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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month october 07, edition 000645, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- THE SPIRIT OF TIBET SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
- NEW LAW LOOKS GOOD
- UNPUNISHED CRIME
- AFGHAN WAR ENTERS TENTH YEAR
- AN OTHERWISE JUDICIOUS VERDICT -S GURUMURTHY
- TOKEN MEASURES ARE UNLIKELY TO WORK IN J- K
- TELLING THE TRUTH FOR ONCE
- IT WAS A FAMOUS VICTORY
- CWG FIASCO IS A METAPHOR OF OUR DAILY EXPERIENCE M BY GAUTAM BHATIA
- A PUJA OF BOTH HOPE AND DESPAIR FOR BENGAL -= ANIRBAN ROY
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- A THOUGHT FOR FOOD
- SPARE THE ROD
- TILL JUDGEMENT DAY COMES AGAIN - RONOJOY SEN
- A VERY VALUABLE PLAYER
- GREAT, BUT NOT AMONG THE GREATEST
- IN ILLNESS, OLD DREAM IS REALIZED
- TRUE CONFESSIONS: HOW I BECAME A TOTAL PAGE TREE PERSON - BACHI KARKARIA
- GIVEN THE ROYAL SLIP
- GO BY FACTS, NOT FEELINGS
- STOP TALKING! HEAR US - SAMAR HALARNKAR,
- AN UNEVEN PLAYING FIELD
- HOT BOT
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- SAY IT AS IT'S NOT
- STATES OF PROGRESS
- THE DRUG HABIT
- NO CLOSURE, YET - MK VENU
- THE SENA'S STUMBLING MARCH - RAKSHIT SONAWANE
- STEEL IN THE WRISTS - MIHIR S. SHARMA
- CLOSING KHYBER - C. RAJA MOHAN
- THE 'BEAUTIFUL' GAMES - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
- TEST TUBE VINDICATION - ROBIN MARANTZ HENIG
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- HOLD THE CHAMPAGNE
- RUPEE VERSUS REVIVAL
- RIDING THE VALUE CREATION MANTRA - ARINDAM BHATTACHARYA
- WHAT I STEEL IS MINE - RISHI RAJ
- NOBEL JOURNEY
- "PLAYFUL" DISCOVERY, PROFOUND RESULTS
- A CHALLENGING TASK
- LOOK EAST POLICY MILLENNIA APART - N. RAVI
- JAPAN RECYCLES MINERALS FROM USED ELECTRONICS - HIROKO TABUCHI
- FLOODWATERS WELCOMED IN INDUS DELTA - DECLAN WALSH
- NEW SPECIES IN MEKONG AREA
- ONE VERDICT, MANY QUESTIONS
THE ASIAN AGE
- GOLD KEEPS RISING, NO END IS IN SIGHT
- A YEN FOR JAPAN - SRINATH RAGHAVAN
- SHOULD TV SHOWS BE LIONISING DACOITS?
- TELECOM REVOLUTION SHOWS ITS WARTS
- AUSTRALIA'S NEMESIS IS A TRUE CHAMPION
- RESPONSIBLE PEOPLE NEVER COMPLAIN - N RAGHURAMAN
- THE WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY MAY BE CLOSING IN AYODHYA
- AYODHYA VERDICT CONTRADICTS OUR SECULAR CREDENTIALS - ANTARA DEV SEN
THE KASHMIR TIMES
- INTERLOCKING INTERLOCUTORS
- DELAYED RAVI CANAL LINK
- GAMES INDIA ISN'T READY TO PLAY - PANKAJ MISHRA
- IN A NEW ROLE
- 1952 Delhi agreementsswhat were promises and who reneged ? - By P C Dogra
- FOOD SECURITY - BY SATYENDRA PRATAP SINGH
- HIGHER EDUCATION SYSTEM NEEDS TO BE STREAMLINED - BY DR P K VASUDEVA
- OVERDUE REFORM
- ACQUITTAL, GALLOWS, LIFE TERM
- MUSHARRAF'S CONFESSION
- EFFORTS FOR PEACE IN THE VALLEY - BY BALRAJ PURI
- RETIREMENT BLUES - BY HARBANS SINGH VIRDI
- FEMALE CRIMINALITY AND MALE PERCEPTION - SARVESH KAUSHAL
- CRIME AND WOMEN - CHITLEEN K SETHI
- CHICKEN SOUP FOR INDIA
- FEAR OF VOLATILITY
- EU TRIPS THE POOR
- BROAD-BASING BROADBAND - SHYAM PONAPPA
- LITTLE CARE FOR HEALTH CARE - ARVIND SINGHAL
- OLYMPICS NEXT? IS IT A JOKE? - BARUN ROY
- INDIA'S ANAEMIC REACTION - INDICUS ANALYTICS
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- YES, YOUR HONOUR!
- COOPERATIVES AND COMPANIES
- EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
- ROTTING GRAIN & JUDICIAL TRANSGRESSION
- WOOLLY HEADS AND THE ARMS TRADE - NAJEEBMUBARKI
- REDEEM LAW FROM AYODHYA PERVERSION - T K ARUN
- CALLING MARA FOR HIGH TEA - VITHALC NADKARNI
- GOLD KEEPS RISING, NO END IS IN SIGHT
- A YEN FOR JAPAN - BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN
- CLEAN-TECH FIGHT: TERMINATOR VS BIG OIL - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- 'PAKISTAN IS ALWAYS SEEN AS THE ROGUE'
- KASHMIR: CHANCES OF PEACE - BY D. RAJA
- A HEADACHE CALLED PAKISTAN BY K.C. SINGH
- PRESIDENCY'S FIRST LADY
- HEED THE JEERS
- MOUNTAIN BARRIERS - SALMAN HAIDAR
- POLITICAL CRISIS BREWING IN PAKISTAN? - ML KOTRU
- NOBEL PRIZE THAT WAS MADE IN MANCHESTER
- 100 YEARS AGO TODAY
- A LONELY JOB
- HANDING IT OVER
- POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP - ALAKA M. BASU
- FOREVER STUCK IN A CYCLE OF DEBT AND DEATH
- DELAYED HONOUR
- FAILURE OF SUBSIDY REGIME - BY S L RAO
- DEVELOPMENT SHOULD BE IN RIGHT PROPORTIONS - BY SUDHA NARASIMHACHAR
- A PHASE BOOK - BY KAMALA BALACHANDRAN
THE JERUSALEM POST
- THE WAR ON TERROR
- WASHINGTON WATCH: ISRAEL NEEDS A REAL FOREIGN MINISTER - BY D. BLOOMFIELD
- CANDIDLY SPEAKING: A TRUST BETRAYED - BY ISI LEIBLER
- FUNDAMENTALLY FREUND: TIME TO REIN IN OBAMA - BY MICHAEL FREUND
- RATTLING THE CAGE: PITY RICK DIDN'T RAG THE MUSLIMS - BY LARRY DERFNER
- THE DANGERS OF TOLERATING JEWISH TERRORISM - BY YIZHAR HESS
- RUSSIA: HANDLE WITH CARE - BY JEREMY SHARON
- THE LOD PROBLEM AND ITS ROOTS
- BUSH WRITTEN, OBAMA APPROVED - BY ARI SHAVIT
- REVIVING THE PAST - BY ISRAEL HAREL
- LET'S PARTY LIKE IT'S 1973 - BY GIDEON LEVY
- SEA OF CORRUPTION - BY MERAV MICHAELI
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- LAMENTABLE SPEECH
- THEY NEED TO TALK
- RETRENCHMENT, BY THE NUMBERS
- WHY FIREMEN LET THAT HOUSE BURN DOWN
- TRIFECTA OF TORMENT
- BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
- CONNECTICUT ON THE ROPES - BY GAIL COLLINS
- NO FOOD STAMPS FOR SODAS - BY THOMAS FARLEY AND RICHARD F. DAINES
- THE SEAT NOT TAKEN - BY JOHN EDGAR WIDEMAN
- OUR VIEW ON MARKETS: FLASH-CRASH ANALYSIS LEAVES INVESTORS REASON TO WORRY
- OPPOSING VIEW ON MARKETS: SEC, CFTC WEIGHING SAFEGUARDS - BY MARY L. SCHAPIRO AND GARY GENSLER
- IS THE TEA PARTY HERE TO STAY? - BY CAL THOMAS AND BOB BECKEL
- WILL TECHNOLOGY KILL BOOK PUBLISHING? NOT EVEN CLOSE - BY HAROLD MCGRAW III AND PHILIP RUPPEL
TIMES FREE PRESS
- DONOR DISCLOSURE A MUST
- A MIRACLE AT CHILEAN MINE?
- WHAT SHOULD WATER COST?
- STRANGE MATH
- WHERE THEIR DONATIONS GO
- ATROCIOUS MULTIPLE MURDERS
- FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - WHO RATES THE RATING AGENCIES?
- RACISM CASTS SHADOW ON TURKISH-GERMAN NATIONAL MATCH - BARÇIN YİNANÇ
- BEING CAPABLE OF WHAT NORWAY DID - SAMİ KOHEN
- THE (LESS) TOLERANT NETHERLANDS - GWYNNE DYER
- THE COMMUNITY IS STILL BEHIND ITS SHADOW - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
- SHORTAGE OF SMILES MAKES THE HEART GROW WEAKER - RICHARD REID
- APPLE'S PATH TO NO. 1 GOES THROUGH LIVING ROOM - RICH JAROSLOVSKY
- DEMOCRATIC POLITICS - YUSUF KANLI
- WEEDING-OUT TIME
- THE TAX HUNT
- POWER PROBLEM
- DOES MUSHARRAF STAND A CHANCE? - RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
- NO CAUSE FOR AMUSEMENT - S KHALID HUSAIN
- REBUILDING THE ARK - SHAMSHAD AHMAD
- NOCTURNAL MOVES - RAOOF HASAN
- RETURN OF RAMBO - ANJUM NIAZ
- SNATCHING MORSEL FROM POOR MAN
- MUSHARRAF GOES BERSERK
- OBAMA UNWILLING TO SEE WRITING ON THE WALL
- SIMMERING CAULDRON OF KASHMIR - ASIF HAROON RAJA
- HIJACKING THE SPIRIT OF FISSBAN! - AIR CDRE KHALID IQBAL (R)
- MUSHARRAF TAKES A PLUNGE INTO POLITICS - BURHANUDDIN HASAN
- IS KARZAI BECOMING ANOTHER SHAH SHUJA? - LUTFUR RAHMAN
- AT RISK FROM THE WOMB - NICHOLAS D KRISTOF
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- A USEFUL WEAPON OF LAST RESORT
- NO BICKERING OVER AFGHANISTAN
- THE HIGH PRICE OF POOR PLANNING ON SOLAR POWER
- DIVIDED CITY TEARS AT SOCIAL FABRIC
- PUTTING THE DAM TO A PUBLIC TEST
- REPORT ON JUVENILE JUSTICE SHAMES VICTORIA
- COALITION MUST REDEFINE ITSELF ON IR
- AFGHANISTAN: WAR WITHOUT END
- IN PRAISE OF JONATHAN FRANZEN
THE JAPAN TIMES
- BOJ MOVES TO PROP UP ECONOMY
- MR. KAN, MR. WEN HIT RESTART - BY KAZUO OGOURA
- DEPTH OF THE JAPAN-CHINA RIFT
- GOING HOME IS SUCH A BITTERSWEET EXPERIENCE - BY CESAR CHELALA
- BURMA'S DEMOCRATIC CHARADE FOOLS NO ONE - BY VACLAV HAVEL ET AL.
THE JAKARTA POST
- THE SHARP TURNAROUND
- WATER-FOOD-ENERGY NEXUS IN ASIA- ARJUN THAPAN
- THE TIPPING POINT, TERRORISM AND CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY - JENNIE S. BEV
- WHY PAPUAN LEADERS WENT TO THE US CONGRESS? - BUDI HERNAWAN
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- UNITED RUSSIA IS NO PARTY OF POWER - BY KONSTANTIN SONIN
- CYPRUS PROSPERS THANKS TO RUSSIAN 'OCCUPATION' - BY VALENTIN PRUSSAKOV
- HOW TO BECOME DOLLAR-FREE - BY ADRIAN PABST
THE SPIRIT OF TIBET
SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
With or without a Dalai Lama and no matter what China says, the Tibetan diaspora will evolve into a state without territory
Singapore's Foreign Minister, Mr George Yeo, was right in writing in a syndicated article that "Tibet is part of a much larger Asian drama that is changing the world". But he probably wasn't thinking of the manifestations of an indomitable human spirit I witnessed in a Brussels flat last Sunday evening. That true face of heroism makes Tibet sui generis.
We were in Brussels under the aegis of the Asia-Europe Foundation to discuss some of the issues that the leaders of Asia and Europe would grapple with at the next day's summit at the Royal Palace. Once the Editors Roundtable, as our group was called, ended, I walked down the deserted road from my hotel to the Avenue des Arts where the Bureau du Tibet functions modestly. Tashi Wangdi, an old friend from Delhi who has spent the last few years in New York, and is regarded as one of the most sagacious members of the Dalai Lama's administration, is now in charge. I knew he would be working late. Why became clear when the doorbell shrilled at 9.00 pm. "Another voter!" Tashi exclaimed, and someone rushed to activate the door-opening mechanism downstairs so that the caller could come up.
The drama was repeated twice more, the last time around 10 o' clock at night. A cheerful Hindi-speaking middle-aged woman, a sturdy youth and an older man in a responsible leadership position proposed a name for Kalon Tripa or Prime Minister, and for Europe's two representatives in the community's 46-member Parliament. Watching them completing their forms, pale green for Parliament and the white 'Kalon Tripa's Primary Election Form', it occurred to me they were performing a minuet in the elaborate dance of democracy to which the 1,50,000 Tibetan exiles are committed only because of the Dalai Lama.
For each it was an act of faith that puts to shame the calculations of strategists who think of Tibet only in terms of 'wedge' or 'link' in Sino-Indian relations. It might be either or both but stressing that stunts the humanity of those three actors in what must be the world's most extraordinary one-day global polls.
As Sunday evening's Internet news proclaimed, the process is not without hazards. Armed police stormed at least three polling booths in Nepal and seized the ballot boxes. Apparently, the Nepalese Home Ministry sanctioned the raid. Why? I was reminded of the practical and ideological compulsions of Nepal's Maoist politicians.
The visit to Kathmandu last month of Mr He Yong, secretary of the 17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, with a high-level 21-member delegation may have been significant as indication of tightening screws. Kathmandu's reported earlier acquiescence in Beijing's proposal for a joint mechanism to share intelligence on "anti-China activities" was thought to mean ominously that closer tabs would be kept on the 20,000 Tibetan refugees in Nepal and the information collected forwarded to China. Mr He complimented Kathmandu on diligently doing as it was told. He was pleased with "Nepal's 'One China' policy and the alertness adopted by the country over the Tibet issue."
The origins of the voting, which passed smoothly in Brussels where more than 60 Tibetans exercised the franchise throughout the day but was rudely disturbed in Nepal, go back to the Dalai Lama's political realism that led to the first Tibetan Parliament in 1960. Understanding long before Singapore's Foreign Minister pointed out that "old Tibet" whose "political economy was based on the feudal domination of monasteries over rural serfs" was not Shangri-La and "should not be romanticised," the Dalai Lama invited suggestions from all Tibetans in exile on a draft democratic Constitution. It's said that India's first President, Rajendra Prasad, scrutinised and approved the document which was announced in 1963.
Other consultations followed and, eventually, a draft Charter set up three autonomous institutional bodies to democratise the polity in exile. It's a system of great complexity with 65 local election commissions in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Europe, North America, Taiwan, Japan and Australia under the two-tier Central Election Commission in a unique blend of Buddhist and United Nations principles that seems to meet most expectations except, perhaps, those of groups like the Tibetan Youth Congress which are impatient of the Dalai Lama's conciliatory Middle Way approach. But even they are included in the evolutionary process, and in the special conference the Dalai Lama called in Dharamsala in November 2008. The legislative system under India's arbitration procedure permits eventual recourse to the mainstream courts.
The future prompts speculation as the Dalai Lama at 74 confesses to intimations of mortality and suggests that his incarnation might be born "outside China". However, loyal Tibetans do not take this to mean as Mr Yeo assumes "Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh where the 6th Dalai Lama came from, a Tibetan area controlled by India but claimed by China". All of Tibet is "outside China" for anyone save Chinese nationalists, whether at home in China or in the diaspora.
The three voters I watched until the six ballot boxes were sealed and taken away were as unimpressed by Mao Tse-tung's "peaceful liberation" and redistribution of monastic lands as they are uninterested in Tawang's status which exercises many Indians who read Mr Yeo's views. They are waiting now for the final voting on March 20 and the results that have been promised by the end of April. The great hope is that the next Kalon Tripa will be as learned and wise as Professor Samdhong Rimpoche, head of the Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies at Sarnath and sometime chairman of India's society of vice-chancellors, who cannot stand for a third term.
Beyond that, last Sunday's election promises that with or without a Dalai Lama whom the world recognises, and no matter what China says, the Tibetan diaspora will evolve into a state without territory. Westphalian theory is not Asian reality.
Meanwhile, Tibetans even here in Brussels wonder why the soft-spoken devoutly Catholic Mr Yeo should hob-nob with the controversial Chinese-nominated Panchen Lama when the youth they regard as the true holder of the title has disappeared in the maws of the Chinese state. His action is contrasted with the impartiality displayed by Singapore's veteran creator, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who snubbed Premier Hua Guo Feng by refusing to accept his gift of Neville Maxwell's controversial book, India's China War.
NEW LAW LOOKS GOOD
IT WILL ENSURE JUDICIAL ACCOUNTABILITY
There is no reason for the judiciary to be perturbed by the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill 2010, cleared by the Union Cabinet earlier this week, because the proposed legislation seeks to neither curb its independence nor impose the will of the executive on its functioning. In fact, the draft Bill is in keeping with the growing popular demand for transparency and accountability in public institutions something that our courts themselves have emphasised on several occasions. The need for a fresh legislation arose after it became clear that the Judges Inquiry Act of 1968 now lapsed had failed to adequately address issues related to perceived acts of impropriety committed by judges. Even if such incidents have been more an exception than the rule, the guilty have gone virtually unpunished. For instance, there has not been a single instance where a judge has had to make an exit after being impeached simply because the procedures are so cumbersome and often lead to partisan voting. While the new Bill does not make impeachment easier, it at least provides for various levels of punishment that did not previously exist. If the Bill is approved, errant judges can be censured and work taken away from them. In exceptional cases, they can be asked to put in their papers. The best part about the Bill is that it will establish a mechanism for aggrieved citizens to file complaints against judges. At the same time the Bill is fair to the judges since the quantum of punishment will depend on the nature of impropriety. Apprehensions that the executive will now have a larger say in judicial administration because of the National Judicial Oversight Committee that the Bill envisages to look into complaints against members of the higher judiciary are entirely misplaced. The proposed five-member panel will have a Supreme Court judge and the Chief Justice of a High Court who will be selected in consultation with the Chief Justice of India. Besides, the committee will be headed by a retired Chief Justice of India. Since the serving Chief Justice of India will play a crucial role in deciding the composition of the panel, the member nominated by the executive will have little scope to play mischief.
There may be some merit in the counter-argument that the earlier Judges Inquiry Act of 1968 failed not because of lacunae in the law but the failure of the executive to ensure the impeachment of errant judges. Either the parliamentarians failed to muster the requisite number of signatories to an appeal for impeachment or, when they did succeed, the treasury benches stalled the effort in Parliament. But that is precisely why a new law is needed to ensure misconduct does not go unpunished. Since the other solution a complete overhaul of the system of impeachment is an elaborate affair that will take time, why should anyone object if at least immediate concerns of ensuring accountability and transparency by the judiciary are met? The proposed law deserves to be welcomed by all.
A MURDERER GETS AWAY WITH LIFE
The final verdict on the Priyadarshini Mattoo case is out as the Supreme Court has upheld the guilty verdict awarded to accused Santosh Singh by the Delhi High Court. But the Supreme Court has upturned the justly deserved death sentence given to the criminal who raped and murdered a defenceless woman, arguing that the tragic incident did not amount to a "rarest of rare crime". This is a sad reflection of our times when such ghastly misdeeds are no longer considered to be out of the ordinary. What makes the Priyadarshini Mattoo case unique is that the same set of evidence has led to three different verdicts that can only raise questions about the criminal justice system in our country. The case has taken several twists and turns over the past decade. Priyadarshini Mattoo, a 23-year-old law student, was stalked by the guilty man for two years before being raped and brutally murdered in January 1996. Santosh Singh, her senior at college, battered her face first with a helmet and then strangled her to death. But the trial court acquitted him due to "lack of evidence". The judge famously pulled up the investigating agency, saying, "I know he is guilty but my hands are tied." Critics had then pointed out that Santosh Singh had got away because he was well connected. That created a furore and the Delhi High Court, when it heard the appeal, concluded that Santosh Singh was indeed guilty and sentenced him to death in 2000, terming the murder as a "rarest of rare crime" because the accused was educated and aware of the consequences of such a heinous crime. Four years later, the apex court has commuted the death sentence to life sentence, giving merits to his appeal.
The case is definitely a comment on the inconsistency of our judiciary and the prolonged legal process. Interestingly, Santosh Singh's helmet, which was later recovered and presented as substantial evidence against him, and critical DNA tests conducted on him that directly linked him to the rape and murder of Priyadarshini Mattoo were rejected by the trial court. But the same evidence was later accepted as "incriminating evidence" by the High Court. The case came under public scrutiny when the trial court delayed it under hilarious pretexts like unable to conduct hearing due to lack of time and severe power cuts. The police played an accomplice because Santosh Singh's father was a top cop who did his best to tamper with the evidence. In a bid to save the face of one of their own, the police told the court it couldn't trace the key witness the domestic help when the media found him living in his village. The case has now come to a closure. But the Supreme Court's verdict may not serve the ends of justice because Santosh Singh has not been made to pay for his crime: He snuffed out a life ruthlessly, remorselessly; he is not deserving of any mercy. He should have gone to the gallows for killing Priyadarshini Mattoo.
AFGHAN WAR ENTERS TENTH YEAR
With declining public support, the key players in the war on Taliban and Al Qaeda are hedging their bets as to what the future holds. With the Obama Administration eager to get US troops out of Afghanistan and cut a deal with the 'good' Taliban, Afghans, haunted by the past, face uncertain times, writes Deb Riechmann
The war in Afghanistan enters its 10th year on Thursday, October 7, with key players hedging their bets, uncertain whether the Obama Administration is prepared to stay for the long haul, move quickly to exit an increasingly unpopular conflict, or something in between.
Fearing that his Western allies may in the end abandon him, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has started to prepare his nation for a withdrawal of international forces by shoring up relations with neighbouring Pakistan and reaching out to insurgents interested in reconciliation.
Pakistan, America's nominal ally, says it's fighting insurgents. But it still tolerates Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban militants hiding out on its soil out of reach of US-led Nato ground forces. There have been other important junctures, but this ninth anniversary is proving decisive. It's go-for-broke time in Afghanistan.
Public support for the war is slipping in the United States and Western Europe. Already, the Netherlands has pulled out its troops, the first Nato country to do so. The Canadians leave next. Patience is running out here as well. Afghans are tired of the violence, increasingly resentful of foreign forces. Many wonder why their quality of life has not markedly improved when their nation has been awash in billions of dollars of foreign aid.
"Nato is here and they say they are fighting terrorism, and this is the 10th year and there is no result yet," Mr Karzai said in an emotional speech last week. "Our sons cannot go to school because of bombs and suicide attacks."
All this is very different from the near universal international support the Bush Administration enjoyed when it launched attacks on October 7, 2001. The war was aimed at toppling the Taliban from power because they harboured Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders responsible for the stunning strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon less than a month earlier.
The hardline Islamic regime, which repressed women, banned music and held public executions for disloyal actions, collapsed within two months.
But looking back at the first years of the war, the effort was underfunded from the start. When the Bush Administration's attention shifted to Iraq in 2003, the Taliban began to regroup. After several years of relative calm and safety, the situation in Afghanistan began to deteriorate around 2006. The Taliban have steadily gained strength since then. And Osama bin Laden remains alive.
President Barack Obama ramped up the war this year, sending tens of thousands more troops. Casualties are running at their highest levels since 2001, when the Taliban were overthrown without a single American combat death. The US death toll in July was 66, setting a monthly record; to date, about 2,000 Nato troops have died in the conflict, including more than 1,220 American service men and women.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in June that the US and its Nato partners have to show progress before the end of this year or face a decline in public support for the war. There's plenty of frustration at the White House and in the US Congress too.
In August, when Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited Kabul, he bluntly stated that if the Karzai Government didn't clean up corruption, it was going to be hard "to look American families in the eye and say, 'Hey that's something worth dying for'."
On the battlefield, Nato's top commander, Gen David Petraeus, is banking on his plan to protect heavily populated areas, rout the Taliban from their strongholds and rush in better governance and development aid to win the Afghans' loyalty away from the Taliban.
In February, Nato launched an offensive in Helmand province, the largest military operation in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion. Nearly eight months after US forces mounted a high-profile assault that ended Taliban control of the rural town of Marjah, US Marines there are still clearing it.
There are signs that governance is improving, though troops still face daily gunbattles and an entrenched insurgency that shows no signs of easing soon. Afghan and international forces now are ramping up security in neighbouring Kandahar province where the Taliban insurgency was born. Fighting in and around the nation's largest city in the south has been intense as coalition forces push into areas long held by insurgents. Failure in Kandahar would be a major setback for the Nato force.
"We're still fighting the fight," US Army Captain Nick Stout, a company commander with the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, said in Senjeray, capital of Zhari district north-east of Kandahar city.
"It kind of begs the question: What is it? What's the answer?" he said at a joint US-Afghan outpost near Kandahar. "America alone is not the answer to stopping" the insurgency, said the 27-year-old Stout, who wasn't old enough to order a drink in his home of Lake Orion, Michigan, when the war began. Commanders like Mr Stout believe the war will be won only if Afghan civilians start supporting the troops. And, they say, the only way that will happen is if the forces can provide enough security to allow people to break free of the fear and intimidation of Taliban threats. In some places, residents don't even want to be seen talking to US forces for fear of Taliban reprisals.
Ready to refute pundits who say the war is lost, US Admiral James Stavridis, the supreme Nato commander in Europe, has compiled a list of nearly 50 examples that the coalition is making progress. He shared them in a five-page letter on October 1 to defence chiefs in Nato nations.
In a 90-day period ending in early September, he wrote, Special Operations Forces conducted 3,302 operations, resulting in 251 enemy leaders killed or captured; ammonium nitrate, a key ingredient in home-made bombs, is being seized in record amounts around the country; schools and the district police station have reopened in Marjah and insurgents there are suffering from low morale and shortages in food and weapons; and the Afghan security forces will expand to 2,60,000 by the end of the year 5,000 higher than the target.
"Afghanistan remains a tough fight, but at least three-quarters of the country starting with bustling Kabul, extending into most of the north and west and including parts of the east is either in reasonably promising shape or improving," said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank who just returned from a trip to Afghanistan. "We should remain hopeful for now. The current strategy could well produce significant and convincing progress within a few months."
Mr Karzai still backs coalition efforts but has also used back channels to reach out to Taliban leaders who seem amenable to finding a political resolution to the war. Mr Karzai appointed nearly 70 people last week to a High Peace Council, which will guide efforts to reach out to insurgents. Pakistan also wants to maintain relations with some factions of the Taliban, which it believes will be a powerful player in Afghanistan when the Americans go home.
And there's strong suspicion in the region that US troops will go home sooner rather than later largely because of Mr Obama's decision to set July 2011 as his goal for starting a drawdown of US forces.
Mr Obama and Gen Petraeus have repeatedly claimed that the US is not planning a mass exodus in July 2011. Gen Petraeus says all the extra US troops and civilians needed to reverse the Taliban's momentum have just arrived and only now can Mr Obama's revised war strategy begin to work.
But as the war drags on, the US has lowered its sights and goals. Fewer people these days are talking about establishing Western-style democracy in Afghanistan. Instead, the focus is on finding some way to force out Al Qaeda even if that involves a deal with Taliban members.
Mr Stephen Biddle at the Council on Foreign Relations says the Obama Administration must clarify what the end game will look like. "Without clear limits on acceptable outcomes, the US and Nato military campaign will be rudderless, as will any negotiation strategy for a settlement with the Taliban," Mr Biddle said. He predicts success in Afghanistan will mean "arriving at an intermediate end state somewhere between ideal and intolerable".
Hovering like a shadow over the discussion is Afghanistan's bloody history. The Soviet Union invaded and occupied Afghanistan in 1979 but was forced to withdraw nine years later by anti-communist mujahideen forces, who were supplied and trained by the US, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and others. These US-backed rebels took power in 1992 when the pro-Moscow Government collapsed.
They quickly turned their guns on each other and a violent civil war ensued. The Taliban took advantage of the power vacuum and within two years had seized Kabul.
AN OTHERWISE JUDICIOUS VERDICT
Despite the Sunni Waqf Board's failure to prove its possession of any part of the disputed site in Ayodhya, dividing the land into three parts may make resolution of the conflict that much more difficult
The otherwise legally proper and judiciously sound Ayodhya verdict has suffered serious a legal haemorrhage by the decision of Justice SU Khan and Justice Sudhir Agarwal to divide the disputed land into three parts and give one-third each to Hindus, Muslims and the Nirmohi Akhara. This final part explains that fatal infirmity. An issue where law is mixed with facts, it calls for some strenuous reading to know what the deadly defect in the judgement is. To recall, the short facts are: In their two suits, the Hindus claim the disputed site as exclusively their own; in their suit, the Muslims claim it exclusively as their own; in its suit, the Nirmohi Akhara too claims it as exclusively its own. None of them had asked for nor would accept to share the disputed land with any other or the others.
To simplify for the law for the uninitiated, the law says that a person filing a suit has to plead his case properly and clearly, and also ask for reliefs in clear terms. The court will look only what suitor says in his plaint and his opponents in response, nothing else, to know what is the case. It will then frame the contentious issues and decide them on the basis of the pleadings of the parties and evidences tendered by them. The principal issues decided on that basis by Allahabad High Court, unanimously or by majority 2:1, in the present case are: One, the rights of the Hindus over the Rama Janma Bhoomi never ceased at any point in time; two, the Muslims were never in possession of the disputed premises at any point in time; three, the Muslims failed to prove their possession of any part of the disputed land; four, the last time the Muslims did namaz on the disputed property was on December 16, 1949; five, the Hindus never admitted possession by Muslims at any time, even in the suit of 1885; six, Muslims never acquired title even by adverse possession; seven, the Akhara never had possession nor acquired title by adverse possession; eight, the suits of Muslims and the Akhara, having been filed beyond the limitation period, are dismissed. On this basis, the court dismissed the suits of Muslims and Akhara, thus disentitling to any relief. While, Justice DV Sharma allowed the suits of Hindus in full, Justice Agarwal and Justice Khan allowed the Hindus' suit partly.
On why they ruled partitioning of the disputed land, Justice Agarwal and Justice Khan have said that under a provision (Order 7 Rule 7) in the Civil Procedure Code they had the authority to give less relief than what the Hindus had prayed for in their suits. So by assuming that they had the power to reduce the share of the Hindus, the two judges seem to have thought that they had also the power to give the balance to Muslims and Akhara ; in the process what the two Judges have done is to give Muslims and Akhara rights, which Justice Sharma and Justice Agarwal have separately declared they do not have. Also none of the three parties had asked for what the High Court has done. The first principle is that, any relief beyond what the suits set out in pleadings and prayers can only be given at the instance of one of the parties; not by the court on its own motion like it has done in this case. If parties themselves had not asked for anything outside the pleadings, the court cannot go beyond their pleadings at all. The law on this point has never been in doubt. The Madras High Court has ruled in 1998 (Arunachalm Pillai Vs Ramu Mudaliar and others) that where each party claims exclusive title to the property and none of them accept the right of the other (exactly as in the Ayodhya case) the question of partitioning the property between them does not arise at all (under the very provision of law cited by the two judges in Ayodhya case). The Patna, Calcutta, and Madras High Court itself have ruled this principle earlier. As far back as 1991 the Supreme Court (in Om Prakash Vs Ram Kumar (1991) 1 SCC 441) had ruled that even if a party asks for reliefs outside his pleadings the court can never allow it when doing so will prejudice rights of the other party.
So the settled legal position is this: Even if parties, like the Ayodhya parties, who have filed suit asserting exclusive rights against one another, ask for partition, the court cannot grant it; and in no event the court can do it without the parties asking for it. None of these judicial rulings seem to be noticed by the two judges. Had one of the parties asked for partition, the other party would have brought the case laws to the court's notice. That is why law requires that the court should decide no issue that is not put to the parties. An order contrary to this principle is, in law, without jurisdiction. Civil law pundits would cite the old maxim of 'Coram Non Judici' to say that the courts read Justice Khan and Justice Agarwal have no jurisdiction to do what they have done.
Now, that they have passed the judgement, the judges will now have to write a decree in accord with the judgement. Assume that the judges can write a decree in the Hindus' suit giving them less than their claim of one-third share. The suits of Muslims and Akhara having been dismissed, how could a decree be written in their favour? If no decree could be passed in their favour in their suits, they cannot get the one-third share at all. And no decree could be passed in the suits of the Hindus in favour of Muslims and Akhara! Therefore, the one-third gift by the two judges to them each will be only on paper. So, a new battle will start only at the point if the two judges attempt to write the decree for two-third of the disputed land in favour of the Muslims and Akhara whose suits stand dismissed.
The legal unsoundness aside, the decision to divide the disputed land and award one-third each to the Muslims and Akhara, stands out contrary to the spirit of the otherwise judicious judgement. It has put roadblock on the temple construction; how could a temple to which a million people come on Ram Navami be accommodated in one acre of land (a third of the disputed area) along with a mosque beside. It will be an invitation to a law and order disaster. Many idealists welcome this action of the two judges as an ideal solution. But, in sensitive issues like relations between Hindus and Muslims (many among whom still share bitter memories of past) the ideal is not practical; only what is practical is the ideal. This sense of Idealism without practical sense is that what seems to have led the two judges into the judicially erroneous decision to divide the disputed land. QED: The historic Ayodhya judgement has, thanks to this fatal defect, now less potential to resolve the dispute and more potential to escalate it.
TOKEN MEASURES ARE UNLIKELY TO WORK IN J- K
WHO IS the Union government fooling by its token actions in the Valley of Kashmir. It has reshuffled the police leadership in the Valley, replaced Central Reserve Police Force chief Vikram Srivastava, and torn down some bunkers in Srinagar. It has also begun the process of identifying political interlocutors who will conduct a dialogue with the Kashmiris.
But none of this addresses the key problems that we confront in the state. Mr Srivastava, a highly regarded officer, has not been the problem.
It is the profile of the force which is used, or to be precisely overused, to carry on tasks ranging from checking communal riots to fighting the Maoists, as well as providing security for elections and other sundry tasks.
What the government needed and still needs desperately is a specialised riot control force which is suitably conditioned and equipped to deal with the unique method of protest that the Kashmiri youth have adopted. Stones are not lethal, but they can hurt a lot, and so the protest is both violent and non- violent, and thus must be dealt with in a nuanced manner. This is what riot police forces are for they deal with riotous protest without creating conditions which only lead to an intensification of the violence.
As for the dialogue, everyone knows what needs to be done address the issue of greater autonomy for the state. But does the Congress have the political capital, let alone the courage, to deal with that subject, especially after the Babri Masjid verdict? There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that the stone- throwers will return in Srinagar.
Those who are manipulating them are not going to be taken in by the measures that the government is taking. The stakes are too high for that.
TELLING THE TRUTH FOR ONCE
FORMER President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf seems to be opening his mouth only to replace one foot with the other. After having embarrassed his party the All Pakistan Muslim League by calling Nawaz Sharif " a brainless nincompoop", barely days after it was formed, Mr Musharraf has now left the entire nation red- faced with his proud assertion that Pakistan had formed " underground militant groups to fight India in Kashmir". This practically amounts to shouting state secrets from the roof top, which the country could have done without at a time when the military and Inter Services Intelligence have come the scanner for sponsoring terrorism.
Much of Mr Musharraf's loud- mouthed antics stems from the fact that in spite of all his sophistication, his instincts are essentially that of a fauji. He has been conditioned to address a captive audience that would blindly follow his orders without answering back, let alone call his bluff. Unfortunately for him, democratic politics requires him to be accountable to those below him rather than the other way around.
Notwithstanding the apparently comic nature of Mr Musharraf's faux pas, the audacity with which he boasted of backing terror outfits and even justified their existence reflects the mendacity of the Pakistani state, as well as the helplessness of its Western interlocutors.
IT WAS A FAMOUS VICTORY
WINNING is a habit. This was more than evident in the first of the two- Test series against a formidable Australia at Mohali. Despite facing only a 216- run target in the final innings, India the world's No 1 Test team made a hash of it losing eight wickets for less than 130 runs. This meant that VVS Laxman had only tailenders as partners.
If this were a Test in the previous decade, Indian fans would have turned off their television sets or least switched channels to watch the Indian gold rush at the Commonwealth Games. But this was no ordinary Test match. Between Australia and victory stood their nemesis Laxman and, in what could be the innings of his life, Ishant Sharma.
Neither the debilitating back spasms nor the abject lack of good batting partners held Laxman back who scored an almost- a- runa- ball 73 to guide India to a famous victory against a formidable opponent. This augurs well for India who would be able to retain its No. 1 spot quite easily here onward.
CWG FIASCO IS A METAPHOR OF OUR DAILY EXPERIENCE
BY GAUTAM BHATIA
YEARS AGO when Muhammad Ali proclaimed that he was the greatest, he was the greatest. As heavy weight boxing champion of the world he had defeated every possible challenger and his claim was merely a statement of that fact. Muhammad Ali has never been known for modesty, but sports figures like Federer and Woods, though arguably the greatest of all time in their chosen sport, rarely bring up the subject on their own. Their greatness is claimed by others around them.
Indian public life by contrast is a daily barrage of hyperbole, arrogance, false claims and often outright lies. With virtually nothing to back them, the Indian Commonwealth Organising Committee makes public and international statements so outlandish and arrogant, to be laughable. The Commonwealth Games will be the best ever. The stadia are better than Beijing. The facilities are 5- star As if to remind the claimant of his conceit, a ceiling buckled at a stadium. Just when the Chief Minister was calling a waterlogged city of broken roads, world class, as if on cue, a bridge collapsed.
When the daily sights and sounds are of failure, hyperbole and superlatives become essential even for the most mediocre of accomplishments. Hailed as the pride of India, Delhi's international airport has been designed and built by a consortium of foreign companies. Yet the insistence by the Prime Minister that the structure was a symbol of Indian ingenuity was a desperate call to all those within hearing distance that India had arrived.
Even if we were not better than others, we were at least almost like them. In every utterance there is an urgent need to repair the shaky confidence of a nation riddled with daily signs of ineptness and greed.
So desperate is the urge to falsify reality, that its replacement is not a modest parting of relevant information, but hopeless exaggeration. Public remarks are coated in either misinformation or vagueness. Or are just clever rebuttals. The Naxals are not anti- national, but are a problem to the nation- state. We can't distribute the rotting wheat; it has to be done through the Public Distribution System. The judiciary is not above the law, the judiciary is the law.
Part of the problem lies with a society that despite its claim to modernity, still refuses to think outside of the family.
Nothing of national, regional or local interest can be of any value to people whose allegiance is firmly stuck in the private progress of the household. Indian business models seem quaint but outmoded to foreigners when the management of sizeable industrial resources are shared amongst relatives: brothers and sons as MDs, wives and daughters as sleeping partners. Ministers' sons are natural contenders for succession, even if more qualified candidates are available. Every year the railways most successful expansion program is linked to setting up stations at the minister's ancestral village, however remote. With easy availability of national resources, progress of the Indian family is always possible? Moreover, the incapacity to do, is intrinsically linked to the capacity to pass responsibility. Even a cursory glance will reveal that India has an extensive institutional and public framework for governance that consistently fails to deliver. In forestry alone there are several national institutes and departments doing research, experimentation, afforestation, surveys, management, species development, preservation, conservation, land control etc.. Yet India ranks amongst countries with one of the highest levels of depleting forest cover in the world. There may be a surplus of wheat in India, but without its distribution, India also has the highest deaths from malnutrition. Government departments continue to research and publish papers on new improved fire retardant thatch for village homes, but fund only the construction of pucca cement roofs. The disconnect between the resolve and the reality is so complete it is hard to know when to laugh, when to cry.
A recent article described the inauguration of a speed breaker on a national highway.
While the speed breaker was decorated with Rangoli, the road was closed for the day. In the evening, a Hindu priest recited shlokas , and the minister of Surface Transport got on all fours and broke a coconut against the speed breaker. Though the inauguration caused a 12 km truck traffic jam, the event was perceived by all to be essential, a successful integration of new infrastructure with traditional ritual. I reread the piece to figure out whether this was a serious report or satire. But even after several readings could not tell. In most situations, it is hard to tell the two apart.
Try stopping someone on the road for directions. He points vaguely in the direction that your car faces, and asks you to continue to go straight, then gesturing towards the right with his arm he will ask you to turn left; and suggest you ask someone there. By ensuring that you are now doubly confused, he will have at least conveyed that he is in the know of things, a man about town; his vanity must be salvaged at all costs.
Rarely will someone say " My knowledge of this neighbourhood lacks the urban coordinates, landmarks and magnetic pole positions that would allow me to do justice to your enquiry. Could I direct you to someone better informed, more trustworthy and infinitely more courteous than myself."
Part of the Indian failure to complete the preparations for the Commonwealth Games on time was the inability to realistically assess situations, and to say, No, Give it to Fiji. They'll do a better job. At every press conference pointed questions about tardiness and sloppy work were addressed with phrases like, " We are doing our best. We are giving everything we have.
The whole nation is praying for success.
We must put our best foot forward. It's in God's hands." Public briefings and press releases speak to a nation as if addressing a child's birthday party.
Everyday, every paper, every report becomes a mix of the serious and frivolous, part truth, part moral indignation, part hope. A cover for the darker stains of India. Thieving forest officials, military attacks on Naxals and Kashmiris, food godowns brimming with rotting wheat, rural malnutrition and farmer suicides, incomplete international games, falling bridges, waterlogged cities, the daily upheavals are tinged with comedy. In a place with an increasing quantum of daily human suffering, heightened public expectation, and the cartoon characters that pose as potential providers, comic relief becomes the only way to assuage collective guilt. Laugh and forget.
Some years ago, in a supposedly successful television campaign to sell the country to foreigners under the title of Incredible India, a television ad showed a variety of images: a Kuchipudi dancer, a remote Rajasthani palace, a set of sand dunes, a snow covered mountain, an empty beach, a Buddhist monk in a hill side monastery.
Every image distilled into a picture book pastoral stillness. So removed was it from the real experience of India, that the campaign was bound to succeed. An outright lie, it reinforced every picturesque stereotype of traditional India. Wherever possible, words, images and other forms of sensory stimulation are an essential buffer from the real India. The unreal, the imagined, the hoped for, the preferred, the recalled, eventually become a messy amalgam in the daily life of the country. It is hard to tell one from the other.
When my son was just a kid I'd take him to Appu Ghar to ride in Bump'Em cars.
He would maneuvre his car very carefully, giving signals and ensuring he didn't hit any one, and I would need to goad him into active hostility: Drive like you are on a Delhi road. The real world was an outright lie. It has taken him a few years to learn, but he has.
The writer is an architect
A PUJA OF BOTH HOPE AND DESPAIR FOR BENGAL
GODDESS DURGA is arriving on a palanquin this year. As Bengal is gearing up for the festivities of Durga Puja, the people are anxious. What is going to happen? The arrival of the Goddess of Shakti on a palanquin signifies an outbreak of epidemic.
The people of Bengal are already dejected with the unstable political theatre as the ruling Left Front and the opposition Trinamool Congress are at loggerheads, and are making life wretched for everyone. And now, if there is an epidemic, the euphoria of Puja festivities will be gone. Durga Puja is the biggest festival in Bengal, and is also said to be the largest celebrated religious festivals in the world.
Durga Puja this year is already lacklustre in rural areas in central and southern parts of Bengal.
The state, which is the country's largest rice producer, has already been badly hit by a drought. The economy in the rural areas has collapsed, prices of essential commodities have sky- rocketed, and several poor farmers have committed suicide.
The poor farmers are unable to buy new anything for their family members for Durga Puja this year. The state government had to declare 11 districts as drought- hit due to deficit rainfall.
More than 1.1 million hectares of paddy crops have been affected out of 4.4 million hectares of Kharif season because of the drought. The loss was estimated to be above ` 5,000 crore. The far- western district of Purulia was recorded to be the worst- hit in the drought.
Caught in the ghastly situation, rural Bengal will not be able to endure any more calamities.
Some of the villages in South 24- Parganas district, which were worst- hit by Aila ( the killer cyclone) last year, are yet to recover their losses, as the implementation of government's relief and rehabilitation package was a total failure.
Even in Kolkata, the situation is not hunky- dory. People complained that the government did not do anything to improve the civic amenities during the run up to Durga Puja. There is little hope that the city's arterial and most frequently used roads will be repaired within the next one week.
While the Kolkata Municipal Corporation ( KMC) has taken up repair on some of the major thoroughfares in the inner city, conditions of the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass and the Diamond Harbour Road are in an awful state. Bureaucratic red tapeism, and political feuds between the state Public Works Department ( PWD) and KMC over jurisdiction have delayed the repair works.
Price- rise has also affected the budget of most of the Puja organisers. Even prices of Durga idols have sky- rocketed as sharp rise in the costs of the inputs have added to the woes of the idol makers. Prices of idols have gone up by 10 to 15 percent in Kolkata and the other towns.
Cost of bamboo has almost doubled from ` 50 to 55 a year ago to ` 100 to ` 110 per piece this year. The price of hay ( used to stuff the idols), has shot also up from ` 100 per bundle to ` 180.
The drought resulted in poor harvest, which in turn, doubled the price of hay in the markets.
Moreover, paint prices have gone up by 20 percent.
Moreover, Maoist- insurgency has crippled life in the rural areas of Bengal's Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore districts. The festive spirit of Durga Puja in the insurgencyravaged districts is at an alltime low as people are scared about Maoist attacks.
The only silver- lining for the woes in Bengal is that Goddess Durga, this year would depart on an elephant. The Goddess's departure on an elephant signifies good harvest. After all, Goddess Durga is supremely radiant, and can redeem situations of utmost distress. Will she bless everyone this year?
KING COMES CALLING
OXFORD- EDUCATED King of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk is keen to draw inspiration from the Nobel Laureate poet from Bengal the legendary Rabindranath Tagore.
The young monarch of Bhutan was in Kolkata on a three- day official trip.
He visited the ancestral house of Rabindranath Tagore at Jorasanko in north Kolkata, and showed keen interest in the great poet's literary works.
The king also addressed the convocation of the University of Kolkata on Tuesday afternoon, and appealed to the youth to inculcate a " new kind of individualism" based on values instead of following a path of material rewards.
The University of Calcutta also conferred an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Law on the monarch of the Dragon Kingdom. It was the king's first official visit to Kolkata.
The monarch also visited the Dakshineswar Kali temple in north Kolkata.
MA VS THE RAIN GOD
AS the Durga Puja fever begins to soar in Kolkata, unscheduled onset of latemonsoon has pushed the Puja schedule out of gear.
In the last few weeks it seemed that the monsoon had retreated. But Monday onwards Puja shopping turned out to be a damp- squib as the skies opened up with a heavy spells of rain.
Though the monsoon was on the retreat, the Met officials claim that low pressure could develop to bring in heavy showers in the next one week. Location- specific showers due to development of thunder clouds have also been predicted.
This does not bode well for the Puja.
With Puja barely sevendays away, the Met office is unsure of how the weather would behave during peak celebration days. It will probably require Kolkatans to pray hard to the rain god to leave the city dry at least during the festival.
GREEN' TOUCH TO THIS YEAR'S FESTIVITIES
EVERY year, thousands of tonnes of offerings ( including idols) of Durga Puja are immersed in the Hooghly river, which drastically increases pollution, endangering marine and human life.
Toxic paints ( of idols), nonbiodegradable wastes like plastic flowers and solid wastes like idol frames are thrown into the water. So far, the pollution- control authorities have been finding it difficult to check the pollution level of the river.
To check the toxic waste level, idol makers of Kumartuli, the nerve centre of clayidol makers in Kolkata, this year, are using a unique ecofriendly technique. They are using a special paint free from lead, mercury and chromium to embellish the idols. One of the leading paint companies has specially formulated these ecofriendly paints. Efforts are also on to convince the puja organisers not to dump the non- biodegradable waste in the river.
Similarly, some of the puja pandals are quickly replacing their conventional incandescent bulbs with the newage, environment- friendly light emitting diode ( LED) lamps to produce dazzling illumination.
The famous Singhi Park puja Committee will showcase its theme of the national flowers of India, Ukraine and England through scintillating LED lighting. They also created a huge Gorilla with lights.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
A THOUGHT FOR FOOD
Given the scale of UPA-II's proposed food security programme, getting the recipe right was never going to be easy. But even accounting for their differences, the National Advisory Council (NAC) and the government are having more problems than expected pushing the right to food legislation. Two NAC proposals have been rejected by the ministry for consumer affairs, food and public distribution, with the result that a fresh draft may need working on. The no-go is on the reported ground that the models are fiscally untenable and undeliverable given current procurement levels.
The first proposal envisages a pilot project in 150 poorest districts, providing 35 kg of rice or wheat at Rs 3 per kg to 80 per cent families in rural areas and 33 per cent in urban areas, while families below and above the poverty line elsewhere would be pegged to different amounts and prices. The second targets 42 per cent of BPL families in rural and 33 per cent in urban areas, while offering 25 kg of rice/wheat at subsidised prices only to rural APL families. While greater effort has been made to target groups, NAC estimates on foodgrain needs are said to be overly conservative. The subsidy load could be far bigger than calculated.
True, in its understandable attempt to cut costs, the government shouldn't end up defeating the purpose of extending food security cover to the weaker sections. But while its idea of a selective initial launch makes sense, the NAC must factor in eventual economic viability and supply side issues. If, as is being apprehended, meeting stated food needs under the programme calls for imports, this will impact domestic farmers and overseas prices. Running a food security project with imports is hardly rational or cost-effective. Also, the lowered APL issue price as suggested might hugely raise demand. Above all, consensus is still lacking on the poverty measure, among many estimates, to be used. Food security can hardly be targeted efficiently without first defining poverty or by having multiple definitions.
More so, when the scheme's biggest problem is PDS-dependence. Though functioning well in places like Tamil Nadu, the PDS is generally notorious for leakage and waste. Almost 65 per cent of allotted grain gets diverted to the open market. Nor do structural glitches like out-of-reach PDS outlets help the poor. Everyone knows there's crying need for an overhaul of PDS infrastructure. At the same time, other delivery mechanisms recommend themselves. Bar-coded food coupons and smartcards as Andhra and Orissa are experimenting with or even cash transfer replacing subsidy, channelled to women heads of households, can permit access to food in all stores. Such alternatives, buttressed by UID and financial inclusion projects, can vastly reduce the socio-economic costs of inefficiency and corruption in public distribution.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
SPARE THE ROD
The recent arrests of principal Sunirmal Chakravarthy and three teachers of Kolkata's prestigious La Martiniere for Boys school in the Rouvanjit Rawla suicide case have set a strong precedent. Though the four of them were later released on bail, the action is likely to serve as a deterrent against corporal punishment. Rouvanjit, a class VIII student, had committed suicide last February after he was caned by his principal, who admits the act, and allegedly administered corporal punishment by his teachers. Given that the case involved an elite school, it has received a fair amount of publicity. But what goes unsaid is that there are hundreds of Rouvanjits in schools across the country who have to put up with routine physical abuse from their teachers. Despite a Supreme Court order banning corporal punishment a decade ago, statistics show there has been little change on the ground.
At the root of the problem is society's attitude towards corporal punishment, which is seen as a legitimate means of disciplining children. Many schools even regard it as a tradition that needs to be maintained. This in turn stems from a lack of understanding about child psychology. It has been well-documented that any form of trauma in the formative years can severely impact a child's development. Corporal punishment, irrespective of the degree, can potentially scar a child permanently. The issue needs to be taken up seriously and indeed be made part of HRD minister Kapil Sibal's education reform agenda. Apart from enforcing the ban on corporal punishment in schools strictly, educators need to be sensitised and made aware of child psychology to ensure that tragic cases like Rouvanjit's are not repeated.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
TILL JUDGEMENT DAY COMES AGAIN
Much of the commentary on the Ayodhya ruling has made a connection between India's calm response to the verdict with the something-for-everybody judgement of September 30. In reality, peace prevailed largely due to the fact that Ayodhya does not touch a chord in the manner that it did when the destruction of the Babri masjid took place on December 6, 1992.
But that shouldn't make us gloss over the flawed nature of the verdict. One anomaly has been widely noted the court's reliance on the beliefs and faith of some Hindus regarding the birthplace of Lord Ram to decide the three-way division of the disputed property. The other was giving a stamp of legitimacy to the appearance of idols in 1949 smuggled in, by all accounts, by Hindu activists in what was for over four centuries a functioning mosque.
The fundamental problem with the verdict, however, was the court taking on issues that fell well outside its jurisdiction. This was noted in this newspaper and elsewhere as early as 1990, a year after four suits relating to the disputed site were clubbed and transferred to a special bench of the Allahabad high court. Then, TOI had reported, "Several of the 43 issues framed by the court on May 25 pertain neither to law nor any verifiable fact. Rather, these issues fall in the grey areas of history, mythology and religion." It is pertinent that three years later, the Supreme Court had wisely rejected the presidential reference made by the Narasimha Rao government on whether a temple existed on the site of the Babri masjid.
The three-judge high court bench was, however, unafraid to walk into this minefield. It attempted to answer questions such as whether the disputed site was the birthplace of Ram or if the Babri masjid was built in 1528 by destroying a temple, which it was simply not equipped to do. Unsurprisingly, for all the judges' efforts at going through masses of evidence and the thousands of pages they devote to it, the result is deeply problematic.
One of the judges who gave the majority verdict, Justice Sudhir Agarwal, wrote that finding "positive evidence" for Ram's birthplace in the disputed site is "not only a futile attempt but is against all the canons of the principles of law". But he still went ahead and determined that the spot where the Babri masjid stood was precisely where Ram was born, a leap that is difficult to justify. Justice S U Khan took an "informed guess" that this was so. Justice Dharam Veer Sharma was, however, absolutely certain saying that the "whole world knows that Lord Ram was born in Ayodhya where the temple Ram Janama Bhumi stands".
The partition plan trotted out by the court in what was a title suit is an odd one. Constitutional lawyer Rajeev Dhavan has pointed out that the easiest way out would have been using judicial precedent to give title status to the Muslims, saying it was too late to reopen the controversy and declaring that the Muslims had not lost possession of the site between 1949 and 1961 when the first civil suit was filed on their behalf. Instead, the court resorted to a partition plan which was founded on shaky legal reasoning making the real winner Ram's deity, on whose behalf a suit was filed as late as 1989 by his "next friend" Deoki Nandan Agarwal, a Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader and, ironically, a retired Allahabad high court judge.
But one shouldn't probably be too harsh on the high court. Many a Supreme Court verdict has entered areas it should never have ventured into, especially in religion-related cases. The two instances that immediately come to mind are the Hindutva judgement and the Shah Bano case. In 1996, deciding on the question of whether an appeal to Hindutva constitutes a violation of the Representation of the People Act, the court equated Hindutva with Hinduism and described both as a "way of life". This idea, in turn, was borrowed from a 1966 Supreme Court judgement which, adjudicating on the claims of Satsangis to be a separate religious sect, went into a detailed exposition of why Hinduism should be regarded as a "way of life". What was an idea expounded by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan became sanctified by the court only to be appropriated by the Hindu nationalists to justify their agenda.
Similarly, in the Shah Bano case, it wasn't the maintenance granted to a divorced Muslim woman that was controversial. Earlier court rulings had already done so. It was only when the court went out of its way to regret that a uniform civil code had remained a "dead letter" and said it inevitably had to play the "role of the reformer" that the case became such a hot potato.
In the same way, parts of the Allahabad high court ruling will be used as political fodder by the Hindu nationalists. The only saving grace is that today's India might not be as receptive to that message. Besides, with the stage set for an appeal to the Supreme Court we haven't heard the last word on Ayodhya.
The writer is a visiting research fellow at ISAS, National University of Singapore.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
A VERY VALUABLE PLAYER
We know he's very, very, special. But do we really know the worth of V V S Laxman in Indian cricket? In a star-studded Indian line-up this stylish stroke-maker is the most underrated player. He's won few awards for his numerous match-winning/match saving efforts. Despite playing a great innings under enormous physical and mental stress, the jury overlooked him for the man-of-the-match award in Mohali. The all-time Indian XI picked by the Wisden doesn't include him though his epic 281 figures in Wisden's top 10 all-time greatest Test innings.
What explains this shocking treatment of a player, who ought to be considered one of India's most valuable batsmen? An easy, and lazy, explanation is that he's been overshadowed by the superior abilities of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. Indeed, they trump him on averages and number of centuries. But career averages need not necessarily reveal a player's worth. The numbers ought to be put in perspective: these must be broken down and analysed to know the real worth of those runs.
Laxman stands out among Indian batsmen for his record in the second innings. His second innings average is among the best for Indian batsmen who have played over 50 Tests. Most of his second innings knocks have won matches for India. Just before Mohali, he scored an unbeaten century in Sri Lanka on a crumbling wicket. What should clinch the argument in his favour is his fantastic record against Australia, the great team of the last two decades. He averages over 71 in India's nine wins against Australia, the maximum by any team in the past decade. Admiration for the fleeting glory of limited overs cricket and absolute numbers may have failed us in recognising the genius of Laxman.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
GREAT, BUT NOT AMONG THE GREATEST
Barely minutes after the epic Mohali clash ended, the superlatives were being tossed around. One of the greatest Test matches ever, commentators said. Fair enough. When a match results in only the 12th one-wicket victory in the history of Test cricket, it's difficult to dispute its special status. Then came the plaudits for the hero of the hour, V V S Laxman: paeans to his silken wrists and nerves of steel, all well deserved. But to argue that he is underrated that he is in the same league as the batting legends of Indian cricket, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid is carrying it too far.
When it comes to Australia, Laxman's play is elevated to another level. But neither that nor his admittedly spectacular run of form over the past year can close the gap between him and those legends. At 47.40, Laxman's Test average is substantially lower than Gavaskar's at 51.12, Tendulkar's at 56.11 and Dravid's at 52.87. When it comes to centuries as well, his tally of 16 is nowhere near the 34, 48 and 29 the others, respectively, have racked up.
Laxman's performances against Australia have their flip side. When he has scored six of his 16 centuries against them and averages considerably more against them than his career average, it shows that his performance against other teams has been far patchier. That is where the others have proved their greatness, not only through epochal innings but through consistency as well. Is Laxman unlucky to have played with Tendulkar and Dravid? Undoubtedly. In any other generation, he would have perhaps been the team's leading light. But does that mean he is underrated? No. For all his brilliance, he is simply not their match.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
IN ILLNESS, OLD DREAM IS REALIZED
When I was a boy, I ached to be a scientist. I was the kind of kid who needed to know why and how right now! not to mention who, what, where and when.
How can there be lightning, but no rain? Why do dirty socks smell like corn chips? The summer porch was my lab, where I wrote and drew (and dreamed), and fiddled with my chemistry set, hoping against hope that something interesting would happen.
After I learned two years ago that I had an aggressive Stage 3 prostate cancer, I rediscovered my kid scientist. And it was that inquisitive kid who nudged me toward scrutinizing my life with cancer, to write columns and blog posts:
Why did I get cancer? Will it kill me? Who am I now that I have it, and who will I be if I survive it?
Yes, cancer raises many more questions than can possibly be answered. But that realisation pricked the curiosity of my kid scientist. I was stirred by the idea of studying myself, determined to treat myself as if I were a cancer experiment of one.
That doesn't mean I dallied with the freakish "cures" offered by gonzo medicine... It just meant that I planned to pay hard attention, using all five of my senses. If I had to have cancer, I wanted to see what it could teach me.
When we're seriously ill, we deal with a set of institutions that have to put it mildly different priorities from ours.
To health insurers, we're gross and inconvenient red marks against their bottom lines. They'd prefer that we meekly mill and low in the cattleyards of the medical-industrial complex, doing what we're told, keeping our mouths shut and not causing too much trouble.
To doctors and nurses, we're part of their caseload. Most of them show compassion toward their patients, but we also have to understand that we're just one component on their daily assembly line of hearts and souls. Just call me Prostate No. 436B.
And to the medical students who rustle and jostle into the room right about daybreak like middle schoolers wearing stethoscopes, we're an exhibit: "Please note that Mr. Jennings also wears an ostomy pouch because he has no colon." We're one of the morning's lessons. If we're unlucky enough to be "unusual," we might even be promoted to being a quiz or a test or, God forbid, a thesis.
No matter how awful we feel, we can't capitulate... can't cede control of these unexpected experiments in which our lives hang in the balance. By claiming ownership of my cancer rather than sighing and saying that it was "just one of those things" I demanded to learn what it could teach me. I wasn't just meat for the scalpel, wanton cells sentenced to death by radiation, testosterone throttled by hormone therapy. I was subject, student, observer the lead scientist on this project, if you will.
Playing host to a rapacious cancer was much more than being sick: it was a multisemester, multidisciplinary seminar, enough for at least a bachelor's degree in cancer studies...
A heavy load, this experiment of one, but a real education that my kid scientist couldn't have imagined - more than 40 years ago. In illness, an old dream was being realised. And we'll tell you one more thing: We don't plan to do any postgrad work anytime soon.
The New York Times
THE TIMES OF INDIA
TRUE CONFESSIONS: HOW I BECAME A TOTAL PAGE TREE PERSON
There I was minding my own asana and, before I realised it, I had turned into a tree-hugger. It started with something perfectly acceptable, the omnipresent plastic bag which all sane devotees of urbania must worship. A manifestation of this almighty polymer had appeared on the tree outside our yoga class. I kept being distracted by its omnipotence. That's when Katie, sliding out of her own paschima namaskar, asked me why I wasn't noticing the magnificent peepul on which it hung instead.
Then, in that subversive way of all eco maniacs,she quietly kept feeding me tidbits of information, till, Bittu by Bittu, I was totally converted. Instead of doing sensible Sunday things like lazing in bed and dreaming of brunch, I found myself up with the sparrows and tramping through Byculla's Rani Bagh with the missionaries of share-a-tree. 'What's wrong with you?' my rational side demanded in disbelief and was silenced by a windfall of trivia on the majestic Baobab there.
Self-conscious about my new obsession, I shared my dark secret with my close friend, Shashi. Instead of weaning me back to the straight and concrete, she dragged me deeper into the woods, going into raptures over the Mahim Nature Park, which once a dumping ground, and the Sanjay Gandhi NP which was headed in the reverse direction. What was happening? Was there a secret underground movement spreading its roots unbeknownst to the arrogant army of road wideners?
Conversion is easy. Offer the promise of salvation for the planet and little Pinky, chant mantras about ozone becoming nozone, encourage a willing suspension of particulate matter and, before you can say 'Chipko', we we are cavorting with the houris of Paradise, or at least with Raj Pachauri.
Me? I'm a goner. I secretly dream of rescuing a tree which foolishly stands in the middle of a frenetic road. In my fantasy, I have thrown a shining railing round it, hung it with the art of kids from adjacent sewered Sewree, and even a sculpture of the flamingos that swarm in thousands on the mudflats across the filthy railway tracks.
Like some pathetic do-gooder, I rave over a conclave of banyans, magically revealed when the slums along this same stretch were cleared. I wake up in a cold sweat fearing that this serendipity has become a monstrous bulldozer's midnight snack.
And, most recently, I have bowed to a new book, The Secret Abode of Fireflies, as heartbreaking in its beauty as in the loss it records. Published by Youthreach, edited by Nanni Singh and designed by Gopika Chowfla, it is a collection of pieces about places of nature which still survive in our cities. A single laburnum asks to retain only a toehold, and in return promises to turn a potholed lane into poetry.
From an interview with Bogota's 'car-free' Mayor Enrique Penelosa ("In developing world cities, when you construct a good sidewalk, you are constructing democracy.") to Shakeel the key maker whose shop is under a Delhi neem ("Ped toh sarkari hai, par ise paalna hamne hai."), here is a biodiversity of short pieces by those who weep and work for trees.
But it's the profusion of visuals which have made it my object of daily worship. They range from verdant nature parks within municipal limits to a shower of parijat blooms raining their benediction on a shabby street to an intricate Mithila cloth painting.
It has left me, the accidental devotee, with a disturbing thought. It's not only a giant dam which does just that to our natural heritage. Destruction lies in our very own building.
GIVEN THE ROYAL SLIP
Stand-up comics in India have long envied the luck of the Americans. That may soon change. We have a new rising star, twinkling on the malaprop horizon. His gaffés may not be as gag-inspiring as those of his fellow politicians in the West. But give us a break, we're still a developing country. After facing the jeers of a miffed crowd at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony and confusing ex-President APJ Abdul Kalam with his long-deceased near-namesake, CWG Organising Committee chief Suresh Kalmadi went on to inspire a few smirks at a follow-up event by referring to the heir to the British throne as 'Prince Diana'.
Initial symptoms of the slippery tongue syndrome have a way of developing into full-blown foot-in-the-mouth disease. Ask the Yanks. From George Bush Sr's goofy deputy, Dan Quayle, declaring the US a part of Europe and urging the human race to "enter the solar system", to Bush Jr. bemoaning the challenges of putting food "on your family" and Saddam's willingness to "terrorise himself" and Al Gore lamenting the futility of expecting a zebra to change its spots while seeking credit for "creating the internet", the Americans are past masters of slippery speech. Also, who can forget British PM John Major's words to those who find themselves with their backs to the wall. "Turn around and fight," he solemnly advised.
But let's spare a thought for the other Englishman in question here, the one who successfully fought maternal
censure and a hostile British public while choosing his second spouse, only to find himself right back in the shadow of the first missus. So let's cut Mr Kalmadi some slack, shall we? After all, he'll have more than verbal slips to answer for after the Games.
GO BY FACTS, NOT FEELINGS
During a ruling in August this year, the Supreme Court gave a very clear indication of when a person can be accused of abetting suicide, as defined in Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code. This 'definition' is important because many of the recent high-profile cases (Ruchika Girhotra, Rizwanur Rehman and Rouvanjit Rawla) have negotiated this difficult trough of law that carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. In its ruling, the apex court had said that an individual can't be accused of abetting a suicide unless there's a "positive act on the part of the accused to instigate or aid (another) in committing suicide" and that abetment involves a mental process of instigating a person or intentionally aiding a person in committing suicide. "Credible evidence or material on record", the court said, would be the two requirements for any ruling against the accused.
However, more often than not, this clear-cut guidance hasn't proved enough. A case in point is the Rouvanjit Rawla case. Rawla, a Class 8 student of a Kolkata school, was found hanging in his home on February 12, the day he was 'hauled up' (but, according to the school authorities, not physically punished) by his teachers for indiscipline. After the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights revealed in June that corporal punishment is rampant in the school, and that Rawla had been a victim of caning many times, the police
took up the 'abetment to suicide' issue. But on Monday, the principal and three other teachers of the school were released on bail. Many believe that the police 'diluted' the charges by downgrading them from 'abetment to suicide' to 'physical assault'. Such a reaction could be driven more by emotion than by logic.
While the death of a youngster under duress can only be condemned, jumping the gun will not serve any purpose. The link between the suicide and the pressure 'build-up' if there is any must be explored meticulously. It is understandable that Rawla's family has every right to feel that the school had put pressure on the child in different ways instead of trying to deal with his aberrant behaviour holistically. But 'feelings' don't stand the scrutiny of the court. In fact, child rights activists say that in many similar cases, the police don't even bother to link abuse to suicide. But here, this has happened because of the high-profile nature of the case. While the crime of corporal punishment must be roundly criticised, the profile of the case the school and its authorities and other intangibles cannot be the basis for a ruling. Or, for that matter, on other cases in which people tragically kill themselves.
. HINDUSTAN TIMES
STOP TALKING! HEAR US
Indians cheered Pakistanis at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. We were surprised. Why a nation that loves to talk must learn to ask questions and hear the answers.
Were you as surprised as I was to hear the ringing cheers when the Pakistanis walked into Jawaharlal Nehru stadium that balmy Sunday? My personal roar-o-meter recorded the Pakistanis at number two, behind India obviously but ahead of England and Sri Lanka.
I wasn't the only one. Every newspaper (including this one) seemed surprised by the gracious welcome to the Pakistanis. So were the Pakistanis.
The roar lasted about ten seconds, but it was enough to tell us that things in modern, excitable, instant-media-driven India are often not, what they seem; that perceptions are, often, not reality; that we don't listen enough to the voices on our streets, and if we occasionally do, we do not hear them.
What were the other perceptions dispelled that night when we heard these elemental voices coalescing into roars and (sometimes) boos?
First, that the Games were headed for failure. Rarely has India witnessed an opening ceremony that imaginatively captured her energy, chaos and diversity. Yes, a successful start has not ensured a glitch-free Games, and we must never forget the shameful run-up, but we were convinced even the ceremony would fail.
Second, that Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit was one of the villains. Her voters recognised the tireless, last-minute work she put in to clean up the mess. When they heard the roar for her, some puzzled visitors asked, "Is she a rock star?"
Third, that we were becoming a Bollywood-driven, cricket-obsessed monoculture, incapable of appreciating or even recognising our own traditions. We may still be that perhaps we loved the tamasha more than anything else. But as the ceremony wore on, the crowds applauded the wrestlers, boxers and archers and the internet was abuzz with chatter about traditions, from classical Manipuri dance to Kerala's Mohiniattam.
Less than a week before the grand opening ceremony, the world was writing off India, and we were writing off ourselves. As for the Pakistanis, were we not supposed to hate them now like we never had at any point in our turbulent history? Like so many of us, I didn't hear the voices from the street, probably because I never talked to them.
Perceptions in emerging India often emerge from the fringes of society, from self-serving 'leaders' acquainted with mass manipulation. These perceptions make it to India's mainstream by riding the swirling current of the 24x7 media. These media keep India alert and vibrant but they, increasingly, also mistake or misinterpret here-and-now emotions as wider facts.
Once these perceptions go mainstream, there are enough screamers, shouters, cynics and abusers especially on the internet and some news channels who feed off each other, make rational argument impossible. We indulge these people because provocation and hysteria tap into our vast reservoirs of emotion. In doing so, we drown out voices of reason. We know those voices are out there. Hear the voices.
Nehru stadium isn't the only instance where we heard the voices directly, where the clear light of reason shone through the neon.
The latest edition of India's Got Talent, a television show that attracts singers, dancers and sundry hopefuls, voted as India's best not the usual Bollywood-inspired groups from 'mainland' India but the Shillong Chamber Choir from Meghalaya. Their perfect harmonies and vocal energy, honed by years at church services, propelled them into the national spotlight, never mind that they sang Abba (and, oh, some Hindi songs as well). The enraptured audience and judges heard those soaring voices. The choir took its place under a national spotlight that, according to perception, had no place for them. The choir was astonished. So was I.
On a more serious matter, the perception now peddled by many on the Hindu fringes is that India wants a temple in Ayodhya, where the Babri Masjid once stood. They talk, rightly, of the national mood for reconciliation but cleverly avoid any mention of a mosque. I won't get into the tortured issue of the judgement itself, but one reason why Muslim sorrow and anger is growing is because this particular perception of reconciliation is, at best, insincere and, at worst, duplicitous. This is not the reconciliation India wants. If it were, the people who demand a temple and nothing else would be running our country. Hear the voices.
If you can hear the voices on the street, you can stop those on the fringes from taking over our minds. The latest example, as ever, comes from Mumbai, where the Senas threaten to stop the television show Bigg Boss because it's selected two Pakistanis, a female actor and a drag queen.
I hope the network, Colors, does not cave in to these preposterous, self-serving perceptions, as the Mumbai University did last week. Its officials cravenly dropped Such a Long Journey, a book by Rohinton Mistry, all because someone from the Shiv Sena's student wing suddenly decided that some passages were "anti-Sena". The book was nominated for the Booker prize in 1990 and was on the syllabus for 20 years. Mumbai's students do not want the ban. Hear the voices.
Fake perceptions allow hate to creep into the bone marrow of Indian society, a cancer that won't easily be cured. These perceptions impair reality and restrain the national spirit from accommodation.
How do we sift perception from fact? It's not difficult, really. Indians are great talkers. We like to lecture, preach and gossip. Hearing what others have to say is not a national strength. Let's make it so. Start asking questions. Listen to the answers. Hear the voices. You may be surprised.
. HINDUSTAN TIMES
AN UNEVEN PLAYING FIELD
Sports is a remarkable barometer of the physical differences between men and women. Mumbai-based science writer Padma Prakash had once observed in a monograph that "nowhere is this myth of (women's) biological inferiority so readily and forcefully demonstrable as in the sports arena."
So what are these physical differences? The male body, bigger and heavier, is about 30 per cent stronger. Men have a greater concentration of testosterone that helps to create more red blood cells, which, in turn, has implications for the intake and delivery of oxygen that is linked to sporting performance. On the plus side, women tend to be more sensitive to sound and have better night vision. The difference in the reproductive roles means women attain puberty earlier, have a greater body fat percentage and give birth a function that impacts their sporting abilities.
Women who excel in sports have to work immeasurably harder than men, especially in India where gender discrimination is hardwired into social reality. Indian sportswomen have to contend with at least four hurdles: social attitudes, administrative inertia and poor resource provisioning, sexual harassment and family expectations. At the dawn of Independence, leaders like Rajkumari Amrit Kaur had realised the importance of women's participation in sport for nation-building. In 1995, India committed itself to the Beijing Platform that urges governments to enable girls to participate in sport on the same basis as boys.
Yet, India continues to treat its sportswomen shabbily. Every woman athlete in the country would understand the humiliation of P.T. Usha, one of India's greatest athletes, who broke down before TV cameras during the National Open Athletics Championship in Bhopal in 2009, after being denied accommodation in keeping with her status she was asked to share a room with five other women. Women cricketers and hockey players in India constantly point out that while their performances have equalled or bettered those of the men, their treatment, in terms of facilities and monetary compensation, is distinctly second class.
Such treatment reflects social biases that can turn toxic, especially when women sportspersons are regarded as sexual prey. Whether it's a Ruchika Girhotra two decades ago or women hockey players in the present team, many women have been subjected to criminal and sexually overt behaviour from those in a position of authority. As the additional district and sessions judge noted in the Ruchika molestation case, "She used to play lawn tennis in the courts of the Haryana Lawn Tennis Association (HLTA) the convict was a senior police officer and HLTA president he failed in both duties by molesting a minor girl."
Family commitments can often be a showstopper, given the centrality that marriage and childbearing is accorded in a woman's life. Manipur's Mary Kom has revealed how her father objected to her taking up boxing because he felt it'd ruin her marriage prospects. Wrestler sisters Geeta and Babita Kumari from rural Haryana had to contend with sharp verbal attacks from local villagers and the larger family, who maintained that nobody would marry a wife with muscles. But Kom and the Haryana sisters were able to negotiate their way to sporting glory.
Change will come, not because of a more enlightened sports administration but because of the sportswomen themselves. India has had many women who have defied the odds. Women like Kamaljit Sandhu (gold medallist at the 1970 Bangkok Asiad), Karnam Malleswari (the only Indian woman Olympic medallist) or shuttler Saina Nehwal are cases in point.
These women have challenged stereotypes, redefined parameters and brought sporting glory to themselves and the country. It's also about freedom and testing the limits of endurance. As Jude Howell, director of the Centre for Civil Society, London School of Economics, and a London Marathon participant once told me, "There are many reasons why I like running. I love the sense of space when one goes running. You feel refreshed and have a whole new burst of energy. Besides, there's that sense of freedom."
Pamela Philipose is Director, Women's Feature Service. The views expressed by the author are personal.
. HINDUSTAN TIMES
Did you see the fabulous acting in S. Shankar's Enthiran?
Of course! Aishwarya was absolutely great as a robot.
Er, she wasn't the robot. Rajinikanth was the robot.
You sure? I swear that Aishwarya as the love interest excelled in some classic robotic acting.
No need to upset the Bollywood brigade. I hear that Shah Rukh Khan is already upset about the film being a runaway hit.
Why? Is he jealous of Rajinikanth? I thought that was Amitabh's monopoly.
You see Shah Rukh was first signed up as the lead character. He later backed out. There was some talk about Aamir also being considered.
I'm so glad it was Rajini in the end. Only he can pull such a movie off without looking downright silly.
And the film's earned a mammoth R62 crore on its opening week. Another R100 crore and it'll recoup the money that went into making the film.
Good for Rajini! You know what I really love about him?
His trick of flicking a cigarette into his mouth?
No, no. And he's stopped doing that. What I like about him is that he doesn't mind one bit appearing without make-up and wig off camera in public like...
Do say: En vazhi, thani vazhi (My way is a unique way).
Don't say: Move over Big B, the Big R is here.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
SAY IT AS IT'S NOT
Whether or not malapropisms enrich a language or a particular dialogic moment, what would the socio-political life of a nation be without gaffes? That gaffes are the mark of linguistic or communicative clumsiness is less pertinent than the fact that it's not a "gaffe" without a public context. That context, depending on the substance and scope of the slip, can even make it look criminal. Moreover, gaffes end up embarrassing not just the individual(s) responsible but his object, audience and associates as well. When John Kerry, during the 2004 presidential campaign, blurted out that he did vote for Iraq-war funding before voting against it, that sound bite went on to play a part in irretrievably damaging his bid. And that still wasn't George W. Bush class. If one's forgotten George Bush Sr's vice president, Dan Quayle, who never after all became president, here's a gem: "The future will be better tomorrow."
Now that the redoubtable Suresh Kalmadi has entertained and embarrassed the nation, some might say? with a double gaffe (referring to former Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as Abul Kalam Azad at the inauguration of the Commonwealth Games and, later, calling Prince Charles by the name of his deceased former wife, Diana, and still pronouncing "Prince"), do we laugh and forget, calling it a case of weakening memory or poor GK 101? Or simple stage- cum royalty-fright?
The reason the memory of a gaffe lingers, rather warmly, is because of the truism that nothing's more human. The bigger the public stature of the person with the slipping tongue, the more redeemed s/he is as a fallible mortal. To judge a gaffe is ultimately to accept human uselessness. What's the point of our utterances after all? We know what we are. We don't dare know what we may be.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
STATES OF PROGRESS
The discourse on economic reforms, more often than not, tends to focus on policies made (or indeed not made) at the Centre. What gets ignored is the importance of the process of economic reform at the level of state governments. In this context, the latest Economic Freedom Rankings for the States of India, 2009 sheds interesting light on the process of economic reform in the states. The rankings are based on an Index of Economic Freedom to measure the degree of government intervention in a state's economy: the less coercive the intervention, the higher the rank. Specifically, the index, compiled by the Cato Institute and Indicus Analytics in cooperation with Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, encompasses the size of the government (in terms of expenditures, taxes and state-owned enterprises), the legal structures and security of property rights and the regulation of credit, labour and business. Interestingly, Tamil Nadu ranks at the top (as it had in 2005), followed by Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, both of which improve their rankings sharply (from five and seven to two and three, respectively).
Why do the rankings matter at all? For the simple reason that there seems to be at least some correlation (even if the authors say not very high) between a high rank scored on this index and higher growth. So, for example, Andhra and Gujarat, which showed the biggest improvement in the 2009 rankings from the earlier rankings in 2005, also grew at an average of just over 10 per cent in the same period. The states which saw their indices decline moderately (like Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra) grew at an average of 8.7 per cent, while the states which saw a sharp decline in their index score (like Punjab, Uttarakhand) grew at an average of only 6.7 per cent in the same period. Importantly, and perhaps a matter of some concern, 12 states have actually seen a decline in their economic freedom scores between 2005 and 2009.
Set aside the statistical construct and read into the causation. There is plenty of economic literature which shows that policies which encourage lower taxes, privatise state-owned companies, secure property rights, ensure faster judicial proceedings, provide flexible labour laws and in general remove barriers to entrepreneurship are good for growth. And all said, there is a considerable difference between a growth rate of 10 per cent and a growth rate of 7 per cent.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE DRUG HABIT
The dilemma about antibiotics is simple: the more you use them, the more you lose them. Indiscriminate use blunts their efficacy by encouraging mutant microbial strains that can withstand them. When the New Delhi Metallo-1 "superbug" was identified by a Lancet study as being a side-effect of Indian surgeries and transplants, the medical community here was livid. But there's no dodging the fact that the profligate use of such medication, even for mild infections, is an all-too-common failing in India. Some doctors are encouraged by pharma reps; in other cases, feeble regulation means even pharmacies can get away with shilling antibiotics without prescriptions. On the other hand, we have patients who are convinced their illness is being ignored or insufficiently treated if they don't get a full regimen of antibiotics. The fact that doctors tend to concentrate on helping the person under their care rather than thinking of the larger public health dimensions of the matter also contributes to India being awash in unnecessary antibiotics. We are not alone Kenya, South Africa, Vietnam and China are also particularly culpable, according to a recent WHO study.
But that much-maligned Lancet study seems to have some welcome effect, as a group of public health experts is now ready to institute guidelines for government hospitals on appropriate antibiotic use. Rather than piling on the meds at a doctor's discretion, there will now be clear distinctions between antibiotics based on the gravity and intensity of the illness. Strong and high-end antibiotics will be restricted to those under intensive care, and others out-patients and cases of emergency will be given milder, simpler antibiotics. Also, an infection surveillance mechanism will be mandatory, and hospitals will have to form teams to exclusively focus on containing infection by checking for cleanliness standards, hand-washing, careful use of catheters and other instruments, the isolation of infectious patients, etc.
The guidelines couldn't have come any sooner but are they enough? Private hospitals are still left out of their purview, and are harder to monitor. The sad truth is that resistant microbial populations respect no cordons, and unless antibiotic misuse is tackled thoroughly, with an impregnable regulatory shield and strict consequences for any violations, the problem will always be with us.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
NO CLOSURE, YET
I had visited the Babri Masjid site as a somewhat nervous reporter in 1986 when the lock to the gates of the premises was opened following a lower court order allowing worship by Hindu devotees. Only the CRPF personnel had close access to Ram Lalla then. So it is today. Physically, nothing has changed. However, I doubt if anyone then had the slightest inkling as to how that one act of opening the gates to the disputed Babri mosque structure would shape our political consciousness and indeed the notions of collective identity as a nation. The Babri Masjid issue has since become one important and continuing reference point in our polity, which is going through an unprecedented churn marked by fragmentation and de-fragmentation, much like an amoeba. Coincidentally, the sheer political churn triggered by the Mandal-Masjid identity politics has also been accompanied by India's new development experiment in the backdrop of its rapid economic globalisation. That, indeed, has created another "identity contest" in our self-formation as a society. Rahul Gandhi's suggestion that India's young population wants to move beyond divisive politics and focus on issues of development is merely an articulation of yet another aspect of our political-economic evolution.
So the question is how will the contest between these multiple forces represented by various identities, some pre-modern and others modern, play out?
Italian Marxist and political theorist Antonio Gramsci had provided a very interesting insight in this respect. Gramsci said history followed its own tortuous ways and that there was no "sociological thumb rule" that determined how various contesting forces of society played out. The possibilities are many. Force A could overwhelm Force B or vice-versa. It is also possible, Gramsci said, that both Force A and Force B bleed each other over a long period, and this would result in the emergence of Force C. So, it cannot be taken for granted that progressive forces of material development will completely subsume the politics of traditional faith and religious identity.
Seen in this somewhat longer frame of history, all events relating to the Ayodhya dispute since 1949, when idols of Ram Lalla miraculously materialised inside the Babri mosque, are but twists and turns in the bigger contest between forces that are causing a constant churn in a modernising India. Indeed, it is as much a churn of ideas as of an evolving consciousness.
The Allahabad high court order, however, would appear to represent an important inflexion point in the contest between forces which various political parties claim to represent. The judges may have gone beyond their legal brief by conflating matters of religious faith with legal facts on the ground, but they have at the same time thrown a major challenge before the political parties on both sides of the divide by forcing a compromise on the issue. Indeed, this will fully test the sagacity of the leadership of both the Congress and the BJP in the next few years, especially until the Supreme Court pronounces on the appeal.
Both the main parties will strive to be on the right side of objective history as it plays out. But the problem is, as Gramsci said, there is no knowing which set of forces will emerge dominant after years of conflict and compromise.
The Congress and the BJP appear to be infused with self-doubts over how to re-position themselves in the aftermath of the Allahabad high court order. They perceive a certain national mood for a compromise represented by the much-talked-about desire on the part of the people to just "move on" and not get trapped by a dispute over a 16th century structure.
Both Congress and BJP leaders, even by their own standards, are choosing their words ever more carefully, and trying to appear reasonable. BJP leader Arun Jaitley, who is always sure of what he wants to say, responded ambiguously to a query on whether the BJP will give up its claim on other disputed religious structures. He said the party will formulate a response on these issues.
Similarly, Congress leaders like Digvijaya Singh, who otherwise rush to prove their pro-Muslim credentials, have so far refrained from making any strong statements on behalf of the minority community which certainly appears more disappointed with the court order. Only Mulayam Singh Yadav was open enough to say Muslims were feeling cheated and he was promptly castigated by others for playing politics. Well, even if you hate Mulayam's provincial politics, isn't it pretty obvious that, over a longer period, the mainstream national parties have played more cynical politics over Ayodhya, starting from the opening of the lock at Babri Masjid 24 years ago?
So, it is the two national parties, the Congress and the BJP, who will be under tremendous pressure to politically nuance their responses to the new situation thrown up by the Allahabad high court order. The Supreme Court is not likely to come to their rescue until the next general elections in 2014. A major worry for the Congress will be how it would prove its commitment to Muslims in terms of vigorously pursuing the rule of law to book the guilty for the heinous act of bringing down the Babri mosque.
Congress leaders' instincts are normally driven by considerations of how to remain in power. Their preference, in normal circumstances, is to be ideologically ambivalent. Already, some Congress leaders are privately saying if the government moves to expedite the criminal case against the BJP leaders in the Masjid demolition, it could give the Sangh Parivar a big handle to consolidate the Hindu votes. The Congress could paint itself into a corner on this one. The Congress's unfinished project of Muslims returning to its fold, especially in Uttar Pradesh, will be particularly under threat now.
The BJP too has tasted power and would want to play the issue of "mandir wahin banayenge" in a more creative way. They will try to calibrate their mandir politics to appear reasonable and win back allies who had left the NDA, many of whom are now with the UPA. The BJP will use the court order to mitigate its "untouchability factor" with its former allies. So the desire to come back to power may force the BJP to temporarily follow a somewhat middle-of-the-road approach. In short, we could witness a slow-burn polarisation of votes as political parties re-position themselves in the light of the Ayodhya judgment.
This churn will be interesting to study in the context of the larger play of forces representing "faith and reason." A nation-state, after all, represents a compromise, a social contract between ethnic communities and the need for modern societal and institutional requirements.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE SENA'S STUMBLING MARCH
The Shiv Sena is in trouble, and it knows it. Bal Thackeray's grandson, Aditya, who heads the Sena's students wing, has created a furore over an "objectionable" Rohinton Mistry novel in the Mumbai University syllabus. This is only the latest in a long line of similar stunts, and it shows the party's vulnerability, its readiness to clutch at any straw.
In 1992, when the Babri Masjid demolition sparked communal riots and the BJP was still struggling for a balanced response, its ally in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena, promptly owned up to the outrage. Sena chief Bal Thackeray said that he was proud of the Shiv Sainiks who had participated in the destruction.
Eighteen years later, after the Allahabad high court's verdict, the Sena has been largely silent. There have been no celebrations, no clamour for credit. Sena leaders are privately jubilant, and party mouthpiece Saamna has praised Justice S.U. Khan while urging Muslims to use the occasion to "wipe away the stigma of being seen as pro-Pakistani or fanatics" by helping build the Ram temple.
While the Sena's silence has helped keep the peace in Maharashtra, there are other factors influencing the party at the moment.
The ailing Sena chief is struggling to pass on his legacy to his son, Uddhav, who lacks the wit, the aggressiveness and charisma of his father. The leaders who helped fortify the party for over four decades and who participated in the Ayodhya kar sewa, have grown old, and some key street-fighters like Chhagan Bhujbal and Narayan Rane have left the party. Rivalry between Uddhav and his cousin, Raj, which resulted in the breakaway Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), has ended the Sena's monopoly over the "Marathi manoos". Considering Uddhav's charisma deficit, the Sena is now trying to launch his son, Aditya, as chief of its "yuva sena". Aditya's objections to Rohinton Mistry's Such a Long Journey, for its derogatory references to the Sena, are part of his political strategy. The state government is now investigating whether the university acted in haste, withdrawing the book.
The Sena's attempts to score over the MNS means that it takes up any issue that might resonate with voters, whether it was the power tariff hike in Mumbai's suburbs or, now, the participation of Pakistani nationals in the TV show Bigg Boss. Earlier, it opposed Shah Rukh Khan on the grounds that he had spoken out in favour of Pakistani cricketers playing in India. It's clear the Sena has nothing of its former fire, and is now groping for issues. As it prepares to save its citadel in Mumbai, where the municipal corporation (the country's richest) goes to the polls by February 2012, it could use infrastructure and civic amenities as poll issues, but is actually on the defensive due to poor management. It is blaming the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) headed by Chief Minister Ashok Chavan for encroaching on the civic body's jurisdiction.
The Sena's Generation Next is also facing challenges from younger politicians like Narayan Rane's son, Nitesh, whose "Swabhimaan" outfit has been aggressively taking up civic issues . Moreover, the decision to institute a caste census has upset the Sena, which launched a website in the name of Keshav Thackeray (Bal Thackeray's father, a social reformer steadfastly opposed to the caste system). The Sena is jittery about the statistics it could throw up, which could lead to new mobilisations and new leaders among the OBCs (who, along with Hindu Dalits, are the party's backbone). The data may lead to unmanageable political aspirations.
Another worry is the Srikrishna Commission's indictment of some Sena leaders for the post-Babri riots in Mumbai. Though some of its leaders were exonerated, the commission had recorded statements of people who claimed to have witnessed Sena leaders inciting mobs. After its bruising in the assembly polls, the party is wary of taking steps that could backfire on its leaders. It is not even certain of holding its high-profile Dussehra rally this year at Shivaji Park because of the "silent zone" norms imposed by the court. It would not be surprising if the jubilation over the Ayodhya verdict were to spill forth at the Dussehra rally. The state government, which has sought the cooperation of all parties in maintaining peace, is poised to move the court to get noise pollution norms relaxed, thus facilitating the Sena in an apparent quid pro quo.
The Sena, which was launched with the Congress's blessings to take on communist unions in textile mills in the '60s, gradually gained a political foothold with its "sons of the soil" plank. It formed a Hindutva-based alliance with the BJP in 1989, which endures despite occasional bickerings. Its ambition to grow in the Hindi belt has been stalled because of its anti-migrant stand in Mumbai. The Sena's biggest moment was when it wrested power from the Congress in 1995 in Maharashtra, in alliance with the BJP. The question for the party now is whether that will remain its only major achievement.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
STEEL IN THE WRISTS
MIHIR S. SHARMA
On America's East Coast, March midnights chill the bone. Stomping through months-old, packed snow into the teeth of a wind sweeping down from Canada requires unusual reasons. Watching a demoralised Indian team follow on against Steve Waugh's invincibles would not, normally, count as unusual. But at stumps the previous day, V.V.S. Laxman had walked back to the pavilion, his head held high, with a century against his name on the old Eden scoreboard, Dravid walking quietly behind. He was in his zone, we told ourselves. The team would lose, of course, but watching Laxman bat for a few more hours was worth the long walk to a house with satellite TV.
As Laxman and Dravid batted through that extraordinary fourth day, the fatalism dropped away, as for the 75,000 watching in Eden Gardens, who agonisingly slowly began to believe, till they discovered once again their familiar roar. And so, incredibly, did the cold for us far away, banished by Laxman's sunlit strokes, which carried us back to endless warm afternoons watching another wristy Hyderabadi.
Ten years have passed since that unforgettable victory, and the Indian team is unrecognisable in some ways. The self-doubt that we grew up willing them to overcome has vanished, replaced by a brashness that's equally irritating. We no longer expect to lose against Australia; since Laxman started playing Tests, no team has beaten Australia more often than his. This Tuesday, India may have been eight down with sessions to bat; but we knew we didn't have to lose. For one, Laxman was still around, wasn't he? And, against Australia, in the second innings, we trust in Laxman.
The painful back that first bothered him the week of his Eden 281 didn't, literally, cramp Laxman's style at Mohali, any more than it did in against Sri Lanka in our last Test, where too he pulled off a last-innings coup. Some used to think he was weak against the short ball: on Tuesday he twisted his aching back again and again to pull them to the boundary. It isn't quite clear, as Ponting, and Waugh before him, complained, what his weakness is. The quick ball that moves in, perhaps but not always. Who can tell for sure? The problem with naturals, as Laxman is more than the rest of our golden generation, that even they don't always know how they do things. Like Inzamam, he seems to respond to the ball automatically, without the conscious judgment that someone like Dravid brings visibly to a stroke. And that's why, like Inzi, he seems to have more time to play a ball than the laws of acceleration and momentum allow.
And, if that instinct is working properly, then no bad back is going to slow him down when the team needs him for a victory. Soft-spoken or not, wristy or not, Laxman is a hard man.
So it has always been. Laxman, even when the endless quest for a classical Test opener pushed him up the order, seemed like another young Azhar. Till Laxman arrived, few of us could imagine someone else capable of flicking so effortlessly to the leg side a ball apparently destined to miss the off-stump by a mile. But unlike the MP from Moradabad, Laxman early demonstrated an extra something. Grit, perhaps. The mental toughness that prefers allowing yourself to be dropped, because you're being pushed into being an opener. The Eden crowd, which loves grace more than anything that's not named Ganguly, had adopted Azhar as its own for so long; those 75,000 were roaring not just because of how unprecedented the fightback was but because of how graceful, and how gritty it was.
Perhaps you needed to have survived the Azhar years to truly value the fightback, the high second-innings average, the back-to-the-wall defiance. For those who remember vividly the long period when all we had was individual brilliance in rubbers where the team seemed hopelessly outmatched throughout remember Tendulkar at Perth in 1992, in the last, lost Test of a 0-4 series? the miracles that Laxman can perform for a team struggling on the back foot, transmuting certain defeat into inevitable victory, remain the highest form of sport.
And he can produce them like Tendulkar, like Dravid, like Kumble did without any of the juvenile machismo of the brash, burning-out boys in a team accustomed to winning on tracks they like, in formats they like, against opponents they like. We asked for a winning self-confidence, but we wanted never-say-die steely Waughs, not what we got. We wanted a team that replicated what we already had: a Tendulkar who batted like everyone depended on him, because they did; a Dravid who played each ball, in form or not, as if it were his last; a Laxman who raised his game the most when he played the best, like Federer or Nadal.
This series has just one more Test, which Ponting has said, with glum humour, he hopes Laxman's back keeps him out of. That's half the problem. You're never really tested except in Tests. Dravid, Ganguly, Kumble, Laxman: they were all Test players first. The next generation, not so much; even if some of them, like Sehwag and Gambhir, have talent that bends the format around them. If we want steel of VVS' calibre, we need to temper it, to test it. And that needs more Tests, on supportive pitches. After Mohali's single-wicket win, who wouldn't want more?
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
C. RAJA MOHAN
There is no doubt that the recent closure of the Khyber Pass, the main eastern gateway into Afghanistan, marks a deepening of the many contradictions between Washington and Rawalpindi, where the Pakistan army is headquartered. Rawalpindi's move was in response to the growing military incursions by the US-led international forces across the Durand Line, which divides Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Until now, the Pakistan army has acquiesced to the US drone attacks in the tribal areas that border Afghanistan. But the growing intensity of these attacks and the hot pursuit of militants taking shelter in sanctuaries located in Pakistan has angered Rawalpindi. Recent attacks by NATO helicopters killed 30 militants and a handful of security forces. Besides closing the Torkham gate at the Khyber pass, Rawalpindi appears to have encouraged the militants to attack the NATO convoys.
The Obama administration, on its part, is increasingly frustrated with Pakistan's reluctance to go after the militants targeting Afghanistan. Washington is signaling that if Rawalpindi can't deliver on its promises, the US troops have no choice but to attack the militant sanctuaries in Pakistan. Many of the US and NATO attacks are focused on disrupting the Haqqani network in North Waziristan. While Pakistan sees the Haqqani network as a lever in defining a future political order in Kabul, the US sees the group as one of the principal threats to its military operations in Afghanistan.
Sceptics would say Washington and Rawalpindi will manage to find, as they always do, a way to paper over their strategic differences and continue with their tactical alignment in Afghanistan. Cynics will add that, for all its recent fulminations against the double dealings of Rawalpindi, Washington is a hostage to the Pakistan army. So long as it maintains a large force in Afghanistan, the US is completely dependent upon Pakistan for logistical support. Nearly 80 per cent of the supplies to US operations in Afghanistan have to come through Pakistan. With US-Iran relations in deep freeze, access into Afghanistan through its western borders is out of the question. The US has begun to develop the northern routes into Afghanistan, through Central Asia. This long and costly northern corridor is no substitute for the natural routes via the Khyber and Bolan passes through Pakistan.
While the tyranny of geography limits US options, the Pakistan army might be making the usual mistake of political over-reach. For domestic political pressure is mounting on President Obama to show some progress in Afghanistan. Fudging the reality of Pakistan's double-dealing is no longer an option for Washington.
With its aid levels reaching nearly $2 billion a year and the Pakistani economy in a shambles after the great Indus flood, Washington is is betting that it does have some leverage. As they test each other's nerve, either Washington or Rawalpindi will surely give in the coming days. Delhi would want to monitor closely the latest round of bargaining between Washington and Rawalpindi on the eve of President Barack Obama's visit to India.
Pashtuns are key
Pervez Musharraf's confession without contrition of Pakistan's policy of nurturing anti-India terror groups is unlikely to shock policy-makers in Delhi. Nevertheless, South Block might want to pay attention to the general's thinking on how to stabilise Afghanistan.
For one, Musharraf agrees with Delhi's view that there is no such creature as the "moderate Taliban." "There are Taliban and Pashtuns... As I have always said, all Taliban are Pashtun, but not all Pashtun people are Taliban," Musharraf declared. Asked for advice on Afghan strategy, Musharraf said the international community "should reinforce the ancient Pashtun clans who are not ideologically aligned with the Taliban to govern Afghanistan and to fight the Taliban."
Both Kabul and Washington are reaching out to different elements of the Pashtun tribes. Until now, success has been limited. Yet, Delhi should heed Musharraf's advice that the Pashtuns hold the key to Afghanistan's future and begin to engage them.
As Delhi takes a close look at the developments in Afghanistan, it should not lose sight of Kabul's northern neighbours, where the signs of trouble have become disturbing. Of special concern is Tajikistan, which is facing militant violence after a period of relative calm. Tajikistan shares a 1,300 km long border with Afghanistan and has security ties to India. Delhi must do what it can to help Dushanbe end its internal turmoil.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE 'BEAUTIFUL' GAMES
Good morning President of India, Your Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall (if you're still here), Prime Minister of India, Chairman of the Commonwealth Games Federation Mike Fennell, the chief of the OC Suresh Calamity (sorry, but you did refer to former president Abdul Kalam as Abdul Kalam Azad), Soniaji, Sheilaji... and, all you doomsayers welcome to the "beautiful" Games.
That's the adjective the DD Sports commentary team at the Talkatora Stadium used to describe the swimming events on Tuesday. And if it wasn't beautiful, it was "excellent" or "lovely": "Yesterday, was a lovely day at the pool"; "today, this lovely girl Zaman, is leading"; "Puneet has an excellent stroke, a beautiful action even though his timing is not very good. Never mind, he had a beautiful start, an excellent extension (whatever) and a lovely time... Madam commentator, aapko kaise laga?"
Not so her pronunciation. She called Christian, Christine so when a man surfaced, we mistook him/her for Begum Nawazish Ali from the Bigg Boss household. The Indian commentary team was having such a lovely time, they forgot to give us any information about the swimmers, their records or the contest. So they were replaced by international commentators who gave us all the statistics but no adjectives. Watching the swimming was a lose-lose situation: the foreign accent was difficult to comprehend, the Indian commentary was difficult to listen to. May as well have had no commentary at all the telecast was beautiful without it.
Nowhere near as beautiful as the opening ceremony, though. That was spectacular why, the foreign media said so. The Aerostat lifted the Games out of the debris of the last few months and we were off to flying start. Before that moment, everyone was looking down in the dumps in the VIP stands, in the stadium, at DD's studio. Anchors Charu Sharma and Mayanti were so stiff they could have been cardboard cut-outs dressed in black, so we were not prepared for the colourful extravaganza that followed. If they had sported T-shirts with CWG logos, they would have looked the part rather than resembling TV news anchors.
Speaking of TV anchors, on Tuesday they discussed and dissected the opening ceremony the way they do Ayodhya, Kashmir or the Maoists. DD News, Headlines Today, Times Now and CNN-IBN had lengthy evening discussions: "Should we forget about corruption because of the opening?", "India wows the world," but where was Bollywood (in Mumbai?). Here's what; the news may be as good as it gets but TV will still find bad things to say. Cultural impresario Rajeev Sethi (CNN-IBN) ranted more than he raved about the ceremony. You wondered whether he had watched the same event. We watched Incredible India, he saw Incompetent India.
He obviously hadn't watched it on DD-HD (high definition). That was "a startling performance" as the Times Now reporter described Sania Mirza's game in her first doubles match with Leander Paes. The ceremony was a Hindi blockbuster film four hours and paisa vasool on account of the many commercial breaks to accommodate PSU ads we have never seen before, and probably will never see hereafter: chuk-chuk Indian Railways, Central Bank of India, Air India, Reserve Bank of India, SAIL.
There were other reasons to "enjoy". This was "traditional arts in a modern look", according to Bharat Bala whose beautiful mind had conceived the spectacle. Maybe a little more of new India could have shown up, but Keshava & Co left us with a beautiful feeling about our country, especially when the Indian contingent walked in. The parade of athletes was long. However, be positive: here was a chance to learn the names of unheard places for the next time you play "Atlas" or plan a holiday to an unknown spot: Niue, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Anguilla, here we come. The commentators were clueless about them, lost instead in admiration for the lovely sarees worn by the women leading in the teams.
When the train chugged in, we thought Republic Day had arrived four months early. Then A.R. Rehman sang "Jiyo, utho badho, jeeto." Jai Ho.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
TEST TUBE VINDICATION
ROBIN MARANTZ HENIG
On Monday, the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was awarded to a man who was reviled, in his time, as doing work that was considered the greatest threat to humanity since the atomic bomb. Sweet vindication it must be for Robert Edwards, the British biologist who developed the in vitro fertilisation procedure that led to the birth of Louise Brown, the first so-called test-tube baby.
It's hard to believe today, now that IVF has become mainstream, that when Ms Brown's imminent birth was announced in 1978, even serious scientists suspected she might be born with monstrous birth defects. How, some wondered, could it be possible to mess around with eggs and sperm in a petri-dish and not do some kind of serious chromosomal mischief?
And yet, in the 32 years since, our attitude toward Dr Edwards's research has completely changed: IVF is now used so often it is practically routine.
The history of in vitro fertilisation demonstrates not only how easily the public will accept new technology once it's demonstrated to be safe, but also that the nightmares predicted during its development almost never come true. This is a lesson to keep in mind as we debate whether to pursue other promising yet controversial medical advances, from genetic engineering to human cloning.
Dr Edwards and his collaborator, the gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe, who died in 1988, became notorious after they announced that they had fertilised a human egg outside the mother's womb. In England, reporters camped out on the lawn of the prospective parents, Lesley and John Brown, for weeks before the baby's due date.
When Mrs Brown checked into Oldham General Hospital, outside Manchester, to give birth, she did so under an assumed name. Still, reporters sneaked past security dressed as plumbers and priests in hopes of getting a glimpse of her.
Meanwhile, criticism of the pregnancy grew increasingly extreme. Religious groups denounced the two scientists as madmen who were trying to play God. Medical ethicists declared that in vitro fertilisation was the first step on a slippery slope toward aberrations like artificial wombs and baby farms.
Fortunately, Louise Brown was not born a monster, but rather a healthy, 5-pound, 12-ounce blonde baby girl. She had no birth defects at all, and suddenly her existence seemed to demonstrate only that there was nothing to fear about IVF. The birth of the "baby of the century" paved the way for a happy ending for millions of infertile couples nearly four million babies worldwide have been conceived with the procedure.
True, IVF has not been without consequences. It immediately raised new questions: Would single women or gay couples use the technology? Would it be all right for couples to create and save excess embryos to be used in later attempts if the first try failed?
It has also opened the door to new controversial concepts: "designer babies," carrying certain selected genes; pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which allows the possibility of choosing the baby's sex; and human cloning.
Even today, not everyone is comfortable with in vitro fertilisation. In a 2005 survey, 13 per cent of British adults, and a surprising 22 per cent of those under 24, said the risks involved in such fertility treatments might outweigh the benefits.
Yet with IVF the public has shown how it can debate the usefulness of a new medical technology, reject its abuse and in some cases embrace its benefits. We approve when a woman in her 30s who otherwise couldn't conceive does so through in vitro fertilisation, for example, but we cry foul when a 60-year-old tries to do the same.
As Dr Edwards himself noted in the early 1970s, just because a technology can be abused doesn't mean it will be. Electricity is a good thing, he said, regardless of its leading to the invention of the electric chair.
Science fiction is filled with dystopian stories in which the public blindly accepts destructive technologies. But in vitro fertilisation offers a more optimistic model. As we continue to develop new ways of improving upon nature, the slope may be slippery, but that's no reason to avoid taking the first step.
Henig is the author of "Pandora's Baby: How the First Test Tube Babies Sparked the Reproductive Revolution."
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
HOLD THE CHAMPAGNE
The IMF's Global Financial Stability Report (GFSR) has confirmed what was made obvious when, on Tuesday, the Bank of Japan said it would pump in more money into the economy and keep interest rates at near zero levels; the US Fed will likely also provide a fresh dose of economic stimulus soon. The world, the GFSR acknowledges, is a riskier place than it was six months ago. The IMF's World Economic Outlook's reduction in 2011 growth projection has to be seen through this prism of heightened uncertaintybetween July and now, the IMF's 2010 growth forecast has risen from 4.6% to 4.8% while the 2011 forecast fallen from 4.3% to 4.2%. Risks in the forecast, the IMF says, "are mainly to the downside". The diagram in the GFSR, which really summarises events, is the famous Michael-Porter style diamond plotting various types of risk in comparison with the situation in April. Macroeconomic risks, the diamond says, are up, risk appetite is down and emerging market risk is seen as lower (as happens when submerging OECD markets look worse off).
The reasons are pretty well known, banks are still risky and, to the extent sovereigns took over their credit risk, they are looking riskier. The GFSR estimates that, while the level of writedowns are down compared to the projections six months ago ($2.2 trillion versus $2.3 trillion), around $4 trillion of bank debt has to be rolled over in the next 24 months. At what levels this will get rolled over is the thing to watch, more so when default spreads are once again rising for financial institutions as well as for sovereigns. The corollary, naturally enough, has been bank credit conditions that are looking tighterin the US, year-on-year growth in bank lending to the private sector is still in the negative territory. With the need to unleash new spending programmes, OECD debt and deficit levels are unlikely to fall soon and look like they will continue to rise. The critical factor is when private investment and demand will rise, and the fact that consumer confidence is low is a problem.
As for India, while demand is picking up steadily, a slowing or the dreaded double-dip will hurt growth. How much is unclear but the RBI's figure that 60-70% of Indian manufacturing is directly related to exports is sobering. The IMF forecasts a much slower trade growth in 2011as compared to 11.4% in 2010, 2011 trade volume is expected to grow only 7% in 2011. The rupee is already an issue of concern and most expect FII flows to rise in the months to comewhich is why deputy governor Subir Gokarn went public expressing his concern over the inflows and saying that RBI was examining how this could be managed.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
RUPEE VERSUS REVIVAL
The steady appreciation of the rupee by close to 9% against the dollar since May has pushed exporters into a frenzy. It doesn't help that the Japanese move to keep interest rates at near zero and the sluggish growth in the OECD implies India could be faced with a flood of inflows, prompting RBI deputy governor Subir Gokarn to talk of the need to manage inflows. There is every case to be watchful, but we also need to be careful. For one, the case for the rupee being the sole determinant of exports is overstated. Despite the steady appreciation of the rupee in the current fiscal year, merchandise exports grew 28.6% during April-August 2010-11, though on a low base. But the highest pick-up in India's merchandise exports in recent years was in 2007-08 when exports surged by 28.9% even when the rupee sharply appreciated to Rs 40.2 against the dollar in the year. And despite the steady depreciation of the rupee to Rs 45.9 in 2008-09 and further to Rs 47.4 in 2009-10, the export growth first sharply decelerated to 13.7% and then declined by 3.6% in the very next year. That is, the surge, and slowing, in global trade was probably a more important factor.
The trade weighted 6-currency REER index also suggests the alarm is excessive. While the REER, with a base year 2008-09, shows that the real exchange rate, which depreciated from 109.49 in 2007-08 to 100 in 2008-09, remained almost stable at 100.21 in 2009-10, and has now appreciated back to 111.24 by end-August 2010, which is almost the same level as in 2007-08, when the export trade picked up at a record pace. While some argue that the REER is not the right index, what really matters is the change in currencies of export competitors. In the current year, such data show that India has appreciated less than the Singapore dollar, the Malaysian ringgit, the Indonesian rupiah, the Thai baht and even the Chinese yuan. But if trade is not picking upthe IMF projections, for what they are worth, are that after growing 11.4% in 2010, global trade volume growth will be a lower 7% in 2011and competitors are going to devalue further, the situation on the ground could well change.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
RIDING THE VALUE CREATION MANTRA
All business newspapers had Petrobras as a front page story when the Brazilian state-owned oil company recently raised $70 billion in the world's largest share offering to investors. The fact that the share offering was made by an oil company to fund deep sea exploration will not come as a surprise, given the scramble for resources in recent times. The fact that the company raising such huge funds from global investors was not one of the global oil majors but from a developing country will surely surprise many observers.
Should this event surprise us any more? Seven of the top ten share offers in 2010 were from firms that are not based in the developed economies of western Europe, Japan or the US.
The Boston Consulting Group has been researching and writing on value creation and identifying the top value creators in the world. Started in 1999, the BCG Top Value Creators Report is published annually and the 2010 Top Value Creators Report has been released recently. Starting with a list of 4,000 companies whose financials are published, the report identifies the top value creators based on average annual return to the shareholders in the preceding five years. The report identifies the top performers not just on growth in the price to earning multiple reflecting the future outlook for the firm, but on a comprehensive set of metrics that drive total shareholder returns, including the intrinsic or fundamental value of the business(es) driven by revenue and margin growth and free cash flow contribution driven primarily by dividend yield.
In the early years of the report, as one would expect, the top value creators were mostly from the developed economies. The first time an emerging market player featured in the report was in 2004 when Embraer, the Brazilian aircraft company, was not only included in the list but emerged as the top value creator over the preceding five years. However, most of the top ten firms were still from the developed countries. It was only as recently as in 2007 that firms from developing countries for the first time outnumbered their peers from developed countries in the top ten listing. In just three years since then, years which saw unprecedented global growth followed by the biggest economic crisis in recent years, this shift in performance is total. In the 2010 report, all the top ten value creators are from emerging markets. Tencent, the Hong Kong-based Internet company, was the top value creator with an average annual return of over 106% to its shareholders (for the period 2003-2009), with Naveen Jindal-led Jindal Steel and Power (JSPL) as the second highest value creator (and the highest in its industry category) with an average return of over 88%.
In the automotive industry, all but one of the top ten are from emerging economies with three Indian companiesMahindra & Mahindra, Hero Honda and Maruti Suzuki featuring in the list. It is very visible, as one would expect, in the machinery and construction industry, given the economic growth in the developing world. More surprisingly, it is also true in the consumer goods industry where the top seven value creators are from the emerging markets. Clearly, the local players in these markets are giving the older established global consumer firms a real run for their money. Even in the multi-business segment, the pride of place of being the top value creator goes to an Indian companythe low profile Jaypee Industriesleaving the well-known global conglomerates trailing far behind. The only industry where there are no representatives from the emerging countries and all top ten are from the developed economies is pharmaceuticals and medical technology. However, the top performers are not the usual suspectsthe global pharma leadersbut smaller research-driven newer entrants. Firms from the emerging markets in the pharma industry have some way to go before they join this list.
It is not just the shift of firms from West to East that is startling but also the shift from 'hot' consumer and technology focused industries to the 'boring' building blocks of our industrial economy. Industry sectors like machinery and construction and chemicals were rarely viewed as top picks by share holders. The fact is that these two industries have created the highest value for investors in the last five years, giving them an average annual return of over 46% and 42%, respectively, closely followed not surprisingly by mining and minerals with an average annual return of just over 41%.
The world economy is increasingly becoming a two-speed one. The developed world is likely to see a prolonged period of below average growth. The developing countries will continue to grow with increased focus on their internal markets and the growth in trade between them. This two-speed world will make global shareholders increasingly turn to emerging economies to invest à la Petrobras.
For the Indian policymakers, there is no better time than now to attract the massive flow of funds required to meet the huge capital needs of infrastructure and industrial growth in the country. Can we implement a strategy to increase the FDI flow into India from around $35 billion in 2009 to over $100 billion in the next few years? Global investors are willing to fund big bets. Can we identify the sectors where we would like to make the big bets and attract global funds and technology? At the firm level, the story for global investors could not be any stronger. The pre-crisis period saw several big bet acquisitions made by Indian companies to change their global competitive position. Post-crisis, Indian companies seem to have become more cautious. JSPL has created more value for its shareholders than any other company in the world except one. That is a truly powerful story to tell global investors. Can JSPL and other Indian firms leverage this performance with global investors and persuade them to making the big bets that would change their growth trajectory?
We have not faced a more promising window of opportunity than today to attract global funds to India. Will we grab this opportunity or lose the plot? Only time will tell.
The author is managing director, Boston Consulting Group, India
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
WHAT I STEEL IS MINE
In recent times relations between the steel and mines ministry have not been cordial. The reasons are obvious. While the former espouses the cause of the steel companies believing that it would benefit the steel sector, the latter bats for the miners. Since iron ore is the key raw material for steel manufacturers (1.5 tonne of iron ore is required to make 1 tonne of steel), they ideally want a situation where they are in a position to control its prices, whereas the iron ore miners feel that they have a right to command market prices for their products. Any kind of relationship that is so mutually dependent would obviously create tensions if the ministries governing them happen to fall in the domain of different ministers.
For long the steel and mines ministry used to be headed by the same minister so such tensions were absent. However, the compulsions of coalition politics in recent times broke the practice. So one often reads that while the steel minister keeps saying that iron ore exports should be banned and natural resources should be conserved, the mines minister explains how there's no problem with exports.
This routine scramble between the two sides now threatens to derail the government's efforts to bring in a law that mandates mining companies to share 26% of their profits with backward and tribal people of the mines region who are displaced because of such projects. The first ones to raise the discordant voice have been state-owned steel firm Steel Authority of India Ltd and the private sector Tata Steel. The steel minister Virbhadra Singh has also supported them. The objection of these two companies and the minister is mainly because SAIL and Tata Steel have captive iron ore mines that feed their steel manufacturing plants. If the 26% profit sharing proposal becomes a law, it would apply to all prospective mining leases as well as the existing ones. This would mean that SAIL and Tata Steel would have to hive off their iron ore mines into separate companies.
Ideally, there should be no problem with this. Companies in most other sectors are hiving off certain activities that are not core to unlock value, so why can't the same be done by the two steel firms? The problem here is that any such step would change the dynamics of steel making, its efficiency and product pricing. Currently, these two steel producers source 100% of iron ore from their captive mines. Another major producer, JSW steel, sources around 10% but manufacturers like, say, Essar Steel or Ispat don't have the same luxury. Iron ore prices are volatile and determine steel prices. Companies like SAIL or Tata Steel sell their products at the same price in the market as Essar or Ispat would but are protected from the swings in prices of iron ore. This is not all, the government policy allows captive iron ore miners to export the product after meeting their domestic requirements. Simply put, a steel company having iron ore mines has the luxury of exporting iron ore if its price in the international market is higher than that of steel!
This explains why post-2005 there has been a rush by a host of steel companies for mining leases in Orissa and to some extent Jharkhand. The advantage the combined status offers has made the state-owned iron ore producer NMDC also think in terms of setting up a steel plant. If it supplies iron ore to other steel producers why not set up its own steel unit goes the logic.
There's another area where the mines ministry has hurt the steel ministry/industry hard. The proposal on changes in mining law also mandates that future mining leases be given on the basis of competitive bids.
Today SAIL has captive mines and meets its requirement of 24 million tonnes in a year through it. But the company is expanding and would require 35-40 MT by 2012-13. Obviously it cannot risk its raw material supplies to any bids. The steel minister wants first the requirements of public sector units to be met and then only leases to be given to private producers because, after all, it is the government's money that is invested in PSUs.
So, left to the steel minister, any law made by the government on profit sharing or mining leases through competitive bids should exempt the companies he wants. Who says socialism is dead!
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
You could call it being parochial or you could call it being more inclusive. As compared to a situation today where entrance exams for jobs in the Railways were to be answered only in English or Hindi, Mamata Banerjee has decided they will now be offered in various other languages, including Bangla, Oriya and Tamil. Apart from what it will do to the thickness of the question paper, another interesting aspect will be that of security. The Railways recently cancelled an examination in Mumbai since the paper had leakedimagine the logistic horrors when the questions have to be translated into so many languages.
West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is a film buff. Everyone knows he loves to stop over at Nandan, the government film complex, whenever he can for an adda and a film show. But no one was amused recently when he went to inaugurate a fish festivalnow Bengalis are passionate about their fishand began by saying, er, film festival. He had to be corrected by a department official. The chief minister clearly knows his Ray and Fellini, but surely he should have known his hilsa, too.
SUZUKI IN YAMAHA
If foreigners get confused about Indian names and surnames, we do the same as well. So, when news came that the new India head of Yamaha would be a certain Mr Suzuki, reporters actually called to check if he was related to Osamu Suzuki. Turns out he wasn't, but imagine the irony, Yamaha India being headed by a Suzuki.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
It's stronger than steel. It conducts heat and electricity better than copper. It's transparent. It is graphene. The exotic sounding element, basically a one-atom thick sheet of carbon, appears to be the solution to the world's problems. Well, not quite but early research shows that it has revolutionary potential in areas ranging from armour and crack-resistant screens to semi-conductors and satellites. We may well be tapping a graphene screen on the iPhone 9 or driving a car whose body is a graphene-plastic polymer. It is for these and many other attributes that Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, who isolated graphene, have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. Who would have thought that the world's strongest material was discovered using scotch-tape and a number 2 pencil? Certainly not Philip Kim of Columbia University, who had been trying to do the same thing but using much more sophisticated, cutting-edge technology.
Scientists feared that Moore's law (named after the co-founder of Intel), which explains the extraordinary speed and memory capacity of gadgets, is expected to endure only until 2015, crimping efficiency thereafter. Graphene with its game-changing potential has excited the imagination of the research departments of several companies. Samsung, Nokia and IBM have already begun developing products. With all this pioneering research using his team's discovery (perhaps of the decade) Andre Geim has indeed come a long way since he won the Ig Nobel prize, a prize given at Harvard University to scientific achievements that "first make people laugh and then make them think", for his experiment involving a levitating frog.
"PLAYFUL" DISCOVERY, PROFOUND RESULTS
In an era in which the Nobel Prize is awarded mostly to research far removed from the world of touch-and-feel and the familiar, there is, on the face of it, something prosaic about the subject of this year's award. Graphene, for whose discovery the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to researchers Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, is something every child who has used the humble pencil may have unwittingly produced. The very method of producing this new two-dimensional crystal, a single layer version of the graphite crystals that constitute the 'lead' in pencils, using adhesive tape to separate the various layers, reinforces this feel of the familiar. Yet this material has unexpected properties that appear to open the door to an astonishingly varied range of applications, something that have been the subject of intense research since the discovery in 2004. For those whose expectations of cutting edge physics is firmly fixed on the exotic, graphene provides that too, with its one-atom thick structure furnishing a unique table-top setting for the exploration of the relativistic phenomena of the micro-world. "Playfulness," as the press release from Stockholm noted in an unusual emphasis (a sort of studied departure from gravitas), is one of the hallmarks of the awardees' work. Andre Geim has levitated frogs using magnets, levitation without meditation as a wag observed, as a pedagogical illustration of the phenomenon of diamagnetism. At a more serious level, Geim's research has produced material that, in its ability to adhere to surfaces, mimics the sticking power of geckos' feet.
This playful research though was done on no sandlot but at a university that boasts no fewer than 23 Nobel Prize winners among its past and present faculty, a line that began with the pioneer of atomic and nuclear physics, Ernest Rutherford, in 1907. On a pessimistic note, this suggests that the Mathews effect in science, as the pioneering sociologist of science, Robert Merton, christened it, holds for institutions as well. "For to all those who have more will be given, and they will have an abundance"; success breeds yet more success and later arrivals to scientific competition in the era of the knowledge economy will have to struggle ever harder. The consoling part of the story is that at the individual level, as the record of Geim and Novoselov demonstrates, the credo of making do with what is available combined with creativity and the ability to leave the beaten path still counts leading from playful discovery to an enduring entry in the record of science.
A CHALLENGING TASK
India's management of the external economy helped a lot in weathering the economic crisis. To a large extent, it is helping in the recovery in the post-crisis period as well. However, certain recent developments, although not threatening economic stability as yet, call for a constant policy vigil and may even warrant active intervention. The rupee has been appreciating in relation to the dollar both in real and nominal terms and that is eroding the competitiveness of exporters and domestic producers competing with imports. For nearly a year now, the Reserve Bank of India has been, rather surprisingly, adopting a hands-off approach in dealing with the strengthening rupee. This policy stance is at variance not only with the central bank's own record of intervening to keep the rupee within reasonable bounds but also with the policies of China and many other countries that are actively holding their currencies from rising so that their competitiveness is retained. This shift has come about without much of a debate. There is a strong case for the RBI articulating its exchange rate policy in far greater detail, particularly because, like the other central banks, it is facing the challenge of dealing with the copious capital inflows, which are flooding the stock markets and contributing to the rupee appreciation.
The Finance Minister has ruled out capital controls for now, and evidently the more traditional method of intervention by the RBI will be expensive, given the volume of flows. Since the last budget, more than $26 billion of capital inflows have come to the capital market, a substantial portion of them in equities. The rupee appreciation is happening at a time when both trade deficit and current account deficit are increasing. According to the RBI, during the first quarter of this year, current account deficit has trebled to $13.7 billion from $4.5 billion a year ago, primarily due to higher merchandise trade deficit and larger payments for certain types of services. The government is banking heavily on faster economic growth to limit the deficit in the current account to around 3 per cent. From all indications, it will be difficult to narrow, or even to contain, the trade deficit. Buoyant industrial activity would in fact result in higher imports. Petroleum prices are hardening. Exporters face infrastructural constraints, besides an adverse exchange rate. It is obvious that, for quite some time, foreign capital flows will be needed to bridge the gap in the balance of payments. The key task before the government is to encourage flows that are of a more permanent nature such as foreign direct investments.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
LOOK EAST POLICY MILLENNIA APART
IT IS TIME TO TAKE OUR LOOK EAST POLICY TO A NEW LEVEL. THE CONTINUOUS MEETING AND INTERMINGLING OF PEOPLE FROM DIVERSE SOCIAL BACKGROUNDS WILL HELP IN CRAFTING A LIBERAL AND COSMOPOLITAN ATTITUDE TO LIFE.
The year 2010 marks the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Hanoi as a capital by Emperor Ly Thai To, whose statue adorns the centre of the city. The year and the attendant celebrations would be a proud recollection for the people of Vietnam, and Hanoi in particular. At the end of this month, Hanoi will host a summit of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations and the East Asia Summit. India will participate in both meetings.
We have come a long way since the first India-ASEAN summit held in 2002 in Phnom Penh. We are now on course to host the 10th such summit in 2012, presumably in New Delhi. In this backdrop, we can assess what can be done in the overall context of our Look East policy in general, keeping the Nalanda University project as a focus.
In January 2007, at the Cebu meeting of the EAS, the member-states reached an understanding on strengthening regional educational cooperation. As part of this, they welcomed the initiative for the revival of Nalanda University. This was the culmination of an idea conceived by the Bihar government and given shape later by Singapore. In March 2006, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam addressed the joint session of the Bihar Assembly and exhorted it to revive the ancient seat of learning in Nalanda where science, philosophy, spirituality and social sciences could be blended. The Bihar government introduced a Bill in the Assembly in 2007 and cleared it to establish this great university. The Nalanda project became the face of an emerging Bihar.
In the middle of 2006, a proposal was received from the Singapore government called "The Nalanda Proposal." According to this, Nalanda would be the ideal site for establishing a 21st century learning institution linking South and East Asia. The idea envisaged simultaneous upgrading of the infrastructure to promote tourism, and establishing a university at Nalanda to offer higher education facilities, thereby enabling all-inclusive economic development of the entire region.
In order to carry forward the proposals, a Nalanda Mentor Group (NMG), under the chairmanship of Professor Amartya Sen, was established by the Government of India in 2007. The group examined the framework of international cooperation and the structure of partnership, which would govern the establishment of the university. It also made proposals for the revival of Nalanda and the governance structure of the university, and other aspects covering finance, areas of study, etc. The NMG's recommendations were to be endorsed by the EAS leaders through a declaration to take the process forward. However, owing to unforeseen developments in Thailand in 2008 and early 2009, the fourth EAS was delayed. At the last EAS, held in Hua Hin in Thailand in October 2009, the leaders endorsed and extended their support for the establishment of Nalanda University.
The NMG completed its work in the first half of this year. In the recent monsoon session, Parliament passed the Nalanda University Bill, thereby making available a legal basis for going ahead with the implementation of the project. Thus the forthcoming fifth EAS is uniquely important for India. It would give us an opportunity to share the approach to be adopted for the construction of the university. It would also give us an occasion to maintain and intensify interest in the project among the participating countries. Given that civil construction projects in India have an inertial impetus of their own, it is necessary for us to keep the idea alive. It is important that facilities and opportunities be provided to the academic community, including students in EAS countries, to keep itself aware of what is happening on the Nalanda front.
The Hanoi EAS offers us a chance to consider ideas for enabling a modern-day land link between the Indo-China region and India, with the proposed university as a backdrop, for intensified people-to-people contact. Initially, we could focus on each of the five countries in the Indo-China region that abuts India , Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar which also have a strong Buddhist tradition. This land link could be projected as a means of access and exposure for students, academics, pilgrims and tourists as a special feature of our relations with Southeast Asia in general and the countries mentioned above in particular.
To buttress or land links with the ASEAN region and beyond, we could consider introducing a monthly bus service for about 100 pilgrims who, for reasons of economy, health, etc., may prefer, or be induced, to undertake surface travel. We can utilise the recently opened Asian Highway (AH16) from Da Nang in central Vietnam to Mae Sot on the Thailand-Myanmar border.
After traversing Yangon and Mandalay, and collecting pilgrims in Myanmar, the bus could enter India and come to Gaya. They could visit Nalanda, Rajgir and Sarnath and other places of Buddhist studies in Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. If Bangladesh is convinced to allow passage for these visitors, they can reach Kolkata much faster before going on a pilgrimage and to academic centres across India. It may not be too difficult for India to convince Myanmar authorities to join the initiative. After all, General Than Shwe himself visited Gaya and its environs recently. The ordinary pilgrim's travel would be a very symbolic representation of people-to-people cooperation.
India could even consider donating some modern, long haul buses and have the flagging off of a bus convoy in Hue, cultural capital of Vietnam, so that it can reach Gaya or Nalanda after collecting academics and pilgrims en route. It could be scheduled to arrive in the week of the India-ASEAN Summit in 2012.
With Nalanda University acting as a beacon, regular visits by academics, pilgrims, students and tourists would compel us to focus not only on sticking to a schedule but also maintaining interest in all sides in the revival of the university project. The suggested land link will give it a historic and spiritual character.
One thousand years ago when Hanoi was being established, the Chola dynasty in peninsular India reached its pinnacle. One of its most powerful symbols, the Brihadeeshwara Temple in Thanjavur, also observed its 1000th anniversary this year. The Chola dynasty is the principal among those that consolidated and benefited by the original and proactive Look East Policy. The Cholas established strong maritime and commercial connections with countries and kingdoms to the southeast and east of India. Nagapattinam was the port from where all trade and other links were serviced with the kingdoms all the way up to, and including, China. As Professor K.A. Nilakanta Sastri states in his work, The Cholas: "At no time had Indian merchants ever ceased to frequent the shores of the Malay Peninsula and the islands of the archipelago, even Indo-china and China ... Towards the ninth century A.D. the countries of Southern Asia had developed an extensive maritime and commercial activity, and attained a prosperity unequalled in history."
It is perhaps time to take our Look East Policy to a new dimension. The continuous meeting and intermingling of people from diverse social backgrounds helps in crafting a liberal and cosmopolitan attitude to life. An overland connection to Nalanda, just as Nagapattinam thrived on an aqueous connection, could be the first step in our journey of the next thousand years. India is ideally placed to spur a movement catalysed by spirituality, to reach an ancient destination in the new millennium a place that set ancient India apart as a pioneer in higher education.
(The writer is a former Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs. He was India's Ambassador to Vietnam between 2004 and 2006.)
JAPAN RECYCLES MINERALS FROM USED ELECTRONICS
IT HAS BECOME IMPORTANT, ESPECIALLY AFTER A DIPLOMATIC SPAT WITH CHINA.
Two decades after global competition drove the mines in this corner of Japan to extinction, Kosaka is again abuzz with talk of new riches.
The treasures are not copper or coal. They are rare-earth elements and other minerals that are crucial to many Japanese technologies and have so far come almost exclusively from China, the global leader in rare earth mining.
Recent problems with Chinese supplies of rare earths have sent Japanese traders and companies in search of alternative sources, creating opportunities for Kosaka.
This town's hopes for a mining comeback lie not underground, but in what Japan refers to as urban mining recycling the valuable metals and minerals from the country's huge stockpiles of used electronics like cell phones and computers.
"We've literally discovered gold in cell phones," said Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, a former land minister and now opposition party member, who visited recently to survey Kosaka's recycling plant.
Kosaka's pursuits have become especially important for Japan in recent weeks. Late last month, amid a diplomatic spat with Tokyo, China started to block exports of certain rare earths to Japan.
The shipping ban was still in effect on the evening of October 4 in Japan, an industry official said, though a trickle of shipments seemed to be seeping out as a result of uneven enforcement of the ban by customs officers at various ports. China has allowed exports of Chinese-made rare earth magnets and other rare earth products to Japan, but not semi-processed rare earth ores that would enable Japanese companies to make products.
Crucial to a range of products
The cut-off has caused hand-wringing at Japanese manufacturers, from giants like Toyota to tiny electronics makers, because the raw materials are crucial to products as diverse as hybrid electric cars, wind turbines and computer display screens.
Late last week, Japan's trade minister, Akihiro Ohata, said he would ask the government to include a "rare earth strategy" in its supplementary budget for this year.
In Kosaka, Dowa Holdings, the company that mined here for over a century, has built a recycling plant whose 200-foot-tall furnace renders old electronics parts into a molten stew from which valuable metals and other minerals can be extracted. The salvaged parts come from around Japan and overseas, including the United States.
Besides gold, Dowa's subsidiary, Kosaka Smelting and Refining, has so far successfully reclaimed rare metals like indium, used in liquid-crystal display screens, and antimony, used in silicon wafers for semiconductors.
The company is trying to develop ways to reclaim the harder-to-mine minerals included among the rare earths like neodymium, a vital element in industrial batteries used in electric motors, and dysprosium, used in laser materials.
Although Japan is poor in natural resources, the National Institute for Materials Science, a government-affiliated research group, says that used electronics in Japan hold an estimated 3,00,000 tons of rare earths. Though that amount is tiny compared to reserves in China, which mines 93 per cent of the world's rare earth minerals, tapping these urban mines could help reduce Japan's dependence on its neighbour, analysts say.
Rare earth market is small
The global rare earth market is small by mining standards just $1.5 billion last year, although its value is rising as prices have surged in response to Chinese restrictions on exports.
Concern over China's hoarding of rare earths has also been spreading to the United States. Although China has not specifically blocked shipments to any place but Japan, it had already tightened its overall export quotas of the minerals, announcing in July that it would reduce them by 72 per cent for the rest of the year.
On September 29 in Washington, the House of Representatives approved a bill authorising research to address the supply of rare earths, saying the minerals were critical to energy, military and manufacturing technologies.
Japanese companies generally avoid discussing their mineral holdings. But experts say that some manufacturers have been stockpiling rare earths, building inventories ranging from a few months' to a year's worth. On October 1, Ohata, the trade minister, said the government was considering starting a stockpile of rare earths as a buffer against trade interruptions.
New manufacturing processes
Japan is also pushing for new manufacturing processes that do not require rare earths. Last week, the government-affiliated New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation (NEDO), announced that it had developed a motor for hybrid vehicles that used cheap and readily available ferrite magnets, instead of the rare earth magnets typically required.
Hitachi Metals, meanwhile, is working on a magnet that minimises the use of rare earths by employing copper alloys.
"Japanese companies have become painfully aware of the risks of relying so greatly on China for strategic metals," said Akio Shibata, chief representative at the Marubeni Research Institute in Tokyo.
He said Japanese industry might benefit from researching alternatives to rare earths and developing recycling methods, noting how the oil shocks of the 1970s helped eventually make Japan a leader in fuel-efficiency technologies.
Various players have tried to recycle rare earths and metals in Japan. Last year, Hitachi began to experiment to extract rare earths from magnets in old computer hard drives, though the company said the project was not expected to go into operation until 2013.
But it is Dowa, the company that has mined in Kosaka since 1884, that has emerged as the field's early leader. And it could not come a moment too soon for this town of 6,000, which is littered with the remnants of its old ore mines: tunnels overgrown with weeds, old railroad tracks, and an abandoned bathhouse where miners once sponged off the grime from their long days underground.
The mines operated up to 1990, until a surging yen and international competition drove operations out of business. Now, portions of the old red-brick ore processing factories serve as part of Dowa's recycling plant, which started fully operating two years ago.
. Apart from rare metals and earths, Kohmei Harada, a managing director at the National Institute of Materials Science estimates that about 6,800 tons of gold, or the equivalent of about 16 percent of the total reserves in the world's gold mines, lie in used electronics in Japan.
Technically difficult process
But this form of recycling is an expensive and technically difficult process that is still being perfected.
At Dowa's plant, computer chips and other vital parts from electronics are hacked into two-centimetre squares. This feedstock then must be smelted in a furnace that reaches 1,400°Celsius before various minerals can be extracted. The factory processes 300 tons of materials a day, and each ton yields only about 150 grams of rare metals.
Finding enough electronics parts to recycle has also grown more difficult for Dowa, which procures used gadgets from around the world.
A growing number of countries, including the United States, are recognising the value of holding onto old electronics. © New York Times News Service
FLOODWATERS WELCOMED IN INDUS DELTA
AFTER THE DESTRUCTION ELSEWHERE, THERE IS NOW JOY AND HOPE FOR THOSE AT THE MOUTH OF THE INDUS RIVER.
Ali Hussain's sun-beaten face cracked into a broad smile, revealing a set of ferociously rotten, red-stained teeth corroded by years of chewing tobacco and betel nut. He had been asked his opinion of this year's flood.
"We're happy with it, of course," the fisherman said, standing outside his house on the mud flats of the Indus delta. "We've been waiting for this water for the past 14 years." The curse of the rest of Pakistan has been a blessing for the delta, a maze of mangroves and shabby fishing villages at the mouth of the 3,000-kilometre river. Here, the fresh water that ravaged the rest of the country is bringing new life and renewal.
Fish catch is up
Fishermen report an abundance of fish. Catches are up 20 per cent in the last month, and could rise another 50 per cent as the season progressed, said Ahmed Ullah of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, which has 5,000 members on the delta. "For other people the floods have been bad news. But for us it was the only way to defeat the sea," he said.
Perhaps more significantly, the floods have brought an ecological windfall. Decades of building irrigation and hydro-electric dams further up the Indus drained the river of its force, allowing salty fresh water to infiltrate the delta. Mangrove plants on the mudflats perished the acreage was halved between the 1950s and 2009 while nearby farming land became uncultivable.
Now the swell of fresh water known locally as " mithi", or sweet water has injected new life into the sagging ecosystem. The provincial government says the mangroves are growing again as the salt water is pushed back.
"We have a new defence against the sea," said Mohsin Chandna, head of the Sindh coastal department, as he weaved a small boat through the creeks of the delta, pointing to thriving mangrove nurseries.
A revitalised delta could, in time, turn marshes into agricultural land and herald a return of birds and other wildlife. Keti Bunder, a shabby little port that has been slowly dying over the years, could be revived. "Suddenly things are changing very fast," said Chandna.
Further up the coast in Karachi, where 50,000 refugees are sheltering, doctors also see a silver lining to the flood.
Although many live in squalid conditions, with poor sanitation and hygiene, Dr Nighat Shah of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Pakistan said it was a golden opportunity to improve healthcare among rural women.
"Many of the women we're seeing have never been seen by a trained doctor before. It's taken everyone by surprise that this kind of poverty exists today." The greatest upside, however, may occur on the lands that have been ravaged by the floods. The enriched soil is expected to produce bumper harvests in some parts of Pakistan. "The challenge," said U.N. official John Long, "is how to support the people who live there between now and then." © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
NEW SPECIES IN MEKONG AREA
A carnivorous plant in the Kampot province, a small fish with vampire fangs, and a frog that sounds like a cricket ( Leptolalax applebyi) were among 145 new species discovered last year in the Greater Mekong area.
These finds demonstrate "the Greater Mekong's immense biodiversity" and "the fragility of this region's diverse habitats and species," said the Cambodia Daily, quoting a WWF-World Wide Fund For Nature report, on October 6.
Three were found in Cambodia, while 58 were in Thailand. The Mekong river region spans the area from Burma to China's southern Yunnan province to Vietnam.
The three species in Cambodia were plants, including the carnivorous Nepenthes bokorensis, which can grow up to seven metres. Its red, insect-trapping pitchers can touch 25 cm. Though a recent "discovery" by scientists, in the Bokor Hill in Kampot province, it is known locally. Its roots are boiled as a concoction to ease body pain.
Scientists are making moves to include Nepenthes bokorensis in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because of development at Bokor Hill. The other plants, discovered in Cambodia in 2009, were a tropical herb found in the Ratanakkiri province and a yellow-flowered plant, in northern Cambodia and south-eastern Thailand. In Vietnam's Quang Nam province, the frog was initially heard, then later located, while the fish, the Dracula minnow, which grows to a maximum 17 mm, was found in a small stream in Burma.
Between 1997 and 2008, 1,231 species have been discovered by science across this region, according to WWF. Xinhua
ONE VERDICT, MANY QUESTIONS
INTERVIEW WITH KAPIL SIBAL, HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT MINISTER AND LAWYER.
Kapil Sibal , Minister for Human Resource Development and lawyer, talks to Karan Thapar on the Ayodhya judgment. Excerpts from the interview, which was broadcast over CNBC TV 18 on October 5.
Although everyone agrees that there are no winners and losers, and this is a continuing process that will culminate in the Supreme Court eventually there have been certain Muslim voices of concern
In a judicial process you'll have verdicts of this nature, and ultimately, unless the verdict attains finality, I don't think one party should feel triumphant and the other party should feel despondent. Remember, many a time the trial court verdict is affirmed, or completely set aside. So we don't know what the Supreme Court is going to do. So for one party or the other to feel sad or despondent or feel triumphant I feel is completely inopportune and shows a lack of maturity.
All three judges have accepted that under the mosque is a Hindu temple. Two of them have accepted that that temple was specifically demolished. That seems to be based on a disputed and controversial ASI report
First of all, many of us have not read the judgment, not analysed the evidence. For us therefore to say that the ASI report is right or wrong would not be appropriate ... Historians have made those statements, but in the ultimate analysis, the Supreme Court will definitely look ... remember, this is the first appeal. In normal circumstances, these matters are not decided by the High Court. But there was a special dispensation. The High Court was charged with the responsibility of doing so. So when it comes up in appeal, the Supreme Court is going to look at each issue of fact and law meticulously especially of fact. Because if the facts like whether there was a temple underneath one judge has said there was a non-Islamic structure, that is, a Hindu temple what does that mean? Is every non-Islamic structure a Hindu temple or is it a Hindu temple? Whether it is a non-Islamic structure or not?
Is there a possibility that when both these issues the Ramjanmabhoomi janmasthan issue of faith, and this issue of whether there is a temple underneath based upon a disputed ASI report that in both these instances the Supreme Court may say "these are not issues the court will go into" and actually say "we refuse to adjudicate on them"?
Anything is a possibility. The Supreme Court may affirm the judgment, the Supreme Court may completely set aside the judgment, the Supreme Court may do something else. I don't know.
At least two of the judges have accepted the Ramjanmabhoomi itself as a deity. How do you respond to that?
Again, that's a very, very complex legal issue. Because remember, the Ram lalla was placed in 1949 in the sanctum sanctorum. Whether that act by itself translates this into a deity or not I don't know. So there again the Supreme Court will apply its mind and decide. But quite frankly, all these issues, as I said, are highly complex, highly charged, and therefore the Supreme Court will be very, very careful and meticulous in analysing the judgment and coming to a conclusion consistent with the Constitution and the laws.
The problem with the solution proposed by the High Court is [that] its decision is not the final decision, none of the parties will want to accept the High Court advice at this stage. They will all want to go to the Supreme Court in the hope they could do better?
I don't know. That's again prognosticating as to what the parties will do. But I would imagine that the parties aggrieved will go to the Supreme Court, the matters re-agitated in the Supreme Court and a decision taken. And remember, this particular judgment involves complex issues far beyond our conversation For instance, the issue of possession. Who has possession of the site? And what date of possession are you talking about? What is the concept of possession in 17th century India or 16th century India when it all happened?... What are the prescriptive rights under the law of ownership in the 21st century? Do those prescriptive rights apply to 16th century India? What is the concept of ownership in the context of a place of worship?
It's interesting you should raise this issue of 'possession' because one of the grounds, if not the primary ground, which the High Court has come up with for this three-way split is the argument that at different points in time these three parties had possession. Does someone get possession just because you worship at a site?
Well, this is the issue. Supposing ... [you] go to a peepal tree and worship underneath. And some sadhu sits there under the peepal tree and thousands of people come and walk around it and worship. So who is in possession?
OK, so that sadhu cannot say "I possess the peepal tree because I worship under it."
Oh yeah, who is in possession at that point? And what does possession mean? The essential element of possession is a right to egress and ingress a right to enter, and not let someone to enter.
Is that not inherent when you worship at a particular site?
No, under the Indian Constitution you cannot prevent ... I can go to a gurdwara and pray in front of the Guru Granth Sahib. No one can prevent me.
So, even though you have the right to enter and leave, you do not have possession there just because you worship there.
I don't have possession. The gurdwara may actually own the land, in which case they possess it and they have ownership over it. But when you talk about the Babri Masjid or you talk about a temple or prayers in the 19th century, or the 15th-16th-17th century, what is the concept?
You said something fundamental ... what you're saying is that just because Party A or Party B happens to worship perhaps for decades at a particular site does not give that party possession of that site.
Right. Because these are two suits for title. Remember, title is based on two things: one, ownership which is a prescriptive right established under the law, and two, possession. Now you can say long-term possession entitles me and my community to pray here.
But you can't say the fact that I've prayed here gives me possession?
Right. That's another issue. That'll be decided by the court. That applies to both communities. If there is a mosque there or there was a mosque there for a long period of time, somebody can say that till 1949 or till 1992 there was a mosque. Right?
So I've prayed there for a period of time, why should I not be entitled to pray there? Right? That's another issue that the Supreme Court will have to decide. And the Hindu community will say "No, but way back in the 19th century we were also praying here. So there is an established practice of our prayers." So therefore, these are issues that the Supreme Court will have to decide on.
And the fundamental, key thing that you have just made clear for us is that the fact that you prayed somewhere for a long period of time does not give you possession.
It may give you the right to continue to pray there, but not possession. Maybe, maybe not ...
In going into that, the Supreme Court may either validate the three-way split or negate it ...
The court may say a number of things. The court may say "none of you have established your title"; the court may say "one of you has established your title", as the court has said now. The court may say "two of you have established title." I don't know what the court will say, but remember, these are title suits, which means you are claiming ownership. Ownership is a very complex judicial concept.
And what principles will be applied of ownership in the context of the fact that the mosque was built way back in the 16th century?
THE ASIAN AGE
GOLD KEEPS RISING, NO END IS IN SIGHT
The price of gold is shooting upwards into uncharted territory, at levels never seen before according to one of India's largest jewellery exporters. On Wednesday, its international price touched $1,350 an ounce, while the price in India was around `19,400 per 10 grammes. There's no predicting how far it'll soar, as the price of gold is inextricably linked to the dollar: the more the dollar weakens, the higher the price of gold will go. It's really a currency play at the best of times, and the strength of gold reflects the weakness of the American currency. For instance, before the global financial crisis erupted in 2008, at the time of the sub-prime defaults of 2007 gold was selling at around $650 an ounce; today, three years later, they have more than doubled. This is another way of saying that the strength of the once-almighty dollar has halved against gold. The US currency's weakness is almost in direct proportion to the very liberal stimulus packages announced by various governments in the developed world. They have been virtually printing notes with gay abandon in order to stoke their limp economies. And since there are no signs of developed economies showing any real strength and sovereign debts under strain in some European nations, the dollar is at the mercy of these stimulus packages. The United States might try to shift the blame on to the Chinese yuan and make it a scapegoat, but the current currency play is predicated largely on the huge stimulus packages of the kind never seen in the recent history of these countries.
In this environment, record highs for gold are becoming almost routine as the metal continues to dazzle one and all investors, speculators and buyers across the world. It is the age-old asset to which people have always turned, particularly at times of political and social turmoil or in situations like today when currencies weaken. In fact, this year gold has outperformed both equities and bonds. Hedge funds too are now getting into the business of investing in gold so there is also an element of speculation in the price of gold, as well as in several other commodities, from oil to copper and zinc. In India, which is the largest consumer of gold in the world and is said to have the largest hoard of gold, there is also a seasonal spurt in demand every year in the festival and marriage seasons. But India also has a certain advantage thanks to the strong rupee against the dollar. Gold watchers say the price in India will touch `20,000 per 10 grams by November, while the MCX commodities exchange projects December prices at `19,615 per 10 grams. But all this is guesswork, and some analysts claim there could even be a minor correction as such price levels could be unsustainable. While high prices might be good for investors and jewellers, consumers and individual buyers might resort to some resistance as they have in the past. While it is undeniable that this country has plenty of people with money India has the fastest-growing number billionaires and millionaires worldwide but even they may wince at such high prices. Thus the expectation of a "correction" in prices in the not-too distant future. In the short run, however, gold will certainly continue to appreciate as more stimulus packages are rolled out and the US Federal Reserve keeps interest rates at zero, reducing the staying power of the dollar. Also, frenzied buying by investors will continue as gold remains undiminished as a symbol of wealth and a store of value, as it has throughout history.
THE ASIAN AGE
A YEN FOR JAPAN
The prime minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Japan later this month will mark an important step forward in our engagement with East Asia. This is his third trip to Japan in four years and it underlines the growing salience of relations with Japan in Indian foreign policy. The centrepiece of this visit will be the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). The agreement is aimed at significantly enhancing levels of investment and trade. These have substantially increased in the last four years, but the numbers remain low and earlier projections have proved rather optimistic.
The conclusion of the Economic Partnership Agreement bet ween India and South Korea earlier this year has given fillip to the negotiations between Tokyo and New Delhi. Japanese manufacturers are keen to level the playing field with their South Korean competitors. Last year, India and Japan concluded agreements for an ambitious $77 billion Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor project. The corridor spanning six states is projected as a global manufacturing and trading hub one that will foster closer economic and commercial relations between the two countries. Other areas of emerging cooperation include renewable energy and ecologically sustainable urban spaces.
The state of the two economies one a massive economy in prolonged stagnation with an ageing workforce, and the other a swiftly growing economy with a projected youth "bulge" is propelling much of this forward. But the wider political and str ategic context needs to be noted as well. Indeed, the relationship with Japan highlights the tightening nexus between India's economic and foreign policies.
For much of the last six decades, the political and economic relationship between India and Japan was rather crimped. Japan's alliance with the United States precluded the possibility of meaningful ties with a non-aligned India. This was clear almost from the outset. Jawaharlal Nehru refused to sign the San Francisco Treaty of 1951 which officially ended the state of hostilities between Japan and the Allied powers. The Indian government held that certain provisions of the treaty, such as continued presence of American troops and US trusteeship over Ryukyu and Bonin Islands, limited Japanese sovereignty and independence. Although New Delhi signed a separate peace treaty with Tokyo the next year, Washington believed that India sought to detach Japan from its ties with the US. In consequence, relations between India and Japan never really took off during the Cold War. During these years, Japan focused on economic development led by exports while India opted for import substitution policies. Until the joint venture between Maruti Udyog Limited and Suzuki Motor Corporation in 1982, Japanese industry had practically no presence in India.
The implosion of the Soviet Union and the opening up of India's economy cleared the ground for better relations. But the Indian nuclear tests of 1998 incited a strong response from Japan. Tokyo suspended economic aid and assistance for three years, and put on hold political contacts as well. The rapid strides taken in bilateral relations during the last decade stemmed from two related factors. First, the transformation of Indo-US relations led Japan to reconsider the state of its ties with India. Further, the rise of China prompted Tokyo to regard India in a more benign light.
The growing economic and political muscle of China presents a tricky challenge for Japan. China has been the favoured destination of Japanese investment and exports. But deepening economic relations have not always worked in Japan's strategic interests. Consider two recent examples. In early September, the Japanese arrested the personnel of a Chinese fisher trawler for allegedly ramming into their coast guard vessel near the disputed Daioyu/Senkaku Islands in East Ch ina Sea. Beijing demanded the immediate release of detainees. When the Japanese dug their heels in, the Chinese responded by quietly placing an embargo on exports of rare earth minerals to Japan minerals that are essential for production of key electronic components. Doing so openly would be a violation of World Trade Organisation rules, but Tokyo got the message and duly released the detainees. Around the same time, the Japanese were also worried by the surge in China's purchases of Japanese bonds. These strengthened the Yen and could undercut Japanese exports. As the Japanese finance minister noted, China's "intentions" needed to be probed.
In dealing with China, Japan is seeking to diversify and strengthen its portfolio of economic and political relationships. From this standpoint, India seems an increasingly attractive partner. India, too, sees better ties with Japan as important both in its own terms and in increasing India's room for manoeuvre in Asia. The two countries announced a strategic and global partnership in Dec e mber 2006. This was upgraded last year to include closer security cooperation and military exc h anges. Negotiations for civilian nuclear cooperation are also underway. New Delhi's interest here is obvious, but Japan's position is still evolving. Tokyo did not object to the waiver to India by the Nuclear Supplier's Group and the Japanese nuclear industry is keen on entering the Indian market. Yet Japan's historical legacy as a victim of nuclear weapons makes nuclear commerce with non-NPT signatories like India politically difficult. An agreement seems unlikely to be ready in time for Dr Singh's visit.
Apart from Japan, Dr Singh will also be visiting Malaysia and Vietnam. The latter is hosting the ASEAN-India summit. The focus in all places will be on economic issues particularly trade and connectivity. Yet the mood music will be provided by China's seemingly increased assertiveness be it in the Pacific or the South China Sea. As the smaller Asian powers grow edgy about China's capabilities and intentions, New Delhi will have to craft a nuanced approach. The incipient changes afford more scope for India to participate in and shape the security architecture in Asia. These will have an influence on our bilateral relations with China. At the very least, China will begin to see India as more than a subcontinental player. But we must not over-estimate these pay-offs. For China will remain a lot more important to Japan and other East Asian powers in the years ahead.
Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi
SHOULD TV SHOWS BE LIONISING DACOITS?
The Shiv Sena has chosen the right thing to target for all the wrong reasons. Its workers have tried to attack the premises from where the Bigg Boss programme is being telecast because of the participation of Pakistani artistes.
Attacking Pakistanis because of what their government or ISI may be doing is despicable; what Bigg Boss needs to be pilloried for is the kind of people it has chosen as inmates for the sake of creating controversy.
Leading the pack of undesirables is Seema Parihar, who is alleged to have killed more than 70 people and has many pending cases against her. She has three very saleable attributes female, dacoit, and 'former', which means she now has the chance to be hailed as the queen of righteous retribution. And what's more, she can talk.
Equally undesirable was 'Bunty the thief' (now eliminated), who was on the Delhi police's hit-list for burglaries. Then we have David Headley's unwary friend Rahul Bhatt, Kasab's former lawyer Abbas Kazmi and Pakistani actress and comedian Veena Malik who is best known for singing like a canary on match-fixing by Pakistani cricketers.
Bigg Boss is creating a perverse extension of celeb-centric Indian culture. That is why the question of what we are endorsing and what we are creating through shows like these ought to be subject to scrutiny.
TELECOM REVOLUTION SHOWS ITS WARTS
The number of phone connections in the country crossed the 700 million mark in August, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).
This translates to an enviable tele-density of 59.63%. This achievement is largely the result of the mobile revolution of the last decade, with 670 million of the total phone population being the wireless variety. But these figures hide something more troublesome: since it is estimated that as many as 30% of the mobile users own multiple cards, the real number of mobile users may be anywhere between 400-500 million.
Tele-density is not quite what it is cracked up to be and there is more growth to come.
The worrisome aspect is that operators are earning less and less with every addition of new mobile users. The average revenue per user (Arpu), according to Trai, has fallen to a low of Rs122 per month for the quarter ended June 2010, for users of GSM mobiles, and a meagre Rs74 per month for those using CDMA.
The comparable figures for a year ago are Rs185 and Rs92. Clearly, the wider the mobile revolution spreads, the less profitable it is becoming. Economies of scale should, however, be lowering the average cost of servicing customers.
The industry faces stiff challenges. The biggest one is probably hyper-competition in every circle, with some of the big circles having 10 or more players. This competition keeps call rates low, making it tougher for operators to improve returns from the business. One suspects that many are investing less than they should in infrastructure, which is apparent in the frequency with which customers face call-drops and poor voice clarity in some areas.
Now, with the 3G auctions attracting obscenely high bids, operators are going to find it even tougher to make ends meet. One thing is clear: sooner rather than later, the industry will have to consolidate by allowing the weaker players to be bought over by the stronger ones. Over the next four to five years, one would not be surprised if India has just five or six national players left, with a few strong regional players for company.
AUSTRALIA'S NEMESIS IS A TRUE CHAMPION
What is the last ad of VVS Laxman that you remember? Can you name a product that he endorses? If you draw a blank, it isn't because he doesn't endorse products (he does), but simply because Laxman is not loud about it.
With him, it is his bat that does most of the talking, often making a point that leaves the opposition, particularly the Australians, wishing his bat talked less. His innings against Australia, where he batted with a weak back but strong spine, only adds to his gritty "can-do" image.
He may not wear his cape with flamboyance, but Laxman is a commendable hero, and worthy of emulation.He won't be found indulging in excesses at Page 3 parties or dallying with film stars and wannabe heroines. In a world where flash counts for more than substance, this may be a minus, but Laxman is an old-world hero with sturdy values and a natural diffidence that can be mistaken for weakness.
Paradoxically for a player who invariably gives out his best against India's greatest opponents (yes, that tag now belongs to Australia, not Pakistan), there is very little buzz about him. Unlike heroes such as Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid, few apart from an awed Australian audience seem to remember him until a match starts and Laxman emerges as the hero bestowing victory upon India. Yet, Laxman invariably performs better against the stronger teams than the weaker teams. Consider that he is only one of eight batsmen ever to average better in his second innings than in the first.
So let's stop putting him on trial. We need to give him his due and the space to sometimes not do well, rather than question him every time he comes up short. Lesser players have been given more chances; Laxman is among the greats. A sign of that greatness is that after taking India to a win over Australia on Tuesday, he praised the team rather than talk about his own innings.
Perhaps we are finally getting sensitised to this champion's place under the sun. When Zaheer Khan, adjudged man of the match, said he'd gladly hand over his trophy to Laxman, he was only echoing the popular sentiment of cricket buffs. His fans on social media platforms were punching in accolades by the second, 140 characters at a time. The world couldn't get enough of Laxman. What's important is that the world should remember that the next time he stutters.
RESPONSIBLE PEOPLE NEVER COMPLAIN
I love to confront challenges, but this one was daunting. Goafest 2010, was a mammoth advertisement festival where the best creative heads from across the world congregated, with the best from the international media watching.
Dainik Bhaskar and DNA were entrusted with the job of bringing out a magazine on the four days of the festival this year. There were problems aplenty logistical and strategic. Goa presented difficulties in communication and internet links were shaky. This, in turn, put coordination with the Mumbai office which was to print and publish the magazine daily on a sticky plane.
I had started planning just two weeks ago. I arrived with my team in Goa two days in advance, took stock of the impediments and etched out the strategy to the last detail. From reporting to editing to designing the pages most of it was done from the confines of hotel rooms and only a bit from the makeshift media office the administration had created. My team and I worked for 18 hours a day and spare time was restricted to attending the bare essentials. Excruciating diligence later, when the magazine came, it was hailed as "world-class."
This is no chest-thumping but I have never believed in saying 'no' to a responsibility. Slightly tweaking what former British prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill said, I think the price of success is responsibility. And responsible people never complain. They come up with solutions, take the impediments head-on and negotiate their way to success. Complain and you are branded a shirker. Face it and the leader in you takes centrestage and guides you through. Try it. If I can, so can you.
THE WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY MAY BE CLOSING IN AYODHYA
A week after the Ayodhya verdict, a few observations are in order. One, by delivering a creative verdict, the three-judge bench went beyond the law to give us a new opening for communal amity.
Two, the country stayed calm because it does not want to rock the economic boat. Few are willing to risk ruining the India growth story over questions of history and identity. Three, most Sangh Parivar outfits have avoided open triumphalism, but their upbeat statements about building a temple are not helpful. Four, the only people actively stoking the communal cauldron are the secularists, because this is not the verdict they wanted.
The secularists were the first ones to break the consensus of calm. Even before reading the full judgment, one phony called the verdict "a panchayat solution." Worse, a bunch of so-called secularists under the banner of Sahmat (Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust) effectively accused the Allahabad high court of damaging secularism. It called the judgment as "yet another blow to the secular fabric of our country and the repute (sic) of our judiciary."
One can view the term "panchayat" as a compliment to the sagacity of the judges or a slur, depending on predilections. Panchayats give judgments not only on the basis of what is right or wrong, but what is good for the community. However, given the instant appeal of this phrase for secularists, one can assume that the term is being used in its pejorative sense.
It is not as if our secular worthies have always stayed within the four corners of the law. When it suits them whether it is on job quotas or the Kashmir situation they want creative solutions outside the current Constitution. Before the verdict these very people were lecturing the Sangh Parivar on why they must respect the verdict and not take the law into their own hands. But this was only because they thought the verdict would go against the Parivar.
Now, they are frothing at the mouth and fulminating against the judiciary. They are creating a climate in which the case will drag on for a few more years in the Supreme Court even while feeding the Muslim sense of victimhood. The same Muslims who earlier said they would accept the verdict are now being egged on to take intransigent positions despite this being against their own long-term interests.
This brings us to the judgment itself. One has called it a creative verdict because it does not stop at interpreting the law, but goes beyond to open a window of opportunity for litigants. That it does so imperfectly is clear, and here's the main area where the judgment falls short. The majority verdict written by justices Sudhir Agarwal and SU Khan acts on the assumption that since the Masjid isn't there, the best way to move ahead is to recognise the importance of faith without abandoning legality. Hence the decision to give Ram Lalla his squatter rights under the central dome.
But could they have done the same if the mosque was still standing? There could have been no three-way division as no judge could have ordered the mosque's demolition to accommodate Ram Lalla. At best, one could have visualised a verdict prescribing joint ownership that would have been pretty close to status quo. The big omission is the absence of any remarks on the demolition. The same verdict would have been more palatable to Muslims if the judgment had clearly indicated that the demolition was illegal, but since it was a reality, they are moving ahead with a different verdict.
Flawed it may be, but the Allahabad high court did all it could to construct a new bridge to communal reconciliation. With every passing day, however, the good work done by the court is being demolished by secularists and zealots alike. The onus in the short term, therefore, shifts to the Sangh Parivar because the other parties have a vested interest in the failure of reconciliation efforts.
There are two ways the Parivar can redeem itself. The easiest would be to accept that a masjid can come up on the third of the land given to Muslims. If this is said loudly enough for all Muslims to hear, it would help build trust. If it is not said, it will confirm the Muslims' belief that extremist Hindu groups are out to humiliate them. An even better way would be to start by expressing a qualified apology for the Masjid demolition. Reconciliation and a jointly accepted Ram Mandir can follow.
Unfortunately, the hardliners in the Sangh Parivar seem to be getting shriller. The VHP has already talked about building the mandir in all of the 67 acres of disputed land, leaving no space for the masjid. While it is possible to visualise a mandir-only solution, this must follow from negotiations with Muslims. It cannot be a unilateral announcement. The Parivar must also get real. If it adopts an all-or-nothing stand, it may well end up with nothing.
It is time for everyone the Sangh Parivar, the secularists and the Muslims to pull back from the brink. The window of opportunity is beginning to close.
AYODHYA VERDICT CONTRADICTS OUR SECULAR CREDENTIALS
ANTARA DEV SEN
Alas, the Allahabad High Court's rather desperate verdict didn't please the petitioners. After the initial politeness, all three parties the Sunni Wakf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla, the unearthly litigant are appealing against the verdict in the Supreme Court (SC).
With good reason. The Wakf Board's claim to the land where their Masjid stood for almost five centuries has been dismissed as time-barred. And it is not clear why they are being given a third of the land while two-thirds go to the two Hindu litigants. If it was a conciliatory gesture to end an impossibly politicised sectarianproblem, the two communities should have got half and half.
And the two Hindu parties have come together to deny the Wakf Board even the third of the pie allotted to them. Since the court has declared the site to be Lord Ram's birthplace, what right do Muslims have on it? They want the whole plot for their grand Ram temple.
So the Ayodhya case seems all set for the SC. This is the one chance India has of rectifying the outrageous chain of flaws that threatens to choke the life-breath out of our secular democracy. And hopefully, the SC will not fail us.
Unlike the Allahabad high court, which has. Its verdict ignores the palpably obvious (like a heritage mosque being illegally destroyed in front of our eyes and on international television), while focusing on intangibles (like where exactly a god was in remote antiquity).
It relies on dubious evidence to declare that a Hindu temple was demolished at the site almost 500 years ago, and attempts to rectify that imagined wrong while roundly ignoring the demolition of the Babri Masjid 18 years ago, and makes no attempt to rectify that wrong witnessed by the whole nation. It accepts that the idols of Ram Lalla had been placed inside the Masjid in 1949, triggering the present dispute, but seems to reward that and later acts of desecration by ruling in favour of the vandals.
Sure, the danger of going against majority sentiment in an increasingly intolerant, polarised society was clear. The court had effectively taken on the task of providing a political solution to an incredibly politicised problem of faith. And allowed the muscle-flexing majority to influence legal justice disregarding the Constitutional guarantee of equality before the law.
That it treats the disputed land as occupied only by Ram Lalla legitimises the demolition of the mosque. That the verdict places faith over facts and the majority's faith over the minority's is disturbing. That it relies on myth and political expediency to decide a legal matter sets a worrying precedent. In effect, the verdict undermines justice and contradicts the secular, democratic credentials of India.
Thankfully, the HC is not the final word. In the Supreme Court, the
case could be fast tracked and due procedure followed more diligently. The SC has been involved with the Mandir/Masjid issue earlier. Meanwhile, the government could act on the Liberhan Commission's report, set up a specialised committee of social scientists to examine the historicity of the Ram Janmabhoomi and punish those guilty of razing the mosque.
In 1991, a BJP prime minister had said that the Ram temple was necessary to save the honour of the Hindu community. Two decades later, to save the honour of India and its Constitution, our 'secular' government and the Supreme Court must prevent a Ram temple at the site of the criminally demolished Babri Masjid.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
IF THE INITIATIVE TURNS OUT TO BE MORE OF THE SAME IT IS DOOMED TO FAIL
Conflicting signals emanating from New Delhi about composition of the proposed team of central government interlocutors for Kashmir indicates that there are divergent views about the scope and purpose of setting up this panel. As it is, differences in approach towards resolving the crisis in the border state have been showing up from time to time. At one level, the union home ministry's line of thinking clashes with that of the defence ministry while at other level there is a sharp division of opinion between the civilian government and the military establishment. Naturally, these basic differences having direct bearing upon what is sought to be attempted in Kashmir are getting reflected in determining the composition and agenda for the proposed interlocutors. Looking from here, it appears that the thinking at the top is that since the problem is essentially political in nature it would be appropriate to devise a credible political instrument to tackle it. But that is easier said than done, given the widely divergent perception of what is politically required to be done in the state. Indecisiveness on this score was thoroughly exposed by New Delhi's inexplicable dithering for more than three months while the ground situation in the Valley was nose diving dangerously. Heavy loss of human lives in the intervening period has aggravated the problem and added to its emotive sensitivity. Unless this aspect is taken into consideration and addressed with the concern that it merits, interlocutors are not likely to achieve much if and when they get going. The central government's recent 8-point package does not hold out any promise. By putting a price tag of Rs 5 lakh per head without saying anything about probing these killings and punishing the guilty New Delhi has only exposed its lopsided approach. If the same line persists in working out composition and business of the team of interlocutors there is precious little that is possible to be achieved at the end of the day.
Unofficial reports from New Delhi suggest that the government is also contemplating to replace NN Vohra with some political incumbent in the Raj Bhavan. If indeed there is any such move it would have to be dovetailed with other related measures contemplated to be adopted. Vohra has certainly been far better governor than his immediate predecessor, Lt Gen (R) SK Sinha whose spilled over frustration was getting the better of his gubernatorial discretion. Vohra has also been a low-profile interlocutor under two different regimes. However, his lack of assertiveness when it was not only called for by prevailing circumstances on the ground but also constitutionally incumbent upon him to do so might have tilted the balance in New Delhi. Replacing him with a 'political' governor is a good idea so far as it goes but the choice of the incumbent is a critical factor. Between a brashly obtrusive SK Sinha and non-assertive Vohra the latter would seem to be a lesser evil, considering the history of the state. In any case, the role, conduct and ultimate performance of any governor, political or non-political, will continue to be influenced by how New Delhi conducts itself vis-a-vis Kashmir. It is an interesting fact that the three governors who served more than one term in J&K happened to be a former chief of army staff (Gen KV Krishna Rao), former RAW chief GC Saxena and, of course, the 'Turbulance'-famed Jagmohan. They were in and out of the Raj Bhavan, not on objective assessment of the ground situation in Kashmir, but purely to promote the partisan interests of incumbent political forces in power in New Delhi. Though Jagmohan later joined active politics of the Saffron brand his 'services' in J&K were requisitioned purely on the basis of his 'performance' as a civil servant especially during the Emergency days. If now the thought is veering around having a political person in Raj Bhavan, one would have to wait for the agenda that might be linked to this out-of-the-way choice.
If and when the team of interlocutors is constituted and its brief is settled its efficacy would be determined by its ability-or inability-to make decisive political intervention to break the logjam. The problem in Kashmir has got stuck in grooves that lead to nowhere. It is not easy to provide an alternative passage towards some workable resolution in near or distant future. That is what makes the composition of the proposed team critical to its eventual. Likewise, its agenda would determine its effectiveness in making a difference. Time delay in initiating these measures has imposed its own share of complications. The leadership on the ground, spearheading the popular resistance movement, is not easily identifiable under the changed conditions. Quite a few of familiar old symbols have receded into the background and new factors, faces and phenomenon have surfaced over the past year or so. All these have to be reckoned with. The situation calls for a real statesmanly approach. Something like Atal Behari Vajpayee was seen doing a few years ago. The million dollar question is whether anyone today has that stature and that vision to stand up and be counted.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
DELAYED RAVI CANAL LINK
IN ABSENCE OF ACCOUNTABILITY, INNOCENT PEOPLE HAVE BEEN MADE TO SUFFER
Jammu and Kashmir government has been aiming high for launching new development projects in different parts of the state for creating infra-structure with the ultimate goal of generating additional revenue, but irrigation projects in Jammu region have been ignored for decades together. For instance the Ravi Tawi irrigation projects completed about two decades back has not been made fully functional and farmers in vast tracts of land between Jammu and Kathua have been waiting for water to reach their fields. It is pertinent to mention here that Basantpur Lift Irrigation Scheme was launched in 1988 itself to augment irrigation water from Ravi river for supplying river water through the existing canal network but after the completion of Thein Dam by Punjab government, no follow up action has been taken by J&K. It is unfortunate that J&K government has been blaming the Punjab dispensation for delaying compensation in terms of construction of a bridge for providing connectivity to Basohli in Kathua district. The action on the part of J&K authorities for for taking its share of water from Ravi river has been pending for years together. J&K has not utilized its share of water from Ravi for more than two decades and the infra-structure constructed for this purpose has been lying in disuse and vast tracts of Kandi land have been thirsty for such a long period. The link canal to be constructed by the J&K government has not been taken in hand till date and the latter is waiting for Rs 500-crore of payment from Punjab for this purpose. If the delay and cost over-run are calculated in terms of real value and value addition in terms of irrigation facilities then J&K people have suffered losses manifold than the actual cost of the project. Instead of giving a serious thought to this project, J&K authorities have wasted so many years for providing much-needed succour to its people in this belt. The precious resources and the resultant output from the agricultural fields have never been calculated by the policy makers and planners of the state in real sense of terms. The targeted beneficiaries have been made to wait endlessly for the irrigation water to come to their fields. The fate of other such projects is also uncertain since no serious effort has been made to address these problems and hold the people in corridors of power accountable for these lapses.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
GAMES INDIA ISN'T READY TO PLAY
ON Friday afternoon, public spaces across north India were flooded with policemen and paramilitaries. Thousands of alleged "troublemakers" were arrested. The sending of bulk text messages from mobile phones was banned. These precautions had nothing to do with the opening on Sunday of the Commonwealth Games, the athletic competition among the nations of the former British Empire that so many Indians have hoped would be their country's symbolic coming out as a world power.
Rather, the police were out in force because an Indian court had pronounced its verdict on the site in the town of Ayodhya that has been long claimed by Hindu nationalists as the birthplace of Lord Rama. The government did not want a repeat of the horrific mob violence that in 1992 had followed the destruction by Hindu nationalists of a 16th-century mosque standing on the land in question.
Shortly after the verdict, which split the disputed site unequally in favour of Hindus and to the detriment of Muslims, I went for a walk through the Himalayan village near my home. Even here, 600 miles from Ayodhya, people seemed to be playing it safe, the market partly closed, and shopkeepers clustered around television sets behind shutters.
Only the migrant labourers, who have come hundreds of miles from central India to the Himalayas, were still at work, men, women and even children carrying heavy stones on their heads at the construction projects that litter the hillsides.
Easily identified - the parents small and thin and dark, and the children with distended bellies and rust-brown hair that speak of chronic malnutrition - these migrant laborers have been a regular sight here for some years, building summer homes for the affluent of Delhi all day, and then huddling under tin shacks at night.
I stopped to talk to a couple I know. All morning news channels had been working themselves into a frenzy of fear and anxiety. Even the more sober commentators fretted whether our "rising economic superpower" would be torn apart again over the question of whether the mythical Lord Rama was born in a ramshackle provincial town.
But the labourers hadn't heard of the court verdict. As colder weather approaches, their greatest anxiety seemed to be to protect themselves: the punitive rains this summer have blown away the roofs of their living quarters. And it seemed only right that these healots of India's globalized economy should be indifferent to the possible despoiling of India's image in the West.
So who is anxious over India's image in the wealthy world? That particular burden is borne by India's small affluent elite, for whom the last few months have been full of painful and awkward self-reckonings. Certainly, the fear of violence over Ayodhya was only the latest in a long line of reminders that, as the columnist Vir Sanghvi put it, "as hard as we try to build a new India ... old India still has the power to humiliate and embarrass us."
Since June, a mass insurrection, resembling the Palestinian intifada, has raged in the Indian-held Valley of Kashmir. Defying draconian curfews, large and overwhelmingly young crowds of Kashmiri Muslims have protested human rights abuses by the nearly 700,000 Indian security forces there. Ill-trained soldiers have met stone-pelting protesters with gunfire, killing more than a hundred Kashmiris, mostly teenagers, and ensuring another militant backlash that will be exploited by radical Islamists in Pakistan.
A full-blown insurgency is already under way in central India, where guerrilla fighters inspired by Mao Zedong's tactics are arrayed against a government they see as actively colluding with multinational corporations to deprive tribal people of their mineral-rich lands. In recent months, the Maoists have attacked the symbols of the state's authority - railroads, armories, police stations - seemingly at will, killing scores of people.
Yet the greatest recent blow to wealthy Indians' delusions on the subject of their nation's inexorable rise has been the Commonwealth Games, for which Delhi was given a long and painful facelift. For so many, the contest was expected to banish India's old ghosts of religious and class conflict, and cement its claims to a seat at the high tables of international superpowers.
But the games turned into a fiasco well before their scheduled opening. Two weeks ago, a huge footbridge connected to the main stadium collapsed. The federation that runs the games has called the athletes' housing "uninhabitable." The organizers have had to hire an army of vicious langur monkeys to keep wild animals from infesting the venues. Pictures of crumbling arenas and filthy toilets are circulating more widely than the beautiful landscapes of the government's "Incredible India" tourism campaign.
As the ratings agency Moody worries that the debacle has "tarnished" India's image, commentators here angrily hunt for blameworthy politicians and officials over what they call "national shame." The contrast to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in which the Chinese government largely overcame controversy and staked a claim to a dominant place in the world order, is all too depressingly clear.
These shocks to the Indian self-image are traumatic. But then the illusions about the new India have been too blinding. Vigorous economic growth, high-profile Indian businessmen congregating at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, and the greater visibility of successful and articulate Indians abroad have combined to make India, or English-speaking Indians, anyway, appear a perfect fit for the Western model of modernity - a "roaring capitalist success story," as Foreign Affairs described the country in 2006.
It has helped our self-image, too, that Indians have many democratic institutions that are missing in most non-Western countries. Thus the major narrative that has developed internationally about democratic India in recent years assumes it to be more "stable" than authoritarian China. Yet Beijing faces no political problems as severe as the many insurgencies in central India and Kashmir, or tragedies as great as the waves of suicides of tens of thousands of overburdened farmers over the last two decades.
Certainly, the narrative of India as vibrant democracy and booming economy suppresses more than it reveals. Business-lounge elites around the world revel in statistics about economic growth and Indians rising up Forbes's rankings of billionaires. At the same time, they simply ignore the alarmingly deep and growing inequalities of income and resources in India.
The newspaper Financial Express estimated that the private wealth of the 49 Indians on the Forbes list is nearly 31 percent of India's gross domestic product - a ratio that makes them three times more crucial to the Indian economy than their billionaire counterparts in the United States are to the American economy. In July, a United Nations report revealed that there are more poor people in just eight Indian states than in all the 26 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, with the large state of Madhya Pradesh comparable in intensity of deprivation to war-ravaged Congo.
India not only lives, as the clich goes, in several centuries at once; it is also a land of multiple narratives, which continuously and often painfully overlap. The Commonwealth Games, the showcase of India's progress, uprooted as many as 100,000 of the most deprived Indians in Delhi no less ruthlessly than the Chinese cleanse their ultramodern cities of the ungainly poor.
The labourers building the vacation retreats of the privileged in my village - part of the explosion of cheap labour that has helped build private fortunes in India and abroad - are refugees from the part of India where longstanding feudal cruelties are now compounded by the battles between Maoists and multinational corporations seeking precious minerals.
Well-to-do Indians fear that Hindu nationalists emboldened by the verdict on Ayodhya might scare off foreign investors. But it was Hindu nationalists who, coming to power in 1998 through successive bloody anti-Muslim campaigns, followed policies that expedited the country's grossly uneven economic development and entrenched corporate special interests in India's politics.
More fatefully, the Hindu nationalists exploded nuclear bombs underground and threatened Pakistan with all-out war, creating a legacy of hard-line nationalism - which the Indian military in Kashmir and successive governments in Delhi have embraced.
Certainly, the four million Muslims of Kashmir, who every day suffer the brutalities of what's arguably the world's largest military occupation, cannot be blamed for failing to make meaningful distinctions between Hindu nationalists and the current government, led by the more moderate Congress Party. Their fate remains that of a minority kept under perpetual siege by a paranoid nation-state.
Like hundreds of millions of other voiceless Indians, the migrant labourers in my village are even less able to distinguish between the oppressions of old feudal India and the pitiless exploitations of the new business-minded India. I wonder if the recent destruction of their fragile shelters doesn't hold some symbolism. Perhaps the greatest danger to India's image is that they may one day cease to cower in those shacks, and, like their counterparts in central India, erupt in armed revolt.
This summer's setbacks to India's image may soon fade from memory. But their lesson for the rhapsodic narrators of India's modernity seems clear. "There is no document of civilization," Walter Benjamin once wrote, "which is not at the same time a document of barbarism." This is the melancholy truth that all narratives about "rising" India must acknowledge if they are not to be trumped by pictures of a collapsed bridge and a leaking toilet.
(Pankaj Mishra is the author of "Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond.")
-(Courtesy: New York Times)
Is there anything new about former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's latest statement about this State? In an interview to a prominent German weekly Der Spiegel he has said that his country had trained underground militant groups to fight in Kashmir. He has been quoted as having said: "They (underground militant groups to fight against India in Kashmir) were indeed formed Yes, it is the right of any country to promote its own interests... When India is not prepared to discuss Kashmir at the United Nations and is not prepared to resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner The (Nawaz Sharif) Government turned a blind eye because they wanted India to discuss Kashmir." Of course, the former General has reiterated that he had no regrets for the Kargil intrusion that led to an armed conflict with India in 1999. He has defended it on the ground that each country had a right to promote its national interest. He has gone on to slam the international community: "The West was ignoring the resolution of the Kashmir issue, which is the core issue of Pakistan. We expected the West-especially the United States and important countries like Germany-to resolve the Kashmir issue. Has Germany done that?" He continues: "The West blames Pakistan for everything. Nobody asks the Indian Prime Minister, why did you arm your country with a nuclear weapon? Why are you killing innocent civilians in Kashmir? Nobody was bothered that Pakistan got split in 1971 because of India's military backing for Bangladesh. The United States and Germany gave statements, but they didn't mean anything." Yes, there is something novel about this assertion. He has made it in his formal role as a politician after launching a political party --- the All-Pakistan Muslim League in London (and not in Islamabad or any other part of his own country).
It says a lot about the situation in Pakistan that almost all its top politicians have a fixation for foreign countries. The General's choice of venue for floating his political outfit is a case in point. He is staying in the Capital city of England in self-imposed exile. Not very long ago two former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto would stay out of their homeland for fear of reprisal by their army chief-turned-President. Ms Bhutto's worst fears that she might not get adequate protection did indeed come true as her homecoming proved to be short lived. Who among the Pakistani leaders has ever denied their country's hand in setting and promoting Kashmir-centric terror organizations to create trouble in our State and inflict wounds on our country? There is a well-documented record of their mischief right from 1947 onwards. Their generals have put it in black and white that they were pushed into wars against this country against their wishes. They feel like fools who rushed in where angels feared to tread.
There is no change in Pakistan's mindset. A well-intentioned section in the neighbouring country has been trying to instil some sense in its political class against terrorism but in vain. Indeed, we keep hearing cries of holy war against India from Islamabad. For a man who has always patted himself on the back for Kargil misadventure it is not surprising to claim even a bigger mischievous role. Apparently he has not learnt anything despite having brought shame to his country in 1999.
On the one hand we shed tears that our water resources are not being fully utilised. Some of us go to the extent of seeking a review of the Indus Water Treaty. There is no dearth of those who want this longest surviving pact with Pakistan to be scrapped. Their grudge is that under this accord the State is being deprived of its river waters. It is not entirely unjustified. But that is an entirely different story. There is another question that arises. What are we doing with the quantity of water available with us? Regrettably, we are not able to fully exploit it. The main reason is the same which has bedevilled other spheres of development activity: the continuing unrest in the Kashmir Valley. The prestigious NHPC (National Hydroelectric Power Corporation), which is doing the job for us, is feeling the pinch. It is unable to take staff, labour, diesel and apparatus to various sites. The on-again-off-again work has sent its schedule haywire made worse by the non-stop protests during the last more than three months. It has conveyed to the Union Power Ministry its utter discomfiture. As per its original programme it was to commission three power projects namely the Uri-II (240 megawatt), Nimmo Bazgo (45 MW) and Chutak (44 MW) during the ongoing eleventh Five Year Plan Period which means by the end of 2012. Of them Nimmo Bazgo and Chutak projects are in Leh and Kargil district, respectively, of the Ladakh region. Normally there should have been no hindrance in their way, Ladakh being totally peaceful. The problem has arisen because the men and machines have to move through the Valley where there are disturbances and the supplies can't be transported. Thus the NHPC will most certainly miss the deadline. In other words it would not be able to add to its existing power capacity during the current plan period as it had envisaged. At present, the NHPC operates two projects Sewa-II (120 MW) and Baglihar (450 MW) in the State. It is planning another 450 MW expansion of the Baglihar project to be completed in the next plan, apart from building five more projects totalling a capacity of 3500 MW: Pakal Dul (1,000 MW), Kiru (600 MW), Kwar (520 MW), Kishenganga (330 MW) and Bursar (1,020 MW). Clearly there is a question-mark over the pace of work on them.
As a result the Railways is not the only Central organisation that is suffering in the present scenario. Of course, its loss may be more and it is visible too. The NHPC, in contrast, is condemned to be a silent victim. More than them, however, we are the losers. When the railway track or bogies are set on fire we are denied an important mode of travel. Likewise if power is not adequately generated it is our homes, offices and streets that remain in the dark. Why can't we realise it and prevail over those who are hell bent on depriving us of the benefits of progress? Often we have said in these columns that by not standing up to mischief-makers we acquiesce in their misdeeds. Of whom are we afraid? Time has come for us to tell ourselves that enough is enough.
By P C Dogra
The other day in an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times, Hon'ble Home Minister had observed that there was a need to look in to the promises made in the 1952 Delhi Agreement, Indira-Sheikh Accord and that of 1986 understanding. I shall deal with only Delhi Agreement as it is the basis of the autonomy and the self rule demands of the political elite of the Kashmir valley.
1952 Delhi Agreement is a follow up to the article 370 inserted in the constitution of India. The instrument of accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh at the time of the tribal invasion of Kashmir was similar to the one signed by the rulers of other states of India. How ever, in the case of J&K, the Govt. of India decided that it was the people of the state acting through the constituent Assembly to first endorse the accession to India and then determine the constitution of the state and the jurisdiction of the Union of India. This is how Art. 370 came in to being. It was a temporary provision inserted till the accession and thereafter Delhi Accord was ratified by the constituent Assembly of J&K.
Another important factor was the requirement of holding plebiscite. Dr Karan Singh has observed in his book 'Heir Apparent' that "Plebiscite being the watch word at that time, this became the trump card in the hands of Sheikh Abdullah. As the man who was supposed to win the plebiscite for India, he could demand his pound of flesh" "It became a main source of trouble and difficulty later" Mr G. Ayyangar, the then Minister for Kashmir Affairs expressed hope that "In due course Jammu and Kashmir will become ripe for the same sort of integration as has taken place in case of other states" It resulted in a dual citizenship. Indians do not become automatically the citizens of J&K. The state has separate constitution and a separate flag.
What is Delhii Agreement? On July 24, 1952, Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru announced in the Parliament, the signing of an agreement with Sheikh Abdullah. As per Josef Korbel from his book 'Danger in Kashmir' "It gave to Kashmir, special rights which other princely states never had like
It was agreed that the hereditary ruler would be replaced by a Head of state to be elected by the constituent Assembly/state assembly for a term of 5 years however subject to rectification by the President of India
Secondly fundamental rights that are guaranteed by the Constitution of India will apply to J&K subject to the provision that they will not be applicable to the program of land reforms including the expropriation of land without compensation nor they should adversely affect the security measures undertaken by the state Govt.
Thirdly that the Kashmir legislature " shall have the power to define and regulate the rights and privileges of the permanent residents of the state, more especially in regard to the acquisition of immovable property, appointments to services and like matters"
Fourthly The jurisdiction of the Supreme court of India was to be limited as regards Kashmir, to inter state disputes, to the fundamental rights applicable to the state and to matters of defense, foreign Affairs and communications. The Govt. of India wanted the Supreme Court to be the final court of appeal in civil and criminal cases. But Sheikh did not agree and left it open.
The national flag of India was accepted to be the supreme but the Kashmir state flag was also to be maintained. In financial matters, the Govt. of India wanted integration but Sheikh got it postponed.
The most important provision of the agreement was the emergency powers of the President of India. As per Art.352 of the Indian Constitution, President has the power to declare emergency in case of invasion, external danger or internal disturbance. But as per the agreement in case of internal disturbance, emergency can only be declared at the request or the concurrence of the Govt. of the state.
Pt Nehru while making a statement on Delhi Agreement on July 1952 had described "the article an unusual provision and by no means final"
Now a word about the Mind set of Sh. Sheikh Abdullah. Josef Korbel mentions about the National Conference meet held in Sept. 1949 in Sri Nagar which was attended by Prime Minister Nehru. He says "Celebrations were held at a large scale. During the entire celebration, when the Sri Nagar wore a festive appearance with flags the Indian National Flag was conspicuous by its absence. The state flag of the ruling dynasty had practically disappeared The flag of the national conference which has been adopted as the state flag is perhaps rightly flown all over the place" wrote an Indian News paper Hindu, Sept. 29-1949"
Dr Karan Singh the then Sadar-e-Riyasat has observed that "A week after assuming the office of Sadar-i-Riyast, the Govt. moved down to Jammu for the winter. At the Jammu Secretariat "The old state flag having been hauled down. I had suggested to the Govt that along with the new flag, the National flag should also be hoisted. This was sharply turned down by Sheikh and so I in turn declined the suggestion that I should personally hoist the new flag"
Christopher Thomas has said in his book Fault line Kashmir that " Soon after reaching the 1952 Delhi agreement with Nehru, Sheikh had started distancing himself from it by raising once more the spectacle of substantial or complete independence for Kashmir." Even after the Delhi Accord had been ratified by the State constituent Assembly, Sheikh Abdullah said immediately thereafter " A time will come when I will bid them goodbye"
"He spurned appeals from Nehru. Nehru felt betrayed" He wrote to Sheikh in Sept. 1953 "To me, it has been a major surprise that the settlement arrived at between us should be by-passed, repudiated. That strikes at the root of all confidence. My honour is bound up with my word" Dr Karan Singh told Pt. Nehru "I was shocked and astounded to gather from a private meeting with Sheikh Abdullah last week that he seems to have decided to go back upon solemn agreements which he has concluded with India and upon his clear commitments. He further says "Again in another meeting with Nehru at Delhi in Nov. 1952, Pt. Nehru "repeated some of the perplexity that he was beginning to feel in dealing with Sheikh Abdullah" He was arrested in 1953.
Who reneged on the commitments made?
Let us also examine the recommendations of the State Autonomy Committee constituted by the National Conference. It is strongly in favor of the restoration of pre-1953 status of J&K which means that:-
* Central Govt will have control over defense, foreign affairs and communications only.
* J&K will remain out of the purview of Supreme Court of India.
* Central Election Commission will have no jurisdiction over J&K.
* Comptroller and Auditor General will have nothing to do with the auditing of the financial transactions of the state.
* Article 370 will be made permanent.
* The state will have its own President (Sadr-e-Riyast) and the Prime Minister.
* All the laws promulgated after 1953 to be repealed.
* National flag will fly only on the Central Govt buildings.
* President can not impose President's rule without the concurrence of the state.
* Provisions of the constitution of India relating to the All India Services will not apply to J&K
Is it not practically an independent status of J&K and totally against the wishes of the people of Jammu and Ladakh who want total integration with India? Can the Indian Nation afford the reversion to 1953 status in J&K.
BY SATYENDRA PRATAP SINGH
With elections or rather the threat of elections round the corner in Bihar, and in some other states next year it's clearly freebie time as on September 29 government raised the minimum support prices (MSP) for both wheat and paddy by a handsome Rs. 150 and Rs. 75 per quintal respectively. With this the MSP for wheat to be sown from November touches the four-digit mark of Rs. 1,000 per quintal (a further Rs. 50 per quintal is to be given as bonus) while the increase in paddy MSP is the largest ever for any crop-year.
The justification, presumably, is the fast depleting foodgrain stock in the central pool. The solution to the sorry state of agriculture production has very little to do with the MSP. In any case, procurement is concentrated in just two or three states so it does very little for the average farmer. What we need instead is a complete revamp of the MSP - go back to how it was originally envisaged, as a support rather than procurement price that periodically leaves surplus stocks rotting away in Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns and a mounting subsidy burden. Government should come into the picture only when market prices fall below the support prices. The procurement price, if the Government procures, should be flexible in line with the market prices.
The solution to agriculture distress lies in increased public investment in farming, irrigation, extension programmes, storage facilities, etc. Beyond this we need to restrict PDS to only a targeted population, the below-poverty line. Here too we should switch to food coupons rather than the present system of ration shops with its inevitable leakage. The government should go for large-scale tendering system wherein it invites tenders from the private sector (domestic and foreign) to deliver grains at specified locations within the country in advance. These could be directly fed into the existing PDS or to build buffer stocks. This would mean that much of the procurement would be done by the private sector.
Due to utter negligence of agriculture food production has not kept pace with growing population. Whatever is being produced, first of all, farmers keep some quantity for their domestic consumption. The rest is sold in the open market where farmers get remunerative prices. Thereafter the remaining quantity is bought by the FCI at MSP rate, which is not competitive, compared to the open market prices. Thus, government is compelled to import foodgrains to keep the PDS system operational.
The Green Revolution has petered out and food production is stagnating. Time is not far of when we will have to import foodgrains to meet rising consumption demand. We are reminded of the times in the mid-'60s, when we had to import substandard wheat to avoid starvation deaths. India was taken to be a 'basket case', wherein its economy and its democracy both were expected to crumble. It wan an all-round humiliation of a young nation. In reality both did not happen.
By late '60s, the policy initiative was geared towards achieving self-sufficiency in food production. This meant two things: one to increase the production and second to decrease dependence on imports. The "Green Revolution' was ushered in and the results were there within a decade. The food production increased and for the last few years India has had a surplus, at least in the sense of availability. Consequently, India's food imports have also declined and the original objectives have been achieved.
As changes occurred in the agricultural sector, new issues have started emerging. One such issue is that of efficiency in production. Does India need to produce everything that it needs domestically? Is that possible and will that be cost-effective? Or should self-sufficiency be defined as 'capacity to buy commodities internationally' rather than 'capacity to produce everything domestically?
India has achieved a basic, minimum production capability with respect to its cereal production. However, due to increasing demand and occasional failure of nature there may still be shortfalls in supplies. How are we going to deal with them? For example, in the last five years the wheat production has stagnated and currently there is a shortfall which has put upward pressure on the prices. But even when a small quantity is imported there is large furore.
Contrast this with our collective response to the import of onions when there was a shortage of it a few years ago. All of us welcomed onion imports. If import was acceptable with respect to onions why decibels levels peaking so when wheat is being imported now?
With respect to two non-cereal commodities, viz.., edible oils and pulses, imports become even more important. They account for around 45 per cent of total agri-imports. For the past 40-years the production of pulses has remained almost stagnant. Moreover, there are yearly ups and downs due to natural factors.
However, too much of imports are not allowed, which keeps the prices from falling. Thus over the past 20-years the price rise in foodgrains and in pulses has been almost the same, though the production of foodgrains has increased very steeply while that of pulses is almost stagnant. If in past 20-years, import of pulses had not been allowed, one shudders to think what the price level of this 'only-protein-for-most-Indians' would have been! One the other hand, the production of edible oils has increased but it has been achieved at a very high cost. Even then huge amounts need to be imported to meet the increasing demand.
A comparison with China will help at this point. As India was increasing its production in the '70s, China (and the USSR too!) was floundering on the food production front. One of the major reasons for the reforms initiated in 1978 was the crumbling agricultural sector. It is only after changing the price signals and the ownership structures that China started showing improved agri-competitive advantage in a major way. It was not importing soyabean at all in the 1990s in spite of high demand, but currently it imports 26 million tonnes and produces only 15 million tonnes domestically. Similarly for India, it would be hypocrisy to deny the role of agri-imports in attaining food security along with efficiency.
The policy of import substitution has shown its limitations in the manufacturing sector and it is doing the same in the agricultural sector. Food security does not and need not mean zilch food imports. India will not be a viable economy if it starts to produce everything and anything domestically, is it manufacturing or be it agriculture. Moreover, this does not rule out the need for a second Green Revolution in any way. (INAV)
BY DR P K VASUDEVA
India's higher education system is the third largest in the world, after China and the United States. The main governing body at the tertiary level is the University Grant Commission (UGC), which enforces its standards, advises the Government, and helps coordinate between the Centre and the states.
As of 2009, India has 227 Government-recognised universities of which 20 are Central universities, 109 deemed universities, 11 are open universities and 215 are state universities, under the State Act. According to the Department of higher Education, Government of India, there are 16,885 colleges, 99.54 lakh students and 4.57 lakh teachers in various higher education institutes in the country.
In addition, Prime Minister of India had announced the establishment of eight Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), seven Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and five Indian Institutes of Science, Education and Research (IISERs) and 30 Central Universities in his speech to the nation on the 60th Independence Day.
Defending the proposed entry of foreign universities in India, Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal asserted that they would help create a talent pool for the country. This will also help recognition of Indian university courses in the foreign countries.
'We have a foolproof plan for the entry of foreign universities. Any foreign varsity entering India will have to create a $12-million corpus fund and profits will not be allowed to be expatriated to shareholders,' said Kapil.
Mr Barack Obama is visiting India in November 2010 on a goodwill visit. The point of recognition of Indian university degrees by the US is likely to be on agenda of the discussion besides other points of mutual interest of the country.
An elated Kapil Sibal had to beat a hasty retreat in Rajya Sabha on August 31 when some Congress members joined a determined Opposition to force him to defer the crucial Educational Tribunals Bill 2010 to the next session of Parliament.
The bill proposes to set up a two-tier structure of educational tribunals at the national and state levels to adjudicate disputes that arise in the higher education system.
The tribunals will act as fora for fast track and speedy resolution of issues in institutions in order to build an effective system of checks and balances in higher education.
While state tribunals will deal with matters concerning teachers, employees and students of institutions in the respective states, the national tribunal will deal with matters concerning regulatory bodies in higher education.
It is likely to be passed in the winter session of the Parliament.
Even after 63 years of independence we are far away from the goal of universal literacy. Some of the points that need immediate attention of the higher education are given below:
* Education system in India tends to churn out people who are good at certain skills, but not necessarily efficient at problem solving or, doing out-of-the-box lateral thinking. The reforms should bring about a broad-based education that combines liberal arts with technology and science.
* The regulatory system in education, employment and employability, encourages the production of dwarfs. But the need is to encourage the production of babies. One should be able to regulate the incompetence, which one observes sometimes in education or the lack of performance management that is observed in the public sector.
* It is said that India produces over six to eight lakh technical graduates annually. However, research studies show that only 25 per cent of them are career ready and employable by the industry. A vast majority of technical graduates are deficient in communication skills, analytical / problem-solving capabilities, learning abilities, process orientation and domain skills.
* The lack of effective industry academia interaction has been one of the failings of the Indian knowledge ecosystem. An overwhelming majority of students go into the employment markets armed with only educational qualifications. Ensuring their employment is a responsibility, which industry and academia need to address together. Faculty development and training programmes with a module for judging/testing them on their ability to impart the requisite skills become very critical.
NEW BILL TO MAKE JUDGES ACCOUNTABLE
THE Union Cabinet's clearance to the new Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill on Tuesday is heartening. It is designed to make the judges of the higher judiciary accountable for their acts of omission and commission and ensure greater transparency. The Bill, which will be tabled in the winter session of Parliament, is an improvement over the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill, 2009. The Centre was forced to withdraw it in August last year following stiff resistance from the Rajya Sabha MPs to a clause that ensured that the judges' assets were never made public. The new Bill seeks to replace the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968, while retaining its basic features. The 1968 law was not only ineffective but also lacking teeth in dealing with issues relating to judicial corruption. A new Bill was overdue in the light of increasing cases of corruption involving the judges of the High Courts. Such is the system today that other than the long, cumbersome and time-consuming process of impeachment by Parliament, there is no proper mechanism to bring the errant judges to book.
The new Bill envisages a mechanism for enquiring into complaints against the judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts and lays down judicial standards. In that sense, it empowers the citizens to punish judges for corruption and misconduct. Of course, as a safeguard against frivolous complaints, a scrutiny committee will examine the petition and then forward it, within three months, to the judicial oversight committee for action if a prima facie case is made out. A former Chief Justice of India will head the five-member panel. The process of impeachment will start once this committee comes up with adverse findings.
The higher judiciary is passing through a bad phase. Its image has been eroded following allegations of corruption against Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran of the Sikkim High Court, Justice Nirmal Yadav of the Uttarakhand High Court and Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court. The Supreme Court collegium's current policy of transferring judges who are under a cloud is flawed because if Justice Nirmal Yadav, for example, is unfit to serve the Punjab and Haryana High Court, she doesn't become a perfect judge to serve the Uttarakhand High Court at Nainital. Clearly, the Manmohan Singh government has greater stakes on the new legislation because its commitment to cleansing up the higher judiciary is now on test.
ACQUITTAL, GALLOWS, LIFE TERM
PRIYADARSHINI MURDER CASE HAS SEEN IT ALL
THE forlorn 14-year search for justice by the family of Priyadarshini Mattoo, the 23-year-old law student who was raped, strangled with an electric wire and brutally murdered by battering her face with a motor cycle helmet in January 1996, has been a harrowing experience. The trial court acquitted Santosh Singh, a lawyer and son of a senior police officer, in 1999 with the Judge stressing that a malnourished investigation by the Delhi Police meant that though he knew Santosh Singh "is the man who committed the crime", he was forced to acquit him. In October 2006, the Delhi High Court reversed the order and held that "for a murder so grotesque and brutal, the convict deserves nothing less than the death penalty". It also took the police to task, stating that the rule of law "is not meant for those who enforce the law nor for their near relatives". Both courts had agreed that the police was reluctant to follow up on Priyadarshini's complaints against Singh because his father was a senior police officer (Santosh studied law in the same college as Priyadarshini).
Four years later, the Supreme Court has commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment, observing that "to our minds, the balance sheet is slightly in favour of the appellant and, therefore, we believe the ends of justice will be met if his death sentence is commuted to life".
Considering that many of those on life sentence in India roam about on parole, her father Chaman Lal Mattoo has felt dismayed by the verdict: "The Supreme Court should make sure that this reduction is not misused as a trend and a trick in the sense that the culprit should roam here and there while in jail". His frustration is shared by Neelam Katara, mother of another murder victim Nitish Katara, who too feels that life sentence in India means freedom for culprits. "I have got two prisoners out there on life sentence who are out on parole, making my life difficult," she laments. This lacuna in the criminal justice system must be addressed suitably.
INDIA'S STAND ON TERROR JUSTIFIED
THOSE in the world who doubted Pakistan's use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy should revise their opinion. Former military ruler of Pakistan Gen Pervez Musharraf (retd) has now admitted that militant groups "were indeed formed" to cause death and destruction in India's Jammu and Kashmir. In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, the retired Pakistan Army chief, who captured power in 1999 in a bloodless military coup, shamelessly defends this atrocious act of his country. His opinion is that Pakistan considered it necessary to create and patronise terrorist outfits to kill and maim people in India because this was how the world community could be made to focus on the Kashmir question. But indirectly he has also justified the argument of India that terrorism has emerged as a major threat to peace in South Asia and the rest of the world because of the dangerous policy of Pakistan.
Over the years Pakistan has emerged as the epicentre of terrorism. Blinded by their hatred for India, Pakistani rulers failed to realise that terrorism was a like two-edged weapon. The country that gave birth to this Frankenstein could not be safe from it. If today Pakistan's survival as a nation-state is in jeopardy because of the activities of militant groups like the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the country's use of terrorism for its geopolitical objectives is to blame.
Pakistan is still not as forthcoming about fighting terrorism as it pretends before the world community. It has officially banned the terrorist groups working against India, but those behind such outfits are not treated as the most dangerous criminals. They are considered as assets and may be used again once the international attention shifts from the Af-Pak region. The infrastructure of these groups has not been completely dismantled. That is why the US has warned that in case there is another 9/11-type attack originating from Pakistan, Washington will not hesitate in destroying the 150 terror camps which continue to exist. The question that can be asked is: why should the world wait for another major terrorist strike to finish off the training camps of these killing outfits?
EFFORTS FOR PEACE IN THE VALLEY
OPTIONS BEFORE KASHMIR LEADERS
BY BALRAJ PURI
A vital question that the separatist leaders in Jammu and Kashmir must decide is whether they want "azadi" or any other status outside India for the whole state or for the Kashmiri-speaking community in the valley. In either case, they must consider its implications. In the former case (whole state) they must also decide the question of inter-regional relations and constitutional and institutional arrangements to satisfy the urges of ethnic diversities in the new arrangement.
This question was posed to Syed Ali Shah Geelani when he was the president of the united Hurriyat Conference. He assured this writer that "we will treat Jammu and Ladakh much better than the present state government." It was pointed out to him that there were two pre-requisites of this offer. One, he will remain supreme in the new set-up. Two, he would be immortal. He then asked, "Do you want to constitutionalise the system?" I replied in the affirmative. Needless to say, it was never done.
On another occasion, Hurriyat leaders were asked to organise an all-party conference on the internal constitutional set-up of the state irrespective of their views on its external status. They replied, "You are always welcome to discuss the matter with us." I insisted on a formal decision of all the parties involved. After some time, Yasin Malik came to Jammu and asked me to revive my proposal. I replied, "When I had made the proposal, the Hurriyat was united. I could invite it as the sole representative of the Kashmir region. Now it was divided. Moreover, an elected government was in power. Whatever be its following, it cannot be ignored. If you are willing to sit with the other Hurriyat leaders and the National Conference, I could still convene an all-party conference." Obviously, Yasin was not willing.
Here it may be useful to invite the attention of the separatist leaders to the State People's Convention convened by Sheikh Abdullah in 1968 as the leader of the Plebiscite Front, the most popular secessionist group of the time. It was also attended, inter alia, by Mirwaiz Farooq, father of Mirwaiz Umar, and representatives of the Jamat-e-Islami of which Geelani was a member, besides Mr G.M. Karra's pro-Pakistan People's Conference. It unanimously accepted my draft on the internal constitutional set-up of the state irrespective of its status. It provided for regional autonomy and devolution of powers at the district, block and panchayat levels.
Will Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Geelani, the leaders of the rival Hurriyats, accept this proposal to which Mirwaiz Farooq and the Jamat-e-Islami were committed? The other alternative is to divide the state and be prepared for its implications. Sajjad Lone, in his manifesto, "Achievable Nationhood", has offered to the Hindu areas of Jammu and the Buddhists of Ladakh the option to opt out of the state. The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council has endorsed the idea and demanded the Union Territory status for Ladakh.
Balraj Madhok, Dr Karan Singh and Syed Shahabuddin had supported the idea of division of the state some time back at one stage or the other. New York-based Farooq Kathwari, the richest and most influential Kashmiri, and Salig Harrison, a leading American expert on the Indian subcontinent, had also advocated the idea. I had discussed the implications of the idea with most of them who modified their stand. Farooq Kathwari had in a long telephonic talk told me that his Kashmir Study Group no longer supported the idea of division of the state and the best first step should be regional autonomy.
At one stage the BJP supported the idea of division of the state. A conference of former Prime Ministers and other leading personalities of the country was organised and they opposed the idea. I conveyed the decision to the then Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee, and had also detailed discussions with the then Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani.
When on the eve of General Musharraf's first visit to India, some voices in the BJP parivar were raised in favour of division of the state, I told Advani that the idea had been welcomed by Pakistan and asked him why his party had become so generous to Islamabad. He replied that he was convinced after the discussion with me that the remedy of the division of the state was worse than the disease, but the RSS was not agreeing.
Now again RSS ideologue Vaidya has recommended that the Kashmir region be granted pre-1953 autonomy, but Jammu and Ladakh should be fully merged with the Indian Union. This is what Jana Sangh founder Dr Shyama Prasad Mukerjee had once thought of and entered into prolonged correspondence with Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah. The Sheikh quoted him as having said, "If the people of the Kashmir valley think otherwise, there can be special provision for that zone. We would readily agree to treat the valley with Sheikh Abdullah as its head in any special manner for such time as he would like but Jammu and Ladakh must he fully integrated with India."
In his reply to Dr Mukerjee through his letter dated February 4, 1953, the Sheikh wrote: "You are perhaps not unaware that attempts are being made to force a decision by disrupting the unity of the state. Once the ranks of the state people are divided, any solution can be foisted on them." Eventually, Dr Mukerjee accepted the Delhi Agreement in toto.
A crucial question in the case of division of the state would be the future of the Muslim-majority districts of Jammu and the Muslim-majority district of Kargil in the Ladakh region. As politics in Jammu is no more secular in character, it is doubtful if the Muslim-majority areas will like to change their status from that belonging to a Muslim-majority state to a Hindu-majority one. Similarly, the movement for the Union Territory status in Ladakh is led by the BJP and is confined to Leh. Kargil is unlikely to join it, though its Muslim majority is not at all happy with what is considered a Kashmiri-dominated state. Already, by dividing Ladakh into a Buddhist-majority Leh and Muslim-majority Kargil, and by denying a regional status in the constitution of the state, which recognises only the Jammu and Kashmir regions, the seeds of religious division of Ladakh have been sown.
If the state is divided on religious lines, no Muslim would be secure in Hindu-majority Jammu, and no Hindu would be secure in the Muslim-majority part of the region and the valley. Sizeable minorities live at present in both parts. Similar insecurities will be created in Leh and Kargil. Any issue can ignite communal clashes anywhere, which can lead to communal riots with repercussions in the rest of India. The secular basis of the country would be thereby undermined.
The worst sufferer would in that case be the Kashmir region and its thousands of years old great civilization. The present unitary and centralised system is a perennial source of tension which seeks an anti-India outlet in Kashmir. In Jammu, it encourages ultra-nationalist and even communal sentiments. Both pro-and-anti-India parties should, therefore, first work for a federal and decentralised system so that a harmonious personality of the state can be built more or less in accordance with the People's Convention draft on an internal constitution. Any dialogue about a permanent status of the state will then become much easier.
The writer is Director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, Jammu.
BY HARBANS SINGH VIRDI
RETIREMENT, I thought, would be relaxing, but it was not so. Retirement blues hit me hard in the very first few days of my bidding good-bye to office work. I had thought retirement would be soothing, like the last month of my retirement, when almost every colleague had shown me respect and courtesy, normally reserved for "karsevawale babas". Now I realise that retirement, like liquor, has different effect on different people.
A strong man after getting drunk, starts crying in self-pity whereas a weak man, after drinking spirit, roars like a lion. Similarly, some colleagues who had been hostile to me throughout were suddenly kindness personified while another colleague, who had been a friend throughout, turned nasty towards the end.
But this was nothing compared to what happened a few days after I quit work. The day I announced my retirement to my maid, she cried out in disbelief: 'Sir, would you stop paying me now? I hope you don't cut my salary to half.' She stopped sobbing only after I assured her that her monthly wages will remain intact though my pay and perks were gone.
But when I broke the news of my retirement to my gardener, his reaction was most sympathetic. "Sir, don't worry, I always stand by a man in adversity, he said. "To tide over your fiscal crunch, I will charge only Rs 100 a month, instead of Rs 150." I was overwhelmed by his generosity. Though I protested against his voluntary cut, he pacified me by saying that he had been helping retired men all his life.
A few days later, I was standing in a queue for paying my electricity bill, when I remembered that I had become a 'senior citizen'. But when I shifted to the 'senior citizen' line, there were cries of 'wapas aao, wapas aao' from many in the queue. "Look at him, first standing in our queue he was ogling at young women here. Now to pay early, he has joined the senior citizen line. Does he look old? He is dressed as if he were Dev Anand," said a man.
When I showed my identity card to prove my age, the man replied it could be a fake card. Another man suspected me like the fake press adviser to the Prime Minister, who befooled the Mohali police recently. The noise subsided only when I returned to my old queue amidst curious looks.
Retirement certainly has its disadvantages.
FEMALE CRIMINALITY AND MALE PERCEPTION
WHAT DRIVES WOMEN, TRADITIONALLY PERCEIVED AS NURTURERS AND CARE-GIVERS, TO CRIME? MANY FACTORS ARE ATTRIBUTED TO FEMININE CRIMINALITY, BUT ONLY PROPER RESEARCH CAN LEAD TO A GENDER-SENSITIVE APPROACH IN LEGISLATION, ADJUDICATION AND REFORM
CRIME is defined by legal and social institutions and except in case of typical sexual offences, does not essentially hinge on biology and gender. The underlying idea of a gender-based analysis is to rip apart skewed perceptions and gender bias of the dominant lawmakers, enforcement agencies, adjudicators and reformers. Men may have their own bias, and feminists may oscillate to the other extreme, but the real essence of a gender approach is to go behind the terse letter of the law and analyse how genetic, environmental, economic, personality and other issues fuel criminality and delinquency in different genders.
Feminist criminology has of late hyped the subject of women and crime aside from a purely male outlook and primarily masculine terrain. Sexism advertently or sub-consciously colours the process of crime prevention, punishment and imprisonment of women.
Feminists rightly allege that many police personnel, judges and reformatory officials nurture a wholly misconceived notion that only males are expected to indulge in crime, and women should be austere, compliant and virtuous daughters, wives and mothers. Men tend to regard women as vulnerable and thus insecure. There has been a plea that women in crime should not be considered mad . A criminal is a criminal, and should be treated as bad, and dealt with accordingly.
Those rightly emphasising upon gender equality emphasise that crime should not be treated as a monopoly domain of males. A study of history reveals that women have the potential and have committed as horrific crimes as male criminals, such as murder, treason, blasphemy and drug peddling, etc. Women have even volunteered as deadly human bombs. As per war chronicles, 60 women stood trial before the War Crimes Tribunals between 1945 and 1949. Of these 21 were found guilty and were executed.
However, men still tend to traditionally expect women to be involved in less violent crimes as prostitution, shoplifting etc. When women go beyond that, they are irrationally described as masculine, or an aberration.
There has been an intense debate whether criminal women show masculine biological and psychological traits.
Criminologists suggest that they have atavistic throwbacks into their relatively primitive state triggering intense criminality. They are more adaptive when faced with a hostile environment and turn to prostitution as an alternative to intensely violent crime.
Some suggest that a desire for recognition urges females to get involved in illegal activities. However, since most of the feminine crime is actuated by economic factors or a backlash to violent aggression they suffer, it is incorrect to attribute the natural desire for recognition as the main trigger for female criminality. Female criminality rejects inherent female biological passivity and endeavours to be like men.
Women have fewer opportunities to be involved in organised and corporate crime. Researchers have concluded that the pattern of women's crimes is broadly similar to that of the men. The child bearing and rearing role leaves women with lesser time to stray into the world of crime. When women commit violent crimes which are purely looked at by men according to their perception of femininity, women receive unduly harsh punishments. It has now been realised that with the gender divide crumbling in a liberal social scenario, women have opportunities to commit crime at the workplace such a fraud and other white-collar economic offences.
Feminists blame the existence of a misplaced masculinity in a female for such an orientation. They emphasise that women normally possess a larger deep limbic system and are more in touch with their feelings and much less insensitive than men. However, it is a moot question whether sensitivity, or hyper-sensitivity, in certain cases could lead to exaggerated feelings of hatred, vengeance, jealousy etc. which degenerate into criminality.
Environmental influences, social milieu and cultural traditions influence criminality. The modern-day breed of intoxicated young ladies may cause the same degree of havoc as male drunken hooligans. Drugs and drinks open the gateway to crime for women as much as they do for men. Mental problems, childhood abuse and drug addictions combine to surely convert women as violent female criminals.
Researchers have found that more than one-third women convicted of sex offences had a history of psychiatric problems. Others may fall into crime for economic reasons, exploitative social milieu or as a reaction to physical or psychological oppression. However, in case of male sexual offenders indulging in rape, non-consensual sex, sexual abuse and sexual molestation, the trigger exists elsewhere and their criminal instincts are not as much attributable to psychiatric problems as in the case of women.
Genes and criminality of an individual go together. Research based on family and adoption studies as well as laboratory experiments has confirmed this. However, genes alone may not be enough to push a female, or for that matter a male, criminal to crime. Genetic predisposition combined with conducive environment is likely to trigger criminality.
Research points out that neuro-chemicals like monoamine oxidase, epinephrine and dopamine influence criminality. This strengthens the argument that genes do have a role to play. However, gender based differentiation of their impact on females in particular is not very clear.
Similarly, research is categorical in establishing that personality traits and disorders seen in children such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional defiance disorder, impulsivity and aggression determine later adult anti-social behaviour.
According to another research, sociopath females, as in the case of males, lacking in moral development and not
feeling socially responsible for their actions are the outcome of the individual's personality, physiotype and genotype. This shift is strengthened by social discrimination.
Unless there is an intensive research on what drives women, as different from men, to crime in different social contexts, there can be no meaningful gender approach to legislation, adjudication and reform, which has huge undefined grey areas susceptible to the gender bias Grey areas of perceptional discretion granted to the key male navigators of criminal justice system tend to make it unfair to the females.
The writer, a senior IAS officer, is the Member Secretary, Punjab State Women Commission
FORCED BY CIRCUMSTANCES AS WELL AS THE COMPULSION TO MAKE QUICK MONEY, MANY WOMEN IN PUNJAB ARE GETTING INVOLVED IN DRUG PEDDLING
CHITLEEN K SETHI
LAST month the Punjab police in Sangrur arrested a 36-year-old woman with 25 kg of opium. This was not the first time that the accused Gurjinder Kaur (name changed) had been caught for an offence. Married to a drug addict, Gurjiinder left her home more than a decade ago but got involved with a small time drug peddler who introduced her to the world of crime. In 10 years, she tried it all-fake currency, bank robbery and finally drug peddling.
As she remorselessly recalled the ups and downs of her life before the Crime Investigation Agency (CIA), Punjab staff in Sangrur, the only fact that brought tears to her eyes was that in some way she was responsible for her young son taking to drugs.
Gurjinder is one of the over 400 women in Punjab who have been booked in the past one and a half years for smuggling and peddling drugs. In 2009, out of a total of 3,430 cases related to drug smuggling, 261 were registered against women and in another 40 cases, women were the co-accused. Till June 2010, out of the 1793 cases registered, 153 were against women and in 23 women were the co-accused.
The figures are shocking as traditionally women stay away from drugs and alcohol. But obviously the story that is emerging is quite different.
Women from the lower middle classes and rural areas are increasingly taking to petty crimes and peddling drugs is one of the "easier" options.
"Since women are not expected to indulge in crimes related to drugs they are not the natural suspects for the police and manage to carry on with this for years before they are finally caught," says Bhagwant Singh, in-charge, CIA Sangrur.
"Making a woman indulge in crimes like drug trafficking is also most difficult. In fact, a woman will not get into such a crime till she has no other option and she has no other way to earn a livelihood," he adds.
While this might be true of many cases that have come to the Punjab police in the past few years, there are a large number of women in the state belonging to a notorious tribe who traffic drugs with as much ease as they prepare spurious liquor or rob or pick pocket.
These women along with their families live in Mansa, Sangrur, Nawanshahr and Jalandhar and this is also probably the reason the highest numbers of cases against women for smuggling drugs have been registered in these districts. Crime is the main source of income for this tribe. "In Avnkha in Pathankot, these women along with their children are seen peddling pouches of powdered drugs, capsules, spurious liquor outside the railway station and bus stand," said Amit (name changed) a 25-year-old drug-addict undergoing treatment at the Red Cross drug de-addiction centre in Gurdaspur.
Crime is an easy way to earn a quick buck and other than the fear of being caught not much in terms of morality or a defined sense of right and wrong can be expected of those who have to choose between abject poverty and a wrongdoing.
But what goes beyond all economic compulsions or traditional habits is the emergence of a set of women who are indulging in such crimes for quick money wilfully. A lady municipal councillor of Batala in Gurdaspur is the alleged kingpin of a network of peddlers who supply pharmaceutical drugs in the form of capsules and injections to young residents of the area.
"Her husband, her son-in-law and some other relatives living in the Gandhi camp are doing this work. Capsules and injectibles are openly available in at least 35 houses in the area. The police knows about the whole business but they choose to look the other way," relates Swaraj (name changed) a 22- year-old drug addict who lives in Gandhi camp and lost his elder brother to drugs.
The racket is well oiled and runs systematically. "Ten to 15 persons are on duty in the streets of the camp. They patrol the area constantly on motorcycles and in case of a raid inform those inside their houses who are doing business. The stock of injections and capsules is hidden within minutes. The lady councillor's house is the centre of all activity. She controls the whole business in the Gandhi camp," adds Swaraj.
This is not all. In the same camp drug addicts make a beeline for the house of another woman who sells liquor and capsules. "Every evening she sits outside her house with a bucket full of liquor and a bag with capsules in it. Young children, some of them school going. are among her customers," says Swaraj.
Other drug addicts give details of a gang of women in Amritsar running a flourishing drug trading racket. "The operation is carried through mobile phones. The customer is asked to meet the woman at a particular place and drugs are handed over. The phone numbers are passed on only through known customers," said another addict at the centre.
The emergence of women in crime, led not merely by economic compulsions but as a source of easy money is a matter of serious concern. A woman, despite her changing role in modern times, is considered to be the underlying strength of a civilization's social and moral fabric. This responsibility she shoulders by virtue of being a mother and the stabilising factor in the smallest unit of a society the family. Thus, at all levels of economic strata, rising crime among women can prove to be a far more dangerous trend than crime among men.
(The writer is Principal Correspondent, The Tribune, Chandigarh. The article is in part-fulfillment of her fellowship project instituted by the National Foundation for India, New Delhi)
CHICKEN SOUP FOR INDIA
THE POP PSYCHOLOGY SERIES IS COMING OUT WITH INDIAN EDITIONS, WITH ONE BOOK DEDICATED TO THE COUNTRY'S TEACHERS
Do you doubt the usefulness of feel-good books such as the Chicken Soup for the Soul series? If yes, you may find a surprising (or not so surprising) ally in Oran, the eldest son of Jack Canfield who started the series. He published a book last year Long Past Stopping (Harper Collins 2009) about his varied and chaotic life, playing in rock bands, learning juggling in a circus, and nearly dying of drug abuse. He comments, in an on-line interview on the "obvious irony between my childhood, my lifestyle choices as an adult and my cynicism, and my Dad's feelgood self-help Hallmark-style pop psychology."
The word "family" has a cosy sound, but families are often anything but cosy entities. His father left his mother when she was pregnant. He thought his father's books vapid and pointless, despite the millions of book sales, translation into forty languages and the like. However, in the process of writing his memoir, he says he found the empathy for his family he had never felt before, decided he was tired of hating them, and that they had been doing their best. So all's well, even if the route to feeling good was circuitous and troubled.
I hope Westland Publishers will reprint Long Past Stopping in India, if only to indicate that feeling good isn't a matter of days or weeks or the odd story of caring, or courage, or understanding. They are about to inundate us with chicken soup titles geared to India-Indian women, mothers, teens, the armed forces. One of the titles that struck me as a bit strange is Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul. Chicken soup! Shouldn't that be carrot soup, or chickpea soup, or cabbage? And what, pray, is an 'Indian soul?' Something like Kalmadi's? Each book carries the names of the original begetters, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, and the name of an Indian editor.
One of the series I've been sent is for Indian teachers: 101 stories to Open the Hearts and Rekindle the Spirits of Educators. The Indian editor is Wendy M Dickson who, we are told has taught classes from kindergarten to post-graduate, and has a doctoral degree. She lives in Bangalore.
There's some emphasis on "heart", and "heart-warming", but there is also an acknowledgement, in some stories of teachers who resent bright students who do not toe the line. (Naturally, there are none about students made to stand in the sun for hours, or about students beaten to death for some minor infringement). But there's at least one story that displays "mind", on the part of a student nicknamed Yogi Bear who is invariably asleep in his classes. I don't blame him. "He hated grammar classes and could never understand why he had to turn a sentence from active to passive or from simple to complex when he was never going to do it in real life The only answer I could have given him was, "You have to know this to pass your Board exams." Well done, Yogi Bear! As for the teacher, what else could she have said?
In this particular volume, the word 'teacher' has been extended in the last section to mean anyone from whom you learn something. A journalist talks about shedding his prejudices against Anglo-Indians, a woman in need of physiotherapy about the woman who teaches her to walk.
There are signs of a more general awakening to the need for child-centred education, which can be fun for them, not just endless pressure. Perhaps this is in part because of all those troubled children whose suicides put a greater focus on the pressures children feel. Whatever the reason, I hope conditions for children continue to improve.
FEAR OF VOLATILITY
SAVINGS BANK INTEREST RATE SHOULD BE FREED
Most banks, particularly the public sector ones, have told the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) they don't want the savings bank interest rate freed, the last one to remain regulated. This is unsurprising as fear of the unknown and of volatility sways even the greatest votaries of business deregulation. But that is no reason why the RBI should listen to the banks. The primary argument offered by them is that freeing the rate will unleash competition (that, in itself, should be a good reason for doing so) in which state-owned banks will suffer. Their ability to compete on price is supposedly limited, compared to private and foreign-owned banks. The latter, in particularly, rely little on savings deposits and may find it beneficial to raise this rate to fetch more such deposits, thereby reducing their dependence on costlier call money.
First, neither foreign nor private banks have the extensive branch network that the state-owned banks do. It is absurd to think that an account holder will be lured away by a percentage point or two of additional interest on an essential core of liquid cash, held for all contingencies (this is what a savings bank account is), by a bank that may not even have a branch in town. So, the further away a modest (not high net worth) account holder is from urban India the more price inelastic will his core deposits be. This is also the age of financial inclusion when every effort is being made to take financial services to those who have been left out. So, one sure way in which banks with large branch networks can safeguard their float (that part of deposits which barely costs anything to attract and stays put willy-nilly) is to spread financial inclusion. This process will also raise the national savings rate further, the way in which bank nationalisation and branch expansion did originally.
So, the regulator can go ahead and free the savings bank interest rate while the state can give banks an incentive to spread the banking habit (say so many rupees per year per active no-frill account). This is already being talked about. Banks, in fact, will have a great opportunity to make deregulation pay by using technology to crash transaction costs. An extensive business correspondent network, enabled by wireless devices, can work wonders. A large fast-moving consumer goods firm or a village provisions store may find it beneficial to offer basic banking services at little or no cost because of the customs that it will bring in. Today information technology also allows banks to go in for much greater market segmentation and charge differential interest rates. Also, since the advent of the base rate system has effectively freed all lending rates, banks that serve their customers well can protect their net interest margin by both paying and charging more. Finally, it is absurd and unfair for banks to pay by fiat (it would be another matter if the market made them do so) their lay depositors 3.5 per cent when inflation is running in double digits. The RBI has to look after the interest of not just the banks but also the depositors.
EU TRIPS THE POOR
SEIZURE OF AFFORDABLE INDIAN DRUGS IS UNETHICAL AND ILLEGAL
Even as India and the European Union (EU) inch closer to threshing out a free-trade agreement, the unresolved issue of seizures by EU member countries of Indian generic drugs on their way to other destinations continues to sour relations between the two. Over a score of such incidents of unlawful confiscation of Indian drug shipments by European customs authorities have occurred in the past three years. Ironically, most of such seizures have been of generic drugs that are not patented in India or in the export destination countries, even if they had patent protection in EU member countries. Labelling them as "counterfeits" and charging them with violation of patent laws, are, therefore, untenable. If EU countries, under pressure to guard the commercial interests of their big pharmaceutical corporations, do not stop such dubious seizures, the repercussions would extend far beyond India. At stake would be not only Indian drug exports, estimated to be about Rs 40,000 crore annually, but also the availability of cheaper life-saving medicines to the millions of poor living in developing countries, to whom these seized exports were being shipped, and who cannot afford access to costly patented drugs.
More worryingly, for all those seeking access to affordable medicines, the EU is ganging up with the US, Japan and other developed countries to seek an anti-counterfeiting trade agreement (ACTA) which would further complicate the issue. For, ACTA would set its own norms of protecting intellectual property, going beyond the existing global trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPs) agreement under the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Worse still, there are other proposals also under negotiation, albeit without involving developing countries, which are equally objectionable. The two significant ones among them are the World Customs Organisation standards to be employed by customs for uniform rights enforcement (SECURE) and the norms being worked out by the international medical products anti-counterfeiting task force (IMPACT) of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The real problem with such questionable TRIPs-plus measures is that these would blur the definition of generic drugs and would, also change the transit rules to justify drug seizures passing through EU ports on the mere grounds of suspicion that they may be contravening the provisions of intellectual property rights. TRIPs, on the other hand, permits developing countries to manufacture even patented drugs if these are classified as essential or critical for public health.
New Delhi has done well to use the WTO to slam ACTA. India has secured the support of other developing countries, notably Brazil and China, that are equally incensed by EU's effort to protect its pharma industry interests, side-stepping TRIPs. Equally heartening is the support India is getting at the WTO in its appeal against the European Commission's regulation number 1383/2003, under which most of the Indian generic drug consignments have been detained by the EU countries. This campaign, however, needs to be intensified further to build up real pressure on the WTO to protect TRIPs as outlined under the Doha declaration and ensure that the poor continue to have access to affordable medicines from countries like India.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING THROUGH THE INTERNET NEED COMMONWEALTH GAMES-LIKE CRISIS MANAGEMENT
The central government and the Delhi administration have shown they can engage in sheer execution to save face for the Commonwealth Games. Couldn't our governments choose to make similar efforts to improve an aspect of infrastructure that is perhaps the most powerful means for enhancing our productive capacity and quality of life: broadband? One might ask: why broadband, and not energy, water/sanitation, or roads ? While all infrastructure is essential, broadband gives the quickest, biggest bang for the buck, because of its nature vis-à-vis energy, water or transportation and our regulatory environment and functional organisation (for instance, the complexity of addressing power supply). If we could increase mobile phone coverage to present levels by reducing costs and increasing availability, it should be possible to do so for personal computer (PC) also, to draw on the wealth of free educational and training material for our vast numbers.
Unfortunately, for such infrastructure, there is no triggering crisis like the threat of failure of the Commonwealth Games, and consequently, no face-saving or glam factors, like the arrival of foreign teams and visitors. This article makes a case for a Commonwealth Games-type crisis management for broadband through a collage of factors.
Consider these aspects of our demographics:*
Nearly 460 million people are aged between 13 and 35 today.
Of these, 333 million are literate.
In 10 years from now, the countrywide average age will be 29, compared to 37 in the US and China, 45 in Europe, and 48 in Japan.
As many as 100 million Indians the combined labour forces of Britain, France, Italy, and Spain are projected to be added to our workforce by 2020, which is 25 per cent of the global workforce.
This indicates our productive potential. Its realisation would require education and training, efficient functioning, i.e. the matrix of enabling infrastructure, and organisation. If these needs remain unmet, the demographic opportunity can become the liability of an unproductive population, with attendant difficulties and social hazards.
We have many formal and informal institutions providing training and education. We add nearly 300,000 engineering graduates every year to our pool of 2 million engineers. India's vocational training capacity is estimated at 3.1 million a year, whereas about 12.8 million people enter the workforce. However, the National Sample Survey (2004) found that only 2 per cent of the 15-29 age group had formal vocational training and another 8 per cent had non-formal vocational training. In the developed economies, the proportion of skilled workers is 60-80 per cent; Korea has 96 per cent skilled workers.**
Five years ago, McKinsey reported that only a quarter of India's engineers were employable in the IT industry. Recently, a survey showed this has reduced to 18 per cent.***
Apart from training and education in specific disciplines, the processes that make for good work practices are: systems thinking, a scientific temper, and goal-oriented work practices to meet standards of quality and time. Then there are the attributes of playing team, while engaging in a hard-charging individual effort. All these skills and practices are necessary and can be learned and renewed over time.
How will our workforce of over 500 million, adding 12.8 million every year, have access to continuing education and training, information for civic amenities and facilities and easy, efficient access to commercial and public services? What about the prerequisites of schooling, vocational training and university education? To answer these questions, consider parallel developments in domains such as distance education, e-learning and smart applications. Here are glimpses of the transformation underway in university and secondary education, especially outside India:
iTunes U has become one of the world's largest educational catalogues for free educational material. After three years, there are over 300 million downloads. Over 800 universities have their websites at iTunes U, including many of the top universities from the US, UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore and so on.
Khan Academy (http://khanacademy.org), a brilliant, free educational site by an ex-hedge fund analyst and manager, Salman Khan (Salman Khan of Silicon Valley, not Bollywood), covers mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology, with over 18 million page views in August (http://khanacademy.org). Started in late 2006, Khan is reportedly developing an open-ended set of material covering many subjects, and is a favourite among people like Bill Gates, and John and Ann Doerr (Fortune:http://money.cnn.com/2010/08/23/tecnology/sal_khan_academy.fortune/index.htm). Of the 200,000 students who access this site every month, only 20,000 are from India.
There are many other educational sites from school level upwards, for instance, the Open Courseware Consortium (http://www.ocwconsortium.org) by MIT, with US members like the University of California (Berkeley), Michigan and so on. Many universities and schools have their own websites. There is the Wikiversity, with portals from pre-school through primary to tertiary education, non-formal education and research (seehttp://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Wikiversity:Browse).
India, BCG estimates that Internet usage will increase from 7 per cent of the population in 2009 to 19 per cent in 2015 (237 million). PC penetration, which was just 4 per cent in 2009, is estimated at 17 per cent by 2015 (216 million). To quote BCG: "India has among the highest PC costs and lowest PC availability of all the BRIC countries (including Indonesia)." Mobile phone penetration, however, is 10 times higher, at 41 per cent. This appalling situation needs to be redressed.
Hundreds of millions of Indians should use these websites and the Internet for radical transformation. This will require policies and practices aimed at providing:
inexpensive access to broadband;
greater access to PCs and PC-equivalents as they evolve (e.g. Pranav Mistry's SixthSense); and
systems and processes that encourage distance education, and discipline in all fields, with professionalism and excellence across all activities.
Regulations and tax regimes determine which activities are profitable, and to what extent. This is where the government and its policies come in. Could Internet users in India converge public opinion to rouse governments to address these needs, emulating the example of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit?
LITTLE CARE FOR HEALTH CARE
FOR INDIA'S BUSINESS HOUSES AND ENTREPRENEURS, HEALTH CARE COULD BE ONE OF THE MOST PROMISING AND REWARDING SECTORS
The exceptionally high occupancy rate of hospital beds in the National Capital Region (NCR) in recent weeks may be partly due to rampant dengue, but it is also symptomatic of the worsening crisis in India's health care infrastructure. With the NCR region having the highest concentration of hospital beds in India with almost 30,000 beds under operation by private and government entities but still not being able to cope with the needs of less than 25 million residents and visitors from neighbouring areas, one can imagine the plight of India's masses residing in less developed regions. And unlike other sectors of physical and social infrastructure, this is one in which the situation seems to be deteriorating rather than improving. With nearly a net addition of over 18 million people every year, India needs to add (and evenly distributed) at least 40,000 beds per year just to keep up with the increase in population. It has, on paper, about 1.4 million beds of which about 60 per cent are in the private sector. In reality, however, no more than 70 per cent of the private sector, and just about 50 per cent of the government sector beds are really operational. This means there are just about 850,000 operational beds for a population of nearly 1.2 billion implying just one bed for about 1,400 citizens, which is worse than some of the poorest nations on the planet. The picture becomes grimmer when one realises that of all the beds in the private sector, as many as 70 per cent are estimated to be operating in the top 20 cities only. The government hasn't done much better in the distribution of health care delivery infrastructure with almost 60 per cent of its beds located in top 20 cities of India! And finally, most of the leading private sector operators continue to focus their investments in the top 30-40 cities only and most of these beds are largely affordable for very small, relatively more affluent strata of the society.
There are varying estimates about the deficit in India's health care delivery infrastructure, but the Medical Council of India (MCI) and many private players continues to underestimate or underplay the gap for various reasons, and the governments both at the Centre and in states continue to take baby steps at best despite the fact that over 46 per cent of all patients in India still have to travel an average of 100 kilometres for any reasonable quality secondary or tertiary care. If one were to consider the highly skewed distribution of hospital beds and, therefore, the medical professionals including doctors and nurses, India is already short of more than 2 million hospital beds (and almost 1 million doctors and 2 million nurses) required to provide universal accessibility to its people. Further, with more than 30 per cent of the population eking an existence below the poverty line and another 30-35 per cent just above it, this health care has to be affordable too. And finally, since a human life is equally precious for all socio-economic strata, this accessible and affordable health care has to be delivered with basic standards of quality (of outcomes) and accountability.
Against this deficit, it is important to note that India still has a capacity to produce less than 40,000 MBBS doctors (and less than 15,000 MDs) every year. Each tertiary hospital bed, even in tier-3 and tier-4 towns, will not cost less than Rs 35-40 lakh to be set up, and if India has to meet the current deficit of 2 million primary, secondary, and tertiary care beds, an investment exceeding $150-200 billion is needed right now. Unfortunately, even if all this money is made available through some miracle, India will take more than 25 years (at current capacity) to produce the required number of (only MBBS) doctors! And in those 25 years, India's population would have further increased by 350-400 million requiring another 1 million or more hospital beds.
Unfortunately, the little attention that the government has given in recent years to health care has focused on enabling payment mechanism for the very poor and on very basic primary care. It must not lose any time, and put its best brains and, significantly, higher financial resources (both public and private) to create health care delivery capacity across the country on a scale (and a sense of urgency) that has never been attempted anywhere in the world. And for India's large business houses and entrepreneurs, health care will be one of the most promising and rewarding sectors for decades to come, provided they come up with more innovative and appropriate business models.
OLYMPICS NEXT? IS IT A JOKE?
THERE'S NO WAY INDIA CAN RISE ABOVE ITS MEDIOCRE WORK ETHICS AND PRODUCE QUALITY PERFORMANCE IN THE NEXT THREE YEARS TO CONVINCE THE OLYMPIC SELECTORS
After the disgraceful prelude to the Commonwealth Games 2010, now playing out in Delhi, India's read Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi's wish to host the 2020 Olympics sounds like an outrageous joke. Shall we laugh? Or cry? If our officials and sports authorities have any sense of shame which I doubt, as nobody so far has apologised for causing our nation such a huge international embarrassment they shouldn't even think bidding.
Hosting rights are assigned seven years before the actual start of the games, as was the case for the Commonwealth Games, too. It means the host country for the 2020 Olympics will be chosen in 2013, only three years from now. Not even a diehard optimist will believe after its recent showing that India can turn around, rise above its mediocre work ethics and pathetic management culture, become a thorough professional, and acquire the ability to produce credible, quality performance, all in the next three years to convince the Olympic selectors. Our character hasn't changed in 63 years. How will it change in the next three, or seven (for the 2024 games), or even 11 (for 2028)?
So, let's not fool ourselves. We aren't China. We had seven years to prepare for the Commonwealth Games, but still bungled. It only shows how casual was our approach and how substandard is the level at which our public sector operates. There's no need for others to stereotype us. We've stereotyped ourselves.
It exposes something else, too: the utter callousness of our leaders. That's why Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit could glibly brush off the footbridge and roof collapse at the main Games stadium as minor glitches. Was that surprising? Not in the least. They were only being faithful to a tradition in which corruption is an accepted fact and mismanagement always has an excuse, where national pride is never a result of national performance.
Look at our roads, cities, public housing, hospitals, or civic amenities, anything that has to do with the government, central or state. Do you see standard, any standard, except Organising Committee General Secretary Lalit Bhanot's? Do you find the minimum honesty of performance that one expects? Anything that can be called neat, well executed, without the ordinary, dishevelled, and unfinished look that public projects in India usually leave behind? You don't, because it's not expected. India is a nation where substandard is the accepted norm.
That, essentially, was what Reddy and Dikshit were telling us: Things go wrong, but things get done, don't they? Why criticise your own nation? Sports Minister M S Gill even cracked a little joke about it. Everything would be fine, Monsoon Wedding-like, he said, referring to the Mira Nair movie's oddly happy ending. He didn't realise it was a sad commentary on India's state of affairs, which will be remembered by the International Olympic Committee.
In the end, the Games got underway all right, like the babus said they would, purely Monsoon Wedding-style, in spite of all the Games Village woes and logistic troubles. But the damage has been done and not even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's last-minute outburst of anger and initiative can undo it. The message has gone out to the world that India has a government system that's utterly inefficient and can't be fully trusted to host major international sporting events with the desired degree of finesse. No amount of patriotic drum-beating can now erase the images of filth and dirt in the ill-finished Games Village, and the broken footbridge at the Nehru Stadium parking lot, etched on the minds of millions of TV viewers around the world. Let's chew on our national pride and our rising economic power, but, in the world's view, India remains a substandard nation.
Can we be wiser after the fact? Can we change? At this point in time, it seems next to impossible. Only a huge uplift of leadership at the top can alter an administration so used to graft and payola, cutting corners, accepting compromises, tolerating incompetence, fighting turf wars, and sleeping on decisions till the last minute. In a country where bureaucratic and political interests mingle and influence each other, any assertion of leadership will be immediately resisted as undemocratic and authoritarian.
Generations of Indians have been raised on substandard public facilities and services, and have come to believe that's the only standard the Indian standard. Let's stick to it. Let's keep things the way they are and always have been. That way the system will run smoothly and we'll all be happy. Forget the 2020 Olympics, or any Olympics. Why invite unnecessary trouble? Why let others pry into our lives and culture or our hallowed standards of cleanliness? Instead, let's honour Suresh Kalmadi and Lalit Bhanot for being such honest brokers of the genuine Indian tradition!
INDIA'S ANAEMIC REACTION
DESPITE A NATIONAL PROGRAMME TO CONTROL ANAEMIA SINCE THE SEVENTIES, THERE HAS BEEN NEGLIGIBLE PROGRESS
Anaemia is one of India's most serious health concerns with almost half the children below the age of five suffering from moderate to severe anaemia. What is more staggering is the fact that the incidence of moderate to severe anaemia in children is less than 25 per cent in just four states Manipur, Goa, Mizoram and Kerala. While Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana have the highest prevalence of severe anaemia in children, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh have the highest incidence of moderate anaemia among children.
Anaemia is also a concern among women of all groups and since it results from an interplay of multiple factors nutritional deficiencies, infectious diseases like hookworm and malaria it is difficult to pinpoint why one state is worse off than the other. What is clear, though, is that the prevalence of anaemia is an important measure of health. Its pervasiveness across India, across all income groups points to the low health levels of the Indian population.
Why is this important? Anaemia is significantly related to mortality and productivity. During pregnancy, it not only leads to maternal complications but also affects infant health and mortality by causing low birth weight and lowered immunity to infections. According to the Indian Medical Association, anaemia is one of the leading causes of school dropouts and results in lower mental and motor development, fatigue and low productivity in adulthood. There are various estimates of the impact on GDP; according to The Micronutrient Initiative, India loses 1.27 per cent of its GDP annually due to anaemia. The Indian Medical Association goes with a figure closer to 4 per cent of GDP, which includes the effect of learning and motor impairment in anaemic children.(Click for table & graph)
Despite a national programme to control anaemia since the seventies, there has been negligible progress. In fact, between 1998-99 and 2005-06, the incidence of anaemia actually increased in India. In 2007, the 12X12 initiative was launched to tackle iron deficiency on a war footing, with support from the central government, the Indian Council of Medical Research, the World Health Organisation, Unisef, the Federation of Obstetrics, the Gynaecological Societies of India and so on. The programme works in coordination with existing government schemes and aims at achieving haemoglobin levels of 12 g/dl by the age of 12 years by 2012. It covers all aspects that impact anaemia capacity building, health and nutrition education, increasing iron intake, weekly supplementation with iron folic acid tablets, parasite control through periodic de-worming and appropriate immunisation. Though there is no country-wide data as yet to gauge the effectiveness of this programme, there are many projects that have picked up on the ground. For instance, Bihar took up the Micronutrient Initiative's Nutri-candy programme on a priority basis in 2006, as a public private partnership, pushed by the chief minister.(Click for graph)
However, nutritional supplements form just one part of the solution; hygiene and sanitation are equally crucial. An improvement in the access to good water supply and sanitation facilities all across the country is key to a healthier and more productive population.
Indian States Development Scorecard is a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics that focuses on the progress in India and the states across various socio-economic parameters.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
YES, YOUR HONOUR!
JUDICIAL ACCOUNTABILITY LONG OVERDUE
JUDICIAL accountability moved one step closer to becoming reality with the Cabinet finally approving the long-pending Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill 2010. The Bill seeks to address many of the ills of our present system by providing a simpler mechanism for investigating allegations against members of the higher judiciary as also forms of punishment less extreme than impeachment. It provides for a five-member oversight committee, headed by a former Chief Justice of India, to go into allegations of misconduct against judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court. If implemented in its true spirit, allegations of the kind made by the former law minister Shanti Bhushan (that eight of our former CJI were corrupt) will not be made. Today, they make headlines and leave the aam admi with a lingering sense of unease. Part of the reason is our archaic system for dealing with allegations of misbehaviour or incapacity on the part of Supreme Court and high court judges. In terms of the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968, such allegations can only be investigated if a motion for removal of a judge is moved in Parliament and the only penalty that is possible is impeachment. Not surprisingly, there has been only one case to date in which a judge, Justice Ramaswami of the Supreme Court, was investigated for misconduct (though he was not impeached as the motion was not passed in Parliament).
Repeated attempts to change this system starting with the Constitution (98th Amendment) Bill to establish a National Judicial Commission and more recently, the Judges (Inquiry) Bill 2006 have not succeeded. Meanwhile, allegations against many of our judges continue apace the ongoing fracas over the appointment of Justice Dinakaran and the controversy over the declaration of assets by the judges of the Supreme Court are only two such instances. Our noisy (but precious) democracy has meant we have lost valuable time in coming up with the right remedy. But now that we have, we must make up for lost time by bringing the Bill speedily to Parliament and enacting it so that our judiciary continues to inspire both awe and respect.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
COOPERATIVES AND COMPANIES
TO FURTHER THE WHITE REVOLUTION
FARMERS' cooperative Iffco's plan to set up, in collaboration with New Zealand's cooperative giant Fonterra, a dairy company that would not just process milk but also rear cows and produce milk, marks a welcome break with the theology that keeps farming offlimits for companies. India's milk production has been growing at around 4% a year, but trailing the demand, leading to a rapid rise in milk prices. Milk production on an industrial scale will help meet the rising demand for milk and dairy products in the country. The joint venture company will import cattle as well. New production models are needed to boost growth in the dairy sector, which has depended so far on cooperatives that procure milk from farmers or independent farmers who see dairying as a cottage occupation. Although India is the largest producer of milk, the average yield per animal per year is substantially lower than that of high yield countries such as New Zealand, Israel or the US. Iffco's proposed venture signals a shift in dairying outgrowing from a subsidiary occupation.
Economies of scale and higher yields can lower production costs. The government should make policy and regulation conducive to help corporate participation in dairying. It will boost output directly and also spur innovation in the cooperative sector and further boost cooperativisation (cooperatives account for less than a fifth of the total milk production in the country). Better still, it would spur formation of producer companies where there are no limits on the number of members and voting rights are based on the cooperative principle of one-man-one-vote. Producer companies are insulated from the institutional state and political interference in cooperatives through the office of the registrar of cooperatives. Regulation in India must, however, insist that cattle be range-reared, to guard against the cruelty of cows staying put at one spot in their stall, as machines that take in fodder at one end and spout milk at the other, denied exercise and ingesting heaps of antibiotics to cure the diseases that accompany such a lifestyle.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
ENGLAND KNOWS WHO'S THE BOSS
AMINDBOGGLING diversity of colourful clothes was the hallmark of the teams gathered for the 19th sporting meet of the Anglosphere once called the Empire Games, now deemed the Commonwealth. Indeed, the stiff upper lip tenets that once defined the ethos of the British Empire were given the go-by most emphatically by the former colonies. None more so than by the splintered contingent from the 'home nations', whose future monarch was there to watch his 'subjects' swing by as Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, not to mention Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man. Even for a prince who is just terminologically from Wales (ethnically he's more German than English or Scottish) and loves India, it must have been a surprise seeing England totally dispensing with traditional attire. Befittingly, athletes whose ancestors once trod the soil of India kitted out in khaki and pith hat (sola topee), became white moguls, marching out in England's colours of white and red, but in kurta-pajama and sleeveless bundi waistcoat or Nehru jacket.
While it may well have been an accidental sartorial nod to an Indian dynasty from a land used to hereditary titles and emblems after all, a forebear of the current Prince of Wales also has a collar named after him it could simply be an acknowledgement of India's rising pre-eminence in the Anglosphere. The sun certainly never sets on the Bollywood empire, our version of English has added much-needed masala to the Queen's language, Britannia is best known as an Indian biscuit brand, the Jaguar has bid Tata to its European past and top international couturiers are looking to India for inspiration. Even the Conservative Party conference opened this week with a kathak dance recital. Should they now rename the Commonwealth Games?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ROTTING GRAIN & JUDICIAL TRANSGRESSION
THE CURRENT STATE-MANAGED PUBLIC DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM IS CORRUPT BEYOND REDEMPTION AND WAY TOO COSTLY. THE WAY OUT IS TO HAVE CASH TRANSFERS/FOOD COUPONS, SAYS ASHOK KHEMKA
THE mountainous state-owned food stocks lying in the open and rotting in the rain are in stark conflict with a failing public distribution system, hunger, malnutrition and high food prices. The poor management of food stocks provoked the Supreme Court to transgress into executive domain when, on August 12, the court made certain directions like limiting procurement to covered warehousing capacity and distributing the rotting foodgrains free of cost to the poor. The directions were given with the noble intent to prevent the wastage of foodgrains and a feeling of empathy towards the poor and hungry.
As on August 1, 2010, the total food stocks with the FCI were 55 million tonnes (mt) as compared to the buffer requirements of 27 mt. Of this, 15 mt of wheat was lying in the open in Punjab and Haryana alone. As per estimates, 50,000 tonnes of food stocks have already deteriorated beyond human consumption as a result of long, improper storage.
There are two essential components to the management of food stocks: procurement and distribution through PDS. To ensure that stocks are available round the year for the PDS, different buffer stock norms are prescribed for different points of time during the year. The storage ought to be in scientific warehouses to prevent damage.
FCI's losses are billed to the exchequer and are known as the food subsidy bill.
If the stocks exceed the warehousing capacity, safe storage becomes a challenge. But if the stocks are lower than the buffer stock norms, the problem would be to meet the requirements for PDS. This is addressed if FCI is mandated to manage the stocks as per buffer stock norms through open market operations of buying/selling. The efforts of FCI to dispose of some of the excess stocks of wheat at a price of . 1,240 per quintal (excluding VAT) in the recent past have met with abject failure since the price demanded was not commensurate with the quality of the stocks offered in addition to the additional transactional costs in dealing with FCI staff. The solution also does not lie in fixing the open market sales scheme (OMSS) price much below the market price.
This will only offer the trader arbitrage opportunities in connivance FCI staff. Low OMSS prices had led to large-scale corruption in the FCI, for which the government failed to pinpoint responsibility.
Unfortunately, the court's directions to distribute rotting foodgrains free of cost to the poor, no doubt appealing to the emotions, would suffer from the same malady. It would lead to massive diversions due to arbitrage opportunities in active collusion with the FCI staff without benefiting the intended beneficiaries. Organised diversion of PDS stocks direct from government warehouses to private flour mills is rampant, with the differential pocketed between the transporters, the PDS shopowners and the government staff. The FIRs yield no concrete result, given the quality of investigation and prosecution and the interminable delays in judicial trials.
Chief economic adviser to the government Kaushik Basu has suggested offloading excess food stocks in small lots in order to depress market prices. The same was officially suggested to the FCI/food ministry two years back to dispose of the excess stocks by open and transparent domestic auctions in small monthly lots to reduce any arbitrage opportunities instead of disposals at fixed prices to selected parties. However, FCI continues to dither between exporting excess food stocks and domestic disposals at fixed prices.
AMERE announcement of offloading excess food stocks in small lots by open domestic auctions would act as a dampener on open market prices of foodgrains. Fixing stock limits under the Essential Commodities Act would ensure that the distributive efficiency of the private trade is harnessed to the optimum. Unfortunately, the government, by acting as the biggest hoarder, is unwittingly catalysing rising domestic market prices.
The problem of safe storage of foodgrains can be addressed by incentivising warehousing down to the gram panchayat level under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana. As on date, FCI incurs a cost of . 315 per quintal per month on average on storage without accounting for pilferage and spoilage. This is 50% more than what the private trade spends, despite advantages such as economies of scale, state support for warehousing land and other regulatory measures. This cost can be reduced through public-private participation in handling the buffer stocks.
Even a system of staggered purchases by offering producer farmers an extra . 200 per quintal per month would obviate the need for much additional warehousing capacity. The huge annual food subsidy bill of . 70,000 crore is spent on subsidising the inefficiencies of FCI, the high interest charges of over 12% for financing procurement operations paid to the public sector banks, taxes and other levies amounting to 8-10% to the procuring states, commission of 2.5% to the middlemen arhtiyasfor performing simple aggregation services and a profit of 2% to the state procuring agencies.
The nutritive value the food stocks retain after long periods of storage are never discussed. The manifold prophylactic and curative chemical treatment of stocks may also leave hazardous residues or traces in the stocks.
The transaction costs for consumer in accessing the PDS and his capacity to enforce quality are never discussed. He is offered food at . 3 per kg while the government spends . 16 on his behalf. The only way the consumer can ensure that the quality he receives is worth the amount being spent on his behalf is for the amount to be put at his disposal by direct cash transfer in the form of food coupons. These are important issues that need to be comprehensively addressed in order to make the best utilisation of the huge food subsidy bill.
The market mechanism is the most effective way to achieve this with the government's role limited to making food accessible in remote places where normally the private trade would not find it profitable to venture. The government, for the moment, may have bought temporary relief by ordering the release of 2.5 mt of additional foodgrains, but the questions raised by the Supreme Court remain to be holistically addressed and should trigger wholesale reforms in the way the food system is currently managed.
(The author is an IAS officer. Views are personal.)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
N EU RAL N ET
WOOLLY HEADS AND THE ARMS TRADE
WEAPONS," said the British writer Martin Amis, "are like money; no one knows the meaning of enough." And if you consider the fact that tens of billions of dollars are spent globally on buying arms every year, with the figure for total global military expenditure around a trillion dollars, one must conclude it's a veritable case of gluttony. Now, the moment one states such stats, it is an open invitation to being labelled a woolly-headed if not a dopeinduced free-love character peacenik. A deluded day-dreamer entirely unaware of the exigencies of how states need to be run and guarded. Who is, in fact, almost a national security risk given his or her lack of the 'hard realities', often called 'realpolitik'.
At one end of this 'realpolitik' section, in every country, are the 'warriors', arguing for, validating, the sale and purchase of masses of extremely expensive weaponry. The 'man is made for war' lot, who, if not possessing the cave-man propensity to immediately plump for might, size and power, could be said to suffer an infantile fascination for sharp, shiny new toys. At the less dippier end would be the 'those who desire peace must prepare for war' chaps, arguing that a balance (or imbalance) of power is necessary for maintaining the peace. Or, rather, the desolation that goes by the name of peace in our world.
And therein lies the rub. Much of the strife witnessed in recent decades has occurred in parts called the developing world. Much of the arms being purchased go here, even as most of the diseases of poverty, illiteracy, lack of basic healthcare, or even the lack of democracy, are also found here. While most of thearmsbeingsuppliedcomefromthedeveloped world. And, conspiratorially speaking, the major beneficiary is the entity called the global arms industry. Of course, broadly speaking, the five countries that profit most from the arms trade happen to be the permanent members of the UNSC the US, UK, France, Russia and China. And while in the case of the last country the arms industry is indistinguishable from the state, it is companies engaged in the research, development and production of weapons in most arms-exporting nations which benefit most from a trade thatexistsinamoralandlegalvacuum,which actually operates without proper regulation.
Many reports by international bodies and groups have established the deleterious effects of high defence-related spending on poor or developing nations. It could even be said that such spending is a major cause for furthering the aforementioned diseases these countries suffer from. But what makes for a comprehensively twisted situation is the fact of arms corporations seeking newer markets, creating new ones, actually furthering strife. It is no secret that geopolitical interests play a major role in arms sales. At one level, this means the furthering of regional tensions, even the exacerbation of fears, at another, the working of a simple, perfidious logic: keep developing newer, more sophisticated weapons, create a 'need' for them, and keep selling to all parties concerned. Take the US. First, it sold stuff to the Iranians,andafteraregimechangethere,bolstered Saddam, then took him out, and now there is talk of a major 'defence deal' for Iraq again. Closer home, the US seeks a bigger role in the Indian market, while continuing to sell high-tech stuff to Pakistan. And while arms corporations in developed nations get large tax breaks, often, as has happened in the case of the latter country, money is lent to enable the purchase of weapons from US companies, which actually means taxpayers from struggling countries like Pakistan end up subsidising arms sales!
It is a well-known fact that the arms trade also remains one of the most corrupt in the world. Kickbacks, for one, are the rule rather than the exception. It all makes for, to put it mildly, a cynical situation. The 'necessity' logic, introduced from outside, drives the acquisitions from those same quarters. For a country like India, which used to lay claim to a certain moral and ethical framework, unique in the world, with a large section of its population basically barely living like humans, the arms debate needs to be perhaps revisited. The 'we can't afford to lag behind China' position must be tempered with an understanding of whether we can afford to spend billions on arms while spending abysmally less on healthcare or education. Or maybe that's just asking a woolly-headed question.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
REDEEM LAW FROM AYODHYA PERVERSION
T K ARUN
MR KRISHNA Yadav, alias Krishna Vasudev, you stand accused of a long list of unlawful acts, ranging from minor misdemeanours all the way to mass murder. As a child, you indulged in petty theft, as a young man, you are charged with assorted acts of sexual misconduct ranging from violating the modesty of women on the banks of the Yamuna to adultery. You stand accused of causing serious environmental damage, by uprooting an entire mountain. In adulthood, your crimes become more serious: you are charged with multiple counts of regicide, polygamy on a grand scale, embracing 16,000-odd wives, instigating dishonourable conduct on the battlefield against the rules of combat, resulting in the death of two kings. Finally, one Gandhari has accused you of mass murder, producing thousands of widows and orphans. What do you have to say in your defence?"
Such a chargesheet is conceivable, now that the Ayodhya verdict has converted gods into historical individuals, after colonial jurisprudence had converted Hindu gods into juridical entities who can sue and be sued. In his defence, Krishna would have no option but to tell the judge that different yardsticks apply to gods and to men, that what might appear criminal in a mortal might be supremely just and noble in a god, that the codes of meaning and significance embedded in actions lend themselves to multiple interpretations, the sublime of which would be valid while evaluating godly conduct. Gods transcend man's morality and ethics, in fact, are outside the compass of human law.
Conversion of a god into a human who, were he to stray into a Maharashtra village, might be issued a 12-digit unique identity, is but one of the verdict's deficiencies.
But should we discuss the deficiencies of the judgment when the nation is keen to move on? Doesn't the verdict offer a workable compromise to resolve the dispute, separate politics from religion and let the nation focus on economic growth and prosperity? Isn't splitting hair over the verdict an attempt to breathe fire into the dying embers of Muslim anger?
Such reasoning glosses over some cracks that have the potential to grow into deep tectonic faults. The country should move forward and a compromise is desirable unquestionably. But should the compromise be forged by the courts? Does the particular manner in which the compromise has been forged work towards inter-community peace or does it pave the ground for fresh hostility? It is vital to answer these questions.
Courts are meant to enforce the writ of the Constitution, the bedrock of institutional protection of minority rights, crucial for cohesion in our composite, diverse nation. If the courts choose pragmatism over the law, they would fail the Constitution, and erode the trust of different minority groupings in the state's institutional commitment to protect minority rights. If compromise has to be struck, going beyond the law's remit, the courts should not get involved or, if it feels that a compromise is warranted, say explicitly that the matter is beyond legal resolution and the parties should find a settlement outside the law. This has a precedent. The Kerala High Court declared, delivering its verdict on a protracted squabble among different Christian denominations, that the matter was for the court of god to decide, not for the court of man. This forced the parties to the dispute to work out a compromise.
The Allahabad High Court's compromise has multiple infirmities. We already saw how it degrades faith, converting gods into historical individuals. Then it uses faith to justify property title. Why should not the 'faithful' now grab additional real estate? They only need to prove a sufficient mass of faith and invoke the Ayodhya precedent to get what they want. Demands on Kashi and Mathura have already been raised.
The verdict constructs history (locating Ram's birthplace) and deconstructs it, dismissing 400 odd years of intervening history in deciding the legal status of the disputed title. This is perverse use of the law.
The Supreme Court must redeem the law, exorcising these infirmities from the body of Indian jurisprudence. The political import of the verdict is to lend legitimacy to the campaign to demolish the mosque. This is another reason to oppose the verdict.
This is not to say that faith carries no weight. On the contrary. In the Ramayana, when Bharat visits Ram in exile to request his return to the throne, Ram asks after his people. In particular, he asks after the Charvakas, a group of non-conforming atheists and materialists. If this minority on the margins is fine, the mainstream is assuredly so this was the political ethics that Gandhi championed by his term Ramarajya. In that Ram's name, the Sangh Parivar has sought to excoriate today's minorities and demolished the mosque. That is perversion of faith, endorsed by the Ayodhya verdict .
We need a remedial verdict from the Supreme Court and a new compromise outside the courts, based on respect for both faith and minority rights.
Why analyse the Ayodhya verdict, why not just accept the compromise it offers and move on to a brighter future?
The problem is that the verdict perverts the law and paves ground for fresh hostility against the minorities
The Supreme Court must redeem the law, enabling a compromise that respects both faith and minority rights
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CO S M I C U P LI N K
CALLING MARA FOR HIGH TEA
DOES ignorance disappear with enlightenment like darkness before dawn? Does the presence of Bodhi automatically preclude that of Mara? Buddhism offers both a literal and psychological interpretation. Mara is often depicted as a deity of evil, somewhat like the Vedic gods.
But he is as much of a psychological force or a metaphor for various processes of doubt and temptation that obstruct spiritual practice. While Mara fled in disarray on the morning of the Buddha's enlightenment, it seems he was only temporarily discouraged, notes the Buddhist meditator and therapist Tara Brach.
Even after the Buddha had become deeply revered throughout India, Mara continued to make unexpected appearances. The Buddha's loyal attendant, Ananda, always on the lookout for any harm that might come to his teacher, would report with dismay that the 'Evil One' had again returned, writes Brach in her essay on embracing your life with the life of the Buddha. However, instead of ignoring Mara or driving him away, the Buddha would calmly acknowledge his presence, saying, "I see you, Mara."
He would invite him for tea and serve him as an honoured guest. Offering Mara a cushion so that he could sit comfortably the Buddha would fill two earthen kuladhs with tea, place them on a low table between them, and only then take his own seat, says a famous account of the attainments of the He Who Walked Thus (Tathagata).
Mara would stay for a while and then go, but throughout the Buddha remained free and undisturbed. This is the 'happy' practice what the Bhagavad Gita also eulogises as the essence of tapas characterised by unconditional friendliness (manahprasada) and mildness (soumyatvam). Nor should one confuse it with lack of resolve or compromise. In fact, selfdiscipline or atmavinigrahais the very essence of mental corralling, which is one of the definitions of yoga, according to Patanjali as well as Vyasa. So, how does one cope when Mara visits one in the form of troubling emotions or fearsome stories? First of all, recognise the reality of craving and fear that lives in each human heart, Brach advises.
"By accepting these experiences with the warmth of compassion, we offer Mara rather than fearfully driving him away. Seeing what is true, we hold what is seen with kindness," she adds. Thus, to befriend the world, one may smoke the peace pipe with the Devil himself.
GOLD KEEPS RISING, NO END IS IN SIGHT
The price of gold is shooting upwards into uncharted territory, at levels never seen before according to one of India's largest jewellery exporters. On Wednesday, its international price touched $1,350 an ounce, while the price in India was around Rs 19,400 per 10 grams. There's no predicting how far it'll soar, as the price of gold is inextricably linked to the dollar: the more the dollar weakens, the higher the price of gold will go. It's really a currency play at the best of times, and the strength of gold reflects the weakness of the American currency. For instance, before the global financial crisis erupted in 2008, at the time of the sub-prime defaults of 2007 gold was selling at around $650 an ounce; today, three years later, they have more than doubled. This is another way of saying that the strength of the once-almighty dollar has halved against gold. They have been virtually printing notes with gay abandon in order to stoke their limp economies. And since there are no signs of developed economies showing any real strength and sovereign debts under strain in some European nations, the dollar is at the mercy of these stimulus packages. The US might try to shift the blame on to the Chinese yuan and make it a scapegoat, but the current currency play is predicated largely on the huge stimulus packages of the kind never seen in the recent history of these countries.
In this environment, record highs for gold are becoming almost routine as the metal continues to dazzle one and all investors, speculators and buyers across the world. It is the age-old asset to which people have always turned, particularly at times of political and social turmoil or in situations like today when currencies weaken. In fact, this year gold has outperformed both equities and bonds. Hedge funds too are now getting into the business of investing in gold so there is also an element of speculation in the price of gold, as well as in several other commodities, from oil to copper and zinc. In India, which is the largest consumer of gold in the world and is said to have the largest hoard of gold, there is also a seasonal spurt in demand during the festival and marriage seasons. But India also has a certain advantage thanks to the strong rupee against the dollar. Gold watchers say the price in India will touch Rs 20,000 per 10 grams by November, while the MCX commodities exchange projects December prices at `19,615 per 10 grams. But all this is guesswork, and some analysts claim there could even be a minor correction as such price levels could be unsustainable. While high prices might be good for investors and jewellers, consumers and individual buyers might resort to some resistance. While it is undeniable that this country has plenty of people with money India has the fastest-growing number billionaires and millionaires worldwide but even they may wince at such high prices. Thus the expectation of a "correction" in prices in the not-too distant future. In the short run, however, gold will certainly continue to appreciate as more stimulus packages are rolled out and the US Federal Reserve keeps interest rates at zero, reducing the staying power of the dollar. Also, frenzied buying by investors will continue as gold remains undiminished as a symbol of wealth and a store of value, as it has throughout history.
A YEN FOR JAPAN
BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN
The prime minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Japan later this month will mark an important step forward in our engagement with East Asia. This is his third trip to Japan in four years and it underlines the growing salience of relations with Japan in Indian foreign policy. The centrepiece of this visit will be the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). The agreement is aimed at significantly enhancing levels of investment and trade. These have substantially increased in the last four years, but the numbers remain low and earlier projections have proved rather optimistic.
The conclusion of the Economic Partnership Agreement between India and South Korea earlier this year has given fillip to the negotiations between Tokyo and New Delhi. Japanese manufacturers are keen to level the playing field with their South Korean competitors. Last year, India and Japan concluded agreements for an ambitious $77 billion Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor project. The corridor spanning six states is projected as a global manufacturing and trading hub one that will foster closer economic and commercial relations between the two countries. Other areas of emerging cooperation include renewable energy and ecologically sustainable urban spaces.
The state of the two economies one a massive economy in prolonged stagnation with an ageing workforce, and the other a swiftly growing economy with a projected youth "bulge" is propelling much of this forward. But the wider political and strategic context needs to be noted as well. Indeed, the relationship with Japan highlights the tightening nexus between India's economic and foreign policies.
For much of the last six decades, the political and economic relationship between India and Japan was rather crimped. Japan's alliance with the United States precluded the possibility of meaningful ties with a non-aligned India. This was clear almost from the outset. Jawaharlal Nehru refused to sign the San Francisco Treaty of 1951 which officially ended the state of hostilities between Japan and the Allied powers. The Indian government held that certain provisions of the treaty, such as continued presence of American troops and US trusteeship over Ryukyu and Bonin Islands, limited Japanese sovereignty and independence. Although New Delhi signed a separate peace treaty with Tokyo the next year, Washington believed that India sought to detach Japan from its ties with the US. In consequence, relations between India and Japan never really took off during the Cold War. During these years, Japan focused on economic development led by exports while India opted for import substitution policies. Until the joint venture between Maruti Udyog Limited and Suzuki Motor Corporation in 1982, Japanese industry had practically no presence in India.
The implosion of the Soviet Union and the opening up of India's economy cleared the ground for better relations. But the Indian nuclear tests of 1998 incited a strong response from Japan. Tokyo suspended economic aid and assistance for three years, and put on hold political contacts as well. The rapid strides taken in bilateral relations during the last decade stemmed from two related factors. First, the transformation of Indo-US relations led Japan to reconsider the state of its ties with India. Further, the rise of China prompted Tokyo to regard India in a more benign light.
The growing economic and political muscle of China presents a tricky challenge for Japan. China has been the favoured destination of Japanese investment and exports. But deepening economic relations have not always worked in Japan's strategic interests. Consider two recent examples. In early September, the Japanese arrested the personnel of a Chinese fisher trawler for allegedly ramming into their coast guard vessel near the disputed Daioyu/Senkaku Islands in East China Sea. Beijing demanded the immediate release of detainees. When the Japanese dug their heels in, the Chinese responded by quietly placing an embargo on exports of rare earth minerals to Japan minerals that are essential for production of key electronic components. Doing so openly would be a violation of World Trade Organisation rules, but Tokyo got the message and duly released the detainees. Around the same time, the Japanese were also worried by the surge in China's purchases of Japanese bonds. These strengthened the Yen and could undercut Japanese exports. As the Japanese finance minister noted, China's "intentions" needed to be probed.
In dealing with China, Japan is seeking to diversify and strengthen its portfolio of economic and political relationships. From this standpoint, India seems an increasingly attractive partner. India, too, sees better ties with Japan as important both in its own terms and in increasing India's room for manoeuvre in Asia. The two countries announced a strategic and global partnership in December 2006. This was upgraded last year to include closer security cooperation and military exchanges. Negotiations for civilian nuclear cooperation are also underway. New Delhi's interest here is obvious, but Japan's position is still evolving. Tokyo did not object to the waiver to India by the Nuclear Supplier's Group and the Japanese nuclear industry is keen on entering the Indian market. Yet Japan's historical legacy as a victim of nuclear weapons makes nuclear commerce with non-NPT signatories like India politically difficult. An agreement seems unlikely to be ready in time for Dr Singh's visit.
Apart from Japan, Dr Singh will also be visiting Malaysia and Vietnam. The latter is hosting the ASEAN-India summit. The focus in all places will be on economic issues particularly trade and connectivity. Yet the mood music will be provided by China's seemingly increased assertiveness be it in the Pacific or the South China Sea. As the smaller Asian powers grow edgy about China's capabilities and intentions, New Delhi will have to craft a nuanced approach. The incipient changes afford more scope for India to participate in and shape the security architecture in Asia. These will have an influence on our bilateral relations with China. At the very least, China will begin to see India as more than a subcontinental player. But we must not over-estimate these pay-offs. For China will remain a lot more important to Japan and other East Asian powers in the years ahead.
Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi
CLEAN-TECH FIGHT: TERMINATOR VS BIG OIL
BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
The Terminator, aka the Governator, is not happy. And you shouldn't be either.
What has Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California incensed is the fact that two Texas oil companies with two refineries each in California are financing a campaign to roll back California's landmark laws to slow global warming and promote clean energy innovation, because it would require the refiners to install new emission-control tools. At a time when US President Barack Obama and Congress have failed to pass a clean energy bill, California's laws are the best thing we have going to stimulate clean-tech in America. We don't want them gutted. C'mon in. This is a fight worth having.
Here are the basics: Next month Californians will vote on "Prop 23", a proposal to effectively kill implementation of California's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, known as AB 32. It was supported by Republicans, Democrats, businesses and environmentalists. Prop 23 proposes to suspend implementation of AB 32 until California achieves four consecutive quarters of unemployment below 5.5 per cent. It is currently above 12 per cent. (Sorry for all the numbers. Just remember: AB 32, good; Prop 23, bad.)
AB 32 was designed to put California on a path to reducing greenhouse gases in its air to 1990 levels by 2020. This would make the state a healthier place, and a more innovative one. Since AB 32 was passed, investors have poured billions of dollars into making new technologies to meet these standards.
"It is very clear that the oil companies from outside the state that are trying to take out AB 32, and trying to take out our environmental laws, have no interest in suspending it, but just to get rid of it", Governor Schwarzenegger said at an energy forum we both participated in last week in Sacramento, sponsored by its energetic mayor, Kevin Johnson. "They want to kill AB 32. Otherwise they wouldn't put this provision in there about the 5.5 per cent unemployment rate. It's very rare that California in the last 40 years had an unemployment rate of below 5.5 per cent for four consecutive quarters. They're not interested in our environment; they are only interested in greed and filling their pockets with more money.
"And they are very deceptive when they say they want to go and create more jobs in California", the governor added. "Since when has (an) oil company ever been interested in jobs? Let's be honest. If they really are interested in jobs, they would want to protect AB 32, because actually it's green technology that is creating the most jobs right now in California, 10 times more than any other sector".
No, this is not about jobs. As ThinkProgress.org, a progressive research centre, reported: Two Texas oil companies, Valero and Tesoro, "have led the charge against the landmark climate law, along with Koch Industries, the giant oil conglomerate owned by right-wing megafunders Charles and David Koch. Koch recently donated $1 million to the effort and has been supporting front groups involved in the campaign".
Fortunately, Californians from across the political spectrum are trying to raise money to defeat Prop 23, but the vote could be close. George Shultz, a former secretary of state during the Reagan administration, has taken a leading role in the campaign against Prop 23.
"Prop 23 is designed to kill by indefinite postponement California's effort to clean up the environment," said Mr Shultz.
"This effort is financed heavily by money from out of state. You have to conclude that the financiers are less concerned about California than they are about the fact that if we get something that is working here to clean up the air and launch a clean-tech industry, it will go national and maybe international. So the stakes are high. I hope we can win here and send a message to the whole country that it's time to put aside partisan politics and get an energy bill out of Washington".
The real joke is thinking that if California suspends its climate laws that Mother Nature will also take a timeout. "We can wait to solve this problem as long as we want", says Nate Lewis, an energy chemist at the California Institute of Technology: "But Nature is balancing its books every day. It was a record 113 degrees in Los Angeles the other day. There are laws of politics and laws of physics. Only the latter can't be repealed".
'PAKISTAN IS ALWAYS SEEN AS THE ROGUE'
Pakistan trained militant underground groups to fight against India in Kashmir, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf admitted in an interview with Susanne Koelbl of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. In addition, the 67-year-old former military dictator explains why he wants to leave his exile in London and return to his country.
DER SPIEGEL: Pakistanis have been left bewildered by the incompetence of the government led by President Asif Ali Zardari in dealing with the consequences of the disastrous floods. Do you expect another military coup soon?
MUSHARRAF: Whenever the country is in turmoil, everybody looks to the Army. But I would suggest that the times of military coups in Pakistan are over. The latest political developments have shown that the Supreme Court has set a bar on itself not to validate a military takeover.
Q: How would you judge the performance of your successor Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani?
A: I do not want to comment on the present government, but everybody can see what they are doing. Pakistan is experiencing a deep economic decline in other areas as well. Law and order are in jeopardy, extremism is on the rise and there is political turmoil. The non-performance of an elected government is the issue.
Q: How do you view the role of Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the man considered to be pulling the strings in Pakistan?
A: I made him Chief of the Army because I thought that he was the best man for the job.
Q: When Pakistan's rulers lose power, they traditionally get imprisoned or murdered by their rivals. Why are you founding a party to, once again, get involved in politics instead of enjoying retirement in London, which is at least a safe place?
A: No risk, no gain. We unfortunately have a culture of vendetta and vindictiveness in Pakistan. But there is no case of corruption or fraud or anything against me at the moment. My political opponents, especially Nawaz Sharif, would love to create a case against me that I am corrupt or have committed fraud or some such. They do their best to achieve that, but they haven't succeeded. Even if they did, I would reply in court. Risks need to be taken.
Q: Why do you believe that Pakistanis are keenly awaiting your political comeback?
A: I am not living a hermit's life, I meet people here and in Dubai and receive accurate feedback. I launched my Facebook page eight months ago and today I have more than 315,000 fans. And hundreds of Pakistanis called into a TV show in which I collected money for the flood victims. They donated $3.5 million. Do you think they are doing this because they hate me?
Q: Is there anything that you regret for example, your secret Kargil operation, which led to an armed conflict with India in 1999, your arbitrary changes to Pakistan's Constitution, your dismissal of the country's highest judge, the lack of concern for Benazir Bhutto's life after her return or your oft-criticised mild treatment of religious militants?
A: The West blames Pakistan for everything. Nobody asks the Indian Prime Minister: Why did you arm your country with a nuclear weapon? Why are you killing innocent civilians in Kashmir? Nobody was bothered that Pakistan got split in 1971 because of India's military backing for Bangladesh (which declared independence from Pakistan that year). The United States and Germany gave statements, but they didn't mean anything. Everybody is interested in strategic deals with India, but Pakistan is always seen as the rogue.
Q: Why did you form militant underground groups to fight India in Kashmir?
A: They were indeed formed. The government turned a blind eye because they wanted India to discuss Kashmir.
Q: It was the Pakistani security forces that trained them.
A: The West was ignoring the resolution of the Kashmir issue, which is the core issue of Pakistan. We expected the West especially the United States and important countries like Germany to resolve the Kashmir issue. Has Germany done that?
Q: Does that give Pakistan the right to train underground fighters?
A: Yes, it is the right of any country to promote its own interests when India is not prepared to discuss Kashmir at the United Nations and is not prepared to resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner.
Q: And how can a nuclear arsenal be safe when high-ranking officers support proliferation or even personally profit from it, as has been alleged? The nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan claims that the Pakistani Army monitored and organised deals with countries like North Korea and Iran.
A: That is wrong, absolutely wrong. Mr Khan is a characterless man.
Q: What did the United States offer you in exchange for getting control of the nuclear weapons in Pakistan?
A: I would be a traitor if I had ever given our nuclear weapons to the United States. This capability is our pride and it will never be compromised.
Q: A German member of the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, 36-year-old Ahmad Sidiqi, who has been held by US forces in Afghanistan since July, allegedly told his American interrogators that he was trained in Pakistan and confessed there were plans to attack Europe. Why, nine years after 9/11, does Pakistan remain a breeding ground for international terrorism?
A: We poisoned Pakistani civil society for 10 years when we fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. It was jihad and we brought in militants from all over the world, with the West and Pakistan together in the lead role. After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, the West left Pakistan with 25,000 mujahideen and Al Qaeda fighters, without any plan for rehabilitation or resettlement. While you were mostly concerned with the reunification of Germany, we had to cope with this. Now you expect Pakistan to pull out a magic wand and make all of this suddenly disappear? That is not doable this will take time.
Q: How can the problem be solved?
A: The West made three blunders so far: After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, they abandoned the region in 1989. Then, after 9/11, they fought the Taliban instead of strengthening the Pashtuns who could have taken on the radical Taliban. Now you try to negotiate with so-called "moderate Taliban", but there is no such thing as a moderate Taliban. There are Taliban and Pashtuns. But as I have always said: all Taliban are Pashtun, but not all Pashtun people are Taliban. Again, you should reinforce the ancient Pashtun clans who are not ideologically aligned with the Taliban to govern Afghanistan and to fight the Taliban. That's my strong advice. The fourth and worst blunder would be to quit without winning. Then militancy will prevail not only in Pakistan, India and Kashmir, but perhaps also in Europe, the United Kingdom and in the United States. That's my belief.
Q: The Al Qaeda chief in Pakistan, Sheikh Fateh al Masri, was recently killed in a US drone attack in North Waziristan. Many Al Qaeda leaders are sheltered by the Haqqani network (of warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani). How serious is Pakistan about fighting a former mujahideen heroes like Haqqani and his son Siraj?
A: If you hear the new statements from the West that they plan to withdraw their troops and leave Afghanistan in 2011, then Pakistan should think of how to handle the withdrawal scenario. Pakistan needs to find a strategy for its existence, how to tackle the situation with Siraj Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Pakistani Taliban and Mullah Omar. When the West quits, we will be on our own with them.
Q: Do you not fear that when you return to Pakistan, you might face the same fate as Benazir Bhutto, who was murdered in a suicide attack?
A: Yes, that is a risk, but it won't stop me. I am happy here in London. I am earning good money, but Pakistan is my country.
© 2010 Der Spiegel
By arrangement with The New York Times Syndicate
KASHMIR: CHANCES OF PEACE
WIN THE TRUST OF KASHMIRI PEOPLE
BY D. RAJA
The Centre needs to be more sensitive and sincere in addressing the concerns of the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The state lags behind in economic development. As a result, there is unemployment and youth unrest. The Centre should assess whether or not the allocation of financial resources to J&K is adequate as there is a view that it is inadequate. State-run industries are shut and the condition of the agriculture and horticulture sectors isn't any better.
The problems faced by the people of Kashmir have been around for several decades. Of course, there are political questions involved. After its accession to the Indian Union, J&K was accorded special status under Article 370, but how far it has been protected and how far the state has gained by way of autonomy still remains a question.
Amidst all this, we have problems with Pakistan on the issue of cross-border terrorism. Now, Pervez Musharraf has also admitted that Pakistan formed underground militant groups to fight India in Kashmir. Cross-border terrorism is a real problem for India but in the name of fighting it and resisting the provocations from Pakistan, one can't allow the people to grow alienated.
What we witness today in J&K is an amount of alienation. We should win the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people and this is where the Centre should be more sensitive and sincere. Also, economic packages announced in the past were not sincerely implemented. The Centre's decision to send an all-party delegation to J&K was a good move. The delegation reached out to listen to and understand the views of the people of Kashmir. At least now the people of J&K understand that the democratic polity in India is responsive.
The eight-point programme announced by the Centre is a positive step but an announcement is not enough. The government should ensure proper implementation as well. The Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act needs to be gradually withdrawn from Srinagar and other areas. Whatever may be the reasons for the act, ultimately it is the people who suffer.
The Centre will have to take more visible measures to win the confidence of the people of J&K. It should consider proposals for economic development so that jobs can be created for Kashmiri youth. Dialogue needs to be carried forward. And there is a need for a democratic platform involving all secular, democratic forces to discuss the question of development of J&K, the question of safeguarding human rights and the issue of autonomy.
D. Raja, CPI national secretary and member of the Rajya Sabha
* * *
Separatists can't be given a chance
By Prakash Javadekar
It is yes and no. Yes, for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and no to separatists. The common man is hurt because of a governance deficit. The Valley, which voted with enthusiasm just 15 months ago, is disturbed today because of apathy and non-governance of the state government and the callous attitude of the Centre. Let us understand that the National Conference did not project Omar Abdullah as the chief minister. People voted for the party led by its leader Farooq Abdullah. The chief minister was decided in Delhi by the heir apparent of the Congress monarchy. It is proved beyond doubt that Omar Abdullah is a case of total disconnect with the people.
The people of J&K deserve better appreciation of their concerns by the state and the Centre. To that extent, flexibility is needed. But let us not forget that Kashmir has been part of the unfinished agenda of Pakistan emanating from India's Partition and creation of Bangladesh. Pakistan has never reconciled to the fact of Kashmir being an integral part of India.
The recent interview of Pervez Musharraf also proves the fact that Kashmir is the main issue of politics in Pakistan. Its tactics have ranged from internationalising the dispute, creating internal insurgencies through cross-border terrorism and supporting mob violence in order to create instability. The reports of Pakistani security agencies involved in recent disturbances are an eye-opener. Pakistan after finding cross-border terrorism becoming a losing proposition and "high-cost, low-impact" strategy initiated, supported and funded the stone-pelting form of protests. This was clearly the design of the separatists.
While the government is formulating its political position, it must necessarily ponder the question of whether its policy of the last 63 years has evolved the situation from separate status to separatism. It should never be seen as succumbing under the pressure of separatists.
The BJP favours the return of normalcy in the state. The BJP has always stood for strong signals being sent to separatists, that India shall not compromise on its sovereignty under any circumstances. There is a need to strengthen the security scenario in the state. It is only when security is strengthened that economic development can effectively take place in the state.
The mainstream political process must resume not by weakening India's sovereignty but by letting the separatists know that azadi is not even a distant dream, it is an impossibility and can never be realised. Additionally, the discrimination against Jammu, Kashmir, Leh and Ladakh has to end.
Prakash Javadekar, MP and BJPnational spokesperson
A HEADACHE CALLED PAKISTAN
BY K.C. SINGH
The Musharraf-Manmohan Singh "Open Borders" solution to the Jammu and Kashmir imbroglio reached its zenith in 2006-2007. It was a product, as in history, of personality and events. Pakistan was cornered by the US after the 9/11 attack to turn on the Taliban, Pervez Musharraf the military dictator was desiring to be statesman and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's peace vision was in sync with his party's desire to woo the Muslim vote. The July 2006 train bombings in Mumbai retarded the pace of the parleys. Mr Musharraf's exit, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the ascent of her husband Asif Ali Zardari were all pointers to a game change in Pakistan.
However, even after the 26/11 attack in Mumbai in 2008, we continued to believe that the parleys had been interrupted and not derailed. This make-believe bonhomie has invited Pakistani snubs. Firstly their silence over $5 million Indian humanitarian assistance after the Pakistani floods. When upped to $20 million, Pakistan specified its manner of giving i.e. the UN ambassadors of both countries in New York in the beatific presence of Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General. This was followed by exchange of barbs at the UN. From the UN General Assembly (UNGA) podium, and elsewhere in New York, Pakistani foreign minister S.M. Qureshi chided India for ducking the civil unrest in Kashmir. It is not Pakistan raising the issue, he alleged, it is the people of the Valley. His coup de grace was in his UNGA address that the Kashmir issue was "about the exercise of the right of self-determination by the Kashmiri people through a free, fair and impartial plebiscite under the UN auspices". The "P" word sent the Indians epileptic, Indian external affairs minister S.M. Krishna dubbing it "unsolicited and untenable". India called off a bilateral meeting with Mr Qureshi, the latter then retorting it was India avoiding contact, which he was ready for "anytime, anywhere".
Why has Pakistan relapsed into anachronistic formulations, long discarded and at variance with bilateral accords like the Shimla Agreement? Perhaps Pakistan is reverting to its default position, in which is anchored the core belief system of the Army and the Islamists. Mr Musharraf was making a foray to test the waters, the Army silently acquiesced, while the Islamists undermined it through periodic attacks on India. More importantly the context in which Mr Musharraf operated has changed i.e. the Kashmir Valley is undergoing civil unrest unseen for decades, Pakistani leverage vis-a-vis US has increased with the US President Barack Obama's imperative for an honourable withdrawal from Afghanistan and the rise of Pakistan's all-weather friend China.
The situation in the Valley merits closer scrutiny. The calls for "azadi" are not new, their vigour is. In December 1963, reported loss of Prophet's relic had unleashed a similar unrest. It is perhaps not a coincidence that this happened after India's embarrassing thrashing at the hands of China in 1962. Contrariwise, Sheikh Abdullah the family's paterfamilias finally settled with the Nehru-Gandhi family only in 1974, after the break-up of Pakistan in 1971 and the emergence of India as the dominant South Asian power. Peace and harmony prevailed till Sheikh Sahib's demise in 1982. The incompetence of his son and successor Farooq, the electoral fraud in 1987 and finally Pakistani victory in Afghanistan and Soviet withdrawal in 1989 releasing jihad blooded hordes all encouraged Pakistan to now turn its terror machine towards the Valley. Today Omar, a third generation Abdullah, lacking the charisma and guile of his grandfather, or his father's charm and grace has only his pal Rahul Gandhi's goodwill to sustain him in a task to which he is clearly unequal.
The all-party delegation's visit, followed by an eight-point initiative and the promise of special interlocutors are a good opening gambit. The weakness is the unavailability of a political figure who can translate all this into a cogent political strategy and a narrative that undercuts the leaders who are fuelling the unrest.
Bob Woodward's book Obama's Wars depicts growing US wariness with Pakistani duplicity. The US is also reacting to emerging Chinese assertiveness in East Asia. With Mr Obama due in New Delhi next month India needs to enlarge its options and its Kashmir narrative. The April 1948 UN Security Council plebiscite resolution needs revisiting, which India of the 1950s and 60s spent time ducking. India of 1971 felt it had overcome it with the Shimla Agreement. A rising India, today needs to debate it with Pakistan and with its people in Kashmir. Is Pakistan ready to let its Shia minority in Gilgit and Baltistan even consider the option of escaping their prison for freedom in India? Valley needs to be told by us and by the P-5 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council) that none of them wants an independent Kashmir a potentially Islamised Swat Valley. Are the four million people of the Valley wanting to be swallowed up by a Pakistan at war with itself? Why are no politicians espousing such a narrative in the Valley? Exchanging a part of the Valley for Gilgit and Baltistan makes greater strategic sense as it would sever overland links between Pakistan and China.
Kashmir is the door through which Pakistan is allowing the Chinese power to percolate into South Asia. Is Pakistan willing to forsake its special relations with China for a deal on Kashmir? If not, any concession to Pakistan will be one to China. The US needs to reassess its interests in the context of this great game and, for perhaps the first time, have a frank discussion with India on a common malaise a headache called Pakistan.
* The author is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry
PRESIDENCY'S FIRST LADY
ENTER THE VICE-CHANCELLOR
THE chattering class has been silenced. And with it the speculative cant of a possible political appointment. The West Bengal Governor has picked the philosopher Amita Chatterjee as the first Vice-Chancellor of Presidency University from the shortlist prepared by the search committee. In the event, the panel headed by the renowned economist, Amiya Bagchi, has opted for an academic who is an alumnus of the college, is not a fellow-traveller, who has no connection with politics whatsoever and who has been on Jadavpur University's Philosophy faculty for over three decades. One must give it to the search committee that it has performed its task admirably. Misgivings that the pro-Left academics on the committee might recommend somebody close to the party have been dispelled, fair and square.
The official cavil that it crossed the deadline will not stick; a Vice-Chancellor can't be shortlisted within a fortnight, as the government had wanted it to. The only regret must be that the VC's tenure is but for a year, the embroidery that has been fixed by the Higher Education department for reasons as yet unstated. Could the reason be that the government itself is facing an existential dilemma? One must hope that a change of guard at Writers' will not entail an immediate reshuffle of Vice-Chancellors. Which office is different from that of time-
serving bureaucrats in rarefied levels.
Clearly, the search committee and the Governor have accorded singular priority to merit and the incumbent's contribution to his/her discipline and research. The subtext is the message to the ruling Left as well as those who may be next in line that political sympathies must never be the criterion for campus appointments. Profound indeed has been Prof Chatterjee's contribution in such fields as cognitive science, logic, and the philosophy of the mind and science. As the founder-director of JU's Centre of Cognitive Science, she returns to College Street with experience both in academics and administration. That said, her profoundest thought ~ if a little unnerving ~ at the moment must be to bring Presidency back on the rails of excellence. She is on test ~ and faces no easy task after more than two decades of political meddling.
HEED THE JEERS
They demanded accountability
ECSTASY does not erase agony. Amidst the euphoria and applause that resonated powerfully through the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, the boos that "greeted" the welcome address from the chairman of the CWG organising committee might have seemed discordant, but their significance cannot be trivialised. More so since the spectacular appeal of the opening ceremony is now being touted as proof of India having "delivered". That reflects shallow, fickle, skewed thinking. A perusal of the newspapers would confirm that for all the glitter of the "show" there were glitches aplenty elsewhere, the Games still have a long course to run so conclusions of success or failure would be premature. The positive international reaction must be evaluated in perspective, it pertained to the ceremony not the Games in totality, and it is time we ceased to seek certification from patronising elements in the "developed" world. What the jeers in the stadium reflected was an increasing awareness among the people: they are no longer willing to let their attention be easily diverted. And diverted from what? Did anyone ever predict that the curtain-raiser would be a flop (mercifully the OC had a limited role in the cultural extravangaza), or that the Games would not take place? Nor is there much validity to the charge that the media had gone ballistic over the past few weeks ~ had there not been such strident criticism would the arrogant OC have undertaken a salvage operation or the UPA government been shaken out of its slumber? Even if the charge of exaggeration sticks, it does not obliterate the basic truth of the horror stories that the "stakeholders" scripted for themselves.
The boos were both warning and reminder, which the Prime Minister must not ignore. Just as the Ayodhya verdict does not validate the barbaric act of December 1992, so too the slick ceremony does not nullify the incompetence, profligacy and corruption that brought unparalleled shame upon the nation. "Image" is distinct from veneer, so there can be no backtracking from the comprehensive probe that Dr Manmohan Singh promised once the Games conclude. Too much of aam aadmi's money has been siphoned off: accountability has to be established, the guilty guillotined. Sheila Dikshit might have been thrilled that her name drew cheers, she too must take a reality check. It was her jharoo-poncha mission that earned her kudos ~ her claim of a "world class" city still rings hollow.
THE TRAGIC HERO
Who deserves a place in medical history
THE belated Nobel for a British researcher, who pioneered what is referred to as the test-tube baby, has understandably revived groans of disappointment that Kolkata lost its date with history. Barely 67 days after Cambridge professor Robert G Edwards pulled off a miracle, Subhas Mukhopadhyay would have rubbed shoulders with greatness had he followed up with the organised effort that the new Nobel Laureate made to document his methods and secure approvals necessary to ensure that his work would have legal sanction. That even after that he faced social and professional resistance may have partly accounted for the inordinate delay in conferring on him an honour that may have gone to him long ago. Dr Mukhopadhyay, on the other hand, was so obsessed with the magic of frozen embryos, thawed and implanted in chosen bodies that he never considered it necessary to leave behind evidence needed to confront the prospect of dissenting voices. Thirty-two years later, attitudes may have changed and claims and counter-claims have the advantage of being examined in the light of precedence ~ not in 1978 when the doctor from Bankura may have been driven by a rare courage but not an awareness that history was in the making.
One gets wiser after the event. At that stage, the government, the scientific community and the appointed probe committee had perhaps nothing to go by except available evidence and the most charitable conclusion could be that it erred on the side of caution. They may not also have believed that the would-be pioneer would fall prey to sentiment quite uncharacteristic of a scientist. Questions will still be raised on how a Mumbai-based investigator documenting the country's first test-tube baby managed to lay hands on notes and documents that were conclusive enough for a team of the Indian Council of Medical Research to acknowledge Dr Mukhopadhyay's achievement after the West Bengal government-appointed panel had dubbed it "bogus''.
It is impossible to make amends for all that is considered in some quarters to be a historic blunder. But in a country that conferred the highest honour on Netaji more than half a century after a death that was still being officially probed, there is perhaps room for paying final tribute to a tragic hero ~ perhaps even for setting the record straight.
PROSPECTS CAN BE DRAMATIC, IF BREACHED
NOT so long ago, a considerable flutter was created by a report that large numbers of uniformed Chinese had come into POK and established themselves along the famous Karakoram Highway (KKH), for purposes unknown. This is a sensitive frontier and the dark potential of the development drew immediate attention, especially in India, where it looked like a strategic thrust through a vulnerable part of the mountain barrier.
The report revived fears about an unfriendly Sino-Pak combination aimed at India. Those two have denied any hostile intent and it has been suggested that the Chinese in the KKH area could be part of a work brigade organized on military lines, self-contained, disciplined, similar to other such groups in different parts of the world where they have been sent to implement Chinese-funded projects. In POK, they are working on the improvement of the famous highway across the Karakoram, one of the highest in the world, which has provided a land link between China and Pakistan for nearly 25 years.
For Pakistan, this is a very important strategic connection. The "Northern Areas", through which the road traverses, have been progressively de-linked from the rest of POK, in consideration of what is regarded as their altogether greater strategic significance, and whereas cross-LOC Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot links have been permitted, Pakistan has refused to bow to demands for similar facilities between Ladakh and Baltistan/Gilgit. The land link to China is regarded as a strategic bulwark against India, a security asset of great significance, not to be placed in any sort jeopardy by permitting access for persons from the other side.
Such a restricted view does not do justice to the potential of this link across the mountains, and looks like the strategic vision of colonels, not statesmen. Roads like the KKH amount to much more than conduits for military supplies and offer important possibilities of expanded trade and development for the benefit of all those along the route. The strategic dimension notwithstanding, the KKH is already a trade artery between China and Pakistan, albeit a modest one, and during the season, in an echo of the ancient caravan trade, traders from Pakistan and merchants from Xinjiang congregate in Kashgar, to buy and sell silks and cottons, carpets and spices. This traffic will doubtless grow and be stimulated by the improved highway that now seems to be in the making. There is a negative side to it in that radical preachers from Pakistan can cross over and stir things up in a restive part of China, but though there have been a few incidents, until now this has not become a serious problem. As matters develop, it is quite possible that the economic advantages of the route will greatly outweigh the supposed strategic benefits, which in any case are not of much significance, for the Indian threat is largely illusory: India is looking not to discomfit Pakistan militarily but to resolve its differences with that country through peaceful means.
The KKH has stirred interest in countries other than China and Pakistan. A look at the map will show that this is the shortest and most direct route to South Asia from the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. These are land-locked countries, always on the lookout for better access to the outside world, including South Asia, where India is the most obvious objective. A few tentative queries were raised some years ago to see how India might react to the prospect of trading with Central Asia through the KKH, but then the matter was set aside, for the time was not ripe. Since then, some softening of the LOC has been instituted and limited cross-LOC trade is now permitted. It will be no giant step to agree that goods from Central Asia may find their way along this route to India's borders and to the Indian markets they seek. Should this come about, for the present it may be largely a matter of traditional products like fruits and silks, but in the future more ambitious possibilities may arise: where the roads go, there can be pipelines and power lines, tapping into Central Asian sources of energy supplies. It seems far-fetched today, but if the mountain barrier is truly breached, the prospects can be dramatic.
Meanwhile, in another part of the mountains a project with even more extensive potential has been announced. China is to build a railway between Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, a five-year project at a cost of $5 billion, with the prime purpose of transporting copper ore from the Aynak mines in Northern Afghanistan, already leased to China. This new 700 km rail link could connect Afghanistan, which has no rail system up to now, to ports in Pakistan and Iran. The project has an economic purpose, but its strategic dimension cannot be ignored. It brings interesting echoes of the 'Great Game' of the 19th and early 20th centuries when railway diplomacy was at its peak. England and Russia advanced their railway lines from different directions to the Afghan border, where they stopped and looked warily at each other across a neutralized Afghanistan. Each was ready to push ahead rapidly if the other became active: huge railway stores were stockpiled at the rail termini of Chaman and Landi Kotal, and the warehouses at the latter were reputed to be the largest in the world. Today, the railway building activity of China in many parts of Asia, including the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan link, has become a means of projecting influence and promoting economic interest. The new line will have its problems, for it is to traverse Taliban-dominated territory where it might meet strong resistance. But if it comes through, the line will offer great benefits to land-locked mineral-rich countries that have not been able hitherto adequately to exploit the resources with which they are endowed.
While these developments are going on in the region, India need not feel bypassed or constricted, for it, too, has been active in developing new land access to countries with which its ties are expanding rapidly. Using its geographical advantage, Pakistan consistently tries to cut off Indian entry to Afghanistan and Central Asia, but India has been able to develop new access through Iran. Earlier projects for road and rail links similar to what has now been agreed foundered owing to lack of resources but that is no longer a decisive constraint. India is also developing new rail links into the Himalayan region, and its plans for overland access to South-east Asia are well under way. These are part of an ambitious new strategy to strengthen links with neighbouring countries and give new impetus to the "Look East" policy. It seems that India is in the process of summoning up the capacity and the will to make the major investments required for upgrading its regional relationships.
(The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary)
POLITICAL CRISIS BREWING IN PAKISTAN?
MUSHARRAF HAS REVERTED TO HIS ONCE FAMOUS REFRAIN THAT THE MILITARY BE GIVEN A CONSTITUTIONAL ROLE IN GOVERNING THE NATION OF 167 MILLION PEOPLE, SAYS
Is Pakistan on the brink of yet another major political crisis? At least two major pillars of the power structure seem to be pointing towards that. General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the all-powerful military chief, recently asked President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to put their house in order! This was said not just in passing.
The General listed three major heads to make the point that the Zardari dispensation was continuing to be soft on corruption, unable to take charge of the plummeting economy and, rubbing salt into the wounds, reminding the government of its failure to respond to the worst-ever natural flood crisis facing Pakistan. General Kayani had some unpleasant things to say, referring to government's going "the extra mile to play down unauthorised attacks of the north western territory of the country by the Americans".
The extent of Pakistan Army's annoyance with these unauthorised attacks on Pakistani soil can be in measured by the defiant stand taken by the Army: cutting off the Torkhum road link connecting Peshawar with Kabul past Jalalabad. This is one part of Zardari's problems. Twenty-seven standing oil tankers were blown up by Sunday.
Gunning for him on the other front is the judiciary with Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, reinstated as the CJ after General Pervez Musharraf's downfall, insisting that the immunity granted to him by Musharraf on the last day of his presidency is no longer valid after the court had thrown out the National Reconciliation Order passed by the former President.
The NRO granted pardon to nearly 100 individual Pakistanis facing "accountability" cases and, to ensure that his diktat was not challenged, Musharraf had followed up the promulgation of the NRO by sacking several High Court judges, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.
The nationwide revolt by lawyers and civil society against the arbitrary NRO by Musharraf finally saw him on the run and, wisely or unwisely, Justice Chaudhry has chosen to ask for his pound of flesh, thus forcing the President and some of his key advisers into a face-off with the judiciary.
Chaudhry rejects Prime Minister Gilani's argument that the courts cannot act against the President while he holds office. To top the Pakistani government's troubles, there are deepening suspicions between the American generals and their Pakistani counterparts. The Americans have been openly questioning Pakistani Army's bona fides, its seriousness in bringing to order the radical Taliban in Afghanistan and along the Pak-Afghan border.
On the contrary, the Americans believe that the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence is behind the troubles which reduced the Afghan President Hamid Karzai to tears during a public address last week. The blocking of the vital supply route for Nato troops fighting in Afghanistan because of a cross-border Nato air strike that killed three Pakistani soldiers has virtually shocked the Americans out of their wits. The move to disrupt the supply route underlines tensions in the US-Pak relationship. The Army, concerned as it obviously is about the American role in Afghanistan, has never ceased to think of a strong, independent Afghanistan being inimical to Pak strategic interests. It is willing to go with the ISI chief General Pasha's assessment that Islamabad should continue to play cat and mouse with President Obama who is committed to withdrawing from Kabul sooner than earlier believed.
General Kayani, himself a former ISI chief and once considered close to General Musharraf, is going with the ISI assessment. He has his guns trained on the Zardari-led dispensation which he knows has lost credibility nationwide. Justice Chaudhry's pot-shots at Zardari and some of his ministers do not worry the Army. If anything, it only suits its long-term objectives vis-à-vis Afghanistan, not to forget the eastern front.
Reports have had it for some time now that the military has deployed the bulk of aircraft received by it from the US for the war on Taliban to the east to "keep India from needling us", as he is reported to have said.
I don't know whether there is any nexus between General Musharraf's tell-all statement in London last week in which he accused all the political parties of having "lost track of Pakistan" and his decision, therefore, to revive Qaide Azam Jinnah's Pakistan Muslim League. Addressing a largely receptive crowd, he warned that, at the present rate and given the set of politicians at the helm, Pakistan may soon become a failed State.
He was aware, he confessed, of the serious mistakes he made during the last year of his presidency, suggesting that he was nothing if not a good student to learn from past errors.
Musharraf, who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1999 overthrowing Nawaz Sharif, and stood down in 2008, said in London that General Kayani could be forced to intervene against the unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari. Musharraf was asked if he saw anything serious in a crisis meeting last week in Islamabad between Kayani, Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani. His laconic reply was "you saw the photographs; I can assure you they were not discussing the weather".
Interestingly, though, Musharraf reverted to his once famous refrain that the military be given a constitutional role in governing the nation of 167 million people. "The situation in Pakistan can only be solved when the military has some role. If you want checks and balances, stability in the democratic structure of Pakistan, the military ought to have some role." For his part General Kayani has told the President and the Prime Minister that the civilian leadership must put its house in order. He asked for crackdown on everything that is holding the country back.
A warning, a veiled one though, that if the Zardari regime fails to deliver the goods, it may have a lot to explain. For its part, the dispensation, it appears, may not be in a position to make a total break with the Americans in Afghanistan or in the war against domestic terror. So all it can do to divert attention is to encourage the Army and the ISI not to relent on the Indian front. And that may be why we have heard the Pakistan Foreign Minister in New York and the Laskhar and other militant outfits in Lahore and PoK raising the pitch on Kashmir. We may see the state receiving more cross-border terrorist movement. The hue and cry raised by separatist outfits for removal of our Army from the Valley fits into that scheme.
The writer is a veteran journalist and former Resident Editor, The Statesman, New Delhi
NOBEL PRIZE THAT WAS MADE IN MANCHESTER
Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov had long suspected that lurking inside the pencil there was a 21st century wonder material crying to be released. The problem was harvesting the ultra thin strips of graphite that they needed. In the end the answer to their problem was bewilderingly simple.
By deploying an everyday length of Scotch tape to tear off strips of the mineral, the University of Manchester physicists created the world's thinnest material the width of a single atom. The finished product was 10,000 times slimmer than a soap bubble, but also 100 times stronger than steel and able to stretch by up to 20 per cent of its length. Their invention: graphene.
The discovery of the two-dimensional material will, it is confidently predicted, become a £30billion-a-year-commodity within the next decade, revolutionising industries from consumer electronics to aeronautics as well as offering valuable new insights into quantum physics.
In what is being hailed as a triumph for the benefits of pure curiosity-driven research, the nanotechnology breakthrough earned the two Russian born scientists a Nobel Prize.
While Professor Geim, 51, becomes the first scientist to win both the Nobel and the igNoble Prize the latter a tongue-in-cheek award for his 1997 collaboration in the field of magnetic levitation which saw him defy scientific probabilities by suspending a frog in mid air his research partner Dr Novoselov, 36, is the youngest Nobel laureate for nearly 40 years.
Despite the £1m prize awarded for their discovery of graphene, the researchers were trying to continue with business in Manchester as usual.
"My work is my hobby," said Professor Geim, who has also given the world "gecko tape", modelled on the lizard's famous gravity-defying grip.
"People call me a workaholic but I enjoy doing my job. We are always trying to change our subject moving from one subject to another and we try to find out what other things work. And on the few occasions that we do it can be fun."
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences noted the energy and joy of their work. Announcing the prize, the Nobel committee said: "Playfulness is one of their hallmarks. With the building blocks they had at their disposal they attempted to create something new, sometimes even by just allowing their brains to meander aimlessly."
Professor Geim turned down offers from leading universities around the world so that he and his wife could work together in Manchester. In 2001 he invited his former PhD student to join him successfully extracting graphene three years later. "I like it here, I like the people and I like the way things are," said Professor Geim. "At the moment we are like gold miners we are putting stakes in the ground and trying to figure out what is there." The pair are also looking at quantum fluids and NanoOptics.
But it will be graphene with which their names will be forever associated. Professor Geim said it could be just two years until the first applications reach the market place. Researchers at Samsung are said to be close to exploiting another of its unique properties transparency by pioneering the material in touch-screens. It could also lead to the first wristband mobile phone technology as well as up to 50 other areas including highly sensitive cells monitoring pollution or provide solar energy.
Dr Novoselov was chatting online to a friend in Holland when the news came through. "It was quite shocking," he said. "Every October someone speculates about this and you learn not to pay attention." He added: "We'd just try crazy things and sometimes they worked and sometimes not. Graphene was one of those that worked from the very beginning."
Manchester University now boasts four Nobel laureates on its current staff
100 YEARS AGO TODAY
Calcutta had an exceptionally healthy week last week judging by the vital statistics. The total number of deaths recorded was 344, as compared with 372 and 416 in the preceding two weeks, and less than the corresponding week of last year by 132. Though there were 16 deaths from cholera the number is less than the average of the past quinquennium byfour. There wee eight deaths from plague, against five and eight in the two preceding weeks; only one death from small-pox against nil in the previous week and 30 deaths from tetanus against 31 in the previous week. The mortality from bowel complaints and fevers was 25 and 76, respectively, as compared with 33 and 72 in the week before. The general death-rate of the week was 21.0 per mille against 26.9, the mean of the last five years, and the death-rate calculated on an estimated population of 1,009,008 was 17.7 per thousand. Altogether the figures show the most satisfactory record that has been known for a long time.
We have learned with great regret of the death of Mrs Arthur Baker, the mother of Sir Edward Baker, Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal. Mrs Baker was one of the captives at Cabul who was relieved by Colonel Sale in 1840. Sir Edward Baker may be assured of the respectful sympathy of all sections of the community in Bengal in the bereavement he has suffered.
A comprehensive Bill dealing with the question of Life Assurance has been sent Home by last week's mail. This will be brought before the Council in the early Calcutta Session. Another small Bill covering Provident Funds and Societies has been prepared and is under discussion by administrative departments.
A LONELY JOB
When the search committee was formed to select a vice-chancellor for the newly-formed Presidency University, there was alarm and optimism. The fear was that the committee would follow the hallowed practice, begun by Anil Biswas, and appoint a party loyalist to the job. The hope was that merit would be allowed to prevail over politics and a scholar with an international reputation would be appointed. In the event, both the apprehension and the hope were belied. The person appointed may not be of international renown but is a serious academic and certainly has no known political affiliations. There is no necessary correlation between eminence as a scholar and success as a vice-chancellor. The emphasis on international reputation was based on the assumption that such a scholar was more likely to be familiar with global standards of academic excellence. There can be no denying that such standards will have to be rigorously applied if Presidency College, in its new avatar as a university, is to retrieve and outreach its former glory. It is entirely possible that the new vice-chancellor will be strict in her pursuit of excellence. It is also within the realms of possibility that the search committee did speak to scholars abroad and to scholars in India who have international recognition, and found such persons were not interested in the job.
The new vice-chancellor joins her job with very high expectations of her. She has one year to establish that the new university will be an institution of distinction not only in India but also in the world. In other words, it will be what Presidency College was in its halcyon days. Her first hurdle will be the Presidency University bill, which is a replica of the Calcutta University Act, and therefore it is politically, rather than academically, driven. Her second problem will be the present teachers of Presidency College who are all employees of the government of West Bengal. These teachers believe that they should become part of the faculty of the new university whereas the reality is that none, or very few of them, meet the standards of excellence that is expected from the new university and its first vice-chancellor. Amita Chatterjee faces a tall order even with the assumption that the present political dispensation will allow her a free hand. Her first task is to establish that she will work without fear and prejudice and repudiate all undue interference and influence.
HANDING IT OVER
A politician may be hugely popular in his day without actually achieving or changing much. When he took over Brazil's presidency eight years ago, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva rode the crest of a rare popularity wave. As he prepares to leave office after his second term, he remains, in Barack Obama's words, "the most popular politician on earth". His hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff, has only invoked his name in order to win the next round of elections and step into her mentor's shoes. It is easy to see why Lula's name still works like magic in Brazil's politics. Eight years of his presidency changed much for the country to make it part of Bric, the new group of emerging economic powers made up of Brazil, Russia, India and China. Its international clout too has reached out far beyond Latin America. At a time when most countries are still struggling to recover from the three-year-old recession, Brazilians see their incomes rising and more and more jobs being created for them. When he won his first presidential election, it was primarily the fairy-tale element of the former shoeshine boy's personal triumph that captured his people's and the world's attention. But his success story therefore makes his exit just as dramatic.
Lula's story has messages for leaders everywhere. He changed so much because he could begin by changing the outdated economic ideas of his own Socialist Party. But that was only one part of his story. The other part was about how he ensured continuity and stability. Although generally left-wing, he avoided the kind of rabble-rousing that has made Hugo Chávez of Venezuela a controversial figure in Latin American politics. More important, instead of rejecting the reformist economic policies of his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Lula used them in order to control fiscal deficit and repay foreign-currency debt. His success in blending change with continuity disproves the myth that economic reforms make for bad electoral politics. His critics, though, wanted him to do more so that the State's control of the economy and the ruling clique's grip on the government were loosened further. These are challenges that his successor has to seriously address. It remains to be seen whether Lula lets Ms Rousseff come out of his shadow and stand up on her own. That may be one final test of his leadership.
POPULATION GROWTH AND INDIVIDUAL WELFARE
ALAKA M. BASU
Ten years ago, there were more zeros to celebrate (or mourn, depending on one's proclivities) than those heralding the new millennium. To the three noughts in 2000, one could have added the nine zeros attached to the figure 6 to denote world population size. That is, the global population touched the 6 billion mark around the turn of the century. And around this time our country too hit a population milestone reaching a size of one billion. If these population facts got much less public attention than the fireworks to usher in the 21st century, a large part of the credit must go to the activists and researchers and non-governmental organizations that in the 1990s took the population discourse out of the hands of international lobbies and aggressive national governments to give us a new paradigm of reproductive health to replace the population control ideology of that time.
Not only did the RH paradigm embarrass the population control lobby, however superficially, it also sent out an olive branch to this lobby by stating that allegiance to this paradigm would bring down population growth rates more swiftly than coarse family-planning programmes. Then, thanks largely to international pressure, national governments quickly co-opted the language of the RH movement and began to discard, again at least on paper, some of the unpleasant features of family-planning programme practice contraceptive targets, for example. However, this also often meant that some potentially good features of family-planning programmes information, widespread contraceptive services, encouragement to delay births, also fell by the wayside; so that in the end it is difficult to know whether women came out better or worse off.
The win-win description of the recommendations at the 1994 Cairo conference on population and development did get things right in a broad way. We are undoubtedly now in a new century of lowered population growth globally as well as in India, and it looks like we will soon enough return to the pre-20th century situation of stable and even slowly declining world populations.
That is the optimistic part. But even for a demographer firmly on the side of the RH advocates, it is nevertheless difficult to ignore that all these aggregate outcomes can hide much that is less reassuring in the individual parts. More disaggregated data make one somewhat sceptical about the complacency that the world is now a more habitable place, soon to be less crowded as well.
I know that this is a risky position to take because of all the obnoxious bedfellows it attracts. It is bad enough that at any public event where some development expert is holding forth on some development imperative or the other, sooner or later a hand will go up to ask how any development is possible given India's population problem. And this is rarely an innocent intellectual question; invariably it is followed by head-shaking about those people the poor (those domestic servants whom we mistresses just cannot educate) or certain religious groups (what do you expect when their leaders are determined to make them outnumber us) or the village fools (can't they see that the generational sub-division of plots is what has kept them poor) that can't seem to stop breeding. The only easy way to resist joining forces with these pious questioners is for the expert to declare that we do not have a population problem, that, in any case, birth rates are coming down for all sub-groups of our population and that education, not family-planning programmes, is the answer.
All these easy responses are only partly true, but are proffered because we all want to be liked and those who do not subscribe single-mindedly to the Cairo agenda have a likeability disadvantage. They are immediately branded as not being altruistic, or sensitive, to women's needs, or in tune with local realities. And since these accusations risk classifying them with the hawks (even worse, it risks them being welcomed by the hawks) who would like to forcibly sterilize everyone with more than x number of births, naturally they are hesitant to suggest alternative positions on the population and development issue.
But altruism and sensitivity to human rights do not belong to any one ideology alone and we can, and should, examine some of the Cairo conference assumptions and prescriptions keeping the same goals in view gender equality, child wellbeing, the welfare of the marginalized, a respect for individual rights, and so on. There are aspects of the population and development question which the Cairo and post-Cairo agendas have neglected but do need a greater airing.
First, there is recognition today that what is good for the individual is good for society. But there is less acknowledgement of the possibility that policy objectives derived from macro considerations may also turn out to be good for the individual. After all, the macro level is made up of micro units and the welfares of both are tied up. And thus, when we ask the question, does high (or low) population growth help or hinder the social or economic development of a country or group, we are also in essence asking if high or low population growth helps or hinders the security and growth of individuals.
But note that I said high or low population growth, not high or low individual fertility. I think there is agreement that regardless of her own fertility, each developing-country individual is better off today in a society in which the fertility of the group as a whole is lower. In a slower growing society, everyone benefits. It is easier to provide a village school for 100 children than for 200 children. But if there are 200 children, then it is not really in the interests of any one woman to bring down her own fertility. In fact, the low-fertility poor woman is penalized in the village with 200 children. The individual rights framework has a tremendous potential for conflict, not just between the rights of the individual versus the State or society, but also between the rights of different categories of individuals.
So we need some kind of collective action. What a sensible population policy can do is promote such collective action, not just through information, but also through services and maybe even a package of incentives and disincentives.
This brings me to the second aspect of population and individual welfare that we should look at can policies to lower fertility enhance rather than infringe on individual rights? I think they can. In technical ways they can do so, of course, through reduced child or maternal mortality, for example. But they can also be more subtly empowering in that the State could collude with women to overcome some of the pressures to reproduce that come from other sources such as the husband or mother-in-law. Women too may appreciate such a State-encouraged restraint on reproduction. The popular feminist literature of earlier times certainly alludes to this possibility. And data from China as well as low fertility states in India suggest that even when governments withdraw pressures to control fertility, women who have tasted the benefits of reproductive control do not want to go back to a regime of repeated pregnancies and births.
This is not to advocate compulsory birth control State determination of intimate reproductive decisions is never justified. All I am saying here is that the State has a role to play in devising a population policy which goes beyond providing services when someone asks for them. It also has more obligations than the currently popular obligation to provide the girls' schooling which may reduce fertility one generation down the road. Instead we need an honest and open population policy that rises above political party considerations to educate people about the benefits of slower population growth to themselves and to society, provides enough good services to make this slower growth possible, and also provides reassuring information about, and research on, the safety of these services to encourage their use. And perhaps we need to go as far as to provide some special incentives to those who heed this call. But these are matters which can only be discussed and debated if their very mention is not equated with anti-women or anti-welfare propaganda.
The minister for health and family welfare has stuck his neck out by bringing up the population question in recent fora. Instead of vilifying him for this, it may be an opportunity to have an open discussion on the subject, to reiterate the principles of human rights that should be paramount in any attempt to influence reproductive behaviour, but also to acknowledge a possible positive relationship between slower population growth and an improved quality of life for all our citizens.
The author is professor, department of Development Sociology, Cornell University
FOREVER STUCK IN A CYCLE OF DEBT AND DEATH
Three farmers drank poison in Burdwan recently. Their deaths were blamed on drought and lack of irrigation. But do dubious credit agencies too have blood on their hands? asks Uddalak Mukherjee
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, since 2003, one Indian farmer has committed suicide every 30 minutes. In 2008, 16,196 farmers took their own lives, bringing the total number of farmer suicides in India between 1997 and 2008 to 199,132. (Significantly, P. Sainath is of the opinion that like all government data, these figures too are unreliable. For when women farmhands kill themselves, their deaths are not enlisted as farmer suicide.) In its next survey, the NCRB will perhaps add Jitu Bagdi's name to this burgeoning list. Bagdi is one of the three farmers Yunus Sheikh and Gosai Das Patra being the two others who have killed themselves in Ausgram in Burdwan district, which is also known as Bengal's granary. Jitu's widow, Rupa, whom I met recently, described her husband as quiet and honest. Munmun, his slip of a daughter, told me how, on returning from school, she had found her father writhing on the mud floor, frothing from the mouth. Barely conscious, he had asked Munmun not to raise the alarm, and instructed her that she and her brother should eat what their mother could provide after he died.
Jitu's death led to the unfolding of a familiar chain of events. Initial media reports were ignored by both the CPI(M)-led panchayat and the bureaucracy. But after senior leaders from the Trinamul Congress and the INTUC visited the family, the local administration swung into action. Rupa received a loan of Rs 20,000, at a negligible interest rate, and the panchayat was also asked to ensure that she be provided work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Incidentally, Rupa informed me that work under the MGNREGA was irregular in Ausgram. Official figures confirm the truth of her statement. In 2006, West Bengal could only provide 17 days of work to its people and it is unlikely that the figure has been improved upon significantly.
The renewed interest in Jitu's death after the visit of the Opposition leaders led to the discovery of other unsettling facts. Farmers in Burdwan, one of the 11 districts that have been declared drought-affected by the state government, have been inconvenienced further by the near-absence of irrigation facilities. One other factor, crucial to each of the three deaths in my view, was, however, underreported: the role that moneylenders and other dubious credit institutions play in farmer suicides. Rupa, who is ineligible for compensation under the widow pension scheme because she is under 40, had mentioned that after his crops failed, Jitu, a sharecropper, had been worried about repaying the sum Rs 32,000 at a monthly interest of 10 per cent that he had borrowed in the last two years. Creditors came calling often, and Jitu had been troubled by the thought of his family's honour being sullied.
It is never easy to take one's own life. But as Rita talked in a hushed tone, her downcast eyes devoid of all expression, even grief, I did not find it difficult to understand what must have driven Jitu towards death. It wasn't merely the sight of dried-up saplings in the field. His death was brought about by the moneylenders' taunts and the knowledge that he could not fight, let alone win, against the odds that confront many of India's small and marginal farmers. Yet another man who made an honourable living by feeding the nation had been reduced to a pauper. But despite his penury, he, like the others who have died before him, had not given up on his pride and integrity.
In its report to the agriculture ministry, the U.C. Sarangi committee, which was constituted to examine ways to reduce the dependence of India's agricultural tenants and sharecroppers on informal sources of credit, has stated that only one among seven of India's marginal farmers has access to institutional credit. The share of non-institutional credit in farm loans, the committee says, has risen from 30.6 per cent in1991 to 38.6 per cent in 2002. Conversely, the share of loans given by moneylenders has also jumped from 17.5 per cent to 26.8 per cent. More worryingly, the committee found that existing mechanisms to identify the sources of informal credit are inadequate, something that has helped exploitative, non-formal credit institutions to escape scrutiny.
In Ausgram, I got an inkling of their shadowy presence. Although none of the villagers I spoke to was willing to tell me the names of local moneylenders (they feared both political reprisal and the loss of access to loans), I was tutored on some of the forms of informal farm credit. Under the bari system, for instance, a farmer is charged 20 kilogrammes of his produce over every 50 kgs he borrows. Again, aropdars businessmen who buy agricultural produce, mainly rice in this case, and sell it to mill-owners dole out loans at an interest rate that may be as high as 42 per cent. Then there are the local shopowners the owner of a famous emporium near Guskara being one such who give loans in return of mortgages in gold.
The proliferation of such informal credit delivery systems can be attributed to the failure of institutional credit agencies such as cooperatives and banks. The Sarangi committee report mentions that in 1991-92, cooperatives accounted for over half of "all agricultural credit disbursement". By 2008-09, the figure stood at 13 per cent. I did not have to wait too long to find out what ails rural cooperative societies. A member of the Ausgram Cooperative Society regulated by the Burdwan Central Cooperative Bank provided some of the answers. Given the low literacy rate, most farmers find the rules concerning credit disbursal complicated. Apparently, credit disbursal in cooperatives follows a three-tier route. Funds released by the Reserve Bank are first sourced to the West Bengal State Cooperative Bank, which, in turn, disburses the amount to BCCB. This procedure consumes time, and raises interest rates. Moreover, there is the threat of bad debt. Cooperative employees are not well-paid and their lack of motivation cripples both distribution and recovery of loans.
There were other facts that the official suppressed. But they were corroborated by some of the local farmers who have been denied loans by the cooperative. Much like every form of institutional welfare in West Bengal, farm loans are also distributed along political lines. According to the Ausgram Cooperative Society's own estimates mentioned in a pamphlet that carried the minutes of the annual general meeting of the cooperative that took place on September 5 at the local high school only 193 farmers had been given loans out of a total of 1,601 members. It is alleged that the recipients were supporters of the ruling party. The document also mentions that the cooperative had been unable to distribute urea to farmers because of erratic supply. But here too, local farmers alleged that the crisis was largely a result of urea meant for the cooperative being sold in the black market.
Commercial banks, another important source of institutional credit, are also plagued by their own limitations. The manager of Burdwan's Allahabad Bank identified the lack of manpower and inadequate infrastructure as the main reasons for this lacuna.
The vacuum created by the absence, and inherent weaknesses, of cooperatives and commercial banks has been filled by newer models of credit delivery that are equally flawed: micro-finance institutions. Interestingly, according to law, banks are under compulsion to lend money to MFIs at 11 per cent. The MFIs, touted as the pioneers of the microcredit revolution, loan funds at rates as high as 24-36 per cent, leading to the creation of yet another kind of debt trap. Unconfirmed reports state that 60-odd farmers in Andhra Pradesh's Guntur, East Godavari, Krishna and Prakasam districts committed suicide after they failed to repay loans from MFIs whose methods of loan recovery were as unethical. A nation yet to recover from the shock of Vidarbha may soon have to brace up for another, slightly newer, reason behind such deaths.
Andhra Pradesh's experience in micro-credit is perhaps instructive for other states, including West Bengal, that are keen to replicate it. Undoubtedly, loans doled out by MFIs improve cash flow in agrarian communities. But the onus isn't on creating sizeable savings. In Andhra Pradesh, according to 2006 estimates, each member of a self-help group managed to save only Rs 377. Significantly, women a sizeable number are part of Andhra Pradesh's micro credit movement feature significantly in the debt traps created by MFIs. Despite allegations of inflated interest rates, and that MFIs are instrumental in corroding community ties and in threatening the economic security of farmers, corporate interest in and support of microcredit have led to unquestioned State patronage. Only recently have things begun to change, an indicator that something may have indeed gone drastically wrong. It is to be noted that the Sarangi committee has suggested that moneylending laws be amended to include "for-profit MFIs", and that priority sector benefits be denied to MFIs that have a dubious record in loan disbursal. Reportedly, in a recent circular, the government has directed banks to blacklist at least 350 MFIs.
But faulty economic practices and the vagaries of the environment are not the only causes of farmer suicides. The State cannot shirk its role in the deaths of 199,132 Indian farmers because the institutional weaknesses reflect a larger failure that is alsopolitical. Since the early years of liberalization, the average household debt of Indian farmers has risen from 26 per cent to 48.6 per cent. In 14 years, between 1991 and 2005, their per capita net food availability fell from 510 grams to 422 grams. National Sample Survey data in 2006 also revealed that 63 per cent of rural households contributed to India's sizeable outstanding debt. These figures are not very recent, and they are unlikely to dip in the future. Add to these facts other unpalatable truths such as the government's own dilemma on how to balance industry and agriculture, the threat of the market, weak distribution and storage facilities, inadequate insurance, falling prices and soil infertility, and we begin to understand the debilitating conditions that snuff out lives like Jitu's. The Gandhian vision of an equitable and sustainable agrarian society has been scoffed at for being untenable. But has the Indian State accorded the right priority to agriculture?
As I travelled and talked with the people in Ausgram, I was gripped by a strange feeling. The faces were
different, as was the landscape, but the stories I heard and jotted down, the issues that the people discussed
angrily, the promises that had been made by leaders across party lines everything reminded me of what I had seen in Vidarbha. The links that bind Burdwan to Vidarbha, I realized, are not that tenuous.
Discovering these links, analysing and commenting upon them are the media's responsibility. But the exchange is seldom uncomplicated. Every journalistic visit and investigation lead to the discovery of new facts, and, at the same time, obfuscates older, equally relevant, information. Four potato farmers in Burdwan's Memari and Jamalpur had committed suicide a few years back. How are their families surviving? Were the assurances made by the State, if any, fulfilled? Were those deaths caused by conditions that are as debilitating as the ones I saw in Ausgram? And, in the larger context, what explains the media's reluctance to report on the flip-side of MFIs?
The truth is that for the media, as for every other institution, Jitu Bagdi is important only in death. While he lived, and fought each day to survive, we simply watched and waited, secure in our indifference.
'TERRORISM HAS HURT PAKISTAN MORE THAN INDIA.'
Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's admission, in an interview given to a German magazine, that his country's government trained terrorists to act against India and infiltrated them into Kashmir does not provide any surprising information. India and the world has all along known of the active material and moral support given to terrorists by the Pakistani establishment, including its civil, military and intelligence bodies, on the basis of irrefutable evidence. The difference is that the admission has for the first time come from a former president who had headed both the military and the government. That gives it authority and credibility, if anybody needs to be further convinced of the truth of Pakistan's anti-India activities. The foreign office of the Pakistan government has denied Musharraf's revelations but that can be taken as only a pro forma act of any government which finds itself in inconvenient situations.
While the former president's confession might seem unusual, what is striking is that he has justified the training of terrorists on the ground that India was not amenable to Pakistan's claims on Kashmir and the western countries did not extend help in the resolution of the issue. He clearly says it is the right of Pakistan to resort to the methods it used to create trouble in India. That is an endorsement of the use of terrorism as state policy and it shows that no lessons have been learnt from the consequences of that policy. It has hurt Pakistan more than India because it created a network of terror in that country which has hit the lives of its people, damaged its institutions and is even posing a threat to its existence. The idea that recourse to terror can persuade other countries to come to the aid of Pakistan against India is also wrong and unrealistic, as proved by experience.
The fact that Musharraf's statement may be motivated by his plan to make a political comeback in his country does not detract from its value and significance. His targets might be the military leadership, which would not like his return, and his old adversary and former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, both of whom actively encouraged anti-India activities from Pakistan. But by positioning himself at the same time as an apologist in public for terror, he has only exposed himself. The attempt by his spokesman to whitewash the statement saying that it was misrepresented by the media confirms it.
'THEIR WORK HAS HELPED A LARGE NUMBER OF COUPLES.'
The Nobel Prize season has started with the award of the prize for medicine to British scientist, Dr Robert Edwards, who with his colleague Dr Patrick Steptoe, pioneered the research that led to the birth of the first test tube baby, Louise Brown, in 1978. Their work has made a large number of couples, who could not otherwise have children, happy. About four million babies were conceived since, with the help of the in vitro fertilisation technique developed by them. The prize was awarded to only Dr Edwards because Dr Steptoe is not alive now. The Nobel committee has noted that Dr Edwards' work is a milestone in modern medicine and has made it possible to successfully treat infertility.
It is not always that high-profile scientific research, which attracts the Nobel Prize, benefits large numbers of people immediately. Dr Edwards' work, which was itself the application of an idea and the development of a procedure, was ready with immediate results. But like many scientific ideas, his work was controversial as it was considered to be an attempt to interfere in the working of nature. It involved the fertilising of a woman's egg outside her body and returning the foetus to the womb for maturation and delivery. The ethical and moral issues involved in the process were long debated. But the world has generally accepted it and the scientific world has even gone further by partly succeeding in the efforts to create new life in the laboratory. The 30-year-delay in the recognition of Dr Edwards' work may have been caused by the need to ensure that the procedure was safe over the long term. The millions of healthy children, some of whom, including Louise Brown, are adults now, vouchsafe for its safety.
The recognition of Dr Edwards' achievement presents a contrast to the treatment received by an Indian doctor, Dr Subhas Mukerji, who had independently developed the same, but a simpler, technique and delivered India's first test tube baby three months after the birth of Louise Brown. Instead of being recognised and appreciated, Dr Mukerji was humiliated, hounded and persecuted by his peers and the government, and he finally committed suicide. It is not just a personal tragedy, but the tragedy of Indian science, made starker by the honour bestowed on Dr Edwards.
FAILURE OF SUBSIDY REGIME
BY S L RAO
Subsidies are being misused. Cross-subsidies need a system of accounting so that they can be charged to the better off users.
During the World War, an effective rationing system especially in cities and towns ensured that scarce articles reached the people at reasonable prices on the production of a ration card. After Independence, a government with socialist orientation and sympathy for the urban industrial working class, extended this facility to other products like cloth. As the urban population grew, from universal rationing, the coverage was limited to the poor. But the rural India was also covered.
Over the years other products like foodgrains, sugar, cotton mulls, long cloth, kerosene, liquefied petroleum gas, diesel, coal, fertilisers, edible oils, besides services like water, electricity, rail and bus fares, airline tickets, health services and education, were provided below the cost to different groups.
The supply of subsidised foodgrains entailed developing a huge infrastructure: the Food Corporation of India to procure food articles, the state procurement agencies, the Central Warehousing Corporation and others to store the grains, make transportation arrangements and the ration shops to sell the ration articles to the intended beneficiaries, etc. For this purpose, a huge government bureaucracy and infrastructure was developed. There was big money to be made illegally at every stage, from procurement to storage, distribution, issuing ration cards, etc. The supply of select items to the poor became a huge source of corruption at all levels of governments.
Studies have shown that subsidised products and services have been and are being misused. Cheap cloth ended up with readymade garment makers. Cheap kerosene was used to adulterate diesel for the benefit of truck owners. Cheap grains and sugar found their way to traders. Ration cards were sources of income for the issuing officials. The number of bogus ration cards vied with the genuine ones, while cards were issued to even those who were not intended to get them.
Supplying foodgrains at low prices mainly to urban residents meant low prices to farmers. Indian farmers did not get what they could have got if they were to export their produce. During shortage, government imported grains at much higher prices than they paid to Indian farmers. Since farmers were not earning enough, the electoral politics soon led governments to introduce other subsidies like supplying fertilisers, pesticides, electricity, etc to farmers at prices well below cost, and sometimes even free.
Fertiliser prices were unbalanced between urea and phosphate fertilisers, leading to overuse of urea and damaging of the land. Cheap or free electricity led to overuse by the farmers to draw excessive groundwater and to grow water intensive crops, which led to rapid depletion of groundwater and growing salinity of lands as water accumulated in impervious soils. The fertiliser companies and importers made profits.
Similar profits devoid of efficiency accrued to oil companies who cross-subsidised diesel, kerosene and LPG at the cost of aviation fuel, petrol, etc. A side-effect was the non-competitiveness of airlines because of high fuel costs.
Cheap or free water and electricity resulted in overuse and wastage. The electricity and water boards had little money and as a result, the maintenance of water pipes and electricity systems were given little attention. Breakdowns and leakages were frequent. Many officials colluded in theft of electricity and water by industries, commercial establishments and households. Similarly, irrigation waters were supplied at very low prices to farmers. State governments did not recover even the variable costs. Maintenance of canals and dams suffered. Supplying enterprises were starved of capital, for maintenance, for modernisation and for building capacity for a growing economy.
When it came to principal source of energy, coal, the sources of supply were government-owned and beset with problems of theft, poor quality, unreliable delivery, uncertain costs, and short supply. With the political agenda not allowing denationalisation, the government supplied coal to end users like electricity generators, steel and cement manufacturers through long term contracts or through the allotment of captive mines to selected companies.
Captive mines allotted to those who own power generating projects through competitive tariff-based bidding have free fuel, except for extraction and transportation. Other end products to which captive plants are given earn windfall profits since the end products' price is determined by the market and is not controlled like electricity.
It is abundantly clear that subsidies, distort market-determined supply and demand. Cross-subsidies need a system of accounting so that the subsidy can be charged to the better off users. When governments delay or do not reimburse the full subsidy costs to the supplier enterprise, it suffers either depleted cash flow or actual loss.
Subsides will not meet the aims of social policy unless the beneficiaries are properly identified and targeted. The delivery of the product or service at subsidised price results in large-scale corruption, misuse and diversion. Many beneficiaries do not use it but sell it. The physical delivery of subsidised items should be replaced by the identified beneficiary receiving the cash difference to which he is entitled as subsidy. He should use the subsidy money to buy his needs.
The Unique Identity Number under development will track each citizen in the country and should hopefully help identify target beneficiaries better, reducing extra costs to the government because of the subsidy reaching those other than the targets.
DEVELOPMENT SHOULD BE IN RIGHT PROPORTIONS
BY SUDHA NARASIMHACHAR
Gandhi was against migration to cities and recommended reverse migration as the panacea.
Who said India is 'poor' or 'poverty' is a serious problem for India? Just go through the newspapers and everyday you will find projects worth thousands of crores of rupees being announced! If you had watched the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, you will never believe that there are millions of people in India going to bed hungry or thousands of Indians dying of hunger.
The ceremony itself was wonderful and kudos to the thousands of people who would have worked day and night to make it a gala event. But thinking of the money that went behind all that in addition to all those scams that the media discussed heatedly for the last one month, any sane person would have felt uneasy.
Recently, glancing through the papers I found a couple of projects announced for Bangalore worth thousands of crores. Like this, so many things are happening around the country. If all this is our own money, then there is some serious thinking to be made regarding our priorities. When our family members are hungry, do we splash money on sprucing up our exteriors and garden and entertaining hi-fi guests? If all the money is from outside, then the thinking is to be all the more serious, because we are getting into very scary situations by increasing the debt of the economy.
Whenever anybody speaks about this glaring anomaly, there are people who shun such a person as 'old-fashioned', 'enemy of development' and 'out-dated.' Very few commoners see the nation in entirety. What most of us see is our immediate surroundings and we get carried away by the pomp and glory of a metro sexy sky-scrapers, posh malls, shining highways and what not.
These are what are projected as the signs of development by our developers. India is just not Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai. And development of all nations need not be of the same kind. Even the so-called industries that are coming up and being claimed as saviours of the poor are doing more harm than good to the nation as a whole, either because they are serious threat to our rich natural heritage or to our strong social fabric.
We just remembered Gandhi last week. His forethought and ideals are all-time relevant. He did not base his ideals on fantasy. He travelled across the length and breadth of the country, studied our strengths and weaknesses and then suggested the steps that we should be taking to develop our country. Since India's life-line is its village and her strength is agriculture, he suggested strengthening villages by supporting agriculture and related activities and following the model of cottage industry. He was seriously against migration from villages to the cities and recommended reverse migration as the panacea.
We claim our so-called development tools are providing employment to thousands of rural youth. We forget that most of these youth are carried away by the glamour of the cities and land themselves in dirty, congested slums and lead all their lives in poverty, disease and debt, when had they been in their villages, they would have led simple but healthy self-sufficient lives.
But to ensure that they stay back there, the villages have to be made attractive not by putting up huge industries which pollute their water, air and soil but by using their local skills and produce for profitable ventures and giving them their due.
I was watching a very thought-provoking interview on DD National channel. An American writer and photographer Stephen P Huyler was talking so passionately about our rich rural culture and heritage. He has settled in India because he loves everything Indian her soil, her rich culture, her vibrant people, her rich natural treasure and her deep spiritual strength. From time immemorial, there have been thousands of travellers, who came to India and have written volumes about our strengths. Why should we ignore those strengths and go in for something so alien, that we are destroying our own heritage? Why can we not open our inner eyes to see ourselves?
Is there no way of retaining our identity of 'simplicity' and leading successful lives? Why go in for glitz and glamour which are but temporary, despite our rich spiritual knowledge of what actually life is? Is it not possible to utilise the crores of rupees that we have or can afford to borrow, to strengthen our country in our own ways, instead of aping somebody else? Who says we should not develop? We have to develop, but in the right way and in right proportions, so that the benefits of all our projects reach the entire country and not just the elite urban class.
RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE
A PHASE BOOK
BY KAMALA BALACHANDRAN
That the hugely popular networking site was just six years old came as a surprise.
It was reversal of roles. The son was tutoring the mother and the student wanted to impress with an intelligent question. "How do I make sure that strangers don't see my posts on the facebook?" I asked brightly. "It is not the facebook; It's just facebook;" he corrected. The red inking of an inconsequential error stung and I opted to learn hands on and pick up all background information from Google (not the Google of course).
That the hugely popular networking site was just six years old came as a surprise. Going by the tenor of my friend's question (why aren't you on facebook? All of us are!) I would have thought it was much older. She had made me feel like a dinosaur. An interesting trivia that I read up was that the 55 to 65 age group was the fastest growing one in the once youthful site. I was glad that by dragging me in, the friend had got me in step with my peers. To take the clichéd line, I guess it happened only when the 'time' had come for it. I had, in the past, persistently ignored invitations from friends to join the network. I was of the view that the networking sites were a huge time sink; something that the youth in the modern, borderless world indulged in.
But this invitation was different. It came from one I had last seen and spoken to, 40-plus years ago! A couple of resourceful girls had managed to trace a fair number of classmates using facebook. I couldn't wait to get on the bandwagon and be a part of the school gang, once again. The excitement lasted a few days. It was incredible to be exchanging notes and looking at the pictures of old friends who were scattered all over the globe.
A couple of rounds more and the novelty started to wane. It was also getting tedious to sift relevant posts from the string of chatter. What kept me going were the hope and thrill of some new one showing up and making the connection. "You are on facebook!" the young niece said disbelievingly, "that's cool!" "I thought you would find me easily" I said.
I knew she was one of the avidly active ones. "It has been a while since I got in" she admitted. "What happened?" I asked. It was my turn to disbelieve. "I don't know," she said with a shrug, "I guess after a while most people get dormant." Now I know. It is not the facebook. It is a phase book.
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE WAR ON TERROR
The temptation throughout the democratic world is to regard terrorists as felons and deal with them as the system would with any common outlaw.
Unremorseful and smirking, failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad told the US court which sentenced him to life on Tuesday that "the war of the Muslims has just begun," adding that "the defeat of the US is imminent, God willing." He warned that "more attacks are coming."
Indeed more attacks are now forecast for Europe, a fact which has motivated the Americans to issue broad travel-advisories to Europe-bound tourists and produced a farcical sideshow whereby EU states issue such advisories against each other, while assiduously downplaying the risks in their own bailiwicks.
Thus Britons have been warned about visiting France's major tourist attractions. The French, in turn, have retaliated by warning their nationals against using British public transport, arguing that London's trains and buses are likelier targets than Parisian sites.
Germany, also covered by America's blanket warning, has feigned ignorance of any menace on its soil.
There must be scornful sinister laughter wherever it is that al-Qaida lynchpins hatch their plots. It's not only al-Qaida and the Taliban, moreover, who rub their hands with glee. Other terror masterminds proliferate, many linked to Iran and Syria, including the likes of Hizbullah and Hamas. While the international community may be leery of al-Qaida, it tends to be incongruously tolerant of Hamas and Hizbullah, presumably because they are perceived as "only" targeting Israel.
But they are part of the international terror infrastructure.
To a great extent we are all in the same boat even if many Europeans are loath to admit this.
THE BURLESQUE of reciprocal travel advisories doubtless inspires much gloating among all terrorists, who can derive satisfaction from seeing their task at least partially accomplished before they ignite a single fuse.
The West is already psychologically terrorized, which is what terror by definition aims to do.
The terrorists can mess with our minds and unsettle our routines, as palpably evidenced by vague advisories that name no names, focus on no cities or indicate no specified dangers. The call for vigilance by tourists in foreign destinations is altogether ludicrous.
It's hardly likely that outsiders can spot anything untoward or do much about it. In a sense, visitors are being warned away from all rail terminals, airports, hotels, museums and public gathering points.
This potentially could deal a killer blow to tourism.
The resultant economic damage can, in the long run, be crucial especially as recovery from the recent recession is slow and arduous. As Israelis, we're painfully aware of the havoc wreaked by panic-promoting imprecise advisories.
WE BY no means pooh-pooh even nebulous signals, but ill-defined counterproductive advisories aren't the way to preempt aggression. Foremost, the world needs to own up to the fact that it's at war. It must cease kowtowing to terror-sponsoring states and to terrormongers within western societies. Political correctness may have to be eased. Simple steps like allowing profiling at airports can make the importation of terror much more difficult and hazardous for the conspirators.
There are ways of curtailing the exploitation of western freedoms by those seeking to destroy the very societies which so generously and universally bestow such freedoms.
Like the 9/11 perpetrators, and others who have followed, Shahzad enjoyed the bounties of American hospitality. Yet in a tape he prepared in Pakistan before his attack, Shahzad declared that war with the West is underway, that he is "a Muslim soldier," that Muslim soldiers like himself are numerous and that they will be victorious.
Perhaps it's time we take such testaments seriously and treat them as relevant warnings, rather than one extremist's ranting. The temptation throughout the democratic world is to regard terrorists as felons and deal with them as the system would with any common outlaw. But terrorism is no individual crime. The world has been at war for years, considerably before 9/11. Still, President Barack Obama and others reject war-on-terror terminology despite compelling, tangible evidence.
Failure to acknowledge the war isn't without consequences.
The worst is the attendant failure to respond properly to belligerence to indiscriminate threats against the physical safety of ordinary folks, as well as to their way of life and values.
THE JERUSALEM POST
WASHINGTON WATCH: ISRAEL NEEDS A REAL FOREIGN MINISTER
Only in this country could the leader of the PM's largest coalition partner get away with promoting separate policies on several issues.
It appears that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will once more be dragged kicking and screaming to the peace table. In exchange for briefly extending the settlement moratorium, he is expected to get a generous package of American military aid, weapons systems, security guarantees, and political backing for years.
All the Obama administration is asking for is 60 more days of a construction freeze. There was no indication whether Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority PresidentMahmoud Abbas will spark another crisis in two months over whether and where building can continue, nor how much it would cost US taxpayers to get them talking again.
Settlements are an obstacle to peace, and that has long been the intention of their most ardent backers. But another major obstacle can be found in Netanyahu's own cabinet, where a new poll indicates that half his ministers oppose the freeze. Heading that faction is Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister and leader of Netanyahu's largest coalition partner, the ultranationalist Israel Beiteinu.
Although Lieberman also carries the title of deputy prime minister, he acts more like the leader of the opposition.
Making matters worse is Netanyahu's bewildering failure to put an end to such behavior.
Some, like Daily Beast writer Peter Beinart, have suggested Netanyahu keeps Lieberman and other pro-settler figures in his cabinet to provide "political cover to do what he has wanted to do all along: Make a viable Palestinian state impossible."
THE SINCERITY of Netanyahu's commitment to reaching "an historic peace agreement" with the Palestinians within 12 months was brought into question again by his weak response to his foreign minister's incendiary speech to the UN General Assembly last month.
That performance appeared designed to sabotage Netanyahu's peace policy.
Lieberman said that instead of concluding a peace treaty in one year, "we should focus on a long-term intermediate agreement that could take decades." The "guiding principle," must not be land for peace but rather "exchange of populated territory." But first, he said, the "Iranian issue must be resolved," and Israeli Arabs, whom he wants to get rid of anyway, must swear loyalty to the Jewish state.
Even more amazing was Netanyahu's feeble response. His office said he had not been consulted in advance and that he is "the one handling the negotiations on Israel's behalf."
No outrage. No denunciation. No contradiction. No demand for retraction. No firing.
No wonder questions are raised about Netanyahu's true intentions. And Lieberman's.
Was Lieberman playing bad cop to Netanyahu's good cop by providing an excuse to let the peace talks die aborning? Or was his real target Netanyahu himself? Two Israeli papers, Haaretz on the left and Yediot Aharonot on the right, called on the PM to "fire Lieberman."
Yediot said Lieberman's "unpredictable and reckless" behavior would be intolerable "in a normal state," and was a demonstration of "chutzpah and contempt" for the PM. His transfer proposals "undermine Israel's image as a democratic, enlightened state."
There is no clearer way for Netanyahu to demonstrate he is serious about peace than by dumping Lieberman and the rejectionists and forming a new coalition with the centrist Kadima, which has more seats than Israel Beiteinu and Shas combined.
Only in Israel's dysfunctional government could the leader of the PM's largest coalition partner get away with promoting separate policies on peace, foreign affairs, the budget, civil liberties and religious-secular affairs.
Washington is virtually off-limits to Lieberman, not because the Obama administration says he is unwelcome but because his own government fears he'll do more harm than good, as he demonstrated at the UN.
Lieberman's only role in the peace process has been negative, embarrassing and opposing Netanyahu, who lacks the courage or the will to dump him.
He has been the target of "rebukes and censures" by foreign governments and leaders, and many avoid meeting with him, said Haaretz. The vacuum is filled by the prime minister, defense minister, trade and industry minister and even the country's president.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit has said Lieberman "talks a lot" but says nothing of importance. Israel's chief diplomat is unwelcome in Egypt, having told President Hosni Mubarak to "go to hell."
Israel deserves a foreign minister who can be respected at home, abroad and in his own ministry someone in the mold of Abba Eban, Moshe Sharett, Yigal Allon, Moshe Arens or Shimon Peres not a racist and parochial political hack.
Israeli political analyst Aluf Benn noted that "Netanyahu invested a great deal of effort in trying to convince world leaders that he is serious about peace with the Palestinians. And now comes Lieberman, and tells all those leaders it's all crap." Lieberman "made him out to be a liar."
If Netanyahu's commitment to peace with the Palestinians is genuine, the best way to begin is by replacing the rejectionists with a centrist government and a foreign minister who support compromise and can help repair Israel's international stature.
THE JERUSALEM POST
CANDIDLY SPEAKING: A TRUST BETRAYED
BY ISI LEIBLER
'Not another column on the Claims Conference,' you may be thinking. But we must make up for the shameful silence we have maintained over the years.
Some readers will say "Surely not again.
He is obsessed with this issue." Indeed, I am deeply pained and angered that for all these years we have remained shamefully silent while the Claims Conference failed to adequately prioritize the desperate needs of ailing Holocaust survivors.
Since my last Jerusalem Post column, I was castigated by the chairman, treasurer and other apologists for the Claims Conference.
But they were unable to refute a single charge I had raised.
Chairman Julius Berman disingenuously misrepresented my remarks about the organization's huge $1 billion in "investments" (defined as such in the Claims Conference financial statement), which has increased by $33 million since the last financial report. I never said all these funds should have been disbursed to survivors. I said more should have been allocated a statement I emphatically reiterate.
But my principal charge to which Berman failed to respond was that if only a slightly greater percentage of the $70 billion allocated by the Claims Conference over the years had been distributed to survivors instead of other charities many not even Holocaust related, including projects of various organizations represented on the Claims Conference board we would not today face the tragedy of survivors unable to pay their basic food, medical and utility bills.
SINCE MY last column, I have received a flow of additional information concerning aspects of Claims Conference activities of which I was unaware.
I knew that Berman had assumed the chairmanship of the crucial advisory committees for disbursement of funds in the US and even Israel. But I only learned subsequently that he actually chairs five (!) of the most important committees, including the powerful allocations committee. He is also a member of three other committees which do not list a chairman. With such concentration of power in the hands of one person, checks and balances disappear and governance inevitably becomes corrupted.
Now, to my astonishment, I learned that Burt Neuborne is one of three members of the Claims Conference's "goodwill fund late applicants committee," which decides on payments for claimants who file after the German deadlines for properties for which the Claims Conference had already taken possession or received compensation.
Since its inception in 1994, the fund has disbursed close to $1 billion.
That Neuborne a lawyer who enriched himself with funds from restitution cases can be a member of this important committee is obscene. In an op-ed in the New York Postin 2006, Menachem Rosensaft, founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, disclosed that in 1997 Neuborne had accepted an invitation from US District Judge Edward Korman "to serve in a pro bono capacity as co-counsel for the plaintiffs" in the Swiss bank litigation. Two years later, he was appointed lead counsel on this basis. In October 2000, he stated that "every penny in the $1.25 billion Swiss bank case will go to Holocaust victims," and ridiculed as "absurd" another lawyer's $4 million fee. As late as September 2005, he boasted, "I am the lead settlement lawyer in the Swiss case, in which I served without fee now for almost seven years."
However, only months later, in December 2005, he had a change of heart and demanded $4.7 million, finally extracting $3.1 million (aside from $4.4 million he had already pocketed from the settlement of Holocaust-related claims against German corporations).
This loathsome behavior enraged Holocaust survivor groups and led to a formal resolution adopted unanimously by the leadership of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants condemning "his greed which eclipses any consideration for overriding moral and ethical concerns. His actions constitute a moral stain on the legal profession."
The anger flowed over to the media, including an editorial in The New York Times.
It is inexplicable and unconscionable that a person who behaves in such a manner is appointed to a leading position in the Claims Conference and is symptomatic of how the uninformed board simply acts as a rubber stamp for every decision proposed by its chairman.
THIS ATTITUDE is compounded by the extraordinary assertion made in response to my criticisms by treasurer Roman Kent, who stated that the Claims Conference refused to provide access to the list of German properties published in 2003 because heirs would "think that they could file claims but will not be able to do so because the Claims Conference sold many of these properties since the 1 March 2004 deadline."
Denying heirs and their children access to such information is in itself outrageous.
Kent's statement reflects the arrogance of the Claims Conference's refusal to adequately publicize these properties to divert funds from rightful heirs and compensate for their appalling failure over the years to prioritize grants to impoverished survivors.
It was only after pressure from the German and UK governments that the Claims Conference released the list of properties to the public. It was initially only circulated for six months. As a consequence, many legitimate heirs only learned of their right to reclaim their properties after the deadline had expired.
This should also be viewed in tandem with the huge uproar and litigation which arose over the manner in which the German properties were managed. There were allegations of questionable practices related to the sale of properties amounting to up to $7 billion which led to two internal audits, the findings of which were withheld from the public. To date, the Claims Conference has refused to provide an estimate of the value of the properties it has retained or still claims title to. Allegations of failures in "transparency and democratic accountability" in these areas resulted in a major investigation of the Claims Conference by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the findings of which will soon be released.
Then there is the revelation of the fraud perpetrated over the past 10 years. It is alleged that three Claims Conference officials were sacked and two returned to Russia.
Nobody has explained why there was no prosecution and more importantly, no one has revealed how much money was actually stolen. In February, the Claims Conference told the New York Jewish Week that the amount was $350,000. In July, after being further confronted by the Jewish Week, it conceded that the sum had grown to $7 million. However, at the July board meeting, Kent cautioned that this was "only the tip of the iceberg."
Since then, there have been requests for clarification of rumors rampant in Claims Conference circles that more than $40 million may have been purloined. The Claims Conference has made evasive responses without denying the veracity of these rumors.
Whatever the situation, instead of hiring the "biggest and the best" Madison Avenue PR firm, the board should undertake an independent forensic audit and appoint an ombudsman to protect the interests of survivors and heirs. An independent authority should also be commissioned to review the conflicts of interest, governance and transparency of the organization, and in particular investigate the manner and decision-making process by which funds are allocated.
Recently, the New York Jewish Week dropped another bombshell. This month, Stuart Eizenstat, special negotiator of the Claims Conference, will be hosting a concert commemorating the defiance and resistance of Jewish prisoners at Terezin. It will be a gala event, with members of the Obama administration and congressmen expected to attend.
But what angered the survivor community is that instead of using such a laudable occasion as a vehicle to raise funds for survivors in desperate need, the Claims Conference provided a $50,000 subsidy. Admittedly, in the context of billions of dollars, this is a drop in the ocean. However, it reflects an attitude and as Leo Rechter, president of the National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors, pointed out: "20 survivors could have been taken care of with $50,000 and provided with a shred of dignity in their last days."
David Schachter, head of the Miami Holocaust Survivors Foundation, added that the Claims Conference had "blown close to $250 million on [educational research and documentation] projects in recent years, including grants to board members which had nothing to do with survivor needs.
How in God's name can the Jewish world allow this diversion of holy money while survivors are suffering?" How indeed?
THE JERUSALEM POST
FUNDAMENTALLY FREUND: TIME TO REIN IN OBAMA
For the sake of Israel and its future, supporters of the Jewish state need to tame the administration and its arrogance at the ballot box.
In less than a month, American voters will go to the polls in what is shaping up to be a decisive midterm election. The entire House of Representatives and more than a third of the Senate will be up for grabs, as Republicans and Democrats duke it out for control of the legislative branch.
For pro-Israel Jews and Christians, this election couldn't come at a more opportune moment. After more than a year-anda- half of the administration's unprecedented bullying of Israel, those who cherish the relationship between America and the Jewish state will now have a chance to send a loud and clear message.
To put it bluntly: It's payback time, and Israel's supporters should teach President Barack Obama a lesson by giving his party a stinging rebuke at the ballot box in November.
The stakes in this election are particularly high, as the Democrats face the prospect of losing their hegemony over one or both houses of Congress, which would be an enormous blow to their agenda to reshape America.
And by all accounts, things are not looking too good for Obama and his party. The Democrats, it appears, are about to be slammed by the political equivalent of a tidal wave, amid rising discontent over a weak economy and lackluster recovery. Various key figures in the party, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, may be swept away. Earlier this week, Reid slipped behind his Republican opponent Sharron Angle in the polls.
WITH THE races heating up, pollsters and pundits are predicting a further surge in support for the Republicans. As Michael Barone, the Washington Examiner's senior political analyst and one of the savviest observers of American elections, noted earlier this week, the data suggest a Republican majority brewing in the House "the likes of which we have not seen since the election cycles of 1946 or even 1928."
Over in the Senate, the party of Lincoln and Reagan stands to make significant gains as well. According to Real- ClearPolitics' composite average of various polls, the Republicans will pick up at least eight seats, placing them within striking distance of an outright majority.
Another four seats are said to be tossups; if the GOP can pick up two or three of them, it's game over.
The real dissatisfaction, of course, is with the president himself, who has predictably failed to live up to the near-messianic hype that surrounded his rise to power. As a result, Obama is poised to get a painful reproof from the very same electorate that embraced him just two years ago.
This admonition must also come from Jews as well, some 78 percent of whom are said to have voted for Obama in 2008. And there could be no better way to deliver that message than by joining hands to help Republican candidates prevail across the country.
The president has lambasted Israel at the UN and pressured it to make concessions to the Palestinians, even as he has courted the Muslim world and virtually pleaded for engagement with the atomic ayatollahs in Iran. Obama and his crew have shown themselves to be tonedeaf to Israel and its concerns, and it's time they paid a political price.
Indeed, even some of the president's most stalwart Jewish supporters have turned against him. Earlier this year, former New York City mayor Ed Koch told Fox News that "I have been a supporter of President Obama and went to Florida for him, urged Jews all over the country to vote for him, saying that he would be just as good as John McCainon the security of Israel. I don't think it's true anymore."
A growing number of American Jews seem to concur. In August, the Pew Research Center issued the results of a survey which found that the number of Jews identifying as or leaning Republican has reached 33% a leap of more than 50% since the 2008 elections.
This is the highest such figure ever recorded.
Sure, Jews represent a small percentage of the electorate. But their concentration in key states such as Florida, California and New York gives added weight to their votes. And it's no small secret that Jewish donors play a critical role in bankrolling numerous political campaigns on both sides of the aisle. This clout and influence must now be brought to bear with all its force in the vote next month.
Politics, after all, is a game of messages.
Sometimes they must be implicit while at other times only an unambiguous reprimand will do. For the sake of Israel and its future, supporters of the Jewish state need to tame the administration and its arrogance at the ballot box as unequivocally as they can.
It is time to punish Obama politically, as scary as that may sound to some people.
Doing so will weaken his position, constrain his freedom of movement, and force him to devote more time and energy to domestic political battles.
And with his eye toward re-election in 2012, it may just give him pause to consider whether squeezing Israel is good for his own political future.
THE JERUSALEM POST
RATTLING THE CAGE: PITY RICK DIDN'T RAG THE MUSLIMS
4 recent scandals involving public figures accused of running down minorities show that any offensive commentary on followers of Islam incurs no real consequences.
In America, you can't rag the Jews publicly and you can't rag the blacks publicly. It's taboo you lose your job, you have to quit the campaign if you say bad things about Jews or blacks even if what you say is, you know, true.
After Jews and blacks come the Latinos, Asians, Catholics and all the other ethnic and religious minorities none of them have the victim status that blacks and Jews enjoy, they're not as controversial, so nobody in America is much inclined to slag them off anyway. (Latino illegal immigrants, however, are a different story, and you can put them down as much as you want so long as you specify that you're talking about "illegal immigrants," or at least "immigrants," and not Latinos in general.)
With one exception, political correctness protects every ethnic and religious minority in America from public bad-mouthing, and that one exception is Muslims. In America, you can say anything you want as publicly as you want against Muslims, against Islam, against the Koran, and the only thing mainstream America might do is elect you. You will have trouble in very narrow, left-liberal, Ivy League circles, but that's all. Everywhere else in the USA, Muslims are fair game. (All Arabs count as Muslims, of course, even if they're Christian).
THIS IS the deal, and it can be seen in four recent American scandals involving public figures accused of running down Jews, blacks or Muslims. The most recent was CNN's Rick Sanchez, who said Jews have great power in the American media and are far from being an oppressed minority anymore (which is true).
Then there was legendary White House correspondent Helen Thomas, who said Israeli Jews should go back to Germany, Poland or the US (which is insulting, but if an American said Palestinians should go live in one of the 22 Arab countries, nobody would mind).
Also, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who slaps people around on radio, told a black caller that blacks shouldn't complain about white people saying "nigger" she repeated the term over and over when black rappers and comics use it all the time (which is also true).
Finally, Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief and co-owner of The New Republic, wrote in opposition to the "Ground Zero mosque" that "Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims."
He noted "the routine and random bloodshed that defines the brotherhood [of Muslims]," and expressed impatience at having to "pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment..."
After being called out by a liberal New York Times columnist, Peretz, who has been coming down on Muslims like this for decades, apologized for the First Amendment remark, but defended his point about Muslim murderousness as "a statement of fact, not value."
There's an element of truth in what he writes, but it's so exaggerated and generalized that it ends up being plain bigotry. There's also an element of truth in the bigoted statement, "Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Jews," but could Peretz or any other prominent American have written that and gotten away with it? Of course not. There's a large element of truth in the insulting statement, "American Jews for Israel are chickenhawks," but can you write that in the mainstream American media? No you can't.
SO WHAT happened in the end to our four scandal-machers? Sanchez was fired by CNN, Thomas retired under extreme pressure, Schlessinger lost affiliates and sponsors and is going off the air at year's end. As for Peretz, he got heckled at Harvard and slammed by some liberal columnists, but he still has his job, is still free to write whatever he wants in The New Republic.
Obviously, it's harder to get rid of a guy when he's the co-owner of the company, but if Peretz had truly created a scandal for The New Republic, he'd be gone the point is that he didn't. He broke no taboo. He made himself more unpopular than he already was among a segment of East Coast liberals, but so what?
Whoever lost a job in America for slagging off Muslims?
And it's not because Peretz is Jewish Schlessinger is Jewish, too. It's because his target is the one ethnic/religious minority that Americans are free to abuse. Any Muslim who can't prove that he's a registered Republican who's joined the Tea Party is an "Islamist," an alien subversive. Newt Gingrich, who's compared the Muslims who want to build the Ground Zero mosque to Nazis, is running for president on this theme. "America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization," he says, and he has a very good shot at getting elected.
In America, you cannot extract violent, bigoted statements out of Jewish or Christian holy books and say, "You see Judaism/Christianity is a religion of hate!"
If you do that in mainstream America, you will be shunned. But if you cherry-pick from the Koran to make that same claim against Islam, you will get a very respectful hearing.
The situation is much worse now with President Barack Hussein Obama Rush Limbaugh calls him "Imam Hussein Obama" presiding over an economically distressed country. The poor guy goes around trying to convince voters that he's a Christian, not a Muslim, but it does no good.
Muslim-bashing entered its Golden Age, of course, after 9/11. But well before that, Muslims, Arabs (they're considered interchangeable) were seen by Americans no differently than they're seen by Israelis no, worse, because Americans had no contact with Muslims to bring a little nuance to the image in their minds. And the image in their minds was of white-robed mobs running through the sand with sabers in their hands, led at a safe distance by some sinister, decadent oil sheikh.
I grew up in a very liberal household and environment, Jewish but not Zionist, and that was my image of Arabs. They weren't really like other people, they were like scorpions, so you couldn't think of them like you did regular people, you couldn't deal with them the same way. You couldn't afford to give them the rights, the freedoms that ordinary people are entitled to, because they'd just use them to kill you. They're Arabs.
That was my image growing up in Los Angeles in the '60s and '70s and I was a liberal. I paid next to no attention to Israel, but somehow this notion of Arabs trickled down into my mind. Maybe from the movies, from TV, from wherever, but that was it. The image only began to change after I moved here. Meanwhile, among Americans, it's only gotten worse, much worse.
For Fortress Israel, of course, this has been a godsend. Taking all the reasons why America gives us such extraordinary support, let's not forget this one: Our enemies happen to be of the same ethnicity and religion as America's last openly despised minority.
A miracle, isn't it?
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE DANGERS OF TOLERATING JEWISH TERRORISM
THE SILENCE OF THE RABBIS
BY YIZHAR HESS
By staying mum as IDF conversions are challenged, the chief rabbis have shown how far the Chief Rabbinate has drifted from its original national-Zionist vision.
Rabbi Ya'acov David Wilhelm came on aliya from Germany in 1934, during the Fifth Aliya often called the "Yekke" aliya and settled in Jerusalem. He was a man of integrity with a broad Jewish and general education.
Although born in Germany, he received his ordination at the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.
Wilhelm founded the first Conservative congregation in Israel in Jerusalem, Emet Ve'emuna, in the heart of Rehavia. All of Jerusalem's intellectuals came to Emet Ve'emuna some as worshipers, and some as active participants in its extensive cultural program: Akiva Ernst Simon, Gershom Scholem, Martin Buber all the who's who.
At that time the chief rabbi was Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook, who established the Chief Rabbinate. He was not troubled by the liberal rabbi's arrival. The opposite was true. Kook encouraged him to establish the congregation.
He also gave Wilhelm authorization to conduct marriages. Kook disagreed with Wilhelm, but respected him. "You will reach people that I will apparently not be able to reach," Kook said, with courage and perception that cannot be attributed to his successors.
ANYONE INTERESTED in learning about the long road that the Chief Rabbinate has taken from its inception was given an opportunity recently in proceedings before the High Court of Justice. There, the representative of the State Attorney's Office, attorney Yochi Gnessin, claimed that conversions (Orthodox, let us remember) conducted under the auspices of the IDF are carried out without permission or authorization.
Her declaration caused an uproar around the country, but Chief Rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar, who during the recent conversion legislation crisis did not cease rolling their eyes heavenward and blaming all sides for failing to understand the distress of the converts, were unable to find it in their hearts to make the necessary, unequivocal declaration in defense of the military conversion system, which has enabled thousands of soldiers, most of them from the former Soviet Union, to convert during their military service.
Oh yes, Amar did send a letter to the prime minister to inform him that "if you had passed my conversion bill, this would not have happened" and dispense, here and there, a few other stammered phrases and messages, but as to the core matter silence. The chief rabbis were steadfast in this silence, a silence so loud that no shofar could drown out its disgrace or shame.
The Chief Rabbinate has drifted light years away from the national-Zionist vision of its early years. At best, it is a haredi bastion of little importance. At worst, but more true to reality, it is a dead letter, respected by no one. Anyone familiar with the system is well aware of just how factionalist and vindictive it is, and sometimes corrupt as well. The Chief Rabbinate is an institution that could have been the flagship of religious Zionism, but it has been captured by the haredi establishment at its worst.
In truth, this is also the most surprising aspect. How is it possible that rational Orthodox religious Zionism abandoned this arena, or shall we say, failed to conclude long ago that the historic role of the Chief Rabbinate had come to an end and that an alternative must be set up in its place? The user-friendly Tzohar rabbis, who are capable of criticizing the Chief Rabbinate with unparalleled vehemence behind closed doors, are in reality the fig leaf which has been keeping the pressure cooker from bursting for more than 10 years.
In the name of supporting national sovereignty, and with true devotion, they are presenting to the public a futile representation of a properly run Chief Rabbinate, in this way diverting the fire and preventing the public, their own constituency included, from arriving at the obvious conclusion.
Yet our sages taught that anyone who takes pity on the cruel in this world ends up being cruel to the kind. This is an injustice for which the Tzohar rabbis cannot be absolved.
The silence of the chief rabbis on this issue must provide the opening for an historic alliance between the moderates of Israeli Orthodoxy and the non- Orthodox streams, both Reform and Masorti-Conservative.
The Chief Rabbinate must be privatized; it cannot be repaired or revived.
Don't be afraid. Many in the Orthodox world are quite capable of quoting from the legacy of Rabbi Kook. We all should consider how he knew the way to build bridges of understanding with Wilhelm.
The writer is executive director and CEO of the Masorti Movement in Israel.
THE JERUSALEM POST
RUSSIA: HANDLE WITH CARE
To actively court the Kremlin with defense cooperation agreements, arms sales and joint manufacturing deals would seem to be naïve; it's probably unprincipled too.
In a historic visit to Moscow last month, Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, and concluded a defense cooperation agreement, allowing for increased collaboration on a range of military issues, including the possibility of increased Russian purchases of Israeli arms. But the sparkly sheen of relations acquired following this deal was quickly tarnished when the Russian defense minister, waving away Israeli objections, less than two weeks later announced that the sale of advanced P-800 antiship cruise missiles to Syria would go ahead.
The incentives to tighten relations with Russia are numerous and could lead to increased diplomatic support, cooperation regarding Iran and, of course, the possibility of lucrative arms contracts, such as the 12 UAVs Israel sold Russia last year.
But the lessons learned from Moscow's decision to press ahead with the sale of the antiship missiles to Syria will hopefully be taken to heart here, especially by foreign policy decision makers. Because Russia will not be a reliable diplomatic stalwart in the foreseeable future. Its foreign policy goals are aimed not at the stabilization of the international stage, but on the reassertion of its global influence and the resurrection of its position as a great power and diplomatic heavyweight.
This involves activity on a number of different fronts. One of the most prominent aspects of Russia's current foreign policy is to reassert its influence over what it refers to as its "near abroad," the former republics of the Soviet Union. So in recent months, it has extended the lease on its military base in Armenia until 2044 and extended the lease on its naval base in the Ukrainian port city of Sevastopol till 2042. Moscow has refused to withdraw its occupying troops from the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, thereby reneging on the cease-fire agreement which brought the hostilities of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war to an end. And the Russian army's deployment of the S-300 air-defense system in Abkhazia is just the latest illustration of how Russia has made Georgia an example of how it might react if the vassals of its former empire stray to far from Moscow.
Russia is also making strides in projecting its global power and influence further afield, particularly in the Middle East. The sale of advanced weapons systems to anti-Western states such as Syria and Iran is certainly one way of making its importance felt. It uses these sales, or the threat of them, as a means of leveraging influence in the region and in the international forums which seek to mediate the regional conflicts.
The contract signed with Iran to provide it with the advanced S-300 system can certainly be seen in this light, and the intense lobbying by the US to induce Russia to cancel the sale, which it eventually did, gave Moscow the sense of importance it so craves, as well as a useful bargaining chip with which it has extracted concessions, or at least a blind eye, for its activities in Georgia and its "near abroad."
Other recent weapons contracts, such as the sale to Iran of at least 29 advanced TOR M1 mobile surfaceto- air missile systems (capable of shooting down aircraft and cruise and guided missiles and now deployed around Iran's most important uranium enrichment facility at Natanz); the sale of at least 36 Pantsyr air defense missile systems to Syria (10 of which may have been delivered to Iran which bankrolled the acquisition for Damascus); the sale of portable SA-18 antiaircraft missiles to Syria (some of which have been transferred to Hizbullah) and other similar arms deals all indicate that, regardless of the motivation behind them, Russia at present is not a reliable partner when it comes to Israel's foreign policy goals and security concerns.
RUSSIA'S RESTORATION of the Syrian port of Tartus and its agreement with Syria allowing it to use the port as a permanent base for its navy in the Mediterranean is another important step in its renewed power-projection. And the Kremlin's decision to host Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal on at least three separate occasions since 2006 is yet another tool through which it has sought to assert its importance in one of its former spheres of influence.
But more than its unreliable allegiance, it is the very nature of Russia's current foreign policy and its global ambitions, irredentist, expansionist and often belligerent, that should make policy makers think harder about the type of states and regimes this country should be selling arms to and allying with.
Israel's record for granting arms export licenses to questionable regimes is not great. Having sold large quantities of advanced weapons to the apartheid South African government, air-to-air missiles and UAVs to China and having also attempted to supply Beijing with advanced radar systems, this latest incident with Russia should be a catalyst for a rethink.
Russia's dismemberment of Georgia, its construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant for Iran, its arms sales to some of the most objectionable regimes in the world, its aggressive use of its natural gas supplies to Europe and numerous other antagonistic actions in the international arena should make Israel seriously consider whether or not the regime is the sort it should form defense cooperation agreements with.
It is understandable that in the hostile international environment which Israel currently finds itself in, the country should seek new strategic partners.
It is also understandable that Jerusalem should try to reduce tensions as far as possible with Moscow, and if that means complying with its demands to halt all arms supplies to Georgia to forestall the most egregiously offensive Russian arms sales, such as the S-300 deal with Iran, then that may be a price worth paying.
But to actively court the Kremlin with defense cooperation agreements, arms sales and joint manufacturing deals would seem to be naïve at best, but probably unprincipled too. Officials have now indicated that in light of the latest Russian missile sale to Syria, some of the proposed arms deals with Russia might be delayed. As a result, the deal with Syria may end up having a positive outcome, in that it seems to have finally exposed the unscrupulous and antagonistic nature of Moscow's foreign policy.
Hopefully, it will give further pause to those who would ally Israel with whoever happens to be open for business.
The writer is a researcher and analyst based in Jerusalem. He has worked at several Israeli think tanks and served in the IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
THE LOD PROBLEM AND ITS ROOTS
IF THE ROOTS OF CRIME ARE NOT DEALT WITH, CRIME WILL CONTINUE TO PERSIST.
Five minutes from Israel's international airport, right under the nose of the Israel Police's "Lahav 433" crime-fighting unit, the city of Lod is at the mercy of murderers and other criminals. This week, within two days, two citizens, Amal Khalili and Sami Hijazi, were murdered in front of their family members.
These were not the first grave crimes committed in Lod of late, but this time the scale of the problem is evident. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch were compelled to speak about the need for restoring safety and a sense of security to Lod's residents. The police will undertake a major campaign; if necessary, the Shin Bet and the Israel Defense Forces will join the effort.
This effort, however, comes too late, not only for the victims, but for the entire city of Lod. In its Arab neighborhoods - as is also the case in other Arab towns and villages - the police do not wield authority. Weapons have stockpiled and crimes are committed in broad daylight. In a move tantamount to collective punishment, the state has stopped trying to enforce the law in these areas.
There is no need to wait for nationwide eruptions of violence akin to those we experienced in October 2000, or for events that subsequently transpired in Jaffa, Acre and Bedouin settlements in the Negev, to grasp that the problem is not limited to one area. Israel cannot countenance a situation of autonomy enjoyed by law-breakers who spread fear among local residents. What must happen is an uprooting of crime dens, carried out by the police forces with the support of state prosecutors and the judicial system. Without arrests, prosecution, convictions and stiff sentences, there is no chance that deterrence will work, and that residents will begin to respect the law and those who enforcer it.
This problem should be viewed in the context of the larger state modus operandi, beyond simply the police and legal authorities. If the government does not want its towns and cities to be ruled according to 19th-century law, it must tend to them and allocate resources to them according to 21st century principles. It must take action to narrow gaps between Jews and Arabs in infrastructure, education and opportunities. If the roots of crime are not dealt with, crime will continue to persist.
BUSH WRITTEN, OBAMA APPROVED
ISRAEL WILL NEED SOLID AMERICAN GUARANTEES IN ORDER TO TAKE THE RISKS REQUIRED TO ACHIEVE PEACE WITH THE PALESTINIANS.
BY ARI SHAVIT
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has three good reasons to continue construction in the West Bank. The first reason is credibility: Netanyahu undertook to renew construction this autumn and if he does not do so he will lose his credibility in Israel and beyond. The second reason is survivability. Freezing the construction would strengthen MK Avigdor Lieberman, alienate Shas and cut off Netanyahu from his power base in the right wing. The third reason is fairness. Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert all built in the West Bank in the course of the peace process. Demanding of Netanyahu to do otherwise - while the Palestinians are not required to do anything to advance the peace process - is blatantly unfair.
But Netanyahu also has three excellent reasons to freeze the construction in the West Bank. The first reason is Barack Obama. If Netanyahu does not cooperate with Obama, the United States will advance a forced arrangement that would return Israel to the 1967 lines in a hasty, dangerous procedure with possibly disastrous consequences.
The second reason is Barack Obama. If Netanyahu enters into a frontal collision with the president, the U.S. will not stand beside Israel when the Iranian moment of truth arrives.
And the third reason is Barack Obama. If Netanyahu injures the president, the U.S. will not stand by when Israel tumbles down the slippery slope of delegitimization and becomes a pariah state.
It's a sticky problem. The catch is real. At present Netanyahu is right, but he is not being smart. His insistence on a non-vital matter is endangering vital Israeli interests. His hesitancy in making the decision required of a leader presents him and his government in a despicable light. After weeks of debates, Washington and Jerusalem still have not identified the creative idea to pull the peace process out of the mud and prevent an American-Israeli collision this winter.
Here's a creative idea. In exchange for freezing construction in the West Bank for 60 days, the U.S. will renew the commitment President Bush made in his April 2004 letter. Bush's letter was given to Ariel Sharon in exchange for the disengagement. It consists of a vague commitment that when peace is made, the settlement blocs will remain in Israel's hands and the Palestinian refugees will not return to Israel.
As opposition leader, Netanyahu used to belittle the letter. As prime minister, he understood its importance and has demanded that Obama honor it. Obama refused. Now we have a golden opportunity to make a breakthrough American-Israeli deal: Israel agrees to the Obama administration's request for the freeze while the Obama administration adopts President Bush's letter word-for-word.
For Netanyahu, this is a win-win formula. If Obama agrees, Israel will gain a significant achievement that would improve its situation in the international arena and in the negotiations on the final-status arrangement. If Obama refuses, his confrontation with Israel will not be about a thousand ridiculous apartments in the territories but about U.S. credibility. Instead of Netanyahu being the dissenter, Obama will be the dissenter. When it emerges that an incumbent American president is denying a commitment given by a previous American president and adopted by a large majority of the two houses of Congress, Israel will pass from a state of moral inferiority to one of moral superiority.
This is not merely a tactical matter. To make peace with the Palestinians Israel will have to take on itself almost survival-threatening risks. For Israel to take such risks it will need solid American guarantees. If the U.S. tears to shreds its previous guarantees, there is no value to future guarantees it might provide. So the matter of American credibility is fundamental.
Any decent American - in the Congress, the media and the Middle West - is expected to understand that anyone who undermines American credibility is sabotaging peace just as much as those building in the settlements.
It is time both Washington and Jerusalem stop being right, start being clever and treat the credibility and freezing issues simultaneously. Obama cannot stand Bush. Netanyahu had little admiration for Sharon. But the only formula that will save Obama and Netanyahu is the Bush-Sharon formula.
REVIVING THE PAST
THE JEWISH PEOPLE HAS SURVIVED, AMONG OTHER THINGS, DUE TO ITS HISTORICAL MEMORY AND THE COMMEMORATION OF PIVOTAL MOMENTS IN ITS HISTORY.
BY ISRAEL HAREL
A state ceremony should be held to honor Degania A, the first kibbutz, to mark the centennial of its establishment. Even if many of its values have gone by the wayside over the years, the kibbutz movement (now celebrating Degania's founding under the banner "100 years of the kibbutz movement" ) should be granted popular and governmental recognition for the decisive part it played in laying the social, military, cultural and even economic groundwork for the establishment of the Jewish state.
Recognition should also be granted to the kibbutz movement's unique contribution to defending Israel and absorbing immigrants after independence - despite the claims (some of them delusional ) that kibbutzim were responsible for excluding and discriminating against Jewish immigrants from Arab states, particularly in education.
The Jewish people has survived, among other things, due to its historical memory and the commemoration of pivotal moments in its history. Nowadays, there are few initiatives, including in the cabinet and Knesset, to commemorate such events. Yet the kibbutz movement deserves just this kind of recognition.
But the state - apart from President Shimon Peres' appearance at Degania - skipped the historic occasion. If not for those kibbutzniks who left the movement and entered the media world, it's doubtful the general public would remember the date at all.
The apathy, at times even hostility, toward the movement may be due to the desire of certain individuals and groups to kick the movement while it's down, accusing it of condescension, discrimination and seizing public assets. But those making such accusations (even if they carry a kernel of truth ) ignore the movement's one incomparable contribution: No other social movement in Jewish history opted for a collective lifestyle, from the very beginning, not merely out of lofty universalist social ideals, but also because it was the best way to invigorate the Jewish people to restore its sovereignty.
That lifestyle allowed the kibbutzim to devote some of its members to the national mission, because the collective would provide for their families. They served in the prestate Haganah and Palmach militias, worked to save the Jews of Europe and help them immigrate, and provided both book-learning and education in values to those who would later besmirch them in books and academic studies.
The writings of the kibbutzim's founders (even under the impossible conditions of those days, they found time to write ) prove that their thoughts were directed first and foremost at how the life's work for whose sake they willingly resigned themselves to poverty could benefit mankind in general, and in particular restore the Jewish people to its homeland, where it could live a life of freedom. These were the primary issues that occupied the country's founders, even if they, and especially their successors, made more than a few mistakes in their effort to realize their goals.
It wasn't the high interest rates of the 1980s that felled the kibbutz movement, as its current leadership claims. Rather, its members are no longer the ones producing ground-breaking social and national ideas: Like most Israelis, they have instead adopted vapid and capricious modes of thought that have nothing in common with their character, culture and way of life.
What brought about the movement's downfall was not the Israeli economy, but the abandonment of its ideological foundations, and particularly the dramatic decline in its contribution to the state and society - in other words, its abandonment of the ideal of being an elite that serves the community.
Nowadays, many a kibbutz is little more than an ordinary small, close-knit community. Yet such communities have already proven that they, too, can instill the ideal of being a serving elite.
If the kibbutz movement can succeed in overcoming its ideological weakness and embark on this path - and we must hope with all our hearts that it does - it is also likely to succeed, at least partially, in reviving its glorious past.
LET'S PARTY LIKE IT'S 1973
NOTHING HAS CHANGED IN 37 YEARS. ISRAEL HAS THE SAME ARROGANT HUBRIS AND THE SAME OBSTINATE RESISTANCE TO ANY PROSPECT OF A PEACE AGREEMENT.
BY GIDEON LEVY
The act of atonement in which we are engaged over the recently declassified documents from the Yom Kippur War is nothing but a hollow pagan ritual. Suddenly we learn that Golda Meir considered ordering an "insane" operation against Syria and said the world was "contemptible;" defense minister Moshe Dayan called for abandoning wounded soldiers in the field and was thoroughly depressed; and Israel Defense Forces chief of staff David Elazar tended to lie to the public.
We love to indulge in discussing the blunders of 1973, imagining that they belong to the ancient past. All the responsible parties are dead, but the topic is still alive and kicking. The winds of 1973 blow hard today, and nothing has changed. The fact is that today, when each of Golda's pronouncements and Dayan's proposals are headlines once again, nobody remembers another error from this period, a much more critical mistake, by the same gang, made when it squandered the opportunity, in the early 1970s, of reaching an agreement with Egypt. Had a real lesson been learned from the Yom Kippur War, the scandal would have been attributed to this missed chance for negotiations - the same error that is being made today.
In the early 1970s, there was a genuine prospect for peace with Egypt. President Gamal Abdel Nasser agreed to the Rogers Plan, to which all subsequent peace proposals bear a striking resemblance, and even invited World Jewish Congress head Nahum Goldmann to confer with him. Golda blocked the meeting and ridiculed the idea, and Dayan declared, "Better to have Sharm el-Sheikh without peace." The rest is history: Israel always prefers war to peace, and if there is no choice then we'll make peace after a war, never before. Peace with Egypt, the withdrawal from south Lebanon and recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization, all took place only after blood was shed, never before.
Nothing has changed in 37 years. It's the same arrogant hubris, the same obstinate resistance to any prospect of an agreement, the same failure to recognize that only peace will save us from another defense minister who sinks into an existential depression while warning of an impending holocaust. What's the point of this festival of 1973 war documents and this retroactive dance of death? Why look back, if on the day the settlement building freeze ended the settlers did a remarkably accurate imitation of the dance of arrogance that preceded the 1973 war?
There is no difference between the Plymouth Valiants driven by the lords of Israel in those days, the generals who went to Tel Aviv restaurants where their photographs decorated the walls, and today's torpor. The same drunken blindness is at play, even if the cult of the generals has since been curbed. Nasser sought peace in the early 1970s, and Bashar Assad, Mahmoud Abbas and the Arab League are knocking in vain at Israel's closed door in 2010. We mocked and turned a deaf ear then; we mock and turn a deaf ear now. We have examined photographs from parties in those power-drunk days and failed to find a hint of sobriety, or even a hangover, today. Look at us then and see us today. The fun and games continue, and the state shouts for joy, now as then.
Clip and save the bread and circuses: National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau promising power stations on the occupied Golan Heights and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz promising a railroad on the occupied West Bank, just as Dayan and Shimon Peres promised a "deep-water harbor" at Yamit. It's the same story - the jubilation over natural gas discoveries, the roars of joy over the bulldozers in the settlements, the blunt indifference to world opinion, the apathy to the ills of the occupation, the obsession with trivialities, the gossip columns that bow to the rich and powerful, the small screen that keeps us from knowing what is really happening and the smokescreen of complacency that shrouds it all. Clip and save, and when the next scandal over a failure of leadership arises, in much less than 37 years, once again we won't be able to pretend to be shocked and surprised.
Take the Home Front Command public service message in which a cute soldier tells actress Tiki Dayan not to hurry, she can continue to fry her schnitzels. Listen to the soldier, in her voice: Keep pounding those chicken cutlets, thin, just the way we like, there's nothing urgent.
SEA OF CORRUPTION
THE STATE MUST IMMEDIATELY SET LIMITS ON ISRAEL CHEMICALS' MINING OF THE DEAD SEA AND CHARGE IT ROYALTIES IN KEEPING WITH THE PROFITS IT MAKES AND THE DAMAGE IT DOES TO THE SEA, AND TO US.
The Finance Ministry is considering a compromise with Israel Chemicals. This company mines Israel's natural mineral resources in Sodom, the Negev and the Dead Sea. It is laying golden eggs because the minerals are simply there, in large quantities, no special investment is needed to locate them, nor is it complicated to extract them. Therefore, it is also not expensive to do so.
Moreover, these minerals are in very high demand, so Israel Chemicals earns a lot of money. In 2009, for example, the company's revenues were approximately NIS 17 billion, and its net profit was NIS 2.92 billion.
In 1995, the government took this precious public resource and sold it to the Eisenberg family, which later sold it to the Ofer family. Thus ever since the company was privatized, its earnings have gone into their pockets: From 2003 to this year, for example, the Ofer family has taken home some NIS 3 billion.
That's what frequently happens with privatization in Israel, but this case is particularly scandalous. The state gave Eisenberg a huge gift: The company is required to pay royalties of only 5 percent on most of its production. For comparison's sake, royalties on natural gas, which is more complicated to find and extract, are 12.5 percent. And even those are among the lowest in the world, with the result that a battle is now being wage to raise them.
But Israel Chemicals does not even pay its minuscule 5 percent royalties. Reports commissioned by the Finance Ministry show that Israel Chemicals employed accounting tricks that resulted in it paying royalties of only 2.4 to 3.5 percent between 2000 and 2008.
Israel Chemicals also receives extensive benefits under the law for the encouragement of capital investments, to the tune of NIS 400 million to NIS 800 million a year. It gets them despite the fact that it did not invest in building its production facilities, nor is there any chance that it will move them to Tel Aviv or Hungary. After all, the minerals it mines are in and around the Dead Sea.
But the most immoral piggishness does not relate to money: The extraction of these minerals is seriously damaging the Dead Sea and its environs. It bears sole responsibility for 20 percent of the drop in the sea's level (which is falling at the rate of one meter a year! ), because it draws off water from the Dead Sea's northern section. It then channels that water to pools on the southern side - which has caused a rise in the level there of about 20 centimeters a year.
"Environmental harm" sounds to many Israelis like self-indulgence, a problem of the rich who don't have a threat to their survival hanging over their heads. Well, the survival of the Dead Sea, which is unique on this planet and truly a rare treasure, is threatened. And this threat affects all of our lives.
The Dead Sea's declining water level creates sinkholes into which we can fall and be killed. It damages infrastructure. The water is retreating from recreational areas on the northern side, and from us. And the rise on the southern side could flood the hotels there. Today, an ugly levee made of sand protects them, but it won't for long.
Yet none of that leads Israel Chemicals to mine any less, only more.
Now the Finance Ministry has proposed a compromise: Israel Chemicals will continue to pay piddling royalties, but will participate in the cost of saving the hotels from inundation. Amazing: The rise in the water level is a direct result of the mineral extraction. Thus the cost of repairing the damage is, by any logic, part of the cost of producing the minerals - a cost that should be born by the company, not by us.
What the state, its leaders and its civil servants, who kowtow to money, must do immediately is set limits on Israel Chemicals' mining of the Dead Sea and charge it royalties in keeping with the profits it makes and the damage it does to the sea, and to us.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
To the American Nazi Party, Hustler Magazine, and other odious figures in Supreme Court history, add the Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. and the members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. Their antigay protests at the funeral of a soldier slain in Iraq were deeply repugnant but protected by the First Amendment.
All of the sympathy in the case of Snyder v. Phelps, which was argued on Wednesday at the Supreme Court, goes to the family of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, the fallen Marine. But as the appeals court in the case observed, using words of Justice Felix Frankfurter, "It is a fair summary of history to say that the safeguards of liberty have often been forged in controversies involving not very nice people." That happened when the court protected Hustler's right to mock the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the right of American Nazis to march in Skokie, Ill.
During the oral arguments, there were persistent questions from every justice but Clarence Thomas, seeking help in striking a balance between privacy and protest in the Internet age, and often unhelpful answers from the overmatched lawyers for each side, including Mr. Phelps's daughter Margie.
In March 2006, a week after Corporal Snyder was killed in Iraq, his funeral in Westminster, Md., became a target for Mr. Phelps, the founder and pastor of a Baptist church where most of his flock are his children, grandchildren and in-laws.
Their faith includes the belief that "God hates homosexuality and hates and punishes America for its tolerance of homosexuality, particularly in the United States military." Over the past two decades, they have sought opportunities to trumpet these views in intrusive protests, recently including funerals of soldiers.
Seven of them went to the funeral of Corporal Snyder, who was not gay. While following rules set by a local ordinance and police about where they could protest, they carried signs that said "God Hates the USA" and "Fag troops" and "You're going to hell." After the funeral, the church's Web site said Corporal Snyder's parents "raised him for the devil."
In a federal trial, Mr. Snyder's father was awarded $5 million for intrusion upon seclusion, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy. The appeals court overturned the verdict, saying that it has long been settled that the First Amendment protected the protest as opinion about subjects of public concern.
On Wednesday, the justices asked the attorneys for guidance about how to strike that balance, when it involves expansive media, like television and the Internet, where the power to wound is immense. They sought help in drawing lines that might be useful in different circumstances: What if the Snyders hadn't advertised the funeral? Would the protest still have deserved protection?
The justices were interested in the lawyers' views about where his or her argument got fuzzy and made their questions more difficult by asking the lawyers to grapple each other's contentions. Hovering over the oral arguments were briefs from friends of the court.
Walter Dellinger, a former acting solicitor general, sided with the Snyders for Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, and many others in Congress. They argue that Congress and 46 states have passed laws limiting protests at funerals and, implicitly, that the support for the family was a heartfelt exception to the breakdown in Washington. Nadine Strossen, a former leader of the American Civil Liberties Union, pointed out the chilling consequences for protest-filled university campuses if the church's position is not upheld.
One friend of the court brief called the protesters' message "uncommonly contemptible." True, but it is in the interest of the nation that strong language about large issues be protected, even when it is hard to do so.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THEY NEED TO TALK
Peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians are in danger of unraveling unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, show more political courage and sense.
Even jaded Middle East experts thought these negotiations had a real chance. But then Israel's 10-month
moratorium on building settlements in the West Bank expired. Mr. Netanyahu insisted that Israeli politics wouldn't tolerate an extension. Mr. Abbas, who had been promised a permanent freeze by the White House, said that he couldn't keep compromising. And that's where the two stand today.
The Obama administration has made a very generous offer to Israel that should give Mr. Netanyahu more than enough cover to prolong the moratorium and keep the talks going. In exchange for a modest 60-day extension, the administration is promising Israel increased military aid fighter planes, missile defense, satellites and other security guarantees. It has also promised not to ask for further extensions and to veto any United Nations Security Council resolutions on Arab-Israeli issues during the one-year negotiating period.
That package is, if anything, overly generous. Israel will surely be looking for more sweeteners as part of a final peace deal. We can't understand why Mr. Netanyahu hasn't grabbed it.
We're not clear on what the Obama administration is offering the Palestinians to get them to stay at the table. Washington needs to be very generous.
Sixty days is too short. But it still might be enough if the two sides and the Americans use the time to negotiate the borders of the new Palestinian state. (Those maps, give or take a little, were drawn up years ago.) Once borders are set, Palestinians could have more confidence that their long-promised state will become a reality. Israelis would know which settlements will become part of Israel in the land swaps that must be part of any agreement and could then resume building there.
When the Arab League meets on Friday, Arab states especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that have long espoused the Palestinian cause need to encourage Mr. Abbas to accept any reasonable American offer and resume negotiations.
These states also need to vastly increase financial aid to the Palestinian Authority. And they need to prove that they are willing to normalize relations with Israel as part of a peace deal.
If Israelis and Arabs cannot find a way to get beyond what is essentially a tactical problem, how will they ever be able to reach an actual peace agreement?
THE NEW YORK TIMES
RETRENCHMENT, BY THE NUMBERS
"No more stimulus" has become the destructive mantra of conservative politicians here and across Europe. Britain has vowed to cut the budget of most government departments by 25 percent to 40 percent over the next four years. Germany's government has adopted its own slash-and-burn austerity plan.
Republicans in Congress have tried too successfully to block, cut back or delay anything that looks like more stimulus, most recently legislation that would have provided jobs to 250,000 low-income workers.
The enormous cost of these miscalculations should now be evident to all as the fragile global recovery falters. Economies in euro-zone countries are expected to expand by only 1.7 percent in 2010, on average, and 1.5 percent in 2011. The United States' economy is forecast to grow 2.6 percent this year and 2.3 percent next better than Europe's but nowhere near enough.
Last week, the International Labor Organization said it would take until 2015 for employment in advanced economies to rise back to 2007 levels, two years more than it predicted last year.
In its most recent economic outlook report, even the International Monetary Fund historically a paragon of fiscal austerity laid to rest the idea that cutting budgets would trigger fast growth by restoring confidence in financial investors. It suggested that while fiscal adjustment should start "in earnest" next year, it said the objective should be to "achieve sustainable fiscal positions before the end of the decade." If global growth threatens to slow appreciably, it said, countries with the ability to borrow should postpone the budget-cutting.
The Obama administration rightly argues that the deficit must be addressed, but with unemployment high and inflation low, the most urgent task is to stimulate demand to bolster growth. It hasn't had much luck getting that across in Congress even with cowering members of the Democratic Party or to other big economies. (It has even bowed to political pressure and signed on to a premature vow to cut the deficit in half by 2013.)
There is a Group of 20 summit meeting in Seoul, South Korea, in November. President Obama should use that meeting, and the grim figures on faltering growth, to press a lot harder for sustained support of the global economy. He must argue just as hard at home for more stimulus. The deficit must be addressed but, first, the economy needs to recover.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
WHY FIREMEN LET THAT HOUSE BURN DOWN
No amount of political ranting about limits to government could douse the flames for a homeowner in rural Tennessee who forgot to pay his annual surcharge for fire department protection. Gene Cranick watched his house burn down in Obion County after firefighters from the nearby town of South Fulton arrived. They declined to turn their hoses on because his $75 fee for county residents had not been paid.
News video of the flames, the helpless Cranick family and the idle firefighters is stoking a left-right debate of bloggers and television commentators about the role and cost of government. Surely, the debate is unnecessary.
The many things government undeniably can and must do and individuals cannot includes putting out fires that threaten the community. The conservative commentator Glenn Beck insisted the issue is not one of "compassion, compassion, compassion," but of paying the $75. Putting out the fire absent the annual fee would have left the Cranicks "sponging off" neighbors who had paid, he said, and invited others to shirk their fees. The South Fulton Fire Department ingloriously made the same point, turning on the hoses when the fire spread to the field of a neighbor who was, yes, in good standing.
If county and city officials are that mistrustful of their constituents, they need to find a more guaranteed source of financing, even if it means collecting more taxes. The firefighters who declined to do their duty need, at a minimum, to examine their consciences.
In any case, the founding fathers left no message that government can make an object lesson of a neglectful citizen by letting his house burn down. The Cranicks deserve an apology, even if it won't come from the candidates peddling dreams of constricted government.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
TRIFECTA OF TORMENT
We journalists tend to cover politics the way we cover sports:
Republicans are gaining yardage on their immigration play! The Tea Party is stealing second base! A bench-clearing brawl over health care! Look at the politicians and pundits mud-wrestle!
So let's try an experiment: Let's treat this midterm election as if it might actually profoundly shape the well-being of our country.
For starters, look at the Republican accusation that Democrats are killing jobs while leaving the United States deeply indebted. "Democrats continue to double-down on their job-killing policies," the Republicans say in their Pledge to America. Rick Scott, the Republican running for governor in Florida, complains that his Democratic opponent "backed the failed stimulus bill, which created debt, not jobs."
The Republicans start with a fair point: Democrats haven't delivered what they promised. The unemployment rate rose from 7.7 percentwhen President Obama took office to more than 10 percent and was still 9.6 percent at last count in August. The Democrats had predicted that unemployment would fall to about 7 percent by now. That was flat wrong.
Chalk one up for the Republicans.
But would they have done better? The Republicans opposed the stimulus package, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Officeestimates that it created between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs.
In other words, under Republican leadership, we would have at least an additional 1.4 million people out of work. As FactCheck.org, the indispensable truth squad Web site puts it: "It's just false to say that the stimulus created 'no jobs.' "
Remember that in the winter of 2008-9, there was talk about another Great Depression. Even the House Republican leader, John Boehner, spoke of the economy being "on the brink." Now confidence is returning, and the United States has officially moved from recession to (agonizingly slow) recovery.
Some Republicans have other jobs proposals that would create modest numbers of jobs but many fewer than the stimulus did. Mr. Boehner proposed what he called a job creation plan, but the Economic Policy Institute (which is nonpartisan but admittedly leans Democratic) estimated that it would lead to a net reduction of more than one million jobs.
So, on jobs, the Democrats did poorly, but by most independent accounts, far better than the Republicans would have. Chalk one up for the Democrats.
Then there's the national debt. The Republicans say, correctly, that Mr. Obama aggravated the debt with the stimulus bill. The latest Congressional Budget Office estimate is that the bill will worsen the deficit by $814 billion over a decade.
But as Andrew Romano, a senior writer for Newsweek, noted in an excellent blog post that helped inspire this column, the Republicans propose other actions that worsen the fiscal situation even more. For starters, the Republicans favor almost $700 billion in extended tax cuts for the most affluent Americans. The Democratic leadership opposes them.
In addition, the Republicans call for repealing the health care reform. The Congressional Budget Office suggests that repealing certain provisions of that act would mean an increase in deficits of about $455 billion. On the other hand, keeping health reform will trim the deficits by more than $170 billion between now and 2020, the C.B.O. says.
There are many other elements in play, but put these big ones together and what do you get, on a comparative basis? The Democrats worsen the deficits by a net of about $640 billion, while Republicans worsen them by some $1.1 trillion almost twice as much.
Chalk up another one for the Democrats.
There's a third issue in dispute: which party's policies are more in keeping with our national values? Republicans suggest that excluding the wealthiest Americans from tax cuts reflects an unpatriotic and divisive effort to foment a class war.
But hold on. There's a fallacy there. Mr. Obama's plan wouldn't actually exclude the wealthiest Americans from tax cuts. It would cut billionaires' taxes but only for their first $250,000 in income.
The richest 0.1 percent of Americans (who earn an average of $8.4 million) would get an average tax cut of more than $61,000 under Mr. Obama's proposal, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Under the Republican proposal, they would get an average tax cut of more than $370,000, the center says.
Thus, the Republican tax cut would lead to an even more gargantuan gap between rich and poor. As Warren Buffett has said: "There's class warfare, all right. But it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."
I grant that estimates about jobs and revenue are uncertain. But they are not meaningless, and the strong implication is that Republican rule would lead to the Trifecta of Torment: higher unemployment, worse deficits and greater inequity.
That might be more important to ponder this fall than the ups and downs of the mud-wrestling competitions.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
CONNECTICUT ON THE ROPES
BY GAIL COLLINS
Republicans have been pointing to Connecticut as a place where they could win the game-changing 51st Senate seat. They were originally hoping to take that seat in Delaware until enthusiastic primary voters nominated a woman who is currently trying to reassure the state that she is not actually a witch.
So this week's Senate candidate debate in Hartford was a big deal. Particularly since, thanks to the science of modern polling, we know that the race is virtually a dead heat. Or Democrat Richard Blumenthal is ahead by about 12 percentage points. Definitely one or the other.
Blumenthal, the state attorney general, is nothing if not a familiar face. "I've spent 20 years listening to people in Connecticut. There's a joke about Dick Blumenthal: If there's a garage door opening, he'll be there," he said proudly. People, is this the sort of thing you would really want to brag about?
His opponent, Republican Linda McMahon, is running as a businesswoman who helped build her family's World Wrestling Entertainment business into a sports empire so successful that it was able to create programming with prestigious partners such as the "Girls Gone Wild" franchise and allow the McMahon family to achieve the American dream, including a self-financed Senate campaign and a yacht named Sexy Bitch.
McMahon supporters packed the auditorium these people definitely understand the importance of tickets. But Blumenthal was widely regarded as the winner because he avoided showing any signs of terminal nervousness, such as fainting or staring blankly into the camera.
McMahon is a much better public performer, with a particular talent for looking fierce, a quality that has been intensified by all those replays of her kicking a W.W.E. announcer in the groin.
However, she is a total wimp when it comes to taking a political stand. She once declined to say what she would do to cut the cost of entitlements like Social Security by explaining that she did not want such an important issue to become "a political football." Her response to virtually any controversial question is that the matter needs to be studied. If you asked her at the end of a long day whether restaurants should be allowed to serve fried puppies, her answer would probably be that it should be looked into.
Blumenthal tried to demonstrate his commitment to job creation by promising to try to restart construction of F-22 jets in Connecticut. The F-22 is infamous for being a waste of money, and there are still 187 of them sitting in hangars waiting for the return of the era of the dogfight. It would have been more sensible to demand that Congress move everybody in Bridgeport to the Bahamas for the winter.
McMahon has already spent so much money that residents of this small state may be wondering why she keeps deluging them with mailings and TV ads instead of just buying everybody a car. Now that Blumenthal has pointed out that McMahon took home $46 million in a year in which she laid off workers, they may be wondering why she can't give each of them a well-appointed R.V.
Blumenthal also demanded to know why McMahon didn't create jobs in the United States instead of having W.W.E. action figures made in China. This was the moment when McMahon really should have promised a study. Instead, she claimed that the United States does not "have the kind of policies in place here that are conducive to manufacturing," citing, among other things, "high labor costs," which could not have been much of a comfort to the state's workers.
It was a sign of some desperation on McMahon's part that right before the debate her campaign unveiled a new attack ad about the fact that, in speeches to Vietnam veterans, Richard Blumenthal gave the strong impression that during the war he was ducking bullets in the rice paddies rather than being at home tucked safely in the reserves.
This was an important point when it was first reported by The Times in May. We need to be sure that a candidate doesn't have trouble distinguishing fact from fiction. Like Douglas Stringfellow, a former congressman from Utah who was elected in 1952 on the basis of his record as a heroic secret agent who was left a paraplegic from torture he received in a German prisoner-of-war camp. When it turned out that he was not a hero or a former secret agent or a paraplegic, you can see how voters must have wished they had known that in advance.
But this season we've had candidates who've made up everything from a war medal to a career as an undercover agent. Plus one who can't seem to manage to make a list of three academic achievements without inflating every one. Who once said she dabbled in witchcraft. Really, they've raised the bar so high that Blumenthal would have had to have claimed that he raised the flag at Iwo Jima to get attention.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
NO FOOD STAMPS FOR SODAS
BY THOMAS FARLEY AND RICHARD F. DAINES
SINCE its introduction in 1964, America's food stamp program has helped millions of struggling Americans put food on their tables in difficult times. During the recent economic downturn, the number of people in New York City receiving this assistance has grown more than 35 percent.
Recipients, however, aren't allowed to buy everything a grocery store might sell. The federal government bars the use of food stamps to buy cigarettes, beer, wine, liquor or prepared foods like deli sandwiches and restaurant entrees. Still, the program, which is supposed to promote nutrition as well as reduce hunger, has a serious flaw: food stamps can be used to buy soda and other sweetened drinks.
Medical researchers have increasingly associated the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages with weight gain and the development of diabetes. Over the past 30 years, consumption of sugary beverages in the United States has more than doubled, in parallel with the rise in obesity, to the point where nearly one-sixth of an average teenager's calories now come from these drinks.
Some 57 percent of adults in New York City and 40 percent of children in New York City public schools are overweight or obese. The numbers are especially high in low-income neighborhoods, where people are most likely to suffer the devastating health consequences. One in eight adult city residents now has diabetes, and the disease is nearly twice as common among poorer New Yorkers as it is among wealthier ones. Diabetes rates in the low-income neighborhood of East New York, for instance, are four times those in affluent Gramercy Park.
And substantial health care costs arise from this trend: obesity-related illnesses cost New York State residents nearly $8 billion a year in medical costs, or $770 per household. All of us pay the price through higher taxes.
Every year, tens of millions of federal dollars are spent on sweetened beverages in New York City through the food stamp program far more than is spent on obesity prevention. This amounts to an enormous subsidy to the sweetened beverage industry.
To correct this, New York City and State are asking the United States Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program, to authorize a demonstration project in New York City. The city would bar the use of food stamps to buy beverages that contain more sugar than substance that is, beverages with low nutritional value that contain more than 10 calories per eight-ounce serving. The policy would not apply to milk, milk substitutes (like soy milk, rice milk or powdered milk) or fruit juices without added sugar and its effects would be rigorously evaluated.
This policy change would be entirely in keeping with existing standards for defining what is and isn't nutritious. The Agriculture Department itself has already rightly declared sugar-sweetened beverages to be "foods of minimal nutritional value."
The city's proposed program would not reduce participants' food stamp benefits or their ability to feed their families a nutritionally adequate diet. They would still receive every penny of support they now get, meaning they would have as much, if not more, to spend on nutritious food. And they could still purchase soda if they chose just not with taxpayer dollars.
This proposal to adjust the food stamp program is just one of many steps New York City is taking to reduce obesity. The city also has programs to increase the availability of fresh produce in poor neighborhoods; has set nutrition requirements for meals served in schools, after-school and day care programs and centers for the elderly; and has begun advertising campaigns to educate the public about obesity and nutrition. Taken together, these efforts will bring us closer to stemming the wave of obesity and diabetes in New York.
We are confident that this plan to reduce the consumption of sweetened beverages, if approved by the Department of Agriculture, would strengthen our efforts to combat a serious and worsening health crisis in New York City and could eventually help fight obesity in other communities across the state and nation. At the least it would ensure that food stamps wouldn't subsidize, in the name of nutrition, a product that causes obesity and a lifetime of health problems.
Thomas Farley is the New York City health commissioner. Richard F. Daines is the New York State health commissioner.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE SEAT NOT TAKEN
BY JOHN EDGAR WIDEMAN
AT least twice a week I ride Amtrak's high-speed Acela train from my home in New York City to my teaching job in Providence, R.I. The route passes through a region of the country populated by, statistics tell us, a significant segment of its most educated, affluent, sophisticated and enlightened citizens.
Over the last four years, excluding summers, I have conducted a casual sociological experiment in which I am both participant and observer. It's a survey I began not because I had some specific point to prove by gathering data to support it, but because I couldn't avoid becoming aware of an obvious, disquieting truth.
Almost invariably, after I have hustled aboard early and occupied one half of a vacant double seat in the usually crowded quiet car, the empty place next to me will remain empty for the entire trip.
I'm a man of color, one of the few on the train and often the only one in the quiet car, and I've concluded that color explains a lot about my experience. Unless the car is nearly full, color will determine, even if it doesn't exactly clarify, why 9 times out of 10 people will shun a free seat if it means sitting beside me.
Giving them and myself the benefit of the doubt, I can rule out excessive body odor or bad breath; a hateful, intimidating scowl; hip-hop clothing; or a hideous deformity as possible objections to my person. Considering also the cost of an Acela ticket, the fact that I display no visible indications of religious preference and, finally, the numerous external signs of middle-class membership I share with the majority of the passengers, color appears to be a sufficient reason for the behavior I have recorded.
Of course, I'm not registering a complaint about the privilege, conferred upon me by color, to enjoy the luxury of an extra seat to myself. I relish the opportunity to spread out, savor the privacy and quiet and work or gaze at the scenic New England woods and coast. It's a particularly appealing perk if I compare the train to air travel or any other mode of transportation, besides walking or bicycling, for negotiating the mercilessly congested Northeast Corridor. Still, in the year 2010, with an African-descended, brown president in the White House and a nation confidently asserting its passage into a postracial era, it strikes me as odd to ride beside a vacant seat, just about every time I embark on a three-hour journey each way, from home to work and back.
I admit I look forward to the moment when other passengers, searching for a good seat, or any seat at all on the busiest days, stop anxiously prowling the quiet-car aisle, the moment when they have all settled elsewhere, including the ones who willfully blinded themselves to the open seat beside me or were unconvinced of its availability when they passed by. I savor that precise moment when the train sighs and begins to glide away from Penn or Providence Station, and I'm able to say to myself, with relative assurance, that the vacant place beside me is free, free at last, or at least free until the next station. I can relax, prop open my briefcase or rest papers, snacks or my arm in the unoccupied seat.
But the very pleasing moment of anticipation casts a shadow, because I can't accept the bounty of an extra seat without remembering why it's empty, without wondering if its emptiness isn't something quite sad. And quite dangerous, also, if left unexamined. Posters in the train, the station, the subway warn: if you see something, say something.
John Edgar Wideman is a professor of Africana studies and literary arts at Brown and the author, most recently, of "Briefs."
OUR VIEW ON MARKETS: FLASH-CRASH ANALYSIS LEAVES INVESTORS REASON TO WORRY
Thanks to a four-month study by government regulators, we finally know what happened on May 6 when the Dow Jones average plummeted nearly 1,000 points in a matter of minutes, then rebounded.
A money management firm (identified outside of the report as Kansas-based Waddell & Reed) decided to unload $4 billion in stock futures contracts, using a computer algorithm programmed to sell regardless of price, so long as trading volume stayed robust. High-frequency traders provided that volume as their computers bought and sold rapid fire, creating a kind of feedback loop that signaled Waddell's computers to keep selling even as the prices of the futures contracts, and the underlying stocks, plunged.
So there it is. Investors should consider themselves better informed than they were before the 104-page report came out late last week.
But safer? More confident? Not a chance.
If anything, the report is disquieting in how long it took to simply figure out what happened, and in its lack of concrete proposals for preventing a recurrence.
The truly scary thing is that all this happened in a relatively benign trading environment. Yes, investors were worried about European debt issues that day. But there was no cataclysmic event another terrorist attack, a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities that markets will presumably have to grapple with at some point as everyone heads for the door at once, potentially causing the computer programs to interact in ways that no one understands. Something similar, but far simpler, very nearly paralyzed the entire financial system during the market crash of 1987.
With the Dow now flirting with 11,000, some retail investors might be lulled into complacency. But there's every reason to believe that another "flash crash" could happen, perhaps with more long-lasting consequences. And until government officials can show otherwise, many investors will continue to believe that equity markets are too risky and easily manipulated.
Regulators should be further along in the process of revising and expanding the circuit breakers devised after the '87 crash. With the surge in volume and growth of computer-driven trading, it's imperative that exchanges have a way of slowing or stopping trades when something is clearly going haywire.
Regulators and exchanges should also show more urgency about the threat posed by high-frequency traders. These operators, generally hedge funds that have hired the best and brightest computer programmers to trade rapidly in search of advantages over other traders, cause numerous problems and provide minimal benefits.
Though these traders were not the original cause of the May 6 meltdown, they were its enablers and enhancers. They can make markets much more volatile and give long-term investors the sense that they are second-class citizens. They frequently press the boundaries of ethical behavior by using large orders to freeze markets, flush out other bidders, or gain valuable information about pending trades. And they do very little of what stock markets are supposed to be about, which is steering capital to where it can be most productively used.
Until authorities come to grips with some of these things, the study by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is best taken for what it is: an explanation ofwhy the stock market went into cardiac arrest, without any plan to administer CPR.
OPPOSING VIEW ON MARKETS: SEC, CFTC WEIGHING SAFEGUARDS
BY MARY L. SCHAPIRO AND GARY GENSLER
The missions of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission are to protect investors and ensure our derivatives and securities markets are as fair, transparent and efficient as possible. Both agencies have been engaged in a comprehensive review of the structures of our markets to determine how we can improve the way they work.
The events of May 6 underscore the importance of this effort. The extreme price fluctuations of that afternoon greatly affected everyone from individual investors to corporations that need to raise capital.
Last week, our staffs issued a detailed report describing what happened on May 6.
While the events highlighted some weaknesses, the staff report demonstrates that the structure of our markets is not inscrutable or unknowable. We now know what occurred, and we will use that knowledge to implement new protections for American investors.