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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

EDITORIAL 28.09.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month september 28, edition 000637, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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











































































Finally, the children in strife-torn Kashmir Valley have gone back to schools and books after three months of confinement within the four walls of their homes. Like any other child in India, they have the right to attend school and that right cannot be robbed by the separatists with their vile agenda. Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has rightly pointed out that education should be kept out of the conflict and appealed to parents, students, teachers and civil society to cooperate with the authorities in restoring education in the Kashmir Valley. For good measure, he has added that the Government is committed to the functioning of educational institutions because "our children run the risk of losing a year of their career, a year which no one can return to them". While his sentiments cannot be faulted, he must also look into another aspect: The shoddy state of infrastructure that exists by way of schools in the State. As many as 3,351 schools in the Valley and 624 in Jammu province do not have their own buildings and have to depend on other premises to hold classes. To be precise, 546 schools in Baramulla, 518 schools in Anantnag, 498 in Kupwara, 488 in Budgam and 311 in Kulgam function out of rented accommodation. A School Education Department report says 2,676 schools in the entire Valley do not have "proper accommodation", while 428 schools in Jammu province lack basic facilities. Despite the State Government spending huge sums of money on creating infrastructure, the number of primary schools without their own buildings has not changed in recent years. Sample this. According to the Economic Survey Report of Jammu & Kashmir for 2007-2008, 4,119 primary schools, 628 upper middle schools and 68 Government high schools were without their own buildings. The Economic Survey Report of 2009-10 also claims that 4,119 primary schools, 628 middle schools, 76 high schools and seven higher secondary schools are without their own buildings. Where has all the money spent on infrastructure gone? Meanwhile, the Government continues to spend a whopping Rs 1,164.38 lakh on payment of rent.

Interestingly, the separatist leaders, who want the children of the common man to come out on the roads to protest and shun education for a "bigger cause", have their own children and family members getting the best education in other parts of the country and even abroad. It does not come as a surprise that they should have the financial resources to pay for the best education money can buy for their children. Yet, when it comes to the masses, neither the separatists nor the State Government appears to be bothered about the fact that much more needs to be done to ensure quality education within Jammu & Kashmir. Encouraging parents to defy the diktat of the separatists who would like to see the Kashmir Valley observing a shutdown every day, irrespective of the consequences of their folly, and send their children to school is a welcome measure. The State Government must also provide adequate security for the children and the teachers and ensure no harm comes their way. But a lot more can be achieved if Mr Omar Abdullah takes it upon himself to upgrade the infrastructure and set up new schools so that the coming generations are free of the bigotry that inspires the stone-pelters and their masters.








While celebrated writer Salman Rushdie can be accused of several things, being politically correct is not one of them. Those who thought age and the harrowing experience of living under a death threat following the publication of The Satanic Verses, which fetched a fatwa from Ayatollah Khomeini who accused him of blasphemy have mellowed Rushdie have been proved wrong. The cerebral author continues to shock people, though it must be admitted that what he says is not without sense and substance. His latest remarks ridiculing the British monarchy and its customs as "archaic" and "stupid" because they belong to the era of kings, queens and knights, will find several takers. In fact, an increasing number of people in Britain have begun to question the utility of having a monarchy which continues to be a vestige of the past. If monarchy and democracy have co-existed despite being contradictory it is because the people and their representatives have benignly tolerated the symbols of their past which is also their national history. Mr Rushdie will no doubt move on to some other profound issues in time to come but he has meanwhile triggered a furious debate on the purposefulness of the monarchy that, incidentally, has bestowed knighthood on him. It is entirely in keeping with his temperamental image that he should gladly accept a recognition he laughs away as a "British oddity" much as John Lennon did when the Fab Four were knighted. But not everyone is so considerate towards what they believe to be hangovers of the past that are best got rid of. Our Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh won applause when he refused to don the traditional gown at a university convocation ceremony, saying he saw no reason to adhere to a colonial custom that is incongruous in today's India.

The point, however, is: What difference can such gestures make unless there are policy changes? For instance, we could have a rule that all convocation ceremonies organised by Indian universities should do away with the ridiculous robe and cap. But then what? Should we not find out how students were awarded their degrees at reputed centres of learning, for instance the university that existed in Nalanda, and replicate that tradition if possible? If there is one institution crying for freedom from sartorial traditions, it is the judiciary. Even when temperatures soar to 40 plus degrees in summer, our judges and lawyers attend work buttoned up right to the last button on the collar, with a coat and a gown to boot. Thankfully, the powdered wig is no longer considered mandatory for attending court. Had this tradition been retained, it would surely be a delightful sight. There are other leftovers of the Raj which we should get rid of too.







The all-party delegation that visited Srinagar and Jammu has failed in its mission. Meanwhile, there's mounting disquiet over the delay in the Ayodhya verdict

Two potentially momentous events occurred almost simultaneously in the previous fortnight — the Kashmir talks and the Ayodhya verdict. Sadly, both ended on a flat note, thanks to the lack of courage and imagination on the part of the Congress which dominates the UPA coalition in charge of the Union Government. 

The all-party delegation which visited Jammu & Kashmir from 20 to 22 September returned to New Delhi without achieving any tangible results due to the disarray in the Government and the Congress. That Union Home Minister P Chidambaram headed a delegation without internal cohesion was understandable as it contained disparate parties; what was inexplicable was that the delegation proceeded without internal debate and consensus regarding its approach to the different stakeholders in the State. The Home Minister appeared to have no private brief on behalf of the Union Government with which the delegation members could persuade the myriad parties to come to the negotiating table. It was simply a fishing expedition.

The absence of Defence Minister AK Anthony, who has stood tall in defence of the Armed Forces and resisted moves to dilute the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and the politically astute Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, cast a shadow even before the delegation took off on its mission. 

The impression that a confused Government was representing a befuddled party was aggravated by the September 14 meetings that People's Democratic Party leader Mufti Mohammed Sayeed had in Delhi with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This unleashed speculation that the Congress was planning to dump the non-performing National Conference and revive its old alliance with the PDP. 

Ms Mehbooba Mufti, who attended the September 16 all-party meeting on Jammu & Kashmir, fed fuel to the fire by hinting that the PDP was a better alternative to the NC. As the resultant conjecture threatened to derail the all-party delegation's visit to Jammu & Kashmir, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi stepped in for damage control, urging "time and support" for beleaguered Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who was doing a "tough job".

In these circumstances, without the glimmer of a consensus on how to tackle the violence in the Kashmir Valley, the all-party meeting decided to send a delegation to the State to talk to anyone interested in talking within the framework of the Constitution. But the delegation violated this mandate at the very outset when Mr Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M), Mr Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI) and Mr Ram Vilas Paswan (Lok Janshakti Party) et al went to visit Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mr Yasin Malik, all known for their anti-India views, at their residences after the trio decided to boycott the delegation which was meeting all interested parties at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre. 

This decision to meet the separatists responsible for the plight of Kashmiri Hindus and Sikhs was worked out in consultation with the Home Minister, a clarification that came after Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj declared it had not been discussed with or cleared by the entire delegation. But the BJP in turn stunned other communities in the State when its leaders turned up to pray at the Hazratbal mosque without even a murmur about visiting the Shankaracharya Hill, without meeting leaders of the Sikh community which recently received a "Quit Kashmir" call, without meeting the miniscule rump of Hindus in the Valley, and without visiting the Army, paramilitary and police personnel who have been injured answering the call of duty. Instead, delegation members visited people injured in the clashes with security forces, that is, the stone-pelters.

Thus, in Srinagar, the all-party delegation met deputations of the NC, PDP, Congress, separatists, the CPI(M), all of whom made greater autonomy the cornerstone of their presentation and demanded the withdrawal of the Army and AFSPA from certain areas of the Kashmir Velly. In other words, there was a concerted show of (Sunni) Muslim identity politics. 

This was capped by the visit to Jammu the next day, where the delegation found no time for the Hindus of Jammu province; the refugees from erstwhile West Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kasmir; and the forced exiles from the Kashmir Valley. Again, some members rushed to the Government Medical College, Jammu, where Mr Shabir Shah, booked under the Public Safety Act, is enjoying Government hospitality. A small delegation of Panun Kashmir leaders met the MPs late in the night of September 21 after the national media began flashing news that Hindu leaders were being excluded. 

Critical questions regarding the phase of violence that began on June 20, with organised stone-pelting that has caused brutal injuries to security forces and passers-by, has not been asked in Srinagar, New Delhi or any world capital taking interest in independent India's festering sore. These are: Who is manufacturing these 'Stone Age' weapons? Where are they being manufactured? How are they being distributed? And how is the supply line being maintained? 


These are not facile questions. Even a cursory look at pictures of youth carrying stones in their hands reveals that these are not ordinary pebbles or bricks that may be found on roadsides — though even then the sheer quantities would demand explanation. They are scientifically manufactured weapons, of requisite size and cutting edges hewn to cause maximum injury to their targets, similar to Neolithic era tools that can be seen in the site museums of ancient civilisations all over the world. 

Since intelligence agencies have discovered that the stone-throwing youth are being paid to unleash violence and unrest in the Kashmir Valley for a political purpose, the authorities urgently need to move ahead and uncover the 'factories' where these Neolithic weapons are being fashioned. And the Indian state must make it clear that there will be no mollycoddling of Neolithic Neanderthals until the violence comes to a complete halt. Until such time, the Army must act as it must. 

The other failing of the Union Government (leaving aside the massive northern India floods and disastrous Commonwealth Games) is Ayodhya. Here the Supreme Court also stands compromised as its reluctant decision to order deferment of the title suit verdict is seen by many as being at the behest of the Union Government. This has triggered speculation about the extent of delay envisaged. Will the verdict come only after the Bihar Assembly election is over or be further postponed till Eid-ul-Adha in November and Muharram in December are over? Will new reasons be added? Finally, if the Union Government can 'influence' the timing of a verdict, as is being alleged, can it also dictate its substance? It's a crying shame.








The day American troops leave Afghanistan, the US will concede defeat and Pakistan shall rejoice, just as it had celebrated the departure of the Soviet troops. A resurgent Taliban is likely to seize power with more than a little help from the Pakistani military. And then Pakistan will begin its quest to capture and control Central Asian Republics

Had the Soviets decided to extend their Afghan war into Pakistan, the subsequent history of the region may have been different. Perhaps the Soviet Union may not have been humiliated the way it eventually was. It may even have succeeded in subduing Pakistan and their mujahideen proxies. Had that been so, the world we are living in may not have been so troubled. 

The Taliban would not have gained control over Afghanistan; the Bamiyan Buddhas might still be standing; and, 9/11 may never have happened. The USSR itself need not have splintered. So, had the Soviets taken the war into Pakistan, it may really have been in the humanity's best interests. But they dithered and disastrous consequences followed for the world, with the solitary exception of Pakistan. 

For Pakistan, the defeat and disintegration of Soviet Union was a great morale booster. It wiped out the stigma of 1971; from a defeated country it turned into the 'demolisher' of a superpower. Pakistanis began to believe that they, and they alone, were instrumental in speeding up the process that led to the break-up of a once mighty Soviet Union. 

A few years later when Afghanistan came under Taliban rule, the Pakistani establishment felt that its time had truly arrived. It began to aim further north. In a geographical reversal of the Great Game, its objective was the control of the Central Asian Republics for their vast mineral and energy resources. Had Pakistan tried harder it may even have succeeded because in the beginning of this millennium the Central Asian Republics were a fragile patch-work, still working their way through the responsibilities of sudden statehood. Providentially for the Central Asian Republics, 9/11 intervened.

It was now the US's turn to confront Pakistan's proxies in Afghanistan. But like the Soviets before it, the US too has been busy pruning the branches in Afghanistan, even as the roots of this evil proliferate in Pakistan. Almost a decade later, the US stands defeated; or almost defeated, because the formal obituary has yet to be carved in stone. 

When the US leaves Afghanistan, Pakistan should justly be able to pat itself on the back to claim that it has defeated the second superpower as well. When it gloats thus, no one should grudge it the celebrations because it has worked assiduously towards that objective. Even more ironically, the US has aided Pakistan in that pursuit through its massive financial and material support.

But all is not lost yet, the US still has a chance; it may still be able to reverse the momentum of the Taliban's successes in Afghanistan, and save itself from the ignominy of defeat. But for that it would have to take some hard decisions. Above all, it would have to confront Pakistan — not just with evidence as it has done pointlessly so often in the past.

As a matter of fact, at this point, the US is poised at precisely the same delicate pass that the Soviet Union was before its retreat and defeat. Like the USSR, the US has to decide. Unfortunately, like the USSR, the US is likely to choose the path of least resistance. It will appease, cajole, coax and occasionally threaten, but it will not confront Pakistan. 

Look at the way the Obama Administration has tried to brush off the Wikileaks revelations as nothing new. Well, if it was nothing new, then the logical question to ask is what was the US doing all along? Why didn't it take action to prevent the loss of American lives from ISI-sponsored attacks?

The question also leads to the stark and dangerous possibility that once the US forces withdraw, Afghanistan may revert quickly to the pre-9/11 situation. In fact, it may go back to a state that might be even worse. Prior to 9/11, the Taliban were not fully in control of the entire territory of Afghanistan because the Tajik legend, Ahmed Shah Massood, was holding on to parts of northern Afghanistan. This second time, however, Pakistan's proxies will reign unchecked. They would have the entire country under their collective thumb. 

Within Afghanistan, women and children are likely to become the first victims of the renewed brutality. Their tragedies, in sickeningly familiar but multiple forms, would provide enough tales of gore to trigger many more novels of the Kite Runner genre.

This second time the brutality of the Taliban may not remain limited to Afghanistan. Pakistan would want to engage the Taliban in furthering its larger agenda and greater ambitions; of taking control of chunks of Central Asia and stirring the pot in India. 

When the US exits, there is going to be no check on Pakistan's military ambitions. As the vanquisher of two superpowers, it would be justified in feeling that it can now take on virtually anyone. The Pakistani military and the ISI have already honed to lethal perfection their mix of terror.

While Pakistan's neighbours would undoubtedly have the most to worry about, the US itself cannot be smug about the safety and security of its national interests. Terror may just stalk it in its own territory, and if the Central Asian energy and natural resources fall into Taliban/Pakistani hands, the US plans are likely to suffer the most.

What then is the way out? Is there a ray of hope? Can the situation be salvaged?

Perhaps it can be, may be not completely but at least to some extent. That retrieval, howsoever limited that might be, would be in the US's interests above all. A pointer towards the shape that it could take was provided recently by Ambassador Blackwell. Having served in the South Asian region he should know the area well, as also its geo-political intricacies, therefore his prescription is bound to have the weight of that background knowledge.

Mr Blackwell has virtually advocated the division of Afghanistan along the ethnic lines. Basically, his suggestion is that Afghanistan should be divided into two parts; the Pashtun-populated south should be one country while the rest forms a separate, second state more or less at peace with itself. The idea, thereafter, is to station a smaller force of the US and its allies in this northern part to provide it protection from the Pashtun south, as also to form a protective buffer against aggressive misadventures in the Central Asian Republics.

This proposal of Mr Blackwell is worth consideration. It is of course not the first time that such a proposal has been made; shades, similar to it, have been proposed in the past as well. But what is new this time is the possibility that it would suit the interests of at least two world powers; the US and Russia. Even China may find itself nodding in agreement to such an arrangement.

Moreover, it might make practical sense as an effective means of checking the Taliban's ambitions further north. Historically too, Afghanistan has assumed many shapes and forms. In the present context this could turn out to be the right recipe for its ills; precisely what the doctor may order. 

But there are many ifs and buts between the desired and what might be. Some people are trying to push through a proposal whereby the UN Secretary-General engages in a diplomatic exercise to hold talks with all parties and states concerned to arrive at a compact of mutual non-intervention and non-interference among all of Afghanistan's neighbours. The proposal goes on to suggest that the document prepared by the UN Secretary-General should be endorsed by the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Well, one can only hope that this proposal goes through successfully. After all anything that brings peace to this troubled land should be welcome. But one should be practical too. Keeping the ground realities in view, a proposal such as this seems to belong to a 'if wishes were horses' genre. Moreover it will be too much to expect decisive movement forward on such a complex issue by a Secretary-General whose instinctive reaction so far to all action is to retreat into a shell. Moreover this proposal puts too much faith in the willingness of the ISI and the Taliban to let go of what seems to them a certain victory in Afghanistan. 

Still, there is no harm in dreaming dreams; in continuing to have faith, howsoever misplaced, in universal human goodness. After all, Don Quixote became a legend by tilting at windmills.

--The writer is a former Ambassador. 







It's unfortunate that instead of adopting a firm policy to deal with terrorism, the UPA Government and the Congress are worried about the political cost of fighting terror. This is reflected in P Chidambaram's recent 'saffron terror' remark

Union Minister for Home Affairs P Chidambram recently faced a curious situation, when the Congress distanced itself from his remark on "saffron terror". Mr Chidambaram was brought in as Home Minister after his predecessor Mr Shivraj Patil miserably failed to handle terrorism. But the phenomenon of terrorism has proved too tricky even for a person like Mr Chidambaram who has been known to be efficient. The UPA Government still seems to be searching for a magic formula that can tackle terrorism without having any political fallout. 

India has been at the receiving end of terror for decades now. For a considerable time, this terrorism remained linked to insurgencies in the North-East and Jammu & Kashmir. In the last couple of years, Maoist insurgency has also resulted in terror activities. Terrorism has become an important internal security issue it is no longer limited to insurgency-afflicted areas. Almost the whole country has faced acts of terror in some form or the other. 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the Maoist insurgency as the most serious internal security threat to India. But there is no political unanimity over the way it should be dealt with. Some think that talking to the Maoists who do not believe in the democratic system is futile and force should be used against them. On the other hand, there are politicians who are of the view that the Maoists should be treated with kid glove and persuaded to join the political mainstream. These politicians have no qualms in using Maoist supporters as vote-bank. 

The most violent and widespread has been jihadi terror. Its prevalence has been explained on two counts. First, it was linked to separatism in the Kashmir Valley. Subsequently, some commentators have tried to link it to disgruntlement among Muslims because of the demolition of Babri Masjid. However, what is forgotten here is that radical tendencies have grown in many Muslim countries and in comparison to that such tendencies are less pronounced in India. Still, the influence of jihadis is increasing even in India. It is amply proved by the involvement of Indians in the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba network and their activities in distant countries like Somalia. 

However, when the state tries to act against jihadi terror, it faces difficulty. Minority communities have been used in the past to further the electoral fortunes of political parties. Jihadi terror presents a problem of a different kind. The word jihad is linked with a particular religion. Though jihadi terror does not make all Muslims extremists, acting against this phenomenon has a political cost which many political parties are not willing to accept. Its result has been confusion as reflected in the unclear directive to security forces in the Kashmir Valley where militancy has been on an upswing in recent times. This lack of clarity has also stood in the way of terrorists like Afzal Guru getting their due punishment. 

However, to the credit of Mr Chidambaram, it must be said that initially after taking over from Mr Patil he acted tough and brought the situation under control. But as expected, this had its political cost. As a result, to establish his secular credentials the Minister has started talking of 'saffron terror'. The use of this phrase may not have served his purpose but it has definitely opened a Pandora's box. The Congress has realised the political implications of such statements. It knows that talking of 'saffron terror' without concrete evidence could prove equally detrimental to the political interests of the party among Hindus. Hence, it has chosen to distance itself from the Minister's remarks. 

It's an unfortunate situation in a country which has been the worst sufferer of terrorism. The country must have a clear policy towards terrorism in the absence of which the problem cannot be dealt with adequately. India cannot afford to politicise terror, as groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban increase their hold in the neighbourhood. The Maoist insurgency might also take a serious turn if their friends come to power in Nepal. Clearly, it is time to insulate terrorism from politics if India wants to adequately respond to this phenomenon. 






Happy Jewish settlers released balloons and broke ground on a kindergarten as the last hours of a 10-month construction slowdown ticked away on Sunday, while US and Israeli leaders tried to figure out how to keep Palestinians from walking out of peace talks over the expiration of the restrictions. 

In Revava, a settlement deep in the West Bank, about 2,000 activists released 2,000 balloons in the blue and white of the Israeli flag at sundown. The balloons were meant to symbolise the 2,000 apartments that settlers say are ready to be built immediately.

It was unclear that how the official end of the slowdown will affect construction. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already signaled future settlement construction will be kept to a minimum, in contrast to relatively unfettered housing activity of past Israeli Governments.

The festivities went ahead despite Mr Netanyahu's call for the settlers to show restraint as the curbs are lifted. Palestinians oppose all settlements built on territories they claim for a future state, and renewed building could endanger negotiations launched early this month by the Obama Administration.

The deadlock over settlements has created the first crisis in the negotiations, and US mediators raced to bridge the gap between the Israelis and Palestinians. But a deal was far from certain. A US official who was not authorised to speak publicly about the US involvement in the peace process said talks among the US, Israeli and the Palestinians were taking place on Sunday. "They are talking. Intense efforts are ongoing," the official said.

Mr Netanyahu was huddling with top officials late Sunday in hopes of finding a way out of the impasse.

The Palestinians have said they will quit the negotiations if Israel resumes building, though President Mahmoud Abbas said in a published interview on Sunday that he would not immediately withdraw. Instead, he said he would consult with Arab partners to weigh his options.

Mr Abbas faces intense internal pressure from his supporters not to relax his conditions. Also, the rival Islamic Hamas, which controls Gaza, opposes peace talks with Israel in principle. 

Mr Netanyahu, under pressure from pro-settler hard-liners in his governing coalition, said he would not extend the slowdown on construction he imposed 10 months ago. The curbs, which expire at midnight, prevented new housing starts in the West Bank, though the Government allowed thousands of units already under construction to be finished. A similar, but undeclared, slowdown has also been in place in east Jerusalem, the area of the holy city claimed by the Palestinians.

The deadline had not yet expired when several dozen settlers groundbreaking ceremony for a new kindergarten Sunday in the Kiryat Netafim settlement.

"For 10 months, you have been treated as second-class citizens," Danny Danon, a pro-settler lawmaker in Mr Netanyahu's Likud Party, said at the ceremony. "Today, we return to build in all the land of Israel."

In nearby Revava, a settlement of about 130 Orthodox Jewish families in the rocky hills of the northern West Bank, the crowd included young activists, men wearing trademark knit skullcaps favored by religious settlers and foreign supporters from Norway and China.

Mr Netanyahu imposed the slowdown last November in a bid to draw the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. The Palestinians initially rejected the offer as insufficient, but in recent weeks they demanded that the measures remain in place.

The Palestinians say Israeli construction in the West Bank cripples plans for a viable Palestinian state. Some 3,00,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements, scattered among 2.5 million Palestinians. Another 1,80,000 Israelis live in east Jerusalem. In practice, the slowdown brought about only a slight drop of about 10 per cent in ongoing construction, but it cut new housing starts by about 50 per cent, according to the dovish Israeli group Peace Now. That means the slowdown could have far more impact if it remained in place.

Before boarding a plane back to Israel, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak told the BBC late Sunday that chances of success were "50-50". The chief Israeli and Palestinian negotiators remained in the US, leaving a window open for a last-minute agreement. One of Obama's chief advisers, David Axelrod, told ABC News that efforts were continuing. "We're very eager to keep these talks going," he said. "We are going to urge and urge and push throughout this day to get some kind of resolution."

Despite the tensions, there have been signs of compromise. Senior Palestinian officials told The Associated Press last week they were prepared to show "some flexibility".

In an interview published on Sunday in the pan-Arabic daily al-Hayat, Abbas said he would not immediately withdraw from peace talks if construction resumes. Instead, he said he would convene the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Arab League to formulate a joint response. The meeting is tentatively scheduled for October 4. Mr Abbas ruled out a violent response. "We won't go back to that again," he said. 








THE story of Wasil Khan, who was dubbed as a Pakistani intruder by the Punjab police and later imprisoned for eight years is a comment on all that's wrong with the law enforcement and judicial systems. It also reveals how our agencies engage in religious profiling, since the man from Bihar who was detained by Punjab police in 2000 while he was working as a truck cleaner, would never have been subjected to his travails had he not been a Muslim.


Further, the story is reason for India and Pakistan to relook at the policy of jailing people who may have indeed strayed into the wrong side of the border.


The way the police operate is clear from the fact that rather than formally arresting Mr Khan — for which they had no evidence — he was deployed as a cook at a Punjab police officer's residence for two years — you can't get better proof of the feudal nature of the administrative system.


The hapless man next found himself implicated in a bomb blast case, and, horror of horrors, he was convicted by a court which saw him spend eight long years in jail.


It is not enough for the authorities to release Wasil Khan, as is going to happen. The whole chain of events from the time he was detained to his conviction on terror charges must be enquired into. If it is established that he was framed in the terror case, and that his earlier detention too was arbitrary, he must be handsomely compensated.


You can't rob a man of ten long years of his life and later simply say that it was all a mistake which warrants an apology.







THE details given in American journalist Bob Woodward's book Obama's War that establish the role of elements within Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence ( ISI) reconfirm all that David Coleman Headley revealed to the National Investigation Agency.


The assertion in the book that ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha was aware of the involvement of elements within his own organisation gives the lie to Pakistan's stand that there is insufficient evidence against the perpetrators of the 26/ 11 attack.


The Union government must use this new information to insist that Pakistan act against the two ex- military officers who planned the attack, as well as against the allegedly rogue ISI elements because till now the only arrests Islamabad has made is of Lashkar- e- Tayyeba personnel like Zakiur- Rehman Lakhvi and Zarar Shah.


The US, too, must come clean on the issue.


If it did have information that ISI operatives were behind the attacks, it should have shared it with India rather than mislead it by stating that the Pakistan government was not involved.


It cannot have an elaborate retribution plan of striking terror camps within Pakistan in the eventuality of another Al- Qaeda terror attack, while concealing information from India to prevent it from taking action. By now the US should have learnt that double standards on terrorism are self- defeating.








THE MAIL TODAY report on the use of child labour for picking cotton in plantations in Gujarat is a matter of grave concern. Despite the prohibitions against child labour and the passage of the landmark Right to Education legislation, children continue to remain among the most vulnerable sections of our population.


They are exploited for their labour because they find it difficult to protest, and often their own parents are compelled to put them into the labour market because of poverty.


The Gujarat government which prides itself in running an efficient state machinery needs to crack down on the use of such labour.


For its part, Rajasthan, from whose poorer southern districts much of the labour is drawn, needs to be far more vigilant in preventing the movement of children for such purposes.


Punitive measures are important to check the use of child labour, but equally there is a need for holistic social- welfare schemes that will ensure that prohibition goes along with nutrition and education schemes. There is also need to create greater social awareness against the practice of child labour.









THE Ayodhya issue is not a religious issue. It is not a religious issue simply because the understanding of what religion constitutes has radically changed since the nineteenth century.


Just as our definitions of religion would be incomprehensible to someone in the time of the Buddha, the contemporary understanding of religion also requires a careful delineation. A single glance at the definitions of religion offered by a figure like Swami Vivekananda would be enough to illustrate the confusion that has been introduced in the definitions of religion.


For him, any entity that bore the name of religion must shun dualism and work towards perfect unity; it must direct its efforts to banish divisions and promote fellow- feeling. It also must shun rituals, eliminate poverty and uplift the masses.


Religion ought also to promote, argued the Swami, radical individuality and shun the credo of the mob and the masses. Religion, he argued, must manifest itself in the form of love, empathy and possess a weeping heart for the suffering of others; the idea of God for him is unconditional love.




At other moments, he describes religion as action and ceaseless work. The consequence of such a broad definition of religion is not, as apologists of the Swami suggest, to make religion broad and tolerant, but to infuse a sense of religiosity in all walks of life. After all, if one carefully looks at these definitions, they could easily fit the description of a government working towards elimination of poverty, an NGO working towards social uplift and providing emotional and material support to people, or a football club working towards promoting brotherhood and fellow- feeling.


In other words, all arenas of public life were covered by religion. Politics as generally understood was enveloped by these definitions of religion and the public and private distinction, so crucial in democracies, was sought to be eliminated. It affected a totalisation of both politics and of religion: the distinction between them was effectively erased and fatally compromised.


Thinkers such as Vivekananda and Aurobindo also were great votaries of science.


For Aurobindo, Kali manifests herself in the modern age as the Kali of science, the Kali of war and the Kali of wealth. Vivekananda further compromised the fluid and eclectic character of the composite entity we know as Hinduism by arguing that if Hinduism as religion ought to survive, it must be put to scientific examination, and validate two propositions of science, namely, the principle of generalisation and the principle of evolution. Indeed, religion has to be made as scientific as physics and chemistry; religion, indeed, has an internal mandate to vouch for its truth, which science does not have.


The latter claim is justified in the name of the modern theory of evolution. For him Vedanta fulfilled all these conditions of being scientific and Hinduism truly understood was the highest form of Vedanta, namely, Advaita Vedanta, which is the essential oneness of all things. But Islam and Christianity do not fulfil, he argued, the principles of highest generalisation and the law of evolution. They were mired in dualism and were in an inferior stage of evolution.

The Ayodhya question, then, becomes one where those who want a temple argue that the temple has nothing to do with any inherent insecurity within Hinduism, but one where the sentiments of people are involved. There is little debate about the way these sentiments are formed, crystallised and given a violent turn. To ask the question why these so- called sentiments are more in evidence for issues concerning religion, tradition, identity politics and separatism rather than issues like poverty, corruption and human rights is seen as liberal, communist and pseudosecular excess that fails to understand these lofty religious sentiments of the majority of Hindus.




The parties that claim to represent all Hindus have failed to explain why they effectively manage to speak and represent all Hindus in the name of the Ram Mandir, but fail to convert the same numerical strength in winning democratic elections. This form of neo- Hinduism manages to rubbish the claim that its kernel of faith requires temples, and, at the same time justify the existence of temples. Let us hear in to what Vivekananda has to say on this question:


" Temples have no hold on the Hindu religion; if they were all destroyed religion would not be affected a grain". Now if one were to take this quote at face value, the Ayodhya dispute ought to end today in deference to the Swami's wise words, especially in a year that is being marked as the 150th year of his birth.


But Vivekananda leaves enough room for manipulation in his views on the place of temples in Hinduism. Having said the above, he goes on to say: " A man must only build a house for ' God and guests', to build for himself would be selfish; therefore he erects temples as dwelling places for God". The Sangh takes refuge in the latter part of the quote in order to keep the controversy alive.


Another dimension of the scientism that crept into definitions of religion was to debunk myths and legends as irrational.


Vivekananda relentlessly attacks the puranic tradition in India as the repository of lies and irrationality. It is another matter that he often contradicts himself by claiming that Islam and Christianity are not real religions but puranic sects because they require historical validation of their founding and of their prophets.




The Ayodhya dispute is caught between these inherent contradictions that Vivekananda exemplifies. If Lord Rama is a mythical figure, then the question of establishing the historical proof of his place of birth becomes irrelevant. If he is, indeed, to be seen as a historical figure, then, the faith that demands such historical proof is also part of the litany of lies and half- truths that permeated the puranic tradition according to Vivekananda. The Sangh Parivar has sought to argue two different propositions in order to mislead people. The first is one where they have sought to claim the historical validity of Ayodhya as the place of the birth of Lord Rama. But since myths begin where historicisation ceases, they have also tagged another argument with this first claim.


This is the argument of there having existed a temple on the site where the Babri Masjid stands. The latter argument might be easier to prove. But this argument of the existence of a temple on which the mosque was built is being heralded to prove that Lord Rama was a historical figure.


Pseudo scientism, then, is being called upon to align Hinduism in a league that Vivekananda would have found abhorrent.


If the strength of Hinduism is its ahistoricity, the Sangh is the greatest enemy of the faith. It seeks to reduce Lord Rama, who for many represents an ethical and normative framework, into an ordinary historical figure. The real fight is one of settling petty historical scores in the name of religion and Lord Rama. Ayodhya might be a battleground today of politics and communal myopia, but, as the philosopher Ramachandra Gandhi pointed out, its very name signifies an essence that seems to elude the Sangh Parivar: Ayodhya means that which cannot be fought.


The writer teaches politics in the University of Hyderabad








REVENUE Minister Narayan Rane is in a spot once again after his son Nitesh was accused of shooting his own party worker.


Chintu Sheikh, a small time businessman who claims to be working for Nitesh- run organisation Swabhimaan says that Nitesh shot at him after a verbal duel. Shiv Sena, Rane's most bitter critic after he quit the party in 2005 challenging Uddhav's leadership skills, now seeks Rane's resignation.


Rane was Sena's brightest star after Chhagan Bhujbal. He held supreme control over Sena's bastion in Konkan. By virtue of this, he also controlled several constituencies in Mumbai where Konkani migrants were in a majority. While he brought better roads to Konkan, he brought money for the organisation and more importantly for the Thackerays. He was the one, who as a chairman of a civic committee, showed how the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation could be milked as a cash cow. As a reward, he was given the plum Revenue ministry during the Sena- BJP regime and was later made Chief Minister. When he realised Uddhav now wanted to become the CM himself, he abandoned ship and joined the Congress that instantly made him a minister.


Rane's career has always been checkered with controversies. He was accused of ordering the killing of Congress activist Sridhar Naik in 1990. Naik's brutal killing right outside the village shook the sleepy Konkan region. The case dogged him till he became Revenue Minister. His critics insist he put immense pressure on the witnesses as he sat through the court proceedings with his entourage. As witness after witness turned hostile, Rane was absolved of charges.


Later it was the turn of NCP's Satyavijay Bhise to get killed in 2004. Angered at the defeat in local self- government elections, Rane's colleague Rajan Teli was accused of killing him. Again, Teli escaped, only to be made MLC by Rane. Both Bhise and Naik's families tried to ensure that Rane didn't join NCP or Congress.


But Congress wanted to dent Sena and considered Rane a prize catch. Ironically, the 2009 assembly elections ( first after Rane's defection to Congress) showed that it was the NCP which gained at Sena's expense.


This came as a shock to the Congress and Rane as well.


One more person had disappeared as Rane sought re- election to assembly after quitting Sena— Parshuram Govekar who was a key man for Sena.


Rane was accused yet again, but Raj, who was still in Sena, gave him a clean chit. Rane was not so insane that he would put his own election in jeopardy by committing something like this, he told his men.


The 2009 assembly elections were not without violence, too.


Rane's cousin was killed and this time, Rane made the allegations though few believed him. Rane won, as did his son who became a MP, but the margin was narrow. His own candidate was defeated in the neighboring constituency. Yet another Rane activist Ramesh Walunj was found dead. Police claimed he had committed suicide after a failed love affair. His family chose to remain silent.


While this violent trail goes against Rane, there are also thousands who swear by his efficiency and commitment. There is a small hamlet in his constituency that is situated on a cape, being eroded by the sea from three sides. Rane carried sandbags on his own back to help the hamlet. When he found small streams cut off hamlets from roads, he brought in bus cages and placed them over the streams so that people could cross them during the monsoon.


Bureaucrats in Mantralaya remember how Rane could get work done if he wanted it done.


Rane has been waiting to lead the state once again and claims he was promised the top job. If he is serious about staking the claim, he must know how to steer clear of controversies and remain low- profile. But considering his Sena breeding, Rane cannot do that.



THE Commonwealth Games in Delhi have made Suresh Kalmadi the butt of many jokes. His status is similar to that of George W Bush in the United States.


What people tend to forget is that Kalmadi didn't become Kalmadi in a day.


He kept dabbling in sports events throughout his career and similar questions were raised in the local media as most of these were held in Maharashtra. Yet his friends ( which included Sharad Pawar at one point) glossed over them, giving Kalmadi a free run.


Some say Kalmadi's tale is similar to the story of the thief, when he is about to be hanged, bites off his mother's ear. When asked why he did it, he says she did not stop him before he became too bad to handle.


Pawar cracked a joke on Kalmadi while speaking in Pune.


But he did not stop him when he should have.



NEXT time Amitabh Bachchan visits Mumbai's famous Siddhivinayak temple at Prabhadevi or Hrithik Roshan visits the Saibaba temple at Shirdi to pray for their respective film's success, they may have to stand for hours in the queue of devotees who throng these places of worship.


Maharashtra's Law and Judiciary department issued an ordinance last week restraining state- acquired temple trusts from allowing VIP darshans or charging premium for early darshan.


" The ordinance was issued in view of complaints that devotees had to stand in the queue for hours while trustees were making hay offering early darshan to those who were willing to pay," sources in the state government said.


Apart from Mumbai's Siddhvinayak temple and Saibaba Temple at Shirdi, the state has also acquired temples at the holy town of Pandharpur and Tulajabhavani near Solapur.


Local residents at Shirdi have been complaining that the trustees there were making money by allowing some people to jump the queue and get early darshan in return for money.


Some of the local residents had also blackened the face of a trust officebearer for allowing VIPs to jump the queue. Thereafter, the temple trust decided not to allow VVIP darshan.

The trustees, however, insist that a blanket ban on VVIP darshan was not possible.


]" The biggest concern is going to be their safety and security. If they are made to stand in queues like common people, not only will there be stampedes, but there is also the issue of their own safety. There needs to be some kind of arrangement that would take care of their safey issues," said a trustee who did not wish to be named.


deepak. lokhande@ mailtoday. in








With the Centre announcing an eight-point package to quell the three-month-old turmoil in Kashmir, it is time to get down to brass tacks. The announced proposals, which take into account the inputs of the all-party delegation that visited Jammu & Kashmir recently, comprise a good attempt to take a holistic view of the ground situation. They include a proposal to release stone-pelters and withdraw charges against them, something which needs to be implemented in good faith. The appointment of a group of interlocutors to begin a sustained dialogue with all sections of the Kashmiri polity and civil society is also commendable. 

There is no denying that a meaningful discourse to resolve the political crisis in Kashmir is a must. But talks cannot be one-sided and there needs to be a sincere effort on the part of all Kashmiri representatives to come to the negotiating table. Hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani's rigid position on 'azadi' is counterproductive, as is his tactic of issuing one bandh calendar after another. Whatever one's politics might be, keeping schools and colleges closed for months on end is reprehensible. It cannot serve any conceivable public purpose. To this end, the state government too must ensure that even when curfew has to be declared, ways can be found to exempt educational institutions from their purview. 

It is very important that political discourse on Kashmir is inclusive. In coming up with solutions, the aspirations of Jammu and Leh need to be kept in mind. It is extremely unfortunate that the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits has not been given due importance. The repatriation of Pandits must figure in any political deal that eventually evolves. Also, a distinction needs to be made between the political process and the conduct of daily life. The former should not hamper the latter. It is imperative that the youth of Kashmir are weaned away from the cycle of violence. The Centre must go the extra mile in ensuring their education. This could include having a quota and increasing the number of scholarships for students from Jammu & Kashmir in schools and colleges across the country. 

On the governance front, there is an urgent need to devolve political authority to grassroots institutions. It is precisely because ground-level bodies are weak in Kashmir that a system of governance based on patronage has come about. This needs to be replaced by vibrant, democratic local bodies. The Centre has made the right noises. All stakeholders interested in the welfare of Kashmir must now work to push things forward. 







The one-sided clash between the Chennai Super Kings and the Warriors at Johannesburg for the second Champions League trophy is a pointer to one of the League's big takeaways. The last time IPL teams played in South Africa during the IPL's second edition the Indian players were, by and large, far from impressive outside their comfort zones. Neither were they particularly competitive against the top Twenty20 teams from other countries during the first Champions League held in India. This time, however, has been markedly different. Players like R Ashwin and Murali Vijay and not only just the established names have shown their ability to perform at the top level. The IPL teams have begun to cohere. And as far as the general level of cricket is concerned, the contrast between the two editions of the League has shown, yet again, the urgent need for the BCCI to invest in quality pitches. 

However, despite the success, questions about the Champions League's place in the global Twenty20 arena have yet to be answered. Building loyal constituencies for teams that cut across national boundaries as is the case in football has proved to be tough going. Player availability is another issue tied to this, given that some of the players are eligible to play for both their state teams and their IPL ones. Since this is only the League's second year, such teething troubles are inevitable. But if it is to sustain itself and grow, it must start addressing them. 









Soon, the National Food Security Act will become law. The ruling United Progressive Alliance flagship social security programme of providing every Below the Poverty Line (BPL) family with 25 kg of rice or wheat at Rs 3 per kg per month is a welcome step to alleviate some of the human trauma that haunts the poor in our country. The government also hopes that the Act will secure freedom from hunger for 40 per cent of the population. But a successful implementation of the Act requires a boost in food production. Can it be done today? 

It has happened once before in our country. India's food output, which was 72.3 million tonnes in 1966, rose to 108.4 million tonnes by 1971. It was made possible by two men with distinct rural backgrounds Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and food and agriculture minister C Subramaniam. Subramaniam, brought in by Shastri to tackle the looming food crisis, was the architect of reforms in the agriculture sector. He shook up the bureaucracy, introduced yield increasing technologies, created producer price incentives and established new institutions like the Agriculture Price Commission and Food Corporation of India during this period. This transformed India from a food-deficit to food-surplus nation in a short span of five years in what is now popularly known as the 'era of the Green Revolution'. 

Today, agriculture is 18 per cent of the gross domestic product and the country is in the midst of transitioning into a market economy. To repeat the success of the 'Green Revolution', the agriculture sector too needs to be subjected to market forces. But many of the public institutions functioning in a market economy that can be expected to bring about major policy changes lack board representation for the agriculture sector. This has proved to be a hindrance to sustainable agriculture and improving food production. Important public institutions like the RBI and nationalised banks, the country's premier stock exchanges BSE and NSE and associations like the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) should be mandated to fulfil their obligations to the agriculture sector. 

Lack of representation on the boards of the RBI and nationalised banks has denied the farming community the necessary financial instruments required for farming to be profitable. Many of the credit schemes like Kisan Credit Card, investment schemes like Rural Infrastructure Development Fund and insurance schemes like crop insurance throughout the production process have failed because of a lack of initiative from nationalised banks. While micro-payment systems and mobile banking are flourishing in Africa, the RBI has continued to shun technology options to reach rural customers. When it is time to appoint the next RBI governor, the government must give serious consideration to an eminent agro-economist heading the central bank. As a shareholder in nationalised banks, the government must nominate representatives from the agriculture sector to the boards of these banks. This could send the right message to the farming community and to the country at large that the government is serious about tackling agriculture sector finance problems. 

When it comes to the Bombay and national stock exchanges, everyone recognises the need for private investment in the agriculture sector. But the sector is unrepresented in these freest of the free market institutions. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the exchange authorities have neither introduced an agro-index nor do agro-companies find representation in the Sensex or Nifty. Despite the listing of multibillion- dollar agro companies like Jain Irrigation, Tata Tea and United Phosphorus, authorities at the stock exchanges do not see merit in representing 18 per cent of the economy in the indices that are supposed to be barometers of the entire Indian economy. Introducing an agro-index along with agro-companies finding representation in Sensex and Nifty will go a long way in bringing much-needed private investment to the agriculture sector. 

The stated mission of FICCI and the CII is to work closely with the government on policy issues, competitiveness and expanding business opportunities for industry. But rarely do these industry associations advocate agriculture reforms and their silence was palpable during the BT-technology debate. Indian agriculture suffers from a distorted market, laws that stifle private investment, controlled prices and poor infrastructure that requires policy changes from the central government. Land consolidation and marketing reforms are needed at the state level. FICCI and CII can be ardent advocates for policy changes at the Centre while their state chapters can do the same with local governments. To proactively recommend policy changes, due representation should be given to the agriculture sector on the boards of these two industry associations. 

Effective implementation of the Food Security Act along with India's desire to achieve double digit economic growth and keep food prices in check will require food output to be doubled in the next decade. In order to boost agriculture output, major policy changes are required at every level of government. Agriculture needs board representation proportionate to its strength in the economy in important public institutions to triumph the multidimensional problems afflicting the sector. 

The writer is secretary, policy affairs, Janata Dal (Secular). Views expressed are personal. 




                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA




At the recent UN Millennium Development Goals Summit, American President Barack Obama stated foreign aid from wealthy to poorer nations does not ensure development. It can actually generate 'dependence' amongst recipient countries. Obama explained America's new 'hard-headed' aid policy, veering away from 'assistance' owards investments in 'broader-based economic growth'. 

There is a wider context to the aid issue that Obama didn't speak about, but that everyone is aware of. The recession is hitting western economies hard, leaving donor states with tighter pockets and more straitened domestic circumstances than usual. With xenophobic tendencies making headway in the developed world, foreign aid is the budget item that's easiest to cut. 

It's time to realise, however, that in a globalised world we are all interdependent. Leaving the developing world to its own devices will have negative effects on the developed world as well. One positive outcome of aid packages, for example, is the emphasis on accountability accompanying them. Stringent rules and checks emphasise the desirability of honesty in spending public money. Another positive outcome is development based on empathy. Often, development projects are hijacked by local powers yoking infrastructure, access or inclusion issues to their particular agendas of ethnic, caste or gender hierarchies. International expertise, clear vision and an unbiased directing of aid towards society's most marginalised counter a lack of local empathy while bettering conditions for the most vulnerable. 

Finally, aid can unleash innovation. In the Philippines aided by the World Bank, 'Community-Driven Development' has emerged. Rural and small-town populations come together, decide their most pressing development needs, access funds directly from the donor and match money with voluntary labour towards building roads, schools and healthcare centres. This has given power directly to the people. Well-structured aid packages do help people in the developing countries as well as correct global imbalances. It is a mistake to see all aid as leading to dependence.








President Barack Obama's announcement of a new US approach to development aid is welcome. It heralds a shift where development aid will focus on capacity-building rather than creating a culture of dependency and indifference. The case for aid is made in theoretical terms, on the ground that poor countries lack the resources needed for development. Flow of money from developed to developing countries is supposed to fill that resource gap. There are any number of studies, however, to show that aid from foreign countries hardly ever fulfils its objectives. That calls for an objective introspection on how aid should be targeted and utilised. 

Aid has always operated inside a complex web of foreign and security policy. As such, donors offer conditional or tied aid, which come with a price of its own for the developing nations. Often, aid gets wasted when the recipient is made to use overpriced imports and services from donor countries. US food aid is a glaring example of how the American administration subsidises its farmers and also secures a readymade market for them. Further, strategic interests and not poverty decide the choice of recipients. American aid to Pakistan, mostly siphoned off for use by the military, is an excellent example. In such cases, instead of fostering any development, aid becomes yet another channel of supporting corrupt governments doing a poor job of modernising their countries or developing civilian infrastructure. 

It's time, therefore, to call the bluff on aid flows from developed to developing countries. Governing elites in developing countries would have been called to account sooner by their own populations for adopting poor governance policies, if they hadn't been artificially propped up by foreign aid. It's the stuff of patronisation and neocolonial dependence. Even if financial stringency brought on by the economic downturn contributed, one must be grateful to Obama for calling a spade a spade. 







They say conspiracy theories can comfort us in the worst of times. Given the fiasco that the Commonwealth Games is turning out to be, we need a few dubious rumours to get us through the next three weeks when life in the national capital will be anything but licking ice-cream on an autumn evening stroll at India Gate

While wondering how Delhi could suddenly start resembling a bombed out quarter in Gaza city, I came across the story of Baron Haussmann. It turns out that under the rule of emperor Louis Napoleon III of France (1808-73), Haussmann, the Prefect of Seine, was charged with rebuilding Paris which had apparently begun to resemble 21st century Delhi a congested, run-down place full of pollution and crowded with too many people. Haussmann quickly realised that it was practically impossible to give Paris a new lease of life without getting rid of excess baggage. So he promptly gave orders to forcibly evict 3,50,000 people from the centre of the French capital before beginning his grand project. Haussmann had his critics, but he managed to turn Paris into the toast of Europe and everyone went home happy. 

Delhi today is on the verge of becoming a nightmare. There are too many people flocking to the city with dreams of owning a BMW or a Mercedes. And there are too many people driving BMWs and Mercedes. But since Delhi is hardly Haussmann's Paris, nor Shiv Sena's Mumbai, it isn't exactly kosher to deport people en masse or prevent them from owning obnoxiously expensive cars. 

So in 2003, there was a decision to bid for the Commonwealth Games and initiate project CWG Capital Without Garbage to salvage Delhi from becoming the worst kind of concrete jungle possible. The beauty of the plan lay in creating more mess to clean up the existing mess the sort of esoteric logic we Indians love. The authorities would peddle the cuckoo notion of bettering Delhi, all the while digging up roads and initiating 'construction' projects that were clearly aimed at making the city's inhabitants miserable. Better still, some people might even be frustrated into leaving the city for good and look for pastures elsewhere. 

From October 3 onwards, Delhiites will be subjected to the most rigorous obstacle course they have ever faced. They will have to start from home at least two hours in advance to make it to work on time. Given that half of the city's streets will be reserved for dedicated CWG traffic, driving will be as much of a challenge as doing the Fosbury Flop. Those who believe that travelling cattle class is not befitting of their lofty poll-vaulting status and Delhi is full of such elite acrobats will get a crash course in lane driving to bring them back to earth. Paying a Rs 2,000 fine for driving into the reserved lanes is bound to sting even those who boast of having Swiss bank accounts. 

Meanwhile, the CWG will do wonders for the general health of Delhiites. With the organisers having got rid of most roadside vendors for the gala sporting event, Delhiites will have to make do without their daily fix of golgappas and jalebis. This might hurt the bottomline of many small retailers but will do wonders for the waistline of the public at large. 

Suresh Kalmadi and company might appear to be the villains in the ongoing drama, but they are actually part of a much grander conspiracy to turn Delhi into a 'world-class' city. So if a foot overbridge falls here and a stadium roof collapses there, remember, it is all part of the 'master plan'. Whether this will be enough for Delhiites to turn on the Games organisers themselves is something that only time will tell.








It is still a glimmer at the end of the tunnel, but the fact that schools and colleges have opened in Kashmir after three months suggests that people are willing to explore alternatives to the continuing violence in the state. The government has held out an olive branch in the form of an eight-point package and the promise of one or more interlocutors who will be acceptable all round. Though curfew has been reimposed in Baramulla, Sopore, Srinagar and Kupwara, Home Minister P. Chidambaram's appeal to parents to end the disruption of education has been heeded to, even though partially. Part of the reason for students staying away from schools and colleges is the constant calls for strikes by hardliners like Syed Ali Shah Geelani who seem to have a single-point agenda — to oppose any move that could bring peace and normalcy to the troubled state.


The Centre, to its credit, has gone the extra mile in asking the state government to release students and youths arrested for stone-pelting. This with development funds, ex-gratia payments to the kin of those killed in civil disturbances and the appointment of task forces, among other things, should serve to cool temperatures for the moment. Even though Kashmiri leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik are sceptical about how much the package will address the grievances of the people, unlike Mr Geelani, they are willing to consider the possibility of a dialogue. The government's accommodation may be interpreted by the likes of Mr Geelani and his supporters to suggest weakness. And this will encourage them to up the ante and try and create further disruptions to discredit the package and other efforts to calm the volatile state down. This is not unexpected. Given the sensitivities involved in the conduct of the security forces, the government, both at the Centre and state, has to ensure that they behave with utmost restraint.


The Opposition People's Democratic Party should also keep in mind that it is an elected representative of the people and should put the interest of the younger generation first instead of being the perennial one-trick pony demanding the ouster of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. It seems to have realised this in its guarded but positive response to the package. True, many mistakes have been made by the government. But, if with the package as a starting point, there is a chance to go beyond this mindless violence, it should be seized by all those with the interest of Kashmir at heart. Cynicism is healthy, but pragmatism is not such a bad option either.







All those who have been going about asking, 'Is there anybody out there?' and scanning the heavens for an answer may get one now. For up there, along with satellites, planets and other stellar objects, someone could well be looking in our direction asking pretty much the same thing. Or so the United Nations would have us believe. And since they are there, it is but natural that they will in the near future dial Earth to make their presence official. So the UN — the big daddy of such bilateral/multilateral meetings — has decided to be ready in case such an event happens. Its Office for Outer Space Affairs (OFOSA) has appointed Malaysian astrophysicist Mazlan Othman to be the ''take me to your leader" person.


Now, the UN is not the only organisation that's trying to entice the aliens. Arès, near Bordeaux, France, has built the country's only council-funded UFO landing pad to try and attract Martians. After waiting for 34 years, on September 3, it received its Martian craft at the triangular 'UFOport' — made by a local artist. A plaque at the UFOport reads: "Reserved for voyagers of the universe."


So if you ever sport some alien lurking in your neighbourhood and looking lost, you know who to take it to. Either direct it to Arès or Vienna, where OFOSA is based. In case it stays put at the first place of contact, your backyard, then the onus will be on you to e-mail, call and fax Ms Othman's office. Till help arrives, keep the guest busy and keep its mode of transport in your garage. Don't look so hassled, though. Experts have said that the aliens are most likely to take a proper appointment first via radio or light signals before descending on us. But the sad part is that no matter how much we try to entice the aliens, they don't seem to be game. Or maybe they're waiting for us to reach them first and say, "Take us to your leader."



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





D-Day is five years away. The target date for the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is 2015. There's only one catch: the world knows it is not on course to meet those goals. So leaders from around the globe are about to gather at the United Nations to undertake a comprehensive review of the progress made (and not made) so far, with the aim of agreeing on a roadmap and a plan of action to get to the MDG finishing line by 2015.


I was at the UN in September 2000, when world leaders met at the UN Millennium Summit and made a number of historic commitments now known as the MDGs. It's an impressive and ambitious list, but its capstone is what the experts know as Goal 8, which calls for a "global partnership for development". This includes four specific targets: "an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system, special attention to the needs of least developed countries such as export tariffs and enhanced development assistance, helping landlocked developing countries and small island developing States with the problems arising from their geographical bad luck, and taking national and international measures to deal with the debt problems of developing countries."


Basically, it all boils down to a grand bargain. When countries agreed that the MDGs be achieved by 2015, a deal was struck: while developing nations would obviously have the primary responsibility for achieving them in their own countries, developed countries would have the obligation to finance and support a global partnership for development.


This hasn't really happened. Take aid, for instance. Last year, the official development assistance (ODA) amounted to $119.6 billion, or 0.31 per cent of the combined national income of the world's developed countries. Not only is this not even half of the age-old target of 0.7 per cent of GDP for ODA, but measured in current US dollars, ODA actually fell by over 2 per cent in 2008. Indeed, only five countries have met the UN target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income: Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Dare one point out that at the G-8 Summit at Gleneagles and the UN World Summit in 2005, donors had actually committed to increasing their aid substantially (by some $50 billion at 2004 prices)? Or to double their aid to Africa from 2004 levels by 2010? (No, they haven't done that either).


The plain truth is that unmet commitments by the developed world, inadequate resources for the developing world, lack of focus on the part of donors and accountability on the part of implementers, and insufficient dedication have meant that many of the MDGs are not close to being met.


The UN admits that though some progress has been made, it is uneven, and that many of the MDG targets are likely to be missed in most regions. Trade is an area where much progress had been hoped for. And yet, developed countries' tariffs on the imports of agricultural products, textiles and clothing — the principal exports of most developing countries — remained between 5 and 8 per cent in 2008, just 2-3 percentage points lower than in 1998. Some deficiencies have been made worse by the continuing economic crisis; and the food and energy crises. But the shortfalls are clear.


With just five years left to meet targets, Goal 8 must be reinforced in two fundamental ways. Developed countries must make commitments to increase the quantity of aid to developing countries, and to improve its quality. Aid must help developing countries to improve the welfare of their poorest populations according to their development priorities. The developed countries need to recognise that the rich countries do not develop the poor ones — developing countries develop themselves, with the solidarity and help of those more prosperous and more fortunate than themselves.


Mine is not merely an argument for more aid, but for more wisely-directed aid. Not all aid works as intended, and not all aid is well-directed. Donors often feel obliged to do what they can to make their contributions 'visible' to their constituencies and stakeholders, rather than prioritising local participation. Also, donor agencies snaffle up the best available talent, usually at salaries that distort the local market. Meanwhile, the sheer clout that comes with the purchasing power of aid money dilutes the necessary accountability of officials and elected representatives in developing countries, whose governments spend more time and energy being accountable to donors than to their own people.


It's time to change the way the world goes about the business of development. Donor-driven and donor-directed aid won't be sustainable once the donors leave or run out of steam. The answer lies in helping create capacity through training citizens of developing countries. Indeed, building human resource capacity is itself a useful way of fulfilling Goal 8. Donors themselves have an interest in doing this. It's the best way of ensuring their assistance is well used. Aligning their assistance with national development strategies, and helping countries devise such strategies where none exist, is smart from the donors' point of view too. Using national structures, or helping create them, ensures their aid is usefully spent, and guarantees the sustainability of their effort.


Trade is the other key area. In contrast to aid, greater access to the markets of the developed world creates incentives and fosters institutions in the developing world that are self-sustaining, collectively-policed and inevitably with greater consequences for human welfare. In other words, the average tariff levels in the developed world would mean more over the long run than generous aid packages alone. Many countries wish to trade their way out of poverty, but are prevented from doing so by high tariff barriers, domestic subsidies and other protections enjoyed by their competitors in the rich countries. Such practices have to change.


Nor should the onus be placed on developed countries alone. After all, the Millennium Declaration was signed onto by developing countries as well. They too have made serious commitments to their own people, and the first responsibility for fulfilling those commitments is theirs. But Goal 8 assured them they wouldn't be alone in this effort. The next five years calls for one thing above all: solidarity.


Shashi Tharoor is a Lok Sabha MP. The views expressed by the author are personal



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





The people who run Facebook are furious about a new movie that takes lots of liberties in its depiction of how Facebook came into existence. They're upset because much of The Social Network, which opens October 1, is completely made up. That's fair enough. But to me, the really interesting thing about this movie is that while much of the tale is invented, the story tells a larger truth about Silicon Valley's get-rich-quick culture and the kind of people — like Facebook's 26-year-old founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg — who thrive in this environment.


The Valley used to be a place run by scientists and engineers, people like Robert Noyce, the PhD physicist who helped invent the integrated circuit and co-founded Intel. It, in those days, was focused on hard science and making things. First there were semiconductors, then came computers and software. But now it's become a casino, a place where smart kids arrive hoping to make an easy fortune, building companies that seem, if not pointless, at least not as serious as, say, old-guard companies like HP, Intel, Cisco, and Apple.


The three hottest tech companies today are Facebook, Twitter, and Zynga. What, exactly, do they do? Facebook lets you keep in touch with your friends; for this profound service to mankind it'll generate about $1.5 billion in revenue this year by bombarding its 500 million members with ads. Twitter is a noisy circus of spats and celebrity watching, and its founders still can't figure out how to make money. Zynga, the biggest of those Facebook app-makers, reportedly will rake in $500 million this year by getting people addicted to cheesy games like Farmville and Mafia Wars, then selling "virtual goods" to use inside the games.


Meanwhile, among some longtime techies, there's a sense that something important has been lost. "Today almost everyone in the Valley will tell you there is too much 'me-tooism,' too much looking for a gold rush and not enough people who are looking to solve really hard problems," says Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer at Microsoft who now runs an invention lab in Seattle.


Myhrvold says he means no disrespect to Facebook and Zynga, which have had clever ideas and are making loads of money. "What bothers me is the zillions of wannabes who will follow along, and the expectation that every company ought to be focused on doing really short-term, easy things to achieve giant paydays. I think that's unrealistic, and it's not healthy," Myhrvold says. His company, Intellectual Ventures, intentionally runs counter to the prevailing trend in Silicon Valley. The only problems it tries to solve are ones that seem overwhelmingly difficult. These include creating a new kind of nuclear reactor and developing technologies that could address climate change and eradicate malaria.


Myhrvold doesn't have problems raising money. He made a fortune at Microsoft and is a close friend of Bill Gates. But he worries about "the unknown engineers and professors who have good ideas. Are those people going to get funded or will they be talked out of it and told they should do something like Zynga, because virtual goods is where it's at these days?"


The risk is that by focusing an entire generation of bright young entrepreneurs on such silly things, we'll fall behind in creating the fundamental building blocks of our economy. "If we distract people with the lure of easy money, with making companies that don't solve anything hard, we're going to wind up derailing the thing that has been driving our economy," Myhrvold says.  We've already fallen behind in areas like alternative energy, better batteries, and nanotechnology. Instead of racing to catch up, we're buying seeds and garden gnomes on Facebook. This won't end well.

Daniel Lyons is also the author of  Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs and Dog Days: A Novel


This is an abridged version of his article that appeared in Newsweek, The views expressed by the author are personal








The government of Delhi, in coordination with the Unique Identification Authority of India, is planning to give out the first UID numbers in the city to the estimated two lakh homeless residents of the capital. The handing out of UID numbers will happen in close coordination with the Delhi government's Mission Convergence, or the Samajik Suvidha Sangam. Mission Convergence was, incidentally, set up with the aim of bringing all welfare schemes and entitlements for the poor into a single window. Read together, these facts highlight better than anything else the real importance of giving out unique identity numbers.


For one, it is the most needy who will benefit most: homeless people, for example, would have few means, if any, to prove their identity conclusively. That often prevents them from even accessing government welfare schemes that they may actually be eligible for. Related to this are the very real gains for the government itself (including state governments) in being able to target welfare and entitlement schemes towards those who really need them. The UID infrastructure will certainly help cut down leakages which are a drain on the exchequer.


It's also for these very reasons that the UIDAI has found considerable political support in a system that usually frowns upon such radical change. It's hard for any reasonable politician to deny the benefits that the UID will bring to the most deprived, and not just in terms of accessing entitlements but also for other basic things like opening a bank account or getting a mobile phone connection. There will, of course, be critics and vested interests who will oppose the successful roll-out of the UID. For once though, the compulsions of responsive politics and the political mantra of inclusive growth will likely trump the opposition to a programme whose time has come.







The eight-point package for Kashmir initiates a larger process of introspection, but one of its most visible planks is the immediate resumption of schooling, which had been suspended for around three months, so 13.73 lakh students had lost a full term of the academic year. Government and private schools had been shut, except for the occasional snatched day of lull, with those in and around Srinagar worst affected. Now, they will be scrambling to make up for time lost.


Children measure their days in the familiar arc between home and school, but that rhythm was broken in these last few months of curfew and protest. Of course, as always, those who could afford it would send their children out of the Valley, and the more affluent schools would upload course material and tests. Others tried out community-driven group-schooling arrangements, and a rash of these improvised learning spaces sprung up in homes, mosques and courtyards. Nothing spoke of the state of emergency as painfully as the deserted, silent schoolyards and classrooms. Making sure that children's education is not compromised indicates the stake you have in normalcy. Many of those who volunteered to teach were driven by their own memories of the last two decades, when hundreds of school buildings were destroyed in militant violence or turned into makeshift security camps. This generation of Kashmiris does not need to be told the importance of schooling, as their own education was abruptly interrupted, and they know what a dramatic difference it makes to one's prospects.


The question of keeping schools running acquired a sharper, more poignant edge in the past few months because the protests were so overwhelmingly full of young people, children and teenagers who should have been in school. Even 17-year-old Tufail Mattoo was returning home from his tuition class when he was killed, which set off these terrible waves of protest and clampdown. These young people, and their parents should have enormous stakes in a stable Kashmir. Their futures hinge on education. This self-perpetuating cycle of violence and further crisis will, hopefully, stop once classes resume seriously.







The government has formed a panel to decide the setting up of a middle office for the Debt Management Office. A separate DMO has been advocated by the Reserve Bank of India and by a number of expert committees, from 1999 onwards. The budget speech of 2007-08 announced the government's decision to set up a DMO in which the first phase was the setting up of the middle office. A finance ministry working group on this issue has worked on the mechanics of how the DMO should function. This was two years ago. Almost no progress has been made on the DMO since then. Now, after two years, yet another panel has been set up to finalise the structure of the middle office. Is this another example of the slow speed with which the UPA government executes its decisions?


One-fourth of government spending today is on interest payments. The Central government is borrowing more now than it has ever done in the past. The cost of this borrowing is high. One job of the DMO is to reduce the cost of borrowing. The second is to take this responsibility away from the RBI. Today the RBI acts as the government's debt manager. At the same time, the RBI, the government's investment banker, also regulates banks. It can offload government bonds onto banks and overlook the interest rate risk when it comes to bank supervision. While explicit costs remain high, implicit costs through higher risk in the banking system are high. Also, when banks are forced to lend cheaply to the government, they recover their costs of deposits from the private sector. This shifts the burden to individuals and households borrowing from banks.


The RBI's massive bureaucracy, of course, has a vested interest in retaining as many functions as it possibly can. And while the RBI may have reason to justify its continued role in the regulation of banks in the post-crisis period — that is, after all, the direction in which mainstream thinking on regulation has moved — it has no leg to stand on to defend its debt management functions. The ball is therefore squarely in the government's court on the DMO, and it can, and must, force the RBI's hand on the matter. Unfortunately, the slow speed or lack of implementation of even the smallest and least controversial decisions has become the hallmark of the government. The formation of committees to reach a consensus is not particularly useful if the government then does not move forward on executing the proposals.









The dispute over the Babri Masjid was a distillation of many historical anxieties. It is, therefore, a matter of relief that all major political parties have given a commitment to abide by the due process of law and avoid violence. Governments are taking proactive measures to ensure that violence does not take place, making it possible to envisage legal justice being meted out, in an environment free of mob intimidation. But what does this moment tell us about contemporary India? Is this a genuine turning point?


This question can be answered at different levels. Violence in India is often made possible either by direct state complicity or state indifference to preventing it. At the moment no state government wants to be held responsible for allowing violence. Violence in UP would, in all likelihood, upset the political calculations of both Mayawati and the Congress. Narendra Modi's pre-judgment appeals to avoid violence have been most emphatic. A recasting of his image can do him no harm in the context of on-going legal investigations in Gujarat and the political imperatives outside the state. Most of the leadership of the Sangh Parivar is old, weary and still trying to cope with its own lack of credibility. Advani cannot still make up his mind whether the movement was his great legacy or occasion for regret. All parties are reading, correctly, that the electorate does not at this juncture want polarising politics of any sort. So the political incentives are, ex ante, aligned to defuse violence.


But the question to ask is this. Is the absence of violence an indicator of genuine peace with the subject? Does the absence of political mobilisation indicate the absence of sentiment? Under what circumstances could this equipoise be derailed? A good deal depends on the quality of the final judgment itself, the care and credibility with which it is argued, and the artfulness with which it handles sensitivities. Shah Bano was the last judgment that occasioned significant political mobilisation. But in that case the trigger was not the substance of the ruling itself, but the casualness with which interpretive matters pertaining to the authority of the Koran were handled. Even a stray observation about the claims of faith and history has the potential of derailing a technical land dispute.


Ayodhya itself became an explosive issue in mass politics only under very special circumstances. For decades the issue had no political traction, till it was reinserted into a larger narrative. What happens to the issue in coming years will also depend largely on how broader developments sustain or subvert the elements of that larger narrative. What were those elements? How are they playing out?


There were three elements to the larger narrative that gave the movement momentum. The original movement was shaped in the context of great national anxiety: secessionism and a sense of abysmal national failure. To a certain extent, India's recent success has helped assuage much of the crisis of self-esteem that fuelled the movement. This success has given various stripes of nationalist longings an alternative narrative. But given the general level of political drift, conflict and fragmentation we are seeing, it would be unwise to take it for granted that the new narrative of hope cannot quickly be supplanted by the resentments of memory.


A further element was the long history of inconclusive negotiations between Hindus and Muslims. For some minorities, Ayodhya became the symbol of refusing majoritarian domination. For many Hindus, it became the symbol of an intransigent minority, unwilling to give even a small concession. This made the dispute intractable. From the point of view of law it is a healthy development that all parties seem, at the moment, to treat it as a land title dispute. But there is a political irony in this attitude. If the dispute had been merely a land title dispute, it would have been easy to negotiate and settle. But whether the cold water being thrown over the dispute remains effective will depend on future developments in this history.


The silver lining is that the third element which made this dispute so explosive seems less urgent at the moment. This was the majority's minority syndrome. A section of the Hindu consciousness managed to talk itself into a psychologically damaging sense of victimhood based on three issues. The first was a discourse on pseudo-secularism, which the Congress played right into. There is now a greater realisation that the so-called concessions to minorities, which occasioned a political backlash, were largely symbolic; the actual material and political conditions of Muslims have in fact been deteriorating. The challenge now is to address those without falling into the procrustean trap of identity politics.


The second issue was a sense of being a community that was at the receiving end of history, unable to stand up for itself. It would be hard to deny that for many there was an element of catharsis in the Ayodhya movement. But a catharsis cannot be long sustained, and much of that desire has dissipated. There is still a great deal of concern about terrorism and fundamentalism. But there is also a recognition that polarisation can only help the cause of terrorists, not combat it.


The third element was a deep intellectual crisis. It was thought that the canons of modern historical consciousness somehow denied the legitimate claims of tradition. The status of important forms of knowing and being were under assault from a range of ideologies. But this element has also dissipated somewhat. In self-proclaimed secular circles there was an ignorant denigration of the complexity of tradition, and often an unthinking embarrassment about religiosity. This had created a constricted intellectual discourse. At one level this challenge remains. But it is largely an intellectual challenge. Its force is also blunted by the fact that there was no genuine intellectual flowering of Hindutva thought along with the Ayodhya movement; if anything the movement decisively killed of flickers of creativity Indian intellectual history had seen earlier in the century. The vitality of Hinduism requires that it be liberated from being colonised by the Ayodhya movement.


It is worth thinking about how these long-term trends will play out. We are perhaps being a little too blase in our claims that India has moved on. The extent to which it has will be tested by our willingness to peaceably submit to the due process of courts. And there is reason to be optimistic on this score. But how much we have really moved on will be decided not today or tomorrow, but by how the long march of our history unfolds.


The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi








When Arjun Sengupta passed away unexpectedly, I lost a real and old friend. I knew him from a time when he was not the diplomatic, soft-spoken, somewhat saintly figure he had come to be, but a Delhi University firebrand. He was to join the government, and his first hour of glory was to help P.N. Dhar and Sukhomoy Chakravarti build bridges with the nascent state of Bangladesh. In the mid-'70s, I went on deputation to the Planning Commission, heading its Perspective Planning Division. My office was the adda for university economists working with the government. Arjun was, by then, well on his way to being the strategist. He was working for the then commerce minister, Pranab Babu. N.K. Singh, then a deputy secretary, would also come. Arjun knew the tricks that modellers play. He was all for the basket of currencies to float the rupee and regularise excess capacity, and was building up the case for later reform including the matter of minimum scale. He was our industrial conscience in those days. He was also the first one among us to wear safari suits. When a member of the lunch adda nonchalantly asked why he was wearing a blouse, he got some choice abuse in return.


When I told him I was going back to my research job, he told me that most people don't leave the laddus in Delhi. I went anyway, and he went to the prime minister's office. I would say no when he wanted me back, until he arranged for me to chair the Agricultural Prices Commission and then worked on Raksha, my wife, to persuade me not to be a stick-in-the-mud. That stint was the best time we had together. We would lunch together once a week. He was not happy about the 1982 IMF loan and wanted much to be done for agriculture and small farmers. We plotted and worked out the small farmers and landless labourers programmes, which the then PM, Indira Gandhi, told us was her constituency.


Arjun was in full throttle by this time, and his forte was the foundation of the '80s reform. By now, the miasma of misinformation on the period is lifting.


Arjun steered the two vital groups — the Narasimhan Committee, which developed the architecture of giving up quantitative controls and replaced them with tariff and fiscal steps, and the Sengupta Committee on public sector reform. These were our own, not big bang IMF/ World Bank, reform initiatives. By now, his years of being a shadow to authority had given him the self-assurance and quiet, almost saintly tone he carried later. We were designing our own paths. Arjun was clear on the need for an arms-length relationship with the political authority in PSUs. K.V. Ramanathan, then planning secretary, went on a global tour and to formulate the idea of the MoU between the government company and the sarkar. In the Bureau of Industrial Costs and Prices, I worked on the details. Profit was not a dirty word but the public sector could work on other objectives. In the Narasimhan Committee, we worked in a different direction. Arjun was always clear that the strategic plan was not to be given up, but much else could, and should go. The long-range marginal cost was the principle that explained the long-term vision. Tariff and fiscal policy was to be tuned to that. Harmonisation was needed because if you were efficient and your input supplier was not, you would suffer with reform. So groups of related industries had to be reformed together. The BICP worked out examples, and the two committees found the path. Arjun Sengupta pushed it.


The prime minister was assassinated in October 1984, and that period took a toll on Arjun. Two years later at a breakfast in Boston, a well-known Indian psychiatrist was to say, "Dr Sengupta, you are not adjusting very well from being one of the more powerful men anywhere." But Arjun did adjust and some of his best work was in the Planning Commission and later at JNU, where I invited him. The rest is recent history. When he walked down from giving a superb discourse on rights-based development and the rights of the unorganised worker at an Amartya Sen valediction, I told him, "Saala, you can still be a brilliant economist." He prodded me and said, "Saala, what else can one expect from a thug like you?"


Farewell my friend — you will be in saintly authority wherever you are, but I will miss you.


The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand









It is estimated that 1.7 lakh people will travel to Mecca from India to perform the Haj this year. Since 1994, the Government of India has provided subsidised air tickets to Haj pilgrims who enrol through a specially-constituted committee. This subsidy has been a bone of contention, continuing to generate a lot of debate. However, going by the data, it becomes evident that it remains an impromptu arrangement, plagued by ad-hocism and a complete lack of transparency.


It is claimed that every pilgrim was paying Rs 12,000 as airfare and the balance was borne by the state exchequer. The total cost to government was Rs 476.75 crore in 2007, rising to Rs 894.77 crore in 2008, and down to Rs 689.91 crore in 2009. Now, the government has increased the pilgrim's share in the airfare to reduce the subsidy burden; they will have to shell out Rs 16,000 for airfare plus taxes. The amount may be as high as Rs 29,000 after including airport tax, operation tax and a few other charges levied by the charter aircraft operator.


Meanwhile, Saudi Airlines, considered one of the best on this route, charges nearly Rs 20,000 roundtrip for New Delhi-Jeddah. So, even while the government claims it provides cheap tickets and shares the burden, the pilgrims actually end up spending more than what they would have had they taken the private route.


Moreover, an Indian pilgrim going through the Haj Committee has to spend a minimum of Rs 92,000; if the subsidy is taken away the cost will increase by a fraction to Rs 1.04 lakh. In neighbouring Pakistan, the estimated cost for each pilgrim during Haj 2010 is around 2,38,000 Pakistani rupees (Rs 1,26,115). Even in Bangladesh, it costs 2,20,550 taka (Rs 1,44,465). In Indonesia, each pilgrim spent $3,422 (Rs 1,55,840) last year. However, they have created a trillion-rupiah fund which will facilitate a subsidy of $80 per pilgrim. So, even if subsidy is withdrawn Indian Haj pilgrims will be paying much less than their counterparts in the region.


These are not the only issues in this murky business. This year, of the 1.7 lakh pilgrims who will travel to Mecca from India, 1.25 lakh will go through the Haj Committee and the rest will have to depend on registered private tour operators. It is the government which fixes the number of pilgrims who would go through these private tour operators. The whole process lacks transparency and has been questioned.


A case in point here is a judgment by the Kerala high court which quashed the government's 2010 Haj policy on the ground that it is arbitrary. The judgment came after the Centre refused to register more private tour operators — something which stinks of a nexus between the bureaucracy and already-registered tour operators.


The Supreme Court refused to interfere in the government's policy of allocation of 45,491 pilgrims to 615 tour operators. However, it directed the Centre to mull over a new Haj policy for 2011, and consider new tour operators. In Pakistan, 80,000 pilgrims are expected to perform Haj under the government scheme, and an equal number will go through the private organisers.


Also, there have been complaints from across the country of hardships the pilgrims face in having passports issued, primarily due to impediments created by delays in the police report. That should be seriously looked into by the Haj committee; steps need to be taken — publicity and advertisements, for example — so that willing pilgrims get their passports done in advance. Lessons can also be learnt from Indonesia where the department of religious affairs issued a passport to the pilgrims through the regional immigration offices within two days.


The problems don't end here. After the pilgrims reach Mecca they have to face a variety of problems with the accommodation rented by the Haj Committee. There are three categories: Green, which is within a radius of 1 km from the Kaaba, which costs 4,000 riyals (Rs 50,000); White, a radius of 1-1.6 km from the Kaaba, at 3,200 riyals (Rs 39,000); and Aziziya, 2,600 riyals (Rs 31,500). The amount includes charges for accommodation and transportation.


I have visited these buildings; and in spite of the fact that the fare is charged arbitrarily, the facilities are not up to the mark. I found four to five pilgrims stacked in one small room. This year the government is yet to take these buildings on rent and I fear that pilgrims will have no other option but to stay in distant buildings even as they are asked to pay more money. Pakistani citizens are asked to pay just 3,600 riyals for the Green category and their government makes sure that the buildings are booked at least one year in advance.


Even the Khadim-ul-Hujjaj (servants to the pilgrims), a group of assistants sent on deputation by the state Haj committees to assist the pilgrims, have failed to perform their duties well. Also, there are complaints that the Indian consulate has not making enough medical arrangements for the pilgrims.


Whether it is Islamic or un-Islamic, this subsidy remains a controversial issue. As Muslims, we feel it is a burden on our shoulders. Certain organisations spewing communal venom across the length and breadth of the country have used this issue to gain mileage amongst the other communities. I categorically want the government to refrain from any policy labelled as "Muslim appeasement" by its adversaries.


As far as the Shariah is concerned, Haj is not compulsory for every Muslim. It is prescribed only for those Muslims who are financially well-off, who can bear the expenses; besides, it is also necessary that they have resources to the extent that when they leave for Haj their dependants are looked after properly.


It is my considered opinion that this burden of subsidy which pricks the conscience of every pilgrim embarking on the holy journey in particular and the Muslim community in general — without actually being of any help to them in real terms — should be taken away forever.


The whole policy needs to be revisited. Ad-hocism needs to give way to more transparency. The Haj Committee should be declared an independent body and empowered to bargain with airlines globally. An agreement could be reached for 10 years. This will not only make sure that the fares come down but also will put to rest the allegations of "Muslim appeasement" which keep cropping up time and again.


The writer is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha







My homework for an hour-long interview with President Obama last week began with reviews of his earlier speeches and interviews, and conversations with economists and political operatives. It ended around a dinner table.


That's where, over salad and swordfish, former aides to another Democratic president, Bill Clinton, explored principal questions hanging over the coming midterm elections. How can Obama do better at defending his record and his party's candidates from the wrath of an unhappy electorate? Why doesn't he receive more credit for winning passage of expanded health care coverage, new financial regulations and an economic stimulus package that many independent economists say helped end the Great Recession? Why can't he get his message out?


Republicans argue that it's because Obama has expanded the size of government and swelled federal deficits, with little to show for it, in the face of public resistance. But Democrats, who share the president's philosophy, look for other explanations.


The former Clinton aides, like many pundits, turned to Obama's cool, cerebral public style. Emotional connection was an aspect of leadership at which Clinton, for better or worse, excelled. If only Obama could more effectively demonstrate empathy, they argued, he might be able to convince the supporters he thrilled in 2008 that he's still on their side. That observation has gained wide acceptance in Washington. Obama may have played like a rock star in the campaign arenas of 2008, according to this view, but he displays a Spock-like emotional aridity in more intimate settings.


In reality, however, a look back at previous midterm elections, especially during economic weakness, suggests that dollars and cents matter far more than hugs or lip-biting. At last week's hour-long "town hall" on CNBC, which I moderated, Obama declined to offer any Oprah-style emotional revelation when I asked whether his unusual background — as a biracial child who spent part of his youth overseas, then attended Ivy League schools — made it harder to connect with average Americans.


Perhaps that was a moment missed, but history offers scant evidence to think so. Despite President Dwight D. Eisenhower's celebrated World War II record, voters didn't "like Ike" enough to keep his fellow Republicans from losing 48 House seats amid the 1958 recession. For all his talents, Clinton watched his party lose control of both the House and Senate in the 1994 midterm election, in which economic weakness was one of many factors. "We have a controlled experiment," observed Stan Greenberg, one of Clinton's pollsters, downplaying the significance of Obama's empathic skills. "Clearly Bill Clinton had the ability to connect emotionally. He got slaughtered in 1994."


Moreover, the unemployment rate Clinton faced then never got higher than 6.6 per cent — nowhere near the 9.6 per cent rate Obama faces today. Late last year, notwithstanding his stimulus programme, unemployment hit 10 per cent for the first time since the 1982 recession, during Ronald Reagan's presidency. After studying their predecessors in similar circumstances, aides to Obama have come to see Reagan's challenging midterm campaign that year as something of a model. "This one feels more like 1982 than 1994," said Daniel Pfeiffer, the White House communications director.


Reagan, like Obama, had assumed immense economic challenges after succeeding a deeply unpopular president of the other party. After persuading Congress to cut tax rates and spending, Reagan beseeched voters to "stay the course," and warned against a return to the policies of tax-and-spend Congressional Democrats. He held Republican losses to 26 House seats — a level that, if repeated this year, would allow Democrats to retain control of the chamber.


]It's easy to forget how politically weak Reagan appeared for much of that year. According to Gallup, Obama's current mid-40s approval ratings are comparable to or slightly higher than Reagan's at a similar point in 1982 (as well as Clinton's in 1994).


While the raucous and frenetic quality of the Information Age almost certainly hinders Obama more than his demeanour, the town hall ended up carrying an emotional wallop anyway. But it didn't come from my questions or Obama's answers. Instead, it came from an audience member, Velma Hart, a black Obama supporter who works at a service organisation for military veterans.


"I'm exhausted — exhausted of defending you, defending your administration," Hart said, looking straight at the president. "I've been told that I voted for a man who said he was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I'm one of those people and I'm waiting, sir." Her riveting statement struck some observers as an embarrassing public relations setback for Obama. Jon Stewart called Hart an "Obama-sapping machine."


White House aides hope that the exchange will have a different effect: to demonstrate that Obama isn't isolated inside the presidential "bubble," deaf to the suffering a weak economy has engendered. As it happens, that view of the hour's emotional impact was endorsed by the master of the genre.


"I may be one of the few people that think it's not bad that that lady said she was getting tired of defending him," Clinton told Politico. "He needs to hear it."


-John Harwood








Madhav Kumar Nepal has found it much easier to rule the country as caretaker prime minister these past three months, than he did as full-time prime minister in the 11 months that preceded his caretaker stint. Dictated to by coalition partners and cornered by a powerful opposition, the only way for him to survive was to succumb to all kinds of pressure. In fact, even his sudden resignation, tendered on July 1, two days after he had called the budget session, was under pressure from his own party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) bosses, chairman Jhalanath Khanal and speaker Subhash Nembang.


But Madhav Nepal seems to have interpreted parliament's failure to elect his successor as a sign of his own indispensability in Nepali politics. The parliament, which also functions as the constituent assembly, suffers from a lack of credibility: it has been unable to deliver the new constitution.


The caretaker prime minister seems to be taking maximum advantage of the mess that he has presided over. He is now free to skip parliamentary accountability by simply saying: "What can I do if parliament fails to elect a leader?" On September 21, he instructed the home secretary, in the presence of a delegation from the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry to have the former king, Gyanendra, put under "house detention" and to not let him visit the temple of Kumari on the eve of the Indrajatra festival.


A posse of armed police forces rushed to Nirmal Niwas, Gyanendra's private residence, and kept a round-the-clock vigil for the next 48 hours. On September 23, Madhav Nepal revealed that his express order to have the former king put under detention was based on information that suggested Gyanendra's presence during the occasion would have overshadowed the visit of President Rambaran Yadav, the head of state of a secular Nepal, to the same temple the next day.


Madhav Nepal reluctantly conceded the former king was now getting more attention from the people than the president. A king's visit to the Kumari temple on Indrajatra day is an almost four-century-old tradition in Nepal. It was on this day 241 years ago that Prithvinarayan Shah, the great warrior king from Gorkha and the 10th forefather of Gyanendra conquered the Kathmandu valley and many other princely states, and converted them into a unified Nepal.


Gyanendra might have lost the throne and his right to represent the state on the occasion, but Madhav Nepal's decision to not allow him a visit even as a commoner has only earned the deposed king tremendous sympathy, if not political support. Gyanendra's recent visits to Janakpur and Chatra in eastern Nepal, without doubt, overshadowed the president's visits that followed in close succession. But curtailing the former king's right to free movement and to practice his religion has backfired on the prime minister.


Perhaps Madhav Nepal has to prove a point and his action against the former king does send out a two-pronged message. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) circulated posters showing Madhav Nepal bowing before and offering silver coins at the feet of Gyanendra — a formal way to greet the king soon after Gyanendra became one in June 2001. In October 2002, Madhav Nepal was the only leader from the major political parties to petition King Gyanendra saying that he deserved enough trust from "His Majesty" to be appointed prime minister, a plea that Gyanendra did not accept. Then, he put Gyanendra under house arrest when UCPN-M chief Prachanda spoke in favour of the revival of a 'cultural monarchy'. He seems desperate to erase his past association with the king despite being the head of a communist party.


Gyanendra has, of course, gained a lot out of the political mess that the political parties have created. His son, Paras, once known for his notorious behaviour in public, has mustered enough courage to apologise to the people for all the crimes he committed. He now says that his concern is the well-being of the people, and a secure future for the nation. Madhav Nepal seems to have responded in panic. And to his dismay, President Yadav has landed in a major controversy after a national newspaper broke a story about his favouring one faction of the Nepali Congress,the party that he belonged to before he was elected head of state, during the recently-held general convention of the party. Instead of building a credible political system and strong institutions, the current leadership is acting brazenly as an extra-constitutional entity, something that the king himself tried, and was adequately punished. An uncertain future lies ahead for those who refuse to learn from history.







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 favourite, 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.


What does this sweeping statement have to do with the price of yen? Plenty. On September 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. 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.


In Asian politics, what you see is often the opposite of what you get. On September 14, Kan, generally seen as favouring free markets, held on to his job in an intra-party 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. It turns out, however, that Kan, in winning the election, may have tacitly ceded control of economic policy to Ozawa. 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.


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 outmanoeuvered in dealings with the rest of the world.


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.


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 laughing stock.


Outside America, 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."


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 privatised in foreign nations — even in what so many Americans view as socialistic Europe.


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.


-ANATOLE KALETSKY: The author is the chief economist of a Hong Kong-based investment advisory firm








India Inc has done well to say it cannot reserve 5% of its jobs for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe persons. This was in response to industry minister Anand Sharma writing to industry associations asking why the government should not make this mandatory. India Inc's point is a simple one: it is responsible to its shareholders for delivering a world-class return, it is not its job to meet the government's political commitments. In the pre-reforms period, the government gave India Inc all manner of protection, so it could still ask for favours in return. Today, with no one willing to talk of extra protection, why should India Inc do the government's job? The other aspect which the chambers have not highlighted is that in the current year, it will pay out over Rs 6 lakh crore to the government. This money is for the government to spend on meeting its social obligations of providing clean water, subsidised food and so on. Whatever the government needs has to be met from this fund. If the money is not enough, it needs to find more ways to raise money—taxing corporates at a higher rate sounds like the obvious solution, but past experience has shown that higher tax rates lead to lower tax collections.


What the government is forgetting in its zeal to fulfil its election promises is that India Inc also needs to hire people—to the extent around 25% of the country's population is SC/ST, and another 40% OBC, industry just has to hire them. So why make this mandatory which just scares off industry? Industry's fear, and rightly so, is that once it agrees to a 5% reservation, the government can either hike it or start implementing this at various managerial grades as well. The only way to implement the election promise is to ensure SC/STs get greater education with the use, if need be, of more scholarships. Rather than blindly implementing quotas even in educational institutions, a better idea, as IIT Delhi showed so many decades ago, is to ensure that weaker SC/ST students, the ones who can be admitted only under quotas, go in for remedial classes—IIT Delhi found there wasn't too much of a difference between SC/ST and general category students after this. India Inc will be pleased to hire them after this. Without any reservations.







The in-principle approval to allow leasing of over 50,000 acres of surplus land with 12 ports for residential building by real estate firms through the bidding route is good news, given the massive challenges faced in procuring adequate land for urban development. This move by the ministry of shipping, which comes amidst reports of the Centre's efforts to fast-track resolution of disputes on 30,000 acres in the national capital region, is a good beginning to tap the full potential of the unused land under government control. Most recent numbers show that other arms of the government like the railways and the cantonments have equally large potential. Of the total of 4,31,820 hectares of land with the railways, 48,187 hectares are now diverted to afforestation schemes while another 44,894 remain vacant. The scenario is worse in the case of defence establishments, which possess 17.31 lakh acres across 62 notified cantonments and 600 military stations. The potential is especially larger in the cantonments, many of them in major cities, where the civil military population is now in the 80:20 ratio while the land use is stuck in the 20:80 ratio.


Steps to improve the utilisation of these lands will go a long way in meeting the needs of cities, which now account for just 2.8% of the land mass. With the urban population expected to double in the next two decades, the demand for urban land will shoot up from the current level of around 8 million hectares to 12-19 million hectares; much depends on the success of land use planning. And the requirements are especially huge in the port city of Mumbai, where the population in the metropolitan region is expected to go up from 23 million now to 30 million by 2030, pushing up demand for built-up land from 800 sq km to 1,850 sq km. The freeing up of more government land for civic development will not only improve the physical supply of space but also provide a major part of the financial resources for building infrastructure through the monetisation of the freed land. A McKinsey study shows that the resources raised through land monetisation can go up 9-fold even at current levels of availability from $3 billion to $27 billion if the government starts the auctioning of developed greenfield sites, charging a development fee on FAR increases and construction activities. Freeing up more land for urban use will help substantially scale up such resource mobilisation, too.








The Cabinet has approved the National Identification Authority of India (NIAI) Bill and it is expected to be placed before Parliament in the Winter Session. Before reacting, it is still a Bill. It will be referred to a Standing Committee, then passed by both Houses, then receive President's assent and then be notified. Until then, it isn't law. There are two strands behind transition towards the UID (unique identity) idea. First, there was a multi-purpose national identity card (MNIC) idea, driven by considerations of security and identified with the NDA government in 2002. This was meant for citizens, not residents. So there can be a national register of citizens (NRC) and a national register of residents (NRR) and the two are not identical.


Under the UPA, UID became equated with the NRR and not NRC. On this difference, UIDAI's (Unique Identification Authority of India) response will be that it is only the first step and UID (with photographs and biometry) doesn't create any entitlements. There is nothing to prevent the ministry of home affairs (MHA) from using UID to eventually segregate NRC from NRR. However, that's not how ministries and the government departments (say, the police) are likely to look at UID. Existence of UID is likely to be looked upon as creating entitlements and establishing citizenship.


Second, under the UPA, UID was driven less by concerns of security and more by intentions of improving efficiency of public expenditure and facilitating e-governance. Even if we don't identify the poor and target subsidies (outside UIDAI's mandate), UID can curb fake identity and reduce leakage and corruption. That's the Aadhar idea. But who has legally authorised Aadhar and UIDAI and allowed it to collect data?


No one, and neither Aadhar nor UIDAI have any constitutional or legal sanction. As of now, they are outside Parliamentary scrutiny, too. A limited objective of the Bill is to provide legal sanctity to UIDAI, to be renamed NIDAI (National Identification Authority of India). But surely such a major exercise should not be based on a narrow and limited agenda. For instance, both tort law and constitutional law protect private data from unlawful intrusion. There must be safeguards on recording inaccurate data, corruption of data, unauthorised access and disclosure, mission creep (where additional features and objectives are bunged into the main database) and profiling. The point is we do not have legislation on privacy and data protection, the civil rights angle. The Bill has some clauses on commercial abuse of database, some restrictions on nature of information collected and penal clauses on abuse. It also borrows on the IT Act of 2000. But that's not enough.


One response is the following. We have a rollout deadline in Maharashtra and a subsequent timeframe of 2014. Let's not hold that up. Arrangements have already been made for the first 12-digit number to be handed over by the Congress president in Nandurbar district in Maharashtra on September 29 and the PM is going to be there too. Parallel legislation on privacy and data collection will surface.


The NIAI Bill is only one part of the jigsaw. If parallel legislation on privacy and data collection doesn't surface, surely it will be flagged by the Parliament's Standing Committee when the Bill is introduced in the Lok Sabha. Let's not bother about that now. After all, as legislation it is still only a draft. That's a very casual and ad hoc way of approaching the problem. If there is one thing that has characterised Nandan Nilekani and UIDAI's work so far, that is transparency, placing information in public domain and consultations. Comments were also invited on the draft Bill, and points that civil society organisations are making now are not new. Therefore, the NIAI Bill should have been cleared by the Cabinet with proposed legislation on privacy and data collection, as part of a package and not in isolation.


On December 16, 2009, Neeraj Shekhar asked a question in the Lok Sabha: "(c) whether confidentiality of personal details of individuals will be at risk after issuing UIN; (d) if so, whether the government needs to bring a privacy policy to safeguard the same; (e) if so, the details thereof; and (f) the method by which the UIN project will maintain a balance between privacy of individuals and requirement of security agencies to combat terrorism."


V Narayanaswamy, the minister of state, replied, "A legal framework is being envisaged to safeguard the privacy of the resident's data and also take care of the security requirements of the country." This Bill is certainly not the one that envisaged law or legal framework. Was it necessary to have that deadline of September 29 and rush things through? As far as one can make out from reports, the Cabinet had no constructive comments on the draft Bill, apart from FM's point about taxation decisions (context was exemption for resources collected by UIDAI) being finance ministry's mandate. That's not the way to address fears about Big Brother. Coincidentally, beyond 2013, UIDAI has annual targets of 300 million and Orwell's "1984" talks about 300 million people, "all with the same face".


The author is a noted economist








Business dailies flashed news of a tongue-lashing of merchant bankers by the Sebi chairman last week. He was quoted as criticising merchant banks for not leaving 'money on the table' for investors in initial public offerings.


I could not disagree more. I find the statement asking merchant bankers to leave money on the table (a call to deliberately under-price an issue) disturbing for several reasons. On a philosophical level, it goes back to babu raj of the Controller of Capital Issues where a babu would decide the price and amount of money a company could raise, often after due supplications were offered to this god of Indian capital. We have moved a long way from there, where neither the company nor babus decide the price or quantum of IPOs. It really is a matter of millions of investors deciding to accept or reject the price set by a company with the advice of merchant bankers. We have moved to an era of full disclosure, and to hark back to the babu raj will be a terrible idea because it supports the wisdom of one group of bureaucrats/regulators over the wisdom of millions of investors. Such a retrograde suggestion even if only stated in a conference rather than in a regulatory fiat assumes not only investors are foolish, but that merchant bankers are crooks. Neither is the implicit statement sound. The pricing of an IPO is offered by a company and investors have the option to buy or not to buy the securities at that price.


Second, there is no god-given right to make free money. Issues must be rightly priced—and economics (however faulty it may be, is the best we will have) will dictate that over-priced issues must fail and under-priced ones shift wealth from productive companies to speculators. Clearly, there will be many cases of over-pricing and under-pricing given the price discovery made on exchanges—a price discovered in hind-sight. From a big picture, too, this push is disturbing as there seems to be an attempt to push money from productive use of a working company (where IPO money goes) to speculators and flippers (those who buy in an IPO and sell immediately on listing). Clearly, investors with a time horizon of 1 to 5 years will not and should not be affected by listing gains—which is free money for neither any work done nor for any capital investment made (holding of a week to sell on listing date can hardly be called investing). While there is nothing wrong with being a speculator, it is hardly appropriate for a regulator to push money from productive capital use by companies to speculators.


Third, the implicit charge that merchant bankers are being crooked or greedy is incorrect. It is in the economic interest of merchant bankers to under-price an issue. If an underwritten issue fails, the merchant bankers who are also the underwriters must shell out money from their own pockets and fill the gap. So, it is in the interest of the merchant bankers to keep the offer price as low as possible—hurting the interests of the issuer. This conflict of interest between the issuer and the merchant banker is contained in any standard textbook on the subject. If the merchant bankers had their way and their economic interests in mind but for competition, they would price all issues at the lowest possible level. In other words, merchant bankers can be accused of being too investor friendly rather than too little because it is in their economic interest to be so.


While the statement is sure to drum up populist support for Sebi, it is wrong for a regulator (as opposed to a controller) to give a view on pricing, and even less acceptable to allege that an industry is conspiring to loot the investors when it is incentivised to do the opposite—especially given that the costs would be borne by a productive company and the benefits of the homily would be enjoyed by the shortest-term speculators.

The author is the founder of Finsec Law Advisors and former ED of Sebi








With so many ex-India Today hands living at the National Media Centre (NMC) in Gurgaon, last week's executive committee meeting resembled an India Today brawl from the old days, not surprising since many of the players never saw eye to eye even when they worked together. Given that Raj Chengappa, editor of The Tribune, and a former IT hand, was targeted made you wonder whether the race for that job was also a factor. For all of the last few weeks, India Today's former executive editor Inderjit Badhwar accused the NMC's management committee, headed by Chengappa, of giving 1.5 acres of land free to the Haryana government—Badhwar said he'd launch his own Chipko movement to save the trees… this land is my land, Badhwar said in the words of the American folk lyricist Woody Guthrie. Some anti-Chengappa mail, it appears, also landed up in the mailbox of Tribune trustees. Never mind that the NMC's lease with the Haryana government categorically said the land could be taken away for a public purpose, and neighbouring DLF gave 35 acres, also for free. Joining in the melee was Chaitanya Kalbag who has come back to the group as Business Today editor—Kalbag said the episode resembled a kangaroo court. The enquiry into the land episode was conducted by none other than ex-Tribune editor Hari Jai Singh, who said the land was worth Rs 200 crore. Finally, the Chengappa-led management committee resigned and a fresh election is to be called, around the same time as the Bihar one. Watch out for a busy election season.



On Thursday, the finance ministry issued the borrowing calendar for the second half of the year, saying it would borrow Rs 10,000 crore less. The press release however showed borrowing had come down by Rs 20,000 crore. The next morning, the ministry issued a revised press release correcting the mistake, this time the cutback in borrowing had gone up to Rs 11,000 crore. Just a month ago, the GDP numbers issued by the Central Statistical Organisation, had shown a major calculation error. If there is a third time, as Goldfinger would probably have said, enemies of the state are in action.







The in-principle approval to allow leasing of over 50,000 acres of surplus land with 12 ports for residential building by real estate firms through the bidding route is good news, given the massive challenges faced in procuring adequate land for urban development. This move by the ministry of shipping, which comes amidst reports of the Centre's efforts to fast-track resolution of disputes on 30,000 acres in the national capital region, is a good beginning to tap the full potential of the unused land under government control. Most recent numbers show that other arms of the government like the railways and the cantonments have equally large potential. Of the total of 4,31,820 hectares of land with the railways, 48,187 hectares are now diverted to afforestation schemes while another 44,894 remain vacant. The scenario is worse in the case of defence establishments, which possess 17.31 lakh acres across 62 notified cantonments and 600 military stations. The potential is especially larger in the cantonments, many of them in major cities, where the civil military population is now in the 80:20 ratio while the land use is stuck in the 20:80 ratio.


Steps to improve the utilisation of these lands will go a long way in meeting the needs of cities, which now account for just 2.8% of the land mass. With the urban population expected to double in the next two decades, the demand for urban land will shoot up from the current level of around 8 million hectares to 12-19 million hectares; much depends on the success of land use planning. And the requirements are especially huge in the port city of Mumbai, where the population in the metropolitan region is expected to go up from 23 million now to 30 million by 2030, pushing up demand for built-up land from 800 sq km to 1,850 sq km. The freeing up of more government land for civic development will not only improve the physical supply of space but also provide a major part of the financial resources for building infrastructure through the monetisation of the freed land. A McKinsey study shows that the resources raised through land monetisation can go up 9-fold even at current levels of availability from $3 billion to $27 billion if the government starts the auctioning of developed greenfield sites, charging a development fee on FAR increases and construction activities. Freeing up more land for urban use will help substantially scale up such resource mobilisation, too.











The conclusions of the United Nations summit on the world's progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) present a gloomy picture. Some goals such as universal primary education, reducing child mortality, and improving maternal health are unlikely to be reached by the 2015 deadline. The world may be on track to meet the target of halving the number of people living under $1 a day, but the numbers suffering from hunger and malnutrition have risen between 2007 and 2009; one in four children in developing countries is still underweight. Employment has declined. Gender equality is elusive. Ditto for environmental sustainability — the rate of deforestation is declining but remains alarmingly high; the 2010 target on biodiversity conservation has been missed. The target of halving the number of people without access to drinking water can be achieved, but not so the number without access to sanitation. The U.N. fears that the progress made in some areas is "fragile" and if the world drops the ball on commitment and funding, even these limited gains may be reversed. Indeed, building a global partnership on development is one of the MDGs, but as the U.N. notes, only five donor countries have allocated the targeted 0.7 per cent of their gross national income for official aid.


Part of the U.N. Millennium Development Declaration in 2000, the eight MDGs were accepted by member-states and 23 international organisations who pledged to improve the lives of the world's most impoverished people. Yet, as the U.N. has noted, inadequate resources, lack of focus and accountability, and insufficient dedication to sustainable development are the main culprits in the unsatisfactory march towards meeting the 21 MDG targets. In India, the government's optimism, reflected in its country report released in June, that many of the MDG targets can be met by 2015, is hard to share. While the report estimates 27.5 per cent of Indians lived below the poverty line in 2004-05, compared to 36 per cent in 1994-95, the methodology for arriving at this figure is disputed. The U.N. differs with India's claims on reducing maternal mortality. The country is nowhere near reducing child mortality to the targeted 42 per 1,000 live births. Nearly half the under-five children are malnourished. Bringing this down to 26.8 per cent in five more years is impossible. India will also clearly miss the deadline for universal primary education. The failures are a reminder of the dismal truth — despite India's impressive economic growth over the last decade since the MDGs were accepted as policy goals, large chunks of the country have yet to benefit from it.







Although nearly 7,500 new cases of HIV infection are reported every day globally, the good news is that incidence rates are steadily declining in most parts of the world. HIV incidence has fallen by more than 17 per cent globally over the past nine years. But what is of greater significance is that it is happening in many African countries, the core of the epidemic and which for years had a disproportionately high number of new cases. According to the latest UNAIDS report, the incidence rate has dropped by more than 25 per cent in 22 sub-Saharan African countries, and many of them are well on the way to achieving the U.N. target of reducing HIV rates among the young this year. They include Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe — some of the countries with the largest HIV epidemics in the world. Better awareness of the risks and education on the different modes of transmission has been identified as the key factor that made it possible. A study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in April this year attributes the decline in Zimbabwe to changes in sexual behaviour, particularly the use of condoms in non-regular partnerships. A dramatic reduction was also seen in the case of women in the 15-24 age group in South Africa. Despite the group reporting the highest incidence rate, the drop has been nearly 60 per cent between 2005 and 2008.


In a striking contrast to the picture emerging from sub-Saharan Africa, HIV incidence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is showing an upward trend. Russia has the largest AIDS epidemic in Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Injection drug use is the main mode of transmission across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Similarly, once praised for drastically cutting down the prevalence rate from 30 per cent in the late 1980s to six per cent by late 1990s, HIV prevalence in Uganda is on the rise once again. Widespread use of anti-retroviral treatment and the resultant reduction in mortality has led to the increase. But the availability of drugs has also meant greater indulgence in risky behaviour. This, combined with the scaling down of prevention programmes due to complacency, has played a major role in pushing up the incidence rate. Uganda offers a good case study for India. The prevalence rate in India is low at approximately 0.36 per cent. The lesson in this for India is that there should be no let up in the drive to increase awareness and risk avoidance in the campaigns for AIDS prevention. There is absolutely no room for complacency on this vital front










There is nothing to be proud of India's ranking in the Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index 2009. The country ranked low also in the Bribe Payers Index among emerging economic giants. The use of public funds for private gain is common. The misuse of power, position and privilege is widespread. Corruption seems to be a fact that affects all sections of society.


Misappropriation of public funds and acquisition of ill-gotten wealth are clearly illegal. However, subtler forms of non-material corruption, coupled with abuse of power and misuse of privilege, are equally prevalent but not often debated.


Power corrupts: Lord Acton said: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." This aphorism is widely acknowledged as true. William Pitt, the Elder, a British Prime Minister, echoed similar sentiments when he said "unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it." Both seem to have based their observations on anecdotal evidence rather than formal research. The systematic enquiry and evaluation of evidence in social sciences were not standard in their times.


Corrupts absolutely: Recent research confirms Lord Acton's dictum that power corrupts. Contemporary research has focussed on issues related to power and on the state of powerfulness and powerlessness; on how power affects people's behaviour and thinking. The evidence suggests that people who believe that they deserve their power and position are morally pliable and more prone to abuse their privileges. Studies have documented that power and hypocrisy go hand in hand as the powerful feel a sense of entitlement; their sense of privilege become private law. The culture of entitlement results in double standards, one for themselves, their family and friends, and the other for the general population. Such use of divergent values and principles by the individuals involved results in hypocrisy. One could argue that corruption and hypocrisy are the price society pays for being led by the privileged.


Power attracts: Anecdotal evidence also suggests that power attracts the corruptible. This may be particularly true when systems are steeped in or breed corruption. If organisational structures provide greater and illegitimate influence with the rise in status within institutional hierarchies, then loftier titles and higher ranks mean illicit power. Power will attract those who seek to use and misuse such licence for their own ends.


Power and corruption seem to have a complex and bidirectional relationship. In societies which accept corruption as part of life, power appears to attract the corrupt and those in power encourage corruption. These associations seem to work on the whole, with exceptions proving the rule.


Privilege empowers: Even a cursory analysis of the powerful clearly documents the fact that privilege is almost always the route to power. Privileged education, in private schools, provides the platform for future unassailable confidence, disarming sincerity, captivating charm and understated authority. It also makes for articulate and confident individuals with high self-esteem. The combination of parental aspirations, family resources and excellent education lays a firm foundation for later success. Children's levels of achievement are usually closely linked to their parents' background. The privileged background of many elected representatives also argues that many advantages are inherited rather than inherent.


Spectrum of corruption: Corruption in its broadest sense is not restricted to financial irregularities. The abuse of religion, language, ethnicity, kinship, privilege and position also comes under this rubric. Such misuse is also a form of moral fraud. However, these may be in the form of "softer" violations which, though equally fraudulent, are much more difficult to recognise, quantify, track and document. While moral corruption may be universal, it tends to spread like wildfire when it is accepted as the norm at the top of an organisational hierarchy and within institutions and populations.


Conflicts of interest: It is widely recognised that related and unrelated interests can, directly or indirectly, influence decision-making; specific interests can prejudice appraisals and consequently bias judgments. It is always good policy that interests are declared and conflicts evaluated in people who are entrusted with impartial decision-making. The presence of conflicts of interest is independent of any execution of impropriety. Many organisations now mandate that such financial and other interests be declared prior to appointments to decision-making bodies. Removal, disclosure, recusal and third-party evaluations are different methods of managing them.


Individuals and systems: Power and privilege are usually institutionalised and are part of systems and organisations. Organisational support for unaccountable power often causes individuals who occupy top positions to fail to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate use of such power and privilege. The line between these is often very fine, with many individuals unable to see the difference. Even honest individuals may unquestionably accept their positions and consequent power without realising its impact on their functioning. Their intelligence, diligence, strategic planning and hard work to reach the higher echelons of their organisation may propel them to believe that their position and privilege are well deserved. Such feelings of entitlement often result in double standards and consequent hypocrisy. Even the most scrupulous people can be caught in such situations when they come up with ill-conceived schemes and proposals, or when they want to rigidly maintain status quo, despite evidence of a need for change.


The corruptible actively seek power to enhance their position and privileges, and in pursuit of more unaccountable authority. Systems, which encourage corruption and which have normalised illegitimate power, support such people's sense of entitlement, thus furthering their original aims of acquiring public power for private gain.


Corruption and India: While no society is free from corruption, what is worrying is that such behaviour appears normalised in India. The licence raj of the past did not help. Capitalism, globalisation and liberalisation have also increased the pressure to succeed, achieve targets and acquire wealth quickly. The abuse of public power, office and resources for personal gain is common. A culture, which declares conflicts of interests and institutes systems to assess them, is rare and yet to take hold in India.


No organisation is immune to the abuse of power. The intense desire to leave lasting legacies and to make significant changes in institutional direction and function often result in decision-makers short-circuiting standard procedures. The culture of sycophancy, common in our culture and society, aids and abets in such corruption. Double standards in public life are accepted; hypocrisy is tolerated and is the norm.


The way forward


We need to focus on power and highlight the abuse of privileges. Corruption does not necessarily imply financial fraud. All of us need to examine ourselves as individuals to identify, minimise and eliminate double standards and hypocrisy. We need to audit our systems and institutions to change the culture, which breeds such corruption. The task is to identify power, which comes with position, to recognise conflicts of interest and to detect feelings of entitlement, which turn the privilege of office into private law. The struggle is not a one-time affair in the lives of individuals, systems and communities but a constant quest, a journey. Society should allow for greater social mobility for wider social participation and greater equality.


There is need to re-examine our culture, which has normalised corruption in its many different forms. We in India need to acknowledge the need for introspection on our acceptance of the abuse of power. The "Seven Nolan Principles of Public Life" — selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership by example — should form the standards for holding public office. There should be regular and independent reviews of individual and organisational functioning. The challenge is to inspire and change individuals and to transcend and transform societal norms.


(K.S. Jacob is Professor of Psychiatry at the Christian Medical College, Vellore.)









It is 125 years since the famous French scientist Louis Pasteur first demonstrated an effective vaccine against rabies. Yet even today, more than 55,000 people suffer agonising deaths each year as a result of this terrible disease. About 95 per cent of those lives are lost in Asia and Africa. India, where on average a person dies of rabies every half an hour, has the highest death toll of any country.


The World Rabies Day, which will be observed on September 28, the death anniversary of Louis Pasteur, is intended to draw attention to the fact that such a loss of life is wholly preventable and much can be done to reduce the risk of people contracting the disease.


The rabies virus circulates in animals, and humans catch the disease when they are bitten or scratched by an infected animal. In Asia and Africa, humans are most likely to get it from a rabid dog.


After the virus gains entry into a human body, it initially replicates in the muscle, says S.N. Madhusudana of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore, who studies the rabies virus. Subsequently, it goes on to infect nerve cells in the spinal cord and then makes its way to the brain, The first symptoms manifest when the virus begins to proliferate in the brain, which normally happens one to three months after the person gets infected. Death then usually ensues in a matter of days.


Only a small number of people have recovered after developing rabies and there is still no proven cure. However, vaccines have been remarkably effective in preventing the disease even when given after a person has been exposed to the virus.


Louis Pasteur and his colleagues produced the first such vaccine by infecting rabbits with rabies. Their spinal cords were then removed and dried for varying lengths of time in order to produce weakened forms of the virus. The vaccination consisted of a series of injections, with the most weakened virus being given first and progressing to stronger forms.


The vaccine was successfully tested in dogs. Then in 1885, nine-year-old Joseph Meister, who turned up at Pasteur's laboratory after being severely bitten by a rabid dog, became the first person to receive the vaccine. A year later, hundreds more had been successfully inoculated. This vaccine continued to be produced well into the 1960s, according to Noël Tordo of the Institut Pasteur in France.


The Semple and newer vaccines


In 1911, Lt. Col. Sir David Semple, who headed the Central Research Institute at Kasauli in Himachal Pradesh, came up with a simpler way to make a vaccine by replicating the rabies virus in the brain of sheep. This vaccine was extensively used in India.


Although the Semple vaccine produced severe neurological complications and paralysis in some people, its use in India was finally discontinued only in 2004. Now, purified cell culture and duck embryo vaccines are used instead.


But these newer vaccines are more expensive. A course of five injections needed for post-exposure treatment can cost Rs. 1,500. Access to such treatment is also an important issue in India. A 2003 survey found that over 80 per cent of rabies deaths in the country occurred among the poor and those with low incomes. Villagers accounted for three-quarters of the fatalities.


One way to greatly reduce the cost of treatment is to give the vaccine into the skin rather than into the muscle as is usually done. Such intra-dermal vaccination, as it is called, evokes just as good an immune response with a smaller dose of the vaccine, observes M.K. Sudarshan, president of the Rabies in Asia Foundation and dean and principal of the Kempegowda Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS), Bangalore. But health care professionals needed to be trained to administer it correctly.


Some 13 States have already introduced intra-dermal rabies inoculation. However, such treatment was available only in the government sector and that too largely in urban areas, Dr. Sudarshan points out. Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and Orissa have made good progress in making it more widely available.


Besides, those who receive severe wounds from a rabid animal also need to be given ready-made antibodies known as immunoglobulin to protect them while the vaccine takes effect, says Dr. Madhusudana. Such immunoglobulin injections were somewhat expensive and not always readily available. They were therefore often not administered. His hospital sees half a dozen cases of rabies each year where individuals have been partially vaccinated but not given immunoglobulins.


The Kerala Government has taken steps to improve access to anti-rabies treatment. In the last one and half years, the number of anti-rabies clinics offering free intra-dermal vaccination has been increased from five to 60, says Thomas Mathew, the State nodal officer for the programme and professor of Community Medicine at the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College. There would be at least one institution in each district that could provide immunoglobulins.


Dogs, a key factor in India


Dogs are responsible for over 97 per cent of cases in the country. Consequently, measures to control the stray dog population and vaccinate such dogs as well as pet animals against rabies are important.


Post-exposure vaccination of people is expensive, points out Maj. Gen. Dr. R.M. Kharb (retired), chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India. If half that amount is spent on mass vaccination of dogs and their sterilisation, the dog menace and rabies can be brought under control.


The responsibility for sterilising stray dogs and vaccinating them against rabies lies with civic bodies, he says. In Jaipur and Chennai, where non-governmental organisations ran large-scale programmes for this purpose, there have not been any rabies cases in the last two to three years. Its incidence has also substantially come down in metropolitan Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bangalore.


According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Sri Lanka and Thailand have sharply reduced the number of human rabies deaths with mass dog vaccination campaigns, improved access to post-exposure treatment and an effective vaccine delivery system.







With just days to go for the Games, how does the Commonwealth Games Federation assess India's preparedness? Federation president Mike Fennell talks to Karan Thapar, for an interview broadcast over CNN-IBN in the programme, 'Devil's Advocate.'


Let's start with the Games Village. The Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi said 80 per cent of the work was complete, but you said an extensive amount of work needs to be done.


The cleaning-up needs to be completed. There's water in the basement, the elevators are not working, and safety devices are not in place. The work needs to be done carefully and methodically, but it's being done.


What about the 18 towers for residential purposes that are incomplete?


Some are not in very good condition. But there's spare space. Closing down of the blocks is a possibility if it comes to that.


How horrified were you by the state of hygiene and filth in the Village that was shown on TV?


Horrified that it was left like that. I had said on August 18 and 19, on my last visit, that cleaning-up needed to be done. I was horrified that it was left like that.


You're saying your warnings were ignored or not heeded.


Not heeded at all. I was giving warnings until a year ago.


The second big issue is safety. After the collapse of the footbridge and after parts of the false ceiling came down, how confident are you that similar mishaps are not going to be witnessed again?


I've visited stadiums all over the world, for the Olympics, the Pan American Games and others. What should be quite clear is that the footbridge was still under construction. It's difficult to say what went wrong … With the massive amount of construction going on it is not unusual for some remedial work that needed to be done in certain buildings.


The Central Vigilance Commission in July revealed that some of the test reports had been fabricated, the cement used in some of the stadiums was sub-standard, electrical installations in 14 out of 17 venues at that time had not been tested. How seriously does the Federation take such reports?


Very seriously. We've asked for usage certificates, and certificates of construction and integrity of the engineering. We've read those reports and gone through them with the authorities and have received the necessary assurances … A lot of the checks are by the third party, they're coming from independent authorities in India. We cannot ask for more than that.


Have you got all the structural safety certificates for the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium?


We've got all the certificates for the stadium, but there're 34 blocks in the Village and there's a general approval for the whole development. We're asking for block-by-block certificates, which include certificates for fire and safety. Because there is concern about the fire hoses, fire drills, fire alarm systems and evacuation procedures.


The third issue is security. After the shooting incident at the Jama Masjid and after an Australian channel's sting operation exposed what they claimed were security lapses in India, how confident are you of the preparedness?


There's no question, security planning has been very sound. People from outside India have also been invited to review it. We from the Federation have employed consultants who do it all over the world. They've made periodic visits to check the system, its planning and implementation. They're here full-time now to monitor it on a daily basis. So, certainly we're satisfied that from the point of view of the country the Indian government has taken very good measures for the security of India, not just the Games. Secondly, the security arrangements for the Games in Delhi, we feel that what can be done has been put in place. The next point is, how is it working? … [We] have been having discussions with the Police Commissioner about details of how it can work better. The funny thing is that the security has been so good that it has been restricting the movement of people … Some of the planning is not working as we intended and that is being worked out. This is not unique in the planning of any major event … They're issues that are being dealt with.


What would you say about overall preparedness?


It has been a difficult journey and a journey which we ourselves are learning to deal with a country, its culture, its management system and management styles. I'm also hoping that India will also see it as a learning experience, to understand the international community better and not just the Indian community. India is a successful country, it'll internationally be stacked up amongst the superpowers. But in terms of hosting an international event, this ought to be a big learning experience for India.


Was a new mental approach required on your part to deal with a different culture?


Yes, but I should explain that wherever you go the culture is different. We've had to work in Malaysia, in Manchester, in Melbourne, and they're all different. India in itself is quite different, but in those countries they had experience of having these complex international events.


How'd you assess the manner in which the Organising Committee [OC] has handled the Games?


I think there were a lot of weaknesses. There was no shortage of commitment, no shortage of their desire to do the best, but sometimes they did not quite understand the complexities of the requirements and they were a little reluctant to accept outside views as to how things should be done.


Were you talking about inexperience, or ineptitude?


Both. You're asking me to say something without proper support and proper documentation. I don't think it is fair for me to answer that question at this stage. When we do our review that'll be the proper time to come to a conclusion based on our analysis.


How do you assess Suresh Kalmadi's leadership and his chairmanship of the Organising Committee?


Again, there's no question about that: Mr. Kalmadi is a very charismatic leader, he ran a very successful bid to win the right to host the Games.


But then, thereafter?


Thereafter it requires a different approach, and this is something he also was learning as we went along.


Did India make promises and commitments to secure the Games which it has been unable to live up to and fulfil?


They secured the Games because people were encouraged that India was the largest Commonwealth country wanting to host the Games. There was no shortage of resources. There was no shortage of commitment of the government and the various agencies in doing this. Where we fell short is that India did not understand the complexity of holding a multi-sports game of this magnitude. Although they hosted the Asian Games many, many years ago, the world that we live in is totally different. The standards that we're working to are a lot different, and certainly we needed to convince them about the standards they have to work to — which are international standards.


You said India had great lessons to learn. What kind of lessons do you think need to be learnt?


First of all I think we've to understand that the Games will be held and that they will be successful. We can only judge that afterwards. I think India has to understand that when you're hosting an international event you're not hosting it as an Indian event but it has to be based on what the international requirements are. Yes, it will have its Indian flavour, yes it will have its Indian characteristics and that is why it is so nice to go from country to country. But there are other norms that you have to satisfy. There are 70 countries participating from six different regions, and each will be looking towards how other people host Games. That's a lesson to be learnt from this exercise.


You said we all must share the blame for what has gone wrong. Does that include you and Mike Hooper?


We all must share the blame. We can't shed the responsibility. We from the Federation enter into a contract with an Organising Committee and we expect that OC to deliver with their partners, but we also have to be part of the whole thing.


We're doing this as a team. I don't think it's fair for anybody to jump aside and point out other people's mistakes. We are all part of the Games.







Mobile phone users have had a welcome respite for over a week from unsolicited messages since the government banned the use of bulk SMS and MMS messaging services till September 30. This is the first time such a step has been taken in this country. The government's intent, on the eve of the landmark court ruling in the decades-old Ayodhya title suit, was of course to ensure that mischievous elements could not send out messages in thousands and lakhs that could inflame communal passions and disturb peace and harmony. But the fallout was truly phenomenal, and offered a whole new life of comfort for millions of cellphone users. Imagine the relief that millions got from not being bombarded day in and day out with foreboding messages like "don't ignore hair loss treat it before it's too late" or a tempting "earn `20,000 by selling reputed insurance company policies even while sitting at home" or "earn 10 per cent as a professional forex manager". There were others that were too good to be true: "get `1,00,00,000 tax-free after 21 years. no risk. pay `545 daily for 11 years"; or even "for `27,000 u can get a US visa for 10 years". Then there were Nigerian-type scamsters from Mumbai's Mira Road, sending SMSes like "you have won a lottery of over £20,000 in London!" Also, now that the stock market is booming, messages to ensnare gullible investors like a spider to the fly: "loan on shares upto `75 crore at 11 per cent".

Bulk SMSes have mushroomed like the plague ever since life was made difficult for telemarketers by the "do not call registry" facility provided by the department of telecommunications. Sending bulk commercial SMSes are really cheap for companies or others touting a product or service. You could send three lakh messages for as little as eight paise per message in the premium category or just six paise per message in the economy category. But with the latest ban on SMSes and MMSes in force, even if for a brief period, mobile phone users have tasted blood, and almost every consumer organisation in the country is petitioning the government to ensure that the ban continues indefinitely. Cellphone operators too are not averse to the idea. The only thing that the government should ensure — should it actually contemplate making such a ban permanent — that while shutting off all unsolicited communications, some essential message services — such as banks to their customers, schools/universities to their students/faculty, clubs to their members — are not cut off as well. The mobile operators' lobby has indicated to the department of telecom that this could be quite feasible.
The telecom watchdog NGO which has been getting over 30-40 complaints against bulk messages every month has given the government and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India two suggestions: one, to set up a "do call registry", replacing the "do not call" one, which could have around 10 categories (such as for property deals, sales and discounts offers, etc — things potential customers might like to be informed about); and two, a penalty clause and incentivisation scheme. At present the penalty is just a warning for the first offence, then a `1,000 fine for a second offence and disconnection after the third. The NGO has suggested that there should be a `5,000 penalty straightaway for the first unsolicited SMS — and that the complainant should get a share of the fine paid, so that phone users are encouraged to track offenders. Now the ball is in the court of the government and the telecom regulator. Over to Trai!








Over the past week, as ef f o r ts have been made to get the Co mmonwealth Games Village and other facilities in some sort of shape, questions have been as ked about the Commonwealth Ga mes Federation (CGF). Was the CGF right in only blaming the Commonwealth Games or g a nising committee (OC) and the In dian and Delhi governments? Did it not fail its responsibilities?

It is expected more and more dirt on the CGF is going to be released ("leaked") to the media. There is some disquiet at the role played by Mike Fennell, the CGF president and a Jamaica-based business executive. There is the perception that the CGF was pushing corporate and vendor interests.

The statements made by Mike Hooper, the chief executive of the CGF, have also aroused controversy. In recent months, Mr Hooper has been over-available to Indian journalists when he has wanted to use them to attack others. At other times, especially when he has been asked hard questions, he has pushed aside the microphones. Also the tone and nuance he has used in his interviews with international media outlets and with Indian ones has varied.

How justified is this sentiment and does this explain the mess that was made of the Commonwealth Games preparations? The answered is a qualified "no"; but the question has to be seen in a particular context.
At the outset it must be said that Mr Fennell would have had little or no say if India had gone about organising the Games in the right manner and had woken up to its to-do list in 2004 or 2005, rather than in 2008. Since that did not happen, the CGF saw its chance. Mr Fennell had established a cosy relationship with Suresh Kalmadi, president of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and chief of the OC. He saw this as mutually fruitful.
Indeed, Indian government officials say when senior ministers urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to curtail Mr Kalmadi's powers and give oversight of the Games project to a wider, cross-cutting body that would straddle governmental, civic and sports-event responsibilities, it was Mr Fennell who somehow persuaded Dr Singh that this would be unfair. He is believed to have argued that the autonomy of the OC needed to be preserved.

This was nonsense. The Indian taxpayer was underwriting the Games. Mr Kalmadi was not being impaired in his role as IOA chief — and there can be a case, however unconvincing in the Indian context, of giving sports bodies freedom from government bureaucracies — but in his capacity as head of the OC. The OC was an ad hoc project management and delivery vehicle, no more.

Nevertheless the prime minister was convinced. One consequence was that Mr Hooper was posted in New Delhi for three years to oversee the OC's work. This was deemed necessary because India was so far behind on its commitments. It was actually unprecedented because no CGF official had previously been sent to a host country for an extended period. It could be argued, though, that India invited this ignominy upon itself.
In New Delhi, Mr Hooper lived a luxurious expat lifestyle, paid for by the OC and, in effect, the Indian taxpayer. He now claims he actually pushed the Indian authorities and things would have been worse if he had not come. Perhaps; but is that the entirety of what he did?

By the time Mr Hooper arrived, it was clear the OC was thoroughly incompetent and was not in a position to ensure a smooth Games. It needed hand-holding, being incapable even of identifying quality vendors and adequate human talent within the country.

Among the first to begin lobbying for Commonwealth Games contracts were Australian sports management and logistics companies. They had the right credentials. Till the early 1990s, the Olympic Games — and other such events — were largely put together by national governments. The odd one out was the Atlanta Games, which saw corporate money so vitiating the Olympic spirit that it was nicknamed the "Coca-Cola Games".
The Sydney Games of 2000 marked a paradigm shift. Specialist agencies were spun off to host a successful and remunerative Games that was true to the Olympic charter. Running the show were astute business managers who also empathised with sport. After Sydney 2000, management of gigantic, multi-sport events became a recognised Australian skill.

Like a good export-oriented economy, Australia used its comparative advantage profitably. Australian (and New Zealand) fingerprints have been seen at several big sports events in the past decade. When it came to India, the Australians were initially hopeful of only supportive contracts. They realised India had the in-house capacities that would, in many cases, make Australian vendors and agencies redundant. It was one thing for, say, a Qatar to outsource the Asian Games; India was a big bigger economy and society.

However, as India continued to slip up, the Australian and international vendors smelt another opportunity. The fact that Mr Hooper was a New Zealander, and had seen the Sydney Olympics and the Melbourne Commonwealth Games (2006) at close quarters, perhaps enhanced their comfort factor.

At this stage, the OC began signing strange contracts. India is home to three of the world's finest hotel chains and dozens of other highly-rated catering firms. However, for the Games Village catering, two successive tenders were released and tailored in such a manner that only a single Australian company could win. When it got the contract, it promptly called in an Indian hotel company as partner.

The OC had argued that no Indian caterer had the resources to handle food requirements of so many nations. This was astonishing. If African athletes, for instance, required a nutritive diet conforming to a certain type of cuisine, then surely one of the big Indian hotel chains could have acquired that expertise in seven years?
All this has led to allegations of kickbacks and, unfortunately, the leading lights of the CGF may themselves have a lot to answer for. However, while no body can condone corruption, it is worth noting that the Hooper-Fennell consortium was only gi ven room because the OC and the Indian government were as l eep at the wheel. To the external world what matters is a first-cl ass Commonwealth Games, not sweetheart deals. The CGF may have contributed to the latter, but India managed to make a tragedy of the former quite on its own.


Ashok Malik can be contacted at








We can thank Commonwealth Games organising committee general-secretary Lalit Bhanot for placing toilets firmly in the collective consciousness of this nation. "Their (Western) standard of hygiene and cleanliness could be different from ours so there is nothing to be ashamed about it", Mr Bhanot wondered aloud at a press conference. Ever since those famous words, there is no escape from the toilet story in the Commonwealth Games Village.

The photos of paan-stained washbasins and bathroom floors, combined with dog poo-smeared bedsheets, have gone viral on the Internet as "toiletgate" takes over the conversations of an anguished middle class in the country.

The Sensex may have hit the magical 20,000 mark but disconcertingly, for many of us, the world at large is suddenly more concerned that more people in India have access to mobile phones than to basic sanitation.
Is the toilet a template for the state of a nation or civilisation?

"The toilet is part of the history of human hygiene which is a critical chapter in the growth of civilisation", says Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, sociologist, toilet czar and the man who started the low-cost Indian toilet system, the globally-acclaimed Sulabh Shauchalaya model.

Contemporary literature also offers useful takeaways. In a cheeky aside, Isadora Wing, the brilliant, hilarious and outrageous heroine of American writer Erica Jong's 1973 bestseller Fear of Flying, teases us with the history of the world through its toilets — the British toilet as the last refuge of colonialism where "for one brief moment (as you flush), Britannia rules the waves again". German toilets observe class distinctions — rough brown paper for a third class railway carriage and white paper called Spezial Krepp in the first class, Jong's young heroine observes. Isadora links Italian art to the swift way Italian toilets run, is foxed by French philosophy and the Gallic approach to merde (excreta) and is awe-struck by the aesthetics of the Japanese toilet — toilet basin recessed in the floor, flower arrangement behind, inspiring thoughts of Zen.

And Indian toilets? Well, well… One must remember this was the good-old or bad-old Seventies, depending on your politics. India was not an emerging power and Jong's adventurous but Euro-centric heroine did not have the Indian toilet experience.

What would Jong say if she took a toilet tour of India today after listening to Mr Bhanot's wise words?
The recent flood of toilet jokes makes us squirm since we are the targets but blunderbuss Mr Bhanot has also touched a raw nerve.

The riveting rise of the Sensex and the "cash and clout" image of India in the world is our outerwear where we sport a designer brand. The sanitation story is more like dirty inner wear which we don't like to either talk about or change.

Middle-class Indians typically would not have paan-stained washbasins at home. And there is a fortune to be made out of tapping the bathroom vanity of young, rising India. But how many times have you seen the driver and the passenger in the Honda City ahead of you open the car door and spit out the remnants of a paan or chewing tobacco on the road? In my neighbourhood market — in a posh south Delhi enclave — there are spas, but few spittoons; garbage lies in front of stores peddling grand designs in urban living. What irks middle-class India is not that filth and squalor exist but that they are being showcased by a prying media, denting India's image as an emerging power.

India's Millenium Development Goals Report (2009) notes that the proportion of Indian households having no sanitation facility has declined from about 70 per cent in 1992-93 (24 per cent urban and 87 per cent rural) to about 51 per cent in 2007-08 (19 per cent urban and 66 per cent rural). But despite recent progress, access to improved sanitation remains far lower in India compared to many other countries with similar or even lower per capita gross domestic product (GDP). Bangladesh, Mauritania, Mongolia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Vietnam — all with a lower GDP per capita than India — are just a few of the countries that have achieved higher access to improved sanitation, says the Asian Development Bank.

India is among a handful of countries where open defecation persists. Through its Total Sanitation Campaign, the government has sanctioned projects for construction of what babudom calls individual household sanitary latrines in all of India's rural districts. But a lot more action and oversight is needed on the ground to meet the national goal of eradicating open defecation by 2012.

Non-governmental organ isations' surveys suggest that many among those who have access to individual, community or shared toilets do not use the structure as a toilet. The reasons for non-use of toilets — poor/unfinished installations, no super structure and lack of behavioural change.
As in everything else in India, how and where you excrete is a matter of who you are and your position in the socio-economic pecking order. It comes as no surprise to learn that Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have lower access to toilets than upper castes.

Sociologists argue that this grim picture is not just about poverty. It has to do with the deeply-ingrained caste structure in India and notions of purity and pollution embedded in our psyche. First, children of so-called upper castes grow up hearing that cleaning garbage is the job of someone else, and that someone else is still often referred to by names that would put you in jail if uttered in public. Second, in an overcrowded country like India, far too many people also believe keeping your home clean is all you can do. What happens beyond is none of your concern — it is someone else's job to keep the public places clean, someone who is still considered an untouchable deep down despite laws prohibiting untouchability.

Money alone will not change such a mindset. Without the collective will for change, Sensex will soar even as we trail behind poorer countries in basic sanitation. The India that shocks and agitates, however, also offers inspiration. Many tribal communities can teach us a thing or two about cleanliness. Mr Pathak built the first Sulabh public toilet in Bihar, his home state, in 1974. Now, almost 8,000 such toilets have been built and are maintained across the country. Sulabh toilet complexes also exist in Bhutan and Afghanisthan, and over the next five years Mr Pathak plans to implement the model in 50 other countries.


Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at








It is said that the arm of the law is long, that justice delayed is justice denied. It is also contended that the wheels of justice grind slowly. There is much that is rotten about India's criminal justice system that acts expeditiously in favour of the rich and powerful and works at an excruciatingly tardy pace when it involves the poor and the underprivileged. But the system sometimes acts in a discriminatory manner even against a person with some influence, one who is not exactly down-and-out. Such indeed is the perversity of the country's legal system.

When it comes to complaints against those who are the representatives of the people, a familiar refrain is that these are "politically motivated". But here's an instance of a fellow journalist based (not in some remote rural area but) in the National Capital Region, against whom a criminal case was lodged more than eight years ago in an apparently "politically motivated" manner who is still being "har assed" — that's the appropriate word — despite the assurances of important individuals in positions of power and authority.

The evidence against this investigative reporter is tenuous at best. What is especially unfortunate is that after having spent six-and-a-half months in jail, he has had to appear in court once a month every month over the last six years, just to register his presence and establish that he is no absconder in a ca se where trial is yet to begin. The complaint against this journalist was lodged — and continues to be pursued — by India's premier po lice investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

On June 26, 2002, ironically the 27th anniversary of the imposition of Emergency, the CBI raided the offices of The website had a few months earlier conducted a sting operation that had not just exposed corruption in the defence services and had sought to implicate associates of the then defence minister George Fernandes in corrupt deals, but which had also caught on a hidden camera the then president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Bangaru Laxman accepting wads of currency notes.

The way in which the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA)?government went after Tarun Tejpal and Aniruddha Bahal — who were then heading and had masterminded the sting operation — has been well-documented. What is less well-known is that on the day the premises of were searched, CBI officers raided the residence of another journalist who worked for the website, Kumar Baadal. He was then 29 and his son two-months-old when cops "barged in and ransacked" his home.

He was arrested and lodged in prison after first information reports were lodged with the Biharigarh police station in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, in May 2002. The police registered a case under the Wildlife Protection Act accusing Mr Baadal of abetting poachers to illegally trap and kill leopards for the purpose of videotaping. The case was then transferred to the CBI.

Mr Baadal was released on bail from judicial custody in January 2003 on the intervention of the Supreme Court. The person who argued his case before the apex court was none other than Kapil Sibal. The bench of the Supreme Court that rejected the CBI plea to keep Mr Baadal under detention comprised Justice N. Santosh Hedge (now Lokayukta or the people's ombudsman of Karnataka) and Justice B.P. Singh who told the CBI lawyer that if the agency wanted to finish its investigation into the case, it could have done so in 24 hours and if it really did not want to pursue the case, it could let it drag on for 24 years!

The journalist has written evocative accounts of the time he spent in jail: the pitiable conditions of prisoners, how he was stripped naked, how he became popular by writing a 100-odd applications for other inmates and how his fellow prisoners wept with joy the day he was granted bail. His son is now eight-years-old. He and his wife have another child. It appears strange but Mr Baadal started his career in journalism as a tentative freelancer writing on — hold your breath — fashion models.

In April 2004, the CBI filed a supplementary affidavit against him, adding a new list of witnesses, after the special CBI court had finished cross-examining most of those mentioned in the first list of witnesses. The magistrate hearing the case then got transferred. Mr Baadal's lawyers contested the CBI's supplementary complaint in the high court at Allahabad and obtained a stay the following year. At least one important witness, a forest conservator, who said Mr Baadal was the wrong person identified by the CBI, was allegedly pressurised to change his testimony and this has been formally recorded in court. Another witness summoned by the CBI was abruptly asked to discontinue deposing.

In July 2003, S. Jaipal Reddy sa id in the Lok Sabha that the manner in which the NDA government had treated Mr Baadal was "clinc h ing" evidence of its "fascist character". In December 2004, Mr Ba a dal received a letter from an of f icer of the National Advisory Cou n cil (NAC) stating that Sonia Gan d hi had noted the contents of a re p r esentation he had sent the NAC. Veteran journalist Inder Mal h otra spoke about Mr Baadal's case to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who reportedly said that "grave injustice" had been committed to him. Mr Sibal has said that he had spoken to Prithviraj Chavan, minister of state for science and technology,?about the case. Congress spokesperson Jan ardan Dwivedi too has sounded sympathetic towards Mr Baadal's predicament.?

Last Friday (September 24), the Delhi high court quashed criminal proceedings against two journali s ts, including Mr Baadal's former colleague Mr Bahal, who had conducted a sting operation in the cash-for-questions scam against members of Parliament. But the CBI has given no indication that it wants to close the criminal case ag ainst Mr Baadal whose fate ke e ps him in contact with criminals mo re than six years after he wal k ed out of the gates of Dasna Jail in Ghaziabad. He rubs shoulders with them once a month when he has to register his presence in the special CBI court. He's lost count of the number of visits he has ma de to the court. Is it 70, or is it 72?


Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator










In a move suggesting that we may be getting closer to an encounter of the third kind, the United Nations has put across a new, futuristic agenda: the Martians are coming; get ready.


Job number one, that of appointing the Earth's official spokesperson who can set agendas and hold a dialogue with his/her extraterrestrial counterpart, has been taken care of. In keeping with the theme, the person for the job is a woman named Mazlan Othman, a Malaysian astrophysicist — a decision perhaps prompted by research indicating that more firms hire women in times of crisis.


Given the set of assumptions that have to be made for possible 'parleys' or 'friendly gestures', the task at hand is enormous. That is, of course, assuming the alien life forms buy into the idea of bilateral talks and are not looking at domination. We are also assuming they will talk at all. The fact that Othman is staring at a task far trickier than what Obama inherited in America, of saving the planet, makes her the most powerful person on Earth (Check Time magazine's list of influentials 2011).


Cynicism can literally cost us the world and we are better off putting our energies into creating technological capabilities, crafting possible scenarios, drawing up conflict resolution strategies, drafting geeks into the army cosmos, designing over-the-moon travel packages, and whatever else the imagination grants us.


It has to be a robust mix. It is after all damn serious or just a big joke.







The Commonwealth Games (CWG) Village has had too many predictables to deal with: corruption, delays, incompetence. Now more interesting things have begun to raise their heads. Or hoods.


The latest to hit the headlines is a sneaky cobra that couldn't get past the grapevine.


These developments should hardly be 'shocking' to westerners who, till the other day, were happier seeking snake-charmers rather than software coders in underdeveloped India.


Preparations may have fallen short, but the real failure of our CWG blunderers is not that slithering creatures have turned up where they were not expected, but our failure to cash in on the opportunity.


When most foreign tourists come to this country to photograph exotica rather than to applaud hyper-efficient cities, it would have been a great idea to engage snake-charmers, palmists and monkey-trainers to entertain the athletes when they are not training or working up a sweat to keep fit.


On a more serious note, even while we can acknowledge that Mssrs Kalmadi, Dikshit and Reddy have goofed up big time by failing to coordinate and be accountable for their part in the fiasco, it's obvious that our foreign guests are protesting too much. It's not as if such goof-ups have been unheard of in other parts of the world, but India, it seems, serves as a good whipping boy. In large part, this orchestrated protest has been amplified by segments of the domestic media, which is why ordinary people are tiring of self-flagellation.


To counter the impression that we can get nothing right, citizen journalists are at work, doing their bit to salvage the situation by putting out pictures of the 'world-class' quarters of the CWG through Facebook and Twitter.

There are pictures of beautifully-made beds with strategically-placed rolls of what look like fluffy, fragrant towels. Clearly, the ordinary citizen wants to move away from breast-beating.







Small cities are surging. Evidence for this has come from many sources, the latest being income-tax collections, which show that towns such as Bhubaneswar and Lucknow are growing much faster than some of the bigger metros.


Tax collections in these two cities are up by 146% and 145% in the three years from 2005-06 to 2009-10. This only supports the belief that India's growth lies in its small cities and medium-sized towns.


Much of the increase in tax collections comes from individuals whose incomes have gone up. This dispersion of incomes to smaller urban areas is an indication that the India growth story is not confined to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad.


Of course, the main reason for the higher tax growth is the small base. Bhubaneswar's total collection of over Rs1,500 crore is less than 5% of Mumbai's tax collections.


Yet, to nitpick on detail is to miss the larger point. India's megalopolises are groaning under the burden of having to absorb large numbers of migrants who seek a livelihood and/or better opportunities. Yet, tens of thousands continue to pour into these cities in search of employment, further straining the stretched infrastructure.


The point is: in relative terms, infrastructure spending will deliver a bigger bang for the buck in smaller cities than in the big metros, especially since the latter can attract more sources of private funding. It would thus make sense to redirect a larger proportion of urban renewal funds to the smaller cities. They have the capacity to grow with good planning, proper funding, and enhanced infrastructure. In the process, they will play an important role in absorbing the rural youths who turn to industry for employment.


This is necessary not just for India's economic growth, but for inclusive development.


Incidentally, when more than half the globe's population of 6.8 billion became urbanised last year, it was found that 53% of the urban population resided in small cities (defined as having less than five lakh people).


Current trends indicate that by 2050, over 900 million people will live in cities (55% of the population then), up from today's 350 million, (or 30% of 1.1 billion).


There is no way the big metros can absorb this almost three-fold increase. It will be the small and medium towns of India to which millions will gravitate in search of a better life. Net-net: the smaller town need a larger share of funding for developing infrastructure.








Why is it exactly that the mess over the preparations for the Commonwealth Games has upset us so much?


There are some obvious reasons: the money spent, the budget increases, the delays, the apparent corruption or at least nepotism in the awarding of contracts and the shoddy infrastructure.


But let's be honest. These are all things we are well used to. The scale in this case may be magnificent — I do not know how to get my head around Rs70,000 crore spent because I cannot conceptualise so much money — but each element by itself is familiar.


Then there are the questions around the Games — did we need to do this at all? Should we have spent the money on feeding the starving poor? Or at least creating grassroots sports facilities? Is hosting such a sports event really going to boost Indian sport? And so on, the usual existential, breast-beating, bleeding hearts routine.


Then we can give ourselves a break and consider that a lot of the complaints are just plain nitpicking and whinging.


Okay, so there were a few paan stains on the corridors and a snake here and there. It was clear from the beginning that the international, particularly the western media, was going to be tough to handle because they usually have it in for India and especially India's so-called growth story. And Australia is a permanent whiner when it comes to stuff like this, as we know from the way they play cricket. It's not like any international sporting event is ever perfect.


Okay, so on two counts, there's business as usual mixed with normal Indian philosophising and then on the other there's the benefit of the doubt. But still you know, justifying it just doesn't help. The whole thing is irksome.


So after much thought I have decided that it's those horrible smug, sanctimonious, shameless people in charge. (Okay, maybe I am being sanctimonious here but just run with it.)


First, there's the charming Lalit Bhanot and his refreshingly honest revelations about his standards of hygiene. Who would admit to the world that for him, dog excrement in the bedroom is par for the course? Surely, only a man truly in touch with his inner Zen space. Or, at a pinch, an extreme dog lover or perhaps some kind of fetishist. Normally, though, these tendencies are kept under wraps. But Bhanotji is open and fearless.


Next, our delightful chief minister of New Delhi, Madam Sheila Dixit who is always calm and never panics. Bridge has fallen down? Don't be silly and make such a fuss, it wasn't even for the athletes. Just for spectators.


Terrorist attack? What me worry? Naah. Dengue? Hee hee hee. Yamuna in spate? Ho ho ho. Such sanguinity in the face of crisis can only be admired.


Then, our honourable sports minister, MS Gill who takes such pains to describe to us how during an Indian wedding, the night before you run out laddoos and marigold flowers and then magically the next morning there are enough for the baraatis.


Well, we also know how parents have strokes and heart attacks during such badly organised weddings and baraatis can kick up a mighty fuss. Don't the Scots, Welsh, Brits in general, Aussies and Kiwis sound like baraatis.


The final place is for the elusive Suresh Kalmadi who bit off so much that he now has permanent indigestion. It takes a lot of effort, I assume, to swallow Rs70,000 crore.







A colleague at a well known US university asked me once about areas which are not regulated by the government in India.


I thought about it and the only answer I could give was pertaining to music /dance performances and other art forms as long as one does not want government awards.


Government does not fix the duration of an aalaapana — so far. If any enterprise is doing well and well received by users/customers/borrowers then the government with a perverse intent evolves regulations to destroy that activity. It cannot simply accept success of the enterprise and the benefits that the borrowers/clients derive from it. Micro Finance (MF) is one such area.


In the last decade this form of lending has picked up and micro finance institutions (MFIs) added nearly nine million customers in fiscal 2009 taking their consumer base to more than 22 million. National Bank of Rural Development (NABARD) suggests that there are 800 MFIs but only about 10 have outreach of more than 100,000 clients. Most of the MFIs are dependent on banks for their funding rather than on capital markets.


The poor borrowers are helped by MFIs due to their reach and knowledge about the markets. Banks are not in a position to effectively service the poorer clients running small businesses due to inherent constraints.


So they fund the MFIs at an interest rate of 10 to 14%. The MFIs in turn re-lend it at around at an interest rate of 36%. It is this huge difference in interest charges between the rate at which MFIs take money from the banks and the rate at which they give the customer that the finance ministry is objecting to. It is asking the banks to ensure that the MFIs do not charge "hefty" rates from poor borrowers. Government is even thinking of capping the lending rates of MFIs.


The performance of banks in meeting the requirement of small borrowers is nothing to write home about. The distribution of outstanding bank credit by categories reveals that the share of household sector (consisting of proprietorship /partnerships and individual accounts) was 58% in 1990. It declined to 48% in 2004 and to 33% in 2009. Not only that, the share of loans up to Rs25,000 in terms of number of accounts fell from 93% in 1995 to 36% in 2009. In terms of outstanding or unrecovered loans it was 23% in 1990 and 1.5% in 2009.


The public sector banks in a sense are also not geared to finance businesses like a local cobbler, tailor, plumber, vegetable-seller, since these people need cash flow-based rather than asset-based financing. It is to be noted that the market knowledge and information regarding these activities are not fully available with commercial bankers on an updated basis.


The typical bank manager of a public sector bank has a two- to three-year tenure at a particular branch and is also shifted across activities like foreign exchange, administration, agricultural finance, personal banking, training, industrial lending etc.


This is all the more true of such small and micro business activities where there are significant fluctuations in the cash flows within short periods of time. Hence, the ability to assess the market as well as keep track of daily changes is paramount in lending for these activities.


Studies suggest that more than 60% of the time of a public sector bank manager is spent on personnel- and

depositor-related issues at the branch. In such a situation it becomes difficult for the manager of a public sector bank to lend, based on cash flows since this requires constant and continuous monitoring of market changes with a reliable database, which alone would give them a strong feel of local conditions and profiles of borrowers. In other words, risk assessment capabilities are not adequate.


The best solution to integrate our markets is to have a concentric circle of lenders and obviously each will have margin and operating expenses. Also, the computation of interest rates is linked to one's time horizon or period of planning. If my flower girl borrows at say half per cent per day it should not be looked upon as 180 % per annum since her time horizon is different. One should not telescopically enlarge rates since time horizons of small businesses are different.


RBI has formulated policies for UIB's (unincorporated bodies like money lenders) wherein they can lend but

not borrow money and in the process made many of them go underground and operate.


Let the government not meddle with the MFIs in terms of "Nehruvian" legacy of capping interest rates and strangle that business. The old saying that "if any activity is successful then government cannot tolerate it" hopefully is not repeated in the case of MFIs.










THE all-party meeting convenedby Prime MinisterManmohan Singh, whichpreceded the visit of a delegationof arliamentarians belonging todifferent political parties toJammu and Kashmir, had succinctlydescribed the trustdeficitand "governance-deficit"as the main reasons for the massiveuprising and total alienationof the people n the troubledstate. The eight-point packageannounced by New Delhi fails togo far enough even to bridgethese eficits. While the packageis quite inadequate and unrealisticto fulfill the desired objectiveof creating a climate f rust topursue the process of a purposefuldialogue for resolving theKashmir dispute, it is totallysilent on the ssue f " governance-deficit ", about which thoseparticipating in the all-partymeet had shown much concern.Instead f uggesting measuresto overcome the governancedeficit,New Delhi has decided tofully back chief minister Omar
Abdullah and his coalition governmentdespite their abject failureto deliver. Undisputedly,while Omar and his team, alongwith New Delhi, are responsiblefor the present situation due totheir mishandling and usingrepressive measures to silencethe people's voice, the chief ministerhas failed even in ensuringclean, efficient, transparent andaccountable governance. A highlycentralized system of governancewithout any checks and balancesand unresponsive to the people'sneeds looses its capacity to deliver.In the absence of any institutionalmechanism for making thegovernance accountable andtransparent, with both the politicalexecutive and bureaucracyacting in arbitrary manner, failingto evolve rules and proceduresfor ensuring fairness andjustice or unahashedly violatingthe existing norms, it will benaïve to think of efficient and corruption-free governance. Whilethe administrative set up hasremained moribund even in normalsituation, for the past threemonths it stands totally paralysed.With Kashmir Valley onboil, every government activityhas come to a screeching halt.The educational institutions haveremained crippled, the healthcaresystem has collapsed, alldevelopment activities havetotally stopped, the issues ofwater supply, electricity, roads,bridges etc remain totally neglectedand even the essential
commodities are not available tothe people in sufficient quantityand at adequate prices. The situationin other parts of the state,where comparatively peace andnormalcy prevails, is not muchbetter.Intriguingly, while the governmentfunctioning was at its lowestebb with all-round deteriorationin services the only activitywhich showed an upward trendwas corruption, both at politicaland bureaucratic levels. TheState rulers functioning in mostarbitrary manner, insensitive toany criticism, intolerant of thedissent and concentrating powersin their hands have a vestedinterest to subvert all moves formaking the governance accountable,transparent and responsiveto the people's needs. Thatexplains why they have failed toimplement some of the measuresoutlined in the report of theworking group constituted followingthe round table conferencesconvened by the Prime Minister.Omar Government, in particular,has failed to make the StateAccountability Commission functional
by appointing its chairmanand other members. On the contrary,he is contemplating to curtailits authority and jurisdictionby excluding the bureaucratsfrom its purview. The State governmenthas even failed to plug
the major sources of corruption.The selection, postings, promotionsand transfers of officershave undoubtedly been the majorsource of corruption both for thebureaucrats and their politicalbosses. Instead of evolving a
rational policy for transfers andpostings, the bane of frequent,premature and arbitrary transferof officials continues unabated.The transfer industry, which providesan opportunity to the corruptminister and bureaucrats tomake quick bucks is thrivingwithout any checks. The Stategovernment has failed even toensure transparency in governanceby enforcing the Right toInformation Act. It has failed toappoint the Chief InformationCommissioner and otherCommissioners to make the lawoperative and effective enough to
protect the people's right to knowabout the functioning of the government.Nothing has been done
to decentralize the administrativeset up in the State to reachthe people at the grass-root level
and to fulfill the objective of participatorydemocracy. The rulersfunctioning in an arbitrary and
unjust manner and enjoyingabsolute power and authorityhave a vested interest to sabotageall moves for evolving a systemof democratic decentralizationunder a five-tier system. Inthe absence of such reforms it
will be unrealistic to think ofbridging the governance-deficit.








Democracy may be an ideal system of governance for many but it has its own idiosyncrasies. Those make legislations against the corruption and even those pronounce judgements against the offenders of the law themselves remain above the law of the land, insulated by the immunity cover and special privileges. This unwritten `rule of law' is one among the distressing ironies of Indian democracy as it is in contravention with the popular adage which forms the very basis of our judicial system i.e., none is above the law. And this makes the job really tough for all those who want to root out this menace. One may find nothing more paradoxical than this fact that the democracy is described as the government of the people, for the people and by the people but in this system too like autocratic rule generally there are two yardsticks - one for the rulers and the other for the ruled as far as the rule of law is concerned. While the corruption is considered to be a punishable offence for the ordinary citizens of the country, the unwarranted immunity covers makes it rightful for the legislature and judiciary, two major pillars of the democratic system, no wonder despite indulging in corrupt practices they cannot be tried like the ordinary citizens for an offence of similar nature. Here emerges the bitter reality of democracy! A lower rung government official or for that matter even a bureaucrat caught red-handed accepting bribe or demanding bribe would have to undergo the trial as per the legal norms but ironically the legislators or the judges enjoy peculiar immunity on this account which has constitutional backing too. No doubt many a time the system has offered certain exceptions too on this account. But generally speaking, the difference between the rulers and the ruled is very conspicuous. Rising corruption in the judiciary too is not a secret, many a time the eminent jurists themselves have expressed dismay over the distressing situation. Such unwarranted immunities to certain sections in a democracy only make fight against corruption a mockery and create frustration among the people and disrespect for the system. Though there are many legislations, which are supposedly aimed at tightening noose around the corrupt lot of politicians and judges as well yet ruefully their status has been reduced to mere paper horses. It is this sad state of affairs which generates pessimism against the claims about fight against corruption and also creates skepticism about, what it is described as, `rule of law' based on the concept of equality before law. 






IT has taken long years forthe helmsmen and mastersof the destiny of this greatcountry to take notice of the
generation that has arrived inthe world since 1989-90. Todaywe hear of things like "magnanimity,maturity and understanding"in our approach tothese children of turmoil whohave been growing up amidstthe wheezing of killer bulletsand rumble of bomb blasts,shaking the earth under theirfeet. Their inquisitive, curiousand frightened eyes have mostlyseen midnight crackdowns,cordonoffs, arrests, shoot outs,cross firings, disappearances,deaths, burials, mornings andwails. The roots of this muddlegeneration are embedded deep
down in a soil that is bathed inblood. Their personality andmindset have been shaped byuncertainty, chaos and fear.Today when these disorientedyoungsters are on thethreshold of adulthood or havealready attained it, they findthemselves mentally wobblydue to lack of direction, andconcept of a positive goal,together with distrust in
future, which holds no promise.These children of Kashmirborn during a time when theironly legacy was uncertaintyand unpredictability have virtuallylived on a live volcanoand have survived. Theirthinking has grown to be volcanictoo, which we see inaction on the streets ofSrinagar and other Kashmirtowns today. During all thesedevelopments, no helmsmanmade any determined attemptto douse the fires when theycould be controlled withoutcausing any harm. And whenfinally the action came, itsmost striking outcome has been
over a hundred killings, notdue to their sitting on a volcano,but due to some thoughtlessfingers on alert triggers.
Most politicians of Kashmir,especially those who have beenin and out of power, are neverknown for faculties, like originality,imagination, foresight,or even a modicum of insightinto the trauma of the childrenof turmoil. We have neverheard of any concerted andplanned move being solelymade for guiding, directing,helping and leading this vulnerablegeneration on a positivetrack for its own good andfor the good of the society at
large. On the contrary we neverhear of any lack of adroitnessamong our politicians in conductingtheir political manipulationsand machinations forgaining power, staying inpower, or being close to it.Our successive chief ministerssince 1996, one hopes, willnot deny that during these pastfifteen years, their well-wishers,friends and otherpeaceniks, had been remindingthem from time to time abouttheir responsibility towards theshaky new generation whichhad arrived at a time when thecircumstances were not at allcongenial for their growth as
citizens with healthy minds. Itwas expected that the higherechelons and policy makers inthe government would devotesome attention for at leastmaking sure that these futurebuilders of this state do notgrow up abnormally in the prevailingabnormal conditions. Itwas expected that adequatemotivation and incentiveswould be provided to them tomove ahead with dignity ontheir long journey ahead. Butunfortunately none of our chiefministers since 1996 thought oftaking up this issue seriously.Nor did any one of them makea visibly comprehensive move
for establishing a friendly,brainy and accommodatingrapport with the new generation,to prevent it from being
swept away and pulled into thevorteex of turmoil, which preciselyhas happened.An insightful action plan at
the right time would have donewonders for the socio-politicalmilieu of Kashmir, whichwould have presented a differentpicture today. In that kindof ambience, perhaps it wouldnot amount to fantasising tosay that tens of those who arepelting stones now would bemaking queues to take upassignments as IAS, IFS, IPS
and other officers.The government in Delhi andSrinagar must share largerpart of the blame for allowingthings to drift into an anarchicstate. As an astute politicalstrategist, Syed Ali ShahGeelani has taken full advantageof the political myopia,somnolence, and bankruptcy ofpercipience of the government,and has emerged as the leaderof young Kashmir. And whynot? Geelani has always beenan obsessive campaigner for
union of Kashmir withPakistan and its Islamisation.He has thoroughly exploitedthe follies and failings of the
government, in its utter failureto envisage the consequences ofa whole young generation beingtreated with unconcern, andgrowing up in anger, defianceand rebelliousness.In fact more blame should fallon the Central governmentwhose traditional wont hasbeen to hand over the keys tothe man on the spot, and go to
sleep. Jammu and Kashmirmay be an "integral" part ofIndia, but could anyone recallan instance when the Centremade a concerted effort to buildbonds of understandings, emotionalnearness and empathy
between Kashmiris and thepeople elsewhere in the country,even on a limited scale? Itcould have been done in manifoldways, particularly with aneye on bringing youth population,especially the universityand college level studentstogether. Nobody ever thoughtof it, leave alone attempting todo it. It seems that the signing
of the accession deed was perhapsthe only step whichmarked the political union ofJammu and Kashmir and rest
of India. Other than that wefind no noteworthy measuresbeing taken, either by Delhi orSrinagar, to build union ofhearts between the two. In factit was not long after accessionthat the distances betweenDelhi and Srinagar started gettingwider and longer, reachingthe culmination in 1953, whenprime minister, SheikhAbdullah was unceremoniouslyremoved and incarcerated.Thereafter it was detachmentand estrangement all the waytill 1975, with "plebiscite" asthe leit motif of Kashmiris. Thegreat leader made a spectacularcomeback in 1975 and took
over the reins of the governmentas chief minister. The sloganof plebiscite lost its sheenand all was well under theumbrella of Sher-i-Kashmir.After the demise of the tallleader in 1982, followed by anew generation of leadership,the variety of politics, politicking,political manoeuvering andsomersaulting gained currency
and the factor of estrangementbetween Delhi and Srinagarsurfaced again, gainedstrength, and is there today in
the shape of "azadi" and "selfdetermination"cry.Sometimes one gets a feelingthat in 1947 the Muslim populationhad actually "acceded" totheir mythologised hero, Sher-i-Kashmir, with whose departurethe term "accession" startedgetting redundant.India's sole criterion for winningthe hearts of Kashmirishas been to despatch sackfuls offunds to the state. If moneyonly could win hearts andstrengthen bonds, there perhaps
would be nothing likeantagonism and antipathybetween people and people.Besides, Centre never once
thought of keeping an eye onthe utilisation of its torrent offunds to this state. Suffice it tosay here that the manner of theutilisation of huge Centralgrants has earned us the distinctionof being the second
most corrupt state in India. Dallake is a typical specimen ofhow we use the funds we get.Over the past three or fourdecades hundreds of croreshave been spent on paper forthe protection, improvementand beautification of the lake,but its condition is certainly nobetter than it was thirty yearsago. In fact it is worse. The
funds did not go down thedrain, they went deep downinto the pockets of the move and
executors of the beautificationdrive.Kashmiris had joined handswith India in the welter of partition,at a fateful and crucialtime, when an "Islamic" countryhad emerged next door. In ahighly strung situation, theyunder the leadership of theirunchallenged leader, SheikhAbdullah, spurned the twonationideology and threw their
lot with secular India. It was adecision of extreme sensitivityand unique singularity. Thepowerful spirit and sentimentbehind the decision should havebeen treated with caution, careand consideration. Wellplanned
initiatives should havebeen launched at people's levelfor the psychological and emotionalintegration of Kashmiriswith the national mainstream.This was one post-accessionvision which the leadership, it
must be said, was bereft of.Money certainly was not thepivotal issue and Kashmirishad not rushed to Delhi for a
monetary boom. It was theirideological and civilisationallegacy that had brought theminto the fold of India. It was thisbonding of the two that shouldhave been the focus of inrementalcare and enhancement, butit has actually never been, duringthese past six decades.The helmsmen and mastershave launched a fresh initiativein a spirit of "magnanimity andmaturity" in their approach tothe younger "angry" generationof Kashmir. All that one can dois to express proverbially, betterlate than never.However, it is hoped that thehorses have not already bolted,long before the doors are beinglocked.







On the face of it the eight-point scheme announced by the Union Government with respect to this State signifies a multi-pronged approach to restore peace. There is no doubt that primarily it is born of the desire to defuse tension in the Kashmir region. It is also logical to presume that it is the outcome of the all-party delegation's recent visit to both sides of the Pir Panjal. Evidently that is why it seeks to cast a wider net. The plan envisages: appointment of a group of interlocutors to hold a "sustained dialogue" with various shades of opinion; release of about 200 young persons detained for pelting stones; de-scaling of security personnel; review of notification of areas as "disturbed"; ex-gratia relief to the families of those killed in civil disturbances after June 11 (their number is estimated to be more than 100); advice to the State Government to immediately review the cases of Public Safety Act (PSA) detainees and withdraw the detention orders wherever appropriate; establishment of two special task forces --- one each for Jammu region and Ladakh region --- to examine their development needs with particular reference to deficiencies in infrastructure and make suitable recommendations; the State Government to take steps to reopen all schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions, hold special classes or lectures, if necessary, and to ensure that the examinations for the current academic year are conducted; and a provision of Rs 100 crore as additional Central assistance to make grants to schools and colleges for improvements and additions to the existing infrastructure such as class rooms, auditorium, laboratory, library, playground and toilets. None of these steps is new. We have had interlocutors in the past. Likewise, a lot of money has been spent on welfare measures in the previous years including on compensation and rehabilitation. 

Powerful commissions have gone into the issue of regional imbalances in the State. Their purpose has been to address real or perceived feeling of discrimination especially in this province and that unique geographical entity called the Ladakh region. Despite their elaborate exercise the sentiment of being prejudiced against has grown instead of disappearing with the passage of time. Why is it so? Why is that all earlier interlocutors have not succeeded in achieving any major breakthrough? In the wake of the strong popular agitation in this region in 2008 it was galling to listen to one of them saying on a television network that so far they had bothered about the Kashmir psyche now they would have to consider about the Jammu psyche as well. Why could not he think of the entire State as one body? It is also to be noted that the work done by the much-publicised working groups to has turned out to be futile. 

It can be argued that all well-intentioned bids to amicably find a solution consume time and may not deliver right away. What our State requires, however, is something more than all this. We need a just and beneficent political and administrative apparatus. At the same time we must apply our minds as to why the people of neither Jammu nor Ladakh are able to play any meaningful role to help restore normalcy and tranquillity in the Valley. Who is responsible for such state of affairs?







What has been reported in the case of examinations in a private professional college in Jeevan Nagar under the Satwari police station in this city is extremely shocking. Possibly it is the first instance of its kind in our vicinity. Many of us may have never heard it before that there is also something like a paid examination centre. In other words it means that one pays a certain amount to pass a test and get a seat of one's choice. Is this not entirely different from payments seats which are a universally accepted practice in order to partly fund the cost of higher education in particular? The concept of payment seats does not work at the cost of meritorious and deserving students. It is just meant to benefit those who have the merit as well as the means to pay for their studies but are unable to qualify for the non-payment seats. In sharp contrast it is galling that there is an examination centre which allows students to indulge in malpractices to their hearts' content. The management facilitates the evil exercise. Invigilators look in another direction. In the present instance they are stated to have actually assaulted a candidate who ventured into a paid examination hall without parting with the requisite money. Two of them have been arrested while three have escaped. That they have indulged in showing their physical strength is perhaps not surprising. Their job here has not been to watch students to prevent cheating but to help them in doing so and take care of those who fail to read their benign eyes. They must be bullies and not teachers. A few more details are missing like, for instance, the number of beneficiaries of a blatant unprofessional conduct. In addition, we don't know the fate of the students who have sat for the test in the "non-payment" hall. What is disturbing is that the police investigation has found the allegations against the college true. As a result cases have been registered against the guilty including under the Arms Act.
It should be a matter of concern for us that the sanctity of our exam system is becoming more and more open to painful questions at various levels in our State. So far we have come across: tampering of question-papers and their theft including from supposedly locked cupboards; meddling with mark lists; stealing even of answer sheets and attempts to replace them, and, to top it all off, impersonation which is an inter-state racket and has lately witnessed the involvement of politicians. It is logical to imagine that these unsavoury episodes can't take place without the involvement at some level of the people who should be stopping them. What has happened now is the worst occurrence of its kind. It has brought to the fore an open connivance of invigilators, of all persons, in a wrong doing. Does this not remind us of a popular Urdu couplet: "jab saiyan bhaye kotwal to dar kahe ka" (when the Kotwal is your beloved why you should nurse fear of any kind). Can anything be more disastrous for us? A good education system is considered fundamental to building a society and nation. Are we not going in an entirely different direction? We should pause and think.











The 1956 States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) was a flawed exercise as states were carved out on linguistic basis. As a result some of the states are large and administratively ungovernable; while some are very small unable to generate sustainable taxes to run the administration. Once again in a mini reorganisation in 2000 the NDA Government divided Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, and Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh were carved out. The question is if "small is beautiful" why these three new states are lagging behind on development indices?

There is now a vociferous demand for creation of five more new states. Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Ms. Mayawati promising to bifurcate the state in three parts, Andhra Pradesh to be divided into two as well as Maharashtra partitioned into two, namely, Vidarbha and Marathwada as separate states because these regions are backward. There is also a muted demand for bifurcating the state of Jammu & Kashmir in three independent units, namely, the Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh, the latter given the status of a Union Territory. Is it economic backwardness or political expediency?

The offer of a second States Reorganisation Committee made by Veerapa Moily, to consider statehood for Telangana and Vidarbha and the proposal to trifurcate UP, was viewed as a ploy to buy time. The first SRC clearly stated that Telangana should be a separate state. But leaders from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions prevailed on the Telangana people that a union of three regions alone would provide for a linguistically viable Telugu state called Andhra Pradesh. 

Sixty two years on, India has come a long way from being a collective of 562 princely states scarred by Partition to a self-assured nation of 28 states. However, once again, the Indian polity is faced with a question that was posed to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru: Should India be divided into smaller states if the people of a region so demand? Nehru was a well-known opponent of creating states on linguistic lines. But a fast-unto-death forced him to change his mind.

It all started with Potti Sriramulu, a freedom fighter and a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1952, Sriramulu fasted for 50 days demanding a separate state for Telugus (today's Andhra Pradesh) and died. Moved by the death of the 51-year-old Sriramulu, Nehru formed a three-member SRC in 1953 to look into regional demands. Chaired by Justice Fazl Ali, K.M. Pannikar and H.N. Kunzru were the other members-the SRC redrew India's internal boundaries. Three years later new states, including Andhra Pradesh, were formed.

Over the last few years, the scene has once again shifted to Andhra Pradesh. The demand for a separate state of Telangana is as old as the state of Andhra Pradesh. Though the first SRC had also explored the pros and cons of Telangana, it had ruled in favour of a "Vishal Andhra" (United or Greater Andhra), observing public opinion in Telangana had not "crystallised". 

Close on the heels of Telangana is the demand for splitting Uttar Pradesh. Though Panikkar had written a note of dissent in the final SRC report and recommended breaking up Uttar Pradesh, he had invited the wrath of Nehru and Govind Ballabh Pant. The senior politicians thought this was an attempt to reduce the clout of Uttar Pradesh and was absolutely unnecessary. A half-century later, the Congress, which is battling to inch back into Uttar Pradesh's political arena, has pulled this rabbit out of the hat. In the process it has surprised its own functionaries. After BSP czarina Mayawati swept the state and gave the Congress a scare as a spoiler in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, the Congress has found this new formula to reinvent itself in Uttar Pradesh. However, as soon as the Congress proposed Bundelkhand and while heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi was still mouthing the "we want smaller states" line, Mayawati called for trifurcation of Uttar Pradesh, with a Harit Pradesh being carved out of 23 districts in the western part of the state.

Now, the biggest question before the Congress is whether to constitute a second SRC and allow it to examine the issue. The SRC question could stump the UPA coalition at the Centre. The Left's reservations are well known. The Left parties feel an SRC would revive the Gorkhaland demand in Darjeeling-North Bengal. It was on the Left's insistence that the promise of a second SRC was dropped from the NCMP. The Congress could only manage to include Telangana in a single-line mention: "The UPA government will consider the demand for the formation of a Telangana state at an appropriate time after due consultations and consensus."
So if the Left's objectives could stall the crucial India-United states nuclear deal, the Congress-led Government would not take chances with SRC formation. That is why the Congress is now trying to delink the issue of Telangana from an SRC.

The Left's reluctance has seen the Congress eat its words. On January 9, party spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said at the official Press briefing that there would be no new state without an SRC. Five days later, his colleague Abhishek Manu Singhvi was equally categorical: "The issue of setting up an SRC or creation of a state is a matter for the government to decide. In the event that the government believes that the demand for creation of states is valid, then the Congress would have absolutely no objection. And if it indeed thinks it is a better route to set up an SRC, because issues of economic viability, historical claim, sustainability… (these would) would be looked at by an expert body."

Within two days, the Congress enthusiasm was waning. Again at the official Press briefing Singhvi said, "The Congress is in agreement in general on smaller states but each individual case has to be decided on its merits." 
Nevertheless, the SRC issue has given way to a bigger debate: should India have smaller states? Gradually demands for states on linguistic lines or even ethnic ones (Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh) have moved to the economic development argument. However, there remains a fear that more states could lead to divisive politics. There are examples of unending disputes. Orissa has been demanding the return of Saraikela and Kharsuan from Jharkhand. Nagaland wants to cut into large chunks of Manipur and certain forest areas of Assam to create Nagalim. Disutes over state boundaries and water sharing may only multiply. There are also concerns about economic viability or constant, Goa-type political turmoil.

Formation of an SRC could trigger demands other than Bundelkhand and Telangana. There could be a demand for Gondwana, comprising portions of Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh; Kodagu from Karnataka's coffee belt, Bodoland from Assam; Garoland from Meghalaya and Mithilanchal from Bihar.
Creation of more states on linguistic basis will prove divisive and the politics of the "sons of the soil" will gain momentum as exemplified what is happening in Mumbai, where the slogan is "Maharashtra is only for Maharashtrians". (INAV)








New Delhi- the capital city of India will host the world's second largest multidisciplinary sporting extravaganza- the 19th Commonwealth Games (CG) next month- October (3-14). More than 8,000 athletes and officials from 71 nations will participate in 12 day event. Sports freaks will have the opportunity to watch the games for the first time in the city after the 1982 Asian games. The 1982 Asian Games gave a fillip to New Delhi, upgrading the infrastructure and transforming the city. This is the second similar exercise. 

In the largest sporting mela till now, there will be 17 sports events and for that 23 world-class venues and 32 training centers have been built or renovated. About 11,000 hotel rooms and a host of bed-and-breakfast arrangements will be ready as about 100,000 international spectators are expected to visit the national capital during the event. It has proved a major stepping stone for the capital city of Delhi to join the big league of world-class cities like Tokyo and New York.

For the preparation of the Games more than $6 billion have been spent on stadiums and upgrading the capital. Moreover the original $133 million administrative budget is reported to have reached $516 million. The capital city seems to have undergone a big makeover when we look at the street lights, roads, flyovers, under and over-bridges and the way the Metro, IGI Airport expansion and power up-gradation were put on the fast track. It is expected Delhi will have litter-free streets, at least in areas leading to the CG venues. With more subways coming up, pedestrians will not have to make mad dashes across heavy traffic. Subways will have better lighting and closed circuit televisions cameras. Narrow footpaths have been widened in congested areas. Delhi High Court had directed Municipal Corporation Delhi (MCD) to carry out re-laying of all damaged roads in the capital on a war footing before the onset of monsoon. The court observed that the image of the national capital will take a severe beating in the eyes of the world if the potholed roads are not repaired as per modern technology and with standard material. The MCD was also on an overdrive to revamp the façade of its busy markets. In an affidavit before the Supreme Court, the Delhi government has undertaken measures to stop the begging menace in the Capital. 

Public information kiosk armed with phone and maps have been installed at reasonable distances. The ugly overhead mesh of cable wires has to a large extent gone underground. The capital city is now likely to turn a tourist destination having all desired infrastructure. MCD is reported to have installed hundreds of waterless and odor-free urinals, toilet blocks besides upgrading its existing urinals and toilets. They have found a unique way of beautifying some of the public urinals by installing aquarium to make the urinal look aesthetically appealing. Delhi Tourism department has prepared city's first "loo map" for the CG. The map will tell where public toilets are located and how much they charge. The Archaeological Survey of India has spruced up heritage monuments for the Games and all such places have now swanky cafeterias and odor-free toilets. The MCD is also reported to have built fancy coffee house-cum-toilet complexes in major market areas. These complexes, which will adhere to the green concept, will consist of coffee shops, flower shops, fast-food joints, and offices. The toilets will have special facilities for women, senior citizens and physically disabled

Public and private transport service providers are reported to have been made to understand that their services are a window to Delhi's image. Public transport is expected to become more accessible. Delhi is now having a fleet of air-conditioned buses in its public transport system. Taxi drivers, auto-rickshaw drivers and Delhi Transport Corporation bus drivers are known to have got lessons on communication skills, spoken English, police interface, stress management and handling emergencies and disasters with paramedical techniques and first aid. 

Tourists will be empowered during the Games with two useful tools- a website and a call centre. The tourist website will have links to all services tourists generally need- from airline tickets and hotel to massage treatment. The call centre, operating 24x7, will support a number of foreign languages and help tourist with anything and everything that they might need to know to make their Delhi experience better. The call centre can book a cab, make connections to hotel and restaurants and even lodge complaints on anything. 
Delhi is India's greenest metro and to retain this tag an ambulance for trees has been put in operation. The ambulance is equipped with tree washers, sprayers, pruners, manure reserves, chainsaws and materials like polyurethane foam, cement and concrete to fill tree cavities. This will help to make this place green and healthy and one of the world's greenest capitals.

The Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi in coordination with the Union Home Ministry is looking after the security aspect of the Games. Having provided satisfactory security to Hockey World Cup event in New Delhi in February-March 2010, the International Services Liaison Group will now be responsible for CG security arrangements.

The capital will now have another Games Village to utilise once the event is over. 

The CG Village with its high-end amenities spreading over 63.5 hectare located near Akshardham temple at the bank of the Yamuna River provides a picturesque site. The residential project of the Village is also called a Green Building were 1168 apartments are ready to house athletes and officials for the Games. After the games are over the developer would refurbish the apartments and hand over to end users. The Village has got a dedicated power substation to make the luxurious residential complex free of power cuts. The substation will supply around 50 megawatts to the Village and to about two lakh residents in nearby areas. Post Games this substation will boost power supply to many more East Delhi areas. 

Indian media is filled with exposés of financial irregularities highlighting various scams and details of the sleaze and perfidy surrounding the games. There are reports of corruption in construction projects and illegal cash transfers. One novelist has termed the games a "loot fest". The entire 95-metre-long under-construction foot over-bridge at a cost of Rs.10.5 crores collapsed outside JN stadium just a fortnight before the start of the games injuring 27 people.

With political careers and India's reputation at stake, there is a lot riding on the games. The authorities are scrambling against the clock to save the CG after big-ticket athletes reported quitting the showcase event and nations threatening to stay home. The minor hiccups, presumably, is not going to affect the successful hosting of the mega event. All is not as bad as it sounds. If all goes well with the Commonwealth Games 2010- and hopefully so, "shining India" will see a real chance of bagging the biggest- the 2020 Olympics, to be awarded in 2013.









THE Centre's eight-point initiative for Jammu and Kashmir announced by Home Minister P. Chidambaram after a high-powered meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is welcome though belated. Based as it is largely on the inputs received from members of a 39-member all-party delegation that had visited Srinagar on September 20 and 21, it reflects a broad consensus at least among parties at the Centre and the ruling coalition in the State. That Kashmir's main opposition party the PDP led by Ms Mehbooba Mufti which had refused to meet the all-party delegation has expressed cautious optimism on this package is also a hopeful sign. The PDP has been a spoiler consistently in recent months and the fact that it has not damned the package is an indication that it is testing the waters amid indications that the people are fed up of the violence and destructive mindsets of the separatists. This is an opportunity for the Centre to isolate separatists like Syed Ali Geelani who continue to sing the hardline tune.


It is heartening that the Centre has decided to appoint a group of interlocutors under the chairmanship of an eminent person to begin the process of "sustained dialogue" in Kashmir with political parties, groups, students, civil society and other stakeholders. But it would indeed be vital that the chairperson and the members be chosen with utmost care. The Central 'advice' to the State Government to release all students detained for stone-pelting and similar violations of law and to withdraw all charges against them is well-meaning and apt. But there must be a clear stipulation that a repeat offence would not be condoned. While magnanimity with one-time offenders is in order, the signal that goes out must not be one of weakness.


While a review of the deployment of security forces in the Kashmir valley by the Unified Command is in order, it is prudent that no assurance has been given on withdrawal or dilution of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. In the ultimate analysis, the proof of the pudding would lie in its eating. If this is not to be yet another failed initiative, concerted follow-up action is imperative.








AGREED that the various facilities should have been readied and tested a long time back. Also agreed that the poor shape of various flats and stadia has got India a lot of flak. But now that the Games are on us, it is time to relegate these shortcomings into side lanes. The Commonwealth Games are much larger than these hiccups and we should all focus on the bigger picture now. Once the grand sports spectacle begins, all eyes should be firmly on the epic battles for being faster, higher and greater. There can hardly be any bigger sports event than the Commonwealth Games, with the exception of the Olympics. Now that it is happening right here in apni Delhi, it is worthwhile to savour every moment.         


What must be borne in mind is that administrative slipups are not exactly unknown in other venues. It is just that we have tended to be more self-deprecating than others. That is not to ignore the snafus. But the point is that these should be finally put behind us. It is a rare occasion for Indians to witness the performance of some of the world's greatest sportsmen and they should not miss this golden chance. One hopes that the sale of tickets, which has been lukewarm so far, will gather steam as the D-day arrives.


For an extravaganza of this magnitude, resources of any city are bound to be stretched to the limits. Delhiites will do well to bear with traffic snarls and other such inevitable inconveniences for a few days. At the same time, those who have thought of "utilising" this opportunity to launch various protests should do a re-think. They should be taking pride in the fact that the country has taken up this huge task and must strive to make it a success, rather than becoming an impediment. Official lethargy has brought the country a bad name. Let the public salvage the situation to the extent possible.









THE Uttarakhand region has been reeling under the effect of the fury of the rains which have caused much devastation and the loss of a large number of lives. Many villages in the area have been damaged considerably by the cloudburst that took place in Almora, and to add to the misery of the inhabitants, much of the Almora highway has vanished, either buried under landslides, or swept away in the rains. Vehicular traffic has ground to a halt at many places. This is hampering the rescue efforts, and thus we have the sorry picture of vegetables, fruits and even loaves of bread that were being transported by trucks stuck on various patches of road, rotting. Human camaraderie in face of adversity has resulted in the stranded truck drivers distributing edibles to villagers, and being offered various goods in return.


Vulnerability to natural disasters is attributed to India's unique geo-climatic conditions, in which floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquakes and landslides have been recurrent phenomena. As much as 60 per cent of the landmass is prone to earthquakes of various intensities; over 40 million hectares is prone to floods. It is estimated that about 30 million Indians are affected by disasters every year. Thus, the acute need for a better, more focused response to various disasters.


While the Centre has announced Rs.500 crore in assistance to the flood-affected Uttarakhand, the basic responsibility of undertaking rescue, relief and rehabilitation measures after natural disasters is that of the state government. The situation on the ground is rapidly deteriorating as winter sets in and the people whose homes have been destroyed are left to fend for themselves, with whatever community support they get. Surely they deserve more; surely the administration can do much better.

















THE Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines the word 'schizophrenic' as that 'characterized by mutually contradictory or inconsistent elements' and 'schizophrenia' as 'withdrawal from reality into fantasy and delusion'. A person can be diagnosed as schizophrenic, but a State with all its institutions, military and political structures, its press and civil society? Or is it a case of smoke and mirrors? Pakistan has presented to the world several images, most of them contradictory and inconsistent, leading to apprehensions and reactions that are themselves often contradictory.


Let me at the outset offer a disclaimer: I am an outsider to the world of Pakistan watchers and commentators, dependent on reports in the media from Pakistan, India and the world. I am also a citizen of a neighbouring yet hostile country, but am unaffected by the hostility as I have no nostalgia for a country towards which reactions of my fellow citizens are complex and contradictory. It is in this spirit that I have dared to comment on what appears to me the possibility of a looming and seemingly intractable threat to the well-being of my country, its citizens and its ambitions and aspirations.


Recently, the Pakistani press reported that Pakistani Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh had said that his country was on the verge of 'bankruptcy', that it might not be possible for the State to pay salaries to its employees next month. In any other country, this would have been headline news, and there would have been widespread alarm. However, this was Pakistan, and the news was reported in a newspaper as an almost routine statement.


That Pakistan is facing a multitude of challenges cannot be denied: home-grown terrorism, the involvement of the country in the Af-Pak war, the floods and, of course, the stuttering economy. For a nascent democracy the challenges are indeed formidable. Add to this witches' cauldron the separate and ambiguous role of the military, which after several decades in power, appears to retain an existence distinct from the State, and its severe paranoia about India, the desire not only for political and military parity with India, a State several times its size, but also a desire, as pointed out by Ahmed Rashid, a well-known Pakistani writer and journalist, to be recognised as a regional power. This is where the smoke begins to appear — a bankrupt regional power? Is it conceivable? Apparently it is, if the country is Pakistan. And, more stunningly, this appears to be accepted by many in the world.


Several months earlier, there was a concerted outcry that Pakistan was failing as a State and that this would lead to chaos not only in the State itself with its terrorist groups and nuclear weapons, but also in the region, indeed, in the world as a whole. This was at the time that the US, in a rabbit-in-the headlights situation in its messy war in Afghanistan, was seeking to pass a bill in its Congress transferring huge amounts of money to Pakistan, both to the economy and the military, in the forlorn hope that this would make the Pakistanis more friendly to them and more willing to back-stop them in Afghanistan. Stephen Cohen, an American scholar who has tried perhaps the hardest to understand Pakistan, has memorably likened that State to a man who holds a gun to his own head if he is not helped — with money, arms and other forms of support. Pakistan did not fail, of course, and not because millions of dollars had been poured in by the US and Pakistan's other allies. And it did not make the US any more popular in Pakistan nor did the Pakistani army substantially support the flailing US efforts in Afghanistan. Here is where the mirrors come in.


The Pakistanis, after much talk of sovereignty and national pride etc, accepted the US largesse; much of the money went to the Pakistani army to bolster its support for the US troops in Afghanistan, who were fighting the Taliban and al Qaida, who used bases in Pakistan to launch their sallies against the US troops and who were supported by the Pakistani army, which had been paid by the US to help it fight the…the mirror-effect is dizzying. Add to this that the US sees the Pakistani army as a part of the solution of the war in Afghanistan, and possibly in post-NATO withdrawal Afghanistan as well.


Yet it would seem that the US is fighting a proxy war with that very Army. The US munificence could not possibly be funding the entire army and its operations and the country, the Pakistani Finance Minister has said, is about to face bankruptcy. So where is the Pakistani army getting its resources from? It has received promises of a soft loan of about US $250 million from the Chinese for two nuclear reactors and is in the process of purchasing from its all-weather friend other military hardware such as high-altitude anti- ballistic missile systems. According to a Pakistani defence analyst, the Chinese HQ-9/ 2000 is being considered "as no other supplier will sell these types of missiles to Pakistan." Yet the Pakistani Ambassador to the US is "imploring" the world to help Pakistan deal with the very real catastrophe of floods and Pakistan's President is asking the international financial institutions to write off the country's outstanding debt. The missiles could not be for free, or could they?


Trying to look through the smoke and mirrors, one can only conclude that there are two States — one a poor developing country, a nascent democracy, trying to cope with floods, terrorism and violence which claims victims almost every other day, stunned by the immensity of its problems and its fragile economy and reportedly believing that friendly relations with India can only help its development and prosperity, and the other, a well-funded army with regional, if not global, ambitions and an agenda that includes a visceral hatred of India and does not appear to take the problems facing the first as its own. To be fair, they have been helping with floods, but almost like a foreign entity. Relief material delivered by the army is marked "Gift of the Army/Corps Commander".


Should this be of concern to us? I am one of those who support the Prime Minister's belief that we have to engage with Pakistan in our own interest. But which Pakistan?








I remember a play, in Hindustani, that Balwant Gargi presented for a small audience at the studio-theatre of Panjab University's theatre department that he was heading at that point in time in late sixties.


The story of the play, set in the late medieval period and adapted perhaps from some Greek tragedy, was about a European traveller who was crossing a desert on a camel along with his lone black slave and guide. At some resting place the slave goes behind a small bush to have a sip of water from his water bottle, that he had hidden from his master.


The master, mistrusting his attendant, mistakes the water bottle to be a stone which he thought the slave has picked to hit him and loot his belongings. As an immediate reflex action to defend him, the master picks up his gun and shoots the slave dead.


The story ends here showing a frightened and shouting-in-distress traveller. For, he being an alien to the safe passages to cross the desert, would also die due to his folly of killing his route guide that was the outcome of his unfounded fear and distrust.


Both fear and mistrust, perhaps, are at the root cause of most of the human problems. Not so strangely, most of the religious ritualistic beliefs that one follows rather blindly also relate directly or indirectly to these two synergic symptoms: fear and mistrust.


Perhaps the fear of losing one's one or the other materialistic or psychological holding makes one suspicious and distrusting towards one and all, including one's own religious faith.


One's seemingly frustrating religious wanderings, having lost faith in a single religious icon or entity, from one place of worship to another to ward off their fears explicitly explain this popular phenomenon.


In fact, if closely observed, it is not one's mistrust upon other people or faiths alone. In actuality one loses, in this mad materialistic rat race, one's trust upon one's own self!


For instance, one of my close religious-minded acquaintances, who though has kept the holy book of her religious faith in a specially created nice and comfy room at her residence, walks down every day, without fail, to one particular temple in the morning and to another one in the evening to pray and bow before the same sacred book!


And on special occasions she travels long distances to special places of worship for the same very reason. This dutiful looking behaviour towards her religious convictions, in fact, shows not only her flickering faith in the actual holy book, but also in herself.


Following faithfully what is written in the sacred text appears to be none of her concerns, though the crux of these full of wisdom writings clearly teaches the concept of having faith only in one formless God and fearing none.


But I must make it clear that she is not a rarity. In fact, a majority of us belong to this widely increasing creed of unsure believers; and the ever-rising mad number of people at various religious sanctuaries speaks for itself.


In one of his essays, "What I believe", E.M. Forster very aptly illustrates the fatal fallouts of general mistrust:


"For instance, the man who is selling newspapers outside the houses of Parliament can safely leave his papers to go for a drink and his cap besides them; anyone who takes a paper is sure to drop a copper into the cap. But the men who are inside the houses of Parliament - they cannot trust one another like that, still less can the government they compose trust other governments. No caps on the pavement here, but suspicion, treachery and armaments."








THIS year marks the 103rd birth anniversary of one of the greatest Indian revolutionary-martyr, Shaheed Bhagat Singh. Born on September 28, 1907, Bhagat Singh was a mere 23-year-old young man when he was judicially murdered on March 23, 1931, by the British.


Although his life was plucked so early, during the short period of time he lived, he became a cult figure, who literally aroused devotion on the part of the Indian youth and the wider downtrodden masses. To no small extent was the "phenomenon of Bhagat Singh" to borrow Nehru's apt description, due to this remarkable young man's spotlessly clean life, his lofty ideals, his passionate commitment to the cause of Indian freedom, his devotion to secularism and uncompromising hostility towards religious fundamentalism, his hatred of narrow nationalism and his dauntless courage, unwavering fortitude and a self-sacrificing heroism that defies belief in the pursuit of the ideals to which he had devoted his life.


By all accounts, Bhagat Singh was of a scholarly bent of mind and a deep thinker who understood the power of ideas. "The sword of revolution", he told the judges trying him, "is sharpened at the whetstone of thought". On being asked as to what set him apart from other revolutionaries, Shiv Verma, a fellow revolutionary and a close comrade-in-arms, replied thus: "I can tell you that in just one sentence: Bhagat Singh was our undisputed ideological leader. I do not remember a single moment when Bhagat Singh did not have a book in his pocket. The other virtues of Bhagat Singh like tremendous courage and so on were there in the other revolutionaries amongst us also. But his uniqueness lay in his great studiousness. The degree of clarity and integrity that he had about the aims of our movement was not there in any of us at that time".


It was to the ideals of freedom of the Indian masses that he had committed himself while still in his teens. In 1924, learning that his father was insistent upon marrying him, Bhagat Singh left for Kanpur, leaving behind a letter addressed to his father. In this letter, he explained that he had no time for a peaceful married life, devoted as had become to the cause of liberation of the Indian masses. His father had tried to put pressure on him by alluding to the desire of his grandmother to see Bhagat Singh married. Bhagat Singh countered his father's plea with the following unanswerable remark:


"You are caring for Dadi, but in how much trouble is our mother of 33 crores, theBharat Mata. We shall have to sacrifice everything for her sake."


It was in the pursuit of the self-same ideals that Bhagat Singh along with Sukhdev, B.C.Vohra and Ram Krishan, formed the Naujawan Sabha in March, 1926, played a leading role in the formation of the Hindustani Socialist Republican Association in September 1928; took part along with Sukhdev, Rajguru and Chandrashekhar Azad, in the killing of the British Police Officer, J.P. Saunders on December 17, 1928, and on April 8, 1929, he and Butukeshwar Dutt threw two bombs in the Central Assembly Hall.


In the Second Lahore Conspirary case, which lasted from July 10, 1929 to October 7, 1930, Bhagat Singh and his fellow accused formed, as had been their intention all along, the court room into an arena for trying the crimes of British imperialism against the Indian people, for propagating their revolutionary programme and rousing the Indian masses to revolt against the alien rulers who had so abused their subjects.


The verdict was a forgone conclusion with Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev receiving the death sentence, while seven others were transported for life and the remaining two were given prison sentences of seven and five years.


Meanwhile, as the judgment day neared, unable to contain his paternal feelings, Bhagat Singh's father, Kishen Singh, petitioned the Tribunal in a last desperate effort to save his son's life. On hearing of his father's petition, Bhagat Singh was incandescent with rage and wrote to his father a remonstrative letter, which brings out clearly Bhagat Singh's exacting standards of conduct — standards which he followed and expected others, including those he dearly loved and respected, to abide by. Bhagat Singh's letter, published in full by The Tribune on October 4, just three days before the Tribunal's judgment, reflects not only his legendary courage, fidelity to principle and indomitable spirit of self-sacrifice but also the deeply-felt injury to his feelings inflicted on him by the father that he loved and respected. This is what, inter alia, Bhagat Singh wrote to his father on this occasion (the original written in Urdu is translated here):


"My dear father,


I was astounded to learn that you had submitted a petition to the members of the Special Tribunal in connection with my defense. This intelligence proved to be too severe a blow to be borne with equanimity. It has upset the whole equilibrium of my mind. I have not been able to understand how you could think it proper to submit such a petition at this stage and in these circumstances. In spite of all the sentiments and feelings of a father, I don't think you were at all entitled to make such a move on my behalf without even consulting me.


Father, I am quite perplexed. I fear I might overlook the ordinary principle of etiquette and my language may become a little but harsh while criticising or censoring this move on your part. Let me be candid. I feel as though I have been stabbed in the back. Had any other person done it, I would have considered it to be nothing short of treachery. But in your case let me say that it has been a weakness.


This was the time when everybody's mettle was being tested. Let me say, father, you have failed. I know you are as sincere a patriot as one can be. I know you have devoted your life to the cause of Indian independence, but why, at this moment, have you displayed such a weakness? I cannot understand."


On the evening of March 23, 1931, with the shouts of 'Inquilab Zindabad' and 'Down with Imperialism', the

three great revolutionaries forced the hangman's noose. They were hanged while singing the following couplet, which has become a symbol of the revolutionary immortality of Bhagat Singh and his comrades:


Dil se niklegi na markar bhi watan ki ulfat,

Meri mitti se bhi khushboo-e-watan aaegi.


(Love for the motherland will not leave my heart even after death,


Its fragrance will still be there in my dusty remains.)


While we freed ourselves from the alien rule about 63 years ago after bearing the merciless physical pain and agony of unrelenting batons and well aimed bullets, our country continues to flounder on the edge of economic despair.


The fire of nationhood actuated Shaheed Bhagat Singh and so many other patriots of the same genre who left their smiling children, beautiful wives, green fields and happy homes so that the people of India could live a life of honor and dignity — a cultured and prosperous life. But the dreams of Shaheed Bhagat Singh and those patriots remain unfulfilled.


Why has India deviated from the objectives of her freedom movement? Political freedom for our citizens is beyond the pale of the present if we proceed within the present structures at the present pace. Foremost amongst the obstacles are the lack of educational opportunities and the availability of even basic health care.


Around 300 million people live on less than Rs 25 a day. Every other child is malnourished in our country. But even more than these, at the level of basic existence, access to potable water, inadequate sewage facility, crucial shortage of decent housing and electricity remain but a dream.


As a policy maker, I pause here to focus upon the proud martial tradition of Punjab, which has had the privilege of guarding the borders of India's ancient and refined civilisation for thousands of years. It was with excruciating anguish and searing pain that last time when I visited the Sainik School, Kapurthala, I was told that recruitment from Punjab to the armed forces in the officers' cadre was coming down. I was told that no one was willing to join the armed forces to defend the motherland to carry forth the tradition to lead a life of honour, discipline and noble purpose.


I ask the young people of India on Shaheed-e-Azam's birthday: does the younger generation truly prefer the life of an executive of a multinational company? Is earning money the only imperative of higher thought and honourable living? If the glitter of gold and the clatter of silver were the only criteria, then, there would never have been a Bhagat Singh.


The war is not merely against the enemy without but the enemy within and I hope some of us will devote part of our lives and one day turn the tide in favour of the starving millions of this great country.


]Today is the day to make the pledge in all our hearts that while we have life and strength, we will fight the forces which have kept India poor and backward, i.e. corruption, communalism, lack of access to education, lack of opportunities, etc. I ask the young people that as we prepare to take forward our individual destinies, it is also time to move on the destiny of India and change it forever.


It is not an easy task to learn to give back to society from which one has always taken so far. This would require a deep sense of honour and courage. Let us remember what the great Shaheed wrote to his brother Kultar in his last letter from Lahore Central Jail in 1931:


Daher (duniya) se kyon khaffa rahen


Charakh (ruler of the sky) se kyon gila karen


Sara jahan Addu Sahi (dushman)


Aao mukaabla karen


(Why should we remain annoyed with the world? Why should we complain against the God (ruler of skies)? Let us face stoically the opposing world.


Today, while marking the 103rd birth anniversary of this great son of India, the people of India, especially its youth, must vow to carry forward the revolutionary teachings of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. This is the only way to honour them. There is no more fitting tribute that can be paid to them — And no more appropriate monument to commemorate them.








It's easy to send a funny SMS about the Commonwealth Games – the falling ceiling, the corrupt officials, the snake in the tennis stadium; there's one about everything. But before pressing the send button, have you stopped to think who the joke is really on? 


Is it on the builders for forgetting to clean the Village, on Suresh Kalmadi and his sidekicks for forgetting they had an event to put together, on the myth that India is now a superpower with its own currency symbol and its Olympic gold medallist? Or is the joke on us? You and me – who never cared about Indian sport until now; who are feeling humiliated because someone is doing his job exactly as inefficiently as we've allowed him to do for two decades; who're ashamed that the blatant corruption symptomatic of our system has been exposed in front of the entire world. Or, at least, in front of the 54 countries of the world that still believe in the archaic Commonwealth of Nations. 


I was there when Kalmadi had held the first celebratory media event after India was awarded the Games in 2003. It was a strange afternoon in a Delhi hotel – gloating faces, boring video presentations, beer flowing despite the hour, and loud conversations about how the deal had been done with X country who had earlier pledged its support to Y. But in the middle of all that typical babu tackiness, there was also a sense of achievement, hope, and anticipation. If you dug deeper, there were lofty dreams of the Asiad in 2014 and the Olympics in 2020. 


Of course, everyone knew pots of money would be made on the pretext of the Games, and on the evidence of that afternoon, that the end result would perhaps fall short on the class quotient. No one, however, knew things would literally fall apart. 


But if someone told me to go back in time and change one thing in the run up to these meaningless Games that the real sporting world doesn't care about anyway, I'd start with altering my own attitude. 

For years, the same administrators who are in the dock now have treated Indian sport like their fiefdom and sportsmen like second-class citizens. They've paid them $10 allowances on foreign tours, made them sleep five-toa-room in cheap lodges, and sacked them on a whim if they dared ask for more. They've not bothered to construct stadiums or build proper training academies, they've clung on to their posts for far longer than stipulated, and stolen money so blatantly that no books, no matter how well they're doctored, can conceal their wrongdoing if anybody bothers to look closely. 


We were all aware of this, but no one raised a voice. Where were the text messages when international-level sportsmen were asked to live in train compartments instead of hotel rooms during a training camp? Why were the TV anchors, who're now shouting each other down, silent when injured athletes were denied government funds until they gave a cut to the federation? Why did a mass movement – in newspapers, on sms, on Facebook – not begin then? Why didn't we demanding sackings, inquiries, investigations? 


Since others are watching, the great Indian fear has kicked in: "Log kya kahenge." But what about self-respect? Is it okay to hang our heads in shame because India has become a laughing stock in front of the world, but not feel any embarrassment about constant corruption and apathy? 


What we're seeing now is a collective failure of the government, the media, the fans, and all those proud New Indians who're feeling disgraced. The run-up to Delhi 2010 not only exposes the officials who're in the dock, it's also a telling commentary on us as a people.


Army personnel repairing the foot overbridge outside Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium





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One positive outcome of all the negative media that the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in New Delhi has got could well be an honest re-examination of the relevance of such mega events for the promotion of sports talent in India. India's record in athletics and other sports, barring cricket and tennis, is by and large abysmal. The country needs a wider and deeper base of talent, and much better infrastructure as well as better professional recognition of sporting talent before it takes on further obligations to host such mega events. As in so many other sectors, the focus in India even in sports has been on infrastructure rather than people. More money is spent on buildings than on the talent that must inhabit them. This is as true for universities and educational institutions as it is for sports facilities. While thousands of crores are spent on roads, buildings and security, the investment in human resources is always the last thing on the mind of those who craft budgets for such events. It is not at all clear why the taxpayer should have forked out so much money for a Games village or a sporting arena, or indeed for a fancy media centre, when the benefits of such expenditure may never reach her? Why couldn't a large campus of an existing institution, with hostel and other facilities, have been taken over as the Games village?


More than the games themselves, it is the entertainment part that seems to be sucking in dollops of money. Rs 40 crore spent on a hot air balloon! Rs 5 crore paid out for a theme song! India's political leadership appear like later-day Mughals, throwing money at fancy stuff, without paying attention to the basics. A more economical but efficient way of handling such events must be thought of before more commitments are made to host such events in the future. It is also worth pondering over why India put up a much better show hosting the World Military Games in 2007 in Hyderabad, in which 5,000 athletes from 101 countries participated. The event covered 14 sports over a week. Part of the reason why that event did not attract the kind of flak that the CWG has may have to do with the fact that it was the armed forces that did most of the organisational work, and with the event being in Hyderabad, the Delhi-based and Delhi-centric media may not have paid much attention to all the glitches. The other part of the reason could well be that the Military Games did not spend such money on infrastructure as Delhi did on CWG. So, there is an alternative Indian model of hosting a mega global event of this sort in a more acceptable way. The bottom line about the Delhi CWG is that if some part of this extravaganza was about building "brand India", then the event has already failed. India will have to recoup its lost shine and start all over again to get the world to take it seriously as a modern, efficient economy.








A bilateral comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) with Japan has reportedly been finalised so that it can be signed when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Japan next month. This comes in the wake of similar agreements with South Korea and Asean last year, in the footsteps of a path-breaking agreement with Singapore in 2007. A thrust in this regard, particularly looking east, has come because of the personal initiative that the prime minister has taken through Commerce Minister Anand Sharma. Bilateral and regional agreements have gained in importance even as prospects of a successful completion of the multilateral Doha round have receded and India appears to be doing none too badly by vigorously pursuing this alternative route. For example, the agreement with Japan has reportedly been sewed up without giving in on government procurement and intellectual property. An agreement with Japan is important as access to the Japanese market for Indian manufacturers remains difficult. Easing on that score will mean good news not just for Indian pharmaceuticals but textiles too. What may have hastened the process is the increasing attractiveness of the Indian market, with its high growth and burgeoning demand, for Japan whose domestic market is stagnating. It is important to remember that successful bilaterals on trade in goods are first steps. They need to be followed up with agreements on trade in services in which India has a competitive advantage. Regimes that unfold over time should make it easy for knowledge professionals to move and work freely as part of service delivery. India's trade interlocutors, for their part, will be looking for agreement on investments. While Japanese investment will bring with it advanced technology which will be highly useful to India, Japan with its aging population should be able to look to India for a steady stream of future earnings.


There is another reason for welcoming these agreements which goes beyond the immediate focus on more trade. The government is seeking to use these agreements to get Indian business to agree to lower import tariffs. While earlier opposition had often turned into a political issue, in recent exercises, the government appears to have been able to secure the consent of domestic interests by involving industry bodies very early in the negotiating process. This has helped direct focus on what really matters and prepare better for change by being able to see what is coming. There is some urgency in the matter right now as India is poised to take the next step — emerge as a factory for global export of goods that need intensive input of higher skills like, say, higher-end machine tools. While this has happened partially in the case of a Ford or a Hyundai, it is necessary to take it further by enabling components to be imported at nominal or zero duty. Sony had at one stage taken TV assembly back to Thailand which is even now the preferred assembly location of Japanese car companies for global exports. Indian business has come a long way but should not, at this stage, be seen to be standing in the way of India becoming an export hub.








The largest e-commerce company in the Asia-Pacific, including Japan, is an Indian one. This first rank is on the basis of number of transactions, not value. But even in value terms, it is pretty big. Its projected e-commerce turnover this financial year is about Rs 9,000 crore. It handles close to half a million transactions daily. It has won several awards, including the best e-governance site, and is a Mini-Ratna public sector company. It is a young company born in 1999. Heck, it is also responsible for delivering one million hot meals daily. Yes, this company is the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), a public sector enterprise under the Ministry of Railways. The point is not to compare IRCTC with Amazon or Ebay. After all, its net profit is merely Rs 50 crore, a fraction of those American giants. But the big point to note is that unlike them, roughly half of IRCTC's end customers are unbanked. They neither have credit nor debit cards, they do not have a bank account, nor do they have internet access from home. That is the most remarkable feature of this Indian e-commerce company. In a way, at least in terms of providing a payment solution, this company has done tremendously well as far as financial inclusion is concerned. Fifteen per cent of IRCTC ticketing is through what may be described as "scratch cards" which are sold in retail kiosks — a method also pioneered by MTNL in the old days of providing long distance trunk dialling access to pay-as-you-go customers.


So, based on its payment solution outreach performance, should IRCTC be a candidate to become a bank? This question may sound senseless and provocative, but it is deliberate. There is talk of awarding new banking licences, and those licences may be given largely on the basis of potential for financial inclusion. These days, it is impossible to encounter a sentence about financial inclusion which does not contain the word telecom. With India's stupendous growth in telephony, and with the promise of a magical combination of technology and reach, it has become tempting to equate telecom with banking. In the coming years, that promise might very well translate into a tangible reality, with mobile banking becoming mainstream. But for now, it is important to distinguish between a payment outreach and the spread of banking.


Long before telephony spread to the remote corners of the country, consumer goods companies like Hindustan Lever had touched the people in remote villages. The achievement of FMCG companies as also that of modern telephony reflects the genius of a distribution model. To be able to sell products in sachet sizes (whether shampoo or talk-time) in millions of small units and recover those small payments all the way back to the head office is a victory of business model innovation. Think of the complex and widespread ecosystem of wholesalers, distributors and retail outlets working together smoothly. In telephony, unlike in FMCG, the payments are actually advance payments, since the service is "consumed" over the next two months or longer. This pretty much describes India's telephony, since 90 per cent is pre-paid business. This might also be true across most emerging market economies. A consumer just buys a SIM card (or top-up) like toothpaste or soap, and walks away. The fact that telecom consumers are willing to pay in advance (that's why it is called pre-paid) means that there is a trusting relationship with the telecom company. But even then the comparison with the FMCG business model is not inappropriate. Hence, once a transaction is done, i.e. payment received and services rendered, the telecom company need not have any continued relationship with the customer. Of course, in this era of stiff competition, the fear of churn and the arrival of the dreaded number portability, the relationship with the customer needs to be enduring, whether pre-paid or post-paid. Hence the need for developing a trustworthy brand. A banking relationship is entirely different. It is based on trust. It is about accepting deposits and savings, and providing credit. Banks create credit based on deposits received from trusting depositors. The depositors can withdraw at will, but recalling the credit (loans) is not possible at short notice. Credit creation far exceeds the ready reserves available with the bank at any time. If the trust and confidence break down, then depositors might all at once rush to withdraw, causing the bank to fail. Mere panic or rumours can bring down a bank. A bank run causes widespread systemic damage far beyond individual customers. That is why banks have to subject themselves to rigorous regulation and supervision, and pass several litmus tests. These tests are getting tougher in the wake of the financial crisis, and new Basel norms will make banks behave even more conservatively. Even their credit-creation capacity will be capped.


So, to expect banking services to spread as rapidly as telecom is inappropriate for two reasons. First, because they are more dissimilar than popularly portrayed. One is largely FMCG business, while the other is about building long-lasting relationships. And secondly, soundness and stability call for greater caution in rapid spread of banking services. Other concerns like money-laundering and terrorist-funding make it even more difficult. Telecom may be great for payments, remittances and fund transfers, but all this will still require an old-fashioned bank to be in the loop. The KYC (know your customer) check of banks is usually stronger than that of telecom (e.g. the Jama Masjid bomber's SIM card turned out to have a fake name and address). The challenge of financial inclusion will require joint efforts of banking and telecom, just like computerisation of two decades ago. Incidentally, it was computerisation of railway ticketing which led to the eventual birth of IRCTC.


Financial inclusion is a massive challenge for India. Its inadequacy, on a macro level, deprives us of half of our national savings, which do not get intermediated through the financial system. On a micro level, it deprives millions of people of basic things like savings, credit, insurance and pension. In the past five years, we have tried innovations like no-frills bank accounts and enabling banking correspondents to work as appendages to bank branches. But we have made no dent in the larger problem. The introduction of Adhaar universal ID will help. But doorstep banking and last-mile delivery to the remotest village is a bridge still too far. A phone call will not help.


The author is chief economist, Aditya Birla Group. The views expressed are personal











Try this. In a room full of senior managers from media companies, ask why there isn't enough young talent coming into the media and entertainment (M&E) business. Then watch the fun.


 Newspaper editors will talk of the struggle of finding someone who writes a decent paragraph. TV editors will pull their hair out at the thought of dealing with dolts who can't spell — the bloomers on the tickers of most TV channels show that. Marketing heads will crib about how candidates lack numeric literacy or presence of mind.


What is the issue? Are the wrong kind of students taking up media as a profession? Are mass communication courses badly structured or have poor faculty? Or is it because media pays badly at starting levels.


Those may be some of the reasons but they do not fully explain the lack of good people at starting levels in this business.


In 10 years of tracking this industry, I have taught at MICA (Ahmedabad) for three years, at XIC (Mumbai) for two and have interacted with hundreds of students for some reason or the other.


Sometimes I am pleasantly shocked at how good they are. My first two batches at MICA were outstanding. They asked tough questions, made me think about things and forced me to work harder for teaching them. Not surprisingly, almost all of them are doing very well within the M&E industry.


However, the last batch I taught at MICA almost brought me to tears. The students had no interest in the subject and no aptitude for figuring it out. That happened again at a workshop in a university down south. Funnily enough, the students doing their PhD in media-related areas in the same university were uniformly good.


That just tells you that it isn't just the basic quality of the students — that is a mixed bag, just like it would be in any other discipline.


Maybe one of the reasons — and all my friends in academia are going to hate me for saying this — is that there is too much leftist baggage in media education. A mix of ideologies is always good because it exposes you to the variety that you will see in real life. But in media education there is no variety — everything private and for-profit is bad, and everything not-for-profit and developmental is good. This breeds a judgmental, subjective approach to work, instead of an objective, enthusiastic one.


For instance, irrespective of where I have been to teach, most students have no idea about basic things such as, how big this industry is, what are the key components, which are the top companies. They all think films are the biggest business in India, that foreigners are taking over Indian media and that all media companies are becoming monopolies.


In many cases, these are opinions they hold after more than a year of media education. It is very difficult for them to grasp that media is a small, insignificant part of India's GDP. That the entire media industry is just two times the size of, say, the largest telecom company in India or that news channel is really a small business.


As a result, at the end of two years of media education, all they have is a sneery attitude toward popular mass media and entertainment. Almost 70 per cent of the students will say they want to make documentaries or get into developmental media. However, this not-for-profit field cannot accommodate so many students.


Not surprisingly, by the time they pass out, most are forced to opt for mass media options in metros. That is where the jobs are. But these students are ill-equipped — skill-wise, attitude-wise and knowledge-wise — to deal with the hyper-competitive world of television, films or newspaper publishing.


Many institutes, such as MICA, try to bring in more perspective by getting people from the industry. But because the industry itself is not evolved enough, the discipline too is not like, say, medicine or engineering. So the books, the pedagogy, almost everything is ad hoc and depends on whether you land a good professor or school.


It will be many years before the trial and error ends to produce a basic quality of media practitioners, a la medical practitioners. 









Jyoti Basu would grumble, but never deviate from the protocol expected of him. As chief minister of West Bengal for well over two decades, Basu had to deal with several prime ministers belonging to different political parties and alliances — the Congress, the National Front, the United Front and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Basu was a towering national leader and senior to all the prime ministers who ruled at the Centre while he ran the West Bengal government from Writers' Buildings. Politically also, Basu belonged to the Left, while all the prime ministers he had to deal with belonged to the other end of the spectrum, and with many of them his relations were less than cordial.


 Yet, protocol demanded that whenever the prime minister visited West Bengal or its capital city, Kolkata, the chief minister must call on the head of the central government. Basu or even his successor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, never failed to honour that protocol even though they may not have enjoyed such formal meetings.


In sharp contrast, Mamata Banerjee, minister for railways in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, has little regard for such protocol. She has let her personal preferences influence her conduct even as a minister. Thus, she would visit the ailing Jyoti Basu, but would not think twice before disregarding members of the West Bengal government who may have been present at Basu's residence at that time.


She makes no secret of her dislike for the current chief minister of West Bengal. That is understandable since her politics is entirely dependent on generating hatred and antipathy towards the Left in West Bengal. This, however, does not explain why she should not honour protocol as a central minister. If the Indian Railways and the West Bengal government are involved in a railway project in the state, the chief minister of West Bengal and the Union railway minister should ideally be present at a function to mark its inauguration.


For Mamata Banerjee, however, the presence of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is not a requirement. So, she held the function without the chief minister. Is that a breach of protocol? Purists may debate this, but the railway minister cannot take her personal animosity with the Left to a level where the aggrieved chief minister of West Bengal can legitimately make this a Centre-state issue.


Interestingly, the same function, to which the West Bengal chief minister was not invited, had Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as one of the guests on the dais. Did Mukherjee's presence signify that Banerjee's conduct had tacit endorsement from the Congress leadership at the Centre? Not really, for Mukherjee made amends later by making it known to everybody that he would be attending another function where he would be sharing the dais with the West Bengal chief minister. It is a different matter that this function did not take place, but Mukherjee was clearly trying to make a point.


Why only blame Mamata Banerjee or Pranab Mukherjee for turning a blind eye to such ministerial impropriety? The minister of sports, M S Gill, did not cover himself with glory when his actions resulted in public humiliation for a former wrestling champion and a senior government official. This is when Gill wanted to be photographed only with Sushil Kumar, after the young wrestler won the gold medal at a world championship. The champion wrestler's coach, Satpal Singh, happened to be in the frame when Gill and Sushil Kumar were to be photographed. So, Singh was pushed out of the frame and the entire wrestling community was scandalised. The minister remained unmoved.


There are many more such instances. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had set up a group of ministers, headed by Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy, to oversee the smooth implementation of projects for the Commonwealth Games. Last week, Reddy decided almost unilaterally that his task was over and the group would cease to hold its meetings, even as problems over the execution of various projects for the Games continued to embarrass the government. Why did Reddy decide to announce the completion of his task when the nation and certainly the prime minister, to whom he reports, thought otherwise?


The problem is not just of incompetence or indifference to honouring conventions and ministerial protocol. Ministers under the UPA government have been allowed to give precedence to their personal or political priorities over those that arise out of their role and responsibility as central ministers. A central minister is also a member of a political group. In a coalition, the minister may not even belong to the majority group that leads the government. It is the prime minister's job to make sure that ministers belonging to different political groups and his own party do not follow their own agenda while neglecting their ministerial responsibilities. It is this failure that has let these ministers go scot free even after flouting ministerial propriety.







Franco Moretti, creator of The Atlas of the European Novel, was a man obsessed by the idea that the geography of reading and literature could be, literally, mapped. His theories led him to examine the spread of Cervantes in translation, the overlapping neighbourhoods occupied by characters in the novels of Dickens and Thackeray, and much more.


This year, thanks to the establishment of a new prize, the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, I had a chance to consider what an Atlas of the Asian Novel might look like. Being on the jury of any literary prize is a little like being a champion dog-tosser or rock-paper-scissors player: the skills involved may be useful, but they are of limited application. There are few careers where the "ability to read and remember plots of twenty 300-page-plus novels, also names of minor characters" is likely to come in useful. It was also humbling to consider that even in this sphere, my fellow jurors — Moni Mohsin, Pakistani novelist and journalist, Ian Jack, former editor of Granta,Lord Matthew Evans, former chairman of Faber & Faber and Amitava Kumar, writer, teacher and critic — were all far more qualified than myself.


 We had about 50 novels to read and consider over summer, far less than the Booker's daunting 140-odd. It was

the DSC Prize's unusual mandate that made the reading list of interest. The DSC backs the Jaipur Literature Festival, and the prize is the brainchild of their director Manhad Narula, who stipulated that it should be for an Asian novel — defined by content, not by the nationality or ethnicity of the author.


Other major literary prizes — France's Prix Goncourt, the US Pulitzer, the Booker — are bound by some idea of nationality (the Booker is open to members of the Commonwealth) or by language, as in the case of the Cervantes Prize for Spanish writing. To define "South Asianness", in whatever way, as the eligibility criteria is like creating a prize for the "American novel" or "European fiction". These are instantly recognisable categories, but perhaps not that easy to define.

What would an Atlas of South Asian literature contain? Far fewer stereotypes than we might expect; and once you get away from the nationality criteria, it's clear that the Asian novel is being written across at least four continents. There were three-generation family sagas, inevitably; but there was a strong engagement with history, often with its shorter, forgotten chapters, and there was a sense of confidence, especially among the younger writers. We were reading translations alongside works written originally in English, and that felt right too, as we surfed works in Malayalam, Tamil, Bengali and Hindi, often "hearing" the original languages behind the translations.

There were a few rough patches, as with any new prize. A minor oversight in the rules led to far more books published in 2009 than in 2010 being entered; there was some confusion over eligible dates of publication; and we read one novel with great enthusiasm before realising that it was not actually set in South Asia. Some excellent novels by Asian writers, including Rana Dasgupta's Solo, were not eligible because they had nothing Asian about them, in terms of content and character. But these were relatively small glitches, and most of them should be ironed out in the 2012 edition of the prize.

What was illuminating was the Atlas of South Asian literature that emerged. The Indians and the Pakistanis, as expected, dominated, but the "Asian novel" came from all across the world — the longlist has writers from Canada, the US and Sri Lanka as well as the rest of the subcontinent. Bangladesh, recently robust, missed the bus this year, with no entries; Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar were absent, reflecting the absence of a publishing industry in those countries. Though relatively few translations were entered, two made it on to the longlist, and more should in the years to come; judging works in translation on a par with works in English felt right, because that's the way readers will read them in the final analysis.

The questions ahead for the DSC Prize are fascinating: just how much or little Asian "content" does a book need to have to qualify, for instance? Would the insertion of one character of Asian origin do, or would you need much more than that? Could we theoretically have a shortlist of South Asian novels written by non-Asian writers, or a shortlist of South Asian novels in languages other than English? (Yes, very theoretically.) Is there really such a thing as South Asian fiction? (Yes, but don't push me on how to define the beast.) And most of all, will the prize work for readers? I hope so, but the jury's still out on that one.


The DSC longlisted authors: Upamanyu Chatterjee, Amit Chaudhuri, Chandrahas Choudhury, Musharraf Ali Farooqui, Ru Freeman, Anjum Hassan, Tania James, Manju Kapur, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Neel Mukherjee, H M Naqvi, Salma, Sankar, Ali Sethi, Jaspreet Singh and Aatish Taseer. (The shortlist will be announced in London on October 25.)









THE RBI's reported directive to state governments not to give new businesses to private sector banks demonstrates, once again, the pitfalls in using banks to fulfil the government's social mandate. The RBI has not spelt out its reasons, but it is a fair surmise that the move responds to the private banks' lack of enthusiasm for meeting various social obligations imposed on banks by the government. Government ownership places on public sector banks burdens such as participating in schemes like the farm-loan waiver, opening branches in unviable far-flung areas, etc. In the past, banks could enjoy the free float from government funds and that, to some extent, offset the extra costs. However, with electronic transfers, even that advantage has gone. In such a scenario, the present move is, perhaps, the RBI's attempt to level the playing field for them with their private sector counterparts. If so, it only compounds the folly of treating banks as anything other than commercial entities engaged in taking deposits from the public, repayable on demand, to meet the demand for capital. Rather than ask public sector banks to subsidise social obligations, the government should give them a free hand and then meet any shortfall from the budget. 


Alternatively, it could take a leaf from the telecom book. All telecom operators contribute to a Universal Service Obligation Fund, which is then used to subsidise operations that are socially necessary but commercially unviable. Similarly, all banks could contribute to a Fund whose corpus could be used to subsidise unviable banking operations. As for the mandate for managing government business, whether of the Centre or the states, it must be given to whichever bank gives the best service at the most competitive (read, least) cost. Anything less would mean hurting the taxpayer twice over; once by using a less efficient instrument (banks) to achieve socio-economic goals and then by not using the most competitive bank to handle government business. Fewer, not more, distortions are the way forward.







THERE is more vocal criticism of the government's policies from within the ruling Congress party than there is from the Opposition. Such dissent is widely seen as a challenge to the party and the government, violation of party discipline or maverick bellicosity. There is no reason to label voices of dissent as any such thing. Rather, it would be more constructive to see these opposing voices as democracy in action. Should a political party be a monolith, where the supreme leader alone speaks or even thinks, while all other party members either have no views of their own or dutifully slough these off, once the party has taken a decision? Are party members only supposed to do and die, trading off their right to question why in exchange for the honour of being a member of the party? Yes, Comrade Stalin would have thundered. His surviving acolytes in the sclerotic Left would also bleat concurrence. The very same sentiment, appropriate more to the Gulag than to multi-party democracy, is echoed by all those who deplore such 'partygovernment disconnect.' This reflects confusion as to what constitutes a party and the dividing line between one political party and another. A shared vision of society's proximate goals and how to reach there should be the glue that binds a party together. Contests over leadership or what course to follow at a particular point of time, within the framework of the shared party programme, are natural within this framework. This can lead to factions, or if the rivalry cannot be contained, to a breakaway party with a similar programme. 


Disagreement and debate nourish democracy. Champions of different views should be free to canvas support within the party and in the larger polity. Does this negate the idea of party discipline? Only if you think a party that loses an election should immediately dissolve itself/ merge with the victorious one. Democratic discipline is abiding by the majority's verdict, without surrendering the right to question it. So, while the official party decision should be implemented, by and large, by all party members, dissenters should be free to protest. The dissidents might have a point, after all.







THESE days the number of things a modern woman has to do, all in day's work, is truly mind-boggling. She has hardly time to even think, doing everything from juggling office schedules and keeping fit to homemaking duties and ferrying children on the school run. No wonder a small-town American mom had no option but to squeeze in her bank robbing expedition to fit in with her childrens' school timings. Still, it must have required some gumption to presume that the bank teller who had been divested of some $1,300 would be obliging enough to hold off alerting the police till she picked up the kids. Whether the teller acquiesced to her politely written demand or not, the small town cops were obviously equally harried — perhaps also carrying out the same task as the mom — for by the time they tracked her down she had had already brought the kids home, stopping to get them icecream along the way, too. Considering she was more concerned about what would happen to her children while she went to jail, and the paltry sum that she and an accomplice pilfered, the need for the sorry exercise is quite mysterious. Could it be that her spouse, partner or the father of the kids (not mentioned in the entire saga) was so stingy that she had to resort to unconventional avenues to supplement the family income? Or could it be that given America's penchant for instant fame, she dreamt of five minutes in the spotlight which could then be leveraged for a hefty book deal and lucrative appearances on afternoon talk shows? 

Either way, the one certainty about the entire episode is that the school must be very strict indeed about their policy of picking up kids. The thought of facing a frosty principal was evidently far more forbidding than the ignominy of being carted off to jail. Unfortunately, though, it was not enough to put her off her robbery plan altogether....







BEFORE the crisis of 2008, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was in decline. Demand for loans was low, leaving it short of revenue. Asia remained leery of the fund a full 10 years after the currency crises of the late 1990s. Its analytical talents remained high but downsizing placed them at risk. 


The crisis changed all that. It became clear that the IMF has a crucial role to play in dealing with crisis-induced instability. Moreover, because of its broad and deeply embedded multinational expertise, its activities are central to achieving globally cooperative solutions to economic and financial problems. Without such solutions, the system will tend to become periodically unstable, and to go off on unsustainable paths that end destructively. We have just lived through one of these episodes. 


The IMF is needed for several key purposes. One involves crisis response. In a global financial upheaval like our most recent one, capital flows shift abruptly and dramatically, causing credit, financing, and balance-of-payments problems, as well as volatile exchange rates. Left unattended, these problems can cause widespread damage in a wide range of countries, many of which are innocent bystanders. 


 The system needs circuit-breakers in the form of loans and capital flows that dampen the volatility and maintain access to financing across the system. A well capitalised IMF, much better capitalised than pre-crisis, should be able to fill this backstop — similar to what central banks do (and did in the crisis) to prevent a credit freeze and the inevitable and excessive economic damage that would result. 


The new IMF flexible credit line performs this function for what amount to AAA-rated countries. A programme that meets the needs of the more vulnerable countries is under construction. The challenge is to find the right mix of pre-approval, limited conditionality and speed. 


At the same time, while getting the crisis-response mechanisms right is important, it is not the whole story. The IMF is at the epicentre of large-scale global coordination challenges. Having initially been shunned, it has assumed a key role in financing — and, more importantly, implementing — fiscal-stabilisation programmes for the EU's peripheral countries. These programmes are needed to limit contagion and restore stability to the eurozone, pending deeper institutional reforms that address fiscal interdependency in the context of monetary union. 


The most important issue on the global economic agenda — rebalancing and restoring global demand — is a coordination challenge par excellence. The sudden reduction in excess consumption in the US as a result of the crisis makes meeting this challenge all the more urgent. Without an effective rebalancing programme, growth will be sub-par, and employment difficult to restore on a sustainable basis. 


The government stimulus plans are limited in their ability to restore demand. The global economy needs the surplus countries to sustain growth and reduce excess savings — no easy task. It also needs deficit countries (and the advanced ones, more generally) to enact credible growth strategies that involve structural change as well as fiscal stabilisation. 


The G20 is now the priority-setting and decision-making body for this kind of challenge, the crisis having made it clear that the G7 could no longer perform this function. The major emerging economies are too large and too important to be left out of the search for globally cooperative outcomes. The crisis also convinced most of us that non-cooperative outcomes are likely to be distinctly suboptimal in terms of growth, stability and sustainability. 


THE G20 can say the right things about cooperation. But, to perform this function, it needs a knowledgeable, credible and effective secretariat. That is the IMF. The Mutual Assessment Process to which the G20 countries have agreed is a crucial component of the rebalancing programme, for it is where the pieces of a cooperative strategy for growth will be identified, evaluated, and assembled.


If it works, what will emerge will be commitments from G20 countries to undertake policies that are globally beneficial — on the condition that others are keeping their commitments. The US may reduce its deficits faster than it would in the non-cooperative case, but only if surplus countries are working to reduce their excess savings. 


Rebalancing is not the only cooperative imperative. The international exchange-rate system is at least partially broken. The old hybrid — in which advanced countries operated with floating exchange rates and open capital accounts, while developing countries managed the exchange rate via capital controls and reserve accumulation as part their growth strategies — worked as long as emerging markets' systemic effects were relatively small. 

Those days are gone. The distortions and distributional issues are set to become more pressing as the size and impact of the major emerging economies increase owing to their return to rapid growth, and as the advanced countries experience an extended period of sluggish performance. 


To accommodate the needs of the emerging economies as well as the interests of advanced countries, a new system will be needed in which exchange rates are managed but adjusted according to a criteria that balance domestic growth and global stability. The IMF will be at the centre of the design and implementation of any new system, by reason of mandate and expertise. 


The IMF is already playing a constructive role in Europe in cooperation with the EU, and its leadership is rebuilding relations with Asia. It is much better capitalised than before the crisis, and its governance structures are being reformed to give emerging-market members a larger voice in strategy and policy. 


All of this is needed to enable the fund to support the global coordination functions for which it is uniquely well equipped. Even with an authoritative IMF, the problems we face are daunting. But without it, the G20 will mostly likely be reduced to a talking shop, characterised by good intentions, but with no effective way of realising them. 

 (The author is professor of economics,     Stern School of Business, New York     University, and senior fellow, the Hoover     Institution, Stanford University) 

    ©: Project Syndicate, 2010






THOSE who choreographed the Srinagar meetings of the MPs delegation were firm on one thing; that moderate Hurriyat leaders Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik should be given as much importance as hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Many Delhi eyebrows had gone up when a cornered Omar Abdullah unilaterally reached out to Geelani at the height of the crisis. That was seen as Abdullahs' ploy to render their 'long-range' rivals — Mehbooba Mufti and the Mirwaiz-Yasin combine — irrelevant by projecting Geelani as the sole counter-point. Aware that this 'Geelani booster' had undercut the Muftis and Hurriyat moderates' standing and left them with little option except matching the hardliners' tone and tenor, the Delhi players now hope the equal treatment for moderate and hardline separatists by the visiting MPs and the subsequent peace package would help the former regain, gradually, their 'pro-dialogue space' vis-à-vis the 'no-compromise' hardliners. 



 EVEN those who swear by Ram Vilas Paswan's unlimited expertise in political gimmicks were amused by this. Of all the MPs in the delegation, it was Paswan who made his Mission Kashmir a sort of back-up project for his Bihar poll exigencies. So when Paswan went on a Valley overdrive, his Delhi PR wing went all-out informing everyone about the 'emotional convulsions' he had undergone; Paswan bursting into tears before parents of a youth killed in police firing, how Geelani sahib had specially looked for Paswan and how emotion gripped him at the holy shrine of Hazratbal..., etc. Yet, the Delhi cynics dismissed all these as Paswan's crude tactics to woo back Bihar's minority voters. What is not disputed is that by the time Paswan returned to Patna, the entire 'minority cell' of his LJP had defected to the JD(U). A case of Paswan's Valley-Bihar disconnect? 



WHILE congratulating young Varun Gandhi for convincingly racing ahead of elder cousin Rahul on marital matters and wishing him a very happy married life, Third Eye had wished he proved equally successful on political management as the other Gandhi. Alas, fate willed otherwise as Varun's maiden political assignment — as BJP poll in-charge of Assam — met with misfortune with AGP breaking off the alliance with the saffron party. But Varun supporters say he had not made any trademark Muslim-bashing speech to help AGP liberate itself. They squarely blame AGP's 'failure to resist' on the temptation to woo the Muslim votebank behind this pre-poll talaq. But, on the positive side, some saffronites say with the AGP following the Congress on "minority appeasement", the BJP now has all the Hindu votes of Assam to nurture! At least, Varun can take credit for ensuring Assam remains safe for himself and Narendra Modi to campaign for the BJP. Finally, some saffron revenge on Nitish's Bihar! 



AFTER a decade, the CPI held a workers' convention in Kolkata with an unofficial agenda of bargaining for more seats with CPI(M) in the Bengal polls. The Bengal Marxists may be down and about to be out, but that has not exhausted their capacity to show their allies their place. So, the Marxists organised a 'Left Front rally' in Kolkata on the same day as the CPI's 'show of strength'. They executed the parallel spoiler show while rejecting the CPI call for changing the date. Big Brother's message for the small ally seems clear: those who have stuck to the leader like a fading carbon copy for decades, should also be ready to be binned.







 KASHMIR, amidst decidedly deadlier things, is also a place where the surreal can descend to the level of farce. If, for example, denizens of the Valley are often subject to the bizarre in the form of an 'undeclared curfew' — which means no one tells you a curfew is on, but its existence is established by dint of a pre-breakfast thrashing were you to step out to buy some bread — it's now the turn of, well, a 'selective curfew'. And what makes that nonsensical phrase lethal — for, the farce often returns to the deadly reality it sprang up from in the first place — is the fact that now it is Kashmir's schoolchildren who have officially been put on the frontline. While a curfew is enforced, the government has decided that schools must stay open, literally forcing children to don their uniforms and step out into streets that resemble a war zone, in total violation of basic norms of safety. 


This directive is downright dastardly given the fact that the state is using the functioning of schools, while exposing schoolchildren to potential danger, as a means of enforcing its writ. Thus, in a situation where even employees at the civil secretariat have a hard time reaching office (apart from the many other deserted government departments and offices), Monday witnessed the spectacle of buses being organised to ferry children and teachers to schools. Leave alone the fact that attendance was skeletal, or reports that stones were pelted at some of these buses, what is central is that the state apparently feels no compunction about making Kashmir's schoolkids a test-case of proving its authority. That, in turn, for many lends credence to the separatist leaders' assertions that it is hardly concern for the welfare and future of youngsters that motivates the state, given that it has spent the last few months gunning them down anyway. 


 So what is really going on? At heart, simply, the state and central government's crisis of legitimacy in Kashmir. For, it is a moot point who actually runs, 'governs' Kashmir. On the one hand, there is the separatist leadership, and a Syed Ali Shah Geelani whose position has been consolidated to an extent that his word is, for all purposes, the law. On the other hand there is the state itself, which exists mostly in the physical form of the police and security forces, and which operates solely by force and coercion. And 'authority' in Kashmir oscillates between these two poles. Between the coercive, disciplining force employed by the state and the allegiance commanded by the separatists. 


 One of the 'jokes' doing the rounds in Srinagar, for instance, gives a peek into how this works on the ground, how 'authority' can be fuzzy: On a day when the separatist protest calendar decrees that the shutdown will be relaxed briefly from 2pm, an over-eager shopkeeper trots off a wee bit early, and starts pulling up the shutter on his shop at around 1pm. Only to be berated by the CRPF chap standing nearby 'Don't you know it's allowed only from 2?" Whose 'writ', the bewildered shopkeeper wonders, does the CRPF man represent! 

That problem, of 'writ and authority', is what faces the state, what constitutes the crisis of its legitimacy. For, it is up against a widespread will, a deep sentiment among the people that negates its legitimacy. And the state responds the only way it can, given what constitutes it in Kashmir: by force and coercion, be it while trying to curb protests with bullets, lathis and curfews or by imposing authority by making kids to go to school in a strife-torn environment so the separatist 'protest calendar' can be disrupted. 


What then can we possibly expect in Kashmir? It is possible the state 'wins' this round. Quite possible that, given the sheer strain on Kashmiri society (which the state tries to exacerbate by whatever means it can), the intensity of the current protests abates somewhat. But that crisis of authority and legitimacy facing the state will not resolve itself. It will persist as long as the state tries to deny the reality that it faces that crisis, as long as it tries to obfuscate that reality by its policy of denial, postponement and delegitimisation of Kashmiri political demands and aspirations. As long as it comes up with yet more 'packages' centred around jobs, compensation for killings and yet more 'interlocutors'. And even if, hypothetically, what goes by way of 'normalcy' returns to Kashmir in the months to come, that crisis will manifest itself in some other, perhaps even more intense and violent, eruption. 


Kashmir is patently, admittedly, different in its political history and its relationship with the Indian union. And there is no feasible, worthwhile way out except not only acknowledging but accepting that fact. Resolutions can come later; the crisis needs to be accepted as such to begin with. And for all the derision and heckling the recent All Party Delegation aroused in Kashmir, even as it was a half-hearted, reluctant step by New Delhi, it could be said to have posited, even by default, that direct political intervention, even potential negotiation, can open up some spaces, and is actually the sole, real meaningful alternative.


'Writ' in Kashmir means a battle between the coercion of the state and the allegiance commanded by separatists 

This crisis of legitimacy facing the state can't be resolved by using sheer force to try and impose authority 
The All Party Delegation, with its severe limitations, by default posited that direct political intervention can open spaces








IN HIS poem, The Peace of Wild Things, the American man of letters, farmer and poet Wendell Berry writes: "When despair for the world grows in me/ and I wake in the night at the least sound/ in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,/ I go and lie down where…I come into the peace of wild things/ who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief." In a way, this is almost exactly what a lot of us city dwellers do when we take our little sojourn in the hills or by the seaside. And while we may not be able to achieve the lyrical locution to express how we feel, we know immediately what the poet means. 


Two questions, nevertheless, arise. The first is: why do we, like Berry, need to go and lie down where "the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds" in order to achieve some temporary peace of mind? What are we escaping from? The answer to that one seems very easy at first: the cement, the traffic, the roads, the business of living and the pressures of work and family life. Or, as another poet, William Butler Yeats, put it: "I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;/ While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,/ I hear it in the deep heart's core." 


The second question is: what's so different about the peace of wild things like drakes and herons that puts them in a separate idyllic category from birds that dwell in the cities with people? Surely pigeons, crows and sparrows too "don't tax their lives with forethought of grief", considering their lives are regulated in asimilar way as all their other avian cousins which inhabit different expanses of the world such as deserts, grasslands or the Antarctic regions? The answer to that one seems easy too: they're common, they're colourless and they're associated with concrete. 


The gist, therefore, seems to be that we and these semi-domesticated fowl have moved away from nature and thus live unnatural lives whereas those in the wild — as is the wild itself — comprises the actual essence of existence. But in that case, we shouldn't have moved out of our treetops abode in Africa in the first place and invented tools, agriculture, civilisation and cities. Perhaps, we forget sometimes that our quest for peace can lead us nowhere if we look for it in places outside ourselves. However, it can still be found in the deep heart's core which always remains in the same place.






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Mobile phone users have had a welcome respite for over a week from unsolicited messages since the government banned the use of bulk SMS and MMS messaging services till September 30. This is the first time such a step has been taken in this country. The government's intent, on the eve of the landmark court ruling in the decades-old Ayodhya title suit, was of course to ensure that mischievous elements could not send out messages in thousands and lakhs that could inflame communal passions and disturb peace and harmony. But the fallout was truly phenomenal, and offered a whole new life of comfort for millions of cellphone users. Imagine the relief that millions got from not being bombarded day in and day out with foreboding messages like "don't ignore hair loss treat it before it's too late" or a tempting "earn `20,000 by selling reputed insurance company policies even while sitting at home" or "earn 10 per cent as a professional forex manager". There were others that were too good to be true: "get `1,00,00,000 tax-free after 21 years. no risk. pay `545 daily for 11 years"; or even "for `27,000 u can get a US visa for 10 years". Then there were Nigerian-type scamsters from Mumbai's Mira Road, sending SMSes like "you have won a lottery of over £20,000 in London!" Also, now that the stock market is booming, messages to ensnare gullible investors like a spider to the fly: "loan on shares upto `75 crore at 11 per cent". Bulk SMSes have mushroomed like the plague ever since life was made difficult for telemarketers by the "do not call registry" facility provided by the department of telecommunications. Sending bulk commercial SMSes are really cheap for companies or others touting a product or service. You could send three lakh messages for as little as eight paise per message in the premium category or just six paise per message in the economy category. But with the latest ban on SMSes and MMSes in force, even if for a brief period, mobile phone users have tasted blood, and almost every consumer organisation in the country is petitioning the government to ensure that the ban continues indefinitely. Cellphone operators too are not averse to the idea. The only thing that the government should ensure — should it actually contemplate making such a ban permanent — that while shutting off all unsolicited communications, some essential message services — such as banks to their customers, schools/universities to their students/faculty, clubs to their members — are not cut off as well. The mobile operators' lobby has indicated to the department of telecom that this could be quite feasible. The telecom watchdog NGO which has been getting over 30-40 complaints against bulk messages every month has given the government and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India two suggestions: one, to set up a "do call registry", replacing the "do not call" one, which could have around 10 categories and two, a penalty clause and incentivisation scheme.


At present the penalty is just a warning for the first offence, then a `1,000 fine for a second offence and disconnection after the third. The NGO has suggested that there should be a `5,000 penalty straightaway for the first unsolicited SMS — and that the complainant should get a share of the fine paid, so that phone users are encouraged to track offenders. Now the ball is in the court of the government and the telecom regulator. Over to Trai!







Over the past week, as efforts have been made to get the Commonwealth Games Village and other facilities in some sort of shape, questions have been asked about the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF). Was the CGF right in only blaming the Commonwealth Games organising committee (OC) and the Indian and Delhi governments? Did it not fail its responsibilities?

It is expected more and more dirt on the CGF is going to be released ("leaked") to the media. There is some disquiet at the role played by Mike Fennell, the CGF president and a Jamaica-based business executive. There is the perception that the CGF was pushing corporate and vendor interests.


The statements made by Mike Hooper, the chief executive of the CGF, have also aroused controversy. In recent months, Mr Hooper has been over-available to Indian journalists when he has wanted to use them to attack others. At other times, especially when he has been asked hard questions, he has pushed aside the microphones. Also the tone and nuance he has used in his interviews with international media outlets and with Indian ones has varied.


How justified is this sentiment and does this explain the mess that was made of the Commonwealth Games preparations? The answered is a qualified "no"; but the question has to be seen in a particular context.


At the outset it must be said that Mr Fennell would have had little or no say if India had gone about organising the Games in the right manner and had woken up to its to-do list in 2004 or 2005, rather than in 2008. Since that did not happen, the CGF saw its chance. Mr Fennell had established a cosy relationship with Suresh Kalmadi, president of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and chief of the OC. He saw this as mutually fruitful.


Indeed, Indian government officials say when senior ministers urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to curtail Mr Kalmadi's powers and give oversight of the Games project to a wider, cross-cutting body that would straddle governmental, civic and sports-event responsibilities, it was Mr Fennell who somehow persuaded Dr Singh that this would be unfair. He is believed to have argued that the autonomy of the OC needed to be preserved.


This was nonsense. The Indian taxpayer was underwriting the Games. Mr Kalmadi was not being impaired in his role as IOA chief — and there can be a case, however unconvincing in the Indian context, of giving sports bodies freedom from government bureaucracies — but in his capacity as head of the OC. The OC was an ad hoc project management and delivery vehicle, no more.


Nevertheless the prime minister was convinced. One consequence was that Mr Hooper was posted in New Delhi for three years to oversee the OC's work. This was deemed necessary because India was so far behind on its commitments. It was actually unprecedented because no CGF official had previously been sent to a host country for an extended period. It could be argued, though, that India invited this ignominy upon itself.


In New Delhi, Mr Hooper lived a luxurious expat lifestyle, paid for by the OC and, in effect, the Indian taxpayer. He now claims he actually pushed the Indian authorities and things would have been worse if he had not come. Perhaps; but is that the entirety of what he did?


By the time Mr Hooper arrived, it was clear the OC was thoroughly incompetent and was not in a position to ensure a smooth Games. It needed hand-holding, being incapable even of identifying quality vendors and adequate human talent within the country.


Among the first to begin lobbying for Commonwealth Games contracts were Australian sports management and logistics companies. They had the right credentials. Till the early 1990s, the Olympic Games — and other such events — were largely put together by national governments. The odd one out was the Atlanta Games, which saw corporate money so vitiating the Olympic spirit that it was nicknamed the "Coca-Cola Games".


The Sydney Games of 2000 marked a paradigm shift. Specialist agencies were spun off to host a successful and remunerative Games that was true to the Olympic charter. Running the show were astute business managers who also empathised with sport. After Sydney 2000, management of gigantic, multi-sport events became a recognised Australian skill.


Like a good export-oriented economy, Australia used its comparative advantage profitably. Australian (and New Zealand) fingerprints have been seen at several big sports events in the past decade. When it came to India, the Australians were initially hopeful of only supportive contracts. They realised India had the in-house capacities that would, in many cases, make Australian vendors and agencies redundant. It was one thing for, say, a Qatar to outsource the Asian Games; India was a big bigger economy and society.


However, as India continued to slip up, the Australian and international vendors smelt another opportunity. The fact that Mr Hooper was a New Zealander, and had seen the Sydney Olympics and the Melbourne Commonwealth Games (2006) at close quarters, perhaps enhanced their comfort factor.


At this stage, the OC began signing strange contracts. India is home to three of the world's finest hotel chains and dozens of other highly-rated catering firms. However, for the Games Village catering, two successive tenders were released and tailored in such a manner that only a single Australian company could win. When it got the contract, it promptly called in an Indian hotel company as partner.


The OC had argued that no Indian caterer had the resources to handle food requirements of so many nations. This was astonishing. If African athletes, for instance, required a nutritive diet conforming to a certain type of cuisine, then surely one of the big Indian hotel chains could have acquired that expertise in seven years?


All this has led to allegations of kickbacks and, unfortunately, the leading lights of the CGF may themselves have a lot to answer for. However, while nobody can condone corruption, it is worth noting that the Hooper-Fennell consortium was only given room because the OC and the Indian government were asleep at the wheel. To the external world what matters is a first-class Commonwealth Games, not sweetheart deals. The CGF may have contributed to the latter, but India managed to make a tragedy of the former quite on its own.


- Ashok Malik can be contacted at [1]








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. America's 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 labour 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 five per cent.

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 labour 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 workforce is "unadaptable and untrained. It cannot respond to the opportunities which industry may offer". A few years later, a large defence 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 jumpstart 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.








We can thank Commonwealth Games organising committee general-secretary Lalit Bhanot for placing toilets firmly in the collective consciousness of this nation. "Their (Western) standard of hygiene and cleanliness could be different from ours so there is nothing to be ashamed about it", Mr Bhanot wondered aloud at a press conference. Ever since those famous words, there is no escape from the toilet story in the Commonwealth Games Village.


The photos of paan-stained washbasins and bathroom floors, combined with dog poo-smeared bedsheets, have gone viral on the Internet as "toiletgate" takes over the conversations of an anguished middle class in the country.


The Sensex may have hit the magical 20,000 mark but disconcertingly, for many of us, the world at large is suddenly more concerned that more people in India have access to mobile phones than to basic sanitation.


Is the toilet a template for the state of a nation or civilisation?


"The toilet is part of the history of human hygiene which is a critical chapter in the growth of civilisation", says Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, sociologist, toilet czar and the man who started the low-cost Indian toilet system, the globally-acclaimed Sulabh Shauchalaya model.


Contemporary literature also offers useful takeaways. In a cheeky aside, Isadora Wing, the brilliant, hilarious and outrageous heroine of American writer Erica Jong's 1973 bestseller Fear of Flying, teases us with the history of the world through its toilets — the British toilet as the last refuge of colonialism where "for one brief moment (as you flush), Britannia rules the waves again". German toilets observe class distinctions — rough brown paper for a third class railway carriage and white paper called Spezial Krepp in the first class, Jong's young heroine observes. Isadora links Italian art to the swift way Italian toilets run, is foxed by French philosophy and the Gallic approach to merde (excreta) and is awe-struck by the aesthetics of the Japanese toilet — toilet basin recessed in the floor, flower arrangement behind, inspiring thoughts of Zen.


And Indian toilets? Well, well… One must remember this was the good-old or bad-old Seventies, depending on your politics. India was not an emerging power and Jong's adventurous but Euro-centric heroine did not have the Indian toilet experience.


What would Jong say if she took a toilet tour of India today after listening to Mr Bhanot's wise words?


The recent flood of toilet jokes makes us squirm since we are the targets but blunderbuss Mr Bhanot has also touched a raw nerve.


The riveting rise of the Sensex and the "cash and clout" image of India in the world is our outerwear where we sport a designer brand. The sanitation story is more like dirty inner wear which we don't like to either talk about or change.


Middle-class Indians typically would not have paan-stained washbasins at home. And there is a fortune to be made out of tapping the bathroom vanity of young, rising India. But how many times have you seen the driver and the passenger in the Honda City ahead of you open the car door and spit out the remnants of a paan or chewing tobacco on the road? In my neighbourhood market — in a posh south Delhi enclave — there are spas, but few spittoons; garbage lies in front of stores peddling grand designs in urban living. What irks middle-class India is not that filth and squalor exist but that they are being showcased by a prying media, denting India's image as an emerging power.


India's Millenium Development Goals Report (2009) notes that the proportion of Indian households having no sanitation facility has declined from about 70 per cent in 1992-93 (24 per cent urban and 87 per cent rural) to about 51 per cent in 2007-08 (19 per cent urban and 66 per cent rural). But despite recent progress, access to improved sanitation remains far lower in India compared to many other countries with similar or even lower per capita gross domestic product (GDP). Bangladesh, Mauritania, Mongolia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Vietnam — all with a lower GDP per capita than India — are just a few of the countries that have achieved higher access to improved sanitation, says the Asian Development Bank.


India is among a handful of countries where open defecation persists. Through its Total Sanitation Campaign, the government has sanctioned projects for construction of what babudom calls individual household sanitary latrines in all of India's rural districts. But a lot more action and oversight is needed on the ground to meet the national goal of eradicating open defecation by 2012.


Non-governmental organisations' surveys suggest that many among those who have access to individual, community or shared toilets do not use the structure as a toilet. The reasons for non-use of toilets — poor/unfinished installations, no super structure and lack of behavioural change.


As in everything else in India, how and where you excrete is a matter of who you are and your position in the socio-economic pecking order. It comes as no surprise to learn that Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have lower access to toilets than upper castes.


Sociologists argue that this grim picture is not just about poverty. It has to do with the deeply-ingrained caste structure in India and notions of purity and pollution embedded in our psyche. First, children of so-called upper castes grow up hearing that cleaning garbage is the job of someone else, and that someone else is still often referred to by names that would put you in jail if uttered in public. Second, in an overcrowded country like India, far too many people also believe keeping your home clean is all you can do. What happens beyond is none of your concern — it is someone else's job to keep the public places clean, someone who is still considered an untouchable deep down despite laws prohibiting untouchability.


Money alone will not change such a mindset. Without the collective will for change, Sensex will soar even as we trail behind poorer countries in basic sanitation. The India that shocks and agitates, however, also offers inspiration. Many tribal communities can teach us a thing or two about cleanliness. Mr Pathak built the first Sulabh public toilet in Bihar, his home state, in 1974. Now, almost 8,000 such toilets have been built and are maintained across the country. Sulabh toilet complexes also exist in Bhutan and Afghanisthan, and over the next five years Mr Pathak plans to implement the model in 50 other countries.


- Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at [1]








Benedict, for most people, is the name of the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church. The name stems from the Latin bene-dicere, which means blessing; though the etymology implies "to speak well". True to his name, Pope Benedict XVI often imparts blessings. Believers consider it a privilege to receive "papal blessings". In the Bible, blessings are given not only by holy people: God can use anybody to shower graces on people.


Even when there is a mediator who imparts blessings to human beneficiaries, all blessings ultimately come from God. The things that make for blessedness range from the physical to the spiritual, from the earthly to the heavenly: long life, many children, plentiful harvests, healthy cattle, prosperity, peace, forgiveness and happiness.


Demographers are likely to frown upon God's blessing at creation: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth" (Genesis 1:28; 9:7). Mother India seems to have taken this divine decree quite seriously. Indeed, she is richly blessed not because of her billowing billion-plus progeny, but because God's blessings make us all the Creator-God's creative partners — and so we experience blessedness in Mother India's breathtaking beauty and beneficence.


God's blessing is not only meant for believers and bhaktas, it embraces everyone. Jesus teaches: "God makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust"; (Matthew 5:45) so, "bless those who curse you" (Luke 6:28). Though we might disapprove of this apparent "divine unfairness", who are we to judge who deserves God's blessing and who doesn't?


In the Bible, parents bless their children as they approach death's doors. Isaac blesses Jacob and Esau (Genesis 27) and Jacob blesses all his sons (Genesis 48-49). Such blessings were not merely wishes, but believed to be effective in causing what was intended. In an extension of the family, Moses blesses the whole nation on the eve of his death (Deuteronomy 32) and Jesus embraces little children and blesses them (Matthew 19:13-15).


In the Book of Genesis (12:3) God promises his blessing to Abraham and his descendants. Abraham here becomes the pattern and in a sense the mediator of all the fortune which all peoples and all nations of the world desire.


Religions have bequeathed beautiful blessings to humankind. In India, the words ashirvad and ashis signify blessing, meaning, concrete desired good bestowed with parental love. Expressions like khuda hafiz — "May God protect you!" — or the everyday Konkani Dev boro dis diun, meaning, "May God give you a good day!" are not just salutations but divine blessings. Indeed, when we exclaim "namaste!" or "good morning!" we impart blessings.


You are a blessing. So am I. The bhakta sings: "It was you, O God, who knit me in my mother's womb; I bless you, for I'm wonderfully made!" (Psalm 139:13-14) S/he believes that s/he is a blessing breathed into life by God — a blessing to family and friends. Hence, it's our sacred duty to multiply blessings by, first, being a blessing, and then breathing blessings upon everyone and everything around us.


Transcending creedal confines, believers feel privileged to be blessed by Pope Benedict, the Dalai Lama and other religious leaders. However, in an increasingly secularised society, aggressive atheists like Richard Dawkins seek cheap popularity, for instance, by demanding that Pope Benedict be chained and jailed upon arrival in Britain. Happily, it was Benedict who held captive thousands of believers and unbelievers alike, not because they accepted his authority or endorsed his views, but because he is a benediction, a blessing!


As Britain bade goodbye to Pope Benedict, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron thanked him for posing "searching questions" and for "making the nation sit up and think". Benedict's benedictions silenced protesters and transformed foes into friends. This reminds us that God continues blessing humankind in surprising and wondrous ways.


The January 1st New Year Liturgy opens with a blessing: "May God bless you and keep you; May God make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; May God turn his face towards you and give you peace" (Numbers 6:24-26). Besides imparting blessings like these, if we truly be a blessing, will not God's graciousness shine in and through us?


 Francis Gonsalves is the principal of theVidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi. He is involved in interfaith dialogue and peoples' initiatives for fostering justice, harmony and peace. He can be contacted [1]







When Shashi Tharoor, India's former minister of state for external affairs, spoke about his country's future status as a great power during an international conference in November 2009, India's rise seemed indeed inevitable to a large part of the audience. Mr Tharoor, a former UN official and skilled public speaker, argued that India's source of strength was not its large Army, growing economy, or nuclear weapons but "the power of example" — what is commonly referred to as "soft power". Soft power has tangible value as it makes other countries align without coercion. Put differently, it is the power of attraction and India boasts plenty of attractive features: an ancient civilisation, tolerance, a vibrant democracy and civil society despite extreme diversity and a uniquely attractive culture of music, film and world-class literature. "In today's age", Mr Tharoor concluded, "it is not the bigger Army that prevails, it is the country that tells me better story", adding that India was the land of the better story. India's story is, without a doubt, one of the most impressive in the world but as of late, events in India seem to put the happy ending of that story into question. The inability to implement radical reform and combat corruption on a scale that makes even seasoned politicians blush have become as much part of the Indian story as its booming software and Bollywood industry. Unless the government takes more forceful action now, India risks squandering the immense amount of soft power it has accumulated, slashing hopes that India could offer the more attractive option than authoritarian China.


Most analysts sought to avoid the explicit comparison between China's success at preparing the Olympic Games in 2008 and India's dismal failure to organise the 2010 Commonwealth Games properly, an event that is far smaller and less complex to stage than the Olympics. Yet India has been promoting itself so aggressively over the past years, so loudly called for a more prominent position in global affairs, and has been projecting itself in the same league as its Chinese neighbour that worldwide expectations for the Games were very high.


The collapse of the bridge close to the main venue in Delhi and the foreign sports representatives' comments about the "filthy" Games Village revealed all too well the yawning gap between expectation and reality. Yet the crisis is not about the Commonwealth Games which turned out to be 18 times more expensive than estimated in 2003. The incident merely serves as symbol for the government's inability to implement a more professional, results-oriented mentality in the public sector and to reduce corruption that keeps India from claiming the spot it deserves in the world. The amount of schools, clinics and streets that could have been built with the money siphoned in the context of the Games, and the lost potential for India are not only a national disaster. The globally-televised scandal and endemic corruption in India is a defeat for all those in the world who passionately argue that democracy is no hindrance to economic progress and that other developing nations should look to India, and not to China, as they devise their political and economic strategy.


As African elites discuss ways to bring their countries forward, they are usually most attracted by China's authoritarian, state-led rise, which seems like a safe way to hold on to power and implement projects without the bothersome negotiations and consensus-seeking that democracy involves. Homes that stand in the way of a new highway, airport or production site are removed without hearing the inhabitants' concerns, significantly accelerating development. The Chinese government's ability to organise flawless Olympic Games in 2008 serves as a powerful example for Chinese efficiency, boosting the nation's soft power. Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, who has helped turn Rwanda into a model country, admires China and Singapore and his ruthless action against the Opposition shows that he believes that democracy be shoved aside in the battle against poverty.


The number of countries that seek to emulate India remains low and incidents such as the corruption-riddled preparation of the Commonwealth Games bring to light an ugly reality that democracies may, after all, be no more successful in the fight against corruption than autocracies.


Mr Tharoor is right that India wields an enormous power of example in the world, and its democracy, religious tolerance and unrivalled cultural diversity and richness is something they can be proud of, and that no corrupt politician can destroy. Yet precisely because the world's eyes are on India, it can, and must do more to show that Indian democracy is a system that cannot only rival China's autocratic model but that it is superior not only because it respects political freedom and human rights, but because of its ability to deliver to its people. The Indian government does not only owe this to the Indian people, but to all those fighting for democracy across the world.


- Oliver Stuenkel is a Visiting Professor of International Relations at the University of
São Paulo (USP) and a Fellow at the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) in Berlin.








HARDLY a positive reflection of New Delhi's confidence in Srinagar's ability to dismantle the cycle of violence/curfew that has rendered the term "normality" irrelevant in the Kashmir Valley is the fact that four of the eight points of the action-plan or initiative ~ call it what you will, it doesn't really add up to much ~ announced by the home minister are measures that any astute state government would have taken after using the strong arm of the law to try and attain some control of an admittedly difficult situation. Surely by now Omar Abdullah would have understood that prolonged curfews had become counter-productive. Releasing people against whom no serious charges can be pressed, reviewing cases, reducing bunkers and checkpoints and reopening schools all fall in the bracket of "routine". Rather than advocate a meeting of the Unified Command, North Block should have asked why that mechanism had been unused during a dangerous situation. Is there is a little sophistry to the move to review the areas notified as "disturbed" ~ a bid to withdraw AFSPA through the back door? As the forces have pointed out, militants do not respect district boundaries. And even as stone-throwers in the streets made the headlines, there was no let-up in the infiltration.

The grant of an additional Rs 100 crore for augmenting educational infrastructure is unlikely to have much impact on the ground given the track record that funds from the Capital have generally evaporated before they trickled down to the people of that state. Certainly a positive gesture is the granting of Rs 5 lakh as ex gratia payment to those killed in the unrest since 11 June, but it ought to have been matched by an increase in the payments made to the several hundred members of the police and paramilitary seriously injured in the stone-throwing ~ it is not as if the action taken by the security forces was unprovoked. And "excesses" are a matter of opinion: easy to talk about when a safe distance from trouble zone. The setting up of task forces for the Jammu and Ladakh is clearly political, aimed at deflecting criticism that the Valley was all that counted.
As for the key proposal to appoint interlocutors, it has been tried before: George Fernandes, KC Pant… The tepid response from the "other camp" iterates the reality that only when the "core" issue of J&K's status in the Indian union is on the agenda will winds of change begin to blow. For it is not only the allegedly pro-Pakistan separatists who have raised the demand for autonomy. Indeed, a critical element of New Delhi's strategy must be to endear itself to those who seek a change in the equation without the Pakistan angle: that would isolate the real trouble-makers. It is difficult to predict how the future will unravel. There is reason for neither joy nor skepticism over the "initiative" ~ it is not radically different from previous exercises. One final thought: a facade of unity apart, did it require an all-party delegation to J&K to provide inputs for an essentially stereotyped "package"?




Rather obliquely, the party and its Chief Minister have advised teachers to accord secondary attention to the classroom and get focused on the electoral stakes. The underpinning quite obviously is to supplement the strength of the employees' coordination committee. Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had no suggestion to offer on the need to improve the quality of instruction at the recent primary teachers' rally that dislocated traffic throughout the city. Nor even how the government proposes to deal with unrecognised diplomas and doubtful job prospects. The message was decidedly political, verging on electoral rhetoric ~ "You will all have to join the people in building up resistance against Trinamul and the Maoists." 

  The Chief Minister can't be unaware of the frustration at the primary teachers' level, both in terms of pay and prospects. Yet he chose to bypass the nitty-gritty: "I don't want to talk about your issue today. All of us must stand united at this hour." The party appears to have rediscovered the utility of the primary teachers' lobby, one that had contributed not a little to the Left Front victory in 1977. Small wonder that the rally was far removed from the duties of the teachers and their responsibility towards the taught.

Having realised the Left Front's overwhelming failure on both counts, the Chief Minister would rather engage teachers in election work. Their number is the party's asset. In the net, the classrooms in schools under the party's control will get little or no attention between now and the elections. It is one thing for the party's education cell to issue a directive to teachers on election-related work; the same appeal acquires a different connotation when made by the Chief Minister. As the head of government, he has publicly made it fairly official. To put it bluntly, let the classroom be damned midway through the academic session, now is the time to come to the aid of the party. Mr Bhattacharjee may unwittingly have delivered the parting punch to learning.




THE response of the Railways as much as West Bengal's forest department has been sickeningly irresponsible in the wake of one of the worst tragedies to have struck wild life. Seven elephants were mowed down by a speeding train near Jalpaiguri last Thursday. The irony could not have been more cruel ~ only a couple of weeks after the Centre unveiled a fairly ambitious elephant conservation plan. In contrast to the regal tiger and lion, the low-profile elephant has hitherto been overlooked in terms of conservation. The blamegame for the deaths must end; yet this is the sideshow in which the two government entities have been engaged in since the elephants were flung to their deaths by a freight train. The speed of the train is now the subject of  controversy, as it was in Sainthia and more recently in Madhya Pradesh. Of course this is a critical term of reference; but there appears to be little or no awareness of the loss the forests of North Bengal ~ dwindling in terms of fauna ~ have suffered. It is cause for alarm if indeed the Railways have ignored the forest department's appeals to limit the speed of the trains running through natural habitat. And it is an appeal that has all too often been advanced by wild life experts. At another remove, the forest department has been blamed for not alerting the nearest station that an elephant herd was on the march. In the anxiety to keep themselves in the clear, both sides have been prompt to deny the allegations. Wild life is the poorer amidst the raging inter-departmental kerfuffle.  The simple fact that has not been grasped by either the Railways or the forest department is that both have a responsibility to protect and conserve. Most importantly because the railway network in several parts of the country straddles the "elephant corridor". Callous indifference alone accounts for the failure of both entities, now as it turns out with devastating effect.

As in many other spheres, West Bengal's record had been tragically dismal. Deaths on account of train-hits have been virtually eliminated in other parks and reserves in India. From the Sundarbans to North Bengal, there is need for greater accountability and awareness of the conservation plan.









Political parties are now desperately trying to promise job reservation to Muslims and  Other Backward Classes by amending the Constitution in the name of "protection of minorities". Even the Prime Minister is reportedly seeking consensus on the issue of Muslim reservation. India will become a union of balkanised religious and caste groups.

The demand for Muslim reservation has arisen because in certain states the community can swing the election results. The so-called secular parties find it convenient to woo them, by promising quotas in government jobs and educational institutions.  UPA-II exists on the support by such state parties.

What will the Muslim reservation lead to? After Partition, the vast majority of Hindus, not necessarily supporters of the BJP, consider the Muslims who stayed back as impostors, who should have gone to Pakistan, their homeland. Hence, they do not support any reservation of State benefits for Muslims. On the other hand, the Muslims who stayed back complain that they are ignored and oppressed by the Hindu majority, resulting in  lack of development. They demand that the secular State should give them equal opportunities, often termed as "reverse discrimination". However, whatever may be the arguments for or against reservation for Muslims, the fact remains that such State programmes will reinforce the already-existing Hindu-Muslim divide in society. The Muslims will always try to remain as a closed and separate community to garner the advantages of reservation.

Lest somebody thinks that this perception of India's Hindu-Muslim divide is an expression of over-reaction, a brief history of  the country's polity over the past 62 years will prove the contrary. Consider first the Muslims. Kashmir is a tell-tale example of Muslim separatism. Whatever the secularists, the Congress leaders, and the so-called democratic leaders in Kashmir may say, there is little doubt that the overwhelming majority of Kashmir's Muslims refuse to be citizens of secular India. They have driven out the minority Hindus from the Kashmir Valley, and want Kashmir to be a Muslim State on the principle of the 1947 Partition. They may decide to be an independent State or to join Pakistan.

All other demands raised by Muslims are intended to keep the community as a separate category, no matter what some sophisticated Muslim celebrities say. They  do not have any influence over the Muslim masses. They are totally against a Common Civil Code. Branding the Hindu majority as oppressors, they demand reservation in jobs and other State benefits, proportionate to their population as equivalent shareholders of the State. They refuse to recognise any distinction between Dalits and others within the fold of Muslims.
The separatism of the Muslim masses is manifest in the field of sports. When India plays against Pakistan, Muslims in India and outside support the other country. Even Muslim celebrities speak up against perceived discrimination against the community, but not in the wake of blatant communalism.

Hindus are no different. Hindu and Muslim communities were never integrated and remained separate throughout history, even after centuries of Muslim rule, despite well-meaning efforts at integration by some kings and saints. Since India followed the Hindu religion since time immemorial, Hindus consider India as rightfully belonging to them, and not to other communities whose religions were imported from other countries.  All communities in under-developed countries consider their own religion to be superior to those of others and refuse to integrate with them socially. So do the Hindus. The origin of our Hindu-Muslim divide is much more deep-rooted than it may appear.

However, Hindus are responsible for harbouring animosity. The Congress agreed to Partition for the sake of power. The overwhelming majority of Hindus never reconciled themselves to the development. In their reckoning, the Muslims connived with the British to force Partition. Hence, they hold Muslims responsible for dividing their motherland, and their age-old animosity towards Muslims only intensified. The Hindu middle class swears by secularism, but they do not treat Muslims as equals. Muslim resentment has grown in parallel over the years.

The BJP is no less responsible than the Congress for the communal situation. The party and its cohorts like to imagine that  the Muslims have no rights, even the rights to which the minorities are entitled to. The BJP opposes reservation for Muslims, it refuses to accept the existence of Dalits within Muslims and Christians, and is opposed to refugee status to Muslims fleeing from Bangladesh and Pakistan. The BJP, however, is forthright in its views, as distinct from the Congress. The latter is no less communal, but it takes recourse to sophistication. 

The Hindu masses, even if they don't support the BJP on every issue, do nurse their separatism, which explodes whenever India and Pakistan are opposed in sport. The Hindu sportsmen openly declare that they consider the contest with Pakistan as 'special'. It will be difficult to find a Hindu championing a Pakistani team opposing India, even though they are unquestionably superior in talent.

The communal situation is worsening day by day. Could it lead to further balkanisation? To prevent that, various suggestions are being advanced. Kashmir can be allowed to opt out as a Muslim territory, in accord with the principle of Partition. Those who advocate this formula think that the Kashmir issue is at the root of the present communal militancy. Those who oppose such a step argue that it will amount to accepting the defeat of secularism,  and will strengthen the demand for sending all Muslims out of the country, which is not feasible. A large majority of Muslims, who have stayed back, are rooted here. Thus, Kashmir has pushed India to a cul-de-sac. Possibly, India has to live with the Kashmir imbroglio, the price of the original sin of Partition.
Apart from Kashmir, India is threatened by further balkanisation in the wake of the recent moves by the Congress and the Communists to reserve jobs for Muslims by conferring the OBC status to the Dalit segment of the community. Since reservation for Muslims is unconstitutional, the political parties want to bypass the problem by bracketing as many Muslims as they can within the OBC category. This is constitutional, as decided by the Supreme Court. They argue that since the OBCs are backward, they need reservation for development, in government jobs, and educational institutions including the centres of higher learning. Muslims will get the benefit of reservation through the backdoor.

The country is thus faced with the danger of further balkanisation between Hindus and Muslims. The political parties must stop pursuing this policy of reservation. Islam does not recognise any Dalit. Experience suggests that there can be no uplift of non-Muslim backward classes through reservation. They require special measures to avail of educational opportunities as do the Muslims.

Reservation for Muslims and OBCs, in addition to such special measures, may also help in their "development" over time. But the immediate effect of such reservation policies will surely consolidate the groupings around religion and caste, leading to strident demands for constitutional reservation on the basis of the proportion of population both in the Centre and in the states. If the Constitution is thus amended, the number of Muslims in the Lok Sabha will be around 70 (12 per cent of the total Indian population), instead of their present number of around 30 elected by political parties. A similar representation may be evident in the state assemblies. Such balkanisation of the representatives in the legislatures will have an immediate effect because of their large numbers. It will be permanent in character because of group interest. The Indian State will become a Union of "balkanised" groups.  That precisely is the way in which reservation  will lead to balkanisation.
The writer is former Vice-Chancellor, University of Calcutta







IF we delve into the questions "whether there was a temple of Rama originally on the same spot where Babari Masjid later stood", "whether the said Ram temple was demolished during Babar's time", "whether Babar's conduct in doing so was atrocious" and "whether the demolition of the Mosque in 1992 was justified'', then the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babari Masjid problem will never get solved. On the other hand, the disaffection between the two communities will worsen, leading to more chaos. As against this, we are faced with the reality that people belonging to different religions have to co-exist. 

The word "Ayodhya" in Sanskrit means "a place where there will be eternal harmony'', "a place where there will be no fight at all''. It is simply "an abode of peace''. It is an irony that this place has become controversial and threatens to bring about disharmony in the whole  country. 

Of course, the fact that innumerable temples were demolished during Babar's time is recorded by the historian EB Havell in his Aryan Rule in India published over 80 years ago. While dealing with Emperor Akbar's "Din-Ilahi movement'', Havell says: "The conversion of Muhammadan mosques to secular uses was an instance which Akbar's enemies seized upon as justification for their reckless abuse. The orthodox Musalman chose to forget that it had been the settled policy of many former rulers to desecrate Hindu temples and convert them into mosques, often solely for the purpose of outraging the feelings of the Hindus. In Akbar's time there must have been thousands of such mosques in Hindustan rarely or never used for divine worship. To give them back to Hindus might have been regarded as an insult to Islam. Akbar adopted the wisest and justest course in adapting them for secular purposes.'' 

Not considered holy 

This shows that Muslims as a community did not like Hindu temples being demolished. They never considered such desecrated places and even the mosques erected over them as holy. They evidently refused to offer worship in those places. Emperor Akbar had to convert those masjids into choultries and throw them open for a secular purpose  to be used by both Hindu and Muslim travellers. 

Certainly, the demolition of these temples was wholly unjustified. But today it is another question whether, as a means of wreaking vengeance,  Hindus are justified in destroying the masjids built over demolished temples. Any sensible man would say "no''. 


Retaliation or revenge may appear to be a kind of wild justice. But this approach will not solve the problem; it would only confound and complicate it further. Justice ASP Iyer, former judge of the Madras High Court, well-known for his erudite judgments and subtle humour, in his treatise on Gita says: "If Rama, Krishna, Jesus, Prophet Mohammed and Buddha had met in one place they would have hugged each other with tears of joy, since they all believed in the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of man.'' 

Peculiar convention 

In South India, to reduce communal tension and to see that one community is not treated as an eternal enemy of the other, certain healthy conventions were developed. A peculiar custom was begun in some Vishnu temples to bring about communal harmony if there is was a sizable Muslim population in the area. 
According to this convention, every year, the deity of Vishnu is taken in a procession towards the abode of a devout Muslim woman known in Vaishnavite circles as Tulukka Naachiyar (Muslim devotee). The deity on its arrival is received by Muslims of the locality with devotion and jubilation.  Muslims and Hindus then hug each other. After visiting the Muslim devotee, the Lord returns to the temple. This has become an annual ritual. 
This festival has kept both communities busy and cheerful which lasts till the following year. Even in the Sabari Hills of Kerala, where there is the famous temple for Lord Ayyappa, a convention developed according to which one has to first offer worship to Vavar (Babar) who was supposed to be a Muslim devotee, a friend and supporter of the Lord. It is believed that the darshan of the Lord would be fruitful only if one first offered worship to Vavar! Several million devotees visit the temple at Sabarimalai. They all first offer worship to Vavar.  

Tipu's example 

Tipu Sultan too was tactful as a ruler. He openly proclaimed that the then Pontiff of Sringeri Shankaracharya Math, Swami Sachchidananda Bharati, who adorned the Peetam in Sringeri between 1770 and 1814, was his Guru. He had  donated properties and money to the Sringeri Math. He even said repeatedly: 
"Three factors alone are responsible for my success. First, God's grace, second, my Guru Swami Sachchidananda Bharati's blessings and only third my powerful Army''. 

Tipu's positive approach to religion and people promoted communal harmony and enabled the people to lead a tension-free life. 

Why don't we think of a similar solution to the Ayodhya problem which, apart from averting communal clashes, would forge communal harmony? People in general are innocent and peace-loving, whether they are Hindus or Muslims. They always prefer even  unjust peace to the most just war! All communal problems have some political and selfish reasons, not only now but  in the past. 

Sarva Dharma Sthal 

The only lasting solution appears to be this: the entire Ram Janmabhoomi-Babari Masjid area should be made into a Sarva Dharma pilgrim spot with a huge Sarva Dharma stoopa in the centre with a hexagonal dome on top representing all six major religions thriving in India ~Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism ~ with their symbols affixed in all the six faces of the hexagon. 

Around this stoopa, we have to erect six large and beautiful structures with  lawns and a garden around each one of them but all to be located in a single complex called Sarva Dharma Sthal. These structures will consist of a temple for Lord Rama, a mosque, a church, a  Buddhist temple, a Jain temple and a  Gurudwara. 
With a lot of greenery around, horticultural development, residential  facilities for thousands of pilgrims and restaurants supplying saathwik food, the  complex will glitter as a virtual heaven on earth. 

The six structures should contain on their walls inscriptions of important portions of respective scriptures, particularly those promoting communal harmony, peace, human dignity and mutual respect. Each of these religions has  literature propagating positive principles. These inscriptions have to be in the original language ~ Sanskrit, Arabic, Pali,  Gurmukhi or Biblical language followed by a Hindi and English translation for the benfit of pilgrims. The place will then become "Ayodhya" ~ an abode of peace in the true sense. Will leaders on both sides who have benefited from the crisis allow this to happen? 

The writer is a senior advocate of the Supreme Court.








There was a Vishnu Temple earlier in the very same place where the Masjid was erected after demolishing the same.  This temple  of Lord Vishnu existed from time immemorial.  It was renovated several times. The factum of its existence before Emperor Babar's time is referred to in many texts and inscriptions.  This temple of Vishnu was erected exactly on the same holy spot where Lord Rama was born.  Around this place Sita's kitchen, Hanuman's house, Kaikeyi's palace etc were all located according to texts including gazettes published by Government from time to time.  Rama is worshipped by all the Hindus in India and all Hindus truly believe that the place in which the disputed structure was erected, was the very Janmabhoomi of Lord Rama and that

this Hindu faith and sentiment have to be respected and taken into account while deciding this case.

Contention of Muslims

During Babar's time, his  representative erected the disputed Mosque on a plain ground where there was no structure.  Even if there was any structure which pre-existed in the same place, it was not a Hindu Temple. In any event Rama's Janmabhoomi is a different place in Ayodhya away from the area occupied by the disputed structure.

Legal position

The sentiments of either side may not work with the court. Courts go by evidence. Both sides have let in voluminous evidence.

Crucial evidence on the side of Hindus is the ASI report according to which there were pillar bases below the disputed structure which show that there was a huge structure which pre-existed the Mosque with several pillars.  The Hindus have argued that this report proved the pre-existence of a temple.  Both sides argued that the suits filed by the opposite side was time-barred.  It is a technical issue.

Whatever may be the decision, if Hindus win, the Muslims will go to the Supreme Court and if Muslims win, then the Hindus well approach the Supreme Court having regard to the nature and importance of the matter.
Whatever is the decision, on the request of the losing party, the Full Bench of High Court is likely to certify the case as a fit one to be taken to the Supreme Court and may grant, permission to Appeal to Supreme Court under Articles 133 and 134A of the Constitution of India, in view of the importance of the matter.







Unicef and its partners have said that they are assisting the Indian government with relief supplies to millions of people uprooted in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Uttarakhand by heavy floods. The agency has supplied tarpaulin sheets, jerry cans, water purification tablets and mosquito nets, among other items, to over 8,000 displaced families in UP, according to a press release issued in New York. It has pre-positioned its supplies in 10 high-risk districts to help 10,000 families.

Unicef noted that 1.7 million people in UP had been affected by heavy rainfall and floods in the major rivers of the state. The state government has set up 276 relief posts to distribute food and health supplies. The breach of support embankments of the Gandhak River has resulted in the flooding of 35 villages in Gopalganj and Siwan districts in Bihar, the agency said. Unicef sent supplies to Gopalganj, including 282 bags of bleaching powder, 208,000 water purifying tablets, 5,000 oral rehydration salt sachets, 1,000 hygiene kits and soap, following a request by the state government, it added. 

In Uttarakhand, close to half a million people in 369 villages across the state have been affected. A number of roads including national highways have been damaged or blocked due to landslides, Unicef reported. 
The central government has rushed in relief to the affected areas and deployed battalions from the National Disaster Response Force to Haridwar and Rishikesh in Uttarakhand, Gopalgunj in Bihar and Rampur in Uttar Pradesh.

Obama warns Iran: President Barack Obama said that the Security Council sanctions passed against Iran over its nuclear programme showed that international law is not an "empty promise." He said Iran was being held accountable for failing to meet its responsibilities as a member of the international community. He was addressing the General Assembly.

He said the door remains open to diplomacy, but that Iran must demonstrate the peaceful intent of its nuclear programme. He told world leaders it was time for Iran to confirm its peaceful nuclear intentions. "I offered the Islamic Republic of Iran an extended hand last year, and underscored that it has both rights and responsibilities as a member of the international community. I also said in this hall - that Iran must be held accountable if it failed to meet those responsibilities," he added.

Obama said: "Iran is the only party to the NPT that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear programme, and those actions have consequences. The United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it."

He also said that Teheran having a nuclear weapon would present a "real problem" in an interview with CNBC. He stated that he did not think military action by Israel or the United States was the "ideal way" the threat posed by the Islamic regime's nuclear proliferation effort. "We continue to be open to diplomatic solutions to resolve this," Obama told CNBC. "We don't think that a war between Israel and Iran or military options would be the ideal way to solve this problem. But we are keeping all our options on the table," he said. 

President Obama also told the General Assembly that Israel should extend its settlement building moratorium and Arab states should move toward normal ties with the Jewish state to promote direct peace talks. He urged the world community to make sure "this time it is different" from previous failed efforts to reach a deal in the Middle East. Leaders must prove their sincerity and support the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Israel refusal to extend a moratorium on Jewish illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank has put the peace process at risk, with the Palestinians threatening to quit the negotiations if settlement construction resumes when the partial moratorium expires on September 30. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will not extend the construction moratorium but could limit the scope of further building in some settlements.
Council reform: Foreign ministers of Group of four nations ~ Brazil, Germany, India and Japan ~ met on the sidelines of the 65th session of the world body, in New York, according to a joint press statement issued after the meeting held at the Japanese mission to the UN. The ministers of G-4 exchanged their views on Security Council reform, the statement said.
They iterated the need for urgent reform of the Security Council, which would include expansion of both categories of membership, permanent and non-permanent, and improvement in the Council's working methods, in order to render the body more representative, legitimate, effective and responsive to the realities of the international community in the 21st century, it noted. 

Rajapaska and Ban: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa met on the sidelines of the high-level debate in New York and focused on political settlement, reconciliation and accountability, according to a statement issued by the spokesman's office. They agreed to move forward expeditiously on outstanding issues covered in the joint statement of May 2009, the readout stated. 
Mr Ban underlined that the President's strong political mandate provided a unique opportunity to deliver on his commitments to address the issues of political settlement, reconciliation and accountability.  

anjali Sharma










Humiliation, outrage and the right instinct have led seven young women in New Alipore to initiate a campaign they are calling Safe City. Their goal is to create surroundings that will enable women like themselves to step out of their homes without the fear of being harassed. They are actually replicating, in one tiny corner of the globe, concerns that have led to movements all over the world since the 1970s. Sexual harassment and molestation of women on city roads and in public transport are common in all cultures. This crime deprives women of full and free access to urban spaces and opportunities. Of the many movements to address this, one of the earliest was led by groups of women in North American cities. Their "Take back the night" marches have become a byword in the worldwide campaign against harassment of women in public spaces. Europe, too, had to begin addressing this problem by the mid-1980s. In Latin America, the regional programme for safe cities for women was implemented in a number of cities. The approach was flexible. The nature of violence, the areas where this was inflicted and the arrangements of specific neighbourhoods were studied. With the results, the activist groups spoke to public officials, municipal authorities and civil society actors, transport authorities and the police, ensuring their commitment to well-lit neighbourhoods, special monitoring, and immediate and sensitive responses.


Out of worldwide concern and various efforts has evolved a programme for gender inclusive cities of which New Delhi has become a participant. A conference on safety in cities will be held there this November. Bangalore has evolved its own "Nirbhaya Karnataka" programme in response to molestations of women on city roads. One of the programme's chief aims is to make community response and support possible, and stop people from turning away when a woman is being bullied in front of them. In such campaigns, it is necessary to be aware of issues as broad as women's right to free movement in public spaces as well as of local features such as economic and cultural antagonisms. In India, for example, the high level of politicization of society characterizes both the attacks and the administrative response to them. A grassroots initiative, such as the one just begun in New Alipore, may function as an antidote to that.








One's enemy's enemy is not always one's friend, especially in electoral politics. The Asom Gana Parishad has finally learnt this simple lesson and decided to part ways with the Bharatiya Janata Party. The AGP-BJP alliance of the past few polls in Assam was based on the ground that the Congress was the enemy of both the parties. But the realities of Assam's politics increasingly proved that the partnership with the BJP could be more a liability than an asset for the AGP. Worse, far from doing any damage to the Congress, the alliance ended up weakening the AGP itself in the last Lok Sabha polls. But then, that was the price the AGP had to pay for its wrong political strategy. It should have realized the risks of its alliance with the BJP much earlier. Assam's demographic profile makes any alliance with the BJP a risky business. Assam has the highest percentage of Muslim voters for any state other than Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP'sHindutva politics thus makes it totally unacceptable to nearly one-third of Assam's population. It is inexplicable that the AGP took so long to accept this simple truth and mend its ways.


But the larger question is why most of its one-time allies find the BJP a burden sooner or later. After just one season of electoral alliance, the Biju Janata Dal dumped the BJP and won the last assembly elections in Orissa handsomely on its own. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) has always had an uneasy relationship with the BJP as a partner. Sections of the JD(U) are unhappy that the party did not part ways with the BJP before the coming assembly polls in the state. In Bengal, Mamata Banerjee had no hope of destabilizing the Left Front as long as she allied with the BJP. Her chances of success improved dramatically the moment she left the company of the saffron brigade and allied herself with the Congress. In Jharkhand, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha's flip-flop with the BJP and the Congress is largely responsible for the state's political instability. The BJP's sectarian approach to politics is incompatible with the pluralism that alliance politics demands. At the national level, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has ceased to be a meaningful political force. The break-up of the AGP-BJP alliance in Assam may be good news for the Congress, but it could also help the AGP regain its base and find other, more dependable, allies.









The struggle over the Babri Masjid since Independence has only ever travelled one way, in the Hindutvavadidirection. The functionaries of this young State, high and low, played their part in helping this happen. First, a district magistrate connived in getting idols of Ram smuggled into the mosque in December 1949, thus inventing the 'reality' of Ram worship in a mosque. Then the Congress government headed by Rajiv Gandhi opened the gates to the mosque in 1985 and allowed full-fledged worship. Thus a medieval mosque continuously in use till the mid-1930s was prised open for Hindu worship. This is uncontroversial: whether or not you believe the sangh parivar's assertion that the Babri Masjid was built atop a razed Ram mandir and irrespective of the authenticity of Ayodhya's claim to be Ram's birthplace, the fact that the mosque was encroached upon with the connivance of the State is indisputable.


When the mosque was razed in 1992 by politically mobilized vandals in an act of brazen illegality, a makeshift mandir was established overnight on the site. In a twist worthy of Kundera, the mosque disappeared, leaving a mandir behind. Unlike most magic tricks, though, this needed no sleight of hand, just the shameless complicity of the State.


When the Central government decided to acquire the site in the interest of public order, its decision was appealed before the Supreme Court. Gary Jeffrey Jacobsohn, a constitutional scholar, has a sharp account of the Supreme Court's reasoning in this matter. In his judgment, the judge, J.S. Verma, writing for the three-judge majority, ruled that acquiring the property of a mosque did not constitute an abridgment of a Muslim's right to freedom of religious belief and practice. Verma argued that while religious practice was protected, it was only essential religious practice that could claim protection. And while worship was clearly essential to faith, worshipping in a mosque was not since Muslims could offer namaz anywhere. Ergo, mosques were not a part of the basic or essential practice of Islam.


Consider the surreal implication of this verdict in the context of the demolition; not only is an existing mosque first encroached upon, then razed, not only does Hindu worship continue on the site, but one of the consequences of this vandalism is also an apex court judgment that suggests that mosques, all mosques, are no longer protected by Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution because they aren't part of the basic furniture of Islam. It's worth noting that this was a majority judgment from a five-judge bench; in the words of Jacobsohn: "[T]he two dissenting judges, both of whom were Muslims, had an understanding of the obligations of Islamic practice that differed sharply from their three Hindu colleagues in the majority."


So, instead of a majoritarian campaign of violence and destruction (which led to the mosque being razed and thousands of Muslims being attacked and killed in the wake of the demolition) being punished, Muslims found themselves a) minus one mosque, b) the victims of vicious, orchestrated violence and c) at the receiving end of a judgment that made their places of worship an optional extra, not sacred places protected by their constitutional right to religious practice.


More was to follow. In 1996, the chief justice, Verma, reviewed a set of high court verdicts that had quashed the election victories of Shiv Sainiks on the ground that they had solicited votes in the name of religion, something strictly forbidden by the Representation of the People Act. It wasn't Verma's decision to uphold their elections that was problematic; it was the reasoning he offered for the verdict. Verma's desire not to find against the Shiv Sainiks was reasonable: elections underwrite legitimacy in a democracy and striking down an election is not something a court wants to do. Instead of confining himself to arguing that the strictest standards of proof were required to strike down the elections and that those grounds weren't met, Verma chose to defineHindutva in a way that invoking its rhetoric wouldn't attract the provisions of the RPA.


Verma argued that "the term Hindutva is related more to the way of life of the people in the subcontinent. It is difficult to appreciate how in the face of prior rulings the termHindutva or Hinduism per se, in the abstract can be assumed to mean and be equated with narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry or be construed to fall within the prohibition in... the RP Act".


In the majority judgment on another case in 1996, Verma went to unusual lengths to establish that Hindutva was normally understood as a synonym for Indianization, not a faith community of Hindus, even quoting a Muslim theologian out of context to achieve this object. It's worth listening to the argument at length.


The Wahiduddin Khan quotation went like this: "The strategy worked out to solve the minorities problem was, although differently worded, that of Hindutva or Indianzation. This strategy, briefly stated, aims at developing a uniform culture by obliterating differences between all the cultures coexisting in the country. This was felt to be the way to communal harmony and national unity. It was thought that this would put an end once and for all to the minorities problem."


What Verma didn't quote was the rest of the essay where the maulana makes his opposition to the imposition of a uniform culture clear: "If we insist on uniculture, the results will be disastrous." A few pages later, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan argues for the "general acceptance of pluralism. But upholders of this principle have first to contend with the problem — nay, threat — of 'cultural nationalism'... serious minded people regard this movement as a genuine threat to the integrity of the country".


Yet the court came to the conclusion that Hindutva has nothing to do with Hindu fundamentalism or sectarianism. It quoted a Muslim theologian and took his description of a political strategy as an endorsement of it. It ignored the fact that in the same essay the theologian saw this strategy as a threat to India's composite culture. It ignored the even more important fact that the "obliteration of cultural differences" was directly contrary to Article 29 of the Constitution that gives minorities the right to conserve their cultures.


Thus by the end of the century, the majoritarian mobilization that led to the destruction of the Babri Masjid had its principal ideological claim — that Hindutva was a form of nationalism, not religious sectarianism — seemingly endorsed by the republic's apex court.


Now, on the eve of the Allahabad High Court's judgment on the case, the Supreme Court has intervened to postpone the verdict till it decides on a petition to defer the judgment in favour of an "amicable settlement". This has happened after the high court itself dismissed a petition for postponement as frivolous, even going to the extent of fining the petitioner. Should the high court judgment be deferred beyond October 1, one of the judges will retire and the case will have to be heard afresh.


The Supreme Court's decision to defer the high court judgment on the eve of the high court judgment was a split decision, with the judge, H.L. Gokhale, arguing that even a one per cent chance of reconciliation needed to be taken because the issue was of such moment that if there was unrest after the high court judgment, the people of India would blame the Supreme Court for not exploring every option for settlement. Given that traffic has only flowed one way in the Babri Masjid dispute for the last 60 years, it's hard to see what is left for the Muslim parties to this dispute to concede, short of accepting the status quo where an extemporized temple has replaced the mosque. To accept that arrangement would be to concede that majoritarian grievance backed by massive, illegal violence is above the laws of the republic.

There's another possibility. The Allahabad High Court might rule in favour of the Muslim parties to that dispute, redressing decades of injustice, and should the matter be appealed, the Supreme Court might uphold that verdict. Such a resolution would make the point that no one, not even self-styled proxies for Ram, can violently change facts on the ground and then expect to have their goonery legitimized by the courts.







When did the frame that held India together with some semblance of dignity and integrity begin to fall apart? That question needs to be asked. Looking back at the last few decades, it becomes clear that 1975, when the Emergency was declared, was the watershed year after which wholesale corruption and illegalities would become legitimate within the administrative system. In 1977, the first coalition was formed, made of disparate ideologies that desperately wanted to be in power rather than to guarantee excellence in governance. That lot never felt the need to revert back to democratic processes based on ethical norms enshrined in our Constitution. The babus, aided and abetted by their greedy and incompetent political masters, ensured the start of the rapid decline into anarchy.


Successive governments have merrily manipulated civil society by perpetuating the illegalities and defying the need for immediate reform and restructure. This has insulted one-billion-plus individuals who carry one of the finest legacies on this planet. There is only one real priority today — overhaul and ruthless reform of the corroded administrative system. Imagine how any new economic initiative will fare in this protected but absolutely inefficient, unproductive system. Imagine building a nuclear energy infrastructure with a clumsy and corrupt bureaucracy that has been caught with its pants down, often with its hands in the national till, breaking its own rules, over and over again. Today, with the internet and electronic media entering an ever-growing number of households, these babus, who thought they were safe in their opaque cocoons, are becoming increasingly vulnerable. Yet they continue to be impervious to the radical change that will soon engulf them and compel a reform. The petulance we see is akin to the heightened flame of a candle before it dies.


Radical reshuffle


India will never be able to contend and compete with China and other emerging States with its bureaucracy being what it is today. India will be chewed up because of its soft and vulnerable, dishonest and conniving, incompetent and intellectually ill-equipped 'steel frame'. The political masters will have to be far more alert, demanding and correct. Accountability is at the core of good governance. Till failures are not hauled over the coals and suspended from service, India will continue its fast slide into decline. Apart from the babu and the politician who is served by the babu, every Indian — from rural to urban to metropolitan — believes that the babu is wholly responsible for the shameful state of affairs prevailing in India and Bharat. This is the consensus across caste, creed, faith and class.


There was a time when a prime minister would have forced the resignation of those involved in the 'grand scam' that has been the preparation for the Commonwealth Games. Those at the helm of the Delhi Development Authority, the ministry of urban affairs that has consistently said, 'all is well', the chief of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and other such incumbents need to set the standard by demitting office for shaming the country. All the members of the organizing committee of the CWG should be interrogated.


The time has come for a radical reshuffle — Ambika Soni should revert to being minister for culture and restore what she had begun during her tenure. Indians need to have direct access to the minister for culture. To have a secretary operating as the de factominister is unwarranted. Such a situation leaves no room for voicing legitimate grievances. The sports ministry should be given over to a middle-aged person, since those with 'experience' have behaved shamefully.







It is imperative for the Centre to pass a new Land Acquisition Act that actively engages with the ground realities, writes Bhaskar Dutta


Recent events involving the Vedanta bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa and the Yamuna expressway stretching for 165 kilometres through Uttar Pradesh have once again brought the issue of land acquisition to the fore. In the former case, the Union environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, has refused permission to the mining company. In the latter case, farmers, whose land needs to be acquired for construction of the highway, have launched an agitation and only time will tell when Mayavati's dream project will be completed.


Both events have once again brought to the fore the issue of whether owners of agricultural land can be forced to give up their land on the principle of 'eminent domain'. All densely populated developing countries have to confront this issue because it is a 'stylized' fact of development that people have to move out of agriculture to the industrial and services sectors. The inevitability of this process is not difficult to explain. It is well-known that individual demands for various products do not grow proportionately as per capita incomes rise. In particular, we spend a smaller fraction of our incomes on food and other agricultural products as we grow richer — we buy more expensive cars, laptops, bigger houses. Since a sector should only produce what it can sell, the relative size of agriculture, and hence the population which it can support, must shrink.


Of course, while there are similarities between the two events, there is also an important difference. The protagonists in Orissa were Vedanta, a private industrial group, versus the local Dongria Kondh tribal group, environmentalists and the Union government. (Incidentally, there are allegations that the state government was solidly behind the Vedanta group since the state would have earned very substantial amounts of tax revenue if the mining project did take off.) In Uttar Pradesh, the protagonists have been the state government versus the farmers. This difference in turn raises a quite distinct set of issues.


In the case of the Vedanta project, and indeed in all instances where the private sector wants to acquire land, a prior consideration must be whether the project is in the national interest. Indeed, the Central government refused clearance for the project mainly on environmental grounds — it was deemed to have violated green guidelines embodied in the Forest Protection Act, 1980. Apart from the fact that a legal issue was concerned — namely, the violation of an act — a decision on projects of this type raises important trade-offs. How much of damage to the environment is tolerable or permissible if there are large gains to be made in terms of conventional measure of national well-being such as gross domestic product?


Even when a private project passes the first hurdle, namely, whether it is in the national interest, another contentious issue is the role of the government in facilitating the transfer of land. Should the State play an active role in the process or should it let the private entrepreneurs negotiate directly with the landowners? On the other hand, when land is acquired for the construction of dams or highways, the presumption must be that the State has done its homework and that the project is indeed in the national interest. Hence, the more important consideration becomes the appropriate level and form of compensation to be paid to landowners.


Readers of The Telegraph must be aware that there was a heated debate about these issues after Singur and Nandigram. In particular, the bloody clashes between the police force and protesting villagers which culminated in several deaths has made State involvement on behalf of private entrepreneurs in the process of land acquisition very unpopular. This has prompted Mamata Banerjee, who is as aware of popular sentiments as any other politician, oppose all attempts to formulate any new legislation governing land acquisition, particularly if the legislation specifies any active role for the State. This is extremely unfortunate because it is absolutely imperative for the Central government to pass an appropriate Land Acquisition Act.


A principal component of such an act has to be a very transparent basis for fixing both the rate of compensation as well as the form in which compensation is to be paid. The rate of compensation is perhaps easier to determine when land is sought to be purchased in order to set up a profitable project. In such cases, it is only fair that farmers be given some share of future profits from the project. Some long-term benefits in the form of jobs for family members of the displaced families and vocational training would smoothen the transfer of land. What is a fair level of compensation becomes a fuzzier notion when the land is acquired for a public project, since there is no tangible profit to be distributed in this case. But, as I discuss below, there are instances where this has not proved to be an insurmountable hurdle in land acquisition.


It is equally important that the act also specify that in all cases of disputes, each state would have a negotiation group which involves parties other than those directly involved in the transaction. The involvement of neutral arbitrators always helps to resolve disputes, and there is no reason why this should be less effective in conflicts involving land acquisition. Interestingly, versions of these ideas have been used with a fair amount of success in some instances. Consider, for example, the process through which land was acquired in order to build the new airport in Cochin. The negotiation committee in this case was chaired by a minister of the state government, and included representatives of 900 landowners, the district collector, the elected representatives of the locality or panchayat and a representative of the company operating the airport. This group held several meetings and finally arrived at a settlement scheme that was acceptable to the displaced farmers. A crucial element of the rehabilitation package was the provision of jobs to one member from each family that lost its land or house. In addition, the company also allotted taxi permits to land evictees to operate as part of the pre-paid taxi service that operates from the airport.


A similar process has also been used in several provinces in China. Since there is no reason to believe that these success stories are isolated instances, it is imperative to initiate discussions which can result in a new Land Acquisition Act that will incorporate some of the features of the Cochin experiment.


The author is professor of economics, University of Warwick








If Indian sport is to reach international standards, it has to be liberated from government control


A fortnight ago, when I was in Calcutta, I was deeply envious of the money and effort being spent on sprucing up Delhi ahead of the Commonwealth Games. Why was so much attention being given only to Delhi, and why couldn't the sporting events be distributed among the other metros that also deserve improved facilities?


Having since returned to Delhi, I grieve no more. The bog-mired capital, strewn with potholes, infested with dengue and with traffic restricted to a few lanes, makes Calcutta seem like heaven. Given the excessive media coverage, I had promised myself that I would not write on the CWG. But the plethora of adverse news reports in foreign publications after the collapse of the footbridge and the complaints about the lack of cleanliness in the Games village, coupled with the flood of critical messages I received from friends abroad, made it impossible for me to stay silent. The issue no longer concerns just Delhi or the organizers' woes; it concerns national pride, or, to put it more succinctly, national shame.


Some months ago, after visiting Shanghai just ahead of the World Expo, I had written inThe Telegraph about the city's targeted preparation for the event. The anxiety I expressed at that time concerned our perennial reliance on last-minute bandobust and our reluctance to clear debris. With only days to go before the scheduled start of the Games, Delhi's beauty lies obscured by the rubble and mud along every major road. A lot has been written about the corruption underlying the Games. But Delhi has witnessed the timely execution of the relatively bigger Metro Rail project, that too ahead of its scheduled completion date and without serious allegations of corruption. So all this talk in the international media that India is incapable of completing large tasks is unfounded.


The problem lies elsewhere. Successful project leaders are experienced professionals, not politicians. Whom would you choose if you were spending your precious money to build a house or a factory? What led the country to hope that politicians would come together and execute the CWG project efficiently and on time?


The licence raj is now a thing of the past. In the two decades since it ended, the government has modified its role to that of a facilitator and regulator. Industry seized the opportunity to become globally competitive, and the consumer has benefited from the impact on price and technology.


Yet, sport in India remains within the government's control. Sports bodies are dominated by geriatric individuals, often politicians, with no background or achievement to speak of. Is it at all surprising then that a nation as populous as India has failed to produce even a handful of world-class athletes? Those who have succeeded at the international level have done so without any assistance from the national sports organizations.


The educated middle class has been pilloried for staying silent on the CWG disaster. Civil society should demand a trade-off. We expect nothing from the promised investigations into corruption. But let us have an altered role for the government and overhaul all relevant organizations to produce winners in the arena of international sports and athletics within a decade.





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





The eight-point package announced  by the Central government for Jammu and Kashmir may be seen as the first part of a firefighting operation in the state. It falls short of the demands made by even moderate elements in the state but that does not detract from its value as a gesture to the people. The all-party delegation that visited the state last week had a direct feel of the situation and no party could dismiss it as a case of estrangement caused by simple reasons. It is the result of complex factors, some of them historical, others relating to the incompetency of the present administration; some economic, others administrative and political, some substantive and many emotional. It is difficult to address all of them with a capsule in a short period and that's why the package should be taken as only a first step. 

The move to release those who have been detained for stone-pelting and other violations of the law, to reopen educational institutions which have been closed for long and to lift curfew in places are intended to encourage restoration of normal life in the Valley. But as responses from some sections have showed even this will be opposed by those who do not want normalcy. There is no direct mention of any thinking on relaxation or amendment of the AFSPA, which has been widely discussed. The government has done well to keep it so as any immediate gains from an AFSPA-related decision are uncertain and it is not even among the main demands of many sections. The decision to appoint interlocutors is a move to increase engagement with the society but this has been tried before without any tangible results. The credibility and acceptability of the persons might make a difference and therefore care should be taken in the choice of the persons for the job.

There is no time schedule set for implementation of some proposals in the package. There should not be any delay in implementation, as otherwise they will be taken as just another set of cosmetic measures announced by governments from to time. The most important task is to regain the trust of the people and make the local administration more effective. Once the situation stabilises in the state, more important demands like those relating to the limits of autonomy, which the government has agreed to consider, will have to be addressed.








Israel's military action on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May this year has been declared illegal by a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) probe. On May 31, a convoy of six ships carrying pro-Palestinian activists from several countries and thousands of tonnes of aid sought to breach Israel's naval blockade of Gaza. Nine Turkish activists were killed and many injured in the Israeli military action. Under international criticism for its heavy-handed action against the flotilla, Israel claimed that its commandos had been attacked by the activists and they had acted in self-defence. Indeed video footage revealed Israeli commandos boarding the ships being ambushed by activists with steel rods and chairs. However, its version of events omitted the fact that the ships had been fired upon prior to the 'activists' ambush' and that the commandos were armed with lethal weaponry including sten guns, grenades and tear gas. The UNHRC investigation has declared the Israeli action as 'disproportionate,' one that involved 'an unacceptable level of brutality.' It has said there is strong evidence to prosecute Israel under the Geneva Conventions.

Israel has rejected the findings as 'biased' and 'one-sided.' It has pointed out that while the UNHRC team interviewed over a hundred witnesses these did not include Israelis. If this is so, a more balanced probe is required. The findings of another UN investigation ordered by secretary general Ban ki Moon and an international probe ordered by Israel are awaited.

Israel has always tended to respond excessively to a perceived threat. It deploys its commandos at the drop of a hat, even in situations that could be defused by mediators. In the case of the humanitarian flotilla, for instance, where was there a need to dispatch its navy and air force against unarmed activists? The unit that led the operation against the activists' ships was Flotilla 13 unit of the Israeli navy, an elite military formation that is notorious for its ruthless operations. Instead of wallowing in victimhood, feeling isolated internationally and going into denial when confronted with its brutal behaviour, Israel would do well to indulge in some introspection and mend its ways. At the heart of anti-Israel international activism is its illegal occupation of Palestinian land and its inhuman blockade of Gaza. These must end if international criticism of its actions should cease.







By simply wishing them away, the root causes of caste do not disappear. India has not become 'casteless' even 63 years after Independence.


Caste is such a devilish word in India. Divisions along caste lines are considered to be the biggest fault-lines in India's socio-economic structure. So, a lot of hullaballoo is being made in the media of the caste census as planned by the Centre. 

The argument is: 'Aren't we giving sanction to the social evil by actually counting people belonging to different castes? Have we not removed the word 'caste' from our so-to-say official dictionary?'

What is so distinctive about caste? Caste is attached to a person by virtue (or vice?) of his/her birth. A person born as a 'darji' (tailor) by caste will remain a darji irrespective of whether s/he becomes a high-ranking civil servant or a low-wage domestic help. It is an indelible stamp or birth mark. In Indian polity and social setup, this stamp can be used to the detriment or benefit of the stamp-bearer.

But caste is only one such stamp. In India, we have many such stamps. The reality of India, even in the 21st century, is that the birth-stamp matters – the birth-stamp may be of any kind including caste. We are very 'lineage-conscious' people. We may talk derisively about dynasties. But, lineage does matter to us. 

Political dynasties are the talk of the town amongst the middle class folk. But, these dynasties are rampant at all levels and in all regions of Bharat –– be it Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, Nagaland, or Tamil Nadu. Dynasties abound in the film industry too ––  Hindi, Tamil, Bengali or Telugu. 

Look at the manufacturing industry or even the new types of industries; the phenomenon of dynasty is not an exception.

 Wherever there is gain –– of money or of power –– there we have this dynasty. We want to concentrate or retain power, position and wealth within the narrow confines of our own family or extension thereof. India is tremendously family-oriented; it is, therefore, dynasty-oriented or birth-stamp oriented. 

There are various classifications by birth. Caste and/or religion are only the obvious aspects. Language is also another classification. Again, this stamp is quite permanent. A Tamilian cannot be a Kannadiga and vice versa. A 'Murthi' in Maharashtra cannot be a Marathi; he is a 'south Indian' – i.e. not a Marathi. A 'Shetty' in Gurgaon can never be a Haryanvi; he is a 'Madrasi' living in Haryana.

 A 'Goenka' from Kolkata is always a Marwari irrespective of the number of generations having lived in Bengal.  Likewise, a Tripathi from Chennai is always a 'Punjabikaaran'. It may be amusing at times. But, it reflects the stark reality of 'Indian' society. We are always bothered about one's blood-line. Blood is thicker than water.  

Similarly, an individual is a Muslim or Christian or Hindu and branded as such irrespective of whether s/he practices the faith or not. The point is: s/he is seen with the coloured glasses of being a Muslim or Christian or Hindu or a Sikh. One's entire life will be spent having been seen by all the people around with an ever-present filter of suspicion.  

By simply wishing them away, the root causes of caste do not disappear. By official promulgation of a 'casteless society' India has not become so even 63 years after Independence. If any, divisions like caste, sub-caste, religion, language, dialect, region, sub-region continue to be used by one and all and, therefore, also exploited by the opportunistic politicians. Politics is not very different from the social reality. 

Always an exclusionist

Indian society has been and continues to be exclusionist. 'You are not our kind' is the basic sentiment. This 'our' is ever-shrinking. Say, you are from south Karnataka, and then you may be seen to be different because you are a Lingayat and 'not a Brahmin like me'. If you are a Brahmin, then you are 'not a Vaishnavite like me'. If you are a Vaishnavite then you are not a Kannadiga Vaishnavite like me. And this exclusion goes on. Everybody is 'cast' aside.

Indian society is fragmented. That is the grim reality. The reason may be the deep-rooted individualism tracing back to our ancient culture; or it could be our excessive emphasis on family to the preclusion of the society outside the family boundaries. This is manifest in the way we treat our public property and public spaces.

No one is arguing that the horrible inhuman aspects of the caste system need to be perpetuated. We should get away from this caste system totally. But, we cannot just wish it away. A lot more concerted and deep-reaching effort is required. Not the lip service done all these years. Having a caste census or not having it is not going to make any difference to the evil of the caste system. Caste census is really a non-issue.

What is required is a transformation of India from an exclusivist society to an inclusive society casting aside all differences.

 (The writer is a former professor at IIM-Bangalore) 








Japan is a user country that needs to access biological resources from others for its bio-trade.


Japan seems to be written all over India's official calendars. The commerce minister was in Tokyo in early September after agreeing 'in principle' to an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Japan. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be in Tokyo in October to sign that deal once the Cabinet clears it.

A Ministry of Environment and Forest delegation is also preparing to go to Japan (Nagoya) in October to attend the next big conference of the Convention of Biodiversity (CBD). With the above trips, the bilateral dealings with Japan as well as trade and biodiversity are high on the agenda. Let's just take a look at Japan's treatment of both. 

Till the late 1990s, Japan's trade policy was single-mindedly focused on the World Trade Organisation as a means for global trade. There has been a shift in the Japanese government position towards a 'multi-layered trade' approach through bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs). Nippon Keidanren (Japan Federation of Economic Organisations) comprising 1,300 companies and 130 industrial sector associations is behind both approaches. Trade and business interests determine the course. 

The Japanese government announced a new growth strategy in December 2009, which was approved by its cabinet in June 2010. It expressly states "Achieving growth by pioneering new frontiers," as one of Japan's strategic focus areas. This includes increasing trade with other Asian countries, India being just one of them. 

Regional integration

The Japan-Singapore FTA (2002) was the first such bilateral for Japan. It has also inked an EPA with the 10-member Asean (2007). Japan is also pushing India and others into a 16-country regional integration initiative of comprehensive economic partnership in East Asia. Its strategy also targets a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific by 2020. The India side seems only to be reacting in response than pro-actively defining its own strategy. And to develop one, Japan's approach to biological resources has to be located within the context of its aggressive economic strategies. 

Japan, hosting the CBD's tenth conference doesn't really have a respectable track record on biodiversity conservation. See for instance, its practices of unsustainable whaling and dumping wastes in other countries. 

In the 1990s, the Japanese cosmetics MNC Shiseido patented over 10 compounds from Indonesian traditional medical system Jamu. In 2002, Cupuaçu -- an Amazonian fruit, was registered as a trademark in Japan by the Asahi Foods company. It took legal activism from NGOs and campaigns from local people to challenge these at patent offices.

The main agenda of COP 10 is to negotiate an international regime on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS). Over 193 countries have to agree on the draft text on the table, to convince bio-rich countries like India that such cases will not occur in future. 

Japan - a leading technology hub, is a user country that needs to access biological resources from others for its bio-trade. So it has a vested interest to show that ABS regimes can work for local communities. That also explains why its nodal agency for ABS to implement CBD objectives, is its ministry economy, trade and industry.

The same portfolio in India is held by the MoEF. In 2005, Japan developed 'guidelines on access to genetic resources for users in Japan' as a practical guide for its private sector and research institutes. Japan is heavily investing in the PR to come across as a country that is committed to share the benefits it reaps from others bio-resources.

 In real time however, in its FTAs with Malayasia, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, intellectual property rights (IPR) on seeds were on the negotiating table. 

Seeking private monopoly rights over biological resources goes against the intention to share benefits.

India too has been the focus of Japanese biodiversity diplomacy. The Japan Bioindustry Association (JBA) has been 'helping' the MoEF to develop India's ABS regime. Japan has a keen interest in agricultural and medical biotechnology, and India's ministry of commerce has been luring foreign investors highlighting India's biotech strengths. India's biological resources are on that menu.

The Indian people don't even know what has been agreed to under the EPA, as the negotiations and the text remain closed. Meanwhile, an India-Japan global partnership summit is scheduled in mid-December 2010 in Tokyo. Our politicians and Indian businesses may have found Nippon partners. And like delicately cut and beautifully plated sashimi, the Japanese platter might make for them a pretty picture. But if its raw in the inside it is not going to go down well with many an Indian  palette. And for those not invited to the party and for that matter otherwise too, nothing smells more than bits of leftover fish!







When TV replaced RJs with VJs, I felt my umbilical chord had been severed.


They become family, friends and sometimes phantom lovers! You wake up to the sound of his or her voice or go to bed lulled into dreams of strawberry fields forever. My father gave me a little radio for my ninth birthday and I was hooked for life. Radio ruled most of my growing up years till video killed the radio star and the idiot box stole my fantasies. 

The Voice of America jumpstarted my day back then and opened a window to the world. Casey Kasem and his show AT4 was my school, my weed, my bed fellow. His signature line 'keep your feet on the ground and reach for the stars' became my life's mantra. 

The evolution of music from blues to jazz, to rock and roll, to disco, to R&B, to hip hop kept pace with my hormones. Little snippets about musicians or their songs became bait to grab the right fish at social dos and were great conversation starters. 

When television replaced Radio Jockeys with VJs, I felt my umbilical chord had been severed. The In-your-face VJ became a stooge on a stage, a distraction and often a blot or blob! I became homesick for the aura of a voice that seeped into your consciousness and became one of the voices in your head.

It wasn't just the music countdowns that ruled our lives but also the news hour when the family would sit straining its ears to hear the latest. Since there was no scope for perspectives and pictures with lurid details, we learned to accept the 'need to know' message that was mostly facts and rarely opinions. News readers became household names, including Howard Stern, 'the shock jock' who became the bad boy of radio and therefore a hero!  

And we listened. Instant gratification from visual stimulation was not on our screens as yet. We listened when someone spoke –– a skill, a behaviour that is in danger of going underground and gets consultants like me a fat buck. 

With radio making a huge come-back in the last five years, happy days are here again. It's a space to be heard, to be counted. It never ceases to amaze, how in an instant of air time, a multitude of listeners are connected. You have callers with diminished sanity who rant and rave, desperados who crave attention, teenyboppers spilling their love beans, die-hard romantics making mushy dedications, addicts who are hooked on quizzes and brainteasers. It really is 'a brave new world that has such men and women in it!'

Radio on the go is a life-saver. Long drives to work are now escapades; even when you hit a roadblock or a pothole, a remark, however inane, often ridiculous by contrast, gives you another perspective and the much needed comic relief. 

Often leaving the city's air space is like leaving a lover and on your return, even as you enter Bangalore's airspace, you hear the 'dulcet' tones of your local RJ rolling out an anthem and you know you're home. And so this is for all the RJs who kick up a storm, in my morning cuppa and nightcap and whose sound bytes feed my soul, 'let no one steal your thunder!'







Those who heed the Rebbe's call to visit him in Uman no matter the cost will continue to do so as long as his remains are in the Ukraine.


Shmuel Menachem Tubol didn't have a chance. The blade that punctured his chest left a gaping hole in his heart and he died in a local hospital after falling unconscious on the sidewalk.

The details of what led to Tubol's murder at the hands of Ukrainian locals in Uman on Saturday night are unclear, but it appears the incident is linked to a climate of violence that lies beneath the surface of the pilgrimage to the Ukrainian city, the burial site of Rabbi Nahman of the Breslov Hassidic sect.

This year, over 25,000 Jews from Israel and around the world descended on the Ukrainian backwater town for the annual 
Rosh Hashana pilgrimage. The event was the largest of its kind held in the 200 years since Nahman's death.

Throughout the pilgrimage, a string of violent incidents between Jews and Ukrainian locals indicated that the event had reached its breaking point, and was being held without even a modicum of security.

Speaking to Ukrainians and reading the local press before and after Rosh Hashana, it became clear that the pilgrimage draws the ire of no small number of locals, who see the annual visitors as an unruly, disrespectful, and bizarre horde that comes to raise hell under the guise of seeking redemption. For their part, many of the pilgrims view their Ukrainian hosts as backward, rural and violent anti-Semites who can't be trusted and have a historical penchant for abusing and killing Jews.

While the exact motives of Tubol's murderers remain unknown, evidence and witness testimony given so far have indicated that the killers were looking to attack a Jew, possibly as retaliation for the stabbing and moderate wounding of an alleged local petty thief by an Israeli pilgrim on Rosh Hashana.

Regardless of what led to the murder, now that tension between locals and the Jewish pilgrims has left a 19-year-old Israeli murdered in cold blood in a foreign country, a sober examination of the pilgrimage must be made, with a focus on the glaring lack of security.

Tubol's death should lead to a renewed debate over whether to move Nahman's remains to Israel, assuming they are actually located underneath the prayer hall that is the center of the Uman pilgrimage.

THOUGH THE issue is raised every year, and the pilgrimage has garnered criticism from prominent rabbis, including Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef, the issue is typically dismissed in light of Rabbi Nahman's edict that his followers must travel to Uman to be with him on Rosh Hashana. At best, the debate typically focuses on the exorbitant prices charged by Ukrainian airlines and the local merchants and landlords, and the burden such price-gouging poses for the largely poor haredi pilgrims.

Most Breslov Hassidim would fervently oppose any move, but such opposition could be dealt with on the diplomatic level, if Israeli officials work with their Ukrainian counterparts to remove the remains and bring them to the land of Israel, creating facts under the ground. There is no shortage of precedents, from Theodore Herzl to the 2005 repatriation of the remains of Gush Katif residents.

Maintaining the pilgrimage as it is represents an economic burden for the pilgrims, exacerbated by the security concerns they face in a foreign country. It also conflicts with the promise of the ingathering of exiles that has taken place in Israel.

The Rosh Hashana pilgrimage to Uman brings together tens of thousands of worshipers from every branch of Judaism, who go through a one-of-a-kind experience defined by a sense of communal togetherness that is all but impossible to find here. Nonetheless, with a concerted effort by the leadership of Breslov and the rest of the hassidic world, and through the support of Israel's secular leadership, such a gathering of tribes could take place here.

Those who heed the Rebbe's call to visit him in Uman no matter the cost will continue to do so as long as his remains are in the Ukraine. It is up to the government to take the lead here – to show some of its poorest people that they need not spend a fortune and take security risks in a strange land where they are not particularly wanted, to visit the bones of a sage who, unlike them, had no choice but to live in the Diaspora.








We, the people of Israel, need to stand up and declare – yes we won, we withstood the world, we are stronger than all the powers of the world combined. Now let's stop wasting our precious resources on settlements

Talkbacks (9)

Let's face it, the leaders of the settlement movement did not oppose the building moratorium because some young couples couldn't afford their mortgage. They did not oppose it because a new classroom or nursery school could not be added even if needed as a result of natural growth. They did not oppose it because of the compassion they felt for real-estate developers whose profits were falling.

They opposed the building moratorium for one reason only: because building more settlements, more roads for settlers, more houses for more people means preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

Abbas: Israel's choice is peace or settlements

Bulldozers begin construction in Ariel as freeze ends

But few of the settlement leaders have the courage to come out and say it directly. Perhaps their shyness stems from their realization that the creation of a Palestinian state is inevitable, considering not only the international consensus on the issue, but also that 75 percent of the Israeli public recognize that it is an Israeli strategic interest.

When Menachem Begin and his settlement czar 
Ariel Sharon began their aggressive settlement drive after the Likud victory in 1977, their expressed aim was to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. When Yitzhak Shamir said he was opposed to any negotiations with the PLO, he stated that his opposition was not because Yasser Arafat and the PLO were terrorists, or because they had Jewish blood on their hands, but because negotiating with the PLO meant negotiating over the creation of a Palestinian state.

There is an unexplained, perhaps naïve, perhaps sinister belief (or maybe a plan) that enables the settlers and their leaders to persist in controlling the entire territory of the West Bank while denying the Palestinian people their right to self-determination, liberty and statehood. Do they actually believe that the 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank will suddenly drop their demands to end the occupation? Is there a chance that the settlers and their leaders think the Palestinian people will simply acquiesce to continued Israeli domination? Do they actually think that with some economic growth and the removal of some checkpoints, Palestinians will bow down to their landlords and say thank you?

They must realize that even under the completely opposite scenario, during the aftermath of Defensive Shield, when life for Palestinians in the West Bank was close to a living hell, that the Palestinian people did not pick up and wander off to some other land. Palestinians will not leave their land. They will not relinquish their rights. They will not agree to live under occupation. They will not accept some form of personal autonomy. Why should they? If we were in their place, would we? 

A PEOPLE's yearning for freedom is something we should understand. Our own love of the land which we left 2,000 years ago and dreamed about returning to each time we prayed was transformed into a political movement that combined determination, intelligence and pragmatism and that has created Israel in our beloved homeland. Palestinian consciousness of their belonging to this land in which they feel deeply rooted, on which their identity was shaped and for which they have shed blood will not dissipate because the settlers and their leaders have decided to prevent a Palestinian state from being established.

It is time for the settlers and their leaders to understand that their settlement enterprise has succeeded. They have created facts on the ground, a lot of which cannot be undone. In any peace treaty, Israel will annex most of the settlers and their towns and cities. An annexation of 4.1% or 254 square kilometers would accommodate 75.6% or 335,500 of the settlers, leaving about 108,000 in about 94 small settlements outside the annexed areas.

Those settlers would have a number of choices – they could come home to Israel, they could move into the annexed areas – allowing them to remain in parts of Judea and Samaria – or some could apply to become citizens of Palestine, living under Palestinian sovereignty. Or they can continue fighting against the creation of a Palestinian state. This is apparently their choice.

The settlers and their leaders are riding high right now. They think they have won. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu remained firm against the pressure of the entire international community. Public opinion surveys clearly show that a large majority of Jewish Israelis opposed the continuation of the settlement- building moratorium. Strangely, a majority also support the two-state solution and are not very sympathetic to the settlers.

How can this contradiction be explained? Simply, Israelis hate being told what to do. It is the davka principle at work. But most Israelis don't want to see their resources being wasted building roads and buildings in settlements they know will be vacated. When the world told us to leave Gaza, we resisted, but when we came to the decision ourselves, it had the support of the vast majority. With the clock ticking, this is now becoming a "cut off your nose to spite your face" mentality.

The continuation of the settlers' irresponsible behavior in continuing to build is not only against obligations that the government has agreed to in the road map, it is against the interests of the State of Israel, the Jewish people and the Zionist enterprise. For the sake of Israel, a Palestinian state must be established on 22% of the land between the river and the sea; there is no other possibility if we wish to continue as a state we can take pride in.

The settlers offer no solution, they have no idea how we can occupy all the land and continue to ignore Palestinian rights. Continuation of the settlement enterprise is national suicide wrapped in a veil of divine inspiration, nationalist fervor and militant opposition to the entire world. The settlers and their leaders are prophets whose self-fulfilling belief that the entire world is against us is coming true.

We, the people of Israel, need to stand up and declare – yes we won, we withstood the world, we said no to the US president, we are stronger than all the powers of the world combined. Now let's stop settlement building. Let's negotiate real peace in good faith, not because we are being pressured into doing so, but because it's in our own self interest.

The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information ( and an elected member of the leadership of the Green Movement political party.








Jews who exaggerate the presence of the phenomenon become leading proponents of the campaign to sanitize and understate Islamic extremism


It is surely high time for Diaspora leaders to stop living in denial and get their act together. Instead of competing with each other in oozing political correctness, they should display some backbone and call a spade a spade.

We are currently witnessing the greatest revival of global anti-Semitism since the Middle Ages. This permeates all classes of society, and, ranging from academics to illiterates and European leaders who retain office despite making unabashed neo-Nazi remarks about Jews to mobs at anti-Israeli demonstrations carrying placards "gas the Jews."

Planned Koran burning in US called off by Florida pastor

Muslims to hold summit over Ground Zero Islamic center

It encompasses the entire political spectrum, but is spearheaded by liberals and Muslims. Muslim radicals relate to Israel in a manner reminiscent of the Church's medieval attitude toward the Jews. They promote popular TV programs depicting the blood of Muslim children being used for baking matzot, and have revived The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a best-seller. They certainly compare favorably with the worst Nazi Jew baiting, with imams quoting genocidal religious texts to the faithful, inciting them to murder Jews, "the descendants of apes and pigs."

It is macabre to observe the alliance between liberals and jihadists who represent the antithesis of everything the Left purports to represent. The extremist Islamists are the most reactionary elements in the world. They reject fundamental human rights, proscribe freedom of expression and religion, promote the degradation of women and, to this day, implement barbaric laws including stoning of adulterers and homosexuals and the amputation of limbs for petty crimes. More than 50 Muslim countries deny Judaism or Christianity equal standing with Islam.

WHAT MAKES this situation even more bizarre is that over the past months, there has been a concerted campaign claiming that Islamophobia represents the greatest threat to human rights in the world! In the US the controversy over the mosque at Ground Zero, where 3,000 Americans were murdered in the name of Islam, has been twisted into an attempt to deny Muslims equal rights as distinct from not violating the sensitivities of the bereaved families. Not a single mainstream conservative politician has ever denied the right of Muslims to build mosques throughout the US.

This is taking place at a time when the Muslims have the audacity to promote legislation at the UN and elsewhere which would make any criticism of Islam a criminal offense. The response of the Obama administration has been to reiterate the ludicrous mantra introduced by president George W. Bush describing Islam as "the religion of peace" and blatantly deny the reality that present-day terrorism is essentially a Muslim phenomenon, even though that does not mean all Muslims are terrorists.

Taking political correctness to the ultimate extreme, US counter-terrorism director John Brennan described jihad as "a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam intended to purify oneself or one's community," and urged that those indulging in terrorist acts never be described in "religious terms" despite the fact that all recent terrorist acts in the US were perpetrated by Muslim extremists. Administration officials initially described perpetrators as demented people rather than Islamic terrorists. This even applied to the Fort Hood killer, who had been influenced by an American-born Yemeni imam and was shrieking "Allahu akbar" while massacring unarmed American servicemen.


Alas, Jews who exaggerate the presence of Islamophobia become leading proponents of the campaign to sanitize and understate Islamic extremism. This is especially bizarre, given that Jews, especially in Europe, but also increasingly in the US, are facing far greater threats of violence than Muslims. It is also synagogues, rather than mosques, which are continuously being desecrated and vandalized, in many cases by Islamists.

In that context, the relative tranquility which Muslims experience in Western societies is a great tribute to tolerance – a tolerance unlikely to have been extended to Jews in similar circumstances. Imagine the response if Israel had a track record like some of the Arab states, or if Jews in Western countries were blowing up their neighbors.

While genuine interfaith relations are to be commended, many Jews persist in engaging in "dialogue" with Muslim organizations that refuse to dissociate themselves from hard-line Islamic attitudes. Some of the leading Saudi groups promoting international interfaith conferences are directly engaged in the promotion of anti-Semitism, yet Jews participating in these bogus meetings naively babble on about love and coexistence and ignore realities. By doing so, Jews undermine the few moderate Muslims courageous enough to speak up.

All religions incorporate texts and concepts which encourage violence and aggression, but it is the interpretation by religious leaders that determines actual behavior. Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism today are overwhelmingly supportive of peace, and seek coexistence while condemning extremists.

IN CONTRAST, only a few Islamic moderates have the courage to criticize extremism within their own circles. Those brave enough to do so are marginalized, condemned by their kinsmen, and their lives are frequently endangered. The overwhelming majority remains silent or defends the Islamic excesses of Islamic regimes.

On the other hand, when a lunatic American pastor threatens to burn a Koran, 
President Barack Obama personally intervenes and warns of global violence and mayhem. This the first time that an American president has called on the nation not to "endanger our troops" in order to placate extremists threatening violence in response to the acts of a solitary American eccentric.

Of course, burning a Koran or any religious book is a barbaric act. But in these timesanything likely to offend Muslims, including cartoons or criticism, is condemned out of fear of violent Islamic responses. This contrasts with an absence of Islamic respect for other religions. When some years ago, the National Endowment for the Arts contributed an outrageously insensitive, blasphemous image of a crucifix in urine to a New York exhibition titled "Piss Christ," outraged Christians did not threaten to go on killing sprees.

An example of the insane levels generated by fear of Muslim violence is reflected in the case of Molly Norris, a Seattle weekly newspaper cartoonist who was forced to adopt a new identity at the urging of the FBI because she had become a prime target for assassination after having drawn a satirical cartoon of the Muslim prophet in her local newspaper. This resulted in a fatwa being issued against her, stating that "bombings and acts of arson were appropriate responses to acts of blasphemy."

Yet Obama, champion of the First Amendment for Muslims, remained silent about Morris's ordeal.

There is indeed a desperate need to encourage moderate Muslims. But appeasing the extremists and groveling to Muslim bullies merely emboldens them. There is not a single instance in history in which appeasing religious fanatics of any faith has brought about progress. If we allow ourselves to be intimidated or fail to confront Islamist jihadists, they will succeed in destroying the very tenets of our civilization.

This is an area in which Jews, who have the most to lose, must surely stand up and be counted.









A year abroad for many American Jewish youths means enrolling in a program that costs over $20,000 and is supposed to enhance their religiousity, but in reality is just a year-long opportunity to drink and behave like hooligans.


Come to Israel for Succot and there are many things you'll see at night on Rehov Ben-Yehuda, Jerusalem's premiere recreational thoroughfare. You'll experience outstanding cafés and mouth-watering restaurants, families with strollers and tourists buying souvenirs. Wait till later and you'll see American teenagers taking over the street, many of them drunk. You'll see friends guiding their inebriated colleagues home, navigating broken glass and discarded bottles. But one thing you will likely not see are their yeshiva and program heads, those responsible for their supervision. Yes, the kids are alone, away from mom and dad and away from nearly any kind of responsible supervision.

Welcome to the Israeli-American religious-industrial complex, where a year abroad for many American Jewish youths means enrolling in a program that costs their parents over $20,000 and is supposed to enhance their religious commitment, but in reality is just a year-long opportunity to drink and behave like hooligans.

Let me be fair. There are many American Jewish youths who avail themselves of the opportunity to study the great Jewish texts and immerse themselves in serious study and religious reflection. They emerge immeasurably enriched by the experience, and infinitely more attached to the Jewish state. But for the hundreds who gather nightly on Ben-Yehuda, the idea of spiritual uplift is about as distant as Jerusalem is from Malibu.

ABOUT FOUR years ago I wrote a series of columns in The Jerusalem Post that expressed how disturbed I was to witness the loutishness on Ben-Yehuda. The columns were roundly criticized by year-abroad Israeli administrators and American high-school teachers who press their students to study in Israel. I received hate mail from people telling me I was dampening parents' enthusiasm for sending their children to study in the Holy Land. But lo and behold, after a few months a slew of columns by other writers began decrying the same torrid scenes.

Every one of my children, on coming of age, studied in Israel, and I currently have two daughters living there. But I made it clear to all of them that if they are not in serious programs of study and religious commitment, or if they abuse the privilege of being in the Holy Land by acting in a non-holy manner, I would take the first plane to Israel and bring them home.

I am currently in Israel working on a TV series for the Israeli market using Jewish wisdom to heal broken homes. I have already experienced some of the hesitation that nonreligious Israelis have for the Orthodox, essentially accusing us of preaching one thing and practicing another. The last thing we need is a bunch of spoiled American kids with yarmulkes getting hammered nightly on the streets of Jerusalem to prove their point. Where are their yeshiva heads to pull their students back to their dormitories and enforce responsible curfews? Jewish ritual is designed to instill Jewish values, and blowing thousands of dollars a year on booze and throwing up in public is neither Jewish nor virtuous.

But the religious-industrial complex is a problem that transcends wayward youth. In essence, American yeshivot sometimes betray a greater love for donor dollars than Jewish values.

WHILE WALKING with a few of my children to the priestly blessing at the Western Wall last Sunday, a friend of mine, a donor to Aish Hatorah, invited me to witness the moving spectacle from its rooftop, with panoramic views of the Old City. Aish had invited its wealthiest donors for a fancy breakfast to witness the blessing.

I was aghast and humiliated when one of the organizers suddenly came over to me in public and told me I had to leave because, while my friend had procured an invitation for me, the same was not true of my children and they were not welcome.

But my embarrassment and bruised ego aside, here is a yeshiva whose stated purpose it is to bring nonreligious Jews back to their tradition.

To do so it must understandably raise millions of dollars. But must it sell its soul in the process? My first thought was to promise the organizers that if they allowed me to remain, I would be a hedge fund manager in my next life. But then I remembered the sweet countenance of my rebbe, the great leader of Lubavitch, who stood on his feet for endless hours every Sunday giving dollar bills to rich and poor, successful and desperate, mentally whole and mentally challenged, so that they would know they were important and commit their lives to virtuous ends. I understood that my chosen profession as a rabbi was not less valuable than that of a businessman, however the organizers had made me feel.

The Jewish community has at times elevated two artificial elites. The first was the aristocracy of the learned. The second was the nobility of the wealthy. The Lubavitcher Rebbe obliterated both by declaring that all Jews, even those who could not read the aleph bet, were equal to the greatest scholars, and that the most impoverished was as deserving of love as a Rothschild. Let us embrace his message lest we become corrupted by wealth.

Before my banishment, one of the Aish rabbis walked over to me and congratulated me on a recent column in which I decried opulent Jewish weddings and bar mitzvas as a betrayal of Jewish values. He told me he was of a mind to preach the same to his donors, but was reluctant to criticize them for fear of alienating these wealthy individuals.

But liberating people from material competition is a blessing! I love Israel and Judaism with every fiber of my being, and have devoted my life to their promotion and defense.

But both are premised on the dream of a nation whose values of God, family, spiritual living and peoplehood are so precious that we are prepared to live and die for them.

And if we, the religious, don't practice what we preach then, pray God, who will? The writer is the international best-selling author of 23 books. He has just publishedRenewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.







Jews living in what may become a future Palestinian state should have the same native status and rights to citizenship and land in that state as Arabs do in ours.

Talkbacks (1)

Freezing growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, on the assumption that these lands will become part of a future sovereign Palestine, might arguably be fair were the same principle applied in equal measure to Arab cities and villages in Israel. Were Arabs forbidden to rent or purchase new land or to expand their cities, it would be judged racist and loudly protested. Israeli Arabs are Israeli citizens. Most of them had progenitors or brethren that lived in what is now Israel at the time of its reestablishment. And you know what? Jews living in what may become a future Palestinian state would then have the same native status and rights to citizenship in that state.

Would Jews really consent to be loyal citizens of a Palestinian state whose newly established borders included them? Well, why would they be any less loyal to it, if they remain there, than Israeli Arabs (of which the corresponding question could be asked) are to Israel? Surely, they would have as much of an interest in its stability as any other citizen.

There is the long-standing complication, of course, that Jews in a predominantly Arab country would be in mortal danger – that is one of the true asymmetries in the Middle East – but who knows what they would decide if the Palestinian state provided (not promised, provided) them physical security and equal rights? However hypothetical this question may be, the fact that the answer is at present unknowable should not deprive Jews of fundamental rights to purchase or rent land anywhere.

Wait, some may say: The Jews living in occupied territories obtained their residence there via conquest, whereas Arabs living in Israel were already there at its inception. Actually, the Arabs acquired their residence and supremacy through conquest followed by racist laws. Throughout the Ottoman occupation, not to mention the preceding millennia, Arabs were allowed to settle in Palestine/Israel while Jews, with few exceptions, were not. It is no wonder that Arabs there outnumbered Jews in the early 20th century.

It must have seemed very peculiar and threatening to many Arabs when the British briefly allowed both Jews and Arabs to settle in Israel/Palestine, and they soon got the British to put a stop to it. Now outraged that Jews are still allowed to settle in the West Bank, from which Jews were evicted long ago and again in 1948, they are successfully pressuring US President Barack Obama as they successfully pressured Great Britain. It's all very expected and ho-hum, as racism traditionally is until challenged.

LEAVING ASIDE all mention of the State of Israel, peace will come to the Middle East only when all Arabs with the power to ruin such peace recognize the right of Jews to live there. The violence and terror, which existed in even greater proportions before 1948, are not about border disputes, Israel's policies or even Israel itself. Aside from ethnic bigotry, the fighting is over real estate.

Allowing Jews to buy land freely and live in peace on it, if it doesn't ruin the neighborhood, drives up prices. David Ben-Gurion's book My Talks with Arab Leadersreveals the candid statements of those leaders about why they opposed Jewish immigration, even within an Arab-dominated Palestine. He paraphrases Auni Abdul Hadi, a prominent Palestinian Arab, speaking in July 1934, shortly after Hitler took power in Germany: "Who can resist the insane prices [for land] paid by Jews?" To this day, the right to private land transactions between consenting parties counts for little in Middle Eastern politics.

In a free market, politicians have less power. Jews living on land in the Gaza Strip privately purchased from Arab owners were evicted from it by the Sharon government, while the world cheered, because they were Jews, and, on these grounds alone, apparently not permitted to exercise their legal ownership. Arab political leaders loudly protested the influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union during the 1990s for reasons that had nothing to do with Arab-Israeli borders, and everything to do with their being Jews and not Arabs.

This is not to deny the difficulties of poor tenants when real estate prices increase. This universal problem, however, is hardly grounds for abolishing the freedom of property owners to sell it for a good price. If an Arab wants to sell his home and/or plot of land for a million dollars to a Jew who is willing to pay this much for it, what right does anyone have to prevent these individuals from making the transaction? 

Had the freedom of private transaction between consenting individuals been respected before 1948, there would have been no massive Palestinian refugee problem. The cost of 10,000 brand new homes per year that would have been needed for Palestinians displaced by market forces (far less than the rate of home foreclosures in the US during the recent recession) would have been $1 billion or so per year (in 2010 dollars). This is ludicrously small compared to the cost of support for post- 1948 refugees. Most importantly, the cost of new homes and land plots would have been truly minuscule compared to the revenues that land sales to Jews in Hitler's shadow would have brought to the Palestinian Arabs.

THE POSITION that Jews are entitled to live anywhere is the one slim hope for peace, because it confronts the underlying obstacle to peace head on. The last breakthrough for peace, Menahem Begin's agreement with Anwar Sadat (skyrocketing oil prices of the 1970s notwithstanding), followed Begin's innocent question to the world: Jews are allowed to live in London, New York, Los Angeles, why shouldn't they be allowed to live in the land of their forefathers? The world did not have a good answer.

Perhaps sensing in Begin a man of strength and principle, as per president Jimmy Carter's description, Sadat dramatically announced within months that he was going to Jerusalem in search of peace. His recognition of Israel as a matter of principle preceded any territorial negotiations, probably because he recognized that universal matters of principle are not bargaining chips, even if the guarantees and details of their implementation are. This recognition did not end up costing Egypt an inch of territory.

(Of course, the knee-jerk expulsion of the Jews from the Sinai cost Egypt billions of dollars in tax revenues.) Arabs and Jews want to fall in love, raise families, earn money, buy homes, sell them for a profit and buy newer, better ones, and to pursue happiness – anywhere. Has Obama considered how he is interfering with this process, on both sides, when ethnic restrictions are imposed, at his behest, on transaction of property and on construction? When private individuals enjoy unrestricted rights to conduct private business, warmongering elements are neutralized.

As quoted by a 2009 New York Times article about the improvement of the Palestinian economy and security, Palestinian store owner Rashid al-Sakhel said, "For the past eight years, a 10-year-old boy could order a strike and we would all close. Now nobody can threaten us."


People also want physical security and, in a region with a history of violence, mistrust, numerical asymmetry and dictatorship, it will be hard to implement the ideals of unrestricted individual freedom.

But this is all the more reason to proclaim the ideals, while negotiations for assurances, guarantees, checks and balances, etc. proceed. Otherwise, there is little to negotiate about.

Peace, which surely must accommodate Israeli Arabs in its equation, must also accommodate Palestinian Jews. And it must accommodate the inevitability of competition over land. We cannot eliminate such competition through negotiation, but we can choose whether it will take place on the battlefield or in the free market.

The writer is professor of theoretical astrophysics at Ben-Gurion University.









The organization succeeded in identifying a leftist constituency looking for a voice in Washington. But 'The Washington Times' exposé is so devastating to its credibility and standing that its constituency needs a new champion


Bravo to The Washington Times's national security correspondent Eli Lake for his exposé of J Street over the weekend. The so-called pro-Israel organization is bursting with scandals about the identity of its contributors, its decision-making process, its conflicting policies on Iran sanctions, its ties to pro-Iranian and Arab American organizations and more. But many reporters have been reluctant to shine a spotlight on it, fearful of running afoul of the White House, for whom J Street proudly serves asPresident Barack Obama's "blocking back."

Since J Street's founding, Jeremy Ben-Ami has repeatedly lied about his organization's dependence on Israel's super-critic George Soros. Lake revealed that J Street's US tax records prove that Soros and his family are major contributors.

Soros a Zionist? That would be great

Soros a secret J Street donor since '08

J Street's tax form 990 for the year ending in June 2009 showed that Soros contributed $145,000, daughter Andrea Soros gave $50,000 and son Jonathan an additional $50,000. That's a significant percentage of J Street's budget in its first years.

Despite all J Street's denials, it's clear that the organization abides by the "golden rule – he with the gold rules." J Street's policies strive to actualize Soros's 2007 manifesto "On Israel, America and AIPAC" that appeared in the New York Review of Books. Soros' influence goes a long way in explaining J Street's very existence, its frequent criticism of Israel, its refusal to condemn the Goldstone Report, its flirtation with Iran, its refusal to support Israel's Gaza operation and its active opposition to some American Jewish organizations.


The IRS tax returns also showed that J Street paid its vice president Jim Gerstein $61,000 for "consulting" services by the Gerstein-Agne company. Elsewhere, J Street listed $46,000 for polling expenses, presumably to Gerstein's polling firm, which has published several polls for Ben-Ami's lobby. Whether the polling fees were part of the consulting fees is irrelevant. The "business transactions involving interested persons," to use the IRS phrase, is a questionable corporate practice by a supposedly not-for-profit organization. It also totally destroys the credibility of J Street's self-serving polls.

The IRS forms also list J Street's five officers and directors – something J Street never before publicized. For good reason. The fifth listed is Mort Halperin, a veteran Washington foreign policy hand who also serves as senior adviser at Soros' Open Society Institute. In October 2009, at the height of congressional condemnation of the Goldstone Report, Judge Richard Goldstone sent a letter to members of Congress defending his criticism of Israel. One enterprising reporter checked the document's "properties" and discovered the real author: Mort Halperin.

BEYOND THE Soros contributions to J Street, equally troubling is a huge $811,697 contribution from a "Consolacion Esdicul" from Hong Kong. It appears that Consolacion is "Connie" Esdicul, who Google reveals is a member of the Hong Kong Rotary Club, living in the Happy Valley section of Hong Kong. But little is known about the woman. J Street claims she was solicited by Bill Benter, "a prominent J Street supporter from Pittsburgh."

Actually, Benter, who is not Jewish, is considered the world's most successful bettor on horse races, and hangs out at the Happy Valley track. Racing sheets report that Benter places $250,000 bets. According to, "Nobody's more skilled at making bets than Bill Benter, regarded by many of his peers as the most successful sports bettor in the world."

Esdicul's contribution is a strange number, unlike all the others which are rounded off to three zeroes. The figure may make sense, however, if it were a foreign currency conversion. What currency does $811,697 equal? We can only speculate. Using today's rates, Esdicul's contribution equals 6,298,308 Hong Kong dollars, or 606,491 euros, or 517,388 British pounds or 3,044,756 Saudi riyals.

Why would a Hong Kong individual contribute as much as onehalf of J Street's budget? Actually, Esdicul's contribution is in line with J Street's corrupt taking of money from pro-Saudi activists, Arab- American leaders, Muslim activists, State Department Arabists, a Palestinian billionaire and even a Turkish American who helped produce the anti-American and anti-Semitic film Valley of the Wolves.

According to the US Federal Election Commission, the largest contribution to J Street's Political Action Committee is $36,000 from a Latin teacher in Teton Village, Wyoming named Bob Morris. How do you say "strange" in Latin? With such contributions, it's easy to understand how J Street's operation on Capitol Hill grew exponentially in the past 12 months.

According to lobbying records on file at the clerk of the House of Representatives and the secretary of the Senate, J Street's lobbying budget went from under $5,000 in the first quarter of 2009, with one registered lobbyist, to $130,000 in the first quarter of 2010, when J Street registered six lobbyists.

The $811,687 contribution from Hong Kong should raise the question whether the lobbyists need to register as foreign agents and not domestic lobbyists.

Last week J Street published ads in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journaldemanding that Israel "freeze settlement growth." (There were no parallel J Street demands on the Palestinians to stop jihadi incitement in the PA's newspapers, radio and television networks.) "I would guess the two ads cost J Street a few hundred thousand dollars," wrote one Jewish anti-Israel writer.

Now we know who pays for J Street's ads, and running ads or hiring lobbyists to influence American policy could require foreign agent registration.

In recent months J Street endorsed several dozen candidates for congressional elections, and its political action committee has distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to its favorite candidates.

How many of the endorsees will rush to reject the J Street favors now that the organization has emerged as a Soros and foreign front? Give J Street credit, though: It did succeed in identifying a leftist constituency looking for a voice in Washington. ButThe Washington Times exposé is so devastating to J Street's credibility and standing in Washington that its constituency needs a new champion, one free of intrigues, lies and corruption.

The writer served as a senior diplomat in Israel's embassy in Washington.
He is a public affairs consultant and blogs at








What is the extent of the cooperation between Israel and Gulf countries? And can it continue?

Reactions to the proposed $60 billion US-Saudi arms deal demonstrate how similar threat perception vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic of Iran is bringing about greater cooperation between Arabs and Israelis, who in many ways see the strategic environment through a similar prism.

Previous arms sales – none of which were as large – encountered strong opposition from the Israeli government. This time Jerusalem has remained relatively quiet. Is this because Washington values the deal over Israeli concerns, or is Israel becoming more comfortable with weapons sales to the Gulf? 

The rise of Iran and the mutual fear in Jerusalem and Riyadh of its nuclear aspirations make the political and religious differences between the two capitals pale in comparison.

Israel and the Arab Gulf states do not regard one another as a direct and pressing threat. The fact that the Gulf states are considered politically moderate, that there is no "bad blood" between them and Israel, that they are all close to the US and that there is a growing shared threat perception regarding Iran leads many here and in the Gulf to see the value of an ad hoc partnership. All involved have a strong interest in bolstering their relations, however quietly, to weaken the influence of radical forces in the region.


FOR THE Arab monarchies, regime stability and Iran's drive for a hegemonic role in the Gulf are the main concerns. On the one hand, Teheranhas tried to convey that it sees itself as a partner of all Gulf states. On the other, its words and actions have aroused concern on the western side of the Gulf: It has challenged the legitimacy of local regimes, explicitly threatened to shut the Straits of Hormuz and to target strategic facilities in the Gulf states, conducted intimidating military maneuvers, occupied Abu Musa and the Tunb Islands and has even declared that Bahrain is the 14th district of Iran, which is reminiscent of Saddam Hussein's rhetoric regarding Kuwait in 1990.

The royal families see the difficulties facing the international community in stopping Iran on its way to nuclear capability and want to avoid angering their increasingly powerful neighbor – and prefer to do what is necessary behind the scenes.

Both Israelis and Arabs worry that an Iranian bomb will enable Teheran to determine the region's future strategic agenda. To confront the threat, the monarchs have chosen an often contradictory strategy that combines efforts at reconciliation, overt support for diplomatic negotiations to resolve the nuclear crisis and reliance on American military forces as a deterrent and for protection, with behind the scenes activity whose main goal is to distance the conflict from their territory.

Although religiously conservative, the Gulf states fear Iran, are close to the US and, above all, want to preserve regional stability. They would thus seem to be natural supporters of Arab peace with Israel. Indeed, any progress made by Israelis and Palestinians towards peace would also make it easier for them to resume confidence-building measures and to otherwise defrost their relations with the Jewish state. Regardless, the more Iran is perceived as a threat to both Israel and to the Arab Gulf states, the easier it will be for them to cooperate.

IT IS an open secret that at least some Gulf countries maintain covert contacts with Israel, primarily for intelligence sharing. It has been reported often (though with questionable reliability) that Saudi Arabia would allow the IAF to use its airspace to attack Iran's nuclear sites, and that senior Israeli officials, including the head of the Mossad, meet with Gulf officials with increasing regularity.

Indeed, in the eyes of Arab Gulf rulers it may seem that Israel can play a critical role in ensuring Gulf security, especially with the US determined to leave Iraq and Afghanistan. In this regard, recent reports of Israeli submarine activity in the Gulf are noteworthy.

Formal relations would bring only modest political and economic rewards to Gulf countries, in comparison with the potential political losses from domestic and pan- Arab pressure. Whether the monarchs change the dual nature of their policy – formal opposition to normalizing relations along with maintaining this unprecedented, even if tacit by nature, alliance with Israel – remains to be seen. For now, it serves both sides' particular interests.

The writer is a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.











The construction freeze in the settlements was intended to convince Palestinians that Israel really intends to end its occupation of the territories. The wealth of experience that has accrued since the Oslo Accord was signed 17 years ago shows that peace is not made at festive ceremonies, and formal agreements alone do not ensure reconciliation. Leaders need the support of their people to generate change.

The Palestinian leadership, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, has been impressively successful at persuading Palestinians to abandon the armed struggle in favor of an effort to create a flourishing civil society. But after many years of living under occupation and violence, the Palestinians will need quite some time to achieve economic, and especially employment, independence.


Until then, thousands of Palestinian breadwinners from the West Bank will have to continue seeking work in Israel. Today, some 25,000 Palestinians have permits to work in Israel (and about an equal number work in the settlements). Every morning, they get up early to get to building sites and fields throughout Israel.


Over the last few weeks, Haaretz journalist Avi Issacharoff and photographer Daniel Bar-On have documented the disgraceful conditions at the Qalandiyah and Bethlehem checkpoints into Israel. Many Palestinians reach these crossings only after being delayed for security checks at one of dozens of internal checkpoints all over the West Bank.


Defense officials say that only a negligible number of terror attacks have been carried out by Palestinian laborers who entered Israel legally. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks a great deal about the importance of "economic peace," by which he means that improving the lives of residents of the territories is the best guarantee of peace and security.


Netanyahu should therefore order the defense establishment to allocate the necessary resources, and to provide clear instructions to its people on how to behave, so as to ease passage from the West Bank into Israel and treat our neighbors with respect. A change of attitude toward the Palestinians is an essential condition for peace and reconciliation.









The negotiations with the Palestinians can metaphorically be compared to bargaining in preparation for a wedding. This is not a romantic love match, but rather an open and also quarrelsome one in which murder occurs. But still, it is a kind of "marriage," however forced upon the parties. Because of interpenetration and necessary joint activities, peace between Israel and the Palestinians will unavoidably be more intimate than the usual relations between neighboring countries in the Middle East.


This raises the question of what mahr (a gift that in Islam is given by the groom to the bride ) Israel has to give, and what dowry the Palestinians have to supply (it makes no difference if the gender terminology is reversed ).


The mahr will be big and expensive. It will include withdrawal from nearly all of Judea and Samaria, evacuation of settlements, some kind of division of Jerusalem and acceptance of substantial security risks despite all precautionary measures. The blow to Israel's social fabric and consensus will be traumatic. And, most important of all, Israel will be left without assets to negotiate a comprehensive Middle East peace.


Such a mahr requires a reciprocal dowry. But the Palestinians do not have adequate assets.


A peace agreement is beautiful and will improve Israel's image. The ceremonies will be impressive. The American president will be happy, at least for some time.


But the Palestinians, including Hamas, cannot endanger Israel's strategic security; any violence on their part can be contained and, if necessary, broken. And it is unlikely that they can provoke a serious Middle East conflagration. Therefore, peace with the Palestinians by itself does not make a critical contribution to Israel's strategic security - and especially if the dangers of a renewed eastern front are taken into account.


Israel's demand for recognition as a "Jewish state," assuming it is bona fide, lacks significance. Israel is overestimating the importance of declarations. And the very fact that it is posing this demand testifies to a baseless lack of Israeli self-confidence.


The refugee problem cannot be solved by a Palestinian state. The agreement will fuel fanatic aggression. And, worst of all, the marriage is likely to end in a violent divorce, because the stability of any Israeli-Palestinian agreement will be low as long as the Arab-Israeli conflict as a whole has not calmed down.


Despite all that, it is important to get on with the marriage - for moral reasons, to ensure the Jewish nature of the State of Israel, to reinforce relations with the United States, to improve Israel's international standing, and as a contribution to routine security. But all these do not add up to a dowry equivalent to what Israel is called upon to give. Therefore, a family deal that would balance the payments is required.


Analyzing the Arab-Israeli conflict as a dynamic system, in contrast to a flat and narrow view, leads to the conclusion that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement by itself lacks the critical mass required to bend history in the direction of normalizing Israel's situation in the Middle East - an achievement that was also beyond the peace with Egypt, for all its importance.

More than local peace agreements are needed to change the hard-core dynamics of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which produces new enemies and novel forms of attack despite local zones of accommodation. The conflict with the Palestinians, however important, is only one component of a much larger confrontation that requires holistic handling.


It is an illusion to expect that peace with the Palestinians on its own will bring about an agreement with most Arab states. The opposite is more likely: Once the Palestinian issue seems solved, Arab rulers will have little incentive to proceed to an agreement with Israel.


Therefore, Israel has to receive an expanded dowry - namely, a comprehensive agreement with the moderate Arab states that would be open to all Greater Middle East countries, based on the Arab Peace Initiative.


It is up to Israel to require the Palestinian Authority to bring its family with it to the wedding. Peace with the Palestinians, however essential, should be linked in a road atlas leading to recognition of Israel and establishment of relations with it by the majority of Arab and Islamic states.


The road atlas should also include phased progress toward peace with Syria, on condition that it disengages from the Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas axis; a shared solution of the refugee problem; measures to stabilize the Palestinian state; mutual expression of regret at the suffering caused the other side; and containment of Iran until, in time, it joins the Middle East peace agreement.


For its part, Israel will give agreed "gifts" to the bride's family, including a fitting status in the Holy Basin for an Islamic state chosen by Islamic authorities.


This is the dowry that Israel should require in return for the large mahr. It is up to the Palestinians, together with the U.S., to arrange it. Anything less than that would require Israel to give a lot for much less. This is a luxury that we cannot permit ourselves.









The official statistics supplied by the Central Bureau of Statistics describe the story behind the 10-month construction moratorium in the West Bank. The story can be called many things but "freeze" is certainly not one of them. What took place in the past few months is, in the best case scenario, not more than a negligible decrease in the number of housing units that were built in settlements.


The data that appeared in the bureau's tables clearly show that. At the end of 2009, the number of housing units that were actively being built on all the settlements together amounted to 2,955. Three months later, at the end of March 2010, the number stood at 2,517. We are therefore talking about a drop of a little more than 400 housing units - some 16 percent of Israeli construction in the West Bank over that period.


The sounds of lamentation and wailing coming from the settler functionaries, for whom moaning is a profession, shouldn't surprise anyone. After all, they did not cease to whine even when Ehud Barak, "the leader of the peace camp," built 4,700 housing units for them in 2000, the only entire year he held the position of prime minister.


But the truth is that the settlers know better than anyone else that not only did construction in settlements continue over the last 10 months, and vigorously, but also that a relatively large part of the houses were built on settlements that lie east of the separation fence, such as Bracha, Itamar, Eli, Shilo, Maaleh Mikhmas, Maon, Carmel, Beit Haggai, Kiryat Arba, Mitzpeh Yeriho and others.


The real story behind the PR stunt known as the freeze took place in fact in the months prior to that, during which the settlers, with the assistance of the government, prepared well for the months of hibernation foisted upon them. In the half year that preceded the declaration of the freeze, which started at the end of November 2009, dozens of new building sites sprang up, especially in isolated and more extreme settlements east of the fence.


This piece of information is also well documented in the bureau's numbers. In the first half of 2009, they started to build 669 housing units in the settlements, and then, as the months wore on, the pace of construction increased. Thus in the second half of 2009, no fewer than 1,204 housing units were built - an increase of some 90 percent in construction starts as compared with the first half of the year.


That is a summary of the "Israbluff" behind the freeze. All that was left for the politicians to do in the past few months was - wearing expressions of sorrow - to invite television crews every few months to film how the administration's inspectors were destroying some miserable hut built in contravention of the freeze order.


If we add to these statistics the fact that the government announced in advance that it planned to approve, in any circumstances and with no connection to the "freeze," the construction of 600 housing units in various settlements, and the chaos and anarchy that exists in some settlements and outposts, making it possible for every person to build where and when he feels like it, we shall get quite a good picture of what really happened to the settlements in the past few months.


For their part, the Palestinians did not really ask for a total freeze on construction. They demanded, and justifiably so, to once and for all get recognition of the principle that negotiations on the future of the settlements not take place while they are continuing to be built up. Accordingly, the Palestinians agreed to turn a blind eye to the construction so long as the official freeze policy of the Israeli government continued.


Those who know the reality in the West Bank should not be surprised at what is written here. However it seems that it is possible nevertheless to take comfort from one thing - Benjamin Netanyahu will probably not win the Nobel Peace Prize but he is certainly likely to win the Nobel Prize for Physics, or at least Chemistry, in the name of the Israeli government, which discovered that - contrary to what scientists had thought until now - water is not the only substance that expands instead of contracting when it freezes.










"Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind, but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view." This was the first of President Woodrow Wilson's fourteen points, first enunciated on January 8, 1918, before a joint session of the U.S. Congress in a speech in which he charted his vision of peace in the world after World War I.


Not all diplomatic negotiations conducted since then have proceeded frankly and in the public view. Notorious, of course, for their secret nature were the negotiations between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union that produced the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact in August 1939, which was the prelude to World War II. These despotic regimes had no need to keep their citizens informed of the negotiations or their impending outcome. They had means of assuring their support once the results were made public.


But what of democracies? Do they abide by Wilson's vision, conducting their negotiations in the public view? And why would a democratic government not want to keep its citizens informed of the nature of negotiations that might determine their fate while its representatives were conducting them?


To these questions, the astute politician will reply that it is easier to obtain the public's approval of an agreement once it is faced with a fait accompli - a deal that has already been finalized - than to retain the public's support while the negotiations proceed. Hardly democratic, you might say.


Israel is a case in point. It may be the only democracy that conducts major negotiations "not in the public view." Everyone remembers the secret negotiations conducted by Ehud Barak with Yasser Arafat at Camp David in July 2000, and continued by his foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami at Taba in January 2001. Unknown to the Israeli public, they offered Arafat "everything but the kitchen sink," but were turned down.


Barak had by then lost the support not only of a majority of the Knesset, but even of his own government, and was fully aware that he was facing a national election that, according to the polls, he was destined to lose. Nevertheless, he carried out secret negotiations in full knowledge that he was flouting basic principles of democratic government.


In February 2001, he lost the elections by a landslide. One can only assume he had counted on reversing the trend in public opinion by presenting Israel's citizens with the agreement he had hoped to conclude before the elections.


The secret negotiations presented no problem for Arafat, as the Palestinian Authority, which he headed, was a one-man show. But for the prime minister of democratic Israel, it was an entirely different story.


Now Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is conducting secret negotiations that might very well determine Israel's future. It is said that his party colleagues have no inkling of what is going on in the negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas, held under American tutelage. The same seems to be true for most of his government, the inner cabinet and his foreign minister. Those conducting the negotiations on Israel's behalf are sworn to secrecy.


The principle of transparency seems to be reserved for other activities of the Israeli government. It is not being applied to these negotiations.


To allay the concerns that Israel's citizens have regarding these negotiations, Netanyahu has announced that any agreement he reaches will be presented to the citizenry for approval. A Likud MK, no doubt with Netanyahu's encouragement, has already introduced legislation in the Knesset for a national referendum on the subject. Thus Israel's citizens, while being kept in the dark during the negotiations, can expect to be presented with a fait accompli if and when an agreement is reached.


Netanyahu may not have the support of a majority of the Knesset or the Israeli public for whatever "painful" concessions he is proposing to Abbas in secret, but he seems to be counting on the fact that Israel's citizens would hesitate to reject an agreement once it has been concluded. Considering the demographics of Israel's population, such an agreement is more likely to be approved in a national referendum than in the Knesset.


Can Netanyahu, as leader of a democratic nation, justify keeping his people in the dark while he is negotiating issues that will determine their future? Is this a new version of democracy, a posteriori democracy? Sign first and approve later?


Some would say that the end justifies the means. But that is a principle applied in totalitarian regimes. It is not

fit for a democracy.









About two and a half years ago, Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer became the public's darling. At that time, Fischer decided to intervene in the foreign currency market with the aim of raising the shekel-dollar exchange rate.


The exporters praised him. High-tech executives bowed down before him. Manufacturers Association President Shraga Brosh shook his hand warmly and told him to stick with it. Journalists crowned him a king. Others said he had taught the politicians what leadership was and how to take responsibility.


Fischer began intervening in the foreign exchange market on March 20, 2008. He announced then that the Bank of Israel would buy foreign currency to the tune of $25 million per day and would accumulate $10 billion within two years. The declared intention was to increase Israel's foreign currency reserves from $28 billion to $38 billion. But the primary aim was something else - raising the shekel-dollar exchange rate.


When several months had passed without any improvement in the exchange rate, the governor announced in July 2008 that $25 million a day was insufficient, and he would switch to a purchase rate of $100 million per day. What does this recall? Someone who is addicted to drugs. At first, he makes do with 25 milligrams a day. But when his body has gotten used to that, he needs to inject himself with 100 milligrams a day. Otherwise, he will suffer withdrawal symptoms.


In August 2009, the Bank of Israel began a rehabilitation program. It said it would stop purchasing a fixed amount of dollars every day, but would continue to intervene in the market and buy dollars if the market was not functioning properly.


Following this huge purchase of dollars over two and a half years, Israel's foreign currency reserves rose to the very high level of $65 billion, instead of the planned $38 billion. In other words, Israel has an excess of $27 billion, which is difficult to maintain. It costs the bank (that is to say, the country ) hundreds of millions of shekels every year. For on one hand, the bank earns almost no interest on these dollars. But on the other hand, it pays high interest on the shekels it borrows from the public in the form of treasury bills.


The other price of this policy is capital losses in the billions, because the bank bought the dollars at a higher exchange rate than the current one. And since the shekel-dollar exchange rate is expected to continue falling, the bank is expected to suffer further losses.


But the losses are not the main problem. The main problem is the trap into which Fischer fell with open eyes. He tried at one and the same time to keep inflation low and to maintain the profitability of exports.


These, however, are contradictory aims. Because in order to stop inflation, you have to raise interest rates. But if you want to maintain export profitability - which requires a high exchange rate - you cannot raise interest rates, because a high shekel interest rate attracts investors who sell dollars and buy shekels. That causes the dollar's exchange rate to fall, which harms the profitability of exports.


The result of this trap is that we wound up with the worst of both worlds. Because it now turns out that we still have inflationary pressures, which are reflected in both apartment prices and share prices on the stock exchange. But we also have a low exchange rate that harms exports.


No central bank governor in the world can prevent the exchange rate from dropping for a prolonged period. The rate is determined by the weakening of the dollar worldwide, by the growth in exports, and by the interest rate differential, which attracts investors to Israel who sell dollars.


Therefore, there is no place for intervention. A freely floating exchange rate serves as a shock absorber for the economy: The exchange rate's ups and downs prevent crises. But if one intervenes to try to achieve a "correct rate," the end result will be a collapse.


No economist knows what the "correct" rate is. Fischer does not know, either. The "correct" rate can only be determined by the market.


So if people in the Bank of Israel nevertheless think they know what the "correct" rate is, they should change the bank's name to the Speculation Bank of Israel. And speculation, as we all know, ends badly.


It would therefore have been better not to have embarked on this wild spree in the first place. It was popular in the short run, but very costly and ineffective in the long run. For when one rides a tiger, the big question is how to get off without being swallowed up. And this appears to be an impossible task.










We are starting to wonder whether Congressional Democrats lack the courage of their convictions, or simply lack convictions.


Last week, Senate Democrats did not even bother to schedule a debate, let alone a vote, on the expiring Bush tax cuts. This week, House Democrats appear poised to follow suit. The idea is to spare incumbents from having to vote before Nov. 2 on whether to let the rich go on paying less taxes than the nation needs them to pay.


This particular failure to act was not about Republican obstructionism, of which there has been plenty. This was about Democrats failing to seize an opportunity to do the right thing and at the same time draw a sharp distinction between themselves and the Republicans.


President Obama has been steadfast — and basically correct — in calling to extend the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of taxpayers and to let them expire for the top 2 percent. But by postponing a vote on the cuts, Democrats are increasing the likelihood of an eventual cave-in to Republicans, who are pushing for an extension of all the tax cuts, including the high-end ones.


We presume that Democrats, especially those in more conservative districts, are doing this in response to the anti-Washington insurgency on the right. But it's hard to imagine that conservative voters will confuse them for Republicans, and punting on the tax cuts won't score them any points with the Democratic base.


As the politics of the tax-cut fight move to center stage, far more important issues are being pushed into the background. Letting the high-end tax cuts expire, for instance, is a crucial step in the long process of reducing the federal budget deficit. Extending them will add $700 billion more to the debt over the next decade than under the Obama administration's tax proposal — and for what? To bolster the weak economy, the money would be better spent in any of several more demonstrably effective ways, like payroll tax cuts, infrastructure spending or state aid to hire more teachers and police.


Letting the high-end cuts expire would also be a strong signal to the nation's creditors that Congress has the political will to cut deficits and, by extension, to prudently service debts. Delaying a vote on the tax cuts leaves that message hopelessly muddled.


To their credit, 46 House Democrats sent a letter recently urging Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a vote on the tax cuts before the election. But 31 other Democrats — many of them self-described deficit hawks — also sent a letter urging that the high-end tax cuts be extended.


The American public is right to be confused and distrustful of its elected representatives.


Their focus on the well-being of the richest Americans is eclipsing the needs and concerns of vulnerable Americans. A roughly $1 billion pro-work program in last year's stimulus law that has provided jobs to 250,000 low-income workers is scheduled to expire at the end of September. But with less than a week to go before adjourning, Democrats have been unable to get Republican support to extend the program or, it seems, to make the Republicans pay a political price for being the Party of No.


This program is a model of the welfare-to-work initiatives long championed by the Republican Party. But Republican lawmakers would prefer to end it than to let the Obama stimulus package be seen as helpful. So deep is their desire to thwart Mr. Obama and the Democrats, that they are ignoring Republican governors who have called for the program's continuation. And they have indicated they would vote down a must-pass spending bill and other last-minute legislation if Democrats attach a provision to extend the program to those bills.


That is pure obstructionism, but it leaves Democrats still struggling to challenge the Republicans' ability to define the terms of the political debate this election season, while Americans who really need the help go without.







Sweden's reputation for fairness and tolerance took a nasty hit this month after a xenophobic anti-immigrant party that misleadingly calls itself the Sweden Democrats won 20 seats in the 349-seat Parliament. Neither of the two main coalitions secured a clear majority, so this former fringe group is hoping to leverage its power.


Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt plans to stay on as head of a minority center-right government. For now, all of the mainstream parties say they will make no deals with the Sweden Democrats. They should stand firm.


Most Swedes abhor racism. But they have legitimate complaints about inadequate government policies for integrating poorly prepared new arrivals. At a time of high unemployment and growing pressure on the traditionally generous welfare state, highly visible immigrant communities — like the 500,000 Muslims who now make up roughly 5 percent of the overall population — make especially tempting scapegoats.


The Sweden Democrats have tried, somewhat, to soften their image. The party no longer calls for mass

expulsions of Muslim immigrants. Its platform still calls for sharply cutting the number of foreigners granted asylum or admitted to join family members, and for force-feeding what it considers true Swedish culture. It particularly targets Muslims — it calls Islam "unSwedish" — many of whom have fled persecution and upheaval in Iraq, Iran and the former Yugoslavia.


Sweden's immigrant populations tend to live in ghettoized areas, receive inferior public educations and suffer higher unemployment and arrest rates than the native-born population. These problems have received too little official attention and financing, not too much.


Keeping immigrants out is no answer. Nor is forced assimilation to an imaginary pure national culture. Immigrant dynamism is essential to keeping all of Europe competitive. Sweden's mainstream politicians are still battling over old questions of welfare versus markets, while largely ignoring newer ones like globalization, immigration and social integration. They can't afford to ignore them any longer.








In most repressive countries, government censors like to toil in the shadows, maintaining a cover of deniability as they block citizens' access to information. It is gratifying to see that the Internet and Google are making their job tougher.


Four months ago, Google unveiled a tool that allows users to monitor the requests received from governments to take down material or report data on the users of their search engine and other services. This month, it released another tool that will expose less overt attempts by governments to curtail its various services, including YouTube and Gmail.


The new tracker shows how traffic on YouTube in Iran fell to zero after the disputed presidential election last year. And how YouTube traffic collapsed in Libya in January after it aired videos of demonstrations by families of murdered prisoners and videos of partying relatives of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader.


The tracker shows the ebbs and flows of traffic but not the cause of disruptions — whether a government directive or a cut cable. Still, it adds an important new source of information.


For starters, it suggests that repressive governments are most fearful of YouTube — an effective vehicle to disseminate dissenting views and evidence of government repression.


Google reports that the service has been blocked in at least 17 countries since 2007. China, for example, has blocked YouTube since March of last year after a video appeared on the site showing Chinese police beating Tibetans in Lhasa in 2008.


Once researchers start poring through the data, they will be able to track more precisely governments' efforts to clamp down on information. Google officials say this could even deter censorship, perhaps by embarrassing authorities into changing their ways. That may be too optimistic. Even exposing where censorship is most rampant should be a victory for freedom of expression.








Is the Republican candidate for governor of New York a racist, sexist, pornography-loving creep? Or are there other, more benign, explanations for the stomach-turning e-mails distributed by Carl Paladino?


One of the things that can happen in the news business is that some portion of a story becomes so vile, so offensive, it is virtually impossible to effectively recount or describe. Reporters keep their distance. Editors lunge for the delete button.


Such is the case with the images and videos forwarded by Mr. Paladino to a wide variety of people. The public should know about these mailings, and Mr. Paladino should give a full, thoughtful explanation of why he trafficked in such filth.


Example: A photo showing a group of black men trying to get out of the way of an airplane that is apparently moving across a field. The caption reads: "Run niggers, run."


Example: A doctored photo of President and Mrs. Obama showing the president in a stereotypical pimp's costume holding the hand of the first lady, who is dressed as a prostitute in a grotesquely revealing outfit.


Example: A video clip of a nude couple engaged in intercourse with the title: "Miss France [expletive]." Mr. Paladino characterized it as "a keeper."


Example: An image showing a woman performing a sexual act on a horse.


There are many more. Mr. Paladino has acknowledged forwarding the e-mails, which he said was evidence of "poor judgment" on his part. But that's not sufficient. The e-mails raise legitimate questions about the fitness of the sender to hold the highest office in the state, and Mr. Paladino should feel an obligation to put those questions to rest.


The images and videos are so blatantly hostile to blacks and women that it's fair to wonder whether Mr. Paladino is prejudiced against them. He's made it clear that he's fully capable of mindless stereotyping — letting us know, for example, that people from Manhattan, who tend to be "smug" and "elitist," are his least favorite New Yorkers.


Questions about possible prejudice are germane whenever a candidate aspires to public office. In Mr. Paladino's case, the questions are entwined with some of his specific policy positions. He believes that space in prisons should be turned into work camps in which poor people would get, among other types of training, classes in personal hygiene. The camps would be part of Mr. Paladino's proposed "Dignity Corps," the inference being that the poor lack dignity in the first place, along with their presumed lack of cleanliness. (It's a good bet that Mr. Paladino is oblivious to the extreme irony of someone who sends out racist and pornographic e-mails counseling others about personal dignity.)


But while aiming to bolster the sagging dignity of poor New Yorkers, Mr. Paladino would simultaneously hack away at their health care. He has said that one of his first acts as governor would be to cut Medicaid — which provides health services to the poor — by $20 billion.


On an issue of particular concern to women, Mr. Paladino is opposed to abortion in virtually all instances, including cases of rape and incest. The only exception, according to a spokesman, would be if the life of the woman was at stake.


Michael Caputo, Mr. Paladino's campaign manager, said the candidate is sorry for sending the e-mails and has apologized a number of times. But when asked to explain why his boss engaged in this pattern of distributing such offensive material, he could only repeat, as Mr. Paladino has: "Bad judgment."


This does not give voters any insight into how Mr. Paladino really feels about blacks and other minorities; or about women, who just happen to make up half the population of the state that he would be governing; or about the most extreme forms of hard-core pornography.


As for the poor, Mr. Caputo said that Mr. Paladino has at times not fully explained his expansive plans for welfare recipients, failing public school students, and men and women who receive unemployment benefits. He said a Governor Paladino would ask parents of struggling students to send them to state-sponsored boarding schools, which would also house children taken from their parents "because of social service or child welfare reasons."


He said all recipients of long-term unemployment insurance or welfare services (except for the disabled and mothers with small children) would be required to work (or be re-trained) in government programs in order to get their benefits. This would include, he said, those who are already very well educated.


I don't think voters quite know what they might be getting with Mr. Paladino. New Yorkers need to hear much more from him.







Atherton, Calif.

Sometimes it's hard to remember what good government looks like: government that disciplines itself but looks to the long term; government that inspires trust; government that promotes social mobility without busting the budget.


That kind of government existed for decades right here in California. Between 1911 and the '60s, California had

a series of governors — like Hiram Johnson, Earl Warren, Goodwin Knight and Pat Brown — who were pro-market and pro-business, but also progressive reformers.


They rode a great wave of prosperity, and people flocked to the Golden State, but they used the fruits of that prosperity in a disciplined way to lay the groundwork for even more growth. They built an outstanding school and university system. They started a series of gigantic public works projects that today are seen as engineering miracles. These included monumental water projects, harbors and ports, the sprawling highway system and even mental health facilities.


They disdained partisanship. They continually reorganized government to make it more businesslike and cost effective. "Thus," the historian Kevin Starr has written, "California progressivism contained within itself both liberal and conservative impulses, as judged by the standards of today."


Most important, California progressives focused on the middle class. By the end of these years, California enjoyed the highest living standards in the country. The core of the state's strength was in the suburbs. Between 1945 and 1950 alone, the San Fernando Valley doubled in population. In one 12-month period, between 1959 and 1960, Valley residents applied for 6,000 swimming pool permits.


In fits and starts, California's progressive model has been abandoned. The state's current economic decline and political stagnation is a result of that abandonment. Now California government has all the dysfunctions that mark national government, but at a more advanced stage.


Both parties helped kill off California's pro-market progressivism. Some assaults came from the left. First, there was the growing power of the public sector employee unions. These unions began lobbying for richer salaries and pensions. That, of course, is their job. But in the 1970s, governors started caving in. Money that could have gone into development went into prison guard benefits. Infrastructure spending, for example, has dropped from 20 percent of the state budget to 3 percent.


Then there was the growing power of the environmental movement. In the 1960s, environmental groups protested against the excesses of the infrastructure boom. Many of their complaints were absolutely legitimate. But over the years, environmental concern transmogrified into a "small is beautiful" ideology. A new cadre of activists arose — hostile to suburbia, skeptical of capitalism and eager to impose greater regulations and costs on small businesses.


As Joel Kotkin of Chapman University has pointed out, the interests of the affluent class along the coasts began to crowd out the interests of the middle-class suburbanites and agricultural workers further inland. "The result," he writes, "is two separate California realities: a lucrative one for the wealthy and for government workers, who are largely insulated from economic decline; and a grim one for the private-sector middle and working classes, who are fleeing the state."


Another assault on California progressivism came from the right. Conservatives refused to acknowledge the public sector's role in creating the state's prosperity. With Proposition 13 and other measures that cut taxes, they cut off revenue and pushed through structural reforms, making it hard for future administrations to raise funds. Many on the right became unwilling to think creatively about using government to promote prosperity.


The result is a state in crisis. Eighty-two percent of Californians say they believe their state is heading in the wrong direction, according to this week's University of Southern California/Los Angeles Times survey. State growth has lagged behind national growth. Unemployment is at 12.4 percent statewide and at catastrophic levels in the Central Valley. More people are leaving California for Oklahoma and Texas than came here during the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s. Tom Joad is giving up.


Meanwhile, the political set is an embarrassment. As jobs disappear, legislators are fixated on transgender rights and deals for lobbyists. Legislators are polarized and gridlocked. The pension system is $300 billion in the red, and the state hops from one fiscal crisis to the next.


The answer is to return to the tradition of pro-market progressivism that built modern California in the first place. Except this time, it can't be about building up the '50s-style suburbs. It needs to focus on supporting the immigrant entrepreneurs, averting state bankruptcy and unleashing the industrial and agricultural base.


The antigovernment conservatives and the unions have built institutions and bases of support. The heirs to the pro-market progressive tradition have not. What's needed is not a revolution, but a restoration and a modernization of what California once had.








A YOUNG man walks into a Home Depot and buys a large quantity of acetone. Later, a young man walks into a beauty supply store and buys hydrogen peroxide. Still later, a young man is observed parked outside a nondescript federal building in a rented van, taking photographs.


No crime has been committed. But should any of these activities (acetone and hydrogen peroxide can be components for explosives) be reported to and evaluated by law enforcement officials? If they are reported, the government may infringe on privacy and civil liberties. If they are not, we might not know until it's too late whether it was the same young man in each instance. We might miss the next Timothy McVeigh.


This dilemma was at the heart of hearings before the Senate Homeland Security Committee last week, in which several federal officials warned that "homegrown terrorists" represent the nation's greatest emerging threat. According to the F.B.I. director, Robert Mueller, Al Qaeda "has looked to recruit Americans or Westerners who are able to remain undetected by heightened security measures." This reality has led Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security, to conclude that "homeland security begins with hometown security." And hometown security begins with locally based observations of "suspicious" activity. So, can we encourage such observation without also encouraging a disregard for privacy and constitutional rights?


We may get our answer from a project now being undertaken by the Justice Department called the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative. Federal, state and local law enforcement officials have set up "fusion centers" for the program in about a dozen cities, including Boston, Chicago and Houston, where reports of suspicious activities made by citizens and the local police are collected and analyzed for disturbing patterns.


Suspicious Activity Reporting begins at the troubling intersection where law enforcement meets intelligence. Its premise is that if potential attacks are to be prevented, and not merely responded to, law enforcement must focus on precursor conduct — surveillance or "casing" of bridges or train stations, for instance — that may not itself be criminal, but may signal a coming attack.


One need only look to the events of the past year — the shootings at Fort Hood, Tex.; the attempted bombing of a jetliner on Christmas Day; the Times Square bombing attempt; the New York subway plot — to see the point. Each of these attacks and attempted attacks was preceded by "precursor conduct," legally protected actions like chatting on the Internet or purchasing legal chemicals or applying for a visa, that combined with other information might have tipped off law enforcement agents to the intended act of terrorism.


The Suspicious Activity Reporting program recognizes both the necessity for a focus on precursor conduct and the potential for abuse. It strikes a balance by establishing a uniform process for gathering and sharing information. It seeks to avoid racial profiling and other law enforcement excesses by requiring that the reports be based on the evidence of suspicious conduct, not on what the person looks like or where he comes from.


The government consulted with civil liberties groups as it devised the initiative, and they secured changes in the program to assure that the threshold for criminal conduct would not be lowered and that individual privacy would not be violated by the willy-nilly entry of innuendo into a government record. As Michael German, the security policy counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union and a former F.B.I. special agent, put it last year, "The revised guidelines for suspicious activity reporting establish that a reasonable connection to terrorism or other criminal activity is required before law enforcement may collect Americans' personal information and share it."


Nonetheless, the A.C.L.U. is now taking issue with the program, saying that it "increases the probability that innocent people will be stopped by police and have their personal information collected." Mr. German worries that an effort like this "moves the police officer away from his core function, to enforce the law, into being an intelligence officer gathering information about people."


At bottom, whether the civil liberties risks posed by the reporting program are justified turns on whether the administration's claims about the evolving threat are true. The attacks of the last year suggest that they are. As for the idea that it will bring police departments into new territory, surely police officers have always been on the lookout for precursor conduct — burglars casing a home or bank, for instance. The difference here is one of degree.


Paradoxically, perhaps the biggest hurdle the initiative faces is not civil liberties worries but the age-old barrier between federal law enforcement and its state and local counterparts. The F.B.I. has raised concerns about sharing intelligence with state law enforcement because some states' open public records laws might result in the bureau having to make public some of its data. And, in a time of shrinking budgets, turf battles between the fusion centers and federal law enforcement are a certainty.


Civil liberties and bureaucratic concerns are legitimate. But this initiative represents the administration's first thoughtful steps in fulfilling President Obama's commitment to defining a lasting rule of law for this brave new world. We must make it work.


John Farmer Jr., a former senior counsel for the 9/11 commission, is the dean of the Rutgers School of Law-Newark and the author of "The Ground Truth."








This year, television viewers in Pennsylvania are being bombarded by an ad attacking Senate candidate Joe Sestak for, among other things, gutting Medicare. The ad — which the non-partisan watchdog group calls "badly misleading" — is funded not by Sestak's opponent but by an independent group called Crossroads GPS.


Such ads have long been common in American politics. But this election season, the amount of money flowing into them is skyrocketing, thanks in part to a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that gave corporations and labor unions the right to spend unlimited amounts to back or attack individual candidates.


The Center for Responsive Politics, a group that follows political spending, estimates that at least $3.7 billion will be spent on this year's congressional elections, almost $1 billion more than was spent in 2006.


Even more troubling than the amount of money is that it is increasingly being channeled through non-profit groups that do not have to disclose their donors.


The group running the Sestak ad, and several ads like it in other states, is affiliated with Karl Rove, a longtime Republicanpolitical operative and aide to former president George W. Bush. Because it is structured as a 501(c)(4) organization— similar to non-profit groups that might support education or the arts — it is not required to reveal its funding sources. The same goes for a number of other groups with benign-sounding names— Americans for Job Security and Patriot Majority, toname just a couple— that are littering the political airwaves.


This noxious mix of unlimited money and secrecy means that Americans have no idea who is trying to buy this year's elections. Some of these ads could be underwritten by a single industry, a single company, or even a single person with a vendetta. Big money can easily promote a big lie. The closer to election day, the less chance the candidate under attack has to expose the truth. As the process is fully exploited, candidates almost certainly will find themselves facing veiled, or not so veiled, threats to vote a certain way or face a possible onslaught of anonymous attacks.


This emerging system is a transparent boon to special interests, a massive barrier to honest politicians and a sure loser for the public. Yet Congress — for reasons that will surprise no one — has so far been unwilling to do anything about it.


With the Supreme Court having struck down limits on the size of corporate and union contributions, megamoney pouring into elections is apparently here to stay. But the court's January decision explicitly invited disclosure rules, so more transparency would be an improvement.


Some states already have fairly good disclosure laws, something that Target Corp. found out when it had to reveal that it contributed $150,000 to a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate, prompting a backlash from some Target customers.


But federal legislation is needed as well. Such a measure, called the Disclose Act, is stalled in Congress.Republicans are filibustering the act in the Senate, and Democrats wrecked the House version by allowing exceptions for powerful special interests such as the National Rifle Association, AARP and the Sierra Club.


The irony here is unavoidable. Lawmakers can't rid themselves of anonymous attacks from special interests — because those very same interests won't let them. Until this gets fixed, negative political ads underwritten by shadowy groups deserve to be taken with even bigger grains of salt than usual.








It's an old Washington game to draft a piece of legislation aimed at helping some special interest, then slapping a name on it that no one in his right mind could ever find objectionable.


Such is the case with the so-called Disclose Act, a bill that purports to increase transparency in elections but which ends up putting the federal government in charge of picking and choosing who gets a full right to political speech in elections.


By putting government in charge of regulating the political activities of any one group — whether it be non-profit organizations, for-profit organizations, faith-based organizations, civic groups, or individuals — legislation like the so-called Disclose Act threatens to undermine one of the fundamental rights the U.S. Constitution was established to protect. After all, if the government can limit the speech of one group, then it can limit the speech of any group.


Newspapers seem to understand this as it relates to themselves, but too often miss the point when it comes to others. They defend their own right to free speech tenaciously, regardless of whether they are owned by corporations whose owners embrace a particular political ideology. The question is: Should corporations and non-profits that do not own newspapers be held to a different standard than those that do? Of course not. And that's why groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are united in opposing the Disclose Act.


One of the skills required in a democracy is the ability to tolerate different points of view. It may be easier to shut certain voices out, but democracy was never meant to be easy. The appropriate response to a differing point of view is a better argument. Politicians may not always like it that way, especially at moments when they come under heavy criticism for pushing unpopular policies. But freedom demands it.


Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is a longtime critic of efforts to restrict political advertising and campaign contributions.









As the baseball season nears its post-season, it's reasonable to take stock and reflect on the progress the national pastime has made in the 16 years since the devastating strike of 1994. The strike, a culmination of years of bitter acrimony between the owners and players, had robbed the public of the last month-and-a-half of the regular season, and worst of all, the playoffs and World Series.


When the game resumed in 1995, we all again watched. With each year, there was more remarkable, unforgettable action on the field, but also a brand new scandal, as players on every team were forced to make personal decisions about how far they were willing to go to succeed.


But despite the crippling strike, despite the devastating revelations about steroid use, despite the wealth of players and the fantastic sums of money the game brings in, the real "star" of our new baseball documentary —Baseball: The Tenth Inning— turns out to be the resilience of the game.


Ironically, and without anyone foreseeing it at the time, the strike naturally ushered in years of labor peace, as the players and MLB, shocked at the visceral reaction of the fans to the work stoppage, realized they had to work together and could never again test the faith of the tens of millions of citizens who love this game. But in the wake of the strike, as baseball slowly reclaimed the interest of those fans, the steroids issue festered as neither the fans nor the news media, the players nor the owners, seemed prepared to stop the artificial inflation of offense the use of performance enhancement drugs (PEDs) prohibited.


Parallels to society


The game seemed to mimic our larger society, so pharmacologically preoccupied as we are, where millions give their children pills to do better in school, where millions more take pills to go to sleep, wake up and to better themselves in the bedroom. The steroids scandal, when it finally burst into public view, provoked a simplistic moral outrage that obliterated our own culpabilities as we failed to notice the complicated choices the players felt compelled to make. This is not to excuse their use of PEDs, only to understand it in a larger context, free of the sanctimonious posturing so many continue to exhibit.


The Cassandras who predicted that steroids would destroy the game and render meaningless its statistics were wrong — just as they were wrong in the mid-20th century after free agency ended baseball's decades long "plantation system," liberating the players to make their own decisions about where to play.


Interestingly, money has been nearly as big a force, for better and for worse, in the game (as it has been in recent years in our national life) as the strike on steroids. The game was never more profitable than now, and the players make, in some cases, hundreds of times more than the average worker. Nearly 20 new parks have been built, architectural acts of faith that recall baseball's earlier golden ages, but which are mostly publically financed pavilions to corporate sponsorship and a new class of luxury box-owning millionaires who struck it rich in the go-go years before the financial collapse.


And the play on field today is better than it has ever been. The steroids scandal seems to be over. Baseball, which once had the worst testing of any professional sport, now, has the best. The only records that seems to have been affected were home runs — there were no more .300 hitters, no one hit .406 (as Ted Williams did way back in 1941), no one had a 56-game hit streak (as Joe DiMaggio did, also in '41), and no pitcher had 40, 35, or even 30 wins.


No asterisks needed


And there is no need for asterisks. Though baseball is the sport where statistics do matter over time, there is no asterisk after the winners of the 1919 World Series. It just says the Cincinnati Red Stockings were champions, not that some Chicago White Sox, now forever known as the Black Sox, took money from gamblers and threw the series. No, we just have to tell complicated stories about that and everything that followed.


The game has not only survived, but it is thriving as never before, fed by globalization and the latest wave of immigrants who have enriched the game. Latinos and Asians, just as they have strengthened and made better our larger society, have transformed and revitalized the game at every position.


The year of the 1994 strike happened to also be the year when Lynn Novick and I released our nine-episode — or nine "inning" — documentary history called BASEBALL. We traced the story of this unusually American sport from its beginnings in the early 19th century through the 1992 World Series. At every juncture, we were amazed at the way in which the game precisely mirrors our larger national narrative — in issues of immigration and assimilation, in the age-old struggles of labor and management, in popular culture and the nature of heroes, in the growth and decay and new rebirth of great American cities, and, of course, in race: Jackie Robinson's arrival in 1947 marked the first real broad social advance in civil rights since our Civil War. Baseball sometimes led the country, sometimes followed it, but nearly always reflected, as the sociologist Jacques Barzun said, "The heart and mind of America."


Today, we look forward to that time in 10 or 15 years, when, God willing, we might take another hard look at the greatest game that's ever been invented, and produce an "ELEVENTH INNING."


Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has a new two-part series, Baseball: The Tenth Inning, which debuts Tuesday and Wednesday on PBS.








It's a story that people in my new city keep recounting to me since my selection as president of Lewis & Clark College this summer. The story originated a year ago in a