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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

EDITORIAL 29.09.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month september 29, edition 000638, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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











































































The Supreme Court has done well to reject the petitions seeking to further delay the Allahabad High Court's judgement in the Ayodhya case which was due last Friday but was put off at the last minute when a strange, inexplicable appeal to halt it was made in the Supreme Court. The petitioner had earlier approached the Lucknow Bench of the High Court with the same appeal, seeking time for a 'negotiated settlement' of the dispute that has defied resolution since early-16th century and has been pending in courts for the last six decades. In essence, the dispute is over the ownership of the land on which the disputed Babri Masjid stood and which Hindus believe is the place where Sri Ram was born and hence hold sacred as Ram Janmabhoomi. There is indisputable archaeological evidence to prove that Mir Baqi, a general in Babur's army, had destroyed a temple to build the mosque on the site, using material from the razed structure to commemorate the invader's military victory over the region. Since then there have been several flashpoints between Hindus and Muslims — the former trying to regain their sacred site and the latter asserting the inviolability of the mosque. Had a negotiated settlement been possible, there would not have been so many skirmishes (local folklore bears testimony to this) and the case would not have gone to court when the British ruled India. Ironically, had the courts acted in time by not delaying a verdict on the title suit, and had too much faith and hope not been placed in arriving at a mutually acceptable solution through talks, the events of December 6, 1992, could have been avoided. For all practical purposes, a Ram temple has existed at the disputed site for the last six decades; it would be naïve for anybody to expect that status to be altered radically.

Yet, a judgement is necessary for several reasons. Contrary to popular opinion, the High Court's verdict will not be restricted to a single issue, but a plethora of issues. It is unlikely that there will be any outright winners or abject losers in this case. And, whichever side perceives to have lost the most will appeal against the High Court's verdict in the Supreme Court. Hence, this is not the final word as far as the judiciary's view is concerned. Hence, while it is understandable that emotions should be running high at the moment, there really is no reason for either misplaced triumphalism or uncalled-for victimhood. The judgement is more than likely to be a layered verdict and it will require some time to understand its implications. Seen against this backdrop, it is in the nation's interest that peace should be maintained, no matter how grave the perceived provocation or sense of grievance. The burden of maintaining law and order rests with the Union Government and the State Governments, but it must be shared by community leaders who should make every effort to restrain hotheads and prevent any incident that can prove to be a catalyst for violence. 








Author Bob Woodward's revelations in his new book, Obama's Wars, about the ISI's direct role in the Mumbai terror attacks will surprise only those who have obstinately clung to the belief that 'rogue elements' and not the Pakistani secret service agency were involved in the 26/11 massacre. Various reports prepared by independent experts from not just India but even the United States have consistently maintained the ISI has been involved in fomenting jihadi terror in India and have cautioned Washington, DC against continuing to arm Pakistan to fight its war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. There is enough evidence out in the public domain to demonstrate that Islamabad has been diverting these funds to strengthen its military position vis-à-vis India. But what is unfortunate is that although it launched the global war on terror, the US continues to officially give a clean chit to Pakistan. Not just US President Barack Obama, who has steadfastly refused to directly criticise Islamabad for its duplicity despite recent reports, even Mr George W Bush had claimed there is no substantive evidence to prove the Pakistani Government's direct involvement. This is really playing with words, since everyone knows that both power and authority rest with the Army and the ISI in Pakistan and not the effete civilian Government. It's Rawalpindi and not Islamabad that makes key decisions. What better proof of this can be cited than the famous statement made by Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who said he had been kept in the dark about his Army's aggression in Kargil.

There is nothing to suggest that things have changed in the past decade and it is more than likely that the Government led by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani continues to remain in the dark about the activities of the ISI — and the Pakistani Army: The Generals and their factotums in the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba are working in tandem. But that does not absolve the Pakistan People's Party Government which claims to have put in place a more robust and accountable democratic system of responsibility. While the book reveals that the US has a contingency plan to bomb every known terror base in Pakistan, we all know that the US drones have been targeting only the North-West Frontier Province, known to be a Taliban and Al Qaeda stronghold, leaving out various camps elsewhere that train and send out terrorists to India. If Mr Bush truly believed, as the book says, that the Mumbai attacks were "like 9/11", he should have responded accordingly. But then why expect another nation, however friendly, however "shocked and outraged" by the attacks, to act on our behalf when we ourselves seem to have taken the event in our stride? We need to understand that unless we fight our own war others will not come to our rescue. How many more terrorist attacks will it take for our Government to wake up and act?







Colombo continues to drift away from New Delhi and towards Beijing as the UPA Government flounders on foreign policy. That's bad news for us

The construction of the memorial for the Indian Peace Keeping Forces in Colombo has been mired in politics. First, it was an internal land row. Then, a minor debate on a mutually acceptable design for the memorial. And finally a political argument on when and who should inaugurate the memorial. Owing to a land dispute involving the Mayor of Colombo, it was decided to construct it alongside the World War II Memorial in the heart of town but even this was not acceptable. It came up eventually outside Colombo at Kotte near the new Parliament building. It must be acknowledged that the Sri Lankan military played a constructive role, the Navy particularly being responsible for it.

In 2008, Lt Gen AS Kalkat, who was the overall Commander of IPKF, was asked by India's Ministry of Defence to assemble a team of Sri Lanka veterans to be present at the formal inauguration, at one time, planned during the SAARC summit in 2008 with both President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh present. That would have been a fitting tribute for the 1,200 brave men who sacrificed their lives for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. Politics got in the way because by then Mr Rajapaksa, having liberated the East, was closing in on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to deliver the mortal blow in the North.

Twenty years after the withdrawal of the IPKF, India's High Commissioner Ashok Kanth laid a wreath on August 15 this year at the black marble memorial marking its formal inauguration without any political or diplomatic representation from Sri Lanka. Since then, the Indian Naval and Army Chiefs have visited the memorial in quick succession. Interestingly, no Indian Prime Minister has visited Colombo on a bilateral visit since Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assaulted by a Naval sailor in the honour guard in 1987.

As the India-Sri Lanka Accord-enabled IPKF became a key political irritant in India-Sri Lanka relations, it was hounded out by then President Ranasinghe Premadasa and what is worse, the Indian political and diplomatic establishment blamed it for the failure of its coercive diplomacy.

Sri Lankans were extremely emotional, even irrational, about the IPKF. After the Sri Lankan Government had manipulated a duplicitous deal with the LTTE, Colombo wanted the IPKF to "go back". When Sri Lanka was in deep trouble after the LTTE overran Elephant Pass and threatened the Jaffna garrison in 2000, Buddhist monks pleaded for IPKF to "come back". During the most recent offensive, when the Army was on the threshold of victory, Sri Lankans asked for the IPKF to "keep out". The IPKF kept out though New Delhi helped Colombo to win a comprehensive military victory over the LTTE.

Nearly 30 years after New Delhi set out under its 'Indira Gandhi Monroe Doctrine' to help Sri Lankan Tamils secure their legitimate political right in a merged North-East, there is little India can cheer about. Rather it has been left carrying the can: The merged North-East Province has been demerged and the frequently promised 13th Amendment on devolution has turned into a mirage. From all accounts, the proposed 19th Amendment is to replace the 13th Amendment ostensibly to make the Provincial Council system more effective.

Mr Rajapaksa does not wish to have anything to do with the 13th Amendment. At the UN General Assembly speech on September 23 he said: "If history has taught us one thing it is that imposed external solutions breed resentment and ultimately fail." That is why he has been talking about a home-grown solution though he has told everyone, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh downwards, that the 13th Amendment would be improved and implemented in full.

A high-ranking Sri Lankan security expert told me recently that if at all there is any political devolution in the North-East it will occur only after security stabilisation and that could take five to 10 years. After all, he said, the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province, Mr Pillaiyan, is a former terrorist. The 'Eastern Awakening', meant to be a rejuvenation of the war-wrecked Eastern Province, is confined to development. A full scale militarisation in the East and North is underway with cantonments coming up on scarce land. Locals have not been consulted on development projects which focus on tourism. Tamils are complaining that Sinhalese are being brought in under the garb of workers to further colonise the province. 

India has not only been ignored over the power-sharing arrangement but also in the manner in which Chinese interests have got a boost across Sri Lanka, including in the North-East. Relations with China expanded after Mr Rajapaksa took office in 2005. From a bit player, China has become the largest donor ($ 3.06 billion) surpassing Japan. Sri Lankans value the robust political and military support provided by Beijing during the war and the developmental assistance after it. Colombo says "there are no strings attached".

India should fear that the Hambantota port constructed by a Chinese consortium could become the southern anchor of its 'String of Pearls' around India. The refurbishment of Colombo harbour has also been bagged by China. Sri Lanka has drawn capital from India's strategic silence over its pivotal military assistance in defeating the Tigers. This has helped Colombo to "look beyond Delhi" and openly acknowledge China's key role in winning the war. Like Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal in Nepal, Mr Rajapaksa has a grand vision of reducing dependence on India,courtesy China. Clearly New Delhi has lost the strategic plot in Sri Lanka. The outright defeat of the LTTE has diminished its influence in Colombo.

Former National Security Adviser MK Narayanan had warned Colombo in 2008 that it should not seek weapons from Pakistan and China when India was the pre-eminent power. It turns out that last week Sri Lanka's most powerful Defence Secretary and brother of the President, Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was in China, underwriting the Defence Cooperation Agreement with PLA Chief of General Staff Chen Bingde.

It should have been payback time for Sri Lanka. Instead Colombo has subtly introduced the China card, complimenting the traditional Pakistan linkage to balance India. With China burrowing deep into Nepal in the north, it is repeating the exercise in the south. India's optimistic claims of "decisive influence without direct involvement in Sri Lanka" are no longer valid. Mrs Indira Gandhi's 'Monroe Doctrine' has been superceded by 'Mahinda Chinthan'.








The Commonwealth Games were supposed to showcase rising India's shining image. Instead, corruption and cronyism, sloth and mismanagement have sullied India's image. Countries that lag far behind us are making disparaging comments. In the process, our national honour has been badly bruised

The humiliating embarrassment faced by us due to the unsatisfactory state of preparations for the Commonwealth Games starting on October 3 could be attributed to the failure of the political leadership to realise the importance of well-conducted CWG from the point of view of our national pride and image; corruption and cronyism; a casual approach to the preparations; lack of supervision at all levels; the national inability to stick to time-schedules; over-confidence; and denial of the existence of serious problems when those problems were exposed by the media.

When Beijing was chosen as the host of the 2008 Olympics and Guangzhou as the host of the 2010 Asian Games being held in November, the Communist Party of China and the Chinese Government saw it as an opportunity to show-case China and its organising skills to the world and to convince the world that China has arrived as a major power. The self-confidence gained by the CPC and the Government as a result of the spectacular success of the Olympics is partly behind China's increasing assertiveness in the world stage after the Olympics. All sections of the Chinese civil society and Government worked together with total dedication to demonstrate that China can do it. And China did it.

In India, the political leadership and the Government totally failed to grasp the political significance of New Delhi being chosen to host the CWG. The world, which has been keenly watching the competition for regional leadership between India and China, wanted India to be given an opportunity to show that what China can do, it can do equally well, if not better. Let there be no mistake about it. The good wishes of the democratic world were with India. It wanted India to make a success of the CWG and would have helped India in any way it could to make a success of it.

The political significance of the CWG from the point of view of our national stature, pride and image was not grasped in time by the political leadership. The CWG was treated by the political leadership as one more mega sports event to be handled by the Organising Committee with the help of the Delhi Government. It failed to look upon it as a national task requiring the active involvement of the Government of India. Only in the last few days the political importance of the Games as image-builder and projector has been realised by the Government of Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh and it has been moving heaven and earth to make the CWG a success even at this late hour.

Even if we succeed, it will not erase from the minds of the international community and our own citizens the extreme embarrassment and humiliation that we had to face due to the images of a 'Filthy and Incompetent India' and not a 'Shining and Leading India' that were transmitted across the world. What we saw was not 'Chindia In Action' with China and India in a friendly competition to project to the world the best in each of them, but 'India In Inaction' like a python after a heavy meal.

The Government of India left everything in the hands of the Organising Committee, which was packed with people without a sense of pride. If they had national pride, they would not have allowed corruption and cronyism take hold of the Committee and come in the way of timely and effective preparations. In the process, the Government has projected to the outside world not only the image of a 'Filthy and Incompetent India', but also a 'Corrupt India' for whose political and bureaucratic class acquiring money by hook or by crook was more important than preserving national honour.

The preparations were politicised by the Congress. The head of the Organising Committee and of the Delhi Government are both blue-eyed individuals of the Congress. For the Congress, they can do no wrong. The Congress and its Government failed to take notice of even the most serious allegations being made against them. Even today after all the national humiliation and embarrassment, the Government and the Congress are not prepared to act against them. They have been marginalised, but an exercise is on to preserve their honour despite their misdeeds and failures.

Many national deficiencies, which have become part of our psyche, made matters worse. The Organising Committee had about seven years to prepare for the Games. It did nothing for nearly four years and stirred itself up only after much time had been wasted. There was a plethora of organisations to attend to various aspects of the preparations, but no co-ordination among them.

The Government failed to appoint a high-power apex body to co-ordinate as Mrs Indira Gandhi had done to make a success of the 1982 Asian Games. She did not see the Asian Games purely as a sports event. She also saw it as an event which could make or mar India's prestige if not properly managed. She was not interested in how many medals India would win. She was interested in ensuring that the Games were conducted with clock-like precision without worrying about who won and who lost.

Despite the late start of the preparations for the CWG and despite serious failures to adhere to time schedules, an over-confident Organising Committee sought to give the impression that like the proverbial tortoise, Indians would somehow make a last-minute dash and make the Games a resounding success. Their over-confidence might prove misplaced.

The supervision, as always it happens, was shoddy. The impressive Games Village was completed in time, but many of the apartments were apparently left unlocked and unguarded. The bathrooms were misused by strangers making them filthy. One does not seem to have realised the serious security implications of leaving the apartments unlocked and unguarded.

For the annual Republic Day parade, we hold rehearsals every alternate day for two weeks so that everybody is familiar with his or her security duties and the participants in the parade gain confidence. It is stated that China, which does not face a serious problem of terrorism in Beijing, started holding rehearsals of the opening and closing ceremonies and the security drill six months before the Games. It initiated many security measures like bans on the sale and carriage of substances such as nitrogenous fertilisers which could be used as explosives a month before the Games. 

There are five days to go before the Games and we are yet to hold a single comprehensive rehearsal. Our over-confidence is not only in respect of administrative matters, but also security matters. We are supremely confident that we will be able to prevent any security breaches. Most probably, we will, but we are taking unnecessary risks by not following in a timely manner the drill necessary for such events.

Once the Games are over — hopefully successfully — the Government should hold a detailed inquiry into the sins of commission and omission and take corrective measures to ensure that such deficiencies are not repeated in future.

The writer is a strategic affairs expert. He is a former senior official of R&AW.







The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its establishment this month. Member-states of OPEC account for 40 per cent of global oil output and control 80 per cent of the world's proven oil reserves, which constitutes the secret of the cartel's might.

Until the 1970s, the oil market was dominated by a seven-company cartel comprising British Petroleum, Chevron, Exxon, Gulf, Mobil, Royal Dutch/Shell and Texaco. It was often referred to as the Seven Sisters.

These companies produced oil, purchased it from Third World countries, maintained refineries and sold oil and petroleum products. Their monopolist status enabled the Seven Sisters to pressure rivals from developing countries and to force them to reduce selling prices on a regular basis.

Oil states became increasingly inclined to pool their efforts and repel the hated Seven Sisters but were unable to come up with any feasible scenario in conditions of excessive supply.

Until the late 1960s, the United States was able to meet domestic demand at the expense of its hydrocarbon reserves. Consequently, oil-producing countries could think of nothing better than a price collusion.

In the fall of 1960, representatives of Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela met in Baghdad and signed an agreement on establishing the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The creation of this new organisation went virtually unnoticed, but OPEC received a chance to make its point 13 years later.

The October 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and a coalition of Arab states backing Egypt and Syria heralded the beginning of the expensive oil era. While hostilities were in full swing, OPEC states made an unprecedented decision to impose an oil embargo against the US and Western Europe.

Furious at the emergency re-supply effort that had enabled Israel to withstand Egyptian and Syrian forces, OPEC states imposed an embargo on Washington and raised oil prices by 70 per cent (from $3 to $5.1 per barrel) for its Western European allies. In January 1974, OPEC once again raised prices to $11.65 per barrel. Corporate stocks, except those of raw materials producers, plunged. A worldwide economic depression set in, and inflation became a headache for US and European politicians and ordinary people.

In fact, long-term prerequisites for hydrocarbon price hikes were created on other continents. Although the oil embargo was lifted in April 1974, petroleum prices continued to skyrocket until the early 1980s.

The responsibility for the onset of the expensive oil era lies squarely with the US and Western Europe. They expanded production too rapidly, and their domestic demand followed suit. By the early 1970s, 75 per cent of Americans had opted for private cars instead of public transport. Consequently, the US, which did not face any petroleum shortages in the past, was forced to import 35 per cent of fuel from the early 1970s. The West realised that cheap resources were history, and that long-term excessive raw materials supply was giving way to even more long-term surplus demand.

The 1970s became OPEC's finest hour, when the cartel's revenues increased exponentially. Cities thrived in the Arabian desert showcasing Western technological achievements. The poor and backward Persian Gulf monarchies became global economic heavyweights overnight. Unlike raw materials economies relying solely on the market situation, technocracies can effectively cope with various challenges and set the trends for global development.

Although the oil price hike severely tested the West, the US and European economies found an adequate response. The first "digital revolution" took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s, boosting production efficiency several times over, which made it possible to radically cut energy consumption. This, plus US political activity and the development of Western Siberian oil fields in the Soviet Union, made it possible to stabilise petroleum prices. The extremely heterogeneous OPEC states had a rather limited potential for coordinating their actions. Most Arabian Peninsula residents benefited from the raw materials economy due to the region's low population density and tremendous hydrocarbon reserves. On the contrary, the relative overpopulation of Venezuela and Nigeria enabled a small share of their corrupt elites to gain access to raw materials rent, while the oil boom of the 1970s brought nothing but wars and poverty to ordinary people.

OPEC remains an influential player on the raw materials market and will retain this status for the next 30 years, that is, until the end of the "oil era". However, the cartel's influence hardly compares with that of the rapidly expanding Chinese industry. Ever since oil futures have become the object of speculative investment, petroleum prices are determined by the moods of stock market traders, rather than by production demand and output volumes. 







THE Supreme Court's unanimous decision to quash the deferment plea on the adjudication of the Babri title suit by the Allahahad High Court has come as a relief.


It is not just that the petitioner seeking deferment put a spoke in the legal proceedings just when all seemed set for a verdict on September 24, spawning speculation about who could be behind his sudden decision to jump into the fray. Far more important is the fact that nearly all the stakeholders in the decades old case wanted the HC to come up with its verdict, granting them the closure they desperately seek.


Also, that an out- of- court settlement has eluded the contesting parties all these years made it very unlikely that such a channel would now succeed. It is not inconsequential, either, that the Supreme Court's stand allows the HC to pronounce its verdict a day before one of the judges on its bench retires.


As it is, what the HC rules is not going to be the final legal position, what with the losing party certain to approach the apex court.


That the high court will get to deliver its verdict also means that the security paraphernalia put in place by the authorities would serve its purpose, rather than having to be deployed again at a later date.


There has been talk about the verdict having the potential to cause communal disturbance, that too just before the Commonwealth Games. But this overlooks the fact that the Ramjanambhoomi movement's moment under the sun is long gone. It seems safe to say that while many Hindus and Muslims may be genuinely interested in the view that the judiciary will take of the dispute, they don't care for it as much.







A PROJECT of such scale and significance as the Aadhaar Unique Identification obviously comes with its own set of challenges as well as opportunities.


Certain activists and intellectuals have rightly expressed concern about the threat that the UID could pose to the privacy of citizens.


The experience of the United States after Nine- Eleven, relating to the use of social security numbers and other personal information by the state to monitor the lives of the people has shown the danger of such thorough surveillance.


Notwithstanding these concerns, it is important that we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater by doing away with the project. The government must ensure that there are effective safeguards to protect the privacy of people and prevent identity theft.


The project has the potential of facilitating efficient implementation of welfare schemes for the poor and making it easier for them to open bank accounts. However, it should not end up as one among the many identity proofs that people are expected to possess as that would belie the original purpose of doing away with unnecessary paper work and red tape.


It is important that the various aspects of the UID project are brought into the public domain and the government addresses all the apprehensions that people might have.







GIVEN the huge controversy over whether or not the Games would be held at all, it is heartening to hear that the issue now is whether Prince Charles will declare the Games open, or President Pratibha Patil.


The compromise formula to ensure that the opening of the Commonwealth Games takes place without controversy is all for the good. The ultra- nationalists who believe that only the President should open the Games need to understand that these are the " Commonwealth Games". The concept itself is somewhat anachronistic, but since we do consider ourselves members of that body and are hosting the Commonwealth Games, there is need for us to observe its rituals as well.


In that light, the Queen of the United Kingdom is the head of the Commonwealth, and Prince Charles her designated successor, and so it would be fitting that he reads her message and declares the Games open. The President of India's dignity will not be impugned if she were to thereafter declare, " Let the Games begin" or something to the effect.









SOMETHING common happened in Kashmir and West Bengal, specifically Srinagar and Kolkata, the former reported in detail, and the other largely ignored. Both were situations of truth- telling, marked by different postures of sovereign power, pregnant with different possibilities, and characterised by different ways of articulating politics.


In the first case a large team of politicians and legislators visited Srinagar, in the wake of more than hundred deaths at the hands of security forces in the last three months. Some of the team members went to the homes of the political leaders of the valley, and said that they had come to meet the people of the valley and find out through dialogues a way towards a solution to the Kashmir issue.


In the other case, in the south- western part of West Bengal called the Junglemahals, where a large number of people have died in the last few months, the Chief Minister had remarked in exasperation: he knew that he would have to talk with the Maoists but whom would he talk to? And, these remarks came from him after the villagers led by the Maoists started successfully resisting the ruling party's efforts to return to the contested area and rule people there in the business as usual style. The Chief Minister further said that he knew that police and army measures could not be effective in the long run, and that dialogue would have to commence, but these Maoists being believers of violence and revenge, how could the government start a conversation?




By implication he was saying that since the Maoists were not amenable to the government's reasoning, there was no point in talking to them; the operations had to continue, in as much as in the case of Kashmir, the government was saying that all draconian restrictions would remain in place, but some boys could be released from jail, and each killing by a police, para- military, or an army personnel, would fetch half- a million rupees as compensation. Henceforth tickets of death command the government conveyed, would be signed with soft gestures.


What is to be noticed in both cases is the ambiguous way of telling truth in a situation of civil war. In West Bengal the Chief Minister was admitting that he was finding it difficult to fight a shadowy foe, whose rules of engagement, are different from those of the sovereign power. He knew how to kill through due process, through proper procedure. But he did not know how to invoke the rules of democracy when the chains of command of the enemy and its style were not conforming to his rules, that is to say, the sovereign's rules. But here also he was telling a halftruth, because the Maoists had on several occasions in the past proposed talks, and at the end only seen their emissaries being killed by government forces. The Chief Minister knew all these; still why was he urging the Maoists to be more visible — to talk or allow his counter- insurgency forces to eliminate in the process whoever would surface? Yet, the Maoists would have to find ways to talk and forge a policy of just reconciliation.


And, it is for them how urgently they realise it, because they will suffer most due to a lack of appropriate peace politics, in as much as people in Kashmir have paid a heavy price because their rebels had nothing called an appropriate peace strategy to carry out what they want through war.


But in the present situation, the interesting point is somewhere else.


Both gestures show that the sovereign power wants to talk, because rule otherwise is becoming difficult. Governing unruly populations is a nightmare for all sovereigns. Yet, how can the sovereign talk? What will it require to invoke the truth that suppression has failed and politics must be conducted in a political way — which means in a non- suppressive way? Deaths, extreme unpopularity, complete boycott by civilian population, wise counsel, election results, what, what will the sovereign power need to invoke or accept the truth?




Clearly accepting such a position entails a risk for the sovereign. Loss of legitimacy, credibility, and breakdown of command are some of the usual risks. The greater risk, the sovereign thinks, is a loss or diminishing or reduction of sovereignty.


In the recent half hearted visit by the politicians from Delhi to Kashmir or the West Bengal CM's remark of despair, we have the early signs of truth coming out: of the fear of loss of legitimacy, of failure of war mode of governance, of the incapacity of the government to dialogue, accepting as ethics of governance a notion of permanent plebiscite on the quality of those who rule us.


For the citizens telling truth is easier.


They do it all the time — through votes, at times with hands at times with feet.


But for the sovereign to tell the truth is difficult. The reason is that the sovereign is tied to a structure of power. Therefore only in a structured manner truth comes out of the sovereign source. The result is that even in a lowly magistrate's office claims or assertions of truth are made, enacted, and accepted in a bizarre way.


But truth telling, howsoever programmed, may have unintended consequences.


That is where the biggest risk lies for the sovereign. For instance, in response to the West Bengal Chief Minister's remark, the Maoists may say, here is our signal, here is what we want to talk, and let us begin. This happened in the past, and that may increase the confusion.


It may increase the pressure on the government.


Or, the rebel leaders in Kashmir may say, we do not want money for deaths, but unconditional release of all prisoners, punishment of the guilty, and a time bound general inquiry ( let it be a national inquiry) into what had happened in the last three months in the valley.


Price Or, think what happens when the armed forces admit the truth that with the usual rules of accountability for their actions they cannot do what they are asked to. What can be the consequences of such an admission ? What will irrupt out of these truth tellings? We must understand the openended nature of such war- politics continuum when it plays out in popular politics.


Or, to give one last pair of instances, what is the signal when from the same delegation to Kashmir two sorts of voices come out — one saying, we must not placate them, and the other saying, we cannot do anything now, at least let us visit them? Or, in West Bengal, when the sovereign admits that it cannot meet the demands of recalcitrant people, hence must offer money to those who want to turn approvers? Can we recall that these were all time honoured ways of colonial government's truth telling ways, to offer compromises, to backtrack — all of these so that rule could continue? I believe, in popular politics truth has a way of claiming its price. First, it forces persons, institutions, and forces to attach to the truth that has been spoken. Second, in popular politics truth telling has an open ended nature in terms of consequences.


Those who study popular politics must take these signs seriously, not the least because they are of consequence to a politics of peace.


The writer is director, Calcutta Research Group rebels








WANT to know what affluent Punjabis are splurging on these days? Big cars! All the major auto brands heading towards Ludhiana — a town that once boasted one of the highest per capita sales of Mercedes cars.


" If you have it, flaunt it" — is the mantra that Punjabis believe in. The automakers know this fact very well and almost every luxury car maker is out to set shop in the town. Their sole aim is to tap the fad among Punjabis of owning SUVs and other expensive cars.


World's major automobile makers — Jaguar Land Rover ( JLR) and Audi — have all come to the city with major sales plans. BMW and Mercedes also have their plans to target both rural and urban consumers in Ludhiana.


Suraj Dada, chairman, Dada Motors — dealer for Tata — has acquired iconic brands Jaguar and Land Rover.


He understands well that people in Punjab have been riding high on the crest of prosperity.


The realty boom has turned their aspirations of possessing their dream cars into reality.


Dada — who has set up a JLR showroom in Ludhiana — counts that he has booked more than a dozen Jaguar XJ cars.


The coupe priced nearly ` 95 lakh was unveiled in India in January. People are crazy about the Land Rover — an SUV which is priced between ` 34 lakh and ` 1.15 crore. Dada — who also loves to drive a Jaguar — reveals that JLR had been selling over half a dozen cars every month.


The car manufacturers suggest that the customers in the city and suburbs include urbancentric and affluent businessmen with " a progressive and sophisticated outlook," farmers, transporters and real estate dealers. A majority of them belong to rural Punjab.


Brands like Mercedes and BMW have also been working out fresh strategies to boost their sales in the rural areas.


These brands are already considered status symbols in the state.


The luxury car sales are thriving since several neo- rich young people and NRIs want to own what their " friends in Canada or Australia" have.


Buying such vehicles is easy since many of them can sell off half an acre of their ancestral land for it.


Another major car- maker — Audi — has also made a foray into the Ludhiana market and the company is about to set up a world class 3S Audi Terminal.


Benoit Tiers, MD, Audi India claims that the facility would be the largest luxury car showroom in the region — and it would be ready by 2010 end. The showroom will display a minimum of eight different Audi cars and have an Audi Shop and the Audi Exclusive facility, where buyers can order customised products.

Benoit says Audi chose Ludhiana over Hyderabad, Mumbai or Pune to launch the Q7 SUV a few months ago since it has a big potential for sales. The company, which started sales through new dealership in Ludhiana in February this year, has already sold about four dozen cars.


For the car manufacturers Ludhiana is small town that holds the potential of selling over 500 cars per year. Punjabis are crazy about " exclusive styling and luxurious feel" of these mighty machines. Some city residents also own a Bentley and a Rolls Royce Maybach.


Do the car manufacturers ever wonder who would have boosted their luxury car sales had there been no Punjabis?



PUNJABI theatre- buffs recently celebrated the life of Gursharan Singh — the doyen of social drama. The Gursharan Singh Nat Utsav was held in Chandigarh on his 81st birthday in association with the Punjab Sangeet Natak Akademi. Singh worked towards social reform and portrayed the common man as the real hero.


Singh was born in Multan in 1929 and founded the Natak Kala Kendra in Amritsar in 1964. He formed the Chandigarh School of Drama in the late 1980s and performed even during the height of terrorism despite threats to his life. He wrote fifty plays in his career.


He believes that theatre should work towards change no matter how small it is. He aimed at stirring the conscience of the people through his work.


The theatre festival witnessed Balwant Gargi's Loha Kut — a play dealing with a woman's problems, Baba Bantu by Charan Dass Sindhu — the story of a Dalit family's struggles. The last day of the festival was dedicated to Singh's signature street theatre with Sankal Santap and Inqlab Zindabad enthralling the audience. The theatre fest also featured Kranti Da Kalakaar — a 70- minute documentary on Singh's work and life.



SANDEEP Chahal — a lecturer in English at the Doaba College Jalandhar — has initiated a move to save house sparrows which are facing extinction. He has set up an NGO — Dastak Welfare Council — to protect what was once a household bird.


The group of over 150 volunteers builds nests for the chirpy creatures. They have built about 350 nests so far.


Chahal's initiative is inspired by the Royal Society for Protection of Birds.


Chahal says that mobile towers dotting Punjab's skyline and the overuse of pesticides spelt death for the bird species. The disappearing kitchen gardens was another factor. Kitchen gardens are the house sparrows' natural habitat.


He says that only 20 per cent population of the sparrows survives in Punjab now. They witnessed a decline in the past decade.


He has been on a crusade for over three years and hopes that his efforts have helped the bird revive. The sparrows in Jalandhar have gone up by about 5000 — as estimate made by Chahal.



THE young and old in Chandigarh have discovered a passion for cycling. Cyclothon — an event organised to commemorate the World Tourism Day — attracted a large number of people from all walks of life.


The event hosted under the aegis of the Cycling Federation of India aimed to promote cycling for greener, cleaner urban spaces. This also means a smooth ride to good health.


Pankaj Munjal, MD, Hero Cycles — the company which promoted the event — believes that the common man's mode of transportation is likely to become a necessity in wake of the squeezing urban areas and growing health hazards. The domestic cycle market is growing at about 18 per cent . The growth of cycle users abroad is, however, even more rapid. India and China are the two biggest manufacturers of cycles in the world. But, bicycles manufactured by these countries command a four times larger market in the US, Europe and Japan over their sales in the domestic market.


The administration in Chandigarh is also attempting to promote " Bike Tourism." Chandigarh Industrial and Tourism Development Corporation ( CITCO) — a government agency — encourages tourists to discover the city on bicycles.


CITCO rents all- terrain gear bicycles at ` 100 a day at Sukhna Lake and the Tourist Information Centre in Sector 17. It helps the tourists explore the city and its green suburbs on an eco- friendly mode of transportation.


A guide map for the City Beautiful comes free along with every bicycle rented by the tourists.








The Supreme Court decision to let the Allahabad high court rule on the Ayodhya title suits case is welcome. An out-of-court settlement to the vexed problem looked improbable since the two sides had failed to negotiate a way out all this while. In fact, both parties had demanded that the high court should give its verdict as early as possible. Any further delay could have complicated matters since one of the judges on the high court bench who had heard the case is to retire on October 1. With the apex court clearing the way, the high court is expected to deliver a judgement on Thursday. 

The search for a negotiated settlement was in the right spirit, but over the years positions have become intractable. The lack of credible leaders to rise above the din of rhetoric and sectional interests has allowed the dispute to linger. A solution that would be acceptable to all parties looks unrealistic at this point. The court's task is to look at the legal aspects of the dispute and judge the case purely on merit. If the parties to the dispute can't agree on how to resolve it, they must agree at least to respect the court verdict. That's how dispute resolution works in a democracy. 

Political parties and religious bodies have assured that the verdict will be respected and will be challenged, if necessary, only on appropriate legal platforms. The aggrieved party has the option to move the apex court against the judgement. However, there could be rogue elements which may want to take their dissatisfaction to the streets. The Centre and the state government must be alert to the prospect of mischief-makers running away with the agenda. Political groups also have the responsibility to rein in cadres who may attempt to incite communal passions. Adequate police and other law-enforcement personnel must be deployed to prevent any untoward incident. Any attempt to disrupt social peace must be dealt with firmly. Any whiff of communal trouble now would put the Commonwealth Games in jeopardy and damage the country's image. 

The country has transformed considerably since the 1990s when the Ramjanmabhoomi movement peaked. The terms of politics have shifted from identity-based agendas to economic issues. Besides, there's a serious terror threat facing the country. There isn't much political dividend to be had any more by polarising people on communal lines. Law and order is a necessary condition for economic growth and people recognise that. Political parties ought to understand this shift and take up more substantial agendas than the whipping up of identity-based sentiment.






Renowned economist Nouriel Roubini predicts another recession hitting America soon. Anticipating new declines in real estate with rising unemployment, Roubini also forecasts depression in Europe, impacting China as well. Just when you were thinking the local share bazaar at least looked nice and bullish, the good professor relentlessly estimates sharp downturns in global stock markets caused by 'hot money', fleet-footed foreign funds which can be withdrawn as swiftly as invested. Known as 'Dr Doom' after he accurately predicted the current economic downturn, Roubini's new prophecies will shake investors, policymakers and consumers across the world. That's the trouble; when someone as influential as Roubini makes predictions, these take on a life of their own. Knowing his track record, people may now hug their assets closer, lessening money supply, depressing demand and prices. This is hardly the way to prepare for economic recovery, a process that needs wings of confidence, not slowing by sadness. 

Yet, given a choice between optimism and pessimism, many of us don't get past disaster scenarios. Throughout history, prophets of doom have held sway through images of 'the end' being uncomfortably close. An obsession with curses, clashes and closures rules Hollywood movies that display the same delight in total disaster, whether they deal with terrorism, outer space or the environment. Hollywood's obsession with annihilating catastrophe in fact explains the death of the love story in American cinema, driven as this genre is by simple optimism. Roubini may well be right, but he could also be wrong. The danger lies in doomsday scenarios becoming what they predict. In this case, ignorance might literally lead to blissful outcomes. 








The Constitution (One Hundred and Fourteenth Amendment) Bill, 2010 seeks to make long overdue amendments to Articles 217(1) and 224(3) of the Constitution of India, which peg the retirement age of high court judges at 62. Introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 25, 2010, the Bill takes its cues from the 39th report of the parliamentary standing committee on personnel, public grievances, law and justice, that the retirement age of high court judges be "brought at par with the retirement age of [judges] of the Supreme Court", who presently retire at 65. However, while the objectives of the proposed amendment are laudable, the Bill in its present form may have an adverse impact on the length of the term of Supreme Court judges, unless its enactment is paired with a definitive policy on the age at which judges will be appointed to the Supreme Court. 

As things stand today, an appointment to the Supreme Court of 
India carries with it not merely the ability to pronounce judgements of appellate finality, but also a three-year job extension. In fact, in 1950, the gap between the retirement age of high court and Supreme Court judges was even wider; back then, high court judges would retire at age 60, although the retirement age was raised to 62 by the Seventh Amendment (1956). But Chief Justice A P Shah's highly visible retirement from the Delhi high court earlier this year brought into question why high court judges must retire earlier than Supreme Court judges at all. Indeed, the Constitution's retirement age gap seemed to be nothing more than hierarchical hieroglyphics: despite what one may say about Delhi's cleaner air and better infrastructure, appointment to the Supreme Court does not extend life expectancy. 

However, the difference in the retirement age of Supreme Court and high court judges may have been rooted in practical considerations - particularly, it guaranteed that our Supreme Court judges would serve terms of at least three years in office. Today, Supreme Court judges are picked almost overwhelmingly from the senior ranks of the high courts - typically from the pool of high court chief justices across the country. By virtue of the High Court retirement age, these judges, though on the older side, are all under the age of 62. For example, two out of three of the latest appointments to the Supreme Court, Justices H L Gokhale and G S Misra, were appointed at age 61. Similarly, 15 out of 29 Supreme Court judges on Chief Justice S H Kapadia's court at present were appointed at age 60 or above. Since a judge appointed to the Supreme Court is under 62 by virtue of the retirement age, the Constitution presently ensures that he will serve a term of at least three years in office, i.e. until he turns 65. 

But if the retirement age of high court judges is raised to 65, then the pool of judges from which the collegium will have to pick Supreme Court nominees will necessarily be older. For example, increasing the age of retirement to 65 may make it more difficult for the collegium to ignore a 64-year-old high court chief justice for appointment to the Supreme Court. This may inevitably result in the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court who will spend short one- or two-year terms, if not terms of only a few months. It cannot be emphasised enough that constitutional courts which impact questions of policy must have judges who serve adequate terms in office. After all, its members are judges, not candidates for a masters degree in judicial decision-making. 

Over the last 25 years, the average length of the term on the Supreme Court has gradually gone down. Consider that one of India's greatest judges, Chief Justice P N Bhagwati, served on the Supreme Court for 13 years - a period even longer than his high court tenure. By contrast, judges on Chief Justice S H Kapadia's court today have an average tenure of a little over five years in office. Further, over 25 years, India's Supreme Court has had around 129 judges including 22 chief justices. Conversely, the American Supreme Court (whose judges have life terms) in over two centuries has had only 112 judges and 17 chief justices. The increasingly shorter Supreme Court term may have something to do with the higher turnover of Indian Supreme Court judges. 

The proposed 114th amendment to the Constitution is a much-needed reassurance for India's dedicated and persevering high court judges. It tells them that they are no less valuable than Supreme Court judges, that they are as capable, and that they can and must serve in office for as long a period of time. The Supreme Court bar today benefits from the leadership of its octogenarians, and there is no compelling reason why the high court bench should not benefit from its older sexagenarians, who in any event perform comparable legal work on appellate and arbitral tribunals. But at present, the Bill threatens to shorten the length of an already dwindling Supreme Court term of office, and its enactment must either be more fully thought through or followed by a definitive policy on the age at which judges will be appointed to the Supreme Court. 


The writer is an associate attorney at a US law firm. 



                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA





What is Enthiran about? 

I have always been fascinated by inanimate objects. I wanted to make a film with a non-living object by imbuing it with human failings. Enthiran is about a robot created by a scientist (both roles played by Rajnikanth) and how it touches the life of a medical student, played by Aishwarya Rai. She is the pivot to the entire story, pegged in today's world. When the robot takes on human characteristics, including the good and bad traits that are in every one of us, many things happen. The film is loaded with action. 

Why did it take three years to make the film? 

For a film on robots, the technical facility required to carry it through is just not available in India, and it is a very expensive outing, even abroad. The film begins and ends with special effects, only the songs and a few scenes are exempt from special effects. It takes time to recreate so much in the virtual world. Frankie Chang, who handled the post-production of the 3D animated-climax scenes at the studio in Hong Kong, even told me that such a climax has not been attempted in his part of the world until now. Because of the nature of the film, we have used animatronics, which again is a painstaking craft. 

I have also used the light stage technique, which was used in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. This technique calls for a number of shots captured with around 80 special lights, and with the frame, special effects team can tweak around and deliver whatever human emotions a scene demands from the robot. There is also a good amount of composting and motion control, all of which takes time. It has been a huge journey. When we started the film, everyone (technicians) felt that we were at the foot of a huge mountain. I said we'd put one step forward at a time. 

Do you think that a sci-fi film will strike a chord with filmgoers? 

Today every Indian movie buff, regardless of where he comes from, is exposed to sci-fi and action films because every Hollywood biggie is dubbed in regional languages as well. The Indian cinema fan may not be as seasoned as the one in the West when it comes to such a genre, but he is not a novice either. 

Enthiran is viewed as a Tamil film dubbed in Hindi. Is there a constraint when it comes to accepting Kollywood stars in a straight Hindi film? 


Content is the primary factor in a film, and there is no regional constraint when it comes to making a film. When i first wrote Enthiran in 2000, i felt it would be better to make it in Hindi. I had Kamal Haasan and Preity Zinta in mind. But he had other commitments. I thought of Shah Rukh Khan and if things had worked out this would have been a direct Hindi film, dubbed in Tamil (laughs). Once Sivaji the boss (Shankar's previous film with Rajnikanth) became a talking point in the Hindi belt, i was confident that if i made a good film it would work anywhere. I must tell you Enthiran does not have a regional mosaic, because the robot is a common denominator. Whatever happens in the film can happen in any city or town. 







This piece is a comment


Even if the Commonwealth Games go off without any further glitches and that's a big if indeed India has already received a damning press internationally because of the shameful squalor, shoddiness and lack of safety of the Games-related infrastructure. Just when we were patting ourselves on the back for having become an economic dynamo and a growing 'soft' superpower represented by Bollywood and yoga, basmati rice and tikka masala ready to take over the world, the CWG debacle has come as a slap across the national face.


India has been shown up as what it continues to be, despite the best efforts of the urban elite to ignore inconvenient facts: a Third World country. And the problem lies with our infrastructure. Not just our physical infrastructure, pathetic enough though that is, with our potholed roads, and power outages, and lack of the most basic of amenities. But even more deplorable than our physical infrastructure is our mental infrastructure: the way we think of ourselves, and the way we relate to others.


OC secretary-general Lalit Bhanot's by now infamous vindication of the filthy toilets in the Games Village that Indian standards of hygiene and sanitation are less fastidious than those of the western world is typical of the 'chalta hai' attitude which seems to be ingrained in our ethos and in which we seem to take a perverse pride: We are like that only, and if you don't like it, lump it.


Indeed, the phrase 'We are like that only' could be the slogan for 21st century India. It evokes the image of a sulky brat who, when pulled up for his rude behaviour or dirty appearance, sticks his tongue out in defiance at any attempt to correct him: We are like that only; and we shall continue to be like that only.


We are very thin-skinned about criticism, even constructive criticism. Often, we see criticism where none is implied. If anyone makes a film or writes a book showing the reality of India's poverty, our hackles rise, particularly if the filmmaker or the author is a foreigner, like Danny Boyle who made Slumdog Millionaire.


How dare these villainous foreigners keep projecting exploitative images of our poverty! If most of our people are poor and their living conditions are unspeakably wretched, whose fault is it, anyway? The foreigners' fault, of course. Didn't they rule us for 200 years and looted and plundered our country? No wonder we're so wretchedly poor and downtrodden. And they still continue to exploit us, by ridiculing and humiliating us in the eyes of the world.


Over 60 years after independence, we continue to nurse our sense of victimhood: all our faults are the direct result of our history of foreign oppression, a history which, we convince ourselves, continues to the present day. Any criticism, actual or implied, by a foreigner is immediately tagged as neocolonial or racist, or both. Matters are even worse if the person making the critique is an Indian: Look at him! Lackey of the West; sucking up to those gloating foreigners by rubbishing his own country. Bloody traitor.


The measure of self-confidence and maturity for an individual or for a nation is the willingness and the ability to see ourselves objectively, see ourselves not as we'd like to think we are, but as others see us. So far, we as a people have shown little willingness, and even less ability, to view ourselves as others view us, to see our flaws and try to overcome them instead of thumbing our nose in derisive denial.


Will this be our response to the inevitable flak that the CWG has already made us face? Or, for a change, will we make constructive use of the criticism to recognise our shortcomings, and try and find long-term solutions for them?


If we can do that, it would be our biggest victory in the Games.








There is one consistent message India has told the world about the Afghanistan conflict: it will be won or lost in the corridors of Islamabad and not the ravines of Waziristan. In other words, so long as the Pakistani establishment believes it is in its national interest to put the Taliban back into power in Kabul, the Western forces in Afghanistan will be trapped in a war without end. The recent wave of attacks inside Pakistan's territory by American aerial drones and, unusually, manned helicopters is an indication that even Washington has decided to ratchet up the pressure on Islamabad. The attacks sent a message to Pakistan that if it did not take action against Rawalpindi's most-favoured Taliban group, the Haqqani network, America was prepared to carry its fight into Pakistan's territory.


A number of books and reports about America's Afghanistan strategy have underlined how single-mindedly obsessed Pakistan is with eradicating India's presence, however limited, from Afghanistan. Islamabad has also tom-tommed that its security concerns regarding India can only be resolved if international pressure is once again applied to the Kashmir dispute. New Delhi has rightlyresisted such Pakistani objectives and critiqued such analyses. India's presence in Afghanistan is marginal. The real issue is whether anyone can believe Pakistan's claim that it will be able to ensure that a future Taliban regime does not become an exporter of terrorism. There is still a sizeable school of thought in the West that believes the path to an


Af-Pak solution lies through Srinagar. However, even this school accepts that a Kashmir settlement with Western fingerprints would be unsaleable to the Indian public.


The Af-Pak policy has thus degenerated into a crude process of America proffering carrots or applying sticks to get Pakistan to reluctantly take action against the Taliban.


At present, the sticks seem to be proliferating because Islamabad is so determined to protect the Haqqani network. The more fundamental struggle is to get the Pakistani system to come to understand that the Taliban card is a lethal joker rather than a winning trump. This educational step requires far more than bombs and missiles. It requires a degree of self-reflection by the Pakistani establishment about the future of their nation that, so far, there seems to be remarkably little evidence of. Not even a recognition that a South Asia pressure ploy is on, but it is being increasingly applied to Islamabad rather then New Delhi.







Salman Rushdie seems to have a penchant for biting off more than he can chew, but this time he may have bitten the very hand that feeds him, so to speak. Having been appointed a Knight Bachelor by the Queen of England for services to literature in 2007, Rushdie has revealed his contempt for the ceremonial excesses of the monarchy, calling them 'archaic' and 'stupid'.


Reminiscent of our very own Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh's comment that convocation gowns were 'barbaric', what makes his remarks all the more ironical is the fact that he was commenting on his very own knighthood ceremony three years ago. But then the ultimate insult would have been to accept an honour from the French and then scoff at one in his country, making it impossible for the author to refuse to be a part of this 'British oddity'. Now, here's patriotism for you, no matter then if it comes attached with dollops of disdain, something that we Indians are only too familiar with.


Well, the winner of the Booker of Bookers might not have made that stiff upper lip wobble but for those of us who don't stand much on ceremony, he sure has touched a nerve back home. Why, we are fighting against a similarly 'furious archaic thing of queens and knights', in the tug of war that is the Commonwealth Games. Buffeted by strong gusts of criticism over a less than grand show, the Indian government has managed to strike a compromise over the politics of protocol — anointing our very own royalty, President Pratibha Patil, to kickstart the fun and games along with the absent monarch's chosen emissary, Prince Charles. Now if only someone would call the bluff on all this fuss over a ceremonial sporting event that belongs to another age.



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





The UPA government seems under pressure to abandon the State's right to acquire land under the 'eminent domain' principle, a time-honoured right that has enabled the western world, Japan, and now China, to flaunt their wide highways, abundant railway tracks, ports, airports, and sprawling industrial projects. The East India Company applied the same inherent power of the state to build roads in Calcutta and, from 1850, to lay down the railway networks in Bengal and Bombay provinces. In 1894, it evolved into the Land Acquisition Act, which the government now seeks to dilute. A ministerial-level exercise is on to carry it out. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi is seemingly impressed by the so-called 'Haryana model' that promises to land-losers, in addition to a handsome compensation, 'annuities' to be paid for 33 years.


Egalitarian promises generally follow the scent of votes. In this case, the correspondence between resisting land acquisition, and being electorally rewarded, was shown by Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. It is generally believed that her spectacular success in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, in which she, in partnership with the Congress, could drive her 'Professor Moriarty', the CPI(M), to the very top of the Reichenbach fall (Holmes returned after The Final Problem, not to worry). If Banerjee had not launched movements in Singur and Nandigram, it is argued, the CPI(M)-led Left Front wouldn't have fared so much worse than 2004, when Trinamool kept just one seat, that of its leader. The assumption that a linkage exists between Singur/Nandigram and 2009 poll outcome has left the foreheads of many a poll strategist furrowed. It appears from media reports that a section of the Left Front, too, is subscribing to this view. Apparently, Prakash Karat, general secretary of the CPI(M), has told something similar to leftist historian Eric Hobsbawm, or so it seems from one of the latter's interviews to the New Left Review magazine earlier this year.


There are two reasons why the argument is fallacious. In the 2006 assembly elections in West Bengal, the Left Front bagged 233 of the total of 294 seats. But it was against a disunited opposition. In 2009, the Trinamool, by having on its side the Congress, the party of first choice of the state's 27 per cent Muslims, and the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI), a fringe party that is entrenched among the Scheduled Castes in the coastal district of South 24 Parganas. The Left Front won in only 99 assembly segments. However, a cursory calculation will show that, with a similar alliance in the 2006 assembly election, the Left could barely win 150 seats, a precarious majority.


The CPI(M) had the ground slipping from under its feet for quite some time. Mamata's land movements from 2006 no doubt made the Left's slope steeper as its visual effect, transmitted across the state through satellite television, encouraged people in many places to challenge the CPI(M)'s thuggish apparatchiki who specialised in stealing and snatching votes. Nandigram also emboldened the poor people of the neighbouring 'Jangal mahal' — the lawless districts of Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore — to enlist the support of Maoist rebels in challenging the CPI(M)'s armed brigade, whom the locals call 'harmad', probably derived from the Spanish 'armada'. These conditions may not prevail in other states where shedding tears for land-losers may not fetch proportionate electoral dividends.


That brings us to the other paradox: whose land is lost in a state-sponsored acquisition? It is a known fact that the titles for land in a parcel for acquisition are held by a few, the largest number of claimants for compensation being sharecroppers and others who have just tilled the land. Collectively, they are agricultural workers. As the economy gets modernised, it is but expected that the share of agricultural workers to total workers would fall. There can be other reasons too leading to shrinking of agricultural workers — like a drop in their real wages. It seems to be the more likely reason for a dramatic drop in this figure in the case of West Bengal, from 54.25 per cent in 1991 to 44.15 per cent in 2001. If this trend has persisted, it will not be an overstatement that only a third of the state's workforce have something to do with agriculture.


In other words, not too many should be grumpy if land is acquired by the state for 'public use' after paying compensation in accordance with the rules to every stakeholder. Yes it created such ruckus at Singur/Nandigram for the state-specific issues. It released the people's pent-up anger at the CPI(M) for its decades-long governance failure, its low cultural values and overbearing attitude towards one and all. What added to their fury was increasing job losses in agriculture. With so many things acting together, it is but natural that the people would ask for the incumbent's blood. Singur or Nandigram was a pretext.


Political authorities at the Centre, however, want to play it safe; they are advising the government to rewrite the law by following the 'Haryana model.' But agriculture is arguably more serious business in Haryana, where cultivators, who are legal stakeholders, outnumber agricultural labourers, whose stake in land is notional, in a ratio of 5:2. In West Bengal, it is in the reverse direction, with about three labourers for two cultivators. If projects for public use are made to pay annuities for 33 years to an army of day labourers, they will go bust before they open.


Good politics is not always good economics. Nor is it sensible to chase votes at any cost. Banerjee undoubtedly has on hand an exceptional problem — that of making the swing door of democracy revolve again. But the Congress has no reason to play the firefighter, at least not when it is the wrong fire.


Sumit Mitra is a Kolkata-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





This month a muted Eid marked the end of a troubled Ramzan in Kashmir. As the protests rolled into their third month, it was obvious that the whispered Eid "package" from New Delhi was conjured up with no more than paper and string. In place of conciliation, what emerged was an endless chain of distractions.


The first red herring presented itself on Eid, when two government offices were set ablaze, as over a hundred thousand people gathered to protest at Lal Chowk, Srinagar. It was followed by an arson attack on a school run by Christian missionaries in Tangmarg the next day; a reaction, we were told, to televised images of the desecration of the Koran in faraway America. The two were swiftly connected: the headline of 'Kashmir on Fire!' conjoined with talk of an 'Islamic' resurgence.


It was only a few days later that some sceptics began to sniff around in the smoke. One netizen provided a map of Srinagar, flagging off the key elements in the geography of the arson. While the protesting crowds were at Lal Chowk, the offices they were said to have gutted — the crime branch headquarters, and the power development department — happened to be almost a kilometer away, across the river Jhelum. Not only would the arsonists have had to push their way through a high security zone, their target lay right across the road from the heavily-protected Legislative Assembly building. Remember that the entire area is under CCTV surveillance. Yet, we hear of no further curiosity about who set these buildings on fire.


In the attack on the school, on the other hand, the arsonists were identified. They were led by a politician of the National Conference (NC), the very party that runs the state government! What makes it more unusual is that NC cadres had been totally absent in the last few months of protests, afraid that people would lynch them.


These incidents played a critical part in distracting attention from the political content of the street protests, although hints about where the discourse was headed were in the air. Discussions on the protests in Kashmir were effortlessly morphing into a debate on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). Indeed, the whispers around the Eid "package" were all about how — or how much — it would tinker with the act. Television debates became focused on it, newspapers were commenting on it: nothing seemed to be able to dislodge it from the agenda.


Interestingly, civil society activists in Kashmir have never been exercised about AFSPA alone. They insist that the lives of people are more affected, for example, by the Public Safety Act (PSA), under which thousands of people have been put away, without hope of judicial redress. But nothing could deter from the obsession with AFSPA. Not even the anonymous appearance of a disturbing three-minute video of five young men stripped naked, then paraded through a village in Kashmir, in an exercise in ritual humiliation performed by the forces. Almost imperceptibly, the armed forces have become the centre of the story.


The debate has turned into a loyalty test for Indians: whoever wants the act to go must obviously have no regard for the soldiers of this country. Or its flag. Or its greatness. One retired general argued that AFSPA was essential to keep the highways secure, to ensure supply lines for Indian troops in Siachen… You could be forgiven for thinking that what the Indian Army most needed in its face-off with Pakistan is not more officers or better-trained soldiers or bulletproof jackets. It is AFSPA.


Why aren't we being able to admit that the real problem is not the legitimate protection it offers to the armed forces, but the impunity it simultaneously grants. We could begin by talking about the April 2010 killings in Machhil, where three civilians were murdered in cold blood, shot by uniformed soldiers of the Indian Army. We could summon up sympathy for Captain Sumit Kohli, a decorated army officer, whose mother is fighting to establish that her son was murdered. Shot by his colleagues, she argues, for trying to expose the cold blooded murder of four civilian porters in the Lolab valley in 2004. Taking shelter under AFSPA, the army officers were able to argue their way out of a sentence. The army has so far not shown itself open to scrutiny on this.


The distance between the situation in Kashmir and its representation in India was underscored last week when the all-party delegation visited the Valley. Even as their 36-hour excursion was being hailed as 'historic' and 'path-breaking', what the intrusive glare of publicity made really apparent was the chaos and just how out of touch our parliamentarians were with the discourse in Kashmir.


Faced with the failure of a 'security'-led approach to the issues of Kashmir, we are now faced with the bankruptcy of political ideas. Is this what the red herrings this Eid are meant to distract us from?


Sanjay Kak is a documentary filmmaker. The views expressed by the author are personal








It's a new twist to Garibi Hatao. The poor are being driven out of Delhi by a robust stick and stick policy. Poor people don't look and smell nice and tend to clutter the sidewalks of the capital city of our country, which as we all know is an emerging economic power. It little becomes our status to have those folks ruin the view for our reluctant foreign guests. What I haven't quite figured is what law is being cited to pressure these people to ship out for the duration of the Commonwealth Games. Is there a law against people who can't afford deodorants being allowed to live in New Delhi?


The biggest stink surrounding these games, of course, has been about the runaway corruption. Then there was the stink about the filthy Games village. The stench of poverty should have been more tolerable, really. Most of it would be the smell of honest sweat.


About 90 per cent of this country's labour force works in the unorganised sector. Those are the people who make chai at roadside stalls, the food at dhabas. They sell cigarettes and paan, they work as maids, cooks, cleaners and dhobis. In short, they work hard, for little money, to earn an honest living. In the process, they also make our spoilt lives a lot easier.


Those are things that can't be said for any of the folks who've managed to push up the cost of these Games to R65,000 crore, give or take a few hundred crore. They have been responsible for the embarrassment the country has suffered so far, with the world laughing at us for our collapsing bridges and ceilings, to say nothing of our $90 rolls of toilet paper and our "low hygiene standards".


As the people who've contributed most to the stink over the Games, it would, therefore, be more appropriate if those people were driven out of Delhi. Unfortunately, of course, no such thing will happen. The rich and powerful will remain here, and perhaps get to keep their ill-gotten millions as well. The poor will get chased out, possibly on charges of encroaching on public property or obstructing traffic. Those are the usual charges deployed against hawkers and vendors.


The biggest encroachment of public property in Delhi is the cars parked on the sides of roads. This is rampant, it is everywhere, and it takes up a whole sight more space than the paanwallahs and chaiwallahs. In many places, including posh neighborhoods like Greater Kailash II, it is barely possible to find a way through all the parked cars that choke up public roads. It would be wonderful if the government found the gumption to actually throw all the encroaching cars of the rich out of this fair city.


Unfortunately, of course, no such thing will happen.








We wouldn't be using the word "nepotism" (from Italian "nepotismo", "nepote" meaning nephew, and rooted in Latin "nepos/ nepotem") if it were not for the papal penchant for favouring nephews and relatives before the Reformation. But nepotism by any other name would still be the same. The achievement of Suresh Kalmadi & Co in erecting a mini monument to it is an outrageous reminder of the way sport is run in this country. As The Indian Express investigation on Tuesday revealed, the Organising Committee of the Commonwealth Games is a veritable spider's web of parents and offspring, uncles and nephews, siblings, husbands and wives.


In fact, 38 top individuals have been caught in the web of relatedness. And the person heading the committee that interviewed them for the jobs has called the statistical scandal "just a coincidence". The sets of related individuals number 19 — surely an unprecedented, prolonged, self-repeating, elaborate coincidence. If the Organising Committee points out that all these individuals underwent the due process of applying in response to newspaper ads and then being interviewed, it blinds itself to the obverse of that due process — how easily public ads and tenders become an eyewash, with the powers-that-be having already decided whose benefactors to be. Maybe the tiny local fairground lottery, where the prizes — a tacky wall clock, a waste basket, or a pack of toiletries — invariably go to family members of the organisers, is the most apt analogy for this fantastic play of chance. Except that we are talking of monthly salaries ranging from Rs 33,500 to lakhs in this case.


These revelations about the Organising Committee are not merely about one particular big-ticket sports event and the sharing of the spoils. They hint at something perverse. It was perhaps a Freudian slip when Union Sports Minister M.S. Gill called preparations for the CWG as being akin to a monsoon wedding, with all the arrangements expected to fall in place just in time fortuitously and festively. It surely could not have been his case that, like those monsoon weddings, our sport is organised as a family enterprise. Or could it have been?







With the Supreme Court dismissing a petition for deferment, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court is all set to pronounce its verdict on the Ayodhya title suit. This past week, the air has been thick with yearnings that the issue could somehow be returned to the slow burner or that the high court verdict could somehow be postponed for a last, hasty shot at reconciliation. The tremulousness is understandable. When an issue has so long resisted resolution — and when that issue has shaken the republic so violently — the reluctance to face it four-square cannot be conveniently dismissed as escapism. However, mature democracies do not deal in wishful thinking, and the Supreme Court, intentionally or not, has been creative in reminding this country of its institutional strength to get on with things. It applied a short pause and then, on the basis of sober deliberation, refused to be inhibited by any political or executive pressure. The process followed by the apex court could turn out to be crucial, for it has reinforced the supremacy of the law in this land.


The law gives the petitioners in the Allahabad high court the option to appeal the verdict in the Supreme Court. One or more of them may do so after the verdict is read out in the afternoon of September 30. However, the challenge for our politics is to separate these individuals' rights as petitioners from any mobilisation on the issue. For all the reminders of India having moved on, and of the Ram temple movement having lost its political salience, there is suspicion that the political parties are still waiting to see which way a political wind may blow after the verdict. The verdict is not on the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. But the anxieties that prevail are framed by that event. This puts the onus, first of all, on the BJP of acknowledging that it is more than just another bystander. Its leaders have been strident in appealing for calm, but they have to take the logical next step. They need to deliver on the moderation of their tone and say that they will distance themselves from any rabble-rousing, even if it be by a far-flung affiliate of the Sangh Parivar. They need to make it clear that they will not mobilise by proxy.


Nobody today knows what the verdict will be, if even there will be, in whatever limited sense these words can be used, a winner. But no matter how the verdict goes, the challenge to our democracy is to own the judgment for what it is: an iteration of the triumph of the law and its processes.









The views of the Pakistani officials are thought-provoking ('With a thumbs-up, guess who holds India hand? Pak', IE, September 27). The delay in constructing CWG infrastructure is being magnified. Our own media too doesn't lag behind in negative presentations. India has successfully hosted the Asian Games in the past. No participant raised any doubt about our capability. But now an Australian official has said India shouldn't have been given the chance. It's rightly pointed out by the Pakistani official that such criticisms are born out of their superiority complex.

— V. Rajagopalan


New Delhi


Kashmir normal


This refers to 'Centre announces 8-point initiative for Kashmir' (IE, September 25) and 'Few students turn up as Valley schools re-open' (IE, September 28). As expected, separatists have trashed the 8-point formula, alleging it's "too little, too late". There have been some stray incidents of stone-pelting, but by and large the Valley appears to have responded favourably to the initiative. Hopefully, the situation has turned a corner. The Centre will do well to appoint a respected heavyweight as interlocutor who can win the trust of the people as against the trouble-mongers who are Pakistan's proxies in the Valley.


— R.J. Khurana Bhopal


Some limits


There's a burning need for transparent finance in rural areas and a need to eradicate the fleecing of poor individuals by money lenders ('By the rich, for the poor', IE, September 27). However, one sincerely doubts whether the free-market economics the writer describes (large market, leading to many players and hence lowering of prices) will work out in this context. As rightly mentioned, a one-to-one correspondence is often required by MFIs. Traditionally, initiatives in these sectors have failed because of a lack of infrastructure and other communication facilities. It'll be some time before this sector opens up in a true sense and, till then, the government will be loathe to let market players decide interest rates. Of course, the ceiling method should never be used to determine what rates MFIs set. At the same time, there should be some semblance of a limit for these businesses, as exist for other organisations in the public domain.


— Govindraj Umarji




What's soft power?


It's quite baffling to see a legion of writers and journalists think that India's so-called soft power will create an ocean of goodwill everywhere. Do they expect mediocre Bollywood movies and lousy soap operas to produce the desired effect?It's not as if China is walking in and bullying people with the carrot and stick policy. China is also an equally ancient civilisation and is surely buttressing its "hardcore" investments with cultural bonding too. India has already missed the bus in Africa and this is being repeated elsewhere. Part of the reason lies in our myopic view of people of other races and cultures.


— Anoop H. Bangalore








 Here's a simple view on Pakistan. A corrupt president is trying to hang on to power by the skin of his teeth; an upright judiciary is fighting to establish the rule of law and throw him out; an inefficient government is fumbling from one idiocy to another; a mature opposition is behaving like a patient parent; an independent media is acting as a watchdog; the army is smelling like a rose. Before long all will be well.


The reality is more complex. This is how the story goes.


In 2007, former General-President Pervez Musharraf promulgated the National Reconciliation Ordinance which cleansed a number of people, politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen and others, of past "wrong-doings", supposedly a political equivalent of the legal doctrine of past and closed transactions.


The NRO was based on quid pro quo. Musharraf needed to shake hands with Benazir Bhutto and create a framework that would give him some legitimacy in his bid to stay at the centre of Pakistani politics. The price: get Benazir in so she would have the incentive to back him up, even if reluctantly. The way to do this: drop all cases against her and husband Asif Zardari, most importantly the Swiss money-laundering case.


Even before Musharraf promulgated the NRO in October, in August the government wrote to the Swiss authorities to close the case against Zardari and unfreeze $60 million in assets.


The drama didn't unfold as scripted. Bhutto did return but by then Musharraf had already sent packing a vaulting judiciary and thus got himself in a terrible bind. One of the reasons — though not the only one — for sacking the judges in November 2007 was the Supreme Court's acceptance of petitions against the NRO. Bhutto wasn't particularly pleased with the SC's newfound activism but neither could she openly criticise them, such being the opposition to Musharraf from the street and the support for an independent judiciary.


Fast forward: Bhutto is killed, elections take place, Musharraf is ousted, Zardari becomes the president, there is back and forth and foot-dragging on restoring the judges earlier sacked by Musharraf but finally they get restored under tremendous political and public pressure. Presto! Pandora opens the box and having let off everything, is left with hope. The SC, back and all charged up, decides to exorcise Musharraf's ghost.


The first to go was the NRO, decided last year December and struck down as void ab initio and ultra vires of the constitution. Result: all cases quashed under the NRO stood restored including, among others, the case of Zardari's alleged Swiss misdemeanour.


The SC ordered the government to write a letter to the Swiss and tell them that the case stood open and the earlier request by Islamabad was illegal. The government has pussy-footed, arguing that the president has immunity under Article 248 (2) and the government cannot ask a foreign government to open up a case against the president who symbolises the federation.


On the issue of this letter there are two views even among the jurists. Be that as it may, the SC seems clear that the government is violating its orders. The government has been alternating between defying the court and surrendering to it using procedural excuses to buy time. For instance, on September 27, the government had first decided to present a summary — signed by the prime minister — before the SC, saying the letter could not be written and the court's demand violated the constitutional provision of presidential immunity. Then, early morning, it changed tack and pleaded before the court to give it some time to write the letter.


Partly because of the growing activism of their Lordships, partly because of the masochism of the government, the situation has become absurd. Into this has crept the ultimate arbitrator of Pakistani politics — the army.


This is a point lost on many, notably on their Lordships, who should remember that they got restored at the behind-the-scenes intervention by the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani.


The man who, before the February 2008 elections, told some of us at a dinner that he wants to stay out of politics and will keep the army out too, has not only managed to revive the image of the army — which had taken a beating under Musharraf — but got himself and the institution firmly back in the saddle, thanks to political bickering and judicial activism, compelling the government and other actors to use him as the final arbiter.


On Monday morning, he was with the president and the prime minister. It was in the backdrop of that meeting that the government requested the SC to adjourn hearing on the issue of the letter and the SC obliged. There's a lesson in this. The executive-judiciary tug-of-war, far from either strengthening the judiciary or consolidating political supremacy, may be working against both.


The writer is Contributing Editor, 'The Friday Times', Lahore. Views are personal.








 The city of Surat, home to 42 per cent of the world's rough diamond cutting and polishing, faced its worst-ever crisis in 1994 with the outbreak of plague. It has been a remarkable comeback. In 2008-09, it won the "best performing city" award from the ministry of urban development. In 2010, a Government of India study ranked Surat third on its sanitation score across 423 Indian cities. Surat has made full use of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) in working towards its urban renewal, bagging 34 projects worth Rs 2,429 crore under JNNURM.


What is strikingly different and refreshing is Surat's focus on the quality of life of its residents and not just on hard physical infrastructure. The slogan "the city that cares" may well have arisen from adversity, but it has become a way of life for the city's administrators.


Use of mobile phones to provide real time information on vaccinations for babies is an m-governance initiative of the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) which should reduce costs of healthcare for parents. Those who provide their mobile number at the time of registering the birth of their child are issued alerts to vaccinate their child for preventable diseases according to the schedule prescribed under the national immunisation programme. The alerts are personalised and child-specific, in contrast to the usual standardised print and electronic blurbs, and have evoked the desired response. The service is low cost for the SMC and involves no cost to the citizen. Over 2,00,000 text messages have been sent since the start of the initiative in 2009 covering nearly 50,000 parents who have availed of the vaccination alert on SMS initiative.


In Project Yashoda, healthy mothers donate milk, and after proper pasteurisation, the milk is stored and passed on to newborn babies. Started in December 2008, the human milk bank has received 43,000 ml of milk from 570 mothers, and 450 babies have received 39,000 ml of milk from the bank.


The SMC conducts medical camps in low-income localities every year during the monsoon season (every Saturday in the months of July, August and September). In 2010 so far, 78 medical camps have been held with 4,700 doctors attending on 13,000 patients, and conducting 218 surgeries. Medicines are provided free of cost to patients visiting the camp. A health exhibition to educate people on the prevention of disease is organised on the sidelines of the camps.


The city has taken many initiatives to serve its senior citizens. A number of gardens have been developed for them in residential areas. Known as Shantikunj, these quiet corners are exclusively for senior citizens. Newspapers are provided free every morning at these gardens. The SMC has also built a senior citizen centre, at a cost of Rs 1.3 crore, with a meditation hall, a room for medical checkup, reading room, conference hall, and a hall for multi-purpose activities. Over 20,000 senior citizens are expected to avail of the services offered by this centre. In the spirit of caring, the rebate on property tax for senior citizens was introduced in 2007-08 at 5 per cent, and raised to 10 per cent in 2009-10.


Surat's Veer Narmad Central Library has a collection of over 2,50,000 books and an e-library of over 1,500 e-books. The SMC has built 47 reading rooms and actively manages these to inculcate the habit of reading amongst its citizens. To cater to the needs of its visually-challenged citizens, the library also houses a collection of over 2,600 Braille books in Gujarati and English. The facilities include free membership, audio equipment and free home delivery of books.


The city that cares also fares well on the cultural front. It has been focusing on building infrastructure aimed at making it an attractive place to live in. An institutional complex with a science centre, an art gallery and museums was built at a cost of Rs 44 crore, and was inaugurated in November 2009. It includes a planetarium, a city museum, a science gallery with over 51 exhibits, an auditorium and amphitheatre. The admission fee ranging from Rs 30-80 per person is moderate and contributes towards maintenance of the complex. The SMC is now building a performing arts centre to provide rehearsal and performance space at low cost to learning and budding artists.


Since 2007, Surat has been celebrating a heritage week from November 19-25, creating awareness of history and tradition through activities like heritage walks, seminars and exhibitions. The SMC has created a heritage cell, formed a heritage conservation committee and set up a heritage fund to protect and promote its cultural history. Over 2,800 public and private properties of heritage value have been identified and documented through an extensive survey. The SMC is now working with local architects and other agencies to finalise the blue print for the development of the Chowk area in the city as a heritage square. A 400-year-old historic water tank — the Gopi Talao — in the heart of the old city, is being restored to conserve heritage as well as environment.


Surat is a highly flood-prone city with more than three-fourths of its 3.8 million population in the coastal plains at risk from the overflowing of the river Tapti. In 2006, the river flowed into nearly 70 per cent of Surat causing unprecedented havoc. A recent study has highlighted that slums and low-income settlements of Surat which are located close to the river are extremely vulnerable to floods. To counter the threat, the SMC has set up the Surat City Advisory Committee to prepare a strategy for resilience. Surat is one of the 10 cities selected under the Rockefeller Foundation's Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network. Under this initiative, local institutions and experts have come together to study climate change impacts on health, energy, transport and housing, with a focus on the more vulnerable sections of society.


Citizen-focused initiatives have also been successful in attracting greater community participation in city management. Ward committees constituted in March 2008 meet once a month to discuss development issues and recommend works and activities for priority attention. An online system for registration of grievances and redressal has been started since July 2009. Of the 2,500 complaints received during July 2009 to September 2010, 2,300 have been resolved.


Surat received the "most inclusive approach" award from the ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation in 2009 for its initiatives for the urban poor. Forty-two thousand houses are being constructed for the economically weaker sections of society. Between 1980 and 2006, over 12,600 sites and over 7,400 built houses were allotted on lease basis to the poor urban households. In the last two years alone, over 12,000 households from slums have been rehabilitated in well-planned colonies.


Building livable cities is not only about mega projects. Surat has shown that small initiatives matter. As Commissioner S. Aparna put it, the caring initiatives are one way of reaching out to citizens and taking care of the small things that matter a lot to individuals.


Ahluwalia is the Chairperson of ICRIER and Chair of the High Powered Expert Committee on Urban Infrastructure. Nair is a Consultant to the Committee. Views are personal








A blur of headlines over the past few days has provided brief, seemingly contradictory glimpses of how China is wielding its newfound power. There was China the neighbourhood bully, cutting off Japan's access to rare-earth minerals unless Tokyo folded in a minor, but longstanding, territorial dispute. (The Japanese folded.) There was China the schmoozer, with its prime minister, Wen Jiabao, trying his hardest on Thursday to deflect President Obama's pressure over the value of China's currency — a battle over whether jobs go to Seattle or Shenzhen. The two leaders talked for two hours at the UN. The outcome was left unclear. And there was China the classic realist, opting for convenient inconsistency on sanctions against North Korea and Iran in efforts to balance its competing national interests. (The first is to engage the West on the Security Council. The others include securing oil and protecting a client-state from collapse.)

In one sense, there's nothing surprising about a rising power finding subtle ways to handle complex problems. But before China's breakout from poverty to arguably the world's No. 2 economy, its default position on foreign policy was to restate the principle of non-interference in other nations' affairs and focus largely on its neighbourhood.


That was before it had the military resources and the incentive to start thinking of how to secure and defend interests around the globe. Today, its interests include access to oil in places like Sudan and Iran, safe shipping around the Horn of Africa, the ability to manipulate its currency for its own gain. And for the first time, the world is seeing a distinct range of behaviours, from aggressive to passive-aggressive to diplomatic, in places that 20 years ago China's leaders rarely thought about.


A senior US official who deals with the Chinese leadership said: "As they begin to manage their many constituencies, their politics is looking more like ours."


Here's a scouting report so far on China's style of muscle-flexing:


The neighbourhood:


Time for the big stick

For decades countries around Asia have been wary of China's resurgence — tracking how many ships and missiles it was acquiring, and how it was using its influence as an investor. Containment would have probably been impossible and it proved, at least in the past decade, unnecessary. So far Beijing has not pressed new territorial claims; it has simply begun to defend old ones in sparsely inhabited places.


The Japanese stepped into one of those when they arrested the captain of a Chinese trawler near a group of islands in the East China Sea, called the Senkaku by the Japanese and the Diaoyu by China. The Japanese said the trawler rammed a Japanese coast guard vessel. A few years ago this might have been sorted out quietly as a consular issue. Not this time. The Chinese demanded the captain's return. Japan refused. Pushed by a nationalistic groundswell, China started blocking shipments of rare earths, an act that threatened Japan's electronics industry.


"This played to the Asia First crowd in China," said Mr. Shambaugh, referring to a faction in China's establishment that says the wise course is to dominate the region while avoiding tussles with great powers. In recent months there have been disputes over American exercises in nearby waters and over the border with India.


"We've begun pushing back," said a senior administration official, explaining why the United States is sending an aircraft carrier to the area. But the Japanese, after 20 years of recession, had no push left in them. The prosecutor dropped charges on Friday.


Washington: The art of deflection


If China's strategy with Asia is all sharp elbows, with the United States it is largely politeness and deflection — most of the time. They narrowly skirted clashes on environmental policy at Copenhagen, and a cyber-attack on Google was traced to China. But it is China's strategy to maintain the trappings of routine diplomacy, while dragging its feet on its promise to gradually let the market determine the value of its currency, that has really strained relations. Prime Minister Wen used the word "cooperation" or "cooperative" six times in just a few minutes when standing beside Mr. Obama here. But when the doors closed, America pressed for immediate action, and, a witness said, Mr. Wen "dodged and weaved," restating arguments that it takes generations to build an economic powerhouse.


Obama's leverage was scant, which is why the White House threatened to to take other steps. Now the Chinese are gauging what he meant.


Special cases:


North Korea and Iran


North Korea and Iran are where China's local imperatives and great-power interests collide. If America's No. 1 goal is stripping North Korea of its nuclear weapons, China's is keeping North Korea stable. Should it collapse, the Chinese suspect, South Korea (and its American allies) will move in, perhaps up to China's border. As one American intelligence official put it recently, "if the choice is between living with a half-crazed nuclear North or with us on top of them, the Chinese are choosing the first option." That doesn't mean they are happy about it.


So in 2009, after the North's second nuclear test, it suited China's interests to join sanctions against Pyongyang. This year, when the US again tried sanctions over the North's presumed role in sinking a South Korean warship, the situation had changed: Kim Jong-Il was ill, and China needed to gain influence over his son and presumed heir, Kim Jong-Un. So the Chinese watered down the UN sanctions effort and, foreign diplomats said, held a small victory party with the North Korean delegation.


Iran is another special case. Twelve per cent of China's oil comes from the country; while it has gone along with sanctions, it has also made sure that energy imports and exports were kept off the UN list. There is constant talk of new, long-term energy investments by the Chinese in Iran. But so far, few of those deals have been consummated. And when American officials point out that a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear ambitions would disrupt the flow of oil out of the Persian Gulf, the Chinese say they are certain it won't come to that.


It is the ultimate three-dimensional chess board, played Chinese style.


-David E. Sanger







A report in CPM's People's Democracy focuses on clinical trials on human subjects in India. It says there have been reports about deaths of trial subjects in AIIMS in 2008, and gross ethical violations have been alleged in trials of a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer among adolescent girls in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat this year.


The boom in clinical trials, it says, can be explained by India's incapacity to regulate them. "Companies are rushing to India to conduct trials which they would have problems in justifying in their home countries. This is happening in a situation where most patients in India are vulnerable because they have poor or no access to public health facilities," it says.


Poor, vulnerable patients sign up for trials as they see this as the only opportunity to access healthcare. The story notes there has been a mushrooming of clinical research organisations (CROs) and site management organisations (SMOs).


It asks drug regulatory authorities and the Indian Council of Medical Research to step in to ensure transparency, ethics and quality in clinical research. "Better regulation with a larger regulatory capacity and resources can ensure this. There is also an urgent need that CROs and SMOs be regulated and perhaps phased out of the entire system of conducting clinical research in the country," it says.


Maoists no better


CPI's weekly, New Age, carries a write-up on Maoists in Bengal. It says the rebels are losing ground in West Midnapore in the face of resistance from the locals.


It analyses why "such a reaction to pro-poor Maoist activism has occurred." The reasons for the turnaround, it says, are that the tribals are fewer in number in Maoist-affected districts in Bengal and their exploitation had never reached the levels seen in, say, Orissa's Kalahandi. The anti-Maoist backlash is also because, it says, of the strong-arm tactics employed by organisations like the PCPA.


"Many parts of these districts remain economically barren and backward, for which the state government must

answer... But the tribals in Bengal are still better off socially than anywhere else in India... The tribals as well as the poor were angry over non-development, but their resentment didn't set them apart from other hapless citizens elsewhere, it was a shared feeling against the state government," it says.


Noting the trend spells concern for the Maoists, the article says : "if Midnapore rejects the CPM for its failure to improve the economy and bring development, it is not going to accept another spell of tyranny from a different party with a similar Marxist nomenclature, Maoist or otherwise."


Israel's dangers


An editorial in the CPM's Malayalam daily, Deshabhimani, notes Mani Shankar Aiyar's recent observations on Palestine. It says the UPA government is showing unusual keenness to strengthen India's ties with Israel, reversing foreign policy traditions. It talks about a recent conference on Palestine in Delhi, where Aiyar rubbed shoulders with Left leaders like Prakash Karat and A.B. Bardhan. Aiyar has endorsed the view that the government is deviating from India's long-held position on Palestine. Rarely does a Congress leader's statement find such positive mention in a CPM publication.

The editorial reiterates the CPM's line that the UPA government should stop military cooperation with Tel Aviv and argues there was an impression among Kashmiris that Delhi was seeking Israel's advice on the situation there. "The deepening cooperation with Israel is one reason for the strong anti-Central government sentiment in Kashmir," it says.


Compiled by Manoj C.G.








The stock markets regulator issued an order last week denying MCX-SX the right to function as a full-fledged stock exchange, competing with the NSE and the BSE. The decision will now be reviewed by the Securities Appellate Tribunal.


What is MCX-SX?


It is a stock exchange promoted by MCX and Financial Technologies India Ltd (FTIL). While MCX is a commodity exchange, where commodities like gold are traded, FTIL is a company which provides software for stock exchanges and brokers who trade on them.


What is the crux of Sebi's order against MCX-SX?


Sebi's argument is that everyone should comply with the rules (Manner of Increasing and Maintaining Public Shareholding in Recognised Stock Exchanges, or MIMPS) which say that nobody can own more than 5 per cent. While the promoters had attempted to do this by reducing the stock exchange's equity, Sebi says this was actually a fudge.


How so?


They exchanged part of the stock exchange's equity against 'warrants' which they could convert into shares later. This allowed them to reduce their shareholding to 5 per cent. But since the warrants can be converted to shares, this allows them to later hold more than 5 per cent of the exchange.


How can they do so when MIMPS doesn't allow any one person to hold more than 5 per cent?


They can if, and when, the MIMPS rules are changed.


Why is it important to cap equity ownership at 5 per cent?


Stock exchanges are privy to sensitive information and also serve as the check on malpractices. So the argument is that a 5 per cent cap divorces ownership from management and that's good. So let's say a broker doesn't have enough "margin money" to deposit with an exchange to be allowed to buy shares. The greater the value of shares, the greater the margin money. One argument, not made by Sebi, is that a promoter-run exchange may allow the broker to deposit the margin money later instead of cutting off his trading terminal. Several such possibilities are cited.


So this can happen only in promoter-run exchanges?


Theoretically, they can happen anywhere but one argument is: separating ownership from management, as in the NSE, reduces this possibility since the MD of the exchange has no ownership stake. The converse argument is that it is only when a promoter owns more of a stock exchange does he make the extra effort to make it grow.


So is the only check against malpractice the integrity of the person selected to be MD?


Integrity helps, though it is unfair to assume a promoter-run exchange's MD won't have integrity. More important, Sebi, for instance, gets 24x7 information online on what's happening in an exchange. In any case, most of these functions are driven by computer programmes which make it difficult to actually favour one or two sets of brokers.


But even if you assume the stock exchange — promoter- or professionally-run — allows a broker some leeway in depositing margin money, Sebi will know immediately. In fact, Sebi also has data on different exchanges and even from depositories. So, it can track if someone is selling on one exchange and buying on the other; it can track if stock exchanges are using information on what brokers are buying or selling; whether price-sensitive information is being uploaded with a delay, and so on. Also, given how the bulk of trading is by institutional investors, favouring one or two brokers seems a suicidal game.


Is the order good in law?


Former Sebi member J.R. Varma argues that stock exchanges cannot and should not be seen as the first frontier of regulation once the clearing or regulatory function is outsourced. He says stock exchanges are like a shopping mall where brokers buy and sell. In other words, don't load regulatory functions on an exchange. Former Sebi executive director Sandeep Parekh, currently running Finsec Law Advisors, argues that MIMPS doesn't even apply to stock exhanges like MCX-SX which are demutualised and corporatised. In other words, the order is bad in law.


Does every regulator enforce the 5 per cent rule?


Not at all. The RBI says bank promoters must have a minimum of 40 per cent, and allows six years to reach this level in case the promoter has a higher shareholding; the commodity regulator allows 26 per cent, and the insurance regulator allows even 100 per cent.


But aren't stock exchanges more risky than banks, given the volume of transactions in them?


There is little doubt stock exhanges are a source of risk and a badly-run exchange hugely intensifies financial risk. But so does a bank. And even conservative regulators like the RBI think a promoter with a 40 per cent stake can do no harm.








While sections of the political class would have liked the Ayodhya title suit judgment to be put off, and were happy that the Supreme Court entertained the petition to do so, yesterday's judgment puts the ball back where it belongs. With the political class. So, whether the judgment goes against one group or the other, it is the government's job, in both Uttar Pradesh as well as the Centre, to ensure there is no law and order issue. The Supreme Court will certainly get into the matter, since the loser of the title suit, and perhaps even the winner, if the judgment has some ambiguities, will approach, it but its job is not and cannot be to postpone judgments. Getting justice takes so long in any case, the last thing you need is for the Supreme Court to try and postpone judgments even on grounds of the public interest. The public interest may be defined today as being served by no judgment coming out since this will inflame passions among the Hindus or the Muslims, but it can be redefined tomorrow. If, say, the government gets the feeling the Vodafone appeal in the Supreme Court will go against it and will result in the taxman not being able to collect his Rs 12,000 crore, can it ask the Court, in the public interest, to put it off? Surely the taxman getting Rs 12,000 crore is 'public interest'?


The Court has also done the right thing by coming down on the CBI, in the Mayawati disproportionate assets case on Monday. When the CBI sought time to file a reply to Mayawati's petition, the Court asked if the CBI and Mayawati were on the same side since both were trying to postpone a judgment—the previous hearing had Mayawati's side asking for a postponement on the grounds that the lawyer was indisposed. "If both of you are together then let this petition go," the bench remarked. A few weeks prior to this, in the case against telecom minister A Raja's decision to award telecom licences, the Court had asked the same CBI to explain why it was taking so long to complete its investigation. How the government, and the political class, react to the Court telling them to do their business is now the question.







When Jean Dreze and Aruna Roy, members of Sonia Gandhi's National Advisory Council and champions of the NREGA, hold a press meet to criticise the scheme, it's time to sit up and think. These are not the market-fundamentalists who criticised the scheme on various grounds—that it would have as many leakages as other government programmes; that if it worked, it would raise wage rates in areas like agriculture and end up creating more unemployment than it created; that it would end up reducing the supply of labour to agriculture and so on. Dreze and Roy don't address these issues. What they're agitated about is, they claim, the government allowing the contractor mafia to take over the scheme (this is one of the arguments made by the critics on day one); they're agitating over the construction of Rajiv Gandhi Gram Sewa Kendras in each gram panchayat as this allows contractors in and also ensures that 90% of the funds would get used up for construction material, leaving only a small amount for workers. Considering the scheme was meant to be a quasi-cash transfer (the need to do hard labour to get the money was supposed to be the way to ensure only the genuinely poor came forward), the Kendras do appear a bad idea.


While it is good to pay heed to what Dreze and Roy say, the NAC would do well to take a look at some of the data on the NREGA. The NSS's report on employment and unemployment 2007-08 shows the scheme is working to raise wages, especially for women. But the question is how much impact it is having. In 2007-08, rural wages were Rs 60 per day for normal work, but this jumped to Rs 74 in public works programmes—in NREGA ones, it went up further to Rs 79. A 6% hike in wages thanks to a flagship programme the party chief has put her weight behind? What of the number of people in such public works? True, the data is for 2007-08 when NREGA was in its infancy, but just 1% of rural employment was in public work programmes. That's a four-fold hike over 2004-05, but 1% nevertheless. Contrast the Rs 40,000 crore to be spent on NREGA this year with other alternatives. Take the poorest 80 districts in the country where the bulk of the poor live. These districts house about 150-160 million people. Given the poor need another Rs 100 or so per month to take them out of poverty—that's the gap between the poverty line and what they earn on average—getting them out of poverty would take a lot less, around half what NREGA costs. Worth a thought?








The raucous national discourse over land acquisition issues has now reached a crescendo, with the government belatedly putting the finishing touches to draft legislation that might come to Parliament in the winter session. This critical development, like most policy issues in our rambunctious, argumentative democracy, is several years overdue. While there have long been agitations against large-scale land acquisition—think Narmada—there was a major uptick earlier this decade with controversy over SEZs, and now a tipping point has been reached with the cancellation of Vedanta's Niyamgiri mining project in Orissa.


Governmental sloth over modernising Raj-era laws has led to many complications. One of the most debated of these is the issue of eminent domain provisions, intended to facilitate land acquisition for public purposes, being misused to benefit private sector companies. But what has not received adequate attention is the fact that there exists today a multitude of overlapping laws that often contradict each other. This has inevitably led to allegations of inconsistency against the government of the day.


The current government is no exception. As is the usual habit of most governments, it has preferred an à la carte approach of picking and choosing to implement those laws that suit its objectives of the moment, rather than the tougher and slower alternative of moving Parliament to rationalise the various laws and iron out their inherent contradictions. This has then been further complicated by allegations of differential implementation in different states depending on whether those state governments are run by 'friends or foes'.


Before elaborating further, I must disclose my bias as an MP of the Biju Janata Dal, which has been protesting against the Centre's approach towards projects in Orissa vis-à-vis those in other states. There is a fairly widespread opinion in Orissa that politics is to blame for the Centre's apparently toughening attitude towards big-ticket investments in the state, at least three of which—Vedanta University, the Niyamgiri bauxite mines, and the $53 billion proposal by steel giant POSCO of South Korea—are stuck due to land-related bottlenecks.


Orissa's grouse about stepmotherly treatment hinges on the Centre's go-ahead for the Pollavaram dam project in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, which threatens to submerge a couple of dozen villages in Orissa. Without going into the merits of the Pollavaram and Niyamgiri projects, what is glaring is the directly contradictory ways in which the government of India has applied the law, in this case the Forest Rights Act of 2006 (FRA), to the two states. On the one hand, it seems to have thrown the book at Orissa: the Saxena Committee report, based on which the central government rejected the Niyamgiri project, accuses the state government of cutting corners in implementing the Act and not obtaining the informed consent of tribal villagers being displaced. On the other hand, in the case of Pollavaram, the very same FRA and the requirement to seek the informed consent of affected tribal villagers has been given a complete go-by.


There are other eyebrow-raising applications of various Acts when it comes to big projects in Orissa. For example, the insistence by the same Saxena Committee that the Orissa government has not looked hard enough for 'other forest dwellers' who might be affected by the POSCO plant—which, by the way, is in Orissa's non-tribal coastal region and adjoins the urban area of Paradeep port—can at best be described as puzzling. And at worst there is no shortage of conspiracy theory mongers. Similarly, the holding up of the non-profit Vedanta University—the stick this time is the Coastal Regulation Zone Act—is viewed by some (including many who oppose Vedanta's Niyamgiri project) as unjustified.


À la carte applications of conflicting laws is tempting to governments, and political parties that run governments; it is the easy way, populist, involving low expenditure of political capital. But it does not address fundamental problems, let alone throw up solutions. This is one of the reasons so much ground has been ceded by both the executive and legislative branches to the judiciary.


For the three projects referred to in this article, at least three Acts of Parliament are relevant. They were enacted in different eras with vastly different public concerns, and it is no surprise that they have overlapping and sometimes contradictory provisions: the FRA (2006), the CRZ (1991), and the Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Act (MMDR 1957). Of course, there are many, many more such Acts that overlap and contradict each other. The contradictions are not superficial, in fact they can be fundamental. For example, while the MMDR Act treats mining as an inherently legitimate business, the FRA, at least as interpreted by the Saxena Committee, bemoans its ills and concludes that mining should not be permitted. The objection is not to illegal mining, but to all mining in principle, without any caveats whatsoever about permitting legal mining, tightening regulatory oversight, or even such out-of-the-box suggestions as profit sharing for displaced villagers. In fact, it goes to the extent of interpreting the FRA as giving each village a veto over land acquisition, irrespective of the size of the project or investment, irrespective even of how large a national consensus there might be for such investment.


That approach begs the fundamental question of what exactly is eminent domain, and what are the public purposes to which it should be applied. The proposed land acquisition Bill will surely address some of these issues, but the worry is if it will address all of them, whether it will tie up all the loose ends or still leave room for overlaps and contradictions with other laws.


The author is a BJD MP







Wages, payment of wages and monitoring of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) continues to be a problem for the UPA's flagship programme. The familiar refrain of the Act being good and the implementation faulty has been raised in chorus again by activists who work on the ground. The one glorious exception to this litany of corruption and good intentions gone awry is the southern state of Tamil Nadu.


Tamil Nadu's distinction becomes even more significant when you factor in the fact that it is the only state that also opted to remain with the process of handing out cash payments rather than routing wages through bank accounts. When the Centre had floated the idea of routing payment of wages through bank accounts, the logic that had been advanced was that leakages could be plugged through an electronic trail of the money. At that time, Tamil Nadu was the only state that said it could monitor the cash payments effectively but would have a problem with banking infrastructure in the hinterland. It stuck with cash payments, and has a better, cleaner record than most other states.


Therefore, without technological crutches, how is it that Tamil Nadu was able to do what other states could not? The answer is as simple and as complex as it can get. Quite simply, unlike other states, political masters in Tamil Nadu realised early on that the NREGA had political traction written all over it.


Unlike other states, the beneficiaries of NREGA voted and did so with their bellies full rather than on empty promises, fake muster rolls and ridiculous one rupee payments.


The reward for better monitoring were tangible and something that every politician and bureaucrat understood. Let's not forget that this is also the state where a promise of a free colour television set during elections was not enough, cable connections were also demanded and given.


If the system is geared to deliver from the top, it will do so. And we have seen this repeatedly in programmes and policies across the country. In the case of the Vajpayee government, it was road development and the Golden Quadrilateral; in Chhattisgarh it is the distribution of subsidised rice and wheat. When the ownership of a programme is established and gives an electoral dividend, it invariably turns out to be successful.


Development economists say that the NREGA is the first programme in India that has adopted a rights-based approach to entitlements. That is, it is a legally enforceable right and moves away from the traditional formulation of a paternalistic state disbursing largesse at its discretion. It is not altruism which ensures that benefits reach those who need it most, but a legal undertaking made by the state, enforceable by the law of the land.


Yet the experience of Tamil Nadu reinforces rather strongly that in a democratic set-up like India, power flows only from the ballot and nowhere else. Whether or not the enfeebled beneficiaries of the NREGA can go to court to demand what is due to them, they do vote.


In Tamil Nadu, and to a certain extent in Andhra Pradesh, although there appears to be no fatigue regarding caste arithmetic and its effect on electoral fortunes, there is a growing realisation among the political class and the electorate that development goals can be a barometer to test political performance.


In many ways, NREGA is a great opportunity to change some of the electoral givens in India. Some glimmers of it have already appeared. Like a village in Tonk district in Rajasthan where beneficiaries humiliated upon receiving only one rupee as wage for eight hours of labour sent it off to chief minister Ashok Gehlot saying that the money was of better use to his relief fund than the farmers. Needless to say, come election time, this may yet haunt Gehlot.


For ensuring better enforcement therefore, more than an honest officer or bureaucrat or a well-meaning politician, the beneficiaries have to be made aware that rewards and punishments lie in their hands.






Big birds descend

While tribal residents of Nandurbar queue up to get themselves fingerprinted for Unique ID numbers, it won't be just the biometrics that will dazzle them. Since the launch of the UIDAI's Aadhar programme will have UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, among other worthies like Planning Commission chief Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the sky will be dotted with helicopters. Security concerns dictate that the UPA chief, the Prime Minister and the chief minister all travel in separate choppers. Three separate landing strips have already been demarcated for this purpose.


When the world sleeps…


It's assembly election time in Bihar and ticket seekers are thronging party offices in the capital. When the ticket seekers don't get what they want, they're known to turn violent, as members of the BJP's central election committee (CEC) discovered in 2005, when disappointed leaders smashed earthen pots in the office. The CEC has been postponing its meeting, in the hope the crowds will thin out with the passage of time. The Congress is a step ahead and released its first Bihar list at 11.45 pm on Monday.


Once bitten, twice shy


With telecom ministry officials often running into troubled waters after following the minister's diktat in the past, no one's taking any more chances. In spite of the minister, A Raja, having gone on record to say a bailout package will be worked out for the new telecom licensees, no official is willing to initiate the documentation on it. Everyone is waiting for the minister to first send a proposal in writing, and use that to start the file on the matter.






After prolonged dithering, USFDA has given the green light to GM salmon


Fear-mongers have called it Frankenfish, what the Massachusetts-based biotechnology company Aqua Bounty has been trying to sell since 1995. Critics have argued that the genetically modified salmon eggs proposed by the company—which have been spliced with a growth gene from a Chinook salmon and an antifreeze gene from an ocean eel, making them grow to market size in 18 months instead of three years as well as survive in cold weather—would produce horrifying mutants. These would not only be misshappen but would also cause the extinction of wild populations within a few generations. But USFDA has declared that there is no "biologically relevant difference" between GM salmon and regular salmon. Further, the GM eggs are sterile and cannot interbreed with wild populations if an unplanned interaction does take place.


The bottom line is that the global demand for seafood protein has been increasing even as conventional harvests have been declining. Farmed fishing has been filling in the gaps. And UN projects that the consumption of farmed fish will outpace global beef consumption by around 10% within five years. The USFDA announcement also saw the Aqua Bounty share price double immediately. The company sees big growth areas in Asian markets, which don't conventionally raise salmon but are developing a fondness for it. This also confirms the US lead on GM matters. Note that Europe's farm ministers have just turned down a proposal for allowing member states to make their own decisions on GM crops.








Since street battles broke out in Kashmir this summer and took on an ominous character of a full scale agitation, New Delhi has finally laid out a plan for political action. After an all-party delegation of members of Parliament visited Jammu and Kashmir earlier this month which he led, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has promised that New Delhi will appoint a group of interlocutors to engage with the State's people. The Union government has also signalled that it will respond to the youth rage driving the current flare-up by addressing key issues like the chronic unemployment engendered by the State's dysfunctional economy. It has also made clear that it expects the State government to apply a healing touch to the inflamed situation. None of these ideas is new. Ever since 1996, successive governments have wanted to remove the obtrusive bunkers set up to combat a massive urban insurgency that no longer exists. But they failed to evolve creative solutions that could meet community needs and address counter-terrorism imperatives. However, the appointment of interlocutors to take the dialogue with the Kashmiris forward is a positive step. It will work — but only if key actors in New Delhi and Srinagar have the will to make it work.


New Delhi's interlocutors will have the unenviable task of negotiating a way through the maze that has claimed so many peace efforts. Various Prime Ministers from Atal Behari Vajpayee to Manmohan Singh have launched serious efforts at making peace. Both Mr. Vajpayee and Dr. Singh have held direct meetings with key secessionist leaders. Dr. Singh's latest efforts included two round tables which threw up key recommendations to institutionalise the peace process in the troubled State. In essence, the idea was to build a consensus around a future where Jammu and Kashmir would have significant federal autonomy, while protecting India's concerns about sovereignty. The problem, though, was that the secessionist leaders were unwilling to sign on to a deal that did not have Pakistan's backing. Prime Minister Singh and President Pervez Musharraf came close to such a deal in 2006. Since then, crisis-ridden Pakistan has shown little interest in moving forward. New Delhi can unilaterally arrive at an arrangement with some key actors who have salience in the Valley. But such understandings may not prove durable unless backed by a real consensus. Each past failed peace effort has left behind a trail of betrayed hopes, engendering frustration and cynicism. But the overwhelming sense of national solidarity with Kashmir's suffering as demonstrated by the visit of the all-party delegation should ensure that this time, the peace process does not fail.







Levels of dissolved oxygen in the tropical oceans are dropping at a rate that threatens the survival of fish and other marine organisms. This reduction is seen off the coast as well as further away from the land where the water-depth exceeds 1,500 metres. The 'dead zones' off the coast are primarily the result of booms in phytoplankton growth due to nitrogen-rich fertilizers leaking from agricultural lands. If the incidence of hypoxia (low dissolved oxygen) has risen ten-fold globally in the past 50 years, the jump is nearly 30-fold in the case of the United States' coastal waters. The Pacific coast has witnessed a six-fold increase in the number of hypoxic sites in the last 20 years. A recent study ("Scientific assessment of hypoxia in U.S. coastal waters") by key U.S. federal agencies reveals that nearly half of the 650 waterways covered are experiencing hypoxic conditions. Particularly worrying is the reconfirmation of hypoxic condition in the waters off Oregon and Washington, the second largest hypoxic region in the U.S. and the third largest in the world. The inner continental-shelf waters off Oregon, which exhibit hypoxic conditions only during summer, have no nutrient supply. Climate change may be the cause, as warming reduces solubility of oxygen, thereby affecting the mixing of warmer surface water with deeper oxygen-deficient water. But a definite link cannot be established in the absence of long-time oxygen measurements. A news item published in Nature last month has it that water at 50 metres depth off the Oregon coast was turning hypoxic as water above the oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) is "steadily losing oxygen." The OMZ, which is permanently oxygen-deprived and occurs naturally at a depth 600-1,200 metres, is slowly expanding vertically and extending towards the coast.


The outcome in both dead zones — one caused by pollution and the other by hypoxic water, probably due to climate change — is a large-scale migration of fishes and other free-swimming marine organisms, and the death of bottom dwellers like crabs and starfish. Fish-kills happen when oxygen levels drop suddenly as reported in Oregon during certain years. Fish-kills or large-scale migration of fish can have enormous economic and ecological consequences. Since the effects of climate change cannot be reversed even in the mid-term, marine organisms can be saved only through immediate and drastic action to reduce the quantum of fertilizer leaking into the oceans. Strategies to reduce nutrient loading have proved successful in reducing the level of hypoxia in the Long Island Sound estuary, for instance.










Turkey's political system rooted in the tradition of its founder President Kemal Ataturk and underwritten by its armed forces has suffered a mortal blow. A referendum held under the watch of the government led by the Justice and Developed Party (AKP) has effectively ended the military's commanding position within the Turkish establishment.


Fifty eight per cent of the voters who participated in the referendum approved amendments to 26 Articles, which included provisions to lift the immunity enjoyed by officers who plotted the 1980 coup. The present Constitution was formulated in the aftermath of this coup, the third in Turkey's turbulent history. It was arguably also its bloodiest, as an estimated 5,000 people were killed in its wake. In the reign of terror that followed, around 600,000 were detained, while hundreds of thousands were tortured or simply disappeared.


The September 12 vote brought about key changes in the Constitutional Court, Turkey's top judicial body, which has so far played a leading role in anchoring the Kemalist legacy. The Court reviews the laws to determine whether they conform to the Constitution. It is also empowered to sit in judgment of criminal cases involving the President, the Cabinet members and judges.


Following the referendum, the President will no longer have the sole prerogative of appointing judges to this body — a measure which critics say has allowed the influential military apparatus to play a decisive role when dealing with contentious issues. The vote also limits the Constitutional Court's influence over political parties which, in the past, have been frequently banned, apparently to enforce Turkey's iron-clad secularism.


The referendum marks a firm rejection of the military's hegemony over the Turkish establishment. By undermining the pervasive powers of the armed forces, what do the Turks and their current crop of leaders hope to achieve? Is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the architect of the referendum and leader of the AKP — a party with Islamic roots — engaged in a process of turning secular Turkey into a theocracy? Is he an Ottoman-era revivalist or a leader who, in tune with the supposed aspirations of Turks, wants to fast-track Turkey's entry into the European Union by expediting democratisation?


Since it came to power in 2002, the AKP leadership has repeatedly reinforced its political commitment to a democratic and secular state, which does not suppress the emergence of a modern Muslim cultural identity. It has also expressed its aspiration of carving out a distinct Turkish national identity, which is neither European nor a 21st century clone of the Ottoman Empire. It appears that the Turks now see themselves as the focal point of an emotionally integrated West Asian commonwealth, which has a thriving economic relationship with the West, especially Europe.


As Turkey reinvents itself, it appears that its political transformation is being influenced by three distinct social trends.


First, its obsession with Europe is losing some of its gloss. A majority of Turks no longer see Europe as a continent that symbolises modernity and progress. A recent Transatlantic Trends survey conducted by the German Marshall Fund shows that only 38 per cent of Turks are now looking for an EU membership for their country. This is a precipitous drop from 2004, when a vociferous three-fourths of the Turkish respondents sought the EU membership.


Conversely, West Asia's appeal as a region that requires greater engagement is rising rapidly within Turkey. In 2009, only 10 per cent of the Turks wanted closer foreign policy ties with their neighbours to the southeast. But that number has doubled in one year. Third, and perhaps the most significant, Turks are showing a deeper respect for their own national identity. Nearly 34 per cent of the respondents, an all-time high, want Turkey to act alone, and plan its own agenda on the international stage.


As its leaders listen and Turkey introspects, it is finding comfort in retaining, if not reinforcing, its democratic and secular credentials. President Erdogan went to great lengths to talk about Turkey's deepening commitment to democracy soon after the positive outcome of the referendum. "Our faith and trust in democracy has again been seen. We understood once again that the place to solve all kinds of problems is democratic politics and that we can find a solution within democracy for all issues. The power of democracy, the power of politics, and the power of the nation all grew greatly today." The referendum, he stressed, had delivered the message that Turkey supported "advanced democracy and freedoms".


However, unlike in the past, the political context in which Mr. Erdogan expressed his support for democratic values has fundamentally changed. During the Kemalist era, the push for democracy and secularism was accompanied by a rejection of Islam. But Mr. Erdogan does not see a fundamental contradiction between democracy and Islam. In his view, it is not only necessary to promote democracy but also deepen Turkey's Muslim cultural roots and identity, in tune with the demands of a modern and advanced society. In an article that appeared on the website, Turkish columnist Mustafa Akyol wrote: "A group of theologians at Ankara University is examining early Islamic sources in order to distinguish core elements from the accretions of later history." He pointed out that this group is supported by the Diyanet Isleri Baskanligi, the Turkish Republic's official religious body, to re-examine the Hadith. The Hadith are narrations of the words and deeds of Prophet Mohammad. Mr. Akyol says that "in comparison with the Koran, the Hadith are collectively of huge length, and full of minute details about how a Muslim should live." Much of the Sharia or Islamic Law is based on the Hadith. This scholastic project, once completed and debated threadbare, could have wide-ranging implications within Turkey and the region beyond.


Turkey's novel recourse to evolutionary Islam and democracy has caught the imagination of people in West Asia. The Turkish model in which Republican values are seen cohabiting peacefully with religious thought has benefited Ankara's foreign policy as well. Turkey's support for the Palestinians and its bold confrontation with Israel in the wake of the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara relief boat incident appear to have touched an emotional chord with the people in the region. Turkey's outreach to Iran to defuse the crisis surrounding its nuclear programme and its refusal to vote for fresh sanctions against Tehran have also made a difference to its regional standing. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has often used the word "family" while describing neighbouring West Asian countries. However, the same nomenclature does not apply to Ankara's European neighbourhood, which is better recognised as an avenue for Turkey's economic accomplishments in the future.


The referendum is part of a much bigger endeavour that Turkey has visualised for itself. Riding on the popularity of the vote, the AKP is now expecting spectacular electoral success in next year's parliamentary polls. Mr. Erdogan has already stated that once elected, he will draw up a brand new Constitution that will remove all legal vestiges of authoritarian rule, and begin a new era of progress.


However, major obstacles are yet to be overcome — before Mr. Erdogan achieves his maximalist objectives. For instance, the Turkish government has to show great sensitivity towards healing the psychological wounds inflicted by the 1980 coup. A display of vendetta against the coup leaders and their junior affiliates is not an option, as it is bound to be divisive. On the contrary, excessive restraint will hardly be sufficient to deter the military to stay out of politics or ease the prolonged agony of the victims. In order to strike the right balance, serious consideration is being given to the establishment of Truth and Reconciliation Committees. These committees could decide on re-opening cases, awarding amnesty wherever appropriate, and go into great depths to rule on the nature and content of compensation for the families of the victims. Despite the popularity of the vote, there are many sections, including Turkey's Muslim and non-Muslim minorities, which the AKP needs to reassure as it reinforces its political consolidation.


The integration of the Kurds in the national mainstream continues to pose a major challenge. Among the non-Muslim minorities, the problems of Armenians, who hold legitimate historical grievances traceable to the First World War-era, also need to be addressed. As its model of a secular and democratic Muslim majority state at a cross-roads of Europe and Asia takes root, Turkey is bound to be targeted by the al-Qaeda and its affiliates, who will see the Turkish experience as the biggest ideological threat to global jihad. The challenges are enormous, but Turkey is moving ahead with a rare clarity and sense of purpose to emerge as a nation that is at peace with itself, and its trouble-torn neighbourhood.









There are 3.7 million elderly currently living with dementia in India, each spending Rs. 43,000 per annum on medical care


A twofold increase in dementia prevalence to 7.6 million by 2030 and a threefold increase to over 14 million by 2050 are thus estimated


Many new treatments in advanced stages of research hold promise for persons with dementia and their families


World Alzheimer's Day (September 21) was marked this year, in India, by the release of a comprehensive Dementia India Report. Prepared by national experts, converging under the Alzheimer's and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI) umbrella, it estimates that there are 3.7 million elderly currently living with dementia in India, each spending Rs. 43,000 per annum on medical care. Dementia mainly affects older people, although about two per cent of cases start before the age of 65 years. After this, the prevalence doubles every five years with over a third of all people aged 90+ years being affected. With the exponential increase in the population of the elderly (60+ years) in India, an estimated 100 million today, expected to rise 198 million in 2030 and 326 million in 2050, dementia poses a looming public health challenge, the enormity of which cannot be underscored. The report thus addresses a felt need among professionals, policy makers, dementia sufferers and their families.


What it is


Dementia is a neuropsychiatric disorder in which memory and other cognitive functions like thought, comprehension, language, arithmetic, judgment and insight deteriorate progressively. While it increases in prevalence with advancing age, it is not a normal feature of ageing, a common misconception. Further, dementia is a clinical syndrome, one with many underlying causes, some potentially treatable. Of the many conditions that cause dementia, Alzheimer's disease (AD) associated with neuro-chemical decline and waste product accumulation in the brain; vascular dementia (VaD) associated with strokes; dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), a condition associated with Parkinson's disease; and frontotemporal dementia (FTD), are most common. The treatable conditions that cause dementia include infections such as syphilis, HIV and tuberculosis; hypothyroidism and other endocrinal problems; vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiency; toxic conditions of various kinds and so on. As they are potentially reversible they need to be addressed swiftly.


What the report highlights


The report highlights two areas of great import for dementia sufferers and their families: activities of daily living (ADL) an important measure of the human condition, and behavioural and psychological symptoms associated with dementia (BPSD), an important predictor of health related quality of life (HRQoL). Problem behaviours in dementia include agitation, aggression, calling out repeatedly, sleep disturbance, wandering and apathy. Common psychological symptoms include anxiety, depression, delusions and hallucinations. BPSD occur most commonly in the middle stage of dementia and are an important cause of caregiver strain. They appear to be just as common in low and middle income countries as in developed ones.


The report outlines the current evidence based pharmacological treatments for dementia, especially AD and VaD: cholinesterase inhibitors (donepezil, rivastigmine, galantamine); NMDA agonists (memantine); drugs for BPSD (SSRI's for depression and anxiety; new antipsychotics for psychotic symptoms like agitation, aggression, hallucinations; antiepileptic drugs that serve as mood stabilising agents); addressing also their cost-benefit in low-middle income countries. It also lays stress on the importance of structured caregiver interventions as part of standard treatment including psycho-educational interventions for dementia; psychological therapies such as cognitive behaviour therapy, cognitive retraining and family and caregiver counselling; as also caregiver support and respite care. Highlighting that caregiver interventions have been conclusively shown to delay institutionalisation of the person with dementia in the developed world; it observes that many new treatments in advanced stages of research hold promise for persons with dementia and their families.


The report differentiates risk factors into those that are non-modifiable (genetic factors for example) and those that are potentially modifiable. It highlights the extensive and evolving medical literature on the role of lifestyle diseases: diabetes and insulin resistance; high cholesterol levels; high blood pressure; increased fat intake and obesity; together the so-called metabolic syndrome as a modifiable risk factor for dementia. It is important that policy makers recognise these factors as targets for both primary (early) and secondary (after the onset) risk factor prevention. It points to the low level of awareness about dementia as an important reason why diagnosis is delayed and public health consciousness remains poor. Worryingly, it observes that the lack of awareness extends to health professionals, formal training in dementia diagnosis and care not being a part of most medical, nursing and paramedical curricula; a matter of great concern needing immediate remediation. That stigmatisation of persons with dementia is rampant and that there is a need for raising awareness about the condition across segments of society is explicitly stated.


In India


Assuming incremental life expectancy and a stable incidence of dementia, the report attempts to estimate the future burden of dementia both nationally and State-wise. A twofold increase in dementia prevalence to 7.6 million by 2030 and a threefold increase to over 14 million by 2050 are thus estimated. Interestingly in the State-wise estimation, Delhi, Bihar and Jharkhand are all estimated to witness a 200 per cent or greater increment in dementia cases. These figures have of course been calculated based on certain assumptions. When one factors in the significant disability that dementia confers on the affected person, estimated as being greater than any other health condition except severe developmental disability, the impact of this exponential rise in prevalence, even put mildly, is staggering. The report addresses the need for services to be developed: memory clinics, day care, residential care, support groups and helplines, pointing out the paucity that currently exists. Also highlighted is the severe paucity of human resources for dementia care. A number of short-term and long-term focus goals, to improve resources; as well as scope, scale and quality of care are proposed.


The report concludes with several key recommendations. The most important of these are:

* Make dementia a national priority


* Increase funding for dementia research


* Increase awareness about dementia


* Improve dementia identification and care skills


* Develop community support mechanisms


* Guarantee caregiver support packages


* Develop comprehensive dementia care models


* Develop new national policies and legislation for people with dementia


While these recommendations do address the need for dementia to be integrated into the National Policy for Older Persons (NPOP), they predominantly highlight the specific needs of dementia as a disabling and common condition among the elderly; one that can and will challenge Indian public health systems. However, the report acknowledges that dementia must be viewed in the context of other elder health problems, and within the framework of the NPOP.


Sets a gold-standard


Perhaps the greatest contribution of this Dementia India Report is in its setting a gold-standard for other disorders of ageing: quantifying the prevalence and burden of the condition; its impact on the sufferer, caregiver and society as a whole; the framework of services required in order to give succour and solace to sufferers and their families; the causes, risk factors, treatments and management models; and the State-wise national impact. One fervently hopes that it will facilitate a powerful and futuristic policy response from the powers that be. In a country where the average age of the parliamentarian clearly falls in the "elder" category, one can only hope that it will be welcomed and adopted with the enthusiasm it richly deserves.


Acknowledgements: Dr. K Jacob Roy, National Chairman of Alzheimer's and Related Disorders Society of

India (ARDSI) for permission to present this summary of the report and the use of figures.


(Dr. Ennapadam S. Krishnamoorthy is Honorary Secretary, the Voluntary Health Services and Senior

Consultant in Clinical Neurology and Neuropsychiatry based in Chennai.)








After nearly two months trapped inside a collapsed copper mine, 33 Chilean miners are now beginning a training regime for the final chapter of their underground odyssey: escape.


As three simultaneous rescue operations slowly drill through 688m (2,257ft) of solid rock at the San Jose mine, the men are receiving detailed instructions on the latest plans to haul them out one by one inside a torpedo-shaped rescue capsule, which has been called the Phoenix.


Planned for next month


The men are expected to be rescued next month. If the current three rescue operations fail, a fallback plan calls for the men to climb up ladders for hundreds of feet unaided, a physical feat so daunting that a personal trainer has been hired for the men.


Jean Christophe Romagnoli, an adviser to the Chilean armed forces and professional athletes, has spent the past two week training the men in preparation for more strenuous gym classes. "They have a two kilometre stretch of tunnels. The men are walking the tunnels and some are jogging. We are using U.S. army fitness training, so the men sing while they jog." Romagnoli said the singing was a safety precaution to make sure the men kept their heartbeat between 120 and 140 beats per minute. "We know that if their heart rate goes above 140 they can't sing and jog at the same time." Despite numerous challenges to training the men via a video link from above, Romagnoli said the men were enthusiastic about the new routines. "One of the advantages we have is these guys are strong, they are accustomed to working their arms and upper body. This is not a sedentary population we are dealing with, they will respond quickly." While rescue procedures call for the men to spend just 20 minutes inside the rescue cage, Romagnoli is preparing the men to stand immobile for up to an hour. Over the weekend, Chilean navy engineers delivered the first of three rescue capsules to the mine to start testing the custom-built cages.


Painted with the colours of the Chilean flag, the Phoenix weighs just under 500kg and is equipped with communication links and three tanks of oxygen that allow the men to breathe for up to 90 minutes.


The capsule also has two emergency exits for use if the tube becomes wedged in the rescue shaft. In a worst case scenario, the miner will be able to open the floor of the capsule and lower himself back into the depths of the mine.




Once the rescue tunnel is complete, two people will first be lowered into the hole. "A miner and a paramedic with rescue training," said Dr. Jaime Manalich, the Chilean health minister, as he outlined the schedule of what he described as a 500—person rescue operation.



Once lowered into the hole, the paramedic will administer medications and intravenous hydration to the men. Sedatives will be used if necessary to calm the men before the dramatic ride to the surface.


Rescue co-ordinators are classifying the miners into three groups: the able, the weak and the strong. The miners will be evacuated in that order, allowing the first group to serve as a test case for the second group. The fittest men will be taken at the end of an operation which is expected to take nearly two days.


— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010









In a bid to shore up its precarious energy security Japan is to start commercial test drilling for controversial frozen methane gas along its coast next year.


The gas is methane hydrate, a sherbet-like substance consisting of methane trapped in water ice — sometimes called fire ice or MH — that is locked deep underwater or under permafrost by the cold and under pressure 23 times that of normal atmosphere.


A consortium led by the Japanese government and the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (Jogmec) will be sinking several wells off the south-eastern coast of Japan to assess the commercial viability of extracting gas from frozen methane deep beneath local waters. Surveys suggest Japan has enough methane hydrate for 100 years at the current rate of usage.


Lying hundreds of metres below the sea and deeper still below sediments, fire ice is exceedingly difficult to mine. Japan is claiming successful tests using a method that gently depressurises the frozen gas.


Tokyo plans to start commercial output of methane hydrates by 2018. At present Japan imports nearly all its gas and is heavily dependent on oil imports. In a desperate attempt to secure more oil, for example, Japan recently did a deal with the United Arab Emirates. In exchange for using Japan as a base for Asian oil trading Japan now has priority to purchase rights to up to four million barrels of immediately accessible crude.


'Will have a huge impact'


Methane hydrates could make Japan energy independent. "Japan put a lot of research and development into this project because of course the less energy it imports the better. Whether they can commercialise methane hydrates remains to be seen," said Lucia van Geuns, an energy analyst at the international energy programme of the Clingendael Institute. "If it does succeed, and that's very much a long shot, it will have a huge impact — equivalent to the use of gas shales in the U.S." Japan's ministry of trade, which is behind the scheme, has requested a budget of ¥8.9bn (£667m) for the drilling to start next spring. The huge budget reflects the difficulties of drilling deep offshore. In Japan, hydrates in the Sea of Kumano are found about 30km offshore in about 100 metres of water and at a depth below the seabed of 200 metres, making it difficult to mine the unstable hydrates.


Concerns had been raised that digging for frozen methane would destabilise the methane beds which contain enough gas worldwide to snuff out most complex life on earth. Methane itself is a greenhouse gas with 21 times the potency of carbon dioxide and any leakage from wells could be an environmental problem.


Professor Gerald Dickens, of Rice University in Texas, thinks accidental releases can be avoided. "The only potential issue in regards to drilling would be if there is greatly over-pressured gas immediately beneath the gas hydrate. However, there is growing belief and rationale to suggest that this cannot occur in nature. So, as far as drilling there should be no issue." Environmentalists, however, are concerned about the burning of more earth-locked hydrocarbons. Methane may be a cleaner-burning fossil fuel than coal or oil but will still release many tons of CO {-2}. Jogmec acknowledges the problems, admitting mining of methane ice could lead to landslides and the devastation of marine life in the mining areas. "There are many other technological problems to overcome," says the Jogmec website. "Not least that when you drill you create heat which turns the frozen methane into gas, which could then leak uncontrollably through the sea to our atmosphere." The U.S., China, Canada and South Korea are among other countries seeking to develop commercially viable extraction technology and each is now exploring the mining of methane hydrates from their own sea beds.


"Some commercial production of methane from methane hydrate could be achieved in the United States before 2025," says a U.S. government report on the subject.


— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010







The global swine flu epidemic has shown how the world needs a new broad-acting vaccine with a "cross-reactive" antibody response that tackles viruses, an Australian immunologist has said on September 28.


Nobel Laureate Professor Peter C. Doherty, from the University of Melbourne, said the H1N1 virus showed how a newly emerged flu variant could now spread person-to-person globally, aided by international travel, in just months.


Prof. Doherty (who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 1996 along with Rolf M. Zinkernagel for their discoveries concerning "the specificity of the cell mediated immune defence") said, "It takes at least six months to get a new vaccine out there, so unless it's something that is already in the pipeline you may not have vaccine ready ... in fact you almost certainly won't. If we could design something that was cross-reactive we could stockpile it, the trouble is you cannot predict what flu will do." The key to creating a stockpile-able vaccine that would be effective against all versions of the flu, he said, was to find elements of the virus' make-up that were shared by all variants.


Doherty said several potential targets had been identified, although whether a broad-acting vaccine was a technical possibility would not be known for "at least a decade".

"The only way we're ever going to knock that is if we can make a cross-reactive antibody response, because the thing is just so variable," he said. — Xinhua








The Supreme Court acted wisely on Tuesday in dismissing the plea to defer the verdict in the 60-year-old Ram Janmahoomi-Babri Masjid title suit by the Allahabad high court. The terse dismissal by the three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia of former bureaucrat Ramesh Chandra Tripathi's deferral plea was interpreted by legal experts as a clear indication by the country's highest court that the judicial process should not be unnecessarily interfered with for extraneous reasons. With all parties to the dispute (except the Nirmohi Akhara, which had a change of mind at the 11th hour) making it clear that nothing short of a miracle can bring about an out-of-court settlement, there is surely no logic to delaying the verdict further by a few weeks or even months. Such a step would only create unnecessary suspense and acrimony and worsen the mood of the disputants.

Political parties, ranging from the Congress to the CPI(M) and the BJP, and organisations ranging from the RSS to the Hindu Mahasabha and the Sunni Waqf Board have welcomed the decision. It appears nobody wants any further prolonging of this vexed dispute. The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court is now expected to deliver the verdict on Thursday, September 30, at 3.30 pm. While the Centre has asked all states to be on alert and has deployed extra forces in likely trouble spots, including an unprecedented number of police and paramilitary personnel in Uttar Pradesh, the nation by and large does not seem to expect trouble. The title suit (or property dispute) started in 1950 after idols of Lord Ram were placed in the disputed structure and has dragged on for nearly 60 years. Whichever way the verdict goes, it will surely be challenged in the higher courts by one party or another. Mercifully, in the run-up to the verdict, only sober statements have emanated from all organisations with a stake in the dispute. The Sangh Parivar outfits have been particularly circumspect, and have stressed the need to maintain peace rather than urge big celebrations in case of a possible triumph or defiance in case of a legal setback. Even Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, not known to be a peacenik, has appealed for calm. Similar appeals for restraint and respect for the law have also come from the Muslim leadership. So far, so good.

Given India's tenuous communal equations, all this could turn out to be a deceptive facade, but for once the disputants appear sincere about dealing with the aftermath of the verdict in a peaceful manner. It may be that the Sangh Parivar has finally realised that Ayodhya will no longer generate the enthusiasm or fervour it once did, and that harping on it could even prove counterproductive, politically and otherwise. India has moved ahead, and has hopefully left far behind the vitriolic ambience of communal strife seen in the early 1990s when the Babri Masjid was brought down. It is now looking more to the future than towards the past. The national mood does not seem to be in favour of another round of strife over perceived historical wrongs and rights. Thankfully, too, most political parties appear to have realised this and are acting in a more responsible manner. If the parties to the dispute, the political establishment and the country as a whole can accept Thursday's high court verdict, whichever way it goes, in a calm and clear-headed manner and not let emotions run amok, then India will give the clearest signal yet that it is coming of age as a mature democracy capable of handling its problems in a reasonable manner. One can only hope this can also create the right atmosphere for an eventual solution to the Ayodhya tangle!








The Kashmir Valley has been burning for three months. Over 100 stone-pelting youth have got killed. Thanks to a governance deficit, both in Srinagar and Delhi, the situation appears out of control.
Zia-ul-Haq Islamised Pakistan and this spread to Kashmir. In 1990 there was ethnic cleansing of over three lakh Kashmiri Pandits and several dozen Hindu temples were destroyed, but the plight of Kashmiri Pandits was glossed over and there was a virtual blackout of information about the vandalising of dozens of temples. In 2007, to appease the People's Democratic Party (PDP), the gov ernment took the bizarre dec ision of providing money for the families of terrorists killed in en c ounters with security forces. This does not happen elsewhere in India or anywhere else in the world.

To appease the National Con ference (NC), the governm e nt is now considering its demand for au tonomy — the Supreme Court, the Election Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor Ge neral would not have any jurisdiction in Kashmir, there would be an elected governor from the state and no Central services, like IAS and IPS. The PDP, under the garb of self-rule, wants dual currency and a joint state legislature with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) in Kashmir. Perhaps then the "misguided" young boys in terrorist camps in PoK would also be allowed to return. All this will severly undermine India's sovereignty in Kashmir.
Pakistan launched repeated conventional wars to grab Kashmir but failed each time. It also failed to do so through terrorism. Since 2008, religious frenzy has been aroused and mass upsurges organised on the basis of manufactured lies. In 2008, a 100-acre of barren land at Baltal, traditionally used as a base camp for Amarnath pilgrims, was diverted to the Shrine Board for `2.2 crore. Since ownership remained with the state, the board could put up only prefabricated shelters. This land is unapproachable and uninhabitable for eight months in a year due to snow and yet a canard was spread that Hindus were being brought to settle in Baltal and change the demography of the Valley, like Israel had done in Palestine. A mass movement of gigantic dimensions erupted. To appease the agitators, the government cancelled the land diversion order and ordered the virtual disbandment of the Shrine Board. After three months of counter-agitation in Jammu, status quo ante was restored. In 2009, two women drowned in a river at Shopian. A mass movement was started on the basis of diabolical concoction of facts about the women being raped and killed by security personnel. Fraudulent medical reports were prepared and false witnesses produced. The Valley was held to ransom for two months. Ultimately the Central Bureau of Investigation unravelled the truth.

Having tested the waters in 2008 and 2009, the emotive issue of azadi was exploited for a mass movement in 2010. The agitation took the "peaceful" form of stone-pelting. Sympathy was aroused through portraying "young, innocent" boys being brutally killed by the police. Over 2,000 security force personnel have been injured due to stone-pelting. This is hardly known, nor is the fact that some 1,000 Baluchis have been killed by the Pakistan Army in the last one year. The religious card was used to extend the agitation outside the Valley.


Protests were organised against an American pastor's threat to burn the Quran, which did not happen. Nowhere else in the Muslim world did violence occur on this score.


The Kashmir problem has been communalised in the state, and by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference internationally. Hitherto Indian Muslims outside Kashmir had kept themselves aloof from the issue. But now the Jamiat-Ulema-Hind has announced a convention of 10,000 Muslims of all sects at Deoband on October 4 to express solidarity with Kashmiri Muslims. This can hold the most dangerous consequences in Muslim majority districts in West Bengal, Bihar, Assam and Kerala.

Delhi sent a parliamentary delegation to Kashmir after three months. Some members called on secessionist leaders who had refused to meet the delegation. One of them, a former Cabinet minister who had campaigned in the election with an Osama bin Laden lookalike by his side, declared that the ongoing movement in Kashmir has no Pakistani connection.

The Army is being constantly demonised for human rights violations when its record is far superior to that of the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan or the Pakistan Army in Baluchistan and Waziristan. Unlike them, we have never used airstrikes or artillery against militants in Kashmir. The Army has been prompt in action against human rights violators. Over the years, 1,514 cases against the Army were reported of which 1,470 were found to be false. Action was taken against 70 individuals, dismissing them from service and awarding imprisonment from two to 14 years. India has also been humane in dealing with secessionist leaders. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the veteran secessionist leader, suffering from cancer, was refused a visa by the US for medical treatment because of his terrorist connections. He went to Mumbai where Dr Sameer Kaul, a Kashmiri Pandit, operated on him, treating him with competence. On return to Srinagar, Mr Geelani said India is in illegal occupation of Kashmir and the international community should impose economic sanctions against her.

Gen. Musharraf ordered airstrikes in Baluchistan on the hideout of the veteran leader Akbar Bugti, who was killed. In Kashmir, instead of tough action, periodic troop withdrawals have taken place. Now there is talk of amending or scrapping the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. This brings to mind what Winston Churchill said: "An appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile, hoping that it will eat him last."

The writ of the state must run in the Valley forthwith and further communalisation checked. Without curbing the freedom of the press, we should ensure that the media does not act as the mouthpiece of the secessionists. The law on sedition must be enforced. Among Kashmiri Muslims, not all are secessionists, but those who are need to be politically isolated from the rest. A political solution acceptable to all should be evolved through dialogue but this must be strictly within the framework of the Indian Constitution.


The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.








It is with some degree of trepidation that we open newspaper pages these days because of what we have been reading over the last few weeks — the delays and deficiencies in the construction of infrastructure for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Delhi has indeed been quite alarming. One prominent English language daily reported the collapse of the over-bridge near the main CWG venue in its September 22 issue under a seven-column front-page headline, "Commonwealth Shames". Alongside was a report about the mess that the CWG Village was, with quotes from the CWG federation that "uncleared rubb le, faulty fixtures, filth and even ex creta" were lying about in the Ga mes Village. Some newspap e rs and TV channels in India and abroad gave graphic ev idence of a stray dog on a bed in the Village intended for the use of participants in the Games.
While media reports in general have been quite critical of the level of preparations in the Village, more shocking was a statement by Lalit Bhanot, secretary of the CWG Organising Committee, ascribing the controversy about poor hygiene to "differing standards of hygiene in India and other countries". Nobody in India has ever claimed that the standards of hygiene in our country are on par with those in the most advanced countries of the West. But when India made a bid for hosting the Commonwealth Games, it was with the assurance to all would-be participants that the standard of infrastructure would be quite satisfactory for all athletes and visitors.

But what is more disturbing is the fact that the Central government did not take its monitoring responsibilities seriously. It woke up after sharp criticism from the media and several participating countries about poor infrastructure at the venue.

The question as to who is responsible for the humiliating situation that the nation finds itself in because of the shabby arrangements for the CWG will be gone into by enquiry committees after the Games are over. But the impression created globally is that in spite of India's great technological progress and financial muscle, India is still a backward Third World country that cannot be depended upon to conduct mega events like the Commonwealth Games. The main blame for this lies at the door of the Central government on whose backing CWG 2010 was awarded to India.

Even though special agencies are entrusted with the responsib ility for providing various facilities at the Games venues, the Central government is the real host for an international event like the CWG and is expected to take all necessary precautions to ensure that the work of the organisation entrusted with the conduct of the Games is constantly monitored and that corrective steps are taken in time whenever found necessary. In this context I recall the personal interest and care which the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and senior members of her Cabinet had taken to make sure that the Asian Games, allotted to India at the request of the earlier Janata government, went off smoothly. Unfortunately, the Delhi CWG management was not monitored properly and, therefore, the Central government will find it difficult to shift the whole blame for the fiasco.

The Central government, it seems, gave all responsibilities for the CWG to a non-official committee which carried very little weight in the country or with the government. If a monitoring committee of senior and experienced persons had been set up by the government to supervise the progress of the work, the crisis we see now could have been avoided. Or, if the government had chosen to step in earlier with necessary action, as they did just two months before the Games were to commence, the damage could have been controlled effectively. When things got badly delayed or went wrong, the Central government asked the Cabinet secretary and a few other secretaries of government departments to step in and take quick corrective action. This should have been done two years earlier.

Another reason for the present fiasco is the fact that the credibility of some members of the CWG is not very high with the public and, therefore, there are several allegations of corruption in the execution of different projects. The CWG management failed to give satisfactory explanations for the high escalation in costs of some projects and, therefore, the allegations of corruption gained easy popular endorsement.

In most places where the Olympic Games have been staged, the actual expenditure has been much more than the original estimates. But, there has never been the type of criticism about corruption as we find in the case of CWG 2010. The best example of huge escalation in estimates of expenditure can be seen in the Olympics scheduled to be held in 2012 in London. In 2003, when Britain won the bid for holding the 2012 Olympics, the estimated cost was £3 billion plus £1 billion "to spruce up" the site where the main games are to be held. By 2007, the cost of getting the project ready had jumped up to £9.3 billion. However, the authorities in London explained the revised estimates with details about new factors which had to be taken into account, like screening the area from terrorists, suicide bombers et cetera. Further, the authorities responsible for the event in 2012 in London have also been preparing a scheme for proper utilisation of the infrastructure which will be built in east London for the Olympics. The people in Britain feel assured that the eastern districts of London will be a great beneficiary of 2012 Olympics.

In India, no serious thought has been given to the economic utilisation of the new infrastructure being built in Delhi and this has aggravated the severity of allegations about corruption. If the government had taken the trouble of setting up an overseeing authority, there probably would have been greater confidence among the common people that the escalation of costs was unavoidable in many cases.

One can only feel sorry for the loss of such opportunities for the government and the Organising Committee of CWG 2010 and for dragging India's reputation through mud.


P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra








Union home minister P. Chidambaram's recent quip on "saffron terror" has triggered a major debate on "religion and colour", so to say.

Questions were raised on whether he was referring to Hindus in general or specifically to the Hindutva forces that don saffron robes and use terror to hit out at Islamic extremists and Muslims.

Obviously, Mr Chidambaram used "saffron terror" to refer to Hindutva fundamentalist forces that have been using bombs and lethal weapons to attack people.

It is pertinent that he used that phrase in a conference of DGPs/DIGs who were supposed to work out a strategy to control lawlessness and terror in several parts of the country.

Some Congress leaders — including Digvijay Singh — have opposed the usage "saffron terror" though Hindu fundamentalists do use terrorist methods like bomb explosions to finish off their enemies.

The Malegaon bomb blasts were planned and executed by a group of saffron-robed Hindu fundamentalists and they are under trial. Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and her team have been accused of engineering that operation exactly on the lines of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba.

Several Hindutva intellectuals across the country have attacked Mr Chidambaram ever since he used this phrase on August 25, though they had praised him when he attacked Maoist violence as "red terror".

Once violence crosses the boundary of self-defence and is used to "punish" others for perceived crimes, it becomes terrorism. Hindu or Islamic or any other religious ideology cannot and should not be treated as an exception to this.

As there are several shades among the Hindu social forces, there are also several shades within the Communist socio-political forces.

Right-wing intellectuals use the phrase "red terror" to refer to all kinds of Communist violence, even in the context of Kerala and West Bengal, but they take offence at the very mention of "saffron terror".

Mr Chidambaram's usage has historical and contemporary significance. During the freedom movement, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr B.R. Ambedkar subscribed to the non-violent mode of agitation though they differed in their other ideological positions.

But the Hindu stream of nationalists always believed in violent attacks. In fact, Hindu Mahasabha and its ideologue Savarkar preached violence to overthrow the British.

Let us not forget the fact that while being anti-British, they also consistently remained anti-Muslim. While a difference between Hinduism as religion and Hindutva as an ideological agency is being drawn on the ground of violence and non-violence, such a line becomes thin if violence keeps expanding into every sphere.
Mr Digvijay Singh feels that Hinduism as a religious entity could also be referred to as "saffron" and he thinks Mr Chidambaram was wrong in tagging terror with it. He tried to draw a categorical dividing line between Hinduism and Hindu fundamentalism.

But the problem is that the relationship between a terrorist group that operates in the name of a particular religion and the traditional religious forces that operate within that same religion always criss-cross.
The discourse around the world is about where to draw a line between Islamic terrorists and Islam as a religion. Interestingly, the very same Hindutva intellectuals do not want any line to be drawn between Islamic terrorists and Islam as a religion.

Because the colour saffron is Vedic in origin, while constructing an alternative religion Gautama Buddha had used a slightly different colour. However, Buddhism as a religion has always kept away from using violent methods against enemies even in the worst of conditions. That is how Buddhism is different from other religions.

Though philosophically Buddha followed what is known as the middle path between Vedic methods and Jain methods, he remained firm in opposing violent resolution of conflicts.

Interestingly, Buddhism avoided the white colour of Jains but chose a colour that is very near to saffron — light maroon. To prevent confusion, Dr Ambedkar chose blue as the colour of Navayana Buddhism. But even Buddhist monks who accept Dr Ambedkar as the new avatar of Buddha do not use blue robes nowadays.
Gail Omvedt, an expert on Dalit-Buddhist ideology, says that Mr Chidambaram should have used the phrase "Hindu terrorism" instead of "saffron terrorism" since saffron is also used by Sri Lankan Buddhists.
One of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologues also wondered whether Mr Chidambaram would dare to use a phrase like "green terrorism" to refer to Islamic terrorists. Obviously, such a usage might invoke strong reactions from the Muslim world.

The symbolic expression of a religious ideology through a particular colour has become a norm.
Religions like Christianity and Judaism do not speak through a particular colour but religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam use a particular colour. In this context it is better to use very specific language while referring to a particular sect within a religion.

Perhaps Mr Digvijay Singh does have a valid point. But the same logic should also come to play when we use phrases like "red terror" and "red corridor". Logic is logic after all.









Conventional wisdom has it that economic interdependence between two countries lowers the probability of conflict between them.


The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention, propounded by globalisation guru Thomas Friedman, holds that no two countries with a McDonald's franchise will ever go to war; that theory has since been disproved by the Kargil war and conflicts elsewhere.


Friedman later advanced the Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention — that no two countries that are part of a major global supply chain, like Dell's, will wage war against each other — but this time his theory came with important caveats.


China's rapid integration with the global economy since 2001, when it was admitted into the WTO, offers plenty of scope to test the Dell Theory's validity. Perhaps on no other front has China's 'economic diplomacy' scored as well as it has with Taiwan, the de-facto independent island over which China claims territorial sovereignty.


Until 2008, when a pro-independence party was in power in Taiwan, geo-strategists were convinced that the tense relationship was the most likely flashpoint for armed conflict in the region, which would inevitably draw in the US as Taiwan's security guarantor.


Since 2008, however, after a pragmatist leader was elected Taiwanese president, economic and cultural relations between China and Taiwan have improved dramatically.


Buoyed by closer economic engagement with China, Taiwan's economy is poised to grow at the fastest rate in over 20 years. Of course, even today over a thousand Chinese missiles target Taiwan; but just last week, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao acknowledged that the missiles "might one day" be withdrawn. In every way, China's economic diplomacy with Taiwan is securing mileage for its political agenda of eventual Taiwanese reunification — without conflict — and is thereby validating the Dell Theory.


It's hard, however, to draw a similar conclusion about China's relations with its other neighbours. For all their greater economic integration with China, and their dependence on Chinese growth, South East Asian and East Asian states have faced in recent months a very muscular assertion of China's territorial claims over disputed territory, which has escalated tensions.


An earlier round of Chinese muscle-flexing in the South China Sea rattled smaller South East Asian littoral states so much that they invited the US to patrol the sea lanes. And last week, after a Chinese fishing boat rammed into Japanese coast guard vessel near a disputed island that both sides claim as theirs, China escalated the conflict — and eventually tasted blood when a badgered Japan released the captain of the Chinese boat.


In all these cases, it was 'war minus the shooting' as China leveraged the other countries' economic dependence to extract political gains. And as the Japanese experience shows, it's working for China.


This shows the limits of the Dell Theory's validity: closer economic integration may be an antidote to traditional armed conflict, but when that economic embrace translates into excessive dependence, it enfeebles dependent states politically as well, which is no less ruinous than military inferiority.


In today's world, economic leverage is the more effective 'weapon of mass destruction', which can be deployed with just as much lethality as armed conflicts in an earlier time. China has demonstrated in recent weeks just how

potent that weapon is.






Six of India's most prominent science academies have been put to the test and from all accounts, they have not covered themselves with glory.


Instead of coming out with informed and advanced opinions on whether genetically modified brinjal should be introduced into India, all the academies came out with almost identical versions of the same opinion — a recommendation for limited release.


Given the controversy which has erupted over Bt brinjal, Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh and Planning Commission member K Kasturirangan had asked the Indian Academy of Sciences, Indian National Academy of Engineering and others to submit a report on genetically modified foods.


To make matters worse, there were allegations that the reports had been plagiarised from a particular paper which had definite political overtones. There is a commercial and political twist to genetically modified foods and after various objections, the government was forced to look for a consensus. Ramesh has rejected all reports since they were identical and did not provide a larger scientific view but instead depended on the ideas of one scientist.


Since the issue of introducing genetically modified foods into the country is not just controversy-ridden but also important, this supposed cavalier attitude by these top scientists is surprising.


Sadly, intellectual discourse is rarely given much importance and yet, when someone asks for an opinion, our academics seem unwilling or unable to rise to the challenge.


Science is certainly at the forefront of human progress and if India is to take that much coveted place at the vanguard of nations, we need to be on the cutting edge with our ideas and opinions. Instead we seem to be taking the easy way out — or atleast it appears to be that way in this Bt brinjal issue.


What we require now is application of mind and due diligence from our scientists. Informed opinion and diversity of thought can only help to make the right decision and this is the minimum expectation, not just from the minister but from the country. Our health and the future of our farmers is at stake.







To err is human, but it is human too to undo the error. That is what the Supreme Court had done on Tuesday. The three-judge bench headed by chief justice of India SH Kapadia and comprising justices Aftab Alam and KS Radhakrishnan lifted the stay on the Ayodhya verdict given by justices RV Raveendran and HL Gokhale last week.


The apex court had rejected the plea of Ramesh Chand Tripathi that the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court should defer the verdict in the title suit concerning Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, and that there should be an amicable settlement to the vexatious dispute. This is no mean victory for the judicial system in our country's democracy.


One of the most important ways of safeguarding a democratic system — apart from free and fair elections and other procedures — is the rule of law. When two individuals or groups have conflicting claims, it is not settled through majority vote or show of strength. It is resolved through appeal to law and reason based on evidence and rational argument. It means that when contestants are unwilling to solve the problem, then the courts have to play the unenviable role of the arbiter.


It also implies that litigants — in this case, the All India Sunni Wakf Board and the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha —will abide by the judicial verdict. When the Allahabad high court delivers the judgment on Thursday, the courts would have done their job however long it took them to do so, but the onus now lies on the litigants to accept the verdict and look only for whatever legal remedies that that remain open to them.


This would mean an appeal to the Supreme Court by one of the disputants.


Though the focus now shifts to the Allahabad high court, it becomes all the more important for the respective Hindu and Muslims stakeholders in the dispute to accept the court's verdict with grace and dignity. It would be better if the political parties, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had adopted the Ayodhya temple issue as part of its political agenda, show restraint and not fish in troubled waters.


Similarly, the Congress and other secular parties including the communists should keep away from expressing support or sympathy to the Muslim organisations involved in the case. It is the responsibility of the Central and state governments to assure the people that there will be no


breakdown in the law and order situation.








Most of us float around in life allowing circumstances to determine what we achieve. As if we have no control on the way we live our lives.


We love blaming circumstances, people around us and of course, fate. So we go about our life in the most mundane fashion as if there is no other way. Is this how we want our life to be?


Success just does not happen. It is made to happen. But for that we must have a goal that is well defined and realistic. Here we are talking strategy, not fate. Most of us fail in what we do as we do not have an established goal that we are looking at with determination.


But we must have a worthwhile goal. It must add value to your life. Be sure of why you have made it your goal. Ensure that you are convinced about the goal and are passionate about it. It is this burning desire that will propel you to reach it. Do not carve your goal in stone. It should be a bit flexible. If it is not, you will not know what to do once the goal is reached. You will have nowhere to go after that.


Always be with people who will force you to run the extra mile. They are your real friends as they want you to succeed, do better and win. Anticipate hurdles. And plan for them. So that when they actually happen, you are not taken unawares or feel that the carpet from under your feet has been pulled off. You can have more than one goal. But work on one at a time. The more you plan how to reach it, the better will be the results.









IT is difficult to understandthe logic behind the idea ofre-opening the schools andother educational institutions inthe Valley on Monday to nearempty classrooms and emptybuses, other than the governmentusing it as yet anotheropportunity to project a rosy pictureof normalcy. Equivalentamount of efforts and energyhave earlier gone into everyelection process to give the semblanceof enthusiastic and highvoting patterns. Unfortunately,
all this is being done at the costof risk to the lives of the children.The comical exercise ofopening schools amid stringentcurfew and then shutting themin view of the tension mighthave been amusing if the consequenceswere not too grave.Barring the rural areas, wheremovement is not very restricted,and many students could attend
schools within the vicinity oftheir homes, the schools in theurban and semi-urban areaswore a deserted look. In theurban areas, not even childrenstaying within close vicinity oftheir schools dared to ventureout. The few students who tookthe courage of going to schoolshad to face harrowing experiences.The government had
announced that the student'sidentity cards would be treatedas curfew passes. However, theparents were not

allowed tomove on the roads when theyhad to pick up their wards fromthe schools. Students complained
that they had to walkback miles alone to get back totheir homes after a day in emptyclassrooms and no classwork.The business of re-openingschools has been virtually treatedlike a prestige issue by causing
great inconvenience to thestudents and also exposingthem to several hazards. Likeany assembly or parliamentaryelection in the last two decades,by the late afternoon, the governmentsimply busied itself
with the task of publicising thesuccess of the exercise withouttaking into account the miseries
of the students and the virtuallyempty schools. Such an attitudeis only likely to harden theresponse of the separatists whohad given a call against attendingschools. The governmentdecision to go ahead with opening
schools amidst such tensionshad already provoked theGeelani faction of Hurriyat toask parents not to send their
wards to schools.With re-opening of schoolshaving become a prestige issuebetween the two sides, it were
the children who have virtuallybeen caught in this unfortunateand unprincipled tug of war,making their lives seriously vulnerable.That several schoolbuses also came under attack ofstone pelters is just one indication
of how grave the consequencescan be. Besides, thesecurity forces and the police,with their notorious reputation
of disregarding even valid curfewpasses, further adds to thevulnerability of the children.The reports of parents being disallowedto venture out to pick uptheir wards from schools furtherlends credence to such theories.
In the last over three months ofthe crisis in Kashmir, the men inuniform have been particularlytargeting the school goingteenagers in their raids andattacks. Many school childrencan easily become targets on the
pretext of them being the 'miscreants'.In such a scenario,where everything in the Valleyhas come to an abrupt halt, it isnot understandable why thechildren have to become thescapegoats of politics. Alreadythey have suffered, not simplybecause they had to sit back boltedin their homes when theyshould have been learning but
also because of the tremendouspsychological impact of the situation,the looming large humanitariancrisis and the high scaleof violence has on the impregnableminds of the children.Many of them have been exposed
to first hand experiences of violence– some of them as participantsin the endless street battlesand some at the receivingend of the might of the securityagencies and police who havebeen at liberty to arrest them,
shoot, beat, torture and even killthem. All out attempts need tobe made to ease the situation sothat its long term dangerousimpact can be minimized. Butchildren cannot be allowed tobecome some sort of humanshields or at best experimentallaboratories to force throughpolitical agendas of x, y or z. Inthis latest phase of the conflict,
it were the children andteenagers who have borne themaximum brunt and they neednot be pushed any further.
Children need to be protectedand should be asked to come outof their homes only when theconditions are normal for theirmovement. As has been the concernof most parents, schoolingand education indeed may be
important but lives and securityof the children is far more important.The need to extend particularcare to the child has beenstated in the GenevaDeclaration of the Rights of theChild of 1924 and in theDeclaration of the Rights of theChild adopted by the GeneralAssembly and recognized in theUniversal Declaration of Human
Rights, in the InternationalCovenant on Civil and PoliticalRights, in the InternationalCovenant on Economic, Socialand Cultural. The Declaration ofthe Rights of the Child states,"the child, by reason of his physical
and mental immaturity,needs special safeguards andcare, including appropriate legalprotection, before as well as afterbirth." The competing calls foropening schools or shuttingthem therefore, are not onlyobnoxious and illogical. They arepurely inhuman. Children andschooling should not becomeobjects of anybody's politicking
and they are best protected intheir homes till situation doesn'tget normal, without anybodyfeeling the need to score browniepoints at their cost.







JAMMU and Kashmir governmentdoes not appearto be sensitive to thedemands of fruit growers of
land-locked Doda region, whosuffered extensive losses due toAmarnath land row agitationduring 2008. Despite promisesfrom the state as well as thecentral government, the relief isyet to be distributed to thefarmers in this region. For thelast three years, these fruitgrowers have been waiting forthe relief, which was to be disbursed
in cash. Time andagain, their demands for reliefappear to be falling on deafyears. At the first instance, the
agitation disrupted the entiretransport system as a result ofwhich, the fruit from Dodaregion could not reach the marketsin Jammu and elsewhereand secondly, the fruit growersalso suffered losses after thestate government failed to procurethe crop from the farmerswithin J&K. These growershave been put top losses for no
fault of theirs. That is whythey are demanding compensationfor the losses suffered dueto inaction on the part of thegovernment. This is not the situationfaced by the fruit growersonly, same is the case withthe farmers, who have sufferedcrop failure in this region duringthe past four years. Thefree rations and other relief
promised to them is yet toreach them. The farmers havebeen forced to resort to democraticactions for agitate for
the acceptance of theirdemands by the concernedauthorities. Unfortunately, thedelay for disbursement of relief
has only added to their difficulties.This year also, the fruitproduce from this region is yetto reach the market in fullswings due to disruption intransport facilities caused dueto disturbed conditions inKashmir valley and some partsof Jammu region.







IN order to keephat bright beaconlight of world'slargest democracyshining, India cannotafford criticism on theworld scene or pejorativeinterpretation oftheir image and ethos.Why is it then we seewhen the echelons ofauthority fly over thePir Panchal range ofmountains the humanitychanges face andwhile the scenery outof the window is exhilarating, the tiny peopleunderneath getdisparaging looks withat best a dint of sympathyalone?.Kashmir was bleedingfor a hundred dayswith over a hundredyouth killed thatprompted the IndianAll Party Delegation(APD) to visit and takestock. They have beenbefore through thosemountains and know
that a fire has beenraging for over sixdecades and is stillsimmering life and livinginside.The APD came witha concern for the troublesgripping the valleyand not so muchabout a concern for thechildren buried bytheir parents. Theytravelled like a whirlwindwith a healingwand in hand and metparty members fromall shades. PDP,Congress and NationalConference made commoncause alliance tosupport constitutionalincorporation of theState with IndianUnion even thoughthey proffered theirown ideas of a solution.APD walking onthe critical path alsogathered informationfrom people on thestreets and from otherparties and it wastheir report in Delhithat has culminatedinto a set of 8 decisionsfrom the CabinetCommittee onSecurity (CCS).It seems there is anunseen hand thatunleashes more stridentrepressive punishmentson the beleagueredsociety even asAPD were still on theirway back. Curfewsare imposed for relaxationand bullets nowfor not even protesting(See KT 26 Sep p6Marginalia). The CCSdirectives haveemanated as an anodynefor the woundedvalley. A criticalanalysis of the 8 decisionis important todecipher if they are abeginning for a decisiveresolution ofJammu & Kashmirdispute or a gambitpawn played to tideover the crescendoreached in politicalactivism. The firstdirective aims toappoint a team ofinterlocutors but itmay not be easy to findpeople who will not bechained to nationalinterests and realpolitickconcerns. Theywill need to dareimpartiality when adebate opens on constitutionalincorporationor cession.It is an opportunetime to get real andtake a huge step forward.Releasing thestudents in jails forpelting stones, and allprisoners againstwhom no charges havebeen proven and thoseincarcerated underPSA or POTA orTARDA is a step forward.That will bringa real conflict resolutioncloser to fruition.A great leap forwardtowards peace inKashmir is a review ofthe deployment ofsecurity forces. Thedecision gives a ropetoo long for it to beeffective in the UnifiedCommand Circles.The StateGovernment will beadvised in these mattersand in securitystrategy. Why shouldthe officers want tomove away from civilianproperties,orchards, lakes ormeadows? There areproven cases of fakeencounters and pretendcapture of militantsand equipmenthighlighting the needfor more forces. Noone can influencesecurity strategyunless the CCS make
ssessments on theground and makechanges at their end.We must take thishuge step and givelasting peace a hugechance.Ex-gratia relief tothe bereaved familiesis a tremendous altruisticgesture but thereare caveats to thisdeed. The money willnot requit their lossand must be paid discretelywith no publicity.The greatest of all
gestures would be totake into custody theperpetrators of thecrimes committed andlevel charges ofassault and murder.That will show thatjustice prevails in thelargest democracy ofthe world. I thinksomeone needs to clarifywhy Jammu andLadakh were isolatedfrom the rest of theState for developmentalprojects and a taskforce employed. Thisis a blatant separatistagenda and someoneis playing that card.This clause also haspejorative connotationfor the entire StateGovernment whoselegitimate responsibilityis for the whole ofJammu & Kashmirincluding Ladakh.It is the restrictiveorders to normal lifethat interrupted education.Once a realpeace process is underwaywith real peopleshowing real progress,all socio-economicactivities will resumeto normal levels.There is need to revivetotal structure of institutionsmaking goodthe systemic defects inplace now. I will begindulgence and submittwo further proposalsin the CCS packagethat should be considered.A team of scholarscan be appointedfrom all protagoniststake holders to enterinto an intelligent discourseabout all factsand realities ofJammu & KashmirState from the time itwas an independententity in 1947 to now.A consensus documentwould act as catharsisfor the entire populationof the State andSouth Asian subcontinent.The last proposalsubmitted to consideris for all partiesinvolved to accept afacilitator or a mediatorif talks fail to reachan agreement.Kashmir will neverbe solved by placing alid on the boiling potor by exploiting a competitiveadvantage.May be in the endknowledgeable compromiseswill be madeand decisive nformedconsensus emerges tobring happiness to agreat mass of population.

(The author can becontacted at majidsirajuk@yahoo.cmw w w . k a s h m i r -






It is a matter of relief that schools have reopened in the Valley after about 100 days. The sight of children sitting in their classes is indeed very heartening. For too long they have suffered for no fault of theirs. They had to cool their heels inside their houses because of many factors. There was tension outside in the streets with protesters engaged in repeated clashes with the police. As the death toll in these battles rose the situation worsened. It is too early to say that everything has returned to normal. The thin attendance on the reopening day speaks for itself. A brief visit by an all-party delegation has been useful. In some measure it was able to send a message to the local inhabitants that the country cares for them. This was followed by a firm message from the Union Government to the powers-that-be in the State to get at least schools working. It is a pity that even government schools have not functioned for three months. As a result the students especially of the 10th and 12th classes have been on tenterhooks. Their parents have suffered in silence. Those who could afford have sent their children away to the national capital and other cities to study on their own in a more relaxed environment. Not everyone is so lucky. For an average person the long turmoil has also meant erosion of income mainly in the hospitality trade which is the backbone of the Valley's economy. To his bewilderment he has got no respite from mainstream political organisations either. His agony has not been shared even by coalition partners which have been found wanting in terms of connectivity with the masses. The main opposition outfit too has behaved oddly revelling in the discomfiture of its arch enemy National Conference.


For their part the separatists --- the extremists among them chiefly --- have found the situation handy for them to exploit for their wicked ends. It is doubtful whether their credibility has gained in the process. The world is wiser now than ever before that they make a telling difference between their children and those of common persons. Many of them have been exposed to the charge of having sent their sons and daughters to educational institutions outside the State if not to foreign countries. At the same time they have been delivering homilies to the people at large as to why it is important for them to keep their children away from schools. Such dichotomy is now in the domain of public knowledge. How can a highly well-informed and politicised society as it exists in the Valley accept this? Its acquiescence is possibly because the killings of more than 100 persons --- almost one a day --- have lulled one and all into a state of shock and stillness. It is also because they have not found anyone coming to them with the aim of lifting them out of their turmoil. The leaders of the civil society too have been found unable to help in the overall picture. In any case it is seldom that they have exerted in the face of the extremist voices. This time they were face to face with another disturbing phenomenon --- the popular wrath over deaths in police firing ---- which could have only added to their predicament. Nobody pointed out at the local level that education should be spared from all debating points for the benefit of younger generation. Very appropriately the Prime Minister had given vent to his anguish. While calling for making a "new beginning" he had observed: "I appeal to the youth to go back to their schools and colleges and allow classes to resume. I ask their parents what future is there for Kashmir if your children are not educated?"


Now that some of the schools have resumed work all of us should see to it that there is no going back. It will be a big help if those managements of private institutions which have not responded yet do so without further delay. A collective action by all schools can significantly turn the tide in their favour. It is possible that they meet trouble on the way. A few minor incidents of school buses being pelted with stones have already been reported on the first day on Monday. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has rightly asked: "How can any right-thinking person pelt stones on school buses?... Anyone who has the interest of the children at heart cannot indulge in stone-pelting; nor should anyone support such mischievous attempts to interfere with the functioning of schools and colleges." He has correctly called it a "mischief" which he hopes "will stop immediately." For his part Chief Minister Omar Abdullah wants separatists to cooperate and avoid targeting children for coming to schools. "Please cooperate with the Government. Education is right now a fundamental right of children. We want to restore that." It is high time that his party rose to the occasion and mobilised popular support in this regard. Having taken the plunge the Government should not retrace its steps. It must do its job instead of blaming the media for doing its own by taking photographs of the students returning to their schools after a long gap. It is a wrong assumption that the media is thus exposing children to risk. It was only because media persons were around that they had not very long ago brought to light the heinous attack on students by militants outside a school in Srinagar. The challenge at this moment is to instil courage in parents, teachers and students who have shown willingness to revive a positive activity. All of us must rally behind them.







It must have been a horrifying experience for the residents of Dharam village, about 50 kilometres from Ramban town of the district of the same name, to see fissures developing in their homes just before they were going to sleep last week-end. They managed to rush out in time. The information takes some time to travel from our remote corners. From the available details it appears that the earth itself in the area had developed cracks. It has caused dislocation of 350 inhabitants of the village. It is necessary to take care of them. They have come to grief because of an unexpected development. As it is seems it is difficult to send them back. The experts are trying to find the source of strange geographical occurrence. Is it because of the railway construction work in the vicinity or some other reason?











Judging from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent observations, the UPA Government seems to have finally woken up to the urgent need of modernisation of the Armed Forces to enable them to meet the threats to national security emanating from many sources. The programme to upgrade the equipment has been implemented so far by fits and starts year after year and the Central Budget allocations have been surrendered by the Defence Ministry for various reasons, including failure to locate the correct equipment at affordable prices with assured delivery schedules and availability of ammunition and spared. 
The many scandals and role of middlemen had brought the procurement programme almost to a grinding halt despite outcry from the Services Chiefs. In view of the increase of threat perception, with China feverishly militarising Tibet, building extensive infrastructure and sending troops into Pakistan occupied Kashmir under the guise of flood relief workers and engineers on its many projects in the areas, the Government feels truly alarmed at the developing scenario impinging on out security.
Dr. Singh told the combined conference of armed forces commanders that there was urgent need for higher defence mondernisation standards commensurate with the economic and technological capabilities of the country. He called for building strong institutions, including updating of war fighting doctrines, preparation of appropriate staff quality requirements and the creation of a broad-based production and delivery infrastructure on the ground. India was too large a country to be boxed into any alliance or regional or sub-regional arrangements, whether trade, economic or political. Noting the shift of economic and political power to Asia, he wants India to pay special attention to the Asia Pacific region including south-east Asia which needed to seep into Indian defence and foreign policy planning as never before.

The government has now assured the Armed Forces that highest priority would be accorded to issues related to equipment, training and welfare of soldiers and ex-servicemen so that the best talent was attracted. We are assured that rapid modernisation of the armed forces is likely to be undertaken soon and the Strategic Forces Command will be strengthened by acquiring assets to meet the Triad delivery system requirement envisaged in the nuclear doctrine. These delivery systems may include a battery of missiles including the long-range nuclear capable Agni-V, along with Agni-II missiles, two squadrons of strategic bombers with long range capabilities and submarine-based nuclear weapons delivery systems. The SFC is reported to have asked for acquisition of 40 brand new aircraft for this purpose.

India has already started deploying Agni-II and Agni-III series of missiles with ranges upto 3,500 km and preparations are on to test the new 5,000 km Agni-V sometimes next year, as Defence Research and Development Organisation head Dr. V. K. Saraswat assures us. It is a three stage, solid fuel intermediate range ballistic missile and will carry a nuclear warhead. Being a consitered missile, it will have the flexibility of launch from multiple platforms on land and sea. In a related development the Strategic Forces Command has submitted a proposal to the Defence Ministry for setting up two dedicated squadrons of fighter aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons. However, it has not specified the type of aircraft needed for this purpose. Russia had offered to co-produce a strategic bomber, but it was not found suitable. The existing IAF fleet has nuclear capable aircraft, though not meant for that particular purpose. Since considerable strides have been made in this field, it is now considered prudent that a proper delivery system be introduced and the needed aircraft acquired. Pakistan has its American-supplied F-16 jets earmarked for this purpose and more are coming under the new military aid programme.

Once the defence modernisation programme gets under way, the level of purchases form abroad of sophisticated weapons and system, including now from the United States, which is lifting the embargo on case-by-case basis. India is likely to emerge as the second largest military spender in the Asia-Pacific region in the next five years and the seventh largest globally by 2016. Based on the current obsolescence of the equipment and acquisition programmes, the government is expected to import a major portion of its defence requirements worth $100 billion in military aviation, naval systems and land systems. In fact Pakistan is more than keeping pace with the help of China, which has been its long-time arms and nuclear material supplier, and which has given it the latest jet fighters and tanks indigenously produced by it in keeping with its policy of neutralising any Indian superiority in equipment and manpower.

The Defence Ministry's lack of appreciation of the threat posed by infrastructure development by China in Tibet and Pakistan occupied part of Kashmir has come in for severe criticism from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence. It says that the Ministry has no information about the extent of dangerous infrastructure development by China and other neighbouring countries which has serious consequences for national security. It criticises the Ministry for its casual attitude on this issue and for not even maintaining any details or data with regard to such activies taking place just across the borders.

It has also slammed the Border Roads Organisation for complacency and failure to meet the deadline for construction of 277 border roads measuring 13,100 km along the border and poor maintenance of the roads already built. The road condition at high altitude areas was so bad that it took seven hours to travel from Leh to the Pengon Tao Lake, which is close to the LOC, also inadequate air support facilities are being provided for airlifting some of the BRO equipment to inaccessible areas. 

In the context of modernisation, DRDO has criticised the forces for failing to overcome the temptation to induct the latest weapon systems from abroad. But forces say that the DRDO has promises too much but delivers too little, too late, and they are forced to push for import of weapons to maintain operational readiness. For instance, the Tejas Light Combat aircraft, Nag anti-tank guided missile and Astra air-to-air missiles are still not operational despite years of trials. But DRDO rebuts the charge and maintains it is grossly unfair to hold only it responsible for the poor level of self reliance in defence systems.

Defence Minister A. K. Anthony said recently that new procurements have commenced, but "we are still lagging by 15 years". If this state of affairs continues much longer, India's quantitative military gap with China will soon become a qualitative gap as well. Also the slender conventional edge the Indian Army enjoys over Pakistan Army will be eroded further with Islamabad's large acquisition form China and America, Washington has repeatedly been told that by arming Pakistan indiscriminately it is undermining India's security.
The only answer lies in enhancing the fighting capabilities of our defence forces a quickly as possible, overcoming red tape, political indecisiveness and lack of a long-term security vision.(NPA)








Cricket, the gentleman's game has once again caught the attention of millions of game lovers all across the world and this time too for all wrong reasons. The way things have been going in the game of cricket, it seems every cricketer has two ambitions and that is to get money and to get more, because it is the money what matters to them the most. The question arises who is bigger, the game or the player, temptation towards money and resistance development atmosphere of greed transforms every youngster. There is no doubt in it that the game of cricket is riding high on the money and it has spread its tentacles far and wide especially after the launch of Indian Premier League (IPL). Youngsters become easy victims of a fractured mindset, where selection of people even at ground level is being questioned and is said to be full of money laundering. 
Match fixing to Pakistan cricket seem endemic, in the mid 1990s, some of the greats of Pakistan cricket were handed life ban on the same grounds and by the time they pleaded in courts their careers were over. More and more names of Pakistani cricketers keep cropping up in recent scandal, as last 82 matches played by Pakistan have been put under scanner. Now it seems the turn of the figured trio viz. Salman Bhatt, Mohd Asif, and Mohd Amir to face the music. Mohd Asif even went clean after being caught at Dubi airport for carrying banned substance. Veena Malik, the estranged girl friend of Mohd Asif has publically alleged Asif of match fixing; to this effect she has produced voice recording and other documentary evidences. Life ban appears the minimum punishments which can be seen in the light of protecting the gentlemen's game. Even Read one of the games great said Pakistan need to be banned from international cricket and legendary Cricketer Kapil Dev felt sorry for Pakistan cricket. Even administration of PCB is somewhere linked to match fixing and close to bookies and perhaps that's why somewhere board members are still trying to protect its players and fear to take action against any player. No body knows what's going on behind the curtains, nothing can be ruled out, so it's better to get hold of one who is caught in the act. By indulging into such practices these players not only bring bad name to them but also to the country they play for.

One can very well understand as to play the game without quelling the fire of belly is not possible and to be in a game which may not appease your belly is a crime.

No doubt more or less, money is one of the important and vital components of every modern day game, but money that matters only. Players are after money not only in the game of cricket but in other sport as well. One fails to understand when almost every sport is showering money from all sides, what is the need to earn it from wrongful means. Even a single endorsement of cricket players involves so much of money that it is sufficient to arrange the bread and butter for ones whole family for their whole life. 

Pakistan, which is already reeling under the huge internal crisis from all sides be it the incident of recent floods, in which nearly 70 million people turned homeless, and property worth millions of dollars was destroyed or be it cold war like situation in country, where militancy has raised its head so high that no administrative power is able to tighten noose around it. Under these circumstance coming fore of the match fixing scandal in Pakistan cricket, the game most Pakistanis love to follow has added to their woes.. Despite so much happening, Pakistan Cricket Board doesn't seem serious about taking action against these players; on the contrary board is trying to explore the opportunities to protect them. 

Actually the seeds of match fixing have been sown so deep in public minds that surfacing of such issues hardly bother them any more. Somewhere people have actually developed a sort of resistance to live with and in-between surfacing of spot fixing controversy in the game of cricket involving Pakistani Cricket Players and Bookie hardly perturbs any body. Actually the mess is so huge and the nexus so large that at times one feels, if made public the whole system may collapse. Even a sincere and genuine person is fixed and fitted in whole system in such a manner that he himself is unaware of being a part and parcel of money laundering; such is the way the system is interwoven from all sides. Besides, every new controversy which comes to fore deepen the crisis by turning the troubled waters further murky and under these situations one is bound to fail to nail the real culprit. 

Atmosphere is all set to let public come to know about betting in game, and no doubt some where India is a heaven, as most of the bookies are from India. Of the late we can see, a good number of international cricket players have come forward and have confessed of being approached by bookies a number of times. But this in itself is not enough as these statements hardly serve any purpose and it doesn't end the duty of a true sportsman. I believe time has come when cricketers instead of making statements should help to crack money laundering nexus all across the world. Credibility of game is to be restored and introspection is needed and this is possible only when the people who are at the helm of affairs remain true to their jobs, otherwise we have seen people who are directly or indirectly involved with game in one or the other form but are strong enough to shield themselves even if found guilty.

Among everything it seems the turn of ICC, as the time is ripe to send a hard and clear message to one and all that no body is above the game and no body will be spared for such a heinous crime. By banning these cricketers ICC can set a perfect example for budding cricketers to desist from such acts and in turn will act as a deterrent for one and all. Besides the time is perfect to act to save the gentleman's game form being taken hostage by money laundering nexus. Somewhere need is to evolve a new, better, broader and bolder system to streamline the whole system, where the ambit of ICC is to be enhanced by taking over the issues like players fee's and other agreements so that disparity in match fees among different cricket boards may be reduced to a considerable level. 

All this will definitely help a great deal in lowering down temptation for money among players and will act as catalyst in reducing money laundering and match fixing.








China has every reason to be proud of its phenomenal economic growth of over the years. It has already left behind Japan and snatched from it, the status of being second largest economy in the world after US. It may take over US itself in about two decade's time from now. India on the other hand is no way lagging behind. It is also developing at an equal pace and may throw challenge to this Chinese supremacy in years to come. 
India has a long border with china stretching right from Assam to Kashmir. Demarcation thereof has all along been disputed by china. A war between the two countries broke out in the year 1962. Indian leaders were taken by surprise as they had not expected any such hostile action from their Chinese friends. China eventually succeeded in forcibly taking over a huge part of India territory in Ladakh. This war lasted only for a short while as there was virtually no military resistance on Indian side and military machine set in motion by China as against India, walked into the Indian territories with utmost immunity and ease.

After the end of British Raj in 1947, India's much focus and attention went towards agriculture and industrial development while as it's defense needs were ignored altogether. China took advantage of this folly and took Indian leaders by surprise. India suffered a great military humiliation at the hands of mighty Chinese army. Nehru in turn made his Defense Minister a scapegoat and asked him to resign and take the blame. India at that point of time was for more than anything punished for sheltering Dali-Lama in India and supporting his dream of a Tibetan State.

This war with China became an eye opener for India as it was decided to put everything on hold and raise Indian fire power in a big way. India right now has one of the largest army in the world. Not only by numbers but the quality of is military hardware is no way inferior to China or for that matter to any other country in the world. It is no longer now dependent on it's one time Russian ally but can now on it's own save it's borders from any outside aggression. Not resting with all that India has become a nuclear power as well so any kind of Chinese misadventure in this region this time round is bound to bring the world close to a disaster.
Furthermore China is maintaining close ties with Pakistan despite overwhelming western influences over that country and close US links with it's powerful military Junta. China has no misgiving about US military presence in Afghanistan or Pakistan as more than anyone else they are also interested in doing away with AL-Qaeda and Taliban net work in these two countries. China has more than half million Muslim population which can fall prey to such kind of infestations and cause trouble to Chinese sovereignty. 

Apart from this strategic interest in the ongoing conflict in the region it has come to the notice of Indian government that slowly and steadily china is making further inroads towards on Ladakh boarder. There are also reports of about 10,000 Chinese armed forces roaming free in Gilgit, Baltistan and other parts of POK. Roads, railway lines, bridges and dams are being built by China over there by spending of billions of dollars. 
With all this going on behind the scene, China is also making some open provocative moves as against India on Kashmir. Lately visa was denied to a very senior military officer to china on the ground that he is serving in Kashmir which China thinks is a disputed territory between India and Pakistan. 

No doubt China has always been supportive of Pakistan on Kashmir but as of now its interest in the dispute going on between India and Pakistan over Kashmir seems to be receiving too much Chinese attention. 
What could be the reason behind this increase in their interest in Kashmir is not hard to guess. India is competitor to China in the world trade which China is otherwise expected to dominate in near future so a week India therefore suits Chinese economic interests. 

India on it's part may have gone back on it's stated stand on Tibet and declared that Dala Lama is only guest and he can return home whenever he may wish. A high level committee to settle boarder dispute if any between China and India is already in place. What more India can do to please his Chinese neighbours. 
Despite these goodwill gestures if China continues to befriend India, loud and clear message therefore needs to be sent to China that India will not take lying down some these unfriendly acts being perpetuated against it. India is a huge market for cheap Chinese goods which have flooded markets all over the world so China cannot afford to do anything which may affect their business interests in India. Therefore India needs not to fear anything they can very well confront China to begin with diplomatically and if necessary by calling for boycott of Chinese goods which every Indian will be ready to do to protect his national pride.










THE shocking revelations in The Tribune on how some seats in the prestigious Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh and some other medical colleges across the country are sold for hefty sums by unscrupulous agents operating out of Mumbai and New Delhi exemplify the decadence that characterizes our system of governance today. Corruption is eating into the vitals in every walk of life in the country and lack of accountability is making a mockery of the deterrence to wrong-doing. That the rot has vitiated even the system of admissions to medical colleges is a chilling reminder that unless we act fast, there may be a trust deficit of people at large in the custodians of our health. It is not our case that medical admissions in general are divorced from merit. Mercifully, at present such cases of backdoor admissions are an aberration. But if proper steps are not taken to stem the rot, the malaise will become more and more widespread.


Transcripts of our reporter's secretly-taped conversations with touts show the latter declaring proudly that they secured admissions for their rich clients by using impersonators to appear in the entrance tests in place of the actual candidates. That CBI sleuths have arrested two such junior doctors in PGI, Chandigarh, who ostensibly secured admissions by dubious means shows the seriousness with which the claims of The Tribune are being taken. Reports say that the CBI is hot on the trail of the rogue agents. That the agents' fee for the guaranteed admissions to the top grade institutions ranged from Rs 80 lakh to a whopping Rs 1.2 crore (as recorded in the conversations with our reporter) shows the killing that these agents have been making. Only a high-level inquiry can establish how a part of this money must have been used to subvert the system by bribing various people who were privy to the terrible racket.


Enough is enough! It is time the real perpetrators of this racket are unmasked and meted out deterrent punishment. If this requires the law to be made more stringent, legislation must be brought forth without delay. The nation can ill afford its doctors being of questionable credentials and merit.








THE "one per cent" chance of reconciliation due to which the Supreme Court had deferred the verdict of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute has proved to be a non-starter and the apex court has finally paved the way for the High Court to announce its decision on September 30. The highest court's decision to give one last chance to a negotiated settlement was well-meaning but was also inconsequential considering that the contesting parties had flatly refused to reach any agreement and had left the matter in the hands of the court. As a result, the Bench of Chief Justice S. H. Kapadia, Justice Aftab Alam and Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan on Tuesday dismissed the petition of former bureaucrat Ramesh Chandra Tripathi through a brief order.


This will at least bring an end to the uncertainty, which has hurt the residents of the twin towns of Ayodhya-

Faizabad the most. It is they who have to live under curfew-like situations whenever a crucial court date approaches. Things are equally bad in the rest of the country where the security forces have to be on high alert to tackle the likely repercussions. The argument that the judgement should be withheld because the consequences could be bad for the law and order situation was not only dangerous but could have also set a bad precedent.


The Centre has studiously avoided taking any stand, leaving everything to the court. The local representatives of the two communities say they will abide by the judgement of the High Court, without going in appeal to the Supreme Court. But it is unlikely that others fighting the case for the past more than half a century will show similar sagacity. If the judgement is in favour of one of the parties, the other side is almost certain to move the Supreme Court against the verdict. Both communities need to guard against those trying to arouse passions unnecessarily.









EVER since the Mumbai terror attacks India, indeed as well as most of the world, has been quite clear about the link between Pakistan's ISI and those who massacred innocent Indians and caused wanton destruction of property in Mumbai. There has been some debate on just how strong the connection was, but that too has been settled with the latest revelations by investigative American journalist Bob Woodward. In his book 'Obama's War', he says that ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha told the CIA that the terror strikes were carried out by "rogue" ISI elements and were not an "authorised" operation.


No one expects any intelligence agency chief to admit to complicity in terrorist acts, and thus the device of categorising this act as a "rogue" operation is a fig leaf that reveals much more than it portends to cover. The book also has many revelations about how the blurry world of real politik is allowing the ISI to run operations inimical to the Indian and American governments. The Americans have learnt that supping with the ISI is fraught with danger, especially when they have seen how the Talibanese are provided sanctuaries in Pakistan and allowed to slip back to Afghanistan, where they fight the American coalition forces. Now they too admit that the LeT had been created and funded by the ISI to commit terrorist acts in India. It has training camps in Pakistan and the army provides these militants cover to smuggle them across the Indian border.


Even thought President George Bush realised the dubious role of the ISI, he continued a policy of appeasement of the Pakistani government and the military, which ultimately controls the ISI. President Obama, has made a few minor adjustments, but that's all. It is high time that the world realises that the ISI itself has gone rogue. India, till now, has shown remarkable restraint in the face of terrorist attacks, but as in the case of the US, the nation is at the edge of its patience. Realising the true face of the ISI is one thing, but taking action and neutralising the activities that aid and abet terrorism is another. The world is waiting to see how the US tackles this challenge.
















TO arrive in Washington at this point of time is to be struck by the slew of troubles that are crowding in on President Barack Obama. The more worrisome of them are, of course, at home. But the problems he faces abroad, especially in relation to China, are also serious enough. It is well known that the US President and his Democratic Party are in the throes of a very hard mid-term election to the House of Representatives and to a third of the Senate seats. Nor is it a secret that almost from the word go the widespread belief in the country is that the Democrats would lose control of at least one House or probably of both.


What is new, however, is the intensity of the voters' feelings of resentment and even anger against the Democrats in general and Mr. Obama in particular, accompanied by a palpable fear about the future. Another fresh element in the "Battle for the Hill" is the unexpectedly impressive showing by an outfit of ultra-Conservatives among the Republicans that calls itself the Tea Party, evidently deriving inspiration from the Boston Tea Party in 1773.


Although a string of local grassroots groups, lacking a central organisation and leadership, the raucously noisy Tea Party that has no dearth of funds has won quite a few Republican nominations for the impending poll. On the day of my arrival the great sensation across America was the triumph in the Delaware primary of Christine O'Donnell to the consternation of almost everyone except herself and her cohorts. What an improbable candidate she is for the role she seeks is best illustrated by her demand for declaring masturbation a crime because, according to her, it is akin to adultery born of "lust in the heart".


During the jubilation over her success in the primary she also admitted that in the past she had "dabbled in witchcraft". Despite such tomfoolery, a Washington Post headline says: "Tea Party Has Nation's Attention. What Next?" Evidently, those hurt by the catastrophic economic crisis, which means a vast majority of the population, disregard the Tea Party's absurdities but are lapping up its extreme demands for downsizing the government, perpetuation of the Bush tax cuts due to expire in two years, repeal of Mr. Obama's healthcare reforms, massive cuts in government spending and so on.


Even so, the Tea Party surge could turn out to be a double-edged sword. For its outlandish electioneering might drive moderate supporters of the Republican Party to stay at home on the voting day. Indeed, Democratic Party strategists believe that might enable them to win. Nothing can be said with certainty until the votes are counted on November 2. However, there is no denying huge economic discontent. While 72 per cent of the GDP loss during the recession has been recovered, thanks largely to the generous government stimulus, of the jobs lost only 9 per cent have been restored. The unemployment rate remains dangerously high. Millions have lost their homes. The young people anxious to start a career are unable to find an opening. Those in their fifties who were laid off might never work again.


 That might explain what happened a day after Ms. O'Donnell became something of a celebrity. President Obama held what in American parlance is called a town hall meeting. It turned out to be an inquisition of sorts. In fact, it was a discussion organised by a TV channel at which most of the participants were his supporters at the time of his election and even later. Their questions and comments showed that almost all of them are now deeply disillusioned and totally sceptical about his ability to reverse the situation. Surprisingly, no one seemed willing to heed the President's understandable plea that the economic disaster was not his creation but the consequence of what had gone on for decades. Nor were there any takers for his appeal for patience "for ameliorating measures would take time to bear fruit".


As for the main foreign source of America's worries the message was loud and clear at the opening of the UN General Assembly session in New York. Not in the main hall but on the fringes where Mr. Obama met an array of world leaders. But no meeting was even remotely as important as that with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao that lasted full two hours. And it got the US President nowhere on his main demand that China should act faster on its promise to revalue gradually its currency. Mr. Wen would not budge. Earlier in the day, he had told a meeting of US businessmen that a 20 per cent increase in the value of renminbi would lead to a loss of jobs and bankruptcies in China without adding anything to the American job market. Some American commentators have called it China's usual "diversionary tactic". But quite a few others say that there is merit in the Chinese point of view. There would be no immediate gain from a speedy revaluation of the Chinese currency just as there was none in the eighties when the US compelled Japan to revalue the yen.


This, interestingly, runs counter to what US sources have been impressing on their interlocutors. One of them said to me that Mr. Obama's view of China had changed since he went to Beijing in November last year and included in the joint statement remarks about China's role in South Asia that evoked protests from India. Since then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he added, had issued a strong warning against China's "bullying" of its Southeast Asian neighbours over its maritime claims in South China Sea. That is doubtless so. But the point is that during the Obama-Wen talks neither this issue nor even the China-Japan spat over the arrest of the Captain of a Chinese vessel in disputed waters, then at its height, was taken up.


Since then Japan has virtually surrendered to China. In the US media this is described as "humiliating retreat in the first test of wills". It is also seen here as a "symbol" of China's great and growing might and clout.


When asked why was the US so "squeamish" in its dealings with China, one of the best informed sources, who did want to be quoted by name, said: "We are dependent for our economic survival on China. There are severe limits on what we can do about it".








THERE is a postman here with a parcel from Australia," my wife informed me on the telephone, from the residence, as I sat in the office, waiting for the clock to strike the lunch hours.


"Is he asking for charges?" I asked her.


"None," she assured me and waited for instructions.


"Take delivery, I am coming," I said to her.


I had been to Australia and New Zealand on an official trip. While in Sydney (Australia), I visited the Sydney Tower, the tourists' delight, soaring 305 metres above the ground.


A glass replica of the tower showcased in a souvenir shop at the observation deck (250 metres) caught my fancy and I ordered one for Aus $ 61.50. The saleswoman at the counter handed over to me a packed piece; I accepted the same without insistence on opening the case and showing the content.


I brought the packet to the hotel and threw it in, among the other purchases.


From Sydney, I flew to Auckland, thence to Kuala Lumpur, and finally to New Delhi. The next day, I travelled to Chandigarh by road.


As I unpacked the luggage and opened the velvet lined plywood box containing the replica, my face fell, for the piece de resistance was lying therein broken in two.


I surmised that there was a possibility, though a meagre one, that the piece might have been broken even before I took delivery.


I called the Souvenir World Australia, the shop from where I had made the purchase and asked for a replacement. Within 10 minutes, Jenny Armstrong, their administration manager, sent an e-mail at my office ID, advising me to provide the receipt number, the code, description and the price of the item. I gave the details to the computer operator of my office who e-mailed the information to Jenny on my behalf, I emphasised in the complaint the fact that I had accepted the sealed packet without actually checking the content.


The receipt of the e-mail complaint was received almost in no time.


Four days later I sent a reminder. Prompt came the reply on February 7: "I have forwarded your enquiry to the relevant department. I will chase them up immediately."


Then some days later, when I reached home on my wife's call, I found that she had already opened the packet; there lay on the table a new replica of Sydney Tower glistening in the light of the chandelier above. There was a letter too, from the Souvenir World Australia: "Sorry for the inconvenience. Sending new Crystal Tower. Thanks."


They had paid Aus $ 19.50 for postage too. No questions were asked before providing the replacement. They even didn't ask for the return of the original broken piece.


Meanwhile, I had joined the broken pieces with quickfix and put the repaired replica on the mantel in the drawing room; from a distance one could not make out the defect. With the arrival of the replacement, I had now two (I still have)!










ACCORDING to a recent report, the travel time between Delhi and Jaipur now extends to over seven hours on account of the widening work on the Delhi- Jaipur highway. A personal experience when it took six hours to get to Jaipur from Gurgaon bears this out.


The widening work on this highway from two lanes to four lanes and now to six lanes and eight lanes has been on going ever since 1995 or so with very little periods in between for a hassle-free drive. The same is true of Delhi to Chandigarh and Delhi to Amritsar highways where widening has been going on from perhaps even earlier.


This reflects, in this writer's view, the paradigm governing the development of infrastructure in India, where by virtue of being a poor country, the provision of infrastructure was limited to a perceived demand projected from existing usage. Since the existing usage was itself highly suppressed, this has resulted in infrastructure acting as a constraint on development rather than its availability providing the impetus for economic growth.


The application of this principle to the road sector was compounded further by the application of a stage construction methodology, whereby a road was developed in stages, layer by layer or lane by lane. While this allowed the available funds to be applied over a larger number of roads and thus served a political purpose, it also meant that the full benefits flowing from the construction of these roads were postponed. 
Clearly, the economic benefits that follow the development of a road network were not realised and instead we have had sub-standard and sub-optimal roads. This is in the face of India having over three million kilometres of roads, second only to the United States, but with a substantial length of this comprising poorly maintained and unpaved dirty roads.


The length of national highways is only 70,000 km though more than 40 per cent of the total traffic, particularly the heavy goods traffic, moves on these. Even here, nearly 30,000 km of state roads have been designated as national highways in the last ten years only and are, therefore, far from national highway standards.


Apart from around 14,000 km recently made four-lane, under the National Highways Development Project (NHDP), the remaining national highways are two lanes with a length of 17,900 km being single or intermediate lane only.


The NHDP represents the first real effort at creating a modern highway network in India. Under this programme, it is proposed to build 1000 km of expressways, around 28,000 km of four/six-lane highways and 20,000 km of improved two lane with paved shoulders.


Nearly 15,000 km have since been completed with work going on in another 6,000 km. It is expected for the balance length to be awarded by the end of 2012.


The rebuilding of the national highways under the NHDP has already begun to have an impact by making road transport easier and more efficient. The period 2000 to 2009 has seen an increase in the number of registered cars from 6.14 million to 15.78 million and increase in the number of registered commercial vehicles from 3.28 million to nearly 7 million.


Furthermore, unlike in the past, when only single axle trucks were suitable for narrow Indian roads, the new national highways can easily accommodate large multi axle trucks and trailers. As a direct corollary of this growth, the auto component industry has seen its revenue grow from US $ 5 billion in 2002-03 to US $ 20 billion in 2008-09.


Despite one of the most extensive rail network in the world, the bulk of commercial goods movement in India is by road and clearly the recent growth trajectory of the Indian economy bears the impact of the improved road network under the NHDP.


Notwithstanding the obvious achievement under the programme, there is a general impression that in view of the large deficit in the country's highway network, the rate of implementation needs to be increased. At the same time, some critics have observed that wasteful expenditure is being incurred on building over designed roads with excess capacity.


Clearly, there is an inherent contradiction in these observations. Empirical evidence shows that in quite a few

cases, the capacity created is already under strain requiring further capacity augmentation. Furthermore, the capacity of a road cannot be judged on the basis of the existing traffic and its design should cater to traffic at least 15 to 20 years in the future.


This is especially so when 15 to 20 year concessions are being granted. In no way also can the highways being developed under the NHDP be described as being overdesigned when compared to highway systems in developed countries or in other Asian countries such as China, South Korea, Malaysia etc.


In fact, the highways being developed under the NHDP lack in a number of features, such as access control, grade separated intersections, provision of safety barriers, provision of bypasses around habitations, etc. which are common elsewhere on major highway networks.


Finally, highways being a basic infrastructure generate economic activity and, therefore, need to be planned and provided in a manner that they give an impetus to economic growth. Thus if the NHDP does create some excess capacity, it will surely generate economic activity in the area along with related traffic and we should proceed with its implementation as rapidly as feasible.


The writer, a 1966 batch IAS officer of Haryana cadre, is a former Chairman, National Highways Authority of India








URBAN blight has become endemic in all the towns and cities of India. Even Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar and Gandhinagar are no exception. The bigger the town, the more the urban blight.


Chandigarh was a thoroughly planned city but its beauty is marred by haphazard growth of local colonies in the north and the south. Secondly, a green belt of 2-km width was not carved out to separate Mohali and Panchkula which could not bloom as full-fledged cities because of the dwarfing effect of Chandigarh.


The traffic problem in Chandigarh's Madhya Marg and Sector 22-21 dividing road has become chaotic. The situation in other towns is highly distressing principally due to insanitation, traffic snarls, air pollution and growth of slums.


The main cause of the urban blight is the silent permission for developing unauthorised colonies and their subsequent authorisation at the time of elections. The situation is like a pimple growing into a boil. In Punjab, the situation is worst in Ludhiana. Residents of Chandigarh are against its transfer to Punjab because the City Beautiful would become another Ludhiana in a few years.


In Gurgaon, some portions of the city (particularly along the Golf Course Road) resemble Dubai as a result of the beeline of grotesque corporate buildings. Unfortunately, however, the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) and the Municipal Corporation could not pace the infrastructure development commensurate with the growth of the population and the physical expansion of the city.


The traffic problem has become the biggest nuisance. Till now no urban authority has been able to solve this in any city. Ahmedabad made a slight dent by constructing some elevated and surface corridors for the buses. In Delhi, the separate bus corridors from Ambedkar Nagar Chowk to Mool Chand Hospital crossing has become an eyesore. The traffic moves at a snail's pace even on the Ring Road (100 per cent signals free) during the evening rush hours. Staggering of office hours could have flattened the peak flow and made things easier for the drivers.


People had great expectations that the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) would solve the traffic problem at least by half. However, they were in for a big disappointment because car users did not switch over to this new rapid mass transport system (MRTS) substantially.


The traffic problem of Delhi can be solved with an affordable investment. An elevated bus corridor with air-conditioned bus service costs one third the cost of elevated metro corridor (Rs 130 crore per km) and one seventh of the underground track (cost Rs 330 per km) almost with same benefits. An elevated car corridor of four lanes will cost only Rs 15 crore per km and would be ready in half the time.


Clearly, 50 per cent problem of traffic movement in Delhi will be solved if the administration takes the following seven steps:


n Stagger the office hours from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and then from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. except in the month of January.


n Start a massive campaign for car pools during the office hours. The Government of Delhi as well as all other Central government offices should direct its officials to take the lead.


During the 1974 oil crisis, even the judges of the Supreme Court had car pools. Running of odd-number cars on odd dates and even number cars on even dates during the rush hours will force people to use car pools.


n Do not allow parking of personal vehicles of traders/shopkeepers before their shops.


n Run special buses from busy public places for to and fro carriage of employee/passengers from selected places and stop the entry of cars in these busy complexes (Airport, railway stations, Nehru place). For example, introduction of AC bus services between Gurgaon and the Airport will deter people to use their personal cars to reach the airport.


n Add deluxe coaches in the metro train to attract executives to travel by this mode.


n Restrict the car entries in localities like Karol Bagh, Sadar Bazar and Chandni Chowk during select hours.


n Use the present ring railway service from Ashram to Shakoor Basti more intelligently to carry more passengers. These suggested measures do not require much of investment; they need to be enforced by the Government.


The remaining problem can be solved by the following measures:


n Construct flyovers for light vehicles at busy crossings of New Delhi, i.e. . Aurangzeb-Tughlak Road crossing. This step alone will solve 25 per cent of the problem as 85 per cent are light vehicles and the flyover does not require a massive structure.


n Provide elevated corridors for cars along the roads where the intensity of light vehicles is large, i.e. Delhi Gate to Anand Parbat or Mehrauli to AIIMS.


n Provide elevated bus corridors along the roads where car users are less and public transport users are more, i.e. Mehrauli to Badarpur or Ambedkar Nagar to Lodhi Estate.


n Construct new roads along the banks of the existing canals and drains of Delhi i.e. Najafgarh drain for the safe moment of light vehicles.


The cost of these four steps to cover the entire city of Delhi will be about Rs 22,500 crore. These measures can be replicated in other cities also to solve their traffic problems on permanent basis and save crores of manhours and litres of oil daily to justify the cost.


The writer is a former Engineer-in-Chief, Government of Haryana









Iwatch more movies than you do. Oh, I'm not debating who has seen more Fritz Lang or Guru Dutt, I just mean the film critic job comes with my having to go to a movie theatre at least once a week, and spend a few hours watching what is usually – except for perhaps four, five times a year – rather uninspiring. And it is because I'm off reviewing duties for a couple months that I realise I haven't been to a theatre in ages. And - this comes as a revelation to me, so I'd ask for a smidgeon of patience – I haven't missed the big screen at all. 


This strikes me as quite rum since I love movies, and very little compares to watching celluloid unfold on the big screen, larger than life and scaled to hyperreal proportions that encourage suspension of disbelief. Why, the lord god Woody Allen himself said that the theatre was the only way to watch cinema. And yet, right now, the big screen seems to have lost its fundamental allure for me. Partly, of course, this is because we in India hardly get to watch Allen's movies, like anything non-mainstream, on the big screen in the first place, but baser concerns abound. 


First things first, prices are insane now. Going to a movie on a whim really doesn't seem justifiable when a multiplex cashier holds you up, a uniformed, pistol-free Jesse James. And then there's the airline-quality food. Sure, a few times a year we find cinematic spectacles that justify every cost - Inception, Toy Story 3, Iron Man 2 all made our jaws drop this year, and will never have the same impact at home - the rest of the lot works just fine on DVD. (An aside: While Hollywood summer tentpole blockbusters make you want to go to theatres, Hindi cinema trying to be visually awesome constantly underwhelms, providing little but pain. Someday someone will spend money on both effects and a script, but let's not hold our collective breath.) 


Also, watching movies at home has never been better. Hi-definition formats and Blu-Ray ripped torrents have made their way into our lives, the quality is staggering and the options on offer are limitless. If you can brave the commercials and take the trouble to look up showtimes, local movie channels now offer everything from subtitled Swedes to classic Kishoreda, and you'll often be surprised at what you stumble upon. No longer are we at the mercy of the multiplex owner, that dark-hearted demon who plagues us with seventeen daily shows of a Sanjay Dutt film and refuses to give a gem of a film anything beyond a 10.45am slot. 


A friend remarked a few days ago while watching a DVD that he would personally hate to watch the film on the big-screen. I was puzzled, till he explained that the highly conversational film seemed almost too intimate to watch with a throng. And he's right, there are films which work far better when watched digitally, at home, with time to pause and ruminate, and the comfort of your favourite beanbag. There is also isolation, and this, in keeping with increasingly cluttered lives, has come to be something we treasure, hence the experience of cinema a la our carté: as we want, when we want, with the people we want and the air-conditioner turned to our kind of cosy. 


No, that big screen really doesn't seem quite so big anymore. Sigh. 



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As the monsoon retreats, India is once again left with potholed roads. Like malaria and other monsoon-related diseases, potholed roads are an annual affliction. Yet, there is no reason whatsoever why India cannot have all-weather roads in this day and age. At over 33 lakh kilometres, India has the world's second-largest road network. The density of its highway network is also comfortably high, similar to what the United States has and much higher than what China and Brazil have managed to achieve so far. The road network in India has another critical dimension as far as the country's infrastructure is concerned. It carries almost 90 per cent of the country's passenger traffic and about two-thirds of its freight. Dependence on roads has risen sharply since the country gained Independence with the Indian Railways not making much progress over the years and, therefore, losing its share in passenger traffic and freight business to the road network. A corollary of the rising dependence on the road network is the congestion that has choked the smooth flow of traffic on it. This should not come as a surprise because national highways account for a mere 2 per cent of the total network, but carry about 40 per cent of the road traffic. To add to the woes, most roads are narrow and suffer from poor surface quality.


The irony is that the Indian road network's biggest strength is also its weakest link in maintaining connectivity across the country. An estimated 80 per cent of the national road network consists of district and village roads, but over 40 per cent of India's villages do not have access to all-weather roads. Thus, large parts of India, by definition, may remain connected with the road network, but its reliability and utility in thousands of villages are a question mark every year after the monsoon rains and floods. The problem of poor roads afflicts not just the villages, but urban India as well. A look at the condition of roads in major cities, including even the national Capital, will bring out major weaknesses in the manner in which the government and civic authorities execute road projects and maintain them. Even national highways connecting state capitals with New Delhi do not escape the ravages of weather every year.


 Three kinds of problems have afflicted India's road network. One, there are engineering flaws at the time roads are constructed, not only in villages and districts, but also in big towns and cities. Consequently, roads have allowed for accumulation of rainwater on them, creating potholes and breakages. Two, even the best roads need proper and regular maintenance so that they retain the requisite surface quality. Even tolled roads under maintenance by both government and non-government agencies suffer on this count. Three, there is no clear policy direction either at the central or the state level on the nature of all-weather roads that they must build. Indian road planners have so far favoured asphalt roads over concrete roads, although in several parts of the country in the last few years they have used concrete for building large stretches of national highways and even roads in villages, towns and cities. Concrete roads have the advantages of durability (rains cannot ravage them easily) and are more fuel-efficient for vehicular traffic, although they pose maintenance problems in case they break. In comparison, asphalt roads are less costly and take less time in construction. Surely, building good roads that outlast a few monsoons does not require rocket science!








Krishi Bhawan's preliminary reckoning of this year's likely kharif output is not as comforting as it is made out to be. Though output this year will be higher than last year, when drought depressed it, it is likely to be still below the harvests of 2008 and 2007. This brings into question the hope expressed by government functionaries about a likely fall in the prices of farm commodities.


The anticipated kharif foodgrain production of 114.63 million tonnes is a good 10.4 per cent higher than the 103.84 million tonnes of last kharif. However, it is some 3 per cent below the 118.8 million tonnes bagged in 2008, and over 5 per cent below the record output of nearly 121 million tonnes in kharif 2007. Moreover, the production of the main kharif staple cereal, rice, is projected to be 80.41 million tonnes, against 85 million tonnes in 2008 and 83 million tonnes in 2007. Similarly, in the case of the wholly rain-dependent coarse cereals, whose output should get a boost with good monsoons, estimates are that this would be 28.23 million tonnes, close to the 2008 level, and below the 32 million tonnes reaped in 2007. So is the case with most other crops, barring cotton which has maintained a steady uptrend ever since the introduction of transgenic Bt-hybrids in 2002.


 Thus, even if the current projections get revised upwards as the crops mature — which, hopefully, should be the case — these may still only inch closer to the levels achieved two to three years ago and get no better. If this is so, there seems little reason to celebrate. In fact, it gives rise to misgivings over the prospects of the much-needed second green revolution. On the price front, too, there seem slim chances of any significant sobering down on the arrival of the new crops. The impact may, at best, be only marginal. For, rice prices are unlikely to soften as bulk of the fresh market arrivals are bound to land up in government godowns, instead of boosting supplies in the market. In any case, the minimum support price (MSP) of paddy has already been hiked and this becomes the benchmark price for the open market. In pulses and oilseeds, on the other hand, the gap between demand and domestic supply will remain sizeable even after an expected rise in domestic output. This would also add to the pressure on prices. The prices of high-value foods, such as fruits, milk, meat and fish, are also expected to rise, thanks to structural factors like the rise in population and income levels and changing food habits of people. The price of vegetables, the other main food group, has a seasonal dimension but there is no reason to expect that these will come down. All in all, this calls for continued vigilance on the food price front, including improved management of stocks.








A global war of capital is being waged subtly but clearly, according to my Peterson Institute colleague Joe Gagnon. Except that it is a war not to attract but to repel capital from a country's borders. An alternative term for this war might be mercantilism because the aim of sending capital out and/or preventing it from coming in is to keep currencies competitive, thereby shoring up economic activity, in this case, at other countries' expense.


China has been the prime aggressor in this war, having sent capital abroad through massive interventions in the foreign exchange market spread over many years. China's actions are part of a structural growth strategy, but more recently other countries have engaged in this for cyclical reasons, in response to the post-crisis downturn. Switzerland, Ireland and recently Japan have been intervening in their foreign currency markets to prevent a rise in their currencies; Brazil, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Korea have all imposed some form of restrictions on inflows of capital.


 And, in a fresh twist, governments are trying to actively purchase the securities of other governments: China is reportedly buying Japanese government bonds; Japan wants to return the favour; and my colleague C Fred Bergsten has called for counter-intervention by the US government to buy up Chinese assets with a view to driving the Chinese currency up.


India, true to style, is the striking odd man out. RBI announced last week that it was liberalising (yes, liberalising) foreign inflows into domestic government and corporate bond markets. Developing domestic bond markets is a worthy goal but the arguments being used, the sequencing of actions, and the timing of the move raise serious questions about the RBI's action: it is based on an unproven, probably erroneous, assumption; it actually compounds the problem in relation to government finances; and it ignores important costs at a time of macroeconomic vulnerability.


Start with the underlying assumption. The case for the RBI's move runs something like this: the major constraint on India's growth is infrastructure which, in turn, is constrained by the supply of finance. Relieve this bottleneck and India will be on its way to Chinese-type growth rates.


Even if one were to accept the importance of infrastructure, it is far from clear that the binding constraint on its development is the lack of finance as opposed to regulatory and governance problems, especially relating to land. It is possible that some fly-by-night operators with dicey credit histories are finance-constrained. It is also possible that some projects need the kind of long-term financing that bond markets provide. But would this really apply to large and reputable potential investors in infrastructure such as Bechtel and Ambani with pockets as deep as the Mariana Trench?


In fact, the finance-as-binding-constraint is even more problematic than it first appears. For the RBI's actions to be convincing, we would have to believe that investors' reluctance to invest stems not from lack of access to domestic finance but to foreign finance, and not just to foreign finance but to foreign finance mediated through domestic bond markets. In other words, potential big-name investors are being turned away by domestic banks and foreign banks, and cannot raise equity from domestic investors or foreign investors, so that the only recourse for them is to float bonds so that foreign portfolio investors can buy them. Put this way, it almost seems that these big companies are the victims of a massive conspiracy by banks and investors all over the world and actually deserve our sympathy. And all this at a time, when the pool of global capital is plentiful?


Consider next the perverse impact on government financing. The chain of logic here is that developing domestic corporate bond markets (considered the ultimate goal) requires fixing first the government bond market. Hence the RBI's moves to increasing caps on foreign-holdings of government bonds. This move is actually perverse, having the effect of reducing the pressure on the government to fix its fiscal house. Instead of letting the government off the hook — in the name of promoting corporate bond development — RBI should have done the opposite, namely, reduced the statutory liquidity ratio (SLR), which is the sine qua non for developing the right price signals in the government bond market, and hence the corporate bond market.


Reducing, and eventually eliminating, the SLR would have increased the resource envelope for the private sector and given RBI better control over the domestic monetary transmission mechanism. Allowing the government to borrow more money from abroad instead of changing the status quo that allows the government to "capture" domestic resources is a retrograde step.


Finally, there are the well-known costs to allowing foreign capital and overheating. These costs are especially high at this juncture because of the macroeconomic situation as Shankar Acharya argued last week in these pages. Trade and current account deficits are high, and rising to levels that are typically considered "flashing amber" territory, and the fiscal situation remains tenuous. It seems odd that RBI, instead of dampening flows to protect against future reversals, is facilitating them.


And, instead of countering the strengthening currency, RBI is doing the opposite. Think of it this way. China is doing its damnedest to prevent the yuan from rising; India is doing its best to allow the rupee to strengthen — it is a double whammy for Indian exporters and producers of import competing goods. We may be trading away a bird in hand (our tradable sector) for the bird in the bush (infrastructure). Above all, what is remarkable, even astonishing, about the RBI's move — which may just be the thin end of the wedge toward expeditious capital account convertibility — is what it signals about the narrative on finance within India. The world has emerged from an experience that has been unambiguous in its warnings about finance in general and foreign finance in particular. Yet, in India, the tail of finance is again wagging the dog that is the economy. This headlong embrace of foreign finance is as though the obvious lessons of the crisis don't apply to India.


Perhaps India is different. Perhaps its financial markets are near-perfect. Or even if they are not, perhaps they are effectively regulated by strong, public institutions, operating incorruptibly and at arms length from atomistic, far-sighted financial sector participants, who are immune to herding behaviour and other pathologies, and who scrupulously work to avoid rigging the system in their favour. Perhaps pigs fly, tooth fairies exist, and the Age of Kalki is at hand.


The author is senior fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics and Center for Global Development











There is an inevitable good fallout from the government's recent proposal to limit the interest rate levied by large microfinance institutions (MFIs) getting priority sector loans from banks. A controversy and a vigorous discussion are emerging which will help clear issues and point towards how to make microfinance more robust and socially useful.


 A research study, put out by ACCION International, compiles experience of countries as far apart as Peru and the Philippines to provide highly useful international benchmarks. A cardinal insight that emerges is: smaller the loan size, higher the yield needed to break even, as administratively it costs about the same to make a loan, big or small. And what really works is removing barriers to entry, promoting competition and, above all, greater transparency.


To get to responsible pricing, you need standardised data. Regulators, networks and investors should ask for data from MFIs on total cost of credit so as to study how costs and interest rates work at the bottom of the pyramid which has till now received scant analytical attention. Also, it is necessary to determine what is the return on investment for the poor. A 50 per cent interest rate may look high but not so if the client earns a 100 per cent return from deploying the loan.


The overall aim must be to lower indebtedness, not raise it as a result of microfinance. (Beware of multiple lending!) Prices should not be subsidised, be market-oriented and competitive. Both the MFI and the customer should earn a reasonable return. The norm should be to reinvest as much as possible to increase value to customers (lower interest rates). And penalties should be minimised so as not to prevent customers from changing lenders.


To promote responsible pricing, various devices have been used so far. Around 30 countries use interest rate caps. But they can make giving short-term loans (which cost more to deliver) unattractive. This can be counterproductive for the poor. Some suggest margin caps. Muhammad Yunus outlines three categories — green: interest rates not more than 10 per cent above the cost of funds; yellow: 10-15 per cent above; and red: 15 per cent or more above. But this does not take into account the cost of delivery, aside of the cost of funds. So, trying to make one size fits all can work against small loans that cost more to offer.


Another device suggested is a cap on return on equity. This can discourage commercial investors who come seeking higher returns and end up rewarding inefficiency. Further, it does not look at how the profit is used — distributed or ploughed back. High profit distribution can even be acceptable as in the case of credit societies which pay out their profits to members. Some institutions like MicroFinance Transparency lay great stress on transparency. If you know the reality, solutions become obvious. But data, which are points-in-time, take long to gather and the poor can't understand and use them on their own.


Even promoting competition, which is time-consuming, and welcoming market forces and instruments can result in unintended consequences. The report says: "In an age of IPOs and stock options, market forces can also encourage financial service providers to maximise short-term profits over long-term, sustainable relationships with clients. This has been the case recently in India, where intense competition has led to a rapid increase in clients (from one million in 2002 to 15 million in 2009). While the market theory would suggest that this increasing competition would lead to a decrease in prices, the opposite has been true. Average portfolio yield has increased from 19 per cent in 2002 to 31 per cent in 2009. MCRIL, an Indian microfinance rating agency, suggests that this increase in price has been driven by some of the country's largest MFIs seeking to increase profits in order to boost their equity valuations."


The cardinal Indian reality, going by the 2010 report of Sa-Dhan, the umbrella association of microfinance organisations, is that size matters. The biggest, those with the largest loan portfolios (exceeding Rs 500 crore), have the highest yields or interest rates (33 per cent), the lowest expense ratio and high return on equity and assets. The 10 largest MFIs hold nearly 80 per cent of the total portfolio but only 7 per cent of MFIs are very large. Very large MFIs account for 76 per cent of clients. Eighty per cent of negative net worth MFIs are small and no large or very large MFI has a negative net worth.


Very large MFIs have the lowest portfolio at risk (PAR). Nearly 70 per cent of MFIs have PAR of less than 1 per cent. Indian MFIs are thus healthy. Twenty of the 30 MFIs having a negative return on equity (ROE) have an yield higher than 20 per cent, while 17 of these 20 have a spread of more than 10 per cent. This shows that a high yield does not necessarily translate into a high ROE. MFIs have a return on assets (ROA) way above that of banks, with 62 per cent earning 2 per cent or more. MFIs are more or less (78 per cent) operationally self-sufficient. The capital adequacy ratio or CAR (capital to asset) of MFIs is quite good; nearly 70 per cent have a CAR of over 10 per cent. So, MFIs will be able to sustain growth.


Since loans from banks are an issue, let's look at MFI debts. Large and for-profit MFIs account for a lion's share of the sector's total debt. Nationalised banks account for the largest share of MFI debt, 43 per cent. Non-profits record the highest debt whereas for-profits owe nearly as much to private as to public sector banks. These statistics tell us that a few large for-profit MFIs, which are healthy, dominate the scene. Promoting transparency and regulating them should not be difficult. 









Questions involving the right to property have led to more than ten constitutional amendments. Most of the laws listed in the ninth schedule that are immune from constitutional challenge deal with land reforms. Though the right to property is no longer a fundamental right, the vigour with which it is sought to be asserted is clear from the number of judgments delivered by courts.


 The validity of the ninth schedule was challenged before a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court four years ago and it held that the laws listed there had no absolute immunity. If the laws violate the fundamental rights of a citizen and impinge on the basic structure of the Constitution, they could be struck down (IR Coelho vs State of Tamil Nadu). Each statute should be tested on the touchstone of basic structure.


The first such test was conducted by the Supreme Court earlier this month in the case, Glandrocke Estate Ltd vs State of Tamil Nadu. The court upheld the inclusion of the land reform law in the protected category. This law, the Gudalur Janmam Estates Act, did away with hereditary ownership of forests, plantations, mines, quarries and other assets and vested it in the state free from all encumbrances. The Supreme Court held that the law did not violate the basic structure of the Constitution and thus passed the test for its inclusion in the protected list.


The judgment pointed out that the time had come to explain certain concepts like "egalitarian equality, over-arching principles and Article 21 (right to life and liberty)". The judges coined another phrase akin to "basic structure", the overused expression from the Kesavananda Bharti case of 1973. They repeat the expression "over-arching" principles explaining that they include "concepts like secularism, democracy, separation of powers, and the power of judicial review". (Socialism, an icon in the Preamble, has altogether been dropped from the discussion.)


The argument against the Kesavananda Bharti case was that the theory of basic structure expounded by it was too vague. The new baggage containing "over-arching principles" does not improve the situation. It deals with the issue without spelling out whether the new concepts form part of the basic structure.


For instance, it has included inter-generational equity, precautionary principle and "polluter pays" rules, all developed by the Supreme Court in recent environmental cases."When we talk about inter-generational equity and sustainable development, we are elevating an ordinary principle of equality to the level of over-arching principle," the judgment asserted. These have been placed along with other "core values" of the Constitution like secularism and equality that cannot be restricted by any constitutional amendment or ordinary law.


While the court exalts those principles to a superior plane, the vagueness of these newly-coined expressions cannot be removed even by the examples it cites. It explains core values giving examples of environmental cases it has dealt with in recent years. In various judgments in T N Godavarman vs Union of India, the court has discussed acquisition of forests from the viewpoint of ecology. "Forests in India are an important part of environment. They constitute national asset...When it comes to preservation of forests as well as environment vis-a-vis development, one has to look at the constitutional amendment not from the point of view of formal equality enshrined in Article 14 but on a much wider platform of an egalitarian equality which includes the concept of inclusive growth," the court said.


Though the Directive Principles of State Policy are normally not enforceable, and are only guiding lights in the Constitution, two of them have been quoted in this context. Article 48A and 51A enjoin the state and citizens to protect and improve the environment. The Forest Conservation Act, the Wild Life Protection Act and the Environment Protection Act are steps taken in that direction. Thus the court emphasises the ecological concerns of the present times, without defining their role in testing the validity of land acquisition and distribution laws.


In the present case, though the judgment was delivered by a two-judge bench, the basic structure theory was propounded by a 13-judge bench. The subsequent judgments have not explained what constitutes the basic structure of the Constitution, though the phrase has been used in important judgments like the recent one on reservation, Ashok Kumar vs Union of India (2008). It stated that for determining whether a particular feature of the Constitution is part of the basic structure, it has to be examined in each individual case, keeping in mind the scheme of the statute, its object and purpose and "integrity of the Constitution as a fundamental instrument for complete governance".


It seems that with each attempt to explain basic structure, the phrase only gets hazier.









THE US reportedly proposes a law that would require all communication service providers to be capable of complying with a wiretap order, meaning, to provide the government access to specific pieces of communications on their networks. India has been trying to enforce a similar law, but in vain. India's problem is not the absence of an enabling law; rather, it is the government's primitive technological capability. As the law stands, India prohibits the use of encryption using ciphers with a block size larger than 40 bits, which is plain ridiculous. No financial transaction is safe if carried out on encryption less than of 128 bits. As a result, India's electronic commerce violates the law. Why should the law lay down such a feeble standard of encryption? So that the government has the capability to decrypt the coded information in the interest of national security. This simply will not wash. The solution is for the government and its official snooping agency to get more tech-savvy. This is not just a question of procuring more sophisticated equipment — breaking codes calls for very heavy computing power and supercomputers will, no doubt, need to be deployed. But that is not the nub of the problem. The real challenge is to get the right talent. Bright young people who are not just capable of keeping abreast of fast-changing technology but positively enjoy doing it have little reason to leave the lucrative, as well as stimulating, private sector and enter the stuffy confines of a sarkari office. Instead of spending all its time trying to armtwist the likes of Blackberry-maker RIM and Google and Skype to give the government decryption keys that they might not even possess, the government would do well to turn its focus on creating a separate personnel policy to man its high-tech snooping agency. 


It also would do no harm to tighten the norms for telecom service providers to offer virtual private networks (VPNs), the closed user groups, communication within which gets encrypted. If banks can have know-your-customer (KYC) norms to open an account, there is no reason why there should not be stricter KYC norms for VPNs.







THE government's plan to amend the Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act, 1970 to ensure a better deal for contract workers is welcome. However, to clean up the abysmal scene with regard to contract workers, a prerequisite is the overhaul of other labour laws to rid them of the rigidity that deprives industry of the ability to calibrate their manpower strength to the changes in business cycles. In the absence of such flexibility, many companies seek the services of contract or temporary workers who are neither paid fair wages nor the statutory benefits they are entitled to. However, it remains to be seen if the government will be able to ensure compliance with the law in letter and spirit. Especially, as the government and government-owned enterprises are among the largest employers of contract workers. Questions about its effective enforcement also arise as the amendments mostly involve shifting the provisions that require companies to pay equal wages to contract workers from the delegated legislation — Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Central Rules, 1971 — to the main Act of 1970 vintage. The amendments to the Act also propose to place on the principal employer the responsibility to ensure that contract workers enjoy parity on wages, holidays, hours of work and social security benefits with other regular employees for the same or similar kind of work. 


The Industrial Disputes Act of 1947 needs to provide a framework that will encourage employment-generating economic activity. That can happen only if companies have some freedom to expand or reduce workforce as required. The argument against allowing labour flexibility is that companies would use the provisions in the law to ruthlessly dismiss workers at will. Arbitrariness as well as severance without adequate compensation can be guarded against in the law and enforced at the workplace. Contract workers' provident funds should be shifted to the New Pension System from the antiquated Employees' Provident Fund, which swallows these workers' savings, never to cough them up again. Workers' training and retraining must receive attention as well.






ASK a child who broke Janak's bow and the answer could be Suresh Kalmadi! Such is the mood of India in the wake of the tsunami of adverse publicity the New Delhi Commonwealth Games is getting with just a few days to go for the opening ceremony. Which brings us to the key question. With just about everything in a state of chaos and with international athletes moving into the Games Village even while last-minute construction and maintenance work is going on around them, should the organisation headed by Mr Kalmadi be known as the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee (CGOC)? Shouldn't the CGOC be logically renamed as the CGDC — Commonwealth Games Disorganised Committee? Mr Kalmadi could, of course, claim that he is not the only one to blame and that there are others who have not been cooperating with him. However, any reference to snakes in the grass could boomerang in the wake of the latest reports that a reptile was found in a room occupied by a South African athlete! 


The newspapers have also published photographs of a four-foot-long cobra discovered inside the newly-constructed R K Khanna Tennis Stadium. All of which explains why top international tennis players are not participating in the Delhi Commonwealth Games. It's difficult to serve an ace when you're wondering whether the hissing sound behind you is that of a badly-behaved partisan spectator or a cobra irritated at its habitat being taken over by bipeds. There is, of course, a positive side to even newspaper photographs of the tennis stadium cobra being carried away by a wildlife activist. If the newly-appointed media head of the Commonwealth Games is criticised for publicising the presence of cobras (TV news-channels tell us her predecessor was sacked for "sabotaging the Games"), she could logically claim that such photographs are in keeping with the traditional image of India as a country of snakes and snake-charmers!







 BY ALL accounts, like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Barack Obama is keen to strengthen the India-US ties. Sadly, however, recent actions by the United States have only reinforced the feeling on the part of many in India that the President assigns significantly lower priority to India-US relations than did his predecessor, President George W Bush. This is unfortunate since the US interests in the region align most closely with those of India, at least from a longer-term perspective. Whereas China is already positioning itself as a rival, even belligerent, power and the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan remains highly uncertain, India is a rising democratic power whose national interests are better served by partnership rather than rivalry with the US. 


Perhaps nothing gave a more negative signal to Indians than the recent decision by the President to play along with protection hawks among Democrats and sign into law an appropriations Bill that the Congress recently passed. Using the need for raising revenue to finance enhanced enforcement at the Mexican border as the excuse, the new law raises the fees on certain H-1B and L-1 temporary-worker visa holders by $2,000 or more. While it is doubtful that the President's party would make any significant gains in the forthcoming elections from the protectionist rhetoric underlying the new law, the US has already lost considerable goodwill in India on account of it. 


Under the Uruguay Round, which brought into existence the WTO and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), one of the small concessions India had successfully negotiated with the US while agreeing to open its services market to foreign commercial presence was guaranteed access for 65,000 temporary foreign workers to the US market. The new appropriations law, passed with virtually no public discussion or debate, requires the firms employing 50 or more workers and having 50% or more of them on the H-1B visa to pay an extra fee of $2,250 for workers coming to the US under the L-1 intercompany transfer visa and $2,000 for those entering under the H-1B visa. 


Facially, this provision is perhaps consistent with the national treatment commitment made by the US under the Uruguay Round Agreement. This commitment forbids the US from discrimination in favour of US companies with respect to the hiring of temporary workers. Since the new provision applies equally to the US and foreign companies that employ 50 workers of which 50% or more are H-1B visa holders, facially the national treatment commitment is satisfied. 


Yet, since India is perhaps the only country whose IT firms satisfy the criterion triggering the higher fee, the law has been seen in India almost uniformly as targeting it. Even substantively, it is questionable whether the national treatment commitment by the US is satisfied. US companies such as the Microsoft, Apple and Oracle that employ talented foreign workers (often educated in the US universities) on H-1B visas have much easier access to Permanent Resident visa. They are more easily able to shift their H-1B workers to this alternative visa and hold the proportion of their foreign H-1B visa workers well below 50%, thus, effectively escaping the law. 


IN HIS remarks on the Senate floor prior to the passage of the border security Bill, Senator Charles Schumer who sponsored the Bill stated, "but recently, some companies have decided to exploit an unintended loophole in the H-1B visa programme to use the programme in a manner that many in Congress, including myself, do not believe is consistent with the programme's intent." His underlying political message is that through the new legislation he intended to close this loophole. If such an objective was indeed achieved and the affected companies dropped their H-1B employees below the 50% threshold, the legislation's very basis would come into question! 


The purpose of the legislation is to raise revenue. If the companies changed their practice of relying on H-1B visas for more than 50% of the workers, no additional revenue will actually be raised. Therefore, the claim that the law closes some real or imagined loophole in the existing rules is just that. Its real effect is to place Indian companies at a disadvantage and transfer some of their profits to the US treasury. 


As President Obama plans his visit to India, it is important that he recognise the importance of containing measures that have at best small payoff in domestic politics and guaranteed fall out in friendly countries. Indeed, if the promotion of a warm relationship with India is a top priority, he must go a step further and drop the common American practice of insisting on matching concessions for every concession the US offers. 


Following the visit to the White House by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last November, some in the administration had pointed to the failure of India to bring anything to the table as the reason for the lack of substantive progress in India-US relations. This mindset must change. Every concession by the US need not be immediately matched by an equivalent or even bigger concession, especially when the player at the other end happens to be as yet a poor and developing country. 


In the ultimate, the payoff from a much stronger friendly democratic India in 10 to 20 years in meeting the geopolitical challenges likely to be posed by the rapid rise of China as a rival power and the adverse developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan far outweighs any unmatched concessions the US might offer in the short term. That, in a nutshell, was the approach George W Bush took when promoting his nuclear cooperation deal with India. 


 As a final point, it is must be remembered that the real strength of the relationship will have to flow from business-to-business and person-to-person contacts. The governments can reinforce these contacts by resisting protectionist impulses. 


 (The author is a professor at Columbia     University and Non-resident Senior     Fellow at the Brookings Institution)










SEBI'S Manner of Increasing and Maintaining Public Shareholding in Recognised Stock Exchanges (Mimps) regulations sound like a painful disease. There is much to suggest that the regulations are a disease in the exchange space, hurting competition, helping existing players entrench themselves and creating entry barriers. No wonder we haven't had a single exchange register since they were introduced despite high profit margins enjoyed by the exchanges. Also, these regulations have not been created by Parliament, as is perceived. 

 Parliament enacted a law to create an exchange space with fewer conflicts of interests and, thus, mandated that those exchanges that are not corporatised and demutualised be so reformed. The law allows Sebi to provide for a 'manner' by which 51% shares ought to be held by non-brokers. Sebi not only provided for this manner but also restricted ownership of exchanges to 5% (15% in some cases) for any person along with persons acting in concert. 


Imagine a person who has the expertise, the money and the willingness to set up a new exchange. For that, he must, along with 15-20 persons, enter a room by chance and all decide, independently — they cannot act in concert — to create an exchange. Each would, thus, have a financial stake that is substantial, but with virtually no voice in the management of the exchange. 


Clearly, without a key entrepreneur, the idea would be a non-starter. This move was also contrary to the recommendation of an expert committee on the future of exchanges that suggested a 26% cap on ownership. Unless the cap on ownership is reformed on an urgent basis, the space will continue to show signs of an anti-competitive market. 


 So, the Sebi order that denies MCX-SX permission to commence trading in shares takes the problem one step further. The Mimps are not even applicable to exchanges that are already corporatised and demutualised. Thus, Sebi wants to impose a condition on MCX-SX that Parliament itself has exempted it from (S. 4B). How can Sebi overturn an exemption provided by Parliament on the grounds of 'public interest'? May God protect us from mumps, Mimps and regulators.





TRADITIONALLY, the country's stock exchanges have been promoted and managed by stockbrokers. Since this peculiar feature had potential conflict of interest and was impacting the selfregulatory role of stock exchanges, the government and Sebi — after the stock market scam of 2002 — initiated a move towards their corporatisation and demutualisation. 


The objective of this move was to segregate ownership and management of an exchange from trading rights of its members. With this in mind, the law stipulated that at least 51% of a stock exchange's shareholding shall be held by public shareholders and no shareholder shall, individually or acting in concert, hold more than 5% of its share capital provided that certain categories of investors such as stock exchanges, depositories, banking companies and financial institutions could hold up to 15%. 

Besides addressing the issue of profit maximisation versus self-regulatory role, the cap on shareholding also seeks to ensure that ownership of a stock exchange is widely distributed and does not result in economic concentration in few hands. A stock exchange is a 'State' within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India, and so has to perform public and state functions. Hence, it must be in the hands of fit and proper persons. In the words of Supreme Court (as observed in Madhubhai Amthalal Gandhi v Union of India), "If the stock exchange is in the hands of unscrupulous members, the second and third categories of contracts to buy or sell shares may degenerate into highly-speculative transactions… and convert it into a den of gambling which would ultimately upset the industrial economy of the country." 


Even in the recent past, Sebi had to take stringent action to prevent dabbatrading in Gujarat where some people were operating an unorganised exchange for gambling in securities. The test of a promoter's suitability and cap on shareholding are, therefore, essential checks to preserve integrity of the securities market. In fact, many exchanges across the globe, including in Singapore and the Philippines, follow such practices and have capped ownership by a single entity at 5%.








IF ALL the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work, penned the Bard. Reports say there's still a bit of work left to make the Commonwealth Games village and venues in Delhi look spic-and-span. But consider the latest growth figures and trends in industry. Now the latest quick estimates of the index of industrial production (IIP) for July 2010, over the like period last year, point at buoyant 13.8% growth in output. Given that last July the IIP grew 7.2% year-on-year (y-o-y), it implies a reasonably high base for the latest industrial growth number. However, disaggregated figures suggest that growth remains patchy, confined to particular segments like machinery, capital goods and motor vehicles. Also, growth seems particularly lacklustre in such key segments as synthetics and textile products, chemicals and metals. 


The rather spotty trend in industrial growth calls for probing structural reasons, away from the immediate growth figures. Umpteen studies suggest that it is not so much growth in factor inputs like capital and labour that determine industrial output as betterment in total factor productivity (TFP), defined as improvements in the technology and efficiency levels used to combine capital and labour. Additionally, studies do show that industries making intensive use of IT have been most successful in revving up TFP. 


A sectoral breakup of the IIP figures (with 1993-94 as base year) into mining, manufacturing and electricity shows that output growth is not quite evenly spreadout. The data reveal that July growth in manufacturing, which has over 79% weight in the IIP, was particularly strong at 15% (y-o-y). Also, given that growth in manufactures last July was a credible 7.4%, the latest figure seems to be on a reasonably upbeat growth base. The estimates for July also show almost double-digit growth in mining output and subdued growth in power generation: the monsoon months tend to be set aside for annual shutdowns in thermal plants. But a closer look at more disaggregated figures in the IIP reveals lacklustre growth in large segments in manufactures. So, for the head 'manmade textiles,' which have a weight of 2.2% in the IIP, the July growth is put at a poor 1.2%. Also, for 'textile products (including wearing apparel),' with a higher weightage than man-made textiles, there's been negative 0.7% growth for the month. Further, for wood products, furniture and fixtures, with weight 2.7% in the index, growth is estimated at negative 9.4%. It's a steep fall indeed. There are other industry segments where growth has been tepid or worse. So, for example, for basic chemicals and chemical products, with 14% weight in the IIP, the increase is put at no more than 2.5%. Or that for basic metal and alloy industries, with weight 7.4% in the index, add up to 4.6%. 


There are other low-performing sectors as well. And industry segments posting bouyant growth appear to be basically two: machinery and equipment other than transport equipment, with 9.5% weight in the IIP, growing 49.4% y-o-y in July. And transport equipment and parts, officialese for vehicular production, with weight just under 4% in the IIP, zooming ahead by 24.9% for the month. The weight for transport equipment in the IIP is almost certainly an underestimate, as since 1993 anecdotal evidence would suggest that the auto industry has grown at a relatively faster pace. But the point remains that high industrial growth remains confined, largely, to a few segements. It calls for appropriate policy initiatives and proactive follow-through. 


Use-based classification of the IIP shows that growth in capital goods production, weight just about 9.2% in the index but very much investment-oriented, is a massive 63% for July. Considering that growth in the segment was a lowly 1.7% in previous July, the latest increase is on a very low base and the combined growth on the head for two years running would be a little more than 30%, which is more realistic a figure. The way the index is constructed, the manufacture of, say, a couple of power turbines in a given month, intead of one unit, would tend to boost the capital goods index by a huge amount. Given that there's much coagulation of funds and investment in power generation capacity in the offing, it is safe to preclude that the realtively larger output of turbines, etc is what is propping up the capital goods segment, and by implication, the IIP. 
    Going forward, what's needed is more analysis of the segmental growth figures. A recent multi-year study by the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the US shows that industries making more intensive use of IT have experienced heightened TFP growth. The bureau study, using figures from 2003 up to 2007, shows that in 19 industry sub-segments, there's a statistically significant relationship between IT capital stock and TFP growth. Could it be that with more usage of IT in such segments as wood and leather products, textiles, and basic metals and chemicals, would also shore up TFP and boost overall (industrial) growth here? The offtake of credit also needs monitoring.


Growth remains patchy, confined to a few segments like capital goods, equipment and motor vehicles 
The spotty growth trend calls for proactive policy and analysis Could it be that more intensive use of information technology would boost productivity in the laggard industrial segments?







BILLY Pilgrim is a soldier 'unstuck in time' in Kurt Vonnegut's classic Slaughterhouse-Five. As a result he experiences events past and future in a repetitive, non-linear manner without chronological or narrative sequence. 


That means Billy's life-cart can start before its horse does — because his life does not necessarily end with death; he can relive the experience of his death, before its time, an experience that is often mingled with his other life experiences. In sharp contrast are the aliens known as Tralfamadorians. They kidnap Billy and ultimately teach him the 'secret' of time as a fourth dimension of the world, where everything exists simultaneously and where everyone is always alive. 


The Tralfamadorians strongly believe in predestination. They say they cannot choose to change anything about their fates, but can choose to concentrate upon any moment in their lives, and Billy becomes convinced of the veracity of their theories. 


Furthermore, what you choose to remember and recall can also be a matter of conscious choice. Masters of mindfulness meditation say that awareness awakens us from the trance of automaticity or merely reactive behaviour. But this is more easily said than done. "For we are so mesmerised by our ideas about the world (and ourselves) that we tend to miss out on much of our direct sensory experience, says Buddhist teacher-psychotherapist Tara Brach. 


"Even when we are aware of feeling a strong breeze, the sound of rain on the roof, a fragrance in the air, we rarely remain with the experience long enough to inhabit it fully," she writes in her best-seller — Embracing your life with the heart of a Buddha: Radical Acceptance. 


"In most moments we have overlay of inner dialogue that comments on what is happening and plans what we might do next." Brach cites the example of greeting a friend with a hug, where "our moments of physical contact become blurred by our computations about how long to embrace or what we are going to say when we are done. We rush through the hug, not fully present". 


Your columnist experienced this when Mata Amritanandamayi gave him an embrace of compassion. Instead of listening to what she kept whispering in his ear in his mother tongue: mogache por maje (my beloved child) he was more worried about where and how to place his hands! Did one do that with one's own mother? Release followed in a flash.





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The Supreme Court acted wisely on Tuesday in dismissing the plea to defer the verdict in the 60-year-old Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit by the Allahabad High Court. The terse dismissal by the three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia of former bureaucrat Ramesh Chandra Tripathi's deferral plea was interpreted by legal experts as a clear indication by the country's highest court that the judicial process should not be unnecessarily interfered with for extraneous reasons. With all parties to the dispute making it clear that nothing short of a miracle can bring about an out-of-court settlement, there is surely no logic to delaying the verdict further by a few weeks or even months. Such a step would only create unnecessary suspense and acrimony and worsen the mood of the disputants.

Political parties, ranging from the Congress to the CPI(M) and the BJP, and organisations ranging from the RSS to the Hindu Mahasabha and the Sunni Waqf Board have welcomed the decision. It appears nobody wants any further prolonging of this vexed dispute. The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court is now expected to deliver the verdict on Thursday, September 30, at 3.30 pm. While the Centre has asked all states to be on alert and has deployed extra forces in likely trouble spots, including an unprecedented number of police and paramilitary personnel in Uttar Pradesh, the nation by and large does not seem to expect trouble. The title suit (or property dispute) started in 1950 after idols of Lord Ram were placed in the disputed structure and has dragged on for nearly 60 years. Whichever way the verdict goes, it will surely be challenged in the higher courts. The Sangh Parivar outfits have been particularly circumspect, and have stressed the need to maintain peace rather than urge big celebrations in case of a possible triumph or defiance in case of a legal setback. Even the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, not known to be a peacenik, has appealed for calm. Similar appeals for restraint and respect for the law have also come from the Muslim leadership. So far, so good.
It may be that the Sangh Parivar has finally realised that Ayodhya will no longer generate the enthusiasm it once did, and that harping on it could even prove counterproductive, politically. India has moved ahead, and has hopefully left far behind the vitriolic ambience of communal strife seen in the early 1990s. It is now looking more to the future than towards the past. Thankfully, too, most political parties appear to have realised this and are acting in a more responsible manner. If the parties to the dispute, the political establishment and the country as a whole can accept Thursday's high court verdict, whichever way it goes, in a calm and clear-headed manner and not let emotions run amok, then India will give the clearest signal yet that it is coming of age as a mature democracy capable of handling its problems in a reasonable manner. One can only hope this can also create the right atmosphere for an eventual solution to the Ayodhya tangle!







The Kashmir Valley has been burning for three months. Over 100 stone-pelting youth have got killed. Thanks to a governance deficit, both in Srinagar and Delhi, the situation appears out of control.


Zia-ul-Haq Islamised Pakistan and this spread to Kashmir. In 1990 there was ethnic cleansing of over three lakh Kashmiri Pandits and several dozen Hindu temples were destroyed, but the plight of Kashmiri Pandits was glossed over and there was a virtual blackout of information about the vandalising of dozens of temples. In 2007, to appease the People's Democratic Party (PDP), the government took the bizarre decision of providing money for the families of terrorists killed in encounters with security forces. This does not happen elsewhere in India or anywhere else in the world.


To appease the National Conference (NC), the government is now considering its demand for autonomy — the Supreme Court, the Election Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General would not have any jurisdiction in Kashmir, there would be an elected governor from the state and no Central services, like IAS and IPS. The PDP, under the garb of self-rule, wants dual currency and a joint state legislature with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) in Kashmir. Perhaps then the "misguided" young boys in terrorist camps in PoK would also be allowed to return. All this will severely undermine India's sovereignty in Kashmir.


Pakistan launched repeated conventional wars to grab Kashmir but failed each time. Since 2008, religious frenzy has been aroused and mass upsurges organised on the basis of manufactured lies. In 2008, a 100-acre of barren land at Baltal, traditionally used as a base camp for Amarnath pilgrims, was diverted to the Shrine Board for `2.2 crore. Since ownership remained with the state, the board could put up only prefabricated shelters. This land is unapproachable and uninhabitable for eight months in a year due to snow and yet a canard was spread that Hindus were being brought to settle in Baltal and change the demography of the Valley, like Israel had done in Palestine. A mass movement of gigantic dimensions erupted. To appease the agitators, the government cancelled the land diversion order and ordered the virtual disbandment of the Shrine Board. After three months of counter-agitation in Jammu, status quo ante was restored. In 2009, two women drowned in a river at Shopian. A mass movement was started on the basis of diabolical concoction of facts about the women being raped and killed by security personnel. Fraudulent medical reports were prepared and false witnesses produced. The Valley was held to ransom for two months. Ultimately the CID unravelled the truth.


Having tested the waters in 2008 and 2009, the emotive issue of azadi was exploited for a mass movement in 2010. The agitation took the "peaceful" form of stone-pelting. Sympathy was aroused through portraying "young, innocent" boys being brutally killed by the police. Over 2,000 security force personnel have been injured due to stone-pelting. This is hardly known, nor is the fact that some 1,000 Baluchis have been killed by the Pakistan Army in the last one year. Protests were organised against an American pastor's threat to burn the Quran, which did not happen. The Kashmir problem has been communalised in the state, and by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference internationally. Hitherto Indian Muslims outside Kashmir had kept themselves aloof from the issue. But now the Jamiat-Ulema-Hind has announced a convention of 10,000 Muslims of all sects at Deoband on October 4 to express solidarity with Kashmiri Muslims. This can hold the most dangerous consequences in Muslim majority districts in West Bengal, Bihar, Assam and Kerala.


Delhi sent a parliamentary delegation to Kashmir after three months. Some members called on secessionist leaders who had refused to meet the delegation. One of them, a former Cabinet minister who had campaigned in the election with an Osama bin Laden lookalike by his side, declared that the ongoing movement in Kashmir has no Pakistani connection.


The Army is being constantly demonised for human rights violations when its record is far superior to that of the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan or the Pakistan Army in Baluchistan and Waziristan. Unlike them, we have never used airstrikes or artillery against militants in Kashmir. The Army has been prompt in action against human rights violators. Over the years, 1,514 cases against the Army were reported of which 1,470 were found to be false. Action was taken against 70 individuals, dismissing them from service and awarding imprisonment from two to 14 years. India has also been humane in dealing with secessionist leaders. Mr Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the veteran secessionist leader, suffering from cancer, was refused a visa by the US for medical treatment because of his terrorist connections. He went to Mumbai where Dr Sameer Kaul, a Kashmiri Pandit, operated on him, treating him with competence. On return to Srinagar, Mr Geelani said India is in illegal occupation of Kashmir and the international community should impose economic sanctions against her.


Gen. Musharraf ordered airstrikes in Baluchistan on the hideout of the veteran leader Akbar Bugti, who was killed. In Kashmir, instead of tough action, periodic troop withdrawals have taken place. Now there is talk of amending or scrapping the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. This brings to mind what Winston Churchill said: "An appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile, hoping that it will eat him last."


The writ of the state must run in the Valley forthwith and further communalisation checked. Without curbing the freedom of the press, we should ensure that the media does not act as the mouthpiece of the secessionists. The law on sedition must be enforced. Among Kashmiri Muslims, not all are secessionists, but those who are need to be politically isolated from the rest. A political solution acceptable to all should be evolved through dialogue but this must be strictly within the framework of the Indian Constitution.


- The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.










The "animal spirits" of which Keynes spoke are on the prowl across the United States. Their mood is ugly. The spirits are wary and troubled. Corporations and individuals are hoarding cash, when they have any, because they're not buying into the recovery.


On a weeklong visit, I found a mood of deep unease in an America that seems to have descended into tribalism — not ethnic, but political, economic and social. Uncertainty is pervasive. The government's rescue of Wall Street combined with the acute difficulties of a middle class struggling to get by on stagnant or falling incomes has sharpened resentments.


This is not a momentary phenomenon. Nobody seems to think unemployment is going to fall significantly from 9.6 per cent — a level more often associated with France — in the near future. Get used to the new normal.


I spoke to a retired Wall Street executive who got out a few years back and set up a small business where he had

to make payroll (sobering), but was freed from the debilitating short-termism of financial institutions that, over his career, had become dominated by traders "who look at economic opportunity rather than economic conditions".


He said the final straw came in 2002. Top executives at the bank where he worked gathered to discuss their bonuses. The issue before them was whether to maintain those bonuses in a time of economic contraction, which would require firing 5 per cent of the workforce, or take a 25 per cent bonus cut, which would allow those jobs to be kept.


"The guy running the meeting asked for a show of hands on who would accept a reduced bonus", he said. "There were 30 of us in the room. Three raised their hands. I was one of them."


The job losses went through, this executive left, and the bank today is still trying to claw out from its uncontrolled excess.


America is a land of associations. Solidarity has not vanished from the land. But it's in retreat. None of those guys who wanted all their yummy money was anything but rich.


Fragmentation holds sway. The stock market used to be a fair proxy for the state of the economy. Now it's a market of traders, not investors. They want to know what the spread is today and tomorrow; they can make money on the way up or down; they care far less about USA Inc.


So the market goes where it goes — up of late but largely directionless (which makes it harder on those up-or-down traders) — while out on Main Street the struggle to make family payroll continues. People work longer hours, they juggle how to cover their kids' needs, how to de-leverage just a little — and they're still meant to "consume" for the economy's sake.


The share of national income held by the top 1 per cent of American families has doubled in recent decades to 20 per cent. That's a huge shift. I spoke to Doug Severance, a Vietnam vet who's a hotel employee in Aspen, Colorado. "When I moved here in 1984 we were all family", he said. "Now either you arrive in a Lear Jet or you're a servant."


The US President, Mr Barack Obama's, hope has dissipated in short order. He's not entirely to blame and he's not blameless. The exclamation from Velma Hart, a black Obama supporter, at a recent town hall meeting — "I'm exhausted of defending you" — struck a national chord because so many people feel the same thing.


Arriving from the UK, it was the uncertainty that was most striking. That's about the worst thing for an economy. As one Chicago executive put it to me, people who are creative rise above a consistently applied set of rules. Opacity kills. Britain has similar post-binge economic problems — of personal and national debt and spiralling deficits. But the Conservative Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron and his Liberal Democrat partners have actually put bipartisanship to work — did any Republicans notice? They are looking to lock in five years of stability through a new law and push through painful cuts across government departments.


Five years is a decent stretch. In America today, quarter-to-quarter concerns hem in even a visionary chief executive.


The policy debate in the United States is head-spinning. Nobody knows if there's going to be more fiscal stimulus, after the first $787 billion, or how a row over taxes will end. Under an Obama proposal, Bush-era tax cuts are due to expire at year-end for affluent couples and small business owners earning over $250,000. Republicans are digging in, saying it's crazy to raise taxes in a faltering economy.


Ending the tax cuts for the rich is a minimum signal for a divided land, a statement that the two Americas are acquainted with each other. But with Mr Obama facing a stinging mid-term defeat, it looks like a long shot. What is needed above all is some clarity and sense of direction — the kind Mr Cameron has given in London and booming China consistently applies.


Without that expect the animal spirits to keep on hoarding, an inward-looking America bent on retrenchment, and a new normal that lasts and lasts.








Union home minister P. Chidambaram's recent quip on "saffron terror" has triggered a major debate on "religion and colour", so to say.


Questions were raised on whether he was referring to Hindus in general or specifically to the Hindutva forces that don saffron robes and use terror to hit out at Islamic extremists and Muslims.


Obviously, Mr Chidambaram used "saffron terror" to refer to Hindutva fundamentalist forces that have been using bombs and lethal weapons to attack people.


It is pertinent that he used that phrase in a conference of DGPs/DIGs who were supposed to work out a strategy to control lawlessness and terror in several parts of the country.


Some Congress leaders — including Digvijay Singh — have opposed the usage "saffron terror" though Hindu fundamentalists do use terrorist methods like bomb explosions to finish off their enemies.


The Malegaon bomb blasts were planned and executed by a group of saffron-robed Hindu fundamentalists and they are under trial. Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and her team have been accused of engineering that operation exactly on the lines of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba.


Several Hindutva intellectuals across the country have attacked Mr Chidambaram ever since he used this phrase on August 25, though they had praised him when he attacked Maoist violence as "red terror".


Once violence crosses the boundary of self-defence and is used to "punish" others for perceived crimes, it becomes terrorism. Hindu or Islamic or any other religious ideology cannot and should not be treated as an exception to this.


As there are several shades among the Hindu social forces, there are also several shades within the Communist socio-political forces.


Right-wing intellectuals use the phrase "red terror" to refer to all kinds of Communist violence, even in the context of Kerala and West Bengal, but they take offence at the very mention of "saffron terror".


Mr Chidambaram's usage has historical and contemporary significance. During the freedom movement, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr B.R. Ambedkar subscribed to the non-violent mode of agitation though they differed in their other ideological positions.


But the Hindu stream of nationalists always believed in violent attacks. In fact, Hindu Mahasabha and its ideologue Savarkar preached violence to overthrow the British.


Let us not forget the fact that while being anti-British, they also consistently remained anti-Muslim. While a difference between Hinduism as religion and Hindutva as an ideological agency is being drawn on the ground of violence and non-violence, such a line becomes thin if violence keeps expanding into every sphere.


Mr Digvijay Singh feels that Hinduism as a religious entity could also be referred to as "saffron" and he thinks Mr Chidambaram was wrong in tagging terror with it. He tried to draw a categorical dividing line between Hinduism and Hindu fundamentalism.


But the problem is that the relationship between a terrorist group that operates in the name of a particular religion and the traditional religious forces that operate within that same religion always criss-cross.


The discourse around the world is about where to draw a line between Islamic terrorists and Islam as a religion. Interestingly, the very same Hindutva intellectuals do not want any line to be drawn between Islamic terrorists and Islam as a religion.


Because the colour saffron is Vedic in origin, while constructing an alternative religion Gautama Buddha had used a slightly different colour. However, Buddhism as a religion has always kept away from using violent methods against enemies even in the worst of conditions. That is how Buddhism is different from other religions.


Though philosophically Buddha followed what is known as the middle path between Vedic methods and Jain methods, he remained firm in opposing violent resolution of conflicts.


Interestingly, Buddhism avoided the white colour of Jains but chose a colour that is very near to saffron — light maroon. To prevent confusion, Dr Ambedkar chose blue as the colour of Navayana Buddhism. But even Buddhist monks who accept Dr Ambedkar as the new avatar of Buddha do not use blue robes nowadays.


Gail Omvedt, an expert on Dalit-Buddhist ideology, says that Mr Chidambaram should have used the phrase "Hindu terrorism" instead of "saffron terrorism" since saffron is also used by Sri Lankan Buddhists.


One of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologues also wondered whether Mr Chidambaram would dare to use a phrase like "green terrorism" to refer to Islamic terrorists. Obviously, such a usage might invoke strong reactions from the Muslim world.


The symbolic expression of a religious ideology through a particular colour has become a norm.


Religions like Christianity and Judaism do not speak through a particular colour but religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam use a particular colour. In this context it is better to use very specific language while referring to a particular sect within a religion.


Perhaps Mr Digvijay Singh does have a valid point. But the same logic should also come to play when we use phrases like "red terror" and "red corridor". Logic is logic after all.








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]









A very substantial segment of the Muslim population stands to benefit from the latest pre-election lolly of an increased quota for OBCs in West Bengal. The announcement, barely six months before the Assembly election, is calculated and not "merely coincidental" as the Chief Minister would have us believe. But as with other such skewed activity, the government would appear to have proceeded from conclusion to premise. The point that the increased job quota is concordant with the Ranganath Mishra commission's recommendations is well-taken. Equally, what Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee describes as "social responsibility" has been trumpeted even before the government has undertaken the statistical calibration. Or what the backward classes department calls the "geographical mapping of Muslim sub-communities", in the language of the social scientist. If the hiked quota is based on a sample survey, as reported in this newspaper, the job must be deemed to be half-baked. The data is dated, based as it is on the 2001 census. Aside from the natural increase in population over the past nine years, the continual influx from Bangladesh also has to be factored in. Not least because both the fake and the genuine are now entitled to the Union home ministry's citizen identity cards. 

Ergo, the random sampling renders the target group an indeterminate segment. This is the fundamental flaw of the latest bout of benevolence; a rough estimate has been formed only on the basis of Muslim surnames in a particular area. The geographical mapping ought to have begun soon after the Sachar Committee and the Ranganath Mishra panel had advanced their findings and recommendations. The exercise is much too elaborate and is unlikely to take off between now and the Assembly election. It could well be described as a parallel census, if restricted to a particular community. The task goes beyond the mere counting of heads. Geographical mapping involves the indentification of areas where Muslims are predominant, the social indices of backwardness such as child marriage and most crucially, the determination of sub-classes. Random sampling doesn't make for a thorough job. The outlook is still more uncertain for a government grappling with an existential dilemma. An announcement has been made, and that is enough in terms of the electoral stakes.
A host of other questions remain unanswered. The government has not decided on the percentage of backwards in the total Muslim population of just over two crore and whether jobs reserved for backward Muslims will be at the expense of those within the community who have received the fruits of education. The chief minister did not address this point. Nor has he explained the contradiction in creating a "more backward'' category that confirms his government's pathetic record. Assuming that it can cross the remaining hurdles, the question remains whether the gesture will help turn the tide in the next six months. Mr Bhattacharjee begins with a disadvantage. Mamata Banerjee can relentlessly feed the masses with new hopes while the Left can do no more than address its failures.




There are echoes of Rahul Gandhi's call to party colleagues during his visit to Bengal when AB Bardhan dons the robes of a rebel in pushing for "respect'' within the Left Front. But the CPI general secretary will find it difficult to explain what his party was doing all these years in a coalition when it differed on fundamental issues. He can at best claim that he was architect of policies on national issues like inflation and the Left's position on the nuclear deal. There is still no escape from the valid charge that his party had virtually surrendered control to the CPI-M after being rewarded with some prize departments. To now complain that the CPI had disagreed with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on industrial policy and acquisition of agricultural land is to acknowledge that it had no alternative. Gentle protests raised by state leaders were silenced by Alimuddin Street's advice (read warning) that differences within the Left should be ironed out within closed doors. It didn't prick Mr Bardhan's conscience when police along with armed cadres descended on villagers, including women and children, with a vengeance. Or when authority was glaringly abused to create little kingdoms for the CPI-M in the districts. Wisdom may have dawned after the panchayat elections in 2008 or after the parliamentary election last year. Mr Bardhan has left it too late to expect that Big Brother will concede political space to a partner when its own survival is at stake.

The CPI's dilemma is obvious. It can concentrate on districts like Midnapore where it has a base. But even that base has eroded considerably after the disaster of Nandigram. Alternatively it can pursue Mr Bardhan's line of claiming seats on an equitable basis and "facing the people together'' rather than go by the CPI-M's formula of keeping the lion's share to itself. This may seem the right time for a party claiming to be the second largest in the Left coalition to flex its muscle when the CPI-M itself, confronted by a disillusioned electorate, is looking for escape routes. But it is one thing to make brave declarations at a workers' rally in Kolkata; something else to be taken seriously by Alimuddin Street. After 33 years in power, Left partners like the CPI, Forward and RSP are no more than fellow travellers in distress. Mr Bardhan strikes discordant notes to lift sagging spirits. But there is nothing to suggest that parties like the CPI have an existence outside the coalition.




THAT the eighth round of Nepal's prime ministerial elections on Sunday would flounder yet again was only to be expected, with most lawmakers, including those from the Terai parties, abstaining. Considered a shoo-in, Maoist candidate and former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal withdrew his candidature after he failed to get himself elected in the seventh round, leaving Nepali Congress nominee Ramchandra Poudel alone in the field. The Nepal Communist Party (Unified Marxist-Leninist) pulled out its candidate after Dahal and Poudel failed to get the majority vote in the first round in July. Poudel could have saved the country this barren exercise had he withdrawn when Dahal opted out. But he has shown himself to be a passionate observer of democratic rules ~ namely, that the election must continue even if he has failed to secure the majority in the eight round. The next exercise is expected later this week.


The assembly speaker has clarified as much in stating that unless both sides formally withdraw their candidates, elections must continue in accordance with parliamentary rules and procedures. Dahal's decision to opt out followed a hurried three-point agreement between the Maoists and CPN(UML) which they described as a "stepping stone for forging a national consensus to ensure peace and constitution writing", and asked Poudel to withdraw. But the latter said the deal was "full of deceptions" and that his party had not even been consulted. With no party having a majority, the best available alternative is a national government based on consensus. Being the largest, the Maoists are the obvious choice and if they are prepared to meet certain preconditions set by the NC for its support, the solution presents itself.








THE establishment's response to the Maoist insurgency has been more in the form of quotable quotes than a sound and coherent policy. On 15 August 2006, the Prime Minister had declared from the ramparts of the Red Fort that Maoism was the country's biggest security threat. Very recently, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee spoke on the "root-cause theorists" in civil society, who routinely mention "lack of development" to justify the spread of  extremism. 

At a seminar on "Development in the Red Corridor" in Delhi on 16 September, Mr Mukherjee conceded the need for development, but added a caveat: "Lack of development may swell their (Maoist) cadre. They do not run charitable institutions. They are political elements and want to capture power."  
This statement was made two weeks after the Maoist abduction of four policemen in Bihar. One of them was killed. Governments both at the Centre and in the states need to streamline both governance and security. The Maoists must also reflect on their strategies and excesses.  Civil society, which has been dragged into the controversy, needs to take a call on its "pro-people" stand.   

The "Chanakya" of the Congress belongs to a state that witnessed the Naxalbari uprising in 1967. He must have been a young man in his thirties when Naxalbari flared up. He was a teacher and journalist before he entered active politics. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1969. In his speech he didn't explain the revival of Maoist politics. What has been the role of the Congress as the country's resource-rich green corridor turned red with the blood of footsoldiers from either side? Or why is the tribal up in arms? 

As a former teacher-cum-journalist, he must be aware that land, forests and natural resources were the main sources of discontent. The jotedars, contractors and corrupt officials were also at the root of the problem. Which explains the mobilisation by the CPI, the CPI-M, the CPI(M-L), and the People's War Group (PWG) in the first three phases of the Maoist revolution in Telangana, Naxalbari and Srikakulam. The upsurge was somewhat weakened by the Bhoodan movement and the land reform measures undertaken in Andhra Pradesh and in West Bengal by the non-Congress coalition government during 1967-69.  

This explains Charu Mazumdar's reaction to the slipping social base in Naxalbari: "Wherever there have been movements on vested land, the peasant who gets possession of the vested land and the licence to occupy it, does not remain active any longer in the peasant movement. Within a year of the possession of the land, the class character of the poor peasant changes and he becomes a middle peasant. He no longer shares the economic demand of the poor and landless peasant.  Thus, economism drives a wedge in the unity of the fighting peasants and plunges the landless and poor peasants into despondency." To deal with India's festering "nowhere revolution", the policy makers must read this analysis of a Maoist leader. It was made four decades ago, but is still relevant. 

The recent manifestations of Maoist politics are as worrisome as the battered  image of the State. In the recent Bihar abduction, a tribal policeman was killed. A Yadav was spared on caste considerations. A helpless chief minister had appealed to the abductors that the state police was not involved in human rights violations and they should not be targeted. 

The mayhem thus assumed a caste-cum-ethnic dimension. Bihar's Maoist leadership, dominated by the Yadavs and OBCs, was anxious to protect its mainstream constituency. This antagonised the tribal cadres of Bihar, Chhattisgarh and other areas. Bihar has witnessed an overlapping of caste and class in course of the Maoist insurgency. 

The middle class leadership of the Indian parties has often spoken against the attempt to romanticise this movement. They need to explain why the likes of Azad, Kobad Gandhy, Anupama, Vernon Gonsalves, Saketh Rajan, Sridhar Shriniwasan, Sabyasachi Panda, Ravi Sarma, and B Anuradha ~ all belonging to the educated middle class ~  have either been ideologues or active revolutionaries. There is little that is substantive in their activities apart from the romance of revolution. 

The Maoist anxiety to protect their mainstream constituency ~ the OBCs ~ should also be a matter of concern for the Indian State. The  mainstream linkage creates a sustainable base for the Left radicals. I have traced the history of these linkages in these columns (Left-of-Left: The Link Between Revolutionary And Mainstream Politics) on 29 May 2009. Recent developments in West Bengal and elsewhere indicate that the trend has intensified. In a recent paper, "The Heart of Our Darkness" Mohan Guruswamy has pointed out that some of the surrendered Maoists have turned into a gang of criminals leading the land mafia and extortion rackets, especially in Hyderabad.  

The "encounter" death of Azad, the leading ideologue, has caused a flutter. Apart from the Maoists, it has been condemned by the human rights lobby. The latter has issued only a routine statement on the killing of security personnel with the words, "any violence is condemnable." Any "encounter" death is against the rule of law and should be dealt with accordingly. The State, the human rights lobby and the Maoists need to reflect on the use of violence.  

Those who frame policies must be coherent. Political pot shots at opponents is unlikely to help. West Bengal has witnessed a revival of Maoism despite the CPI-M's land reforms. The BJP-led NDA, during its six-year tenure, was as ineffective on this issue as the Congress-led UPA. The BJP has been in power in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. It has been a coalition partner in Orissa. The extremists are active in all these states. Maoism is, after all, a national issue and ought to be dealt with in a bipartisan manner. 

The writer is Director, Centre forPublic Affairs, Noida







Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan foreign minister, is obviously a poor learner. Every time he makes a mention of the "K'' word, he expects the whole world to rally round him in strident India-bashing. A snub, even gently delivered by any of his country's well-wishers, bar the all-weather friend, China, he would suggest, is misplaced, not intended for his feudal ears! He is so carried away by his pompous Cambridge prose that he believes he serves his country's cause by pouring more venom into his anti-India diatribes.

The recent incidents of violence in the Kashmir Valley, unfortunate as they were, offered to him the right occasion and the proper forum, the UN General Assembly, to launch yet another anti-India tirade. Unfortunately, his feudal anger found no response from any member country. India for its part reminded him yet again that the "K'' word could not be discussed in isolation.

The Pakistanis might have tried to push in more hardcore terrorists into the Valley as part of an effort to give a more violent twist to the existing unrest but, unfortunately, there are not many local buyers for the gun. Local Kashmiri Muslims have instead taken to pelting stones at the police and their slogan in the Valley is simple: azadi.

Except for the tired old voice of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, not even confirmed separatists seek merger with Pakistan. This is not to suggest that the civilian population in the Valley has not suffered these past many weeks but this is the kind of suffering they have inflicted on themselves, fully aware of the cost of listening to separatist hate music. They rarely want Pakistan to champion their cause any more. Never mind the state government's ham-handed response to the separatists.

Islamabad's desperation was obvious when a ranking soldier blamed India for Pakistan's recent worst natural calamity. It sounded comic when the man said the Siachen glacier had started melting away because of the presence of the Indian Army units there. India may have offered 20 million dollars in help to that country in its moment of grave tragedy but the myopic leadership of the country did not hesitate to see some evil design behind it before saying "yes'' finally. That's after the aid was refused once. Whose was the initial "no'' to the aid offer? The Army's or the political establishment's? It does not make a difference because Pakistani politicians must look up to the Army for every change of breath. 

Interestingly, it was the Army that wanted outfits like the Laskhar-e-Toiba to be given a free hand in collecting and distributing aid among the flood victims, their number running into millions. For the record, though, the Pakistanis lose no opportunity to trumpet their war on the Pakistani Taliban along the Pak-Afghan border, mainly to please the Americans. That's a strategic necessity to extract more and more US funds as military aid.
To return to the neighbouring country's obsession with Kashmir, the word from New York, as I write, was that Shah Mahmood is seeking a meeting with his Indian counterpart SM Krishna to pursue the elusive Indo-Pak dialogue. The Pak foreign minister had at the General Assembly session and later at some Press briefings made the customary pejorative references to New Delhi and its "suppression" of Kashmiri Muslims. No need for Islamabad to speak of its direct sponsorship of militancy in the state nor of the pitiable role Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the Pakistani pro-consul in Srinagar, has unleashed on towns and cities by sponsoring clashes between the police and groups of youths.

Last week's visit to the state by an inter-party parliamentary group led by home minister P Chidambaram has given a fillip to hopes of more peaceful times in the Valley with Geelani, allowing hardly any breathing space to the population, promptly issuing his calendar of defiance. This, curiously, required the Valley's large student community to continue to abstain from schools. It asked them not to take their annual school or college tests and simultaneously asked teachers to observe a hartal. Geelani's edict reminds me of how the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mahsoud of the Frontier had issued a similar edict sending hundreds of school children from Swat running to faraway districts to pursue their education.

The pro-Pakistani octogenarian Geelani, who in his time assured good professional education to his own children, couldn't care less if thousands of Kashmiri students, living in the Valley, lose a year or two of schooling responding to his calls. Nobody seems to realise that just one lost year could cost the students dearly in future competitions within the state for admission to professional colleges.

Geelani may have a problem with Hindu India and may have his own financial and ideological reasons for merger with Pakistan but is that reason enough for him to paralyse the routine of daily lives for people of the Valley? Why don't Geelani and the separatists ask Kashmiri Muslims in Pakistan, how and why their dreamland has become a virtual failed state, with the organs of state at each other's throats. 

Sindh and Baluchistan are seething with discontent and only last Sunday you had the spectacle of the country's minister of state for defence production openly accusing the Army of the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti, the Baloch nationalist leader and of Benazir Bhutto as well. The accusation regarding Benazir's murder was thrown at the Army's doorstep when General Pervez Musharraf headed the government. And how can we forget how a former Army Chief was asked to divert millions of dollars to let Nawaz Sharif win an Army-backed campaign some two decades ago. General Beg himself has admitted it.

Pakistan's record in Giligit, Baltistan region, what it now calls the Northern Territories, is even more dismal. Thousands of miles of territory belonging to the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir and under Pakistani control has been ceded to China to help it construct an expressway to Gwadar port in Baluchistan. The expressway is an extension of the Karakoram road, built in occupied Kashmir years ago, giving China access to nearby ports of Iran etc. And in Gilgit and neighbouring areas, the Pakistani military as a matter of policy has changed the demography of these places much the same way as it did in Baluchistan, pumping in Punjabis and some Pushtoons, to outnumber the Baluchis. Much as the Valley Kashmiris may have to complain against the local police or "denial" of democracy, they well know that New Delhi has not tried to change the demography of the Valley. The Chinese did it in Tibet and in Chinese Turkestan.

To conclude, one can only pray to God to give toothless tiger Syed Geelani the good sense to help all parties in Kashmir to work for peace and stability. Toothless tigers do in old age make one last desperate attempt if only to save their violent legacy.

The writer is a veteran journalist and former Resident Editor, The Statesman, New Delhi







Does India always have a problem making a strong entrance on the world stage? That was certainly the view of EM Forster's fictional English hero Fielding in A Passage to India who ranked the country alongside Belgium as cutting a sorry figure.

As India booms, that may sound like an outdated concept. Yet the hash the Indians are making of the Commonwealth Games suggests that even Belgium would object to being compared with them. Belgium successfully staged the 2000 European football championship, albeit in partnership with Holland, and the same duo is hoping to host the 2018 World Cup. 

In contrast, the Delhi Commonwealth Games have seen the deaths of numerous construction workers, a massive uprooting of the capital's poor and, following allegations of corruption, the Indian Prime Minister stepping in to appoint officials to supervise the project. 

The problems the Games have revealed are more than the usual Indian contradictions. This ancient culture which is supposed to be measured and slow is actually one where everyone wants to go fast. One of the favourite Indian expressions is juldi, juldi (hurry, hurry). The only problem is the stifling bureaucracy and the agonisingly inefficient infrastructure. The result is that cries of juldi, juldi rise like a cloud of vapour while the actual pace of the journey matches the legendary Indian bullock cart.

And, while India still has a Soviet-style Planning Commission which produces five-year plans, the country has an instinctive aversion to the sort of long-term planning which major sports events require. The Indian ability to improvise cannot be doubted. Last year, when security concerns meant that the Indian Premier League could not be staged in India, within weeks it had been moved to South Africa in the sort of operation that would be unthinkable in any other country.

The organisers of the Commonwealth Games, aware of this, took the unprecedented decision of moving their chief executive Mike Hooper from his comfortable office in central London to Delhi. The hope was that the feisty New Zealander would bring a much needed dose of Anglo-Saxon realism to the Indian belief that it will be all right on the night, summed up in the phrase chalta hai ("it will do"). 

But not even Hooper could have solved the deep-seated problems revealed by the Commonwealth Games. These raise serious doubts as to whether, for all the money being spent on the tournament and all the talk of national pride, Indians actually care about sport.

Cricket apart, India is one of the great under-achievers of modern sport. Until 2008, India's Olympic golds had all come in hockey. In Beijing, the country did win its first individual gold in shooting, but it has never done anything of note in the high-profile events of swimming, track and field. Its contingent for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver was so shambolic that the city's large Indian origin population started organising donations for the team. The odd individual Indian has sometimes made sporting headlines but, given the country's immense size and its long exposure to western sports, its failure to make a mark on the world sporting stage is astonishing.

One explanation has been provided by Ashwini Kumar, a former vice president of the International Olympic Committee. ''India has no base for sports despite its enormous population. Sport in our country is khel-khood (just a bit of fun)," he said.

"It goes against the grain of our country, against our tradition to play sports the way they do in the West. If a child in our country returns from the playground, he is not asked by his parents how he fared, but slapped for missing his studies and wasting his time. Sport is against our Indian ethos, our cultural tradition."
It has been estimated that less than two per cent of schools have playgrounds and even these are not the sort of playing fields common in the West, but just a little piece of open land where the children can run about.
Matters are not helped by the fact that education is not controlled centrally but by the various state governments. This leads to a profusion of policies, with sport often falling between the two stools of the centre and the state.

Unlike other countries, Indian politicians have historically shown little interest in sport. The Commonwealth Games are due to start in Delhi the day after India celebrates the birth of Mahatma Gandhi. 
Yet the man venerated as the Father of the Nation never concealed his aversion to sport – a fact that he frankly confessed in his autobiography. Indeed, in 1932, when Indian hockey ruled the world and Gandhi was asked for help in funding the team's participation in the Los Angeles Games, the "great-souled one" famously enquired: "What is hockey?"

The contrast with China and Mao could not be starker. The first paper Mao wrote back in 1917 was about the importance of sport. 

In language that the Victorians, who popularised sport in this country, would have understood well, he said: "It is absolutely right to say that one must build a strong body if he or she wants to cultivate inner strength." For Mao, sport was also part of state policy, as he demonstrated in the 1970s by using "ping pong" diplomacy to seek a rapprochement with Richard Nixon and the United States.

Swami Vivekananda did once advise his countrymen that they would find God more easily if they played football rather than spent hours studying the Gita – the Hindu bible – but his was a voice in the wilderness. Jawaharlal Nehru did his bit for sport and cricket in particular, not least by keeping India in the Commonwealth – a decision which went against the policy of the ruling Congress Party. But, unlike China, sport in India was never part of any centrally-driven policy. 

This sports vacuum has been ideal for bureaucrats and low-level politicians, who have found sport a useful base upon which to build public support. Their path has been helped by the fact that, cricket apart, former Indian sportsmen and women have little or no involvement in running sports organisations, and most sports, particularly those contested at the Olympics, do not attract much commercial support.

For years Indian football was run by a Calcutta-based politician, while Suresh Kalmadi, a former pilot in the Indian Air Force and a Congress politician who is organising the Commonwealth Games, used Indian athletics and then the Indian Olympic Association to build his powerful base.

Even in cricket, which has always had upper- and middle-class support ~ having been sponsored by the Indian princes and then by Indian business ~ politicians are playing an increasingly important role. 

Where once former cricketers were involved in running the sport, now it is powerful politicians like the current leader of Indian and world cricket, cabinet minister Sharad Pawar. While his political clout cannot be doubted, there is nothing in his background which suggests much of an involvement with the game.

The most galling thing for the Indians is the contrast this provides with China, which used the 2008 Beijing Olympics as a giant coming-out party, proving that it could beat the West at its own sports. The tragedy for India is that, whatever happens in Delhi over the next few weeks, the world will conclude that this is another area where India cannot match its Asian rival.

the independent






If the people of Calcutta who complain of the state of the roads were to spend a year or two in the mofussil, writes a mofussil correspondent, they would probably become better contented with their lot. Road-making, as understood in most districts, means simply mud throwing. It does not matter very much who designs the road; it is the coolie who constructs it, and as he is paid so many pice for so many cubic feet, he naturally chooses the softest mud he can find. It gravel is available, it is carefully avoided; it is too hard to dig. If the mud roads were raised sufficiently high it would not be so bad, but they are often below the level of the adjoining fields. Years ago Colonel Sleeman noted in his Journal that when travelling in the rains the only way by which he could be sure that he was on a road was because the water there was deeper than elsewhere. The same is still true in many places, and it is not an uncommon thing in the monsoon to find carts going across country in order to avoid the roads. Some time ago a missionary in a remote district of Bengal set the lads in his industrial school to make a road through the compound. After making the road the boys made an inscription across it in white stones, "This is a road". The same plan might be adopted with advantage by District and Local Boards; it would save misunderstanding. It is to be feared the art of road-making in India has not kept pace with the general advance in civilisation. There was a time when the Grand Trunk Road was a thoroughfare that any country had a right to be proud of, adds our correspondent, but it has sadly degenerated now that it is no longer an Imperial road but under the care of local authorities. It is possible that the advent of the motor car will lend to more attention being paid to district roads, unless that means of locomation is to be superseded by the flying machine.










Lazy minds love tempests in a bathtub. Witness the meaningless controversy over who should open the Commonwealth Games soon to start in New Delhi. The very name of the event should make the name of the inaugurator obvious, but there are Indians who love to quarrel with the obvious. The Commonwealth Games should be declared open by the head of the Commonwealth. This happens to be Queen Elizabeth, the reigning monarch of Great Britain. If, for some reason, Queen Elizabeth is unable to attend the opening ceremony — as is the case with the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi — her delegate should do the honours and read out her address. Queen Elizabeth is well aware of this and her son and heir is representing her at the opening ceremony, and he is prepared to read out the address. But this simple and logical procedure appears as a slight to some patriotic Indians whose stock-in-trade is a spurious anti-colonialism. Their contention is that in the absence of the head of the Commonwealth, the head of the Indian State should declare the Commonwealth Games open. This position does not stand up to the scrutiny of logic.


It is entirely fortuitous that it is India's turn this time round to host the Commonwealth Games. As the country hosting the Games, India has no special rights that prevail over those of the other participating countries. Thus, the head of any other participating country has as much right as the head of the Indian State to declare the Commonwealth Games open. Some stowaway ideology should not be allowed to confuse this simple issue. India belongs to the Commonwealth. This was decided when India became independent as a proud republic. India thus accepted a monarch as the head of the community of nations that makes up the Commonwealth. This fact of history cannot be undone by claiming that the president of India should open the Commonwealth Games. As long as the Commonwealth exists in its present avatar, its head or a representative of the head has the right to open the Commonwealth Games. The Games in New Delhi have had enough mud and controversy smeared on them even before they have begun. What is least needed is a pointless debate about who should start the Games off. History has already decided on this matter and let it remain that way without any interference from any distant cannonade.








The fond hope, entertained in some circles, that the Allahabad High Court's judgment on the Ayodhya issue would be indefinitely deferred has disappeared. The Supreme Court has made it clear that the Allahabad High Court is free to deliver its verdict, and this will be announced on Thursday afternoon. This development can only be viewed with mixed feelings. The Ayodhya dispute — even though the dispute was mischievously created — is one of those problems in life that have no immediate solution. It certainly has no solution within a court room. To decide on the title deed, the court will go into matters that are outside the domain of law. Judges will have to take a view on matters that demand expertise and specialization in archaeology, history, architecture and so on. Indeed, it can be argued that the court should not have accepted some of the petitions that make up the present case. This issue underlines the importance of courts taking up matters that deal strictly with law. Whatever be the court's verdict on Thursday, it will never be beyond criticism and free from allegations of bias and prejudice. There is something worth learning from the injunction that there are some matters best left untouched by the courts. As things stand, the Allahabad High Court cannot avoid the unenviable responsibility that it has taken upon itself.


What is to be welcomed is the attitude of the present political dispensations at the national and the provincial levels. They have made no attempt to influence or interfere with the legal process to defer the judgment lest the verdict incites communal tension and violence. They have allowed the due process of law to take its own course. The fallout of a court judgment is the government's concern; it cannot be and should not be the concern of the judiciary. This separation of responsibility has been very visible in this case, and it is evidence of a degree of maturity in the Indian polity. It remains to be seen if society displays a similar maturity after the court pronounces its verdict on Thursday. There are enough elements in Indian society to play with the raw emotions of the people and to propel them to violence. The existing legal framework permits any aggrieved party to challenge a court's verdict by appealing against it in a higher court. A court's verdict should not be challenged on the streets.









India has set the bar high at the United Nations. Last Friday, when Hardeep Singh Puri, India's permanent representative to the UN, hosted a reception in honour of the external affairs minister, S.M. Krishna, the British foreign secretary, William Hague, was the first guest to arrive at the Indian mission in New York. The previous day, Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, had sought out Krishna in the UN general assembly and regretted that he could not attend the reception since he would be returning to Moscow the following morning.


In all, nearly 40 foreign ministers attended Puri's reception in honour of Krishna. That was more than three times their number at a similar reception at India's permanent mission to the UN last year. The last two weeks of September make up a fortnight during which the diplomatic scene in the Big Apple is at the height of its activity. In the opening days of the "general debate" of the annual UN general assembly, when New York draws anything between 100 to 150 kings, presidents and prime ministers, there are some 40 to 50 receptions every evening in the Turtle Bay area near Manhattan's East River.


Since the guest list is more or less the same for all these galas, the standing of each country is measured in proportion to the visiting dignitaries each can draw to its receptions. Going by this yardstick, which is often an indicator of the influence a country has on the global agenda, and which determines access for its diplomats, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's decision to skip the UN general assembly two years in a row and let Krishna take his place has been a wise one.


When the prime minister is on American soil — even if it is solely for multilateral diplomacy at the UN — the Indian ambassador in Washington feels compelled to host a huge reception for him in New York. No Indian American community leader can remember a prime ministerial visit to New York when such a dinner reception for 600 to 700 people was not held. In recent years, they have come to be held in one of the grand ballrooms of the opulent Waldorf Astoria hotel on the east side of Manhattan. This figure of 600 to 700 guests is at least six times the number of people who are normally invited by the president of the United States of America for a White House dinner in honour of a visiting head of state or government. But if the ambassador did not organize such a reception, there would be complaints from Indian Americans — who travel from coast to coast in the US for this dinner — that the prime minister was being kept in seclusion from his people.


Actually, these receptions by the ambassador in honour of the prime minister have been a complete waste of time, money and effort. Because the invitees are so many, there are the inevitable hassles of what amounts to crowd management. Nobody really gets to meet the prime minister except for a few seconds as the guests are taken in procession to shake hands with him. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who revelled in being with crowds, regaled these large Indian American audiences with his wit and his oratory in poetic Hindi. But no other prime minister in recent years has appeared to enjoy such receptions, often on an evening when the jet lag from the long flight from India is at its peak. Besides, for a prime minister who is in New York primarily for UN work at a time when diplomatic activity is at its peak, the reception held by the ambassador, to which only Indian Americans are invited, constitutes a complete waste of a precious evening which should be devoted to social interaction with leaders of other countries who are in New York for the general assembly.


By nominating the external affairs minister to take his place, the prime minister has ensured that the purpose for which the leader of the Indian delegation to the general assembly spends about a week in New York brings maximum returns for the country's diplomacy. This year, Krishna has been the second most sought after foreign minister at the general assembly after Hillary Clinton of the US. The Indian mission to the UN has had requests from nearly 60 countries for bilateral meetings with Krishna.


Naturally, it has been humanly impossible for Indian diplomats to accommodate anywhere near that many requests, especially with 15 multilateral meetings on the minister's itinerary, some of them taking up almost three hours each day last week. And some of these meetings, such as the one of non-aligned foreign ministers or that of Commonwealth foreign ministers — with the controversial Commonwealth Games just round the corner — are so sacrosanct that India cannot give them a miss.


Last week, this columnist witnessed a rare experience for India as Krishna was shuttling from one bilateral meeting to another. He was accosted by the foreign minister of one country who pleaded with the external affairs minister to meet his prime minister, who was outside the elevator, for "only two minutes". Krishna was already behind schedule, so Indian diplomats at the UN assured the interloper that he would, indeed, meet the head of government in question in a day or two. And they did arrange such a meeting in 48 hours.


The huge number of requests for sit-downs with Krishna is only partly explained by the reality that the external affairs minister can devote his entire time in New York for activities related exclusively to foreign policy. Apart from the ambassador's reception, successive prime ministers have been obliged to be at events such as a lunch at the New York Stock Exchange or meetings with businessmen.


The avalanche of requests for bilateral meetings is partly because Krishna is in New York this year as the head of delegation of a country which will take its seat in the UN security council for a two-year term from January 1, 2011. Indians have forgotten what it is like to be at the UN's high table: it has been nearly two decades since they experienced that heady feeling when they were consulted on every major global issue and wooed by every country which had something at stake in the security council. Instead, for 19 years New Delhi's diplomats in New York have been running after their counterparts in security council member-states for protection for Indian interests on many issues. That is now set to change.


In fact, during this general assembly, India is being treated as if it is already in the security council. Last Friday, Krishna was among the foreign ministers who were specially invited by UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, to mobilize international support for a "comprehensive peace agreement" in Sudan, including a referendum and steps to end the catastrophic events in Darfur. Sure enough, Krishna went for the high-level meeting, in part, because India has over two billion dollars in investment at stake in the Sudan.


Among those who were at the Indian mission to honour Krishna on Friday was Pakistan's permanent representative to the UN, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, who created ripples along with his Indian counterpart in the Big Apple's diplomatic scene recently when they appeared together at the US Open to cheer the so-called "Indo-Pak Express" of tennis players — Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi.


In the earlier years, Pakistan sent middle-level diplomats from its mission for the Indian reception, not even its deputy permanent representative. Haroon's was not a token appearance at the reception. He not only stayed almost till the end, but liberally gave interviews to every Indian television channel which sought his views.








English apart, my knowledge of Indian languages could be written on a postage stamp. But this month I've learned my first words of Urdu. They mean idiot. Two linked words, to be exact. The first transcribes as ijaz, the second as butt. The pair, I'm told, can be followed, for clarity's sake, with a phrase which I will not transcribe but translate:chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board.


Oddly, I owe this widening of my linguistic skills to the very holder of that distinguished post. It seemed — I'm no sports-news addict — that he had accused some England cricketers of taking huge bribes to lose a match against his own countrymen. So the BBC was interviewing him. Well, trying to. Whether the charge was true, or even quarter-true, who am I to say? I have no personal knowledge of the issue whatsoever. That, I suspect, was precisely as much knowledge as the Pakistani gentleman had. If he had more, he was not going to tell the BBC.


Repeatedly and determinedly, its radio reporter asked him what proof he had. In vain. With equal determination, but more success, the gentleman — let us call him Ijaz Butt — overrode all questions, ranting and rambling on instead about a wicked conspiracy of slander aimed at his own cricketers.


At that point it struck me that Mr Butt was well named. If you want to accuse people of taking bribes, it's wise — especially if your listeners' prejudices will be the reverse of yours — to offer some evidence. Not to do so might suggest, to cynical minds, that you had none. And that was just what he achieved.


True, he did later aver that he'd merely been recounting the common gossip of those who take bets on sport. Too late. The cynics merely wondered how a cricket-board chairman was so in touch with the table-talk of the betting fraternity, let alone trusted it enough to repeat it. The damage to his credibility was already done — single-handed, by himself.


What an idiot, I thought, what other word could I use? And then I realized: umpteen. For English is thick with them. Many are slang, though idiot itself comes straight from an ancient-Greek word meaning of one's own, as in idiosyncrasy, and was once widely used for the mentally disordered. So too was lunatic, from the Latin for the moon, as inmoonstruck. But the rest are a sorry bunch of insults.


Here are some. Ass; blockhead, bonehead, fathead, thickhead and (recently) airhead;buffoon (imported, via Italian, from the Latin for toad); clot; clown; cretin (which, strangely, began as a Swiss-French word for Christians, kindly but simple-minded folk); dimwit,halfwit and nitwit; dolt (now old-fashioned); fool; imbecile; loony; moron (more Greek, and used mainly by the over-educated); nincompoop (source unknown, though sundry implausible ones are on offer); ninny (which probably isn't nincompoop writ short, though the name Innocent, claimed by some as its source, is even less probable);numbskull; nut, nutcase and nutter; simpleton; twerp; and — that's enough—-twit. And then there are self-standing adjectives: absurd; barmy; bonkers; brain-dead; brainless;crazy; daft; dumb; gormless; potty; silly; stupid; thick-witted. And more; I cite only words that I myself have used, from my schooldays to old age, omitting Americanisms, some modern slang and such antiques as dunderhead. No doubt our ancestors had others: I came upon flat in a down-market novel of the 1820s that I bought some years ago. And, alas, I don't know what teenagers may be using this week. I offer these ruderies with no unkind intent, merely to widen vocabulary. It's a long list, longer even than the one of synonyms for nonsense that I offered here some months ago. Mockery is a universal habit, but English does seem unusually rich in ways of expressing it. Or maybe Urdu has as many? I must learn some.





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The supreme court has done well to clear the way for the verdict in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute case after rejecting a plea for its deferment. 

The Allahabad high court was to have  pronounced its verdict in the 60-year-old case but for a private plea for  postponement and the supreme court agreeing to the plea. But the court has now accepted the legal and substantive issues raised by the Attorney-General of India and the parties to the case, who do not want the uncertainty to continue any longer. The court was reminded of the judicial principle that a verdict cannot be held hostage by its imagined consequences. The judicial process should be free and should not be influenced by extraneous considerations. 

The country has moved far forward from the rabid days of communal mobilisation and polarisation based on the Ayodhya dispute two decades ago. The dispute has lost much of its potency even for the Hindutva parties, mainly the BJP, which had squeezed the juice out of it and made political gains. However there is even a realisation that politicisation of the dispute has been counter-productive. Both sides to the dispute have declared that they are ready and waiting for the verdict. There is also the opportunity for both sides to go in for an appeal in the higher court if they are not satisfied with the judgement. The local representatives of the two communities,  Hashim Ansari, who is the oldest surviving petitioner in the original title suit, and Satyendra Das, the head priest of the makeshift temple at the disputed site, have even said that they would accept the high court verdict as final and would not go in for an appeal. The argument that courts cannot sit in judgment over matters involving religious sentiments has also lost its strength and is not being forwarded by even the champions of the Ayodhya movement. 

This new maturity should inform political and popular responses to the verdict which should be known in the next two days. The verdict may go against one party or the other, as it mostly happens in legal disputes, or may not finally settle the dispute, as it has happened when Ayodhya-related issues have come before the courts. In any case all parties to the dispute, those who are otherwise interested in it and everybody else should think that the nation is above their own interests.








Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's two-day visit to China has significance that goes beyond their bilateral relations which have been strengthening in the recent past. The focus of the visit was mainly bilateral, underlining the importance both countries attach to their economic and political ties. This is clear from the slew of agreements signed by the leaders of the two countries, covering co-operation in many areas, but mainly energy and finance. The highlight of the visit was recognition of the importance of the huge $ 25 billion 999-km gas pipeline from Russia's far east to energy-hungry China. The pipeline, which was completed in record time, has already become operational and is the result of a loan-for oil deal between the two countries.

The importance the two countries attach to their relations is clear from the fact Medvedev's meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao is the fifth this year. Medvedev was also visiting China for the second time in two years. His first visit to any country after assuming office was to China. The highlight of that visit was the signing of a nuclear deal by which Russia agreed to sell nuclear reactors and cutting edge technology to China. Russian economy is mainly resource-based and Moscow is aware of the risk in having an economy that depends on fluctuating commodity prices. Moscow has for long wanted diversification of gas supplies away from Europe. It also wants to modernise its economy. Chinese experience and help would be useful for this because both countries had similar centrally planned  economies but China has reformed its economy and has gone far ahead of Russia. The complementarity on interests has given an opportunity to them to upgrade their relations. Trade between the two countries had been on an upswing, except during the period of the global slowdown, and is expected to recover this year. 

The convergence of interests goes beyond the economies and covers strategic relations. Both are vary of the US and want to develop a platform which can resist Washington's domination. The announcement that both countries would enhance co-operation in international affairs, including in forums like G-20, BRIC and the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) is a sign of that. Russia and China are the leading countries in the SCO with which India is also associated as an observer.







Christian Democrats face a difficult task, trying to acknowledge public frustrations without lending legitimacy to racist views.


As anti-immigrant sentiment continues to sweep across Europe, generating a right-wing populist wave from the shores of the Mediterranean to the chilly reaches of Scandinavia, there is growing concern that such politics could take root in Germany  too, in the fertile ground of financial uncertainty, rising anti-Muslim sentiment and a widening political vacuum left by the misfortunes of the once mighty Christian Democratic Union.

While the Swedes this week elected an anti-immigrant party to Parliament for the first time, and the French are busy repatriating Roma, Germans continue to debate a best-selling book blaming Muslim immigrants for 'dumbing down society' and have heard a prominent conservative ally of the chancellor, Angela Merkel, suggest that Poland helped to instigate World War II.

"Uncertainty is widespread over German society," said Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at the Free University of Berlin. "That is always a good base for those who tell the people all their problems can be solved by simple methods, by solutions that the others wouldn't dare to do, like throw out the foreigners."

Since the end of World War II, German laws, political elites and social conventions have prevented right-wing parties from earning enough of a following to win seats in parliament. The last time a far right party came close to reaching the five per cent threshold was in the 1970s, experts said.

But the nation's political geography is being reshaped by strong gusts of discontent blowing in from different directions. Public resentments toward Europe were fanned by the German-led bailout of Greece, which Germans saw as paying for the profligacy and irresponsibility of others. At the same time, Germans, particularly younger generations, are feeling less constrained by their history and more comfortable in their national skin than at any time since World War II.

Into that environment came the book by the banker Thilo Sarrazin, 'Germany Does Away With Itself,' which argues that the nation's generous social benefits have attracted large numbers of Muslim immigrants who have refused to integrate. The book does not address any of the endemic obstacles to integration, like discrimination in employment and mediocre schooling, but instead labels Muslim immigrants as genetically inferior.
The book and its popularity – it has sold about 600,000 copies in little more than a month – represent the one issue that seems to have unified the European public: hostility to foreigners, especially Muslims. Recent polls here said that a right-leaning party could now receive up to 20 per cent of the vote, which would put it in parliament, according to reports in the German Press Agency.

"It would be hard to cover all of this under one theme. Xenophobia? Not really. But it could turn into something like it," said Michael Naumann, editor of the monthly political magazine Cicero in Berlin, about the regional political developments. "The search for scapegoats has started."

Erika Steinbach, the official who made the remarks about Poland – and who leads a group representing ethnic Germans who were expelled from parts of Eastern Europe after the war – quit the executive committee of the Christian Democrats after a decade of service, telling the German newspaper Die Welt, "I represent conservatism there, but I feel more and more alone."

The Christian Democrats, the dominant political force here for decades, have historically absorbed conservative, even moderately right-wing supporters while presenting themselves as the guardian of Christian values. But lately the party has been accused by some of its members of being no different from the more liberal Social Democrats and of enforcing a post-World War II political correctness that restricts debate about many issues – nationalism, religion, minorities, but especially immigration.

Merkel was criticised by some for condemning Sarrazin – before she had even read the book. Under pressure, Sarrazin resigned from the board of the central bank, and his party, the Social Democrats, began proceedings to expel him.

To some observers, the political elites' stern treatment of these new ultraconservative voices only enhances their appeal.

"Steinbach is not very much liked, although she and Sarrazin are seen as people who are breaking up the politically correct tradition of dealing with the past," said Wolfgang Nowak, former senior adviser to the previous chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder. "As most do not share their ideas, they do not agree with the way they are silenced."

The Christian Democrats face a difficult balancing act, trying to acknowledge public frustrations without lending legitimacy to xenophobic and racist views. To ignore the problems, some say, potentially opens the field to right-ring parties.

"This means that right-wing populist parties enter a vacuum that comes into being because many people get the feeling that politicians are not aware of their day-to-day lives," said Wolfgang Bosbach, a party member and deputy head of its bloc in Parliament.

At the moment, no one here is predicting the rise of a successful right-wing party, but that is because the main ingredient is missing: a charismatic leader to rally the public. With such a leader, and some financial support, the prospect could take on a life, political experts said.

But in Germany, where history still weighs heavily, who would dare?

"It is too early to say how it will turn out," said Hans-Otto Braeutigam, a former German ambassador and political independent. "It may happen; I am worried. There are signals and signs, but they are not yet clear. I still hope we can overcome these problems with solutions."









Catalysts of rapid proliferation and the nature of 'threshold states' have changed over time.


Judging by the comments of most political figures, scholars and media pundits, regardless of political orientation, the future of nuclear proliferation is bleak.

This time, the sky is surely falling. At the very least, the world is at a 'tipping point' in the direction of a nuclear armed crowd with far more countries actively pursuing and acquiring nuclear weapons. On this point, Hillary Clinton, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ban Ki-moon and John McCain all agree.

This proliferation pessimism often finds expression in metaphors about nuclear dominoes, chains, cascades and waves. In most cases the gloomy scenario anticipates a reactive process in which Iran's 'going nuclear' leads to decisions by other states in the region and possibly elsewhere to follow suit in quick succession.

Such prognoses are often cited in support of arguments for urgent action to stop Iran's nuclear programme. And yet, as was the case with the 'domino theory' of the spread of Communism, little evidence is marshaled to support assertions about reactive proliferation.

A review of declassified US national intelligence estimates (NIEs), as well as scholarly prognoses, shows that nuclear alarmism has been a feature of US threat assessments throughout most of the nuclear age.

The catalysts for projections of rapid proliferation and the characteristics of 'threshold states' have changed over time, but past forecasts have routinely overestimated the pace of proliferation.

The most famous dire prognosis was President John F Kennedy's 1963 nightmare of a future world of 15, 20 or 25 nuclear powers. Although there has been little movement in that direction, the assumption persists that the birth of a new nuclear-armed state will beget many others.

Proliferation epidemic

Waves of proliferation were widely anticipated following India's 'peaceful' nuclear explosion in 1974; the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991; the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests in 1998; and, most recently, North Korea's defection from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. While these events produced no obvious diffusion effect, policy makers have identified the Middle East as the site of the next proliferation epidemic.
Do the facts on the ground support this prognosis? Our multiyear study of the dynamics of nuclear proliferation for a dozen 'usual suspects' suggests otherwise. It indicates that the further spread of nuclear weapons is neither imminent nor likely to involve a 'chain reaction.'

Although surprising in terms of its challenge to conventional wisdom about a proliferation pandemic, our conclusion is consistent with the historically slow pace of proliferation and the exceptional circumstances that must pertain for states to abandon nuclear restraint.

It also highlights the important role played by individual leaders and domestic political coalitions for whom pursuit of nuclear weapons poses major political, economic and security costs.

Egypt — the domino most often identified as likely to fall in the wake of an overt Iranian nuclear weapons programme — is a case in point. As James Walsh demonstrates in his case study for our project, Egypt's motivations to acquire nuclear weapons were more intense in past decades than they are today or are likely to be in the near future, while disincentives are as severe if not more so than in the past.

Why would Cairo decide to emulate an Iranian nuclear posture when it has so long tolerated a far more potent Israeli nuclear weapons capability? Why would it risk severe damage to its relations with the United States, not to mention the loss of huge amounts of economic and military aid, for the very uncertain benefits of an expensive weapons programme?

One should also be skeptical that Turkey, another prospective link in an Iran-instigated chain reaction, would abandon its quest for membership in the European Union and jeopardize its Nato security guarantees to emulate Iran. And what about Saudi Arabia, another Middle Eastern kingpin? What problem, internal or otherwise, would the kingdom solve with nuclear weapons?

To suggest that the proverbial proliferation sky is not yet falling is not to dismiss the risk of weapons spread. Indeed, Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons, or military action against Iran, could well shift the balance of incentives and disincentives in the proliferation calculus for a number of states.

If history is any guide, however, these factors will be country-specific, and even if one nation should decide to disavow its nonproliferation commitments, there is little reason to expect an epidemic.








As the evening progressed, I harped on the profits to be made on stocks in metals.


My father was so scared of losing his meagre savings through banks collapsing that he divided the amount equally among five nationalised banks. I inherited his genes of financial conservatism.

Early in my career I was invited to a lot of soirees at five star hotels. I was quite a misfit among the chiffon-clad, diamond dripping society women and the Christian Dior suited men. I was happy standing at a corner nursing my tomato juice till it was time to make a quiet exit. One day I saw an ad in the newspaper for a course in 'The art of small talk.' I went through sessions on how to integrate with people whom I thought were more sophisticated than me. I was taught to read up on a subject just enough to start and hold a conversation. My focus was on some person called Harshad Mehta who was referred to as The Big Bull.

I devoured all the information available on the financial pages of dailies and magazines and was soon ready to be let loose on an unsuspecting P3 crowd. At the next party I joined a group of five people who were discussing the stock market. 

One worthy was talking about FMCG stocks. I butted in and said, "The future is in banking stocks. Harshad is very positive on SBI." This immediately had the attention of the group. As the evening progressed I harped on the profits to be made on stocks in the metals and pharma fields. By now my audience had swelled to half the guests.
This continued for the next few years long after the worthy Mehta's empire collapsed. By now I was clued in about Futures & Options, too. Invitations to parties increased manifold. At one gathering I distinctly heard a Hugo Boss suited gentleman whispering, "There goes Bangalore's Big Bull." Thanks to the new TV Business channels and the Internet, information was spouting out of both my ears and I switched over to another flavour of the season. 

At the next party a Neiman Marcus clad gentleman asked my opinion about shipping stocks. As if on cue I pontificated, "Stocks are passé. The direction to go is commodities. The rain forests in Paraguay are being denuded. There will be a global shortage of mentha oil. There are millions to be made trading on that."

My wife is paranoid about speculators sending goons after me to recover their losses. I have not put in a paisa of my own in any of these activities all these years. I still live in my modest apartment. And, yes whatever little money I have saved is safe and sound in the nationalised banks.








Israel should rejoice in Castro's holiday gift of a positive message on Israel, which might just mark the beginning of a trend.


A belief in the capacity inherent in every individual to fundamentally change for the better is one of Judaism's most important and redeeming tenets.

The recent Day of Atonement is the annual apex of that notion, and penitents are welcomed into society and revered as bearing more rights than virtuous people.

It is tempting to view former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro as now being repentant of his longtime sin of backing those who act toward the eradication of Israel, following the support of the Zionist entity he expressed in a recent interview with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, in which the aging revolutionary also criticized Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his repeated Holocaust denial.

"Yes, without a doubt," was Castro's unambiguous answer to Goldberg's inquiry as to whether he thought Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish State. The Cuban leader, who passed over the presidency to his brother Raul in 2008 but remains First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, also expressed understanding of how the history of persecution of Jews, most notably the Holocaust, would influence Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's decision-making process, and even noted his desire to meet with the premier's father Ben-Zion, the leading historian of the Spanish Inquisition.

President Shimon Peres issued a warm letter to Castro over the weekend with gratitude for the "moving" and "unexpected" words that bore "an original and unique intellectual depth." And a Prime Minister's Office's statement defined what Castro had said as a testimony to his "deep understanding of the history of the Jewish people and Israel."

ONE NEED not be a great historian like Netanyahu Sr., however, to recall Cuba's anti-Israel track-record under Castro. In 1967, Cuba's ambassador to the UN described Israel's preemptive attack against the onslaught of Arab armies in the Six Day War as "a surprise attack in the Nazi manner," and Havana's military advisers provided instruction to PLO terrorists both in Cuba and in southern Lebanon in the seventies and early eighties. Diplomatic relations with Israel were cut in 1973 after Castro sent Cuban tank commanders to join Syrian forces in the Yom Kippur War, and Cuba remains on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.

In fact, one needn't be a historian at all to encounter a revolting diatribe the same Castro, still idolized by the extreme Left in Europe and Latin America that often does not recognize Israel's right to exist, published on June 10 on his CubaDebate website.

"The state of Israel's hatred of the Palestinians is such that they would not hesitate to send one and a half million men, women and children from that country to the gas chambers in which millions of Jews of all ages were exterminated by the Nazis," he wrote just a few weeks before his interview with The Atlantic, following the IDF raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. "The Führer's swastika would seem to be Israel's banner today. This opinion is not born of hatred," Castro continued, noting his country's history of absorbing Jews during "the harsh days of World War II." (Cuba's Jewish community has since dwindled, from an estimated 15,000 in 1959 to a current 1,000 or so.) Interpreting the inner workings of the mind of this 84-year-old, who might or might not be rethinking his long-time stance on Israel, may be beyond us at this stage. But whatever his motivations, the very day after the initial segment of the interview was published on The Atlantic's website on September 7, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared he'd be meeting with the leaders of his country's Jewish community.

Chavez, who considers Castro an influence and has close ties with Ahmadinejad, a week later indeed heard the Jewish leaders' concerns over anti-Semitism in the state media and their desire to see diplomatic ties with Israel, which Chavez cut in 2009, reinstated.

Castro's standing as the radical Left's elderly statesman puts him in a unique position to generate a move toward making pro-Israel sentiment somewhat fashionable, or at least to help distance anti-Semitism from the realms of the political discourse. Without forgetting his problematic past, and accordingly without attributing uncritical weight to this refreshing draft from the Caribbean, Israel should rejoice in Castro's holiday gift of a positive message on Israel, which might just mark the beginning of a trend.








A response to former prime minister Ehud Olmert from a former Israeli ambassador to the UN. Today, he says, Israel must reestablish that red line.

Talkbacks (6)

Right after the War of Independence, prime minister David Ben-Gurion faced inexorably difficult pressures over the future of Jerusalem.

The UN planned to press its case for internationalization. Its grounds were General Assembly Resolution 181, adopted in 1947 and known as the partition plan, which not only advocated the establishment of Jewish and Arab states in former British Mandatory Palestine, but also recommended putting Jerusalem under UN control as a corpus separatum, or separate entity.

True, the resolution was not legally binding; it had been forcibly rejected by the Arab states. Moreover, the UN never established the special regime for Jerusalem that it proposed. In fact, it failed to dispatch any forces to save the Old City when reports streamed in that its ancient synagogues were being systematically destroyed. Nevertheless, even after the war ended, leading diplomatic players in the UN, including the US government, came back and insisted on resurrecting the idea of international control.

Ben-Gurion stood in the Knesset on December 5, 1949 and, in no uncertain terms, rejected the demand for internationalization. He looked back at what had happened during the War of Independence, explaining that the UN "did not lift a finger" when invading Arab armies tried to destroy the holy city. It was only because of the efforts of the newly created IDF that the siege of Jerusalem had been lifted and the rest of its Jewish population saved. Ben-Gurion declared that Israel no longer viewed Resolution 181 as having any further "moral force" with regard to Jerusalem.

Four days later the General Assembly responded, again insisting that Jerusalem "should be placed under a permanent international regime."

Ben-Gurion nonetheless stood his ground and declared on December 13, 1949 that the Knesset and the rest of the government would be transferred from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

LOOKING BACK 60 years, internationalization was a complete failure. And yet it now appears it is coming back.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert has put forward a proposal in this paper ("The terms for an accord," September 24) for the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, in which this area will be overseen by "an international trusteeship."

According to Olmert, Israel would be expected to renounce its sovereignty over the holiest sites of the Jewish people, like the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, located in an area called "the Holy Basin" by negotiators in the past, and which extends beyond the Old City to the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.

How is it that an idea which spelled disaster to the country's founders can suddenly be put back on the political agenda? What happened? Does this readiness come from a sense that with the reunification of Jerusalem as a result of the 1967 Six Day War, Israel has less right to sovereignty there than it did in 1949? Such a view has no basis.

The Jewish people had restored their majority in the Old City already in 1863, according to the British consulate at the time – well before any other place in modern Israel. And after 1967, international lawyers such as like Stephen Schwebel, who would become president of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, pointed to the fact that while Jordan occupied east Jerusalem after a war of aggression in 1948, Israel captured the very same areas in a war of self-defense, and as a result its title was stronger than that of other claimants at the time.

Moreover, by its actions since 1967, Israel has proven that it was the first protector of Jerusalem to truly defend the interests of all three monotheistic faiths.

Perhaps some of its political elites have forgotten what was axiomatic for Abba Eban and Chaim Herzog, but that does not diminish its historical rights.

It could be that today there is a naive belief that internationalization might work, since the UN in 2010 will be better than the UN in 1948. But there is no basis for such a conclusion. In the past 20 years, international oversight of areas of conflict has ended with one disaster after another. In 1994, a UN force in Rwanda, made up of mostly Belgian paratroopers deployed to oversee implementation of the Arusha Peace Accord, withdrew and abandoned the Tutsi tribe to acts of genocide by Hutu supremists. The UN Security Council delayed any effective action to stop the killing, which resulted in 800,000 deaths.

A year later, UN peacekeepers in Bosnia abandoned the Muslims they were supposed to protect in the town of Srebrenica. As a result, the Bosnian Serb army slaughtered more than 8,000 innocent people.

Since 2003, the UN has been unable to take decisive action and put an end to the genocide in Darfur by the Sudanese regime, given the interests of the Arab states and the Chinese. Multilateral machinery, whether based on the UN or on a consortium of states, remains notoriously slow.

In short, there is no recent international development that might lead one to believe that "an international trust," rather than Israel, might actually work and protect Jerusalem.


How is it possible to explain the difference between Ben-Gurion and the leaders who put forward from time to time the idea of internationalization? Israel at the time of Ben-Gurion was actually much weaker than it is today; its population in 1948 was a little more than 800,000. But it had something which unfortunately has been lacking in many who would renounce its sovereignty over the Old City: Israel in 1948 had a deep conviction in the justice of its cause – a rare commodity today in many influential circles.

Those putting forward the idea of internationalization are completely divorced from the sentiments of the people. Poll after poll in the past decade indicate that Israelis are not prepared to concede Jerusalem, and especially the holy sites of the Jewish people.

The problem is that when one of Israel's leaders suggests that the Old City be put under an international regime, international diplomats begin to think the government may entertain such proposals. Ben-Gurion was able to stand up to the UN General Assembly in 1949 because the world understood that Jerusalem represented a red line from which neither he nor any other representative of Israel was prepared to retreat.

Today, Israel must reestablish that red line clearly, for the impression left by these proposals badly weakens its ability to defend itself. They imply that it has lost its will and might be prepared to concede what has been – and will remain – one of the identifying core values defining the identity of the Jewish people.


The writer served as ambassador to the United Nations between 1997 and 1999 and as foreign polcicy advisor to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during his first term. He is the author of The Fight for Jerusalem (Regnery: 2007).








The recently released UNHRC report on the flotilla raid makes for a tough, demoralizing read.

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Like everyone else, I saw the footage of the mob attacking Israeli commandos on theMavi Marmara, hitting them with clubs and rods, throwing one of them over the railing to the lower deck. Like everyone else, I saw it a million times, and that's all I saw from the May 31 raid. Afterward I wrote: "I don't blame the commandos for killing those people; they were defending themselves. I blame my country for putting them on that ship in the first place."

Now, after reading this week's UN Human Rights Council report on the raid and its aftermath, I doubt that the commandos were so innocent.What's more, I'm convinced that after everyone was taken off the six ships of the flotilla and held in detention, they were routinely brutalized and humiliated by Israeli soldiers and police.

Yes, the UNHCR has a pattern of singling out Israel for condemnation while ignoring the far worse abuses by its many Muslim and Third World member states. But the inquiry into the flotilla raid wasn't headed by Muammar Gaddafi. It was headed by a former International Criminal Court judge from Trinidad and Tobago, who was joined by a British war crimes prosecutor and a women's rights activist from Malaysia.

They interviewed 112 activists, medical personnel and crew members in Geneva, London, Istanbul and Amman; they took written testimony from others on board, and they viewed the extremely limited live footage and photographs that weren't confiscated by Israeli authorities.

The report makes horrific reading.

It leaves you demoralized. It tells of the mob attack on the unarmed commandos sliding down the ropes, but also about what happened after other commandos, this time carrying guns, boarded the ship. It tells a whole lot of stuff we didn't hear from the IDF Spokesman's Office, or even from the government, about the nine deaths and 24 serious injuries meted out by these troops.

"Israeli soldiers," the report says, "continued shooting at passengers who had already been wounded, with live ammunition, soft baton charges (beanbags) and plastic bullets.

Forensic analysis demonstrates that two of the passengers killed on the top deck received wounds compatible with being shot at close range while lying on the ground.

"Israeli soldiers," it continues, "fired live ammunition both from the top deck at passengers on the bridge deck below and after they had moved down to the bridge deck. At least four passengers were killed, and at least nine injured (five with firearms injuries) during this phase. None of the four passengers who were killed, including a photographer who at the time of being shot was engaged in taking photographs and was shot by an Israeli soldier positioned on the top deck above, posed any threat to the Israeli forces. There was considerable live fire from Israeli soldiers on the top deck and a number of passengers were injured or killed whilst trying to take refuge inside the door or assisting others to do so."

AGAIN, THE first commandos were unarmed and attacked by a mob wielding deadly weapons; they were seriously injured, and three were captured and later released. This was not an unprovoked, wanton Israeli assault by any means.

But according to those on board, neither was it a case of the soldiers having no choice but to fire at an advancing mob or be torn to pieces, as Israelis are happy to assume. What took place after the endlessly broadcast mob scene, says the report, was a case of armed Israeli troops shooting at terrified people who were not attacking them, who were mainly trying to hide.

Because of the mob attack, because of the capture of the three soldiers, because of the Islamist ideology of the attackers and because of the "fog of war" and "heat of battle," I think the navy commandos are entitled to at least some benefit of the doubt.

While I don't think they can be considered innocent of any wrongdoing at this point, neither can they be considered cold-blooded killers. They were thrown into a violent, chaotic, extremely hostile situation. However, once the raid was over and everyone on the six ships were in detention, the soldiers and police in charge were under no threat.

Nothing mitigates the beatings and humiliations that the report says were inflicted on the detainees in the days before they were put on flights home. The worst, by far, they say, came during their final processing at Ben-Gurion Airport.

"These accounts were so consistent and vivid as to be beyond question," says the report. "An intimidating number of armed soldiers and police were present inside the terminal building. Some passengers said that these officers were 'spoiling for a fight.' 

"Some passengers in the passport checking area saw an older passenger being roughly treated after receiving what appeared to be a beating. When other passengers, including Irish and Turkish, protested at this treatment, they were charged by soldiers using batons. In the foray, around 30 passengers were beaten to the ground, kicked and punched in a sustained attack by soldiers. One Irish passenger was seen being particularly badly beaten around the head and held in a choke position to the point of near suffocation.

"One Turkish passenger involved in the fight said that he was subsequently taken by soldiers, handcuffed with metal cuffs, picked up by the cuffs, taken to a small room and beaten and kicked by five more soldiers while others shielded the scene from outside. The police intervened to stop the violence in this case.

"A number of women were pushed around by soldiers, one of whom was beaten with fists. They were also subjected to sexual taunts...

"One medical doctor gave a detailed account [that] on arrival at the airport, the officer accompanying him jostled him and tried to trip him up on the stairs. He was then subjected to verbal insults as he passed through a checkpoint. An officer slapped him on the back of the head and when he protested he was set upon by a group of uniformed officers, knocked to the ground and repeatedly punched and kicked. He was then dragged out of sight of other passengers where the attacks resumed. Attempts were made to break his fingers...

"One passenger was seen having his arm twisted behind his back by police to the point that the arm broke. Another was kicked and hit by some 10 soldiers, handcuffed and taken by vehicle to another place... where soldiers abused him for up to two hours. When he returned to the airport, he was bleeding from the head."

ISRAEL REFUSED to have anything to do with the UNHCR investigation and the Prime Minister's Office dismissed the report as "predetermined." (The government, however, says it will cooperate with another UN inquiry.) Meanwhile, as the Turkel Commission goes on with its occasional hearings, the most definitive official statement on the raid came from former National Security Council chief Giora Eiland, who headed the first in-house probe. "I am glad to say we found a long list of praiseworthy things," the retired IDF major-general announced.

Who says Israel can't investigate itself? 

I understand that the activists from the flotilla are not impartial; obviously, they have a very heavy ax to grind. But I don't believe they made all this up out of nothing. I assume that anywhere from a substantial minority to the great majority of the testimonies are true. I think that's a fair assumption about every major human rights report on Israel, just as it is about every major human rights report on every other country in the world.

Israelis, as a matter of course, believe human rights reports about other countries, just not about their own, which is an outgrowth of the worldview that's brought us to where we are today.

This country doesn't care about the UNHCR report or any of these testimonies. By now, that sort of thing doesn't even upset people.

 Nobody exerts any effort to deny the claims; there's nothing to deny. Accusations like these don't register in the Israeli mind.

It doesn't matter if the report is written by a judge from Trinidad, or by a Zionist judge from South Africa, or by IDF combat soldiers – they're all lying, don't pay any attention. It's nothing new; we've been hearing this for decades.

Yes we have. And the easier it gets to deny the crimes, the easier it gets to commit them.









Like the proverbial pact with the Germans during the British Mandate and Saddam Hussein inthe 1990s, cheering Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not help the Palestinian cause.


 'My enemy's enemy is my friend" is described both as a Chinese and an Arabic proverb that is used to explain how someone can make a pact with the devil if it helps their cause. Sometimes called "the devil's pact," it's not a good policy, even if it does have historical weight in the Middle East.

One of the first such pacts was made by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Jerusalem mufti during the Palestine Mandate who reached out to the Germans during World War II. The Germans were railing against international Zionism, although no one yet knew the extent of the Nazi horrors.

It was a pact of convenience, not hatred, often used to wrongly demonize all Palestinians.

Like the US, Palestinians also made a pact with Saddam Hussein, Iraq's tyrant who was finally toppled and replaced by a new tyrant, Halliburton.

Saddam began as a client of the US in his decades-long war with Iran.

Of course, the US had a stronger pact with Iran's pre-ayatollah tyrant, the shah of Iran, whose government murdered hundreds of thousands of dissidents.

Palestinians turned to Saddam when the Iraqi dictator, seeking to exploit their suffering for his own political benefit, gave the families of suicide bombers money; Israel's policy of collective punishment violated international laws and punished innocent people for the crimes of others.

Although the gesture was good, the source and motive were corrupt.

NOW, MANY Palestinians are turning to the strident fanaticism of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the "president" of Iran. Like Saddam, Ahmadinejad uses the suffering of the Palestinian people to tug at the heartstrings of the pro-Palestinian movement. It is a pact with the devil that Palestinians should avoid. But in a world where support from major powers is weak, Ahmadinejad's abrasive assaults against Israel have attracted many admirers.

But Ahmadinejad is a demagogue.

After making his outrageous claims at the UN that the US was somehow involved in the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, a group of activists – mostly extremists but including some Palestinians – met with Ahmadinejad. They praised the Iranian tyrant and he praised them. I am sure they left the meeting agreeing that his voice can help pull the veil from Israel's brutal occupation – a veil that is wrapped tightly around the eyes of most Americans.

But like the proverbial pact with the Germans and Saddam, cheering Ahmadinejad does not help the Palestinian cause. In fact, it harms it.

The Palestinians do not need to cuddle up to tyrants to find friends; they have a just cause as they challenge Israel's policies. The issue of settlements is not one of family growth, as Israel contends, but rather one of land theft – theft that is a counterweight to the fight against terrorism.

When Israel doesn't follow through on its often-empty peace promises, some activists see the devil's pact as an attractive option.

Palestinians should purge the Arabic proverbs that have helped bring down Palestinian aspirations for statehood. They should slam the door on Ahmadinejad's hypocrisies, and challenge his own oppressive tyranny. Having principles means that when you criticize one enemy, you never embrace the devil. Principle means that when you stand up for justice in the cause of Palestine, you stand up for justice in the cause of those persecuted by Iran, such as the hikers who have been jailed for more than a year, or the hundreds of political activists who speak out against its vicious policies.

Having principles means that when a Palestinian kills an Israeli, you speak out as forcefully as you would when an Israeli kills a Palestinian.


Sure, Israelis could use these words of advice too. After all, they have stolen Palestine's felafels and the Arabic proverbs too, making their own pacts with the devil.

But you don't do your justice any justice if you defend your wrongs by saying the other side does it too, or by accepting the canard that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Ahmadinejad is not our friend.

The writer is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.








Those who condemn the Israel of Likud, Shas and Israel Beiteinu for being undemocratic point to the pre-1967 days as the flowering of Western-German-Jewish democracy.


On the heels of the recent September 13 Time magazine cover that purports to show why Israelis don't care about peace, Roger Cohen of The New York Times wrote an oddly timed op-ed about the very same topic ("Israelis have better things to do than dream of peace).

In his redundant article he included a quote from the author and journalist Tom Segev: "They really don't believe in peace, and the million recent arrivals from the former Soviet Union didn't bring democratic values. Democracy is weaker."

Segev's comment about the Russian- Israelis, as if they are "recent" arrivals, when they have been here 20 years now, is surprising.


What is more interesting is why he choose to slander the entire Russian community and single it out for the supposed weakening of democracy. What are these "democratic values" that Israel had before 1990 and that are sorely lacking today? The condemnation of the Russians for ruining democratic Israel is reminiscent of a December 2004 interview in Haaretz with journalist and writer Amos Elon by Ari Shavit.

Elon, who was then living in "exile" in Italy because he had become estranged from the Israel that had provided him with fame and luxury, called the country a "quasi-fascist" state with "religious people [who] would be better off behind bars and not in politics."

He complained that Israel was no longer a democratic Western country, and summed up his views with: "There was provinciality here. [in Israel]. There was this upstart's arrogance.

I'm not surprised when you look at the population. We know where it comes from. Either from the Arab countries or from Eastern Europe."

Here Elon adds the category of Jews from "Arab countries" to the reasons why Israel became, in his view, a non-Western nondemocratic society. The argument over Israeli society's lack of democracy thus tends to decline into the realm of blaming "others," especially immigrants, for taking away the Western democracy that once flourished here.

But it depends partly on the background of the beholder. Segev was born in 1935 to parents who fled Germany that year. His first language was German, which his parents spoke at home. Elon too was born to German- Jewish parents; he explained to Shavit "my parents' friends were all immigrants from Germany and Austria. The big library at home was all German... But they were really the first free Jews. And the first Europeans.

They built a civil society and believed obsessively in Bildung, which is self-improvement through the fostering of social concerns."


From the perspective of Segev and Elon, who in many ways represent a very strong stream within elite Israeli society, the complaint can be boiled down to the fact that non-German Jews ruined their country. It is an extraordinary insult to the millions of Jews who have come here, especially considering that, far from being haters of democracy, many of them yearned to breath free in the undemocratic states they fled.

The Jews of the Arab countries, whether Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria or Iraq, were almost all firm absorbers of the latest Western ideas in the early 20th century. Some of them became ardent socialists before they became Zionists, if they became Zionists at all. The Jews of the Soviet Union, especially the refuseniks, were all democrats to the core.

THERE IS a question that must be asked of those like Segev (Elon died in 2009 so he cannot be asked) who believe that it is the Jewish immigrants who came after 1950 that brought nondemocratic values with them.

How democratic was Israel in the old days? Those who condemn the Israel of Likud, Shas and Israel Beiteinu for being undemocratic almost all point to the utopian pre-1967 days as the flowering of Western-German-Jewish democracy.

Let's recall that Israel for a second. Pre- 1967, this was a one-party state whose government was dominated, since its inception in 1948, by the Labor Party. It was more akin to the democracy found in Italy, Japan or Mexico in that period than in the UK and the US. The democracy of those years is the one that kept Arab communities under military rule, where Arab citizens, although they could vote, faced all sorts of mobility restrictions, including curfews. Pre-1967 was heavy on censorship generally, so much so that the Beatles were banned from coming in 1965 for fear they would corrupt public morality. The Israel of old was undemocratic in its allocation of land to new immigrants and in its treatment of Jews from Arab countries, so much that ethnic riots erupted in Haifa in 1959. It was pre-1967 Israel that crafted a Supreme Court with no checks or balances, and that elects itself – probably the least democratic institution in the country.

This is not to condemn the accomplishments of the old Israel that didn't include Sephardi, religious, Russian or Ethiopian Jews; surely the pre-immigration Jewish leadership accomplished great things, but they weren't paragons of democracy, and the arrival of their Jewish cousins after 1950 has done nothing but improve democracy. It was Sephardim who brought the first change in political power, in 1977, and it is Russians, the religious and the Ethiopians, not to mention the Israeli Arabs, who have contributed greatly to the democratic fabric.

The fact that some find this diverse country so abhorrent says more about the "democracy" they wanted, the one that was to be composed only of their colleagues and culturally- linked groups, than it does about the immigrants. Those who call themselves cultured and slander other groups are correct to exile themselves to Europe, which bans the burka and minarets and has proven it is incapable of welcoming outsiders.

Israel may have failed the Western European test by opening its gates wide to people from the Arab, Slavic and African worlds, but it is more democratic for it.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.








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

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

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

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

Those that were adopted have been abused.

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

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

The reality of course, is very different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer is the deputy foreign minister.








Which option will South African academics choose while considering a boycott of Ben-Gurion University: the example of Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela or that of Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu?

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In 1997, I was sent to the University of Cape Town by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to be the master of ceremonies when the president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, received an honorary doctorate from BGU. Representatives from 40 universities from South Africa and neighboring countries marched in the academic procession.

Being Israeli and Jewish was a welcome and appreciated calling card at that the event, and at others over the years. As Mandela eloquently declared in his acceptance speech: "In Ben-Gurion University of the Negev we have a center of excellence which represents the best in the traditions of the Jewish people: a sense of mission, internationalism and inventiveness."

This May, I was again in South Africa, but this time at a special hearing before the senate of the University of Johannesburg to help respond to a petition calling for a boycott of BGU, and by implication all Israeli universities. The petition charged BGU with violating the academic freedom of a colleague who urged a boycott of Israeli universities. It also claimed human rights violations in the theft of Palestinian water resources. This allegation in particular was used to support the demand that their university abrogate a signed and functioning agreement with BGU for joint research on water use issues. Both charges echoed the now familiar claim that Israel is an apartheid state.

The first two complaints were readily answered on factual grounds. BGU has a record of supporting academic freedom and a well-documented history of research to improve water quality for all the inhabitants of the region.

We further cautioned that South Africans should beware of having their experience with apartheid hijacked for the sake of polemical advantage in advancing the political causes of others, just as Jews guard against indiscriminate applications of "Holocaust" or "genocide."

Yet the movement to discredit Israel by comparing it to apartheid South Africa is well orchestrated and has its own momentum.

It is hard to gauge what the final result will be. A subcommittee was to have reported back to the senate today, September 29. The vice chancellor and the university administration were then to deliberate and render final judgment in a month or so. We hope that common sense and courage will guide them in their decision and that they will dismiss the absurd arguments of the detractors and vote for cooperation and collaboration.

YET JUST last week, Bishop Desmond Tutu signed a second petition calling for the suspension of any relationship with Ben- Gurion University on the grounds that it is the creation of a criminal state and complicit in its noxious behavior. Even as sanctions were used to break apartheid in his country, he argues, sanctions should be used against Israeli universities.

This new petition nowhere mentions the issue of academic freedom or violations of water rights. A host of other outrageous charges raised against Ben-Gurion University at the May senate meeting and, answered at that time, have similarly disappeared. Instead the second petition makes far more general indictments.

They constitute, in effect, an accusation against Israeli society as a whole. It is hard to understand such animus, since it so patently and deliberately rejects both reason and self-interest.

I have not entirely overcome the frustration and anger at having to answer baseless and mendacious accusations.

Yet I believe it is clear that it is not BGU and Israel who are on trial, but the academics of South Africa.

Israel is a world leader in arid-zone and water research as in much else.

Literally scores of countries have collaborative agreements with Israeli institutions.

Students and academics from around the world come to Israel, from the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, from across Africa and Europe, the US and Russia.

The University of Johannesburg cannot match that record of achievement and engagement. The much maligned water project will help produce pure water crucial for Johannesburg. To deny fellow citizens such a benefit on the pretense that this action demonstrates concern for the human rights of Palestinians and furthers their cause is a cynical effort to appear self-righteous in the absence of any serious commitment. It cannot compare with and should not be allowed to overshadow the agricultural, technical and health collaborations and assistance BGU has offered over the years to UJ and other South African universities as well as its Arab and Palestinian neighbors.

The sad irony is that the benefits of the UJ agreement are marginal for BGU.

There are many other suitors eager for cooperative arrangements. There is one benefit, though, that Mandela well expressed in welcoming an association with BGU. It is in the opportunity for service that is deeply embedded in the Zionist ethic that animates Israeli scholarship as a whole. Despite the indignity of confronting this assault on the university and the country, BGU has remained ready to reach out and share with colleagues everywhere who value what the application of good science can do for mankind.

The writer is professor emeritus of history and formerly dean of humanities and social sciences at Ben-Gurion University. He is currently director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University.











"My message to the country is this: I know we lost your trust. Today a new generation has taken control of Labour, a new generation that understands the call for change." With these words, Ed Miliband, the new elected leader of the British Labour Party, summarized the campaign for the party leadership in which he defeated his brother, David Miliband. It has been a while since such a direct and courageous statement was made by a political leader, and the impressive speech inspires confidence.


The conduct of the British Labour Party deserves our respect, and Israel's Labor Party would do well to learn from it.


After Labour lost a national election, ending a 13-year reign, Gordon Brown did not wait more than a few days before handing his resignation to the queen. Brown did not just step down as prime minister.


He vacated the top spot to new forces in the party and allowed them to revitalize the ranks, update the party's political platform and to renew its connection with the general public. The party members had their say and opted to place at their head the former cabinet secretary of energy and climate change, a leader with a clear ideology, instead of distorting the message and hinting suggestively at the political center.


Back in Israel, the Labor Party under Ehud Barak took a beating in the last elections, which marked a new nadir in its relationship with the public. The party, which has not represented the economic and political left for some time, is concentrating on holding on to its seats at any price.


Thus the former governing party, which played a central role in the creation and establishment of the state, became only the fourth-largest party in the Knesset.


Barak avoided taking responsibility for his failure in the elections. He opted to join a right-wing government and abandon the ideology of his party, and even drafted a new constitution for the party to block any possibility for change. Since then, Labor has been sinking into political devastation as Barak's ties with the ministers and MKs deteriorate.


Israel's Labor Party needs to learn from its British counterpart and revamp itself, with a revived ideology at its center. Israel needs a strong party on the left that will work toward social equality and political moderation.









Benjamin Netanyahu's comeback campaign focused on the Iranian threat. "The year is 1938 and Iran is Germany," he warned as head of the opposition. "When [Iranian President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, he is preparing a second holocaust against the Jewish people. Believe him and stop him."


Netanyahu did not content himself with warnings, and called for putting Ahmadinejad on trial in The Hague on charges of incitement to genocide. He and other supporters collected threatening utterances from the Iranian president against Israel, determined they violated the international Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and set out to enlist support in the West.


"In 1938 Hitler did not say he wanted to destroy. Here Ahmadinejad is saying clearly that this is his intention and we are not even crying out. At least say a crime against humanity. It is necessary to put this issue right in the world's face, that here is a matter of a program for genocide," said Netanyahu four years ago.


Jewish organizations held show trials, American congressmen and British members of parliament expressed support and jurists fired off letters. "Had the world listened to Hitler's words and watched his actions, the Holocaust could have been prevented," wrote Los Angeles lawyer Baruch Cohen on his blog American Trial Attorneys in Defense of Israel, in an open letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.


Ahmadinejad did not take fright. He kept on with his hate speeches, threats and Holocaust denial; he traveled the world unperturbed and the Iranian nuclear program moved forward.


In Israel, however, a change occurred and Netanyahu moved from the television screens to the Prime Minister's Office. Now he was given a mandate to act and not just talk against the Iranian threat.


Three weeks from now, Netanyahu will have a one-time opportunity to stop the new Hitler and thwart the incitement to genocide. Ahmadinejad will pay his first visit to Lebanon and devote an entire day to a tour of the southern part of that country. He will visit sites where Hezbollah waged battles against Israel and, according to one report, he will also pop over to Fatima Gate, just beyond the border fence at Metula. The route is known, the range is close and it is possible to send a detail across the border to seize the president of Iran and bring him to trial in Israel as an inciter to genocide and Holocaust denier.


The media effect will be dramatic: Ahmadinejad in a glass cage in Jerusalem, with the simultaneous translation earphones, facing grim Israeli judges. In the spirit of the times, it will also be possible to have foreign observers join them (David Trimble of the Turkel commission was a leader of the "try the Iranian president" initiative ).


There are also operational advantages: Iran will hesitate to react to its president's arrest by flinging missiles, out of fear for their leader's life. It will also be possible to capture Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who will no doubt emerge from his hiding place and accompany Ahmadinejad. Israel will have high-ranking hostages it will be able to exchange for Gilad Shalit.


And if the world has any complaints, it will be reminded that the Americans invaded Panama in order to arrest its ruler Manuel Noriega - and only for dealing drugs, a far smaller offense than incitement to genocide.


Of course, the idea also has disadvantages. Ahmadinejad might be killed in the action and Iran would embark on a cruel war of revenge. The precedent of arresting leaders would endanger Israeli personages suspected abroad of crimes against humanity or murder (according to the Goldstone report and the flotilla report ). Ahmadinejad could be acquitted and make Israel look like a bully and Netanyahu a fool.


Nevertheless, how can Netanyahu refrain from an action to stop Hitler's heir, when the year is already 1939, if not 1940? According to Netanyahu's reasoning, if he refrains from acting history will condemn him for "not preventing a crime," as with Margalit Har-Shefi, who didn't stop Yigal Amir from assassinating Yitzhak Rabin.


This, of course, is not going to happen. The risks are too great and the intention here is not to give operational advice but rather to demonstrate the gap between those shouting from the opposition and those in power, and between "public diplomacy" - Israel's latest official translation for the term hasbara, which is something between self-justification and propaganda - and statesmanship.


When you are talking and looking for messages to get yourself into prime time, you can say anything without taking risks. But when you are the prime minister, the constraints of reality become clear and the gap between talk and deeds is revealed. Therefore, it is best to be cautious in speech and to remember that not everything is hasbara, as even a media gimmick can come back to haunt you.


And perhaps I'm wrong. Could it be the elite special operations unit is training and Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah are on their way to secret detention facility 1391, to the cell that served the captives Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dirani?









Whatever the fate of the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations may be, one can hope that they will bring about some movement in the direction of partitioning the land into two nation-states. Even if the process runs into obstacles, it doesn't look like there's any way back from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's announcement in his Bar-Ilan University speech that there will be "two states for two peoples."


This new situation creates a reality that will reshuffle the deck on both the right and the left and that could lead to new opportunities. The change is most significant for the Arab citizens of Israel, even though they do not have a direct role in the the negotiations. The division into two states will sharpen the definition of Israel as a Jewish nation-state and put ideas like "a state of all its citizens," a "multicultural state" and a "multi-national state" back in the drawers from which they were pulled out.


This is good news on condition that the understanding of what a Jewish state is will no longer be dragged in the extremist ethnocratic direction in which it is presently galloping, and that Israeli society will exploit the renewed division so as to create for itself a sane identity with the state as its tool, Judaism as its cultural content and lifestyle (on the individual, not public, level ), and democracy as its guiding principle.


The actual agreement is likely to encourage this long-awaited trend, but the renewed definition of Israel as a nation-state will pose a challenge for the Arabs of Israel. Two sides - two opposing sides, on the face of it - are equally interested in keeping the partition from taking place: Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the Balad party. Lieberman's dream is an ethnocratic Jewish republic that will expel all the Israeli Arabs to the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza Strip and that will carry out a silent transfer in the territories (which has already begun ). Balad, for its part, dreams of having the current situation continue until demography, and anger over discrimination and the occupation, bring down the Jewish nation-state.


Behind them is a line of left-wing and right-wing fantasists who imagine various forms of multi-nationalism, but the proposals of Lieberman and Balad should be sufficient for the Arabs in Israel to begin holding a serious debate.


Despite the image created by these two extremist sides, the Arabs of Israel are not all cut from the same cloth and the process of Israelization that the vast majority of them have undergone is intensive and impressive. In the past 10 years - a period that Haifa University sociologist Sammy Smooha described in a report this May as "the lost decade in relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel" - the insult, anger, feelings of distance, and tendency toward nationalism among Israeli Arabs increased to a certain extent, mainly because of the intensification of discrimination and exclusion. But Smooha proves in his study that, despite all of this, most of the Arab citizens of Israel feel themselves to be Israelis and expect the state to treat them as such.


If the partition does eventually take place, they will have the opportunity to demand this kind of attitude wholeheartedly. It would be best that the claim not be made in the style being voiced by MK Hanin Zuabi of Balad. Two weeks ago, in an interview on Channel 2, Zuabi said the contradiction between her Palestinian nationalism and the State of Israel is "a problem of this state" - in other words, that it would be solved if Israel's status as a nation-state were abrogated.


Many Arabs might prefer that, but in effect, and because they are realistic, they are prepared to make do with life as a minority in a Jewish nation-state. That is on condition that they live like Jews do in many other countries - with equal rights in every sphere, including the right to maintain a different cultural identity and an affinity with Israel.


The peace talks therefore offer the members of Israel's entire Arab population the chance to voice their political demands, not merely those of the nationalistic and populist leadership that is dragging them into a dead-end alley.


It doesn't look like Lieberman would be pleased with that, since increased politicization of the Arab population is surefire proof of their deeply rooted "Israelization," but that in itself is a net gain. And if the Jewish population internalizes democratic terms like "equality" and "civil rights," that will be the start to building a joint Israeli future.










Christopher Hitchens, one of the most important journalists in the English-speaking world (a columnist for Vanity Fair, a contributing editor to The Atlantic ), is of two minds about the Islamic Arab world. Or, rather, for him it is divided in two - the Palestinians and all the rest.


About "the rest," he is fairly clear (as in his just-published book, "Hitch-22: A Memoir ): It is a world riddled by corruption, violence and brutal autocracy, gradually falling into the grip of a nihilistic or medieval Islamism that is challenging the core values of the West - liberalism, democracy, tolerance and equal rights for women, homosexuals and ethnic minorities.


Hitchens broke ranks with his leftist colleagues (he had long written for the British New Statesman weekly, and later, the U.S. weekly The Nation ) and famously supported both of the Gulf wars: in 1991 and 2003.

Hitchens has condemned the Sudanese Arabs for murdering their Christian and animist kinsmen in Southern Sudan and in Darfur, and the Iraqi Arabs (and Muslim Turks ) for killing and oppressing the Kurds.

Indeed, he has written books on the Kurdish struggle for independence and on Cyprus in which he was critical of the 1974 Turkish invasion and ethnic cleansing of the northern third of the island.


Most recently Hitchens has expressed sympathy for a possible Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities (calling it an act of self-defense ).


Yet he still has a soft and blind spot for the Palestinians, who can apparently do no or little wrong (similar to the attitude of Western leftists toward the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, despite their occasional massacres of Catholics, the internal purges by Communists of liberals and POUM-supporters, etc. ).


In "Hitch-22" Hitchens approvingly cites (and expands ) a metaphor coined (I think ) by Jeffrey Goldberg, a correspondent for The Atlantic: A man (the Zionist Jew ), to save himself, leaps from a burning building (anti-Semitic and Holocaust Europe ) and lands on an innocent bystander (a Palestinian ), crushing him. To which Hitchens adds - and the falling man lands on the Palestinian again and again (the conquest of the West Bank and Gaza, the suppression of the intifadas, the construction of settlements in the territories, etc. ).


But the metaphor is disingenuous, and it requires amplification to conform to the facts of history. In fact, as the leaping man nears the ground he offers the bystander a compromise - let's share the pavement, some for you, some for me. The bystander responds with a firm "no," and tries, again and again (1920, 1921, 1929, the Arab Revolt of 1936-39 and the 1947-48 War of Independence ), to stab the falling man as he descends to the pavement. So the leaping man lands on the bystander, crushing him. Later, again and again, the leaping man, now firmly ensconced on the pavement, offers the crushed bystander a compromise ( "autonomy" in 1978, a "two-state solution" in 2000 and in 2008 ), and again and again the bystander says "no."


The falling man may have somewhat wronged the bystander, but the bystander was never an innocent one; he was an active agent in and a party to his own demise.


In "Hitch-22" this is somehow omitted. Rather, the often-enlightened Hitchens (who provided a roof and haven for his friend Salman Rushdie when he was under an Islamist death sentence, and who speaks quite forthrightly about "Islamist murderers" and cowardly, naive or deluded Western liberals bent on appeasing these "murderers" ), fails to note the continuous, powerful religious impulse underlying the Palestinian national struggle since its inception in the 1920s. (What other national liberation movement in modern times, with the exception of that of the Greek Cypriots, was led by a cleric? ). Who, if not the Islamists, won the Palestinian general elections in 2006?


Moreover, throughout Hitchens seems to accept the Palestinians' definition of themselves as "natives" struggling against an "imperialist" foreign enemy.


But what of Jewish residence in the Land of Israel between the 12th century B.C.E. and the late Byzantine period (5th and 6th centuries C.E. )?


And what of Jewish residence and "nativeness" in Palestine since 1882, nearly 130 years ago? If residence grants rights, surely Jewish residence counterbalances Arab residence in Palestine since 636 C.E.


And if it is conquest that affords a claim to territory, then how is the Arab conquest in the 7th century, by blood and fire, any more morally cogent than the Jewish conquests of 1200 B.C.E. or 1948/1967?


Hitchens needs to take a long, hard look at Palestinian history and at the nature, behavior and aims of the Palestinian national movement.









I am 70 years old today. I was born on the eve of Simhat Torah in 1940. When you start early, as I did, old age always amazes you; it doesn't suit you at all, it comes before your time.


Since I was born under the sign of joy (the "simha" of the Simhat Torah holiday ), I was supposed to be a happy person, but I am not. My moments of satisfaction are short and my moments of impatience are long. My fleeting happiness generally is filled with some sadness. We don't have to be happy, and those who seek joy in Pune, or Uman, or Netivot seem to me to be miserable and nuts. They will seek it and it will escape them, because instant joy is a mirage in the desert of the soul.


By 50, one is supposed to be able to give advice, but I do not have much advice left to give, nor do I have those to whom I can give it. The 60-year-old is considered old; I was young for too long and grew old prematurely. And the 70-year-old is supposed to be gray with age. At that point, people are asked about their memories and experiences and start to sum up, even against their will, that which left an indelible impression.


1999 looked as if it would be a year of satisfaction and pleasure. I was the head of a movement that had won 10 seats in the Knesset. Without us it would have been impossible to form a coalition and chart the government's path. For Meretz to get 10 seats, some 200,000 people had to go to the polls and express their faith in us. But I shall speak about one vote that was enough to mar the joy of victory.


On the eve of that election, I received a letter. I did not have the free time then to read all the letters I got, but I did read this one. A father wrote that he was opposed to everything I represent and that the positions held by me and my movement were a thorn in his flesh. Nevertheless, he wrote, he would vote for us; he had no choice.


Those were the days of the first Lebanon war, which was supposed to last for 48 hours but went on for 18 years. More than 1,000 soldiers were killed. He, the writer, had a son who was 19 and a soldier. One night he left his outpost to lie in ambush, and he never returned. Ariel Sharon arrived by plane and brought his coffin with him. The letter-writer's son had been a supporter of ours, as his father had learned from the soldier's frequent letters and infrequent visits. And now, the father wrote, his son was no longer with us and his vote could not go to you. I will take the place of my son, he wrote.


I was beside myself. Alone in the room, I banged on the table, furious and helpless. Damn this war! I looked for the family's address and telephone number. I called them and asked if I could come. They live in a small apartment with many shadows in south Tel Aviv. I have come, I said, to free you of the vow that you took. You must vote according to your own belief. Your vote is not a vote for me, and I don't wish to benefit from it because of a wanton war. My protests did not help. The father, who was inconsolable, was impossible to convince.


I shook his hand and we parted. We did not meet again. But I think of his son quite regularly. When I sat in the government, thanks to his vote and the benevolence of his father, I always saw his image in front of my eyes - what he would have said about all the distress that we cause here, about those who pat themselves on the back, and those who are rowdy, those who lead and those who command.


To this day - even now, as a hoary old man - I ask the same question. Does one have to get to my age to ask, and especially to answer? And those who celebrate their old age and their power should remember: Longevity in this country is not a right that everyone is blessed with. Too many young people did not have that right, and they remain a sorrowful and ageless memorial.










Holding elections to fill important state judgeships is one of those ideas that may sound good in theory but works terribly in practice. As spending in state judicial races by special interests has vastly escalated in recent years, so has the threat to public confidence in judicial neutrality that is fundamental to the justice system.


Now the lavish spending by interest groups and the politicization of state court judgeships is spreading from races between two or more judicial candidates to the "retention" ballots that were supposed to shield judges from the rough-and-tumble of the election cycle.


More than two dozen states are having active judicial elections this fall. A total of 18 seats are being contested in multicandidate races in 11 states, while 37 sitting state justices are seeking voter approval in up-or-down "retention" elections in 15 states.


Between 2000 and 2009, state supreme court candidates collected more than $206 million in donations, more than doubling the record of the previous decade. States that previously have been home to some of the most expensive and raucous judicial races — Michigan, Alabama, Ohio and Texas — will again have competitive contests this fall.


The stage seems set for record-shattering spending wars, dominated by interest groups bent on influencing judicial decisions and by mud-slinging attack ads that were once limited to contested campaigns for executive or legislative offices. In Michigan, where two seats on the closely divided court are being contested, spending could top $10 million, according to some reform groups.


The exact impact of January's ruling by the United States Supreme Court allowing free corporate and union spending in political campaigns, including judicial races, will not be known for some time. But the notorious ruling seems destined to further drive up independent expenditures on behalf of judicial candidates and exacerbate conflicts of interest on the bench.


Perhaps the most troubling new development concerns the so-called retention elections. To try to insulate judges from electoral pressures, some states ask voters to cast yes-or-no ballots on whether to grant them another term, in lieu of having judges face opposing candidates in regular multicandidate contests.


The idea is to give voters a say in choosing judges while making the election as apolitical as possible. To date, with a few noteworthy exceptions, retention elections have tended to be less bitter and partisan than contests where two candidates compete. That is changing.


In Iowa, three Supreme Court justices on the November ballot are the targets of a well-financed campaign by right-wing interests for voting in a case to allow same-sex marriage. The aim is to send a chilling message to judges beyond Iowa's borders to beware of rendering opinions that some voter blocs might dislike.


In Kansas, anti-abortion activists are trying to defeat a sitting justice. In Illinois, business interests are campaigning to defeat the chief justice following a case that removed a cap on malpractice liability. And in Colorado, a conservative outfit called Clear the Bench Colorado is citing several decisions to try to rile up voters to oust the full slate of justices up for retention there. The group's efforts may be impeded by a new court ruling that requires the group to register as a campaign committee and abide by certain limits on spending.


In all, the money spent on retention elections this year could surpass the total for the entire previous decade, said Adam Skaggs, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School.


The nation's system of justice depends on having judges who are fair-minded, independent and unafraid to make unpopular decisions. The onslaught coming this fall will not help.







Three months ago, President Obama asked Ray Mabus, the Navy secretary, to figure out what comes next in the Gulf of Mexico — to design a strategy that moves beyond the immediate job of cleaning up the oil to the larger task of restoring an ecosystem that was in deep trouble even before the BP spill and is worse off now.


Mr. Mabus's report, released Tuesday, is sound. But its goals will not be met without the full commitment of Congress, which still has not honored its post-Katrina promises to the gulf. This means that the work for Mr. Obama and Mr. Mabus has just begun.


The report has two main recommendations: Congress should create a Gulf Coast Recovery Council — made up of federal, state and local officials — to coordinate the long-term effort to repair the damage to the environment and to public health; and Congress should amend current law to ensure that a "significant amount" of the penalties owed by BP and others are invested in these projects.


BP has committed $20 billion to an escrow fund to compensate Gulf Coast residents and businesses for economic losses. It is responsible for cleanup costs and for damages to natural resources, including fish species. And it could also end up owing an additional $5 billion to $20 billion in civil and criminal penalties.


Under present law, these penalties would flow to a reserve fund created after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill to pay for future cleanups. A big chunk of this money, Mr. Mabus urges, should be set aside for the gulf's long-term revival, for rebuilding the marshes, wetlands and barrier islands that offer natural protections against storm surges and nourish one of the world's most productive, but now threatened, fisheries.


More than a third of these lands have disappeared over the last century, a victim of industrial development and levee-building along the Mississippi River, which together have starved the wetlands of the sediments that periodically replenished them.


Congress promised to address these problems after Hurricane Katrina but never provided a vision or enough money to make it happen.


As a first step in the restoration plan, Mr. Obama is expected to sign an executive order creating an interim Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, which will be led by Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Her task will be to develop the best ideas for addressing the spill's residual damage and the gulf's long-term needs.


But that is only a start. Congress must fully and finally commit to long-term renewal. It needs to set up and empower an effective coordinating council, free of political favor or whim. And it needs to ensure that there is a generous and reliable revenue stream to pay for a project that is likely to last for years.








Thousands of elderly and disabled refugees who receive cash assistance from the Social Security Administration are in danger of losing that lifeline. Their eligibility for benefits expires on Friday. Congress has granted temporary extensions before. It needs to do so again.


The welfare overhaul adopted in 1996 set limits on the time that refugees can receive Supplemental Security Income. Noncitizens normally do not qualify for payments, but refugees, who fled torture and war and could not work because of old age and infirmity, were among those granted an exception on the condition that they become citizens within seven years. That deadline came too quickly for some who were unable to pass the citizenship test in time. Many were homebound and had trouble negotiating paperwork or affording the fees. Others were stuck in limbo because of administrative backlogs.


Protecting the safety net for these immigrants — who include victims of sex trafficking, Jews who were persecuted in Russia, Hmong tribesmen who fought for the United States in Vietnam, Kurdish victims of Saddam Hussein — has been a bipartisan effort. President George W. Bush urged Congress in 2008 to extend eligibility for two years.


Today, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is seeking a one-year extension to help 5,500 refugees who are about to be cut off. The bill is expected to cost about $22 million, and it would be more than offset by a fee collected for unemployment fraud. It would apply only to those who received benefits through the 2008 extension; new refugees must still meet the seven-year deadline.


At one time, seeking refuge in the United States was the last chance of survival for these people. This country rightly opened its doors. Now Congress needs to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected.







Umar Cheema, an investigative reporter for a major Pakistani newspaper, The News, has long tackled difficult and risky topics. His articles have questioned the conduct and performance of the Army and the intelligence services and detailed accusations of corruption against President Asif Ali Zardari.


Now he is taking perhaps the biggest risk of his career: speaking publicly about being abducted by assailants he believes were associated with the spy agency.


As Mr. Cheema told Jane Perlez of The Times, he was on his way home from dinner recently when men in black commando garb stopped his car, blindfolded him and drove him out of town, where he was beaten and videotaped in humiliating positions. Six hours later, he was dumped on a road 100 miles from Islamabad.


"I have suspicions and every journalist has suspicions that all fingers point to the ISI," he said, referring to the Inter-Services Intelligence agency. He said that earlier this year, an ISI officer summoned him to a coffee shop in Islamabad and warned him to fall into line.


Other journalists and politicians who got on the wrong side of the Pakistani military and intelligence services have also been threatened and attacked. Most are too fearful to talk openly about their ordeals. Mr. Cheema has long stood apart. He won a Daniel Pearl Journalism Fellowship in 2008 and during that time worked in The Times's newsroom for six months. He has done all Pakistanis a favor by refusing to be intimidated.


Under Pakistan's civilian government, journalists today are more free to do their jobs than during the years of the military dictatorship. But according to the most recent State Department human rights report, news media outlets, reporters and their families are still often the targets of threats and attacks by security forces, political parties and militants. The government needs to make clear that it will no longer abet or condone this behavior. And it needs to find out who abducted Mr. Cheema and bring them to justice.








There are actually two Tea Party movements in America today: one you've read about that is not that important and one you've not read about that could become really important if the right politician understood how to tap into it.


The Tea Party that has gotten all the attention, the amorphous, self-generated protest against the growth in government and the deficit, is what I'd actually call the "Tea Kettle movement" — because all it's doing is letting off steam.


That is not to say that the energy behind it is not authentic (it clearly is) or that it won't be electorally impactful (it clearly might be). But affecting elections and affecting America's future are two different things. Based on all I've heard from this movement, it feels to me like it's all steam and no engine. It has no plan to restore America to greatness.


The Tea Kettle movement can't have a positive impact on the country because it has both misdiagnosed America's main problem and hasn't even offered a credible solution for the problem it has identified. How can you take a movement seriously that says it wants to cut government spending by billions of dollars but won't identify the specific defense programs, Social Security, Medicare or other services it's ready to cut — let alone explain how this will make us more competitive and grow the economy?


And how can you take seriously a movement that sat largely silent while the Bush administration launched two wars and a new entitlement, Medicare prescription drugs — while cutting taxes — but is now, suddenly, mad as hell about the deficit and won't take it anymore from President Obama? Say what? Where were you folks for eight years?


The issues that upset the Tea Kettle movement — debt and bloated government — are actually symptoms of our real problem, not causes. They are symptoms of a country in a state of incremental decline and losing its competitive edge, because our politics has become just another form of sports entertainment, our Congress a forum for legalized bribery and our main lawmaking institutions divided by toxic partisanship to the point of paralysis.


The important Tea Party movement, which stretches from centrist Republicans to independents right through to centrist Democrats, understands this at a gut level and is looking for a leader with three characteristics. First, a patriot: a leader who is more interested in fighting for his country than his party. Second, a leader who persuades Americans that he or she actually has a plan not just to cut taxes or pump stimulus, but to do something much larger — to make America successful, thriving and respected again. And third, someone with the ability to lead in the face of uncertainty and not simply whine about how tough things are — a leader who believes his job is not to read the polls but to change the polls.


Democratic Pollster Stan Greenberg told me that when he does focus groups today this is what he hears: "People think the country is in trouble and that countries like China have a strategy for success and we don't. They will follow someone who convinces them that they have a plan to make America great again. That is what they want to hear. It cuts across Republicans and Democrats."


To me, that is a plan that starts by asking: what is America's core competency and strategic advantage, and how do we nurture it? Answer: It is our ability to attract, develop and unleash creative talent. That means men and women who invent, build and sell more goods and services that make people's lives more productive, healthy, comfortable, secure and entertained than any other country.


Leadership today is about how the U.S. government attracts and educates more of that talent and then enacts the laws, regulations and budgets that empower that talent to take its products and services to scale, sell them around the world — and create good jobs here in the process. Without that, we can't afford the health care or defense we need.


This is the plan the real Tea Party wants from its president. To implement it would require us to actually raise

some taxes — on, say, gasoline — and cut others — like payroll taxes and corporate taxes. It would require us to overhaul our immigration laws so we can better control our borders, let in more knowledge workers and retain those skilled foreigners going to college here. And it would require us to reduce some services — like Social Security — while expanding others, like education and research for a 21st-century economy.


In other words, it will require a very smart, subtle and focused plan to use our now diminishing resources in the most efficient way possible to get back to our core competency. That is the only long-term solution to our problem — to grow our way out of debt with American workers who are more empowered and educated to compete.

Any Tea Party that says the simple answer is just shrinking government and slashing taxes might be able to tip the midterm elections in its direction. But it can't tip America in the right direction. There is a Tea Party for that, but it's still waiting for a leader.


Maureen Dowd is off today.







New Haven

ON Wednesday, the House of Representatives is set to pass legislation that would allow trade sanctions to be imposed on China as compensation for its supposedly undervalued currency. This vote comes a week after President Obama, in a private meeting with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, was reported to have made it very clear that the United States is, indeed, prepared to take forceful actions if China doesn't budge on this critical issue. Unfortunately, forcing such a currency realignment would be a blunder of historic proportions.


In a recent meeting with Mr. Wen in New York, I framed the dispute between our two nations in a very different light. The gist of what I told him is this: The economic tensions between the United States and China arise because of two things we have in common.


First, there is our shared fixation on jobs. In the United States, we continue to struggle with high rates of unemployment and underemployment. In China, policymakers continue to worry about what they term "social stability" — that is, full employment, absorption of surplus rural labor and reduced inequalities consistent with their aspirations for a "harmonious society."


Second, for both China and the United States, there are major imbalances in the percentages of gross domestic product devoted to exports, investment, consumption and savings.


These joint concerns have resulted in serious tensions that must be resolved. There are, however, two very different potential strategies to address these tensions: a major currency realignment, favored by many in the United States, or structural policies aimed at increasing China's internal private consumption.


The currency fix won't work. At best, it is a circuitous solution that would address only one of the many pressures shaping the imbalances between our two nations; at worst, it would lead to a trade war, or risk jeopardizing China's understandable focus on financial and economic stability.


Besides, in a highly competitive world, there are no guarantees that currency shifts would be passed through to foreign customers in the form of price adjustments that might narrow trade imbalances. Similar fixes certainly didn't work for Japan in the late 1980s, and haven't worked for the United States in recent years. We've allowed the dollar to fall 23 percent — in inflation-adjusted terms — from its early 2002 peak, against all of our trading partners; we did this in the hopes that a weaker dollar would stimulate exports and domestic production. Yet America continues to struggle with high unemployment and stagnant wages, and now has trade deficits with 90 countries around the world.


This latter point underscores the danger in politicizing this debate. Contrary to accepted wisdom, America does not have a bilateral trade problem with China — it has a multilateral trade problem with a broad cross-section of countries.


And why do we have these deficits? Because Americans don't save. Adjusted for depreciation, America's net national saving rate — the sum of savings by individuals, businesses and the government sector — fell below zero in 2008 and hit -2.3 percent of national income in 2009. This is a truly astonishing development. No leading nation in modern history has ever had such a huge shortfall of saving. And to plug that gap, we're left to borrow and to attract capital from lenders like China, Japan and Germany, which have surplus savings.


If Washington were to restrict trade with China — either by pushing the Chinese currency sharply higher or by imposing sanctions — it would only backfire. China could very well retaliate against American exporters, and buy goods from elsewhere (a worrisome development in what is now America's third-largest export market). Or it could start to limit its purchase of Treasury securities.


The United States would then have to turn to some other nation or nations, at a higher cost, to finance our budget deficits and make up for our subpar domestic savings. The result would be an even weaker dollar and increased long-term interest rates. Worse still, as trade was redirected away from China, already hard-pressed American families would be forced to buy products that are noticeably more expensive than Chinese-made imports.


But Washington remains unwilling to address our unprecedented saving gap, and instead tries to duck responsibility by blaming China. Scapegoating may be good politics, but proposing a bilateral fix for a multilateral problem is just bad economics.


China should stay the course with its measured currency reforms, allowing the renminbi to continue to appreciate gradually and steadily over time. Contrary to the inflammatory rhetoric of China's critics, this is not "manipulation." It is a reasonable strategy to anchor the renminbi to the world's reserve currency, the dollar, in an effort to maintain financial stability in an all-too-unstable world.


Nonetheless, China must address its role in fostering global imbalances. For China's people and its trading partners, consumption has long been the missing link in an otherwise vibrant economy. China's gross domestic saving rate is 54 percent of national income, the highest in the world for a major economy. But its consumption share of G.D.P. is only about 36 percent, the lowest for a major economy and about half the 70 percent ratio in the United States.


I would therefore urge China to opt for aggressive and immediate pro-consumption structural policies.

Stimulating domestic consumer demand would be a far more direct — and potentially a far less destabilizing — way of reducing saving and trade imbalances than a currency realignment would be.


These policies should include an expanded social safety net, with a public retirement program, private pensions and medical and unemployment insurance. China should also provide major support for rural incomes through tax policy and land ownership reform, as well as enhanced initiatives to encourage rural-urban migration. And it should encourage the creation of service-oriented jobs in industries like retail and wholesale trade, domestic transportation, leisure and hospitality.


During our recent meeting, Mr. Wen openly agreed with these three pro-consumption initiatives. My hope is that such measures will be featured prominently in China's 12th five-year plan, for 2011-2016, because they could provide an important impetus to Chinese employment, personal income and consumer purchasing power.


That would be a win-win for China and the broader global economy. After all, the import share of China's G.D.P. is quite high — 28.5 percent in 2008, a figure that suggests the Chinese are predisposed to buy foreign goods. Any increase in Chinese consumption would therefore offer a potentially powerful opportunity for American-made goods and services.


China bashers are blind to these critical points. No nation has ever devalued its way to prosperity. A weaker dollar, or the mirror image of a stronger renminbi, would be no exception to that time-honored premise. America's own economic miracle has long been defined by our ability to meet competitive challenges head on. And a China that starts to consume more would offer us precisely the opportunity we need to rise to that challenge again.


The Chinese leadership must now make the urgent choice about how to best deal with political and economic pressures coming from the United States and others. Congress has opted for the low road of misdirected currency bashing. China should take the high road by providing immediate and long-overdue stimulus to private consumption.


Stephen S. Roach, a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale, is the non-executive

chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia.








Another day, another airline merger. On the heels of Delta's acquisition of Northwest, and the combination of United and Continental, comes word that Southwest plans to gobble up rival discounter AirTran for $1.4 billion.

What's the weary road warrior to do? Wait until all airlines have merged into one megacarrier? Retreat into the brace position?


Actually, within reasonable limits, consolidation in the airline industry is both inevitable and beneficial. The Southwest-AirTran deal, announced Monday and subject to federal antitrust review, might well be one of those linkups with a net positive effect.

In recent decades, the history of the airline industry has been one of trying to find a balance between competition and stability.


Before deregulation in 1978, airlines were plenty stable and service levels generally high. But without competition, ticket prices remained steep and air travel was largely reserved for the elite.


In the years since deregulation, fares have remained low, thanks to robust competition. But sickly, cash-strapped airlines and their disgruntled employees have made flying an ordeal.


Many airlines have either been liquidated or absorbed into stronger companies. And of the remaining legacy carriers, only one, American, has not gone through bankruptcy restructuring at least once. Now, after a decades-long shakeout, the industry looks as if its worst turbulence might be behind it.


The Southwest-AirTran deal would not only continue this effort to find stability through consolidation, it also could actually increase competition. AirTran (which changed its name from ValuJet after a 1996 crash in Florida's Everglades) provides some modest competition to Southwest, in places such as Baltimore and Orlando, that would be curtailed by this merger. But it would bring Southwest into direct competition with Delta in Atlanta. And it would add competition at airports such as Boston Logan and Washington National.


In some cases, more competitors does not mean more competition. Perhaps the most telling example of this is the proposed merger between the nation's second and third largest baby-food makers, H.J. Heinz and Beech-Nut, that was blocked by federal regulators in 2001.


Rejecting the merger maintained some level of competition between the two companies, as they jockeyed for the title of principal also-ran in baby food. But it prevented the emergence of a strong competitor to Gerber, which dominated the market then and continues to do so today.


This proposed airline merger has some similarities. It might reduce competition in a couple of markets, but it would create even more as a powerful Southwest challenges the legacy carriers in others.


Another, more practical upside is Southwest's plan to do away with AirTran's charges for checked bags. As we've pointed out previously, hefty baggage fees encourage passengers to lug all manner of bags into the cabin, giving the boarding process the feel of a bus ride to market in a Third World country. Southwest's "bags fly free" policy avoids this.


Now if Southwest would only adopt AirTran's practice of providing reserved seats, rather than forcing its customers to play elaborate games of middle-seat avoidance, so much the better.








Will consumers really benefit from the beefier Southwest that would result from the world's largest discount carrier's bulking up on AirTran?


With the exception of travelers to or from Atlanta, who in a combined Southwest-AirTran would have a significantly more robust alternative to Delta, there's little reason to think the net effect on consumers will be anything but negative.


The rhetoric deployed to justify the Southwest-AirTran buyout is taken from the same boilerplate used with the

Delta-Northwest and United-Continental mergers. Employees, stockholders, consumers and the community at large are all promised outsized benefits, with nary a negative worthy of disclosure.


Indeed, stockholders may be well served by the deal. But that's for exactly the same reason consumers' best interests will be compromised: A reduction in competition will drive ticket prices higher.


While the falloff in travel demand makes it difficult to precisely gauge the cost effects of the Delta-Northwest merger, and United and Continental won't be officially merged until later this week, I have no doubt that when the economy stabilizes and ticket demand rises to post-recession levels, we will discover that average fares have risen markedly.


And taking AirTran, a particularly aggressive discounter, out of the mix will make matters worse, permitting Southwest to raise its prices and eroding whatever pricing discipline the low-cost carriers still exert over the legacy airlines.


It's a vicious cycle for price-conscious consumers, but a virtuous one for airlines intent on hiking fares and boosting profits.


No surprise there. No matter what the airlines profess, the real goal of consolidation is always greater power to raise prices.


But it's not only price competition that is undermined by consolidation. Fewer competitors means less innovation, less incentive to deliver a superior product. As poor as airline service has become, it could get worse.


Given that regulators have already signed off on the Delta-Northwest and United-Continental mergers, it would be hypocritical to deny Southwest the same opportunity. Which is to say that it will happen, not that it should.


Southwest's takeover of AirTran won't make us any freer to move about the country. It'll just make it more expensive to do so.


Tim Winship is editor and publisher of








USA TODAY's Editorial Board asked readers for questions for Michael B. Oren, Israeli ambassador to the United States.


Here are excerpts from the board's Tuesday meeting with Oren, during which he addresses the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the possibility of a nuclear Iran and requests for an extension of a 10-month settlement moratorium.


More of the conversation will be written in The Forum in Thursday's edition of USA TODAY. You can also hear the rest of the audio from the Editorial Board meeting on USA TODAY's Opinion podcast on iTunes.








A number of readers of my new book have noted parallels between today's frustrated and even angry mood and a similar mood in the mid-1970s. Indeed, in some ways my successful campaign for the presidency in 1976 resembled the Tea Party movement of today. We capitalized on deep dissatisfaction with the policies and practices of government officials, especially those who served in Washington.


Thirty-five years ago, the American people were eager for fundamental changes after the embarrassment and lies of Watergate and the Vietnam War, the assassinations ofMartin Luther King Jr. and the Kennedy brothers, and revelations that the CIA and top leaders had been involved in criminal acts, including murder. As a Georgia farmer, I was considered by many to have no association with these stains on our national character, while most of my opponents were stigmatized, although unjustly, because they were incumbent politicians.


My basic campaign themes were simple: to tell the truth and to guarantee that our government would be as good, honest and competent as the American people.


Big donors carry clout


Other factors are very different now. Much of the financial support for the "grassroots" Tea Party movement has come from extremely wealthy owners of petroleum and energy companies whose profits depend on preventing strict environmental standards and regulations that promote safety and competition. Another is that a powerful news organization has provided the requisite publicity and promotion for the Tea Party movement.


As president, I had the advantage of strong bipartisan support in the Congress, which made substantial legislative success possible. Now, unfortunately, political polarization throughout the nation and especially in Washington has reached an extraordinary level, making it almost impossible for PresidentObama to secure even a few token votes from Republican members of the House or Senate — even when his proposals match those previously espoused by those same legislators.


What has caused this quagmire? For one thing, the political center has disappeared: Almost all of the relatively large number of moderate Democrats and Republicans have been defeated at the polls or resigned in despair.


For another, huge amounts of money now flood into election campaigns, and the need for these contributions makes candidates amenable to supporting the policies of the special interests who fill their coffers. In fact, these "legal bribes" will now play an even greater role because of the Supreme Court ruling in January that permits unlimited campaign contributions from corporations and labor unions. Much of this campaign funding, unfortunately, is spent on negative advertising, which is designed to destroy the reputation of political opponents. Although almost everyone deplores this practice, it works — and as a result, even final victors are seen by many constituents as unfit for office.


This partisan alienation carries over to governing, where unofficial and friendly contacts between Democrats and Republicans are infrequent. Legislative decisions — once made after substantive public debate — are now made in closed party caucuses. A bare majority becomes a party's uniform position, and those who dare deviate from a bloc vote can lose both choice committee assignments and support for attractive projects in their state or district.


Frozen government


The Senate has become particularly dysfunctional. The previously rare use of filibusters has become routine, and now 60 votes are required even to bring a controversial proposal to the floor for debate. With just 41 members out of 100, a cohesive minority party can block almost any legislation; meanwhile, the majority party needs virtual unanimity to pass a bill. This gives enormous power to those who cast or control swing votes, and powerful lobbyists are quick to exploit this opportunity for influence.


Another polarizing factor is the increasing tendency by state legislatures to gerrymander congressional districts to create safe seats for members who parrot and support the most extreme partisan positions.


The genius of our democratic system is that it is self-correcting, which is why extreme and ill-advised political trends have never prevailed. We face enormous budgetary and social challenges, and I believe it is all but inevitable that constructive governance will ultimately emerge. Surely our government will, once again, be as good, honest and competent as the American people.


Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter (1977-81) is the author of the new book White House Diary.








With his job approval rating sinking to the mid-40% range, Barack Obama needs a makeover.


I've never been a big fan of the president, and his ratings suggest a majority ofAmericans are coming around to my point of view. But as an independent who views the leadership of both major political parties with disgust, I'm going to offer Obama a formula for resurrection that is guaranteed to improve his popularity and place him in a stronger position for re-election.


I'd call it a post-midterm-election "to do" list, dated Nov. 3, and include several elements:


First, Obama should secretly celebrate the Republicans taking over the U.S. House — and shed a few tears if they don't — for several reasons. Voters prefer divided control of the White House and Congress, and the spectacle of the all-controllingDemocrats ignoring public opinion for the past two years illustrates why. Obama also needs opponents with actual power to share the blame for the state of things — the current puny GOP minority in the House has been a pathetic political punching bag for him. Beyond that, Obama can almost surely count on a Republican majority to squander its "mandate" by elevating divisive fringe issues that most independent voters eschew.


Second, he should retool his Cabinet by replacing some of the career politicians, academics and think-tank alumni with business leaders, entrepreneurs and professionals who have been on the receiving end of federal dictates while running their organizations both private and non-profit.


Third, he needs a crash course in pragmatism. Three of the past four re-elected presidents —Nixon, Reagan and Clinton — had approval ratings in the high 50s when they won a second term. The fourth, George W. Bush, had a rating in the low 50s,but was lucky to draw the hapless John Kerry as his opponent. All had one thing in common — they were more pragmatic than ideological when it served their purpose.


Obama, by contrast, is the most hidebound ideologue to serve in the White House in my lifetime (witness his

hell-bent determination to raise taxes on the most productive cohort of Americans in a recession despite advice to the contrary by leading economists, including one who used to work for him). Pragmatism means expanding his shrinking base beyond blacks, public union employees and academics; he can afford to offend the crazy left in order to broaden his appeal among moderates and independents.


Fourth, he needs to change his personal image. To me, Obama comes across as a narcissistic, condescending, elitist, pedantic scold who thinks he knows what's best for people who are too dumb to realize it.


Fifth, Obama needs to cut back on television appearances; they only remind people of why they've lost faith in him. I'd make a sizeable wager, in fact, that if he cut his public speeches and photo ops in half, his approval ratings would turn positive within weeks.


Last, he desperately needs to get a sense of humor.


The conventional wisdom, of course, is that the key to re-election for any president is the economy. I'd argue that a president's ability to influence the economy is overrated, but a more pragmatic Obama would embrace economic decisions that rely less on government solutions.


More important, voters are heavily influenced by their personal feelings about candidates. Most of those who early on drank the Obama Kool-Aid are still loyal, to be sure, but Obama's problem is that there are not nearly enough of them. He needs to change his perception among many millions of others.


And right now, Obama's biggest political obstacle is the man he sees in the mirror when he shaves each morning.


Don Campbell, a former Washington-based political reporter, columnist and editor, teaches journalism at Emory University in Atlanta and is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.








It's not surprising that polls show Tennessee's Republican candidate for governor, Pilot Oil scion Bill Haslam, well ahead of Mike McWherter, his Democratic opponent, in support from likely voters. That's what you get for opening your wallet. The wealthy Haslam paid a ton of money for television advertising to win the name recognition he needed for victory in the tightly contested Republican primary, and he's continued to wallpaper the state with ads in the run-up to the November election.


McWherter, by contrast, was virtually unopposed in his party's primary, so he didn't have to advertise much to win. Whether that's a good thing for McWherter's campaign, of course, remains to be seen.


Haslam has not only run up his name-recognition; he's also reaping the benefit of an energized and highly motivated GOP base that's fueled by tea party energy and mid-term fatigue with the party in power. All the over-time campaigning McWherter can layer on in the next few weeks will test his election strategy.


Still, if voters are interested in the personal core of the candidates, McWherter has the stuff to make a better governor.


He's a traditional centrist, anti-income tax Democrat, in the mold of his prominent father, former Gov. Ned McWherter, and our current Democratic governor, Phil Bredesen.


He personally financed and built up his own business, a beverage distributorship in Jackson, Tenn.; it wasn't handed to him. Thus he's got bona fide hands-on understanding of what makes small businesses tick, the necessary fuel for ginning up the state's most reliable job generator.


And he has the art of handling gubernatorial duties in his DNA, the result of daily family tutelage from his father's successful two terms as governor. That gave him a deep understanding of how state government works, the levers of power and a strong interest in helping move the state forward.


McWherter's platform has strong positive themes, and a legitimate issue with his opponent. He has laid out a program to provide the same sort of tax cuts or credits for new hires to small companies, those with less than 125 employees, that the state currently provides to big companies. Such incentives would not cut into state operating funds, he argues, because they would directly boost employment and collateral consumer spending, which underwrites the state's economy and the state's main source of revenue.


He would focus his job recruitment program on small businesses as well as large ones, though he would specifically target the supplier plants that ultimately will serve larger companies like Volkswagen, Wacker Chemical, Hemlock and Alstom.


His strategy differs notably from Haslam's. The Republican proposes to create new regional centers for industry and job recruitment. Because Tennessee already has regional development offices across the state, McWherter logically sees Haslam's proposal as just another layer of bureaucracy.


McWherter also pledges to fully fund the state's Basic Education Program, the chief source of state education funding. That would be welcome and fair. Hamilton County continues to be hamstrung by the state's refusal to fully fund the BEP formula and ante up the $12 million annual loss to county schools in its BEP account.


He also supports full funding for the pre-Kindergarten program, as the state's economy recovers. In a globally connected economy where education is key, he is right to support the pre-K initiative, and Haslam is wrong to diminish it.


Lastly, he rightly calls for Haslam to make a full disclosure of his income and to quit blatantly misrepresenting

Pilot Oil as a purely family business. McWherter charges that the company's equity partner, a Luxembourg corporation, does business with Iran and has influence on the business.


McWherter has made a full disclosure of his income. He also pledges to put his assets in a blind trust if elected. Haslam has refused to disclose his assets, and will not commit to a blind trust. That, McWherter correctly points out, leaves him with potential conflicts of interests in his dealings as governor with the corporate world.


That should not be tolerated. McWherter is on the right side of this vital issue. Haslam is not. Does Haslam have something to hide?







When I meet people while traveling, they ask me where I'm from. When I tell them I'm from Chattanooga, the question inevitably follows: "Does it really have