utmost urgency. Bringing them home and reopening the schools is therefore a welcome move.

Equally, however, any move to drastically bring down the security footprint is fraught with peril. The onus is on the Centre to work in tandem with the state apparatus to restore a semblance of order on the streets, without allowing a descaling of the armed forces which could be seen as a nod to separatists.

But the biggest challenge for the Manmohan Singh government might lie in picking the right man as its chief interlocutor. Many have tried and failed in the past. As the name of highly-respected former foreign secretary M.K. Rasgotra — himself a Dogra — does the rounds as the man who may head the team entrusted with reaching out to the Valley, the government must already have factored in that both hardliners and moderates have rejected the formula.

More than any other state in the Indian Union, Kashmir is where India's domestic and foreign policies intersect. As Pakistan attempts as always to fish in Kashmir's muddied waters, New Delhi's man in Kashmir must be able to weigh local concerns with India's wider strategic interests.









The Bible says, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8:36) Yet, we stumble blindly from desire to desire, forever searching. If we are not chasing money, we are fervently in pursuit of success.


A businessman, on a long needed holiday, walks along the seashore. He spots a youngster, idly lying on an idle boat. Immediately, he admonishes him, "Young man, shouldn't you be out and fishing?"


"For what?"


"So you can gather fish, ."


"And then?"


"You can sell it to make money."




"You can invest that in more boats, which means, more fish, more money."


"What then?"


"You can build yourself a company, get into business, make profits."


"How will that help?"


"Then, you can live in luxury and take a holiday and enjoy yourself at the beach."


The lad counters, "What do you think I am now doing?"


But for most of us, success is external — in the accolades we earn.


The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad warns, "You are what your deep, driving desires are."


The story is told of a child, who, wished to participate in a performance being produced by his class. Yet, because he was timid, his mother doubted his inclusion. That evening, he returned home, and animatedly informed her, "The teacher has given me the best role to play. I have been asked to clap for those who participate." A shift in perspective — probably that is what success is.







The good times are back. Or so it seems for the stock markets. The Sensex has climbed back to the 20,000 mark that it last saw in January, 2008. And the reason is that foreign institutional investors are once again putting their trust in the India growth story.


In the midst of all the bad news that seems to be dominating our front pages, whether it is the morass of the Commonwealth Games or the unending chaos in Kashmir, finally we hear some good news and it cheers us up.


The question is, how important is the rise and fall of the Sensex for the common man? Not very much, and this is what the Left parties have always been saying.


This point was made more stridently soon after the UPA-1 government came to power, when suddenly the markets crashed for little apparent reason.


There is no real evidence to substantiate the allegations, but it was widely rumoured that a major blue chip company was trying to make the world think that bringing the Left parties into the UPA coalition would be disastrous for the economy.


Well, the Sensex bounced back despite the Left's presence and with no repercussions on the economy. One must thus recognise that the Sensex is merely one of the many indicators of the economy's health and sometimes it becomes a skewed indicator as it reacts largely to factors affecting the well being of the corporate sector.


The rise of the Sensex, for instance, does not have any link to reports of farmers' suicides or to agitations by farmers over land acquisition with little compensation. Nor does it have any relation to the numbers of people below the poverty line or whether foodgrains are rotting in godowns rather than being fed to the hungry and malnourished.


What the Sensex does react to is developments related to business. The spurt in recent months is due to the fact that business is booming in this country. With a huge domestic market, Indian companies are not as dependent as the rest of the world on external demand. The revival of domestic demand began about a year ago and accelerated gradually, bringing about a sharp rise in industrial output to around 11% in the current fiscal (2010-11). Despite agricultural output continuing to lag, the uptrend in the manufacturing sector is pushing overall economic growth back to a healthy 8.8%.


While the rise in the Sensex is all to the good and surely brings cheer to the corporate sector and millions of investors, it does not necessarily reflect a rise in the overall well being of the masses.


It does not reflect the hardship being caused to both urban and rural poor as a result of runaway inflation. What is worse is that the rise in prices is steepest in the case of food products. Food inflation has been rising at a phenomenal rate of 15% while overall inflation is ruling at 8.5%. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has also recognised the need to curb the inflationary spiral and has raised interest rates about five times this year in a bid to reduce liquidity in the market.


Despite the ballooning of the Sensex, therefore, the economically backward segments of society are facing even greater hardship than ever before. With prices of even basic essentials like pulses and vegetables virtually out of their reach, it becomes difficult to raise a toast to the ascent of the markets.


One can only express some mild contentment as it will bring relief to middle class investors who may have pinned their hopes on the equity markets and faced rough times during the recession of 2008-09.







The prime minister has made his views clear and this is the only way forward on the Commonwealth Games: One country, one games, one government. After all the controversy and finger-pointing, work began on a war footing at the end of last week as India worked to salvage a hurting international image as well as widespread national distaste.


It seems something of a shame that the prime minister was forced to step in and ask people to get on with their jobs, but that seems to be the mantra of this government. Different government departments and party members start internecine wars until some senior member of the government or the Congress high command raps them on the knuckles and calls them to order. Suresh Kalmadi, Sheila Dixit, Jaipal Reddy, MS Gill, and Mani Shankar Aiyar have all had their moments in the sun either making fools of themselves or crowing about each other's shortcomings. Enough is clearly enough.


From now on, the focus has to be on making the games a success. We've been dragged through the mud but, as we have seen, all it took was a bit of efficiency, clear thinking and hard talking to set us back to rights.


The lesson from this is not that India should not aim to host another big international event. It is that when we do, we need more transparency and accountability. In the run-up to the current games, accountability was split between several authorities, though the tendency has been to blame only Suresh Kalmadi for the mess.


From now on, it is all about the athletes and the games. The chief purpose of these games is to showcase the best of the human spirit — courage, endeavour, striving and achievement and the joy and glory of sport.


There is a chance now to demonstrate the other India: the vibrant, dynamic, ancient and contemporary culture which is carving a new place for itself on the world's stage. This is an ideal opportunity to show the world our strengths. We've had the pain and the breast-beating and humiliation. Now is the time for joy. Yes, let the games begin!







Centre's package is more evasive than committalover key issues despite breaking stagnation
THE best possible constructionthat could beplaced on the central
government's Kashmir packageis nothing less and nothingmore than that over-used
expression: Too little, toolate. Looking closely, there isreally nothing new in it that
could not have been conceivedof or decided uponbefore waiting for more than
one hundred innocent youngpersons to be become gunfodder and many more to sufferlife-long disabilities. On
the contrary, the announcementof a group of interlocutorsfor initiating dialoguewith local leadership pushes
back the process by a goodcouple of years, if not more.


This new proposition pourscold water over hopes thatthe dialogue process would
be 'resumed' from where ithad been left off when theunion government unilaterally
snapped it. Some preliminarieshad been covered inthe few rounds that wereheld after hiccups inbetween. Peace in the state,particularly in the Valley, isclosely linked with result-orientedtime-bound dialogue
process. Time for evasiveaction has long past.


Explosive ground situation isan outcome of side-steppingrealities for too long. Also,the external dimension of thepeace process involvingPakistan cannot be ignored ifthe initiative is meant to produceany worthwhile result.
Perhaps the onlyfavourable comment on thenew proposal would be that ithas been spared from the disabling
caveat of setting forthpre-conditions, like 'withinthe constitution of India', toenhance its scope. Even so,the announcement is all toovague about its format,structure and, more importantly,the time frame. These
considerations are critical tothe end-result of the idea,given the fact that similarexercises in the distant and
recent past have either beenstillborn or shortlived.


Credibility and legitimacy ofthe process has been so prostitutedthat the latest initiativewill not inspire confidenceuntil there is somemovement forward; and inreal good time.

Another weak point in thepackage is its gross lack ofsensitivity to human emotionand sufferings resulting fromthe merciless killing of overone hundred young boys andgirls and maiming of a largenumber, many of them withlife-long physical impairment.

The first priorityought to have been to orderimmediate judicial probe intoeach of these incidents. Ithas been acknowledged evenin official circles that manyof these killings were unjustified.

Aggrieved familiesand surviving victims of carnagehave been crying forjustice. But the package issilent on this point, whileroutinely sanctioning cashrelief to the bereaved families.

Even this callously conceivedgesture omits theneed for state support to ahuge number of injured persons
who have been renderedunfit for sustaining theirlivelihood.The package is devoid of
sense of urgency generated
by the ground situation. Atthe political level there isgeneral agreement that most
of the recent excesses andatrocities are the directresult of over-militarisation.

Yet this point has been treatedlightly and nearly lefthanging without any credible
commitment to provideredressal. All that the centrehas done is to throw the ballback into the state government's
court. The key pointof Armed Forces SpecialPowers Act (AFSPA) does notfind even a simple directmention in the packageannounced by union homeminister P Chidambaram inNew Delhi on Saturday afterthe meeting of the union cabinet'scommittee on security(CCS). There is only somewindow-dressing. The chiefminister will 'review' withthe local military authoritieslocation of check points andbunkers mainly in the city ofSrinagar. It is neither herenor there. Obviously thedetermined will of the 'security'establishment, vehementlyopposed to any dilutionof the AFSPA, has prevailed.


Omar Abdullah'speriodic chanting finds noplace in New Delhi's
response. Yet the chief ministerlost no time in hailing
the announcement of thepackage. He would need to doquite a lot of explaining to
his own people as to why hewas satisfied with such a bad
hand dealt to him at a timewhen he and his government
are overwhelmed by deepeningcrisis.It cannot be forgotten sosoon that the eruption on the
ground on that fateful day ofJune 11 was the result of afake encounter in Machhil inwhich four innocent
Kashmiris were murdered byarmy personnel for rewardand cash. Omar Abdullah's
recent lament over centralgovernment's refusal to sanction
prosecution in investigatedcases of fake encounter
like those in Machhil andPathribal was the result ofmounting pressure of public
opinion on his home turf. Hewill have to reckon with theinevitable implications of
New Delhi's silence over theissue. The package does nothold any promise on that
account. Omar might bite thebullet for the moment butbefore long he would have to
come forth with convincing
explanation of his silence.The PDP's reaction, understandably,has been toovague to comment upon.Having been a party to thecentre's latest moves, like
calling all-party meeting inDelhi and sending all-party
delegation to Kashmir, thePDP could not evade 'welcoming'the initiative which falls
so short of the party's commitmentto its supporters. Ifand when New Delhi chooses
to proceed along the course ithas charted for itself inKashmir, the PDP will find itstill harder to maintain its
balancing act. Its rival,National Conference, is left
with no option other than
throwing its lot with the UPAand Congress. The NC has
lost its will to fight and hasbeen denuded of its strength
to fight for survival. That iswhy the party's reaction tothe package is indistinguishable
from that of its rulingpartner. Murmur aboutAFSPA being 'draconian' andvoices for greater 'autonomy'
will fade out in due course oftime, as in the past.The separatist camp hasreacted along expected lines.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani outrightlyrejected the packagewhile Mirwaiz Umar Farooqand Yasin Malik indicated
their willingness to give it atry subject to the conditionthat their own 4-point agenda
is accepted reciprocally.Perhaps the most charitable
thing to say in favour ofthe package would be toacknowledge that it has broken
the stagnation that wasgetting crystallised as aresult of people's growing
anger against miserablegovernance, rampant violation
of human rights andcentral government's utter
callousness. However, it isdifficult to predict the eventual
fate of this initiative,after looking back at the
debris of earlier ones.







EVEN before the all-partydelegation comprising 39political leaders visited thecurfew-bound Kashmir Valley, itwas clear that it would accomplishvery little barring gaining someacquaintance with people's perceptionsof he round situation.There was wide divergence amongits member-parties on the basicapproach to be adopted owardsKashmir. Logically, an all-partydelegation can be productive onlyif it conveys a strong, broad politicalconsensus. But the Centremanifestly failed to evolve a consensus.Instead, it substituted theall-party elegation for it.The team was led by HomeMinister P Chidambaram, the veryperson responsible for the Centre'sstrategy towards Kashmir sincethe June 11 killing of TufailMattoo. This strategy has pittedthe Indian tate against the people,caused enormous human sufferingthrough repeated curfewsand other restrictions on ightsand freedoms, and led to morethan 100 civilian deaths. ManyKashmiris probably see MrChidambaram as he fox sent toguard the chicken-coop.The delegation failed in its effortto enlist the help of Hurriyat leadersto ormalise the situation bycalling off hartals. Hardline separatistSyed Ali Shah Geelani curtlysaid India has "no egitimaterights" over Kashmir. AndHurriyat moderates said the visit"represents only an effort at shorttermcrisis anagement" and"there is no clear commitment or apath towards effective resolution ofthe Kashmir issue and addressingthe aspirations and interests of thepeople of Jammu and Kashmir".The delegation spent only 30minutes to meet people injured inpolice actions. It didn't properlyconnect with the Valley's people byexpressing empathy with them. Itsvisit didn't give them the sensethat the Indian political class issufficiently ensitive towards theirpolitical disenfranchisement andthe effective denial of citizenship tothem. The Centre's ffer of a dialogueconvinces nobody in theValley because of past experienceof its insincerity about result-rientedtalks.In fact, such offers can only becounter-productive within thepresent context, which is definedby the scendancy of a new-generationleadership which is giving aspecifically Islamist hue to theKashmiri identity. This ascendancyis attributable to many factors.New Delhi acted manipulativelyfor long years, rigging electionsand imposing its puppets onKashmir. When the azaadi movementerupted in 1989, it launchedsavage epression, deploying over4 lakh troops against a populationof 60 lakhs. This weakenedKashmir's political forces, especiallythe once-formidable NationalConference, and created space formilitancy and the All-PartiesHurriyat Conference.The Hurriyat itself has sincesplit and got marginalised. TheCentre failed to seize the opportunityoffered by the 60 percentturnout in the 2008 Assembly elections,considered largely free andfair. The new protest movementhas arisen within this vacuum. Ituses non-violent means and islargely independent of Pakistan.Its appeal has grown because ofthe Centre's mindless policy ofrepression of peaceful protest,which rovokes yet more protest.In today's charged situation, anyissue—including rumours of theburning of the Koran n the US—can inflame protesters crying forazaadi.The protesters' leaders andIndian security forces are playing complex cat-and-mouse game. Theleaders deliberately provoke theparamilitary and police, whichinsist on using ntiquated, lethalmeans of crowd control, killinginnocent non-combatants. In theValley's political vacuum, this asdeadly effects, including breedingextreme resentment and strengtheningthe protesters' determinationto fight he Indian state.Chief Minister Omar Abdullahrecently tried to pacify publicanger by proposing to dilute or liftthe Armed Forces (Special Powers)Act from key J&K districts like

Srinagar. This draconian lawgrants immunity to any officer whoopens fire upon a person merelysuspected of he ntention to commitan illegal act. This violates allprinciples of justice.Many observers believe MrAbdullah made he AFSPA proposalto divert the attention from hisgovernment's dismal performance.The AFSPA is a bit of a ed erringtoday. Almost all of the post-June11 deaths were caused by thepolice and paramilitary, not theArmed orces. Mr Abdullah hasearned enormous ill-will by refusingto apologise to the victims' familiesfor police-aramilitary excesses,and for throwing teenage stonepeltersinto the same jails as seasonedcriminals and onvicted errorists.Mr Abdullah is seen to be evenmore self-indulgent and calloustowards Kashmiri sensibilities

than his father. His removal mightbe welcomed if it's seen as the firststep by the Centre to reform itsKashmir olicy. The removaloption was indeed considered in

New Delhi. But it has been effectivelyabandoned with Congressgeneral secretary Rahul Gandhiexpressing his upport for MrAbdullah—a clear case of powerwithout responsibility. Mr Gandhiis hardly acquainted with the ntricaciesof J&K politics. Nor does hehave the maturity and experienceto make such judgments.Meanwhile, theroposal to liftthe AFSPA has led to an extremelyunhealthy debate in which theArmy and Air Force chiefs avespoken out of turn. Gen VK Singhfired the first shot by blaming theKashmir situation on the civiliangovernment's failure "to build upon gains" (the 2008 elections) andsaying that "all those who ask forAFSPA's dilution probably do sofor narrow political gains". AirChief Marshal PV Naik followed bysaying at "a soldier involved inperforming his duty deserves allthe legal protection that he can

get".These are intensely politicalemarks pertaining to policy, a nogoarea in a democracy for Servicespersonnel, hose job is to implementthe policies the civilian leadershipmakes. This convention hasbeen recently violated. ervicesofficials have made remarks on the

possible deployment of troops andAir Force helicopters in anti-Maoist operations.Former Army chief Gen JJ inghdid his best in 2006 to torpedo an

agreement on the Siachen crisis inwhich India and Pakistan havesacrificed hundreds of soldiers tofrostbite in a eaningless contestover "prestige". He had journalistsflown to Siachen, who dutifullyreported the Army's then-revalentview that it wouldn't withdrawfrom the killing heights—unless its present positions arerecorded so that akistan cannotclaim them in the future.These are ominous portents. Infact, there's a strong case for withdrawingnot just the AFSPA, butthe entire Army from Kashmir'scivilian areas, where it shouldn'thave been eployed in the firstplace. The Kashmiris' protestagainst government callousness,rampant corruption and absence ofjobs, and their identity-relateddemand for azaadi should havebeen treated, as in other states, aslegitimate and an ndication of theneed to improve governance—notas an insurgency fuelled by diabolicaldesigns.There's no reater reason fordeploying the Army in Kashmirthan in Maharashtra, AndhraPradesh or Karnataka, where illionsprotest against SpecialEconomic Zones and farmers' suicides,r for a separate Telangana.A precondition or a solution tothe Kashmir problem is the Army'swithdrawal, leaving civic unrest tobe handled by the civilian olicewhich has been totally sidelined bythe heavy presence of the CRPF,Border Security Force, and otherparamilitary troops. Their bunkersmust go if civilians are to feel theylive in a half-way free societywhere hey are not suspect byvirtue of being Kashmiris.Unless the Indian state stopstreating the Kashmiris as suspects,insurgents, and actual orpotential criminals, and createsgoodwill and confidence amongthem, it won't ind a political solutiono the Kashmir issue. Peoplefrom both sides of the border craveone.The best of opinion olls, includingone done with a 3,700-strongsample for the British think-tankChatham House (published inMay), ay that an overwhelmingmajority of Kashmiris want a politicalsolution with sub-regionalautonomy and "soft orders". Only2 percent of people in Indian J&Kwant to join Pakistan.Knowledgeable, mature, politicalassessments confirm this. MostKashmiris don't want a plebisciteon J&K. But they certainly don'twant he status quo either.What the Kashmiris are fightingis what they (or at least, many) seeas the Valley's ccupation y theIndian state's coercive apparatusand the oppressive conditions ofdaily life in which they are compelledto arry identity cards (or acurfew pass) to be able to moveabout in their own homeland.What the stone-pelters aredemanding is respect for the specialidentity of J&K.The meaning and content ofazaadi is plastic, flexible and pento various interpretations—freedomfrom oppression, collective lifewith dignity, autonomy within theIndian nion, an identity separatefrom both India and Pakistan, selfdetermination,and full sovereignindependence.The eal challenge for the Indianstate is how to launch a sincere,result-oriented dialogue for a moderateand pluralist efinition ofazaadi compatible with a "soft borders"solution in which the entireformer state of J&K gets xceptionalautonomy and local selfrule,guaranteed by both India andPakistan. That challenge cannotbe met by ishing away the problem,blaming Pakistan, and usingthe armed might of the Indianstate to suppress the popular spirationfor a change in the







We live in trying times. Nothing reveals it more than sharp differences in the highest court of the land whether or not to postpone the long-awaited Allahabad High Court judgment on Ayodhya title suit. It is of much relevance to note what the differing judges have observed. Justice R.V. Raveendran, who was for not deferring the High Court verdict, has said: "One way or the other it will have to be decided. Why do you think people are so immature? Why do you assume that the people in this country are so immature? Religious passion will rise if people raise it. If people don't raise it, it will not rise…If you are able to persuade one of the parties to the dispute to support your stand, we could have considered it." He has made these comments in the midst of arguments: (a) if the judgment was not delayed it could lead to serious crisis in the country which was already plagued by Jammu and Kashmir crisis, flood situation in different parts of the country and the upcoming Commonwealth games; (b) serious efforts were made for an out-of-court settlement but without success; and, (c) the petitioner, Mr R.C. Tripathi (a retired bureaucrat), who was for an out-of-court settlement of the 60-year old Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title row was not a serious contestant in the dispute. On the other hand, Justice H.L. Gokhale, who was for exploring the settlement option, has clearly not appreciated the references made about an ordinary citizen (Mr Tripathi). He has opined: "He may not be a party before the court. They may be ordinary people. It is the ordinary people who are always sufferer. All that he is saying is let us give a trial…. There is no need of imagination… they might have failed, no doubt but there are various possibilities."


Although heading the Bench, Justice Raveendran preferred to go along with Justice Gokhale in making one try to reach an agreement. The former has pointed out: "Tradition of the court is when one member says that notice be issued another says it should not be issued the notice should be issued." Thus they stayed the Allahabad High Court decision which was to be pronounced on September 24 according interim stay for a week. Mr Tripathi had filed a petition before the Supreme Court challenging the High Court order refusing to put off the verdict. Before going along with his colleague in taking the final view Justice Raveendran did wonder whether there could be any ground for postponement of the ruling as "for 50 years you have not been able to solve… hundreds of opportunities were given to you." The apex court has shown a silver lining in the disturbing milieu prevailing in the country as a whole. It is possible to stay united and sort out irritants than go on flexing muscles. Sadly the same can't be said about the rest of us in the country. Let it be admitted that the entire country has been on tenterhooks in virtual dread of the repercussions of the High Court verdict on September 24. This is a shocking commentary on our communal ties. Why can't a judicial decision be accepted by one and all in this country? Why should we interpret it according to our own narrow preferences at the cost of wider interest of society and the nation? How can a democracy function in a healthy manner if we take to streets instead of listening to the voice of reason? It is a pity that the men in power at the Centre and in states have been having sleepless nights.


Of late the most of their time has been spent on gearing up law and order apparatus; they are making sure that they are not caught by surprise as and when the trouble erupts. They are issuing constant appeals to keep normalcy and tranquillity at all costs. Bulk SMS (short message service) and MMS (multimedia messaging service) messages have been banned across the country for the time being. The media has been called upon to show restraint. In return some of its sections have taken a careful decision not to make any comments on the judgment preferring instead just to report it as and when it is there. Why do we need to take all these precautions? Together these underline that there is a serious problem that we face. There is virus of communal hatred injected deep into our body politic. Almost all political parties have been seeking to build communal citadels overtly or covertly in some measure. Besides, there are mischief-makers who revel in pitting the disciples of one creed against those of the other. Instead of accepting the faith as a healthy way of life we appear to employ it as a tool in order to shed blood of each other. How can we explain that we have not been able to decide the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue through discussions among ourselves? The suspicion that now we are not in a mood to accept the judicial intervention either is not entirely unfounded. One obvious inference can only be that the forces of secularism in our land have weakened. A look around at our State itself will also confirm this. Often recently we have dwelt with this topic in these columns. We ought to get our act together and change the existing negative environment for our own harmonious living.







We must take seriously the incident of 12 girl students and a woman teacher of a middle school in Kishtwar falling sick all of a sudden while they were in their institution. An initial impression that they perhaps became victims of unhygienic food supplied under the mid-day meals scheme has been belied. The argument that the same eatables have been consumed by about 90 other students who have shown no adverse symptoms is powerful enough to remove any apprehensions on this count. It is said that the quality of food has also been subjected to a check by the concerned authorities who have given a clean chit. Can the bad drinking water be the reason? It is a matter of investigation at the time of writing. Not very long ago the adjacent Doda district has been rocked by dirty drinking water causing widespread diarrhoea. What has happened to the samples collected then and taken to New Delhi for laboratory tests is not known. We should address the problems of remote regions of the State with utmost attention and sincerity. Being out of sight should not mean that they are out of mind.












In September 2010, the Indus Waters Treaty completed fifty years. Though considered as the most successful treaty between India and Pakistan, for it withstood wars and proxy wars, during the last decade, there has been an extra pressure between India and Pakistan over the sharing of waters, and between the States/Provinces within India and Pakistan. At the bilateral level, Pakistan accuses India of stealing its waters and has taken the issue to neutral arbitration (as in the case of Baghlihar) and is likely to repeat the same (as in the case of Kishenganga).


The four provinces of Pakistan and its two Kashmiri identities based in Muzaffarabad and Gilgit have been fighting with each other and accusing Punjab for stealing their waters. Within India, J&K has already passed a resolution in the Legislative Assembly in 2003, demanding the treaty to be scrapped. Besides, there are issues of sharing the waters between J&K, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. The PDP in particular has been accusing New Delhi of stealing the waters of Kashmir.


Given the emotional attachment to water and land in this part of the world, there is likely to be additional pressures on the sharing of water. In fact, a section, especially in Pakistan has already started talking about "water wars", creating a hysteria not based on any facts, but emotionalism. In fact, the emotional attachment towards waters actually border closely towards a water fanaticism, without understanding for centuries, we lived together and shared the waters. In fact, the Indus, gave us the identity, as a 'Civilization'. At a later stage, it gave a name for the country and the entire subcontinent. From Indus Civilization, India to the Indian sub continent, the Indus remains our primary identity. How come, it became a dividing point, that the communities living along the Indus are accusing each other of stealing "their" waters and are even willing to kill each other, by talking about water wars?


If we have to move forward and live together, making the best use of the Indus, we need to go back and find out how we lived together. In terms of sharing the Indus waters, clearly, our future lies in going back to the past. We lived as an "Indus Community" until the last century and we should revive that spirit and understanding, if we have to live for the centuries ahead.


How to revive the feeling of an Indus Community? How did the different societies from Himachal and Ladakh to Balochistan and Sindh lived together over centuries? There was no technology, no measurement, no big dams and no telemetry until the last century. What bonded us then?


Of course, it was never a perfect coexistence. Of course, we were divided by the geography and topography. We were divided by different kingdoms. There was never a formal treaty and formal "Indus Water Commission" between the various political entities. Yet, we lived together, shared waters despite occasional upheaval.


One primary reason, was despite the political and geographical divide, the stakeholders met at a regular basis and spoke with each other on their profits and losses. The water was primarily used for agricultural purposes, hence the primary stakeholders were the farmers. As a farmer, while we wanted our share of water to protect our produce, we also understood the pain and loss of our fellow farmer. Even today, one could see a similar feeling of understanding and compassion about our neighbor, as long as he is living in the same tehsil and same district.


Unfortunately, the boundaries between "States" and "Provinces" in India and Pakistan, and more importantly, between the "countries", have today totally created an artificial divide between the primary stakeholders. Hardly, there is a meeting of stakeholders, in this case, the farmers, of different societies along the Indus rivers. Instead, the meeting is, today, held between India and Pakistan at the Indus Water Commissioners level, who are administrative officers from respective bureaucracies, many of whom may not even know the cultivating patterns of rice and wheat. Besides the bureaucracies, most of the interaction on sharing the waters, is actually abused by the media; journalists and TV anchors, who present "facts" and "fissures" and forecast water wars, may have never seen a harvest in their life time.


Today, the unfortunate truth is, the dialogue on water between communities is done by people, who have nothing to do with water sharing. This is where, the society should take the lead, and the States should understand, the future lies not in Indus Water Commissions and Neutral Arbitration. Rather, the future lies in allowing the different communities living along the Indus to interact. As they did in the past.


India and Pakistan should seriously consider, allowing the stakeholders to interact directly, in a track-II dialogue. From lawyers to businessmen, there have been numerous track-II dialogues between India and Pakistan. There is a need for a similar dialogue, between the stakeholders of water, at four levels. The first one between India and Pakistan, the second and third ones within India and Pakistan, and the last one between two parts of J&K. In fact, such multiple dialogues will greatly help India and Pakistan to reach an understanding on the Indus Waters, and make optimum use of it.


For centuries, we have lived together as a "Community" sharing the Indus waters. The river has given us an identity, as a civilization, region and as a country. We should recreate that magic, by looking into the past, and allow the stakeholders to interact directly with each other. A farmer on both sides of the divide may be able understand the pain of the other and provide a better answer than an Oxford educated analyst and a highly qualified IAS officer. Let him be the primary negotiator to revive the feeling of an "Indus Community".


(The author is Deputy Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi.)








Whenever someone talks about ''Physical Education'' immediately a picture flashes in the mind of the people, ''The well built teacher in school with stick in hand punishing students like a ''Jalaad''. And if some female teacher could not handle the student, she would send him/her to physical education teacher as if the physical education teacher is there only to punish pupils. Another possible picture is that Physical Education Teacher conducting morning assembly whistling to enforce discipline in school or making students to clean the premises and gardening around the office of the school. Even the learned educators also sees physical education in the same perspective and they put it in non-teaching line. Irony of the fact is that they don't know the truth and also they don't want to know the truth.


Physical training is the oldest and most widely used term for physical education. However, the meaning of physical training is a procedure and process by which an individual prepares himself to meet certain physical challenges through conditioning exercises. It is essential ingradient of the training of defence personnel. However in physical training the element of education is missing for it is regimented work out which permit no freedom of thought and action. Hence using physical training as alternative to physical education is educationally unsound.


Drill is also sometimes used as alternative to physical education. However drill is a means of training the body rather than educating it where in precise and smart body movements are performed in which direction and sequence of movements are clearly demarcated.


Play means such activities which provides fun and freedom of thought and action. It is instinctive activity which helps the child to develop physically and intellectually. Play neither needs nor knows any rules. Play shapes human personality during formative years. However play without competition becomes dull and dirty affair. But its role is limited to certain age group.


Gymnastics, at times was used as substitute for physical education in some countries. Gymnastic has become full fledged discipline involving variety of complex agility exercises. As a specialised sport and a performing art, gymnastic has no parallel but as an educational activity it has limitation.


Sports is ''carrying away from work'' which suggest a complete freedom of activity. But sports today has become highly competitive sports are generally individual events such as athletics, archery etc in which participants compete against each other. Games refer to team events in which more than one person forming a team, group competes against another similar group for supermacy e.g Hockey, Football, Volleyball etc.


Although games and sports constitute bulk of physical education curricula, they are highly competitve in which only a selected few can take part. Infact, they are not mass activities but cater only to chosen ones. However, they lose educational value when too great an emphasis is placed on winning, superiority etc. There is something amiss in games and sports as educational activities.


For many physical education means morning jerks, dips and squats only for the development of physique. Physical education offers much more than what meets the eye. From simple play activities of infants and children to highly competitive sports, physical education covers a wide range of activities suiting all age groups and sexes. The objectives of physical education are essentially educational and its medium is movement. Physical education needs to be understood in right perspective. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.


The word physical refers to body and indicates bodily characteristics such as strength, speed, endurance, flexibility, health, coordination and performance.


The term education when used in conjuction which physical it refers to a process of education that develops the human body especially fitness and movement skills (Pestolesi and Baker, 1990). Consequently it should transcend all misconceptions and misgivings about physical education as an academic field of activity and its status as an in separable part of general education.


The Central Advisory Board of Physical Education in its National Plan of Physical Education has declared ''The aim of physical education must be to make every child physically, mentally and emotionally fit and also to develop in him such personal and social qualities as will enable him to live happily with others.''


Inspite of clear indication in policy making regarding physical education, the physical education teacher is entrusted with jobs like making students to clean the school premises, punishing students for being late in morning assembly, punishing for being without uniform, to do jobs like shopings for school, delivering and collecting Dak. Most of heads of Institutions feel physical educationists to sit in the ground and keep the outsiders away from school premises. Inspite of having basic qualification similar to the general line teachers physical educationists are given inferior status among the non-teaching staff.


Administration should see physical education in right perspective and as a part of general education as a subject in the state of J&K like else where in the country and in rest of the world.








World Tourism Day is celebrated every year on 27th of September with a theme related to global tourism benefit which is formulated by United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) which is a United Nations specialized agency and the leading international organization with the decisive and central role in promoting the development of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism. It serves as a global forum for tourism policy issues and a practical source of tourism know-how. Last year the theme was "Tourism - Celebrating Diversity" and the day was celebrated in Ghana while this year the theme is "Tourism and Biodiversity" by United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The official celebrations will be hosted by China in Guangdong province on 27 September with many other events taking place across the world.

First of all let understand what Biodiversity is all about. The Convention on Biological Diversity defines biodiversity as "the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems". Within the framework of the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity, this year's World Tourism Day theme will raise awareness of the close relationship between tourism development, biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction.


Sustainable tourism can result in positive impacts for biodiversity conservation. Sustainable tourism is that form

in which the optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation.


There can be no doubt that tourism and biodiversity are closely interrelated. Many tourism attractions are strongly linked to biological diversity such as protected areas, beaches and islands, coral reefs, wildlife viewing etc. Biodiversity is thus a key tourism asset and fundamental to its sustained growth. Sustainable tourism, one that establishes a suitable balance between the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, plays an important role in conserving biodiversity. It attempts to minimize its impact on the environment and local culture so that it will be available for future generations, while contributing to generate income, employment and the conservation of local ecosystems. By doing so, sustainable tourism maximizes the positive contribution of tourism to biodiversity conservation and thus to poverty reduction and the achievement of common goals towards sustainable development. Sustainable tourism provides crucial economic incentives for habitat protection. Revenues from visitor spending are often channeled back into nature conservation or capacity building programmes for local communities to manage protected areas.


Biodiversity-based tourism represents an important source of income for the world's poorer countries, 70% per cent of whom live in rural areas and depend directly on biodiversity for their survival and well-being. With developing countries possessing the largest proportion of global biodiversity, local communities can use this as a competitive advantage in regard to tourism, benefiting from its positive socio-economic impacts. There is a direct link between biodiversity and tourism with areas of unique natural beauty attracting large numbers of visitors. Biodiversity is thus one of tourism's greatest assets and fundamental to its long-term sustained growth.


According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), uncontrolled land conversion, climate change, pollution and other unsustainable human activities are causing biodiversity loss at a rate many times higher than that of natural extinction. Rising tourism numbers also bring complex challenges which the tourism sector must address. Biodiversity and all the benefits it provides needs to be protected; action that damage it, avoided and biodiversity loss, halted. The question is therefore how tourism can contribute positively to biodiversity conservation and the quality of life of local populations, while minimizing potentially negative environmental and social impacts. Sustainable tourism, one that establishes a suitable balance between the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, is a key to maximizing tourism's positive contribution to biodiversity at the local, national and global level.


Firstly, sustainable tourism is a key source of economic income and employment for local communities which in turn provides a strong incentive to protect biodiversity. Maintaining the environment upon which the economic health of the local population is based becomes the priority, resulting in more tourists who, in turn, generate more funds for conservation. It is often the case that areas of natural beauty and diversity are preserved and protected thanks to the funds flowing from the tourism industry for infrastructure, maintenance and jobs. Secondly, at the national level, tourism often justifies the creation of protected areas. National and regional tourism development strategies that recognize the value of biodiversity to the tourism industry, and therefore the potential contribution of tourism to poverty alleviation and development, are instrumental in protecting and maintaining these areas. The rise of a more environmentally-aware tourism, one that seeks to make a positive impact on both the environment and the well-being of local peoples, has been consistently increasing the competitiveness and marketing opportunities of national tourism destinations. This is turn has seen fiscal incentives to promote biodiversity-friendly tourism, as well as increased investment in infrastructure, clean technologies, renewable energy, water management and so on. This concern for protecting biodiversity as tourism's natural capital has a positive impact on the fight against poverty.


The Convention of Biological Diversity highlights how the world's poor, particularly in rural areas; depend on biological resources for as much as 90% of their needs, including food, fuel, medicine, shelter and transportation. Given this dependence on biodiversity for livelihoods, strategies that prioritize biodiversity are crucial for development and poverty alleviation. "Safeguarding biodiversity is an urgent challenge that concerns us all - the international community, governments, companies and travellers - but it is not too late to act" by Mr. Taleb Rifai, UNWTO Secretary-General.


From this note, it's our moral duty to protect the biodiversity because of the above mentioned reasons. Let make this world more happier place to live and also conserve these natural resources for our future generations. Happy World Tourism Day to all..!!










BY DOLING out Rs 300-crore drought relief to paddy growers, the Parkash Singh Badal government in Punjab has not only bought peace with the agitating farmers but also thwarted the Congress attempt to project it as anti-farmer. For the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal) leadership, it is a face-saving deal to call off their five-day dharna on the outskirts of Chandigarh. Apparently, the BKU had gone on strike without getting its facts right. The Rs 800 crore Central grant the BKU was seeking for farmers was actually meant for the state power utility, Powercom. Some Congress leaders tried to fish in troubled waters but Mr Parkash Singh Badal has outsmarted them.


For the farmers collectively, Rs 300 crore is a small amount which they will get in two years. Since farmers still do not get direct payments and many are without bank accounts they will be at the mercy of middlemen in getting their dues. There is no foolproof way of subsidy disbursal in Punjab or elsewhere in the country. The farmers' leadership does not take up larger issues concerning agriculture and farmers. The government as well as the farmers need to debate whether growing paddy is in the over-all interest of the state, given the depleting water resources and a sharp fall in the water table.


There has been a marked deterioration in rural education and health. The ill-equipped rural youth have no job opportunities and are turning to drugs in despair or migrating abroad. The excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is a growing threat to public health. The polluted river waters are spreading cancer and other diseases. Bad governance has bankrupted the treasury and made the government a helpless spectator when people suffer drought or floods. These are the issues farmers should take up if they expect public support. Frequently fighting over small issues and blocking road and rail traffic, in disregard of inconvenience to people, will jeopardise public support for their genuine problems.








THE green signal given by Bangladesh for launching work on a highway that will directly link Kolkata with India's Northeast is a major development from various angles. The crucial highway project, passing through many Bangladesh cities, will be implemented along with some other schemes with $1 billion credit offered by India to Bangladesh. The transit facilities given to India will drastically reduce the distance between Kolkata and the northeastern states. This is bound to boost economic growth in India's Northeast. Not only that, the highway passing through Bangladesh can lead to the revival of the Asian Highway idea for which an agreement was signed in November 2003.


India had been trying to persuade Bangladesh for over five years to cooperate in the Kolkata-Bangladesh-Northeast highway project but in vein. The previous government in Dhaka, which was gripped by India-phobia, refused to accept the argument that the highway would bring economic gains to Bangladesh as much as to India. The situation changed with the formation of the Awami League government led by Sheikh Hasina Wajed, known for championing the cause of improving India-Bangladesh relations for mutual good. The success on the major road project reflects the prevailing bonhomie between the two countries.


Both India and Bangladesh can benefit a lot by promoting closer cooperation. Both need each other for faster economic growth. The new dawn in their relations will not only boost bilateral trade, but also create an atmosphere for correcting the balance of trade, which Bangladesh has been demanding for a long time. At present, India's exports to Bangladesh are around $2.50 billion whereas the value of the imports is hardly $260 million. Once the two countries have an understanding that they will give precedence to economic gains under all circumstances, resolving their bilateral issues like river water sharing, power transmission and border-related problems will become easier. In such a situation, Bangladesh can also be persuaded to allow India to develop its massive natural gas resources. If Bangladesh wants to transform itself into a major regional economic hub, cooperation from India will be vital.









IT was a train accident with a difference but as horrific as any when a goods train mowed down a herd of elephants last week in North Bengal. Seven Indian elephants, declared an endangered species, were killed in the shocking accident. While Railway officials were quick to point out that the site of the accident did not fall in the notified elephant corridor, forest officials were equally right in questioning why the accident could not be averted on a moonlit night, that too on the plains. While Railway officials have sought to give the benefit of doubt to the driver by claiming that the accident took place between two tea-gardens, outraged wild-life activists assert that tea plantations in Dooars could not have come in the way of the goods train driver in spotting the elephants, four of them adults, on the track.


The "accident" caused sufficient outrage to prompt the Union Minister for Environment and Forests, Mr Jairam Ramesh, to issue a statement from New York. His ministry had repeatedly requested the Railways, the statement claimed, to maintain a speed limit of 25 kmph in the area. There are as many as 88 designated and notified corridors in the country to facilitate the migration of elephants, which are nomadic by nature. There is no doubt that had the goods train been slower, the death toll would have been lower. There are also reports that one of the female elephants had charged at the engine, prompting the driver to panic and accelerate. In the notified elephant corridors, trains are mandated to move slowly and keep whistling to ward off the herds. It is unfortunate that the Railways have not heeded the request so far.


Little or no purpose will be served, however, by finger-pointing, registering a police case against the driver and petitioning to the Supreme Court for restraining the movement of trains in the area. All the agencies need to work out a solution and explore various options. The railway track, for example, could be fenced in the area to keep the herds away. It is a matter of concern because the number of elephants in the country is said to have dropped by as much as 50 per cent in the last 20 years. Threatened by poachers looking for ivory and human encroachment into their habitat, the majestic animals, said to be sagacious and closest to human intelligence, are left with no option but to keep moving.

















STRATEGIC thinkers worldwide have shifted their threat perception of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) - nuclear, chemical, radiological and biological - from state to non-state actors. Security establishments now believe that the danger from these weapons arises from terrorist organisations, especially those with international linkages and global aspirations like Al-Qaida and its affiliated extremist outfits.


However, a group led by persons who headed the US 11/9 Commission has recently concluded that the danger of a terrorist strike using unconventional weapons has receded, and that "Despite Al-Qaida's long interest in acquiring chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, on the infrequent occasions that it or affiliated groups have tried to deploy crude versions of these weapons, their efforts have fizzled." But they caution that the threat from Al-Qaida and similar extremist organisations has become "more complex and more diverse."


Some part of their optimism arises from the success of US efforts in mopping up Al-Qaida's global bases. It is confined now to a narrow belt between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and its capability to assemble weapons of mass destruction has been seriously eroded. Yet, niggling doubts continue. The likelihood of a bio-terrorist attack may seem remote. But can anyone be certain that it will not occur? Nobody predicted the attacks on the Twin Towers in Manhattan and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, using civilian airliners as weapons of mass destruction?


This angst has increased with the march of technology. It was earlier believed that regulating the spread of dual-use biotechnology could be ensured by imposing stringent terms on the transfer of dangerous pathogens. Some 82 pathogens and biological toxins like anthrax and smallpox have been identified by the United States as posing a great risk to public health. Access to their cultures is either prohibited or strictly regulated. Elaborate procedures are in place to ensure that they are only made available to genuine researchers. But disease materials can now be manufactured using DNA synthesis. In theory, terrorists can now place an Internet order for the DNA sequence of a selected agent, and then use this sequence and synthetic biology to create or genetically modify it in a laboratory. Researchers are now able to design cells that do not exist in nature.


In brief, these advances in technology, alongside lower equipment costs, allow amateur scientists to duplicate DNA sequences with machinery purchased online; it could be used for benign purposes in medicine, energy and agriculture, but it also enhances the malign capability to produce agents suitable for bio-terrorist attacks.


The United States is leading the world in bio-defence strategies. It has organised its homeland defences around response forces and civil support teams. The emphasis is on decentralisation, adopting a joint federal-state approach, and assigning responsibilities down the hierarchical line. Response forces are being deployed in dispersed locations for enabling them to reach affected areas in less than 12 hours. Preventing or deterring a bio-terrorist attack is of critical importance, which requires intelligence capabilities to be strengthened and the research and industrial applications of biotechnology to be effectively regulated.


A disturbing aspect here is the bio-defence work proceeding in the defence laboratories of the United States. It permits scientists to explore the creation and modification of disease agents with the ostensible purpose of improving the medical response to biological threats. Significantly, defence scientists were able to recreate the SARS virus in 2008 using synthetic biology. Earlier, the 1918 flu virus was reconstituted by scientists; the worldwide pandemic it had caused had killed an estimated 50 million people. In theory, bacterial agents like smallpox can also be created in a more virulent form. In fact, a new strain of mousepox has been synthesised in Australia.


The leakage of these dangerous pathogens from defence laboratories, either by accident or malicious intent, adds a worrisome new dimension to the bio-terrorist threat, which cannot be shrugged away. An electronic vigil over laboratories conducting synthetic biology experiments is, therefore, a minimal requirement, besides maintaining strict access control, and conducting regular personnel reliability programmes. All these issues are of vital significance for India, with its pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries on the growth path.


A diametrically opposite view obtains that increasing attention to the bio-terrorism threat risks inviting terrorist groups to evaluate its possibilities. Moreover, exaggerating the threat from synthetic pathogens might prevent new research like the engineering of microbes capable of digesting industrial waste or cleaning up oil spills or manufacturing bio-fuels. The sobering fact remains, however, that a bio-terrorist attack may have a low probability, but it remains a very high consequence event. The risk is not zero and the potential consequences are large. The heartening news is that industry worldwide is aware of the risks and appreciates that customer screening is necessary, and is willing to investigate orders for sensitive materials. Call it enlightened self-interest.


The writer is associated with the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi








KNOWING that I am a late riser, friends generally don't call me early. But that day I was in for a surprise, as the call was from someone who generally doesn't call me, even late during the day.


Half in sleep, my hand drifted to the cell-phone, to read with my purpose-tuned eyes, when on the screen flashed a name I couldn't believe. "All's well, I wish!" I said when he started laughing. And a tad too loud at that, betraying his general disposition of routinely carrying a wooden face.


Laboriously I snail-paced to reach a sitting posture, adjusting the pillow to support my back, when my friend's laughter evolved into a kind of shrill-scream of Mr Kohli, as in 'Bride and prejudice: From Amritsar to LA'.


And then he became poetical reciting to me an Urdu couplet, "Har tarha ke jazbaat ka ailaan hain ankhen/Shabnam kabhi shola kabhi toofan hain ankhen! (Eyes proclaim emotions of all kinds/Eyes at times are dewdrops, fire or even a storm).


Even without an encore, or a 'wah-wah' from me, he seemed to fly again on wings-of-poesy when I chipped in to enquire if everything was alright with him. "Three days at home, and enjoying!" and presto he began crooning again, "Jab se tere naina mere naino se lage re/Tab se deewana hua sab se begana hua...!"


"What storm has hit you dear?" I asked a bit relaxed. "I have eye flu you see. Conjunctivitis you see!" He informed musically using 'you see' twice as if as a note to enhance effect and as if to convey Blind (sic) Milton's approval of 'those who stand and wait'. "But being not on leave, do they permit you to stay home?" I asked and refrained from embarrassing him saying, "—to relax and sing and be poetic!"


"No, I went to office intentionally. He emphasised the last word and clarified, "lest they thought I was a shirker." Seeing my red eyes, the boss said, "You seem to be having eye flu. Why not stay at home." "No, I have no problem working in office. I told him with my tongue firmly in my cheek, when the boss kept insisting." He said laughing again. "The boss said, I would spread the malaise and sought himself too to be excused!" he said.


]"It's after centuries that I lay curled in the bed, with no eye-shy business to blink, except having them closed all the while, and calling up friends to do some gup-shup!" 


His boisterousness did not let him drop the receiver, which he generally is inclined to, and told me  about one of  his Muslim friends, who on Eid came to visit him, and insisted on hugging the festival way, about which he cautioned, proclaiming he had eye flu. "Arre chhodiye Sahab, gale miliye! And the next day, he reported on the phone that he had irritation in his eyes. Ha ha ha heeeeeeee!" my friend again guffawed.


"So that is how one needs to laugh away one's sorrows!" I had a dig at him when again he sniggered, "Ig-jaktly" a la Javed Jaffrey in "Salaam Namaste."


Then it was my turn to tell him to let me sleep, and hang up saying, "I wish you eye flu. Also a relapse. Don't get well soon!"









WHAT ails the police? The malady is not difficult to diagnose. If the police has to deliver and measure up to the expectations, a lot needs to be done to recruit the right candidates with suitable reforms in the recruitment process, training, posting and welfare programmes.


As constabulary is the visible face of the police, the recruitment process needs to be made more transparent, foolproof, standardised and objective. Merit should be the sole criterion for selection. The foot-soldier constable has to be available whenever needed — be it a law and order situation, crime against person or property committed, traffic management or even while performing other regulatory duties. Any mishandling of these tasks will make him appear thick-skinned, insensitive, ruthless, supercilious and despicable in the public eye.


This writer had the opportunity to oversee the training in two Centrexs in the United Kingdom — one at Talli-Ho (Birmingham) and the other at Riton in Coventry. There the police jobs are divided into categories like general, detective, investigative, specialised, tactical and technical. In our system, we expect our constables to be masters of all trades. Training of these lower subordinates needs be on a 'need-to-know'basis without the intricate laws, procedures, manuals and drills.


Reforms needed at  the grassroots

 Constabulary does not take pride in their uniform. Train lower subordinates on a 'need-to-know basis'
 Proper ratio of outdoor and indoor training Improve ambience inside police stations
 Training in areas and techniques to make community participation acceptable to policemen
 Foolproof, merit-based recruitment should include psychological tests of candidates to police jobs
 Seniors should lead by example and from the front
 Ensure housing for the rank and file
 Have refresher courses to help lower subordinates grow
 Identify crime patterns for grooming specialists for specific jobs
 Shift system will facilitate effective delivery
 Sensitise policemen to appreciate the plural diversity of Indian populace

The outdoor training imparted to the lower subordinates, particularly the parades and drills, consume equal training hours as imparting acquisition of knowledge of laws and procedures. This is not a proper ratio. The British Police are trained only in areas which are strictly commensurate and in direct proportion to the demands of duty. For example, they may not be taught the ticklish aspects of 'Relevancy of facts', yet they can identify a happening in front of their eyes which they can definitely perceive is illegal, as it would flow from the common understanding of an ordinary citizen who is suitable and a little more trained in making his own assessment.


The physical training having parameters of parades, drill, shooting, unarmed combat, crowd dispersal, etc. should form part of the tactical squads' training while the knowledge of laws, rules, procedures, instructions, regulations, directions, etc should make better investigators and detectives.


The recent incident of a constable having been murdered after he chased criminals is enough indication that he should have received adequate training in unarmed combat; it should only have been part of a tactical squad trained to chase, contain and attack. The constabulary is the interactive face of the police. The poorly trained lower subordinates seem to be failing in their duty to deliver and live up the people's expectations.

The time-tested Beat System of which the main protagonist and hero was the Beat Constable, allowed the police to keep an eye on the anti-social elements, smugglers, hoarders, black marketers, pickpockets, eve-teasers, molesters, thieves, burglars, thugs and even strangers. The recent detection of a car loaded with explosives reported from New York was the result of an eagle-eyed observation of the Beat Patrol Officer. Unfortunately, this system is no more followed in India.


In the UK, there is the peer system where the 'elder brother-younger brother' concept of the buddies ensures professional growth in the junior partner and assured dependence on the elder one. When Best Practices is the keyword in all spheres of management these days, why should it elude the Indian police?


Our constabulary does not take pride in their uniform because of the historically maligned image of the police. Senior officers can do more in leading by example and by being in the front. Conversely, there is less of motivation, crises of discipline and execution of dishonest intent. Hence, they are found wanting. For ills like misbehaviour with the general public and insubordination, the governments cannot be blamed. For, it is setting their own house in order by the seniors themselves. More than the government intervention, the police department is capable of stemming the rot.


Maslow's Theory of the Hierarchy of Needs is more relevant today. Besides the physical needs, those attributable to socialising, rising in one's own esteem, healthcare and safety needs are of paramount importance if we want to instill confidence in the rank and file.


The Barracks System of housing the police personnel in the police units has miserably failed. Nowadays, policemen want to stay with their families and children. The system of police officer on duty round the clock is no more practical and the shift system has become imperative.


While theft and burglary generally take place during the night, traffic violations take place during the day. Cyber frauds are specific to cities and 'murders for honour' are resorted to mostly in rural pockets. Hence, we need to identify specific crimes (time, area, demography, topography and rural and urban-specific) and make policemen specialised in tackling them. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) need to be laid down to address such tasks.


The policemen need to be more people-friendly, having good etiquette and a pleasant and ever-willing-to-help disposition. Owing to the country's diverse demographic and cultural parameters, adequate precaution needs to be taken to appreciate each citizen's right to be treated equally.


What is needed today is zero tolerance for acts like custodial deaths, rape, misbehaviour, corruption and highhandedness while policemen deserve suitable rewards for exemplary acts of gallantry, public service, detection and investigation and winning the people's hearts.


The writer is the Inspector-General of Police, CID, Haryana








THE police station is the basic unit of police administration in a district. It is the lowest but most visible stratum of the police system. Under the Criminal Procedure Code, all crime has to be recorded at the police station and all preventive, investigative and law and order work is done from there. In police-related matters, people first come to the police station or the thana.


Thus, the best way to measure the effectiveness of the police in the performance of their functions is by evaluating the efficiency of the thana. As the thana is the smallest unit of the police organisation, its state is representative of the situation of the entire police organisation.


According to the National Police Commission, a police station is the most important unit of the police administration. For the bulk of citizens in our country, whether located in a city or town or in a village, it is the only predominant point of contact of the state with the people. It is at the level of police station that the people are in touch with the police and vice versa. People come to the police station with their grievances/ complaints against persons known or unknown, from whom they have suffered or apprehend injury or harm to their person or property.


The people's expectations from the police can only be fulfilled if they are satisfied with the integrity, professionalism, fortitude, impartiality and promptness in the services rendered by the jurisdictional police station. The fulfillment of the organisational goals of the police department gets tested at the level of the police station. Therefore, any reform to strengthen policing, either in urban or rural areas, must deal with the organisation, location and working of the police station.


The workload of the policemen has increased manifold leading to management problems at the police station level. The list of duties is also increasing day by day. This adversely affects the performance of police station regarding the basic work of crime investigation. The people's expectations are also very high. Behavioral changes have not properly crept in, resulting in bad public image.


Though the increasing crime and law and order problems with routine duties of police have increased the workload in police stations, there is no corresponding increase in the manpower. In all, there were 12,591 police stations in the country in 2006. The ratio of Assistant Sub-Inspector and above to constable and head constable is 1:7. The total cognisable crime was 51,02,460 in 2006. The total arrests of persons in cognisable crime in the country were 26,53,683.


Though more crime cases are to be investigated, there are no adequate officers. This is affecting the quality of investigation, detection and conviction. Detection requires continuous investigation which is generally not possible because of many other duties which the Station House Officer (SHO) or investigating officer has to perform with investigation. The SHOs' tenure is very short.


There are many vacancies of police station staff in every state. Ultimately, this affects the working of the police station. While there is need for more manpower in police stations, the existing sanctioned strength is also not being fully utilised.


The police stations need to be managed properly because their inefficient management can lead to chaos in society. It can result in the collapse of all socio-economic activities.


With increasing population and law and order problems, it has become very essential to raise the strength of the policemen in every police station from the abysmally low national average of 126 to per 1,00,000 population. This figure also needs to be seen with its further bifurcation between the Central paramilitary forces and state armed police forces which are included within this figure. The Central or state paramilitary forces do not directly cater to the needs of day-to-day policing managed by the police stations.


Since Police is a State subject under the Constitution, the norms and standardisations for the police station staffing do not get the desired focus from the Union Government. This results in disproportionate allocations as far as the state police and the Central police forces are concerned.


Within the federal structure of governance, the isolation of Police as a State subject complicates the mandates of the Union Home Ministry. The crucial resources earmarked for internal security with the Centre may result in the disproportionate distribution of assets within this head. This ultimately may prove disadvantageous to the staffing and resource allocation to the police station, which happens to be the most important venue of the police-public interface.


The writer is Asst. Inspector-General of Police (Training), Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh








The comment of the week: Commonwealth Games Organising Committee Secretary General Lalit Bhanot saying in all seriousness that foreign standards of cleanliness may be different from ours, when accosted by the filth of the Games Village. If this had come from a Westerner we would have pilloried him for racism and for besmirching the name of good old Mother India. Maybe, in a different context, if you had read this as an Internet joke, it might even have sounded funny, in a Yes Minister-like black humour kind of way. But the tragedy is that this was an official response by a hapless officialdom that genuinely has no clue what it is doing. How do you take people on an inspection tour without even first checking if the premises you are inspecting have been swept clean or not? 


As the focus shifts to the athletes from today, the Prime Minister would know that there is a deeper issue the Games have revealed. This is no more about just hosting a successful sporting event. This is about India's chest-thumping (or ashamed looks) as an emerging power, about the (in)ability of his government to deliver and about the reputational and political risks it implies. Already, a unit of the global rating agency Moody's has said that the Games has tarnished India's global image and may hurt its reputation as an investment and tourist destination. 


Politically, the Congress cannot go on pretending that it had nothing to really with these Games, and leave the rap sheet to the OC alone. Before the 2009 general election, for instance, Delhi's newspapers were full of advertisements praising the Sheila Dixit government and Manmohan Singh for what the Games were doing for Delhi's infrastructural development. The Election Commission duly clamped down on these ads as breaking the electoral code of conduct and the OC apologised for issuing the advertisements. 


Now the same Sheila Dixit, who should have benefited from the Games, if things had gone well, is left blaming Indra devta for the delays and the Games have added to the impression that governance is in stasis with a Prime Minister who can express annoyance but can get little done. How many times have we read the reports that the Prime Minister has urged officials to get their act together – and since mid-2009 the PMO has certainly been seriously concerned – but ultimately if things don't get done, then the buck must stop somewhere. 

In pure governance terms, the Prime Minister set up a Group of Ministers (GOM), headed by Jaipal Reddy, to overlook the Games effort a long time ago. Like in say the crisis over Manipur or on Telangana, the time has come to ask the question if such a mechanism is actually useful for decisive executive decisionmaking. A week ago, when 27 people were injured when a pedestrian footbridge collapsed, Mr Reddy, otherwise one of our more decent politicians, dismissed it as a minor incident, reportedly going on to add that the GOM has no plans to meet further. 


Such a ministerial group may be a useful mechanism for consensus building on tough political issues but for swift action, it leaves no one particularly in charge and question marks over responsibility. Indeed, serious analysts have in the past questioned the government's use of the GOM route for virtually every tricky thing it encounters. As Pratap Bhanu Mehta has pointed out the ready recourse to a GOM for everything "is undermining confidence that normal processes of government can work" and is almost a quasi-admission that this is a government that gets into action only in a crisis which has in part been created by its own ministers. What India needs is leadership or even the impression of one, not recourse to a faceless committee every time there is a problem. 


The Commonwealth Games has only held up a mirror to a wider problem. If the government means business then the only decent thing to do now is for a transparent and quick investigation after the Games into the things that went wrong and a clear fixing of responsibility. The public anger over the Delhi debacle means that this is now more than just an academic debate. This is deeply political. Indira Gandhi, for example, used the 1982 Asian Games to shore up her international and domestic image as a responsive leader after the blot of the Emergency and Manmohan Singh will not want his second tenure as Prime Minister to be defined by the free-for-all of the Commonwealth Games. 


The world has seen how we got into this mess. Now it is waiting to see if we can fix it. And the voters are watching.





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





Worrying news about economic growth from the United States sent the Japanese yen up last week, raising new concerns about the prospects for Japan's economic revival. Japan's macroeconomic indicators have again become a source of concern just the week when a stand-off between Japan and China raised political temperatures in East Asia. Japan's decision to release the arrested Chinese occupants of a fishing boat, coming days after China retaliated with several measures, including the delayed export of rare earths to Japan, and the visible power play involving Beijing, Tokyo and Washington DC once again draw attention to China's new assertiveness and to increased concerns about China's rise among most of its neighbours. The sooner China and Japan tone down their rhetoric and cool down temperatures the better for all concerned. India, which has itself been at the receiving end of China's "new assertiveness", has a huge stake in the evolving drama in East Asia. It would appear that China's relatively robust recovery from the Great Recession, the new nervousness and lack of direction in Washington DC, and the continuing political impasse in Tokyo have emboldened Beijing to act tough with many of its East Asian neighbours.


For its part, Japan must get its act together. The mood of defeatism and decline that seems to have enveloped Japan's intellectual and political leadership, and the growing nervousness of its business and financial leadership give the impression that Japan no longer thinks of itself as the Land of the Rising Sun, but is paralysed by the fear that it may be the Land of a Setting Sun. That would be a pity. China's recent overtaking of Japan as the world's second-largest economy may have rattled nerves in Tokyo, but Japan must re-energise itself and continue to be a source of stability in Asia. Asia needs an economically dynamic and politically engaged Japan. If the 21st century has to be an Asian century, then it is not just China and India that need to rise without hurting each other, but Japan too must become more dynamic. Perhaps the time has come for a China-India-Japan trilateral dialogue that can help ensure Asia's balanced rise.


India, for its part, needs Japanese investment, Japanese markets and Japanese cooperation in the realm of high technology development, energy and defence technology development and maritime security. India and Japan, both aspirants for membership of the UN Security Council, have a mutual stake in each other's economic prosperity. Japan has wasted far too much time "studying" India, lecturing and criticising India and has only recently chosen to partner India. While India is now the largest recipient of Japanese overseas development assistance, it should also become the major destination for Japanese investment. This will help Japan sustain its own growth. It will also help Japanese investors diversify their portfolio and reduce their dependence on China — a dependence with obvious disadvantages as last week's events have shown. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Japan next month should help further strengthen an evolving economic and strategic partnership between the two Asian nations.








Nobel laureate, eminent economist and global public intellectual Amartya Sen may not know this but he has done immense damage to public discourse in India with the admittedly appealing and highly marketable title of his very readable book, The Argumentative Indian! Sen ought to have known better. He is familiar enough with village India, even if it is only rural Bengal, to know that most Indians still tend to prefer a consensual outcome to argument and conflict. Pushed to the extreme Indians, like all humans, would react violently. But short of that, there is a preference for mutual accommodation. Without that spirit of live and let live urban India's slums would have been overtaken by anarchy, mayhem and much worse. Except in legislatures, especially after live television coverage has started, and in television studios, most Indian discussions, debates and arguments tend to be rather civilised. The culture of disagreement is inherent to the sub-continent's pluralist traditions. Even Islam imbibed Hindu pluralism in the Indian sub-continent, with its Sufi tradition.


Given this social context, it is often distressing to see participants in television debates shouting at each other, and the TV anchor provoking them, like a circus ringmaster poking a chained lion to make it roar in anger. There is something of the Roman arena and the Spanish bullfight to the Indian TV studio. Every night, every channel has to find a subject on which an adequate number of normal people can be expected to behave abnormally. There is no place for a gentle conversation, polite disagreement, a nuanced statement. No market for subtlety. It is always instructive to note that most seasoned Indian politicians reject the term 'enemy' while referring to an opposition political party. When TV anchors use terms like 'enemy' or 'political untouchable', the traditional Indian politician always takes care to add that her political opponent is an 'adversary', a 'rival', a 'competitor', and so on, not an 'enemy'.


 Traditionally, disputes in India are more often than not settled out of court, through consensual arbitration. It is only recently that there has been an acceleration of appeals to the judiciary. When neighbouring claimants of property in Ayodhya prefer the courts to community elders, or the Ambani brothers prefer the judiciary to the family in settling disputes, you know that there can only be winners and losers, not a happy consensual outcome. As a medium of public debate and discourse Indian television has regrettably adopted an adolescent posture of making every conversation a confrontation. What is worse, some television anchors have assumed the role of investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury.


Little wonder then that more Indians now watch spiritual and religious channels rather than news channels. The popularity of religious channels should not be misconstrued as evidence of rising communalism or bigotry. Rather, it symbolises a growing need of Indians to find peace and solace at home. Having negotiated the rough and tumble of urban chaos, in small town and big city India, few wish to return home to be shouted at by an assortment of busybodies on television in their living rooms and bedrooms. If it is that kind of action one seeks, then a spicy soap is better any day! And they have more eye candy for the entire family!








I recently read Liaquat Ahamed's Lords of Finance: The Bankers who Broke the World, a book on monetary policy, inflation, exchange rates and economic activity in the four major economies (Britain, US, Germany and France) between the end of the First World War to the banking crisis (which led to a global depression) in the early 1930s. I would strongly recommend the book to anyone interested in the subject.


 The story of the gold standard in Britain and the US, of the disaster that awaits those who allow the financial economy to become the master of the real economy, is very interesting, and perhaps the time has come in our case to ponder the issue. (Most of the facts in the column are borrowed from the book; the views are, of course, the columnist's.)


The gold standard, which existed in much of the global economy right until the First World War meant that the supply of money was determined by the reserves of gold held by the central bank. Money supply bore a fixed ratio to the gold reserves: the ratio was rarely 1:1, and differed from country to country. But in all the leading economies, the ratio was large, and the central bank was under an obligation to convert domestic currency into gold at a fixed rate. Under major national emergencies, war for example, the stipulation was relaxed, but the expectation always was that the standard would be restored as soon as normal conditions prevailed.


During the era, capital was free to move in and out of national economies and, in effect, capital flows and fresh gold supplies determined interest rates, money supply and, therefore, economic activity. In effect, under the gold standard, of the impossible trinity – to use modern jargon – central banks gave up an independent monetary policy but held on to a managed exchange rate and free capital mobility. Given that money supply was automatically adjusted to gold reserves, central banking did not require economists or, indeed, much analysis. (John Kenneth Galbraith has described the US Federal Reserve of the immediate post-First World War years as "a body of startling incompetence".) There was an almost theological belief in the virtue of the gold standard and conservative bankers considered any devaluation as tantamount to cheating investors and creditors.


It was fortuitous that during much of the 19th century fresh supplies of gold were in reasonable alignment with economic growth, and the standard worked relatively smoothly. If domestic costs/prices were high, a deficit on trade would result and needed to be financed by an outflow of gold and, therefore, a drop in money supply. This would lower economic activity and domestic prices, thus helping restore the trade balance. On the other hand, for surplus countries, gold inflows would lead to an increase in money supply and, therefore, higher domestic prices which would correct the surplus.


The gold standard was relaxed during the First World War, resulting in high inflation in the major economies. Among the major powers, broadly speaking, post-war, US and Britain followed deflationary policies while France and Germany preferred to print money leading to inflation and a devaluation of their currencies. The problems were compounded by the imposition of huge reparations on defeated Germany.


France went back to the gold standard in the 1920s, but at an undervalued exchange rate, which led to a highly competitive, fast-growing economy. Britain, in contrast, took a far more "fundamentalist" stance on the exchange rate with the Bank of England insisting on restoring it to its pre-war level despite the huge increase in domestic prices in the interim. Winston Churchill, then chancellor, even while complaining that "The Governor of the Bank of England shows himself perfectly happy with the spectacle of Britain possessing the finest credit in the world simultaneously with a million and a quarter unemployed", succumbed to the pressure from bankers and restored the pound to the pre-war parity with gold in 1925. The result was an uncompetitive domestic economy, huge unemployment, trade deficits and pressure on the gold reserves as the sustainability of the exchange rate came increasingly under pressure. Even after inflicting huge costs on the real economy, the exchange rate could not be maintained and the gold standard had to be abandoned in 1931.


In today's version, we have opted for an independent monetary policy, ever-freer capital movements – the latest move increases the ceiling on foreign institutional investment in the debt market by $10 billion – and, lately, allowing the exchange rate to go where it will: it has appreciated by almost 12 per cent over 2008-09 in real effective terms and is even higher than in 2007-08.


In the meanwhile, the trade and current account deficits continue to widen year after year, with a huge loss of potential output and jobs. Should we fall victim to the impossible-to-sustain trinity of unfettered capital inflows, an appreciating currency and an ever-growing deficit on the current account? The music stops one day and a crisis results — recall East Asia in 1997-98. But more on this next week.  











Even as critics of public policy worry about the influence of individual businessmen and high profile companies on sectoral policy, has the voice of "India Inc" become weaker in the councils of decision-making? Have industry associations like the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) become less effective in not just influencing government policy, but in espousing and defending the interests of Indian business as a whole?


When a Group of Ministers (GoM) approved a proposal that people displaced by a mining company should get 26 per cent of that company's profits, it was the public sector Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) that first opposed the idea on the grounds that captive mines are not accounted separately in its books, and hence the calculation of their profits is difficult. It was only after SAIL spoke up that Tata Steel did and business chambers followed suit.


 Earlier, in the run up to Parliament's approval of the diluted Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, it was public sector Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) that first cried foul, before it was asked to shut up by the government, and only then did private sector Larsen & Toubro (L&T) and industry associations wake up. Tata Power and Reliance Industries, with long-term interest in nuclear power, chose to remain silent. It was left to a retired diplomat and a nuclear policy researcher to point out that Indian companies would some day become "suppliers" and so, forget about American companies, any Indian legislation ought not to hurt the interests of Indian firms in the business.


In the case of mining policy, we are yet to see what impact the industry's protestations will have. In the nuclear liability legislation, they had none at all! If individual firms are unwilling to publicly criticise the government, for their own reasons, even business associations have shied away from going on the offensive.


In recent months, whenever industry has been under attack, as for instance in the case of Vedanta in Orissa; or where business interests have been adversely impacted by political initiatives, as for instance in Hyderabad on the Telangana issue; or where vested political interests have pushed policy hurting business interests, as for instance in the GoM's decision on ethanol pricing, where sugarcane interests have prevailed over those of the chemical industry; neither the so-called "captains of industry" nor the various chambers and associations have stood up to be publicly counted, protesting against myopic political management of industrial policy.


Part of the reason for this is the general decline in the image of Indian business among ordinary people. Allegations of cronyism apart, the increasing tendency on the part of business billionaires to show off their wealth, best exemplified by Mukesh Ambani's palatial home (and there are many less celebrated examples around the country), while not generating adequate middle-class employment (as the information technology industry has done, and where icons like Narayanamurthy and Azim Premji enjoy a hallowed status, compared to Mumbai and Delhi business billionaires) has partly contributed to this.


This is precisely why the government felt comfortable enough to come forward with a proposal to impose a 2 per cent "corporate social responsibility" tax and business leaders and associations have so far felt uncomfortable opposing it. By now, one would have expected some spokesperson of the private sector to have claimed that they are better in spending money in socially useful activities than government. No one has dared make that claim so far!


There is, without doubt, a general air of defensiveness that has come to characterise the creation of wealth by Indian business. The arrival of a "left of centre" government in 2004 was the turning point. The first response of Indian business to the calls for "inclusive growth" was to pooh-pooh it. Noting the unwillingness of business to understand the new mood of the country, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went to an annual meeting of CII and expounded his ten principles of CSR and inclusive growth. He was pooh-poohed too, both by business leaders (CII president Sunil Mittal happily gave interviews to the media minutes after the PM spoke saying business knew its responsibilities, thank you!) and by the media, which editorially ridiculed the prime minister.


From those early days of defiance, not reading the tea leaves and the smoke signals, Indian business seems to have lurched to the other extreme of submissiveness. Not only have business associations devoted their annual general meetings to discussions on inclusive growth, inviting all the politically correct bleeding hearts to re-educate them and give them a social conscience, but they have even ceased to defend the interests of business, where they must, against the growing aggressiveness of self-proclaimed defenders of the "people's interest" within the increasingly assertive community of non-governmental organisations (NGOs).


Time was when one went to an annual meeting of CII to hear Michael Porter talk about how to make Indian industry competitive. Today you may end up hearing the likes of a Vandana Shiva!


Apart from the decline in the image of business leaders in the more recent past, compared to the post-1991 era of industrial revival, the inability of industry associations to make a difference, defending business interests more aggressively, has also made the difference.


Maybe industry associations would regain their elan and credibility as the spokespersons of Indian business if they refuse to function as travel agents for Union ministers, ferrying and escorting media around the world to ensure domestic coverage for publicity-hungry ministers, and act more as pressure groups, forcing ministers to listen more and talk less!









The worldwide mobile money user base will tip the billion mark in five years, from 45 million to 55 million now*. Value wise, it is expected to cross $379 billion in three years**. Add domestic and international money transfers and the total could be $1 trillion.


For mobile network operators this means an extra $5 billion per year in direct revenues from service fees on such transactions. And an additional $3 billion from indirect revenue from reduced churn and higher ARPUs (average revenue per user)***.


 As far as India is concerned, the potential is huge given that (a) the mobile phone with a penetration of 60 per cent of the population is now officially ubiquitous and (b) in a few years there will be a billion mobile users in India — far more than the Doordarshan, cable & satellite, internet, print and radio universe combined. The mobile cell phone will act as the proverbial digital Swiss knife for the aam admi — cater to everyday communication, information, networking, entertainment and financial services needs.


A recent Economist study indicates that in emerging economies like India, traditional retail channel dependency will skip the traditional teller, branch and internet and telephone channels, directly to mobile — not just to leverage the penetration of the mobile but on account of the favourable economics for service delivery of this channel over all others.


The economics of the mobile phone to deliver a financial service is a tenth that of the next most efficient channel – the internet – and potentially a 100th of going to the bank or using a teller service. Since the Reserve Bank of India's mobile banking guidelines came out in late 2008, more than 40 banks already have some form of mobile financial service offered to their customer base. This provides a readymade base of 100-million plus.


So, what will make mobile money mainstream?


First, telecom companies and their innate ability to offer a triple combo of low-cost mobile phones, 3G rollout and competitive pressures in data plans. These will make it affordable for the masses to transact over the mobile internet without worrying about increased bills.


Second, banks and solution providers (aggregators) will need to ease the overall customer experience. This means intuitive navigation, minimal keystrokes and screens matched to relevant benefits — remittance, savings, credit, repayments, recovery and so on. To reduce the mental barrier towards adopting something new, they will need to incentivise consumers. Among the first useful steps are automatic or simple registration procedures for the service or even migrating the current internet banking and ATM user into it.


It will not, however, be enough to have the under-banked and hitherto excluded 60 per cent of India's population open "no frills accounts" and then keep them dormant. A "bank account" must serve a pecuniary benefit in the eye of the holder, something that caters to his needs. So we have make the account a "store of value", and therefore interest-bearing. But more important, a gateway for a whole range of sachet-type financial services needs to be accessed — remittance, overdraft, micro credit, pension, micro loan, micro overdraft, micro insurance, mutual funds, NREGA and so on.


Unfortunately, linking inclusion with the precondition of being formally banked has been a deterrent to the aam admi over several generations. But today, most wage earners own a mobile phone but do not necessarily have a relationship with a bank. We can influence citizen behaviour like never before by getting a person to transact electronically. This by itself is a big paradigm shift. The next step will be to link that transaction to a formal banking method and a unique Aadhar number.


Third, if there are many touch points at which people use their mobile phone to make payments or transfer then the network externalities are obvious. Currently, in a country the size of India, the point of sale (POS) base is a ludicrous 350,000-odd. Organised retail covers a mere three per cent of the population and the perverse economics practices by banks and global credit card companies have resulted in low penetration of POS devices. This is no longer tenable and has to be radically rethought — the entry-level mobile phone itself has to become the de facto POS device.


Now, imagine a situation in which more than a million people across India are merchants, and can also act as cash in/cash-out points, financial service points or business correspondents. And where a billion others can transact access, pay, buy, top up or receive financial services. In short, the ubiquity of the mobile phone must be matched by infrastructure.


Finally, innovation is key. I am cautious about banks' ability to drive innovation and adoption. No one would disagree that today's banks have to be the gold standard for prudential risk. The final winner for these services is still something on which the jury is out. But product innovation is where it starts.


Here are the seeds of two. For one, banks can and should issue their own branded or co-badged e-wallets. These can be topped up via net banking or credit card or even ATMs. This way all the base requirements of know-your-customer norms would be taken care of. The redemption is within the accepting merchant base; these work in the semi-open loop and bring more value added services (ticketing, recharge, shopping, bill payment, subscriptions, renewals, money transfer, remittances, donations) to the customer. If they don't, then telecom companies will soon occupy that space — they have already started to do so with a major service provider obtaining a licence to do so.


Other e-money innovations are platform-centric server-based e money, which are pre-funded personalised accounts or linked to an account, wherein the credit and debits lie virtually on a server. These can apply to online payments, and use the mobile for authentication and confirmation.


These will lead to the change we want to see.


* McKinsey & Co; Berg Insight; **Gemalto; *** Mc Kinsey & Co


The author is Co Founder & Promoter, PayMate








CSE has found a cocktail of mostly banned and severely prohibited antibiotics in honey


They say, you are what you eat. But do we know what we are eating? Do we know who is cooking and who is serving us the food we take into our kitchens and then into our bodies? The more I dig into this issue, it is clear that our world of food is spinning in directions that we know nothing about. This is not the way it should be.


Take honey. A sweet preserve that we take for granted comes from the bees that collect it from the nectar of flowers. We pick up the bottle from our local shop, believing that the honey has been collected naturally, it is fresh and certainly without any contaminants. In most cases, we would even think that small farmers produced it or it was collected from the wild and packaged by large companies. In any event, we believe it is the honey that nature produced, collected and delivered to us, as nature would have wanted.


But little do we know how the business of honey has changed. Nobody explains that the culture of food is intrinsically linked to biodiversity, of plants and animals.


But mess with biodiversity and you mess with food. The ubiquitous bee is one such instance. Some years ago, leading scientific institutions sold the idea of introduction of the European bee (Apis mellifera) into India, as it was a more prolific producer of honey. This economically viable bee took over the business, virtually replacing the humble but more adapted Indian bee (Apis cerana) from our food. At the same time, the business of honey was also transformed. It moved away from the small producers collecting honey from the wild and cultivating honey in natural conditions.


It got consolidated into a highly organised business, controlled by a handful of companies. Now it is these companies that handle all aspects of the trade — from the supply of the queen bee to the paraphernalia of bee-housing, feeding and disease-control to the producers, spread across different states. It is an outsourced business, run by franchisees whose job is to find places, like the apple farms of Himachal, where there is nectar for bees to suck.


We have lost the biodiversity of the bee and we have lost the diversity of the business. Business is not about food. It is about commerce.


But nature has its way of getting back at us. The European bee is now showing signs of over-use across the world. In the US and in Europe, there is worrying news about honeybee colony collapses — where bees are disappearing from colonies, not to return. This is hitting crop production as bees play a critical role in pollinating food crops across the US — a service, which is officially billed at some $20 billion annually. The trade in pollinator bees involves carting bee colonies across the county, where crops need their service. But now there is evidence that this overwork, combined with the use of nasty new pesticides, new diseases and immune-suppressed bees, is destroying bees.


In India, we are no different. The dependence on one introduced species and emphasis on over-production mean bees are overworked in this competitive business. As disease grows, the answer is to feed bees antibiotics liberally, mixed in sugar and other syrups. The bee makes honey and with it comes the lethal dose of unwanted antibiotics in our food.


When the Pollution Monitoring Laboratory of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) checked honey, it found a cocktail of antibiotics — mostly banned and severely prohibited to be in our food. It found everything from the commonly used Ampicilin, Enrofloxacin, Ciprofloxacin, Erythromycin to the strictly banned Chloramphenicol in the honey made and packaged by the biggest and the most known. These antibiotics in food are bad for us, as any doctor will tell you, because they add to the bugs getting resistant to antibiotics.


The fact is that CSE's laboratory checked two foreign brands bought from our local store. We know that there is strict control in these countries against antibiotics. In fact, Europe has kicked hell and banned Indian honey for having these antibiotics. They do this because they say they care about their health.


Good. But the question is what about our health? Who cares about this? Both brands we checked had the same and even higher levels of antibiotics in them. The fact is that why should they care, when our government does not? The same government, which makes strict standards for the exported honey, could not care about what we are using domestically. There are no standards for antibiotics in Indian honey. There is certainly no check on what ends up on our tables and in our bodies.


But do not be surprised. This is the age of takeover by the big and the powerful only because we have compromised and have complicit food regulators. The recently set up Food Safety and Standards Authority has been dead on entry.


Do not be surprised. But be angry. This is not a takeover we should allow. It is about us. Our bodies. Our self.








SEBI chairman C B Bhave has told merchant bankers to leave enough on the table to entice retail investors into the market for public issues. This is grossly disappointing. It might sound like a pro-investor move but reinforces, in substance, the unhealthy philosophy that has come to guide the retail investment culture in India: flip and be merry. Investors take part in public offers on the assumption that when the share is listed, the price is guaranteed to be higher than the issue price, yielding a listing gain to be encashed (flipping is jargon for selling soon after buying). Nurturing such expectations is the way to help merchant banks overprice issues and rip investors off. The whole purpose of a public issue is to achieve efficient allocation of capital: neither the supplier of savings nor those who demand the savings for investment in their businesses should be shortchanged by the terms on which the savings are deployed in the activity in question. It is commonplace for people to interpret oversubscription of an issue as a cause for celebration. This is myopia. It only means that the issuer failed to get the price he deserved to get. In a perfect world, a public issue would be neither undersubscribed (overpriced) nor oversubscribed (underpriced). Few retail investors have the expertise to price an issue right. That is why they simply subscribe at the 'cut-off' price determined by institutional investors who often are involved in non-transparent relationships with the merchant banks that manage the issue and with the syndicate of brokers through whom subscriptions are accepted, usually affiliated to the merchant banks handling the issue. It is this unholy nexus that Sebi needs to target to make the market more investor-friendly. Instead, it is opting for unhealthy populism. 


Retail investors should exercise caution while entering the market directly, particularly its most opaque segment, the public issue. They should be persuaded to take advantage of the expertise of professional asset managers via mutual funds, pension funds, insurance, etc. Regulation should ensure that these asset managers act in the best interest of their investors. This is the way to go. Encouraging them to expect money on the table every time they invest in a public issue is to lead them up the garden path.







THE International Energy Agency (IEA) has highlighted that over 20% of the global population or 1.4 billion people lack access to electricity, which hinders economic and social development. Here in India, the grim reality is that almost half the population in rural areas has little or no supply of power. For long years, open-ended subsidies in power have mostly been diverted and usurped by the undeserving non-poor. Fortunately, social, managerial and technical innovation in power promises to proactively stem runaway revenue leakage and theft of power in distribution, and significantly boost access to quality supply. Reports say that the Jyotigram scheme in Gujarat, which separated feeder lines for agricultural power supply, has greatly improved electricity access, quality and put paid to state power utility losses. The scheme needs to be ramped up pan-India, and especially in states with large agripower load. Dedicated feeder lines, metering and supply during off-peak hours can dramatically improve the economics of power, especially for agriculture. Limited subventions for rural supply and those for low-consumption households can then be well targeted. All this, of course, calls for innovation in designing the transmission and distribution infrastructure and for large-scale investment in this segment. 


In tandem, a technical solution for India's rural power woes needs to be envisioned and followed through. The recently developed high-lumen light emitting diodes (LEDs) are the ideal solution for rural lighting. Note that the power consumption in LEDs is as low as half a watt, as against 7-10 watt for compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Also, LEDs are 'install and forget' systems, providing up to 1,00,000 hours of illumination or, at six hours of usage per day, have a life of 45 years! LEDs are also perfect for lighting up with solar power, requiring as they do DC supply, very unlike, say, CFLs. However, LEDs remain pricey, although costs have been tumbling following economies of scale in production worldwide. The way ahead is to make available attractive finance options to boost demand for LED systems. In parallel, we need to phase out the subsidy on kerosene that costs the exchequer some . 20,000 crore annually, and use the monies instead to fund solar-powered lanterns, etc.







HAVING a cake and eating it too is usually a delicious impossibility but nevertheless remains an enticing ambition for many. The uncharitable would say that celebrity causerati are past masters at realising this seemingly contradictory pleasure, for they in one fell swoop manage to gain brownie points for their good deeds and yet do not have to suffer the vicissitudes of those whom they champion. It's called slumming it in style. That the husband of one such high profile actress-cum-social activist decided to present his wife with a luscious confectionary recreation of her karmabhoomi, the ubiquitous Mumbai slum, underlines this truism. Hopefully the lyricist-poet spouse was aware of the irony, if not the actual bad taste of putting up a diorama of marzipan hovels surrounded by sugary filth and clothes lines, clustered in a chocolatedipped sponge-cake piece of land with sweet blue icing for open drains to be cut up and eaten by the well-heeled friends of the birthday girl. The couple may have reason to be satisfied, though, that they managed to get a cross section of tinsel town's elite to at least get a taste of how the other half lives, albeit a cooked-up one. 


It would be far-fetched to imagine that the poet-turnedparliamentarian chose such a happy occasion to poke fun at his wife's predilections; perhaps he was just mulling a dream scene for a future Andrew Lloyd Webber-like musical production. Or maybe he hoped to seed an idea or two in the minds of the Bollywood stars who had gathered to celebrate with pieces of slum cake, about the sweet returns of having a visible social conscience. Some cakes can indeed be had and eaten too.







THE World Health Statistics 2010 released by WHO has placed India in an unenviable position. India has the highest number of tuberculosis (23% of world's patients), diphtheria (86% of world's patients), leprosy (54% of world's patients), pertussis (29% of world's patients), polio (42% of world's patients), tetanus (22% of world's cases) and malaria (55% of world's patients) cases. It is the second highest in measles, the fourth highest in Japanese encephalitis and the 14th highest in cholera. It has the highest percentage of underweight children below the age of five years (43.5%). This is all far in excess of the percentage of the world's population (17%) that India supports. To no other country goes the dubious distinction of being first in so many arenas. 

Across almost all indicators like life expectancy at birth, healthy average life expectancy, low birth-weight babies, neonatal mortality rate, <5 yrs mortality rate and MMR, India consistently performs below the south-east Asian region (SEAR) and the global averages despite health being the avowed priority of successive governments. Contrary to popular perception, this is not necessarily due to less number of doctors or nurses. 

The density of doctors per 10,000 of population is about six, while the average for SEAR is only five. The global average is 14. Similarly, the density of nurses/mid-wives is 13 per 10,000 population compared with the SEAR average of 11 and the global average of 28. Lack of availability of human resources is not a cause of poor healthcare but a result of lower healthcare expenditure. In the pharmaceutical field, manpower at a density of six per 10,000 people beats the SEAR and global average of four. This is because almost 75% of health care expenditure is on drugs. 


Decoding the reasons of our health situation is a complex exercise. Though well below global averages, India spends higher at 4.1% of its GDP on healthcare compared with 3.6% in SEAR. In purchasing power parity terms, per capita annual expenditure on healthcare is about $109 in India compared with $104 of SEAR. So, our health indices should have been better. 


Evidently, the issue is not about the money; it is about how and where the money is spent, especially in the rural areas where over 70% of India resides. Intriguingly, there is a gross urban bias in government expenditure on district hospitals and urban tertiary centres. 


The latest National Health Accounts (NHA) 2004-05 places the government expenditure on rural healthcare services and family welfare at . 52,970 million, the urban counterpart getting the lion's share at . 92,408 million. It is around . 71 per capita for rural against a far higher . 289 for urban people. Private out-of-pocket expenditure (OOPE) works out to . 777 per capita for rural and . 1,099 for urban people in that year. The ambitious National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) has done precious little to improve the rural plight. 
    NRHM is more of a repackaged version rather than a new initiative as the National Institute of Health & Family Welfare's website says. It is but a combination of the existing programmes with some additionalities. For 2009-10, the additions to the pre-existing programmes under NRHM were . 22,427 million, which is about . 27 per capita. 


IF THE Budget 2009-10 is 113% more than the 2004-05 Budget, the expenditure target on rural healthcare should have been much higher with normal increments alone and without NRHM. Of course, this does not presuppose that NRHM is useless or without focus. It merely underlines that the expenditure on real rural healthcare has not significantly improved. 


So, if the government spend is not really benefiting the rural population, then how does one cure the vast disease-riddled areas of the country? 


Clearly, the private OOPE of rural people estimated by NHA, at . 777 percapita in 2004-05, would climb to . 1,500 in 2010-11, assuming that the 12% growth trend. The OOPE indicates a spend of . 21 crore per rural block per annum (with a population of 1,40,000 at an average). This expenditure would enable a viable rural private healthcare sector. Factor in the Rashtriya Swastha Bima Yojana (RSBY) and you have a much more viable system. The expansion of RSBY/social health insurance programmes is a more viable public health strategy in the situation. 


But RSBY is not serving a meaningful purpose now because there are no hospitals in rural areas. This brings in the question of functional healthcare facilities in rural areas. Currently, apart from dysfunctional public healthcare facilities, there are only owner enterprises (single doctor/quack-run dispensaries) without beds in most rural areas. For hospitalisation, most go to nursing homes and small units in the periphery of urban areas or local healers/quacks for OPD services. 


But if the total out-of-pocket expenditure is so high, properly managed private rural hospitals are financially viable and will actually reduce the expenditure of people due to travel, boarding and lodging. Health insurance expansion in tandem, in a meaningful and organic way, would be a necessity to reduce catastrophic OOPE. 


Most private sector health businesses have still to learn how to create a viable model. These operate on a cost-plus or a pay per procedure model, which only increases expenditure without a commensurate benefit to either patients or hospitals. Such a cost-plus model works only for the input suppliers like the pharmaceutical industry or medical devices manufacturers and that too maybe only in the short term. 


For every player in the ecosystem, it is better that sustainable and long-term models emerge. People actually pay enough for sustainable privately funded healthcare. 


(The author is a medical doctor and     former IAS officer)








FOCUSING on IT solutions for travel, transportation and logistics domains for well over a decade has provided IBS Software Services a ringside view of the revolution happening in the skies, seas and the earth as people and cargo are constantly moved across oceans, continents and the skies. The company presently operates out of a dozen global locations with a team of 2,000 and has made five acquisitions so far. IBS, a product-led services company, also provides upstream logistics solutions to the largest oil and gas companies in the world and on-board property management solutions for luxury cruise liners. IBS chairman & CEO V K Mathews sees significant opportunities for solutions providers to turn the passenger and cargo movement businesses far more efficient.


When V K Mathews settles into an airline seat, there's a lot more playing on his mind than what would catch the eye of an average traveller who may look for features like seating comfort or in-flight service quality. Having been in the travel business as a professional and entrepreneur for well over two decades, Mathews feels that landmark changes are yet to happen in the world of aviation. "We are in a world that is defined by electronic decision-making, but the fact of the matter in aviation is that it all boils down to efficient movement of people and things from one place to another. What is most striking is that even in 2010, 80% of the time cargo is waiting to be moved at some location and only 20% of the time it is actually moving. It's clear to see how much of an improvement in efficiency is yet to be achieved." 


"What that means is extra cost, because cargo idling at some location adds to inventory holding cost, and what the situation should spur is a new dimension to capacity usage utilising the benefits of technology. It is quite clear that thought leadership is the key here. Our business is to redefine the business of our clients to help them achieve better efficiencies, and not mere code writing. In other words, as a product company, we play the role of a Michelangelo in contrast to the work of brick layers who put the ideas to a usable format. 

The IBS chief feels there has, for long, been a focus on the cost side, and that it ought to shift to the value side, enabling companies to tap more value than merely eking out savings through cost arbitrage. He winces at the present situation in which aircraft, which are million-dollar assets, idle frequently and are utilised suboptimally, all for want of adequate tech support for optimisation and rationalisation of their usage. 


"In fact, the question should be whether an airline company should be handling all the components involved in passenger or cargo movement. The future will belong to virtual airlines, a concept in which about five major global entities would take up the business of flying aircraft in large numbers around the world and the airlines that we know of today will be able to use that capacity to run services under their individual brands." 

Mathews says there are compelling reasons to adopt this model. First, there will be economies of scale as the few companies that operate aircraft will fly massive numbers of planes as against multiple airlines flying far fewer numbers of aircraft today. Secondly, the virtual airline concept will help those in the business of operating branded travel services to operate without the massive fixed cost component of owning aircraft, and instead operate with variable costs. Thirdly, the aircraft-flying companies can better internationalise their costs, like using pilots from different parts of the world, as against the current practice where pilots are restricted in aircraft use linked to their companies. 


"When an operator, whether an aircraftoperating entity or a branded travel service operator, can make their costs flexible, then the business is safe," says Mathews, who feels the challenge today for the travel and cargo industries is to stay relevant in an age of seamless electronic distribution. 


 IBS presently has roughly 170 active customers, including the best airlines and airports in the world, and some of the Forbes 10 international oil majors. "With such a premier clientele, we are investing even more on training our staff and being very selective on recruitment so that we continue to provide thought leadership in the industries we cater to."







ACHIEF executive who wants to build the strongest company will look to recruit the best talent in the field. Creating and maintaining a worldclass sector is no different, which is why the UK needs an immigration system which welcomes skilled workers from overseas. We have long hosted some of the best bankers, lawyers and accountants from Mumbai, Delhi and beyond and I hope we will continue to. 


The UK government ministers recognise this fact. I was encouraged by UK immigration minister Damian Green's comments in New Delhi recently that Britain's new immigration quotas are not "about erecting barriers and closing doors"; UK business secretary Vince Cable echoes this view saying he is confident his colleagues "understand the need for immigration measures that support business recovery and economic growth." 

I am sure that the British government will do everything it can to ensure the new rules do not affect trade ties between our two countries. India is a hugely important partner for the UK and we need to do all we can to ensure a smooth transfer of Indian businessmen and professionals to the UK and vice versa. 


People of all creeds and colours gravitate to London because of our financial and services cluster, as well as the cultural and lifestyle attractions here. The result is a vibrant city that hosts some of the most successful global businesses in the world. 


The UK has long traded on its history of openness to investment and benefited from the flow of skilled workers. This approach is paying dividends even in this difficult economic climate: last year the World Economic Forum's Financial Development Report ranked the UK in the first place, boosted by the provision of services such as insurance and M&A activity and we are benefiting from increasing corporate activity, including rising investment in real estate. 


 The city of London operates in a globalS business environment and our competitive position will be damaged if international firms based here — including the growing number of Indian firms — do not have the flexibility to recruit the best person to develop or expand their operations. I represent an industry that relies on attracting the top talent from around the world; firms based in the city have always recruited new employees on the basis of their skills, not nationality. 


The recent high profile trade visit to India by the UK Prime Minister and his ministerial team highlighted not just the longstanding ties between the UK and India but the potential for a much closer and deeper partnership. I echo UK Prime Minister David Cameron's sentiments that we cannot rely on "shared history for a place in India's future". We must work hard to show how this partnership benefits both countries, particularly in the area of trade and investment. 


The UK is the biggest European investor in India and the latter is the biggest Asian investor in the former. The London Stock Exchange hosts many Indian companies and over 600 Indian firms are represented in the UK. In 2008 alone, almost 4,000 new jobs were created in the UK by Indian investment and many more because of the activities of British firms in India. This relationship brings mutually beneficial investment flows, with bilateral trade standing at £12.6 billion.


In order to build on this, we must welcome skilled Indian nationals and encourage them to work and set up home here. The growing world market for financial and professional services has created a generation of well-educated business people with strong values and an international outlook: those who work in financial services may find themselves qualifying or taking an MBA in Paris, training in Singapore, seconded to Mumbai before settling in London, New York or Dubai to work at the cutting edge of finance or formulate government policy. The increasing shift of the global economy towards the East does not change this reality; in fact, it makes it more pertinent. 


This is why when I lead a city business delegation to Delhi and Mumbai in October, I will reiterate to your ministers and business people the constructive remarks by Prime Minister Cameron that the UK wants to be the "partner of choice" for India as part of its prosperous future rather than simply part of its shared history. 


(The author is Lord Mayor of the     city of London)







IT IS a common experience of most that when they are organised, relaxed and in harmony with things within and without, they are able to better regulate not only their temper and reactions, but also their instinctive urges, cravings and temptations. 


Comprehending this fact for focusing on related issues, which are within his direct control, the intelligent aspirant would commence becoming truly organised. This process, to a large extent, is under the control of one's direct will because this concerns evolving right priorities as applicable to each individual personality. This involves not merely priorities on things to be done but also priorities on things on which time should not be spent — even those, which may be worthy by themselves, but which are not actually essential to one's own chosen pursuit. As noted by Lin Yutang, "Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials." 


This, indeed, is a major step not only to effective time management, but also to the elimination of drift, uncertainty, disorder and disarray, which, in terms of the results they generate, are finally tantamount to sloth and inaction. Harold Nicolson aptly stated, "I regard sloth as the major cause of melancholy, in that it provokes a sense of inadequacy and therefore of self-reproach and therefore of guilt and finally of fear. Melancholy is caused less by the failure to achieve great ambitions or desires than by the inability to perform small necessary acts." 


Tangible accomplishment also is rooted in coordinated action as against mere activities or just appearing to be busy or being in a state of constant hurry. Eric Hoffer enlightens, "The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is, rather, born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life." 

Comprehending such sublime truths is also application of the exhortations in Bhagavad Gita to be "satisfied in the self by one's own self" and "delighting in one's own self". This verily, is, that fulfilled state of integrity, authenticity, poise, precision, inner harmony and true effectiveness, where one would naturally also be in greater control of his base instincts. This also is a giant leap towards one's vision of that ultimate "victory over oneself"!




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




As New Delhi unveiled an eight-point plan to bring about peace in Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday, formulated by the Cabinet Committee on Security to help soothe the troubled state, the key question is whether this formula goes far enough. More important, with the world (mainly Pakistan) watching, whether the Centre and the state government can work in tandem in a long overdue effort to calm the unrest in the Valley to reverse the public relations disaster that Kashmir has become for this country. While the carefully-crafted statement makes no clear mention of what will happen to the proposal to dilute or withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, advocated by the much-maligned Chief Minister, Mr Omar Abdullah, as a one-stop solution for all of Kashmir's ills, the state government must convene a meeting of the Unified Command and review the areas marked as "disturbed".

A soldier's presence in the state's cities and towns can only add to the perception of the Kashmiri that he is under the jackboot of an occupying force. The task of maintaining law and order must, therefore, be entrusted to an apolitical police to keep peace on the streets. There certainly must be no repeat of the trouble that ensued at Lal Chowk where a flag — not the Indian tricolour — was allowed to be run up the flagpole. As the all-party parliamentary delegation saw firsthand last week, the state's elected representatives and Chief Minister no longer enjoy people's complete confidence. While losing popularity is par for the course for any inept politician, Mr Abdullah could try regain some credibility by reducing the number of bunkers from the heart of Srinagar. He could follow that up by easing the daytime curfew so that people can go about their normal lives and not be held hostage to the separatists who came out of the woodwork, hijacked the protests and made it their own. Indeed, hunting down the separatists who forced the apolitical Kashmiri to pull down the shutters and egged on an army of stone-pelters, who became the face of the agitation, must also be high on the agenda. Whose drums do they march to? Islamabad? Politicians ranged against Abdullah? In addition, if the majority of the 245 people detained for pelting stones are indeed children, then their release is of the utmost urgency. Bringing them home and reopening the schools is therefore a welcome move. But the biggest challenge for the UPA government might lie in picking the right man as its chief interlocutor. Many have tried and failed in the past. More than any other state in the Indian Union, Kashmir is where India's domestic and foreign policies intersect. As Pakistan attempts as always to fish in Kashmir's muddied waters, New Delhi's man in Kashmir must be able to weigh local concerns with India's wider strategic interests.







A recent visit to the Madras High Court, to address young lawyers enrolling in the Bar Council, left me completely amazed. In the distant past, when I enrolled as an advocate to practise in the Madras high court, perhaps 50 to 75 young lawyers enrolled along with me. My enrolment was moved by Mr K.K. Venugopal, a senior advocate and one of India's most eminent jurists and legal minds. His professional ethics as well as those of V.P. Raman, in whose chamber I began working as a junior lawyer, and Mr K. Parasaran who was then a senior lawyer in High Court, served as a shining example for all young lawyers who joined the Bar on how to uphold the highest standards of integrity in the noble profession of law. One of the first things my senior told me was how lawyers were really officers of court and thus had to maintain very rigorous standards of professional integrity. In fact, senior advocates were not even suppose to interact directly with clients — they only talked to clients through junior advocate on the record. Senior advocates did not charge fees but had a little pouch behind their black robes into which clients were suppose to deposit whatever fees they wished to give.


The days and years that followed were an incredible learning experience. I worked in the company and under the guidance of great legal minds and absorbed the unique experience of analysing law, drafting litigation based upon the specific needs of a particular party, applying the law to it with logic and precision, finding precedents of other such cases and arguing the case before judges who were informed, sharp and well-versed with law. We observed rules of procedure and professional etiquette, including following quaint British customs such as the robes and dress code. They are still followed but are completely unsuited to our climate. Cases were won and lost, lawyers were paid and they grew rich, but through all those years what stood out was the astounding intellectual calibre and the unimpeachable integrity and moral standards of the leaders of the Bar.


Today, one hears stories about senior advocates resorting to case-fixing, corruption among the judiciary, professional misconduct of some advocates and above all, my own personal experiences of the astronomical fees charged by senior and junior lawyers today. When a dispute reaches court, litigants stake so much on the outcome that for some unscrupulous lawyers the sky is the limit in charging professional fees.


Some say that law is a noble profession. However, when I went to the Madras High Court last week to speak to the newly-enrolled lawyers, I rediscovered that being an advocate is one of the most promising vocations in our democracy. The 50 or 75 lawyers who enrolled during my time have given way to 1,500 young lawyers enrolling on that day alone. Also, at least 40 per cent of them were young girls. When I interacted with them after the function, I found they were sharply focused and very committed. Many had come with their families to be enrolled. Some had the entire village accompanying them to see the first lawyer of the village join the Bar. The atmosphere was positively festive.


I spoke to them about the demands and rigours of the profession. Of how there were four stages in a lawyer's life. Stage one: where there was no work and no money. Stage two: where there was some work and no money. Stage three: where there was some work and some money. And stage four, for a very lucky few, who had no work but lots of money. I spoke to the young lawyers about our democracy and how it would be utterly meaningless if citizens did not know about or could not exercise their rights. I told them how thrilling it would be for a lawyer to fight for his client's rights and win a case. I explained to them how lawyers were uniquely placed to study law and bring law and presumably justice to the service of their fellow citizens. Nothing could possibly be more noble a cause or vocation, except perhaps medicine.


I told them how many of our country's most illustrious sons and daughters had been lawyers, starting from the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi. How law was an incredible magical force that could carry them into every part of our democracy and economy, but above all, how it could arm them to bring justice and rights to ordinary citizens. I explained how, it was therefore important for them to use this power wisely and with great responsibility and how important it was to always maintain high integrity.


I shared with them the plight of a litigant who had probably spent his life's savings to save his house or ancestral property. He would have waited 10 or 20 years going through appeal after appeal, and if the court dismissed his petition, as often happens, in about five minutes he would stand in the Supreme Court and watch his life savings go down the drain. I requested them to remain conscious of the fact that the property, sometimes the future of their clients depends on them and this is an onerous responsibility.


While I spoke, I could see that young lawyers were full of hope and confidence and they listened in rapt attention. I explained to them that apart from the nobility of the profession, law is also a profession where there could never be a recession or downturn as the only people who make money during recession are lawyers. Also, in any case legal disputes are bound to exist as long as human society endures. They all smiled in agreement.


In conclusion, I requested them to always attempt to help a client to settle cases out of court and save them and the system unnecessary litigation. I deliberately refrained from mentioning the more shady side of law practice — the corruption in some place, the strikes by lawyers or the seamy tales of deal-making. I felt there was no need to sully a solemn occasion as they will soon find out for themselves. When I left, I was confident that those and the thousands of new lawyers who come into the system every year will uphold the integrity of the profession and will never allow it to be destroyed.


- Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.


The views expressed in this column are her own.








I pass the Yamuna en-route to my office everyday. For the past few years it has had the look of an affluent drain, or, perhaps, I should say effluent. It snakes timidly past the grandeur of the Akshardham Temple, slithers away from the frenetic bustle of the Commonwealth Games Village and slips under the vast spans of the DND flyover. Its oxygen-deficient waters harbour little life and the few birds that descend on its waters best serve as indicators of pollution. I look, at times, nostalgically at the antique 1858 map of Delhi in my office, a time when the river was in its full-blown youth and had several tributaries coursing past Delhi. I say past Delhi and not through Delhi as the capital has for centuries lain in the triangular nestle of the Mewat range of the Aravallis and the river Yamuna. Those were the days when Saket was still a jheel and the Defence Colony nallah one of the tributaries that drained into it. Those were days before Dwarka and Pitampura took over the Najafgarh branch of the Yamuna and turned it into a storm-water drain. Slowly, inexorably, the tributaries shrank, the lakes were drained and the Ridge, sylvan companion of the Yamuna, was blasted and cleared to make way for Delhi. In the last 150 years we have reached across the Ridge and spanned the Yamuna, turning, in the last few cycles of this decimation, the mighty river into a shrivelled shadow of its former self.


It was with some amusement, therefore, that I


watched an anchor of a prominent TV channel standing ankle-deep in the river the other day, warning citizenry of impending flood. "The waters are rising", she said dramatically, waving her microphone for good effect. "Look, it has crossed the hemline of my salwar" or something equally banal. The newspapers were full of photos of displaced citizenry as well, as waters swished through their illegal and ecologically-disastrous tenements. Relatives called to check on my safety. Thousands of two-wheelers, sheltering under every flyover in incessant rain, blocked off traffic for hours and added to the chaos. Stories of the disaster that is the Commonwealth Games flooded the city even more than the river itself.


It seemed on my morning route that a rejuvenated and freshly charged-up river chortled past a gaping populace, unused as they have become to living on the banks of a mighty river.


This minor upwelling of riverine emotions may well be the call to arms that the ministry needs to consider the state of the Yamuna. If the Mithi is important to Mumbai and its breaching by the proposed Navi Mumbai airport an ecological disaster in the making, the unabashed reclamation of the floodplains of the "national capital river" is criminal. The 7,777 hectares of the Ridge and the 9,700 hectares of the Yamuna floodplain are not just real estate opportunities for all and sundry, but the lungs and kidneys of the National Capital Region (NCR).


The embankments and dams that we build as structural controls to floodwaters are nothing but temporary palliatives. It used to be common sense not to build on floodplains as the river is a living entity and needs to ebb and rise with monsoonal waters and clean itself of its silt load onto the alluvial plains. In fact, the term alluvium itself refers (in its Latin root of alluvius from alleure or wash against) to the loose sand and silt, clay and gravel that freshwater systems deposit as they meander from the hills to the sea. The term alluvial plains that we still teach in geography classes to our children might as well be replaced as the embankments prevent waters from spilling over their banks. Perhaps in a future generation, we will refer to the Gangetic embankments of Uttar Pradesh rather than the floodplains. Other than depriving the country of a fertile belt of land, the structures built around the Yamuna are only contributing to the accumulation of silt on the riverbed, raising the waters, inch by inch, metre by metre to a potential disaster. This would then be tailor-made for TV anchors.


There is an urgent need to revive the Yamuna's fortunes and not just by initiating a Yamuna Action Plan. When urban developers and municipal corporations plan the water needs of the city, will it be possible to include the needs of the Yamuna in the maths? The water needs of Delhi is not equal only to the drinking water needs of its citizens and the water needs of the industry around it or the irrigation needs of the small farmer, if any exist still, around the NCR. It must also include the needs for the river to flow unfettered and clean, with enough volume of water to sustain life in its myriad forms.


Don't choke the river, as has been suggested by several water experts, by clearing some more structural devices, euphemistically called water storage devices, upstream in Himachal and Haryana. These are dams. They should be looked at as dams and the ecological impact studied should be of dams. It is particularly tempting, with the TV grabs of rising waters, to sanction structures that can "hold the water off Delhi" and produce electricity to boot. The release of waters from the dam is once again governed not by ecological or earth wisdom but by the felt needs of humanity. And the river, dammed upstream, sullied downstream and wearing the chastity belt of embankments as it passes Delhi, will have no ecological function left.


When what is Sadar Bazaar today was blasted out of the forested areas of the Ridge by the British, the saving grace was the declaration of the remaining parts as a Reserve Forest. It still stands, providing us with the quality of air that we breathe. With the Commonwealth Village and Akshardham grabbing prime flood-estate from the river, can the ministry think of regulating what is left of the floodplains of the Yamuna before, like the vedic river Saraswati, the Yamuna too leaves us, quite literally, high and dry?








The 153-year-old Mumbai University deserves a prize for offering the most high-sounding excuse for not implementing a perfectly sane order from the University Grants Commission. Last year, the UGC issued an order making it mandatory for all Ph.D. aspirants to undergo an entrance test before embarking upon research studies for the selected subject. But Mumbai University has not yet implemented the order. When confronted, its authorities offer the bewildering excuse that it is trying to give a holistic approach to the entire system to prevent loopholes, discrepancy or manipulation in Ph.D.


But then why did its own autonomous chemistry and life science departments implement the UGC order last year itself? Don't they want to be holistic?


A wag says that all that "holistic" talk was merely meant to benefit Maharashtra's higher education minister Rajesh Tope who enrolled for a Ph.D. course in the commerce department. He enrolled in August this year and the university didn't want to trouble him with an entrance test. It is holier-than-thou rather than holistic.


No smile from Kalmadi


Commonwealth Games organising committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi has become the butt of some rather cruel jokes. SMS jokes related to the sloppy work and poor performance by the committee and its chief are doing the rounds these days.


One black joke which became quickly popular was this, "BREAKING NEWS: Suresh Kalmadi just tried to hang himself. But the ceiling collapsed".


As luck would have it, one such SMS arrived in the mobile phone of an official in a meeting where both Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar and Mr Kalmadi were present.


Sources disclose that the Cabinet Secretary read out the joke aloud. And what was Mr Kalmadi's reaction? Unfazed. Perhaps he knew that the joke was not on him but on us.


God help the Congress


A senior Congress leader who recently discussed Bihar Assembly elections with journalists at AICC headquarters in New Delhi claimed that partymen in the state were in a really upbeat mood this time.


But the journos were sceptical. They pointed out that Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan and the BJP had votebanks, but the Congress had none. So why should the cadre be joyful?


The Congress leader then shot back: "Congress sab ka hai aur sab Congress ke hain (Congress is for all and all are for Congress)".


But after a while common sense dawned upon him and he added: "Jiska koi nahi uska to khuda hai yaaron (If no one is there for you, God helps you)". So God help the Congress.


Once bitten, twice shy


The time-tested adage "once bitten, twice shy" is guiding the Shivraj Singh Chauhan government in Madhya Pradesh, which is tightening security in anticipation of trouble after the Ayodhya verdict.


In 1992, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, there were riots in Madhya Pradesh and the then Sunderlal Patwa government was dismissed. Also, the Congress won the next election and was in power for two consecutive terms.


In its second term in office, the BJP is not taking any chances and all pre-scheduled government programmes, including the chief minister's much publicised "Vanvasi Adhikar Samman Yatra" (campaign to implement the Forest Rights Act), have been postponed.


Mr Chauhan has made it clear that he does not want to deflect the attention of the official machinery from the herculean task of maintaining peace. Obviously, he does not want to lose the chance of another term at the helm.


Comrades, no Guatemala please


CPI(M) leaders of Kerala have the much-lampooned habit of dwelling on international matters even during street corner meetings in villages. They start off with a condemnation of the latest acts of American imperialists and then slowly progress to the mosquito problem in the village, with the audience getting bored to death.


With the panchayat polls just a few weeks away, veteran CPI(M) leader T. Sivadasa Menon recently did some plainspeaking with party workers and local leaders on the need to change their way of public speaking.


"For heaven's sake, please don't talk to voters about Venezuela, Cuba or Yankee imperialism", he said. "Instead, when you approach old women, just say: 'Grandma, I am standing for polls. Please bless me'. You will get votes."


Mr Menon also recalled the habit of a comrade who used to constantly refer to Guatemala in all his speeches.


One day, an old woman asked him: "Son, what happened in Guatemala?" Mr Menon was stumped for a moment. Then he gathered his wits and pretended, "Mother, please don't ask me. I can't even bear to say it", and promptly fled.


To catch Rahul's eye


AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi's day-long whirlwind visit to Assam was used by leaders of the Assam Congress to settle scores with their own government. The powerful student body, All Assam Students' Union (Aasu), had called for a boycott of Rahul Gandhi's visit to Dibrugarh University. When he arrived, he was shown black flags and greeted with slogans like "Rahul Gandhi go back". This happened despite massive security arrangements.


Chief minister Tarun Gogoi's detractors, who never miss an opportunity to vent their anger against him and his

colleagues, immediately termed it a major failure of the state administration and an embarrassment for Mr



However, insiders have another story. According to them, as Mr Gandhi kept himself aloof from state politics

and ignored the young ministers, Aasu was "allowed" to register a protest in order to make him understand that all is not well.








M. Karunanidhi, the ageing patriarch of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, may be torn by the test of loyalties as his sons, daughters, grandchildren and grand nephews pull in different directions, mandated by the pulls of political power and the pressures of their businesses. But there is one concession he will not make. He will not countenance any action against his belief in a brand of rationalism he inherited from the founding days of the Dravidian movement.


His visit to the Big Temple was no concession to theism of the majority, merely a salute to Tamil history dating back a thousand years to the day the great architectural marvel conceived by Raja Raja Chola was built. The politician who was bred on the ideals of Periyar's atheism did not visit the sanctum sanctorum, impressive as it is with a huge lingam sitting on an even bigger aavudai or stone base crating an aura that so many with faith in a maker would find overwhelmingly holy.


There were some concessions in his attire, as the unvarying sartorial minimalism of white cotton shirt with a two-coloured karai (stain) veshti was allowed to be emebllished by a silk angavastram with a rich golden zari.


The ambience of the tribute in dance form to Tamil culture may even have demanded this modicum of elegance on the part of one who, however, belongs to a breed of politicians who believe in the image of the white colour that is said to represent purity.


It is not in the visit to the Big Temple alone through which the chief minister has clung to his principles of not giving way to superstition. The very fact that he has chosen to go to the Assembly polls only in 2011is symbolic of his refusal to accept the widely held beliefs of soothsayers and their ilk. For, it's known that astrologers who make predictions on the polls have pointed to the unsuitability of the year 2011 for the front led by the patriarchal figure.


If 1991 was a year of defeat, so too was 2001. While the '91fall (of the DMK) at the hustings could be attributed to the sympathy wave in the wake of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the defeat in 2001 could only be explained away by the seasonal swings of Tamil Nadu in which the DMK and the AIADMK have been swept to power alternately, with only one exception when MGR was reelected. Astrologers have pounced on the coincidence of the year after a decade begins as auspicious for one side and not so for the other.


Considerable thought was given to moving the elections forward to 2010 as recommended by soothsayers but Karunanidhi shot it down not only for not wishing to pander to sentiment but also for several other reasons. The first is the constitutional provision for calling of early polls is not exactly in the hands of the ruling party in a settled political environment and the Election Commission may not accept the best of reasons that may be spelt out for holding the polls early, say in winter rather than the summer for climatic reasons. It is reported that Karunanidhi weighed the issue more as a political strategist. He wanted his freebie schemes to reach the tail end before the polls and with the distribution machinery able to complete the job only by the end of the year there was no reason to even try for early polls. His government will see out the full term by the time the polls are held


MK was as ready to act against numerology as he was steadfast in his refusal to give in to such sentiment as visits to the Big Temple inviting a trip to oblivion as is said to have happened in the case of Mrs Indira Gandhi and MGR. Anyway, as a Tamil literateur with an abiding passion in words and verse, he could not possibly resist the pull of the millennium celebrations of the fantastic Chola edifice that is a monument to Tamil culture and way of life. That he chose a side entrance once again rather than the gigantic main entrance will, however, add some more grist to the urban legend of the Big Temple and its effect on politicians.







Sometimes our philosophy concerning our duty is influenced by our relationships with others, as was the case of Arjuna with his cousins. We make excuses and hesitate to do what is right. But no matter what our relationship is, we should act according to our own nature, our svadharma. A person with an aptitude for activity cannot easily become a monk. And a person with a contemplative mind will not be comfortable with constant activity. Lord Krishna points out to Arjuna that from the standpoint of the totality of dharma he must be true to his nature of a kshatriya. He must fight. And from the relative perspective, the sense of doership that he now possesses should be utilised for a nobler cause, which is to serve and benefit others. Arjuna thinks that he will incur sin if he fights, but the opposite is true.


He will incur sin by not performing his duty. Arjuna must fight not only for the good of all, but for the destruction of evil. For a new order can only come when evil has ended.


But how can we decide whether or not we are performing our dharma? Earlier we noted that we are always in a state of conflict and indecision over this question where much discrimination is needed. Following are some guidelines but we must all decide for ourselves. We can ask the following questions to help clarify the voice of conscience.


Take smoking, for example, which we know is bad for our health. We may be allowed to smoke in a permitted area, but does that mean it is dharmika for us?


The science of dharma and all knowledge comes from the Lord. And that Lord resides in our very own heart. We may not listen to the Lord within because our desires may be too strong, but the Lord does catch up with us as there is no escape. For instance, if we are diabetic and our desire for sweets causes us to overeat, we compromise our health. Since we know that the body must adhere to the laws of nature it becomes adharma for us to overlook such guidelines. Therefore, for the good of the whole, it becomes crucial to structure our life according to the divine principles outlined in the scriptures.


There are three ways of testing the correctness of what we say or do:

* Is it the truth?* Is it fair to all concerned?

* Will it be beneficial to all concerned?


If we consider these guidelines before we act, then our actions will be consistent with dharma. All of these principles come from the same source. Dharma is a vast topic but at the same time, it is simple. It becomes complicated only when we compromise because of our desires. We need to rise above our personal considerations and learn to look at life in totality.


A wise, balanced person naturally and spontaneously does what is right in any situation. He acts without regard for personal likes and dislikes, gain or loss. Such a person will discover what his obligatory duties are as enjoined in the scriptures and will act upon them, avoiding what is prohibited. At the same time, he does not interfere in the actions of others.


Such a person fulfils his obligatory duties without attachment. He does not consider a particular task pleasant or unpleasant. Most of us are willing to perform our pleasant duties, but the unpleasant ones we would like to hand over to someone else. We must be able to say, "If I am supposed to do this, I will do it, and I will not be concerned with the results. I only want to know that this is the right thing to do".


— Swami Tejomayananda, head ofChinmaya Mission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer, composer and storyteller.

To find out more about ChinmayaMission and Swamiji, [1].
© Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.







SADLY, only token or technical compliance is accorded to judicial observation. Yet it was more than one particular case that a Bench of the Supreme Court (coram Katju, Thakur JJ) had in mind when it recently pointed to ineffective investigation of crime, and observed that "making use of these deficiencies, criminals go Scot free". Only time will determine how remedial will prove its directive to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory to furnish complete details of the facilities in place across the country for scientific crime detection, but the significance of the message it sent out cannot be taken lightly. In comparison with the professional skills and scientific tools available to investigators in Western countries, Indian police cut a sorry figure, their Lordships noted.


The significance lay not in the unfavourable evaluation, but in highlighting the low priority that investigation was accorded in the domestic scheme of policing. A reality check would confirm that only minimal action has been taken on a basic recommendation of more than one expert panel ~ separating the investigative staff of a police station from those tasked with preventive and routine law-and-order maintenance duties. A staff shortage would be the standard alibi. Hence despite most forces having a dedicated Crime Branch (maybe with a different designation), frequently the assistance of the CBI was sought. And not always because it was politically convenient to do so: the local squads lacked expertise. 

Police reform and upgrade has been placed high on the national agenda after the Mumbai massacre but the limited improvements pertain to counter-terrorism and VIP protection units. Keeping safe the streets and homes of common folk hardly figured. Yet who can deny that professional investigation that brought crooks to book was as effective a deterrent as patrolling ~ of which there is still precious little. Maybe the bottomline is that burglars, dacoits etc are no menace, or can be easily nabbed if a special effort is put in. Trouble is, aam aadmi never perceives that kind of effort when he has been at the receiving end: though the entire staff of a police station in the Capital was recently drafted on a combing operation ~ after a VIP's pet canine did the disappearing trick!  



IT is ominous when political rivalries sink to a level where the leader of the Opposition refuses to enter Writers' Buildings to complete  formalities for selecting a chief information commissioner. That the ritual has to be observed outside government headquarters to suit an "aggrieved'' member of the selection committee, and to enable the Governor to give the green signal, confirms the personal animosity that has added to rising tensions on the political scene. Why rivalries have to be extended to personal relations or to basic courtesies is a question neither Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee nor Mamata Banerjee may want to answer. The fact remains that even if the two have decided not to talk, there is no reason why their paths should not cross on occasions like a farewell to a Governor, a meeting convened by the Prime Minister to finalise preparations for celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore or, most recently, at the foundation laying of the Metro extension from Joka to BBD Bag.  The railway minister may have overstepped limits in preventing the state from claiming credit for the Metro project that she claims is a Central initiative. On the other hand, there are doubts whether the chief minister, if invited, would have displayed any enthusiasm about the railways under a minister whose name he refuses to mention and whose party he describes as "uncivilised and directionless''. 

Obviously, neither side has much concern for protocol or what Somnath Chatterjee describes as the "federal spirit'' of the Constitution. If the Railway minister has utilised a spate of projects for a specific agenda, so has the chief minister in courting minorities, sizable ethnic groups and now teachers to restore the political balance which has lately worked in favour of the Opposition. To that extent, the chief minister had reason to be sorely disappointed not just by the "affront'' at not being given an opportunity to put on record the state's participation in the Metro project but by the President's handsome references to the Railway minister's "dynamic'' role. Whether that was the real reason for him to skip a dinner in the President's honour will remain a well-guarded secret. But this near-childish enmity does no credit to either side. Worse, it doesn't augur well for the future ~ whoever is in government. After all, no party wins all the seats ~ or all the votes ~ in an election.



THERE is no international consensus on the protection of the Earth and its environment; yet a struggle for the mastery of the Arctic is under way. That geographical entity is much too complex for any quick-fix decision to emerge at the Moscow meeting of the stakeholders in the region's periphery. Suffice it to register that the competition for control over its rich natural resources is intense, and yet there has hitherto been little or no indication of international cooperation in the Arctic. The place knows no frontier, a fact that rules out the question of national demarcation. Technological and geographical changes have over time enhanced its attractions. Thanks to updated technology, prospecting and drilling is now possible in lower temperatures. Accessibility is now relatively easy not least because of the shrinking of the polar ice cap and improved navigability. Within the nations that have evinced interest, Russia has been quite the most strident after an initial setback. Its territorial claim, advanced to the UN, for the underwater Lomonosov Ridge, has been turned down in the absence of evidence. And yet in a signal of intent, a Russian expedition has planted a titanium flag beneath the North Pole. A research project has also been announced to buttress its claim. There is little doubt that Moscow's expression of  assertiveness has been spurred by the country's geographical proximity. No less crucially, Russia's mildly expansionist moves are embedded in its economic dependence on natural resources and mineral reserves. 

And yet it is a salutary development that the Kremlin is now willing to cooperate at the international level. A decidedly scientific approach to the impending conference does inspire a measure of hope, precisely that the Arctic will not be reduced to a ring for international shadow-boxing.  The focus will be on research and collection of data, indeed an agenda that explains the level of representation - scientists and consultants from the stake-holding countries and not government representatives. All countries, not least Russia, have realised the need to know more about the Arctic instead of engaging in a territory-grab movement in rarefied heights, and quite literally so.







TWO recent incidents are worth recall. In June 2009, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) had advised the Chinese Central Military Commission (CMC) to build an airport and a seaport on the Mischief Reef located at Spratly Islands in South China Sea. These installations would enable China to control the Spratlys and provide a platform for Chinese naval ships to bypass the Straits of Malacca which is considered a strategic choke-point for the country's national security. However, ASEAN experts believed that the call for building military installations on the disputed islands was a sign of China's increased willingness to use force in resolving territorial disputes with the Philippines and Vietnam. It was about the same time that PLA Navy under the direct orders of the CMC conducted a large scale naval exercise in the South China Sea to demonstrate Chinese sovereignty over the island.

In the second incident in June this year, South Korea had wanted to hold a joint war game with the US in the Yellow Sea. China opposed it as unwarranted and the exercise was moved. China's opposition to South Korea's perfectly legal manoeuvre in the area created friction with the US over their competing security presence around the trade-clogged shores of Asia. In the Asian security forum held in Hanoi in July this year, the US blamed China for not respecting international law and established rules.  America was dismayed to find China's repeated naval patrols in the South China Sea blaming the action as China's assertiveness to confront regional nations on the high seas and within the contested island chains.  Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei are all friendly with the United States. They have maritime boundary quarrels with China. While the United States considers its presence to enforce regional stability around the South China Sea a matter of national importance, China sees the US role in South-east Asia as inflaming of tensions what Beijing insists are purely bilateral matters. China denies that it can be a prickly neighbour. Rather it sees itself as a responsible stakeholder in the world. China views its adjacent oceans as a sea of peace.

The South China Sea extends from the Straits of Malacca in the south-west to the Straits of Taiwan in the north-east. This 3.5 million sq km waterbody is one of the largest sea bodies after five oceans. Over 500 million people in China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam live within 150 km of its coastline. The sea plays an important role for the economies of these littoral nations by providing food and employment for the coastal population. A large portion of the workforce is dependent on the marine environment. The sea is called by different names in neighbouring countries, often reflecting historical claims to hegemony over it.The South China Sea is one of the world's busiest international sea lanes that boast of a number of busiest shipping ports. More than half of the world's supertanker traffic passes through the region's waters. Over half of the world's merchant fleet (by tonnage) sails through its waters every year.

Over the next 20 years, oil consumption among the developing Asian countries is expected to rise by 5 per cent annually with about half of this increase coming from China. If this growth rate is maintained, the oil demand for these nations will reach 25 million barrels per day ~ more than double the current consumption levels ~ by 2020. Almost all of this additional Asian demand for oil as well as Japan's will need to be imported from the Middle East and Africa. Almost all of it will pass through the strategic Malacca Straits into the South China Sea. Supertankers sailing to Japan will pass through the Lombok Straits east of Bali. This adds to the immense importance of the South China Sea region. The sea is also a strategic maritime link between the Pacific and the Indian Ocean and of great importance to major naval powers. The US Pacific Fleet has an overwhelming presence and an expansive network of military bases across the Asia-Pacific. Safety of navigation and overflight and freedom of sea lanes of communication are of critical interests to the US that uses the Sea as a transit point and operating area for the US Navy and Air Force between military bases in Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. Any military conflict in the South China Sea area that threatens the strategic interests of the US or the security and economic interest of Japan may be seen as sufficiently disturbing to invite US involvement in order to preserve navigational freedom in these critical sea lanes.

The question of ownership of the Spratly Islands that are scattered in an area of 800,000 sq km within the South China Sea gained prominence when multinational oil companies started exploring the islands in late 1970s. As speculation about hydrocarbon resources grew, the claimant countries in the region started scrambling for their claims. This led to heightened tensions and periodic conflicts. No reliable estimate is available about the potential of oil and natural gas lying beneath the islands. Russia estimates an equivalent of six billion barrels of oil of which 70 per cent would be in natural gas. Chinese sources claim the islands area as "the second Persian Gulf", an energy resources cockpit that may contain 130 billion barrels. These optimistic assessments have remained a distant dream due to prohibitive cost of drilling and exploration in deep waters and low likelihood of substantial and commercially viable yields.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, countries may designate areas within 200 nautical miles (370km) of their coasts as exclusive economic zones. Across the South China Sea, especially in the Spratly Islands, zones overlap. They also intersect historical claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, China and Taiwan. In 1988, China sank Vietnamese ships before taking several of the Spratlys, perhaps the most serious clash so far since it captured the Paracel islands also from Vietnam in 1974. China had shown no compunction to a brother communist country. Paracels is now a military air base for China. That has strengthened China's grip as a strategic outpost south-east of Hainan. The affected nations require survival space. Tensions fuel a local arms race as well as fears that China aims to dominate all Asia by controlling the South China Sea. Many experts, however, argue that China's navy is not that strong yet to pursue an expansionist maritime policy in the South China Sea. Its leadership is too pragmatic to follow that course.

The same Law of the Sea stipulates that in areas where EEZs overlap, the dispute should be settled through peaceful negotiations among the parties concerned or parties might voluntarily agree to a third party mediation or to judicial consideration by the International Court of Justice. It is in the interest of all stakeholder countries to actively seek solutions to the disputes through political negotiations. Military conflict and arms race for these small countries to counter China's influence is no solution.  Preventive diplomatic approach to the South China Sea in a spirit of accommodation can alone bring a lasting solution. Beijing's ratification of the Law of Sea Convention can be seen as a major step towards achieving a negotiated settlement in the Spratly Island dispute. China has become more visible in supporting multilateral maritime efforts in the region in general and in managing shipping traffic in the sea lanes in particular. This is a common good and China in its own interest will desire a political settlement among the contesting countries in the South China Sea. 

In finding a lasting diplomatic and political settlement to the South China Sea problem, the USA should maintain a neutral position on the legal merits of various territorial claims. It should quietly encourage diplomatic efforts towards a peaceful resolution consistent with international law. The USA should ensure freedom of navigation and encourage consolidation of the rule of law in the management of international maritime disputes. South-east Asia is essentially a maritime area. The countries are bound together by a maritime environment and share a common sea heritage. Both the USA and China understand this sentiment. They together should take the lead within their specific roles to ensure lasting peace in the South China Sea. Given the political will, that is not a difficult task.








Women should not be left to lead a life of vagrancy. This seems to be one of the chief messages of the Supreme Court ruling on the maintenance of women deserted after living with and depending on a man for a long time, even if the relationship had not been one of legal marriage. The court ruling is in line with recent legislations placing the live-in partner within the purview of rights and claims to duty granted to legally wedded wives. Its generous scope, however, obscures two interesting points. One is the emphasis on vagrancy. It offers a sudden glimpse of the helplessly dependent status of many women and points to their lack of education, of exposure, skills and of control over their own lives. The just ruling has behind it a protective impulse. In terms of principle, this is a movement, intellectually, away from the ideal that all are equal before the law. Not that the law can help it. A law can only respond to a given situation, and this situation has been created by long years of indifference to constitutional directives: a social situation produced by political apathy. "Someone" has to take care of a deserted woman, the court has reportedly said. Mindful of the dignity of women, the court also referred to the old notion that women are the source of all strength. The ruling itself proves how distant the reality is from the ideal.


The second interesting point lies in the particular case. The widow of an older brother was 'married off', by custom rather than by law, to a brother much younger, as is the convention in many communities, especially in the north of India. With the turbulent entry of modern ideas, the traditional safety nets for widows in the family are beginning to fail. The younger brother in this case refused to maintain the older wife after he married according to his wish. The silent acceptance of bigamy within the family as a strategy for security is no longer working, for sharing the resources with a traditional burden is not a priority anymore. Hence the court's ruling regarding the continuity of maintenance. A woman 'married by custom' is not really the same as a live-in partner. Although the ruling on maintenance will help many women in different situations, in this particular case, it is basically ensuring protection for a woman left in the lurch by her marital family.








The contest for the leadership of the Labour Party turned out to be far more exciting than the predictable, even boring, general elections that Britain had earlier this year. It has been something of a surprise for Labour supporters, as well as for the nation as a whole, to see the geeky Ed Miliband's ascent to prominence, defeating his more charismatic brother, David, by a thin margin. The winds of change that had blown Gordon Brown out of 10 Downing Street seem to have pushed Tony Blair's New Labour in a different direction as well. Mr Blair's brainchild has been divested of its centrist flavour, and under the leadership of Mr Miliband the party is expected to return to its original socialist model that was endorsed by the trade unions. In fact, the support of the latter crucially contributed to Mr Miliband's victory, in spite of his less than successful attempt at writing the party's election manifesto that failed to see Mr Brown through yet another term in power. As he takes over the mantle of the leader, Mr Miliband is saddled with two tricky challenges. The first involves having to reconcile the jilted ego of his brother and senior colleagues like Ed Balls, another aspirant for the top job. And the second pertains to delivering the various left-leaning policies he had come up with in order to garner the support of the trade unions.


Mr Miliband, although not a political greenhorn, has been far less successful than his elder brother in gathering funds from rich bankers. Rather, the new leader's tax-the-rich approach and his aim of rebuilding British industry have given rise to murmurs that he is anti-business. Although he had distanced himself, commendably if somewhat cunningly, from Mr Blair's Iraq policy, Mr Miliband ended up arguing his case by drawing on some of the nicer legacies of Messrs Blair and Brown. Ironically, most of these Labour 'achievements' — education reform, minimum wage, subsidized renewable energy — would not have been possible without massive public spending. In present-day debt-ridden Britain, the government is contemplating severe expenditure cuts. Priorities have changes radically. Nostalgia for what a State, presuming it was caring enough, could do with a lot of money in its hands is of no practical use to what the country is facing today. To be a successful Opposition leader, let alone the future prime minister, Mr Miliband would have to focus more on reality than on rhetoric.









"If I make more money than the runs I score, I won't be able to sleep at night," quote, unquote: thus has spoken the world's indisputably highest-earning cricketer of all times. Without question he has made the statement with the utmost sincerity. The problem, however, is with the unit of currency in which he has got accustomed to count his money. It is most probably a lakh of rupees. Even the idea of belonging to a world where this is the denominator used to measure income or expenditure is something beyond the wildest dream of the overwhelming mass of people in this country. A bifurcation of culture is the inevitable consequence. The milieu of those who think in terms of earning a crore or a lakh of rupees a day is legions apart from that of those compelled to count their income or outlay with a measly rupee as denominator.


Liberalization has, in the course of the past couple of decades, further widened the economic distance between these two milieus. It may be roughly the same neighbourhood, but some of those living in the area have grabbed the opportunities globalization has thrown open and prospered hugely, their income and assets have soared and soared. Dwellers of the jhoparpatty next door have missed the bus of liberalization and are stuck with a quantum of gross earnings which force them to be careful how they spend every 50-paise bit.


Two vastly separate universes, but they exist side by side. The inhabitants of one, busy piling money and even more money, do not have either the time or the inclination to cast their sight at the direction of the other universe situated right next to them; they, at best, nurture a feeling of absent-minded pity regarding their lesser neighbours. This indifference is, however, not reciprocated by the inmates of that other universe. Information technology in particular has breached the erstwhile communications barrier between diverse human settlements. Those living in the poor, desolate milieu watch with wonder and bafflement the jazzy mode of living of their fabulously rich neighbours. They have no part in the luxuries and indulgences that are integral to the lifestyle prevailing in the other universe abutting theirs. Mostly by the grace of the electronic media, the jhoparpatty residents, however, get to know everything about the mind-boggling goings-on in that other universe embodied in the catch-all expression, 'conspicuous consumption'. Wonder invades the mind: why must such conspicuous consumption be the prerogative of only that small bunch of lucky people?


The query is easily answered: conspicuous consumption is a function of conspicuous earnings, earnings the size of which makes the eyes of the ordinary householders pop out. It is a closed circuit. Income of fabulous proportions paves the way for splashing money wildly and indiscriminately over a long, large range of luxury goods and services. At the same time, income generated through, for instance, endorsement of such goods and services adds to the flow of conspicuous income of those who do the endorsements. In a seemingly unending chain of two-way relationships, those who grow richer by this process spend yet more money on durable and non-durable luxury goods and services, thereby ensuring yet another round of extra earnings for the select few.


Till as long as those outside this charmed circle accept their own humble circumstances as an immutable datum — linked to their kismet — nobody need lose any sleep. Trouble arises only when the ones left out of the circuit are stirred into thinking about the state of affairs. Thinking leads to sulking: why should the opportunities to become fat cats and command enough purchasing power to buy those luscious goods and services advertised on the television screen not come to them? Some of the discontented form groups and begin to agitate, demanding higher wages from their employers who are distinguished members of the universe that defines arcadia. Economic liberalization has, however, effectively taken care of this nuisance of collective bargaining. The agitators are thrown out of their jobs and substituted by computers. The recalcitrants, instead of improving their lot, join the great reserve army of the unemployed.


The story could end here, but often does not. Some of those unable to reconcile themselves to the reality of two vastly different universes existing next to each other and badly wanting to disturb the status quo drift towards the direction of this or that genre of revolutionary praxis. A few amongst them disappear in the forests and the hills from where they venture out in sporadic offensives against the solidly entrenched concordat of the rich. Sometimes they are apprehended and charged with sedition.


There is another group of discontents taking the lawless road who make no pretence of being enamoured of a societal vision. This lot initially tries to beg, borrow or steal for acquiring the wherewithal that will enable them to have a whiff of the good life lived by the filthy rich. Some of them graduate from petty thievery to grand larceny. A handful even stray into forging documents, or floating bogus finance companies to collect some quick money. That is to say, they engage in criminal activities that invite severe punishment. Once caught and sentenced, they disappear behind prison walls; the good things in life remain beyond their reach.


These are things and events happening every day, in all societies where the distribution of income and assets is horribly askew. Attempts to rationalize the existence of two universes in the same society in terms of disparateness in such attributes as talent, faulty application and perseverance have usually few takers among the left-out multitudes.


The spin-off of the dichotomy in economic conditions often spills beyond national borders. Cricketers in Pakistan earn only piffle compared to the gross takings of the average run of Indian cricketers. With the Taliban threat looming large, foreign teams have stopped visiting the country and no international fixtures take place on Pakistan's soil. The luxury consumer market, while flourishing, is limited in scale; the opportunity is therefore missed to develop a domestic circuit of conspicuous consumption leading to conspicuous earnings and conspicuous earnings in their turn leading to further conspicuous consumption. On select occasions, Pakistani players visit other countries and participate in Tests, ODIs and T20 matches. Their earnings, however, stay within modest contours. They play the same game of cricket as Indians do. Some of them display skill and proficiency matching those of the average Indian cricketer. And yet, relatively speaking, they remain a poor bunch. Suddenly a bookie arrives on the scene, he promises them astronomical sums of money in case the players agree to enter the esoteric world of match fixing and spot fixing; it is still possible to reach legendary levels of living and accumulate wealth of huge magnitude only if they condescend to go into the bookie's parlour. One or two of the players cannot resist the temptation. The next stop is disaster.


The Pakistan cricket team has this summer played a four-match test series against England. It was comprehensively beaten in three of them and squeaked through to a victory in the other one. Nonetheless, it was no England player but an 18-year old brat from Pakistan who was adjudged the man of the series. This youngster, of the humblest background, possesses extraordinary natural talent, his swing bowling is out of this world. On the threshold of cricketing glory, he could have gone very far, winning laurels after laurels. He could have, in due course, come into pots and pots of money too. But the bookies captured him before he could get his breaks. The tragedy of Mohammad Amir in a way depicts the darkest side of globalization, and has cast a shadow on all lands and peoples with the philosophy of no-holds-barred instant money-making, never mind the modality.








Next week, according to North Korea-watchers, the Korean Workers' Party will hold an assembly in Pyongyang to anoint Kim Jong-un, the youngest son of Kim Jong-il, as the successor to his father and grandfather. There is already a song, Footsteps, that praises the young man's qualities as a leader, and lapel badges with his image are being churned out so that every North Korean can wear one.


Egypt is not quite so weird, in the sense that the three generals who have ruled the country for the past 54 years were not actually blood relations, but it is getting weirder. It is universally believed that President Hosni Mubarak, now 82, is grooming his 46-year-old son, Gamal, as his successor. There were public protests about that in Cairo and Alexandria recently, though the police soon broke them up with the usual arrests and violence.


But where does this all come from? How can anybody believe that none of the 85 million Egyptians is better suited to be president than the son of the present incumbent, or that the 'Young General', Kim Jong-un, is the only one of North Korea's 24 million people who is qualified to rule the country? In fact, nobody does believe it, and neither of these men has a powerful personal following of his own. Moreover, these countries are republics, not monarchies. They may be dictatorial, repressive republics, but the whole notion of dynasties is alien to republics of any sort. So how can this sort of thing happen?


The first modern case of an inherited dictatorship was Bashar al-Assad, who succeeded his father Hafez as the president of Syria in 2000. The way he got chosen is quite instructive. Hafez al-Assad had ruled Syria with an iron fist for 30 years. He did want to keep power within the family, but it was his older son, Basil, whom he was grooming to succeed him. However, Basil died in a car accident, and Bashar was ordered back to Syria and put on an intensive programme of military and political training.


Strange rules


When his father died six years later, Bashar, at the age of 35, was swiftly chosen to succeed him — but how did that happen? Why did all the other major players in the Syrian regime, a notoriously ambitious and ruthless group of men, agree to make this inexperienced nobody their leader? Because they wanted to preserve their own privileges, and that could be guaranteed by letting the dictator's son take power. In a one-party regime, there are no real rules for succession, and the risk that a struggle between rivals for the leadership will destroy the unity of the party and bring the whole regime down is ever present. Unless the son of the late leader is a murderous megalomaniac, he is the safest choice no matter how poor his qualifications. He can lead in name while the real decisions are made elsewhere, and all the powerful people within the regime get to keep their accustomed places at the trough.


That is the logic that brought Bashar al-Assad to power in Syria, and it is what creates support within the North Korean and Egyptian regimes today for the elevation of the current dictators' sons to supreme power. It really doesn't matter who is up on the reviewing stand taking the salute, as long as the thousand most powerful people in the regime keep their jobs.


So Kim Jong-un will be acclaimed as the next leader of North Korea by the party congress. Gamal Mubarak will run for president in next year's 'election' in Egypt, and will win because the regime always fixes the elections. But despite the extraordinary durability of these regimes, they are not indestructible. If you can credibly say about some situation that "it cannot go on like this forever," then the only logical alternative is that it will eventually stop. Just not right now.



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





Almost the entire north India, from Haryana to Bihar, is reeling under floods. All major rivers and canals are in spate, dams are full and water is being released from the reservoirs to ease the pressure. Rains are continuing and meteorologists are predicting more of them. Even in low rainfall years, floods cause losses in many areas. This year the monsoon is above average, after failure in many parts last year. That has led to the swelling of all rivers. Uttarakhand is perhaps the worst affected, with cloudburst and landslides taking a heavy toll of lives and property. About 400 people have lost their lives in all states together. Entire villages and cattle have been washed away and normal life has been derailed.

Though floods are an annual feature we are still unable to cope with them. The expertise that should have been gained in the past years is never in evidence in dealing with a new situation. Increasing our knowledge about floods is important, and better research is needed for that. All countries which have rivers flowing down from the Himalayas, mainly India, Pakistan, and China,  have experienced unusually high flood levels and climatic changes. There is a view that these are because of the changes in the Himalayan ecosystem and it calls for more studies. It would be a great idea if the countries jointly set up a research institute with representation for experts and scientists from all of them to study the Himalayas. Our knowledge of the Himalayas is poor and inadequate. A world class research institute with climatologists, geologists and other experts from the countries will help to understand better the mountain ranges which are vital for all of them. It will also be symbol of co-operation and collaboration, badly needed in the region.

What is immediately needed in the affected states is quick evacuation of people from flood-hit areas, proper running of relief camps, reaching of food and medical aid to the needy people  and distribution of compensation to those who have suffered losses. The worst sufferers are poor people many of whom have lost their belongings and livelihood. Every year there are complaints  about the failure of governments to deal with the flood situation and this year is no different. The state and central authorities and the national disaster relief force will have to work more efficiently and with better co-ordination to manage the difficult situation in many states.








There are few other animals in India that have as important a place in our culture, tradition and imagination as the elephant. In roles as varied as a god, a draught animal, combat force, entertainer, wild animal and objects of admiration, they have dominated our lives and minds for ages. But familiarity has bred neglect and elephants have received a raw deal. They should actually receive the kind of attention and protection that tigers and lions get. There are only 26,000, including 3,500 captive animals kept in temples and zoos, left in the country where lakhs of them once flourished. It is appropriate therefore that they have been declared a part of the national heritage. A National Elephant Conservation Authority is being set up and an allocation of Rs 600 crore is being made for the conservation efforts. The decisions are based on the recommendations of a task force set up by the environment ministry.

The habitats of elephants have been shrinking because of human encroachment and deforestation and forest degradation. More elephant reserves will be set up and they will be declared ecologically sensitive regions. Development activities that affect them will be curbed and efforts will be made to relocate local populations from these areas. The loss of living space has led to the straying of elephants into human habitats, resulting in man-animal conflict, loss of crops, property and lives. Many die, knocked down by vehicles on roads or by trains on tracks, as it happened in West Bengal on Thursday. Poaching for tusks is a major threat. It is estimated that 100 elephants were killed by poachers last year. The seriousness of the problem can be seen from the gender ratio of elephants. Only males are killed by poachers and therefore there is only one male for 100 females in some areas. Ill-treatment of captive animals is rampant. The situation is better now because rules have been framed for their better upkeep and efforts are made to enforce them.

Tradition sanctions the use of elephants in religious processions and in other celebrations. It should be seriously considered whether they are really needed for such occasions. The sight of an elephant evokes wonderment and joy even in those who have seen hundreds of them. We should give it the environment that it needs to survive and it calls for special attention because of its place in history and the national psyche.







''The govt would be foolish to believe that it can bury the judgement in some legal maze, making it untraceable.''


It is never easy to walk close to the precipice. The supreme court must be feeling very sure-footed to test its vertigo level on Ayodhya. It has put six decades of anguish, turmoil and a legal endurance test on the edge of a calendar. If there is the slightest mishap, and even the supreme court cannot claim the divine power of predicting what unknown factors might spin the coming week out of control, the Allahabad High Court judgement on the Babri title dispute could fall into a bottomless abyss. If the judgement is not read out before the end of the month it becomes infructuous since one of the judges is retiring. India does not have the energy to start another six decades of social, political and legal acrimony.

It would of course have been heavenly if time was the solution to a problem that proved intractable for both the British Raj and free India. Many problems in India do merge and disappear in that glacier called time. Faith, alas, arouses passions that have the resilience to defeat time. There is a view among those who have not experienced the depth of faith that the dispute has faded into unimportance. It was perhaps this assessment that persuaded Rahul Gandhi to claim that other things were more important. A little reading of history would be useful. The Ayodhya dispute has lain dormant for long spells before erupting suddenly, volcanically, and spreading its lava far and wide into the social streams of our nation.

Sometimes it rumbles before bursting, and sometimes it surprises us with its arbitrary vehemence. This is why Sardar Patel, whose understanding of India was unmatched, advised Jawaharlal Nehru to find some way towards immediate closure of the two issues that had become symbols in the Hindu subconscious, the temple at Somnath destroyed by Mahmud of Ghazni and the Babri mosque. Nehru was uncomfortable, but did not interfere with the reconstruction of the temple at Somnath, except that he would not allow the project to become a state enterprise. Somnath was comparatively easy since no one had built a mosque at the site. Patel warned that if the Ram-birthplace dispute was not resolved it would return to haunt India five decades later. It did, in less time than that.

Ayodhya was different because there was a mosque, built during the reign of Babar. L K Advani linked the two when he started his rath yatra towards Ayodhya from Somnath, exactly 20 years on September 25. Another two decades of time have not brought any resolution.

Mass psyche

Perhaps we are being lulled by the fact that there has been no violence over Ayodhya after 1992. Mistake. Indians, of any religion or denomination, are instinctively repulsed by violence, even if they can, on occasions, get as appallingly murderous as any crowd in history. But there is rarely exultation and always guilt. Even when top-of-mind recall has dimmed, it does not mean that an issue such as Ayodhya has disappeared from the hearts.

The consequences of non-judgement will be horrendous. It is obvious from the statements of their spokesmen that the Congress is, typically, committed to irresolution. Its politics impels it to hunt with the mosque and run with the temple. This fudge was possible as long as the courts were taking their time. Time — a chameleon component of this drama — has run out, at least in the legal sense. There is at long last a judgement, by a respected high court. Even a stay on its implementation and the reality of an appeal cannot diminish the power of a verdict. The government would be very foolish to believe that it can bury the judgement in some legal maze, making it untraceable. If the judgement is not read by the court, it will still find its way to the people, through the media perhaps. The happy fact of any democracy is that suppressed information, like water, always leaks through the shackles of government.

The parties involved are already raising dangerous apprehensions. It is only natural for either, or perhaps both, to feel that the government is using delay as a tactic to deny them justice. The only salutary outcome of such a situation would be that the two parties forget their bitterness towards each other, and divert it towards the government in a common cause. Do not laugh. Stranger things have happened in Indian politics.

The supreme court has the liberty to hope that something could happen in six days that has not happened in six decades, an amicable settlement. But it has no right to abort the course of justice for reasons extraneous to the law. Tuesday is going to be a tense day, but I have no doubt that the supreme court will apply its own means test. It needs an answer to only one question: have the parties to the dispute reached a settlement outside the court? If the answer is no, as is likely, then before the supreme court rises it must give leave to its brothers on the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court to deliver their judgement. That is the only safe route back from the precipice.







It is almost certain that Labour will not revert to a socialist agenda it ditched years ago.


The British Labour Party has a new leader. Since Gordon Brown's resignation and the party's election defeat in May, the main tussle for the leadership has been between the two Miliband brothers. It was announced on Saturday that Ed, the younger of the two, had defeated David to take the crown. It remains to be seen in which direction Ed Miliband will now steer the party.

To date, all three main parties have been advocating huge cuts to public services in order to reduce the national debt brought about by the crisis in the banking sector and the subsequent massive bail out. The only difference is that Labour has been arguing for a slower pace of cuts to try to avoid a double dip recession.

The UK will shortly get to know the extent of the cuts. Job losses and slashes to services will follow. As leader of the main opposition party, just how far Ed Miliband will be prepared to go in standing up for millions of ordinary people who will bear the cost remains to be seen.

Power without substance

Under Tony Blair, Labour won three straight elections. However, critics say that gaining electoral office by ditching the party's core left wing values merely served to produce power without real substance and no radical improvement to the lives of ordinary working class people — Labour's traditional core supporters. Arguably, this was the ultimate reason for the election defeat, with such people having finally abandoned the party.
For some time now, all three mainstream parties have been pro-privatisation, pro-big business and anti-trade union. Some Labour supporters hope the party will now move towards establishing clear ground between itself and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. They are hoping that, under Ed Miliband, Labour can rediscover its commitment to social equity and justice and show greater enthusiasm for tackling the causes and impact of social inequality, which widened during the party's 13 years in government.

More radical voices are beginning to emerge within the labour movement that advocate an alternative to the cross party consensus that cuts are necessary. The national debt is in fact smaller than in 1945 when huge amounts of public money were used to create the welfare state. There are thus concerns that the 'cuts are necessary' mantra is being used by the government as a device to drive through an ideologically driven agenda for the privatisation and dismantling of huge swathes of the public sector and the welfare state.
Instead of slashing public spending, certain trade union leaders and activists are calling for, among other things, firmer taxation policies for the rich and the nationalisation or renationalisation of the massively profitable energy, rail, banking and insurance industries. But, with Ed Miliband at the helm, it is almost certain that Labour will not revert to a socialist agenda it ditched years ago.

Exactly how much support Ed Miliband offers to those who bear the brunt of the cuts will be crucial, however. Too much support and he risks alienating middle class voters and the right wing media; too little and he risks alienating further traditional working class voters.

Under New Labour, the party's raison d'etre was to acquire and hold on to power. After 18 years in opposition, this had become its core value, seemingly void of genuine commitment to a wider political philosophy that embraced serious social change. When faced with the ubiquitous shadow cast by powerful big business and a forceful right wing media, Labour reinvented itself as New Labour by deciding to 'play the game' and rid itself of most of its left leaning policies. In doing so, some argue that it became a rather vacuous but very successful election winning machine.

As someone associated with the previous New Labour government, Ed Miliband may well continue to support the prevailing cross-party consensus on cuts and not mount any significant defence of jobs and services. If so, he could find himself between a rock and a hard place. His leadership campaign had good support from the rade unions. They may expect payback when the cuts begin to bite.

Ed Miliband is more of a technocrat than radical, more middle manager than firebrand. In an era of advanced capitalism, the role of mainstream political leaders is to demonstrate competence when it comes to managing the machinery of state in order to fine tune the status quo, not overhaul it. A role worth having? As potential future PM, Ed Miliband might certainly say so. Those who want Labour to be a genuine party of the left would disagree. Labour's new leader could be in for a very bumpy ride.







When I got a chance to visit Rome, I wanted to make the best of it.


Believing in the adage, "Be a Roman while at Rome", wherever I travel I try to live as a local enjoying visits to museums and monuments, savouring the local food and generally getting the feel of the place. When I got a chance to visit Rome with my wife, I wanted to make the best of it, since I had only a day to spend there.

As we were having dinner, my host said that the most important places in Rome are located in close proximity to each other and it is fun to see Rome while walking. I jumped at his suggestion and bravely told him we will conquer Rome by foot in a day! Though my wife protested muttering that I am prone to the foot-in-the-mouth syndrome, I placated her saying we could take a cab if our legs gave way. The next morning our host dropped us at a central point, handed me a tourist map on which he had painstakingly marked the important places and routes to be taken and drove away.

Our first place of visit was Trevi fountain. We marvelled at its magnificence, threw coins into it like others, spent some time there and walked to see the other famous fountains, Navona and Fontano Delmoro. The map indicated Spanish steps as a nearby landmark. By the time we went there, we were hungry. Our hostess had packed bisibelebath and curd rice and we ate them with great relish sitting on the historic steps. Refreshed, we started walking again, and arrived at Roman Forum containing the oldest and most important structures of the ancient city. "This place looks like Hampi," my wife exclaimed. I nodded. Exploration of the Forum, like Hampi, was quite exhausting.

After a while my wife said that she was tired and cannot walk further. I told her we can at least see all the important land marks of Rome and cajoled her to continue the walk and took her to the nearby Colloseum. She was quite tired, but my act of getting dressed as a Gladiator and taking photographs cheered her. It was now tea time and we had some refreshments and gave rest to our weary legs. After tea, my wife wanted to return, but I told her that we don't come to Rome every day and must see all we could see in a day. Slowly we walked towards Piazza Poppolo, which I remembered seeing in an English movie. My wife complained of blisters in her foot and refused to move further. I made her sit on a bench and explored the surroundings alone.

By this time the sun was setting. We had to cover some more landmarks. But my legs were also aching. When I tried to motivate my wife to visit at least two more sights before we called it a day, she firmly put her foot down. I told her that she should "be a Roman while at Rome". She retorted saying "Rome was not built in a day and cannot be walked in a day". Disappointed, we returned.









Once again, a report has blamed an event almost solely on Israel while refusing to assign responsibility or even suitably investigate any other party.


Talkbacks (2)

Unsurprisingly, a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) report has once again slammed Israel's acts of self-defense. The recently released report ostensibly investigating the events that surrounded the interception of the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara in May is a modern blood-libel, and another nail in the coffin of the council's

redibility. The full report is scheduled to be officially presented to the council on Monday.

While its name would seem to indicate a worthy body, the UNHRC has two sole functions: to defend serial human-rights abusing nations from reproach, and to revile and attack Israel.

The UNHRC, created in 2006, is the successor to the thoroughly discredited United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR). When the mandate for the new council was debated, certain basic reforms and standards were proposed to ensure the commission's failures were not repeated. Unfortunately, few of the reforms received substantial support in the UN General Assembly, which refused to adopt them.

Those that were adopted have been abused.

The General Assembly resolution that created the council merely required member states to "take into account" a candidate's human-rights record when applying to the UNHRC. Not even a nation under sanction from the UN Security Council for human-rights abuses need refrain from seeking election.

During the application process, candidate nations make pledges of adherence to human rights standards by way of justifying their candidacy. These statements have been described as Kafkaesque in their deviance from reality and historical record. One glaring example is that of Saudi Arabia, which claimed a "confirmed commitment to the defense, protection and promotion of human rights."

The reality of course, is very different.

The US State Department's annual human rights reports consistently criticize Saudi Arabia for its serious human rights failings, including arbitrary arrest, discrimination against women, restriction of worker rights and lack of religious freedom.

However, Saudi Arabia is hardly alone, as only 20 of the 47 nations on the UNHRC are considered "free" by Freedom House, an independent NGO which monitors human rights and political freedoms. This means the majority of nations currently represented on the UNHRC do not allow basic freedoms for their own people, let alone concern themselves with global human rights.

Another example of this farce was the recent election of Libya to the UNHRC.

Libya received support from 155 of the General Assembly's 192 member states in a secret ballot, angering a coalition of 37 human rights organizations which described Libya as one of the most repressive societies in the world.

ONE OF the root problems is the influence of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) within the UNHRC.

The UNHRC heavily weights membership on its council to nations from Africa and Asia – two continents where the OIC has considerable influence. The OIC controls the lion's share of the world's energy resources, including oil, gas and uranium.

The OIC and its allies have an automatic majority on the UNHRC, and this is represented in the council's workload.

Human Rights Watch claims that the OIC has "fought doggedly" and successfully within the UN Human Rights Council to shield states from criticism, except when it comes to criticism of Israel. The OIC's mantra has been that the council should work cooperatively with abusive governments rather than condemn them.

This has led to the absurd situation in which Israel is condemned 33 times by the UNHRC out of a total of 40 countryspecific condemnations, while the UNHRC expresses only "deep concern" over Sudan and praises its cooperation.

In addition, the UNHRC adopted a unique decision to discuss human rights violations committed by Israel in all of the council's meetings. It has also been criticized for redirecting attention to the fate of Muslim minorities within non- Muslim countries, but diverting attention from the treatment of ethnic minorities in Muslim-majority countries, such as the oppression of the Kurds in Syria, the Ahwaz in Iran, the Al-Akhdam in Yemen or the Berbers in Algeria.

Furthermore, the OIC has been at the forefront of silencing freedom of expression.

An amendment to the duties of the special rapporteur on freedom of expression, passed by the Human Rights Council on March 28, 2008, has acted against this very freedom. The OIC and its allies have sought to ban anything they deem as criticism of Islam. Some nations were outraged by this amendment, which they claimed "turns the special rapporteur's mandate on its head."

Nevertheless, it is on the subject of Israel that the OIC appears to have unique influence. When the UNHRC discussed issues relating to the Second Lebanon War in 2006, four of the council's independent experts reported the findings of their visit to Lebanon and Israel. State after state from the OIC took the floor to denounce the experts for daring to look beyond Israeli violations to discuss Hizbullah's as well.

This sent a very clear message that experts filing reports for the UNHRC involving Israel should never look at the conduct of any other party. Justice Richard Goldstone understood this very well, as was reflected in the report he gave the UNHRC. In an interview given to Al Jazeera in 2009, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of the OIC, explained how his organization not only initiated, but drove the Goldstone process from start to finish.


THE PANEL of experts compiling the report on events surrounding the flotilla has clearly understood its mandate well. Once again, a report has singularly blamed an event almost solely on Israel while refusing to assign responsibility or even suitably investigate any other actor. What makes the report so absurd is the recent release of many first-hand accounts by people on the Mavi Marmara.

These accounts, written by some hostile to Israel in the first place, depict very different scenes to those

escribed in the report.

In his recently released book, Turkish journalist Sefik Dinç, while sympathetic to the militant IHH, writes that the crisis was "calculated" by those on board, and reportedly describes how the IDF soldiers did not open fire until after other soldiers were taken hostage. Dinç describes in his book, with the aid of photographs, how preparations for confronting the Israelis on the Mavi Marmara were "not going to be that passive."

Our internal investigations indicate that not only did the soldiers only open fire when their lives were threatened, but that the first shots were fired by those on the boat; there are reports that one soldier suffered a knee injury from a non-IDF weapon as soon as he came on board.

This biased, libelous report indicates that the OIC has once again achieved its aim of condemning Israel through its proxies in the UNHRC. One again, it has proven UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former high commissioner for human rights Mary Robinson's criticisms that the council acts according to political considerations as opposed to human rights. In fact, the report stands as an affront to the secretary- general's own panel of inquiry, with which Israel is fully cooperating.

General Assembly President Joseph Deisss warned recently against the marginalization of the UN itself by stating the need for urgent reforms, like reviewing the UNHRC. At stake is the plight of millions of victims of human-rights violations around the world.

It is high time for democracies to reassess their participation in a council that places political calculations over the protection of human rights while providing cover to some of the world's most brutal regimes.

We must give a voice to the oppressed, justice to the abused and equity for all of humanity. None of this will be achieved by always attacking and condemning Israel while allowing totalitarian nations to hijack the international human-rights agenda.

The writer is the deputy foreign minister.








Fear-over-hope rides again, this time with Democrats in the saddle warning about 'the Republican tea party.'

Talkbacks (2)


When facing a tsunami, what do you do? Pray, and tell yourself stories. I am not privy to the Democrats' private prayers, but I do hear the stories they're telling themselves. The new meme is that there's a civil war raging in the Republican Party. The tea party will wreck it from within and prove to be the Democrats' salvation.

I don't blame anyone for seeking a deus ex machina when about to be swept out to sea. But this salvation du jour is flimsier than most.

In fact, the big political story of the year is the contrary: that a spontaneous and quite anarchic movement with no recognized leadership or discernible organization has been merged with such relative ease into the Republican Party.

The tea party could have become Perot '92, an antigovernment movement that spurned the Republicans, went third-party and cost George H.W. Bush reelection, ending 12 years of Republican rule. Had the tea party gone that route, it would have drained the Republican Party of its most mobilized supporters and deprived Republicans of the sweeping victory that awaits them on November 2.

Instead, it planted its flag within the party and, with its remarkable energy, created the enthusiasm gap.

Such gaps are measurable. This one is a chasm. This year's turnout for the Democratic primaries (as a percentage of eligible voters) was the lowest ever recorded.

Republican turnout was the highest since 1970.

True, Christine O'Donnell's nomination in Delaware may cost the Republicans an otherwise safe seat (and possibly control of the Senate) and Sharron Angle in Nevada is running only neck-and-neck with an unpopular Harry Reid. On balance, however, the tea party contribution is a large net plus, with its support for such strong candidates as Marco Rubio of Florida, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Joe Miller of Alaska, Mike Lee of Utah. Even Rand Paul, he of the shaky start in Kentucky, sports an eight-point lead.

Nonetheless, some Democrats have convinced themselves that they have found the issue with which to salvage 2010. "President Obama's political advisers," reports The New York Times, "are considering a range of ideas, including national advertisements, to cast the Republican Party as all but taken over by tea party extremists."

Sweet irony. Fear-over-hope rides again, this time with Democrats in the saddle warning darkly about "the Republican tea party" (Joe Biden). Message: Vote Democratic and save the nation from a Visigoth mob with a barely concealed tinge of racism.

First, this is so at variance with reality that it's hard to believe even liberals believe it. The largest tea party event yet was the recent Glenn Beck rally on the Mall.


The hordes descending turned out to be several hundred thousand cheerful folks in what, by all accounts, had the feel of a church picnic. And they left the place nearly spotless – the first revolution in recorded history that collected its own trash.

Second, the general public is fairly evenly split in its views of the tea party. It experiences none of the horror that liberals do – and think others should.

Moreover, the electorate supports by 2-to-1 the tea party signature issues of smaller government and lower taxes.

Third, you would hardly vote against the Republican in your state just because there might be a (perceived) too-conservative Republican running somewhere else. How would, say, Paul running in Kentucky deter someone from voting for Mark Kirk in Illinois? Or, to flip the parties, will anyone in Nevada refuse to vote for Harry Reid because Chris Coons, a once self-described "bearded Marxist," is running as a Democrat in Delaware? Fourth, what sane Democrat wants to nationalize an election at a time of 9.6 percent unemployment and such disappointment with Obama that just this week several of his own dreamy 2008 supporters turned on him at a cozy town hall? Their only hope is to run local campaigns on local issues. That's how John Murtha's former district director hung on to his boss' seat in a special election in Pennsylvania.

Newt Gingrich had to work hard – getting Republican candidates to sign the Contract with America – to nationalize the election that swept Republicans to victory in 1994. A Democratic anti-tea party campaign would do that for the Republicans – nationalize the election, gratis – in 2010.

As a very recent former president – now preferred (Public Policy Polling, Sept. 1) in bellwether Ohio over the current one by 50 percent to 42 percent – once said: Bring 'em on.








Barack Obama's speech to the UN General Assembly lacked any assertion of US leadership and any indication that it has a particular set of interests.


President Barack Obama's speech to the UNGA on September 23 was revealing on several levels.

Indeed, I learned something very important about his foreign policy.

He began by discussing terrorism as if it is carried out by faceless, causeless mystery men who have no sponsors, ideology or goals and attack everyone equally.

Obama, Ban Ki-moon, condemn Ahmadinejad's 9/11 comments

Al Qaeda in Iraq takes responsibility for Baghdad bombings

Obama explained: "Nine years ago, the destruction of the World Trade Center signaled a threat that respected no boundary of dignity or decency. Two years ago this month, a financial crisis on Wall Street devastated American families on Main Street. These separate challenges have affected people around the globe."

That could be an important clue: those who attacked the World Trade Center might have been early protesters against the financial crisis.

What has happened since? "Men, women and children have been murdered by extremists from Casablanca to London, from Jalalabad to Jakarta."

Note that three of the four places listed are in Muslim- majority countries, disguising the fact that most of these attacks were by Islamists trying to kill Westerners, though many were also aimed at Muslims.

Obama should want to win over governments in Muslim majority countries, but he goes a step further, making Muslims the victims rather than focusing on building a broad international coalition.


For that purpose, Obama should have listed more places. In fact, by making the tally include many countries he would have demonstrated the extent of the problem and, more effectively, the need for cooperation in fighting it. It would have been especially smart of him to mention Russia, India, and China. A mention of Israel would have been decent.

The problem, then, is not that Obama wants to show sympathy for non-radical Muslims and win them over.

It's that he focuses too single-mindedly on that priority, while failing to draw a sharper distinction between the two sides in Islam's internal struggle for power.

Obama then discusses the withdrawals from Iraq.

Next, a curious, clumsy phrasing to transition to a discussion of nuclear weapons: "As we pursue the world's most dangerous extremists, we are also denying them the world's most dangerous weapons, and pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."

Leaving aside the nuclear issue itself, how has US policy denied al-Qaida nuclear weapons? The proper connection would be to Iran as the world's main sponsor of terrorism.

Instead, he links the denial of nuclear weapons to Iran with the idea that everyone must give them up, though he mentions in passing that "Iran is the only party to the Nonproliferation Treaty that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program..."

But what does this mean? That Iran's nuclear program is developing weapons, or that there is concern that such weapons might be used? THEN OBAMA gets to the issue that really animates him, what he appears to believe is the keystone to everything.

Two paragraphs about terrorism; two on Iran; 10 long paragraphs about Israel-Palestinian issues.

Before going into detail, let me ask a question: Obama wants to win over Muslim-majority states.

Why should he highlight what might be considered the US weak point in that context? I understand he wishes to demonstrate how hard the US is working on this issue. But no matter how much he talks, he has nothing to show for it! A good statesman doesn't highlight what he cannot do, nor set himself up as the one to blame when nothing happens. He and his administration simply don't get this and keep promising, flattering and sometimes conceding with no result.

Obama then sets out to prove he is the world's number- one champion of the Palestinian cause. Generally, he does try to present a balanced policy in line with the historic US stance. He wants "two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, as part of a comprehensive peace between Israel and all its neighbors."

But much of the speech is word for word what he's said when meeting Israeli, Palestinian or Arab leaders. What is he trying to achieve at the UN? Last year he promised direct, intensive talks within two months. It took him a year to get direct talks that convene every two weeks.

Then he calls on Israel to freeze building on settlements.

Okay. But he doesn't balance that by asking the Palestinian side to do anything.

His impotence is also revealed in a small detail. He calls for countries that support the Palestinians to give them more aid. Yet so far he has failed to get any Arab state to give even as much money as they did when George W. Bush was president. Certainly, Obama makes a very strong statement supporting Israel's existence, promising US support for it, and decrying terrorism against Israeli civilians.

THERE IS one line, though, I cannot let pass without analysis: "Make no mistake: The courage of a man like President Abbas, who stands up for his people in front of the world, is far greater than those who fire rockets at innocent women and children."

What does that courage consist of? Making compromises with Israel? Fighting Hamas? Ending incitement and telling his people that they should accept Israel's existence? Offering to resettle Palestinian refugees in Palestine, or recognizing Israel as a Jewish state in exchange for Israel recognizing Palestine as an Arab state? No. Merely that after resisting for almost two years, he is holding direct talks with Israel while threatening to walk out at the first opportunity.

His finish on this topic is to urge action so that when the UN meets in 2011 the problem would have been solved and there will be a new UN member, "An independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel."

I'll bet that when the UN convenes in a year nothing will have changed. If Obama knows that's true, why stake his prestige on it, highlight it, and make it seem like the world's most important issue? There are important clues here to Obama's worldview.

He stresses US responsibility for problems, even as he asks others to help and finds it hard to remain consistent in asking for mutual compromise. He presents no persuasive reasons why others should do what he wants.

Most importantly, Obama simply doesn't seem to comprehend the idea that in international affairs, there are people who want to destroy you due to ambition, hatred, ideology and even a desire to hold on to what they have. And not all of them are Republicans.

If the president can believe that his domestic opponents are bitter haters who want to hold onto their guns and religion, why can't he comprehend that this is true for a long list of countries and radical movements abroad? IT WASN'T a very strong speech, and it was lacking in any particular American perspective. At no point is there any assertion of US leadership, or any indication that the US has some particular set of interests.

Trying to build bridges with other countries is a necessary task for a president, yet Obama seems to think he can do so by standing in the middle of the bridge.

And so here is the revelation that Obama's UN speech has brought me: There have been presidents who thought that the outside world is exactly the same as America. There have been presidents who thought that the rest of the world is worse than America.

Obama is the first president who thinks the rest of the world is better than America.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. He blogs at










Borderline Views: No settlement freeze, no significant peace talks. All of us, Israelis and Palestinians alike, will suffer the consequences.


Whoever it was in the Prime Minister's Office that decided on the 10-month moratorium clearly did not check his calendar. Otherwise he would have noticed that the 10 months would end in the middle of Succot, and immediately following the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly.

For the settlers, it could not have been a more opportune moment. The middle of Succot is a time when they always arrange large events. This year, festivities will focus on the renewal – both symbolic and practical – of settlement construction. Sunday's events at Gush Etzion in the morning, and in the West Bank settlement of Revava in the afternoon attended by settlement leaders and members of the government coalition, underscored the significance of the timing. It even had a double significance for those of us who remember the original Gush Emunim march to Sebastiya during Succot 1974.

For the government, it could not have come at a worse time – shortly after the US-sponsored peace talks commenced, and just two days after the meeting of the General Assembly and the public call – seen and heard around the globe – by President Barack Obama for a continuation of the settlement freeze. Just sitting back and doing nothing, as has been the policy of the Netanyahu government this past week, has been interpreted as a clear indication that Israel is not interested in extending the freeze.

Binyamin Netanyahu was in a tough position. Personally and ideologically, he has always been in favor of settlement expansion. Tactically, he was also concerned about holding his coalition together and retaining the support of an already angry settler population. But as prime minister he wanted to remain in the good books of the international community and the American administration by at least pretending he wants to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

WHAT EXACTLY do we mean when we talk about a settlement freeze? Anyone who drives regularly through the West Bank will be aware that a great deal of construction continued unhampered during the past 10 months. The settlers made a great show at those sites where construction indeed ground to a halt, but for every such site there were other places, off the beaten media track, which developed at a steady pace.

The idea of a settlement freeze has been a constant theme since the first coalition agreements between Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir in the mid-1980s. Whenever there was a coalition government – of which there have been many – the Labor Party always insisted on a clause which would at least limit the continued construction of settlements. This always proved to be fiction, as during that same period the Jewish population of the West Bank (not including east Jerusalem) increased from tens of thousands in the 1980s to over 300,000, with one of the most rapid periods of growth taking place during the tenure of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, at the same time the Oslo Accords were signed.

There has been an important change in the way the settler population, along with many Israelis, views the role of settlements in a peace agreement. It is clear that the critical mass, the number that would make it almost impossible for any government – even one on the extreme Left – to evacuate the entire population has been long passed. Even allowing for a redrawing of the border involving the swap of territories and the inclusion of large settlement blocs within Israel, there will still be between 60,000 and 100,000 settlers on the Palestinian side of the line. Not only is this number significantly larger than the mere 7,000 of Gush Katif who were evacuated in 2005, it also comprises the ideological hard core of settlers in such places as Kedumim, Elon Moreh, Shiloh, Eli and Ofra (to name but a few), whose opposition to evacuation will be much stronger than those living in larger urban settlements close to the Green Line, such as Betar Illit, Alfei Menashe and perhaps even Ariel, who could have been bought out for adequate compensation.

More significantly, there has been a change in the way many now view the time factor. In the past, time was always perceived as being on the side of the Palestinians.

They could simply play the waiting game while their own population, spurred by natural growth, increased much more rapidly than that of the settlers.

In demographic terms, this is still true. But the settlers have realized that if, since the signing of the Oslo agreements, their own population has more than doubled, it is no longer the demographic ratio between the two populations (which will always be in favor of the Palestinians), but the absolute numbers that make it increasingly difficult for a government to implement another forced evacuation.

They understand that every additional house, family and road make a peace agreement less plausible.

THE LABOR party will remain in the government. It will argue, as it always does, that it is better to have a restraining influence from within than to remain powerless from outside. But it is clear that it has absolutely no influence, and that its silence has been purchased for the price of a few relatively minor government positions. Its leader Ehud Barak will continue to sacrifice anything and everything so long as he can continue as defense minister.

The West Bank residents will now ensure that construction resumes at an even faster pace than before.

Peace talks will, at best, continue without any real substance.

Alternately, the Palestinian leadership will decide, given the non-renewal of the settlement freeze, to end the charade altogether, and will conveniently be blamed by the Israeli government (whose media spin doctors are ready and waiting) for destroying yet another opportunity for peace.

Our prime minister could have demonstrated true leadership and made the necessary decisions. But despite the fact that a renewal of the freeze would have greatly improved his international standing, Netanyahu chose to remain silent – a silence which can only be interpreted as an acquiescence to the demands of his right-wing coalition and the settler population.

Israel is the stronger side in this ongoing conflict and, as such, is the one able to make the critical concessions and lead the way. They should be seen as concessions from a position of strength and not, as the right wing argues, a sign of surrender.

Life will continue as normal. Settlements will expand. Palestinians will, once again, seek violent forms of resistance. The government will clamp down and pursue stronger security measures and curfews.

Back to square one. No settlement freeze, no significant peace talks. All of us, Israelis and Palestinians alike, will suffer the consequences.

The writer is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.










As a young Israeli, I can confidently say that this generation longs for peace and wants to see an end to this conflict, for our sake and our children's sake.


I am a young Israeli. I moved here 18 years ago from Columbus, Ohio together with my family, served six years in our military, and since then in a range of public positions. Therefore, when I saw Time magazine's recent cover story, "Why Israelis Don't Care about Peace," I personally felt misunderstood – a feeling that Israelis have come to know, as Israel is all-too- often "lost in translation."

While it's true that the latest round of peace talks hasn't caused much excitement on Israeli streets – at least as of yet – I can say with certainty that the overwhelming majority of Israelis yearn for peace and believe that a two-state-solution is both crucial and urgent. Following years of negotiations, summits and near-misses, the question is not if, but rather when and how this will be achieved.

The courage of their convictions

A different kind of Middle-Eastern summit

Just one year after moving to Jerusalem, at the age of 12, I remember the Oslo accords period.

Back then, in the early 1990s, the issue of a two-state solution, the creation of a Palestinian state beside our Jewish State of Israel was one that was fiercely debated. Then, the army conducted exercises based on the possibility of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. Today, many Israelis and Israeli leaders no longer see this as a threat, but wonder whether there is a Palestinian leader capable of such a move – to focus on real nation building instead of settlement moratoriums.

IT IS true that the latest peace summit has not, at this early point in its development, taken precedence over domestic issues among the majority of Israelis. Our local media reflect that. Like all sensible people, we value intellect over indignation and speech over sword. And for that reason it is incredibly frustrating when issues surrounding the conflict take center stage. We Israelis make it a point not to let every facet of the conflict dominate our lives.

However, this does not mean we, especially those of us of the younger generation, do not want or care about peace. On the contrary, we care very deeply for peace and want to see the day this conflict comes to an end.

We wait for that day – for our own sake and for that of future generations.

We await a day when we will not have to send our children to serve in the army. We long for the day when we must no longer be on guard for terrorists. To suggest otherwise is to thoroughly misunderstand the hesitant mood on the streets surrounding the latest peace efforts.

Any skepticism is not rooted in a lack of desire for peace, but rather a variety of other realities. First and foremost, we yearn for inspirational leaders on both sides. Gone are the days of Yitzhak Rabin's courageous leadership, Anwar Sadat's historic vision and King Hussein's monumental gestures.

There is now a moment of opportunity for leaders on all sides to provide such inspiration. From an Israeli perspective, it seems as if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wishes to seize the moment with declarations of willingness to make tough decisions in the name of peace. He should be applauded for this.

IN THE meantime, young Israelis are not simply sitting on the sidelines.

Organizations are being formed, movements are being born and the young generation is rising up. For example, young leaders have joined current and former political and business leaders from all sides of the political arena to form "Blue White Future" – a grassroots effort to stream the political will into an organized political campaign.

The support for a good solution exists; it simply needs a voice.

Secondly, we have tired of the all-too- familiar blame game that surrounds peace talks. Even the sides themselves find it hard to remember where everything began, and keep track of who is right and who is wrong at any given moment.

We further believe that some issues of strategic importance are not even being addressed, such as the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. How can a two-state solution be negotiated without acknowledging the vicious Hamas- PLO rivalry? This raises the question of whether there is a chance at a real peace or just a piece of paper? Answering these questions might require extraordinary risk and heart-wrenching – albeit necessary – sacrifice on our part.

Despite our doubts, we truly want to believe that these peace talks will work. We hope that this will not be another summit that ends in dismal disappointment.

This is most evident in the fact that our spirits rise every time we see a spark of potential. When Netanyahu declared that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is his "partner for peace," the newspaper pages were filled with hope. Young Israelis are yearning for any tangible indicator that this time peace will arrive.

We want to be inspired. We so want to believe that this time is different and that the leaders of Israel and our Arab neighbors are serious.

We sincerely hope that we can put this conflict behind us. Israelis of all ages and from all sectors will come out and fill the town squares when a lasting peace arrives. Our message is, and has always been clear: "Do not doubt our yearning for peace. Do not doubt that we care for peace."

Yes, we care. Now let's make it happen.


The writer was bureau chief to former minister of public security Avi Dichter and a captain in the IDF (reserves). He is currently executive director of the Australian Israel Leadership Forum.









Our no-show at Obama's UN speech – Succot notwithstanding – is yet another expression of our nonchalance to public diplomacy efforts.


It was journalist and TV anchor Robert MacNeil who said, "You learn, just as you learn good manners, how to approach things with a certain amount of diplomacy."

Considering Israel's performance at the UN General Assembly last week, it seems we still need a lot of cramming at etiquette school to do, since we continue to botch opportunities to help our own cause.

For better or worse, the backbone of diplomacy is protocol – that set of rules which all sides must agree on when entering the diplomatic arena. The local press picked up the story about Defense Minister Ehud Barak's wife sitting with her husband, President Shimon Peres and other Israeli representatives on the assembly floor. The protocol is clear as day: if you are a guest at the proceedings and have no official standing, you sit in the mezzanine. If it's good enough for the first lady of the US and the wives of other world leaders, it should be good enough for Nili Priel.

While this incident might seem trivial, it is a symptom of a larger problem.We need to take our public diplomacy more seriously, and nothing expresses how nonchalant we are in this regard than another incident which took place the very next day at the assembly.

PRESIDENT BARACK Obama devoted a good portion of his speech to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Among other things, he was optimistic about an agreement. He called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to continue the settlement freeze, and warned countries against questioning Israel's legitimacy.

When watching excerpts from the speech, I was shocked to see the empty seats of the Israeli delegation when the camera cut to their position. Seems our representatives took time off to observe Succot. This is a prime example of how to fail in the sphere of hasbara – a sphere where we cannot afford any more blunders.

Without making light of the Feast of Tabernacles, priorities must be drawn. When that camera pans to empty seats, it looks like Israel is boycotting the speech.


Yes, we explained to the UN and the Americans why we were not in attendance, but it's unlikely that most of the people who watched it on TV knew that. If the US president is talking about Israel to the leaders of the world, we need our delegates to be there. Period.

Furthermore, those same representatives must be available for media appearances afterward. We don't need any more misunderstandings.

It was just as important for us to be on the floor for the hate-filled speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which took place on the same day. Our delegates should have walked out in disgust, together with our American and European allies. Is it not important to show solidarity against such venomous words as those spouted by the leader of the Iranian dictatorship? Can we afford to miss an opportunity to applaud our friends and condemn our enemies on the international stage? The counterargument, of course, would be that Succot is a holiday during which our delegates shouldn't be working, but our diplomats are not like shop owners.

They're more like our armed forces, and most soldiers on the front line spend the majority of holidays away from home and on guard for any potential threats.

When Israel is being discussed at the UN or in any key international forum, we need our diplomats there for the same reason.

Some people don't see the diplomatic front as part of our general struggle to exist, and here is where the paradigm shift needs to take place. Israel is fighting diplomatic enemies as well as military ones, and both should be given our utmost attention. Both arenas have their own set of rules, which we must understand and abide by. Let us not forget that it was diplomacy, in its many forms, which gave us a state at the fateful UN vote back in 1947, just as it took every effort by the newly born IDF to keep it.

The writer is an independent media consultant, an adjunct lecturer at IDC Herzliya's School of Communications and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York.









Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres discovered a new, and surprising, friend of Israel over the weekend: Fidel Castro. Netanyahu and Peres responded enthusiastically to an interview the former Cuban president granted to Atlantic magazine correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg in which Castro criticized Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and said he doesn't think "anyone has been slandered more than the Jews."


Peres said in a message addressed to Castro that his remarks were "rife with unique intellectual depth," and Netanyahu said the comments demonstrate the dictator's "deep understanding of the history of the Jewish people and the State of Israel."


With all due respect to the solidarity expressed by Castro, who cut off ties with Israel before the Yom Kippur War, the enthusiastic reactions of the president and prime minister show, more than anything, the extent of Israel's diplomatic troubles.


While Peres was working on his letter to Castro, he was being publicly humiliated by Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who refused to meet with him. A UN committee is accusing Israel of killing civilians and violating international law in its May raid on the Turkish Gaza-bound flotilla. At the International Atomic Energy Agency, a proposal to censure Israel was just barely defeated. And, above all, U.S. President Barack Obama and the entire international community are demanding that Netanyahu continue the moratorium on settlement construction.


It's no wonder that in such a situation, Netanyahu chose not to travel to the UN General Assembly session where Obama spoke last week, leaving the spotlight to Ahmadinejad, who appeared prominently in the American media, and to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who gave a strikingly anti-Israel speech. Netanyahu realizes that no one is interested in his messages, that the world is tired of the endless conflict, that it wants to see an end to the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories. Netanyahu's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people is seen as an exercise aimed at laying the blame for failed negotiations at Abbas' feet.


But instead of understanding the message of the international community and changing his policy, Netanyahu prefers to hunker down and stick to his political stance. It's a good thing he can take comfort in Castro's comments, during which the Cuban leader expressed a desire to talk to Netanyahu's father, historian Benzion Netanyahu, saying he was "impressed by his character, his knowledge and his history."








Netanyahu is looking for a magical solution to both let the tractors get back to work in the West Bank and to keep Abbas at the negotiating table.


By Akiva EldarTags: Middle East peace Benjamin Netanyahu Mahmoud Abbas Israel settlements


It's no spin. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really is looking high and low for a magical solution to both let the tractors get back to work on settlement lands and leave President Mahmoud Abbas at the negotiating table.


Construction in settlements is a very uncomfortable issue for Israel. Most countries say settlement in occupied territory is illegal; friendly governments believe that building in the occupied territories is an obstacle to peace. The boycott of Ariel's new cultural center reminded us that here, too, the settlements are more a bone of contention than the foundation for our existence. Who will believe Bibi will be ready within a year to evacuate thousands of homes if he cannot / will not declare a temporary moratorium on the construction of a few hundred new homes? Over that it's worth breaking up the peace talks?


No, Netanyahu does not want to create a crisis over the freeze. Why should he have a crisis over the demand of Jewish migrants to settle in Hebron if he can focus it on the demand of Palestinian refugees to return to Haifa? Let Bibi get through the nuisance of the freeze, and he will pull Abbas into the sure trap over the "right of return." What will Tzipi Livni say, and even those who call themselves "the Zionist left" when Abbas announces he refuses to give up the right of return in advance?


A broad hint of this scheme could be seen in statements Netanyahu made during a visit to Sderot a week ago. "I'm not talking about a name," Netanyahu said, to explain his insistence the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. "I'm talking about essence," he said.


"When they refuse to say something so simple, the question is why?" Netanyahu said to explain what he meant by essence. "Do you want to flood the state of Israel with refugees so it will no longer be a country with a Jewish majority? Do you want to rip away parts of the Galilee and the Negev?" When Netanyahu demands agreement ahead of time that the talks are intended to bring about, according to him, agreement on the establishment of the "nation-state of the Jewish people" alongside a Palestinian state, he is therefore demanding the Palestinians give up in advance on the right of return of refugees. And the main thing, don't forget, is "no preconditions."


The controversy around construction in the settlements draws attention away from the bombshell hiding behind Netanyahu's demand that the Palestinians first recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. As the prime minister himself has said, this is not mere semantics. It is an essential matter from the most sensitive part of the narrative of the conflict. As Dan Meridor, one of the ministers closest to Netanyahu, put it in an interview with Haaretz Magazine (October 23, 2009): "I am not too optimistic that the Palestinian government has given up on the right of return. That would mean conceding the rationale for the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was founded in 1964, three years before the Six-Day War. And Abu Mazen [Abbas] was one of its founders." Meridor, by the way, says that a state that is not the state of all its citizens is not a democratic state.


Some people, for example the previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert, believe that with goodwill, sensitivity to the suffering of the refugees and international assistance, the right of return obstacle can be overcome. Speaking at a conference of the Geneva Initiative leadership, Olmert reminded the audience that the PLO had accepted the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which states the solution to the refugee problem must be not only just (based on United Nations Resolution 194), but also agreed-on by all the parties. It will be attained only in the framework of a comprehensive deal that will include all the core issues, first and foremost an arrangement for the holy places in Jerusalem.


The problem of the refugees is not a ball in a game whose purpose is to push the Palestinian adversary (partner?) into a corner and to push away the pressure of the American friend (adversary?) That is a game Israel has no chance of winning.


What will happen if the Palestinians declare they do recognize Israel as the state of the Israelis - take it or leave it? What will Netanyahu do? Will he end the moratorium on construction in the settlements, stop the negotiations on a two-state solution and begin the countdown to the end of the Jewish state?









Many Arab eyebrows - those of politicians and populist education officials - will no doubt be raised when they read this headline. At the same time, we should discuss the issue of language with due seriousness and detached from the sensitivity connected to it.


The Education Ministry recently published data on achievement levels in the school system. One finding particularly caught my eye - on achievements of students examined in Hebrew, especially Arab pupils. The report spoke of the catastrophic situation in the Arab community and said Arab students had the lowest average grade in Hebrew language. The grade in Arabic for Arab Students was only slightly higher.


Recent research by Prof. Zohar Eviatar and Dr. Rafiq Ibrahim of the University of Haifa's psychology department explain the problem from another angle. The researchers compared the speed and accuracy of comprehending texts among Arabic speakers, Hebrew speakers and English speakers. They found that the right hemisphere of the brain is involved in learning to read in Hebrew and English but not at all in learning to read Arabic.


This stems from the graphic complexity of Arabic writing, they believe. Arabic letters are joined together and change shape according to their location in a word. In addition, many letters are distinguished from one another by minute graphic signs alone. Thus Arabic writing's graphic uniqueness becomes a heavy burden on children when they are learning to read.


The data explain the considerable gap between students at Arabic-language schools and those at schools where the language of instruction is Hebrew or English. The data also partially explain Israel's low standing compared with the developed countries in international tests of schoolchildren. This gap, linked to the language's sad situation, exists in the entire Arab world. It's not by chance that not one Arab university is among the world's best 500 universities. This finding has nothing to do with Zionism or Israel.


Everyone knows that the Arabic taught in schools is compared with Hebrew or any other foreign language, but it is not the language Arab children speak at home. The mother tongue they speak at home is totally different from the literary Arabic taught at school. This situation exists throughout the Arab world.


The Arab public in Israel is not isolated from the general Arabic linguistic arena. The Arabic-language media, especially radio and television, do not provide the linguistic richness of formal Arabic. The opposite is true: They perpetuate linguistic superficiality that leads to intellectual superficiality.


Despite all this, an educational revolution is possible here. The positive results of such a revolution would be felt in just a few years. To this end, we need the courage to put the ultimate educational demand on the table: The Arabic and Druze departments at the Education Ministry must be abolished immediately and all the syllabi must be united into one core syllabus for everyone. Some 80 percent of the syllabus should include the teaching materials required for a modern and advanced education. For the remainder, special emphasis on the cultural interests of a segment of the population should be permitted.


We can conduct yet another revolutionary experiment - choose from the Arab community one or more class and decide that the language of instruction there, from kindergarten through high school, will be Hebrew. If we carry out an experiment like this, I'm convinced the positive results will not be long in coming.










At the Land of Israel Museum after Yom Kippur, the large political camp the Cynicism Bloc appropriated for itself the rich uncle from the left, the Geneva Initiative. No one was more suitable to star at the event than former prime minister Ehud Olmert. Once again, this man was presented as the person "who underwent an ideological revolution." But it should be remembered that, parallel to the revolution that only found expression in press interviews, some time after the atrocious war in Lebanon, Olmert went to war again, in Gaza. And once again there were massive civilian casualties.


Following the gathering's media success, the leaders of the Geneva Initiative hastened to send out a press release that opened with the words: "Yesterday, Sunday, September 19, the Geneva Initiative held a conference on renewing the negotiations with the participation of the former prime minister." And while Olmert is busy flying his latest balloon (how Ehud Barak tried to promote a cease-fire during Operation Cast Lead while he, Olmert, opposed halting the massacre ) the Geneva-ites hastily tried to cleanse the disgrace by disseminating Olmert's "worldview."


The response of the "peace camp" to the fact that the talks with the Palestinians are not moving forward is a prime minister crowned with the glory of two dastardly wars. This is yet another explanation of the paralysis of the left - the obsession with the politics of newspaper headlines.


Anyone who expected the square to be filled by masses of supporters of the Geneva Initiative, or the Peace Now demonstrators of 1978, as pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu's government during the crisis in the negotiations has not noticed the change the left has undergone over the past decade. The movements have disappeared, including the Geneva Initiative. In their place we have nonprofit organizations.


Advertisements calling for demonstrations sometimes bear the signatures of around 20 groups, most of them human rights organizations. The demonstrations are generally attended by some 20 people per organization, and sometimes they overlap. The organizations consist of several paid functionaries and board members. But they have a defect - they do not cease to exist even if they do not have supporters. They exist for the sole purpose of reporting. To that end, they have spokespeople, publications, an accountant and a lobby that takes a percentage between Jerusalem and Brussels.


That's the way to achieve the politics of headlines but not of resistance. Environmental associations or feminist organizations put out press releases; the activists from the Matzpen socialist organization who once went out onto the streets to tell about the iniquities of Zionism have been replaced by Zochrot, which promotes awareness of the Palestinian exodus of 1948. This group has offices on Tel Aviv's Ben Yehuda Street, plenty of money from Europe and zero political effect.


And most important, Peace Now has been reduced to a director general who flies journalists over the territories. Against this backdrop, the anarchists who demonstrate against the fence and in Sheikh Jarrah stand out as being unusually idealistic. But the truth is even sadder: Israel's streets are silent. Supporters of the left can be found mainly on Facebook and on Internet petitions. There you can sign as much as you want and under any name. The political context is not forming the resistance but granting approval to what exists. "Like" - as you say on Facebook when you like something - is the name of the neoliberal game.


Yes, the monitoring by Peace Now and B'Tselem has importance, as does the humanitarian aid of Physicians for Human Rights. But between this and a political struggle in Israel's streets - the real arena for a struggle - there is very little. The difference between monitoring or granting aid to the victims of the occupation and the political struggle over changing Israelis' awareness has been lost. Instead of meetings, conferences and demonstrations, spokespeople telephone journalists. The Geneva Initiative sponsors billboards with giant pictures of Palestinian leaders. The fact that the business on their side has also languished because of the state of nonprofit associations and European budgets will not comfort anyone.









A recent High Court of Justice ruling makes a mockery of the claim that the court engages in judicial activism: frequent, eager intervention in cabinet and Knesset decisions. Justices Dorit Beinisch, Eliezer Rivlin and Asher Grunis decided not to intervene in a law that grants tax breaks to certain communities, despite the series of petitions that have been filed since 2002 alleging that these benefits are arbitrary and discriminatory. This is not judicial activism, but a clear sign of inappropriate judicial passivity.


When judicial intervention seems to be blatantly necessary, in light of proven infringement on a constitutional right of the first importance such as equality, the harm done by refraining from such intervention is especially stark. Such restraint impairs the High Court's execution of its primary function - defending individual rights against the power of the government. That is always true, but it is particularly true when what is at stake is failure to prevent discrimination, which former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak defined as "the worst of all feelings."


The court's judicial restraint is evident in its handling of the many petitions against the tax breaks, which were filed, among others, by local authorities, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. All these petitions had a key constitutional argument in common: This section of the income tax code undermines the principle of equality and reflects arbitrariness in the government, because no uniform, equitable and worthy criteria for granting the benefits were ever set.


The blatant discrimination against Arab towns is clear from the fact that not a single one of them receives the tax breaks, while Jewish towns in the same geographic area do receive them. There is also discrimination against some Jewish towns.


Instead of setting criteria, the legislature took the unusual approach of listing the recipient towns by name in the law. This essentially constitutes personal legislation - a law tailored to the intended beneficiary rather than the subject matter.


The justices acknowledged in their ruling that the existing legal situation had been left in place despite warnings from former attorney general Menachem Mazuz dating back to 2006. That is when Mazuz made it clear to the prime, finance and justice ministers that he would not be able to defend the law's constitutionality. Despite this, the High Court proceedings dragged on and on, until late 2009, when the attorney general announced that because this was a "complicated" issue, he could not make any promises about when, if ever, the process of changing the law would begin.


Only now did the court finally deign to issue a ruling on the matter. And the ruling, written by Supreme Court President Beinisch, stated that if the situation has not changed by the time the 2011-12 budget receives final approval from the Knesset, the court will have no choice but to issue an injunction against the government that would obligate it to begin the legislative process of setting uniform, equitable criteria for granting the tax breaks.


The justices stressed that "while Knesset members and cabinet ministers are admittedly free to act on the basis of political considerations, and are not barred from taking coalition considerations into account when regulating socioeconomic matters, this freedom of action is not absolute; it has restrictions and limitations. It is limited whenever it infringes on a constitutional right - in this case, the right to equality."


Given this statement, and the court's finding that the existing law is inequitable and not based on clear criteria, it is hard to accept the justices' explanation that they refrained from issuing a definitive ruling, both now and in the past, because they thought the cabinet and Knesset would have the sense to resolve the problem without judicial intervention. It is even harder given the ruling's own assertion that the cabinet and Knesset "systematically, over the course of several years," refrained from working to amend the discriminatory law, in defiance of the attorney general's position.


Given this latest ruling, which enables further delay, one can safely assume that the cabinet will not hasten to submit a corrective bill the moment the new Knesset session begins in a few days' time, and that the Knesset will not hasten to pass such a bill. It seems that only a prompt, unequivocal ruling overturning the existing law could get the legislative ball rolling.


The justices ought to realize that in a situation where the cabinet and Knesset do not immediately implement even unequivocal High Court rulings, there is little chance of them showing respect for judicial restraint.







The Coast Guard's announcement a week ago that BP's runaway Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico was


"effectively dead" brought a collective sigh of relief from the company, the citizens of the Gulf Coast and President Obama — indeed from anyone who for nearly five harrowing months had been transfixed by one of the worst environmental disasters in American history.


Unfortunately, it may also have given the politically paralyzed United States Senate one more excuse not to move forward on a controversial but necessary bill that would build on the lessons of the gulf and make offshore drilling safer in the future.


The House has already passed such a bill. It would be irresponsible of the Senate not to do likewise. The Senate has not distinguished itself on environmental issues over the last two years, failing even to vote on comprehensive energy and climate legislation that the House had passed. The least it can do is muster a meaningful response to the spill.


Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, has in hand an honorable bill that is the product of endless hearings by several committees and could be quickly brought to the floor. Like the House bill, it would tighten environmental safeguards and reorganize the agency at the Interior Department that oversees drilling in order to eliminate the conflicts of interest that allowed BP to manipulate the system and short-circuit regulatory reviews.


Like the House bill, it would also require companies to furnish more detailed response plans before receiving permits to drill, and would eliminate the $75 million liability cap for companies responsible for a spill. That cap is moot in BP's case, since the company has already agreed to pay $20 billion in damage claims. But lifting the cap would provide a powerful incentive to other companies to behave responsibly.


As an added fillip, both bills would provide long-term financing (from oil company fees) for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the government's main program for acquiring open space.


With so much to like, what's the holdup? Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, complains that lifting the liability cap would discourage smaller drillers without deep pockets that could be bankrupted by a single accident. Surely this can be resolved with compromise language providing for a sliding scale.


The real reason — no surprise here — is intense opposition from the oil companies and their allies in both parties who claim, without persuasive evidence, that the new rules, fees and penalties would raise costs, inhibit domestic production and increase American dependence on foreign oil. The Senate should ignore these complaints, pass a bill and then move forward to a conference with the House.


If it doesn't, voters should hold it accountable. Congress cannot undo the effects of the spill. But it can ensure a safer future.







The day after Thanksgiving, 2002, was a slow day in the Pittsburgh office of the F.B.I., so a supervisor sent a special agent to a rally against the threatened war in Iraq to look for any terrorism suspects who might be there, just to "see what they are doing." The peace rally was sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center, which has opposed violence and armed conflict since the days of Vietnam, and consisted largely of people distributing leaflets. There was not the slightest indication that there were any terrorists there or even the hint of a connection to terrorism. Nonetheless, the agent kept the leafleteers under surveillance and even took pictures.


It sounds like the paranoid approach to dissent of J. Edgar Hoover's F.B.I., but this and other abuses took place during the Bush administration. A report on the subject by the Justice Department's inspector general is a reminder of how easily civil liberties can be cast aside during suspicious frenzies, such as that unleashed after the 9/11 terror attacks.


The report did not find evidence that the F.B.I. routinely targeted groups that were trying to exercise their First Amendment right to protest government policies. It characterized the Merton Center incident as a slip-up. But it also found other incidents in which the F.B.I.'s investigation of various groups was based on a weak case of connection to terrorism or any other crime. And it found that the agency trumped up routine civil disobedience violations, such as trespassing or vandalism, and considered them potential terrorism. Several members of animal-rights or environmental groups were improperly placed on terrorism watch lists, according to the inspector general, Glenn Fine.


Mr. Fine's report also demonstrates that the F.B.I. still engages in familiar bureaucratic cover-ups when its missteps are made public. After the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the Merton Center surveillance, the agency came up with a statement saying that it took pictures at the peace rally because it was looking for a specific individual as part of an investigation. This information was false, but it was relied upon by the F.B.I.'s director, Robert S. Mueller, when he testified before Congress on the matter in 2006. (There is no indication that he knew it was false.)


The inspector general made several good recommendations in his report: no investigation of an advocacy group should take place without indications of a specific crime. Nonviolent civil disobedience should not be investigated as an act of terrorism. And the F.B.I. should not retain surveillance information it gathers at public events unless it is related to criminal or terror activity — a prohibition that used to be in force at the agency but was relaxed in 2008. To keep the agency from backsliding into the Hoover days, those recommendations should be followed promptly.








A state appeals court in Florida toppled a monument to bigotry last week, declaring unconstitutional a 33-year-old state law that prohibited gay people from adopting children. The animus behind the ban is unmistakable. Its sponsor in the Florida State Senate, Curtis Peterson, declared in 1977 that its purpose was to send a message to the gay community that "we're really tired of you" and "we wish you'd go back into the closet."


The unanimous decision by three judges on Florida's Third District Court of Appeal — Republican appointees — found "no rational basis" to the state's approach of banning adoption by gay men and lesbians while allowing them to be foster parents. The court said it violated the State Constitution's equal protection clause.


The case was brought by Martin Gill, a gay man seeking to adopt two brothers he took in as foster children more than five years ago. When they arrived, at ages 4 years and 4 months, they were in bad shape. Both had ringworm; the younger brother also had a raging ear infection while the older one did not speak for a month. Today both boys are thriving.


Mr. Gill's side provided extensive evidence at trial to show there is no difference in the well-being of children raised by loving gay parents versus loving heterosexual parents. Reviewing that evidence, as well as Mr. Gill's efforts, the appeals court agreed, and praised Mr. Gill for being "an exceptional parent."


The state had nothing credible to offer to justify the adoption ban. It presented only two expert witnesses, noted Judge Gerald Cope Jr., who wrote the main opinion. One witness undercut the state's case by saying adoption decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis. Opposing experts quickly discredited the state's second witness, Dr. George Rekers, a Baptist minister and clinical psychologist (subsequently caught up in a sex scandal) whose pseudo-scientific research was laughable.


The court's decision is a victory for Mr. Gill and his family and for many hundreds of foster children in Florida in need of a good home. In recent months, there have also been several major federal court rulings voiding other discriminatory laws against gay people on equality grounds. That is heartening progress.








During interviews about his new book, Justice Stephen Breyer has spoken mainly about one of its two themes, how the Supreme Court should decide cases. A week before the court's new term, it's the second theme — about the court's legitimacy, or the respect it relies on — that deserves attention.


In the last term of the conservative Roberts court, only Justice John Paul Stevens voted less often with the majority than Justice Breyer. This record, Justice Breyer's 16 years on the court and Justice Stevens's retirement make Justice Breyer the likely leader of the more liberal justices in the next term.


In his dissent from a decision striking down the District of Columbia's gun-control law, he showed why. "In my view," he said, "there simply is no untouchable constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas."


Still, he fits no conventional model of a liberal. The historian Jeff Shesol wrote in The Times Book Review: "Breyer has been less willing than any of his fellow justices to overturn acts of Congress." The Supreme Court now has no old-fashioned liberals, like William Brennan or Thurgood Marshall. If it did, Justice Breyer's deference to Congress would likely make him a centrist.


]So would his view of how the court should decide cases. As he puts it in the book, "Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's View," the court "must thoughtfully employ a set of traditional legal tools in service of a pragmatic approach to interpreting the law." Pragmatic means reckoning with a law's words and history and the precedents interpreting it, but also its "purposes and related consequences, to help make the law effective." The goal, he says, is "to apply the Constitution's enduring values to changing circumstances."


]Justice Breyer describes the court in its early years, when it decided few cases and the ones it decided were trivial. From that lowly state, the court has earned considerable authority, but it has also forfeited legitimacy with bad decisions, some so bad they were "ignored or disobeyed."


The court's "infirmity" shows that its legitimacy in the public's eyes "cannot be taken for granted," he writes. His pragmatic means are intended "to help maintain the public's trust in the Court, the public's confidence in the Constitution, and the public's commitment to the rule of law."


There's no accepted index of legitimacy for the court, so it's not easy to know exactly how the public regards it. But in recent years court watchers have cited a range of reasons for concern.


Around the world, its influence has declined, measured by the number of times top courts in other countries cite it. In academic circles, conservatives and liberals alike have called for term limits for justices, because life tenure and long service could lead them to do the job less well than they should.


While there's no chapter in Justice Breyer's book called "Legitimacy: Why I'm Worried," The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin points to the judicial activism of Chief Justice John Roberts and the conservative majority as a major source of apprehension for Justice Breyer. In a profile this week, Mr. Toobin describes Justice Breyer as "unskilled in the art of the poker face" and says that he used last January's Citizens United decision "to take a shot at Roberts" in the book.


In that ruling, the conservatives gave corporations an unlimited right to spend money in politics. Justice Breyer said they disregarded "a traditional legal view that stretched back as far as 1907," and had recently been affirmed.


The message of Justice Breyer's book is that the court jeopardizes its legitimacy when it makes such radical rulings and that, in doing so, it threatens our democracy. That message is powerful, ominous, and very useful.








What can be done about mass unemployment? All the wise heads agree: there are no quick or easy answers. There is work to be done, but workers aren't ready to do it — they're in the wrong places, or they have the wrong skills. Our problems are "structural," and will take many years to solve.


But don't bother asking for evidence that justifies this bleak view. There isn't any. On the contrary, all the facts

suggest that high unemployment in America is the result of inadequate demand — full stop. Saying that there are no easy answers sounds wise, but it's actually foolish: our unemployment crisis could be cured very quickly if we had the intellectual clarity and political will to act.


In other words, structural unemployment is a fake problem, which mainly serves as an excuse for not pursuing real solutions.


Who are these wise heads I'm talking about? The most widely quoted figure is Narayana Kocherlakota, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, who has attracted a lot of attention by insisting that dealing with high unemployment isn't a Fed responsibility: "Firms have jobs, but can't find appropriate workers. The workers want to work, but can't find appropriate jobs," he asserts, concluding that "It is hard to see how the Fed can do much to cure this problem."


Now, the Minneapolis Fed is known for its conservative outlook, and claims that unemployment is mainly structural do tend to come from the right of the political spectrum. But some people on the other side of the aisle say similar things. For example, former President Bill Clinton recently told an interviewer that unemployment remained high because "people don't have the job skills for the jobs that are open."


Well, I'd respectfully suggest that Mr. Clinton talk to researchers at the Roosevelt Institute and the Economic Policy Institute, both of which have recently released important reports completely debunking claims of a surge in structural unemployment.


After all, what should we be seeing if statements like those of Mr. Kocherlakota or Mr. Clinton were true? The answer is, there should be significant labor shortages somewhere in America — major industries that are trying to expand but are having trouble hiring, major classes of workers who find their skills in great demand, major parts of the country with low unemployment even as the rest of the nation suffers.


None of these things exist. Job openings have plunged in every major sector, while the number of workers forced into part-time employment in almost all industries has soared. Unemployment has surged in every major occupational category. Only three states, with a combined population not much larger than that of Brooklyn, have unemployment rates below 5 percent.


Oh, and where are these firms that "can't find appropriate workers"? The National Federation of Independent Business has been surveying small businesses for many years, asking them to name their most important problem; the percentage citing problems with labor quality is now at an all-time low, reflecting the reality that these days even highly skilled workers are desperate for employment.


So all the evidence contradicts the claim that we're mainly suffering from structural unemployment. Why, then, has this claim become so popular?


Part of the answer is that this is what always happens during periods of high unemployment — in part because pundits and analysts believe that declaring the problem deeply rooted, with no easy answers, makes them sound serious.


I've been looking at what self-proclaimed experts were saying about unemployment during the Great Depression; it was almost identical to what Very Serious People are saying now. Unemployment cannot be brought down rapidly, declared one 1935 analysis, because the work force is "unadaptable and untrained. It cannot respond to the opportunities which industry may offer." A few years later, a large defense buildup finally provided a fiscal stimulus adequate to the economy's needs — and suddenly industry was eager to employ those "unadaptable and untrained" workers.


But now, as then, powerful forces are ideologically opposed to the whole idea of government action on a sufficient scale to jump-start the economy. And that, fundamentally, is why claims that we face huge structural problems have been proliferating: they offer a reason to do nothing about the mass unemployment that is crippling our economy and our society.


So what you need to know is that there is no evidence whatsoever to back these claims. We aren't suffering from a shortage of needed skills; we're suffering from a lack of policy resolve. As I said, structural unemployment isn't a real problem, it's an excuse — a reason not to act on America's problems at a time when action is desperately needed.








On the surface, the Pledge to America that House Republicans unveiled last week, in obvious imitation of Newt Gingrich's famous Contract With America, feels like a triumph for the Tea Party.


Whereas the Gingrich-era contract was a terse, 865-word list of legislative priorities, the 2010 pledge reads like an expansive, even radical manifesto. It runs to almost 8,000 words, bristles with charts and graphs and inspiring quotations, and includes a lengthy preamble modeled on the Declaration of Independence. And whereas the original contract's language was carefully poll-tested to appeal to squishy moderates, the pledge has the aggressively small-government tone of a Rand Paul stump speech, complete with attacks on "self-appointed elites," praise for Americans' speaking out "in town halls and on public squares," and pledges "to honor the Constitution as constructed by its framers."


But style can be deceiving. House Republicans have adopted the atmospherics of the Tea Party movement, but they've evaded its most admirable substance.


The Tea Party is a grass-roots movement — wild, woolly and chaotic — which sometimes makes it hard to figure out exactly what it stands for. But to the extent that the movement boasts a single animating idea, it's the conviction that the Republicans as much as the Democrats have been an accessory to the growth of spending and deficits, and that the Republican establishment needs to be punished for straying from fiscal rectitude.


The Tea Partiers have a point. Officially, the Republican Party stands for low taxes and limited government. But save during the gridlocked 1990s, Republican majorities and Republican presidents have tended to pass tax cuts while putting off spending cuts till a tomorrow that never comes.


Conservatives have justified this failure with two incompatible theories. One is the "starve the beast" conceit, which holds that cutting taxes will force government spending downward. The other is the happy idea that tax cuts actually increase government revenue, making deficit anxieties irrelevant.


The real world hasn't been kind to either notion. Cutting taxes without cutting spending, the Cato Institute's William Niskanen has shown, may make voters more likely to support big government, because spending feels like a free lunch. And while some tax cuts can raise government revenue, the income-tax cuts of the Bush years emphatically did not.


To their credit, the House Republicans don't invoke starve-the-beast in their 2010 pledge, or pretend that renewing the Bush tax cuts would single-handedly push the nation into the black. But their fiscal vision practices the same kind of free-lunchism that the Tea Party supposedly abhors: it promotes low taxes without coming close to identifying the spending cuts required to pay for them.


There's a sound political rationale for this, of course. Reducing spending is always difficult, and a Republican Party coasting toward a midterm victory has little incentive to stake out controversial positions. And as everybody knows, the only way to really bring the budget into balance is to reform (i.e., cut) Medicare and Social Security, a topic that nobody in Congress — save the indefatigable Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan — is particularly eager to touch.


But that means that the pledge is ultimately less about the triumph of the Tea Partiers, and more about their potential co-option by Republican politics as usual.


That would be unfortunate. Their eccentric elements notwithstanding, the Tea Parties have something vital to offer the country: a vocal, activist constituency for spending cuts at a time when politicians desperately need to have their spines stiffened on the issue. But it's all too easy to imagine the movement (which, after all, includes a lot of Social Security and Medicare recipients!) being seduced with rhetorical nods to the Constitution, and general promises of spending discipline that never get specific.


It wouldn't be the first time a mass protest movement won a rhetorical victory without achieving a lasting policy shift. The antiwar movement, for instance, seemed to effectively take over the Democratic Party in the middle years of the Bush administration. But here we are, two years into a Democratic presidency, and Gitmo is still open, the U.S. is still in Iraq, and Barack Obama has escalated the war in Afghanistan.


Whether the Tea Party's zeal for limiting government meets a similar fate may depend on the class of Republicans elected in November. From Sharron Angle in Nevada to Joe Miller in Alaska to Marco Rubio in Florida, many of the party's insurgent candidates have gone further than the Republican leadership in acknowledging the painful necessity of entitlement cuts — and it hasn't yet cost them their chances at high office.


Democrats are eager to paint these candidates as dangerously extreme. But on the evidence of last week's pledge, a little more extremism in the defense of fiscal responsibility is exactly what the Republican Party needs.









IT is a safe bet that Asian currency intervention was not on the minds of Republican primary voters in Delaware this month when they selected a Tea Party favorite, Christine O'Donnell, as their Senate candidate. But the pendulum swings in American politics are a key concern of Wen Jiabao and Naoto Kan, the prime ministers of China and Japan, respectively, who both met with President Obama in New York on Thursday, with the loss of American jobs to Asian competition high on the agenda.


The Asian nations' interest in American politics stems not just from America's standing as the sole global superpower, but also from a growing belief among Asian leaders that the era of United States hegemony will soon be over, and that the polarization of its politics symbolizes America's inability to adapt to the changing nature of global capitalism after the financial crisis.


What does this sweeping statement have to do with the price of yen? Plenty. On Sept. 15, the yen dropped sharply against the dollar, improving the competitiveness of Japanese exporters. After a brief bounce last week, expect the downward trend to continue. Mr. Kan's government has decided to follow the lead of China and other Asian nations in "managing" (some critics would say manipulating) its currency; it spent a record $23 billion in a single day on foreign exchanges — the largest such intervention ever — instead of leaving the yen's value entirely to market forces.


To understand how this decision will affect the United States, we must start with parochial politics — not in Delaware, but in the larger parish called Asia, which remains terra incognita to most American politicians and voters.


In Asian politics, what you see is often the opposite of what you get. On Sept 14. Mr. Kan, generally seen as favoring free markets, held on to his job in an intraparty election after a bitter challenge from his rival Ichiro Ozawa, who had loudly demanded a Chinese-style policy of currency intervention to keep the value of the yen low. Given Mr. Kan's victory, investors assumed that currency intervention was off the agenda and piled into the yen, lifting it to a 15-year high against the dollar. It turns out, however, that Mr. Kan, in winning the election, may have tacitly ceded control of economic policy to Mr. Ozawa, known as the "shadow shogun" for his prowess in backroom dealing. Hence the ensuing sell-off of the yen.


The decision to break with free-market ideology and spend government money to control the yen's value against the dollar was mainly driven by Japan's relationship with China, not America. Japanese companies including Sony and Toyota that had demanded government action devaluing the yen were not concerned primarily with their competitiveness against America rivals. The motivation was a fear of being undercut by exporters in China, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan — all countries that aggressively manage their exchange rates.


With Chinese economic policy now serving as a model for other Asian countries, Japan was faced with a stark choice: back United States criticisms that China is artificially keeping down the value of its currency, the renminbi, or emulate China's approach. It is a sign of the times that Japan chose to follow China at the cost of irritating America.


Japan's action suggests that, in the aftermath of the recent financial crisis, the dominance of free-market thinking in international economic management is over. Washington must understand this, or find itself constantly outmaneuvered in dealings with the rest of the world. Instead of obsessing over China's currency manipulation as if it were a unique exception in a world of untrammeled market forces, the United States must adapt to an environment where exchange rates and trade imbalances are managed consciously and have become a legitimate subject for debate in international forums like the Group of 20.


]Market fundamentalists who feel that government interference with free markets is anathema should be reminded that, by today's dogmatic standards, Ronald Reagan is one of the great manipulators of all time. He presided over two of the biggest currency interventions in history: the Plaza agreement, which devalued the dollar in 1985, and the Louvre accord of 1987, which brought this devaluation to an end.


The fact is that the rules of global capitalism have changed irrevocably since Lehman Brothers collapsed two years ago — and if the United States refuses to accept this, it will find its global leadership slipping away. The near collapse of the financial system was an "Emperor's New Clothes" moment of revelation.


In this climate, the market fundamentalism now represented by the Tea Party, based on instinctive aversion to government and a faith that "the market is always right," is a global laughingstock. Yet more moderate figures from both parties largely hold the same view: a measure to punish China over its currency passed the House Ways and Means committee on Friday with bipartisan support.


Outside America, however, a strong conviction now exists that some new version of global capitalism must evolve to replace what the economist John Williamson coined the "Washington consensus."


If market forces cannot do something as simple as financing home mortgages, can markets be trusted to restore and maintain full employment, reduce global imbalances or prevent the destruction of the environment and prepare for a future without fossil fuels? This is the question that policymakers outside America, especially in Asia, are now asking. And the answer, as so often in economics, is "yes and no."


Yes, because markets are the best mechanism for allocating scarce resources. No, because market investors are often short-sighted, fail to reflect widely held social objectives and sometimes make catastrophic mistakes. There are times, therefore, when governments must deliberately shape market incentives to achieve objectives that are determined by politics and not by the markets themselves, including financial stability, environmental protection, energy independence and poverty relief.


This doesn't necessarily mean that governments get bigger. The new model of capitalism evolving in Asia and parts of Europe generally requires government to be smaller, but more effective. Many activities taken for granted in America as prerogatives of government have long since been privatized in foreign nations — even in what so many Americans view as socialistic Europe.


In France, Germany, Japan and Sweden, water supplies, highways, airports and even postal services are increasingly run by the private sector. For home mortgages to be backed by government guarantees would be unthinkable anywhere in Asia or Europe. Tax systems, too, are in some ways less redistributionist in Europe and Asia than they are in the United States. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the proportion of income tax raised from the richest tenth of the population is 45 percent in America, compared with only 28 percent in France and 27 percent in Sweden. These countries raise money for public services mainly from middle-class voters, through consumption and energy taxes, not by soaking the rich.


AS a result, these nations' budgets are more stable and their governments have more ability to support their economies in times of crisis. They are also better positioned to manage their currencies and their trade relations, subsidize long-term investment in nuclear and solar energy, and spend money on infrastructure, job retraining and education. In America, by contrast, the tax system's dependence on revenues from the richest citizens means that the social safety net and long-term goals like energy independence can be achieved only if the rich keep getting richer.


Which brings us back to Delaware. What if America decides to ignore the global reinvention of capitalism and opts instead for a nostalgic rerun of the experiment in market fundamentalism? This would not prevent the rest of the world from changing course.


Rather, it would make it likely that the newly dominant economic model will not be a product of democratic capitalism, based on Western values and American leadership. Instead, it will be an authoritarian state-led capitalism inspired by Asian values. If America opts, for the first time in history, for nostalgia and ideology instead of pragmatism and progress, then the new model of capitalism will probably be made in China, like so much else in the world these days.


Anatole Kaletsky, the chief economist of a Hong Kong-based investment advisory firm, is the author of "Capitalism 4.0: The Birth of a New Economy in the Aftermath of Crisis."








Semi-retired dictators, it seems, glide into old age pretty much the same way that other people do. Humbled by their own mortality and freed from the incessant demands of tyranny, they ruminate, and in those ruminations they find wisdom that eluded them in their youth. Or so it seems in the case of Fidel CastroCuba's ailing, 84-year-old icon of leftist revolution.


Were this 50 years ago, we'd be seeing the uniformed, bearded firebrand at the opening of the United Nations railing about Yankee imperialism. Now he's quietly questioning the viability of the system he created, and taking time to smell the flowers.


In an eye-popping quote during a series of interviews this month with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, a wizened Castro matter-of-factly confessed that "the Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore."


That's not all. Castro now thinks he was wrong to spark theCuban missile crisis of 1962, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. He believes that the United States andIran are headed straight for a rerun. He avidly defends Israel's right to exist — an affront to one of his revolutionary acolytes, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And with his newfound free time, Castro pauses to appreciate some of life's smaller pleasures, such as dolphins. He took Goldberg to a show. The aquarium's veterinarian turned out to be Che Guevara's daughter.


It's all so Saturday Night Live.


But it's also a marker of changing times, the passing of the Castro era, and the need for the United States to prepare for what comes next, not wallow in past grievances.


Castro and his 79-year-old brother Raul, now president, haven't abandoned their revolutionary zeal. Nor have they turned into democrats. Cuban jails still hold dissidents, and freedom remains a foreign word.


But they are also realists — because they have to be. Cuba's economy is wilting under state control, much as the Soviet Union's did.


On the heels of Fidel's jarring quote, Raul confirmed the truth of it, announcing that the erstwhile worker's paradise would lay off half a million people. What's more, it will loosen controls on business, alter state pay to reflect performance and invite more foreign investment.


The brothers presumably see this as a way to rescue their legacy by transforming their system in the mold of China's — an entrepreneurial business culture restrained by a repressive political system. But that might not be so easy, particularly if the U.S. stopped helping them.


If U.S. leaders were to pause and reflect as Fidel Castro has, they, too, would recognize that times have changed. Cuba is no longer the security threat that it was during the Cold War; it's just another failed communist state. The biggest threat now is the potential for waves of economically desperate refugees.


The five-decade trade embargo that was supposed to turn Cubans against Castro is an utter failure. And China model or not, Cuba is doing some of the things that the United States has long asked it to do.


In this lies a potentially transformational opening. Rumors have floated for months that the Obama administration is preparing to relax travel rules and revive people-to-people programs. It should be bolder. It should offer a dramatic initiative that would clear the way to ending the embargo, opening Cuba to Americans and American business.


Fidel Castro isn't the only Cuban who realizes the system is failing. As he fades away, his enterprising countrymen will invent a new system all their own. The only question is whether Americans will be there to help — or instead lock themselves out, blind to the tide of history.








Ninety miles off Florida's coast, an elusive island beckons. Cuba evokes an exotic bygone era for tourists and a potential market for American farmers. So it should surprise no one that there are calls to open our flights, markets and wallets to Cuba again.


Such appeals, however, mask the brutal truth: After 50 years of oppressive rule by Fidel and Raul Castro, Cuba maintains one of the most deplorable human rights records in the modern world.


Openly hostile to the United States, the Castro regime continues to inflict substantial domestic political and economic oppression. The Cuban people suffer without the most basic human rights, and the government imprisons students, journalists and anyone who speaks against the regime. For example, American Alan Gross has languished in a Cuban cell since December without access to medical care, for his "crime" of distributing cellphones to the Jewish community in Havana; Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of a dissident who died this year of a hunger strike, is routinely beaten when she attempts to visit her son's grave.


These examples represent only a fraction of Cuba's flagrant human rights violations. The Cuba Archive Project has documented more than 90,000 non-combat deaths — including executions, extrajudicial assassinations, death in political prisons, and disappearances. Furthermore, 1.5 million Cubans are in exile, while the regime continues to trumpet a release of prisoners that only scratches the surface.


Declaring the embargo a failure and using it as justification to reopen trade and relations ignores the fact that the Cuban economy is on its knees. The paltry changes we've seen (allowing Cubans to buy and sell some goods) have been necessitated by their economic crisis. Ending the embargo now not only ignores the atrocities perpetrated by the Castro regime, it also hands the Cuban government a huge financial boost at the exact moment they need and want it most.


Friendship and an economic relationship with our nation must be earned, and Cubans deserve the freedom, democracy and human rights they lack. Until Cuba has demonstrated meaningful progress, unilateral changes in American policy would undeniably reward horrific behavior.


Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a Democrat from Florida.









A strong work ethic, devotion to God and family, conservative views on abortion and sexuality — on these scores and more, the newcomers would appear to be right in stride with the traditional-values folk in Anytown, USA.


In view of the Christian gospel followed by most of the established residents, you might assume they'd extend a hand of hospitality. You certainly wouldn't expect them to resist the newcomers' worship centers, would you? Or squander an opportunity to enlist potential allies in the fight against the country's inexorable drift toward coarseness and secularism?


These perfectly logical thoughts might run through your mind until you learned that the newcomers in question often have Middle Eastern-sounding names, wear beards or head scarves, and take their spiritual cues from the Quran. And then you'd know that the situation was bound to play out on a whole different frequency. At flashpoints from Temecula, Calif., to Gainesville, Fla., to New York, N.Y., and all along the low road in between, mongers of fear and haters of the "other" are sounding the alarm about Islam with a new level of intensity. To hear it from conservative spokesman Newt Gingrich and those of a similar persuasion, the Muslims between our shores are bent on taking over the country and imposing their "un-American" values.


This demonizing and demagoguery is beneath us. My plea to those tempted to fall for the beware-of-all-Muslims hype: Get to know someone before you decide to fear and hate him.


Theologically conservative


Through my own participation in interfaith activities, and as I've followed the recent turmoil around Islam in America, I've become increasingly struck by a peculiar dynamic: The non-Muslims one finds at interfaith and Muslim community activities, and speaking up for Muslims in politics and the news media, are most often liberals. Juxtaposed with that is the fact that most of the anti-Muslim rhetoric comes from the conservative side of the tracks. It's enough to trick you into assuming that followers of Islam in this country are in lock step with progressives. But as the pollster John Zogby wrote last month in Forbes, American Muslims trend conservative on social and religious issues, with majorities of U.S. Muslims — much like conservative Protestants — favoring school vouchers, stronger laws against terrorism, and laws making it harder to get an abortion.


It leads you to wonder just what the leading Islamophobes actually know about their supposed enemies when they call their religion "evil" and perpetrate hostile acts such as these:


•Anti-Muslim protesters brought dogs (which Muslim teaching prohibits at places of worship) to the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley in July in a deliberate bid to intimidate and insult.


•Arsonists torched construction equipment last month at a mosque building site in Murfreesboro, outside Nashville — this following claims by the chief anti-mosque organizer that the project was a plot by "radical Islamic extremists" to challenge Christianity in the heart of the Bible Belt.


•A small church in Gainesville provoked international outrage with hugely publicized plans — eventually canceled — for a Quran-burning event on the 9/11 anniversary.


Amped up by the furor around the proposed Park51 project in Manhattan, the ominous tune has played out against a drumbeat of anti-Muslim propaganda across talk radio and the Internet, among other places — rhetoric that would have you believe that Islam is inherently opposed to American ideals. Bryan Fischer, director of issues analysis for the American Family Association, has gone so far as to demand a halt to the construction of mosques in the USA. "Each Islamic mosque is dedicated to the overthrow of the American government," Fischer claims. "Each one is a potential jihadist recruitment and training center."


The sad truth is that we human beings, for all our clever technology and supposed progress, are still dupes for the age-old instinct to fear the "other." It's understandable that Americans, especially those who haven't had the chance for personal interaction with Muslims, might harbor wariness. The wounds from the horrific events of 9/11 are far from healed. And, to state the sadly obvious, nearly all the terrorism in the nine years since has been committed under the banner of Islam (a grossly distorted version of it, more precisely).


But it's wrong that the chief demonizers, and those in their sway, are choosing to see in Muslim Americans not their commitment to God, work and family — not how much they share in common with them — but only their hijabs, their different word for the Almighty, and the relatively minute portion of their global community that spews hate and commits violence. It's gratifying in recent weeks to see American religious leaders from across the theological spectrum making these points and standing shoulder to shoulder with our embattled Muslim fellow citizens.


In the midst of all the heat and fury of late summer, those with their ears to the ground could hear deeper positive rumblings. While the demagogues were busy with the Muslims, the Mormon Church— itself the object of more than its share of misunderstanding and ostracizing — announced a new online outreach campaign. The goal? That more and more Americans get to " know a Mormon." Focus groups and opinion surveys, theUtah-based church said, reveal that most Americans cling to false and negative impressions of Mormons until they get to know one.


Take a minute to learn


The same goes for Muslims. If you're fortunate enough to have Muslim neighbors or co-workers, you've probably come to see that they have as much in common with suicide bombers as your friend at church has in common with the supposed Christians who bombed the Atlanta Olympics and murdered an abortion doctor at his church. If you're one of the many who has formed a view of Muslims primarily from the news media or the rhetoric of anti-Muslim propagandists, take a minute to learn something about the world's second-largest religion. It's telling that the Florida pastor behind the vastly overpublicized plan to torch Qurans admits to never reading the text that he declared to be "of the devil."


If American history has taught us anything by this point, more than two-and-a-quarter centuries in, it's that there will always be a next new group at the gates. "It's tough to live through this," says Eboo Patel, a Muslim American who is founder and leader of the Interfaith Youth Core and a regular contributor to USA TODAY. "But what we are watching is Islam becoming an American religion."


We know how this story is supposed to end. So can we please just skip the part that will embarrass us later?


Tom Krattenmaker is a Portland-based writer specializing in religion in public life and a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors. His book Onward Christian Athletes was published last fall.








The consumption of alcohol — beer, wine and distilled spirits or liquor — is a habit that prompts heated discussion. On the one hand, studies show that moderate drinkers tend to have better health and live longer than those who do not drink or who are heavy drinkers. On the other, alcohol abuse is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States and it contributes heavily to the country's incidence of disease, vehicular accidents, injuries and crimes.

The challenge in a free society is to find a way to discourage those who drink to excess without infringing on the rights of those who do not drink or who drink in moderation. Punitive measures — fines, loss of driver's licenses and incarceration — deter excessive drinking in some cases, but not all. Educational programs and in-house and outpatient treatment regimens have a similarly mixed record. A new study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, suggests another option is available.


It suggests that an effective way to significantly reduce abuse is to make drinking more expensive by doubling current state taxes on alcohol. Doing so would add about 50 cents to the cost of a bottle of wine or six-pack and a bit more to a bottle of liquor. The exact increase would vary from state to state, but the overall affect is consistent. A tax increase would save lives, reduce death and injury rates and reduce health costs across the board.


There's considerable evidence available to support the study's conclusion. Recent increases in the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco items — another product often abused — has prompted declines in smoking rates, even among heavy smokers. There's reason to believe that similar reductions would occur among drinkers if alcohol taxes were raised. If so, the numbers are attention-grabbers.


Doubling state taxes on alcohol, according to the study, could cut alcohol-related deaths by 35 percent, reduce fatal car crashes by 11 percent and lower the rates of sexually transmitted disease by 6 percent. In addition, researchers estimate that higher taxes on alcohol could lead to 2 percent less violence and 1.4 percent less crime. The improvements would not be immediate, but occur incrementally as the cumulative effect of increased prices affected the buying habits of those who drink.


Given the possible gains in improved public health and safety, it would seem that states would rush to increase alcohol taxes. Doing so would increase their cash flow, an attractive option in these financially difficult times. Over time, a tax increase on alcohol likely would reduce state expenses, too.


Even modest reductions in alcohol consumption would reduce the incidence of illnesses — liver and heart disease, strokes, for instance — that currently cost some states hundreds of millions of dollars to treat each year. Moreover the tax is equitable. Only those who choose to drink would be required to pay it. Still, opposition to any proposal to increase alcohol taxes should be expected.


Obtaining approval for any tax increase — even one so demonstrably productive as one on alcohol — is unlikely to find favor in the anti-tax mood that currently grips the country. Lobbyists for the powerful beer, wine and liquor industries would spend freely to oppose it. They'd find an influential ally in the restaurant industry, which would oppose any tax increase on alcohol because it likely would slash profits by reducing consumption of high profit alcoholic beverages. Such an alliance has beaten back past proposals to increase the alcohol tax.


That should not be a deterrent to those working to reduce the high incidence of alcohol abuse in the country. If raising taxes on alcohol will reduce abuse, save on health care costs, cut booze-related deaths and car crashes and improve public health, that option should be pursued.







Who doesn't like the thought of "free" money?


But is any money really "free"?


Do you know where there is "free" money available? We don't. In every case of so-called "free" money, somebody has to pay. "Somebody else"? Or "you"?


Lots of people like special grants from the federal government — if we personally, or our community, get them. But we are not quite so enthusiastic about grants, especially of large sums of money, if they are going "somewhere else" and "we" have to help pay for them.


Besides, where in the Constitution of the United States is there authorization for "free" local grants?


We thought about that the other day when there was a long list in the Times Free Press of "energy efficiency grants" coming to "our" local communities. (There are countless other kinds of federal grants, too.)


Do you think it is the constitutional business of the United States to take tax money from Americans in general (and borrow more) to give to other people for "heating and air conditioning" — and many other projects?


Where in the Constitution is there any such authorization? You say some things are not delegated by the Constitution — and thus are prohibited! You are right! But lamentably, too many things emanating from Washington these days are clearly unconstitutional — yet happen anyhow.


When our country is more than $13 trillion in debt and our annual budget is adding about $1.4 trillion in red ink, do you think it is really a "good idea" (even if it were constitutional) to send $300,000 to LaFayette, Ga., for an aeration system for a sanitary sewer system?


We are sure the LaFayette sewer improvement is desirable. But is it desirable for U.S. taxpayers to finance a strictly local system in LaFayette, or anywhere else?


Meanwhile, Jasper, Tenn., is getting $100,000 for heating and pump retrofits at City Hall and city pump stations.


McMinn County is going to get $100,000 for lighting and heating upgrades.


Pikeville will get $100,000 for street light replacement and biofuel development.


Chattanooga is going to get nearly $1.9 million for "energy audits," a new energy office, building energy upgrades and LED lighting.


East Ridge will get $99,077 for energy retrofits in five city buildings, plus some traffic signals.


Red Bank will get $100,000 for City Hall lighting, heating and insulation.


Signal Mountain will get $100,000 for heating and water-heating retrofits at a historic school.


Soddy-Daisy will get $100,000 for energy retrofits at three city buildings.


Hamilton County will be getting $616,500 for new park lighting, traffic lights, a "green" roof at the Health Department, energy audits — and elementary school tours.


The list goes on and on locally — and multiplies throughout the whole United States!


The cost mounts up — in red ink!


How many of those "good" things do you think local taxpayers would have voted higher taxes to pay for locally? If not, are they really good ideas?


Spending money on federal grants still costs "us" even if it comes from Washington.


Is money from "the government" really "free," after all?







We cannot say it's surprising that some residents of Lookout Mountain are troubled to learn a power company is considering building potentially dozens of windmills on the mountain.


An Oregon company, Iberdrola Renewables, has been asking around about sites for windmills on the Georgia portion of Lookout Mountain.


But residents are understandably concerned about the possible threat to the scenery and to the "peace and quiet" they enjoy. Some of the company's wind turbines in other areas can reach as high as 400 feet into the sky!


There is also concern about the noise windmills create.


We hope residents of the mountain wisely steer clear of any project that would jeopardize their excellent quality of life.







In trying to defend the $862 billion so-called "stimulus" that President Barack Obama signed into law last year, the administration is bizarrely pointing to a stunningly inefficient bridge rehabilitation project in New York City. Vice President Joe Biden recently released a list of 100 taxpayer-funded projects that supposedly show the "success" of the stimulus.


Among the projects is the $175 million that taxpayers from around the country are providing to New York to upgrade eight vehicle bridges, a pedestrian bridge and a parking lot.


"The report says more than 120 people work on the project and that it has given a boost to the local economy," The Associated Press reported.


Oh really? The bridge and parking lot work — which should be the responsibility of New York City or New York state, not of federal taxpayers — is costing well over $1 million per job. And in a city of more than 8 million people, 120 "created or saved" jobs are not really going to provide much of a "boost" to the economy — especially considering how much that handful of jobs cost to "create or save."


The numbers the administration is using to label the stimulus a success are actually much stronger proof that the stimulus has failed — and that it has wasted lots of money in the process.







Common courtesy tells us it is wrong to gratuitously insult another person's faith. That's why there was appropriate criticism of a Florida pastor's recent plan to burn the Quran, Islam's holy book. He fortunately decided against burning the Quran.


But disparaging someone's faith does not excuse violence or threats of violence against the person who made the provocative remark.


So it is troubling that an editorial cartoonist for a newspaper in Seattle, Wash., has been forced into hiding in fear for her life because of threats against her by radical Muslims.


The artist, Molly Norris, had drawn a cartoon of Islam's prophet, Muhammad, and urged others to do the same. (Muslims consider depictions of Muhammad sacrilegious.) Her suggestion rapidly started making the rounds of the Internet, and she later apologized to Muslims and urged artists not to draw Muhammad after all.


Unfortunately, word had already reached a radical Muslim cleric in the nation of Yemen, and he placed her name on an execution list. The cleric labeled her a "prime target."


She continued her work for a while. But now, warned by the FBI that she could be in serious danger, she has "moved, changed her name and essentially wiped out her identity," an editor at the Seattle newspaper told Fox News.


Meanwhile, an editorial cartoonist in Denmark has been under police protection for nearly three years after he drew a cartoon about Muhammad that drew threats from radical Muslims. There have been three attempts on his life.


No one should seek to offend others on account of their religion. But it is appalling that such actions — however ill-advised — should lead to threats or violence.








In his three-hour discussion Saturday with the top executives of Turkey's newspapers, news services and television channels, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan clearly sought a new era and a new relationship with the nation's news media. We are encouraged. We take him at his word. He pointedly said that the respective roles of political leaders and journalists are distinct, even adversarial in a democracy. And he pledged his commitment to this concept.


It is fair to say this key concept has not always been central to Erdoğan's expressed views on the nature of journalism. And so we thank him.


To make this point in his breakfast meeting with top editors, the prime minister chose the metaphor of the 13th century Anatolian philosopher Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi:


"He who has a good friend has no need of a mirror," Erdoğan said, quoting Turkey's sage. "For a good friend will always tell you the painful truth about yourself. This is the role of the media in a democracy."


The metaphor is fair. But we find it incomplete without another tale, from another sage, a contemporary of Rumi who also lived for a time in the city of Konya. Our inspiration comes from the satirical Sufi mystic Nasrettin Hoca (in English often Nasreddin Hodja) whose stories comprise much of the folk wisdom of Turkey.


One day someone came to the Hoca with a question. The petitioner asked the wise man:


"Hoca Effendi, why do people go different directions when they leave their houses in the morning?"


It took the Hoca no time to answer.


"If all of them would go the same direction," Nasrettin Hoca explained, "this would throw off the balance of the world."


Our point is that yes, at times the media must be critical. But further, we believe that the great diversity of the Turkish media is its principal strength. From the often pro-government daily Zaman, to the stridently polemicist and anti-government Sözcü that declined the breakfast invitation, all are fundamentally legitimate. If all media go in the same direction, to paraphrase the Hoca, it throws off the balance of democracy.


The precepts of freedom of expression enshrined in the constitutions of all democracies are not there for the protection of journals that only meet the highest professional standards. Yes, at the Daily News we try to meet such standards. But this is an obligation to our readers, and it cannot be compelled by state authority in a democracy. Newspapers that may subjectively be judged as more partisan or lacking in objectivity or even foolish and primitive are entitled to the same protected consumption of newsprint, ink and the high-tech ether of the Internet age.


We join the prime minister in seeking ever-improving standards and professionalism in the Turkish media. But we stand with the Hoca on diversity. Journalists cannot all march in the same direction.






The biggest shocker of the crisis, at least according to your friendly neighborhood economist, is how the banks

have managed to preserve themselves.


While hedge funds and private equity have lost a lot of blood in the last couple years, banks have more or less remained unscathed. Many of them are still "too big to fail" and still more like a casino, nothing like It's a Wonderful Life's Building & Loan - well, maybe nothing except the bank run. Moreover, those Monte Carlo activities are still mixed up with traditional retail banking, and bankers are once again earning huge bonuses.


As the public has more bloodlust against the banks than the spectators in the Coliseum, breaking them up would have been successful public relations for national governments. But I doubt that it would have been the perfect solution. Northern Rock failed not because it was colossal, but because it simply messed up its core business of managing a maturity mismatch. And the woes of the Spanish cajas suggest that a financial system with a lot of small banks is not always safer than one with a few large banks.


Here's where Basel III comes in. To ensure that banks have enough capital when the next crisis hits, the capital requirement has been lifted to 7 percent of risk-weighted assets. This ratio will comprise of a conservation buffer of 2.5 percent to be drawn in times of stress, to be reached by 2019, in addition to the minimum common-equity target of 4.5 percent of assets, to be in place by 2015.


Even after disregarding the fact that the world will have seen a crisis or two by time the new ratios are in effect, it is debatable whether they will do the trick. Even a simple Turkey economist can see that capital ratios mean nothing if assets are overvalued, the risk agency problem remains at large, and shadow banking is still untackled. In fact, many respected economists, including Martin Wolf, argue that the new capital requirement is way too small. According to them, Basel III is unlikely to deliver a smaller and safer banking system.


But a more interesting question, at least from my own lens, is how the new rules will affect my own beloved country. To my dismay, my colleagues and Turkey economists have been dead-quiet on this question, which makes it impossible for me to plagiarize, or at least quote, them. At first glance, their silence makes sense: Not only are the rules implemented slowly, Turkish banks' capital ratios are already above the buffer, thanks to prudential regulation after the 2001 crisis.


That argument fails to recognize the external financing costs of the new rules. Balance of Payments statistics have been pointing at a marked deterioration in the quality of external financing of late. Reining in the global banking sector would not only have a direct effect on long-term borrowing by Turkish banks, it could also impact, indirectly, foreign direct investment and portfolio flows. As a result, both the quantity and quality of external financing could be affected.


Then, standard textbook macroeconomics dictates that there needs to be either a quantity or price adjustment in the Turkish model of external finance-led growth. Simply put, either the economy would have to contract or the lira would have to depreciate.


]You can argue that, with the rules not to be implemented until 2019, I am looking at the very long-run, when we will all be dead anyway. But my gut feeling is that investors are making too much of this long timeline: Market pressure could easily push the banks to the new targets in the next couple of years.


I am aware that this is not the consensus opinion, either for Turkey or the world economy. But it is much easier to make money with contrarian opinions.


Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at









I was in Berlin last week. It was a pleasure to walk through the streets of one of the downtown neighborhoods, see the well-restored houses and enjoy the variety of small shops and exotic restaurants. One can almost breathe the high quality of life in the inner city, where green spots and bicycle tracks are combined with the latest examples of modern, environmentally friendly architecture. Despite the huge debts the German capital is still facing, the overwhelming impression one gets is that of an affluent society and a booming economy. That feeling was confirmed when, on my way back, I read a newspaper article about the remarkable recovery of the German economy. After the deep crisis of 2008-2009, analysts expect a 3.5 percent growth this year, twice the expected EU average. German exports are almost back on pre-crisis levels.


I did not come to Berlin to discuss what some have called the new German Economic Miracle. The German Greens, in the opposition now but at an all time height of 24 percent in the polls, want to reformulate their EU policy and they have asked me to write the part on EU enlargement. The Greens are by far the most pro-European party in Germany, traditionally in favor of both further EU integration and of taking in additional member states such as Turkey.


When I asked why they wanted to renew their policies on Europe, my Green hosts proposed to take me to a meeting of young pro-European professionals who were going to discuss Germany's position in Europe with Ulrike Guérot who works at the Berlin office of the European Council of Foreign Relations and is a leading European thinker. It was an instructive evening indeed.


According to Guérot, Germany is about to change paradigms. Right from the start of the EU in 1957, the Germans have always ended up paying the EU bill. German leaders like Adenauer and Kohl were willing to do so because, dixit Guérot, they were romantics, in love with Europe, the only alternative to the violent nationalisms that had killed millions in the Second World War and that had to be overcome, no matter what the costs would be. Over the last couple of years, the German willingness to bail Europe out when there were financial problems has decreased. Still, the present Greek economic crisis could only be brought under EU control after a hesitant Angela Merkel gave the green light. According to Guérot, those days are over. From now on, Germany will only be willing to contribute to a new system of European economic and financial regulations if and when there are rigorous rules that all EU member states should respect. Most Germans are simply not willing to pay anymore for the mistakes made by the Greeks or the Portuguese. Most pro-Europeans present that night, fully agreed. It was clear to me: Germany is now looking at Europe from a post-romantic perspective and the rest of the EU better get used to it.


The same message was conveyed in a powerful and convincing way by Wolfgang Proissl, former Brussels bureau chief of the Financial Times Deutschland, in his report "Why Germany fell out of love with Europe," published in July by Bruegel, an international economics think tank in Brussels. In his suggestions to reengage Germany with Europe, Proissl calls on Merkel to fight the indifference and skepticism and recreate a new, pro-European consensus, based on the belief that it is only in the framework of the EU and the euro area that Germany will be able to be an international player. Instead of trying to enforce more rules and sanctions for euro countries that fail to meet the criteria, Proissl advises the German policymakers to sit down with their French colleagues and work on an effective system of economic governance of the euro area.


Is the end of the old German love affair with Europe bad news? It is when the other EU member states are not willing to accept the new reality. In that case the euro is in real trouble and in fact the whole EU project is. For Turkey, the interesting thing about this debate is of course to see whether or not the EU comes out stronger from this crisis. But the new German attitude is also a good indicator of the problems that come with being the biggest country within the EU. One day Turkey might face the same dilemmas. Better be prepared.








The Brest-Litovsk Treaty, signed between the Bolsheviks and Germany on the Eastern Front in March 1918, brought terrible odium to the Bolshevik regime. Due to strong pro-monarchist sentiments among German generals, the Bolsheviks feared a German attempt to restore the Russian monarchy.


The revolutionary turmoil they were caught up in was also not promising. They thus decided to remove ex-Tsar Nicholas II's family and their retainers from Tobolsk, where they had been exiled by the provisional government's Prime Minister Aleksandr Kerensky, to the city of Ekaterinburg. There, they thought, they could better keep a sharp eye on the imperial family.


The party, accompanied by guards, was traveling in tarantasses (long, un-sprung carts pulled by either two or three horses in tsarist Russia). At one of the stops en route a curious peasant approached to ask where the tsar was being taken. "To Moscow," he was told. The peasant, obviously satisfied, ironically responded: "Glory be to the Lord! To Moscow? ... That means we will now have order here in Russia again."


The first time I saw the appearance of Vladimir Putin's name in Russian politics it was that anecdote which came to mind. It precisely exemplifies the political, psychological and socio-cultural background of the Russia in which he managed to come to power. It is, therefore, not surprising to see that his first pledge when assuming the presidency was to bring stability and order to Russia. This was what ordinary Russians had been longing for since the collapse of the Soviet Union.


As important as this background behind Putinism's subsequent success, however, is the global economic circumstances, the eventual culmination of which has been the Russian economy's still ongoing budget surplus. In fact, Putin's predecessor Boris Yeltsin was even unable to pay salaries and pensions. In August 1998, the collapse of the Russian ruble caused one of the most severe financial crises R