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Monday, October 4, 2010

EDITORIAL 04.10.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month october 04, edition 000642, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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








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Gen Pervez Musharraf should have become history after he exited office following the installation of an elected Government in Pakistan some two years ago. But the regime, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, has so completely frittered away the goodwill it rode upon to power that the former dictator now confidently talks of a return to active politics, ending his self-imposed exile in London. Having launched a new party, the All-Pakistan Muslim League and apologised for "political mistakes" that he did not elaborate upon, Gen Musharraf has cleverly sought to prepare a clean slate for his fresh innings. Yet, if he also slipped in the observation that the Pakistan Army should have a constitutional role to play in the country's governance, it is an acknowledgement that he cannot hope to make a stellar return without the Army's support. While it is not the first time he has expressed a desire to make Pakistan a "modern, progressive" state, many in that country could latch upon it as a slogan worth casting their lot with the former General, so disillusioned they are with the chaotic state of affairs under the PPP Government. It would, of course, be premature to second guess whether he will succeed in his comeback in the first place, let alone lead a Government, but there is no denying that the ground is fertile for his return. Mr Zardari's Government — and the President in particular — has made a complete mess of the country. The friction between him and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the less than comfortable relations Mr Zardari shares with the Army have resulted in a directionless administration. The Government has clearly lost the plot, with sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni groups breaking out routinely and claiming several lives, relief measures in the wake of the devastating floods going haywire and home-grown terrorists striking important cities with impunity.

From the Indian perspective too, Mr Zardari has been a failure since he ground to dust the huge expectations that he brought along in his ascent to power. Following the Kargil war, in which Gen Musharraf had emerged as the villain and which had seriously soured relations between Islamabad and New Delhi, the Indian establishment had hoped for a new initiative from a civilian Government across the border to bring relations back on track. For a moment in the initial months after taking over, the President did show some promise when he talked of "having an Indian heart and a Pakistani heart", but it was soon clear that such talk would not translate into action. The 26/11 attacks sealed whatever hopes New Delhi had in Mr Zardari. His failed leadership has allowed the hawks to once again take over decision-making. The increasing relevance of Mr Gilani and Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is entirely due to the collapse of Mr Zardari's leadership. The situation is bad enough for fears of another military coup that Gen Musharraf has spoken about, to be taken seriously. While Pakistan has seen several bouts of unpleasant military rule, it has also been betrayed by democratically elected inept Governments such as those of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Mr Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. This has left the ordinary Pakistani with an unenviable dilemma, one that Gen Musharraf is fully exploiting. As a civilian and former military ruler, he perhaps wants to now distill the best of both in a Government he dreams of leading. We can only wait and watch.








Campaigning for the October 23-25 elections in the 21,595 wards of Kerala's 1,227 local administration councils has reached a feverish pitch. The civic polls are a full-dress rehearsal for the April-May Assembly election next year, which are predicted to end the rule of the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic front. However, putting up a bold face after initial worries, the CPI(M) has now declared that the civic polls will indeed be a referendum on its rule. The main reasons behind this sudden show of Marxist courage are the discord in the United Democratic Front, the huge Opposition coalition led by the Congress, and the ineptitude of that party's leaders. A month back, political pundits were certain that the results of the civic polls would bring up clear signs of a total rout of the CPI(M) and its allies in the Assembly election, but they are now moderating their forecast and are reluctant to predict a Congress sweep. Even top leaders of the Congress are behaving as though their main goal is not to defeat the Left but to finish off their intra-party foes. The situation of the Congress is so pathetic that several district units had not even finalised their lists of candidates when only 48 hours and just one working day were left for the close of filing of nominations on Monday.

The curse of Kerala's Congress-led front is two-fold: On the one hand, its top leaders are engrossed in their efforts to ensure their survival and to safeguard the interests of their groups, and on the other, almost all parties in the coalition are dissatisfied with the seat-sharing process. It is now almost certain that cross-voting and leg-pulling will be rampant in the civic and Assembly elections. The CPI(M)-led front had bagged more than 70 per cent of the local bodies in the 2005 elections and the Opposition was expected to reverse it this time, but this now seems a bit difficult. A replay of the discord and dissatisfaction are certain in the Assembly election, which could even save the Left from a rout. And Congress's national spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi ensured the State party's loss of its biggest election issue which was its fight against the lottery mafia, allegedly protected by the CPI(M). Mr Singhvi reversed the issue and effectively put the Congress in the dock last week by appearing as the lottery mafia's counsel in the Kerala High Court. The fact is that the people obviously want a change, but in a State where politics is divided almost wholly into two fronts, they do not seem to trust the Congress. If the Left manages to avoid a total rout in the civic polls and the Assembly elections, the only reasons for that will be the political untrustworthiness of the Congress and its inability to lead a working coalition.






The Government squandered taxpayers' money to showcase false pride. We should have used it to uplift the poor

Have the organisers been interpreting a bit too literally the meaning of the words, Commonwealth Games? Having been the Secretary of the State Sports Council and Director of Youth Services and Sports in Karnataka for over five years, this writer has ensured that apart from token aid running into hundreds and, in some cases, thousands, big money was rarely spent on sport infrastructure in the State capital. 

M Chinnaswamy, after whom the cricket stadium is named, was a frequent visitor to my office and all that was sanctioned for its construction was the land and a token grant of a few lakhs, the clout of sport bodies and the influence of then Chief Ministers D Devaraj Urs and R Gundu Rao notwithstanding.

Hence it is shocking to witness the profligacy and cost overruns of the Government in hosting the Commonwealth Games the bid for which it won way back in 2003. Only token funds should have been made available in the first place.

Good investigative journalism and a free Press have brought the extravagance, nepotism and unbridled corruption that raised the CWG budget from Rs 6,000 crore to Rs 70,000 crore resulting in an overrun of 1,300 per cent into the public domain.

Counting the indirect and hidden expenditure of other organisations and even some Government departments, this amount might even go upto Rs one lakh crore of taxpayers' money the Government had no business to waste. The hosting of the Games thus constitutes one of the biggest financial scams in history revealing deep-rooted corruption in several spheres. With no inbuilt vigilance checks and zero accountability, it was bound to be there.

The scale of corruption on the part of the Government departments and agencies, however, pales in comparison to the charges against members of the CWG Organising Committee. If Rajeev Gandhi's estimate of only 15 per cent of development benefits reaching the grassroots is followed, only a few thousands crore has actually been spent and the rest has been pocketed. If one goes by Mr Rahul Gandhi's assessment of only 10 paise out of Rs 10 being actually invested, then the figures arrived at would spark further outrage. Hence one wonders if the name Commonwealth Games has been the source of confusion in the minds of the authorities and the organisers who have, perhaps, taken things too literally. One of the consequences of the mess is that the Prime Minister has had to step in to review the progress of the preparations a month before the opening of the Games to ensure that we do not have to suffer the humiliation of being unable to host it.

Games are supposed to be a source of pleasure and healthy entertainment. But for some people — none of them having a sporting career, it is a means of getting ahead. Many have been able to secure for their unemployed family members posts of assistants, deputies and joint director generals. In CWG, there are no foot soldiers.

No one knows how many contracts have gone to the friends and family members of these joint director generals as benami transactions. The fact remains that both the Central Bureau of Investigation and Central Vigilance Commission are probing irregularities and allegations of corruption in a majority of Games projects. A blame game is going on to affix responsibility for the mess. There is an old saying that too many cooks spoil the broth and this is exactly what happened as regards preparations for this event. Seven years were available to the Government of India (Ministry of Sports/Sports Authority of India), Delhi Government, Organising Committee and other agencies for the preparations of the Games. Today every institution is bent on passing the buck.

A Group of Ministers headed by Union Minister for Urban Development S Jaipal Reddy was constituted five years ago. Mr Reddy was made chairman of the GoM as the Central Public Works Department, which is executing most of the Games and Games-related infrastructure projects, falls under the Ministry of Urban Development. This GoM was additionally supposed to monitor other preparations for the Games. What it actually accomplished during the last five years is a mystery.

The CWG Organising Committee has an executive board at the top of its hierarchy headed by Mr Suresh Kalmadi. The Secretary (Sports), a financial advisor from the Sports Ministry and one officer each from Union Ministry of Urban Development and the Delhi Government are on this board. Yet it appears that this same Organising Committee once again took the words Games Village too seriously and the venue was left spectacularly filthy, with clogged drains and no running water for inspection by the arriving team managers. Both New Zealand and Scotland criticised the "filthy living conditions" at the Commonwealth Games Village that, according to them, was "unsafe and unfit for human habitation". But instead of admitting the gravity of the situation, one of the Organising Committee officials mentioned that the standards of hygiene are different in different countries, providing fodder for jokes around the world. Perhaps, their personal standards of hygiene are different from that of others, but most middle class Indians like to have clean toilets, no mongrels from the streets frolicking on their beds and the walls of their homes spared by those wont to use them as open air public urinals. 

The sad truth is that the so-called Commonwealth Games have now become a millstone around India's neck and the stench of corruption and incompetence is slowly getting unbearable. Was there any need to bribe other nations to vote for India hosting the Games? Each voting country was given a gift of $ 1,00,000 to win the bid to host the Games. Where did this money come from and who permitted this expenditure? So many skeletons have tumbled out of the proverbial Games cupboard that even the Government has said that action or inquiries, if any, into the allegations would be initiated only after the event is over. Any action at this stage would hamper the smooth conduct of the Games. Thus we have created a Catch-22 for ourselves. Due to the system's inherent malaise, crime and punishment do not go together. 

The Commonwealth Games have not served any purpose of the common man. Winning a few medals here and there does not solve the country's problems of poverty, hunger, illiteracy, terrorism and corruption. We could have used this opportunity to take a lesson in fighting corruption by punishing the guilty and making an example of them. As for the Games, since its preparations have been shoddy and incomplete, isn't it better to have postponed them or not had them at all, just so we could ensure that the lesson has finally been learnt?







He left his more popular brother David behind to win the race to leadership. At 40, this new face of Labour has firmly planted his flag on the party's ideological territory, which is about the centre and not fringes. He is ready to charter a new course for Labour accommodating both left-leaning and right-leaning tendencies

Indian sports administration, it would appear, remains a Government quango: A highway for preferment on the cheap for courtiers and grand larceny for risk-takers prepared to reach for the stars with little concern on the means to get there. Carpetbaggers have never as a rule made a fuss about trifles. The failure to prepare a cricket pitch fit for purpose in a India-Sri Lanka international and the latest shenanigans over the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi point surely to a blight yet to be properly addressed. Professionalism on the field is best sustained by professionalism off it; they constitute the surest cure for the present malady, not the absurd prolixity of shamed officials caught short on the job. However, as impressionable jottings from afar, these truths, if there be any, are not cast in stone and do not pretend to be. Better to view them as straws in a despairing wind.

Weightier for Britain was the contest for leader of the Opposition Labour Party. Labour lost 100 seats in May's general election and with it their hold on power. With 256 seats in the House of Commons this was by no means a rout, but a serious setback, nevertheless. The Blair-Brown era had ended its shelf life, and only a new broom capable of sweeping away the cobwebs would reverse the party's fortunes, would make the social democratic programme credible again.

The frontrunners in this race were the Miliband brothers, the elder David, Foreign Secretary in the Brown Government, and his sibling Ed, also a cabinet minister and one of Mr Brown's closest aides.

Last weekend at the Labour conference in Manchester, against the odds, Ed pipped the fancied David by a whisker, a mere 1.3 per cent of the votes dividing them. The soap of two siblings locked in political combat had reached its catharsis, the show is set for stately descent into anti-climax.

With a looming winter of discontent, it was significant that Ed Miliband owed his victory Trade Union support. Also party heavyweights Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersly, one leader, the other deputy leader of the Labour Party in the early 1990s stood firmly behind the youthful aspirant. "Ed, the Red" was how a number of Tory broadsheets and tabloids chose to describe the new leader. It was par for the course but promises fewer political rewards in today's crises-ridden Britain; with scam following scam public confidence in politics and politicians and media gimmicks has plummeted; scaremongering has less sex appeal now.

Mr Miliband's acceptance speech put fears of extremism quietly to rest. Democratic politics under normal conditions has always been about the centre and not the fringes. He planted his flag on this ideological territory, which has sufficient space to accommodate left-leaning and right-leaning tendencies. The economic choices facing Britain are stark; the fiscal deficit has to be tackled, the ballooning national reduced. All the mainstream parties are agreed on this. The question is how.

The Conservative-Lib Dem coalition is still working on their spending review, with signs that influential elements within the Tory right favour slash-and-burn measures that would hit the public sector hardest, thereby putting a vast number of jobs at risk and invite higher unemployment in the process. The Miliband approach is prudence: To craft spending with an eye to social need and justice; the vulnerable to be protected, the wealthy to bear the major burden. Within this paradigm, the present Labour dispensation would be business-friendly, would encourage the entrepreneurial spirit and favour individual ambition. Higher unemployment, according to the gospel, would mean a reduced flow of revenue for the exchequer and an increased welfare outflow from the public purse.

So much for the economic cross-talk. More telling for the Labour faithful was Ed Miliband's public criticism of Tony Blair's decision to make Britain a partner in America's and George W Bush's Iraq war. This has long been a troubling event for Labour's conscience; the war itself and its tragic aftermath deepening the disillusionment. Iraq today is a raging desolation, its future bleak beyond imagining. The ends have not justified the means. Elder brother David was ambiguous at best on this subject, always ducking questions with an unconvincing fudge. Ed's cleansing mea culpa was dwas also calculated to heal Labour's fractured fellowship. It was a moral message with an emotional charge, the essence of the socialist message down the ages, whatever the backsliding from time to time. The demon of the past was exorcised, at least that was the goal.

The siblings have a warm and affectionate relationship. It has every chance of surviving their rival bids for the highest party office. One of them may even become Prime Minister some day. Labour's new leader will soon be jousting with David Cameron and Nick Clegg and the Conservative Lib Dem front bench in the Commons. Ed Miliband was congratulated by his two principal opponents in affable conversations. Things will be hotter on the floor of the House. But such civility and good manners make for civilised public life, refined politics and a system that enhances the prospects of good governance. We await the future with greater hope than trepidation. Reasoning together in difficult times can be liberating for all concerned. 

Beyond this Ed Miliband invoked a timeless memory. His Jewish parents, father Ralph and mother Marion Kozak, were refugees from the Holocaust. Ralph fled his native Belgium on one of the last boats to arrive in Britain in the fraught summer of 1940. He was to become one of the most luminous figures at the London School of Economics, a Marxist thinker who co-edited the Socialist Register with John Savile, which was compulsive reading for every section of the broad Left.

Ed Miliband again: "They arrived with nothing but this country gave them everything. They took hope and opportunity. They worked hard and got on." Their sons were educated at Oxford.

At 40, Ed Miliband is a few years younger than brother David and Prime Minister David Cameron. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. All represent the new generation that now at the helm in Britain.

As David Miliband picked out a lottery winner at a party on the sidelines of the Labour conference, compere and Labour MP, Keith Vaz, joked: "And the first prize is an all-expenses paid trip to the Commonwealth Games — without accommodation." Trust humour to deaden the pain. 







The United States should oppose the overthrow of more moderate regimes. To its discredit, it watched the subversion of a moderate Lebanese regime into an Iran-Syria puppet with Hizbullah largely controlling the country 

Interference in foreign countries, according to my mind," said British Prime Minister William Gladstone more than a 100 years ago, "should be rare, deliberate, decisive in character, and effectual for its end." While Gladstone might have overstated these limits, I'd stress that direct intervention is never something to be undertaken lightly. What does a Government have to do to be a candidate for being overthrown by the US? Let me give some general principles but restrict my examples to the West Asia. 


  The regime must pose a clear and present danger to vital US national interests too important to ignore and with a determined intransigence that no other diplomatic measures can stop.


  There must be a very strong basis for expecting that a replacement regime would be better than what exists at present.

  The US must have the ability to achieve this goal or of helping allies to do so without a high degree of risk and with a good prospect for success.

One might add one more point for special situations

  An emergency situation when the regime is engaging in major massacres or human rights' violations that can be considered genocide.

I won't get into the multilateral/unilateral issue here — is UN agreement necessary? — because my concern is only in identifying candidates for such treatment, not the detailed implementation of the resulting policy. Yet, US leadership is always necessary for mobilising international support and getting allies to cooperate. UN backing is useful but must never be indispensable. At the same time, regime change should never be either a policy 'short-cut', or part of any broader doctrine. 

Only one regime so far has clearly met that criterion in the contemporary West Asia: Taliban Afghanistan, because of its involvement in the September 11 attacks, the certainty it would continue collaborating in large-scale terror attacks against the US, and the relative ease with which that regime could be brought down. How long US forces should have stayed in Afghanistan is another question. 

Indeed, once regime change has been accomplished, the clock should start ticking toward withdrawing US troops. Naturally, Washington cannot abandon those who have stepped forward at its invitation to take over. Yet, usually such new Governments can survive with aid plus training. Even in Vietnam, it was not the withdrawal of the US troops but of US aid that doomed the Saigon Government. And if US forces stay in Afghanistan for another decade, by the end they would have achieved little or nothing more than could have been gained by forcing and helping the Afghan Government to preserve itself. 

Today, there are two regimes that qualify for regime overthrow, not through US military efforts but indirectly. That is, the US should support allies — both regional and internal — in bringing down regimes but not engage in any military action to achieve that goal — Islamist Iran and Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Regarding Gaza, it could have been accomplished by Israel in early 2009 but there is no chance that the US Government will help or allow Israel to do so. On the contrary, US policy in recent months has legitimised and stabilised that regime despite the fact that this is an extremely dangerous mistake that makes peace impossible, future war likely and the spread by Hamas of Islamist subversion certain. 

As for Iran, there is no question at present of the US going to war with Iran to stop its nuclear weapons drive. What US policy can do is to help the regime's opponents in any appropriate way. Even if this fails, pressure, tough words, and helping the opposition will intimidate many Iranian leaders into being more cautious and less supportive of Tehran's current policies. 

I have spoken repeatedly about the need for the West to ally with most of the existing Arabic-speaking regimes in the battle against revolutionary Islamism. Despite Saudi subsidies for Wahhabi radicals abroad and other policy differences, the survival of the current Saudi regime is a vital Western interest.

What about Syria? As terrible as the Syrian regime is, destabilising it might lead to a radical Islamist regime that was even more dangerous for the region. That's no excuse for coddling Damascus but it is a reason for not waging a campaign to change the regime there. 

Why not Saddam Hussein's Iraq? For Iraq was being successfully contained by the existing sanctions and international opposition. True, these sanctions were gradually weakening. But by 2000, the Iraqi regime was pretty powerless to wreak the kind of havoc on the region that it had done in past decades.

Sadly, the one place where the most could have been done to back moderates was in Lebanon, when the March 15 forces ruled there and defied Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah. It is to the lasting discredit of the US and France that they did so little to help at that time. 

Actually, the main priorities regarding regime change is to battle against regime change, that is to oppose the overthrow of more moderate regime's and their replacement by radical. The most recent such failure was when the US stood by and watched the subversion of a moderate Lebanese regime and the country's transformation into an Iran-Syria puppet with Hizbullah largely controlling the country. Foolish flirtation with Islamist groups may extend this kind of defeat to other countries.

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






Blame International Law. The EUNavfor finds its hand tied in dealing with pirates they capture. It's time to have an international agreement on universal jurisdiction in place to wipe out the piracy menace that is holding global trade to ransom

The good news is that something is finally going to be done about the pirates who infest the Somali coast and raid far out into the Indian Ocean. A group of London-based insurance companies led by the Jardine Lloyd Thompson Group is planning to create a private navy to protect commercial shipping passing through the Red Sea and the north-western Indian Ocean.

It's about time. Even now, after the monsoon season has kept the pirates relatively quiet for months, 16 ships and 354 sailors are being held captive in the pirate ports along the Somali coast. The average ransom paid to free those ships and their crew has risen to around $4 million, and it's also taking longer: An average of almost four months between the hijacking of a ship and its release.

It's the maritime insurance companies that pay the ransoms, and they are deeply unimpressed with the performance of the warships from various Nato and other nations that are patrolling the region. Even when the warships do catch some of the pirates, they often let them go again because they are operating under severe legal constraints.

So, a fleet of twenty fast patrol boats crewed by well-armed mercenaries could be just what the doctor ordered. Unhampered by the legal considerations that paralyse the navies, they could just kill the pirates wherever they found them and dump their bodies into the sea. 

True, this would deny them the privilege of a fair trial, but that's not really necessary. The crime is being a pirate, not some specific act of piracy, so you don't have to catch them in the act. When you find men hundreds of kilometres (miles) from shore in an open boat, equipped not with fishing gear but with automatic weapons and ladders to scale the sides of passing ships, there is really no room for argument. They are pirates.

The bad news is that this is not what the insurance companies are planning to do at all. Instead, this private navy would operate under the direct control of the international naval force that is already in the area, with "clear rules of engagement valid under international law". What a pity. That's exactly what is crippling the navies.

"We would have armed personnel with fast boats escorting ships, and make it very clear to any Somali vessels in the vicinity that they are entering a protected area," JLT senior partner Sean Woollerson told The Independent newspaper in London. In other words, if you have insured your ship with JLT or its associates and paid the anti-piracy insurance premium (up to $450,000 per voyage for a supertanker), then you will be escorted by this private navy.

The pirates, not being complete fools, will just go and attack other ships instead. (JLT and its associates insure about 14 per cent of the world's commercial shipping fleet). There is still no actual plan to get rid of the pirates.

How can it have come to pass that we have a major pirate problem in the twenty-first century. They sorted that out in the early 18th century. Why has it got unsorted again?

Blame international law. When they were codifying the law of the sea back in the 1970s, the world had no pirate problem worth talking about. So they dropped the rule of "universal jurisdiction" that had been the key to suppressing piracy in the bad old days.

"Universal jurisdiction" meant that every navy could arrest suspected pirates of any nationality and try them under its own national laws, since pirates had been defined as "the enemies of all mankind". A British warship could arrest Portuguese pirates off some Caribbean island belonging to the Netherlands, and they would be tried under British law. If they were captured in battle, they could be summarily executed.

That's how piracy was wiped out in the first place. But when they were writing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in the 1970s, there were no pirates any more, so they dropped the rule of "universal jurisdiction" in favour of a legal regime more attuned to modern notions of human rights and national sovereignty.

What has replaced those old rules, in practice, is a legal quagmire where you can never be sure who has legal jurisdiction. So the navies (which could easily suppress the piracy if they were free to act) refrain from using force, and are reluctant even to arrest people at sea who are quite obviously pirates.

To extinguish piracy again, we need a modernised version of the old rules. That requires prompt action to create a comprehensive international agreement that gets around the Law of the Sea — tricky, but that's what diplomats get paid for. And if we got such an agreement, we wouldn't even need private navies; the regular navies would be happy to do the job.

There is one other issue, of course. If we use serious force against the pirates, they will threaten to use force against their captives. Some of them might be killed. But since there will never be a time when there are no captives in the hands of the Somali pirates until and unless we crack down hard, that is a risk that we just have to take.

-- Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.








SEPTEMBER has been the deadliest month in terms of drone strikes on Pakistani territory since the beginning of US action in region, with 22 strikes killing 124 people including three Pakistani soldiers.


The strikes can be attributed to the increasing American impatience at Pakistan's reluctance to take on the terrorists in their haven in North Waziristan. After the Pakistan army's successful campaign in South Waziristan last year, which made General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani a favourite in the American establishment, it was expected that sooner rather than later the operation will be extended to North Waziristan. This district has become the sanctuary for Al- Qaeda and Taliban fighters and the base from where the Haqqani network in particular, carries out attacks on the NATO- led forces in Afghanistan.


The American strategists should recall that in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of the Taliban, Pakistan had actively pushed for the establishment of a ' soft Taliban' alternative in Afghanistan led by none other than Jalaluddin Haqqani. It should, therefore, come as no surprise if Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence ( ISI) — or at least elements within it— continue to view the Haqqanis as a strategic asset.


It is this duplicity of Pakistan, in maintaining links with the very forces they are fighting that seems to have forced the US into taking an increasingly pro- active approach. If the revelations in investigative journalist Bob Woodward's book, Obama's War are to be believed, the CIA is funding an army of around 3000 Afghan mercenaries, mainly from non- Pashtun backgrounds— to carry out attacks on Al- Qaeda and Taliban targets based in Pakistan.


As further proof of the American lack of trust in Pakistan, provided by Woodward, is the US's " retribution plan" which involves bombing around 150 terrorist camps in Pakistan in the eventuality of a 9/ 11- style terror attack.


While the US has rightly gauged Pakistan's duplicity and is taking the necessary steps to safeguard its interests in Afghanistan, it needs to realise that the terrorist network in Pakistan goes much beyond North Waziristan. Punjabbased terrorist outfits like the Lashkar- i- Tayyeba are part of the same Al- Qaeda- Taliban network. Moreover, as has been admitted by the US establishment itself, elements within the ISI continue to support these groups.


Therefore, if the US wants to comprehensively tackle terrorism in the region, it has to look beyond the Afghanistan- Pakistan frontier and strike at its roots within Pakistan.







WITH the declaration of the restated financial results of Mahindra Satyam, the chapter is finally closed on the erstwhile Satyam Computer Services, which was virtually destroyed by the massive fraud by its erstwhile promoter, B Ramalinga Raju. But it can by no means be concluded that the book has been closed on India's largest corporate fraud. In fact, the restated results only raise further questions, and cast an unflattering spotlight on the actions of the various regulatory bodies and investigative agencies charged with allocating accountability and bringing the guilty to book.


Tech Mahindra, which took over Satyam Computers after the government superseded the erstwhile Satyam board and put up the company for sale, needs to be commended for managing to declare results after a gap of two years. Although the results — a sharp fall in revenues and massive losses for the two gap years — there is at least the hope that, with the release of the financial workings for the first two quarters by November, it shall be in a position to bid for some of the major business it lost in the wake of the scandal.


However, more than 21 months after the scam first came to light, there is no sign of any of the guilty being punished. Raju himself, after dodging questioning by spending most of his ' jail' time in a VIP hospital bed — has himself walked out on bail, strong enough to claim hundreds of crores from the company he stole funds from. The others who aided and abetted in the fraud, including the audit firms, have also escaped virtually scot free.


There has been no sign of the sweeping changes in corporate governance norms which the government promised in the immediate aftermath of the scam. The CBI is yet to manage to question Raju properly, leave alone mount a credible case in the courts. Our regulatory, supervisory and legal systems have emerged with little credit in the entire affair.










Then from the Hindu side came 16 witnesses ( covering 2735 pages), then 3 more witnesses ( 293 pages) then 20 witnesses ( 2662 pages). There were 3 further lots of Hindu witnesses divided into 3 witnesses ( 701 pages), 3 more ( 454 pages) and at the end 4 more ( 423 pages).


The part of the case dealing with the ASI excavation produced 8 witnesses for the Muslims ( 2216 pages) and 4 witnesses for the Hindus ( 1209 pages).


There were a huge number of exhibits of unequal importance including those of travelers, schools of architecture, ordinary textbooks, the Imperial Gazetteer produced by the British and so on. A huge amount of this evidence was entirely speculative, relying on dead authors whose views may well have been partisan. Historians and archaeologists writing books are rarely confronted with such vast contentious material to attract their professional attention. The Muslims correctly argued that the entire theory of destruction of a Hindu temple by Babur is traceable to the Imperial Gazetteers which are not based on any historical source but on local belief.


It is tolerably arguable that the three judges, faced with the gigantic task of presiding over this mass of materials and documents, lost the wood for the trees. By contrast when the Privy Council dealt with the loss of the Shahid Ganj Mosque to Maharana Ranjit Singh, and this was accepted in a judgment of 1855, it wrote a six page unanimous judgment saying that it was too late to open any controversy. The site now belonged to the Sikhs and the 19th Century judgment was binding ( in lawyer's language res judicata ).


The easiest thing in the world for the three judges would have been to follow a similar course for the Babri Masjid site, grant legal title to the Muslims, accept the 1881 judgment as res judicata and declare that the Muslims had not lost the site between 1949 and 1961 by which the time limitation had past; and the Hindus could not claim adverse possession.


Curiously none of the judges accepted this simple argument which would have disposed off the case.


It cannot be overlooked that this was a title suit. Most of the other issues were not legal issues in a strict sense. Justices Khan and Agarwal treated the case as a partition suit dividing the property which nobody had asked for.


This division was not just amongst the communities, but gave a portion to the Nirmohi Akhara who but for being a litigant, would not have figured in the calculations. Justice Sharma did not accept this ' partition' approach and denied the title to the Muslims altogether, deciding nothing in favour of the Muslims at any point. He even concluded that Muslims cannot even use the open site to offer prayer. Since the title was the main issue, it seems incongruous to find Justice Khan saying that there was no direct evidence that the disputed site on which Babur built a mosque belonged to Muslims.




He concluded that the Hindus and Muslims were in joint possession; and, the Muslims had failed to show the title as a matter of evidence. The judgment gets curiouser because Justice Khan does not believe that Babur destroyed an existing Hindu Temple to build the Mosque which was then, a vacant site.


The argument of Justice Agarwal proclaims that the disputed structure was itself the deity; and ' as per faith and

belief of the Hindus' it was theirs. He had a very elaborate system of partition which gave the inner courtyard to both the communities, parts of the outer courtyard ( including Ram Chabutra, Sita Rasoi and Bhandar) to the Nirmohi Akhara and parts of the outer courtyard to the Akhara as well. The consolation of the Muslims, in this judgment, was that they would get at least one- third of the site. Separate entries would be provided for everybody. Never in legal history has a title suit been converted into a partition suit in this way.


The judgment appears to go on the assumption that there was a period when everything was hunky- dory between the two communities who at some times in the past prayed simultaneously, side by side, in peace. Can Hindu sentiment and the occasional simultaneous prayer by both communities be the basis of partitioning a title suit? If so, many sites may be in peril from many communities who are able to demonstrate some firm mythical belief connected with the site. Judges should not try being historians and archaeologists.


None of the facts were proven even on the balance of probability test. Particularly disturbing is the acceptance of the ASI Report which made unscientific excavations that there was a Hindu Temple there in 1526. This would make the site haraam ( prohibited) for the Muslims and prevent them praying there at all.


Commentators have contrasted the narrow legal argument ( that the Court outreached itself) against the consequentialist contemporary requirement of peace.


This was to show that discontent with the judgment is limited to nit- picking by lawyers. This is not the case. The legal argument serves as a foundation for the social argument that the 1992 demolition was not justified because there was no legal Masjid on a Muslim legal site. In this way, the judgment legitimates the Hindu claim to downgrade the barbaric brutality of the December 6, 1992 destruction.




Even though the BJP politicians are now generously prepared to admit that the destruction was unfortunate. Their political fortunes were built on provoking hate. The ' historic revenge' argument which animated BJP- Sangh Parivar politics seems to have gone.


For the future, people will wonder whether India's secular rule of law favours the majority whose common sentiment claims are elevated to legal rights and disfavours the minority whose legal and religious rights are derecognised.


It was possible to recognise both the Muslim Mosque and the Hindu right to prayer and leave it to the communities to work out the solution. Instead we have three clumsy judgments based on doubtful legality and portraying majoritarian solutions.


Maybe on appeal, the Supreme Court will be able to clear up this mess and secure ' peace and honour' on a more just and secular basis. With this controversy over, Parliament's law of 1991 that all other sites will observe the status quo which prevailed on August 15, 1947 should be respected. Bad theology, doubtful law and false ideology do not portend well for the future.


The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer








THREE cheers. Hip hip Hooray!!!! Finally Indians have come to their senses; we as a nation have matured and are keen to put behind the bitterness of the past and march into the future with confidence.


Really? On the surface, it would appear so considering the muted response to the Ayodhya verdict.


Barring the likes of Maulana Mulayam, the political class has reacted with remarkable restraint.


Even the rabble- rousers in the Sangh Parivar seem to have discovered a stroke of common sense.


Instead of celebrating the victory of faith, constituents of the Parivar showed grace and in refraining from declaring the verdict a victory for Hindutva.


But has the Parivar really shifted stance? Or is it a tactical retreat in preparation for a strategic move? In the coming weeks, all frontal organisations of the Parivar will hold small closed door meetings in various parts of the country. They will raise a quiet toast to celebrate the fact that Lord Ram has finally got a certificate attesting his place of birth, from the judiciary no less. They will then approach other cultural, social and religious leaders from other communities to prevail upon Muslims to see reason in the verdict. Sangh leaders have advised the BJP to desist from turning the verdict into a subject of political discourse.


The idea is to retrieve RSS's image of being a disciplined organisation, which seemed lost forever. During the late 80s and early 90s, the Ram Mandir movement was massively endorsed by both the rural and urban middle and elitist class. Despite the shameful destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, the BJP won 161 seats in the Lok Sabha elections four years later and India got its first swayamsewak prime minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee.


But 2010 is not 1996 and those who rooted for the BJP then are its most trenchant critics now. Since being voted out of power in 2004, the BJP has been on a rapid downhill slide. The verdict affords the party the chance to claw its way back but nobody is in a hurry to hop on to the nearest parked rath and rabblerouse his way across the country. At least not now.


It is BJP President Nitin Gadkari's firm belief that the issue must be revived but in a manner that is in sync with the Hindu psyche which wants Ram lalla but unaccompanied by death and destruction. Gadkari's move is strategic. He and his team would mount indirect pressure for the handing over the site to the Hindus but has sent feelers to government emissaries that the party would support any government move which paves for the construction of a Mandir and a Masjid nearby.


Nitin Gadkari His expectation is that the government would float the idea of a trust on the pattern of Somnath Temple. PV Narsimha Rao, who fiddled while the Masjid was razed had announced a ` 100 crore grant for rebuilding the Mosque but didn't find any takers from the Muslim community.


Gadkari feels it's a win- win situation for his party. His assessment is that even if the Congress takes initiatives to settle the issue, it will be his party that reaps the political dividends.


Already, Muslim MPs of Congress cutting across age, gender and region have backed the Court verdict. And Digvijay Singh, the self appointed keeper of minority faith in the Congress has said the Ayodhya verdict should form the basis of a negotiated settlement. All this serves Gadkari well. That's why he has extended his new " all- in- goodtime" policy to Bihar where elections begin later this month.


When Nitish Kumar said neither Narendra Modi nor Varun Gandhi were welcome to campaign in Bihar, Gadkari shot back that it was the BJP's prerogative to decide its campaigners.


The same Gadkari has had a change of heart and asked the two to stay at home, though to ensure that Modi is not rufled, he may ask other BJP chief ministers to stay away from Bihar.


The campaign will thus be spearheaded by central leaders, many of whom are not known for their ideological

commitment to the cause and are merely part of the party's Urban Social Alliance ( USA) whose chattering sessions are mostly about corporate battles and the politics of sport.


By keeping Modi and Varun out, Gadkari wants to give voters a chance to choose between Laloo and Nitish and not have them get caught in a Mandir- Masjid spat. The mantra, for now is Live and Let Live. We will wait for the results from Bihar to see if they sing a different tune in future.


Upper House tries to go one- up on LS


WHAT the Lok Sabha can do, we can one better, seems to be the message that the elders in the Rajya Sabha seem keen to convey. Sometime next month, the Upper House Chairman and Vice president Hamid Ansari is planning a " soft launch" of the Rajya sabha TV. This comes four years after the last Lok sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee launched Lok Sabha TV, the best thing about which can be said is that the live feed doesn't stop even if rival members engage each other in fisticuffs.


Like Lok Sabha TV, the Upper House channel will not be in the race for TRP ratings but quite unlike the Lok sabha's, the new channel has some very innovative programming.


For the first time perhaps, there will be five simultaneous languages broadcasts in the RS TV and each MP will be given a chance to don the anchor's role, which I assume is to give them a chance to speak directly to their states/ constituencies.


Also, there will be a weekly call- in from the public where the House Deputy Chairman Rahman Khan will take the presenter's chair and answer questions posed to him by the public.


Once every month, Chairman Ansari will also take the anchor's seat to dicsuss parliamentary traditions and procedures as well as take video calls from Speakers of State assemblies. Like the LS TV, the RS TV will also use the period between sessions to telecast cultural and educational programmes.


The LS TV has often been seen as a drain on the public exchequer. But on the flip side is the fact that it is a

refreshing change from private TV: there are no megalomaniac anchors taking on the role of the nation's

conscience keepers and breathing down at panel guests; the discussions may be subdued, but had substance.


It is to be hoped that the RS TV emulates the House of the People and not the house of horrors that many private TV studios tend to resemble.



" NEWS", Lord Northcliffe once said " is what something somebody somewhere wants to suppress. All the rest is advertisement". The good Lord had obviously not heard of the phenomenon of " paid news" which rocked the Indian media during the last Lok Sabha elections when it became known that many media organisations, including some of the largest publications and TV channels, had disguised paid advertisements as news and passed them off as objective reports to unsuspecting readers and TV viewers.


If the EC has its way, a repeat is unlikely during the keenly watched elections to the Bihar assembly later this month. For the fist time, the EC will be monitoring " paid news" in the print and electronic media and has already sent to the Bihar chief electoral officer the revised formats in which candidates are expected to file daily reports of their expenditure including money spent on advertising and other forms of marketing.


The " paid news" issue cropped up last year when it became clear that many candidates resorted to paying off journalists/ newspapers under the table to circumvent an Election Commission rule that puts a cap on a candidate's expenditure.


A media watcher had authoritatively stated then that newspapers had different rate cards for varying types of

coverage— interviews, rallies and a higher tariff to trash opponents.


The most blatant of them was the Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan. His reported spend on advertsing was a paltry ` 5000, while stories that hailed him as God's gift to Maharashtra appeared for days together in newspapers that are otherwise ideologically diametrically opposite.


If these had been advertisements and Chavan had to pay for them, it would have cost him a fortune.


The EC has taken a close look at the phenomenon of " paid news" and decreed that the cost of such news is included in the expenditure of the candidates. The Election Commission has also taken up the matter with all political parties and is currently collating precise data to ensure that the election process is not undermined by the menace of envelope journalism.








Despite the initial controversy over mismanagement, unfinished projects and less-than-perfect facilities, by all accounts the national capital has endeavoured to get the Commonwealth Games 2010 off to a flying start. With visiting foreign athletes giving a big thumbs-up to the warm hospitality they have experienced so far, there's every reason to hope for a successful fortnight of sporting extravaganza. With a grand opening ceremony that saw as many as 7,000-plus performers kickstart the biggest sporting fiesta in India in three decades, the focus has now shifted to the athletes. The buzz is all about which countries will net the most medals. 

With 619 sportspersons in the largest of all contingents, India's chances of going up the overall medals' tally are bright. Notwithstanding stiff competition from traditional Commonwealth sporting powerhouses, namely England, Australia and Canada, our athletes are expected to put on a good show in events such as boxing, shooting, archery, badminton, tennis and wrestling. Apart from stars like Saina Nehwal, Sushil Kumar, Vijender Singh, Abhinav Bindra and Sania Mirza medal hopefuls all there is a host of other budding athletes who will get a chance to compete against some of the best in the world. The experience they gain will hold Indian sports in good stead and is bound to reflect in future international sporting events. 

But the Games' biggest legacy should be to create a vibrant sporting culture in the country. Far too often, and not unjustifiably, India has been criticised for being a cricket-crazy nation to the detriment of other, neglected sports. Compared to frontrunners like Australia and England, India's haul of 270 medals in all Commonwealth Games so far is meagre. The Games being held now are our opportunity to turn things around. They should give our athletes a boost and create a genuine interest in sports among the public. It is precisely for this reason that the organisers would do well to guard against the Games turning into a self-promotional event for politicians and babus and their kith and kin. 

At the end of the day, the Games are all about coming together and feting the human spirit. Whether it is the participation of small nations such as Gibraltar and Anguilla which do not have other large international platforms to showcase their sporting repertoire, or the story of Danielle Brown and Sarah Storey, the Paralympic athletes from England who will compete in the general category events of archery and cycling respectively, the Games are meant to highlight the best in us. It is time to celebrate this competitive spirit by coming out to play. 







The political class has so far been cautious in its comments concerning the Ayodhya verdict. By all indications, the Allahabad high court ruling has not satisfied all parties. But even those unhappy with the outcome have been careful about the manner in which dissatisfaction is articulated. Given this context, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav's comments that "Muslims feel cheated" and "there is a sense of despair in the entire community" look out of place and mischievous. 

Yadav has the right to respond to the court ruling. His criticism that the verdict gives precedence to faith over law and evidence may be valid. Many others, including legal experts, have expressed a similar view. But it is important that he does not make sweeping generalisations, especially in the name of a community. 

What are perceived to be flaws in the verdict can be challenged in the Supreme Court, if the affected parties so feel. The high court ruling does not mark a closure to the dispute. It is important that due process is followed in the effort to bring about a settlement in the case. 

The calm maintained by people across the country is also because politicians and community leaders have been careful not to raise passions over the verdict. Yadav's statement appears to be a tentative step to make political capital out of disaffection rising out of the high court ruling. 

His stock in UP is down and he seems to believe that the SP could win back Muslim voters if it harps on the Ayodhya ruling. However, the political ground has shifted and past modes of mobilisation may not work any more. As a responsible politician, Yadav must look beyond the immediate political future of his party and keep the well-being of the nation in mind. 









Washington: It's stretching a metaphor, but India's attempt to strut on the world stage increasingly looks like an effort by a clumsy adolescent trying to bluff his way into a global shop showcasing China's dominance. The lad looks out of place. But is the picture accurate? Has China gone so far ahead that catch-up is not possible? 

That picture is the forlorn impression you might be left with if you were this far away comparing the images of the two emerging giants. Even the term 'emerging' is used less and less these days to describe the growing power and presence of China in the world. Whether in seminars on strategic scenario-building or conferences on global governance, on television talk shows or in newspaper columns, they have China on their minds. Other emerging powers are, well, emerging. China has arrived. 

They talk now and then about the growing influence of the G20 or the impressive economic growth of Brazil or India, but for many Americans the world is effectively being led by a G2 comprising the two largest economic and military powers today. Just in the past week, influential pundits like Robert Kaplan and Thomas Friedman urged close attention, respectively, to China's massive naval build-up and its headstart over the rest of the world in using alternative sources of energy to cut back dependency on fossil fuels. Seminars galore scrutinise China's rapidly rising power. 

News from India, alas, is not about growth and smart technology. It's about inefficiency and chaos, malnutrition and stinking cities. Crashing footbridges and stagnant pools of germ-breeding water, silly statements about how Indian standards of cleanliness differ from those of foreigners, and the sheer ineptitude that preceded the Commonwealth Games, these form one part of the picture. The rest is formed by long-running stories on runaway corruption and poor nutrition of children that place India woefully low on global scales of development. 

That is a reasonable portrait of India's current plight. But before we sink further into depression, let's take a look at a few interesting possibilities not too far in the future. 

Consider demography. China's Global Times, a state-sponsored publication, says that the spell of that country enjoying a demographic dividend will come to an end in 2015. India will continue to expand its youthful bulge which will make its average age 29 against China's 37 in 2020. In other words, India will have more productive workers of an active age than will China, which will feel a growing economic and social burden of age while India's productivity will steadily rise. 

The World Bank estimates that China's growth will slow by 2015 when India's rate will surpass it. True, the state of India's infrastructure appears dismal today but heavy investment has begun in that sector, around $500 billion over the next three years, and that will contribute to hiking growth. And there are other signs investment bankers cite to suggest that in 10 to 15 years' time, India's economic potential may turn out better than China's. 

Besides, there might be a democracy dividend. Many tend to blame democracy for all our ills but India has notched up fairly high-speed growth with democracy. Decades of inappropriate economic policies were more to blame for poor performance in the first three and a half decades of our independence than free elections or a free press. 

Sure, the open squabbling in a democracy, magnified a zillion times in this age of talking heads TV, makes India's image difficult to manage. Free speech allows democratic valves to release pent-up frustrations. The media blares it out, which is one reason why the world knows so much about the organisational incompetence of the Games. China allows few valves for releasing emotions or allowing debate. 

Which, some might argue, is what makes China so much easier to develop. Not quite. China suffered hugely in human terms over the decades because its people did not have legitimate means of expression or protest. The late Mao Zedong could let loose a disastrous experiment in the 'Great Leap forward' of the late 1950s causing the death of tens of millions in the countryside. He could unleash a 10-year stupidity he called the 'Cultural Revolution', which cost a million lives in the 1960s and '70s. 

True, Deng Xiaoping rolled back the insanity and in the late 1970s and '80s, learning from Soviet mistakes, launched an economic perestroika without allowing glasnost. Today China is a model of apparently stable corporate authoritarianism. As some new books on the subject explain, the Communist Party is like a giant corporation that controls everything, with its Politburo acting as a board of directors. 

But is such a management model a recipe for long-term stability? When demand in the open market rises many times, when social pressures erupt because of changing demographics, when an expanding middle class wants an increasing array of choice, and when perhaps galloping inflation once again rears its head because of mistaken policies or as yet unforeseen global conditions, will the model hold? 

India, at first glance, looks a mess. Its leadership sometimes appears as incompetent as that infernal Games Organising Committee. But a more dynamic set of leaders, maybe a younger lot, might help us run better. The track ahead looks promising. 

The writer is a FICCI-EWC fellow at East West Centre, Washington DC. 




                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA




I guess all parents start wondering about their sons getting ensnared by wily women from the day they catch them eyeing neighbourhood moppets with that 'Whoa, not bad at all!' look in their eyes. Our brat wasn't above reproach either: shyly, he'd admitted to 'liking' little Ms G, when he was all of eight. "Ha, ha! Puppy love!" we'd smiled indulgently and forgotten all about it. 

After school, our son flew the nest a few years ago, first for studies and then for work. Thanks to magical instant connectivity, distances lost meaning. The child would be his usual chirpy self, calling us up every few hours...well, giving missed-calls every few hours. That meant putting on hold everything we were doing and rushing to call back. The chats would last till we remembered last month's bill. Or till the smell of burning food made me disconnect in a hurry. But all of it vouched for the fact that no girl had entered his life yet. Who would have time for parents if a new girl was around? 

Things started changing when he was at business school. I'd call, all set for a heart-to-heart, only to hear his half-hearted "Oh really?", "You don't say!" or even "Ummm, what did you say?" At first i put it down to overwork. They do make you slog at those business schools, don't they? On occasion, i'd put down the phone with a sigh and instructions not to forget his daily almonds. He'd say "Bye, then!" with uncalled-for alacrity. That was when i started wondering though i'd tell myself i was being unnecessarily suspicious. The poor child was just drowning in presentations and what-have-you. He'd be fine once he joined work. 

We decided to bide time till he was employed. When things didn't change even then, my antennae started quivering. Cursory interest in all that enthralled him earlier family gossip, neighbourhood updates, heck, even breaking news about our pet Chotu (who Sonny loves like a brother) finally bringing in the papers instead of chewing them elicited distracted monosyllables. The boy sounded majorly preoccupied. Ergo, it had to be a girl! Nothing else quietens a voluble son as does a demanding girl. Being the broad-minded parents we hope we are, we accepted the changed equation with equanimity. However, his vehement "No, there is no girl" insistence made us a bit uneasy. We consoled ourselves: we'd get all our answers when he came home. 


I solved the mystery earlier than that. When i happened to check my comatose Facebook wall. Of the last 50 updates, 47 were Sonny's in a single day! All two thousand something 'friends' had commented on his comments and he in turn had commented on or 'liked' theirs! He assures me it doesn't take any time at all. I have my doubts, but now i know what lay behind his 'ummmm' during calls. 

Then he comes home. Some together-time at last, we think. "Wakey! Wakey!" i chirp brightly, steaming cups of tea in my hands, as the child looks at me blearily and mumbles "Is it eight already?" I praise the Lord: he's finally learning the importance of time. He lurches out of bed, heads straight for the laptop. Flipping it open, he hits the keys frenziedly, exclaiming: "Heavens! I haven't changed my status message yet! Oh my God! What shall i write today?" 

"You could mention how good the ginger tea at home is, when you've tasted it, that is," i say acidly. He says: "Ummm...oh, Anoop has got Goa! I must congratulate him!" "Ok," i reply, giving up hopes of sustained conversation with the dear boy. "I'll write on your 'wall' when lunch is ready!" 

What do they say about joining them when you can't beat them? A mother can fight for attention against one girl...but Facebook? Heavens forbid!





The biannual ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin has established itself as an international forum for a new genre of short films that deal with the content, aesthetic or forms of poems. The coordinator of the festival Christiane Lange spoke with Romain Maitra about the ways of getting poetry back into peoples' quotidian lives: 

How is the genre of poetry-film evolving in Germany and in other parts of the world when poetry is significantly losing its importance in the overall global readership? 

Although poetry books are losing more and more their readership, they are less and less sold, and publishing houses do not publish them any more, there is the doubt whether the book is the right medium to bring poetry to the people. In ancient times, poetry was spoken and sung. The word 'lyric' comes from the Greek instrument, the lyra. Poetry has never really lost these connections to the other arts. In every time artists were interested in working with poems. We are convinced that poetry has to be read, but also to be listened to. The voice (of the author), the breath of the speaker is rhythm, music and images in the head of all those who read and listen and recite it, set them into music, into dance or into film. 

These very old and very young 'bridges' between poetry and the other arts mark the future of poetry itself apart from the book. And the films we receive from all over the world affirm this and although the 'poetry-film' is a young genre in cinema, there is a lot of interest. Go to to hear and read more than 700 poets in the original and in translation. 

The scope for distributing 'poetry-films', as a genre, is very limited. How has this problem being dealt with by Literaturwerkstatt Berlin? 

To bring 'poetry-film' in discussion and to an audience in Germany and worldwide we started the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in 2002. It is a biannual festival. For the 2010 edition we have got about 1,000 films from about 70 countries. And the festival in Berlin developed towards a vivid international meeting point for filmmakers and poets, for artists and journalists, with debates and a lot of exchange. Often we get the chance to present the films outside Berlin or Germany, or get invited by poetry festivals or institutions like the Goethe-Institute. 

It is a seminal problem to treat, in cinematic terms, the significant adjectives or metaphors found in poetry. How can a creative filmmaker deal with this issue? 

There are several criteria. It has to be a good film and a good poem and together there should be something new. A good poetry-film is neither an illustration of a poem, nor a poetic film, a documentary, a portrait of a poet. A poetry-film is an approach between two art forms and a filmmaker translates his understanding of a poem into his way of expression. Ideally, something new emerges out of that combination. 

Or a poet tries to overcome boundaries of words and that has happened already in concrete and visual poetry. With poetry-film, a new genre has appeared that offers new artistic possibilities. And to deal with the metaphorical in poetry, a poetry-film should embrace the challenge to provide a kind of answer from another 








Most of us would agree that there is a link between accountability and performance. And, therefore, no matter which sector we work in, signing an attendance register or putting a thumb on a biometric sensor is an accepted norm. However, the Delhi University Teachers' Association (DUTA) has a different take on the issue. They say that their job is not like that of "a daily wager's" and, therefore, they cannot accept an attendance system. We don't buy this argument.


This manufactured 'controversy' (which should have been nothing more than a standard human resource operation) has now taken an ugly turn with the teachers refusing to budge from their stated position and Delhi University Vice-Chancellor issuing orders that no salaries will be released until they fall in line and sign the registers. As in all such cases, the genesis of the present fight, however, lies somewhere else. The DUTA is bitterly opposed to the present vice-chancellor and his supposed "strong-arm tactics" of pushing through syllabi changes ("dilution") and clinging on to his position ("illegal occupant") when his term has ended. While the DUTA says that changes in the syllabi were done without their consent, principals of Delhi University colleges feel that the introduction of a semester system has irked the teachers because such a system means a six-month evaluation of students' as well as teachers' performance.


According to some principals, more than 20 per cent of the teachers in co-educational colleges and 10 per cent in girls' colleges don't take classes regularly. In the absence of a proper mechanism, it is impossible to keep track of attendance and discipline the truant teachers. The DU teachers, however, are not the only ones opposing such a system. Recently, Patna University teachers also protested against a similar effort to check teachers' absenteeism. Panjab University teachers 'rejected outright' a system for students to evaluate teachers and the facility of online checking of attendance.


Delhi University, an 88-year-old institution, is one of the premier universities of the country. On an average, a DU teacher earns between R90,000 to R1 lakh per month. So will it be wrong to say that it is the right of every student and taxpayer to insist on accountability? The 'guru-shishya parampara' model is all very fine, but teaching, like any other vocation, is a professional service. So while teachers must get salary commensurate to their abilities, they should be totally fine about clocking in and clocking out like the rest of us. As the two warring sides gird up for the next round, there is, at least, unanimity on one score: they want Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal to step in. That makes eminent sense.







While the nation furiously nodded in agreement with the home minister about India having 'moved on' since the early 90s, there have been two folks who have reminded us that the more things change, the more things... you know the line. The first gentleman is former Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) chief Jagmohan Dalmiya. Mr Dalmiya has returned to the holy fold of cricket administration after being rather ceremoniously shown the door in 2006 for 'misappropriating funds'. One can't be sure whether he's making a comeback, but the safari suit that's his signature is officially back. As is Pervez Musharraf — more gentrified, less general-ised than we last saw him.


The former Pakistan President, army chief and visible face of Pakistan as well as Punjabi 'biradri-hood' announced his return to 'mainstream politics' with the launch of a new party. Mr Musharraf's All Pakistan Muslim League (how we wish he had named it something a little more original and, therefore, less liable to be confused with any other Pakistani political party) will provide the man who has been living in Londonistan since he stepped down from power in 2008, a 'clean slate' that will make him a contender in the 2013 Pakistani elections.


The return of these two prodigals is unlikely to turn the clock back for the rest of us. But our question is: is a nostalgic man by the name of L.K. Advani, on hearing the good news about Messrs Dalmiya and Musharraf, thinking what we are thinking?



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





The construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya has become inevitable following the judgement of the Allahabad High Court, even though the Supreme Court is yet to give its view on the complicated matter. It is true that a large number of Muslims are extremely disappointed with the verdict that is being described as a 'panchayati faisla' (panchayat judgement) by some of the legal eagles and by others as an inconclusive attempt to bring about a permanent closure to the vexed issue. However, the reality is that it will now be extremely difficult to reverse the decision either through a judicial, legislative or an executive process. The Ram Janmabhoomi claim was initially based on faith and, therefore, many of its supporters argued that it was non-justiciable. But with the court giving it a legal sanction, it is now a matter of time when the temple eventually comes up.


The historic judgement can be viewed in several ways. One way of looking at it is that it celebrates the country's secular beliefs, given that all the three judges, including one from the Muslim community, recognised the area under the main dome of the demolished mosque as the place believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram. Another way is to debunk the judgement, which lacks rationality and legal validity according to many legal luminaries by failing to take into account the demolition of the structure, which stood on the land in possession of the Sunni Waqf Board at that point of time. The workable option, which will involve a bit of generosity by the Muslim groups, would be to not oppose the construction of the Ram temple. The logic, even if it may sound legally illogical, is that Lord Ram occupies an important position in the lives of most Hindus and, therefore, by accepting things as they are at present, all round tension on this contentious issue might be defused.


The matter has serious political repercussions. The BJP, which espoused the cause of the temple resulting in its rise in the Lok Sabha with the maximum number of 182 MPs, may want to exploit it but its current leadership lacks credibility on the subject even among members of the Sangh parivar. L.K. Advani, who spearheaded the temple movement, is not as hawkish as he was then and his leadership has been questioned by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal. Therefore, unless the Sangh gives the leadership mantle to someone else associated with the movement, it may not find it easy to extract political dividends.


The judgement has put the Congress in a serious dilemma. Its attempt to get back the Muslim votebank has suffered a serious setback with the developments. If it now tries to overplay its obsession with minority politics, the BJP will gain tremendously. The Muslims, on the other hand, will prefer to support Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad instead of backing the Congress, making its subsequent electoral bid in the assembly polls and Parliament very difficult. The Congress has to tread its path cautiously to overcome the lose-lose situation that is fast developing. It has to look at protecting its vote base in the majority community and not lose it because it is certainly not likely to make considerable gains in the minority votes as things stand today.


Matters could become even more complicated once a large number of Hindus mobilised by various sections of the Sangh parivar start going to Ayodhya on a pilgrimage sanctified by the legal verdict. The best options are that an atmosphere of reconciliation under the shadow of the legal verdict should be created by convening a meeting of the National Integration Council to gauge the mood. Secondly, the Centre must take the lead in implementing the decision after involving all sections that were contesting the dispute. Finally, the Congress and the BJP should stand up for the country and not their narrow political interests in facilitating reconciliation.



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





The Commonwealth Games (CWG) fiasco is nothing but an extension of our jugaad mentality — the concept of somehow making things work, of cutting corners, of compromising on quality. We are a little miffed when foreigners like the Duke of Edinburgh criticise our cut-and-paste jobs, and he has, indeed, on more than one occasion. But we still refuse to relinquish our penchant for patching things together and hoping that they will work. This same jugaad has pervaded our educational system, which is designed like an inverted funnel and aimed only at making the bulk of people literate. But what about making them employable, entrepreneurial or self-reliant?


Look at our demographics. We have over 65 per cent of Indians below the age of 35 and a staggering 600 million under the age of 25. This is almost thrice the entire population of Britain, France and Germany put together! And by 2020, it is estimated that the average age of Indians will be 29 years. In such a scenario, how is it even possible for governments to provide jobs to these growing millions? Well, it's a different matter that we have surplus food but can't feed our population, let alone equip it with the proverbial fishing skills.


But with a little imagination, there are solutions, which don't require huge budgets or path-breaking innovation. With less than the money spent on the CWG, and with slightly better planning, we can make  every Indian a bread winner. We can indeed pave the way for a shining rather than whining India. All it needs is a grand alliance between the State and the private sector for an affirmative action plan to provide skills to India's youth. It's time now for a Skill Bill — one that makes it almost a right to ensure that children attain grade-specific competencies and youth a few basic skills, be it spoken English, computer or financial literacy, sales orientation or technical skills of the employable kind.


This will make them more confident and more likely to successfully earn a livelihood. Considering that, even today, 60 per cent of children studying in Grade 5 cannot do Grade 2 maths, the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry may want to consider a proactive approach to save India's demographic assets from becoming non-performing assets.


My company's Naandi Foundation started a programme called Livelihood Advancement Business School (LABS) in 1996. The idea was to select and admit unemployed youth for a short-term skills course that will enhance their chances of employability. The course covers all the basics that our education system has been failing to provide — spoken English, finishing school skills, confidence and personality development, all through a common curriculum. Electives include aptitude-based courses in healthcare, financial services, retail, housekeeping and many such market-centric courses, to capture the imagination of new-economy employers in sectors like information technology, retail etc. We soon found that supply, not demand, will be a constraint.


Accordingly, in the last few years a lot of these youth were placed in the private/organised-sector jobs. Another section are being trained to become micro-entrepreneurs to grab the burgeoning opportunities in the allied-services sector. These include trained home-keepers, nursing attendants, nannies, finance and insurance sales force, etc. We have scaled it up by partnering with all the state governments and the rural and urban ministries.


Thus, LABS has been able to provide livelihood to people in 22 states in India, and employment to over 215,000 'unemployable' youth, till date. Often, at a per capita expenditure of $100. In the next two-three years, we will touch the million-jobs mark! If this could be done by one company, one can visualise the potential of a concerted plan of action.


The public-private partnership required for this will be less complex than the huge infrastructure projects currently executed. There are two broad policy prescriptions that will be required. First, from Grade 8, all children will have electives that impart specific skills — both mandatory 'soft skills' like spoken English, grooming and personality development; and optional 'hard skills' like technical know-how, hospitality, sales, healthcare and ITeS-related, etc. Look at infrastructure. Despite the boom, we don't get qualified crane drivers or heavy equipment drivers despite salaries of over R15,000 per month.


The second will be a test of the government's political will. If a reasonably successful Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) could become so immensely popular in providing wages to the unemployed for their unskilled labour, the same could be extended to enhance the value of our human capital by imparting skills to the youth.


A new policy could extend the MNREGA idea in the form of vouchers, which the youth can encash to earn a skill in private sector-led programmes.


Instead of paying wages like under MNREGA, the government can give a scholarship/fee vouchers of R5,000 per unemployed, unskilled youth, asking them to join skill schools set up by the private sector, like the affirmative action school of the Mahindras. The one-time investment of $1 billion will create 100 million jobs, not to mention the huge return on investment for the nation.


Despite sharing the dais with Mukesh Ambani on occasions, I never got the chance to pick his brains, if not appeal to his heart, on the issue of the skill-less, listless youth of India. But I should concede the fact that there has been more than one occasion when I was tempted to counsel him on offsetting his apparent personal profligacy, as reported by the media from time to time. Till I heard the story about his Patalganga refinery, where he trained over 300,000 unskilled, unemployed youth to become carpenters, plumbers and electricians, as our billion-plus human resource couldn't provide this work force when he required. After the construction of the refinery, all of them left for lucrative careers in West Asia and Europe. I'm sure one of them will be mending the cracks in Buckingham Palace as skilled labour is becoming the most-sought-after global resource. That should be one in the eye for the Duke of Edinburgh.


K. Anji Reddy is Founder Chairman, Dr Reddy's Laboratories Ltd. and Naandi Foundation and a member of the PM's Task Force on Trade & Industry The views expressed by the author are personal








It's difficult not to be reminded of Abraham Lincoln by Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil's outgoing president. Born into a marginalised family in a notoriously unequal society, a metal worker with only a basic education, Lula won the presidency only on his fourth attempt in 2002. When he did, businesses and markets feared a socialist destruction of the Brazilian economy, growing significantly under the reforms of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Lula's predecessor. But the story of Brazil under Lula has been so remarkable as to turn its president into a legend, especially in the developing world whose cause he passionately advocates. So much so, Barack Obama blurted out, "I love this guy!" at a G-20 summit.


And how has Brazil changed? Its economy will grow at 7.5 per cent his year. Lula's presidency has catapulted almost 30 million Brazilians into its growing middle class; people have more money and spending power; they are better educated, thus grabbing the new jobs; they're more aware of their rights in what's still a young democracy; infrastructure has improved; Brazil, always indispensable to climate talks because of the Amazon forest, has slowed deforestation; right now, it's sitting on newly discovered offshore oil reserves that could be a gamechanger for its economy. In brief, Lula's Workers Party has demonstrated that the Brazilian Left can be responsible and pragmatic — a lesson not only for Cuba or Venezuela but to all leftists who cannot evolve and adapt.


As Brazil elects a new president, whether Lula's protégé Dilma Rousseff or the Social Democratic Party's Jose Serra wins, it is understood there'll be policy continuity, something Lula himself can take credit for, given his appropriation of Cardoso's legacy. The successor's challenges will include further educational and institutional overhaul, high interest and exchange rates that hamper exports, and reconciling the rain forests with offshore drilling and industrialisation. In any case, nobody's questioning Brazil's new place in the world order.







The government of Rajasthan, on October 2, decided to transfer five of its departments — primary education, health, agriculture, social justice and empowerment and women and child development — to panchayati raj institutions. These elected local government institutions will now have full administrative and financial control over the schemes run by these departments, and over the employees responsible for implementing them at the local level. Such decentralisation of functional and financial powers could tangibly improve the transparency, accountability and delivery of the government's schemes.


In large states like Rajasthan, decision-making in the state capital can at times be detached from the realities on the ground. Monitoring of implementation can also be a challenge. And quite obviously, given the layers of state government funds have to pass through to eventually reach the rural areas, the scope for leakages is also greater. Therefore, transferring operational and financial responsibility to panchayati institutions makes eminent sense, and has in fact been the spirit, not always implemented, of panchayati raj for nearly two decades. Of course, there is still a need to monitor how panchayats use their operational and financial autonomy. To maintain checks and balances, the government has sensibly constituted a sub-committee of the cabinet under the state minister for rural development and panchayati raj. To ensure a degree of professionalism, the government has agreed to appoint IAS and Rajasthan Administrative


Services (RAS) in executive positions at the divisional and district levels, respectively.


The Rajasthan government's decision, if carried through thoughtfully, can be a gamechanger because too often, governments are not willing to surrender any of their turf. Guarding turf is the natural instinct of most bureaucracies. But there is a political reason too — the party in power would like to take all the credit for the government's programmes rather than share it with local bodies that may be run by a different party. But Ashok Gehlot's government has decided otherwise. The government has also chosen the departments for devolution wisely. It is precisely in the "social sector" and agriculture spheres where panchayati raj institutions can bring about a fundamental change for the better in the quality of governance.







We can work on the infrastructure of our cities. We can work on their connectivity. We can frame policy with the intention of making them better, more comfortable places to live, and easier to migrate to. But an essential part of the project of making them more livable is something not amenable to policy: and that is the inculcation of a sense of civic pride. That requires, sometimes, a shared effort of some sort, or a common source of satisfaction and achievement.


That is what it is possible for the Commonwealth Games to provide for Delhi. The new flyovers, wider roads, the recovery of pavements for pedestrians, the palpable sense of urban renewal are part of the legacy. Also part of the legacy must be the realisation that New India's aspirations cannot be achieved through Old India's ways and last-minutism. However, one wouldn't have needed the Games to achieve and realise this. Hosting events like these is, of course, great for our sportspersons. But they also do enough to pull a city together. It allows the city to begin to reimagine itself. And after all the hand-wringing, we are already seeing stirrings of this reimagining of the city and civic participation. Perhaps the prospect of the opening ceremony, with our very Indian inclusive song and dance, did that. Hopefully the city is cheerfully internalising something more.


On the streets of Delhi, this is visible. The lanes set aside for CWG traffic cause irritation; but the fact is that they are universally observed, that nobody thinks they are above the rules. Volunteers and observers wear their ID cards and teal-blue shirts with pride. Ordinary residents stop to help out CWG athletes and delegates on the streets. Delhi will feel the effects for years to come, just as the Metro might well change how people behave in public transport. And, in time, India's other metros — Kolkata? Chennai? — should be allowed, too, to have a chance to strive for the civic unity and self-improvement that comes with gearing up for something of this scale.









 A Muslim friend who made a quick trip to the Muslim predominant Mohammed Ali Road, Bhendi Bazaar localities in south Mumbai on Thursday evening to gauge the mood in the mohalla, found Muslims heaving a huge sigh of relief. "Allah ne bada karam kiya hum Muslamanon par, bada achcha faisla sunaya court ne! (It's Allah's mercy on Muslims, the court has given a good verdict!)" was the chorus he heard from one group of Muslims. My friend swears that while sweets must have been distributed in Sangh Parivar circles, the mithai he ate last night was bought with Muslim money from a Muslim shop. No question of any one of them being a Hindutva partisan.


So, are Muslims, those in Mumbai at least, happy with the judgment delivered by the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court? It's not happiness but relief, a huge sense of relief, says my friend. If anything, the Muslims he met in the Muslim mohallas were most anxious about what would happen if per chance the court verdict went in favour of the community: "Kya hum wahan par phir se masjid bana sakte hain? (Can we re-build a mosque there?)"


Should Muslims go in appeal to the Supreme Court? "Haan, woh to jaana hee chahiye (Yes, that we must do)." And what should the Muslim prayer be? Simple: now that the court has ruled that the disputed spot is indeed the birth spot of Ram Lalla, why not give the entire land to Hindus?


Black humour in difficult times? My friend swore he was not exaggerating one bit. But just to be doubly sure, I phoned another Muslim friend, Asif Khan, who lives in the heart of the same Muslim cluster and works for the Urdu daily, Sahafat. He too claimed that from the conversation among the Sahafat staff and the several calls received from readers it is evident that a lot of Mumbai's Muslims are quite happy with the verdict. Asif's explanation: one, "the happiness is a result of the dissolution of fear"; two, by granting the right of Muslims to a part of the disputed plot, "the judgment gives the community something to latch on to."


Sajid Shaikh is an activist and a businessman who lives and works in a sprawling slum in Jogeshwari (east), among the worst affected localities of Mumbai while Bombay burned in December 1992-January 1993. Sajid believes the ruling is a "political judgment" not a "legal judgment" but he welcomes it as it shows a way out of the impasse. He has something more to add: "It seems that while secular activists like us are questioning the judgment, the Aam Mussalman sees things differently. On Thursday evening I took a foreign TV crew around my area as they wanted to interview a cross section of young Muslims. The post-1992 generation of Muslims they interviewed were very happy with the judgment because according to them the court has recognised the right of both a mandir and a masjid to be there. Interestingly, most of them were quick to add, "Don't talk to us about the past, talk about our future; talk about education and decent jobs." Muslims on the move?


Is this the universal mood among Mumbai's Muslims, the worst victims of the fallout of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992? The answer is no. "It's a panchayati faisla , not the verdict of a secular court," says Maulana Shoaib Koti, who often describes himself as a "freelance Maulana". "Had the court decided on legal grounds that the disputed land does not belong to Muslims, it would have been readily accepted by the entire community. Still, one thing is certain. Post-1992 the entire community has learnt a major lesson: respect for the rule of law."


]It is a maxim of mature democracies that where there is no justice, there is no peace. Is there justice in India? It's up to you, dear reader, to ask yourself that question. Have the victims of communal mass killings — Nellie, Assam (1983), Delhi (1984), Malliana, Meerut (1987), Bhagalpur (1989), Mumbai (1992-93), Gujarat (2002), Kandhamal, Orissa (2008) — got justice? Have the masterminds, the main perpetrators of mass crimes or the policemen guilty of partisan conduct been punished? What prospects of a verdict on the crime committed in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, during the life-time of many of the main accused?


In the last week or so the media has discovered a magic word: reconciliation. Nelson Mandela has shown the world that in certain circumstances there could be an alternate route to peace — Truth and Reconciliation. But in the land of the Mahatma there is no Mandela in sight and the demand of the hour is reconciliation minus justice, minus truth.


The Constitution of India does guarantee the security of life and property to all citizens. But the institutions of secular India do not take that constitutional obligation too seriously. "Apni jaan kis ko pyari nahin hoti? (Who does not value his life?)," says my friend Asif Khan. So it seems that India's Muslims are reconciled to a "reconciliation" out of fear for their life and limb. Triumph of majoritarianism?


In August 1992, five months before the Babri Masjid was demolished, I had argued in an article in The Sunday Observer (now extinct) that the only possible resolution of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi conflict was for Muslims to unilaterally relinquish their claim to the disputed plot. My reasons are different now, but the plea remains the same. Forget about appealing to the Supreme Court. In the best interests of the country and the community itself, Muslims must gift away even the one-third of the plot that for the moment is legally theirs. The disputed plot in Ayodhya, which millions of Hindus have come to believe as the birthplace of Ram Lalla, is absolutely the last place where the battle for the Idea of India — secular or majoritarian — must be fought.


The writer is general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy








 Insurance regulator IRDA recently indicated that health and motor insurance may soon become portable. In simple terms, it means that if I am not satisfied with the services of the company providing health or motor insurance, I will soon be able to switch to another service provider at the same cost. The exit barriers for insurance buyers are slated to become lower.


Insurance is a form of collectivism by which people jointly pool their risks. The collective risk is usually managed by companies who provide this social good for a profit. The business model works because insurance companies can take advantage of significant economies of scale in risk. They collect fees from a large number of people though only a small number of them will, most probably, need to be paid back. The insurer is betting on the buyer's risk-averse behaviour. In other words, if I am a buyer of insurance, I don't want the insured event to occur in the first place. No one wants to get sick, nor does anyone want his or her car to meet with an accident. Though I have paid a fee to obtain the insurer's service, and I will receive a significant sum if the event occurs, the collateral damage to me may be substantial. Thus, I pay a fee in the hope that I have to never avail the insurer's service — having this insurance policy gives me peace of mind. The common psyche is that the larger the insurance premium I pay, the greater my sense of security. Insurance companies seek to profit from this with their myriad plans.


Take health insurance: insurers collect premiums and then keep as profit whatever they can avoid paying out. On many occasions, patients find that it is far easier to deal with their disease than with their insurers! Besides, insurers have high overheads — executive salaries, advertising, marketing incentives, etc, which is eventually billed to the buyers. Currently, buyers cannot change their service provider seamlessly if they have had a terrible experience while reimbursing claims or if they think that they are not getting value for money.


Health insurance in India is distant, complicated and opaque right now. There are more than 20 non-life insurers in the country, with their own services and seemingly impressive "plans". The common man has difficulty understanding them and often has to rely on the insurance salesperson. The industry has been moving towards standardisation by increasing the scope and complexity of differentiated insurance products, similar to the way banks used to structure complex financial instruments.


The proposed regulation seems to be a timely step in the right direction. The idea of portability is simple. Insurers, like other businesses, respond to incentives. If we reward insurers who provide high quality service, or punish them financially for providing less than optimal service, then they will do a better job. Portability would hit the for-profit insurance businesses where it hurts the most.


This self-correction mechanism is important because as the Indian economy grows, this industry would be in a strong growth path as well. During the April-July period this year, the industry underwrote a gross premium of around Rs 16,000 crore, 22 per cent higher than the Rs 13,000 crore in the corresponding period last year. It is important to enforce strict regulation during the growth phase than try to rein them in after they have become unwieldy, as in some countries.


Portability would enforce standardisation in the service offerings of insurers. It would mean rationalisation of the insurance fee, consistent terms and conditions, and uniformity in claim procedures to make it easy for users. Portability would lower claims processing costs too. For instance, after portability was introduced in Germany, the cost of insurance claims processing came down from an average of 45 euros to 1 euro. In India, much of the claims processing is non-standardised and needs to be done manually by insurance executives, which is costly, laborious and slow. As the industry expands, portability would ensure that insurance buyers and hospitals would have to deal with one standard procedure which can be largely automated, to make it prompt and efficient.


Since the insurance products offered here are replicas of those offered in the US two decades back, it would be useful to keep in perspective the horrible mess that insurance providers have created there. The disarray in which the US healthcare system finds itself today, is largely attributable to its insurance industry. They have promised to deliver better service and reduce premiums for the last 15 years but have done precious little. While announcing healthcare reforms, President Obama announced his intention to "make the healthcare market more competitive, and keep the insurance companies honest". Those last five words are crucial in our context because past experience shows that insurance companies will do nothing to reform themselves unless forced to do so. Portability would provide the paying public a real and meaningful public option to keep the insurance companies honest. It would make sure that this social good offered by for-profit firms is competitive, cost effective and easy to switch.


The writer, formerly of JP Morgan capital markets, is CEO, Quantumphinance








 It was in early 1964 that the Communist Party of India split into two ('The Great Communist Split, IE, September 20), the more radical part of it renaming itself the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Then Union home minister, G. L. Nanda, took barely a few months to slap a ban on the CPM and carry out mass arrests of its leaders and active workers. His decision was rather dubious, because it was based on nothing more than reports from the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to the effect that, despite the Chinese invasion of India two years earlier, the Marxists were "aggressively" propagating the Chinese point of view and arguing that India should enter into negotiations on the boundary question with China in a "cooperative atmosphere." In the IB's view, these men and women, no fewer than 1,200 in number, were a "danger to

Indian security." It therefore wanted them arrested and detained without charge or trial.

Ironically, there was then no law like the National Security Act or the Maintenance of Internal Security Act. Detention under the Preventive Detention Act would have required furnishing the detainees grounds for detention, and the review of every detention order by a quasi-judicial board. So, the idea was to use the World War II-vintage Defence of India Rules, which had been resurrected when the Chinese troops had come rolling down the Himalayan slopes. One must add that in those days the IB was a monolithic intelligence agency, wielding enormous power. The Research and Analysis Wing, the agency for external intelligence, better known by its delightful acronym, RAW, was born much later.

Nanda's ideas morphed into a formal decision of the Government of India at a meeting he had held with the home secretary, L. P. Singh, the intelligence czar, B. N. Mullik, and other high officials. Obviously, before the meeting Nanda had secured the concurrence of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. In retrospect, it is surprising that someone of Shastri's "political savvy and administrative acumen," should have gone along with the decision; but at that time the trauma of the border war with China was so strong that any action against "pro-Chinese" elements seemed justified. The most junior officer present at the home minister's crucial meeting was B. S. Raghavan, then deputy secretary in the home ministry. It was not for him to express any opinion. His job was to record the decision taken and then initiate the process to implement it.

Yet, back in his office, Raghavan was a troubled man. It was he who was to sign all the 1200 warrants of arrest, and take other measures such as alerting state chief secretaries and inspectors-general of police (there were no directors-general of police then) to ensure that the marked individuals did not go underground before being rounded up. He believed that the decision was not only harsh, but wrong, because the word of a flat-footed IB

an did not make a citizen a "threat to national security". And to call for border talks between India and China was no crime. He, therefore, sat down and recorded all his reservations in a note to the home secretary, adroitly marshalling his arguments.


L. P. Singh was a highly respected and very competent, if a tad too fastidious, home secretary — who, incidentally, thought highly of Raghavan. On getting the deputy secretary's note virtually asking for a reconsideration of a decision taken after due deliberation at the appropriate level, LP did not angrily send the note back to his subordinate. Instead, he forwarded the file to Nanda, with his own remarks — that praised Raghavan for expressing his reservations, but countered every single argument of the deputy secretary and recommended that the decision taken should stand. For his part, the home minister chose to send the file to the Prime Minister who wrote on it, in his enviably neat handwriting: "I appreciate Raghavan's efforts to put down his views. However, for reasons mentioned by HS (home secretary) we may go ahead with implementing the decision."


Even this wasn't the end of the matter as far as Raghavan was concerned. He could do nothing to disobey the prime minister's directive. But as he went over the list of those whose arrest warrants he was to sign, he was horrified to find that it included leaders like Jyoti Basu, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, A. K. Gopalan and Susheela Gopalan. Whatever the ideology of these leaders, their patriotism was never in doubt. They must not be locked up, he firmly believed.


Once again he put down his dissenting views on the file and sent it to his boss, the home secretary. This time around LP endorsed his deputy secretary's stand, as did home minister Nanda. It later transpired that Nanda's reasoning was different. Not arresting some CPM leaders and imprisoning all others, he thought, would sow seeds of mutual suspicion among the comrades!


Regardless of this, the decision was wise and sagacious, especially considering the services some of the Marxist leaders not sent to jail were to render the country later. Namboodiripad was CM of Kerala several times. Jyoti Basu was the longest serving chief minister of West Bengal, holding that office for a record period of 26 years. But for the obduracy of some of the mule-headed hardliners in his party he would almost certainly have been prime minister as well. Surjeet was an extremely useful and constructive link between the Left in this country and the governments of H. D. Deve Gowda and I. K. Gujral in very difficult times. A. K. Gopalan remained a tower of strength for the labour movement across the country throughout his life. All the Marxist leaders exempted from imprisonment were also members of the National Integration Council.


Reflecting on this interlude in modern Indian history I have often wondered whether in today's murky milieu — wherein conformism, indeed blind, and even anticipatory, implementation of the boss's wishes has become the cardinal principle of Indian bureaucracy — a mere deputy secretary or, for that matter, even secretary to the government could write the kind of note that Raghavan did in 1964 and survive in service.


The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator








 Over half a century ago, while giving the Reith Lectures over the BBC, the eminent British physicist-author C.P. Snow spoke of how the breakdown of communication between the "two cultures" of modern society — the cultures of the science and that of the humanities — was becoming a hindrance to understanding and addressing pressing public issues... This afternoon, I wish to speak of a later-day facet of these "two cultures" syndrome — the apparent gap between those espousing the case for faster economic growth and those calling for greater attention to protection of the environment...


Let us all accept the reality that there is undoubtedly a trade-off between growth and environment. In arriving at decisions to untangle the trade-off, three options present themselves — "yes", "yes, but" and "no". The real problem is that the growth constituency is used to "yes" and can live with "yes, but". It cries foul with "no". The environment constituency exults with a "no", grudgingly accepts the "yes, but" but cries foul with a "yes". Therefore, one clear lesson is this — maximise the "yes, but", where this is possible.


The vast majority of environmental and forestry clearances are in the "yes, but" category but they do not hit the headlines like the "yes" or the "no" decisions do. Of course, as we gain experience, we must refine the "but" in the "yes, but" approach. The "but" often takes the form of conditions that must be adhered to before, during the construction, and after the launch of the project. I believe that in laying down these conditions, we must strive for three things: First, the conditions must be objective and measurable, so that it is clear what is to be done and whether it has been complied with. Second, the conditions must be consistent and fair, so that similar projects are given similar conditions to adhere to. Finally, the conditions must not impose inordinate financial or time costs on the proponents.


This has indeed been our effort in the last 15 months for the vast majority of the cases that have come before us. For instance, we allowed a power project in Ratnagiri in the face of NGO objections but imposed strict conditions that would be monitored by local institutions.


"Yes, but" cases aside, there will most certainly be instances, few and far between I should add in the overall

scheme of things, when a firm "no" will be required. In such cases that have complex scientific, ecological and

social dimensions, my approach has been to make decisions in the most consultative and transparent manner

possible. This is what we did in the case of Bt-brinjal, and in the case of the Vedanta mining project in Orissa, where I consulted extensively, and shared a most detailed explanation for our decision with the public.


Is the debate really environment versus development or is it one of adhering to rules, regulations and laws versus taking the rules, regulations and laws for granted? I think the latter is a more accurate representation and a better way to formulate the choice. When an alumina refinery starts construction to expand its capacity from 1 million tonnes per year to 6 million tonnes per year without bothering to seek any environmental clearance as mandated by law, it is not a "environment versus development" question, but simply one of whether laws enacted by Parliament will be respected or not...


India is fortunate to have strong, progressive legislation to safeguard its ecology. The question before the country is very, very simple: are these laws to be enforced or are they to just adorn the statute books, honoured more in their breach than in their observance? I have to say that for too long a time, we have taken these laws and the discipline they enforce for granted. Industry has assumed that somehow these laws can be "managed" and governments too have not insisted that the laws be implemented both in letter and spirit. We have now reached a crucial juncture when fait accompli will not do any longer...


Our traditional approach has been to automatically assume that tough regulations mean an army of regulators. There is a legitimate fear that this could end up being another source of what economists call "rent seeking" or what ordinary human beings would call "harassment" or "corruption"... That is why I have been saying that we need to think of market-friendly instruments for enforcing regulations...Sunita Narain puts it well when she says that India's environmental movement is about managing contradictions and complexities — and to this I would add, also, conflicts. This environmentalism of the poor, as she calls it, or livelihood environmentalism, as I would term it — as opposed to lifestyle environmentalism of the privileged sections — manifested itself on the national scene first in the mid-1970s, with the birth and growth of the Chipko movement in the hills of Uttarakhand. Those women were asserting the rights of local communities over the use of local resources.


Such assertions are visible in different parts of the country today. We misread such assertions as the conflict between environment and development when they actually are about establishing a fundamental right to livelihood security and a fundamental right to determine the nature of what we call development that impacts their daily lives in a profoundly disturbing manner.


Democracy means the need to explain, the need to justify, the need to convince, the need to get people on board, the need to compromise... I would urge the scientific community and the larger community of growth-fetishists that they have a special role to play in this regard. They need to engage the larger public in a more collegial and in a less condescending manner.


Extracted from the text of the 11th ISRO-JNCASR Satish Dhawan Memorial Lecture, delivered at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bangalore







A friend in the US military sent me an e-mail last week with a quote from the historian Lewis Mumford's book, The Condition of Man, about the development of civilisation. Mumford was describing Rome's decline: "Everyone aimed at security: no one accepted responsibility. What was plainly lacking, long before the barbarian invasions had done their work, long before economic dislocations became serious, was an inner go. Rome's life was now an imitation of life: a mere holding on. Security was the watchword — as if life knew any other stability than through constant change, or any form of security except through a constant willingness to take risks."


It was one of those history passages that echo so loudly in the present that it sends a shiver down my spine — way, way too close for comfort.


I've just spent a week in Silicon Valley, talking with technologists from Apple, Twitter, LinkedIn, Intel, Cisco and SRI and can definitively report that this region has not lost its "inner go." But in talks here and elsewhere I continue to be astounded by the level of disgust with Washington and our two-party system — so much so that I am ready to hazard a prediction: Barring a transformation of the Democratic and Republican parties, there is going to be a serious third party candidate in 2012, with a serious political movement behind him or her — one definitely big enough to impact the election's outcome.


There is a revolution brewing in the country, and it is not just on the right wing but in the radical centre. President Obama has not been a do-nothing failure. He has some real accomplishments. He passed a health care expansion, a financial regulation expansion, stabilised the economy, started a national education reform initiative and has conducted a smart and tough war on Al Qaeda.


But there is another angle on the last two years: a president who won a sweeping political mandate, propelled by an energised youth movement and with control of both the House and the Senate — as much power as any president could ever hope to muster in peacetime — was only able to pass an expansion of health care that is a suboptimal amalgam of tortured compromises that no one is certain will work or that we can afford , a limited stimulus that has not relieved unemployment or fixed our infrastructure, and a financial regulation bill that still needs to be interpreted by regulators because no one could agree on crucial provisions. Plus, Obama had to abandon an energy-climate bill altogether, and if the GOP takes back the House, we may not have an energy bill until 2013.


Obama probably did the best he could do, and that's the point. The best our current two parties can produce — today, in the wake of the worst existential crisis in our economy and environment in a century — is suboptimal, even when one party had a huge majority. Suboptimal is O.K. for ordinary times, but these are not ordinary times. Pretty good is not even close to good enough today.


We have to rip open this two-party duopoly and have it challenged by a serious third party that will talk about education reform, without worrying about offending unions; financial reform, without worrying about losing donations from Wall Street; corporate tax reductions to stimulate jobs, without worrying about offending the far Left; energy and climate reform, without worrying about offending the far right and coal-state Democrats; and proper health care reform, without worrying about offending insurers and drug companies.


We need a third party on the stage of the next presidential debate to look Americans in the eye and say: "These two parties are lying to you. They can't tell you the truth because they are each trapped in decades of special interests. I am not going to tell you what you want to hear. I am going to tell you what you need to hear if we want to be the world's leaders, not the new Romans."










 The attention of the media and the interest of commentators (some erudite, mostly foolish) has been entirely on "what the judges have said." The "content" of decisions is no doubt important. But the real winner in the current situation is the "process" by which the decisions have been arrived at. All parties, however, remotely associated with Ayodhya have had more than ample time to implead themselves, hire lawyers, present evidence and make arguments. The judgment is 8,500 pages long. Wonder of wonders — it was kept secret till the end. None of the judges told their spouses or their friends about it. The stenographers and the typists kept it under wraps. Fortuitously or otherwise, two judges have Hindu names and one has a Muslim name. There is a dissenting judgment (that prerogative of democracies); the majority judgments while concurring with the final decision nevertheless are two long documents with different threads of reasoning, again representing an approach which is uniquely democratic. The only complaint we can have is that the process was too slow; it just went on for too long. And then maybe that is not such a bad thing — a judgment in 1949 or in 1993 may have had to confront too many raw passions in the air. I am not making a case for dilatoriness or delays in justice (one of the most unjust features of our society) — but there may be some exceptions to the rule and this just may be one of them.


I was talking recently to a friend of mine who is an independent director on the board of a company. A senior manager of the company, who my friend knows well and respects a great deal, was accused by a whistleblower of being guilty of sexual harassment. My friend was horrified that he had to deal with a case, at least nominally impartially, when he was quite certain that the individual concerned was a "fine fellow" incapable of what he was accused of. Luckily my friend was not called upon to make an instant judgment. The company is a sensible one and they had a well-prescribed "process" to deal with sexual harassment matters irrespective of whether seniors or juniors were involved. The process took on a life of its own. Committees were constituted, evidence was examined, memos were written, files were created — and all this seemed to take up an unfairly long time. But guess what — my friend and his fellow-directors were not required to make any snap judgments — the process automatically threw up enough material to suggest strongly that the so-called "fine fellow" was guilty of impropriety at a minimum and he left on his own. The directors did not have to deal with whether the impropriety amounted to misconduct which deserved dismissal. Literally, the process saved the participants from making any decision, let alone a wrong one.


To run a society on the basis of a modicum of justice, reasonableness and competence we need appropriate processes — processes which are undoubtedly far more complex than those designed to run a company — and the democratic republic we have established in India, with all its faults (which are quite numerous) may have stumbled on the fact that "process is king." A good recent example is when we stopped so-called traditional tribal lands in the middle of forests being appropriated for mining purposes. This was because the original acquisition/appropriation process had not been adequate, proper and transparent. The tribals had not been properly heard; the concerns of naturalists (who defend the tiger a little bit like the human intermediary who pleads for Ram Lalla) had not been addressed. The atmosphere simply did not exist where all parties, even if they were dissatisfied with the content of the final decision had the satisfaction that they had been heard and they had literally had their "hour in court." It is to the credit of our state, that the mining was stopped. Many have argued that restricting mining activity is not at all a smart thing to do. In other words, the content of the decision is not up to the mark. That may very well be true. But then if they do want to change the decision, they have no choice but to start the consultative and judicial process all over again. This is time-consuming and admittedly not the style of totalitarian competitors who are moving ahead economically. But it is the style we have chosen and something tells that despite inefficiencies (trains not running on time as they did in Signor Mussolini's Italy), our way of doing things will both endure and prevail.

The expression "due process" has become synonymous with societies which attempt to manage their affairs in a civilised way. The whimsical decisions of a tyrant or a small coterie of tyrants who need not listen to the views of aggrieved parties may in fact on many occasions turn out to be qualitatively the correct decision. But such actions lack moral legitimacy and inject a disruptive venom into the system which over time destroys the vitals of even the most glorious empires. In 1947 and in 1950, most intelligent (!), well-informed, neutral observers, especially the efficiency experts predicted that the first republic of India would not survive for long. They warned us of break-ups, civil wars and accompanying famine and privations. They have been proved wrong not because the content of all the decisions we have taken have been of a high quality; in fact many decisions have been stupid and wrong. But by and large, the way in which we have tried to govern ourselves, i.e. the process we have chosen has held up. Judgments which surprise many of us, and which faithful stenographers and typists keep a secret (I am still amazed by that) and which maintain the creative tension between the executive and the judiciary are part of this wondrous process. On that note, I suggest that we pipe in hesitantly and softly with "two cheers for the Indian Republic."







Lately, all of us have spent a lot of time debating the role of sports in a nation. Strong arguments have emerged about how sports can (variously) be great business, enhance India's image, promote global amity, lend good cheer to citizens and so on. It has also become clear that pulling off a sports extravaganza necessitates all the above and other factors to work in tandem; stakeholders ranging from Everyman to the PM, from domestic policymakers to international institutions need to get on the same page if there has to be any hope of drowning out protesting noises. This hasn't happened for the Commonwealth Games of Delhi. Delays, corruption, chaos, people working at cross-purposes have grabbed all the headlines. It's now time for the sportspeople themselves to take centrestage. A peep into the archives shows that things were actually not that different in 1982 insofar as the proliferation of controversy was concerned. Yet the hope that was expressed in the November 20, IE editorial was that the occasion would be worthy of the true spirit of the Games and affirm international friendship. For all the differences between then and now, that's the hope we echo today. And, at this final juncture, it's in our sportspeople that we invest this hope.


The opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, which takes place after this note has been penned, promises to be a grand extravaganza. It also looks like opening ceremony tickets have been sold out, even though they were pricey at Rs 1,000, Rs 5,000, Rs 25,000 and Rs 50,000. Let the next couple of weeks be about what sportspeople can deliver. Among the epic changes that have been transforming the Indian landscape, one is that audience interest has been expanding beyond cricket. So, here's hoping that Abhinav Bindra (shooting), Dola Banerjee (archery, returning to the Commonwealth Games after 28 years), Monika Devi (weightlifting), Saina Nehwal (badminton), Sushil Kumar (wrestling), Vijender Kumar (boxing) and others win golds and become household names in the nation. None of this is to suggest that those whose pathetic performance and worse has cast a long shadow over the Games shouldn't be properly punished, that the likes of Suresh Kalmadi and MS Gill should get away with covering themselves in the glory of golds. But for two weeks, let sportspeople be centrestage.







The numbers for the first five months of the fiscal year show a better than anticipated turnaround in the accounts of the central government. The buoyant economy has steadily improved revenue collections, which has helped boost government spending, especially investment spending, and shrink the revenue and fiscal deficits. Consequently, the market borrowing of the government has reduced by almost half, thus improving the credit available to the private sector. At the core of the sharp turnaround in the fiscal position is the buoyant revenue collections. Net tax collections of the central government have soared up by 29.6% in April-August 2010-11, as compared to the sharp fall in tax revenues in the corresponding period of the previous year. But the real boost came from the non-tax revenues, which went up more than three-fold, and even exceeding the Budget projections for the whole year, mainly on account of the higher fees from the telecom spectrum auctions. Consequently, the total receipts of the central government shot up by a record 84%, a substantial turnaround from the scenario in the previous year when the inflows actually declined.


But what is more important is that the bonanza has been put to some good use with the government boosting its capital spending by a sizeable 82.2% even while keeping the revenue spending in check at 25.3%, at almost the same levels as in the previous year. Equally encouraging was the three-fold growth in the plan expenditure to 39.2% even while marginally reducing the growth of non-plan expenditure to 26.9%. The end-result was a sharp fall in the revenue deficit, which fell to two-thirds of last year's level, and the fiscal deficit, which helped shrink the market borrowing of the government by 56% to Rs 1,57,995 crore during the first five months of the year. Trends on the expenditure side show that the highest increase in plan spending among the important ministries has been by the ministry of agriculture and ministry of home, both of which are confronting major problems, and by the ministry of human resources, which has sharply increased the pace of spending on school education. Most infrastructure ministries have pushed up the pace of spending, all of which would hopefully help sustain the overall demand in the economy at least for some time.








Unlike many other countries, India has an official India Science Report, which details the quality of India's workforce, the public attitude towards science, and so on. Some of the numbers are interesting, some are not. That 4.5% of the population comprises graduates today, as compared to 2.4% in 1991 is certainly a good thing, more so keeping the rise in population. That 95% of post-graduates have access to electricity, similarly, is a pointer to future public policy.


Yet, as the taint of plagiarism on the report of the six premier science academies on Bt-brinjal shows, the shape of India's science establishment isn't too great. Interestingly, the India Science Report, funded by the Indian National Science Academy, one of the authors of the Bt-brinjal report, says little about the quality of science or the scientists themselves. A critical lacunae, it would appear, at least in retrospect.


We hear, from time to time, of how Piramal Life Sciences has developed a new cancer drug that's in the process of being tested, of how the CSIR labs have done some great work, of how it costs a fifth (or is that a tenth?) to develop a new drug in India, of how Shankar Netralaya has dropped costs of eye operations by using a McDonald's style assembly line style of operations… the list goes on. The big question, though, is when does this translate into gains, or the productivity hikes that are associated with this. Various assessments, from the OECD and others, point out to the fact that a very large proportion of economic growth takes place due to increased R&D-linked productivity—an OECD study, for instance, found that a 1% hike in business R&D resulted in a 0.13% hike in productivity growth. Another study, by the World Bank some years ago, decomposed the almost 12-fold difference in the growth of Korea and Ghana and found 60% of the difference was attributable to the difference in knowledge.


While the data shows a hike in R&D expenditure in overall terms, and especially in industries like pharmaceuticals, making statements about the state of India's science and technology is a big leap of faith. Interesting, in this context, is a study by the World Bank, called the Knowledge Assessment Methodology (KAM). The Bank keeps updating this from time to time, using parameters like school and college enrolment, use of the Internet, and so on. There are two indices, the Knowledge Economy Index (KEI) and the Knowledge Index (KI)—the KEI also takes into account economic incentives and includes parameters like tariffs and trade as a proportion of GDP. These, of course, go beyond just science and look at knowledge creation in other fields as well.


It is not unusual for India to be outstripped by the growth in other countries, though this has changed of late, given the surge in GDP growth. In the KAM ratings, however, India has not only slipped vis-à-vis other countries, it has slipped vis-à-vis itself. India's KEI score has fallen from 3.56 in 1995 to around 3.09 today while China's has gone up from 3.93 to 4.47 and Brazil from 5.23 to 5.66. Running slower than China and Brazil is bad enough, India's latest score is lower than that in 1995.


Decompose this into its elements and you find that while India's innovation index is up from 3.7 to 4.15 (remember 3 Idiots?!), there are very sharp falls in the education index (from 2.56 to 2.21) and that in ICT (from 4.5 to 2.49). Remember all these numbers are normalised using population growth, so what this means is that while there have been gains in the raw numbers, they are not enough to keep up with the demands of population—India's stupendous growth in telecom shouldn't hide the exceptionally poor performance when it comes to the Internet or the number of computers per 1,000 persons.


When it comes to hi-tech exports as a proportion of total exports, India's number is 6% versus China's 29%, and over a base that's so much larger. China's R&D expenditure to GDP is around 1.5% as compared to India's 0.8; China had 1,071 people engaged in R&D per million population in 2007, India was just 137 in 2005; not surprisingly, China had 1,94,579 patent applications in 2008 versus India's 5,314 according to the World Development Indicators.


All of this, of course, flows from the fact that India's university system is all but dead. Of the top 500 universities in the world this year, India has two while China has 34, four of which are in the top 200—the ranking takes into account the Nobel Prizes won by the alumnus, the Fields Medals, the number of research papers in various citation indices, and so on. In 2005, China had 18 (two in the top 200). India had 3—in the last five years, the University of Calcutta dropped out of the list.


So, whether or not India's top science academy is guilty of plagiarism or whether, as INSA president Prof M Vijayan says it was just a slip in terms of giving a citation and has no bearing on the findings, it does appear that India's ancient knowledge system is going nowhere. And here we are fighting just to restore an ancient temple. Some symbolism.








The elusive consensus between the Centre and the states on the modalities of GST even after protracted negotiations will most likely further delay its rollout by yet another year. Most recent reports say that Centre has turned down the alternative GST models proposed by some of the states. So, what are the prospects that the state finance ministers meet later this month will thrash out a consensus?


A major factor inhibiting the progress of the negotiations is the unenthusiastic approach of the various stakeholders. Even the crucial talks at the last meet failed to enthuse most states who opted to stay away from the negotiations. Equally discouraging is the approach of the industry, which is expected to be the major gainer from the shift to GST, which would open up a national market and bestow substantial economies of scale, but have until now abstained from active interventions or even taking a proactive approach unlike in the negotiations for introduction of state VAT when they actively pushed the states to build a consensus. And the overall ambiance has been further vitiated by speculations that the BJP-ruled states have now taken a common stand to stymie the GST move for unexplained political gains.


One reason probably why the industry chambers, who have lobbied hard to push forward with the state VAT, have not actively persuaded the negotiations is maybe that they probably do not want to be seen as taking sides in any dispute between the Centre and the states. But it is still surprising that they have not tried to persuade the dithering states towards a consensus despite the high stakes they have in the changeover. But the biggest puzzle is the change in the stance of the BJP-ruled states, which had earlier cooperated with the Centre on the state VAT.


An answer to the changes in the approach of the BJP-ruled states to GST is contained in a recent report of the CAG. This performance audit of the transition from the sales tax to the state VAT, which was done to highlight the mistakes and avoid their repetitions during the GST rollout, points out that not only was the state VAT rollout rife with loose ends that ensured large tax evasions but also the startling fact that 10 of the 23 states studied have registered a dip in the growth of revenues in the VAT regime as compared to the pre-VAT regime.


To make matters worse, the most important states that registered a dip in growth of collections during the VAT regime were Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, all of which now feature prominently among the states that have now naturally opposed the GST, and also Tamil Nadu, an UPA ally, which has registered the sharpest dip in collections under the state VAT with the growth rates going down by around half from 16.8% in the pre-VAT period to 8.2% during the VAT period.


But the list of aggrieved states is much longer as the CAG report also shows that the growth of collections had decelerated in 12 of the 23 states in the VAT period while the growth rates was inconsistent in another 8 states, and only 3 states registered a steady increase. In fact, the CAG numbers even showed that the slowing in the state tax collections was despite the expansion of the tax net and the GSDP of the states.


The findings of the CAG are also corroborated by the reports of RBI on state finances. Numbers show that for the state as a whole, the revenue from state VAT rose by 75% in the 5 years between 2005-06 and 2009-10, a good 16 percentage points higher than the 49% growth in sales tax in the previous 5-year period. But the gains were rather skewed with only a few gainers, with the biggest of them being Bihar whose sales tax revenue has dipped by 3% in the previous 5 years in the pre-VAT regime.


Given the dent that the state VAT has made in the resource mobilisation abilities of the states, it is not surprising that they have now become more cautious in rolling out yet another new tax by pushing through constitutional amendments. The downside risks are too high for the states and only iron-clad guarantees from the Centre that can assure buoyant increase in state revenues will provide a way forward in this stalemate.







Most journalists know that editors are a fickle lot and frequently get them to rewrite copy from scratch. India's MPs got a first-hand taste of it the other day. The Constitution Club of India has been planning to come out with a magazine in which members of the club that comprise current and former MPs would be writing. This magazine, the first of, for and by the parliamentarians, had reached quite an advanced stage by last month with dummies as well as a name being ready. The plan came unstuck stuck when the Constitution Club had a meeting with some journalist MPs they have on the panel for the magazine. The magazine for now is back to the drawing board, and work would be started from scratch.



For all his talks on internal democracy, Rahul Gandhi failed to convince his own party to introduce it in organisational elections. While Sonia Gandhi's unanimous re-election as Congress President was a fait accompli, it was expected that the ruling party would hold proper elections at the block, district and state levels. MLAs and MPs were given a quota, making a travesty of the elections at block and district levels. Despite fierce infighting for the post of PCC chief in most of the states, including Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, the central leadership has now got the state units to pass "unanimous" resolutions authorising the Congress President to nominate their respective presidents. Everybody is now keeping fingers crossed waiting for Sonia to pick and choose the PCC chiefs.



Satyam may soon be history. The talk is that Satyam's name may disappear altogether from the combined Mahindra Satyam entity. While some analysts feel that it would be wise to drop Satyam as a brand name, a few customers seem to be against that idea. Mahindra Satyam was a tech partner for the Fifa World Cup this year, and it has established a good brand image across the globe on account of that. As a brand, Mahindra Satyam has started to resonate with some of the bigger firms but the scam-indiced tainted image seems to be following it everywhere. Looks like the scam may get the better of Satyam when the new combined entity takes shape 12 months down the line.






The North Korean dictator has announced his heir. He is chubby


When the South Park guys, in their animated satire Team America: World Police, featured North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Il as a dangerous regime with plans to unleash "9/11 times 2,356", they really put their finger on the button. This is a regime that regularly gets taunted for its secretive and unpredictable ways. Remember there were months when the Dear Leader was in such hiding that there was speculation that he had actually died. He resurfaced to give plenty of grief to the South Koreans and to take train rides through China. But the fact that North Korea is sitting on a nuclear stockpile makes it impossible to simply dismiss it as a ridiculous polity. Add on how it regularly turns up at the bottom of the World Freedom Index—restraining citizens from accessing the Internet even as it keeps them hungry (one out of three young children are stunted by malnutrition)—and yet looks constantly ready to turn aggressor, and you get something the world mocks and fears simultaneously.


Dear Leader has now announced his heir. For the first time in ages, photos of the dictator-in-waiting, third son Kim Jong-un have been released to the media, the country and the world. He looks chubby-cheeked, with his bulk stretching a dark blue Mao suit. Internet postings question how, with so many North Koreans starving to death, did the Pyongyang prince get so fat?








Over the last few weeks, as the events leading up to the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in New Delhi unfolded like scenes from a B-grade Bollywood disaster movie — featuring a collapsed foot overbridge, flooded building basements, stained bedcovers, and dirty, stinking toilets in the Games Village — sports fans might have forgotten that what was scheduled to take place in the nation's capital was actually a sports event. But now that CWG 2010's rocky ride towards the starting grid has culminated in an extravagant Opening Ceremony that showcased India's rich and pluralistic culture, sport can at last take centre-stage. The central government and the Delhi administration, as well as the reconstituted Organising Committee, did well to respond to what was pretty much an emergency. The Games Village was cleaned up on a war footing and the Army did commendable work in putting up a Bailey foot overbridge in under six days. The eleventh hour damage-control exercise has apparently pleased all the visitors, going by the feedback from the teams. Disastrous consequences were averted by a late response, but a lot remains to be done over the next 10 days if the host is to turn the Games into a widely acclaimed success. This alone can advance India's cause if the world's second most populous nation hopes to bid for the Olympic Games in the conceivable future.


But now that 'play' has been called in New Delhi, attention must turn to the athletes who have gathered in the nation's capital in quest of glory. The Delhi Games feature a record number of 6,700 athletes and officials (it was 5,766 in the last edition in Melbourne). India itself is fielding a 619-member contingent and, following rigorous preparation in several disciplines, expects to double its 2006 tally of 50 medals. While CWG standards are not comparable to world standards in sports such as tennis, wrestling, archery, weightlifting, and boxing, shooting may be an exception. India may be confident of reaping a good harvest in most of these sports. But despite the withdrawal of a few superstars such as Usain Bolt, the world and Olympic record holder in 100 and 200 metres, and the multiple Olympic gold medalist swimmer Stephanie Rice of Australia, the focus will not necessarily be on Indian athletes. There are several world-class performers in athletics and swimming: world and Olympic pole vault champion Steven Hooker of Australia, Nancy Jebet Langat, the women's 1500m Olympic champion from Kenya, and Liesel Jones, the Olympic breaststroke champion from Australia, are just the best-known among several visiting athletes who have it in them to provoke clucks of awe from the fans in the stadia and those watching on television.







The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is showing clear signs that it is likely to confirm a successor to its 68-year-old leader, Kim Jong-il, before long. Mr. Kim's son Kim Jong-un was appointed a four-star general in the days leading up to the first major meeting of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) since 1980. Then, on the day of the meeting, September 28, the younger Kim was named vice-chairman of the party's central military commission. The meeting was not a full party conference but was convened to elect the supreme leadership board. North Korea, in fact, has no president. The enigmatic Kim Jong-il, who prefers to be known as 'Dear Leader,' left the presidency vacant after the death of his father, President Kim Il-Sung, in 1994; and, in 1998, had the post abolished by means of a constitutional amendment. The Dear Leader himself became party general secretary and chairman of the National Defence Commission (NDC) in 1997.


Kim Jong-il is reported to have suffered a stroke in 2008; analysts note that he made no public appearances for several months until some time into 2009, and he was said to look frail during recent visits to China. The political and economic issues facing the DPRK are problematic, to put it mildly. Kim Jong-un, who was educated in Switzerland, is thought to be about 27, but has been groomed for high office; he accompanied his father on an official visit to China in August and has been appointed to the NDC. His youth and inexperience, however, mean that a mentor will almost certainly be named. The probable mentor is Jang Song Thaek, 64, the Dear Leader's brother-in-law, vice-chairman of the NDC, and a former head of internal security. His experience could be valuable in a de facto power vacuum following a succession, and he may deal with foreign affairs while the young Kim initially takes internal responsibilities. Mr. Jang is said to regard China favourably, but domestic economic policy is unlikely to be adapted to follow the Chinese pattern. Foreign policy will continue to be challenging. North Korea has in South Korea a U.S.-backed, and often hostile, southern neighbour; relations between the two Koreas worsened following the sinking of a South Korean warship in the Yellow Sea in March. Imminent U.S.-South Korean anti-submarine exercises will not help. The nuclear issue remains on the agenda. Kim Jong-il, who has stood up to U.S threats and pressures especially on this issue, may not disappear any time soon — and Pyongyang's secretiveness and extreme caution over changes in policy laid down at the time of Kim Il-Sung are likely to continue.










It is to the credit of India's mature civil society and political system that despite the contentious nature of the Ayodhya judgment which ordinarily might have activated the usual fault lines and sparked communal tensions, the aftermath has been remarkably peaceful. It would appear that the exhortations by political and community leaders to ensure that the Ayodhya dispute was seen as past baggage that needed to be speedily put away and that "India has moved on from 1992" have had real effect on our collective consciousness.


The horrifying story of the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992 by Hindu chauvinist vandals who sought to preempt a judicial resolution of the ownership of the disputed Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site on which the 500-year-old mosque stood, by reducing it to rubble, was one of the darkest chapters in our history. It also severely dented India's image as a pluralist democracy committed to the secular character of its public space.


Fortunately, with the phenomenon of Hindu cultural nationalism receding from the centre of India's political discourse in recent years, it has become possible to rebuild the faith of minority communities in the capacity of India's political and judicial system to deliver justice. The Supreme Court's direction in March 2008 to set up a special investigation team to probe afresh a bunch of cases pertaining to the 2002 post-Godhra riots in Gujarat was a significant intervention. It signalled to the minority communities that the judiciary would strive to uphold the principles of the rule of law and equality before the law as mandated by the Indian Constitution.


A major reason for the retreat of Hindu cultural nationalism in recent years is the recognition by large sections of the Indian middle classes that the aspiration to make India a power to reckon with globally in terms of economic clout would require an underpinning of a secular public culture in which personal identities are consciously subdued. It is also clear that this aspiration, in which many young Indians have invested their hopes and dreams, requires a national narrative scripted in an idiom of modernity.


Religious clashes drawing upon imagery of tridents battling crescents are clearly out of place in this unfolding narrative which requires an emphasising of identity as an Indian citizen rather than any other affiliation. This is why the recent Ayodhya judgment with its implied reaffirmation of concepts that have no place in a modern democracy founded on the rule of law is deeply unsettling.


It has opened the backdoor for the return of the Hindu cultural nationalist narrative with its strong majoritarian political overtones. A judicial pronouncement which includes an assertion that "the disputed site is the birthplace of Lord Ram" and that "the place of birth is a juristic person and is a deity" not only admits Hindu mythology into the public arena but also accepts unquestioningly the claim that the disputed site is indeed the Ayodhya mentioned in the Ramayana epic, belongs more in a theocracy than in a modern democracy.


Also reinforcing the impression of theocratic overtones was the observation by the special Bench of the Allahabad High Court that the portion under the central dome of the three-dome structure of the demolished mosque where the idol of Ram Lalla had been placed was the birthplace of Lord Rama "as per faith and belief of the Hindus".


As leading historian Romila Thapar has pointed out in this newspaper (October 2) "the verdict has created a precedent in the court of law that land can be claimed by declaring it to be the birthplace of a divine or semi-divine being worshipped by a group that defines itself as a community." Noting that the deliberate destruction of the medieval mosque found no mention in the summary of the verdict, Dr. Thapar has also expressed concern that "there will now be many such janmasthans wherever appropriate property can be found or a required dispute manufactured."


This is the core of the Hindu cultural majoritarian challenge to India's democratic framework. The rallying of mass sentiment on the Ayodhya issue, which hinged on the metaphor of Ramjanmabhoomi, essentially utilises Hindu sacred geography to build a political movement around religious pilgrimage centres. Ayodhya, Mathura, Varanasi, are metaphors designed to evoke primordial religious fervour and channelise this into a political movement. By making Hindu sacred geography the landscape on which the Indian nation is to be imagined, it becomes much easier to exclude those who are not Hindus and render them second class citizens.


The second premise of Hindu cultural majoritarianism that had perhaps unwittingly been given credibility by the Ayodhya judgment is the fallacious concept of prior antiquity. The sharply contested findings of the Archaeological Survey of India's excavations suggesting the ruins of a 10th century temple lay underneath the mosque's rubble, a point repeatedly highlighted by the Hindutva temple agitation, have been given credence by two judges of the Special Bench who observed that the mosque was built after the demolition of a temple.


Given that the Babri Masjid had been razed to the ground precisely to avenge an act presumed to have been done centuries ago, to provide any link in juridical terms between the ruins of the temple, the razed mosque and the proposed temple of the future, would be setting a dangerous precedent in a democracy governed by modern civil laws. Basically, the idea that shrines existing today can be knocked down on the basis of unproven claims that they stand on the ruins of temples destroyed centuries ago is to suggest that prior antiquity of shrines, even if not really proven, can be a ground to tear down present day structures.


It was the Narasimha Rao administration which had first given respectability to the Hindu cultural majoritarian argument that if the prior antiquity of a temple's existence could be established, it would be sufficient ground to insist that the mosque be shifted from the contested place. This specious concept which seemed to have no time bar and could span over centuries was placed on the agenda of the negotiations between the VHP and the Babri Masjid Action Committee that were held under the aegis of the Prime Minister's Office. The saving grace was the Supreme Court's refusal in 1993 to legitimise this line of inquiry. It categorically rejected the Presidential reference put to it under Article 143 on this issue of whether a temple pre-existed a mosque or not, thereby ensuring that this idea lost all credibility as a point in the negotiations.


Ayodhya as an issue appeared to dwarf all other concerns in the agenda of Hindu cultural nationalists because it became a point of competitive contestation between the Congress and the BJP. Since 1986, by a series of gestures intended to rally a vote-bank of Hindu voters, the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi gave substantive credibility to the temple agitation. Of course it was the BJP and L.K. Advani whose Rath Yatra pitchforked the Ayodhya issue into the public spotlight, which made the temple issue the centre piece of the resurgence of Hindu cultural nationalism in the 1990s.


It is possible to argue that Ayodhya is an exception, particularly so because of its historical circumstances, and that the momentum has ebbed from the political tide of Hindu cultural nationalism and that the issue is indeed moving to closure, even if it goes to the Supreme Court. It is also heartening that there is the Places of Worship Act (1993) which is a strong legal bulwark against similar disputes erupting over other existing shrines elsewhere in the country.


Yet what we need to guard against is the reemergence of a narrative that harks back to an imagined past and draws from cultural and mythological traditions of a particular community. This is not to suggest that in our own homes and in the private sphere, we do not have a right to celebrate our own cultural or religious identities. The danger manifests when we assert that these identities have political rights attached to them.


The ascendancy of cultural majoritarianism and its attendant narrative would only be at the expense of the entitlement of every Indian citizen to have equal cultural space in India's democratic framework. For those of us who take pride in the idea of India as a rising power, we cannot afford backward-looking or unidimensional narratives that cannot really capture India's sensational success story as an economy and as a democratic republic. We must script a new narrative that puts the Indian citizen in the forefront as its central protagonist.









The memory sticks were scattered in a washroom at a U.S. military base in the Middle East that was providing support for the Iraq war.


They were deliberately infected with a computer worm, and the undisclosed foreign intelligence agency behind the operation was counting on the fallibility of human nature. According to those familiar with the events, it calculated that a soldier would pick up one of the memory sticks, pocket it and — against regulations — eventually plug it into a military laptop.


It was correct.


The result was the delivery of a self-propagating malicious worm into the computer system of the U.S. military's central command — Centcom — which would take 14 months to eradicate.


That attack took place in 2008 and was acknowledged by the Pentagon only this August. It was strikingly similar to the recently disclosed cyber attack on Iran's nuclear facilities using the Stuxnet worm, which also appears to have used contaminated hardware in an attempt to cripple Iran's nuclear programme.


Like the attack on Centcom's computers, the Stuxnet worm, which Iran admits has affected 30,000 of its computers, was a sophisticated attack almost certainly orchestrated by a state. It also appears that intelligence operatives were used to deliver the worm to its goal.


The primary target


Its primary target, computer security experts say, was a control system manufactured by Siemens and used widely by Iran, not least in its nuclear facilities.


On September 29, Iran confirmed that the worm had been found on laptops at the Bushehr nuclear reactor, which had been due to go online next month [October] but has now been delayed. It denied the worm had infected the main operating system or caused the delay.


"I say firmly that enemies have failed so far to damage our nuclear systems through computer worms, despite all of their measures, and we have cleaned our systems," Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's atomic energy agency, told the Iranian Students News Agency. If the Stuxnet attack on Iran was a limited act of cyber sabotage, on September 28 the U.S. attempted to imagine what an all-out cyber war might look like and whether it was equipped to deal with it.


Cyber Storm III


In an exercise named Cyber Storm III, involving government agencies and 60 private sector organisations including the banking, chemical, nuclear energy and IT sectors, it presented a scenario where America was hit by a co-ordinated cyber shock-and-awe campaign, hitting 1,500 different targets. The results of the exercise have not been released.


One of those who believes that cyber war has finally come of age is James Lewis of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Lewis said that while previous large-scale hacking attacks had been an annoyance, Stuxnet and the attack on Centcom represented the use of malicious programmes as significant weapons. "Cyber war is already here," said Lewis. "We are in the same place as we were after the invention of the aeroplane. It was inevitable someone would work out how to use planes to drop bombs. Militaries will now have a cyber-war capability in their arsenals. There are five already that have that capacity, including Russia and China." Of those, Lewis said he believed only three had the motivation and capability to mount the Stuxnet attack on Iran: the U.S., Israel and the U.K.


He added that a deliberate hack of an electric generator at the Idaho National Laboratory, via the internet, had previously demonstrated that infrastructure could be persuaded to destroy itself.


"There is growing concern that there has already been hostile reconnaissance of the U.S. electricity grid," he said.


'Just a matter of time'


Last year, the Wall Street Journal quoted U.S. intelligence officials describing how cyber spies had charted the on-off controls for large sections of the U.S. grid and its vulnerability to hacking.


The head of the Pentagon's newly inaugurated U.S. Cyber Command, General Keith Alexander, has recently said that it is only a matter of time before America is attacked by something like the Stuxnet worm.


In recent testimony to Congress, Alexander underlined how the cyber war threat had rapidly evolved in the past

three years, describing two of the most high-profile attacks on countries: a 2007 assault on Estonia, and a 2008 attack on Georgia during its war with Russia, both blamed on Moscow.


Those were "denial of service" attacks that disabled computer networks. But it is destructive attacks such as Stuxnet that frighten Alexander the most.


Agreements needed


He favours agreements similar to nuclear weapons treaties with countries such as Russia to limit the retention and use of cyber-war technology.


One of the problems that will confront states in this new era is identifying who is behind an attack. Some analysts believe Israel is the most likely culprit in the Stuxnet attack on Iran — perhaps through its cyber war "unit 8200", which has been given greater resources. They point to a file in the worm called Myrtus — perhaps an oblique reference to the book of Esther and Jewish pre-emption of a plot to kill them. But it could also be a red herring designed to put investigators off the scent.


Dave Clemente, a researcher into conflict and technology at the Royal United Services Institute at Chatham House in London, argues that where once the threat from cyber war was "hyped ... reality has quickly caught up".


"You look at the Stuxnet worm. It is of such complexity it could only be a state behind it," he said.


Clemente points to the fact that the attack used four separate, unpublicised flaws in the operating system of the Bushehr plant to infect it. Other experts note that Stuxnet used genuine verification code stolen from a Taiwanese company, and that the worm's designers built in safeguards to limit the amount of collateral damage it would cause.


"The U.S. and the U.K. are now putting large amounts of resources into cyber warfare, in particular defence against it," said Clemente, pointing out that there is now a cyber security operations centre in GCHQ (British government communications headquarters) and a new office of cyber security in the Cabinet Office. He added: "What I think you can say about Stuxnet is that cyber war is now very real. This appears to be the first instance of a destructive use of a cyber war weapon." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010









By the time they get to kindergarten, children in Franklin Lakes, N.J., this well-to-do suburb already know their numbers, so their teachers worried that a new math programme was too easy when it covered just one and two — for a whole week.


"Talk about the number one for 45 minutes?" said Chris Covello, who teaches 16 students ages five and six. "I was like, I don't know. But then I found you really could. Before, we had a lot of ground to cover, and now it's more open-ended and gets kids thinking."


Singapore math


The slower pace is a cornerstone of the district's new approach to teaching math, which is based on the national math system of Singapore and aims to emulate that country's success by promoting a deeper understanding of numbers and math concepts. Students in Singapore have repeatedly ranked at or near the top on international math exams since the mid-1990s.


Franklin Lakes, about 30 miles northwest of Manhattan, is one of dozens of districts, from Scarsdale, N.Y., to Lexington, Ky., that in recent years have adopted Singapore math, as it is called, amid growing concerns that too many U.S. students lack the higher-order math skills called for in a global economy.


For decades, efforts to improve math skills have driven schools to embrace one math programme after another, abandoning a programme when it does not work and moving on to something purportedly better. In the 1960s there was the "new math," whose focus on abstract theories spurred a back-to-basics movement, emphasising rote learning and drills. After that came "reform math," where the focal point on problem solving and conceptual understanding has been derided by critics as the "new new math."


Singapore math might be a fad, too, but supporters say it seems to address one of the difficulties in teaching math: all children learn differently. In contrast to the most common math programmes in the United States, Singapore math devotes more time to fewer topics to ensure that children master the material through detailed instruction, questions, problem solving, and visual and hands-on aids like blocks, cards and bar charts. Ideally, they do not move on until they have learned a topic thoroughly.


Principals and teachers say that slowing down the learning process of learning gives students a solid math foundation upon which to build increasingly complex skills, and it makes it less likely that they will forget and have to be retaught the same thing in later years.


And with Singapore math, the pace can accelerate by fourth and fifth grade, putting children as much as a year ahead of students in other math programmes as they grasp complex problems more quickly.


"Our old programme, Everyday Math, did not do that," said Danielle Santoro, assistant principal of Public School 132 in Brooklyn, N.Y., which introduced Singapore math last year for all 700 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. "One day it could be money, the next day it could be time, and you would not get back to those concepts until a week later."


Singapore math's added appeal is that it has largely skirted the math wars of the past half-century over whether to teach traditional math or reform math. Indeed, Singapore math has often been described by educators and parents as a more balanced approach between the two, melding old-fashioned algorithms with visual representations and critical thinking.


Its evolution


In Franklin Lakes, teachers are learning the new math system as they pass the knowledge on to their students. One morning last week, Covello and six other kindergarten teachers worked with a consultant on how to reinforce the number eight for students. First came a catchy tune about eight oranges; then they counted off one by one while throwing up their arms in a wave.


Singapore math was developed by the country's Ministry of Education nearly 30 years ago, and the textbooks have been imported to the United States for more than a decade. The earliest adopters were home-school parents and a small number of schools that had heard about it through word of mouth.


Today, it can be found in neighbourhood schools like P.S. 132, which serves mostly poor and minority children, and elite schools, including Hunter College Elementary School, a public school for gifted children in Manhattan, and the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, a private school attended by President Barack Obama's daughters., a company that has distributed the "Primary Mathematics" books in the United States since 1998, reports that it now has sales to more than 1,500 schools, about twice as many as in 2008. And Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Math in Focus, the U.S. edition of a popular Singapore math series, is now used in 120 school districts and 60 charter schools and private schools, the publisher says.


Not easy, expensive


Some recent research suggests that students who are taught Singapore math score higher on standardised math tests. In anecdotal reports, teachers say the method helps young children to develop confidence in their math abilities. School officials still caution that Singapore math is not easy or cheap to successfully adopt.


In some districts, there has also been scepticism from school board members and parents about importing a foreign math programme. The books look different from standard-issue textbooks, with fewer pages and brightly coloured pictures and diagrams. Early versions contained references to curry puffs and the Asian fruit rambutan.


The books and materials cost an average of $40 to $52 per student, comparable to other math programmes in the United States. As with other math programmes, workbooks might be replaced from year to year. Training teachers can be expensive, though.


"All along, people have said it's too hard, too demanding for teachers," said Jeffery Thomas, a history teacher who founded the website with his wife, Dawn, after using the books to tutor their daughter at home in the suburbs of Portland, Ore.


Mr. Thomas said that about a dozen schools had started and dropped Singapore math, in some cases because teachers themselves lacked a strong math background and adequate training in the programme.


When the Scarsdale district switched to Singapore math at its elementary schools in 2008, it expanded the number of math coaches to three from one to help the 110 classroom teachers learn the material. The district spent $121,000 on the "Primary Mathematics" books and $24,632 for teachers' materials.


Bill Jackson, one of Scarsdale's new math coaches, scribbled notes the other day as he watched a fourth-grade math class. For nearly an hour, the students pored over a single number: 82,566 (the seats in New Meadowlands Stadium, where the New York Giants and New York Jets play football). The class built a mini-version of the stadium with chips on a laminated mat, diagrammed it on a smart board and, finally, solved written questions. Mr. Jackson said that students moved through a three-step learning process: concrete, pictorial, abstract. U.S. math programmes, he said, typically skip the middle step and lose students when making the jump from concrete (chips) to abstract (questions).


Mr. Jackson began experimenting with Singapore math while teaching at School 2 in Paterson, N.J., in 2000. Test scores were mixed, and the school replaced it four years later. Despite the replacement, Jackson continued to use it when he could. "I learned more math from Singapore math than I ever did in high school or college," he said. — © New York Times News Service







China's work safety supervisor will soon launch a nationwide inspection of coal mines to crack down on illegal mining and prevent deadly accidents.


A spokesman of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) said on October 3 that the campaign, which starts on October 10 and lasts until November 30, will check whether accident-prone small mines of outdated capacity have been shut down according to state policies. Technological upgrades, merger and acquisition of mines will also be examined, he said. Nearly 1,539 small mines of outdated capacity have to be closed in China this year to meet the country's carbon dioxide emission and pollution-reduction requirements. China's annual fatalities at coal mines had dropped from a peak of 6,995 deaths in 2002 to 2,631 in 2009, according to SAWS data. — Xinhua






It's been nearly a year since the 'paid news' syndrome — an appalling industry-wide violation of media ethics and a media-related electoral malpractice — was brought to people's attention by a section of the media. The issue still remains in the public domain, drawing critical comment and protest every now and then. The large-scale practice of paid news, particularly during the run-up to elections, has the potential of misleading the electorate in judging the relative merits and demerits of the contestants and, as a consequence, influencing the verdict by corrupt and underhand means.

The report of a sub-committee formed by the Press Council of India (PCI), which enquired into the scandal in some depth, is awaiting clearance. PCI Chairman G.N. Ray, a retired Supreme Court Judge, hints at some bottlenecks in legislating on the subject. He attributes the emergence of paid news to the corporatisation and monopolisation of the media. With Assembly elections fast approaching in several States, the need for no-nonsense action on the report in order to ensure free and fair elections is urgently felt.


Justice Ray has offered no clue as to when the report will be made public. He has, however, denied the charge that PCI has suppressed the findings of the sub-committee. He has claimed that the sub-committee's report is not that of the PCI and that the decision not to incorporate the full report in the final recommendations (for 'want of clinching evidence') was made by the drafting committee's majority. However a member of the PCI, K. Kesava Rao, who is also a member of the Congress Working Committee, has said that though the Supreme Court, Parliament, jurists, writers, and eminent persons have come out in support of action against paid news, "we are yet to come to a compromise on how to handle it."


A paradigm shift


In a hard-hitting speech at a recent Coimbatore seminar, Justice Ray accused the media of losing focus during the last few decades. In fact, he saw a paradigm shift in the functioning of the media at the cost of values that it had been following all along. Describing the media as a valiant partner in democracy that ought to guide civil society, political parties, and the state on the path of good and responsible governance, the PCI chief has registered angst over the media sidelining this mission, with professional commitment undermined by hyper-commercialism. The PCI chairman also cited recent concerns expressed by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) over the 'private treaties' entered into by some media houses with corporate bodies. In consequence, the Press Council had issued guidelines for the media on the subject.


The private treaties system has been characterised as a (business arena) counterpart of, and a precursor to, the paid news phenomenon (in the political sphere), even if the same actors might not be involved in the two cases. In a letter to the PCI Chairman, SEBI stated that private treaties might lead to commercialisation of news reports since they would be based on the subscription and advertising agreement entered into between the media group and the company. Any biased or imbalanced reporting may lead to inaccurate perceptions of the companies, which are the beneficiaries of such private treaties. Media houses entered into private treaties with companies that were listed or were coming out with public offers "for a stake in the company and in return providing media coverage through advertisements, news reports, editorials, etc." ("Private Treaties harm fair, unbiased news: SEBI, report in The Hindu, June 19, 2010.) SEBI rightly intervened to protect the interests of other stakeholders, companies and investors in this exercise, by ensuring that the corporate bodies as well as the media groups that have deals with them to be transparent in their operations by declaring their relevant, mutual financial commitments at their websites.


A noteworthy difference

One significant difference of course is that neither SEBI nor the PCI has demanded a ban on the private treaty system while virtually everyone — from the President of India and the Vice President to political leaders across the spectrum and social activists — has publicly condemned the paid news racket and demanded an end to it. The Editors Guild of India has recorded its commitment to keep the media as much as the electoral system corruption-free. It has even promised to make the war on paid news its 'one point' programme in the coming year. The PCI Chairman and working journalists associations and federations have all extended their support to efforts to end the menace. Several newspapers and their readers have also taken the right stand on the issue.


But paradoxically, no tough and effective measures have been proposed, let alone set in motion, by the Press Council or the Election Commission of India to stamp out the paid news racket.


To be fair to the ECI, it has expressed its opposition to the reprehensible practice in no uncertain terms. It has, not surprisingly, rejected the PCI proposal to depute journalists/senior citizens as observers during elections. The constitutionally sanctioned Commission did not agree with the PCI's contention that its recommendations on paid news were binding on the Commission. The reason was that the Election Commission would have to work within the constitutional provisions, the relevant Acts, and electoral laws. Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi explained, in a letter to Justice Ray, that while the EC "is doing its best in the matter and assures further cooperation, you would appreciate that the Council has to facilitate more of self-regulation by media and also develop and share with the EC a more exact prescription to adjudge paid news." The Commission, however, said that it would take "due cognisance of the recommendations of the PCI in alleged incidents of paid news."


Break the nexus


If in spite of huge support across society and across the polity nothing much seems to have been done about ending the menace of paid news, the reasons need to be seen in the mindset of the vested interests — the media beneficiaries of the racket and the political players in the electoral field who place a high value on propagandistic support in India's burgeoning mass media. This nexus needs to be broken. At the same time, it must be realised that government intervention is likely to do more harm than good in respect of media functioning. Pushing for effective self-regulation and publicly shaming the corrupt elements is the way to go — without losing more time.









The finance ministry's directive to banks to ensure that the micro-finance institutions they lend to in turn cap interest rates at 22-24 per cent while giving loans to villagers has not been liked either by the micro-finance institutions (MFI) themselves or the banks. The banks have reportedly said they are in no position to monitor what is done with the money they lend by the MFIs, while the latter claim such an interest rate cap is highly undesirable and might indeed lead to the collapse of 80 per cent of small MFIs. Both the government and the Reserve Bank of India talk endlessly about "financial inclusion", a shorthand code for bringing unbanked areas into the banking fold, but the reality is that in a country with hundreds of thousands of villages without banking facilities it might takes ages for banks to set up branches, or even ATM machines, in all these areas. As of now, MFIs are the only bodies which make small amounts available to the poorest people in unbanked areas as collateral-free loans. They also provide the "last mile connectivity" between banks and people at the grassroots level — but it is estimated that while the amount of micro-finance needed is $51.4 billion, the availability is just $4.3 billion. Eighty-nine per cent of India's MFIs are very small, and serve less that 10,000 clients. The largest of them serves 74 lakh borrowers in 10,000 villages, and has managed to achieve in five years what the father of micro-finance, Bangladesh's Muhammad Yunus, took 20 years to do.

That said, it is perfectly true that MFIs borrow from banks at 12-14 per cent and sometimes even less, while lending to villagers at interest rates ranging between 27 to 37 per cent. But the MFIs argue that the interest rate they charge is still much less than what villagers are often forced to pay blood-sucking moneylenders who charge "pathani" rates of 100 per cent or more. But poor people who have no access to any kind of bank loans still go to the moneylenders as they provide money when it is urgently needed. The MFIs, who are trying to replace the moneylenders, often give loans of as little as `5,000-10,000 to start a vegetable kiosk or a kirana store — and make the money available at the borrower's doorstep when he needs it. In contrast, the banks are notorious for not giving the money in time, and often even demanding bribes for handing over the cash.
It is believed in some circles that MFIs are earning undue profits, sometimes at rates higher than banks, but since they have to borrow funds from venture capitalists and private equity funds, they need a certain level of profitability just to stay afloat. While it is true that micro-finance pioneer Muhammad Yunus holds that profits in such cases should go back to the villagers, India's MFIs note that Mr Yunus' Grameen Bank in Bangladesh can afford to do that because it is actually a bank. Indian laws, however, do not allow MFIs to become banks — which would enable them to borrow cheap and lend cheap. Given that MFIs have brought thousands of unbanked villagers, including many women, into the banking system, they should be permitted to carry on — at least until the government is in a position to fill their shoes. After all, if they found the MFIs' rates usurious and banks offered a better alternative, the poor villagers would be the first to shun the MFIs. What the finance ministry can and should do for now is to set up a regulatory mechanism so that fly-by-night micro-finance operators are kept in check.








There is a proverb in Telugu: When the cows fight with locked horns, innocent calves are hurt. Whenever two communities are at loggerheads, inevitably, innocent citizens suffer. Courts find it difficult to resolve their dispute to the satisfaction of both sides. Usually, a legal battle generates ill-will and ruptures relations even among brothers and neighbours. In cases like Ayodhya, an amicable solution would be the best bet. If the parties are unable to come to an agreement by themselves, they can take the aid of eminent citizens and common well-wishers. Court of law should be the last resort.

The complexities of the Ayodhya case are evident from the fact that the three hon'ble judges on the bench wrote three separate judgments. Each one has done his best to grapple with an unusual problem which had ignited passions and disrupted communal harmony following the demolition of the mosque in December 1992, which was a national disgrace. Not one of the judgments can stand strict legal scrutiny. They have raised more questions than they have answered. Whose property did they divide and amongst whom and who wanted such a division? How could they award one-third share each after dismissing the suits of Nirmohi Akhara and Sunni Waqf Board? Who dedicated the land to Ram Lalla and when? In legal terms, the judgments are incorrect, but innovative. They are liable to be reversed on appeal. The affected parties have decided to move the Supreme Court, keeping the door open for settlement. We should thank God that they did not take to the streets to settle scores. Reposing faith in the judiciary is the wisest thing to do in a country governed by the rule of law. The parties apart, members of the two communities at large deserve praise for their restrained response to the verdict.

Adversarial adjudication is not the only option available to a litigant. Parliament has amended the Civil Procedure Code to provide for settlement of disputes outside, on the initiative of the court. Section 89(1) says that where it appears to the court that there exist elements of a settlement which may be acceptable to the parties, the court shall formulate the terms of settlement and give them to the parties for their observations. After receiving the observations of the parties, the court may reformulate the terms of a possible settlement and refer the same interalia for mediation or arbitration. Mediation centres have resolved many disputes in different parts of the country. In Delhi alone there are two centres in district courts, one in the high court and one in the Supreme Court. After preferring appeals in the Supreme Court, the parties can avail mediation, which is informal, quick and inexpensive. Recently, in a dispute among brothers over property in Hyderabad, the Supreme Court appointed Justice M. Jagannadha Rao, a retired judge, as mediator and he was able to settle the dispute in no time. The two fighters returned home as brothers. In the unlikely event of mediation failing, the appellants can pursue their appeals and press for a decision based on the merits of the case. However, the court may like to explore the possibility of referring the dispute to an agreed arbitrator. If the parties so desire, they can nominate an arbitrator each and request the court to nominate the umpire. The umpire and the arbitrators will act as an arbitration tribunal and give an award. If any objections are filed, they will be heard and decided by the court. If the parties do not agree for arbitration, then alone the court would be constrained to decide the case one way or the other.

When disputes capable of arousing passions threatening the unity of the country are in court, the lawyers representing the respective parties owe a duty to the nation to persuade their clients to agree for an honourable settlement in a spirit of give and take. As a lawyer, Mahatma Gandhi used to settle disputes outside the court. He wrote in his autobiography, "I realised that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder. The lesson was so indelibly burnt into me that a large part of my time during the 20 years of my practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing about private compromises of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby — not even money, certainly not my soul".

Having regard for the sensitivities of the case and the emotional aspects involved, settlement out of court with the help of patriotic leaders belonging to all communities would be an ideal course to adopt, failing which court annexed mediation or arbitration.

There won't be dearth of well-meaning suggestions. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, a well-known scholar, in his book Indian Muslims — The Need For a Positive Outlook (1994), observed that "Muslims today are faced with one easy and one difficult option: to leave the Ba bri Masjid issue to the cons ci ence of the country, or to con ti nue with their agitation". Recalling the words of Aisha, the Prophet's wife, that "whe never the Prophet had to make a choice between the two courses of action, he would always choose the easier one", he suggested a three-point form ula: Muslims should give up their plea that the Babri Masjid should be rebuilt, that they should be given guarantees that no such demolition will take place in future, and that such pledges should be made part of the Constitution of India. It was not accepted then and now, after the verdict, it is untenable as there was admi ttedly a mosque for centuries, which was demolished by criminals insp ired by certain political leaders and the high court has awarded one-third share.

Another suggestion could be to divide the land equally and allow construction of the mosque in one half and the temple in the other half with entrances from opposite sides. There may be other suggestions for resolving this vexed problem. It is the duty of every citizen who believes in the constitutional goal of promo ting fraternity among the pe ople and fostering unity and integrity of India to help pe aceful reconciliation, reme mbering the emotional uphe aval witnessed after the rath yatra and the demolition of Babri Masjid in broad day light 18 years ago.


n The writer is a noted constitutional expert and senior Supreme Court advocate.








It is a strong logic. The answer to a dispute from mediaeval India might eventually lie in a mediaeval practice. Simultaneum mixtum first came to be used in the Europe of the Reformation less than five years before the conqueror Babar, or his general Mir Baqi, raised the Babri Masjid in 1528 AD over an area where Hindus believe a temple


to Lord Ram stood. The Latin phrase was used in Germany to denote a church premises used by more than one type of Christian for prayer after Martin Luther decided in 1517 that the Vatican's sale of indulgences was really a chit fund scam, something we in India are familiar with, and nailed his objections, the Ninety-Five Theses, to a church door.

As a principle, simultaneum was used with effect down the ages when no other alternative presented itself. It has involved the peoples of three faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — in Europe and West Asia. Much later, even if they didn't know the word simultaneum, Hindus and Muslims worshipped at Ayodhya at the same time. In 1859, the British put up a fence to separate the places of worships after communal violence. It was a separation; it was also a forced sharing.

Simultaneum, or forms of it, is still the practice at disputed sites in the Levant, at sites considered among the holiest by the Abrahamic religions. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is today administered by no less than six denominations of Christians and the guardians of the main door of the church are still the descendants of the same two 12th century Muslim families appointed by the conquering Kurdish general Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, in 1192 AD. Christians were permitted by a treaty between Saladin and Richard I (the Lionheart) to visit the holy site after the Third Crusade failed to wrest back Jerusalem from Saladin. The region of the eastern Mediterranean is filled with historical examples of the absence of tension, and even collaboration, between religious groups, without, of course, the intervention of later politics. There are examples of Christian, Jewish and Muslim voluntary pilgrimages (Ziyara) to pray where saints and prophets were born or died. Just like Ayodhya. Right here in India we have the tomb of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer Sharief, venerated by all faiths.

Exactly a day after the judgment of the Allahabad high court, the government and the principal Opposition, the BJP, were talking about reconciliation. One is reconciled to a path only if there is no other way. It has taken more than 60 years, but the judgment has shown India exactly that: in the face of a dispute of this nature, there is no other lasting way. Arun Jaitley of the BJP suggested on Friday that when the verdict is appealed, the Supreme Court could facilitate an amicable settlement. A senior Congress leader, Digvijay Singh, too, said much the same thing. The common stream of thought was reconciliation. They may not be wrong.
One must know what the places mentioned earlier mean to the religions that claim them. In Jerusalem, where three faiths meet, stands the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Christians revere the site as marking Golgotha, or the Hill of Calvary, where the Bible says Jesus was crucified. Tradition also assigns to this church the location of the sepulchre where Jesus was buried. In Jerusalem, too, is located the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, the traditionally held location of the First and Second Temples. It is also revered by Muslims and a waqf controls the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The first of these, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is administered by six branches of Christianity — the Roman Catholics, the Syrian Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, the Coptic and the Ethiopian Churches. Each differs in varying degrees from the other, each has separate and strictly controlled prayer times and no one order intrudes into the space of the other. In 1187 AD, on October 2, the day this article was written, Jerusalem fell to Saladin, the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. A few years later Salahuddin Yusuf ibn Ayyub, for that is Saladin's full name, the first meaning Righteousness of the Faith, commanded that a Muslim family be the keeper of the main entrance and the key to be given to their neighbours, another Muslim family. The Nusseibehs still turn the key and the Jouddeh still bear responsibility for their safekeeping.
As far as the Temple Mount is concerned, though the area has been under Israeli control since the Six-Day way of 1967, the Muslim Waqf was given control of the Noble Sanctuary and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Jewish prayers are forbidden and the entry of non-Muslims to the compound is regulated. A pessimist would argue that restrictions such as these are why the Levant is a troubled place. An optimist would say India now has the opportunity, and maturity, to show the world how to resolve a dispute born almost 500 years ago.


What could not be shared by reconciliation since the first suit was filed by Mahant Raghubir Das in 1885 is now to be divided by command. Or shared by force, if you will. Unless, of course, the Supreme Court says otherwise. The verdict on Ayodhya so far is for the disputed land to be divided into three equal parts, one for each litigant. But even in this division there lies a sharing, a sense of co-existence, of reconciliation. It does not take a genius to realise this. One cannot comment on the Allahabad high court judgment without reading 10,000 pages. But I will say this. The verdict of September 30, 2010, must have taken a lot of courage for the judges know that a judgment on a historic dispute will finally be judged by history. It is encouraging and daring and fills the stretch of time that leads to the Supreme Court with hope. The calm that followed the judgment is an illustration of this. The metropolises of this nation remain at peace. The hope of economic progress has begun to douse incandescent emotion. The temples of today are dedicated to the worship of commerce. In rural India, where the suffering caused by the avarice of politics is the most painful, reason has prevailed. A significant contribution to this pacific state has been made by the governments at the Centre, in Uttar Pradesh and other states. The guilt of having fallen asleep in 1992 kept them awake in 2010. Humanity won. India preferred insaniyat to insanity.









We are reviving Gandhi again, but not as nostalgia for his ways and vision this time. Ad agency Leo Burnett has launched a Gandhi font that's available for free download from the midnight of October 1-2.


The font has been designed taking inspiration from Gandhi's round-rimmed metal frames. For those who care about the fonts they use, the new Gandhi typeface will offer users a chance to identify with the vision of the man. In short, the choice of font can become your political statement.


Anyone who has seen Helvetica, a documentary about the typeface Helvetica, will appreciate how fonts become cultural mirrors, and can dominate entire visual cultures and values. They can slip into every part of our lives through T-shirt designs, bags, signage, posters, web pages and so on. In some ways, fonts shape us, too.


The moot point is whether we in India will have much use for it: with our venality and corruption, we should start using it only when we come a bit closer to the Father of the Nation's standards of truth and morality. Transparency International ranks India 84th on the Corruption Index. That makes 83 other countries better entitled to use the Gandhi font.







There are signs that tough times for Pakistan are getting tougher. There is no improvement in the situation with regard to Islamic militants, whether it is the Taliban inside the tribal areas or across the border in Afghanistan.


Trouble with the Haqqani group, which operates within Pakistan, has been never-ending. The war against the Islamic militants has been going on ever since the US invaded Afghanistan in November 2001, soon after the September 11 terror attacks.


Though Pakistan had joined the US-led war against Islamist terrorism, misgivings emerged in the last three years that Pakistan was following the proverbial running-with-the-hares-and-hunting-with-the-hounds policy. In the last few weeks, Pakistan has resorted to drone attacks — unmanned small planes loaded with bombs — inside Pakistan, and they have even claimed that about 100 Taliban soldiers have been killed in these sorties.


Now, the American commander, Gen David Petraeus, is reported to have said that US and Nato forces will have to launch ground operations inside the tribal areas of Pakistan. Though there has been an official denial since then, it is clear that ground operations will be a logical step for the western forces in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban. It could make the war more complicated and dangerous. Pakistan could thus be driven to the edge.


This bit of news has been followed by a dire warning from a former Pakistani dictator, Gen Pervez Musharraf. He told the BBC in an interview that the Pakistan army has a political role in rescuing the country from the current political chaos. There is nothing new or surprising about the Musharraf formulation. It has been the traditional premise of Pakistani politics that the army is the ultimate arbiter which can step in whenever the country has to be "saved" from corrupt politicians.


Of course, it is a flawed argument. The alternative to corrupt politicians cannot be corrupt generals. Democracy has its own ways of dealing with corrupt leaders. Sooner or later they are defeated at the hustings. Apart from not rooting out corruption, armies are not known to save democracies when they are under threat.


The views of two generals — the US one heading Nato forces in Afghanistan and a former Pakistani one who led a coup in 1999 — hold dangerous portents for India. It is a safe bet that whatever the US does, the nest of vipers in Pakistan's tribal areas will not be extinguished. We had better be prepared for any eventuality.








Did you expect trouble on Thursday, September 30? That was the day the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid verdict was out, and for once — and I want to repeat that — for once the country was on full alert well before any violence erupted.


Usually our security forces, like the police in a Bollywood film, always rush to the troubled scene after the event, but here they were deployed in advance right across the country to meet any eventuality, especially in trouble spots and sensitive areas. In fact, in Uttar Pradesh, as many as190,000 security personnel were on duty — by any standards a massive number.


Was all of this necessary? State governments and the Centre must be congratulating themselves that their pre-emptive actions prevented any trouble from erupting. But to me that's yet another sign that politicians are so much out of touch with reality. The reality, which politicians either cannot — or do not wish to — see is that sectarian conflagrations do not happen spontaneously.


They happen as planned riots, instigated by cynical public leaders. You could, in a nutshell say that communal riots are of the politicians, by the politicians and for the politicians. This time around, every politician, however self-serving, and every political party, however rabid, had agreed in advance to maintain peace.


So how could there have been any trouble? The lakhs and lakhs of security personnel might as well have taken the day off and enjoyed a well deserved rest.


Everyone has focused so much on the Allahabad high court judgment, that this very significant moment in our history has gone unnoticed. Hindu political entities and Muslim political organisations, Hindu fundamentalists and Muslim religious fanatics, real secularists and pseudo-secularists, blinkered Marxists and die-hard atheists, they were all united in their determination to keep people calm and the country peaceful.


Why, even the Hindu and Muslim outfits which had fought the case in court for so many years suddenly seemed to have a change of heart and had gone to the Supreme Court earlier to get the high court to deliver its judgment.


Could this be the beginning of a new unified spirit wafting across our country? Could the Babri Masjid, whose demolition caused massive riots and which threatened a religious divide, now have the opposite effect? Perhaps that is an overly optimistic reading of the situation; perhaps, in a little while we — and particularly our venal politicians — will all go back to normal, and peace shall not reign in the land.


]Maybe. Maybe not. For as everyone has noticed, between 1992 and 2010 there has been a huge change in the national mood. Well, almost everyone. Old fossils like LK Advani are probably too rooted in their mindsets to see anything beyond their moustaches; someone like him is probably crowing at the verdict (he seemed to do so, though in a muted way, when he addressed the press last Thursday: "The stage is now set to build a grand Ram temple at the site").


He must glory in what he sees as his moment, the crowning glory of his long and disruptive career. But the India of today doesn't see the events of 1992 as a triumphal march of Hinduism; it only sees that the forces that people like Advani unleashed were the cause of horror and death, and that none of us want to go through that again.


This isn't a feeling restricted to just the educated urban elite. I overheard the neighbouring maids at their evening gossip session: "Good that the judges divided the land in three equal parts and asked the parties to live side by side," said one. "We could have told them that, why did it need three judges?" said another. "I am confused," a third one interjected. "I know Hindus are one party in the case, Muslims the second, but who is the third?" "Esai," said the first one with authority, "They will now build a church next to the temple and the mosque."


Of course, this is anecdotal evidence; of course, there is a level of ignorance there, but it's the sentiment that matters. This wasn't the younger generation which wants to look at the future; this was an older generation which is now no longer interested in the past.


Why and when did India change so much? No one knows. Was there an exact time and place that a New India emerged? Was there a single event that triggered the transformation? 26/11 may also have brought about a sense of unity by telling us that we are in a leaky boat, and we are in it all together. The widespread availability of modern tools of communication and information, may have accelerated the change of our country from an ancient nation to one with a modern sensibility.


What the reaction to the Babri Masjid verdict tells us finally is just this: we have moved on. Now our leaders and our politicians better follow.








Knowledge cannot merely be borrowed from books. It has to be realised in oneself," said Gandhiji. Often, in our thoughtless pursuit of the written word, we miss out on the very definition of knowledge.


A scholar was on his way back to his village by boat. Condescendingly, he asked the boatman, "Have you been to school?" "No." "There goes a quarter of your life." He continued, "Do you know how to read?" "No." "There goes half your life." With growing pity, he probed, "Can you write a word?" "No." The scholar declared, "Three quarters of your life is finished." The waters were now rising and the boat swayed precariously. As he turned to jump, the boatman asked, "Do you know swimming?" "No," replied the scholar. "I'm afraid," yelled the boatman, "you have lost your entire life."


Kabir had this to say about the seekers of knowledge, "Buried in books, the world died, with no one the wiser; but imbibe even an alphabet of love, and you are a scholar." A Christian convert met an atheist. He was asked, "Do you know when Christ was born?"


"No." "The country of his birth?" "No." "The date of his death?" "No." The atheist scoffed. "For a convert, you know little." "You're right," answered the convert. "But three years ago, I was a drunkard. I was in debt. Today, I am free from drink and debt. I am happy. This Christ has done. This I know." Knowledge has to transform. Or, what use is it?








Is the India after the September 30 Allahabad high court judgment on Ayodhya different from the India before it? Is it a fleeting perception or is there truly a fundamental shift in the Indian mindset born out of a fatigue of chronic Hindu-Muslim clashes?


Given the extraordinary history of Hindu-Muslim conflicts over innumerable issues since Partition, this was that rarest of rare moments when a critical court judgment was not allowed to translate into an "I win, you lose" sentiment.


In the hours of excitement and anticipation prior to the judgment, none of the disputants, analysts or political parties had anticipated athree-way split of the disputed land. At best, the judgment was expected to result in another logjam, taking the parties to the Supreme Court (which is happening), and, at worst, give a verdict in favour of one against the other.


Although the Sunni Waqf Board and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board will challenge the order in the Supreme Court,a sense of "enough is enough" was unmistakable in the political class too. Would it have made greater sense for the Hindu groups to declare victory or be graceful about it?


Having made the Ram Janmabhoomi issue almost fundamental to its existence, it would have been natural for the RSS, BJP and allied Hindu parties to break out into celebrations. After all, their demand for a Ram temple at the Babri Masjid site stood vindicated. However, while it does not decriminalise the same parties and individuals who forcibly demolished the site in December, 1992, it is creditable that the RSS and the BJP chose to show restraint and did not celebrate the judgment on the streets.


The chatter on Twitter was interesting with teen India wondering what the hullabaloo was all about. Some wondered whether Ayodhya was located "in Lucknow" or in Karnataka? With the news media wisely not focusing on the visuals of December 6, 1992, there were some who remained shockingly ignorant about the background to the case.


There were no celebrations and still there was joy and jubilation. The common man had prepared for the worst from the politicians and there was considerable tension in homes and on the streets.


As things turned out, there was happiness that not a single bus was stoned or an innocent knifed. People who were out returned home safely and children could go to school almost fearlessly the next day. In simple words, we began to look at each other as Indians — and not as Hindus and Muslims.


It would be foolish not to be prepared for trouble from the mischief-makers, but there are reasons for hope. Some have termed the judgment more as a "panchayat settlement" than a legally-sound verdict. In simplistic terms, it does feel like one of those ancient stories wherein three quarrelling brothers were pacified by giving them an equal share of the property.


The judgment — and India's reaction to it — has paved the way for reconciliation. From here on, can Hindus and Muslims be partners in development — not just on the Ayodhya site but on other core issues facing the nation?


Can India address her other challenges, specifically with regards to Kashmiri separatists and the Maoists, on similar lines where we don't see one another as enemies but as partners in development?


In a sense, the October 2 weekend has been an apt ending for the Joy of Giving week. India has new reasons for hope and happiness.









Mandir Tah de, Masjid Tah de, Tah de jo kucch tehnda Ik bas kissi da dil na tahvin, Ki rab dilaan vich rehnda Loosely translated, this couplet by Bullah Shah, a reknowned Sufi saint of the sub-continent, would mean: Demolish the temple,demolish the mosque, demolish whatever you can. Just don't break hearts of humans for God lives in them. Had the much celebrated harmony, evasive and cosmetic as it is, post Ayodhya verdict been based on these principles, one may have heaved a sigh of relief. The controversy and the way it has been dealt with hasunfortunately broken too much that is vital for civilised, progressive humans. In 1992, when the Babri mosque was demolished, it was humanity that was slaughtered. In 2010 when the verdict is out, it is the spirit of democracyand justice that have been so badly butchered. On the face of it, if interpreted on the basis of the calm reaction and response to the decades long pending dispute, itseems to have heralded what is being projected as the maturity of India, the syncretic culture juxtaposed with communal harmony.

Everybody gets to share the site with the court giving one-third share to Muslims and two Hindu groups. A mosque and a temple would together come up on thesite and everybody will pray and live peacefully ever after. If this were a fairy tale, one may have reason to smile in the end at the goodness of the unexpected bonhomie. The verdict is being viewed by many as a pragmatic one because it has ended up soothing communal passions.

With this, there appears to be some closure on the dispute. But is that the final post?
That the three parties to the dispute can, and are only too willing to, approach the Supreme Court which can reverse, alter the present judgement is not the sole
reason. What about the most tricky question of how this land is to be divided? Can a mosque and a temple be built side by side? Can the two structures exist in
peace with Hindus and Muslims peacefully praying on a site where seeds of hatred were sown just less than two decades ago in a way that totally polarized the two
communities? If this can happen and be a sustainable happening, it might after all be great for the secular image and spirit of the country. But the entire optimism
is based on this hypothetical possibility.

What if things turn the other way round? How far would the 'goodness' of this verdict then last? The entire optimism is not simply built on the edifice of the division of property, touted as an amicable settlement where everyone gets a share, but more on the immediate reaction of the litigants after the verdict and other political and vested interests. As anticipated, it did not rake up any communal conflagration. There was a cool and calm response. It requires a cooler head to analyse
this rather than jumping the gun and proclaiming how mature we have suddenly become after 1992 and 2002. The common masses in India are no longer enamoured by mandir-masjid politics, it is being presumed. They never were and
that is the fact. It is only the myths that are constantly fed to them in the form of a propaganda that they fall prey to machinations of the rabid fanatic groups of
any hue and allow themselves to be dictated into shameful disasters like communal riots. If the verdict has been tailored to be politically suitable, obviously the
fanatic elements may find no immediate reason for rabble rousing.
But who will ensure permanence to this present display of peace and maturity?
While the decision may be politically pragmatic, with of course, limited short term gains, it is legally and socially wrong. The judgement cannot be understood
without a sense of history. There are two erroneous problems, besides many others. It is for the first time that a legal stamp has been endorsed on the question of
whether Lord Rama existed or not, a question that historians are at pains to grapple with without any evidence. The court has not based its decision on any evidence
but on matter of faith. Can legal jurisprudence be based on faith of a majority in the country? Unfortunately, the courts were given the task of deciding matters
of faith and history, which really is not the mandate of the judiciary.
Secondly, where does one begin this sense of history? Those intoxicated by the 'wisdom of the verdict,' have begun talking about moving on and closing the chapter, and begun wishfully thinking of locking up all mandir-masjid
disputes with this piece of judgement. Certainly, it is good to move on. Apart from the fact that forgetting history condemns us to repeat it, the point is that all
bygones cannot be forgotten and condoned. The demolition of Babri mosque, which is not quite the same thing as the demolition of some Hindu religious structure at
the same site some 400 years ago (which itself has been left as a matter of dispute by the three judges in striking disagreement with each other on some or all of
the aspects of the case). What happened centuries ago can be forgotten and should be. What happened few years ago in a secular, democratic republic is not
something that can be condoned? Babri Masjid's demolition symbolised the virtual absence of the rule of law. Two decades, after it's fall, it is grossly unfair, unprincipled and anti-democratic to build an edifice of unity on its ruins.
Then where is the guarantee that bolstered by the present verdict, the Hindutava brigade would only stop at Ram Mandir.
After all places of worship, also often the centres of wealth, were looted, plundered and demolished throughout times immemorial, before and after the Muslim conquerors and settlers came to this land for various reasons including
perhaps purely communal bias. The saffron brigade already has a long list, based on its own sense of history, held close to its chest. Would this 'pragmatic verdict' be
so wise and effective after all? Maintaining a balance between legal propriety and the demands of peace might have been a difficult task for the judges behind
the verdict. It may indeed have been difficult to be both fair and ensure something that satisfies all, especially the majority community. But courts are expected
to deliver justice, be fair, ensure that the basic principles of democracy, secularism and justice are upheld. They can't act in accordance with the politics of
the times, with an overzealous media to endorse their pronouncements as 'ideal, wise and fair.' Can our vision of fairness, secularism and communal amity
be so limited in its scope and probability? Can it be based on the premise that the minority alone should be accommodating and feel grateful about the benevolence
of the majority, for the sake of 'Peace'? When did peace become meaningful enough without the element of justice?






AS neither a Hindu nor aMuslim, but, rather,now a hardened agnosticwho suspects there is an invisible
force behind the universebut is fully distrustful of allreligions, I could not be botheredin the least if a temple or
a mosque or a profane structure—or, indeed, nothing atall—is now to occupy the disputedspot in Ayodhya. As faras I know, the force that I wantto believe exists and pervadesthe entire universe and beyondis supremely indifferent to whothe new owners of the contestedspot are to be. This forceknows no distinction of religion,caste, nationality, gender,sexual oientation, and soon and so forth. For all I care,you can smear your head withash and fall flat in front of thetoy-like idols that now standon the disputed spot and mumblemantras in incomprehensibleSanskrit, or you can don askull-cap and bend and bowwhile muttering phrases inArabic of which you understandnot a word if the mosquethat once stood on the spot isreconstructed. The universalforce I sort of suspect exists is,I know, supremely unaffectedby what you do on that measlybit of earth.
That said, I must confessthat the judgment of theAllahabad High Court on theAyodhya imbroglio struck me
as deeply disturbing, to put itvery mildly. Numerous criticshave argued that the Courtappears to have accepted theclaims of Hindus who sharethe RSS vision of the world asnormative and historicallyvalid, and to have been guidedby these possibly whollyuntenable claims in makingwhatever decision it did. Thatthis logic bodes ill for thefuture of secular democracy inIndia is a complete understatement.As a friend of mine, afellow agnostic, brilliantlyexpressing my own reaction tothe judgment, quipped, 'Are wenow to be governed by Hindushariah?'
At the same time, however, Imust also confess my immenserelief at the Court turningdown the claims of the SunniWaqf Board, not because Ibelieve that the Board's stanceis wholly without any merit atall, but, rather, simply becausehad the Court favoured theBoard (which is what many ofmy Muslim friends had rathernaively expected) it would certainlyhave provoked Hinduhordes into unleashing yetanother massive reign of terror
against hapless Muslims allacross the country. Had theBoard been declared as therightful owners of the contestedsite, rebuilding the BabriMasjid, which is what theBoard has been demanding allalong, would inevitably havehad to entail demolishing themake-shift temple that washurriedly set up on its ruins in
1992. And that would certainlyhave been at once pouncedupon by Hindu fanatics as anexcuse to whip up anti-Muslimviolence on a scale hithertocompletely unprecedented.This is why I think the move
on the part of some Muslimoutfits (who never tire of falselyclaiming to represent all theMuslims of India—this beingas horrendous a lie as theHindutvawadis' claim thatthey speak for all Hindus)—to
approach the Supreme Courtfor redress is, I believe, sheeridiocy. Supposing the SupremeCourt overturns the AllahabadHigh Court's ruling anddecides that ownership of thecontested space in Ayodhya be
granted entirely to the SunniWaqf Board, as the Boardhopes it will. What then? Is itat all conceivable that the
Board can actually beginbuilding a mosque on the disputedspot, even if this—miraculously, for there can be
no other way—does not involvetearing down the make-shifttemple that presently standsthere? The spot, the mullahsand the other ignoramuses inthe Board and the BabriMasjid Action Committeemust surely know, is not somewhereon the outskirts ofMecca-Medina or in the hills ofTora-Bora in Afghanistan,where the task could havebeen easily accomplished andno opposition would have beenbrooked. I dare say that not asingle of the self-styledMuslim leaders spearheadinghe movement for rebuildingthe Babri mosque would, forall their foolhardy, rabblerousingrhetoric, be so bold asto venture even a hundredmiles from Ayodhya leading a
team of zealous 'mujahideen'to restore the mosque even ifthe Supreme Court were torule in the Board's favour. Notone of them would, I bet, are soeager for martyrdom. The trystwith houris that they believeare promised to shaheeds canwait for a bit more, I am surethey feel.To come back to the HighCourt's judgment, although, as
I said, I find it, to put it mildly,disappointing in a very fundamentalsense and cannot helpdisagree with the logic thatinforms it, its recommendationhat the contested space beshared by Hindus andMuslims (although disproportionately)is, I must admit,hugely compelling and entirelywelcome—simply for the symbolism
of it. I have absolutelyno idea as to how the two aregoing to arrange for this toactually happen. I suspect this
will not be at all easy, particularlygiven the Hindutvafanatics' dreams of constructingwhat they repeatedly term
as a ' really grand temple' onthe spot, a prospect that wouldnot exactly inspire Muslimswith confidence to build, andworship in, a mosque in itsshadow. But, anyhow, as far asI am concerned, as I said at theoutset, while some Hindus andMuslims will continue tobelieve that occupying thatparticular piece of ground in
Ayodhya and knocking theirheads on it in prayer is ofimmense, indeed cosmic, significance,I am confident that
the force that pervades everythingknows otherwise.Yoginder Sikand workswith the Centre for theStudy of Social Exclusionat the National Law School,Bangalore 







GENERATIONS tocome would hardlybelieve that such a manas this ever walked upon thisearth in flesh and flood. Thiswas the tribute paid toMahatma Gandhi by a greatphilosopher after Gandhiji'sassassination. The nationtoday is celebrating anotherbirth anniversary of 'bapu'- thefather of the nation. Gandhihardly needs any introductionnot only to Indians but to theworld community as well. Aperson to be remembered forcenturies, born on 2nd October1869, Mahatma Gandhibrought about a remarkablechange in the mindset of theworld community achievingindependence of India througha non-violent resistance movement.With over more than 60
years, when Gandhiji left thisworld, his journey to fight theocial evils still continues withno stops to various social evilslike corruption from top to bottom.Even though the instrumentslike Right toInformation Act have comeinto existence, the impact onground has not gained muchmomentum. Considering thescenario of the state of Jammuand Kashmir where the muchhyped commissions like StateAccountability Commissionwere established to curb themenace of corruption, the exercisestarted with a sincerevision but finally wrecked like
a sinking boat with thoseinvolved in various scandalsmoving freely. The attempts tocatch various big fishes turnedcounter productive and missionof the SAC remained anuphill task.Keeping in view the need of
the present hour, the societyneeds more Gandhis to fightagainst such evils of the society.Though India achieved
Independence due to theefforts of Mahatma, but aftermore than six decades, onething that an average Indian
should ask himself is the factthat are we really independent?An average citizen is stilla slave under the draconianclutches of various social evilslike poverty, untouchabilityand other social evils whichstill flourish. Gandhiji wasassassinated in 1948 and thevictory against such evilscould not be achieved evenalmost 60 years after hisdeath. Many others who triedto continue this fight were tooassassinated by different tactics.We may claim the target ofreaching the global heightsbut an average Indian citizenis still a slave under the draconianclutches of misunderstood
practices revailing inour society. There is a need toevolve a culture to contain themiseries being faced by a ommon
an. The ground fact isthat we all love Gandhi butembossed on Currency notesbut the immediate need is to
spread the message ofGandhian philosophy andinculcate in ourselves suchprinciples both in letter and
the spirit. With terrorism asthe biggest threat before thenation and peace as the onlychallenge, the country and
the countrymen today are in agreat need to focus and understandthe following lines ofGandhi; "Ishwar Allah TeroNaam, Sabko Sanmati deBhagwan".If we consider the viewpoints of the major strata ofthe society then to an averagecitizen, is it just another holidayadded to the list of holidaysor something else?. It is
believed that a citizen of thiscountry lives in a societywhere every town and city hasat least one road, one market,one statue and one parknamed after Gandhi.A common man has contributedtowards the country's
development by rememberingGandhi by writing essays onMahatma Gandhi in school,and poured over his contributionto India's independencein History classes. While mosthistorical personalities inIndia's history, no matter howdynamic, could inspire only afraction of the population,Gandhi and Gandhian philosophy
has been connected withIndians at their own level,their caste, creed, sex or statusnotwithstanding, and
that is why he was aptlychristened bapu or father.With elements like violence,corruption, crime, and communal
clashes, etc. as theground realities, what percentageof our society is followingthe footsteps of
Mahatma Gandhi and themessage of his three monkeys;each signifying its ownmessage: Speak no evil, Hear
no evil, and See no evil.However, in today's world,the scenario is speak notruth, hear no truth, and see
no truth. An average humanbeing who believes in theprinciples of Mahatma todayfeels alienated by looking at
the rising graph of corruption,more preciselyfavouritism and nepotismand the corrupt rulers andhas no option other than followingthe path of gun.Gandhiji wanted the politiciansto work for the welfareof the needy and the underprivileged,and said that, "Apolitician should not live assahib or babu and should notuse the facilities provided bythe Government for their personaluse". Is the same beingpracticed by our politiciansand babus sitting in variousoffices in the current scenario?Ironically, no where inour system the ideologies andprinciples of the 'great bapu'figures in our governmentoffices. There are many suchissues which require nogroundwork but needs onlywill to uproot these evils.Various leaders inspired byGandhi's movement also tried
and succeeded in their politicalstruggles. For example,Martin Luther King who wasinspired by Gandhi to lead
non-violent protests, inAmerica, against discrimination.Gandhi who believed inthe principles of non violence
spent most of his years writingto leaders of other nationsto stop their violent ways ofconflict. Adolf Hitler was oneof them. Unfortunately, manyof them did not think thatGandhi's methods were beneficial.According to Gandhi,"A non-violent revolution isnot a program of 'seizure ofpower', but it is a program oftransformation of relationships."Looking at the scenario ofNew Delhi, the Capital ofIndia, the day is a nationalholiday marked by a series ofcultural events organisedevery year to commemoratethe birth of one of India'sgreatest political beacon. Onthis day, bhajans, or devotionalsongs are sung at hissamadhi, or memorial, in theIndian capital at Raj Ghat.The key figures of contemporaryIndian politics take timeoff from their usually packedschedules to visit his memorialand silently go over theMahatma's life and its impacton the destiny of India.Keeping in view the currentsituation of the state, it is ahigh time that our leadersmust refrain themselves fromthe politics of blame game andmust work in a cohesive mannerfor the percolation of peaceand welfare of human species
as whole. The society, todayneeds more such 







SARITA MEHTA(name changed) has a10-year-old daughterfrom her marriage to Arun.This young woman fromChandigarh wants a sonbadly to impress her in-lawswho feel that only a malechild can carry forward the
family tradition. Sarita is afew weeks pregnant and shewants to know the sex of herbaby. But sex-determination
tests are illegal inIndia, Sarita is thus planningto go abroad toAustralia where her sisterin-law resides, to find outthe sex of her child.If it's a male, she andArun would return to Indiato euphoric in-laws; if it's afemale, she would quietlyhave an abortion beforecoming back. Sarita seesnothing wrong in what she'splanning to do. There aremany women like Sarita inIndia today, who may lackthe means for sex-determinationtests abroad, but
they throng seedy medicalclinics here to get the sex oftheir babies determined.Experts say that social discriminationagainst women,already entrenched inIndian society, has beenspurred on by technological
developments that todayallow mobile sex selectionclinics to drive into almostany village or neighbourhoodunchecked.Everyone know this isillegal, but such clinics continueto thrive and, as a
result, India has one of theworst child sex ratios (CSR)in the world. The CensusReport of 2001 reveals a
highly skewed child sexratio (of 0-6 year-olds), thatfell from 945 females per1,000 males in 1991 to an
all-time low of 927 in 2001.The ratio even dropped furtherto 800:1,000 in somespecific parts of the country.
What is most alarming isthat the CSR is far moreskewed in the land-rich andaffluent states of Punjab
[793], Haryana [820],Chandigarh [845], Delhi[865], Gujarat [878] andHimachal Pradesh [897]. Infact in Haryana, the low sexratiohas led to a decline inthe number of young marriageablegirls for the State's
young men, prompting themto look for brides in otherregions of India, like Kerala.These skewed sex ratios
have moved beyond thestates of Punjab, Haryana,Delhi, traditionally theworst offenders. With news
of female foetuses beingaborted even in states likeOrissa, there is ample evidenceto suggest that the
next census will reveal a furtherfall in child sex ratiosthroughout the country.In August this year, the
Orissa branch of the IndianMedical Association (IMA)in association with the stategovernment and the United
Nations Population Fund(UNFPA) organised a workshopto sensitise doctors inthe drive of sex selection
elimination and strengtheningimplementation of PCPNDTAct 1994(Preconception and Prenatal
Diagnostic Techniques Act)in the state.Orissa Health SecretaryAnu Garg said thatalthough the state was in abetter position in the pastcompared to the nationalaverage as far as sex ratiowas concerned, fast depletion
in child sex ratio havebegun to run alarm bellsnow. Even the Ministry ofInformation andBroadcasting issued a directiveto search engines inIndia, namely Google, Yahooand MSN, stating that theyare no longer allowed to
advertise links pertaining tosex determination tests.Sex selection kits whenadvertised are often boughtonline and in an effort tocurb this, the HealthMinistry requested the I&BMinistry to direct all searchengines to filter this information.Google however,claimed that they do notallow ads for promotion ofprenatal gender eterminationas this is illegal inIndia.Social scientists point outthat prosperity ensures betterinfrastructure, more
machines and more doctorsto perform the tests. "Peopleuse their money power toaccess clinics for sex-determinationof foetuses, pay forthe technology, and opt forfemale foeticide," says anexpert.
Former director professor,Obstrenics and.Gynaecology, Maulana AzadMedical College, Dr KamalaGanesh says, "Techniquessuch as Amniocentesis wereintroduced in 1975 to identifyany genetic abnormalities.Sadly, these soonbecame a tool for sex determinationand proved to be acall of death for the tinyunborn female fetuses." Inearly-1979, North India'sfirst sex determination clinicwas opened in Amritsar;soon similar clinics mushroomedin Punjab, Haryana,Uttar Pradesh.IMA formed DoctorsAgainst Sex Selection(DASS) to keep track of doctorsinvolved in sex determination.The associationdemanded strong scrutiny ofactivities of hospitals beingmanaged by non-medicalprofessionals. Dr. Ganeshadds, "A concerted campaignto end sex selection
demands pressure on thegovernment to take action tocurtail the misuse of preconceptionand prenatal technologies,and to regulate tobehaviours of those seekingprofit from the industry. It isimperative to recognize thenecessity of reformulatingand changing the populationcontrol strategy withthe goal of seeking the targeted
gender balance strategies.Finally, education,public awareness, and promotingthe value of the girl
child in a small family willplay a critical role in bringingabout an end to theproblem".—(NPA)







It is a matter of regret that the People's Democratic Party (PDP) has not changed its stance to stay away from the ongoing Assembly session. The main opposition party in the House has rejected an appeal by the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) to end its boycott of the proceedings. The panel had deputed Mr Yusuf Tarigami (Communist Party of India-Marxist) to take up the matter with the party leadership. Mr Tarigami met the PDP president, Ms Mehbooba Mufti, only to draw a blank. The latter has explained her reasons for not doing what the elected leaders are supposed to do. She has demanded that action be initiated against those responsible for the killing of young persons in the Valley. She has been quoted as having made the following remarks: (a) "Unless this lawlessness comes to a halt, asking questions in the legislature will sound a meaningless charade;" (b) "This is a serious issue and unless the Government shows some inclination to stop atrocities and initiates action against the killers of 100 persons, the Assembly session will lack any seriousness and credibility;" and, (c) "All the resolutions furnished by the largest (opposition) party of the State have been disallowed by the Speaker. These resolutions pertained to revocation of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), reduction in troops on civilian duty, holding of unconditional dialogue to resolve the Kashmir issue and renegotiation of power projects." Given the fact that the PDP has a talented team of young leaders of proven political and legislative skills it is indeed hard to believe that it should claim innocence about how to raise issues on the floor of the Assembly in the face of any real or perceived resistance. The Assembly belongs to its members who have sufficient opportunity under the rules made and approved by them to speak their mind. 

Ms Mufti has gone on to maintain that staying away from proceedings of the House to register protest of the people is an established Parliamentary practice. By no yardstick can such an argument be accepted. In our view it is the duty of each and every legislator to raise subjects of immense public interest in the Assembly. At the same time a member is expected to stick to the scheduled finalised by his or her party along with others. He or she just can't go wild once inside the hallowed precinct believed to be a temple of democracy. By boycotting the Assembly the PDP is actually failing in its duty by the people whom it wants to serve and from whom it has obtained the mandate to be where it is at the moment.

Looked from another angle there may be a method in the madness being time after time displayed by the PDP. It knows that its arch political foe National Conference (NC) has failed to deliver more than ever before in recent times in the Valley. Its guiding mantra, therefore, seems to be that it stands to gain politically if it is seen in popular eyes on its home turf to be away from the NC at every step. However, it does not help the cause of Parliamentary democracy. It does not help the image of the PDP either as a responsible organisation. Certainly its current stand threatens the further erosion of the overall goodwill that its founder has generated. The NC can't be more pleased whatever its public posture in this regard. 







Only the other day we had referred in these columns to the crimes assuming shocking forms in this city. Now it seems that the rest of this region is also not immune from the current disturbing trends. The women are the bigger sufferers. Generally it has been found that we are on a short fuse. We don't think twice before taking out our anger on someone else. Well, arguably, if we are able to apply our minds carefully we may not get angry in the first place. We seem to disregard how precious our life is. How does one explain that one boy has killed another boy younger to him in Darhal area of Rajouri district? He is alleged to have used a long axe to commit the crime. Hot words over the entry of cows into a field followed the murder. In the beginning of September there was a shocking report about the burning of a woman and her daughter in Gadyal village of Khour area in Akhnoor tehsil of this district. It defies human conscience that anyone can consider executing a heinous act like this. Kerosene soil was sprinkled on two women before they were set on fire. It has turned out to be a crime of lust. After a fairly long probe the police has arrested three persons. The accused trio has admitted that it was annoyed when the women spurned its repeated advances. In yet another incident an old woman has been murdered by her sister's son in a village in Vijaypur area of Samba district. She was hit with a blunt weapon. Some cash missing from her house has led to the suspicion that money can be the evil motive behind the offence. What is thus the total picture that we get? Nothing matters when we are bewitched by a killer instinct. We don't take into account either our age or that of the target. Indeed, we don't --- at least quite a few among us --- appear to think that women have the right to say no. Family relations also don't matter when we have to carry out a wicked design. It is a free-for-all approach. On the top of it all we forget that we are human beings whatever our age and gender and we are expected to behave with a certain decorum and dignity. If we have differences we are required to sort out them amicably. To the contrary we just try to win the argument by eliminating our opponent. This is the law of the jungle. We are on the other hand supposed to live by the rule of law. 

The above three happenings serve to confirm that our social norms are getting perverted fast and many of us have violent mindsets. It is strange that the spread of education is not making significant difference to our perceptions. How do we stem the decline when our tendency is to swim with the current? We need to ponder over our approach. Our aim actually ought to be building a harmonious society. Why should it be difficult to do so? Who will bell the cat? Together we can!












After a lull in the recent years, Kashmir seems to be back in Pakistan's rhetoric politics. If this trend continues, how is Pakistan likely to pursue further the debate at national, bilateral and international levels? More importantly, what are the implications for J&K?

Clearly, there has been a series of Kashmir related activities within Pakistan, during the last few weeks. In contrast to the last two years, especially after the 2008 elections, a cursory look at the recent statements from Pakistan will highlight the re-igniting of Kashmir issue in their body politics. During the last week, there were at least two significant meetings/conferences/rallies. The first one was a rally, almost a jihadi one, led by one of the Lashkar front - Tehrik Azadi-i-Kashmir (TAK) in Islamabad. This rally witnessed a carefully organized caravan - "Azad-i-Kashmir", from Mirpur, starting three days earlier, reaching the venue, via Kotli, Bagh and Muzafarabad. The organizers of this rally, also organized a national conference, in which political parties including the PML-N and Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam. From Abdur Rehman Makki, the leader of the TAK to Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, there was a repeated emphasis on jihad as the only option to resolve Kashmir. 

Again, during the last week, there was another meeting/conference, but this time in Lahore, organized by the Jamaat-e-Islami, on Kashmir. The speakers included political leaders, and more importantly, editors and other representatives from media. Some of the participants in this conference include Qazi Husain Ahmed (former JI chief), Majid Nizami ( Editor in Chief of the the national daily - The Nation) Mushahid Husain (PML-Q Secretary General), Jehanir Badar (PPP's Secretary General), and Imran Khan. Most importantly, this meeting also included the Jamaat-ut-Dawa chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and Muttahidda Jehad Council Chairman Syed Salahudin.

Besides, the above meetings led by the political parties and organization, during the last few months, there is an increased shrill against India in Pakistani media on Kashmir. Comparing the violence in Kashmir to the intifada in Palestine, one could witness numerous editorials and articles in the mainstream English and vernacular media, lashing India and its security forces and accusing them for committing atrocities against the Kashmiris. 
Clearly, there is a renewed effort to bring Kashmir back in the national debate within Pakistan, forcing the government to take action. It was not a surprise, that the Lahore conference then adopted a resolution demanding the government of Pakistan "to call an all parties conference for devising a national policy that could play a role in ending atrocities in Kashmir."

At the international level, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan's foreign minister led a diatribe in New York, last week, in his statements within the UN and outside it. He has asked the US to "invest its political capital" in Kashmir as much as Washington is doing in the Middle East. While there were no significant statements from Zardari and Geelani, other actors in the government, especially the Foreign Office, and the media, has been spitting venom against India on J&K.

What does the above shift mean for J&K and Indo-Pak relations? First and foremost, it is evident, that Pakistan is trying to reposition itself on (and in) Kashmir. In the recent years, especially in the last two years, Pakistan has lost interest in J&K, for various reasons. Besides the internal turmoil, the increased showing and stability in J&K, made Pakistan to look elsewhere. There were no major meetings, statements and editorials on J&K. Suddenly this has changed now. 

From now on, there will be an increased effort to reach out to the separatist leadership in Kashmir. While there is an increased anti-Indian sentiment within the Hurriyat leadership and the stone throwing youths, there is not much love for Pakistan either. Many in Kashmir valley consider Pakistan as an opportunistic nation, who is not genuinely interested in their future. Nor do the Kashmiri youths want to emulate Pakistan. 
Second, there is an effort inside Pakistan, to bring Kashmir back on their national debate. While certain actors - such as the religious political parties and jihadi organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Once again, Afghanistan and Kashmir is likely to become Pakistan's two external cards, carefully exploited to divert the local population to ignore domestic instability. In short, the debate inside Pakistan during the next five years will be almost similar to what happened during the first half of the 1990s.

Third, due to the above two, there is a likelihood of Pakistan reinventing the militancy card. While the national debate and the rhetoric within Pakistan led by the radical groups are likely to gain new recruits, the government policy is also likely to change in terms of using the armed groups - from the restraint that we see today, to fishing in troubled waters. If not the government, at least a section of it, which is running the show in J&K, will be tempted to revive the militancy card.

Fourth, there is likely to be an increased demand from Pakistan's side for an international intervention in J&K. The recent speech by Pakistan's foreign minister in the United Nations was not merely an emotional rhetoric, but a carefully calibrated effort to raise the issue at the highest level. With Obama's visit to India is only few weeks ahead, this shrill will only increase, especially, in asking the US to get involved in Kashmir will increase further.

Fifth, Kashmir (and Siachen) is likely to figure high on Pakistan's agenda in Indo-Pak dialogue. While on the one hand, Pakistan will pressurize the international community to force India to give high priority to a Kashmir specific dialogue, on the other hand, it will be able to re-establish the lost ties with the separatists, by emphasizing "take Kashmiris into account" rhetoric, meaning, the separatists. 

What should India do now? First and foremost, New Delhi should understand that this is our own making. After the wonderful efforts made by the security forces and the excellent response to the civil society in J&K, sometime after the 2008 elections, New Delhi has lost the plot. We failed to capitalize further on the positive environment, and like our cricket team does at times, we threw our wickets in what should be a winning game in J&K. 

The response to Pakistan should begin from inside, by wresting the lost initiative. Meanwhile, the stakeholders of maintaining peace in J&K should explore Pakistan's likely game plan and its strategies; there should be a debate and even simulation exercises on how Pakistan is likely to reposition itself in Kashmir. Unfortunately, New Delhi will be embroiled with the Commonwealth games, Ayodhya verdict and impending Obama's visit, with little time for J&K. This in fact, has always been J&K's irony.

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









The United States' Government has made a hefty increase in H1B Visa fees payable by software engineers and other professionals seeking to enter the U.S. Professionals are allowed to take wage employment for six years under this visa. Previously applicants had to pay Rs 1,06,000 towards fees. Now they will have to pay Rs 1,98,000. Consequently, it will become difficult for Indian software engineers to migrate to the U.S. The U.S. Government hopes that this move will reduce competition faced by U.S. engineers and open up job opportunities for them that were till now being grabbed by Indians. American engineers will not have to face competition from Indians who were willing to work for lesser wages. Indian software companies like Infosys and Wipro offer services to U.S. companies from their U.S.-based offices. They bring large numbers of engineers from India to man these operations. It will become expensive for them to do so and they will be encouraged to employ American engineers instead. The increase in fees has been made under pressure from the American voter who perceives that Indian engineers are taking jobs that truly belong to them. Unemployment at 9.5 percent is forcing the U.S. lawmakers to abandon their traditional stance of free markets and to take the direction of protectionism.

The measure is specially targeted towards Indian companies. The increase in fees will only be applicable to those companies that have more than one-half of their U.S. employees on H1B Visa. Companies like Microsoft employ larger number of professionals from India than many Indian companies. But their overall payroll in the U.S. is larger hence H1B visa holders constitute less than one-half of their payroll and they will not be hit by this law. On the other hand and Indian company with fewer H1B visa holders will be hit because its total payroll in the U.S. is smaller.

The increase in visa fees appears to be harmful for India and beneficial for the U.S. on the first reading. Indeed, immediately fewer engineers will migrate to the U.S. This short run impact has led our Commerce Minister Anand Sharma to condemn the increase in fees. Indian Government officials have even threatened to take up the matter in the World Trade Organization. While we must certainly pursue to contest this anti-India measure, there is no need to get overly worried. This measure will rebound and hit the U.S. in the long run. The street corner shop may gain immediately by raising its flour grinding charges but not in the long run. Some customers will buy flour from the kirana shop instead of buying wheat and having it ground. Others may go to the shop in the next street. In the end, the high price will lead to less income for the shop owner. Similarly, the American economy will stand to lose by discouraging the immigration of Indian engineers.

The long term impact on the Indian economy, on the other hand, is likely to be beneficial. Web-conferencing has made it possible to talk to persons sitting thousands of miles away just as they were sitting on the same table. The need to send Indian engineers to perform tasks sitting in the host's office in America has correspondingly become less. American principals can communicate their requirements and problems with Indian engineers sitting in Bangalore. This has led to a decline in the number of engineers being sent to America by Indian companies lately. Infosys had requested 4559 H1B visas in 2008. This had declined to mere 440 in 2009. A similar decline is seen by Wipro, Satyam and TCS. Till recently the H1B quota used get lapped up on the very first day of opening. This year, however, only 28,000 applications were received many months after opening of the 85,000 visas that were available. The demand for H1B visas is declining in tandem with improvement of communication technologies. Increase in visa fees in this situation is like flogging a dead horse.
According to one report, Infosys's revenues from onsite provision of services in the U.S. were 47 percent and offshore revenues from operations in India were 53 percent. Infosys is capable of raising the share of offshore operations in India to 95 percent from present 53 percent. The company has already conducted pilot programmes with couple of clients in the U.S. in this direction successfully. The immense value to H1B visa that prevailed in the yesteryears has clearly evaporated into thin air. It means that software contracts will continue to flow to India. Difference will be that previously a large part of these contracts was executed onsite in the U.S. Now most will be executed in India. This will be harmful for the U.S. The spread effects of technological innovation will accrue in India, not in the U.S. This will erode the technological lead of that country. Money that was being spent by Indian engineers in the U.S. will now be spent in India.
I reckon the U.S. has sunk into a trap. Increase in visa fees will lead to greater outsourcing and less jobs for American engineers. Reduction in fees will lead to more immigration and again fewer jobs for American engineers. Either way there is no escape.

The basic problem, as mentioned by Gates, is that the cost of production of the mathematical mind in the U.S. is much higher than in India. Any attempt to keep cheap goods out of the shop leads to closure of the same. Likewise, any attempt to keep out cheaper Indian mind power will lead to loss to the U.S. economy. Instead of the U.S. trying to keep Indians out, it should learn the techniques of creation of mind power from India like applying tika on the forehead, tying moli on the wrist, circumambulating around the temple, taking bath in rivers, ringing bells in the temples, burning incense, etc. These techniques will improve the math scores of U.S. students and help them compete with India.








The formidable curse which I have always warned my students against is the growing spate in the spurt of copying during the examinations now- a- days which has been nibbling into the very infra structure of the educational system and is still likely to continue stretching its obnoxious tentacles into the next posterity. Unless some drastic steps are taken to stem the tide of this fast spreading curse as early as possible, nothing constructive can be expected. Unfortunately most of the parents bitten by the seduction of good percentage encourage their children to take recourse to this malaise but they fail to understand the career-staking impact of their approach on their children. I have found a major tendency of the students towards this anathema in many areas of Doda, Kishtwar, Bhaderwah, Ramban, Rajouri and Poonch Districts of our State. 

Most of the teachers who entered this pious department through backdoor-influences are involved in the obnoxious practices like examination fixing and paper leakages to collect money from the students. Woe to the teachers who bears this kind of moral character. The sub-standard lust of the teachers for money at the cost of their honour and the suicidal quest of the parents for good percentage combined with the detrimental innocence of our students have always resulted into the career-staking frustration of the students' lot during the later stages of their life. So much so that the responsible quarters have frequently been found to be the part of this scathing system. The deplorable spectacles of a considerable bulk of the degree holders, transporting themselves into the clime of over-confidence regarding their future (which is bleak in fact) are enough to invite the attention of all those who have a human heart to feel and a rational mind to think of the pernicious impact of the copy- culture on the future of our youths when they, with the degrees and patents attained by the dint of mal-practice in the exams, are seen dejected after finding their names nowhere figuring in the select-lists or coming out of the Interview Commissions or Boards with nothing but a big amount of disappointment. 

They, for the first time, must be realizing their blunders and recalling the advice of a few good teachers who always advised them not to move into the deceitful world of unfair means during examinations. This minatory malaise not only paralyzes the mental acumen of the taughts but, if microscopically diagnosed, is also responsible for causing the total social structure rock into a false sense of security. 

Widespread frustration, feeling of insecurity, intellectual degeneration, social degradation and economic dependence is the ultimate fruit of the prevailing copy culture which has assumed an alarming proportion in the current educational set- up. The quality-based education has collapsed into the cold embrace of pre-mature death and quantitative literacy has plagued the students' life so much so that they are now seen wading through the dead set of teleological psychosis .You can practically visualize the society laden with the fruitless and unpractical literates always blaming the interviewing authorities, Govt. and social system for being unjust in discharging their duties bypassing the fact that it is they who make the system and of-course they have grown to be the insignificant stuff of the society because of their failure to understand the demand of circumstances at one point of time. They are part of the system and none else but they have added to the multidimensional deterioration of educational standard. The parents try to look at the facts through the glasses colored with the parental affection and consequently cannot see the truth in its originality and then start blaming the others. Talent, capability and the spirit of working hard ultimately bless the student with the fruit which they can be proud of in future. Meanest of the means are the people and the teachers, whether in schools or at the higher level of education who, knowingly or unknowingly, adds to the eruption of immoral, illegal and unethical examination culture. My senses stop functioning and the whole body gets paralyzed when I get to know about the teachers commercializing the examinations with the loathsome inclination to extract or extort money from the pockets of the trouble-torn and mealy-mouthed students with the promise to allow them to bank upon the unfair means. The sensible students must try to keep an unattainable distance from this pestilence, taking prophylactic measures by pin-pointing and getting such teachers exposed. 

It has been noted may times that noted many teachers get bribes and sell examination centers and throw their image into the abyss of disgrace. I am immensely surprised to note that so cheap is the conscience of the teachers who stoop down to such a detestable level of working. I tried most to raise my voice against it but it is like Shakespearean Tragedy 'Evil is punished when Good is destroyed'. One I really feels small at the sight of such" black sheep" or scapegrace in the Dept of Education who, in spite of perpetrating the most inhuman and contemptible act of examination fixing, still keep a smiling countenance having no compunction of conscience at their evil deeds. The time-being allowance for unfair-means during the examinations may be transient favour to the students but in the long run it is sure to have a crippling effect on their career. The students and the parents have to understand it earlier than to brood over it later. Nothing is more precious than the self respect which most of our teachers have put to auction in the open court. A teacher is supposed to preserve his dignity and do his duty fairly well being responsible to his conscience. There are some teachers who want to stand against this cult but being outnumbered by the unprincipled host of money-belchers they can do nothing else than rubbing their hands at the sight of this heart-rending spectacle. 

The Govt. will have to evolve some rigorous strategy to punish the people of educational department with such a criminal mentality and extricate the system from the shackles of this miasmic culture otherwise we will keep on struggling with the educational backwardness even in the wake of 21st century doing nothing for the nation-the nation that is dependant on the shoulders of these youngsters for her respectable survival. All the conscientious lot of the society particularly the parents of the students, who are the Scape-goats at the hands of such a clay-brained component of the teaching system, have to come forward to behead the demon of this Copy-culture.








THE spectacular opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi on Sunday is a signal that the much-awaited event is on in all its splendour and there is, after all the negative publicity, something to cheer about. Doomsday forecasters who have had a free run for weeks, damning every aspect of the Games, have had their say. It is now for the world to enjoy the sporting events as they unfold and for India to draw a measure of pride for hosting it. To deny that there were huge glitches along the way with work on the Games Village stretching right up to hours before the event would be foolhardy. But now we need to look ahead. Much last-minute effort has gone into making the facilities world-class and the Games Village by and large free of plumbing, drainage and electrical problems. Even as we absorb all the scorn that was heaped on the country for the shocking inadequacies in the run-up to the Games and seek to draw lessons from it, let us also stop to listen to positive opinion as expressed by the likes of experienced England badminton player Nathan Robertson when he said on the eve of the opening that "the village quality is very good, the food hall's excellent — the accommodation is possibly some of the best we've stayed in."


Having said all this, there is no denying that there is need for serious introspection after the Games and tough action against those who were responsible for the huge organisational glitches, the substandard material used in construction, and the shoddy workmanship. Corruption has indeed touched endemic proportions in the country and those who made a massive killing on the side must be tracked down and punished. It is small wonder that the cost incurred on the Games ballooned from $100 million when it was awarded in 2003 to $ 6 billion — making it the most expensive Games ever.


But first things first. For now Indian competitors must put controversy behind them and focus on doing their best at the Games. Indian security agencies must continue their vigil against possible terror attacks and all sections must cooperate in ensuring that the Commonwealth Games still becomes a showcase event upholding the country's honour and prestige as an emerging power.








THE disproportionate assets case against the Badal family was filed by the then Congress government under Capt Amarinder Singh in 2003. The Punjab Vigilance Bureau had alleged that the Badals owned properties worth Rs 4,326 crore. It moved ahead full steam as long as the Congress was in power. Then there was a U-turn when Mr Parkash Singh Badal came to power in 2007. Witnesses started turning hostile with amazing regularity. Even the senior vigilance officers who investigated the case did not support the prosecution. Finally, the judgement has come, with a special court on Friday exonerating the Chief Minister, his wife Surinder Kaur, son and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal, along with others. Instead, the court has initiated action against two investigating IPS officers, Inspector-General of Police B.K. Uppal and Superintendent of Police Surinder Pal Singh, who were among the 59 prosecution witnesses who turned hostile, for the probe "fiasco". Strangely, even the 36 defence witnesses had turned hostile.


The Judge has observed that these officers had abdicated their responsibility and duties and, instead of conducting proper investigations, indulged in fabricating false evidence and record. That is a strong indictment, and strengthens the commonly held belief that in Punjab, some of even senior officers are aligned with one party or the other.


In the state, it is not uncommon for a party in power to slap cases on the politicians belonging to the Opposition to settle scores or to just cause harassment. The table turns when the rival party comes to power. The judgement specifically mentions that "had the case been investigated by these officers properly – it would not have ended in (a) fiasco". The value of the clean chit given by the court would have increased considerably had the investigation been handled in a more credible manner.









PUNJAB is heading towards a debt trap. The successive governments have accumulated a debt of Rs 71,000 crore. The government pays an annual interest of Rs 8,000 crore on this loan. A former Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, raised the issue in the Assembly on Friday and wanted to know why the state debt had risen so fast to the present level when he had left the government three years ago with a loan burden of Rs 48,000 crore. The state also got saddled with a massive debt for fighting Pakistan-backed militancy.


It is well known that when in power both the Akali Dal-BJP combine and the Congress contributed to the economic deterioration of the state and slowdown of its growth. Displaying reckless economic indiscipline, the present Akali-BJP government has all along followed populist, please-all policies, handing out liberal subsidies, not levying taxes when required, not trimming the bloated top-heavy administration, not reducing VIP security and crippling boards and corporations by loading them with political supporters. Political profligacy has bled the state white.


When Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal suggested an eminently sensible way out of the debt trap, no one in the House came forward to support him. It is one thing to express concern, but quite another to take the issue head-on and tackle it. The Centre is willing to absorb almost half of the present debt of Rs 71,000 crore if the state government accepts certain conditions aimed at sorting out the present financial mess and introducing fiscal discipline. The conditions include cutting power and water subsidies, introducing property tax, auditing of the local bodies by CAG and raising urban development income. The Punjab MLAs greeted the proposal with silence. A bitter medicine is sometimes good for the patient's long-term health. People may not mind fresh taxes as much if the Punjab leaders do some belt-tightening and undertake austerity measures. If Punjab has to set its financial house in order, this is a rare chance.

















AN announcement in Moscow on September 22 that Russia was pulling out of an arms supply contract with Iran may be treated as a signal of the beginning of a tectonic shift in the international security architecture in West Asia or even a much wider area. Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev decreed and armed forces chief of staff General Nikolai Makarov announced that the sale of S-300 air defence system units to Iran was off. Not only the S-300s deal was cancelled, exports of weaponry like battle tanks, warplanes, combat helicopters, high-calibre artillery, warships to Iran were prohibited. Such reneging on a formal contract by the Russian leadership has astonished many serving and retired military officers inside Russia itself and incensed the Iranians.


The apprehension now is that Russia is moving to the American-Israeli camp. Russia thought it advisable to dishonour the 800-million dollar contract for the supply of S-300s to Iran even if such a step meant forfeiture of one-half of the money and blackening its own face as an unreliable friend. In Washington the White House was exhilarated. An official statement said: "This continues to demonstrate how Russia and the United States are cooperating closely on behalf of our mutual interests and global security." Global security in this context, of course, means Iran's insecurity. S-300 missiles are defensive weapons. They are designed to protect large administrative areas, bases and control points against aerial attacks. They are no more effective than shooting down incoming aircraft and missiles at ranges of 150 kilometres at altitudes up to about 27,000 metres.


With unconcealed US support and defiance of a UN Charter obligation, Israel is on a daily basis threatening Iranian nuclear installations with aerial attacks. As a protective measure, Teheran thought it necessary to boost its defence capacity by acquiring batteries of mobile S-300s. The contract with Russia was signed three years ago and at least a few of the S-300s should have been in Iranian hands by the beginning of 2010.


The Iranian leadership is understandably livid. Defence Minister General Ahmad Vahidi said that Russia seemed to be caving in to international pressure. He challenged Russia to prove that it was independent in deciding its stand in international relations. The allegation of a deficit in Russia's independent decision-making is not without basis. The White House statement contained an admission of ongoing cooperation between Russia and the US on global security issues. How did this cooperation between the parties to the long Cold War not so long ago come about? There may be a multiplicity of reasons but one of them is very clear. The Russians have bowed before plain blackmail.


Two years ago, Georgia, once a constituent republic of the Soviet Union and Stalin's homeland, now an independent state, was manipulated by the US and Israel into mounting an attack on the disputed territory of South Ossetia leading to a brief war with Russia. While the Americans looked after the diplomatic aspect of this provocative enterprise, the Israelis provided training to the Georgian army and supplied war equipment like drones. This burst of violence was a message to Moscow that if it did not stop selling munitions to Iran there might be grave troubles on Russia's frayed Caucasian fringes.


Moscow points to UN sanctions against Iran as the reason for reneging on the S-300 contract. But the fourth and latest round of the UN sanctions on Iran came in June while Iran's impatience with Russia's back-pedalling on the agreement was public as early as February. Significantly, President Medvedev's annulment of the S-300 agreement with Iran was preceded by a secret visit of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Moscow which could not be kept a secret. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak was also in Moscow about the same time, signing with his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov the first-ever agreement between the two countries for military cooperation. Serdyukov talked expansively of a "transition to a new image" which would facilitate Russian purchase of Israeli weapons and technology.


Perhaps, more alarmingly to Iran, Syria, the Hezbollah in Lebanon and a newly assertive Turkey too, the Barak-Serdyukov agreement also provides for intelligence data-sharing. Russia has already purchased from Israel a dozen drones. These pilotless attack aircraft of the type the Americans are using with deadly effect in Pakistan's north-west tribal areas must have impressed the Russians as good killer machines they should also have. They did not trust their rusty weapons-making factories to make them and decided that buying them from Israel was a more reliable option. Igor Yurgens,, head of the Institute of Contemporary Development, a Russian think tank, has a foreboding that Russia may soon be importing from Israel as much as 30 per cent of the weapons and equipment the Russian armed forces need. Forces are also at work trying to integrate Russia with the Euro-Atlantic security alliance — NATO.


Where do all these developments and possibilities leave Iran? The root of its current international problem is in the widespread suspicion about the aims of its nuclear enrichment facilities. Unfortunately for Iran, it does not have many friends in today's world. On merit, its case on what is called its "nuclear ambitions" is very strong. Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has consistently denied that it wants to develop nuclear weapons and has even proposed many times that the Middle-East should be a nuclear-free zone. But Israel and the US are constantly dinning into the world's ears that the Iranians are making the bomb. They have not been able to show any proof of their allegation nor has the International Atomic Energy Agency found any evidence of prohibited activity. Yet the UN Security Council has allowed itself to be swayed by the unsubstantiated propaganda into clamping more and more sanctions on Iran.


At the same time, the Americans also had no difficulty in mustering enough votes at the IAEA's annual conference to defeat an Arab-sponsored resolution calling for 
Israel to sign the NPT and by implication liquidate its substantial nuclear armoury.


Given the unfailing American backing of Israel and the precedent of the crippling of an experimental reactor at Ossirak in Saddam Hussein's Iraq by Israeli war planes in 1981, Iran understandably has to do all it can to protect its nuclear facilities. Perhaps, the Islamic Republic has already got the capacity to deter any Israeli attack. S-300s could have made Iranian air defence impenetrable. Iran is trying to keep up a brave front. It is saying that the Chinese have the technology and will supply them S-300s — albeit a certain inferior variety — and Iranian weapons factories are also likely to produce one day, sooner than later, those looked-for missiles.








SOME of us have totally lost it. We have little time for ourselves and even less for our loved ones. We go about life as if we are so pressed for time that the world would fall apart if we paused to think.


One fallout of this sense of totally unlimited urgency is that we have become forgetful to the core. In a tizzy at all times, we keep on losing things, forgetting appointments and naming people wrongly.


When we were young, this proneness to being absent minded was associated with the really elderly. Today, we not-so-elderly people are even more susceptible to the problem.


I for one have the tendency to call acquaintances named 'Suresh' as 'Saurabh' and those named 'Vikram' as

'Akshay'. I have noticed though that it is easier to remember names of the female variety. The reasons for this variant to the phenomenon are not yet known.


I also tend to forget meetings and appointments unless the mobile phone reminds me of them. There are times when one has to cut a sorry figure at not having reached the venue of an important rendezvous.


Remembering birthdays and anniversaries is entirely out of the question. Websites like Facebook and Geni serve as important aides in such situations. Predictably, my wife is not pleased at my forgetfulness but she's not much better herself so I get away lightly on most occasions!


This malaise of absentmindedness has reached such alarming levels in our society that people leave behind

mobile phones in taxis and train compartments by the hundreds. One has also heard of wallets, purses, lighters, pens, pen-drives and even laptops being discovered in restaurants by waiters who clear the tables.


A friend of mine tends to look extra busy with multiple communication devices bulging out of his pockets at all times. He recently staked a claim for the absentmindedness award of the year when he met me for lunch at a restaurant. So caught up was he with all sorts of calls and emails to attend to that he put a sandwich in his pocket at some moment and noticed it only while leaving. The soggy eatable had messed up his pants to telling effect. The resultant peels of my laughter are probably reverberating inside his head even today.


Another glaring faux pas occurred one day when a few families travelled together for a holiday and had much fun. So boisterous was the mood and so numerous the number of children in tow that two kids who were busy watching TV got left behind on the return journey. Their parents thought that they were in another car and it was only when the group stopped for a meal along the highway that the lapse was noticed.


A recently returned cheque took the cake, however. The signatory had wanted to present his granddaughter a largish amount to mark his 75th birthday but instead of affixing the current date he wrote the ancient year of his birth on the cheque. The error was noticed when the bank's advice arrived in the mail. It simply said 'The date appears to be erroneous'.









THE district administration has a unique role in the entire gamut of public governance and administration. It is the government's principal set-up in districts with a direct interface with the public, and which is responsible for providing most government services to them as well as for implementing government programmes and schemes.


The liberalisation of economy and growing participation of private sector in health, education and other sectors has not diminished the government's role in public governance. On the contrary, this role has increased in several ways. The high economic growth rate, security concerns and new development programmes have thrown up novel challenges and enhanced the district administration's role.


In a democratic set-up, besides the political party in power, the legislature, the judiciary and the media also make considerable impact on the style of governance of a state, including the district administration. The people have increasingly become assertive and want services at the click of a button. The Right to Information Act has empowered citizens to obtain various types of information from the government. Thus, the district administration will have to be efficient, people-friendly and accountable.


The Deputy Commissioner or District Collector or District Magistrate, generally an IAS officer, is the head of the district administration and the state government's principal spokesman in the district. Besides being the head of the land revenue administration, he looks after law and order (along with police authorities), supervises several welfare and development programmes and disaster management and coordinates the activities of different departments.


The 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution have led to the formation of municipal bodies and Panchayati Raj Institutions as third-tier of governance at the local level. They have powers to handle developmental activities and thus play a crucial role in public governance at local levels.


The district administration provides a large number of services to the people according to well defined rules and guidelines. Some of these services relate to land records, ration cards, PDS, driving licenses, arms licenses, registration of documents, certificates of birth and death, registration of vehicles and sales tax. These are broadly classified as regulatory functions. As there are no fixed deadlines for these services, often discretion plays a significant role in public dealings. The number of citizens seeking such services has been increasing with time and dealing with large numbers has become a major task.


The most effective way of dealing with such services is to use information and communication technologies (ICT) extensively and to simplify forms and procedures. This calls for an elaborate administrative re-engineering and well-defined pre-requisites and checklist so that no official has any discretion to reject or seek additional information. For every service, time schedule should be fixed. Several states and enthusiastic officials have tried to improve the delivery system. Huge investments have also been made, but the ICT's utilisation is not up to the mark. Quite often, such reforms have remained person-specific and are not adopted by the system.


In short, e-governance and administrative reforms must be brought to the centerstage of public governance. To make reforms sustainable, the relevant rules should be amended. South Africa has enacted a law for the introduction of ICT in government. The Centre and the states, too, could enact a law for time-bound delivery of services.


Another major function of the district administration is to supervise, monitor and facilitate implementation of a large number of development and social welfare programmes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the National Rural Health Mission and the Sarva Shikshya Abhiyan with large allocations. Their effective implementation requires elaborate planning, continuous monitoring and supervision. The Deputy Commissioners and other senior officers spend a lot of time on such programmes, sometimes at the cost of regulatory functions.


The existing administrative structures are unable to cope with the demands of programmes most of which require, at the operational level, young and dynamic persons with technical skill-sets according to the programme's needs. There is a need for professionalising personnel management for effective programme implementation.


Disaster management has now acquired high priority. To meet emergencies, the district administration has to remain in a state of preparedness at all times. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) with pin-pointed responsibility are required.


While there is increased participation of gram panchayats in the implementation of a number of programmes, they do not have a single full-time official. Normally, there is Gram Sachiv for a group of panchayats. There is need for a multi-skilled general-purpose official for every panchayat to help handle all paper work properly and fix responsibility.


]The role of the police is crucial for maintaining law and order, especially in the context of security issues. There is a dire necessity for building credible intelligence system and for improving public-police relationship. The first step in this direction is to have a system for hassle-free registration of first information report (FIR) and winning the people's trust and confidence.


The Deputy Commissioner's role has been the subject of considerable scrutiny. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission has suggested that he/she should handle regulatory administration and law and order and coordinate the activities and programmes of various departments at the district level. Irrespective of the democratisation of the local bodies, the DC would continue to play a pivotal role at the district level.


Redress of public grievances should be given top priority and effective IT- enabled monitoring system should be introduced. Sometimes, grievances also provide valuable information about the functioning of government agencies. The officers, especially the DCs and SPs, should be easily accessible to the public. They must tour rural areas, see how department(s) are performing and listen to the public. This would help them build a healthy relationship with the public and take more informed decisions and not to go by the advice of their junior officials only.


The writer, a former Chief Secretary of Haryana, is currently the State Election Commissioner, Haryana








THE district is a crucial area of administration where the people look up to the District Magistrate for redressal of their grievances. In this capacity he has to perform functions relating to revenue, criminal administration and development. While performing duties in the three areas, the district head is generally called the Collector, District Magistrate and Deputy Commissioner respectively.


Every IAS officer looks forward to his posting as District Magistrate because this is one of the most challenging, satisfying and learning experiences of his career where he can do a lot of good for the people. It is like a laboratory where he can experiment with his ingenuity and see the results himself. Easily said, no IAS officer is complete without his experience as District Magistrate. So much so, the understanding and experience of working in a district is of paramount importance for his performance in the latter part of his career, as Administrative Secretary to the Government.


With the passage of time, the duty as the development head of the district is becoming more and more pronounced because of the vast panorama of the development schemes launched by the government. The Deputy Commissioners are becoming more and more absorbed in development planning and execution of such schemes in their districts.


And yet, there are a number of other important and arduous but interesting duties to be performed. Take a typical district like Karnal situated midway between Chandigarh and Delhi. It is an ideal spot to halt and refresh oneself. Besides, the district is quite famous for shopping many things like basmati rice, handlooms, shoes/chappals and dairy products. It also has a number of places for sightseeing. However, the district head need not go around in the district for this purpose as it is invariably done while accompanying important visitors. It also takes care of the inspections which he can carry out side by side.


Another duty to be performed by him is to train young civil and police officers posted in the district. It is here that you can mould an officer into a good or a bad officer and the district training forms the foundation thereof. If the DC takes interest in the training, he can assign any number of duties to the young officers. Most of them are enthusiastic and bristling with confidence but sometimes their over-enthusiasm creates problems as well.


]There was a young officer who wanted to put an end to eve-teasing. He went in civil clothes to a pan shop. While a girl was passing by, a person standing at the pan shop asked for a cold drink. The language used was such that it was misunderstood by the young police officer. So, he promptly arrested the man on grounds of eve-teasing and soon thereafter, in protest, the shutters of the entire market were brought down. The Deputy Commissioner and the Superintendent of Police had a hard time in getting the matter sorted out.


As the Deputy Commissioner of Karnal, I got installed the first community biogas plant in Haryana. But non-availability of sufficient gobar (cow-dung) was a problem. It required full-time supervision to arrange regular supplies of gobar. We looked around and found a young officer who was undergoing training in the district. He was immediately despatched to the village and was told in a lighter vein that his performance was, among other things, going to be judged by the amount of gobar he could arrange for the plant.


Arranging matrimonial alliances also sometimes falls in the lap of the district head not only for the weaker

sections like the deserted women of Mahila Ashrams and short stay homes but also for those who do not have

their parents' blessings. There was the case of a young boy and a girl whose marriage was got solemnised by the Superintendent of Police at the police station because their parents were unwilling. Soon thereafter, a room

was booked for them in the tourist complex for their honeymoon.


Or take the case of an unmarried probationer for whom we had to answer so many matrimonial queries from various quarters. Ultimately, a meeting was arranged between the probationer and the prospective in-laws and all the arrangements regarding the marriage were finalised.


Accidents on GT Road are, by no means, uncommon. They are indeed unfortunate. However, this also leads to

close acquaintance and long lasting friendship with a variety of people. There was the case of a tragic accident

in which the driver of the Government vehicle of Himachal Pradesh died on the spot. The Financial

Commissioner and his family who were in the vehicle, however, escaped unhurt and we looked after them in the hospital and the rest house. He remembered this gesture throughout his career.


If your district happens to have a number of good astrologers or palm-readers, the district gains its importance and invariably you have to arrange private interviews for important people.


As the district head, one needs to respect the sentiments of the people and involve himself fully in the events happening in the district. After a major fire accident, the day before Diwali in which a number of people died, after consoling their bereaved families and arranging for their funerals, we, too, did not celebrate Diwali.


Every day in the district brings fresh events and experience to light and it is one of the most vital and challenging assignments that an officer gets in his career. On the completion of the district tenure, one gets immense satisfaction if he successfully steered his district and left his mark there.


The writer is the Home Secretary, Government of Haryana











When the Ayodhya dispute first came up before a modern court in 1886, F E A Charmier, the district judge of Faizabad, disposed of it with a sagacious observation. "It is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus," he argued, "but as that event occurred 356 years ago it is too late now to remedy the grievance. All that can be done is to maintain the parties in status quo." In some senses, the Allahabad High Court has followed that principle. From the summaries of the verdict, it is clear that the court has tried to set the ground for a political settlement, making possession the basis of ownership. By itself, such an order for division could have been a good starting point to lay this issue to rest – theoretically with no clear winner or loser – but the devil is in the reasoning behind it. 


 The issue is very simple. According to the court's summaries – and no one has read the full 10,000 pages or so of the full judgment so far – two of the three judges seem to have given unprecedented legal sanction to belief. While ruling with Justice Khan for a three-way split, Justice Agarwal reasoned that the area under the central dome of the structure belonged to the Hindus as "the place of birth of Lord Rama as per faith and belief of the Hindus". The dissenting judge, Justice Sharma, of course, was unequivocal that the "disputed site is the birth place of Lord Ram" and that the disputed structure cannot be considered a mosque. 


The political drift of the settlement order to divide the property equally is arguably an equitable basis for settlement. The problem is that if the preceding reasoning based on faith and perception becomes a legal precedent in a constitutional court of law then it opens a minefield for all kinds of other disputes. Relying on Section 110 Evidence Act to give joint title on the basis of joint possession makes sense, as the majority decision did, but only Justice Khan stayed away from the tricky issue of sanctioning belief in law. 


Beliefs are always fluid and subject to change based on the times. Tulsidas wrote the Ramcharitmanas in the area less than 50 years after the mosque was built and never mentioned the birthplace of Ram, the temple or its destruction in his Awadhi masterpiece. The first British Gazetteer records of the area by Walter Hamilton in 1824 only mention a mass of ruins in a wide area dedicated to "Rama, Seeta, his wife, Lakshman, his general, and Nanimaun (a large monkey), his prime minister." Hamilton was only demonstrating his colonial unfamiliarity with Hindu names but almost all other British accounts from the nineteenth century mention a then extant local belief that these temples were demolished by Aurangzeb, not Babar. This is at odds with the historical record but that is precisely the point. Legality and facts cannot be substituted for faith or perception. 


The conventional wisdom is that India has moved on, that Ayodhya does not have any great political traction anymore and that the reaction to the verdict shows that the ghosts of the pasts may be behind us now. But we cannot be complacent. Already, there is a mood of triumphalism in the Sangh Parivar. The next step is the Supreme Court, judging by the responses from the litigants, but the demand is being made that Muslims should be "magnanimous" and let a "bhavya temple" be built. Of course, the BJP has so far been non-committal about making a grand gesture of generosity on its own part for a mosque to be simultaneously built side-by-side. 


Would it not be unfair to hoist the responsibility of upholding Indian secularism on Muslims alone? The response by Muslim civil society has been sober and Muslim lawyers in the dispute have been crystal-clear that they would uphold whatever the Supreme Court decides. The discourse, however, is being pushed in a direction where they stand in danger of being accused of being churlish now if they appeal. The language of the Parivar has been couched in political correctness but beneath it is a barely concealed glee, a sense that the verdict, by validating "Hindu faith", has willy-nilly justified the political Ram-janmabhoomi agitation that ultimately led to 1992. 


The bottom line is that the Ayodhya dispute, couched as it was in religiosity, has always been about politics: in 1949 when the idols were placed in the compound, in 1986 when the shilanyas was done under Rajiv Gandhi's PM-ship after the Shah Bano verdict, and since 1989 when the BJP committed itself to building a temple with its Palampur Resolution. The broader socio-political context today has changed but already Narendra Modi has talked of a new temple inaugurating a new Ram-rajya of the kind that Gandhi dreamed about. Nothing could be further from Gandhi's ideas – the man who wanted the Rashtrapati Bhawan to be turned into a hospital and who boycotted the holiest of shrines because they barred lower castes. 


The legality is up to the SC now but how the politics plays out remains an open question. 



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At least two distinguished columnists of this newspaper, former chief economic advisor to the government of India, Shankar Acharya, and Arvind Subramanian, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Washington DC, have sounded the alarm on the management of India's external economy in their columns published during the last fortnight. The rupee's steady appreciation in recent weeks, against the dollar, both in terms of the nominal and real effective exchange rate, and the steady rise in the current account deficit (CAD) in India's balance of payments, have been the objects of their shared concern. The latest balance of payments data released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) last week indicate that the CAD in fiscal 2010-11 could be anywhere between 3.5 and 4.0 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). The official view is less alarmist, with expectations that CAD could be contained at around 3.0 per cent of GDP, given indications that GDP is likely to grow at rates higher than forecast so far. Though the RBI has so far kept mum on both concerns, that is rupee appreciation and rising CAD, the chairman of the prime minister's economic advisory council, C Rangarajan, told the media last week that the CAD was within manageable limits. He went a step further to allay fears raised by both Dr Acharya and Dr Subramanian regarding the surge in capital inflows, stating that "the inflow has not reached a level that demands corrective action". In that clarification lies the warning that when inflows reach such a level, corrective action will follow.


Dr Acharya (BS, 23/09/10), who believes that the CAD is likely to climb to 4.0 per cent of GDP, has in fact argued in favour of active exchange rate intervention, "of the kind successfully pursued in 2003-2007". Adding his voice to this cause, Dr Subramanian (BS, 29/09/10) expressed concern that rather than discouraging capital inflows, the RBI was encouraging them with its announcement last week liberalising foreign inflows into domestic government and corporate bond markets. The celebration last week of the Indian stock market's new bull run has blinded observers to the fact that much of this surge has come from a diversion of hot flows by foreign institutional investors from markets that have been discouraging such investment. Sure, the India growth story looks good and there are many good reasons for investors to be putting their money in India. However, India's macroeconomic authorities must ensure that the money that is flowing in is not going to flow out too easily. It is better to get more enduring inflows, even if they are not as voluminous, than whimsical ones that may leave overnight and needlessly disrupt markets.


 The message from the latest data on external trade and capital flows is that the time has perhaps come to sit up and take notice. Some of the surge in imports may be on account of defence imports, and some may have been spurred by a revival of investment activity, but with export growth remaining weak, it would not be advisable for India to increase its dependence on short-term capital inflows







The draft Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 2010, issued by the the ministry of environment and forests has received more flak than acclaim. Though the notification meets the objective of restricting development activities within 500 metres of the country's 7,500-km long coastline, the numerous exemptions granted to certain areas and activities, some believe, may defeat the purpose of safeguarding India's seashore ecology. The notification sidesteps the key issue of protecting the livelihood and traditional rights of the fisher folks residing and working all along the sea coast by putting the onus of doing so on the agriculture ministry. Little wonder then that the fishermen's bodies, including the National Fishworkers Forum, have lost little time in rejecting the notification. Various environment organisations have expressed their misgivings over the exceptions that have been made for commercial activities and special economic zones (SEZs) near the seashores and special relaxations provided for Greater Mumbai, Goa, backwaters in Kerala and some other areas. It is quite understandable that some have objected to Mumbai being placed under the proposed "coastal regulation zone-II", where it is allowed to continue ongoing development works and taking up official slum rehabilitation projects along the shoreline with up to 49 per cent private participation. This, it is feared, could spur housing boom and reality projects along the already overburdened Mumbai seashore.


Allowing tourists to bathe and swim along beaches, and allowing local villagers to serve food and sell trinkets, as happens in Goa, need not hurt seashore ecology. In theory it is entirely possible to combine tourism with ecological preservation, provided relevant regulations are properly implemented and followed by all concerned. It is worrying, however, that the new regulations allow construction of new approach roads in mangrove belts and coral reefs-rich coastal regions, albeit with a rider that such projects should not disturb free flow of tidal waters. The problem is that compliance of this condition may be difficult to monitor. So, unless local governments are pro-active in protecting their seashore ecology, mere laws enforced from Delhi may not amount to much.


 That said, there are some good ideas too among the new regulations. The inclusion of the 12-nautical-mile belt off the seashore in the protected zone is one such good idea. If this is enforced effectively, it can help curb practices that are highly injurious to the marine environment, such as discharge of wastes by the ships in the coastal waters. It is also good that the notification has delineated several critically vulnerable coastal areas where development activities are strictly prohibited. These include Sunderbans in West Bengal, Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat, Achra-Ratangiri in Maharashtra and Bhaitarkanika in Orissa, among others. Some turtle breeding and nesting fields have also been put on the protected list.


But to serve as an effective instrument of conserving coastal ecology and shoreline, regulatory norms must be properly implemented. The exceptions, if any, should be few and confined to absolutely environmentally safe and strictly need-based activities. Measures aimed at protecting the ecology must also be mindful of the needs of millions of traditional fisher folks living along the coast, protecting not just seashore ecology but also the seashore economy.








Remember VER? Go google. An entire generation of trade economists, trade policy makers, traders, business and political leaders has grown up without much knowledge of VERs. The prospect of another year of inordinately slow growth and high unemployment, imminent political defeat in congressional elections and declining popularity have all combined to encourage the Barack Obama administration in the United States to get some old-fashioned ammunition out of its trade policy warehouse.


Wikipedia has a mouthful on VERs: "A voluntary export restraint (VER) or voluntary export restriction is a government imposed limit on the quantity of goods that can be exported out of a country during a specified period of time. Typically VERs arise when the import-competing industries seek protection from a surge of imports from particular exporting countries. VERs are then offered by the exporter to appease the importing country and to deter the other party from imposing even more explicit (and less flexible) trade barriers."


 VERs were the product of what trade economist Jagdish Bhagwati dubbed as the American tradition of "reciprocitarianism". In the 1980s their target was Japan. Today it is China. The US House of Representatives passed the Murphy-Ryan Bill, dubbed the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act, 348 to 79. The act permits the US government to impose countervailing duties on imports from China and recalls to mind the famous Omnibus Foreign Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988 that was aimed against Japanese imports.


Even as US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner refuted charges that the US had launched a "trade war" against China, the mass circulating American newspaper USA Today ran an opinion piece by Richard Trumka that began "We're in a trade war with China, and we're losing. For the first time, a majority of Americans agree that 'free trade' hurts the United States. The facts back that opinion up, particularly in regards to China. It's time for action." USA Today went on to give its opinion: "China is making a trade war inevitable." Interestingly, the rising temperatures on the US-China trade front contrast with a more conciliatory tone adopted towards India. Even though the Indian software industry and the Indian commerce ministry went ballistic on the Ohio outsourcing ban and the Obama administration's attempt to curb outsourcing in government procurement, the US Senate in fact did India a favour last week voting out a national legislation, 53-45.


That is significant. In the same week that US lawmakers voted in favour of a Bill that would hurt China, they also voted against a bill that would have hurt India. This should form a helpful backdrop for President Obama's visit to India.


Both the Asian economies enjoy a trade surplus with the US, but the size of China's surplus and its mercantilist trade policy, along with the imbalance in the US-China economic equation have made China the favourite whipping boy of US politicians. Much of the rhetoric against China today is very similar to the VER rhetoric against Japan in the 1980s.


However, India cannot sit on its haunches and expect that the threat of protectionism will simply disappear. At a time when India's trade deficit is on the rise and exports are not doing too well, India needs both a strategy and the markets for reversing this trend.


Given the mood of protectionism in the West, India cannot realistically expect to export more to countries with which it enjoys a trade surplus. This means India has to perforce seek a bigger share of the markets of countries with which it has a trade deficit. China is the most important of such markets.


This suggests that India and the US have to be on the same side of the debate on Chinese mercantilism. India does not have the clout that the US has in imposing VERs on China. But it can come forward with policy options that reduce China's trade surplus. One such option is for China to invest in Indian manufacturing, producing in India the goods that it presently imports. This would imply a sharp rise in import-substituting foreign direct investment (FDI) from China. India would need a policy framework that would enable this.


Attracting more long-term FDI is a better option for India than the recent trend of being an attractive destination for short-term flows. India must in fact consider putting in place disincentives for short-term capital inflows and incentivise long-term inflows. The Indian model, for a variety of fairly well- known reasons, has been just the opposite. It now appears, as global growth remains sluggish and there are just not enough attractive short-term investment opportunities in equity markets around the world, that India must sooner rather than later consider such options.


While India's software exporters have secured a breather from US lawmakers, India's merchandise exporters must remain wary of American reciprocitarianism. One way of dealing with such pressures would in fact be to further liberalise India's FDI regime.


The recent mess-up with procedures for foreign investment in India's civil nuclear energy development shows that policy makers need to be more careful in dealing with procedures and policies. While India has so far resisted opening up the defence sector to FDI this is in fact one area in which India would benefit from more import-substituting FDI, especially at a time when India's defence budget is on the rise.


It makes little sense for India to be spending billions of dollars importing defence equipment into India and not allowing the foreign firms that sell such finished equipment to in fact manufacture their products in India. There can be only one reason for this stilted policy. Politicians and middlemen get kickbacks on imports, that too stashed away in offshore banks, while such cuts in domestic procurement are more difficult to organise and account.










In so many ways, India has burst the boundaries of South Asia. It is an Asian power and a global player. Its footprint extends west to the Persian Gulf, south to Africa, and especially east to Pacific Asia. India has enlarged its seat at the top tables of international relations, including the G20 and the Financial Stability Board. And with its new voting power in the World Bank, India's share now exceeds that of Russia, Canada, Australia, Italy, and Saudi Arabia.


 So, why is America's dialogue with India less global in scope than with any major power, even China? As US President Barack Obama prepares to visit India next month, the two sides would do well to define the parameters of a more global, and thus more strategic, US-India partnership.


Doing so would nicely complement an important trend in India's foreign policy — New Delhi's expanded focus beyond India's own neighbourhood, especially in East Asia.


The two sides have established some new dialogues in recent months, including a timely and important exchange on East Asia and China. But the ultimate test won't be how many meetings the two governments hold but whether they turn common interests into complementary policies around the world.


And the record, unfortunately, is mixed.


The good news is that the principal obstacles that long precluded closer relations have already been cleared away: the Cold War; a long stagnant trade and investment relationship and disagreement over India's nuclear programme which was largely removed by the civil nuclear deal. The US and India have had some good years together. And the Obama administration appears to have recovered from some of its early missteps.


For its part, the US has developed a growing stake in a confident and reforming India — one that contributes to global growth, promotes market-based economic policies, helps maintain the global commons, and assures a mutually favourable balance of power in Asia.


Rapid economic expansion has given India the capacity to act on issues of primary strategic and economic concern to the US. This also includes issues of global scope, not least restoring the international economy to a path of sustained and balanced growth.


The US has begun to recognise this. Take a speech in June by Under Secretary of State William Burns: He offered a ringing endorsement of India's emergence on the international canvas. The US, he said, has an "enormous stake" in "India's rise as a global power".


And Indian choices will matter equally.


Domestically, will India's choices facilitate an economically open, globally integrated India shrink its wealth divide, expand its middle class, and strengthen its physical infrastructure? And can India's economy provide a foundation for strategic clout?


Externally, what will replace nonalignment as the basis of Indian foreign policy? Will India leverage its growth, not to mention its seat at the new top table of international relations — the G20 — into political influence and leverage?


Bilaterally, can the US and India sustain past momentum? And can they manage differences on crucial regional and global issues?


A more powerful India, economically integrated with other major economies, is an India whose self-interest will, most likely, overlap with the self-interest of the US and other G20 countries. But leveraging its seat at some of the world's top tables challenges at least some long-standing Indian approaches. And India has often ducked America's company, especially in multilateral settings.


For its part, the US will need to seek, but also be prepared to, compromise on global issues on which it has disagreed with India in the past. These include climate change, non-proliferation, the international trade regime, and possibly some arms control treaties.


One way forward would be to agree on innovative bilateral initiatives — an expanded US-India renewable energy partnership, for instance — to provide ballast if the US and India continue to disagree on multilateral climate arrangements. Similarly with trade: US-India disagreements about the Doha Round receive endless media ink; but if Washington and New Delhi find multilateral negotiations a hard slog, a bilateral treaty with new investor protections would at least help enhance trade. Also, with issues of the commons: cooperation on maritime security and cyber-security, for example, would give the US-India partnership a more tangible role in assuring and sustaining public goods.


In these ways, the two countries would work jointly, but on issues, and in support of agendas, with greater global impact.


And that is their central challenge: The US and India share important interests, from restoring global growth to ensuring a balance of power in Asia. But increasingly, those shared interests burst beyond the confining strategic geography of South Asia.


For Obama and his Indian hosts, the test in November won't be how many protocols they sign or dialogues they initiate. The real test will be whether the US and India turn common interests into complementary policies around the world.


The author is head, Asia practice group, at Eurasia Group, and is also adjunct senior fellow for Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, DC









Chuck Prince's statement that "we have to keep dancing till the music stops" should figure on any list of famous last words. Mr Prince was the chairman and CEO of Citibank when he said this. The "music" was the market in mortgage-backed securities, and it collapsed just a few days after his statement. Mr Prince was sacked and Citibank needed a government bailout to survive. Some of the other "dancers" were wiser: J P Morgan stopped going long in these securities towards the end of 2006; Goldman Sachs went a step further and started shorting the securities by buying credit default swaps, even as it was structuring and selling more mortgage-backed securities to other players.


 Looking at the stock and currency markets in India, one wonders when the music will stop. Our policy makers seem to be continuing their benign neglect of the exchange rate even as it reaches highest-ever levels. In his speech at the High-level Conference on The International Monetary System jointly organised by the Swiss National Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Zurich on May 11, the RBI governor said: "Last fiscal (2009/10), the rupee appreciated by 13 per cent in nominal terms but by as much as 19 per cent in real terms because of the inflation differential." Considering the changes in the exchange rate and the domestic price level since then, the rupee has appreciated 25 per cent in real terms against the dollar over the last 18 months.


No wonder the current account deficit, conventionally calculated (i.e. considering remittances as current account receipts) as a percentage of GDP, has gone up from 1 per cent in 2006-07 to 2.5 per cent of GDP in 2009-10. (Incidentally, the figure 2.5 per cent used in the governor's speech seems questionable. The actual amount was $38.4 billion.) Data released last Thursday show that the deficit has tripled from $4.5 billion in the first quarter of 2009-10 to $13.7 billion in that of 2010-11. At this rate, it could cross 4 per cent of GDP in the current financial year. Our policy makers seem to be willing to keep dancing so long as financing the deficit is not a problem.


I have used the expression "as conventionally calculated" to describe the current account number. Conventional accounting fails to give a "true and fair" picture of the competitiveness of our economy. Though classified as receipts under "invisibles", remittances are not "earnings" of the domestic economy. For economic analysis, they need to be considered capital transfers, albeit of an irreversible nature; they are a means of financing the gap between our current external earnings and expenditure. This gap was of the order of $90 billion last year, and may cross $100 billion in the current year. Its easy financeability through remittances and capital flows should not blind us to its implications for output and jobs.


In fact, it seems our policy makers are still looking at the current account from a balance of payments perspective. If so, it is high time this changed. Compared to a reasonable balance between current earnings and expenditure, we are currently missing out an output of Rs 4,50,000 crore (equivalent to the gap between external earnings and expenditure). Wages constitute about 30 per cent of GDP. The output loss then translates into lost wages of Rs 1,50,000 crore — far larger than UPA's much trumpeted MGNREGS! Another way of looking at the number is that it represents a loss of a crore of reasonably paying jobs. Can we afford such reckless neglect of job creation in the external sector (whether in exports or in domestic industry competing with imports) when the extreme left keeps gaining strength every year, in district after district, and the need for employment creation should be the paramount objective of policy makers?


Is the number of potential jobs resulting from a reasonable balance between current income and expenditure fanciful? Not really. In the debate in the US Congress on the Bill authorising the imposition of up to 20 per cent duties on Chinese imports, the argument for it is that it would create a million jobs. If a million jobs can be created by the devaluation of the dollar against the yuan alone, which is what the 20 per cent duty amounts to, despite the huge gap in wages between the US and China, my estimate of the potential additional jobs in the tradeables sector hardly seems unrealistic. What is needed is an exchange rate aimed at the domestic economy being reasonably competitive globally.


Who are the biggest gainers from the not-so-benign neglect of the exchange rate? The FIIs and the Chinese exporters: our bilateral trade deficit with China alone could well come to around $40 billion in the current year. It is high time we managed our exchange rate in the interest of optimising growth, jobs and consumption, rather than being carried away by the efficiency and sanctity of markets, the possible immediate impact on stock prices and so on.  








THE PAST TWO YEARS have been the most tumultuous in financial markets for many decades. Four mega financial institutions in the US announced bankruptcy and that led to the collapse of bank stocks across the world. No wonder investors fled for traditional safe-haven assets like gold. Even China and India were net buyers of gold in 2009 after decades of selling.


The demand for gold exchange-traded funds (ETFs) rose 26.9 per cent to 321 tonnes in 2008 and another 92.2 per cent in 2009 to 617 tonnes. The world's biggest gold ETF, SPDR Gold Shares, increased its gold holdings 66 per cent to 1,295 tonnes from December 2008. In India, the corpus under gold ETFs soared from Rs 477.65 crore in 2008 to Rs 2,305.62 crore as of August 2010. Gold prices increased by 27 per cent in 2009 and another 19 per cent in 2010 so far, to hit an all-time high of $1,282 an ounce, marking the 10th consecutive annual increase. If the past two years have taught equity investors anything, it is the importance of structuring portfolios with assets that will help protect wealth should such risks materialise.


 The price of gold also rose during 2008 amidst the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, fulfilling its role as a hedge against unforeseen events and financial distress. Other commonly traded commodities and diversified commodity baskets fell between 6 per cent and 63 per cent; the price of oil, which is often erroneously equated to investment in gold, fell more than 50 per cent during 2008.


Gold's bull run started in April 2001, when the price slowly lifted from its earlier low of $255.95, just higher than the 20-year low of $252.85 set on August 25, 1999. Between the end of 2001 and 2009, gold prices rose from $276.50 to $1087.50, a cumulative rise of 293 per cent or an average compounded annual return of 18.7 per cent.


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THE report that the government will create an independent debt management office (DMO) within two years is certainly good news. If only we could believe it! There are a number of reasons why this paper is sceptical. A precondition for a meaningful separation of debt management from monetary management (both the preserve of the Reserve Bank of India at present) is a reasonable degree of fiscal balance and responsibility. If the government is really serious about setting up a DMO, it should at the very least show greater fiscal discipline. On the contrary, targets set by the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act have been consistently breached. The result is, our fiscal deficit-to-GDP ratio is now among the highest in the world, in a season of high fiscal deficits globally. 


Contrary to widespread opinion, the RBI would be quite happy to get rid of debt management as only then will it get the necessary headroom to operate monetary policy. Today, the RBI combines its roles as manager of government debt, banking sector supervisor and monetary authority to ensure smooth placement of government debt. It grooms the money market and compels banks to hold government securities as part of the statutory liquidity ratio (SLR). In the process, monetary policy is often compromised. If the RBI tightens monetary policy in order to squeeze out inflation, it would inevitably push up the government's borrowing cost. Such conflicts of interest can be avoided if debt is managed by an independent office. To the extent the SLR has been progressively reduced, automatic monetisation of ad hoc Treasury Bills has been scrapped and the RBI no longer intervenes directly in the primary market for government securities, the market for government debt is less flawed than before. But the government still borrows at an artificially suppressed rate. In such a scenario, will the DMO be truly 'independent'? More important, will it be able to raise resources of such a large (and growing) order? Unless we address both these questions and go beyond the rhetoric of establishing a DMO, all we will get is a shell DMO (read some more jobs for babus). Nothing will change!








THE latest round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) runs the risk of unraveling, as have all previous rounds. The blame lies squarely with Tel Aviv. The PA has threatened to walk away from the talks unless Israel reimposes the freeze on building settlements in the occupied West Bank, which expired last Sunday. The Israeli position is clearly untenable: minor construction, argues its prime minister, should not come in the way of the talks. This amounts to acting in bad faith. The settlements constitute Israeli appropriation of land which belongs to the Palestinians. A halt to building activities in these settlements has been one of the key Palestinian demands. And a partial freeze on such activities existed until September 26. But the Israelis are now insisting that they can't extend the freeze. In effect, this is a continuation of the old Israeli policy of creating 'facts on the ground' — which includes things like expanding existing settlements and building new ones, gradually expropriating more and more Palestinian land, forcing Palestinians out of their homes and lands — which are then used as bargaining chips in future talks. In this instance, too, Israel is seeking to get as many concessions as possible from a US administration eager to get the talks back on track before it considers extending the freeze for a limited period. 


Israel has every right to not only exist but also exist in peace and free from fear of unexpected attacks on its land and people. But it cannot build or enjoy such a right while denying it to others. Constantly expanding Israeli presence on land it has conquered, and retreat from which is part of what is being negotiated, is clear indication of aggression, and not just indifference, towards peace talks. Peace in West Asia is no longer a bilateral concern for Israel and Palestine; the plight of the Palestinians serving as fuel for the spread of jehadi ideology around the world. New Delhi must convey to Tel Aviv its disapproval of the talks being sabotaged by Israeli insistence on expanding its colonies in occupied territory. Peace in West Asia is in India's national interest, apart from Israel's. Israel has the potential to emerge as a major economic and defence partner for India, but it will be difficult to fully realise that potential as long as Tel Aviv refuses to negotiate peace with Palestine.







THE one indisputably agreeable thing about the Commonwealth Games is the choice of the mascot: Shera, the anthropomorphic tiger. He is one jolly fellow, ever ready to make merry with children and smile his beatific smile at less boisterous humans like adults. Now, there is a great advantage in having a tiger as a national symbol. As Shera shows, a tiger can present an extremely friendly face. At the same time, a tiger can also represent raw fury and destructive power. A national symbol capable of radiating a variable national sentiment can be a real asset. This is one department in which India clearly scores over China. The Chinese are seriously debating whether to displace the dragon as the pre-eminent symbol of their country. This wingless, scaly, monstrous serpent with claws and a mouthful of fangs radiates menace, not charm. The symbol rubs off on how the world perceives China, too. And this is causing some disquiet in the politburo, according to reports. Won't the Chinese be better off being represented by a more benign animal, say the Panda? Won't the world take more kindly to a picture of a smiling panda scooping up the odd island in the South China Sea than to a picture of the same island being caught in the swirling coils of a dragon? As the world prepares for a currency battle, an undervalued yuan versus the rest, how would a panda nibbling a bamboo shoot compare with a snarling dragon as China's battle standard? Clearly, the gentle panda is in for some tender loving attention from the powers that be in Beijing. 


India's problem is of a different order. At one level, there is the challenge of keeping the great Bengal tiger alive, fending off marauding poachers, forest-clearing villagers, and roads and rail tracks that run through forests. Another problem is the great Bengal tigress herself!








IT'S the silly season for currency interventions. Last week, Guido Mantega, finance minister of Brazil warned an 'international currency war' has broken out. As Brazil's central bank scrambled to buy close to $1 billion a day for almost two weeks — about 10 times its daily average — Mantega was only voicing what many governments have already expressed privately. That for all the calls for collective action and bonhomie displayed at various G20 meetings, when it comes to ground realities, it is each country for itself! 


So, what's new about that? What is new is that unlike in the past when 'currency intervention' was always a developing country refuge, a third world stratagem that first world countries eschewed, this time round, first world countries are nothing loath to join the game. 


Last month, Japan joined Switzerland in intervening in the foreign-exchange market. As the yen surged to a little short of 90 to the dollar, the strongest in 15 years, the central bank, fearing a strong yen, would jeopardise recovery, sold an estimated $20 billion yen. The last time it intervened to sell yen in the foreign-exchange market was in 2004, when the yen was around 109 per dollar. 


It is not the only one. The Swiss central bank has been intervening to prevent the appreciation of the Swiss franc against the euro for close to six months now. The last time it intervened was in 2002. The Japanese and the Swiss are not alone. South Korea, host to the next G20 meet, has shown as much alacrity in intervening to keep the won weak; so have Taiwan and Singapore. 


In the developing world, meanwhile, currency intervention has become much more frequent. China, an old hand at the game, has been joined by Brazil, the Philippines, India and Malaysia, to mention just a few. The danger is if intervention becomes the norm, rather than the exception, the resultant 'currency war' will not leave any winners. Worse, it will mean goodbye to any hopes of rebalancing the world economy. 


Why is that important? Because as long as the global economy remains perilously unbalanced, the next crisis is not far away. Orderly currency realignment is, therefore, critical to rebalancing. But that calls for coordinated action by the major world economies (read G20) — not haphazard, beggar-myneighbour intervention of the kind that seems to be the fashion now. 


The reason is simple. Cheap money policy in the US that causes the dollar to weaken against other currencies will help boost US exports and rein in the US current account deficit. Provided no country intervenes! So, left to itself, this realignment in currency values is a part of the remedy the world is seeking. 


But this is where the catch lies! China, the world's largest exporter, continues to suppress the value of the renminbi. In the pre-crisis days, when economic growth was strong, most countries were prepared to look the other way and restrict their response to jaw-jaw. Not any longer! Today, as countries struggle to remain competitive in the global market, many seem to have decided to copy the Chinese. Hence the proliferation of currency interventions aimed at making currencies cheaper in order to boost exports. 


THE problem is this 'if you can't beat them, join them' philosophy could be catastrophic for global recovery. As each country looks to its own backyard, it is going to become much more difficult to reach a consensus on currency realignments. Exactly 25 years ago, the major global economic powers could hammer out the Plaza accord that led to an orchestrated weakening of the dollar, a resurgence of the US economy and a corresponding decline of the Japanese. 


That was possible back in the 1980s as the US was the unchallenged economic superpower. Today, such a onesided accord would be almost unthinkable. South Korea, the host of the upcoming G20 meeting in November, is reluctant to even highlight the issue on the agenda, partly out of fear of offending China, its neighbour and main trading partner. 


Yet, there is no getting away from the need for some kind of coordinated action. A situation where every country intervenes against its own currency in the foreign exchange markets in a spirit of competition rather than cooperation is not a zero-sum game. Smaller, lesscompetitive countries like India are bound to get hurt more. 


Moreover, intervention comes at a cost. In the Indian context, accumulation of foreign exchange reserves and release of additional liquidity into the system adds to domestic liquidity, neutralising the RBI's efforts to tighten liquidity to rein in prices. The additional liquidity could be sterilised but sterilisation, too, has a cost since the domestic rate of interest is usually higher than the return on foreign exchange reserves. 


Non-intervention is not an option either; not in a scenario where more and more countries are intervening. An undue appreciation of the rupee vis-à-vis other currencies is bound to hurt exports and in turn, hurt employment. 


So where does that leave us? If both intervention and non-intervention are bad, what is the only option that remains? Global cooperation! For the moment, however, coordination seems further away than ever. In a fresh signal that it is each country for itself, last week the US House of Representatives passed a Bill to allow levy of countervailing duties on imports from China in order to compensate for the weak renminbi. 


In a globalised world if each country behaves like John Connolly (who once famously retorted 'our currency, your problem,' to a European delegation worried about the impact of a cheap dollar on their exports) and starts a competitive devaluation of its currency, the resultant fallout will soon encompass the whole world. 


 If the slogan of the forthcoming G20 meet in Seoul, 'shared growth beyond crisis,' is to be realised, the G-20 must act before it is too late. Before the cocky 'our currency, your problem' approach that seems to colour every country's approach today gives way to a humbler but truer 'your currency, our (collective) problem' view, that should inform our 21st century world!









RECESSIONS leave scars on the labour market; the Great Recession of 2007-08 has left gaping wounds." These opening remarks in the introduction to the discussion document 'The Challenges of Growth, Employment and Social Cohesion', prepared jointly by the International Monetary Fund and the International Labour Organisation, capture vividly what recession and unemployment do to the human psyche. Overcoming scars and gaping wounds is no easy task. Therefore, policymakers and economists alike need to reflect on where they have gone wrong in theory and policy, which together had led to the economic crisis and the Great Recession of 2007-08. 


The joint IMF-ILO paper comes in the backdrop of surging unemployment across much of the developed world (9.6% in the US, for example). In the emerging world, while unemployment is a 'given', the situation is now threatening to acquire alarming dimensions. High unemployment rates in the developed world are leading to bans on offshoring and outsourcing activities of firms, which were otherwise transferring some of the prosperity from the 'rich North' to the 'poor South'. What, therefore, are the critical issues which need focus? 

Rising unemployment levels, unchecked by monetary and fiscal measures aimed at boosting aggregate demand, draw attention to trade-offs involved in some of the policies which economists have been advocating. These need to be recognised and addressed. 


First, there is a trade-off between greater employment and protection of labour rights and labour legislation. While labour protection remains a valid goal of policy, we must accept that overemphasis on this could promote labour-saving technology, contributing to the problem of rising unemployment. 


Secondly, interests of the developed and the developing world are often at cross-purposes, on employment. Rising employment in the developing world could mean fewer jobs in the developed world. Some developed world politicians might champion protectionism but possibly not for ever, because of the inter-twining of economic and political interests in the real world polity of today. 


Thirdly, there is also a conflict between increasing factor productivity, enabled by technology, and the objective of creating jobs for all. Surely, one cannot abandon the quest for scientific improvement, technology and knowledge for a better world. Yet, one needs to figure out how this ostensible conflict can be resolved, without compromising employment generation. 


Each of these potential trade-offs and conflicts implicit in the prevailing economic paradigm, within which modern-day economic policy has been built, need recognition, because that alone is a step towards striking the right balance in the emerging economic paradigm as it develops in response to the problems of crisis, recession and unemployment. 


The new economic paradigm needs to be built on the foundation of some essential prerequisites: recognition that full or nearfull employment is crucial for social cohesion and sustainability of economic growth; secondly, that the interests of labour need protection; thirdly, that productivity increases have to be encouraged, to raise incomes. 


Fourthly, aggregate demand needs to be adequate so as to not choke off the impulse for future growth. And, finally, there is the need to ensure balanced and sustainable growth so that global imbalances do not destabilise growth and prosperity in future. 


These prerequisites and the trade-offs identified earlier point to the fact that employing labour as a factor of production and utilisation of labour-intensive technology have externalities and social benefits in the form of social cohesion, and dignity to the beneficiaries of jobs — externalities which the 'market' by itself cannot address. There is, therefore, ample justification for state interference with market fundamentals. 


Sectors and fields which create possibilities for greater employment need to be encouraged through a conscious effort. Encouraging higher levels of farm productivity would clearly lead to greater employment and output. Promotion of industrial and manufacturing activity needs re-emphasis. 


Thirdly, action is required to identify sectors where fresh unemployment has occurred. These sectors need scaling down. 


Finally, economists need to ensure that as they put in place the much-needed new economic paradigm, like the proverbial three little pigs from the English fairy tale, they build a house of bricks, and not of straw or sticks, which comes down at the first 'huff and a puff' of the big bad wolf in the form of economic crisis/recession. Given the changing nature of global realities, transnational production and other activities, and the growing knowledge across the internet, this may require looking beyond national boundaries, and to a world beyond narrow domestic walls. Perhaps that vision and that vision alone, will enable resolution of the conflicting economic objectives pointed out earlier. 

The writer is an Indian civil servant. 

  Views are personal.)




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The finance ministry's directive to banks to ensure that the micro-finance institutions they lend to in turn cap interest rates at 22-24 per cent while giving loans to villagers has not been liked either by the micro-finance institutions (MFI) themselves or the banks. The banks have reportedly said they are in no position to monitor what is done with the money they lend to the MFIs, while the latter claim such an interest rate cap is highly undesirable and might indeed lead to the collapse of 80 per cent of small MFIs. Both the government and the Reserve Bank of India talk endlessly about "financial inclusion", a shorthand code for bringing unbanked areas into the banking fold, but the reality is that in a country with hundreds of thousands of villages without banking facilities it might takes ages for banks to set up branches, or even ATM machines, in all these areas. As of now, MFIs are the only bodies which make small amounts available to the poorest people in unbanked areas as collateral-free loans. They also provide the "last mile connectivity" between banks and people at the grassroots level — but it is estimated that while the amount of micro-finance needed is $51.4 billion, the availability is just $4.3 billion. Eighty-nine per cent of India's MFIs are very small, and serve less that 10,000 clients. The largest of them serves 74 lakh borrowers in 10,000 villages, and has managed to achieve in five years what the father of micro-finance, Bangladesh's Muhammad Yunus, took 20 years to do. That said, it is perfectly true that MFIs borrow from banks at 12-14 per cent and sometimes even less, while lending to villagers at interest rates ranging between 27 to 37 per cent. But the MFIs argue that the interest rate they charge is still much less than what villagers are often forced to pay blood-sucking moneylenders who charge "pathani" rates of 100 per cent or more. But poor people who have no access to any kind of bank loans still go to the moneylenders as they provide money when it is urgently needed. The MFIs, who are trying to replace the moneylenders, often give loans of as little as `5,000-10,000 to start a vegetable kiosk or a kirana store — and make the money available at the borrower's doorstep when he needs it. In contrast, the banks are notorious for not giving the money in time, and often even demanding bribes for handing over the cash. It is believed in some circles that MFIs are earning undue profits, sometimes at rates higher than banks, but since they have to borrow funds from venture capitalists and private equity funds, they need a certain level of profitability just to stay afloat. While it is true that micro-finance pioneer Muhammad Yunus holds that profits in such cases should go back to the villagers, India's MFIs note that Mr Yunus' Grameen Bank in Bangladesh can afford to do that because it is actually a bank. Indian laws, however, do not allow MFIs to become banks which would enable them to borrow cheap and lend cheap.







There is a proverb in Telugu: When the cows fight with locked horns, innocent calves are hurt. Whenever two communities are at loggerheads, inevitably, innocent citizens suffer. Courts find it difficult to resolve their dispute to the satisfaction of both sides. Usually, a legal battle generates ill-will and ruptures relations even among brothers and neighbours. In cases like Ayodhya, an amicable solution would be the best bet. If the parties are unable to come to an agreement by themselves, they can take the aid of eminent citizens and common well-wishers. Court of law should be the last resort.


The complexities of the Ayodhya case are evident from the fact that the three hon'ble judges on the bench wrote three separate judgments. Each one has done his best to grapple with an unusual problem which had ignited passions and disrupted communal harmony following the demolition of the mosque in December 1992, which was a national disgrace. Not one of the judgments can stand strict legal scrutiny. They have raised more questions than they have answered. Whose property did they divide and amongst whom and who wanted such a division? How could they award one-third share each after dismissing the suits of Nirmohi Akhara and Sunni Waqf Board? Who dedicated the land to Ram Lalla and when? In legal terms, the judgments are incorrect, but innovative. They are liable to be reversed on appeal. The affected parties have decided to move the Supreme Court, keeping the door open for settlement. We should thank God that they did not take to the streets to settle scores. Reposing faith in the judiciary is the wisest thing to do in a country governed by the rule of law. The parties apart, members of the two communities at large deserve praise for their restrained response to the verdict.


Adversarial adjudication is not the only option available to a litigant. Parliament has amended the Civil Procedure Code to provide for settlement of disputes outside, on the initiative of the court. Section 89(1) says that where it appears to the court that there exist elements of a settlement which may be acceptable to the parties, the court shall formulate the terms of settlement and give them to the parties for their observations. After receiving the observations of the parties, the court may reformulate the terms of a possible settlement and refer the same interalia for mediation or arbitration. Mediation centres have resolved many disputes in different parts of the country. In Delhi alone there are two centres in district courts, one in the High Court and one in the Supreme Court. After preferring appeals in the Supreme Court, the parties can avail mediation, which is informal, quick and inexpensive. Recently, in a dispute among brothers over property in Hyderabad, the Supreme Court appointed Justice M. Jagannadha Rao, a retired judge, as mediator and he was able to settle the dispute in no time. The two fighters returned home as brothers. In the unlikely event of mediation failing, the appellants can pursue their appeals and press for a decision based on the merits of the case. However, the court may like to explore the possibility of referring the dispute to an agreed arbitrator. If the parties so desire, they can nominate an arbitrator each and request the court to nominate the umpire. The umpire and the arbitrators will act as an arbitration tribunal and give an award. If any objections are filed, they will be heard and decided by the court. If the parties do not agree for arbitration, then alone the court would be constrained to decide the case one way or the other.


When disputes capable of arousing passions threatening the unity of the country are in court, the lawyers representing the respective parties owe a duty to the nation to persuade their clients to agree for an honourable settlement in a spirit of give and take. As a lawyer, Mahatma Gandhi used to settle disputes outside the court. He wrote in his autobiography, "I realised that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder. The lesson was so indelibly burnt into me that a large part of my time during the 20 years of my practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing about private compromises of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby — not even money, certainly not my soul."


Having regard for the sensitivities of the case and the emotional aspects involved, settlement out of court with the help of patriotic leaders belonging to all communities would be an ideal course to adopt, failing which court annexed mediation or arbitration.


There won't be dearth of well-meaning suggestions. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, a well-known scholar, in his book Indian Muslims — The Need For a Positive Outlook (1994), observed that "Muslims today are faced with one easy and one difficult option: to leave the Babri Masjid issue to the conscience of the country, or to continue with their agitation." Recalling the words of Aisha, the Prophet's wife, that "whenever the Prophet had to make a choice between the two courses of action, he would always choose the easier one," he suggested a three-point formula: Muslims should give up their plea that the Babri Masjid should be rebuilt, that they should be given guarantees that no such demolition will take place in future, and that such pledges should be made part of the Constitution of India. It was not accepted then and now, after the verdict, it is untenable as there was admittedly a mosque for centuries, which was demolished by criminals inspired by certain political leaders and the High Court has awarded one-third share.


Another suggestion could be to divide the land equally and allow construction of the mosque in one half and the temple in the other half with entrances from opposite sides. There may be other suggestions for resolving this vexed problem. It is the duty of every citizen who believes in the constitutional goal of promoting fraternity among the people and fostering unity and integrity of India to help peaceful reconciliation, remembering the emotional upheaval witnessed after the rath yatra and the demolition of Babri Masjid in broad day light 18 years ago.


- The writer is a noted constitutional expert and senior Supreme Court advocate.








A friend in the US military sent me an email last week with a quote from the historian Lewis Mumford's book, The Condition of Man, about the development of civilisation. Mumford was describing Rome's decline: "Everyone aimed at security: no one accepted responsibility. What was plainly lacking, long before the barbarian invasions had done their work, long before economic dislocations became serious, was an inner go. Rome's life was now an imitation of life: a mere holding on. Security was the watchword — as if life knew any other stability than through constant change, or any form of security except through a constant willingness to take risks".


It was one of those history passages that echo so loudly in the present that it sends a shiver down my spine — way, way too close for comfort.


I've just spent a week in Silicon Valley, talking with technologists from Apple, Twitter, LinkedIn, Intel, Cisco and SRI and can definitively report that this region has not lost its "inner go". But in talks here and elsewhere I continue to be astounded by the level of disgust with Washington, D.C., and our two-party system — so much so that I am ready to hazard a prediction: Barring a transformation of the Democratic and Republican Parties, there is going to be a serious third party candidate in 2012, with a serious political movement behind him or her — one definitely big enough to impact the election's outcome.


There is a revolution brewing in the country, and it is not just on the Right wing but in the radical centre. I know of at least two serious groups, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, developing "third parties" to challenge our stagnating two-party duopoly that has been presiding over our nation's steady incremental decline.


US President Barack Obama has not been a do-nothing failure. He has some real accomplishments. He passed a healthcare expansion, a financial regulation expansion, stabilised the economy, started a national education reform initiative and has conducted a smart and tough war on Al Qaeda.


But there is another angle on the last two years: a President who won a sweeping political mandate, propelled by an energised youth movement and with control of both the House and the Senate — about as much power as any President could ever hope to muster in peacetime — was only able to pass an expansion of healthcare that is a suboptimal amalgam of tortured compromises that no one is certain will work or that we can afford (and doesn't deal with the cost or quality problems), a limited stimulus that has not relieved unemployment or fixed our infrastructure, and a financial regulation bill that still needs to be interpreted by regulators because no one could agree on crucial provisions. Plus, Obama had to abandon an energy-climate bill altogether, and if the Grand Old Party takes back the House, we may not have an energy bill until 2013.


Obama probably did the best he could do, and that's the point. The best our current two parties can produce today — in the wake of the worst existential crisis in our economy and environment in a century — is suboptimal, even when one party had a huge majority. Suboptimal is OK for ordinary times, but these are not ordinary times. We need to stop waiting for Superman and start building a superconsensus to do the superhard stuff we must do now. Pretty good is not even close to good enough today.


"We basically have two bankrupt parties bankrupting the country", said the Stanford University political scientist Larry Diamond. Indeed, our two-party system is ossified; it lacks integrity and creativity and any sense of courage or high-aspiration in confronting our problems. We simply will not be able to do the things we need to do as a country to move forward "with all the vested interests that have accrued around these two parties", added Diamond. "They cannot think about the overall public good and the longer term anymore because both parties are trapped in short-term, zero-sum calculations", where each one's gains are seen as the other's losses.

We have to rip open this two-party duopoly and have it challenged by a serious third party that will talk about education reform, without worrying about offending unions; financial reform, without worrying about losing donations from Wall Street; corporate tax reductions to stimulate jobs, without worrying about offending the far Left; energy and climate reform, without worrying about offending the far right and coal-state Democrats; and proper healthcare reform, without worrying about offending insurers and drug companies.


"If competition is good for our economy", asks Diamond, "why isn't it good for our politics?"


We need a third party on the stage of the next presidential debate to look Americans in the eye and say: "These two parties are lying to you. They can't tell you the truth because they are each trapped in decades of special interests. I am not going to tell you what you want to hear. I am going to tell you what you need to hear if we want to be the world's leaders, not the new Romans".







Q India is going through the best and worst of times. Are there areas of concern on the economic front?
A. Overall, the state of Indian economy is quite satisfactory. This does not mean that there are no areas of concern. These concerns particularly relate to inflationary pressures and food inflation. If we take into account the new series introduced for food inflation and wholesale price index, though they are still high, the overall inflationary pressure has been reduced. I do feel that by the year-end, annualised inflation rate will be moderate and acceptable. There are certain seasonal factors like fruits, vegetables and milk prices that normally go up. Floods in some areas have also caused damage to vegetables and seasonal crops. But I do hope that growth will be over 8.5 per cent.

Inflow of money through institutional investments and FDI has also been on the rise. There is a clear picture that India is favoured as an investment destination. So, on the whole, the scenario is optimistic and sentiments are reasonably high.


Q. There has been a lot of wastage of foodgrains and the Supreme Court has advised release of free grains to people. What are we doing with the food economy?

A. Procurement has been substantially stepped up in the past two years compared with what it used to be. The storage facilities available are inadequate. As a result, there has been some wastage. The effort should be to minimise wastage and that is precisely why we have been emphasising on building storage facilities and cold chains as the government will have to procure foodgrains. If there is a crisis and resultant food shortages, from where will the government get food? How will it feed 120 crore people if it does not produce and procure foodgrains in good years and maintain a buffer stock? You cannot just pick up one event and challenge the entire system. We can certainly do better and we are working towards that.


Q. Are you in favour of continuing with food subsidies and minimum support price?
A. Food subsidy is inevitable. The very basic foundation of food security is production. Unless you produce, what are you going to distribute? First, we will have to give higher prices to producers so that they can produce more. After production, we have to procure in substantial quantities. After procurement comes distribution. For distribution, we require to improve public and private distribution outlets.

On the method of giving subsidy, we have to see whether it is through a smart card or food coupon. As things move, Unique Identification Number will help us put a system in place so that subsidy reaches the targeted group.


Q. Are large portfolio inflows a big concern for you? Do you think these inflows should be regulated?
A. We shall have to make a careful assessment about how much of inflows will lead to overheating. Up to now we feel these inflows are moderate. But we have to keep a constant watch over the market and the trend of inflows. As and when intervention will be called for, we will do it. But we have not yet reached that stage.


Q. Do you think the investment sentiment will be impacted due to violence in Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalites in the red corridor states?

A. I don't think so...

Q. Will the government be able to achieve the target of `40,000 crore through disinvestments in state-owned companies?
A. The target is an indicative figure in the Budget. To what extent I will reach that target would depend on market conditions. My philosophy of disinvestment is quite clear: I will offload the stake only when I get maximum advantage of market conditions. The government raised approximately `24,000 crore in 2009-10 from five disinvestments. In the current year, so far, about `2,023 crore has been raised. I am hopeful of achieving the disinvestment target set in this Budget.


Q. Do you get a lot of comfort for not pushing disinvestment aggressively because you have got so much money from the sale of 3G spectrum?

A. Better than anticipated realisation under telecom spectrum auction has given elbowroom to enhance outlays for key areas like social sector, infrastructure and security. Early release of funds will also ensure their proper utilisation.

Q. Is there scope to reduce tax labs for individuals and companies beyond what has been proposed in the Direct Taxes Code Bill?

A. Moderation of tax slabs and rates has been a policy initiative over the last decade. At the same time, a healthy collection of tax revenues is needed to limit fiscal deficit and curb inflation. Rates proposed in the bill are rational and well thought out. Future tax rates would depend on growth of economy and buoyancy in tax collections.


Q. People have plenty of cash in hand and this seems to have absorbed the impact of inflationary pressures.
A. The demand side has some influence over inflationary pressures but at the same time we have to move very cautiously on the monetary policy and rates have to be adjusted very carefully. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has done a fine balancing job. The rate adjustments have helped the RBI to mop up excess liquidity from the market and at the same time not disturb the growth process. There is no dearth of liquidity for investments and at the same time a part of excess liquidity that was required to be mopped up has been done.
Q. The system is full of black money. Most transactions in real estate, luxury goods and high value retail are done in cash. Are you worried about the influence of black money on the economy?

A. There may be some influence, but please remember that we have implemented Sixth Pay Commission recommendations and salaries have been stepped up substantially just 18 months ago. We have given two instalments of dearness allowance, one in January and the other in July 2010. We have stepped up spending on National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) also. We are injecting money for rural development and that is not black money. People have earned legitimately and are spending; this is not black money. Some black money may be there, but it is not influencing the market in the way that you imply.


Q. Don't you think the government has made very little headway in convincing tax havens and countries with secretive banking laws to part with information on how much ill-gotten money is parked abroad by individuals and Indian companies?

A. In the past one year we have made substantial progress in our commitment to take steps for getting information on illegal money stashed abroad. We have acted on the information given to us by the German authorities and have concluded assessments in 18 individual cases raising a total demand of `24.26 crore.
We have identified 21 countries/jurisdictions to enter into Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) and concluded TIEA negotiation with Bahamas, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Isle of Man, Jersey, Monaco, Cayman Islands and Argentina. We have already signed revised DTAA (Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement) with Switzerland and are also actively renegotiating DTAA with our 74 treaty partners for broadening the scope of article concerning Exchange of Information.

Once these agreements enter into force, we shall be able to exchange all information, including banking information, in specific cases. While we cannot ask these banks to tell us about the total amount of money belonging to Indians in their banks, we can request them for banking information in specific cases.


Q. There are independent studies on NREGS that the system is diverting money and it is not reaching the targeted people?

A. There is a Comptroller and Auditor General report on NREGS and we have taken this report into account. When you have such a huge activity where millions are spent, nobody would say that there is no leakage. But effort should be made to plug the leakages and to ensure that fruits of development reach the people. There could always be a perverted view that everything is wrong. I cannot help it and subscribe to that.


Q. Has the UPA government slipped into a comfort zone in its second term, shunning the reform plank altogether?

A. The reform process is a continuous one and not a big bang or of a revolutionary variety. It has been gradual, sequenced and calibrated to respond to the changing economic context. In this regard, under UPA-II, there has been significant progress with nutrient-based fertiliser subsidy taking effect from April 1. This is applicable to decontrolled phosphates and potassic fertilisers. There has been partial decontrol of the petroleum prices that would be carried forward in due course. In the case of food subsidies, the Food Security Bill would be in place shortly and the intent is to secure access to food for the poor and truly needy through legal/statutory enactment. The government has introduced two bills related to amendment of insurance law, micro-finance bill and several other legislative matters in Parliament. Indeed it is seriously engaged in reforms in several sectors that can make Indian industry globally competitive.


Q. Don't you think there is a disconnect between the UPA government and the Congress Party in dealing with economic policy issues, especially on land acquisition for large industry projects?

A. Land is a state subject. Land for SEZs is acquired as per policy and procedures of respective state governments. They have been advised that the first priority in acquisition of land for SEZs should be acquisition of waste and barren land and only if necessary, single crop agriculture land could also be acquired. If, perforce, a portion of double-cropped agriculture land has to be acquired to meet minimum area requirements, especially for multi-product SEZs, the same should not exceed 10 per cent of total land required for SEZs. As per the current policy, the board of approvals (BOA) does not approve any SEZs, where states have carried out or propose to carry out compulsory acquisition of land for such SEZs after April 5, 2007, as decided by the EGoM on SEZs.








IT is against this background that the question of "occupation" of Raj Bhavans by the police arises. Today, many Governors  are retired police officers. Leave alone the propriety of elevating police officers to the highest Constitutional office in a state, such appointments are a violation of the spirit if not the letter of the Supreme Court judgment. Ironically, some peers and superiors of the 'Police Governors' constantly  accuse the political and "bureaucratic" leadership of politicising the police.

It is no coincidence that most of the police officers now comfortably settled in various Raj Bhavans are former Intelligence heads of the Government of India. One major  reason why the Maoists and other extremist elements are able to strike at will and inflict heavy casualties on the police is the lack of intelligence about their location and movements. On the few occasions that advance "intelligence" is provided, it is often not "actionable".
Most of the charges made against Intelligence agencies especially in the context of recent incidents of ambush of Central paramilitary forces appear to have an element of truth. In the most recent incident involving the CRPF, when several policemen were brutally massacred, the incident was investigated by a senior police officer of the Union government. According to his findings,  the massacre was the result of command failure and the failure to observe standard procedures.

Such repeated lapses with fatal consequences are bound to recur if sections of the police leadership continue to cultivate the ruling politicians, often at the cost of professional competence. The official charter of the Intelligence agencies is to collect and collate sensitive information pertaining to the internal security of the state. As a number of senior officers continue  to "hobnob" with political leaders, it lends  substance to a secondary charge levelled against the Intelligence agencies, specifically that they  are more busy collecting political intelligence.

The next critical issue is the question of accountability of the police. A professional force must be accountable to the civilian magistracy. Otherwise, it tends to degenerate into a lawless force that alienates the very people it is supposed to protect. Power without accountability is the very antithesis of democracy. We are all proud of our democratic Constitution. But as someone rightly said, it is an inert document. Systems have to be devised judiciously and put in place. It is just as well that the recent Constitutional Review Commission has reminded the government that civilian control over the armed services is a crucial postulate of the rule of law, now a basic feature of the Constitution.

The ongoing insurgency is not a mere law and order problem that can be tackled with force alone. The root cause lies at the grassroots ~ lack of development coupled with growing unemployment. Such a situation breeds disaffection and alienation among the impressionable rural youth. They get sucked into such insurgencies. For a majority, the ideological motivation is always thin. The real challenge before the authorities is to wean them away from these militias and back into the mainstream.

The civilian magistracy's role becomes crucial in this context. It should lead the police force not only in its campaigns against the extremists but also redouble its efforts towards rapid development of the affected areas. A force, led by civilian magistrates, will be a restraining influence on the trigger- happy elements. It can also act as a check against police excesses on hapless bystanders trapped in the cross-fire.

The latest incident is symptomatic of the malaise afflicting the force. Some constables of a Central paramilitary unit were killed in an ambush in a remote village in Chattisgarh. The next day a heavily armed force surrounded the affected village and rounded up all the villagers, including school children. The extremists fled soon after the ambush, as they always always do. The force reportedly unleashed a reign of terror on the innocent villagers, including children, by administering electric shocks.

The Director-General of the force has promised the "highest punishment" to the culprits. But that is not the point at issue. In the bargain, an unchecked force gets still more brutalised and the innocent populace increasingly traumatised. The latter, out of sheer, impotent rage and utter frustration become willing and easy recruits to the ranks of the extremists. Paradoxically, the problem gets further compounded. The government beefs up its force, with stronger "firepower".

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The same applies to firepower. Some police officers complain about "inadequate" laws to meet the challenge of extremism. They are demanding a virtual carte blanche to "wipe out" the menace. They would be well-advised to re-read the Police Commission's report.  Power to the police without accountability is fraught with deadly consequences and literally so.

Dacoity had assumed serious proportions in a north Indian state during the seventies. The then Chief Minister, no doubt under police pressure, issued a virtual carte blanche to "eliminate" the menace. Senior police officers, who authored the report, recorded that "thousands" were eliminated, with no questions asked. But the problem wasn't resolved. More dacoits emerged. The problem only became more compounded. The Centre must draw appropriate lessons from this nightmarish experience.

As often happens in such situations, the police exert pressure on a weak executive to empower them to carry out  what are virtually  'search and destroy' missions. For every genuine extremist "eliminated", several innocents are also killed. The sense of utter outrage among the populace provokes a strong feeling of retribution among the kith and kin of innocents. It is an irony of history that the British government was more sensitive on these issues than the government of " independent and  democratic  India".

Midnapore district faced the problem of terrorism during the thirties of the last century. Three successive District Magistrates ~ all Britishers ~ were gunned down by the terrorists. The police pressured the government to authorise 'search and destroy' missions without the accompanying magistrates. This seems to have become the norm today, and not only in the states afflicted by the Maoist challenge. Full credit to the British government ~ it resolutely refused to bow to pressure.

The first pre-requisite of any counter-terrorism strategy is to build a police force that is accountable and works within the framework of existing laws that are more than adequate. It must remain under the control of the local government and the civilian magistracy. 

The Central forces play only an auxiliary role, and the local officers who lead them are apolitical and honest. The police can eliminate Maoists but never Maoism.







IT often happens that an overdrive follows a delayed awakening. So it is in Bengal with the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act. More than a year after it was passed by Parliament and six months ahead of the Assembly election, the formal communication from the state government to the schools was advanced at a meeting with the school heads only last Wednesday. And going by the immediate response of the schools, notably the private and missionary institutions, the acceptance of the legislation has been somewhat grudging. It isn't merely the question of funding, one that ought to have been settled by the Centre and the states when the Bill was being drafted. The West Bengal government is said to be working on the financial package, with certain schools demanding a higher outlay in accord with the standard of instruction. Discrimination in the assistance package will fly in the face of the objectives of the Act.

It is a pity that reservations on the part of the school authorities are also societal. So profound a parliamentary legislation will in all  likelihood be implemented, if with varying degrees of success. But the confusion may well get worse confounded to the detriment of learning as a fundamental right. A critical aspect of the Act is that 25 per cent of the seats will have to be reserved for the children of the poor. But there is considerable confusion among the schools about the definition of such quota-specific terms as "economically weak" and "backward". 

To be fair, this isn't entirely the state's responsibility; to clear the confusion, the Centre ought to have spelt out the parameters more explicitly. If learning has to be universal, it presupposes that the exercise will cut across social and family backgrounds. Lamentably enough, a discordant note has been struck by certain affluent schools over what they call the "support system at home" for those children in the reserved vacancies. It is here that the school authorities will have a profound role to play. And on that role will hinge the consummation devoutly wished ~ whether education will eventually be universal or hurtfully partial as it is now.



SADLY, "developments" post-1947 have caused an erosion of the sentiments that once recognised the soldiers of India and Pakistan as sharing a common, albeit colonial, heritage. While occasionally heart-warming stories are told of goodwill gestures across the frontline, perhaps the most "peaceful" regular interaction between the security forces of the two countries is the rather hostile, certainly feisty ceremonial when the flags are lowered and gates slammed shut at the Wagah-Attari border each evening ~ though technically the personnel involved are paramilitary: members of the BSF and the Rangers. Yet signs do emerge of that commonality, and significantly in a "field" in which few soldiers were required to be active before Partition ~ environmental conservation. The Indian Army waxes eloquent over how its men transformed the once-barren Indus valley in Ladakh, that Ecological Battalions of the TA "re-greened" the denuded Mussoorie Hills and are reversing a deteriorating situation along the Rajasthan canal. Now one of the latest entries in the Guinness records hails a feat by Lance Naik Mohd. Yusuf Jamil of the Pakistan army who planted 29,101 saplings (400 others were not counted since they had not been put down properly) in 24 hours near the Punjab town of Gujranwala. He has been promoted and given a cash award by the Corps Commander at Mangla. The Pak army had earlier earned a place in those records for plantings in a mangrove in Sindh.

Records of that nature are of limited relevance in a larger context, and recognising Jamil's achievement is not intended to inspire/provoke someone in the Indian Army to try and upstage him in a numbers game. There are however, several stretches of degraded "wasteland" along the Indo-Pak border (in Rajasthan/ Kutch in particular) that could do with the kind of restoration only the Army can deliver. Now it would be wishful thinking to imagine a joint operation, but experts from both countries can identify the trees and shrubs that could be put down and nurtured by the troops on either side of the line. Even if an element of competitiveness creeps in it will serve a common cause, one that might make life better for the local populace. Are the top brass in New Delhi and Rawalpindi man enough to experiment with a "green" confidence-building measure?



THE return last December of most top Ulfa leaders, including its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, has done little to boost public expectations of an early restoration of peace in Assam. Chief minister Tarun Gogoi never tires of expressing hopes that the peace process is on the right track and, last week, he even hinted that the elusive Ulfa commander- in-chief Paresh Barua would attend formal talks likely within two months. On what basis he assumed this is not clear but even the state intelligence agencies are in the dark about Barua's whereabouts. Speculative reports suggest that he is in Myanmar or scouting for arms in China. In April, in an obvious reaction to the report that a forum of Assamese personalities was initiating a move to facilitate talks between the Ulfa and the Centre, Barua said he would not be a party to any discussion that did not include his demand for sovereignty. Reacting to Barua's snub, Forum convener Hiren Gohain said Ulfa was a political body with a central committee and this alone could decide the outfit's  future course of action. He also made a significant observation that sovereignty could exist even without cessation.

Clearly, Barua is fighting a lone battle, not because he wanted to, but because he is overpowered by his ego. If he sees the writing on the wall ~- most of his colleagues are now in jail ~ and comes forward he is certain to find a place in Assamese history as a peace-loving revolutionary hero. New Delhi's  interlocutor PC Haldar has held talks with Ulfa leaders but they are yet to make up their minds whether or not to go ahead without Barua. But if the latter continues to play truant they might have to take a firm decision because they cannot remain incarcerated forever. The Centre can show its sincerity in holding talks by freeing the leaders. Let this be the beginning.







It is now six months since Nitin Gadkari was elected president of the Bharatiya Janata Party — long enough for a leader to make his mark. It cannot be said that he has done so. His first problem was that he inherited a senior leadership that was sullen and unenthusiastic. It was not entirely his fault, for at least some of his colleagues' dejection was due to the party's disappointing performance in the 2009 general election. That drubbing contributed to the rise of Mr Gadkari; it discredited tried and tested leaders, and convinced the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that a change of guard was necessary. But whilst it could change the president of the party, it could hardly change the courtiers — even if they turned their backs on him.


It is not as if Mr Gadkari has not tried to raise the morale of his party. He has been active, verbose and aggressive. His choice of metaphors has been particularly sensational; to call Afzal Guru the son-in-law of the Congress, Digvijay Singh a descendant of Aurangzeb or the Yadav leaders specimens of the canine species, certainly shows a lively imagination, even if it betrays a youthful lack of judgment. His critics may say that he does not know the limits of decency. He could well reply that decency in politics is flexible and that he is a pioneer establishing new limits. It is surprising that his opponents have not followed him and found even more derogatory descriptions for him. They may be suffering from the illusion that the picture of Mr Gadkari speaks for itself. Whatever may be the reason, he has got away lightly till now. As he has demonstrated, politics in this country is virtually a game without rules; if his opponents have not given him as good as they got, it may be due more to their conservatism than to their inability. It would not be beyond Lalu Prasad at least to find some pithy expletives that could stick to Mr Gadkari.


The BJP leader perhaps realizes this and is drawing in his horns. His statement on the Ayodhya verdict is moderate to a fault; he has asked his party to do precisely the reverse of what it did leading up to the demolition of Babri Masjid. In his party, even moderation can be risky; extremist groups to its Right could accuse him of treason against their revered Hindu rashtra. It is not enough for him to eschew extremism; he needs to find new ground on which to pitch his tent. As it happens, fate has presented him with a golden opportunity. Onion prices have risen 70 per cent in the past month. They are poised to rise much further, since fresh supplies are months away. He has the chance to give the Congress government as good as the BJP government got in 1998 when onion prices rose tenfold within months.








Juvenile homes meant for orphaned, abandoned and runaway children are notoriously unhomely places. The state social welfare department took its own sweet time to realize this fact, which has been often pointed out by activists and social workers. It is heartening that the authorities have finally decided to act on the problem. However, as usual, their plan of action raises new worries. It has been decided that following the model adopted by Maharashtra and Karnataka, West Bengal will identify foster parents willing to give these children a proper home. The expense of bringing up the wards will be borne by the State. Noble as the idea might be, it is, from its inception, fraught with uncertainties. How is the State going to make sure that self-interested couples do not get custody of these children, tempted by the monthly stipend allocated by the State for their upkeep? Apparently, officers of the social welfare department would visit these families at regular intervals to monitor the condition of the children entrusted to them. But given the dwindling number of employees in the district offices, is this idea practically feasible?


By acknowledging the shortcomings of state-run homes, the government has effectively owned up its failure to deliver its duty by the citizens. A welfare state should factor into its vision the responsibility of rehabilitating children under its care in the mainstream. Educating them and helping them find employment are as important as giving them three square meals and a roof above their heads. It is no secret that remand homes are not only breeding grounds for corruption but are also run with little regard for the health, hygiene and humanity of their inhabitants. Such barbaric conditions often provoke these children to run away. It may be a blessing for a young person to be given a chance to leave such a place and move in with a real family — compassionate enough to give him or her a new purpose in life. However, the kindness of strangers is an unpredictable affair. It could well turn out to be quite the contrary.









The British Labour Party has a new leader. I wonder how much, if at all, this matters to anyone in India these days. At one time, it would have done. Even in the 1980s, it was still possible to meet a senior police officer in Calcutta who read the New Statesman, or a retired bureaucrat in Delhi who remembered his days at the London School of Economics and the old bonds between the Labour and Congress parties. But that generation has largely passed away. In terms of economic and political clout, India has risen in the world as Britain has fallen — on his visit a couple of months ago, David Cameron's only too obvious need to flatter and appease India showed just how far the seesaw has tipped. A new Labour leader may matter as much to India as a new chief minister of UP would to the average Londoner ("Uttar Pradesh? Where's that?"). A better question is: how much does he matter to Britain?


A few days ago, I watched his first leader's speech to Labour's conference in Manchester. Like the Tory Cameron and the Liberal Nick Clegg — the leading partners in the government coalition — Ed Miliband has picked up the informal rhetorical tricks of Tony Blair. He says "Let's be honest" a lot and inserts a "y'know" now and then to make himself more demotic. Like Clegg and Cameron, he's in his early forties. Like them, too, he has a floppy thatch of dark hair. All three could be played by the actor, Hugh Grant, when he was younger — they're remarkably unravaged and rather likeable, though in Cameron and Clegg neither quality is likely to survive the coming winter, after the public spending axe comes out and voters begin to lose their jobs.


There are differences. Miliband is Labour's first Jewish leader. Were he to win a general election, he'd be the first Jewish prime minister since Benjamin Disraeli left office in 1880. This hardly matters. Outside the supporters of militant Islam and the British National Party, and perhaps the membership committees of a few crusty clubs, Britain isn't noticeably anti-semitic; and in any case Miliband, like Disraeli, is Jewish by ancestry — his parents fled the Nazis in Europe — rather than by religious conviction. Disraeli was a convert to the Anglican church while Miliband goes further and doesn't believe in god. It was mildly shocking to hear him admit his atheism in a television interview. Britain is increasingly irreligious, but leading politicians always try to fudge or deflect questions about their personal beliefs so as not to alienate voters who hold different views. Blair, as we now know, is a fervent Christian, but in office he was never happy talking about it, and got shirty when he was asked if he prayed with George Bush.


Even more unconventionally, Miliband lives with a woman he so far hasn't bothered to marry. They have one child together, with another expected soon. Again, this hardly marks him out as a social radical: many couples choose to live in the same way. (My own case is typical. When my wife and I got married, the two children we'd had together came to the wedding.) But again, it's highly unusual in a leading politician. His child is technically 'illegitimate', born out of wedlock. There have been plenty in the past — the children of mistresses to prime ministers, for example — but they've been kept secret. Miliband is entirely open about his domestic arrangements, which do no more than reflect the way so many couples live, even though the coalition government and its media allies insist on holding up marriage as the key weapon in their plan to re-moralize British society.


Interesting though these facts about Miliband may be, however, they are easily eclipsed by the fact that everyone knows: that he stood against his elder brother, David, in the leadership election and beat him, to general surprise. David, after all, was the favourite, the better known and far more experienced brother who'd served in the cabinets of Blair and Gordon Brown. His loss to Ed got splattered all over the media as a "psycho-drama", a sort of fratricide that echoed Old Testament stories and Shakespeare. The conventional wisdom became that the wrong brother had won. In many ways, this is probably right: David has the far clearer speaking voice (Ed sounds as if he is chewing a Mars Bar), the more confident delivery, the straighter and taller stance, and all these physical aspects of a personality matter hugely where politics is played out — on TV.


But Ed could stand on a platform and say something that David, as a former member of Blair's government, could never say. He could say, as he did in his conference speech, that the Iraq war was wrong. You could argue that this was moral luxury afforded to a man who hadn't even been an MP when that war was declared and approved by a vote in the House of Commons. None the less, most Labour supporters (perhaps most of the country) wanted to hear him denounce it. Year by year, day by day, it becomes clearer that Britain's moral and military support of the American invasion was this country's biggest foreign policy blunder since Suez: an illegal, expensive and bloody disaster. In the United States of America, Obama can say that his party wasn't in the White House to make the decision and that he voted against it. No such option is open to Blair's old colleagues, which is why the Iraq issue has suppurated so poisonously in the body of the Labour party for so long.


This, so far, is the reason the younger of the Milibrothers matters. Like many others of the millions who protested and argued against the war, when I heard the word 'wrong', I raised a small cheer. Who can tell how successful a Labour leader he'll turn out to be? All we know is that, at the very start, he said something necessary and right.




The deputy governor of the Bank of England, Charlie Bean, wants me to spend more money. Mr Bean sits on the bank's monetary policy committee, which sets Britain's base interest rate. Before 2007, my savings were earning up to 5 per cent in their various deposit accounts, but in the years since the Bank of England has shrunk its base rate to a historic low of 0.5 per cent and looks unlikely to raise it any time soon. This is because, as Mr Bean announced last week, the bank wants people to spend money rather than save it. "What we're trying to do by our policy is encourage more spending," he told a television interviewer. "Ideally we'd like to see that in the form of more business spending, but part of the mechanism that might encourage that is having more household spending; so in the short term we want to see households not saving more but spending more."


As Britain's prosperity depends on consumption, this makes sense at the macro-economic level. But at the micro-economic level — me and my bank balance — I want to take Mr Bean outside and hit him around the head. During the mad decade that ended in the financial crash, I behaved cautiously. I didn't borrow, I saved — money that would put our children through university and keep us in our old age. Governments commend this sort of behaviour. The present government, especially, has shaped its rhetoric around the principle that States, like people, should never live beyond their means and always save for a rainy day. When the deep cuts in public spending are announced in two or three weeks' time — cuts which fly in the face of Mr Bean's advice to get down to the shops — we can expect more of the same: living within our means, getting the State's budget back into balance, repaying our debts.


It's puzzling. Individuals are encouraged to behave like little Keynesians, spending their way out of the recession, while the government does the opposite. The one certainty is that it hasn't paid to be a saver. Since the crash, official statistics suggest that reduced interest rates have lost savers £18 billion and saved borrowers £26 billion. Inflation persists at more than 3 per cent. The value of savings falls. I should have bought gold and buried it in the back garden.








The headlines in the Western media all said more or less the same thing when the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, pulled the plug on the latest round of the "Middle East peace process". "Netanyahu urges [Palestinian leader Mahmoud] Abbas to continue peace talks as building freeze expires," they said, or "Netanyahu appeals for calm as freeze on settlements runs out." Et cetera. But it was Netanyahu who agreed to the building freeze 10 months ago, because the Palestinians were refusing to negotiate over the future of their land while Israelis continue to colonize it — or maybe because the American government, which agrees with the Palestinians about this, was twisting his arm very hard.


Netanyahu was well aware that Abbas could not continue to negotiate if work on expanding the Israeli settlements resumed. President Barack Obama had begged Netanyahu not to wreck the talks by cancelling the freeze. Yet, Netanyahu has chosen not to extend it. What does that tell us about his interest in a peace settlement?


Apologists for Israeli policy point out that the freeze always had that 10-month, self-cancelling proviso built into it, and that Netanyahu's coalition government would almost certainly collapse if he extended it now. They are probably right, as the coalition includes extreme right-wing and settler-dominated parties that are dedicated to perpetual Israeli control over much or all of the occupied Palestinian territories. But it was Netanyahu who set that deadline in the first place, allegedly to placate the more extreme elements in his coalition. Presumably, it is they who are forcing his hand now.


No, that's not quite right either. If Netanyahu's coalition broke up, he could fairly easily create another in which parties that genuinely support the peace talks took the place of the extremist parties that stormed out. So the evidence suggests that Netanyahu is notinterested in a peace settlement. Netanyahu would be very interested in a peace deal in which the Palestinians agreed to his terms. He has never specified exactly what they are, but judging by what he has said in the past and by the company he keeps, they would amount to almost unconditional surrender.


Unchanged agenda


Netanyahu wants permanent Israeli control of the land on which most of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank stand, and Palestinian assent to the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem. There would be no return of Palestinian refugees to their former homes in what is now Israel. And the Palestinians would have to create a government tough enough to enforce those terms on an outraged population, but not strong enough to threaten Israel. Netanyahu knows that any Palestinian leader who agreed to such draconian peace terms could not survive: so he is not very interested in the peace talks. He must look keen for peace, however, since that is what his American senior partners expect.


The first time Netanyahu led the Israeli government, in 1996-99, he faced a similar problem. The Oslo peace accords had been signed recently, and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who made that deal, had been martyred by an extreme right-wing Jewish assassin. There was a strong backlash against the far-Right in Israel, and a serious danger that a land-for-peace deal was in the offing. Netanyahu might not even have won the 1996 election if Palestinian extremists, hoping that he would destroy the Oslo deal, had not given him a boost by launching a terror campaign. And it worked: having won the election, he successfully stalled for three years on fulfilling the Oslo terms. By 1999, despair had set in among Palestinian moderates, and the "peace process" was effectively dead. Netanyahu is in power again, and there is no reason to suppose that his agenda has changed since then.




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





A probe into the death of five big cats in the Bannerghatta National Park in Bangalore over the past fortnight has drawn attention to the shocking treatment being meted out to animals there. The animals were reportedly fed stale meat in unhygienic conditions. 

They contracted e-coli infection which led to gastroenteritis. Twenty-one lions and tigers fell ill. Two lions and three tigers lost their lives. Park veterinarians say that while one tigress is still battling for her life, others are responding to medication. The worst seems to be over. The investigation report indicates that the deaths of the tigers were wholly avoidable. Stale meat was given to the animals in rusted iron buckets. Besides, conditions in the enclosures were found to be filthy. Uneaten meat and bones are not removed and water waste lies in stagnant pools. Not surprisingly, flies and other insects abound. The serial deaths at the park were waiting to happen.

India's decision to set up wildlife sanctuaries and national parks was widely applauded as these provided for protection of wild animals and their habitats. The chances of survival of animals belonging to endangered species were thought to be enhanced through the setting up of such parks. But the Bannerghatta National Park has proved that these parks could well turn out to be death traps for the animals. Since the animals are in enclosures they cannot hunt and kill for themselves. They are forced to eat what is given to them. At Bannerghatta, the tigers had no option but to eat the stale meat.

Park officials have blamed the stale meat on the long time it takes to transport meat from the city. The probe team has now recommended setting up of a slaughter house near the park so that animals can be provided with fresh meat. However, what excuse do park authorities have for the dirty cages and the unhygienic safari area? Millions of rupees are being poured into tiger conservation. The problem therefore is not one of shortage of funds but of its efficient use. Is money being spent on the tigers or is it making its way to private pockets? Ensuring better hygiene does not need much money. It requires the will to make it happen. And that was clearly lacking at Bannerghatta. The death of five big cats is a catastrophic loss for India's efforts to protect the tiger. It must stir authorities out of their slumber.








The normal, and sometimes better than normal, monsoon in most parts of the country had given hopes that the kharif crops, which depend a lot on the rains, would be excellent. The crops are not going to be bad but they will not cross the record levels of 2007. This is because the rainfall has been uneven and has been insufficient in some areas. This might have an impact even on the rabi crops. The rabi prospects in central and northern India may not be very good and therefore the likely underperformance of the kharif crops may affect food supplies and prices over the next one year. The agriculture ministry's estimate of the kharif production is about 115 million tonnes, which is 10 per cent more than the drought-hit last year's production of 104 millions, but sizeably short of the 2007 output of 121 million tonnes.

The impact will be felt on the price front because consumption has increased from last year. Food inflation has not relented this month too and therefore the government has to be very careful with supply and price management in the coming months. The ban on rice and wheat exports may have to continue. Trade and tariff policies, which sought to protect supplies and prices in adverse conditions, may also have to continue. The new arrivals after the kharif crop may only replenish the government's depleting stocks and may not add to the availability on the open market. The situation may vary from crop to crop but for the main crop of rice it will not be vastly different. Rice production is projected to be over 80 million tonnes, well below the 2008 level of 85 million tonnes. Adjusted against higher consumption, it can show a deficit situation which may sustain the price line at high levels.


In the case of coarse grains and oilseeds the production will be better than last year's but less than the demand. Sugar may not do badly. The best performance will be in the case of pulses where the output is expected to be about 60 lakh tonnes against last year's 43 lakh tonnes. That will certainly have a beneficial effect on pulse prices. Among non-food crops cotton will do well, thanks to the continuing spread of Bt varieties. The overall message is that the pressure on the food price front may continue, and there is no reason for complacence.







'Pseudo-politicians in religious garb seem to be able to resist everything except temptation.'


The judiciary is more important than any judgement. Every institution has to be larger than the sum of its members, and nowhere more so than the two pillars of any democracy, parliament and the judiciary. We do not question the legitimacy of an enactment just because we disagree with an MP, or indeed because the behaviour of some MPs might have been unsavoury. A substantial section of India did not agree with the passage of the nuclear bill in 2009; and evidence of bribery in the process was produced, in a fairly dramatic way, during the proceedings. This did not mean rejection of the new legislation.

Lawyers and leaders of the Sunni Waqf Board and the Muslim Personal Law Board have repeatedly insisted that they would abide by the judgement of the courts. This was both reasonable and acceptable (reason and response have not necessarily been in harmony during the long years of contention over a mosque at Ayodhya). When the Allahabad High Court's judgement was deferred by the supreme court for about a week, there was perceptible irritation among Muslims, who wanted the verdict to be announced. It is possible that such enthusiasm for the verdict was fuelled by a conviction that it would go in favour of the mosque. The lawyers and spokesmen of the pro-mosque movement displayed considerable confidence. Maybe they forgot that however strong a case may be, it still has to be argued before a bench, and complacency within the legal team can be a fatal flaw. It was the BJP that was preparing for an adverse judgement. Its leader L K Advani told his party repeatedly, before the verdict, that any remorse should be a private matter; and that violence was unacceptable. No disputant can deny the validity of the judicial process, or the credibility of the verdict, just because it has gone against you. That is counter-productive, and dangerous.

In any case, the Allahabad judgement is a semi-colon, not a full stop. The full stop will come when the supreme court takes a decision. Muslims will appeal, as they have every right to. It must also be stressed that in 1993 parliament clearly prevented the courts from hearing any other dispute over a place of worship. Ayodhya is the last case of its kind.

The Congress, which has been in power during all four of the nodal points of the Babri-Ayodhya controversy — opening of British Raj locks and installation of idols in 1949, laying of the foundation stone for a temple in 1989, destruction of the Babri in 1992 and the verdict in 2010 — is in search of an 'amicable' settlement. 

Congress policy, politics

The game is old and evident. Congress policy on the dispute has rotated around one axis: how to get the temple built without losing the Muslim vote. The BJP has no Muslim vote to lose, but it will support such an under-the-surface endeavour since it obviously wants a temple to be constructed as soon as possible. If Ayodhya is the last case of its kind perhaps we should let it complete the legal process as well. We have waited for six decades; why not wait for two or three years more? Any 'amicable' settlement is unlikely to be amicable enough for everyone, to begin with and could degenerate into a 'political' compromise that could strain community relations rather than heal them. If we trust our institutions then we must trust them fully.

Pseudo-politicians in religious garb seem to be able to resist everything except temptation, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde. Unsurprisingly, therefore, one or two professional fire-breathers among Muslims have reinforced their reputation for irresponsibility by indulging in provocative rhetoric from the pulpit. They have not learnt from the experience of a quarter century what the price of provocation is, for they never suffer. The price is paid by the poor and the defenceless, who live in crowded lanes, defenceless on one side and hostile on the other.

There is, however, some good news. Those who think they can still milk hysteria are blind to an extraordinary change that has come about in India. The people, Hindu or Muslim, have risen above the negative politics of communal conflict; they want the positive politics of development. Faith and worship still matters to Indians; and it is a very limited, elitist, Delhi notion that the young have moved beyond religion. They have not. But they have moved beyond violence as a means to their horizon.

The impoverished have understood a simple, important, over-riding reality: poverty is not communal. There is no shortage of places for prayer in our country. There is, however, a shortage of self-respect, since every hungry stomach in our country is a sharp slap on the face of the idea of India. 2010 is a hundred years away from 1992.









Only by working together can the US, Europe and Russia secure a position of leadership, globally.


In both Russia and the United States, the 'reset' in US-Russian relations is now being assessed. Some, often for reasons of domestic politics, are trying to belittle any achievements. Others are wondering whether a new stage in the relationship has truly begun, or whether this is just another pendulum swing in a positive direction, to be followed inevitably by a swing backward.

In the early 1990s, Russian expectations for cooperation with the US were so great, the mood was euphoric. Some of that euphoria was based on illusions and on an idealised view of America — a sense that was particularly widespread among the intelligentsia. Yet, those expectations also reflected a sound belief that our two nations could indeed achieve a great deal together, both in their own interests and for global benefit.

Euphoria soon gave way to disillusionment. Later in that decade, when the Russian economy was undermined by inept reforms and while millions of Russians were plunged into poverty, many Americans applauded Russia's leaders. Many Russians could not help wondering if a weak, cornered Russia was what the US wanted.

Claimed of victory

Also in the 1990s, Nato was expanded while the US proclaimed its victory in the Cold War and its intention to maintain military superiority.

The period when the US could regard itself as the sole remaining superpower and even a 'hyperpower,' capable of creating a new kind of empire, turned out to be relatively short. The global financial crisis spurred the process of global realignment in favour of new centres of power and influence. America has had to adjust to this shift, and it has not been easy.

Neither Russia nor the US can afford another confrontation. Though quite different, both nations are going through a transition. They are trying to build new, often unpredictable relationships with emerging powers. The European Union, too, faces this challenge.

The intercontinental area from Vancouver to Vladivostok confronts many similar problems, and many shared interests are emerging. Powerful forces of mutual attraction must emerge as well. The US-Russia 'reset' and the declared EU-Russia 'partnership for modernisation' should mark the beginning of the road toward a new intercontinental community. Only by working together can the US, Europe and Russia secure a position of leadership and influence in a rapidly changing global world.

Am I calling for an association of 'the North' as a counterweight to 'the South,' the Islamic world or perhaps China? Far from it.

Such a plan would be a recipe for a real rather than a hypothetical conflict of civilisations. In relations with other countries, we must always seek cooperation, joint problem-solving and ways to overcome difficulties.

The Islamic world is grappling with the challenge of adapting to the modern era while trying to protect its cultural identity and unique civilisation. As part of this painful process, extremist tendencies within political Islam are opposed by moderate tendencies and regimes that are not averse to modernisation and are ready for dialogue. A community of shared civilisation, with common cultural roots and diverse experience interacting with the Islamic world, must be a party to such a dialogue.

Such a community could play an equally important role in a dialogue with China.

China's role

China's political importance will undoubtedly increase with its population and economic power. This will be a serious test, for the international community as well as China. There are forks in the road, when difficult decisions must be made. China, sooner or later, will face a political choice — the problem of democracy. Engagement and cooperation with a great nation that has become not just the 'factory to the world' but also a giant economic and political 'laboratory' will be another key task for the intercontinental community I am advocating.

The proposal by Russia's president, Dmitri Medvedev, to conclude a pan-European security treaty applies to the same area, extending from North America to Europe and all of Russia.

Big goals may seem overly ambitious or abstract, particularly at a time when Russia and the US cannot agree on the issue of imported poultry despite their public commitment to a new relationship, and the EU still denies Russian citizens visa-free travel.

Yet I am convinced that my proposal is not a pipe dream. The scale of global change is so vast, and the potential contribution of nations across the intercontinental space of Russia, Europe and North America is so enormous, that their close association should be seen as imperative. We must move from 'reset' and partnership toward a reconfiguration of global political relations.







I visualised my teachers exchanging their eyebrows instead of garlands!


Whenever I did an arithmetic sum wrong, which was often, I had a clash with the knitted eyebrows of my maths guru. On seeing my notebook, his millipede eyebrows would slither towards each other to splice without disjoint into a taut line. In domino effect, this would activate his twitching right hand to select a fleshy spot above my short-trouser and make me smart from his excruciating  tweak. The eyebrows would grudgingly uncouple only after they drew drops of tears from my eyes.

In contrast the wispy lady science  teacher, who always smelt mildly of Mysore sandalwood soap had the thinnest and congruent eyebrows. They always remained in place immobile like two curved lintels over fish-shaped windows. Jagan, class monitor, privy to such secrets, whispered into my ear that her eyebrows were unreal, drawn with a pencil. When it further transpired Mr Millipede would soon be taking Miss Pencil Brows as his second wife, I was thrown  into a paroxysm of laughter as I visualised the two exchanging their eyebrows instead of garlands.

I came across a highbrow specimen in the saloon I visited for hair-shedding. As I was waiting for my turn, he breezed in, sniffing every which way, trying to pin an unclassified smell that assaulted  his sensitive woodpecker nose. He ran a contemptuous eye over the near nude pictures of buxom white women on the wall without which hairdressers were ostensibly denied license. With an impatient wave he rejected the pulp magazines the Chief Shearer offered, being a zealot of quality press. When his turn came, he produced from his bag, a gleaming cut-throat razor, shaving brush, cup-soap, laundered apron, face towel and a bottle of icy blue aftershave. Highbrow and haughty may be, he was not cut out for self-shaving.

Yet another early case I came across was a judge in the municipal court in Poonamallee where my father practised. This judicial arm of law was tall, well-built with chiselled features and deportment to be cast in a movie as a rural moneybag, whose cosseted and petted daughter fell in love with the tonga driver or the gardener's son. He always maintained sepulchral silence, parting his lips only for reading key portions of the judgment in a dulcet voice. Though his facial features drew as a magnet, the canny among the lawyers focused their attention fixedly on the judicial eyebrows. Whenever a line of argument did not jell, his bushy left eyebrow, would crawl up a fraction of an inch involuntarily leaving its right partner at a relatively lower level. The lawyer would know conclusively he has been brow beaten and  his client would be up to his eyebrows in litigious trouble before long.








The fate of Palestinians and Israelis is linked. Only through dialogue – and a genuine commitment to reconciliation by both sides – can we hope to find a solution.


Talkbacks (2)

The indefatigable special US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell continues to foster hope, but peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians seem to be falling apart.

Disingenuously, the Palestinians are blaming the breakdown on Israel's refusal to extend its unprecedented 10-month building moratorium in West Bank settlements. This, after the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas deliberately wasted the first nine months of the freeze resisting a resumption of direct talks.

The collapse of peace negotiations would be highly unfortunate; it is in both sides' best interests to reach a negotiated two-state solution – a just, viable and genuine peace.

Since July 2007, when Hamas violently took control of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has increased cooperation with Israel, especially on security matters. The PA's new willingness to work with Israel was motivated primarily by the real danger posed by Hamas to PA control over the West Bank. But economic and political stability have been an important side effect.

As noted in an International Crisis Group report released on September 7, a sense of order and personal safety, long elusive on the West Bank, have been restored there thanks to this cooperation and thanks to Palestinian forces trained by US security coordinator in the West Bank Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton.

"Militias no longer roam streets, uniformed security forces are back... Initial steps, long overdue, have been taken to reorganize an unwieldy security sector, where overlapping, unaccountable branches had become fiefdoms of powerful chiefs," said the Crisis Group report.

The IDF has thus been able to remove checkpoints and roadblocks that restrict the free movement of goods and people.

This marked improvement in stability and security have led to a resurgence of the Palestinian economy in the West Bank. A World Bank report released last month forecast eight percent economic growth for 2010 and noted a 50% rise in tax revenues. "Anecdotal evidence" quoted in the report pointed to a rise in private investment and entrepreneurship in certain sectors.

The situation is so rosy that World Bank analysts concluded on this optimistic note: "If the Palestinian Authority (PA) maintains its current performance in institution-building and delivery of public services, it is well-positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future."

However, both the Crisis Group and the World Bank warn that stability on the West Bank is unsustainable in the long run without a negotiated peace agreement that leads to a two-state solution.

PALESTINIAN DEMANDS for a complete building freeze in Judea and Samaria – and, strikingly, in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem across the Green Line, too – seem to be nothing more than an excuse to derail talks. Neither previous US administrations nor the Palestinians expected Israel, as a condition for talks, to stop building designed to accommodate natural population in existing West Bank settlements.

All sides understood that the building of new homes in existing settlements does not further impair Palestinian access to locations on the West Bank nor does it significantly change the population balance. Substantive progress in face-to-face negotiations, by contrast, offers the potential to determine borders – and by extension to reach agreement on who builds where – in the long term.

The Palestinians understandably want the right to self-determination through political autonomy. But for all the talk of "creating facts on the ground," PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad cannot unilaterally declare the establishment of a Palestinian state without Israeli cooperation.

Israel also has an interest in the creation of a peaceful Palestinian state that respects the Jewish people's right to political sovereignty within secure borders. A successful two-state solution would not only bring about a peaceful end to decades of strife, but would also ensure that Israel remains both Jewish and democratic.

The fate of Palestinians and Israelis is linked. Only through dialogue – and a genuine commitment to reconciliation by both sides – can we hope to find a solution.








The reported letter to Netanyahu outlining US guarantees in exchange for an extension to the settlement freeze shows the Obama administration still doesn't get it.


Contents of a White House letter have been published outlining what the Obama administration will offer Israel if it extends the moratorium on building inside West Bank settlements for two months. The proposals reveal again how the White House doesn't seem to understand the situation.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu couldn't continue the freeze because there isn't enough support in his coalition for doing so. Minor US offers won't change that fact.

Moreover, the main underlying problem is lack of confidence that the Palestinian Authority wants peace, is willing to compromise or will implement future commitments.

When we consider the specifics, then, the US offer isn't relevant.

But there are more problems. Consider: Why two months, why not three or four? Why not two weeks? 

What is happening within two months? The US election! The implication is that the Obama administration is offering Israel the following basic deal: Make us look good until the vote.

That's it. Because the only alternative view is that the US believes the onceevery- two-week talks will make such dramatic progress in two months that both Israel and the Palestinians will be on the verge of peace, so an end to the freeze won't matter.

Is that credible? No. And so when press reports say the White House is angry that Netanyahu rejected the offer, we can well understand why. It certainly isn't going to pressure the PA to give in, which is the other alternative. The collapse of the peace talks on the verge of the November elections don't make it look good, and the administration cannot do anything to Israel until later.

Second, the US agrees that it would support measures to prevent the smuggling of weapons and terrorists into Israel after a Palestinian state is established.This is interpreted as allowing Israeli forces to stay in the Jordan Valley for several years.

This is nice, but Israel knows that the PA would never agree and that the US government isn't going to do a lot of arm-twisting to get it to change its position.Moreover, this would set up a situation in which an isolated Israeli force would be subject to attack by terrorists, and international condemnation when it had to intercept or kill them.

WHILE NOT exactly the same thing, the US and the "international community" promised to stop cross-border weapons' smuggling into Lebanon in 2006 and four years later, not a single weapon has been intercepted. True, in this case IDF troops would be doing the work, but the skepticism of their getting international support remains.

Third, the letter promises the US government would veto any UN Security Council resolution against Israel for the next year. This is insulting. Historically, the US has watered-down, blocked or vetoed such resolutions. So this "concession" in fact signals to Israeli leaders that the current administration isn't exactly reliable. And, of course, it suggests that after the year is over Washington will not veto such resolutions – a big step backward.

Fourth, the administration pledges to talk with Israel and Arab states about a "regional security architecture." Wow, that can be expected to yield

And finally, the US will sell more weapons to Israel after there is a peace agreement and the creation of a Palestinian state.

Well, that's pretty obvious, isn't it? Again, suggesting that this would happen if construction is frozen for two months also simultaneously suggests that it won't happen otherwise. Like the veto point, it actually withdraws something Israel was previously expecting.

According to the media, Netanyahu politely pointed out that when the US originally demanded the freeze, it promised that it would secure concessions from Arab states. This didn't happen. It also promised that the Palestinians would be responsive and fulfill their commitments. That didn't happen either.

Indeed, they refused to negotiate until the last minute and then did so, partly, just to get the freeze extended still further.

First, PA President Mahmoud Abbas knew the freeze would last nine months. If he wanted to give Israel an incentive to continue it he could have done so. Instead, he stalled until the very last moment. For weeks, the US begged and pressed him to return to talks.

Second, if the Palestinians negotiate a two-state solution they will get – worstcase analysis – almost all of the West Bank. There will be no Jewish settlements in that territory. The settlements will be gone. All the roads and buildings Israel built (unless dismantled in the days before the agreement's implementation) will go to the Palestinians. So if Abbas and the Palestinians are horrified by construction, wouldn't it have made sense for them to negotiate real fast? But, on the contrary, they stretch out the process year after year after year.

Remember that the PA refused to negotiate for well over a year after January 2009. All that time Israel was building in settlements. Then for the past nine months when it wasn't building in the West Bank, the PA still refused to negotiate.

Here's a full time line: Phase One: 1993-late 2000. The PLO and later PA were in no hurry to make a deal and killed talks in 2000. Israel made a huge concession to begin the process in 1993: No new settlements or territorial expansion of existing ones. It kept that commitment. The PLO and PA never demanded a freeze on construction in existing settlements.

Phase Two: 2000-2009. The PA refused any sustained peace negotiations at a time when there were no limits on construction within settlements, but never demanded that it stop. The freeze on construction in existing settlements was President Barack Obama's idea in mid- 2009, and they rejected it as the basis for renewed talks.

Phase Three: 2009-2010. After Israel did freeze construction, the PA wasted nine months – knowing the clock was ticking on the temporary freeze – while resisting direct talks.

Thus, the PA has wasted 17 years, during which thousands of buildings have been added to settlements. Two months more of a construction freeze won't change anything, except perhaps the administration's electoral fortunes.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. He blogs at








Barack Obama has been looking for an exit strategy from Afghanistan – as drawn in Bob Woodward's new book – so what exactly was the surge in troops for?

Talkbacks (1)


From the beginning, the call to arms was highly uncertain. On December 1, 2009, commander-in-chief Barack Obama orders 30,000 more Americans into battle in Afghanistan. But in the very next sentence, he announces that a US withdrawal will begin after 18 months.

Astonishing. A surge of troops – overall, Obama has tripled our Afghan force – with a declaration not of war but of ambivalence. Nine months later, Marine Corps Commandant James Conway admitted that this decision was "probably giving our enemy sustenance."

This wasn't conjecture, he insisted, but the stuff of intercepted Taliban communications testifying to their relief that they simply had to wait out the Americans.

What kind of commander in chief sends tens of thousands of troops to war after announcing in advance a fixed date for beginning their withdrawal? One who doesn't have his heart in it. One who doesn't really want to win, but is making some kind of political gesture. One who thinks he has to be seen as trying but is preparing the ground – meaning, the political cover – for failure.

Until now, the above was just inference from the president's public rhetoric. No longer. Now we have the private quotes. Bob Woodward's book, Obama's Wars drawing on classified memos and interviews with scores of national security officials, has Obama telling his advisers: "I want an exit strategy."

He tells the country publicly that Afghanistan is a "vital national interest," but tells his generals that he will not do the kind of patient institution-building that is the very essence of the counterinsurgency strategy that Gens. McChrystal and Petraeus crafted and that he – Obama – adopted.

Moreover, he must find an exit because "I can't lose the whole Democratic Party."

This admission is the most crushing of all.

First, isn't this the party that in two consecutive presidential campaigns – John Kerry's and then Obama's – argued vociferously that Afghanistan is the good war, the right war, the war of necessity, the central front in the war on terror? Now, after being given charge of that very war, Obama confides that he must retreat lest that very same party abandon him. What happened in the interim? Did it suddenly develop a faint heart? Or was the party disingenuous about the Afghan war all along, using it as a convenient club with which to attack George W. Bush over Iraq, while protecting Democrats from the charge of being reflexively antiwar? 

WHATEVER THE reason, is it not Obama's job as president and party leader to bring the party with him? This is the man who made Berlin coo, America swoon and the Nobel committee lose its mind. Yet he cannot get his own party to follow him on what he insists is a matter of vital national interest? 

Did he even try? Obama spent endless hours cajoling and persuading individual members of Congress to garner every last vote for health care reform. Has he done a fraction of that for Afghanistan – argued, pleaded, horse-traded, twisted even a single arm? 

And what about persuading the country at large? 

Every war is arduous and requires continual presidential explication, inspiration and encouragement. This has been true from Lincoln through FDR through Bush.

Since announcing his Afghan surge, Obama's only major speech that featured Afghanistan was an Oval Office address about America leaving Iraq – the Afghan part being sandwiched along with a long-winded plea for his economic policies.

"He was looking for choices that would limit US involvement and provide a way out," writes Woodward.

One can only conclude that Obama now thinks Afghanistan is a mistake. Maybe he thought so from the very beginning. More charitably and more likely, he is simply a foreign policy novice who didn't understand what this war was about until being given the authority and duty to conduct it – and then decided it was all a mistake.

Fair enough. But in that case, what is he doing escalating it? Sen. Kerry, now chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, once asked: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Perhaps Kerry should ask that of Obama.

"He is out of Afghanistan psychologically," says Woodward of Obama.

Well, he may be out, but the soldiers he ordered to Afghanistan are in.

Some will not come home.

– The Washington Post








If it is his coalition that is preventing him from continuing with the settlement freeze and peace talks, Netanyahu must replace his partners.


The obvious conclusion from the "construction crisis" is that, after a year and a half in power, the present coalition has reached a dead end. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promises to achieve "an historic peace agreement" with the Palestinians in the coming year. For him to keep his promise, he must replace his partners in the leadership of the country and form an alternative coalition with a majority of supporters of an agreement.


When he formed his government after the elections, Netanyahu preferred his "natural partners" from the extreme right factions - Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and Habayit Hayehudi - to a centrist government of Likud, Kadima and Labor. Netanyahu apparently believed it would be easier for him to run the country at the head of a right-wing government, in which the disintegrating Labor party is a partner that serves in a decorative role. As long as Netanyahu made do with declarations, as in the Bar-Ilan speech, or with unilateral gestures, like the temporary freeze on expanding the settlements, his right-wing partners granted him freedom of action.


But the situation changed completely when the negotiations with the Palestinians were renewed, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu ), Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas ) and Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi ) found themselves in a dilemma: on the one hand, their loyalty to their worldview, which rejects compromise and an agreement, and, on the other hand, their desire to serve as ministers. The solution they found was to attack the diplomatic process from inside the government. The high point was the speech by the foreign minister in the United Nations General Assembly, in which he dismissed the prime minister's diplomatic effort. The opposition of most of the ministers to an additional freeze, even at the price of a clash with the U.S. administration, makes it clear that Netanyahu is imprisoned inside a coalition that will not let him move.


As long as Netanyahu sticks with Lieberman and Yishai, his emotional calls to the Palestinians to return to

negotiations ring hollow. If it is the coalition that is preventing him from continuing with the freeze and

progressing with the diplomatic process, he must replace his partners. Kadima should join the government and

wants to do so. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who declared her support for Netanyahu's diplomatic steps, must promote them as foreign minister. Only a centrist government, in which there is a clear majority of supporters of compromise, will be able to promote an agreement with the Palestinians and extricate Israel from its international isolation. The formation of such a government is crucial at this point in time.









Benjamin Netanyahu is quite right. "Moderate, restrained construction in Judea and Samaria in the coming year will not affect the peace map in any way," he was quoted as saying.


At the end of the day, all we're dealing with is a humanitarian problem of a few thousand young couples who want a roof over their head. What do they want from us, to order a freeze on childbirth beyond the Green Line? Not to build a day-care center, kindergarten or school? Is it conceivable that goyim forbid Jews to set up a synagogue in the City of the Patriarchs? Is this what we established a Jewish state for?


What is that Hussein Obama thinking, that he can buy us off with vital weapons and strategic guarantees? Does he expects Bibi to renounce "moderate and restrained construction that would not affect the peace map in any way" for 60 whole days in exchange for long-term security control in the Jordan Valley?


If I were President Mahmoud Abbas, I'd write Netanyahu the following letter right away:


"Prime Minister, sir, I understand your sentiments. There is really no need to make a big deal out of a few hundred more apartments for young couples and a handful of kindergartens. I, too, have children and grandchildren. After all, in a year's time we'll be signing an agreement that outlines the permanent borders, and that will be the end of the settlements. Let's forget Israel's violation of its official international commitment (as part of the road map ) to freeze construction in the settlements, including building for natural growth."


"I'm even willing to ignore the outposts you built on the lands of poor farmers. By the way, I found in the archive that in January 2006, you promised in your Herzliya speech that if the Sharon government decided to evacuate the outposts, the Likud would support it. In the Bar-Ilan speech you said you intended to bring about the dismantling of 'unauthorized outposts.' According to Peace Now figures, dozens of prefabricated and mobile homes and even permanent structures have been added to the outposts since then. All under the noses of the IDF and the Civil Administration.


I only have one condition. Instead of suspending construction for Jews, let's resume construction for all West Bank residents. Including Area C, which in our great naivete we agreed to turn over to your complete control. This was in addition to the old trick you learned from the Ottomans - the definition of "state lands" confiscated about a million dunams of our land and turned them into Jewish state lands. Even then, in 1995, when we signed this agreement (Oslo B ) that placed 60 percent of the occupied West Bank in your hands, we were promised it was a temporary matter.


"Surely, you remember that in 1998, Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton signed the Wye Agreement with you, which should have passed 13 percent of Area C to our hands. Then, too, the settlers twisted your arm and you threw the agreement into the wastepaper basket. Ultimately, it didn't help you and you fell from power.


"More than 70,000 Palestinians living in this region depend on your favors and benevolence. Your own Defense Ministry figures show 94 percent of these people's requests for building permits - including schools, and forgive me, even toilets - have been refused. Having no alternative, they build without permits and then the Civil Administration tears down their buildings. I have news for you. There's natural growth in Ramallah, too.


"During all the years you've been ruling us, you haven't built a single village in the territories. Now that we're building our first city, near Ramallah, you're frightened of the settlers and refuse to let the road to Rawabi pass in Area C.


"My people in East Jerusalem report that their living conditions (that is, your living conditions; after all, you say the same rules apply to Jerusalem as to Tel Aviv ) are so crowded, they're beginning to resemble Gaza. Nir Barkat is more diligent in issuing demolition orders than building permits to Palestinians. The housing shortage in East Jerusalem is estimated in tens of thousands of apartments. Even your High Court of Justice has reprimanded the Education Ministry for the huge lack of classrooms.


"How did you say, sir, all we're dealing with is 'moderate and restrained construction that will not affect the

peace map in any way.' I'm convinced you did not mean construction for Jewish children only. So yalla! Let's

build for everyone, everywhere. In any case, as you say, in a year's time, we'll be making peace."










I took up Moshe Arens' suggestion, made on this page last month ("Demographic bogey" ), to take a look at the figures of the Central Bureau of Statistics that he finds so encouraging. And what do I find? For one, that the statistics bureau deals only with data within the Green Line, namely Israel, and data about the Jews of Judea and Samaria. As far as the Arabs in the territories are concerned, we will have to look elsewhere.


What is so encouraging about the figures for 2010? I found that within Israel, Jews constitute 75.5 percent of the population, but that the proportion in 1998 was 79.2 percent, and 81.7 percent in 1988. In other words, the percentage of Jews in the Israeli population is constantly declining, in spite of the influx of about 1 million immigrants over the past two decades.


According to the forecasts, in 2015 the percentage of Jews will decline to 73.5 percent, and will drop to 70.6 percent by 2025. Only in 2030 will there be, for the first time, a miniscule increase in the proportion of Jews, bringing us to 72 percent. What is there here to make Arens happy?


If to this harsh data we add foreign workers, immigrants from Africa, tourists who did not return to their

homeland and Palestinians who enter the country and don't return home, then the percentage of Jews drops to 70 percent of the inhabitants of Israel. What's so wonderful here? It's an unpleasant picture.


But in recent months Arens has been preaching in favor of the annexation of Judea and Samaria to Israel (according to him, that is the way to prevent the existence of two states in this narrow space ). Of course, that poses a serious demographic problem. So what does Arens do? He receives data from some American team, which enables him to count how many Arabs live in Judea and Samaria, how many have left, how many are leaving and how many will leave the Land of Israel in the future. He also keeps tabs on the number of births and deaths and asserts "scientifically" that only 1.5 million people live in Judea and Samaria. If we erase 1 million Arabs from the board, then there is a Jewish majority in the Land of Israel; the redeemer has come to Zion and the demographic bogey is dead.


But I don't rely on American teams, and instead turn to the head of the Civil Administration in the Israel Defense Forces, who reports to me that there are presently about 2.6 million Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria, and in Gaza their number is estimated at 1.5 million. Anyone who doesn't rely on the IDF can access the figures of the Palestinian statistics bureau, whose last census was held in 2007, under the aegis of representatives of the Norwegian government; their numbers are similar to those of the IDF (after subtracting the residents of Jerusalem who were already counted by the Israeli statistics bureau ). In both cases it turns out that, not counting Gaza or foreign residents, Jews constitute 59 percent of the total population in the Land of Israel. If you do count Gaza and foreign residents, there are somewhat fewer Jews than there are Palestinian Arabs.


There is no choice but to deal with forecasts for the next decade or two, and it turns out that by then the proportion of Jews will have declined to 42 percent. That means an end to the Jewish entity in the Middle East. The demographic bogey, then, is alive and threatening after all, and we still haven't discussed the density of the population or the issues of internal security that we can expect from a hostile population of millions of people.


There is no choice but to tell Arens that the right-wing Betar ideology on which he was raised went bankrupt a

long time ago and it won't help if he virtually erases 1.5 million Arabs from the territories. They are here. The

conclusion is frighteningly simple: Whoever brings about the establishment of a single binational state in the Land of Israel will doom the Jews of Israel to destruction. We, the sane majority who still live here, will not allow anyone to do that.


The writer is a professor emeritus at the University of Haifa.










The expression "after the holidays," supposedly an assurance things will be decided, has become a symbol of delay. The satirist Ephraim Kishon, a keen observer of Israeli society, said the phrase really meant it would never happen. Songwriter Naomi Shemer gave the phrase an optimistic spin when she wrote "after the holidays, everything will be renewed." Anyway, promising decisions after the holidays doesn't indicate how long after the holidays they will be made.


In the legal world, whose decisions sometimes can be made only after thorough examination and analysis with respect to putting someone on trial or court rulings, issues to be decided after the holidays have taken on a particular urgency, especially after the summer, when the police, the prosecutor's office and the courts are required to take vacation at the same time.


Thus, the attorney general and the state prosecutor cannot delay decisions in the Holyland affair, a case the police consider points to substantial evidence of alleged government corruption. The prosecutor has been involved from the early stages, and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and the prosecution must decide if they have a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction. No doubt, this particularly important decision will have implications for (among the prominent accused ) two former Jerusalem mayors, Ehud Olmert and Uri Lupolianski.


Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will apparently continue to make a mockery of the governance of the State of Israel when he takes exception at a public appearance at the United Nations to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's fundamental policy positions. The prime minister has the legal authority to remove a minister who takes exception to his policies, as Ariel Sharon did. He simply has to notify the cabinet of his intention to do so. Law and authority are one thing. Politics is another. The High Court of Justice made it clear it would not intervene in a prime minister's judgment when Sharon decided to dismiss ministers who objected to his policies.


Netanyahu may, unsurprisingly may be waiting for the attorney general's decision whether Lieberman should stand trial on serious charges, as the police have recommended, or on at least some of them. The case against Lieberman is difficult and complicated and how to proceed is apparently not an easy decision. The attorney general should expedite his staff's diligent work while making clear this involves deciding how to proceed on a highly significant case with a number of aspects.


Weinstein won't be able to indict even if he believes there is sufficient evidence against Lieberman and a reasonable prospect of a conviction. Initially, he can say only that he is "considering" putting the foreign minister on trial, after which Lieberman's lawyers would have the right to state their client's case. So, it can be assumed a decision will be deferred by several months, coming perhaps after Hanukkah.


Two cases arousing unusual public interest by their very nature are expected to see court rulings soon. The more important one is a verdict on former president Moshe Katzav on the charge of rape (which carries a maximum sentence of 16 years in prison ), forcible indecent assault and sexual harassment. The verdict will stir public feelings and magnify the significance of a conviction or acquittal. No doubt, the district court panel headed by respected Judge George Karra has devoted substantial effort in reaching a verdict. The public must be convinced of the quality of the verdict and the good judgment that went into it, whatever the decision.


Sentencing of MK Tzachi Hanegbi, which is expected soon, follows a complex and tangled verdict based on both majority and minority opinions of the judges. Public interest will focus on the extent of the seriousness of Hanegbi's conduct in being convicted of perjury in evidence given to the chairman of the Central Election Commission. The magistrate's court faces the difficult question of whether the conviction involves moral turpitude; at its core this is an ethical issue rather than a legal one. A finding of moral turpitude could harm Hanegbi's freedom of occupation as a politician and result in his immediate suspension from the Knesset, though he would have the right to appeal.


So things will be happening after the holidays.









The courageous steadfastness of Israel's unity government, in the face of extensive American pressure, is worthy of the public's appreciation. The Americans' approach to the settlements, aided by segments of the anti-Zionist left in Israel and the United States, has gone from realpolitik to irrational. For them, the settlements have become "the source of all evil in Israel," to quote Peace Now co-founder Prof. Yossi Ben-Artzi; the settlements are even to blame for crime, poverty, traffic accidents, wars and dirty streets.


All around the world and in Israel especially, a counter-humanitarian process has been underway in recent years. First the settlers were branded as belonging to a single monolithic unit, even though one can hardly imagine a more heterogeneous group than the Jews living beyond the Green Line: secular, religious, ultra-Orthodox, native Israelis and recent immigrants. The settlers were then stripped of human characteristics by a consistent and mocking representation in the public sphere. Third, their civil rights are being violated, from freedom of speech (for instance, the police have stopped buses on the way to protest rallies ) to the right to property (the construction freeze ). The next stage of the attack on this archetype of evil will be the revocation of their right to be defended by the army, for it is well-known that the murder of a settler is less shocking than the murder of coffee shop patrons in Tel Aviv.


The Obama administration reaches new heights of absurdity time and again because it sees the conflict through the prism of the number of houses in Judea and Samaria, while simultaneously refusing to utter the words "fundamentalist Islam" - the real source of the conflict. First the administration seemed nearly poised to wreck its relations with Israel over construction in peripheral areas; U.S. President Barack Obama was ready to sacrifice strategic interests over the technical issue of construction in Givat Ze'ev. But the Netanyahu government's steadfast stance, and the Obama doctrine with its view of settlements as the source of all evil, brought about an inversion of irrationality, this time in our favor.


In exchange for a temporary construction freeze of just two more months, Obama is ready to commit to stipulating in any future agreement that there will be Israeli forces in the Jordan Valley and to commit to a U.S. veto of any unilateral Palestinian initiative proposed in the United Nations. In other words, Obama is offering defensible borders in exchange for 60 more construction-free days. If at first the unfounded attitude toward settlements led to disproportionate sanctions, today the same attitude has led to disproportionate incentives that work in Israel's favor.


Rational leaders must use the irrationality of their opponents to promote their own interests. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must identity the opportunity and leap at it. We are facing what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to significantly advance the idea of defensible borders.


In addition to the vast majority of the general public that supports this temporary freeze, an overwhelming majority of settlers would also support a decision that dramatically improves Israel's strategic situation in the long run. This is an opportunity that will not return, and its worth to Israel is much greater than 60 days of construction in Judea and Samaria. The government of Israel must know that an overwhelming majority of the people of Israel will unite behind it, if it assures the vital interests of the Jewish people - Jerusalem and defensible borders.




The writer is the chairman of Im Tirtzu.










The Supreme Court enjoys all but free rein in selecting which cases to review. From the end of one term in the summer until the start of the next, on the first Monday in October, the work of the court is to sift through thousands of petitions from parties that lost in one of the federal appeals courts or highest state courts and are eager for the justices to reverse their fate.


The kinds of petitioners favored say a lot about the court's interests and biases. The Warren court, eager to champion individual rights, chose a large number of petitions from downtrodden people. The Rehnquist court, looking for opportunities to vindicate states' rights, favored petitions from the states.


The Roberts court has championed corporations. The cases it has chosen for review this term suggest it will continue that trend. Of the 51 it has so far decided to hear, over 40 percent have a corporation on one side. The most far-reaching example of the Roberts court's pro-business bias was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. By a 5-to-4 vote, the conservative justices overturned a century of precedent to give corporations, along with labor unions, an unlimited right to spend money in politics.


Equally striking is that the court reached far beyond what the parties had argued, to make a sweeping change in constitutional law. It could have upheld the right of the conservative nonprofit group to show an anti-Hillary Clinton movie on a video-on-demand service during the primary season — without opening the door to a new era of political corruption.


The cases scheduled for argument in the next few months may appear modest. But if there is one lesson from the Citizens United ruling, it is that nothing — for this court — is inevitably modest. There are two areas of business law particularly worth watching: "pre-emption" and protection of employees from retaliation.


In four cases, the court will address an obscure but significant debate on federal pre-emption of state law. The pro-pre-emption view is often pro-business, because it interferes with state efforts to protect citizens against corporate misconduct. Pre-emption can also protect against state interference with the national economy.


In AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the cellphone provider claims that California contract law has been used to frustrate the Federal Arbitration Act. If the company wins, it will likely force unhappy customers to rely on an arbitrator to resolve their differences with the company. If the respondents win, they will likely be able to bring AT&T Mobility to court — to answer accusations of fraud for promising "free" phones, then charging for the tax on their retail value. That would be good for consumers.


In two cases, the court will address the extent to which whistle-blowing employees are shielded by federal statute. In Thompson v. North American Stainless, the company fired Eric Thompson when it learned that his co-worker and then-fiancée had filed a charge of sex discrimination against the company. She was protected from reprisal. The court is asked to say whether anyone closely associated (a fiancé, spouse, or family member) is also protected.


Not all of the arguments the court will hear deal with corporate interests. This Wednesday, in Snyder v. Phelps — a particularly important First Amendment case — the justices will hear argument about one of the anti-gay protests staged by members of a Kansas Baptist church at funerals of American soldiers. They must decide whether this repugnant form of demonstration is protected by the Constitution, as seems right.


Next month, the court will consider another First Amendment issue: whether free speech is infringed by a California law restricting the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. It will also hear argument in a case involving the amendment's establishment clause and whether an Arizona program providing tax credits to people who donate money to schools improperly favors religious organizations.


Each case forms a universe of distinct issues and interests, but, as Citizens United reminds us, an individual ruling can reshape our democracy. This term feels especially momentous because it is the first for Justice Elena Kagan and only the second for Justice Sonia Sotomayor. While the court's 5-to-4 balance hasn't changed, we can hope that their pledges of judicial modesty will influence the court's performance.







As the global economic balance shifts, the United States and other of the post-World War II powers say they're ready to make room. The Group of 8 rich countries ceded to the Group of 20, where the interests of Germany and France must vie with those of India. Despite that, the maneuvering before this week's meetings of the International Monetary Fund suggest that the big players may not be as ready as they claim.


The I.M.F. is not as significant as it was 50 years ago, when it policed a system of fixed exchange rates. It still has a major role to play, with hundreds of billions to prop up countries that run into financial trouble. Developing countries — which have long resented the fund's demands that they open up their markets — are eager to have more of a say in its deliberations.


Last year, leaders of the G-20 agreed to shift at least 5 percent of the fund's quota share (akin to shares in the fund's capital) from overrepresented countries, like Canada or Belgium, to underrepresented ones, like Turkey or Brazil. Brazil, Russia, India and China are pushing for a 7 percent shift. European Union countries — they account for a fifth of the world economy yet have more than a third of the fund's quota share, and name 9 of its 24 directors — have been especially reluctant to cede. The United States has been willing to give up some of its roughly 17 percent stake, but has balked at proposals that would cut it to 15 percent and deprive it of its veto (decisions need 85 percent of the vote to pass).


This process has also set off fierce haggling — all around — about how clout should be defined. Should G.D.P. be measured at market exchange rates, which make rich countries like Japan look bigger, or using "purchasing power parity," which favors countries like China where things are cheaper? Should it include population, as India demanded?


Since the end of the cold war, even the old Western allies have lost some of their shared sense of purpose. That, in part, explains why Belgium isn't eager to let France represent its interests at the table. There is more than self-interest at play. The new powers clamoring for a place don't necessarily share the institution's values — especially the I.M.F.'s passion for free capital markets.


That is not an argument to keep the newcomers out. Bringing them into the room is the best chance of persuading them to assume the full responsibilities of their new power, and of building a new global consensus.








The high price Americans pay for weak gun laws — no matter where they live — is made painfully clear in a new study prepared by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bipartisan coalition led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York and Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston.


The study examines the source of guns confiscated at crime scenes across the country during 2009. A large number of these guns, 43,000 in all, originated with out-of-state gun dealers. Among the states with the worst record of exporting crime guns were Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi and Alaska.


Each of these states exports crime guns at a rate more than double the national average. All have weak gun laws. They generally fail to require background checks for handgun sales at gun shows. They tend not to require state inspection of gun dealers, or require owners to report lost and stolen guns to police.


The study finds that states that have enacted strong restrictions export crime guns at only about one-seventh the rate of those with lax laws. It relied on data available only after Congress loosened restrictions — put in place with support from the gun lobby — that barred public release of information tracing the flow of guns.


There are sensible steps that could help, like closing the loophole in federal law that permits gun traffickers and

other unqualified purchasers from obtaining weapons without background checks at gun shows. The National Rifle Association persists in blocking that, and is pressing to loosen gun restrictions even further.


There are 12,000 gun murders a year in this country, many committed with guns flowing into states with the strongest gun laws from parts of the country with the weakest ones. Stanching that flow — with tough national and state laws — is a matter of life or death.







The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management oversees about 250 million acres of public land in the West. Much is leased out, some to energy and mining companies, but mostly to ranchers for grazing cattle and sheep. The bureau is supposed to find a balance between the public interest and the interest of the leaseholders — upholding the public interest whenever conflicts arise.


In the 1990's, the bureau took this responsibility seriously, requiring ranchers to observe sensible grazing practices that protected the environment. Then came the George W. Bush administration, which eased the regulations to please the ranchers, many of whom had begun to think of the land they were only renting as their own.


Two recent court decisions have now reasserted the public interest. A panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that the Bush regulations violated environmental laws by limiting public participation in bureau decisions and weakened the ability of federal and state agencies to prevent harmful grazing practices and manage rangelands in an environmentally sound way.


Two weeks later in Idaho, United States District Court Judge Candy Dale ruled that the bureau must end its policy of withholding the names and addresses of people with grazing permits on 160 million acres of its land.


This is one way, she wrote, of "understanding the scope of the grazing and rangeland program," its environmental impact and its costs. The Forest Service does not withhold the names of the ranchers who lease its lands, and neither should the Bureau of Land Management. These lands do, after all, belong to the public.


]Some holders of the bureau's grazing leases have been excellent stewards of the land. Some have not. The government's job is to make sure that all of them are, by ensuring transparency in its leasing operations, upholding environmental laws and reminding leaseholders that they hold their leases in trust for the rest of us.








For decades, the Democratic Party was torn by civil war.


On one side was the liberal left — populist in economics and dovish on foreign policy, in favor of lavish spending programs and suspicious of big business, and hostile to any idea that seemed to give an inch to the conservatives. On the other were the moderates and centrists — pro-market and pro-Wall Street, inclined to tiptoe rightward on issues like crime and welfare, and hawkish about deficits and dictators alike.


In the 1980s, these two factions vied for the opportunity to lose to Ronald Reagan. In the 1990s, they fought over the direction of the Clinton administration. In the 2000s, they feuded over whether to support the Iraq war.


But in George W. Bush's second term, peace broke out. In part, this was because Democrats came to hate Bush so intensely that every other consideration faded into insignificance. In part, it was because the two camps converged on policy: the liberal left largely accepted that it had lost Clinton-era arguments over Nafta and welfare reform, the centrists mostly admitted that they'd been wrong about Iraq, and the two sides found common ground on health care, global warming and income inequality.


But peace was also possible because Barack Obama emerged to bridge the Democratic divide. The left initially wanted John Edwards as the 2008 nominee; the centrists wanted Hillary Clinton. But Obama united the party by persuading both factions that he was really on their side.


The left looked at him and saw a community organizer and Hyde Park intellectual who had been against the Iraq war before being antiwar was fashionable. Of course he was one of them!


The moderates listened to him and heard a postpartisan healer who promised to work with Republicans, cut middle-class taxes and send more troops to Afghanistan. Obviously he was a centrist at heart!


Once campaigning gave way to governing, it was inevitable that one faction or the other would be disappointed. But lately, Obama has managed the more difficult feat of alienating both of them at once.


The party's centrists, from Blue Dog Democrats to Wall Street, insist that he's turned out to be far more liberal than they expected. The health care bill was too expensive. The deficits are too big. He's been too hard on business interests, and on Israel. And what happened to bipartisanship?


On the left, meanwhile, Obama is deemed a disappointment for all the things he hasn't done. The stimulus should have been bigger. The financial reforms should have been tougher. He should have withdrawn from Afghanistan. He should have taken the fight to the Republicans, instead of letting them obstruct.


Both these arguments are self-serving, of course — a way for activists on both sides to imply, none too subtly, that the Democrats' dispiriting poll numbers are all the other faction's fault.


But the widespread appeal of these dueling critiques has left Obama increasingly isolated. And the White House's attempts to preserve his above-the-fray mystique have backfired: they've made the president seem like an ideological enigma, and created the impression that he's a bystander to his own achievements.


That impression took hold during the debates over health care and financial reform, where left-wing and centrist Democrats alike often complained that they didn't know exactly where the White House stood. It's been reinforced lately by Bob Woodward's portrait of Obama's Afghanistan deliberations, in which the hawks in the Pentagon and the doves in the Democratic base often seem like more powerful actors than the president himself.


As a result, what was once Obama's great strength has been transformed into a weakness: neither the center nor the left really trusts him, and neither is prepared to stand by him at a time of crisis.


So the president finds himself alone. Many of the administration's highest-profile centrists — Peter Orszag,

Larry Summers, Rahm Emanuel — are either gone or on their way out. The left is wallowing in angst and

disappointment. The White House spent recent weeks hectoring progressives about the need to turn out in November, but all these efforts earned was the mockery of Jon Stewart.


Can Obama rebuild his coalition? Perhaps, but not the way he did the first time. He won the White House by being all things to all Democrats (and quite a few independents and even Republicans as well), by making each faction see its own values reflected in his candidacy.


But the days of soaring above the grubbiness of politics are over. If Obama wants to save his presidency, he may have to do it the old-fashioned way: not by transcending his party's divisions, but by uniting his supporters around their common fears.








Doctors, like most people, don't love to work weekends, and they probably don't enjoy being evaluated against their peers. But their industry can no longer afford to protect them from the inevitable. Imagine a drugstore open only five days a week, or a television network that didn't measure its ratings. Improving the quality of health care and reducing its cost will require that doctors make many changes — but working weekends and consenting to quality management are two clear ones.


That's why an effort at New York University Langone Medical Center to institute both of these changes is so important. If it succeeds, it will help point the way to the health care system of the future.


First, weekends. It's never good to be hospitalized, but you really don't want to be hospitalized on a weekend. There are fewer doctors around, and people admitted on Saturdays and Sundays fare relatively poorly.


One study in 2007 found, for example, that for every 1,000 patients suffering heart attacks who were admitted to a hospital on a weekend, there were 9 to 10 more deaths than in a comparable group of patients admitted on a weekday. The weekend patients were less likely to quickly receive the invasive procedures they needed — like coronary artery bypass grafts or cardiac catheterization.


It's not just a safety issue but, for less life-threatening medical problems, also a matter of convenience. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to schedule your elective surgery on a Saturday if you wanted? Most hospitals don't offer that option.


And then there are the economics of a $750 billion-a-year industry letting its capacity sit idle a quarter or more of the time. If hospitals were in constant use, costs would fall as expensive assets like operating rooms and imaging equipment were used more fully. And if the workflow at existing hospitals was spread more evenly over the entire week, patients could more often enjoy the privacy of single-bed rooms.


N.Y.U.'s first step toward seven-day service has been to keep certain functions going all weekend, like radiology study interpretation, magnetic resonance imaging and elective cardiac surgery. The cancer center also now provides some treatments on weekends. And some procedures, like elective Caesarean sections, are offered on Saturdays. So far, the doctors involved are on board.


A second innovation is quality assessment and management. As the saying goes, if you can't measure it, you can't manage it — or improve it. That's why the federal government is now making key investments to encourage hospitals, clinics and doctors to adopt health information technology and report statistics on quality of care.


Robert Grossman, the dean and chief executive of N.Y.U. Langone, has gathered data from around the medical center into a "management dashboard." This allows him to monitor not only financial information like operating margins and cash balances but also detailed quality data on individual doctors like 30-day hospital readmission rates and the number of infections associated with invasive procedures.


The patterns he has been able to discern this way have been eye-opening. The dashboard data revealed, for instance, that on any given day a disproportionately small number of eligible patients were discharged before noon, so that many people were kept in the hospital longer than necessary. Further analysis revealed a key reason: several routine procedures that some patients need before leaving, like the insertion of central catheters, were not performed in the morning. The medical center has since begun to offer the procedures earlier, and the percentage of discharges before noon has increased significantly.


So far, so good. But will these initiatives become a permanent part of the culture? And if the strategies do survive, how much difference can they make in the cost and quality of care?


N.Y.U. has historically not stacked up that well in cost comparisons with other hospitals. The Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, which tracks data on regional variations in Medicare costs, suggested that from 2001 to 2005 a Medicare beneficiary's care at N.Y.U. during the final two years of his life cost taxpayers more than $100,000 — roughly twice the cost at America's most efficient hospitals.


The Dartmouth data also indicate that the N.Y.U. patients received no clear benefit for the higher cost. They saw, on average, more than 14 different doctors, compared with fewer than 10 for patients at the most efficient hospitals. But the extra visits did not seem to produce better outcomes. In fact, seeing more doctors may have caused harm, as patients ran the risk of side effects and complications from additional tests, treatments and medicines.


N.Y.U. will know that its innovations in weekend operations and doctor assessment are working if, in time, they help improve the cost-effectiveness of care. If they do, it's important that any practices found effective be adopted widely. Better ways of spreading such innovations will be the focus of my next column. In health care, experimentation is the mother of improvement.


Peter Orszag, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget from 2009 to 2010 and a distinguished visiting fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is a contributing columnist for The Times.








A note to Tea Party activists: This is not the movie you think it is. You probably imagine that you're starring in "The Birth of a Nation," but you're actually just extras in a remake of "Citizen Kane."


True, there have been some changes in the plot. In the original, Kane tried to buy high political office for himself. In the new version, he just puts politicians on his payroll.


I mean that literally. As Politico recently pointed out, every major contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination who isn't currently holding office and isn't named Mitt Romney is now a paid contributor to Fox News. Now, media moguls have often promoted the careers and campaigns of politicians they believe will serve their interests. But directly cutting checks to political favorites takes it to a whole new level of blatancy.


Arguably, this shouldn't be surprising. Modern American conservatism is, in large part, a movement shaped by billionaires and their bank accounts, and assured paychecks for the ideologically loyal are an important part of the system. Scientists willing to deny the existence of man-made climate change, economists willing to declare that tax cuts for the rich are essential to growth, strategic thinkers willing to provide rationales for wars of choice, lawyers willing to provide defenses of torture, all can count on support from a network of organizations that may seem independent on the surface but are largely financed by a handful of ultrawealthy families.


And these organizations have long provided havens for conservative political figures not currently in office. Thus when Senator Rick Santorum was defeated in 2006, he got a new job as head of the America's Enemies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a think tank that has received funding from the usual sources: the Koch brothers, the Coors family, and so on.


Now Mr. Santorum is one of those paid Fox contributors contemplating a presidential run. What's the difference?


Well, for one thing, Fox News seems to have decided that it no longer needs to maintain even the pretense of being nonpartisan.


Nobody who was paying attention has ever doubted that Fox is, in reality, a part of the Republican political machine; but the network — with its Orwellian slogan, "fair and balanced" — has always denied the obvious. Officially, it still does. But by hiring those G.O.P. candidates, while at the same time making million-dollar contributions to the Republican Governors Association and the rabidly anti-Obama United States Chamber of Commerce, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which owns Fox, is signaling that it no longer feels the need to make any effort to keep up appearances.


Something else has changed, too: increasingly, Fox News has gone from merely supporting Republican candidates to anointing them. Christine O'Donnell, the upset winner of the G.O.P. Senate primary in Delaware, is often described as the Tea Party candidate, but given the publicity the network gave her, she could equally well be described as the Fox News candidate. Anyway, there's not much difference: the Tea Party movement owes much of its rise to enthusiastic Fox coverage.


As the Republican political analyst David Frum put it, "Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox" — literally, in the case of all those non-Mitt-Romney presidential hopefuls. It was days later, by the way, that Mr. Frum was fired by the American Enterprise Institute. Conservatives criticize Fox at their peril.


So the Ministry of Propaganda has, in effect, seized control of the Politburo. What are the implications?


Perhaps the most important thing to realize is that when billionaires put their might behind "grass roots" right-wing action, it's not just about ideology: it's also about business. What the Koch brothers have bought with their huge political outlays is, above all, freedom to pollute. What Mr. Murdoch is acquiring with his expanded political role is the kind of influence that lets his media empire make its own rules.


Thus in Britain, a reporter at one of Mr. Murdoch's papers, News of the World, was caught hacking into the voice mail of prominent citizens, including members of the royal family. But Scotland Yard showed little interest in getting to the bottom of the story. Now the editor who ran the paper when the hacking was taking place is chief of communications for the Conservative government — and that government is talking about slashing the budget of the BBC, which competes with the News Corporation.


So think of those paychecks to Sarah Palin and others as smart investments. After all, if you're a media mogul, it's always good to have friends in high places. And the most reliable friends are the ones who know they owe it all to you.








Is the Afghanistan war a rerun of Vietnam?


Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who leaked the "Pentagon Papers" that exposed the government's bleak, secretassessment of the Vietnam War, says that it is. Neil Sheehan, the war correspondent who wrote perhaps the most revealing history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, expressed a similar view Sunday in reviewing Bob Woodward's new book,Obama's Wars, for The Washington Post. In the book itself, Vice President Biden tries to persuade Obama not add troops in Afghanistan lest he get "locked into Vietnam." Several other key Obama aides, without mentioning Vietnam, cast the Afghanistan effort as hopeless.


Indeed, the parallels between the two wars are inescapable and disturbing: Now, as in Vietnam, the United States is trying to prop up an incompetent, corrupt regime in hopes it can create stability, hand over war fighting and leave. The immediate enemy — the Taliban now, the Vietcong then — was fighting for years before U.S. forces arrived and is willing to fight for years after the U.S. leaves. Meanwhile, as the war has meandered, public support and political will are flagging.


If anything, the tribal nature of Afghanistan and the fact that the true enemy, al-Qaeda, has largely moved next door to Pakistan makes the current war tougher to fight.


There is, though, one obvious difference.


Win or lose in Vietnam, life for most Americans was not going to change. There was no al-Qaeda equivalent intent on attacking the United States.


Withdrawal today does not equal peace. At best, it equals a different form of war because leaving al-Qaeda alone to prepare its next attack is not a serious option.


In Woodward's account, you can feel Obama wrestling with that dilemma. The president is determined to avoid open-ended conflict, first resisting then reluctantly accepting his generals' demands for more troops. Ultimately, he orders an Iraq-like surge of 30,000 — 10,000 fewer than requested — but coupled to a withdrawal plan beginning next summer.


That equivocation and uncertainty is the most disturbing Vietnam echo of all — because partial commitment to war against determined enemies just doesn't work, and because it endangers troops without assuring them the means to succeed. By the time Obama's year-end strategy review arrives, he needs to make up his mind. Either the Afghanistan war is an essential part of the larger war to destroy al-Qaeda, or it is not.


If it is, Obama will have to accept what his generals keep trying to tell him — that successful counterinsurgency requires many years of military and civilian commitment. Obama plainly is frustrated by their advice, but that doesn't make it any less true.


If, on the other hand, he concludes that Afghanistan is, indeed, a rerun of Vietnam, he will need a wholly new plan for attaining the same ends: eliminating al-Qaeda in both Afghanistan and, more pointedly, nuclear-armed Pakistan.


Without troops on the ground in Afghanistan, that task would be greatly complicated. Intelligence, which appears much improved, would decline. Direct attacks, including Predator strikes on terrorist bases, would be more difficult. The Taliban certainly would gain power in at least part of the country, inviting an al-Qaeda return even if a way were found to eliminate its havens in Pakistan.


After 9/11, nearly all Americans knew this needed to be done. After the next successful terrorist attack, they will know again. For all the problems in Afghanistan, we are not reliving Vietnam. This is something much, much worse.








After nine years of war, we will spend $104 billion this year and $119 billion in 2011 pursuing fewer than 100 al-Qaeda fighters inAfghanistan. We will spend an additional $1 trillion caring for wounded and injured American soldiers.


It is in our vital national interest that we set and execute a definite timeline for orderly departure. President Obama should stick to his pledge to begin withdrawing U.S. forces in the summer of 2011 — and earlier if possible.


We should retain only the troops needed to help train Afghan security forces, prevent human rights atrocities, resist an expansion of Taliban control beyond the Pashtun south, and engage in counterterrorism operations. We should then see, in the fall of 2012, whether this residual force level is contributing to our broader strategic objectives. If not, it should be withdrawn in full over time.


We have two important interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan: preventing Afghanistan from being a "safe haven" from which al-Qaeda can organize attacks on the U.S., and ensuring that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal does not fall into hostile hands. Neither of these requires a U.S. victory over the Taliban.


On the contrary, the continuation of a substantial military campaign in Afghanistan works against our interests. It fosters local resentment, aids Taliban recruitment, and most of all provides a strong disincentive for the kleptocratic government of President Hamid Karzai to negotiate in earnest for a political settlement of what is essentially an Afghan civil war.


I observed firsthand just how rich our tax money is making Karzai and his cronies while working with his government on behalf of the State Department in the spring and summer of 2009. Insisting, as our military leaders do, that the time for our departure from Afghanistan should be "conditions-based" means we will never know when the time has come.


We've heard for nine years that we're making progress, yet conditions now are worse than ever. Setting a timeline forces Karzai to negotiate in the same way that setting a timeline in Iraq was indispensible to achieving the orderly exit of our combat troops now.


Matthew Hoh is director of the Afghanistan Study Group, an ad hoc task force that favors rethinking U.S. strategy. He served with the Marine Corps in Iraq and the State Department in Afghanistan.









I know it's uncouth to say, "I told you so," but in this case I did.


Three years ago, in my book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn't, I described the United States as a nation of religious illiterates. Though Americans are deeply religious, I argued, they know very little about their own religions, and even less about the religions of others.


I based this conclusion on scattershot data — a Gallup question here, an anecdote there, and a quiz I gave to my Boston University students — because there was no comprehensive national survey of U.S. religious literacy. Last week, however, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released the first nationwide survey of American religious knowledge, based on interviews with 3,412 adults who answered 32 questions on the Bible and the world's religions.


Not surprisingly, the nation as a whole flunked. Respondents got only 16 out of 32 questions right on average, for a score of 50%.


The release of this study has been catnip for atheists and agnostics, who rose to the top of the class on this survey. Non-believers answered, on average, 21 questions correctly, or five above the national average. Their score — 66%, or a D in my book — isn't much to write home about, but it does show that people who think religion is poison know more about it than people who think it is the antidote to our ills.


If atheists and agnostics are in heaven over these results, there is weeping and gnashing of teeth among Roman Catholics, who finished in the back of the class on this survey, with only 15 questions right on average. Prior studies have shown that Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) classes are doing little to educate American Catholic children about their faith, and this study confirms that Catholic religious education is badly broken. Fewer than half of the Catholics surveyed (42%) were able to name Genesis as the first book in the Bible.


Is the pope Catholic?


I worked as a consultant to this "U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey," and I pushed the people at Pew Forum for a challenging test. In the end, the questions were pretty easy. Pew didn't ask whether the pope is Catholic, but it did ask whether the Dalai Lama is Buddhist — a question only 47% of respondents were able to handle.


American adults also did poorly on questions about Islam. Only the slimmest of majorities correctly identified the Quran as the Islamic holy book (54%), and only about a quarter (27%) knew that most of the population of the Southeast Asian country of Indonesia are Muslims.


These dispiriting results did not surprise me, and they won't be news to anyone who teaches the Bible in Sunday school or the world's religions in college. But this first-of-its-kind survey did offer some surprises.


The victory of atheists and agnostics in America's first ever Religion Bowl has gotten the most play. But the outperformance of Mormons, who along with Jews came in right behind atheists and agnostics, was another big surprise. Many evangelicals claim that Mormons are not really Christians on the theory that Mormonteachings stray too far from the traditional Christian creeds. But Mormons outperformed white evangelical Protestants on a battery of questions concerning Christianity and the Bible.


The most important finding of this survey, however, concerns the vexed relationship between religion and public education. The overwhelming majority (89%) of the U.S. adults surveyed know that the Supreme Court has forbidden public school teachers from leading their students in prayer, but less than a quarter (23%) know that Supreme Court rulings allow teachers to read from the Bible as literature and just over a third (36%) know that public schools can lawfully teach comparative religion courses.


In Religious Literacy, I argued that the religious ignorance of Americans is a civic problem of the first order. Even if religion doesn't make any sense to you, you can't make sense of the world without knowing something about the world's religions. So I proposed that we work to remedy our ignorance with a required public school course on the Bible as literature, and another required course on the world's religions.


As I have traveled around the country speaking about the importance — for the godly and the godless alike — of religious literacy, I have been told repeatedly that my plan to ramp up religious studies in the public schools is unconstitutional. It is not.


The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that it is unconstitutional to preach religion in the public schools. Teachers cannot lead prayers, or read from the Bible in a devotional manner. But the nation's highest court has also repeatedly given its constitutional seal of approval to teaching about religion. In fact, it has described religious studies as a civic necessity.


In McCollum v. Board of Education (1948), Justice Robert Jackson voted with the majority to outlaw Sunday-school-style religious instruction in public education, but he also took pains to emphasize that the study of religion in the public schools is not only constitutionally kosher but imperative. "Certainly a course in English literature that omitted the Bible and other powerful uses of our mother tongue for religious ends would be pretty barren," he wrote. "And I should suppose it is a proper, if not an indispensable, part of preparation for a worldly life to know the roles that religion and religions have played in the tragic story of mankind."


In another case, Abington School District v. Schempp (1963), Justice Tom Clark wrote: "It might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or of the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment."


Yes, schools can teach religion


Unfortunately, this jurisprudential thumbs-up to teaching about religion is not getting through to ordinary Americans, who continue to labor under the illusion that First Amendment guarantees of disestablishment somehow mandate that our public schools be religion-free zones where teachers and administrators conspire to pretend that there are no Muslims or Hindus in the world.


The Catch-22 here is that our religious illiteracy is so profound that it extends to imagining (incorrectly) that our

schools cannot do anything to remedy it. So we continue to raise children who are innocent of the good and evil that religion does, and in the process ensure that yet another generation of members of Congress and superintendents of schools will know little or nothing about the world's religions.


This Pew survey will doubtless serve as a wake-up call for Jewish and Christian educators to pump up the

quality of their Sunday and Sabbath school instruction, but it should also serve as a thorn in the side of those public school officials who continue to neglect a topic that, for better or for worse, affects elections in the United States and India, the economies of Brazil and China, and militaries in Kashmir and the Middle East.


Stephen Prothero is a religion professor at Boston University and the author of the book God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World — and Why Their Differences Matter.








Progressives are an impatient bunch. We fight for people who have waited too long already — for health care, for educational opportunity, for jobs to keep them in the middle class.


But for generations, conservatives have appealed to fear to protect the privileged and preserve the status quo — fear of immigrants, fear of diversity, fear of big government. For conservatives in 2010, it's easy:








Meanwhile, for more than a century — in churches and temples, in union halls and neighborhood centers, in the streets and at the ballot box — progressives have moved the country forward. Progressives brought us minimum wage and Social Security in the 1930s, civil rights and Medicare in the 1960s, and health care and Wall Street reform in 2010.


Opponents of these accomplishments — some of society's most privileged and well-entrenched interest groups — have not changed much. The John Birch Society of 1965 has bequeathed its fervor and extremism to the Tea Party of 2010.


History tells us that rage on the right should not be confused with populism. The far right attacks government regulation as it feeds Wall Street and the insurance companies. It rails against government spending for the least privileged as it lavishes tax cuts favoring the most privileged.


No one should be surprised over what has happened in the last 18 months:


•We passed health care reform, so the insurance companies are coming after us at election time.


•We enacted consumer protections for homeowners and credit card users, so Wall Street is spending millions to defeat us.


•We worked to end tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas, and now large multinational corporations are doing everything possible to beat us.


We already know the damage that comes from the right's rage. During President Clinton's eight years, our country added more than 22 million private sector jobs, incomes went up, and we enjoyed the largest budget surplus in U.S. history.


In the following eight years of the Bush administration, only 1 million jobs were added, incomes stagnated or plummeted for most Americans, and we were left with record budget deficits.


Yet Republican candidates in 2010 are offering the same faux populism and "solutions" of the Bush years: more tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of special interests, and trade agreements that cost us millions of manufacturing jobs. And in places like my state of Ohio, they are even offering up as candidates the same people who got us into this mess.


To fight back, progressives must talk about the historic accomplishments of the last 18 months in specific, understandable terms:


•We saved the U.S. auto industry in the face of naysayers' exhortation to "let the market work," and our efforts preserved hundreds of thousands of jobs.


•We passed health care reform that improves drug benefits for senior citizens, provides coverage to those with a pre-existing condition, allows a 22-year-old daughter home from college to stay on her parents' insurance, and promises health care for millions of Americans.


•We made college more affordable for students and passed historic legislation for our nation's veterans and for equal pay for women.


If you have a 401(k), take a look at it today and compare it with the day before President Obama was

inaugurated. Back then, 750,000 jobs were being lost each month, with 22 consecutive months of job loss

costing 8 million jobs. We've got a long ways to go, but this year we've seen eight straight months of private sector job growth.


Is this enough?


No, which is why progressives must rally and persevere.


The Tea Party vision of 21st century America would gut Medicare and Social Security, ignore the minimum wage, and scale back consumer protections and regulations that keep Wall Street honest and our food supply safe. It seems to me that Tea Party activists, increasingly influential in the Republican Party, do not seem to much like America the way we are.


Tea Party populism is driven by anger at our government and at our country. Real populism fights for all Americans, while Tea Party populism divides us.


Republicans have always been good at coming up with catch phrases and slogans that traffic in fear and misinformation.


But impatient progressives, like generations before us, have the truth on our side. And this time we have the perfect bumper sticker.


"Bring back pre-existing conditions. Vote Republican."


Sherrod Brown, a Democratic senator from Ohio, is the author of Myths of Free Trade.








When Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd assumed office earlier this year, he offered a frank assessment of the department. The men and women under his command, he said then, were competent, hard working and able to meet their mandate to serve and to protect the public. It would be easier for them to do so, he added, if what he called the "personnel situation" was resolved.


That was a polite way of saying the department was understaffed. New hires and a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice should help remedy the "situation" in the short term, but that provides little in the way of long-term resolution.


In August, Dodd told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that the department was down by more than 60 people and that an additional 40 were eligible for retirement. The shortage created staffing issues. Dodd solved them by ordering qualified administrative personnel to leave their desks and to work in the field. That enabled the department to deliver adequate service to residents. It did not provide, however, a permanent solution to the personnel shortage. That remains an elusive goal.


Adding police personnel is under way. The department recently hired 25 people using funds from the recently passed property tax increase. It will hire an additional 23 with the Community-Oriented Policing Services grant. Even if all 48 graduate from the current and next police academy — unlikely since attrition sometimes reaches 20 percent — and join the force, the department still will have open positions. That's not the only fact affecting the effort to increase police manpower. There's a fiscal issue, as well.


The Department of Justice grant, while certainly welcome, comes with strings attached. It will pay the salary and associated benefits of the 23 men and women who are hired under its provisions, but only for three years. After that, the city has to assume the entire cost. That's a considerable expense for the city — especially at a time when the economic outlook remains mixed. The city could find it hard, in fact, to bear the expense when the grant expires.


Not to worry, says Mayor Ron Littlefield. He said last week that he believes the city will have recovered enough from the recession to continue employment for the 23 officers. "We are expected to take it [the cost of the officers' salaries and benefits] from there and I'm confident we will," he said. That might well prove true, but optimism should be balanced by reality. There is no way to accurately predict what city revenues will be in three years.


Clearly, Chattanooga will benefit greatly if the men and women hired, trained and initially paid by the COPS grant remain on the force after three years. Sound fiscal planning now and in the next couple of years, including incremental tax increases as necessary, is vital if the city is to have funds in place to retain those officers and to hire additional personnel to bring the police department to full strength. To postpone or avoid such action in hope that time alone will resolve the police personnel issue — and other pressing problems Chattanooga faces — is wishful thinking that could haunt the city.







The United States Postal Service lost nearly $4 billion last year and barring a miracle is likely to lose about $7 billion this year. The agency's special request to raise the cost of a first-class stamp by 2 cents to reduce the losses was rejected Thursday by the independent Postal Regulatory Commission. The decision leaves the service in a bind. Without the increase, it could soon exceed its multibillion-dollar credit limit and be unable to fund, as it is required to do, retiree health benefits. The commission decision leaves the service in a difficult position with few resources to reverse its losses.


Available options are few. The Postal Service can appeal the commission decision, which is required because the rate hike requested was higher than the rate of inflation. It can file for a new but similar rate increase. It can seek a smaller rate hike that would be automatically approved because it is within the rate of inflation. Even if one of those actions was successful, approval would provide only minimal relief. The cause of the revenue shortfall is deep-rooted, and unlikely to be reversed by raising a stamp's cost.


The problem faced by the post office is systemic. Postal Service revenues are falling precipitously because people no longer automatically use the mail to correspond with family or acquaintances or to conduct their business affairs. Other forms of communication — the Internet, for example — allow consumers to undertake such correspondence more quickly and at lower cost. An example: Postal Service losses were accelerated this year when millions more Americans opted to file their taxes online rather than use first-class mail to deliver forms to the Internal Revenue Service and state tax offices.


The Postal Service, to its credit, has attempted to improve its bottom line. It has adopted new technology, and streamlined management and operations where possible. It has employed engaging advertising and public relations campaigns to expand its user base. That's helped some, but not enough. Though it is an independent agency now, the Postal Service still must answer to regulators and, indirectly, to Congress, which kowtows to mass market mailers. It is hamstrung by the requirement to service every address in the United States, by labor contracts and by a work culture that is resistant to technology and to other innovations. A rate increase might reduce the Postal Service deficit a bit, but it can't correct the broad-based problems that contribute to it.


Fixing those problems will require a change in Postal Service mindset. It can't recoup profits by increasing the volume of traditional mail. Rather, it will have to embrace technology to build useful partnerships with consumers and businesses to win market share. Given its history, such transformation won't come easy, but if the post office as we know it is to survive well into the 21st century, such change is as inevitable as it is necessary.







Alarmed by the Democrat-controlled Congress' breakneck spending, approval of Obama-Care socialized medicine, promotion of amnesty for illegal aliens and other counterproductive priorities, Republicans seeking to replace Democrats in Congress this fall have put forth a plan to turn things around. They call it "A Pledge to America."

The full document spells out ways to jump-start the economy — such as freeing up businesses to invest and create jobs by not burdening them with higher taxes, and reducing government spending and debt.


Much has been said, positively and negatively, about the pledge. So we thought it worthwhile to reprint its preamble, which offers principles on which to base economic growth and a return to the constitutional values that made America great.


Here is the text of that preamble:


"America is more than a country.


"America is an idea — an idea that free people can govern themselves, that government's powers are derived from the consent of the governed, that each of us is endowed by their Creator with the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. America is the belief that any man or woman can — given economic, political, and religious liberty — advance themselves, their families, and the common good.


"America is an inspiration to those who yearn to be free and have the ability and the dignity to determine their own destiny.


"Whenever the agenda of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to institute a new governing agenda and set a different course.


"These first principles were proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, enshrined in the Constitution, and have endured through hard sacrifice and commitment by generations of Americans.


"In a self-governing society, the only bulwark against the power of the state is the consent of the governed, and regarding the policies of the current government, the governed do not consent.


"An unchecked executive, a compliant legislature, and an overreaching judiciary have combined to thwart the will of the people and overturn their votes and their values, striking down long-standing laws and institutions and scorning the deepest beliefs of the American people.


"An arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions, issues mandates, and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of the many.


"Rising joblessness, crushing debt, and a polarizing political environment are fraying the bonds among our people and blurring our sense of national purpose.


"Like free peoples of the past, our citizens refuse to accommodate a government that believes it can replace the will of the people with its own. The American people are speaking out, demanding that we realign our country's compass with its founding principles and apply those principles to solve our common problems for the common good.


"The need for urgent action to repair our economy and reclaim our government for the people cannot be overstated.


"With this document, we pledge to dedicate ourselves to the task of reconnecting our highest aspirations to the permanent truths of our founding by keeping faith with the values our nation was founded on, the principles we stand for, and the priorities of our people. This is our Pledge to America.


"We pledge to honor the Constitution as constructed by its framers and honor the original intent of those precepts that have been consistently ignored — particularly the Tenth Amendment, which grants that all powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.


"We pledge to advance policies that promote greater liberty, wider opportunity, a robust defense, and national economic prosperity.


"We pledge to honor families, traditional marriage, life, and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core of our American values.


"We pledge to make government more transparent in its actions, careful in its stewardship, and honest in its



"We pledge to uphold the purpose and promise of a better America, knowing that to whom much is given, much is expected and that the blessings of our liberty buoy the hopes of mankind.


"We make this pledge bearing true faith and allegiance to the people we represent, and we invite fellow citizens

and patriots to join us in forming a new governing agenda for America."


If Republicans gain the majority in Congress and uphold these sound principles, our republic will be on a path to real revitalization.






In 2007, Congress imposed energy conservation standards that will ban ordinary incandescent light bulbs after 2014. The law intended to promote more efficient bulbs.


As a result, the last big General Electric factory that makes incandescent bulbs in the United States has now closed, putting its remaining 200 employees out of work. That's obviously bad news for the workers at the Winchester, Va., plant, because they earned about $30 per hour.


Now, most of the production will take place in Communist China.


The spiral, energy-efficient bulbs "require more hand labor, which is cheaper [in China]," The Washington Post reported. "So ... none of the major brands make [energy-efficient bulbs] in the United States."


So Congress' meddling forced jobs overseas (where manufacturing is dirtier to begin with) and put Americans out of work.


The more Congress "guides" the market, the more trouble it causes.







With the U.S. tax code running thousands of pages long, even Americans who try to obey the tax laws can find themselves at risk of an audit.


But the IRS itself didn't fare so well when it was audited by the Government Accountability Office.


The GAO found an $8 billion discrepancy in how much taxes the American people owe. The IRS uses two different accounting systems to track taxes owed, and the numbers didn't match.


Maybe now the IRS can understand the public's frustration with the complicated, expensive process of filling out tax forms.


As Reason magazine joked, "At least now they know what it feels like to fail an audit."







Many Americans undoubtedly are annoyed when the volume on their televisions suddenly rises during commercials. Advertisers want to get viewers' attention for their goods and services, and volume is one way to do that.


But while we freely admit that the higher volume of some commercials can be irritating, we wish Congress

were not wasting time on legislation to regulate TV volume.


It may be popular to promise to limit the decibel level of commercials, but there could be unintended consequences. For one thing, such regulation is complicated. Broadcasters may have to buy new equipment to implement the rules, The Associated Press reported. That means they might have to charge more for advertising, and advertisers in turn would have to raise prices for their wares.


The best place to regulate loud commercials is in one's living room or den, with a remote control.








Former American President Bill Clinton came to Turkey, speaking Saturday at Istanbul Bilgi University. In the past, we have heard from Clinton as president, as globe-trotting problem solver, even as economic seer, in town to address those wealthy enough to pay the freight of a $350,000 speaker's fee. But this time, we saw a different Bill Clinton. He played the part of the global elder he has become in recent years, noting his work in places like Haiti for earthquake relief and Nigeria, where he is focused on combating malaria and HIV.


But mainly he impressed us for a seemingly new role: teacher. This time he was here in his role as at the head of "Laureate Universities," a global network of higher educational institutions of which Bilgi is a member. As we note elsewhere in today's newspaper, Clinton touched upon many things. The master storyteller, he wrapped up into a single narrative the origins of the global financial crisis, the promises and perils of "globalization," which he argued is better described a "global interdependence." He spoke eloquently of the threats of climate change, of changing political balances and the opportunities the world has missed, notably Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation and even closer to home, the reunification of the island of Cyprus. He capped it all with praise for Turkey in many spheres, from a startling quick rebound from the global economic crisis to the recent opening of the long-shuttered Greek and Armenian churches near Trabzon and Van to Christian worship.


Virtually all of his kind observations are ones we share. And we appreciate once again his unambiguous support for Turkey's slow-moving bid to join the European Union, particularly his basic assertion that this is at least as much in Europe's interest as it is in ours.


But what really impressed us was when he set aside the prepared remarks and took a seat on stage to answer questions from four Bilgi University students. The teacher in Clinton emerged. Unconsciously, perhaps we were seeking an ode to tolerance. His visit did come after Friday's pseudo-pious stunt at an ancient Armenian church by nationalist opposition leader Devlet Bahçeli.


But in response to one of his questioners, Clinton said that among the most important skills for any young person in today's world is the ability to understand and communicate with those different from themselves. Learning to see through the eyes of those of different faiths, languages, skin colors, genders or ideologies is the most important skill a young person today needs to carry the world into its uncertain future, he argued.


That we are equal except for the opportunities given to us is hardly a new lesson. It is an ancient one. But it is one that needs repeating and reemphasis. We are deeply grateful for that message reaffirmed Saturday by Clinton the Teacher.







When the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, came to power in 2002 in Turkey, many were satisfied with its assurance that it would make Ankara's European Union accession the chief aim of Turkish foreign policy, despite the party's Islamist pedigree. The promise of a European Turkey helped assuage fears both within Turkey and Europe about the AKP's Islamist roots: If the AKP desired a European Turkey, it could not possibly harbor Islamist tendencies.


Initially, the AKP held true to its promise and pushed for EU membership, legislating reforms and making Turkey a candidate country for talks in 2005. However, just as Turkey began accession talks, the party turned its attention to the Middle East, suggesting it would make Turkey a "center country," a bridge country earning the trust of both Europe and the "Muslim world." 


Eight years later, the AKP has led Turkey to become neither a bridge between European states and the "Muslim world," nor a European country. If anything, it is becoming the tribune of a politically-defined Muslim world against the West, with an increasingly authoritarian government open to the reality of governance by Islamist politics. 


No Europe under the AKP


The AKP, whose predecessor, the Islamist Welfare Party, or Refah, was banned in 1998 by Turkey's Constitutional Court – a decision later upheld by the European courts – emerged in 2001 with an avowedly non-Islamist platform. The party jettisoned Refah's anti-European rhetoric (Refah had dismissed the EU as a "capitalist and Christian club") and instead embraced the accession process.


However, in spite of its pro-European re-branding, the AKP never genuinely believed in a European destiny for Turkey, nor did the party possess a strategic view of EU membership. Instead, the AKP used the EU accession process merely as a tactical ploy to shed its Islamist image, gain credibility from the West and curb the power of the secular military under the guise of EU-sanctioned democratization.


Surely, vehement French objections significantly undermine Turkey's EU accession prospects. So far, all 22 countries that negotiated for EU membership were ultimately offered accession. Yet French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to treat Turkey differently and opposes Turkey's membership regardless of the status of current accession talks.


Nevertheless, Turkey's accession has stalled for reasons that have as much to do with the AKP's lack of commitment to European values as the continual barricade of French objections. In fact, while I have always supported Ankara's membership bid, it is time to admit that the reason Turkey will not join the EU any time soon is not because of European reservations toward a Muslim country, but because of the AKP's reservations toward liberal values.


It is quite fathomable that Turkey could have broken French opposition to its EU entry by reforming aggressively toward European norms and rendering Sarkozy's objections obsolete.


Having ingratiated itself to both Brussels bureaucrats and liberal Turks until 2005, the AKP abruptly dropped the EU process as a top foreign policy priority just as it was expected to implement the toughest reforms towards full membership. It is now clear, however, that this sudden change was consistent with the AKP's tactical view of EU accession. The party pursued EU membership for as long as its accession policy had little domestic cost and gained the AKP much in terms of legitimacy in Europe as a pro-EU (and ostensibly non-Islamist) party. However, once substantive accession talks began in 2005 and the domestic economic and political costs of EU reforms became apparent, the AKP withdrew from the EU process, judging the benefits of a cool attitude towards the EU to supersede those of membership in it.


In addition to the AKP's calculations of the domestic political costs of enacting the unpopular reforms required

for EU accession, the party's appetite for Europe also waned due to the European Court of Human Rights' 2005 decision to uphold Turkey's ban on Islamic-style headscarves on college campuses. The AKP had hoped that Europe would help it recalibrate Turkey's powerful secular norms by making more permissible different manifestations of political Islam. The court's decision suggested, however, that Europe is as content with Turkish secularism as Turkey is. A symbolic sign of the AKP's loss of interest in the EU emerged when the AKP declared 2005 the "Year of Africa," opting to turn the country's attention to a different continent at a rather inopportune time.


In due course, the AKP dropped the reform process, allowing the state of reforms to deteriorate. As the government resorted to jailing critical journalists under the pretext that they were planning a coup, Turkey dropped 20 spots in the Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Index, from 102nd out of 175 countries in 2008 to 122nd last year. Moreover, the AKP used plot allegations ― most infamously in the "Ergenekon case" ― to target its political opponents in the media, military and academia.


Even when they aren't engaging in alleged coup plots, independent media appears to present an acute problem for the AKP. After Milliyet, a paper owned by the Doğan Media Group, an independent media group, reported alleged AKP links to an Islamist charity in Germany, the government slapped Doğan with a record $3.3 billion tax fine, a sum that exceeds the company's net worth. It seems that when it comes to government-media relations, Turkey is becoming more like Russia than Europe under the tutelage of the AKP.


The AKP's rule has also dealt a blow to the cause of gender equality. In 1994, the percentage of women in executive civil service positions was 15 percent, according to IRIS, an Ankara-based women's rights group. The number has since decreased to 11 percent. While 33 percent of all lawyers in Turkey are women, not a single woman exists among the nine top bureaucrats in the Turkish justice ministry. Contrast this with the large number of female jurists in the country's high courts, where judges are appointed by peers and not by the government. Similarly, almost half of the members of the Council of State, Turkey's top administrative court, are women.


But even this refuge of enlightened gender policy might soon come to an end. The AKP has recently pushed constitutional amendments that would enable it to appoint the majority of the judges to the high courts without a confirmation process. Female judges may no longer bother to apply. As Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan put it so delicately on 2008's World Women's Day, the role of women in Turkish society is not to have a career but "to make at least three babies each."


These developments legitimate Mr. Sarkozy's objections to Turkish aspirations to EU membership and in turn strengthen the popular impasse to Turkey's EU accession. The linkage does not end there, however. The more Mr. Sarkozy speaks out against Turkey's membership, the more Turks retaliate by turning against the EU and embracing the AKP's non-traditional foreign policy – that is, the policy of shifting Turkey away from its traditional role as a country that is Western in political identity and Muslim only by religion. It is increasingly unlikely that the AKP will attempt to reverse this overall trajectory, as the party seems more than satisfied with Turkey firmly outside of the EU.


*This column originally appeared in Limes (Rivista Italiana di Geopolitica) 







The Central Bank of Turkey, or CBT, has been quite active for the past couple of weeks.


First, it finally delivered the much-awaited rate cut, at least if you were to believe the papers. Actually, by cutting the overnight borrowing rate, the Bank simply commenced with the second stage of its preannounced exit strategy by widening the spread between its effective lending, the one-week repo, and borrowing rates. The former, which is also the key policy rate, was unchanged.


More unexpected was how rapid the Bank continued with this second stage. Shortly after hinting it would do so at the one-page summary of its rate decision, it not only increased the lira and foreign currency required reserve ratios, but also surprisingly halted paying interest on lira reserves.


These two moves should be seen in conjunction. The first one is discouraging banks to borrow from the CBT and encouraging interbank lending. By improving money market efficiency, the CBT can then achieve more with less. The second set of measures has pushed the overnight money market rate towards the policy rate. The idea is to eventually have a policy rate similar to the U.S. federal funds.


As an added benefit, the CBT is able to tackle the robust credit growth with textbook economics. But I would still label the measures as policy normalization rather than tightening, as the recent rise in capital inflows, thanks to the new wave of money flooding into emerging markets in the aftermath of the Fed's quantitative easing II, has significantly reduced the need for the Bank to provide temporary liquidity via repo auctions.


Just as the global climate seems to have helped the CBT in moving ahead with its exit strategy, it also makes sense to view the Bank's most recent action of adding some discretion to its foreign currency auctions under an international lens, especially after comments by the Brazilian finance minister Guido Mantega that an international currency war has broken out.


I would not go as far as to label the CBT's move as a sign that Turkey has taken its place on the trenches. The Bank has simply come up with a smart way to counter lira appreciation pressures and build reserves. Unfortunately, the ample liquidity means that the interventions are likely to be sterilized and therefore have a muted effect on the lira.


However, more discretion means more uncertainty, and the new system could work by making foreign currency trading more dangerous and signaling speculative capital that you don't mess with the CBT. But uncertainty is a two-edged sword, and the Bank would have to make sure that it is not perceived as pursuing a managed floating regime - just ask George Soros the consequences of that.


The bank has also increasingly been emphasizing financial stability of late. Never mind that this is a contested topic globally or that there is already an institution in Turkey for that task. Or that financial stability is not in CBT Law. Or that the Bank has no say in most of the necessary macroprudential regulation tools. The CBT has just found another excuse to delay the rate hikes, so its recent actions are unlikely to be followed by one anytime soon.


While these new measures point to a brave new CBT, I wish the Bank had been more vocal in voicing its concerns over fiscal policy, especially since fiscal policy could more effectively cope with capital inflows. I also have not figured out why it has not taken a more active stance against the over-appreciated lira lobby, which is likely to start whining again soon.


A more vocal Bank could have also told me what would happen if the sum of all fears, a strong lira and slowing growth along with sticky inflation, were to materialize.


Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at








He looked better in reality than in his pictures. A lot thinner than his presidential days but fit, with a voice somewhat cracked at times and an occasional shaky hand while holding the microphone, but with an abundant intellectual charisma Bill Clinton captivated a mixed audience of academics, students, politicians and media members who gathered last Saturday at the Santral Campus of Bilgi University to listen to him talk about the future of our planet in the 21st century. Clinton visited Bilgi University for the first time after he accepted the position of honorary chancellor of the Laureate International Group of Universities, to which Bilgi University has belonged since 2007.


The 42nd president of the United States is one of the best public speakers in the world. And at this particular moment, just over two weeks after the constitutional referendum in Turkey, Clinton's rhetorical skills could not have been a better help for the Turkish government. His wholehearted support for Turkey as a "welder nation" between East and West, as a "bridge maker" and a "gateway to a new future with the Muslim world," to a Turkey as "a major economy which managed to come out of the crisis from minus to 11 percent growth" at an amazing speed, a country which, as he sees it, is heading speedily to full democracy, which is destined to play a major role as a peacemaker in the region, a country which "helps get things done instead of being a troublemaker," a Turkey which is under a new type of government which "respects religion without being paralyzed by it" and has managed to increase tolerance and democracy.


These words were music to the ears of State Minister Egemen Bağış, who was present at the event and had made a welcoming speech on behalf of the Turkish government. He was often seen nodding approvingly at Clinton's exclamatory statements about Turkey. In a sensitive moment for the government, with the Kurdish problem back in the front row of domestic issues and with Turkish-U.S. relations still in the balance, Clinton's support for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, policies could not have come in a better time.


And there was special mention about the relations between Turkey and Brussels. Clinton left nobody in doubt that he remains one of the strongest advocates of Turkey's full integration into the EU. Against any skepticism over the suitability of Turkey to be accepted into the EU club, one of the most popular American presidents counter-argued that Turkey is a necessity for the survival of the EU.


"I know that the EU has concerns about the Kurdish question and the penal law. But still these concerns and unsolved questions like Cyprus lose their importance in the face of advantages that would be created by Turkey's full membership in the EU," he said in a statement that may cause some reservations on the side of Greek Cypriots or Greeks.


One day before his speech, on Oct. 1, for the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the independence of Cyprus, Hilary Clinton in her message to people of the Cyprus Republic had given assurances of the decisive support of the American administration for the continuation of the talks for the reunification of Cyprus for a bizonal, bicommunal federation. Officially the Cyprus issue remains an important concern for the Americans.


Clinton's official speech was not actually about Turkey. It was about the future and the problems of our planet in the 21st century. Ideas and concepts sprang out of his core concept that all nations, rich or poor, similar of dissimilar, are dependent on each other and the world can only be sustained if its resources are managed properly, if there is less inequality and more understanding, knowledge and tolerance. According to Clinton, even an event as disastrous as the attack on Sept. 11 should be seen through a lens of understanding and tolerance: "Everyone should read the Quran and understand the circumstances in which it was written and why we arrived at this point now. The people who flew the planes into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 were Muslims, but that does not mean all Muslims are terrorists, people must understand that."


But even if Clinton's speech was all about the problems of the globe, what one got at the end was the full conviction of the 42nd U.S. president that Turkey is now a major player in the world affairs both as an economic power and a geostrategic Muslim partner of the West. Hence it was worth noticing that Bill Clinton made no reference to the known weaknesses of the political management of Turkey, that he overstressed the successes in economy and that he bypassed problems of democracy. Instead he sent the strong message that he represents a way of thinking which looks to a future where Turkey will be, at any rate, an important part of American geostrategic plans in the region. 








In the last generation, the entire planet has been thrown into a series of crises, which many believe threaten to converge in global catastrophe: spiraling global warming; fluctuating oil prices; food riots; banks collapsing; the specter of terror bombings; and the promise of "endless war" to fight "violent extremists."


Without urgent mitigating, preventive and transformative action, these global crises are likely to converge and mutually accelerate over the coming decades. By 2018, converging food, water and energy shortages could magnify the probability of conflict between major powers, civil wars, and cross-border conflicts. After 2020, this could result in political and economic catastrophes that would undermine state control and national infrastructure, potentially leading to social collapse.


Anthropogenic global warming alone illustrates the gravity of our predicament. Global average temperatures have already risen by 0.7 degrees Celsius in the last 130 years. In 2007, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change told the world that at current rates of increase of fossil fuel emissions, we were heading toward a rise in global average temperatures of around 6 degrees by the end of this century, leading to mass extinctions on a virtually uninhabitable planet.


Many scientists concede that without drastic emissions reductions by 2020, we are on the path toward a 4-degree rise as early as mid-century, with catastrophic consequences, including the total loss of the Arctic summer sea-ice, the break-up of West Antarctica; the collapse of the Amazon rainforest; and the loss of Arctic permafrost; to name just a few. Each of these ecosystem collapses could trigger an out-of-control warming process.


Already, global warming has exacerbated droughts and led to declines in agricultural productivity over the last decade, including a 10-20 percent drop in rice yields. The percentage of land stricken by drought doubled from 15 to 30 percent between 1975 and 2000. If trends continue, by 2025, 1.8 billion people would be living in regions of water-scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population could be subject to water stress.


Maps released by scientists at the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, University of Wisconsin-Madison, show that the earth is "rapidly running out of fertile land" for further agricultural development. No wonder, then, that world agricultural land productivity between 1990 and 2007 was 1.2 percent per year, nearly half compared to 1950-90 levels of 2.1 percent.


Our over-dependence on fossil fuels is also counterproductive. Increasing evidence demonstrates that peak oil is

at hand. This is when world oil production reaches its maximum level at the point when half the world's reserves of cheap oil have been depleted, after which it becomes geophysically increasingly difficult to extract it. This means that passed the half-way point, world production can never reach its maximum level again, and thus continuously declines until reserves are depleted.


Oil price volatility due to peak oil was a major factor that induced the 2008 economic recession. The collapse of the mortgage house of cards was triggered by the post-peak oil price shocks, which escalated costs of living and led to a cascade of debt-defaults.


Oil is not the only problem. Numerous studies show that hydrocarbon resources will become increasingly depleted by mid-century, and by the end of this century will be so scarce as to be useless – although we do have enough to potentially tip us over into irreversible runaway global warming.


Former TOTAL geologist Jean Laharrere projects that world natural gas production will peak by around 2025. New technologies mean that unconventional forms of natural gas might prolong this but only if future demand doesn't increase. The independent Energy Watch Group, or EGW in Berlin projects that world coal production will also peak in 2025, but the journal Science finds that this could occur "close to the year 2011." According to the Hydrocarbon Depletion Study Group at Uppsala University, unconventional oil will be incapable of averting peak oil. Greater attention has turned to thorium, but that requires uranium, and no viable commercial reactors have been built despite decades of research.


The 21st century is the age of irreversible hydrocarbon energy depletion – the implication being that industrial civilization, in its current form, cannot last beyond this century. This means that this century signals not only the end of the carbon age, but the beginning of a new post-carbon era. Therefore, this century should be understood as an age of "civilizational transition" – the preceding crises are interlocking symptoms of a global political economy, ideology and value-system which is no longer sustainable. The remaining question is what will take its place?


While we may not be able to stop various catastrophes and collapse-processes from occurring, we still retain an unprecedented opportunity to envisage an alternative vision for a new, sustainable and equitable form of "post-carbon civilization." Any vision for "another world," if it is to overcome the deep-rooted structural failures of our current model, will need to explore how we can develop new social, political and economic structures which encourage the following:


1. Distribution of ownership of productive resources so that all members of society have a stake in agricultural, industrial and commercial productive enterprises;


2. Decentralized politico-economic participation through self-managerial producer and consumer councils to facilitate participatory decision-making in economic enterprises;


3. Re-defining the meaning of economic growth to focus less on materially focused GDP, and more on the

capacity to deliver values such as health, education, and political and cultural freedom;

4. Fostering a new, distributed renewable energy infrastructure based on successful models;

5. Structural reform of the monetary, banking and financial system including abolition of interest;

6. Elimination of unrestricted lending system based on faulty quantitative risk-assessment models, with mechanisms to facilitate greater regulation of lending practices;

7. Development of parallel grassroots participatory political structures that are both transnational and community-oriented;

8. Development of parallel grassroots participatory economic institutions that are both transnational and community-oriented;

9. Emergence of a "post-materialist" scientific paradigm and worldview which points to a more holistic understanding of life and nature; and

10. Emergence of a "post-materialist" ethic recognizing that progressive values and ideals are more conducive to the survival of the human species than conventional "materialistic" behaviors.

*Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development in London. His latest book is "A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization" (Pluto, 2010).








While having coffee after an intense business conference, one top Indian executive gestured that he would like a word with me. He first made sure that there were no eavesdroppers before starting. He had a problem, but no one would listen.


It is a dilemma that half of the expatriate population in the Gulf shares. He was worried about all the news of the job localization programs, widely reported in the regional newspapers. He was also worried about losing his job, as at his age it would be difficult to get another position anywhere. I sympathize with him on one important count: He has spent the last 30 years of his life working in the country. In other words, he has lived in Oman more than the country of his birth.


Moreover, his three children were born in the country and are now in their 20s. As far as they are concerned they know no other country but Oman, apart from brief holidays away. Yes, I can see his point, especially when reading of the health statistics of retiring expatriates going back to their countries.


They only have 40 percent chance of living a healthy life after resettling. Age has nothing to do with it since some of them are only in their early 50s.


There is no fixed labor legislation in most regional countries. I fully support the fact that locals must find jobs since unemployment is becoming a worrisome factor in the Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC. I also know for a fact that some expatriates even try to undermine the efforts to open up employment for nationals.


However, the majority of expatriates, especially those who have been here for more than 20 years, contribute positively towards the creation of local jobs. It is in this segment that the authorities must retain and not get rid of foreigners. The only thing that I say is that some long-term expatriates must fully mingle with nationals in social matters to make it work.


When you work and live in a place for a quarter of century then it stops being just a matter of profession. It goes beyond the realm of office work. Full integration with the locals is important. There is a lot of room for improvement in the labor regulations. I have always been of the opinion that long-term expatriates who contribute positively must be given the right to retire here. They should enjoy a permanent residency without having to make expensive investments.


Retaining them is a way of acknowledging their efforts and they could be used as consultants whenever the private sector wishes to do so. Moreover, the laws must also be sympathetic to their children who were born and raised here. We all know that the Gulf countries cannot at present sustain their economy were the states to depend entirely on their own human resources. That will take many decades to achieve.


Higher education institutes could be one way to compensate for the welfare of long-term expatriates. Their children opting for local colleges should get a priority in employment. This will encourage expatriates not to send their children abroad for further studies. The benefits are mutual. Private institutes would get the revenue they need and expatriates' children could integrate more effectively socially with local kids. Then it would be easy for legislators to make up their minds on which expatriates should be allowed to remain. Of course, only a small percentage of foreign workers would benefit from the special privileges but it is the only way for the region to balance out its economic needs. The other alternative is to repatriate a much-needed workforce when it can be utilized here.


*Akif Abdulamir is an Oman-based writer. This piece appeared on the Khaleej Times website.








It turned into a real puzzle. Will Turkey move to a single-type compulsory military service? Will there be partially exempted paid military service? What does the government think on these issues? Has the military command completed its studies on the single-type shortened military service? Is the government for or against such a practice? Will it be unjust if Turkey moves on to a single-type shortened military service and lifts the current positive discrimination in favor of university graduates?


Is the defense minister a serious personality who occasionally makes jokes? What was the meaning of his contradicting remarks? He first told reporters that the military and his ministry have completed works on the shortened single-type compulsory military service, submitted the file to the Prime Ministry and it is now up to the Prime Ministry to decide on the issue. A few hours later the same minister, through the semi-official Anatolia news agency, retracted his first statement, claimed he was misunderstood and reassured the nation that the military and his ministry was still working on the shortened single-type conscription. At almost the same time, however, the party executive council of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, convened and after lengthy deliberations top AKP executives appeared in front of cameras saying the issue had been dropped from the agenda of the country.


Why? Apparently some AKP executives argued at the meeting that if all young Turks, irrespective of their education levels, were asked to serve an equal period in the military as conscripts, that would be injustice against the university graduates who under current terms can either fulfill their compulsory military service as third lieutenants or as privates for a shorter eight-month period, depending on the needs of the military.


Indeed, the practice of allowing university graduates serve as officers was not enacted as a favor offered to university graduates but happened due to the need of the military for third lieutenants. At times when the number of university graduates enrolling was higher than the needed number of third lieutenants, the remaining university graduates were offered short-term eight-month military service as privates, and thus in a way they are being compensated.


For a long time, however, the military was engaged in efforts to undergo some radical structural changes under which the number of people in arms would be decreased but they would be equipped with better arms and vehicles and thus the mobility and striking power of the armed forces would be reinforced. Under those plans the conscription system of the country would be shortened – as the overall number of men would go down – and the practice of recruiting university graduates as third lieutenants, the eight-month shorter service offered to those university graduates who could not be recruited as third lieutenants as well as the partially exempted paid military service practice would be totally given up.


Such plans of the military, unfortunately, were detrimental to the political interests of some politicians who have developed a habit of wooing the electorate by offering, or at least promising, partially exempted paid military service not only to those Turks who have been working abroad but to all young Turks coming from rich families or whose families can cut from other expenses and pay the fee or compensation money demanded.


Let me remind you, the partially exempted paid military service issue topped the agenda of the country once again last month while the country was going to the referendum on the constitutional amendment package and only 10 months before the scheduled parliamentary polls next year.


The defense minister, obviously, made a slip of the tongue when he disclosed that works on the single-type shortened conscription for all young Turks had been completed and the issue was referred to the prime ministry. He had to swallow what he said hours later and AKP officials reiterated that partially exempted paid military service – repeatedly opposed by the military – might still be considered by the government.


Probably, the military was angered with the developments and demanded the prime minister bring clarification on the issue. That was most probably why all of a sudden the prime minister, at an irrelevant ceremony, told reporters that his government has not totally given up works on introducing the single-term shortened military service and the issue might come on the agenda at any time and he would soon ask a briefing on the issue from the military.


When? Once the 2011 elections are over, for some time the prime minister and his AKP would not need to woo families with young sons with the probability of a partially exempted paid military service.









On my first visit to Turkey in 1969 I rushed to pay my respects at Miletus and Ephesus, where the world's first great rational thinkers lived. I was two-and-a-half millennia late to meet Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes or Heraclitus, but their words had come down to me and set my life on a course of studying and teaching philosophy.


Pythagoras (whose name survives in geometry's most famous theorem) came from the island of Samos (Susam), which can be seen across the water from Ephesus and the nearby resort of Kuşadası. Parmenides, Empedocles and Anaxagoras (the first to take the new way of thought to Athens, in the lifetime of Socrates) also lived in this region, that the Greeks called Ionia and the Romans Asia, as did Leucippus at Miletus (Milet) and Democritus (Marx wrote his dissertation on him) at Abdera in Thrace (Trakya), who held that reality consists of invisible tiny atoms (uncuttables) in changing clusters and formations.


All these thinkers sought to explain nature and human existence without the use of the myths and gods of religion, prevalent in the great Greek poetry of Homer and Hesiod, that supplied the causes and reasons for things for most people. Elsewhere in the ancient world — Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, India — there was serious and impressive thought and literature but mostly within the framework of their respective religious tenets. But in the Greek-speaking context the breakthrough to genuine autonomous thought took place. Reason became free to pursue independent philosophy and, eventually, experimental and mathematical science. The key was critical, dialectical


(two-readings: question-and-answer) reasoning that was open to be tested and developed by any human mind irrespective of religious beliefs, political conditions or cultural assumptions.


If the names of these figures seem exotic it is because they come from the earlier Ionic dialect of Greek with input from the Cretan Minoan and mainland Mycenaean civilizations that sent colonists across the Aegean when Dorian-Greek speakers invaded from the north and, finally, built the classical culture of Athens at the time of Pericles, Thucydides, Plato and Socrates (5th-4th centuries BCE).


These seminal rational thinkers are called pre-Socratics but they deserve their own name and should perhaps be called nature-theorists ("pysicists" is accurate but has more narrow connotations today) or, better, the first ontologists: thinkers about being -- what are the principles, structures and dynamics that govern all things that are whatsoever, whether atom, star, rock, bird, human being, city, law, poem, building…


The answers they gave varied from water, air, fire, earth (or some combinations thereof), atoms, the boundless, what is and what is not, love and strife, justice and strife, bodies in motion in the void, the one and the many, form and matter, appearance and reality, quality and quantity and potency and actuality to mind, logos (word and concept) and opinion-and-truth. But some isotopes of these concepts and categories have animated the discussions of fundamental thinkers to this day. Heidegger, Sartre, Marx, and Tillich are but some moderns who have been most influenced by these sixth-century BC inventors of secular and existential thinking.


Further excursions in philosophy


On that same first trip to Turkey I also ventured to the Mediterranean town of Alanya, with its noble Seljuk buildings, and sought out its satellite community of Mahmutlar (ancient Laertes) where in the second century CE Diogenes Laertius lived and wrote an early Lives of the Philosophers. It is thanks to works like his that we have quotations and accounts of the earliest thinkers, whose writings have not survived as such. And mostly they are fragments. Many have heard of Heraclitus' "You cannot step twice into the same rivers; for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you," but few know his further saying: "We step and do not step into the same rivers; we are and are not." The implication is to withstand the flux and consuming fire of all things by adhering to the logos, the meaningful structure that runs through nature, the human mind, language and the order of the city. My favorite of his sentences is "One is 10,000 to me, if he be the best," or "I have sought for myself."


I saved for another time a journey to Sinop on the Black Sea, Turkey's northernmost point, where another Diogenes came from, the founder of the Cynic school of philosophers who followed Socrates in living simply without regard to cold and heat or indulgent pleasures but did not share his belief in the educative role of the city or such eternal forms of being as temperance, courage, justice and the good that can be pursued by dialectical thought as the best way for the soul to live in an imperfect and perishing world.


On my way back to Istanbul, though, I did include a pilgrimage to Assos on the bluffs above the Dardanelles (Hellespont, Çanakkale Boğazı), near the plain of Troy. There Aristotle had lived a while, crossing from Athens where he had been Plato's leading student and expected to inherit the leadership of Plato's Academy (which lasted a thousand years).


But Plato's nephew got the prize, and Aristotle decamped to Asian Assos (an Athenian colony), married the ruler's niece, an educated woman, and set up his own first school. Later he returned to Athens and established the even more famous peripatetic (he lectured while walking around the premises) school, The Lyceum (named for its neighboring temple of Zeus Lyceus, after the great god's cult in Lycia on the Turkish Mediterranean between Fethiye and Antalya -- as magnificent a mountain-coastal region as any in the world, now favored by trekkers on its Lycian Way).


Plato and Aristotle developed the legacy of Socrates and of his predecessors in Turkey's Aegean region to the greatest extent possible for philosophic minds, still rich sources of thought at the present time. But any and all of these thinkers can initiate any human being into what it is to think: to use your own reason, in dialogue with other reasoning beings, to search for rational answers to existential and fundamental questions -- What is it to be? What is essential and what accidental to human being? What is true concerning God and the gods and their relations to humans? What is justice, love, truth? What are the ways and abuses of power? What is the meaning of history and what is eternal? The great columns of the ruins at Miletus, Ephesus, Assos speak to us of those who lived among them and who pointed us the way to pursue our knowledge of who we are.


*Frank White, professor emeritus, City University of New York, lives part-year at Alanya.


He can be reached at










 Planet Zardari is an odd world. It orbits a dead star in one of the least developed corners of the galaxy and is ruled – for the time being – by a man who sees conspiracies under every cooking-pot and, most recently, 'onslaughts' coming around the corner like runaway trains. The president, a man who hardly lets a day pass without bestowing upon his subjects the benefits of his oratory, has now told us that 'parliament is supreme' (it isn't, he is…or so he thinks) and knows well how to defend itself against an onslaught. An onslaught? Is there any sign of any onslaught or any indication that parliament is in any way threatened as an institution? And who might the attackers be? The army? The Americans or the Indians are the other likely candidates at first sight, but diving deeper into the presidential rhetoric we find that the 'onslaught' may be the work of 'political orphans', whoever or whatever they may be. These orphans, who had hitherto wandered the wilderness bereft of parental love and attention, have now joined hands with political actors and been adopted by them. Their mission is to destabilise the existing government, but they are apparently doomed to be frustrated because they will be tackled at the front gates by none other than the president himself wielding a sword forged from 24-carat democracy.

When we attempt to decode all this, it looks like the president is taking a swipe at his erstwhile political partners, especially those partners in Sindh who have of late been making 'revolutionary' rumblings and threatening to string up those feudals who get in their way as they go about establishing their own version of democracy. Poor democracy, sweet thing that she is, has been getting a good kicking from successive governments for the last sixty years or so, with the present dispensation introducing the novel tactic of wearing a democratic veil over the form of unreconstructed feudalism. We have to tell you Mr President that political protest of itself does not constitute, by any definition, a conspiracy. We realise that this may come as a shock to you but you are not, Mr President, universally loved or admired. This is a normal state of affairs in any democracy. Your detractors and political opponents constitute what is known in the democratic model as 'the opposition'. 'The Opposition' is not a conspiracy; it is a legitimate and necessary part of democracy itself. It is the job of the political opposition to disagree with you and your party and its rule, and to seek to turf you out of office by that other peculiarity of democracy – the ballot box. So let us leave aside these opaque references to onslaughts and conspiracies and devote some of your time to saving an order which is crumbling beneath your feet. Or is that a wish too far?






 The killing of Dr Muhammad Farooq Khan, a noted religious scholar and vice chancellor of Islamic University Swat, cuts another tragic knot in the ever-growing list of the victims of extremism. There are many reasons why the extremists would find him guilty of 'heinous crimes'. He advocated the liberal and true face of Islam, spoke out against obscurantism, termed un-Islamic the killing of innocent human beings by suicide bombers; and the list of the slain scholar's 'sins' goes on. Men like Dr Farooq must not be forgotten as another cold statistic — because that is precisely what his killers would want. Their objective is to turn the educated, the brave, and the moderate voices of Islam into mute statistics; for it is only when what is good is eliminated, and wisdom silenced, that evil and ignorance prevail. 

Surely, the traditional strong condemnations from those at the helm have already come, with the promises of finding the guilty and making them pay for their crime. However, judging from the dismal record of the government, it is unlikely to ever happen. But merely because the murderers roam free, should they also be allowed to win? The killers of Dr farooq, and many other people of courage and conviction before him, must never emerge victorious in their macabre schemes. The voice of good must not be throttled by the hand of evil. A resounding message must go to these inheritors of darkness — that they may cut down those bearing the torch of reason, but they can never eliminate their ideals and their conviction; that the state and the people will stand by the loved ones of those who were felled while standing tall for the cause of reason and rationality in the face of the darkest kind of insanity and inhumanity. The government could make a meaningful beginning by launching a National Academia Endowment Fund. This fund must provide financial aid and other support including educational scholarships etc to the deserving dependants of the martyred men of letters. The funding could easily come through joint resources of the state and other donors. The unstated logic behind the targeted killing of educationists and scholars by religious fanatics and certain other kinds of extremist elements in different parts of the country is clear: to eliminate the alternative enlightened thought. The killing of an educationist, a scholar, is unlike that of any other professional; for here it's not just the killing of a man but of an entire thought process resulting in the gradual throwing of our young generation at the mercy of the merciless. Can we allow this to happen?







 The devastation caused by the massive flooding in Pakistan is one of the most catastrophic human and environmental disasters we have suffered. While the flooding has physically impacted millions in Pakistan, many millions more of them suffer from emotional agony and anguish abroad. Pakistanis living in the US are no exception, especially those Pakistanis who have no legal status in the United States.

Apart from the pain they feel because of the devastation befallen their families, relatives and friends, they also face insecurity and fear of deportation. Even if these Pakistanis wished to return, their country would be unable to take them in because of the horrendous situation it is facing.

Pakistanis living in the US without legal status need to be urgently protected on humanitarian grounds. These Pakistanis should not be facing the fear of deportation and the likelihood of their losing everything they have saved, which could be critical to their stricken families back home. They should be afforded legal protection in the United States currently available under immigration laws. They should be given Temporarily Protected Status (TPS). 

By all counts, these Pakistanis are eligible for TPS and should therefore be given temporary legal protection urgently, so that they can focus on sending financial help to the victims of the flooding in Pakistan. Becoming a burden on the victims would be the last thing they would want, which could become unavoidable in many cases, should they be deported.

In the past the US has given such protected status to foreign citizens who were unable to return to their devastated countries in catastrophic situations. The nationals of Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan residing in the United States are beneficiaries of the concessions provided under TPS. Since the law pertaining to such relief already exists, no new legislation is needed to designate Pakistanis for the benefits accorded under TPS. 

In 1990, the US Congress established a procedure by which the attorney general may provide TPS to immigrants in the United States who are temporarily unable to safely return to their home countries because of armed conflicts, environment disasters and other extraordinary humanitarian situations. 

The procedure was created under the Immigration Act of 1990. But on March 1, 2003, the authority to designate a country for TPS was transferred from the attorney general to the Secretary of Homeland Security. The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions there which temporarily prevent its nationals from returning safely. The same applies in circumstances where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.

Under the Homeland Security Act of 2002, during a designated period, eligible individuals cannot be deported from the United States. Nor can they be arrested and detained for immigration violations by the Department of Homeland Security. Furthermore, under the act, eligible individuals can obtain a work permit and may apply for travel authorisation. The legal relief of such nature, even though temporary, can be of a tremendous help to people in distress. This is exactly what Pakistanis without legal status in the US need. 

It is a matter of deep concern for human rights organisations and Pakistani-Americans that Pakistan has not yet been designated for TPS status. When Haiti was hit by the massive earthquake of Jan 12, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano gave it a TPS country status three days later—on Jan 15. 

Such a timely decision is now needed in case of Pakistan because of the sheer scale of the country's "heart-wrenching" tragedy. 

After his emergency trip to the flood-affected areas in Pakistan in August, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon gave this impression of the Pakistani calamity: "...This has been a heart-wrenching day for me. I will never forget the destruction and suffering I have witnessed today. In the past I have witnessed many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this." 

Pakistan's catastrophe is gigantic. Over one million homes have perished in the floods and approximately 20 million people have been displaced. According to UN estimates, an area of over 160,000 square kilometres has been deeply affected as a result of the flooding, more than the combined area affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the Haiti earthquake.

Public health in the flood-affected areas presents a nightmarish scenario — and all this looks like being the tip of the iceberg. There is the danger of widespread outbreaks of gastroenteritis, diarrhoea and skin diseases because of lack of clean drinking water and sanitation. The United Nations recently estimated that millions of Pakistanis are at risk from deadly waterborne diseases. The World Health Organisation says around six million people — over half of them children — face the threat of cholera, dysentery, typhoid and hepatitis. 
Meanwhile, the Pakistani economy has been debilitated by the devastation. According to preliminary estimates, only structural damages left by the floods exceed $4 billion. Damages to wheat crops amount to over $500 million. Officials estimate the total economic impact to be as much as $43 billion. 

More than 1,400,000 acres of croplands in Punjab and Sindh have been completely destroyed, including 700,000 acres covered by cotton crops, 500,000 acres by rice and sugarcane crops and 300,000 acres of animal fodder.

The impact on the Pakistani textile industry is horrendous because the flooding destroyed at least 2.5 million bales of cotton. The devastation does not end here. The blow to Pakistan's power infrastructure is equally severe, resulting in extensive damage to 12,000 transmission lines, transformers, feeders and power houses in different flood-hit areas, according to a later report. 

A major public safety concern, according to the International Red Cross, is the large number of unexploded mines and artillery shells scattered in low-lying areas, after being flushed downstream by the floods from conflict areas in Kashmir and Waziristan, posing a future risk to returning refugees. 

Pakistanis, whether at home or living overseas, have gone through many crises in the past. Their resilience, perseverance, hard work and ability to bounce back from calamities are exemplary, and they stay hopeful and positive in dire times such as these. As for those who are occupying positions of power in Pakistan, only time will tell whether they will really rise to the occasion or abandon the powerless amidst crises. Until now, the signs have not been promising.

The Obama administration deserves credit for understanding the scale of the Pakistani disaster and for moving forward to help. But it is not clear why the TPS designation for Pakistan, which was quickly announced for other countries, is still not forthcoming. 

According to some reliable sources, one of the possible causes for the delay might be the reluctance on the part of high-ranking Pakistani officials to raise this issue with American officials. Their aversion to this issue was emphasised when they were confronted by Pakistani journalists at various forums in New York. It was a "Pandora's box," they said, which should not be opened! 

The writer is a New York-based attorney.







 The Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot reports that President Obama begged Prime Minister Netanyahu to extend his settlement freeze in order to save the so-called peace talks. 

As a quid pro quo, Obama is reported to have promised Netanyahu that (1) Israel could resume settlement construction if the peace negotiations failed to produce results and (2) that the United States would give Israel written assurances of its commitment to Israel's security (suggesting a formal peace treaty perhaps?). Despite Obama's desperation, Netanyahu blew Obama off and allowed the so-called freeze to expire. 
If, as is likely, this report is true, Israel has humiliated the United States once again — a fact that will no doubt be deemed irrelevant by Israel's shills on both sides of the aisle in Congress, not to mention the mainstream media. 

The last president to stand up to Israel was Dwight Eisenhower, when he pulled the plug on the second Arab-Israeli war in 1956 and forced Israel to retreat from the east bank of the Suez Canal and to give up its conquest of the Sinai. But eleven years later, Israel learned US condemnation was no longer a problem. 
In fact, Israel learned it could get away with murder and could treat the United States with utter contempt when (1) its air and naval forces not only attacked the USS Liberty — a high priority US Navy signals intelligence ship — on 8 June 1967 during the Six-Day War, killing 34 and wounding 171 US sailors, but (2) was able to secure a cover up of its perfidy by the highest levels of the US government, including President Johnson, Secretary of Defense McNamara, and most of the senior military officers in the Pentagon, despite the misgivings of Dean Rusk, the Secretary of State and Admiral Thomas Moorer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (neither of whom chose to resign in protest, however). 

To this day, the Liberty affair is the only major US naval disaster that has not triggered a congressional inquiry. A brief but very accurate introduction to the Liberty affair can be found here. The best first-hand description of the attack itself can be found in Assault on the Liberty, the riveting memoir of the Liberty's executive officer, Commander James Ennes. Interested readers might also want to contrast our passivity in the Liberty Affair to our aggressive military reaction to the seizure of the SS Mayaguez, a privately owned container ship, by the Khymer Rouge in May 1975. 

Now we are again faced with the depressing spectacle of humiliation. President Obama, like his predecessors (Ike excepted), is allowing Israel to play him and the United States for the fool. But this time, the humiliation ought to be particularly galling to those of us who think of themselves as being proud to be Americans. 
Why? Because the President of the United States is prostrating himself before the Israeli altar for nothing, I repeat, nothing — except, perhaps, an ephemeral advantage in his own domestic politics. 
Read the 28 September report by Dror Etkes in Ha'aretz. Ask yourself if Etkes does not make an indisputable case for what many of us have suspected: namely that the Israeli government's own official housing statistics prove that the so-called settlement freeze was barely a slowdown in construction. President Obama was begging Netanyahu to save yet another peace process to nowhere by continuing the fraud of Israel's settlement freeze. 
To ice the cake, Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman, who Netanyahu insists speaks only for himself, told the UN that peace will only be possible in the long term by a massive exchange of territories and populations, which may well imply another expulsion of Palestinian Arabs from lands they currently occupy, perhaps in Israel, as well as the West Bank. Lieberman insists his vague "plan" does not imply expulsion, but given the deliberate intermingling of populations resulting from the settlement strategy, the devil is in the details, and it is hard to imagine how he could redraw borders without a significant involuntary population displacement.
Netanyahu's blow-off and Lieberman's UN speech stink of a good cop bad cop operation, where an opportunistic Netanyahu, amazingly, is setting himself up to be the good cop, which makes Lieberman just another comic foil in the theater of the absurd. 

Think of the theatrical story line that may be unfolding: Prince Obama the Humble declares victory before the November elections, because he headed off Lieberman, the Mad Attack Dog, by dragging Netanyahu, the Statesman, kicking and screaming, back to the so-called negotiation table. The Prince nails down his victory and gains his laurels by bribing the Statesman with even more financial aid and formal security guarantees, and in return gets the Statesman to extend his phoney non-freezing settlement freeze. 

If this story of human folly wasn't so horrid in terms of the suffering of the Palestinians, who have no real role in the play, we all would be tumbling into the aisles with laughter. Why laughter? Because in the divine comedy that passes for policy in the Hall of Mirrors that is Versailles on the Potomac, illusion always trumps reality by sacrificing substance on the altar of process. 

Courtesy of:

Franklin "Chuck" Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon. He currently lives on a sailboat in the Mediterranean. Email: chuck_spinney







 During the last few weeks the floods have played havoc in all four provinces of the country, destroying houses, fields, bridges, roads and dams and destroying crops. Millions of people have been displaced and are facing severe difficulties and unspeakable misery. They have no roofs over their heads, no food to eat, no clean water to drink and no medicines. Thanks to the media, which sent people to remote areas to give us pictures and information on the disaster that hit the country in July, the general public is now aware of the miseries of those affected. 

We saw how journalists, both men and women, risked their lives to reach dangerous areas to highlight the plight of the people. Many NGOs, social-welfare organisations and philanthropists have been trying to alleviate the sufferings of the needy. Almost everywhere one heard the complaint that the government was not providing any help to them. But that did not mean that we lacked photo sessions showing leaders flying in helicopters to secured areas and distributing cheques to a selected few.

A most painful fact that emerged from all this, and a fact which is insulting for Pakistan and its people, was the total distrust the international community has regarding our leaders in the matter of the distribution of donated funds. They openly spoke of the rampant corruption, lack of transparency and accountability, and of the fear of a large portion of the money going into the pockets of a few, whereas it should end up with the needy. 
While this debate was going on, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani made the surprise announcement that his wife would be selling her jewellery, as would the wives of other ministers, in order to help the poor victims of the disaster. Unfortunately, such moves don't solve any of the real problems we are facing. One wonders if Mr Gilani had his wife's approval. Women usually hold their jewellery close to their heart and would not like to part with it. 

It would have been more appropriate for the prime minister to have returned the Rs450 million bank loan that was written off. Similarly, he and his government should have taken strict and appropriate measures to recover the billions of rupees of loans to the powerful and influential, where were written off by the previous regime. What is needed are sincere and honest efforts to utilise available resources effectively. Many people believe that we have enough resources within the country to cope with the emergency to a large extent. However, to do so, an honest and efficient administration is a must, but that seems to be impossible in this so-called "land of the pure." 

Prime Minister Gilani's statement reminded me of two stories told by Shaikh Saadi (RA).
There was once a king named Abdul Aziz who had a large, costly pearl set in a ring. A severe drought hit his country, inflicting great misery on his subjects. Moved by compassion, the king ordered that the pearl be sold and the money thus obtained spent to alleviate the difficulties faced by the people. One of his advisors pointed out that never again would he be able to own such a beautiful pearl. The king started sobbing and replied: "Ugly is the ornament upon the person of a king when the hearts of his people are distressed for want of daily necessities. I would prefer to have a ring rather than over suffering subjects. Happy is he who sets the comfort of others above his own. The virtuous desire not their own pleasure at the expense of others. When a ruler sleeps carelessly upon his bed, not bothering about the sufferings of his subjects, I very much doubt that even a beggar would envy his repose. How could such a ruler, then, alleviate the sufferings of his subjects?"
The second story narrated by Shaikh Saadi is about a terrible famine in Damascus. The situation was so bad that even lovers forgot their love games, he says.

Churia qehet saali shud ander damashq

Keh yaran faramosh kerdand ishq

There was such scorching heat that the earth cracked, crops were destroyed, date trees shrivelled, wells and rivers ran dry, trees lost their leaves, the mountains became bare and brown and the only moisture to be seen was the tears in the eyes of the people. At that time a friend came to see him. The man was so thin that it seemed he was just skin and bones. Saadi was shocked to see his friend in that condition since he was a rich man with high status. "O friend!" he exclaimed. "What misfortune has befallen you?" "Where is your sense?" replied his friend. "Do you not see the devastation caused by the famine? It could not be worse. There is not a single drop of water from the sky, neither do the cries and prayers of the sufferers seem to reach the heavens." "You, at least, have nothing to fear" Saadi retorted. "Poison kills only those who have no antidote." Regarding him with indignation as only a learned man can regard a fool or a rich man regards a beggar, his friend retorted: "Although a man be safe on the shore, he cannot show indifference when his friends are drowning. My face is not pale for want of any necessity; the misery and troubles of the poor have wounded my heart. Although, thanks to the Almighty's benevolence, I am free from any such worries, I tremble when I see the sufferings of others." Shaikh Saadi (RA) described the moral of the story in these words: "Bitter are the pleasures of him who is in health when a sick man is at his side. When the hungry have not eaten, poisonous and baneful is one's food."
I have mentioned these two stories told by Shaikh Saadi (RA) to reflect on the impracticality of the offer made by the prime ministerto sell his clothes and his wife's jewellery and that of the wives of his ministers. What use is this drop in the ocean for the alleviation of the misery when we see that, from the president down to the bureaucrats and the well-to-do, all continue to have sumptuous meals and drinks while millions of our countrymen are without food, water, clothes, shelter and medicines?

The present situation reminds one of a Hadith quoted by Imam Ghazali (RA) in Makashafatul Qulub. "When people shoo away beggars, show off their wealth and riches, envy each other in hoarding this wealth and riches, then Allah Almighty will force on them the enemy." We have all these curses in our society at this time, but those at the helm of affairs seem least bothered. It seems to be a free-for-all for them and their friends and associates. They forget the Persian proverb: 

Kahstgane khanjare tasleem raar zamana az ghaibe jaan digar ast"When a dagger aims to kill you, it comes from a different direction every time."

Our "dagger" need not necessarily come in the shape of a martial law. There are many other possibilities.
Chaar janib gunjti aawaaz ke tewar samajhDo ghari to soch! Terey ghar men kia hone ko haiThe media, both foreign and local, many politicians and the public in general are all shouting themselves hoarse over the impending need for change in the air, but the ruling junta is least bothered. We saw similar situations during the rules of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and the drastic results that followed. As Zauq said: "Pay heed to what the public says."

Zaban-e khalq ko naqqara-e Khuda samjho.








 The past 2.5 years have clearly demonstrated the poor governance capability and skewed priorities of the modern day People's Party. Though similar allegations were levelled against the party leadership in the 90s, the existence of a vibrant and free media has further validated the prevailing suspicions lingering on from the PPP's previous stints in government.

The appointment of friends and cronies to ministerial positions and the emergence of countless corruption scandals clearly point to the unwillingness of the party to seriously address the problems besetting Pakistan today. Furthermore, deficit of policy-making is clearly evident by lack of a serious commitment to any major project, given that the nation is passing through a disastrous situation due to energy shortfall, deteriorating educational standards, worsening healthcare, stagnating exports and the lack of diversification of its industrial and technological base. Government's post-flood mismanagement will likely compound the prevailing dire economic state. Together, these provide further credence to the governments' non-seriousness when it comes to enacting and implementing policies that promote progress and prosperity. 

Unfortunately for Pakistan, the less than satisfactory performance of the previous Musharraf regime and the woeful performance of the current government appears to have left Pakistan far behind in a fast-moving, globally-integrated world of today. Though Pakistan had never been at the forefront of development in recent times, there nevertheless was a period in early 2000s, when it appeared that we would be able to move forward and potentially compete with our eastern neighbour, not on the battlefield, but in economic development. The burgeoning telecom, I.T., banking and vibrant media sectors provided a glimmer of hope that Pakistan's educated youth would, for once, join the world in the march towards prosperity. It is pertinent to ask what went wrong for us over the past few years? Today Pakistan appears to be a nation that's tired and staring at a directionless future. Where do we go from here and how do we get to that bright future which has eluded us for so long? 

Today Pakistan's future looks bleak, to say the least. That is due, to a large extent, to the ineptness of the two political parties that dominate our political arena today. It is quite clear that PPP neither has the brainpower nor the sincerity to steer Pakistan out of its current predicament and begin the drive towards progress. The PML-N, perhaps better for business overall, engages in shortsighted policies and its reliance on corruption and religious conservatism could also further lead us towards isolation. The military, of course, is not equipped to govern. Although military regimes have generally been better for Pakistan's economy, they leave behind a fractured polity that is extremely injurious to the nation given the provincial and ethnic divide that pervades all Pakistan. 
All this does not bode well for Pakistan unless a new force emerges that is in tune with the wishes and aspirations of its people and is capable of lifting the nation out of its current stupor. It is difficult to say how this might occur. However, our youth would have to be part of the solution if we are to turn the nation around from the direction that it's heading in today. The time for change is ripe because if not now, then when? 
The writer is a management consultant and a freelance contributor. Email: Ayaza








 The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.

Several American officials and legislators have recently been complaining in public that generous US assistance for economic development and flood relief is not getting enough recognition from the Pakistani public. This is odd, because Washington is not providing assistance to Pakistan for altruistic reasons but because it expects to get something in return which is more valuable to it: Pakistan's support for the US war in Afghanistan. In fact, it is Pakistan that should be complaining about US "ingratitude", because despite the vital logistic and intelligence support it is giving to the US in this war and the supportive action the Pakistan army is taking within its borders, Washington continues to penalise the country for pursuing its nuclear programme on which its national security rests.

A considerable part of the hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 23 for the confirmation of Cameron Munter, Ambassador-designate to Pakistan, was about what Senator Casey, who chaired the meeting, called the "ingratitude" of the Pakistani people for the munificence shown by the US to Pakistan. Another Senator, James Risch by name, lamented the failure of the Pakistani people to show a "modicum of appreciation" for the sacrifice that the Americans are making — "sacrificing their children's and grandchildren's future" — in order to build infrastructure in Pakistan. Risch was evidently either ignorant of, or insensitive to, the sacrifices that the Pakistani people have made since the country joined the US-led fight against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: the thousands of soldiers and civilians who have lost their lives, not to speak of the billions of dollars in economic loss.

It would be unfair to say that the views expressed by Casey and Risch about the "ingratitude" of the Pakistanis represent informed opinion in the US in general. Rather, the widespread mistrust of the US in Pakistan is taken as a failure to sell effectively a policy which is essentially sound. Expressing this opinion in an editorial on 28 May this year, the New York Times wrote, "The US still does not have a good enough strategy for winning over Pakistan's people, who are fed a relentless diet of anti-American propaganda. ...The State Department also needs to move faster to implement its public diplomacy plan for Pakistan."

In his confirmation hearing, Munter promised a more effective public diplomacy through better communication with diverse sections of the society. In other words, if the Pakistanis are unhappy or angry with US policies and actions, such as the attack last Thursday by US helicopters on a Pakistani border post at Teri Mengal, it is because they do not understand that what the US is doing is actually good for them and all that is needed is a better effort to sell US policies. 

Munter also repeated another misconception: that Pakistani scepticism about US motives in South Asia arises mainly from historical doubts about America's staying power and long-term commitment in the region. That might have been true at one time, especially in the immediate aftermath of Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. But Pakistani scepticism over US policies is founded today not so much on the past "fickleness" of the US (as Shuja Nawaz wrote in a recent article in the Washington Post) but its present and future geostrategic plans for the region.

Central to these plans is the policy, started under the Bush administration and continued under Obama, of making India a global power as a potential counterweight to China. The keystone of this policy was the nuclear deal under which India was granted exemption from NSG guidelines restricting nuclear trade with non-NPT countries while leaving the country free to build up its nuclear arsenal. In addition to the nuclear waiver, India is also being offered highly advanced conventional weaponry. The two sides are discussing the easing of the remaining restrictions on the export of high-technology US items. While India has been assured that any weapons sold to Pakistan would be used only for counter-insurgency operations, there is no restriction on the use of weaponry sold to India against Pakistan. 

But there is more to US plans than just building up India's nuclear and conventional capabilities. The policy of "de-hyphenation" announced by Bush as an accompaniment — and continued by Obama — also entails a downsizing of Pakistan, especially in the nuclear field. This is not being done because a nuclear Pakistan poses a threat to any vital US security interest but mainly to enable India to turn its strategic attention away from Pakistan and assume a wider regional and global role.

Washington's policies towards Pakistan's nuclear programme are manifested in (a) US opposition to the lifting of the NSG ban on nuclear trade with Pakistan; (b) US opposition to Chashma-3 and -4 nuclear power plants; (c) US pressure on Pakistan on the proposed treaty to ban the production of fissile material. 
The A Q Khan network was used as a convenient excuse to keep the nuclear embargo on Pakistan when it was lifted from India. However, a major reason why Washington remains opposed to lifting it against Pakistan is to avoid offending Delhi. As a Reuters news story in March this year noted, Pakistan's request to Washington for a civilian nuclear arrangement "has consistently been refused because of a fear of angering New Delhi, an arch-rival of Islamabad."

Washington has tried to keep the A Q Khan issue alive in order to maintain pressure on Pakistan. It was also brought up at Munter's confirmation hearing. He told the Committee that as Ambassador he intended to again raise the question of US officials interviewing Dr Khan. So far, there has been no public reaction from Islamabad to this statement. 

Washington has also hardened its opposition to the building of Chashma III and IV nuclear reactors by China. A day after the spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry indicated it saw no need to seek approval from the NSG, Thomas D'Agostino, US Under Secretary for Nuclear Security suggested that the NSG should address the issue. The group will be meeting next month but it is unlikely to be able to stop China from going ahead with the project.

It is no secret that the main purpose of the "High-level Meeting on Revitalising the Work of Conference on Disarmament" held in New York on September 24 was to heap pressure on Pakistan to unblock the commencement of negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) at the Conference on Disarmament (CD). Pakistan has been opposing these negotiations since the beginning of this year unless the proposed treaty also adequately addresses the question of asymmetries in existing stockpiles of fissile material, in which India enjoys a sizeable advantage over Pakistan. 

At the New York meeting, US and other Western powers sharply attacked "one country" (Pakistan) for blocking the work of the CD. US, Australia and Britain suggested that negotiations on FMCT might have to be shifted elsewhere. But Russia and China opposed the idea. The meeting ended with a statement by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that there was broad agreement on the need to start FMCT negotiations immediately. The Secretary-General warned that a continued impasse could result in states going outside the CD to negotiate the treaty. But that is unlikely to happen, not least because it would make the task of getting Pakistan's adherence even more difficult. Pakistan did not speak at the New York meeting and has indicated it would not attend any negotiations on a fissile material treaty outside the CD. 

At his confirmation hearing, Munter used strong language, bordering on the undiplomatic, to criticise Pakistan's position on the fissile material treaty, saying it did not "make sense" and urged Pakistan to be "constructive." The pressure on Pakistan on the FMCT will now mount further. Pakistan must show that it has the necessary resolve to defend its national interests. Pakistan should also not sign any treaty to halt the production of fissile material unless it covers existing stockpiles and until Pakistan gets access to peaceful nuclear technology at par with India.

The first part of this article appeared on September 6, 2010. 








 Karachi is never the same place twice. It was on lock-down the last time I was here, a virtual ghost-town laced together with threads of fear that was only just beginning to get back into its stride by the time I left. Stepping out of the airport last Wednesday it was as different as chalk and cheese. The sense of vibrancy was back, the noise levels were satisfyingly cacophonous and you took your life in your hands if you wanted to cross the road. It has taken me the best part of seventeen years but there is a part of me, small as yet, that is beginning to like Karachi.

In part this is because of a growing sense of familiarity. I have a mental map of the places I visit most often, an idea of how the city fits together. It no longer intimidates me with its vastness and complexity. I know where to get whatever I want and am recognised sufficiently often to give the illusion of belonging.

Friday night cemented the feeling of being a part of things. It was a jolly gathering of print journalists that went far into the night and left me a bit fuddle-headed the next morning. As I groped my way to consciousness on Saturday, lying in a strange bed surrounded by the toys that belonged to the child of my host, there was a realisation that I had crossed an invisible line. Had left behind one part of my life and decisively entered another. In doing so I had become a part of a different tribe, the writers' tribe, and that they recognised me as such the night before was the signal that I had passed the gate and entered a new land.
Going back to where I was staying on the other side of town, my taxi-driver was not sure of the route, but I was and was able to explain it to him in sufficient detail to get us from A to B with a minimum of fuss and I was home eating breakfast by 10 am. 

All of which is a long preamble to talking about a sense of belonging, that no matter what the difficulty this is where I am and where I stay. The original familial networks that came ready-made with marriage have expanded across the country and become more social than familial. They spread into every province and across ethnic, linguistic and faith-lines. They cross the age divides as well and I have friends who are older and far younger than me. I mentally compared what I have now to what I had before I came to live here, and concluded that there was a richness and diversity to my life that I did not have back 'home' in England. 'Home' is in inverted commas because it is no longer, in reality, my home.

At some point in the next couple of days I am going to be turtle-watching at the beach, have a late-night dinner at a fine restaurant with friends, and spend far more money than I ought to in my favourite Karachi bookshop. On Monday afternoon I will ring the bell on the gate of my real home in Bahawalpur, and walk through into the unkempt garden to be greeted by father-in-law, domestic staff, a very naughty cat, two parrots and a rabbit that leads a charmed life on account of the cat having an only-just-suppressed desire to eat it. Perhaps I could not ever really feel at home until I had learned to like Karachi. I'm working on it, Dear Reader, I'm working on it.
The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email:








REPORTS that the US military is secretly diverting more drones and weaponry from Afghanistan and deploying along Pakistan border are very disturbing and could lead to escalation of tension between the two countries. Already there had been a significant increase in drones attacks in North Waziristan during September, 2010 killing around 120 people.

US newspaper Wall Street Journal quoting unnamed US officials said Washington has classified Pakistan's tribal belt on the Afghan border as a global headquarters of Al Qaeda. After four consecutive violations of Pakistan's airspace by NATO helicopters including attack on a check post killing three security personnel have strained Pak-US relations and in retaliation Torkham crossing was closed for NATO supply containers. Though Chamman crossing is still open for supplies to the occupation forces in Afghanistan yet closure of Torkham route will adversely affect the food and military supplies to NATO troops. A joint investigation is under way about the circumstances, which led to the killing of Pakistani security personnel and NATO has apologized over it yet it appears that the coming weeks and months would be very difficult for Pakistan. We should be ready for more drone attacks because President Obama would like to see results for additional deployment of 30,000 US troops in Afghanistan by the middle of next year. Keeping in view the developing situation, it is essential that the political and military leadership must make it clear to the NATO commander in Afghanistan, US General Petraeus, the Pentagon and CIA that Pakistan can go to a certain extent to cooperate in the war on terror but would not compromise on its sovereignty. At the same time the Americans must be made to pay compensation for the innocent lives lost in the helicopter and drone attacks as they are doing in Afghanistan. We would also caution that of late the US and its western allies have been talking of possibility of terrorist attacks in Europe from the so-called militant sanctuaries in FATA and might make it a pretext to launch more air strikes across the border. Pakistan has a strong position and the West cannot win the war against terrorism without its cooperation. We must therefore assert strongly and tell them in categorical terms that ground or air violations by the NATO forces would not be tolerated in any case.








VIOLENT incidents at the Lahore Bar over the past few days have widened the gulf between the Bench and the Bar which is source of serious concern and those suffering the most are the litigants. According to reports twenty nine civil judges of Multan have tendered their resignations while over 100 judges of the district judiciary of Lahore went on strike to express solidarity with the Lahore High Court Chief Justice.

The trouble started with the demand of the Lahore District Bar for transfer of Sessions Judge Zawwar Ahmad Sheikh and a group of lawyers protested in front of the office of the Chief Justice to press for their demand. That led to clashes between the lawyers and the police on Friday. But the situation further deteriorated on Saturday when lawyers continued their protests and chanted slogans against the judiciary. The Punjab Bar Council members also joined their colleagues in the protest. What was most unfortunate was clash between police and the lawyers which turned the civil courts area of Lahore into a battle field after the arrest of some lawyers. The lawyers were so annoyed that they badly beaten up drivers sitting in police vehicles resulting in serious injuries to six policemen and damage to some vehicles. Some cameramen of private channels were also abused and thrashed by the lawyers accusing them of taking sides. Suspension of the membership and entry of senior and respectable lawyers by the Punjab Bar was another extreme step by the enraged lawyers as they appeared to be bent upon getting their demands accepted through their agitation. Postings and transfers of judicial officers is the sole prerogative of the honourable Chief Justices who know more than any body else where to post a Judge. The lawyers had conveyed their grievances against the Sessions Judge and the matter should have ended there. There was no justification for the lawyers to take law into their own hands and as protectors of law they must have acted in a respectable manner. We would impress upon the leadership of the legal fraternity to persuade their colleagues to give up agitation and start attending the courts so as to bring an end to this unfortunate tussle.





WHILE inflation has remained a headache for financial managers of the country and all policy decision taken in the past to bring it down to single digit have yielded no results, the situation has taken a serious turn and prices of vegetables, fruits and other consumer items have shot up manifolds in recent weeks. Though after the devastating floods, vast areas which were source of supply of vegetables came under water and the crops have been destroyed yet the middlemen are exploiting the short supply and raised the prices beyond the absorbing capacity of the consumers. 

The Minister for Food and Agriculture Nazar Mohammad Gondal at a function on Saturday rightly pointed out that the prices could come down significantly if the middlemen reduce their profit. These people are fleecing the producers and the consumers simultaneously but the government functionaries responsible to keep an eye on the prices appear to be in league with them and taking no action. Prices of onions, potatoes and tomatoes have registered more than 100% increase in the past two months while no vegetable is available below Rs 80 per kg in Rawalpindi and Islamabad and same is the position in other major cities. The Food Minister claimed that no food crisis was about to come yet he and his provincial colleagues are responsible to ensure adequate supply of commodities to keep their prices at affordable level. Due to floods the supply chain has been affected and now Indian vegetables are being sold in the local markets which is a shame for an agriculture country like Pakistan. This is a worrisome situation as people's patience cannot be tested for a long time. Therefore we would urge the Federal and Provincial Governments to give a serious thought to the soaring prices of consumer items and ensure their adequate availability in the market which is the only way to bring the prices down.









The devastating floods have wrought further havoc on an already ravaged economy. The economic soothsayers and the tax-happy planners are having a field day. The proverbial man-in-the-street, meanwhile, is learning to scrape through the hard way. Whether he comes through unscathed or even survives the exercise is the moot point. One has little to offer in the nature of consolation. It is only the lowly man-in-the-street one can easily identify oneself with. Bereft as he is of the knowledge of higher economics – macro or otherwise – and shorn of practically all that man is supposed to live by, his principle concern is less to achieve the next notch in 'per capita income' stakes and more to keep body and soul together until the next salvo. The question is: where does he go from here, if anywhere?

With the rosy promises of the powers that be ("Pakistan could be among the top five countries in Asia in terms of economic growth") to go by, he should by all accounts be on velvet. And yet he somehow cannot help having this queasy feeling at the pit of the stomach that 'all is not well in the Kingdom of Denmark', and that his lot is sinking rather than rising. Some time before the unveiling of the blessed budget, the prices of everyday commodities had already gone up through the ceiling. 

He had hopes that they'd come down after the presentation of what was touted as the 'poor man's budget'? They did not. As he decides on unkind cuts in his family's daily intake, he wonders why? Meanwhile, looking at the macro picture, poverty keeps on increasing, just as the rich keep on getting richer. Add to this the fact that the economic czars of the country are working in a frenzy to dispose of the family silver and you have a picture that is getting murkier and murkier with every passing day. All in all, in layman's terms, why is the micro-economy of the country not moving hand in hand with its macro sibling? The omens hardly look promising. The price of property booms to high heavens; corruption touches hitherto unachieved highs and shopkeepers merrily keep on raising the prices of necessities at will. Sources of water supply are being polluted with impunity while the price of bottled water spirals upwards. Parents are denied places for their children in public sector schools, while the Higher Education Commission pours millions into hair-brained schemes to produce a handful of PhDs out of the hat. The cost of living is skyrocketing while the purchasing power of the common man constantly goes down.

What is the man-in-the-street to believe then: the hogwash of the statisticians/economists in the pay of the authorities, or the facts of life? The priorities of the nation appear to have gone awry. Should our planners, such as they are, not be paying attention to curing the ills besetting the common man rather than nurturing illusory statistics? The man-in-the-street understandably feels let down. He feels he is being shortchanged at every step. The web of statistics and the increasingly rosy picture of the macro-economic development spun before him aside, what is he to make of the contradictory statements coming his way in the field of the security of the state, he has loved and cherished. When the government of the time went for the nuclear option, it was he who was asked to make the supreme sacrifice. It was he - and not the powers that be - that was exhorted to 'eat grass'. And look where that landed him? 

Then, it came to pass that he was told that the country's salvation lay down the CBM path. He swallowed the glib talk of the spin-doctors and the Foreign Office spokespersons – hook, line and sinker. Time and again, he was informed that there was more to the 'composite dialogue' than met the eye. In his naiveté, he not only swallowed that line but also enthusiastically applauded every time the oracles informed him that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. And now, he is left groping, wondering where the mirage of honourable peace with our neighbour that had been flashed before his tired eyes has vanished. 

All that he can discern is tattered bits of tape that had been used to paper-over the ever-widening cracks in the otherwise rotten edifice of the peace process. The country, meanwhile, is plunged up to its neck in an open-ended 'war on terrorism', in which it is constantly been exhorted to "do more". Do more for whom and for what? We are all what we have been brought up to be. Such is the way with all species. One can hardly expect fish to thrive in desert sands. The problem is that we have to deal with not natural environment but contrived and man-made environmental conditions. When peoples are brought up in bubbles, so to speak, where the very atmosphere is conveniently controlled to the optimum degree, subjective rather than objective considerations take hold. Some babies in the sterilized environment are now being weaned on 'designer water'. What on earth happened to natural clean drinking water? Do we have to pamper the multinationals to an extent that provision of clean drinking water figures nowhere in our set of priorities?

One is neither an economist nor a planner. Nevertheless, one has come to believe that no people can either survive or prosper on a diet of statistics alone. Mere percentages thrust down the throats of common folk just will not do. If figures have to be quoted then let them be in a tangible, easy to assimilate form. When targeting the man-in-the-street, let our advisers and planners eschew the habit of talking of macro or micro-economic indicators or of strewing statistics in his path.

Let them, instead, measure the annual progress of the country in terms of. A Number of additional persons provided with clean and safe drinking water. b) Number of additional clinics and hospital facilities provided to deprived sections of the society. c) Number of additional children provided admission in educational institutions. d) Number of additional midwifes and paramedical staff provided in rural and far-flung areas. e) Number of additional trees, not just planted but also nurtured. f) The trickle-down effect of the economic policies of the government; and so on. Once these small matters are sorted out, our planners may well be astonished to discover that such weighty issues as the economy's growth-rate and the GDP will take care of themselves. All depends on where our priorities lie!








Afghanistan's fourth elections, since the presence of foreign forces, could not radiate a refreshing effect due to low turnout and allegations of fraud. Merely 3.6 million votes were cast against over 17 million registered voters. It was the lowest tally of the elections held since 2001. This indicates incremental resurgence of Taliban's political influence. Law and order situation caused only 15-17% polling stations to remain non-functional. Around 2500 candidates, including 338 women, contested for 249 seats. This ten to one ratio between candidates and seats, coupled with low turnout of voters would mean that the winner would represent only 1-2% of the voters of his constituency.

The independent 'Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan', had deployed about 7,000 personnel to monitor the elections. Foundation has voiced "serious concerns" about the quality of the elections. Preliminary report indicates that the voting was marred by ballot-stuffing, proxy voting, underage voting, use of fake voter identification cards and repeated voting. The group's major concerns were "more than 300 instances of intimidation and coercion of voters" by local warlords and powerbrokers; some of these had close ties to Karzai Government. "We had more than 280 cases of direct attacks by the insurgents and we also had 157 cases of warlord interference in the process and the committed acts of violence," The Foundation reported.

Election observers have urged President Karzai to allow an independent investigation into reports of widespread fraud, intimidation of voters and interference by powerful warlords. Observers are of the view that a cover up of pervasive fraud, like the one during presidential elections, would further erode the standing of President Karzai at home and abroad and curtail his bargaining power with Taliban.

However, the State Electoral Commission has criticized the observer groups and the media for being "quick to imply [that] the electoral process is unsuccessful based on allegations of fraud and misconduct." The commission acknowledged "that cases of fraud and misconduct are inevitable in the current security climate" and it "is fully committed to working with 'Electoral Complaints Commission' to eliminate the effect from the final results as far as possible." This panel of five people is the final arbiter on fraud allegations, and it was the body that invalidated nearly a third of Karzai's votes last year. 

Now, this panel is significantly weaker than it was during the presidential election, when it was dominated by UN appointees. Now the entire panel has been appointed by the government. Taliban can rightfully claim the low turnout as a political victory, as they had called for a boycott of the polls. Nevertheless, the Western states and media are likely to proclaim success and embrace these elections as they did in case of fraudulent presidential polls. 

Afghans are dismayed at the behaviour of their political elite, this estrangement could very well be the underlying reason why majority of Afghans chose to turn cold shoulder towards elections. Acts of violence and intimidations were not strong enough to account for such a low turn out. 

These elections could create as many problems as were envisaged to be solved. These loose cannon parliamentarians could very well create serious problems for Karzai administration. So far, Karzai has been able to keep the constitutionally strong parliament in check by dealing with various key regional figures in an attempt to prevent a united opposition. However, current parliamentary elections would restrict his powers. That could undermine his policymaking capacity.

Major stakeholders in Afghanistan are aware that the contest amongst the category of politicians who participated in the electoral process is of trivial implication. It is the process of political reconciliation with main stream Taliban leaders that would determine the upcoming political landscape of Afghanistan. Pursuit of this objective is at a fairly advanced stage. Simultaneously, Taliban's politico-military momentum is on the rise which supports their harder bargaining position. Power sharing in Afghanistan is also hinged at the outcome of a settlement amongst the powers that be. 

Northern Alliance has been fighting Taliban for decades; due to this politico-military baggage, Alliance sternly opposes any viable power sharing arrangement with Taliban. Therefore, any such settlement would be far less than a 'carte blanche' for the Taliban. Nevertheless, Taliban are poised to emerge as dominant political authority in Afghanistan. Americans are trying to achieve a quick end to a costly war. Foreign troops' presence has touched its peak, and as per Vice President Baiden, a rapid drawdown should commence next summer. COIN is not going well; General Petraeus is of the opinion that overcoming the Taliban resistance could take another nine or ten years. Many in Washington also believe that the Taliban phenomenon is an indigenous political movement, that can't be defeated militarily, at least in the next few years. 

Afghanistan's rugged topography and complex demography make it difficult for a central government to project power into many parts of the country. As such, an Afghan central government can only maintain viability through regional autonomy. The current system of government features a strong central government. It hard to imagine that Afghan central government would continue to exist in its current form after the withdrawal of foreign forces. 

These elections are for a system of government that is being artificially maintained; its major tenets are likely to be bartered away during the process of negotiation with Taliban. Whatever is the outcome of these elections, it is likely to be detrimental to the efforts aimed at achieving politically stable conditions, conducive to a military drawdown. Hence, the parliamentary elections may amount to reverse paddling the effort for the future political arrangement.—The writer is international security, current affairs analyst and a former PAF Assistant Chief of Air Staff.







Located at the mouth of Persian Gulf, right at the proximity of the Straits of Hormuz, the Gwadar port of Pakistan has a strategic significance. Since the major shipping route connecting three main continents; Asia, Africa, and Europe are passing through the vicinity of this port, therefore, it has attained the status of a key strategic and commercial port. Over sixty percent of global trade and transportation of oil tankers takes place through the neighbouring waters of the Gwadar Port, the Straits of Hormuz. In connection with the global trade, Gwadar port presents itself as the best alternative and the storage port, as it can handle the major ships and oil tankers. "The 14.5-meter draft of the port will be able to accommodate up to "fifth-generation" ships, including Panamax and mother vessels."

The port was developed with the basic concept of stimulating the economic growth in the northern and western parts of Pakistan. Besides, the port was also aimed at providing the shortest possible approach to Arabian Sea to the landlocked Central Asian Republics and Afghanistan for their transhipment facilities. Pakistan's strategic and all weather friend China has developed the port in a record period of time through an initial investment of $248 million. Upon completion of its development, in March 2007, the port was handed over to the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), through open bidding for a period of forty years. As a concession, the PSA was given corporate tax exemption by Pakistan for the entire period of forty years. 

Although there have been other compelling factors like law and order situation in the Balochistan Province and neighbouring Afghanistan which have constrained the transhipment and transit. Nevertheless, these factors cannot be presented as an excuse for the development of additional berths and port's local expansion. In converse to the basic design of the port, still there exist "no facility for supporting the oil industry—even though the port was on the mouth of Gulf. Due to this, Pakistan is unable to attract investment in Gwadar from Gulf countries … in the oil and gas sector". Over the years, there has been many coherent information that, once Gwadar Port is fully operationalized, ports of neighbouring countries would lose their significance. Therefore, these countries have directly or indirectly contributed towards the destabilization of the areas surrounding the port. Local Baloch population was provoked in the name of Baloch sub-nationalism that their rights over their own land are being compromised by the Federal Government. Upon heavy funding by these countries, some mislead elements of the Province even acted as desired by the powers behind them. Even the basic developers of the port, the Chinese engineers were abducted and in many cases were killed or wounded. 

Irrespective of the factors behind this indolence, no commercial activities have taken place through this strategically situated port. In practical terms, these three years of port's administration with PSA have literally gone waste. Rather, the plotters and the administrators together with some indoors elements have amply relegated the significance of the port. No planned communication network like roads and railways could be developed to attract local or global investment. Similarly, CARs and Afghanistan also remained off the port for the obvious reasons of none availability of planned roads and railways network. We cannot leave the Gwadar Port as a white elephant for another thirty-seven years. The Port of Singapore Authority has given us sufficient grounds to revoke the agreement made in March 2007. Since our own expertise are limited in this field, therefore, let us go back to the basic developers of the port and ask our all-weather friend China to fully operationalize the port. Keeping the port for three years without paying any revenue to Pakistan should otherwise bind the PSA to pay compensation to Pakistan. Under the prevailing circumstances, there may be some repercussions of the handing over the port to the China. However, for the best national interest, we have to take a quick and rational decision. Otherwise, there is a realization at the strategic level that the mistake of handing over the ports administration to PSA has to be rectified now. Indeed, the denial of the port's administration to China was part of the "New Eurasian Great Game over Energy." US never desired a Chinese role in the exploration, transportation and future use of the energy resources (hydrocarbon) of the Central Asia, Caspian and the Middle East. Gwadar has such a geo-strategic and geo-economic significance that can enable China to exploit its future energy needs, much to the annoyance of U.S. 

Analysts view that the Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline, previously known as the Iran-Pakistan-India Pipeline (IPI) has the potential to be taken across the Khunjreeb pass to the Chinese territory, thus renaming it as the Iran-Pakistan-China (IPC) pipeline. Similarly, the pipelines from the Central Asia have the potentials to be taken to the Southern Chinese autonomous region of Xingjian through Gwadar. Currently over 50 % of Chinese oil is being imported from Middle Eastern countries, having religious and historical links with Pakistan. This oil transportation through oil tankers can take the form of the transportation through pipeline via Gwadar, the nearest and overland route to the Chinese soil. 

We should be mindful of these realities, especially, at a time once we have the presence of extra-regional forces (ERF) in our neighbourhood (Afghanistan). Moreover, in recent months, these ERF have started frequent incursions into our geo-graphical territory. Furthermore, Pakistan's eastern neighbour, India; a concurrent ally of US and Russia would covertly resist the Chinese taking over the port's administration. As now being revealed by Baloch sub-nationalists that, they were provoked to create a law and order situation in the Province by a combination of spying networks, which include; RAW, CIA, Mossad and MI-6. 

We can understand the mentality of so-called allies from the statement of Robert Kaplan, who says that, Gwadar's development would either unlock the riches of Central Asia, or plunge Pakistan into a savage, and potentially terminal, civil war. It appears that Pakistan's desires to unlock the riches of Central Asia and conversion of the port to a global economic hub, would invite the wrath of the global conspirators. However, we have to crush the conspiracies for the promotion of our national interests. In order to do that, the nation will have to differentiate between the covert enemies and the real friends, domestically as well as across the frontiers. 

—The writer is an IR analyst. 








The western forces have succeeded in depriving Taliban of public support in Pakistan; surely a difficult question to be answered. For the last many years the reality of the Taliban has been a matter of confusions and misunderstandings. Since its beginning, the Taliban movement was simply and purely an ideology-based exercise strongly tinged with the flavour of militancy, but with the passage of time, the ideology vanished and there remained nothing but militancy. 

More strange is the fact that this militancy proved more fatal and injurious to the Muslims than to the forces eager to crush the Taliban. If we cast a look at the damages caused by the Taliban, we would find a less number of the effected Americans but the list of the targeted Muslim would be unending. The situation gives birth to so many suspicions. Are they really the Taliban who are taking the lives of innocent Muslims including school going children and women shopping in markets and the old men offering their prayers in mosques? Are they really the Taliban who are slaughtering the soldiers and officers of the Pakistan army just to create panic and harassment? No they are not the Taliban because it is against the tradition of the Afghans and the Pathans to deceive and dodge their benefactors; and most of the original Taliban are of the same traditional origin. They could never betray those who had always been favoring and supporting them at the time of need, particularly when the Russian forces were the most determined in wiping them off the scenario.

It is nothing but a conspiracy based on the philosophy of divide and rule. The US conspirators had realized it in the very beginning that it would be next to impossible for them to defeat the Taliban in the battlefield. They also knew that the Taliban enjoy a very strong moral support from the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan and from rest of the world; so they could not be defeated unless they are deprived of such admiring support. There was only one solution to this problem; insurgency in the rows of the Taliban. For this purpose, there could be no other effective tool but India because India itself was very much worried about the increasing role of the Taliban in the Afghan region. India was very well aware of the fact that it would have to get out of the Afghan lands in case the Taliban get stronger. Further there were very vivid possibilities of Taliban joining hands with the separatist activists who are already a pain in the neck for the government of India. So the Indian hi-ups accepted the assignment of dividing Taliban as a very sacred mission. The first step taken in this regard was to establish Indian Consulates in Lashkargah, Koshila Jadeed and so many other cities of Afghanistan. One thing was very common in all these consulates that most of them were established along the Pak-Afghan border. Their assignment was to search for the people who were against the Taliban and who could fight against the Pakistan Army. The consulates not only made arrangements for their proper training but also provided them with unchecked and limitless financial support. With the passage of time these trained groups of terrorists grew stronger and stronger and ultimately started introducing themselves as so-called independent groups or off-shoots of Taliban. Such groups had nothing to do with the actual Taliban cause; they had their own intentions. These groups started targeting the innocent Muslims both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their suicidal attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan took lives of so many innocent citizens who had nothing to do with the USA or the NATTO forces. Then there came a time when the world known terrorist organization Black Water joined hands with these terrorist groups and added more cruelty and brutality to the activities already going on in the false-name of the so-called Taliban. With the joining of the Black Water there came into existence so many new groups of Taliban which became a grave challenge to the peace and security of the Pak-afghan region. With the passage of time the nefarious activities of these groups started expanding towards Baluchistan and soon the fact was revealed that this advancement towards Baluchistan was simply an attempt to keep China away from Gawadar port and create misunderstandings between Pakistan and china. The name of Islam and the original Taliban was misused for the attainment of specific aims and objectives.

It is certainly the achievement of the US planners that they succeeded in dividing the Taliban but it is going to be the last nail in the coffin of the worlds 'biggest democracy' India. Soon there will be a time when these misguided and de-tracked groups of US made Taliban would realize their folly and return to their origin with all the training and expertise which the Black Water had blessed upon them and their only target would be none but India. According to the latest reports the terrorist activities in Pakistan have no connection with the original Taliban movement, they are the handiwork of the Black Water working in collaboration with the CIA , Mossad and RAW. 

Wayne Madsen, the well known analyst says in an article referring to the suicidal attack in Quetta, "Xe Services, the company formerly known as Black Water, has been conducting false flag terrorist attacks in Pakistan that are later blamed on the entity called Pakistani Taliban." Some other sources confirm the involvement of the Xe Services in carrying out 'false flag' terrorist attacks not only in Pakistan but also in Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran, and Iraq and the Sinkiang region of China, in collaboration with the Mossad and RAW under the guidance of CIA. 

This situation must be eye-opening for all those who claim to be the Protectors of the message of Islam. Pakistan is the only patch of land in whole of the universe which has a soil very much fertile for the rebirth and regeneration of all that is good .So join hands together against the atrocities carried out in the name of religion. Make Pakistan stronger because its strength would add to the strength of all positive human values.

The writer is a defence, strategic affairs analyst. 








With the recent activation of the Bushehr nuclear reactor – a fully International Atomic Energy Agency-safeguarded facility – Iran has crossed the line. The Islamic Republic is no longer an aspirant member to the nuclear "club," but a nuclear state. It is therefore no longer realistic for the West to propose to negotiate with Iran while applying coercive sanctions as if it were a pre-nuclear state.

Bushehr's fuel presently is supplied by the Russians, but this foreign fuel soon will be exchanged for Iranian fuel. And Iran plans many more reactors. No state in such a position – with its domestic industry becoming heavily dependent on nuclear-generated electricity – is likely to continue to allow a foreign state to be the sole supplier of its fuel. That would effectively hold hostage the greater part of its domestic economy, with foreigners able, on a whim, to bring it all to a halt by pulling the plug on further supplies. Since the context to the nuclear issue has changed, inevitably the substance of negotiation must change as well. The US arrives at this Bushehr moment in the midst of a long debate about what to do if Iran were to reach nuclear "break-out capability."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates argued earlier this year that low-enriched uranium (LEU) might covertly be turned the into weapons grade material – thus attaining so-called "break-out capability." This, he suggested, could occur without US intelligence becoming aware of such a shift and therefore would risk the US being caught unawares. Secretary Gates has argued that the only solution to this dilemma would be for the US to acquire sufficient leverage over Iran to force it to "give up" most of its LEU – thus eliminating the possibility of Iran having sufficient LEU to "break out."

This argument harkens back to an old US doctrine that there is essentially no substantive difference between peaceful and weapons-oriented enrichment since, the argument goes, the two paths are technically identical. Of course, if this holds true, Iran by definition is bound to reach "break-out" – just as any state such as Japan that is enriching quantities of LEU will have a technical "break-out" capacity. It goes with the territory of nuclear energy.

But when Mr. Gates uses that other loaded word, "leverage," we are talking something different. "Leverage" over a state already possessing a reactor and a fuel cycle can only mean threatening Iran with war or robust military containment should its fuel stocks not be duly "relinquished." So far, President Obama has refused to endorse a "break out" conditionality as hawks such as Gates are urging on him.

For its part, Iran insists that the long-standing US doctrine of indistinguishability in enrichment is a false one. In the Iranian view, the peaceful use of enrichment can indeed be distinguished from a weapons-dedicated process: One can be safeguarded, whereas the other cannot be. 

As long ago as 2005, the then-Iranian negotiator on nuclear issues, Ali Larijani, proposed a three-track solution to the Europeans: 1) centrifuges that are incapable of enrichment beyond a low limit, 2) joint ownership with Europe of the enrichment facilities themselves, and 3) additional intrusive surveillance. The European "Three" did not deign to give a response. Under former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's influence they were dead-set on only a permanent end to enrichment.

In this new post-Bushehr reality, it is no longer realistic for the West to be stuck in a "no enrichment," "no break-out" posture. Now, Iran is signaling a readiness to negotiate its nuclear posture with a proposal for Russia or China, or even others, to jointly participate in an enrichment facility based in Iran. This constitutes a clear pointer in the direction of a safeguarded solution. But can the US and Europe take the hint this time?

With the opening of the Bushehr facility, Iran's nuclear program cannot be rolled back. The US and the rest of the West should engage this proposal seriously. The only other alternative is a course already gaining momentum – a huge arms build-up in the Sunni Arab states, supplied by Western arms manufacturers, that could well lead one day to a new war in the Middle East that no one wants. The writer is a former MI6 agent in the Middle East, is the author of "Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution." He is also director of the Conflicts Forum in Beirut. — The Christian Science Monitor.








AND finally to the main game. No matter how important politics and economics may be, we suspect that fiscal policy and the price of carbon will be little discussed in office tea rooms or corner coffee shops this morning.


It's sport, stupid, or it will be after a weekend like this. As we went to press, the Commonwealth Games was about to open in Delhi. The October sportsfest has barely begun.


Sport occupies a sacred place in the vibrant national conversation that nourishes our democracy and enhances our shared sense of nationhood. We strongly disagree with a small but vocal group of inner-urban sophisticates who dismiss sport as trivial and mock its followers. We remain a nation proudly divided by our sporting allegiances. We cannot even agree on the meaning of the word football. Yet paradoxically, sport is one of the great societal levellers, the common ground on which everyone can converse.


In a globally connected, multi-ethnic age, sport embodies the values that define Australians. Graft, commitment

and teamwork, a confidence that cheats never prosper, grit and persistence are chief among them. But let's not forget hope. However dismal the past two decades have been, this could just be your year. Over to you, Mick Malthouse.






BRUSSELS eurocrats could write the book on circumventing free trade pacts and the devious web of complex subsidies, concessions and handouts, the EU has developed over the years.


Now comes another euroscam, this time in a fashionable shade of green, with talk of trade retaliation against nations that have not put a price on carbon. This has nothing to do with saving the planet, but everything to do with trying to save the EU, which is struggling to rebuild its financial system and its credibility.


Politicians such as Greens senator Christine Milne, who claim that Australia is one of the "laggards" on the planet because 32 countries have imposed emissions trading, rarely mention that 27 of these have done so under the Brussels-run EU emissions trading scheme that began in 2005. This allows pages of heavy industry and agricultural exemptions.


Trade Minister Craig Emerson told Sky News's Australian Agenda yesterday he was determined to resist Europe's l protectionist sentiment disguised under a green cloak of respectability. He has committed to do whatever it takes under World Trade Organisation rules to work against the tactic, which should win him the support of free trade economists and lobbyists in many trading nations. International economic literature shows economists increasingly recognise that both European consumers and the workers of other trading nations, including developing nations, would be the losers if Europe's newfound green protectionism is allowed to take hold. American Enterprise Institute economists, among others, have begun arguing for the WTO to define green protectionism as an illegitimate interference by governments in the marketplace that should be penalised. Australia should harness such sentiment and draw other nations that stand to lose from the EU approach into the fight. We should find plenty of allies. Already, European "green" protectionism is adversely affecting exports of palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia, where the industry employs hundreds of thousands of workers.


At a time when recovery in Europe's manufacturing and services sectors has stalled, the EU would do better defending its interests by sorting out the eurozone's internal problems, especially those relating to Greek and Irish debt. Europe cannot be allowed to unleash a new form of protectionism to strangle free trade, the lifeblood of the world economy.


While Dr Emerson's explicit target was the EU, his comments contained unspoken messages for politicians closer to home, which from a politician of his experience were surely not accidental. First, it was warning to the Greens and Bob Katter of the importance of free trade to the Australian economy, a subject Tim Wilson explores in these pages today. Second, it was a repudiation of the thinly disguised protectionist measures the Rudd government introduced under the pretence of environmentalism, such as the green car scheme. Dr Emerson cut his political teeth under Bob Hawke, a prime minister who recognised the stultifying effects of protectionism in a globalised economy. His message is that the price of economic liberty is eternal vigilance








But there could no worse time than now, with interest rates on the way up and the Treasury warning the Gillard government that it will struggle to achieve a budget surplus in 2012-13 without spending cuts. For savings, the government need look no further than its Auditor-General's report, which warns that taxpayers may be getting poor value in up to three-quarters of government purchases. After the waste of the school building and pink batts programs, purchasing practices warrant scrutiny. Labor would do well to revive the rigorous spirit of Paul Keating's National Competition Policy, which emphasised best value for money in the provision of government services, and apply its tenets to its own procurement systems.

Potential savings would be significant, given the Australian National Audit Office reported last week that federal government agencies failed to routinely compare prices when buying goods and services worth $10.2bn last year. As Natasha Bita reports, only one-third of federal contracts are put to open tender. Auditor-General Ian McPhee found agencies were unable to demonstrate value for money in three-quarters of 285 untendered contracts analysed by the ANAO, suggesting it is doubtful whether taxpayers are receiving the best deal. This is far short of the tight fiscal approach recommended by Treasury and Finance officials in the "Red Book" brief. There is no room for waste when as well as its election promises, the government is committed to major spending on redevelopment of the Royal Hobart Hospital and further health, education and regional spending announced post-election to woo the independents.


And with the Red Book advocating further investment in infrastructure to help reverse the current productivity slowdown, the ideal time to tighten purchasing rules is before any more major projects are launched, including further investment in the National Broadband Network. Government departments need some discretion to use direct procurement, but in light of the price gouging uncovered by The Australian in Building the Education Revolution stimulus projects, such as NSW state schools paying twice as much per square metre for the same buildings as Catholic schools, it is doubtful whether government departments should have carte blanche to sign construction contracts worth up to $9 million, or $80,000 for other goods and services.


While governments need to be as fiscally responsible as possible, the cold truth pinpointed by Milton Friedman in 2004 is that companies and individuals generally find better value. Friedman observed: "There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you're doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I'm not so careful about the content of the present, but I'm very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else's money on myself. And if I spend somebody else's money on myself, then I'm sure going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else's money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else's money on somebody else, I'm not concerned about how much it is, and I'm not concerned about what I get. And that's government."








It has not taken long for NSW Labor's attempt to bring political donations under control to start to fray. As the Herald reported last week, the party appears to have broken the rules it was looking to set for political donations by accepting a donation of $75,000 from a company controlled by a property developer. The developer denies his company gave the money. The Premier, Kristina Keneally, has released legal advice obtained by the government which states that a developer is not breaking the rules if donations are made by a shelf company which is not involved in property development. Whether or not that is what has happened here, the advice shows the rules contain a large loophole which makes them useless in practice.


The need for rules to control donations from businesses to political parties was shown by our report on Saturday that the club industry has switched allegiance from Labor, its former favourite, to the Nationals - on the basis that the National Party MP George Souris will become the minister for gaming and racing in a Coalition government. We do not suggest that Souris will be swayed by such donations, but - as with the industry's donations to Labor - the industry appears to think his party can be, and appearances matter. They matter particularly to the voters of NSW, who do not want their politicians even to appear to be beholden to wealthy vested interests.


Labor's suggested rules covering political donations contain, as we have said, some good ideas - but also some bad ones. The over-generous limits on the amounts third parties can spend in support of either side have been rightly criticised by the Greens and the Liberals. Labor will not get the bipartisan support it says it is seeking. Seeking bipartisanship in fact looks increasingly like a tactic to wrongfoot the opposition on the issue - one which will rebound on Labor.


The Leader of the Opposition, Barry O'Farrell, has said he would ban all political donations from businesses, and restrict the right to donate to individuals whose names appear on the NSW electoral roll.