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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

EDITORIAL 13.10.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month october 13, edition 000650, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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







































































For an aspiring economic power that is expected to overtake some of the Western economies by 2020, India should be shocked that it ranks close to the bottom — 67th among 84 developing countries — in the Global Hunger Index for 2010. But then New Delhi is so consumed by the desire to be toasted by world capital for its economic feats that it has failed to notice, or deliberately glossed over, the rot within. Curiously enough, it has failed to appreciate that such fault lines will eventually torpedo its campaign to become a member of the exclusive club of developed economies. When India is home to more than 42 per cent of the world's underweight children, and even more who are undernourished, what is the point in boasting that coming generations of Indians will propel the country forward at a scorching pace of development? These are not children who are raring to change the fortunes of their nation; they are fighting a bitter battle of survival. If they live through their childhood, they will grow into cynical adults wallowing in gut-wrenching poverty. The Hunger Index also brings home the reality, though not for the first time, that India is not only about its middle-class with disposable income, but also the vast majority of people who live underprivileged lives in its villages and cities, having little or no access to basic health, housing and education facilities. Hunger is something which both the Government and the middle-class refuse to acknowledge lest it blots the country's image, but such facts of life cannot be wished away. The Prime Minister continuously talks of "inclusive growth" and how double-digit growth will wipe away India's curse. But impressive statistics that reflect a growing GDP do not necessarily accurately mirror the reality of another India where millions live on the margins, barely surviving from day to day.

There is a great divide that is staring us in the face. On the one side, are those who have profited from liberalisation and the Government's callous indifference towards the have-nots. On the other side, are the wretched of the Earth, those whom both society and Government have forsaken and left to fend for themselves. This divide grows bigger by the day and feeds resentment that is manifested in anger against the state. It would be facetious to suggest that the rich and the powerful, the bold and the beautiful live in India and the rest are huddled in Bharat. Such divisions are as spurious as the so-called welfare policies of the Congress-led UPA Government which excels in paying lip service to the poor while doing precious little to really empower them. For long, it has been argued that India needs a model of development that includes the largest number of people. Sadly, we have witnessed the Government persisting with a model of development that excludes the largest number of people. It is, therefore, not surprising that we should lag behind so many countries with a lower growth rate when it comes to feeding the hungry masses. 







Not given to vacuous political niceties and, unlike some of his colleagues, free from the urge to get a certificate of approval from the Left-liberal 'secular' media, Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi was at his characteristic scathing best on Tuesday evening at the BJP rally to celebrate the party's stunning performance in the civic elections when he taunted the "Delhi Sultanate" for failing to alienate the masses from him despite using every possible dirty trick, including the misuse of the CBI. Not only has the BJP won the elections to all the six municipal corporations but has routed the Congress comprehensively, securing two-thirds majority in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Bhavnagar and Rajkot, and a simple majority in Jamnagar. What makes the election results significant is that they reflect popular mood in important urban centres spread across Gujarat and it is by no stretch of the imagination favourably disposed towards the Congress; the results of the coming elections to nagar palikas and panchayats are unlikely to be any different. Tuesday's results, no doubt, reaffirm the fact that Mr Modi remains the tallest leader in Gujarat and his popularity transcends caste, class and community. This is as much on account of his undiminished charisma as the development-driven, growth-oriented governance that has come to be identified with Mr Modi. Gujarat remains a shining example of what small Government, maximum governance can achieve, apart from the positive impact that corruption-free administration has on society: Cumulatively, they defy the conventional wisdom that the best of Governments is bound to be adversely impacted by anti-incumbency after a while. After completing nine years in office, Mr Modi remains untouched by the slightest hint of anti-incumbency. 

There's a lesson in this for the Congress which has come to believe that trickery and deceit, coupled with gross abuse of power, can help dislodge State Governments over which it has no control. The level to which the Congress can stoop is as evident from its chicanery in Karnataka as its misuse of agencies of the state in Gujarat. That the Congress is bereft of all vestiges of morality and ethics is demonstrated by its crude attempts to topple the elected Government of Karnataka, an evil enterprise in which the Governor is complicit. Similarly, in Gujarat the Congress stands denuded of all values that are integral to democracy: The people have given a fitting reply to the shameful manner in which a compromised CBI has been unleashed on Mr Modi, his colleagues and upright senior police officers to harass and intimidate them and tarnish the image of the BJP. Ironically, the ill-conceived 'strategy' of the Congress's 'high command' has not only horribly misfired, but also exposed the party's publicists in sections of the media: Both deserve no more than ridicule. Having said that, Mr Modi's spectacular victory in Gujarat is not without a lesson for his colleagues elsewhere in the country — they could learn a thing or two from him on political management and good governance. For example, had Mr BS Yeddyurappa emulated Mr Modi, the Congress would not have succeeded in destabilising his Government.







India's defence forces are getting increasingly crippled as Saint Antony refuses to sanction the purchase of urgently needed weapons

Over the next five years, India will spend $ 50 billion on arms purchases, including the daring joint development and production of the fifth generation fighters with Russia. This would suggest that Russia might no longer be in the race for the 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft as defence acquisition involves political balancing. Still 70 per cent of all our equipment and dependency will remain Russian. As Finance Minister, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had promised that once the economy grew, funds for defence modernisation would increase incrementally. That's what is likely to happen after a two-decade drought in military modernisation. 

Given the track record, defence acquisition will be further degraded by the overkill in probity and the Byzantine procedures. On August 25 this year, heads of five defence companies from the US, the UK Germany, France and Canada wrote to Defence Minister AK Antony for better structured and more supplier-friendly defence procurement policy. 

The real questions are whether the buying spree will enhance self-reliance, improve deterrence and strengthen India's clout in international affairs. So far, at least, India has underutilised its military capability for a variety of domestic political and cultural reasons, not the least, the lack of strategic thinking. 

A new book, Arming Without Aiming: India's Military Modernisation by Stephen Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta of the Brookings Institution has done some excellent mind-reading of Indian policy planning failures to develop military capabilities commensurate with its rising power and also exposed the warts in planning.

It is not surprising that despite terrorist attacks on Parliament and in Mumbai and several lesser strikes across the country over the last two decades, India has not crafted a suitable response to cross-border terrorism. The international community is astonished at the amazing levels of tolerance and military restraint shown by New Delhi — making a virtue of necessity, its strategic restraint and patience. The authors say that India's rise is welcome (except in Pakistan) as it is not seen as an assertive power.

Is strategic restraint, the term coined by Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh during Operation Parakram, an euphemism for lack of appropriate military capabilities? Twice in that year, India came close to crossing the start line but held back, according to insiders, as neither the Air Force nor the Army was deemed fit or ready for punitive operations. It is the duty of Governments to keep the armed forces in a state of operational preparedness with relevant equipment and technologies. So it may not just be the culture of military restraint but equally the lack of defence planning. 

The authors argue that India's defence acquisition process is 'amazingly convoluted' and coupled with its preference to acquire technology and build weapons itself has led to deep problems. The preference is also to add and expand existing structures than engage in reform. This is true as since independence there has been no defence review and the armed forces have continued to operate in a political vacuum virtually decoupled from decision-making. This has resulted in erratic and spasmodic defence modernisation unrelated to developing challenges and their priorities but contingent upon availability of funds. 

Commenting on the book, Ashley Tellis of Carnegie Endowment has noted that India's defence policy was in crisis as there is 'internal sclerosis' in India's internal defence thinking. Despite the Group of Ministers report after Kargil, key reforms like appointing a Chief of Defence Staff, remain in abeyance and integration is only lip-serviced. Another profundity from Tellis is that while the Indian state has the money, it does not have the capacity to spend it efficiently. To this self-explanatory charge can be added that funds for modernisation cannot be utilised in full due to avoidable road blocks. Tellis notes "how civil-military relations restrain military modernisation and this is not accidental but deliberate". 

Every year, an average of Rs5,000 to Rs 8,000 crore is returned to the Finance Ministry months before the end of the fiscal which helps to balance the Government's books. Tongue in cheek every year, the Finance Minister ends his ritual two-line statement on defence allocation with the caveat that "more money will be provided if required". This is followed by thumping applause!

But no amount of military modernisation will help unless there is new strategic thinking and political will to shape the environment to India's advantage. For a rising power, a strong military is an asset if it is employed gainfully to promote political and diplomatic objectives. Cohen says: "We don't think that new hardware and weapons will make that much of a difference as diplomacy and new strategic thinking are important." The challenge for New Delhi is transforming the strategic environment.

Interestingly, the book contains a chapter on Defence Modernisation and Internal Threat. This probably is the most relevant contribution to India's severe domestic problems ranging from insurgencies in Jammu & Kashmir and the North-East to the Maoist threat which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh first flagged in 2004 and has since repeatedly called the most serious internal security threat facing the country. Unfortunately, we continue to look outwards without addressing cogently, the threats from within, being fixated with Pakistan. 

India's defence budget has shot up astonishingly from nearly Rs50,000 crore in 1999 to Rs1,50,000 crore in 2010 and is growing exponentially at nearly 10 per cent but still remains far below two per cent of the GDP against the prescribed three per cent. Nearly 40 per cent of the budget goes towards military modernisation and maintenance. 

Given the recommendations in the book, India must revisit its defence policy, implement outstanding defence reforms, including scrapping the laughable system of Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, and appointing a Chief of Defence Staff. Despite India's, in Tellis's words, "strong cultural impulses towards restraint" the dominant short-term military requirement is creating a credible response to a terrorist strike from Pakistan short of full-scale war. One hopes that Home Minister P Chidambaram's threat of a 'swift and decisive response' transfers into visible military capability embodied as a deterrent. 

Diplomacy and deterrence will work best when the military is encouraged in new 
thinking through useful strategic and political guidance. This must become a two-way street with a free flow of ideas and innovations. Arming Without Aiming is certainly not what the Army teaches its soldiers. It is ek goli ek dushman.









In what is probably the most important sign of US-Israel cooperation for this year, the US Government has finalised the sale of the advanced F-35 to Israel. 

I repeatedly try to explain to people who believe that everything the Obama Administration does is conditioned by some anti-Israel ideology that this is not so. Understanding the difference between a rigid, nothing-ever-changes ideology-determined perception and understanding how things do change (even if it is done hypocritically for political gain) is one of the key factors in doing good political analysis. 

Moreover, there is no country in the world where the make-up of the high-level bureaucracy is as important as it is in the United States. America has the most decentralised policymaking system of any democratic state. It matters very much who is the Secretary of State, Defence Secretary, National Security Advisor, and Intelligence chief because these are semi-independent entities, which have their own institutional points of view. (I discussed this in historical detail in my book, Secrets of State.) 

Of course, ultimately all must obey the President and follow his line. But they have a lot of latitude. And, when there is a President who is weak or ignorant about international affairs, these people war over his ear, that is, try to persuade him as to what he should do with some real effect. 

So the resignation of National Security Advisor James Jones is an event of real significance. It's being portrayed as one of those routine end-of-two-years changes but in fact dissatisfaction with Mr Jones has long been clear. Among other things, he has been accused of being rather unenergetic. 

Despite his background as a former Marine General with 40 years in uniform, he emerged as one of the more extreme advocates of what might be called the Obama ideology in the foreign policy sector. On the West Asia, Mr Jones was said to be the main supporter for the idea of trying to impose some US-devised solution on Israel and the Palestinians. He will not be missed. His replacement is top aide Mr Tom Donilon.

The Leftist Huffington Post says that Mr Donilon would be a disaster as National Security Advisor. Wow, could he really be that good? Seriously, though, it claims Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and Mr Jones can't stand him and that he used to work for Fannie Mae. Still, this organ — it calls Mr Jones the President's "Iron Hand", which would provoke gales of laughter from anyone in DC who knows anything about what's been going on — is ticked off because it sees Mr Jones as the "Left-wing" of Obama advisors.

After all, these are the kind of people who think that making concessions to Syria and engaging that dictatorship doesn't have to be disrupted by "little" things like proof the Syrian military is training Hizbullah to fire missiles at Israel.

The Atlantic agrees on how many people dislike Mr Obama (well, they're all using the same gossip sources on this story, after all) and adds that the military doesn't like him either. 

Mr Donilon is a Democratic political operative with relatively little Government (and even less foreign policy) experience. He is likely, then, to be a yes-man who will do whatever Mr Obama says without having much of an independent view. This, of course, is precisely the trap Presidents can fall into, made much worse, if they don't know much about international affairs. 

Even worse (for the world, if not for Mr Obama) is that he is likely to look for partisan and electoral advantage in decision-making, something that is already a bigger problem in this Administration then it was in most of its predecessors. This was clear in deciding what to do about Afghanistan and now in Israel-Palestinian issues.

This means two things: First, Mr Obama is even less likely to get independent advice, leading him into more mistakes. Second, when top-level officials are debating options, Mr Donilon, unlike Mr Jones, won't have some independent opinion he is pushing. The likelihood of a US effort to impose a solution on the Israel-Palestinian conflict is thus reduced. 

Having a top foreign policy team that is in heated antagonism plus a President who is ignorant on foreign affairs (sorry, but that's very true of Mr Obama) is a formula for disaster. Add to that the lack of any strong advisor who is a junior partner of the President as happened in the relationship between President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor/Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. 

That doesn't mean it was a love fest before, where do you think the long delays and uncertainty over Afghanistan came from? 

Instead, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton isn't trusted because she's a former (bitter) political rival, who has her own (more accurate and moderate) views. The Secretary of Defence is a holdover from the Bush Administration and is not trusted by the White House insiders. And now the National Security Advisor, while not holding actively silly views, is a yes-man. 

Thus, Mr Obama is more likely to come up with his own ideas to an even greater extent. Uh-oh! 

Ms Clinton and Mr Gates are relatively good, especially compared to the likely alternatives. Up until now, there has been a debate in which Mr Obama could choose some compromise view between them, on one hand, and Mr Jones plus the more ideological White House staff, on the other. But what if Mr Obama doesn't want to listen to the advice of Ms Clinton and Mr Gates, then operates through Mr Donilon to put through his unadulterated first opinion? Imagine these people meeting to decide how to respond to a nuclear Iran, an aggressive Russia, some big foreign policy crisis. 

Consider, for example, what's happening inside the war on...whatever it is. People who want to talk about radical Islamist ideology are treated as if they are extremist crazies and are lucky if they don't get fired. Meanwhile, huge amounts of money are poured into psychological explanations for terrorism or strategies for countering the revolutionaries that ignore all the real causes for their behaviour. It would be hard to come up deliberately with a more self-defeating approach.

These are the people who will face the difficult tasks ahead. This does not bode well for the Obama Administration or for lots of others around the world


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








This is now the great mystery of Brazilian politics: What will Marina do?" "Marina" is Ms Marina Silva, leader of Brazil's Green Party, and the speaker, Mr Altino Machado, is a journalist and one of her oldest friends. But Ms Marina has already done something remarkable: She persuaded one-fifth of Brazil's voters to support the Green Party.

Twenty per cent is the second-highest share of the vote ever won by any Green Party anywhere. (The record-holder is Antanas Mockus, the Green candidate in the recent election in Colombia, who got 27 per cent of the vote.) But Brazil, with more than 200 million people, is the country that really counts in South America, and what has happened there is, in the words of the Rio de Janeiro paper O Dia, a "green tsunami".

Among other things, this remarkable result makes Ms Marina the king-maker in the second round of the Brazilian election. It was the votes that went to her that deprived Workers' Party candidate Ms Dilma Roussef of victory in the first round of voting on October 4. To win in the first round, a candidate must get 50 per cent of the vote; Ms Dilma ended up with 46.9 per cent.

So now Ms Marina (they are both known by their first names) must decide whether to tell her supporters to vote for Ms Dilma in the second round of the election on October 31, or to give their votes to the relatively conservative runner-up in the first round, Mr Jose Serra. Greens are generally assumed to be on the left, but it is not a foregone conclusion that Ms Marina will back the Workers' Party candidate.

Ms Marina has the classic biography of a Brazilian Left-wing hero — born in the Amazonian State of Acre, the daughter of rubber-pickers, illiterate until she was 16 — but she is also an evangelical Christian. As such, she is fiercely opposed to abortion, and a substantial portion of her vote came from Christians who were horrified by Ms Dilma's advocacy of reform in Brazil's stern anti-abortion laws. 

As a social conservative, Ms Marina might even try to throw her votes to Mr Serra. She is wringing every drop of drama out of the situation, and won't announce her choice until a special party convention late next week.

However, her decision matters less than it seems: Ms Dilma only needs a few million extra votes to cross the 50-per cent barrier, and Ms Marina cannot really compel all the Greens to vote for Mr Serra. The headline story is still the rapid economic growth Brazil has enjoyed under outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — and, just as importantly, the way the new wealth has been shared out.

Fifty million Brazilians have been rescued from poverty (an income of less than $82 per month) by Mr Lula's "family plan" of subsidies for the very poor, and 25 million other low-income Brazilians have actually ascended into the middle class. So Mr Lula leaves office after eight years with a stratospheric approval rating of 80 per cent.

He is so popular that he could choose a complete nobody as his successor and get him or her elected. Ms Dilma is much more than that — a former guerilla during the military dictatorship of 1964-85, a skilled administrator, and Mr Lula's former chief of staff — but nobody has ever accused her of having too much charisma.

No matter. She'll win the second round anyway. What's really interesting here is the emergence, two decades after the restoration of democracy, of what you might call Brazil's political personality. 

All three big political parties, the Workers' Party, Mr Serra's Social Democrats, and the Greens, are on the left in terms of economic policy, though Marxist ranters are scarce in all of them. Social conservatives are still well represented in the latter two parties, but they all promise to continue Mr Lula's wonder-working brand of pragmatic socialism. Together, they got 98 per cent of the vote in the elections on October 4.

The rapid rise of the Greens is linked to Brazilians' growing awareness that they are the custodians of the world's largest tropical forest, the Amazon, and that it is in serious danger from global warming. That may explain why 85 per cent of Brazilians think that climate change is a major problem, while only 37 per cent of Americans do. 

It's a striking picture. Brazil is the only one of the BRICs, the big countries with high economic growth rates, to have both a powerful industrial sector (like India and China) and self-sufficiency in energy (like Russia). By the time it hosts the Olympic Games in 2016, it will probably have the fifth-largest economy in the world.

It is still one of the world's most unequal countries, with a gulf between rich and poor that makes even the US look egalitarian. (20,000 families control 46 per cent of Brazil's wealth, and one per cent of land-owners own 44 per cent of all the land.) But it is moving in a different direction now, without any of the doctrinaire excesses that usually mar such efforts.

In fact, Brazil is becoming not just an important place, but a very interesting place.


Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.








One remembers Sri Aurobindo's famous Uttarpara speech: "That which we call the Hindu religion is really the eternal religion, because it is the universal religion which embraces all others." One also can't help noticing that the religion of Hindus is not in their heads, as it is for Christians — "I must pray, I must be good, I must not sin" — but it is rather something they live by: "Vasudhaiva kutumbakam — the whole world is my family".

Today, though, Hinduism has become a dirty word in India and everyone wants to be dissociated from it, including many 'secular Hindus'. Hindu terrorism is also being equated with Islamic terrorism, a wrong analogy if ever there was one, as Hindus have never invaded another country in the last 2,000 years and never tried to impose their religion by force, as Islam and Christianity have done, nor even by conversion, like Buddhism. Hindus have moreover always given refuge to all persecuted religious minorities in the world: The first Christian community on this planet, that of the Syrian Christians, in Kerala, the Jews who were never persecuted in India, as they have been elsewhere, the Parsis of Zarathustra, who fled Islam, or the Tibetans today. Still, one is beginning to doubt Hinduism.

At this juncture, comes The Timeless Faith: Dialogues on Hinduism by Deepam Chatterjee with a foreword by His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar which puts to rest all doubts. The book redefines simply and clearly the eternal principles of Hinduism:


  A Hindu is one who searches for the ultimate truth.


  Unlike other religions, Hinduism refuses to sanction the monopoly of one god, or one scripture as the only way to salvation.


  Hinduism is the eternal faith (Sanatan Dharma) or the universal law by which all human beings are governed. 


  Hindus believe that the soul takes birth in a physical body, dies and is reborn until it has attained perfect divinity. 


  Hindus believe that one can cleanse oneself from karmas through yogic practices. 


  One can be a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew or a follower of any other religion and still practise Hinduism.

It is thanks to that timeless wisdom that a Hindu today still accepts that Christ, Buddha or Mohammed may be avatars or envoys of god. Yet, the reverse is not true: A Christian and even less a Muslim will not enter a temple for they would believe that they would be committing a sin. Hindus have also been one of the most persecuted peoples in the world.

Westerners living in India would do well to remember that they owe much to Hinduism's tolerance and traditional acceptance — a project like Auroville, for instance, could not exist elsewhere. Try to build a Hindu commune in the United States (Osho attempted it) or in France (ask Mata Amritanandamayi who is battling accusations of being a cult leader). Even Ms Sonia Gandhi should know that she owes her position to the overwhelming Hindu majority of this country who have an ancient tradition of worshipping the Shakti and also respect her religion although Christians have tried to convert Hindus in India to their own faith. 

It is also a matter of sorrow and dismay that there is both an unconscious but also sometimes conscious attempt by those who practise yoga and pranayama to dissociate themselves from Hinduism and turn it into some kind of a New Age technique. Let them remember that these traditions were devised, practised and preserved by Hindu sages for thousands of years. Baba Ramdev has shown the way: He is a Hindu leader and not scared of saying it out loud.

This book is a timely reminder of how much the world owes, and will owe in the coming decades, Hinduism and the enduring vision that it truly represents.

The writer is an author and journalist based in New Delhi. 







THE political crisis in Karnataka is much more than a tussle for power since legislative procedures and the spirit of federalism are both at stake.


The manner in which the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) government conducted itself during Monday's vote of confidence marked a serious breach of legislative tradition. The vote was vitiated by the arbitrary disqualification by the Assembly speaker of the 11 rebel MLAs of the BJP as well as five independents.


Moreover, it was highly irresponsible, if not downright authoritarian on the part of the government to call the state police into the precincts of the Assembly. That such an important motion was decided on a voice vote amidst chaos and violence clearly vitiates the confidence that the House has passed on B. S. Yeddyurappa's government.


Given the dubious nature of the vote of confidence, the governor H. R. Bhardwaj has rightly given the government another chance to prove its majority on the floor of the house.


However, it is important that the status of the disqualified MLAs be made clear before a fresh vote is conducted which should be done only after the High Court's decision.


Though the governor had recommended the imposition of President's rule in the state on Monday, it is important that such action is initiated only if the government's lack of numbers is proven on the floor of the house, as the Supreme Court has clearly provided checks against the arbitrary dismissal of an elected government by the governor in the S. R. Bommai judgment of 1988. Mr Bhardwaj should therefore avoid acting in haste and uphold the constitutionally enshrined principal of healthy federalism.


It is of utmost importance that all the major players do not forget constitutional propriety or the longer term interests of the Indian Union in their short term quest for political power.







KRISHNA Poonia has put India on the global map by hurling the discus 61.51 metres to win gold at the Commonwealth Games. On a night when her teammates Harwant Kaur and Seema Antil also shone by winning silver and bronze in the same event, these performances helped India climb to the second spot in the medals tally.


At a time when people are still debating how India has wasted crores of rupees on the Games, the tangible results are there to see.


The case in point is the enhanced outlay of close to ` 700 crores for training athletes earmarked by the sports ministry — that has paid for itself by showing that Indians can shine on the big stage.


Coming to the discus event, even in the absence of world champion Dani Samuels of Australia, the field was strong. However, the home support helped Krishna, mother of an eight- year- old boy, to win gold. The hardship of not seeing her son is well- known, but the more important point is how all these three are from Jat families.


Up to now, the belief was that Jat families don't let their daughters and daughters- inlaw take to sport. But Krishna, Harwant and Seema have changed the script dramatically.


For rural India and rural Indian sports as well, this is a big victory. Considering that many medallists in these Games do not hail from big cities, these Games are indeed a big coming out.








THE India's dismally low ranking in the Global Hunger Index is nothing short of a national shame. It is unacceptable that in a country that claims to be an emerging economic power, millions of citizens go hungry every day.


India is home to as many as 42 per cent of the world's hunger- stricken and is ranked below all its neighbours, and even countries like Sudan and Rwanda, which are torn by civil strife. India's progress towards the attainment of the Millenium Development Goals has been shoddy at best, in spite of the fact that it has had the luxury of relative political and institutional stability and a robust economic growth.


The government has a vast granary of food stocks, yet it is unable to use it to feed hungry people and some of the grain rots. It needs to work out an effective policy that enhances agricultural productivity, ensures the proper storage of foodgrain, as well as its easy availability to the people of the country, especially the hungry.








THE Ayodhya verdict is the finest feather in the Sangh Parivar's crown of communal conquests.


The victory of faith over law is how the Allahabad High Court's verdict in the Ramjanmabhoomi- Babri Masjid title suit is being simplistically interpreted. But it is much more than that. It is essentially the victory of majoritarianism; the triumph of the faith of the vocal, brute majority in the cow belt over all tenets of the law. It is the judicial stamp of approval of the militant mobilisation of the masses in the name of faith, fashioned by a political agenda that reeks of riots.


The verdict has inadvertently legalised and sanctified two acts of illegality of the Parivar: the act of trespass in the intervening night of December 22 and 23, 1949, which is not even investigated and proven, and the destruction of the mosque on December 6, 1992. Worse, the verdict gave away the most important piece of the disputed property, the spot where the central dome of the mosque once stood to an RSS pracharak, Trilokinath Pandey, who claims to represent the deity, Ram Lalla Virajman.




An article of faith for the cow belt could be a cause for benign humour in beef- eating Kerala or Tamil Nadu. M Karunanidhi, the shrewd chief minister of Tamil Nadu perceived the Sethusamudram dredging project more important to his electorate than the mythical bridge that Ram's monkey army built across Palk Strait, or else the sensible old man would not have let out a loud chuckle and asked for Ram's engineering degree to prove the antiquity of the Adam's bridge between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.


So even the ' faith', the great mythology of Ram, is not an all pervasive, all encompassing, monolithic, pan Indian phenomenon.


Sure, the genesis of the present title suit between the Nirmohi Akhara and the Sunni Wakf Board can be traced back to a case in 1885. But nobody can contest that the ' faith or belief' of the birth place of Ram was reaffirmed by the Sangh Parivar's mass movements launched after the Rajiv Gandhi government let the locks of the Masjid be opened in 1986.


Interestingly, the greatest Ramayana of the Hindi- speaking people, Tulsidas' Ramcharitmanas, believed to be written after the Babri Masjid was built is silent on the issue of the ' belief ' of a grand Ramjanmabhoomi temple getting razed by Babur's general Mir Baqi or his soldiers to build the Masjid. Tulsidas never sang about liberating his dear Ram Lalla nor did he sanctify the exact spot where the baby god was born and nursed by queen mother Kausalya.


The ' belief' about the place of Ram's birth was first asserted when some unknown persons illegally ' placed' the Ram Lalla's idol under the central dome of the Masjid in December 1949. It cannot be a mere coincidence that the then deputy commissioner KK Nayar who let the act of illegality happen, and refused to remove the idol despite a letter from the then Prime Minister Nehru, after retirement, joined the Jan Sangh and was elected to the Lok Sabha from a Parivar ticket in 1967.


In 1989, the year in which the Rajiv Gandhi government allowed the Shilanayas or the foundation stone laying ceremony for the rebuilding of the Ram temple at the Babri Masjid site, Deoki Nandan Agarwal, a retired judge of the Allahabad High Court impleaded in the case claiming to be the Ram Lalla's ' sakha' or close friend.




The court admitted his plea despite Agarwal being a Vishwa Hindu Parishad vice president. Since then representatives of Ram Lalla have been Parivar activists and the courts never found anything odd with it.


Shockingly, the court neither ordered the removal of the idol that was ' placed' in 1949 in a place of worship of the Muslims not did it find anything amiss in letting an organization that aims to politicize the dispute be a party to the title suit.


Soon LK Advani did what Tulsidas did not do. He revved up his Toyota Rath in 1990 from Somnath to Samastipur to avenge the medieval hurt of the mythical hero by propagating the ' faith or belief' of the birth of Ram exactly under the central dome of the Babri Masjid. As the Rath Yatra crossed the Hindi heartland empowering the BJP in state after state, the nation's heart bled. The campaign to restore Hindu national pride by subjugating a group of fellow citizens unfortunately found an echo among the north Indian Hindu masses, who in turn voted for the BJP. When the Hindutva mob finally brought down the Babri Masjid in 1992 there were riots all over. The serial bomb blasts in Mumbai in 1993 began a new era of communal violence that continues even today. Why even the Gujarat riots of 2002 that took a toll of about 1500 Muslims could be traced to the perceived attack on karsevakas returning from Ayodhya.


The verdict did not spare a moment's thought to all these criminal actions that happened over the Masjid, while the court was still deciding the title suit.


Obiter dicta , Latin for casual remarks or observations, are the privilege of the courts that are allowed to digress and talk about almost everything under the sun. But the Allahabad High Court did not even make a casual indictment of the Parivar or the people who permanently altered the shape and structure of the Babri Masjid in 1992. The three- way split of the land was made possible only because of the demolition of the Masjid, yet, the court did not find anything wrong with the act of demolition.




After Jinnah's murderous Direct Action day of August 16, 1946 most of the postpartition riots in the country were organised, according to various commissions of enquiry, by Hindutva elements. So, no wonder the nation heaved a collective sigh of relief after the verdict. The majority opinion mobilised by the Sangh Parivar had won.


But it defies reason why many observers defined the Muslim reaction to the verdict as ' mature'. The sad resignation of a minority community to the loss of a piece of land where a mosque once stood cannot be termed maturity. Sure, the community is mature enough to know that it hurts to agitate and that any movement for the Masjid now will only politically benefit the Parivar. Yet, it hurts to accept that the majoritarian faith and not the law has prevailed.


One mosque won or lost is not important, but the faith in judiciary is. The Supreme Court should restore the nation's faith in law and not in the folklores of a community propagated by a political party that has used it specifically to gain power. The Supreme Court should also review the propriety of the Parivar representing Ram. If at all anyone deserves to be called a ' sakha' or true and close friend of Ram, it was the man who was brutally murdered by Nathuram Godse, a former RSS activist. And he would not have approved of this verdict.








IT WILL not be wrong to surmise that Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa was taking an extended nap when Janata Dal ( Secular) leader H. D. Kumaraswamy and local Congress were plotting to bring down his government.


When Excise Minister M. P. Renukacharya took 13 MLAs with him to Chennai and threatened to bring down the government, Yeddyurappa didn't take him seriously. For, Renukacharya was repeating the act for the fourth time in the last three years. On all the three occasions, he was handsomely rewarded and dropped his rebellions. Yeddyurappa was hoping that Renukacharya would end the fourth rebellion in two days.


But this time, he did not know that Renukacharya was being backed by Kumaraswamy, who reportedly plotted the government's downfall with the Congress' help.


Worse, on the second day of their stay in Chennai, Renukacharya and his team submitted a letter to Governor H. R. Bhardwaj announcing withdrawal of support to Yeddyurappa.


What prompted Kumaraswamy to hatch such a conspiracy when Yeddyurappa was under the impression that all was well with the party after the Cabinet reshuffle? If highlyplaced sources are to be believed, it was the Bellary mine lords, who wanted the Yeddyurappa government to collapse. and pumped in more than ` 200 crore to stage this coup.


For a change, it was not the Bellary Reddy brothers but another set of miners, who had been hounded by the Reddys, against whom Yeddyurappa could not take any action fearing rebellion. These miners, traditional business rivals of the Reddys, were harassed by all possible government agencies.


These miners were not given ore transportation permits, fresh leases, no objection certificates from the Forest and Mines & Geology department. Even court orders favoring themwere being neglected.


" It is well known that Yeddyurappa is ineffective in Bellary, which is ruled by the Reddys. Some firms even stopped mining because of the Reddys' harassment. They approached Yeddyurappa to rein in the Reddys, but he was helpless," a top source, who mediated between the miners and the JD( S), disclosed.


Then, the disgruntled miners reportedly approached Kumaraswamy seeking a way out. If the sources are to be believed, it was then that the JD( S) plotted the The uproar in Karnataka is the result of the government's support to the mining barons government's downfall.


Renukacharya's rebellion was preceded by a series of disclosures of land scams, in which various ministers, the chief minister and his relatives were reportedly involved.


The aim was to defame the government before landing the final blow.


The MLAs, who participated in the rebellion, were carefully selected. Five were Independents, who were ministers. Apart from Renukacharya, there were two other ministers, who are known party- hoppers. The rest were disgruntled MLAs with ministerial ambitions. For the first time, MLAs openly announced that they were being offered crores of rupees to abandon their parties, an indication of the money flow.


]The Congress, though a co- conspirator, remained a spectator while Kumaraswamy came out in the open hobnobbing with the rebels. His involvement in the crisis was evident from day one when he followed the rebels wherever they went. It was clear that that he did not want the rebellion to end even as their ring leader Renukacharya did a U- turn as expected.


The Reddy brothers threw their hat in the ring when they came to know that their mining rivals were behind the coup. Tourism Minister Janardhana Reddy flew to Goa to woo the rebels, but it was too late for the BJP. The government has been mired in controversies, land scams and nepotism ever since it came to power in 2008. It even started a new political trend to increase its number in the Assembly by wooing opposition MLAs through its ' Operation Kamala'. But the BJP couldn't predict its own downfall.


The rival miners of Reddys are in no mood to relent. " They have even agreed to hire the best lawyers to defend the 16 expelled MLAs in the High Court," the source pointed out.


With the governor asking Yeddyurappa to prove his majority once again on the Floor of the House on October 14, it is to be seen what happens over the next two days.



AN IT professional Reena Chowdhury has launched a series of " Art Camps" called " Dream a Little Dream" touching the lives of hundreds of underprivileged children in Bangalore.


The first art camp was held at APSA Dream School in Bangalore in which over 200 children took part The project aims at providing an opportunity for the lesser privileged child to unleash his/ her creativity through art.


" People are willing to provide basic necessities for these children but what about some fun? I always wanted to do something but deadlines take over your life in the IT field," she lamented.


The volunteers are mainly techies who were keen on breaking out of their hum drum existence and reach out to others in society.


The project is backed by ILP — a non- profit organisation that works in partnership with local NGOs to promote literacy.



THE turbulent political developments in Karnataka have claimed an unexpected victim — the world famous Mysore Dasara celebrations, which took off on October 8.


Patronised by the state government and the Mysore royal family, the celebrations attract lakhs of tourists, both domestic and foreign. But this time, the Dasara celebrations have remained a low- key affair as the government is trying to save itself from collapse.


Interestingly, the year 2010 marks the 400th anniversary of one of the oldest traditional festivals, started in 1610 by Raja Wadiyar. Large scale Dasara celebration originated in the Vijaynagar Empire in the 15th century. The same was replicated by the Mysore Wadiyar dynasty.


The 10- day celebration is officially declared as a ' state festival', featuring religious and traditional ceremonies, procession of tableaux and decked- up elephants, exhibition of arts and handicrafts, performances by folk artistes, musicians and film personalities, various cultural and sports competitions.

This time the grandeur and splendor is missing in the celebrations.


To make matters worse, the attendance by foreign tourists has been minimal.


According to the organisers, poor marketing and security concerns are the prime reasons for poor attendance of foreign tourists at the Dasara celebrations.



THE last 10 days have been the worst for the Yeddyurappa government as a series of disclosures by the Opposition has dented the BJP's image in Karnataka.


The names of several ministers and their children figured in land scams. Even Yeddyurappa was not spared.


First, an aide of Yeddyurappa, IT/ BT Minister Katta Subrahmanya Naidu, was caught in a land acquisition compensation scam. His son, who allegedly received ` 1.15 crore compensation for land, which did not belong to him, was caught by the anti- corruption unit Lok Ayukta while bribing a witness.


Worse, his son Katta Jagadish was a BJP councilor in the Greater Bangalore City Corporation.


Another minister Ramachandra Gowda landed in the soup when the High Court found large- scale irregularities in appointments to medical colleges.


He resigned to ' save the party's image'. Then, Yeddyurappa found himself in the middle of a scam. He de- notified government land worth crores of rupees to favour his son and son- in- law. He also allotted a plum property in Bangalore to his son BY Raghavendra, a MP. Next, Industries Minister Murugesh Niraani's personal staff was caught on tape receiving cash to allot industrial area land to an entrepreneur for a project. Neither the minister nor his staff has addressed the issue so far.


Interestingly, Yeddyurappa, instead of taking action, hit back with disclosures of scams allegedly involving opposition leaders!







In a rational economic universe, jobseekers wouldn't sit idle despite available opportunities. Wage levels would ensure that positions on offer got filled. With the award of 2010's Nobel Prize for economics, we're reminded again that traditional theory can't always account for demand-supply skews even in ideal situations. The three winners MIT's Peter A Diamond, Northwestern University's Dale T Mortensen and Christopher A Pissarides of the London School of Economics have all specifically probed the labour market's problems in squaring demand and supply. 


With varying impacts around the world, unemployment has been the common fallout of the global crisis. Particularly hard hit, the US is still struggling to beat a stubbornly high 9.6 per cent jobless rate. The economics Nobel is fitting in this context. It brings the focus on "search markets", where buyers and sellers seek each other and job applicants scout for openings. The labour market's search 'costs' can rise because diverse jobs have different requirements and jobseekers have varying skills and strengths, increasing the time to match them. We could add information asymmetries as another reason. 

What do the economists have to say about today's scenario? Diamond suggests the longer job growth remains sluggish, the more the jobless could shed skills and the incentive to search for work. In fact, the issue today, Mortensen feels, is less the labour market than the state of the financial market. He rightly recommends that credit must flow to businesses. Growth must indeed remain on policymakers' radars. Another significant point is that jobless benefits can lead to higher unemployment by reducing the drive to look for work. Pissarides suggests it's essential workers don't lose attachment to labour and are given "direct work experience". In this context, India can be said to have done well with a scheme like NREG that employs rather than maintains the rural jobless. 

Finally, studies show labour market rigidities impede workers' mobility. We can extrapolate that India's inflexible labour laws increase search costs. Growing casualisation, labour insecurity and neglect of workers' training result when employers are forced to turn to informal hiring systems. India's growth needs will demand skills upgrade or re-skilling of 500 million people by 2020. Yet our current training capacity is insufficient to plug the existing skills/education mismatch: around 89 per cent of 15-59-year-olds lack vocational training, and less than 2 per cent have formal vocational training. Plus, most Indians depend on rural livelihoods but it's non-rural jobs that mostly demand better human capital. Nor does higher education prioritise quality as much as quantity. While our firms hiring again is good news, India needs to think long-term. The labour market's search frictions can be managed only if action's taken on various fronts chiefly labour reform and education starting now.







It is difficult to overstate the feat that Krishna Poonia and her compatriots have achieved. In making a clean sweep of the women's discus event in the ongoing Commonwealth Games, not only have they showcased the tremendous potential Indian athletes have but also broken a 52-year-old jinx. Poonia became only the second athlete after the flying Sikh, Milkha Singh, to win a gold medal in what really hasn't been India's forte track and field. 

Harwant Kaur and Seema Antil bagged the silver and bronze respectively is surely the icing on the cake. It is heartening to see our athletes succeed in a sporting discipline that has traditionally been our Achilles heel. In this regard, M A Prajusha's silver medal in women's long jump and Kavita Raut's bronze in the 10,000m run are noteworthy highlights. 

It is a fact that many of our track and field athletes lack the facilities and support systems that are available in countries such as England and Australia. It is a tribute to their individual determination and perseverance that despite the odds they have won laurels for their country. 

However, the stellar performances should not be seen as an end in itself. It is one thing to win medals but another thing to keep winning consistently. It must be borne in mind that many top athletes gave the Commonwealth Games a miss women's discus world champion Dani Samuels was a major absentee. As our athletes head for the Asian Games next month, complacency will be their greatest enemy. While celebrations are in order, much more needs to be done to keep the victory streak going.









Non- Congress and non- BJP members of the all-party group that visited Kashmir and Jammu recently called on separatist leaders. No agreement was expected nor was reached. This was only an opportunity for them to understand each other better. But the group's visit would have been more useful had it also tried to meet the leaders of teenagers who are the main face of Kashmir's recent turmoil, as acknowledged by both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. The prime minister has empathised with "the anger and frustration of the youth of Kashmir". Sonia Gandhi has asked that "their legitimate aspirations" be respected. 

After all, it is the same Valley that, through the month of May, celebrated Shah Faisal's success in topping the IAS test. Why did he not continue to be a source of inspiration for the youth? How and why did they become so angry, so soon? The killing of an innocent, 17-year-old Tufail Ahmad Mattoo, on June 11 triggered the spiral of protests and killings. Recall that the prime minister belatedly advised the conference of directors general of police to use non-lethal methods of crowd control. Had this been implemented in time, the youth would have been assured at least the azadi to protest and demonstrate. 

Again, while no inquiry was held for the death of Mattoo, a judicial inquiry was ordered into the killings at Sopore and a magisterial inquiry into the ones in Anantnag. An inquiry was ordered in mid-July when the death

toll reached 17. Nothing has happened since on that front, even as the death toll has mounted. 

Confused thinking about the causes of the youth unrest and the haphazard methods the state government used in dealing with stone-pelting eventually provoked a mass upsurge. The danger is that, without a healthy ideological direction, the technology-savvy younger generation can make contact with, and be inspired by, the international radical Islamist movement. If no alternative influence works, impressionable youth may cut themselves off from their rich cultural roots. 

Sometime ago, the state government released Syed Ali Shah Geelani on condition that he would keep the movement peaceful. He appealed to the youth to stop stone-pelting. This went unheeded. Nevertheless, he gave the movement a sense of direction and some new slogans. Later, restrictions on Mirwaiz Umar Farooq were removed, and he was allowed to address the Eid congregation on an assurance, according to the chief minister, by his close confidant that he would keep it peaceful. But there was widespread violence. Instead of blaming Geelani and Umar Farooq, it should have been evident to the authorities that Kashmir's youth were not under the control of any leader. 

In this background, the known differences between the national parties and the separatists of Kashmir, as also between the mainstream parties of Kashmir and Jammu, need to be discussed. The first step should be to reconcile the urges and needs of the regional diversities with which the state is blessed. The failure to do so is the single most important cause of all complications in what is called the Kashmir problem. 

A concrete step was taken in reconciling regional aspirations by Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah when they signed the Delhi Agreement in 1952. This not only provided for the state's autonomy but also included, on my suggestion, a provision for regional autonomy. Whatever the BJP might say today, it is a recorded fact that the Bharatiya Jana Sangh founder, Shyama Prasad Mukerjee, eventually agreed to support the agreement. 

The State Peoples' Convention, convened by Sheikh Abdullah in 1968 and which included the entire political spectrum of the Kashmir region except the ruling Congress, unanimously accepted my draft for an internal Constitution of the state which provided for regional autonomy and devolution of power at district, block and village levels, whatever be the final solution regarding the status of the state. 

When Sheikh Abdullah returned to power in 1975, he reiterated his commitment to implement regional autonomy at a meeting of the representatives of Jammu and Ladakh. It was also incorporated in the revised manifesto of his party, the National Conference, entitled New Kashmir. An autonomous Kashmir region within the state can also maintain its unique culture and promote it better than is possible in a unitary state. The case for more autonomy within India for the state would become much stronger if its logical extension, that is, regional autonomy, is provided in the Constitution of the state, which is within the power of the state legislature. 

The state government appointed two committees, one for state autonomy, and the other, headed by me, for regional autonomy. I had incorporated in my report all commitments made by Sheikh Abdullah and other Kashmiri leaders regarding regional autonomy. I had also suggested an equitable and objective formula for allocation of funds at various levels. It could be computed easily to determine entitlement of funds for any region or district instead of being decided arbitrarily on subjective or political considerations by the state government. 

Whatever final solution Kashmiris, including separatists, may aspire for, it would be viable if the urges and needs of all the state's diverse regions are reconciled. Sheikh Abdullah realised as much when he was leading a secessionist movement, the Plebiscite Front, in 1968. 

The writer is director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs.







Nikhil Dey , convener of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information, has been in the forefront of the RTI movement. He speaks to Bharat Dogra about the achievements of the RTI and the challenges ahead: 

How do you assess the overall impact of the RTI? Sceptics say corruption is increasing more than even before. 
What i can assure them is corruption would have been much higher without the RTI. In schemes like 
NREGS, which we've monitored intensively, it is clear that the RTI when used effectively has helped to reduce corruption. I feel strongly that people who are exposing and fighting corruption feel more empowered now with access to the RTI. Such efforts now have a much higher chance of success. 

The RTI has started people on a journey which can lead to many more achievements what we can call second-generation achievements and all this taken together will be even more effective in fighting corruption. One challenge ahead is to make strong laws for the creation of Lok Pal at the Centre and Lok Ayuktas in states. Then there is the whistle-blowers Bill that needs to be made stronger for it to be truly effective. 

What do you feel about the frequent proposals for amendment of RTI Act? 

We've a good RTI law. While it is not a perfect law, at present there is no need for amending the RTI Act. More importantly, at least some of the proposals for amendments certainly appear to be efforts to weaken the RTI Act. The real need at present is better implementation of the RTI Act. In particular, there is greater need for better implementation of Section (4) of the Act relating to the government's suo motu disclosure of information. 

It has become possible to provide latest official information on implementation of 
NREGA on the website. In Rajasthan, we take this information from the website and put it on village walls. Then the villagers can check this with the village's real situation and know whether wrong records are being prepared. With some effort all information on the expenditure of various departments can also be put on their websites. 

I also feel, in terms of better selection procedures for information commissions, much more needs to be done. The public can be involved in the suggestion of suitable names, which go to a screening committee that in turn prunes this down to an acceptable number of names. This list is then sent to the selection committee provided in the law. 

Do you propose any new initiatives on the RTI front? 

We strongly feel the need to strengthen the pre-legislative consultative process. Before any new law is taken to the legislature and even to the cabinet, it should be put on the website to facilitate a wider and well-informed debate including suggestions for change. Also public hearings in various parts of the country can be organised. 

There has been a lot of concern about attacks on RTI activists about 11 murders have been reported in 2010. 
This is a very serious matter indeed and that is why we should all work to make the protection of whistle-blowers law stronger and wider, particularly taking care to include the protection of RTI activists. 

Have there been cases of RTI being misused? 

Here too the solution is to be found in greater transparency, not less. For example, if a department puts up all RTI applications on its website, chances of any misuse will be much less. Blackmailers can succeed only when there is secrecy.






(This piece is a comment) The Commonwealth Games have shown yet again that India has a knack of winning by the simple expedient of throwing away the rulebook. The harvest of medals reaped by our sportspeople was garnered strictly by the rules of the different disciplines involved.


But where India, typically, snatched victory from the laws of defeat was in the run-up to the Games: the preparations or rather, total lack of preparations that made almost all commentators predict that the event would be a total fiasco and bring shame and ignominy to Brand India. And, true to type, Brand India this time in the jaunty avatar of Shera proved the critics wrong by pulling off a largely acceptable CWG, a few downers notwithstanding: empty stadia, tickets sold as raddi and cops behaving like thugs. And it did this by resorting to what it's always been best at: improvisation.


India both as the ancient civilisation and the modern nation which coexist not just side by side but within each other can be said to be improvisation incarnate, having elevated ad hocism not just to an art form but to a philosophy. Other cultures and countries, particularly those belonging to the western world, do things by rules and regulations, in a systematic step-by-step manner. India does its unique number by ignoring the rules and getting it all together at the very last moment by an instinct for improvisation, by working the mystery of the makeshift, as it did in the case of the CWG. Horrific images of collapsed footbridges and filthy toilets suddenly morphed into an eye-catching opening ceremony that raised the curtain on the Games. India had confounded its critics by pulling the rabbit out of the hat of the unplanned, the messy, the make-do and the extempore.


The extempore is part and parcel of the Indian ethos. Indian classical music is innocent of musical notation; there are no score sheets, no laid-down rules which have rigidly to be followed. Indian music is pure improvisation, grounded not in a pre-determined set of rules but on spur-of-the-moment inspiration guided only by the flexible grammar of the raga in which it is being played. No two performances can be identical; each is made distinct by the individual improvisation of the performer.


This is equally true of Indian cooking. Other cuisines follow recipes, detailed rules which tell you exactly how much of what to use, so many grammes of this, so many teaspoons of that. In India, recipes follow the cook's spontaneous estimation of the use of a particular ingredient based on andaza, a term that can't be translated into any other idiom. How much of this spice, or that? Just use your andaza. It is the creative use of andaza, this celebration of spontaneity and improvisation that gives Indian food its unmatchable zest and flavour.


India has famously been described as a functioning anarchy, and we see evidence of this everywhere, where impending disaster is staved off by a whisker. The horrors of Partition seemed to confirm the dire predictions of those who like the ach-imperialist Winston Churchill prophesied that independent India wouldn't last 10 years, and would fragment into warring states. According to the rulebook, with all its social and economic disparities, India ought to have disintegrated. But despite largely foreign-inspired divisiveness in Kashmir and the north-east, and Maoist militancy in tribal areas, multilingual, multi-religious India has survived its many predictions of doom, thanks to its seemingly endless ability to reinvent or re-improvise itself as and when occasion demands.


Perhaps nowhere is this creative interpretation of rules more obvious than in India's chaotic traffic conditions in which everyone invents their own rules as they go along. Yes, tragic collisions do take place. But considering the chaos of Indian streets, these are far fewer than anticipated. Indeed, perhaps the safest way to navigate Indian roads is to follow the advice of the veteran driver to the novice: don't follow the rules; if you do you're certain to cause an accident.


In improvised India, the rule is that there are no rules. But what if ruleless improvisation itself becomes a rule? What rule then shall we follow or break?








Much has been said about India's defence preparedness, or the lack of it, in the last few years — most of it not too confidence inspiring. But when the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal PV Naik, joins the clamour, with his less-than-shocking declaration that almost 50 per cent of the Indian Air Force's equipment is 'obsolescent' (not 'obsolete', as he later clarified in a television interview) and needs to be replaced, it's time to acknowledge the sheer magnitude of the problem. The last few years have thrown up a curious struggle between the imperatives of moving toward a leaner, meaner force and the pitfalls of a slow-moving procurement process that continues to thwart all attempts to do so.


Even as the debate on whether India needs more or less money for defence continues, the fact is that procurement delays, failure to successfully step up the indigenisation of defence production, the imbalance between capital and revenue expenditure — where the former continues to lag unfavourably behind the latter — and the surrender of funds year after year is symptomatic of an apathy that India can ill-afford. With China and Pakistan ratcheting up their defence budgets faster than the rhetoric, and aggressively shopping for newer equipment and technology, India's foot dragging is at odds with the compulsions not just of external threats but of the Naxal siege within. A slew of multi-billion-dollar purchases may be 'in the pipeline', but not only do most of our ambitious acquisition plans continue to be thwarted by red tape, our equally ambitious designs on indigenising defence production have been sluggish at best.


The Defence Research and Development Organisation's penchant for reinventing the wheel has delayed the induction of crucial weapons and weapon-systems. Coupled with an inherent reluctance to open the door a little wider to the private sector, this has fed right back into the vicious cycle of procurement delays and cost escalations, allowing vendor-countries like Russia to dictate both terms and prices. Delays have also stretched the shelf life of existing equipment, as in the case of the MiG-21s, dubbed as 'flying coffins', putting lives at risk. So, even though it's true that the gaps in military technology, hardware and infrastructure have been creditably filled by the sheer grit of our armed forces, the idea that India can still defend itself with what its got can't be an excuse for the State's inability to provide for those who put their lives on the line for its defence.







Over the years, Indian elections have become restrained affairs: no cacophonous processions, late-night fiery speeches, dramatic booth capturing or amusing posters on the walls. Though the Election Commission has changed the action-packed pre-poll activities, it has not, thankfully, managed to change certain characters and their antics. On the top of the heap is, of course, our dear old Mr and Ms Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal. When it comes to adding colour to a drab electionscape, you can always bet on the earthy charm of the two former chief ministers of Bihar.


This time around, ahead of the Bihar assembly elections, former Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi has filed nomination from two seats — Sonepur and Raghopur — and has grandly declared that she owns 60 cows and 42 calves worth R17.8 lakh. Of course, this is just a fraction of her kitty: she owns ornaments worth R7.62 lakh, has R2.29 lakh worth bank deposit and has invested R11.78 lakh in the stock market. Her immovable property includes agricultural and non-agricultural lands worth crores of rupees. But her husband, according to the affidavit, has no immovable assets! He owns a 1990-model Maruti 800, an old military jeep purchased in 1977 and jewellery and precious stones worth R81,600.


Of course, of all the things they own, what made to the headlines was their bovine collection. The duo has always used the humble domesticated ungulates as a prop in their careers just to drive home the point that they are one of unwashed masses. Each time they have underlined their mass connect, the press has lapped it up. Remember how once Lalu Prasad posed for celebrated British photographer Lord Snowdon milking a cow in true desi style? Will such props get him votes this time around? Only time will tell.



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





On the heels of The Verdict, came The Games. Wicked ghosts of the past were dredged up during the Allahabad High Court verdict. But three days later at the Commonwealth Games, young India leapt forward to claim gold. A stunning opening ceremony showcased traditional diversity in high-tech style. The heart sank with a reminder of communal division. Immediately afterwards, it leapt upwards with a spectacular display of progress.


The Ayodhya dispute seems headed to the Supreme Court. But instead of a judge, the dispute requires a politician, a born leader of people, to seize the moment. It requires a politician of courage to stride out from among the warring litigants, to embrace each one with warmth and to convey:"I come with respect for both religions. I come to build a new relationship between Hindus and Muslims. Mutual respect for religious identity is the cornerstone of my new charter".


Today, urban religiosity is rapidly increasing among both Hindus and Muslims as a direct response to westernisation and perceived 'loss of traditional culture' due to globalisation. In 2007, in a Centre for the Study of Developing Societies poll, 42 per cent urban Hindus and 39 per cent urban Muslims said that religion is becoming more important in their lives. Yet, proud Hindus and proud Muslims (as opposed to 'political' Hindus and 'political' Muslims) have always respected each other. Khwaja Khusrau, the medieval poet, wrote:"Noble Delhi is the Garden of Eden. May Allah protect it from calamities. If it but heard the tale of this garden, Mecca would make the pilgrimage to Hindustan". For this Muslim poet, the holy land was Hindustan, not Mecca.


At the height of the stone-pelting protests in Kashmir, the Amarnath Yatra went off without a single hitch. Syed Shahabuddin, the stormy spokesman of 'Muslim' causes, remains a lifelong admirer of Chandrashekhar Saraswati, the late Paramacharya of Kanchi. On a visit to Kanchi, the latter told Shahabuddin,"You've come all the way to see me, before you leave let me show you a masjid nearby and please make sure you pray before you leave". A proud Hindu made sure a proud Muslim said his prayers before a journey.


Yet today we are doing a disservice to the Paramacharya of Kanchi. Systematic terrifying discrimination against Muslims in housing, the emergence of Brahmin-bania-thakur dominance in urban neighbourhoods, denial of opportunities and bank loans to Muslims, trumped up charges of terrorism against the youth, collapse of governance in Muslim majority areas  have made the Sachar Committee conclude that the condition of Indian Muslims is worse than that of SCs and STs. Should a nation, where cosmopolitanism is 1,000 years old, not be ashamed that it needs to tear down masjids and mobilise gangs of unemployed youth to prove its identity? Surely Hindus are too ancient and too sophisticated a people to fall prey to such un-Hindu practices and prejudices.


The Paramacharya wouldn't want Hindu majoritarianism to be seen as a force of evil. It is perceived to be precisely that because it has so far been coupled with aggressive discrimination and threat of violence. Yet, some majoritarian arguments are perhaps justified. The arguments that all citizens, irrespective of religions, should follow the laws of independent India, that Muslim citizens should plunge into the entire spectrum of Indian civic activism and not remain imprisoned only in the 'Muslim' cause, that Muslims should accept that Hindu 'faith' is as important as Muslim 'faith', are not without justification.


A sagacious Muslim leadership should realise that asking for the removal of Ram Lalla idols from the disputed site is an unrealistic expectation. Removal of the idol is certainly a legal possibility, but it's a political impossibility, just as the forcible removal of any object of worship of any faith from any shrine is difficult. For better or worse, the cultural mainstreaming of majoritarianism has been the BJP's contribution to Indian politics. Hindu majoritarianism must become respectable, decent and civilised. For this, a new charter with Muslims is a necessity.


What other concrete steps can be taken to implement a new Hindu-Muslim charter? The Centre should consider introducing a law against religious discrimination with safeguards to prevent its misuse. When we have a law against caste discrimination, why is there no legal protection against religious discrimination? School textbooks should be written exploring the many examples of co-existence that have existed between the two communities down the ages. Every government official, from the lowest babu and cop upwards should take a course in Hindu-Muslim understanding. Corporates who are secular employers should be given awards and applauded. Celebrities must demonstrate how religious discrimination comes in the way of wealth creation and upward mobility. Bollywood should make a special effort towards challenging Hindu and Muslim stereotypes. Just as there are campaigns showing that it's not 'cool' to hit women, there should be campaigns to show that it's not 'cool' to hate minority religions. And above all, India's modern politicians, if they want to make a mark on the global stage of statesmanship, must stay out of stoking religious hatred.


Let every Hindu see the tears running down the face of shooter Aneesa Sayeed, as she saluted the tricolour after winning her gold medal. Let every Hindu listen to Aslam Sher Khan when he said how proud he was to play in the 1975 hockey team against Pakistan. And let every Muslim mark the loud cheers the Pakistani team got when they walked out at the CWG opening ceremony. Let's create a new charter by becoming spiritual athletes from the land of Sri Krishna and Salim Chishti and aim for the gold medal in jumping the maximum number of hurdles in our minds.


Sagarika Ghose is Deputy Editor, CNN-IBN. The views expressed by the author are personal.



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





The Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Delhi were declared open on the bright night of October 3, 2010. Patriotic fervour cheered and the extravaganza gradually unfolded. There was momentary silence on corruption stories and the country regaled in colonial glory. A week before the event, all signs pointed to myriad questions, of the past, present and future. I seek to redraw attention to one.


A month before the event, Delhi witnessed unprecedented rains, ones that were regarded as unusual for September. The belated monsoon had hit the city and how. The floodplains of the river Yamuna were swollen, with all the grasslands submerged, and only tree crowns visible. Temporary farming shelters were removed, people evacuated and housing colonies next to the river sought ground elsewhere. The more affluent locales were spared with only warnings of a flood looming large.


The discharge of waters from the Hathnikund barrage in Haryana had only added to the river bed's flooded glory. While people unaware of this massive water rise suffered, the river seemed to be in its full form. For those aware of Delhi's coordinates, the water had almost reached the place where the Akshardham temple and the newly-constructed CWG Village are located. It was perhaps the motor vehicle road, cutting through the Yamuna floodplain, that had delayed the further advance of the water, sparing damage to the buildings.


But the irony of this episode harks back to decisions taken by the Supreme Court. The verdict was just over a year before the floodplains of the Yamuna in Delhi had decided to come alive. The Supreme Court,  in a judgement in July 2009, had made some very vehement observations, the foremost being that CWG village is not located on the riverbed. The justification included its proximity to the Akshardham temple which was allowed to be built on its location without any threat perception. It was recorded in the verdict that the temple is nearly 1,700 metres away from the river bed.


As I stood on the 22.6 metre-broad Nizamuddin bridge with the CWG village on my right, it was obvious that the flooded Yamuna river on my left was just waiting to cross over. I was once again left wondering. How did the apex court manage to conclude that this was not the floodplain or the Yamuna riverbed? What calculations did reputed institutions like National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and other critical agencies use, that convinced them otherwise? What was I missing in all this?


While relegating the floodplain as not being one, the court's order had also referred to the determination of the land use for CWG village way back in 2003, when India committed itself to organising the Games. By 2009, too much was at stake: pride, money and reputation. In all this, what was lost was the truth of where a river had found its meandering flow.


Three days before the CWG opening, as I crossed the bridge again, I saw ground. The rain had stopped, the discharge controlled and the water receded. All the temporary shelters lined up along the Noida Link Road and the DND Expressway had disappeared. The people were not back to their agricultural land. Evacuation must have led them away, even as the cameras went silent.


Today the tall grasses are visible again, and the sun shines on the Games. Destined intervention seems to have spared the Games and its people. But has the Yamuna lost its river bed forever?


Kanchi Kohli is a member of the Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group. The views expressed by the author are personal.



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





The year was 1995. I was a beat reporter covering the Planning Commission and the finance ministry. The big story was the eighth five-year plan's mid-term appraisal, which was critical of the government's economic liberalisation programme. A tussle was on between the Commission and the ministry, the latter not wanting the report to be published without suitable amendments.


That's when I first met Arjun Sengupta — a tall, dark-complexioned man in his late 50s, whose impeccable record as an economic administrator could be matched by few in India.


An MIT-trained economist, Sengupta was just 34 when Indira Gandhi picked him as an economic counsellor to Bangladesh. Sengupta's deft handling of this sensitive job won the Congress leader's confidence. His left-of-centre leanings had made him a perfect fit.


When Pranab Mukherjee took charge of the Commission in 1993, Sengupta became its member-secretary. Politically, Mukherjee had come to be seen as a rallying point for those in the Congress who were dissenting the market-opening policies of Finance Minister Manmohan Singh. Sengupta's brief could hardly be different. He put together a group of somewhat left-leaning economists to prepare a critical mid-term appraisal to highlight the downside of liberalisation.


With that act, Sengupta ended up on the wrong side of history. The finance ministry prevailed over Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao to stop the mid-term appraisal from being printed in its original form.


I met Sengupta several times during that period. He never gave out news, but the interactions helped me gain valuable insights into policy making in India. He had an unmatched ability to break down complex things into simple modules. I always thought the man deserved more than he had received.


The United Front government appointed Bimal Jalan as member-secretary of the Commission in 1996. Sengupta was retained as a member. A year later, Sengupta became a hopeful for the job of Reserve Bank governor. The other contender was Montek Singh Ahluwalia. A last-minute phone call from V.P. Singh to Deve Gowda, we were told, changed everything. Jalan was picked for the job. Sengupta could not bring himself to working for a BJP-led government and returned to teaching.


When the UPA came to power in 2004, his nomination to the post of deputy chairman of Planning Commission was widely expected. But the job went to Montek. Sengupta became chairman of the National Commission for Unorganised Workers, working to highlight the widespread poverty in India. It brought Sengupta close to Sonia Gandhi and many believed he stood a good chance to become a minister in a Cabinet reshuffle.


But his health did not stand by him anymore. On September 26, Sengupta died of prostrate cancer.  He was 73.



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Uttar Pradesh is not a state readily associated with dynamic economic reform. But the state has taken giant strides in reforming one of the least reformed industries in India: the sugar industry. The country's second largest sugar producing state after Maharashtra is undertaking an aggressive privatisation of its state-owned sugar mills. It has, just recently, successfully sold off 10 of the 11 operating units of the state's Sugar Corporation to two private sector buyers: India Potash Limited and Wave Industries. In doing so, it has cut the annual burden on the exchequer from subsidising these mostly loss-making mills from Rs 800 crore to Rs 3 crore. There have been the usual protest noises about the "giveaway" prices at which some of the units have been sold, but realistically, the state is lucky to get any price (plus the savings on subsidy), given the outdated technology and huge losses the mills carry.


Some have expressed concern about the fact that the big private sector players in sugar, like the Birla Group and Dalmia Group, stayed away from the final bids after expressing interest initially. That does not mean much. Often, energetic new groups can turn around businesses that established groups may view as unviable. In any case, for the government, the priority was to get rid of an unnecessary burden. That said, there is much for the government to do to reform the sugar sector.


One of the reasons why even private mills often find the business unviable is that the state government has a right to fix a state advised price (SAP) for procurement that is higher than the fair remunerative price (FRP) for procurement determined by the Centre. Given the political economy of the state (and indeed other sugar growing states), the SAP is often set unreasonably high, and the burden falls on the mill owners. Mill owners would in normal course try and pass most of this additional burden on to the final consumers of sugar. This distortionary practice rewards a small group of farmers while penalising consumers who include a large number of poor people. The next step in sugar reform would, therefore, logically be to stop distorting prices through SAP.







The Karnataka high court has adjourned till next Monday hearings about whether the state assembly's speaker exceeded his jurisdiction by disqualifying 16 MLAs before the BJP-led state government went up for a vote of confidence. The settling of that matter by the courts is much to be desired; there are enough grey areas concerning the Tenth Schedule that need to be sorted out. But, while it is prudent to wait for the court to rule on that issue, we need not wait to come to some other conclusions about how the vote of confidence in Karnataka panned out.


And the truth is this: nobody has come out looking good. The state BJP's stratagem to hold on to power may or may not be legal, but it does little to paper over the very real cracks in that unit of the party, the first to hold power in a southern state. Once again, it has shown itself to be incapable of retaining the confidence of the House without holding out the spoils of office. Leaders of the Congress and the JD(S) were so profoundly infuriated at being out-thought by the BJP that their behaviour on the assembly premises became frankly inexcusable. No legislator, on either side, should be proud of the ugliness with which the assembly conducted itself on Monday. And Speaker K.G. Bopaiah, whatever the court eventually may rule about the legality of his choice to disqualify the anti-government MLAs, made enough clearly bad calls: for example, claiming that a division was not necessary because nobody sought it, and so a voice vote was enough, and then hastily adjourning the House.


Governor H.R. Bhardwaj's actions, of course, are very obviously questionable. State governors are supposed to be disinterested voices, focused on fidelity to the Constitution and capable of providing — like the president at the Centre — dispassionate advice. That is a difficult path to walk, and Raj Bhavan appears to have wandered off it here. Even the barest possibility of a revival of old-style interference by Raj Bhavans in state politics is a disquieting prospect. That the governor in question is an old Congress retainer put out to pasture will come under twice as much scrutiny. But, on the larger question of the application of anti-defection legislation here, the courts must show the template to move forward in situations such as these. Karnataka's politics gave us the Bommai case, which helped clear up the application of Article 356. Perhaps this ugly incident could help us similarly, in clearing up confusion about anti-defection legislation.








On almost every occasion that the states of India are ranked on the basis of economic parameters, Gujarat comes out on top. It was therefore somewhat surprising to see Tamil Nadu come out on top in the latest Economic Freedom Rankings for the States of India, 2009 last week. Incredibly enough, the last set of economic freedom rankings in 2005, compiled by the Cato Institute and Indicus Analytics, had also put Tamil Nadu right on top of the pile, just ahead of Gujarat. That ranking is particularly significant because there is a strong link between liberal economic policies and high growth. And, Tamil Nadu's growth performance in the last five to 10 years has indeed been in the top league among Indian states, as has Gujarat's.


Notably, in the 2009 rankings, Andhra Pradesh ranks at number three in terms of economic freedom, up several rungs from its 2005 ranking. Again, there is a strong correlation between its ranking on this index and its remarkable growth in the last three years.


But what makes the findings on Tamil Nadu and Andhra counter-intuitive is that, unlike Gujarat, both these states have been more famous for their populist policies than liberal economic policies — one would normally put these two states at the top of a ranking based on populism! Tamil Nadu is, after all, a state in which the ruling party promised free television sets to all before the last assembly election and then proceeded to dole them out — that is populism at an extreme. It is the one state that has universalised the public distribution system (PDS), giving every resident access to cheap foodgrains, something that sensibly should be reserved for the poorest alone. And very few would associate either of the leaderships of the two major political parties, the DMK and the AIADMK, with transparency and accountability.


Andhra would also rank right up there on populism. The late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, chief minister between 2004 and 2009, was inclined to dole out not just subsidised food, but also subsidised power, the latter being something more progressive states have long abandoned. And YSR, for all his strengths, wasn't famous for transparency in running his government.


So, does this square up with the freedom rankings? It does, in a rather interesting way. When disaggregated into its component parts, the Economic Freedom Index is revealing. On the parameter of size of government (expenditures, tax revenues and state-owned enterprises), both Tamil Nadu and Andhra rank quite poorly; smaller governments get a higher ranking. The heavy spending on populist policies does, therefore, show them up on this parameter. However, on the other two parameters — property rights and security, and regulation of credit, labour and business — both states register excellent scores, enough in fact to neutralise the problems on the size of government parameter.


More than the size of government, it is the latter two parameters that have a direct bearing on the ease of doing business in the private sector. And in that lies the key lesson: some types of populism may be more compatible with the growth of enterprise and indeed economic growth; other types of populism can be more damaging.


What are the most damaging forms of populism then? The ones that most directly affect the ease of dong business. To name just a few: appropriation of private property rights, archaic labour laws, state support of strikes, physical threats to safety of business, withholding local licences and permissions, delays in court cases, excessive control on flow of credit to the private sector — basically policies that interfere with the functioning of market forces. Where Tamil Nadu and Andhra score impressively is in being liberal in precisely these policy areas, particularly in the last five years. That makes them attractive investment destinations, and investment spurs growth.


Ironically enough, at least some forms of the redistributive populism under the head of government spending can actually reinforce the growth driven by private investment. The Andhra government has spent heavily on capital investments, particularly in rural areas. Also, any government transfers to the people that ultimately boost consumption end up reinforcing growth. This was also a lesson learned from the period of the global slowdown when government-enabled rural spending across India helped in keeping growth resilient.


The states, of course, have a more stringent budget constraint than the Centre — their ability to borrow from sources other than the Centre is strictly limited and their ability to levy taxes, although greater than their ability to borrow, is also limited by their constitutional remit. This may actually be a good thing in a politics often driven by populism because it acts as a good check on what can otherwise degenerate into a careless and damaging tax-and-spend spree.


The policy path followed by Tamil Nadu and Andhra may be a more realistic role model for other states when compared with Gujarat. Gujarat has always been an atypical Indian state with its political economy, and as a consequence policies are heavily skewed in favour of private business interests — the state's strong tradition of entrepreneurship and long history of industrialisation have ensured that. Most Indian states, however, grapple with a political economy that is usually split between attracting investment and growth on the one hand and satisfying populist demands on the other, just like Tamil Nadu and Andhra. These two southern states may now be shedding valuable light on how to marry these sometimes contradictory pulls.


There may be a valuable lesson in this for the UPA government at the Centre as well, whose recent economic policy thinking seems to be clearly tilted in the direction of populism — the National Advisory Council in particular is lending strong support to a universal PDS, as in Tamil Nadu. Such populism, if it is to be at all sustainable, must be accompanied with policy liberalisation in other spheres — labour laws, environment laws — so that growth remains on the fast-track.








Great transformations, historically speaking, are ushered either through revolution, social outrage or legislation. In India, legislation is the only agent that can serve as a catalyst.


The framers of the Constitution were acutely conscious of this and wrote a document which became the harbinger of transformation and hope. This unique piece of legislative philosophy promised its citizens all that had been denied to them for centuries — Article 38 envisaged "a new order" guaranteeing social justice.


An evaluation of more than 50 pieces of legislation belies the "Statements of Objects and


Reasons" that preface them. Poor implementation has blocked a more equitable distribution of wealth, and equal access to education and health. The promised "social order" is still elusive.


Gandhiji fought against untouchability; but it is still practised in places, notwithstanding the legislation enacted to abolish it. Sarvodaya and Antodaya aimed at ending hunger; it is still there. Legislation for the elimination of gender discrimination was enacted; it still persists. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act was enacted to prevent trafficking among women and girls, but trafficking in women has increased. A hateful custom of "Devadasis" that kills the soul and dignity of voiceless young girls has been kept alive by some temple priests. A form of bonded labour under the guise of social practice, "Burtan", currently under the consideration of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), has revealed the apathy of both the state and society.


The NHRC has come across another ugly reality — the phenomenon of the "living dead". Musclemen, aided by officials, deprive the poor and elderly of their meagre land holdings by showing them dead and getting their own names entered in records as legal heirs. The practice thrived and expanded to almost all districts of a particular state until the high court and the NHRC intervened and helped restore the land holdings to their rightful owners.


The case of the most backward KBK districts of Orissa (Kalahandi, Bolangir and Koraput) was heard by the NHRC for nine long years. The lack of commitment from the state to eradicate poverty is at the root of the misery of the people. Besides, failed programmes of poverty alleviation, including failure to resolve land issues, have worsened the conditions the tribal people live in. The commission's intervention has been a small ray of hope.


Numerous incidents of suicides by farmers are indicators of their failure to eke out anything from the crops they have been sowing. Harvesting nothing but despair from their fields, they shorten their own life spans to escape their abject poverty. It is hard to imagine a more poignant commentary on this than the feature film Peepli Live. The many brick kilns dotting the countryside are places where migrant labourers are used like bonded workers. Nothing moves the authorities to invoke the provisions of either the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act or the Minimum Wages Act. The NHRC's inquiries have revealed appalling levels of ignorance of the laws meant to safeguard poor migrant workers moulding bricks.


A large number of cases of silicosis in two states have got caught in passing-the-buck. One state is trying to absolve itself on the plea that the workers do not belong to it and the other says that they had migrated from the adjoining state which should bear liability. This is despite the Workmen's Compensation Act that entitles the victims to compensation.

At this very moment, we are in the process of witnessing one of the worst examples of the denial of social justice: workers engaged in construction at the Commonwealth Games sites are the victims of exploitation, corruption, and utter apathy to labour laws in the "world-class" city of Delhi that has strived hard to put up a "world-class" show. Unfortunately, we have missed an opportunity to showcase how justly we treat our own workmen — instead we have a complete bypassing of Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979.


What ails the systems is corruption and incompetence impeding social justice and the protection of human rights. Corruption has become the national diabetes, corroding the body-politic from within and weakening its limbs to perform. Its vertical rise and horizontal expansion have severely reduced the capacity of institutions to usher in the "social order" envisioned in Article 38 of the Constitution and to root out practices that have acquired erroneous legitimacy through long and unquestioned use. It is a sin to trivialise them. It is criminal to let their perpetrators enjoy impunity. The answer lies in implementation of social legislation, with a human face.


The Indian masses — steeped in religion and tradition — maintain an abiding faith in the judge and God, but when they do not get justice they feel let down by both.


The writer is a member of the National Human Rights Commission









The trust vote drama in Karnataka has hit the national headlines. The incumbent chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa appears to have won the first round. It remains to be seen how the BJP responds to the governor's direction that a second trust vote be held by the 14th of this month. In the 225-member Karnataka assembly, the ruling BJP had a wafer-thin majority since the 2008 assembly elections. And it was not surprising to find that some political forces in the state felt that there was an opportunity to unseat the government. But what has transpired over the past few days has once again reminded citizens of the ugly side of politics.


Leading up to the trust vote, the governor of Karnataka wrote a letter to the speaker of the Karnataka assembly asking that no MLAs be disqualified before the trust vote was conducted on the floor of the assembly. Subsequently, there have been a number of allegations about the conduct of the trust vote itself. The governor openly called the trust vote "farcical", and wrote to the Centre asking that President's Rule be imposed in the state, before he directed the government to prove its majority again.


This phenomenon of trust votes is not uncommon in our dynamic political culture. Just before the 2009 general elections, the BJD and the BJP had differences over seat-sharing in Orissa. The BJP decided to withdraw support to the Naveen Patnaik government. The BJD passed the floor test by a voice vote. While the opposition claims that the process was not fair, the BJD leadership has maintained that there was no request for a division, which would have required recorded voting. The relatively small Goa assembly has seen a number of similar occurrences in the recent past, with governments changing as a result.


But there are some critical issues that merit examination. In some recent trust votes, there have been allegations that large amounts of money have been exchanged. Of course, following the 2008 trust vote in the Lok Sabha on the India-US nuclear agreement, the infamous cash-for-votes scam broke out, with wads of cash being shown on the floor of the House. In the Karnataka trust vote, too, there have been allegations that large amounts of money have changed hands.


The second issue is how some of these trust votes are managed on the floor of the House. Both the recent Orissa episode and the ongoing Karnataka one have been very contentious about the procedure that has been used to prove the majority. In both cases, the opposition alleged that they asked for a division, which would require a physical count of votes rather than just a voice vote, and in both cases a division was not held. A parallel issue which needs to be kept in mind is the governor's power to ensure compliance with procedure in the state legislatures.


The third issue that needs some discussion is whether the decision on defections should be judged by the speaker, usually a member of the ruling party or coalition, or by a neutral external body, such as the Election Commission. In the latest episode in Karnataka, the speaker has disqualified MLAs on the ground that they have voluntarily exited the party under which they were elected. In a 1994 case (Ravi S. Naik v. Union of India), the Supreme Court ruled that the words "voluntarily giving up membership" have a wider meaning. An inference can also be drawn from the conduct of the member that he has voluntarily given up the membership of his party.


There is a huge paradox in the anti-defection law that was passed 25 years ago. While MLAs and MPs vote along party lines on ordinary legislation, they do not appear to be daunted by the consequences in the case of trust votes. So, in effect, the anti-defection law appears to be effective in controlling members of all parties on policy-making — which could in fact benefit from more open input from across party lines — but ineffective in several cases with regard to trust votes. Clearly, there is much more at stake for all concerned in trust votes, and therefore the scope for greater negotiation.


Politics in our large and complex democracy is fiercely competitive. Dissidence is to be expected because there are too many people vying for too few of the top positions. While there are no perfect solutions, the only sustainable and meaningful approach is to encourage inner-party democracy so as to enable a selection process for positions of responsibility that is accepted as free and fair by all concerned. While the political uncertainty continues, the only certainty for India's citizens is a very unhealthy politics for some time to come.


The writer is director of PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi








Owners of websites such as,,, and owe their rationale, if not a part of their fortune, to this year's Nobel laureates in economics. To understand why, let us examine the key contribution for which the Nobel prize in economics has been awarded this year.


The economic fortunes of most of us are inextricably linked to the nature of our jobs: our salary, perks and privileges; our employer and resultant career prospects; whether we choose to remain employed or not, and so on. Economists have therefore been interested in documenting patterns in salaries and wages as well as the degree of unemployment across different professions. Apart from observing these patterns, economists have developed theories to understand the forces that shape these outcomes and to guide policymaking in this important area. This year's Nobel Prize in Economics has been awarded to three economists who have enabled the development of such theories: Peter A. Diamond, Dale T. Mortensen, and Christopher A. Pissarides. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards these prizes, said in its statement: "Peter Diamond has analysed the foundations of search markets. Dale Mortensen and Christopher Pissarides have expanded the theory and have applied it to the labour market."


A fundamental premise in economics is that, in any market for a good or service, the price paid or received and the quantity demanded or supplied get determined by the supply and demand for that good or service. For example, as the demand for potatoes increases, so does the price that people are willing to pay for a kilogramme of potatoes; potato suppliers thereby supply a greater amount. If the supply of rice increases because of a bumper kharif crop, then producers are willing to supply the same one kilogramme of rice at a lower price; thus, more rice is supplied at a lower price per kilogramme.


However, this simple framework leaves unanswered some important questions relating to employees and their employers. Why do unemployed workers sometimes choose to remain unemployed, say by turning down job offers? What determines the lengths of employment and unemployment spells? Why do we have unemployed workers and unfilled vacancies at the same time? What macroeconomic factors determine the aggregate level of unemployment and the number of vacant jobs in an economy? How is it possible that two workers who possess identical skills and perform similar jobs earn different wages? What are the costs and benefits to a company in paying higher wages to its workers? How does the wage paid affect the likelihood of retaining employees? Can employee turnover be good for a firm? If yes, how much turnover is optimal? The theory developed by these three Nobel laureates helps to answer these fundamental questions.


Their theory starts from recognising a practical limitation to the supply-demand framework, which predicts that if the supply of rice increases, more kilogrammes of rice would get supplied at a lower price the very next moment. In practice, the rice farmer searches for the mandi that would give him the best price. Furthermore, the closest mandi may buy only Basmati. He has to then search for the mandi that will buy the Dubraj crop that he has to sell. The wholesale buyer undertakes similar searches for the most suitable seller as well. Economists refer to the costs incurred in the search process in the form of time and money spent and any opportunity lost as "search costs." These search costs introduce frictions in the market place; due to these frictions, more rice may not be supplied at a lower price the very next moment after an increase in supply.


These economists were the first to incorporate the effect of search costs into the canonical supply-demand framework. As any employed youth can confirm, searching for a good job takes time, costs money and can mean lost opportunities. Similarly, a firm looking to fill a vacancy also incurs search costs. Since it takes time for workers to find jobs and for firms to fill vacancies, unemployed workers and unfilled vacancies can indeed coexist. While one does not need a full-blown theory to understand this fact, being able to explain simple facets of the real world provides an important sanity check for any ntheory. More importantly, incorporating these search costs enables economists to answer each of the important questions described before.


Websites such as help to reduce these search costs by bringing potential employees and employers together. In addition to the market for labour, the theory developed by these economists has been used in monetary theory, industrial organisation, finance, and the marriage market. Thus, apart from, websites such as,, and so on also owe their rationale to the theory developed by these economists. In fact, the success of such websites that reduce search costs is in itself an empirical validation of their theory.


The writer teaches at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad








 Beyond borders

The civilian leadership of our defence ministry gets rather nervous when the armed services mention such terms as "expeditionary forces", "multinational military exercises", and "inter-operability". The Chinese defence establishment, in contrast, is focused precisely on these concepts, which Beijing believes are central to the projection of its power across the Eurasian land mass and its adjacent waters.


Defence Minister A. K. Antony has all but ruled out serious multilateral military diplomacy after the CPM objected to the four-nation naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal three years ago. While our communists might be hostile to defence diplomacy that boosts India's military power, the Chinese communists are busy honing the skills of their armed forces in collaboration with others. In the "Peace Mission 2010" joint exercises conducted last month, the People's Liberation Army or PLA used the multilateral framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to sharpen its ability to use force beyond its borders. More than 5,000 troops of the SCO joined the 16-day drill at the Matybulak mountain range in Kazakhstan.


The SCO — involving China, Russia, and the Central Asian Republics — labels the annual manoeuvres as "anti-terror" exercises. International observers, however, say Peace Mission 2010 went way beyond that description. It involved complex exercises that deployed special forces across borders for swift interventionary operations. The highlight was China's use of air power to support ground operations in distant theatres. According to Xinhua, six Chinese combat aircraft based in western China carried out "surprise strikes" on designated targets in Kazakhstan. These exercises were the first of their kind for the PLA: Xinhua identified the aircraft as four H-6H bombers and two J-10 fighter jets. They reportedly carried out two simultaneous missions, supported by an airborne early-warning aircraft. Their operational range was doubled because they were refuelled by an aerial tanker in Chinese airspace before they crossed into Kazakhstan.


PLA officials said the purpose of the exercise was to help the Chinese air force create its first integrated air battle group that could carry out in a coordinated manner a variety of missions — including early warning, command-and- control, long-distance bombing, escort and mid air-refuelling.


Besides demonstrating the strategic use of air power, the PLA also used Peace Mission 2010 to test the movement of troops on the ground. PLA officials underlined the invaluable experience gained in long-haul rail transportation of troops, involving changing trains, loading and unloading equipment, and successfully switching between the rail track gauges on either side of the Sino-Kazakh border (2.98 metres in China, 2.87 metres in Kazakhstan).


Turkish Landing


Even before the world could digest the full significance of the Peace Mission 2010, the PLA surprised everyone by sending a contingent from its air force to Turkey, a long-standing US ally and member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. This is the first military exercise by Communist China in the territory of a NATO nation, and is widely seen as underlining China's ambition to build an expeditionary military force that can conduct operations far from national shores.


Reports in the Turkish media said the exercises took place from the third week of September to the first week of October at the Konya air base in the Anatolia region. While China deployed its Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters, Turkey appears to have fielded the F-4 Phantoms, the workhorse of the US air force in the Vietnam War. Adding to the significance of the mission, the Chinese planes refuelled in Iran on their way to Turkey. This is said to be the first time that Iran has allowed foreign fighter aircraft to refuel at its national military bases.


Japan's arms


As it seeks to revive its stagnant economy, Japan wants to review its long-standing ban on exporting arms. The Japanese defence minister, Toshimi Kitazawa, said the self-imposed restraint has prevented Japan's defence industry from participating in joint international technological development and has shut it out of the lucrative defence business.


Japan's policy dates back to 1967 when then-PM Eisaku Sato declared a ban on weapons exports to communist states, countries to which the United Nations bans such exports and parties to international conflicts. Tokyo tightened the policy in 1976 when the ban became comprehensive. In 1983, it created a sole exception for the United States. Previous attempts at lifting the ban on arms exports had failed because of domestic political opposition. Nor is it guaranteed now that Kitazawa will succeed. If he does, Delhi should be ready to move quickly towards defence industrial collaboration with Tokyo.








With the BJP facing a serious factional feud in Karnataka and trouble in poll-bound Bihar, the CPI(ML) says the party's so-called development/governance plank — which it relied on after its stock political agenda of "whipping up communal frenzy and the bogey of terrorism" failed to generate much response — too have been exposed, by open opportunism and corruption in state after state where it is in power. The lead editorial in the CPI(ML) weekly ML Update claims that while the Ayodhya verdict might give an unexpected boost to the BJP's confidence, the recent drama in the Karnataka assembly, the Jharkhand cabinet expansion exercise and the resignations of prominent leaders in charge of Bihar and Punjab point to a new low for the party.


On the controversial vote of confidence, the CPI(ML) says "whatever the outcome of this drama, the fact remains that this time, the tactics of 'Operation Kamala,' employed earlier by the BJP itself" (of inducing Congress and JD(S) MLAs to switch sides with the role of mining money being an open secret) have boomeranged on the BJP. Other signs are the tussle over cabinet expansion in Jharkhand, the resignation of Yashwant Sinha as Punjab in-charge to protest the choice of Arjun Munda as Jharkhand CM, and the crisis in Bihar over ticket distribution triggered by a disenchanted state unit chief C.P. Thakur to argue that the BJP is in disarray.


On ignoring dengue


An article titled 'Games in the time of dengue' in the CPM's People's Democracy points out that, amid the cacophony over the Commonwealth Games, news on the dengue outbreak in the national capital has been quietly buried. "Few in the media even care to report any more that Delhi is experiencing one of the severest epidemics in recent decades. Talk to people in Delhi, and everybody knows of some friend or relative who's suffering from dengue fever," it says. While official figures limit the number of cases of Dengue to about three thousand, the real numbers could be anything between 10-100 times that, it claims, accusing the Delhi government of masterly inactivity year after year when the epidemic breaks out: "the reason for this lies in the almost total lack of a public health system in the city — not just health facilities but other public health measures such as mosquito control and sanitation."


The article claims that the total expenditure on the Games was twice that of the annual expenditure on public health in the entire country. "We contrast these two figures not as an argument for not organising the Games. But it is definitely an argument for balancing the need to showcase shining India with the need to address the needs of the real India! The Delhi government's negligence of the dengue epidemic is but a small example of this systematic and deliberate neglect," it says.


Revisiting the judgment


Having taken the view that the Allahabad high court relied on faith and belief while delivering its Ayodhya judgment, the lead editorial in People's Democracy wonders whether the judgement would have been the same if the Babri Masjid was not demolished and continued to stand today. "This is relevant in the sense that when the petitions were filed before the court, the Babri Masjid stood on that very spot. Does this judgment, therefore, justify the demolition?"


It notes that the Supreme Court will now have to deliver justice, to uphold people's "faith" in the rule of law, and argues that the judicial process is the only recourse. All efforts to pressurise the Muslim community into parting with their share of the land should be thwarted.


The US' eternal villainy


Pervez Musharraf has revealed that Pakistan trained militant groups to fight in Kashmir. But the CPI believes it is only a half-truth, having found for itself a US angle. The lead editorial in New Age says Musharraf should also reveal the forces that were behind his regime's support to the terrorists who infiltrated into J&K. "Were they not the Americans? American imperialists are known for their double game in such matters," it says.


The editorial also says that Americans have stepped up their propaganda campaign to disrupt India-China ties. "All talk of a race between the Chinese hare and the Indian tortoise is aimed at destroying ever closer Sino-India relations. All these are bad omens. Those who cherish good neighbourly relations in this region, and peace and development in the entire continent, can ignore these vicious US moves on their own peril," it adds.


Compiled by Manoj C. G.







The Vikram Akula story, always an exciting one, has had many twists and turns in recent days and, going by what's happening, could see a lot more action in the coming weeks. Initially, with a McKinsey consultant in the US leaving to work among the poor in India, it was a romantic one; with the IPO, Akula became the bad guy in the eyes of purist developmentwallahs who saw him as making money off the poor. Then came the highly publicised sacking of managing director Suresh Gurumani six weeks after a successful IPO, a query by Sebi on this, an Andhra Pradesh High Court case and a series of news reports suggesting Akula's SKS Microfinance had been put on the mat. The court had ruled that the new MD, several reputed newspapers reported, could not take any major policy decisions; another said Sebi wanted to know why one of the independent directors had stepped down. Turns out, an SKS ad in major newspapers clarifies, the 'independent' director wasn't independent, but had stepped down to keep the ratio of independent directors at the required 50%; that the high court merely restated the current law, which is the MD cannot take major policy decisions without the approval of the company's board (which, by the way, is firmly behind Akula). Akula followed this up, yesterday, with a press conference where he said Gurumani had been asked to go since he wouldn't have been able to handle the post-IPO growth paradigm.


That strains credulity, considering that Gurumani got a big pay hike a month before the IPO, and barely 10 weeks before he was sacked. Given that every company has the right to appoint and sack CEOs (Sebi's query was restricted to asking whether this was in the works pre-IPO, in which case it should have been disclosed), SKS isn't helping its own case by coming up with such explanations; and if they were true, why not make them the first time around? Earlier stories suggested a difference in management style, and this seemed logical given that Akula suddenly chose to assume an executive role, on September 7. But while SKS may be guilty of getting its PR wrong, using this to hit not just the company, but also the entire microfinance industry, is a bad idea. The Andhra government is reportedly coming out with an act to cap MFI lending rates and even make 'harassment for loan repayment', reported, punishable with a two year imprisonment. Capping interest on bank loans is what ensured banks became reluctant to venture into rural areas; capping MFI interest rates will ensure they cede space back to moneylenders. Since RBI controls MFIs, perhaps it is time it stepped in to bring some clarity on things, including its view on the interest rates they charge vis-à-vis moneylenders.







The sharp dip in growth of industry to 5.6% in August, much below the close to double-digit figures expected, indicates a 10 percentage swing from the numbers for July. This once again casts a shadow over the veracity of official data on industrial growth. Such large swings have no historical precedents, besides other lead indicators like bank credit do not indicate such changes in production. The sharp fluctuations are mainly on account of the erratic growth in the output of capital goods, especially machinery and equipment. Capital goods, which grew by 33.7% in May, declined marginally in June, rocketed up by 72% in July, and have now shrunk marginally in August. Though cyclical trends in capital goods production, especially machinery and equipment, are not unusual, given the lumpy nature of the products, which causes output to bunch up especially when it comes to large high value products like oil rigs, the current fluctuations are too large to be explained in this manner. Analysis by one brokerage firm found that if you removed insulated wires and cables, which grew an unbelievable 517%, the June growth in capital goods was not the 63% reported by the official data but actually a mere 0.3%—the report pointed to such discrepancies being there in the data for a long time. This takes us back to the old problems in compiling IIP data, namely non-reporting or incorrect reporting and the absence of consistency checks in data collected by 15 different agencies.


Apart from the anomalies in the capital goods numbers, the other cause for worry is the steady deceleration in the overall industrial growth rates from a high of 15.2% in the fourth quarter of 2009-10 to 10.7% in the first quarter of 2010-11, after which it has remained stable around the same level. Apart from declining investments, the main reason for the slowdown is the slack demand for consumption goods, especially articles of daily consumption. All hopes now rest on a good kharif marketing season, which will hopefully pull the IIP out of the rut once again. That's assuming, of course, you trust the data.








With the spectre of a double-dip recession still haunting large parts of the global economy, one can see a measure of anxiety among monetary authorities around the world who are resorting to a not-so-subtle currency war to make their exports more competitive at the cost of other economies. Competitive devaluation of the currency or other measures like keeping monetary policy extremely loose, which also weakens the currency, is being seen as standard practice to keep economic growth going. Of course, China is seen as a past master of this game, having kept the yuan undervalued by at least 30-40% against the dollar. The Brazilian finance minister has warned against this race to the bottom. The G-20 meeting in South Korea is expected to thrash out some broad framework agreement on the issue, which the US President Obama declared as the single most important issue during his meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.


With the US unemployment problem far from getting resolved, Obama has made it clear that he is going to "protect the US economic interest and we look for the Chinese to take actions. If the Chinese don't take action we have other means of protecting the US interest". Now that clearly sounded like a veiled threat. Obama said he wanted more significant movement on the Chinese yuan in the months ahead and, as a pressure tactic, even authorised specific complaints against the Chinese trade practices at the WTO. Meanwhile, there is a political consensus building among the US lawmakers that a piece of legislation must be brought to check China's "currency misdemeanours".


Last week the global finance ministers also met at Washington to discuss an urgent solution to the growing differences over "exchange rate policy", which has emerged as an important strategic tool in the recovery phase after the global recession. However, China has been using the currency as a "strategic brahmastra" for over a decade now, resulting in a foreign exchange surplus of over $2 trillion now, largely built from exports to the US.


After its strategic handshake with the US in the 1970s, China has virtually built its export economy on the ever-growing consumption demand of the US population. An undervalued yuan has, over the years, helped the American middle class enjoy cheap clothing and other accessories of daily use. In a way, a cheaper yuan has made the average American realise his/her material comforts on a consistent basis at perhaps 40-50% less cost than if the same material had been produced in America.


So, the Chinese have used an undervalued currency as a strategic tool for over two decades to penetrate the "materialist consciousness" of the average American. This is a more potent weapon than any you can find in a military handbook. Most so-called strategic experts did not even understand the potency of this economic weapon until after the Chinese merchandise had become a part of the basic need of the American middle class.


This also explains why America can do little to address the yuan undervaluation issue beyond a point. The Chinese know this only too well. For American businesses exporting out of China also enjoy the benefit of an undervalued yuan. Besides, given America's plight today, with real median incomes at the same level as five to seven years ago, any drastic revaluation of the yuan will further reduce real incomes of the middle class in the US. The Chinese have deeply penetrated the labour-intensive goods market. For instance, the bulk of the Christmas merchandise is shipped from China. So this gives the Chinese a special hold over the American day-to-day consumption needs. This also explains why the US will never be able to do to China what it did to Japan back in the 1980s when it forced the Plaza Accord down the Japanese throat because the latter had become too competitive in the US automobile market, essentially with the help of a cheaper currency.

America was then a far more assertive power and managed to gently persuade Japan to let the yen appreciate in the 1980s when Japan's current account surplus peaked at between 4% and 5% of GDP. China's current account surplus is at 10% of GDP today and the Americans can't do much about it. Another reason why the pressure against China is not the same as that against Japan in the 1980s is simply that American businesses have virtually vacated the manufacturing space globally in favour of China. In the 1980s, American businesses did compete vigorously against Japan in manufacturing. If anything, American CEOs now talk about relocating large parts of their business in this part of the world. This, in fact, is the biggest strategic shift that rooted diplomacy could never comprehend.


So the fact is America's sabre-ratting against China on the currency issue is not something that worries the Chinese unduly. After all, just after Obama came to power, when the effects of the financial crises were still unfolding, Hillary Clinton did appeal to China that it should keep buying US treasury bills with the surpluses earned from exporting to the US. That was simply a call to support the dollar, which is seen as losing steam on a long term basis by most experts. For that reason alone America would need China's support in the foreseeable future.


Of course, this will not prevent America from garnering support from countries like India, Brazil, South Korea, etc, to keep the pressure on China at the G-20 on the currency issue. In fact, America has additionally stepped up pressure on the Chinese by speaking aggressively on behalf of China's southern and eastern neighbours like Japan and Vietnam, who want more freedom to navigate in the South China Sea, something Chinese officials hate. There is also growing talk of the US Navy actively cooperating in the Indian Ocean with countries that feel somewhat threatened by China. In reality, all that is happening is the love-hate relationship between the US and China is being taken to another sustainable level!








Maurice Allais, the only one from France to win a Nobel Prize in Economics in 1988, died the day the 2010 Nobel Prize was announced. Peter Diamond, Dale Mortensen and Christopher Pissarides have won the 2010 Prize for their work on efficient functioning of labour markets. That's topical and none of the three are controversial. The Nobel in Economics isn't one of the original five proposed by Alfred Nobel. Consequently, since its institution in 1969, the Prize itself has had different names, ranging from a Prize in Economic Science in Memory of Alfred Nobel to the Sveriges Riksbank (Bank of Sweden) Prize. Economics isn't like the physical sciences, where there is one momentous invention or discovery. It is more a matter of chipping away at incremental knowledge, knowing perfectly well there is nothing like the "truth". Paul Samuelson, John Hicks, Kenneth Arrow, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman don't surface every day. Given that, there will be inevitable dilution and questions will be asked whether one particular Laureate deserved the recognition. Gunnar Myrdal, Robert Merton and Myron Scholes spring to mind. Conversely, there are those who should have received the Prize but never did—Joan Robinson and Jagdish Bhagwati are two obvious names.


There is a broader question about whether these Prizes are biased, both because Prize Committee members have a geographical bias (selections aren't globally peer-reviewed) and because there is a discernible leftward slant. Notwithstanding the University of Chicago's stranglehold and the odd exception, it is rare for a Prize to be awarded to one whose work hasn't been seen to further "development". Allegations of lobbying are also not unknown. Unlike the physical sciences, and in common with Literature and Peace, there is scope for subjectivity and this becomes accentuated because economists usually advocate certain public policy options. Consequently, irrespective of the value of their work, Milton Friedman, John Nash and Robert Aumann have been controversial because of political positions they have adopted. While research is often inter-disciplinary, awardees haven't always been economists. Herbert Simon, Daniel Kahneman and Elinor Ostrom are instances. Should the Prize then become one awarded to social sciences, as Sylvia Nasar suggests in her biography of John Nash (A Beautiful Mind)? Or should one abolish the Prize entirely?


Certainly, Peter Nobel, a human rights lawyer and Alfred Nobel's great-grand-nephew argues against such a prize in Economics. Even more significant is the case of the two 1974 awardees—Gunnar Myrdal and Friedrich Hayek. Myrdal thought such a Prize was a bad idea because it was given to a reactionary like Hayek, a view reinforced by a later award to Friedman. Hayek's reservation was more profound and deserves to be quoted. "The Nobel Prize confers on an individual an authority which in economics no man ought to possess ... This does not matter in the natural sciences. Here the influence exercised by an individual is chiefly an influence on his fellow experts; and they will soon cut him down to size if he exceeds his competence. But the influence of the economist that mainly matters is an influence over laymen: politicians, journalists, civil servants and the public generally."


Splice that with the Keynes' observation that practical men are usually slaves of some defunct economist. Economics isn't an exact science. It is more like a bag of tools or an approach. While economists are aware of this, they don't usually project themselves to the rest of the world in that fashion. The run-of-the-mill economist may compete with lawyers as the butt of several jokes. But once invested with the nobility of the Nobel Prize, they become founts of all wisdom and venture into terrain where they don't necessarily possess expertise. That doesn't occur in physical sciences, or even in Literature. A Nobel Prize to Peace isn't that dangerous either.


Alfred Nobel contemplated awards to those who were young, so that prize money could be used to pursue research. It hasn't worked that way. Thus, benefits of such a Prize are questionable. However, costs can be significant. Think of the now-forgotten hedge fund known as Long-Term Capital Management. Now that giants have been recognised, it is a good idea to abolish the Prize in Economics.


The author is a noted economist







Unexpected bonus


Fans at the India-Pakistan hockey match at the Commonwealth Games got an unexpected bonus thanks to the unscheduled presence of ace-shooter Gagan Narang. Why Narang was in the general stands, behind one of the goal-posts, on a ticket which cost Rs 100 is unclear, but fans aren't complaining. Narang, who was mobbed by fans for photographs and autographs, of course, couldn't have been able to see much of the match.


Mankad rules


With Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) chairman V Sridhar due to retire next month, the race for his job has hotted up. What makes the race more keen is the Mankad committee, which has done away with the rule that said candidates must have a year left in service before they can be considered. The committee had said that, even if a person does not have a year of service left, at the time of being appointed at the head of the Central Board of Excise and Customs or CBDT, s/he will get an extension to ensure a full year in the new job. So all three candidates, YG Parande, SK Goel and SD Majumdar, have an equal chance for the top job.






After a long political and legal fight, a revolutionary therapy finally enters the US clinic


Christopher Reeve died hoping that stem cell treatment could help him walk again. Nancy Reagan defied partisan politics to support Barack Obama in the hope that he would reverse George Bush Jr's ban on US government monies being used to fund research involving human embryonic stem cells; she continues to hold that this research will help discover a cure for the Alzheimer's disease that took her husband down. This is one promise Obama delivered on, reversing the aforementioned ban. In January 2009, USFDA gave California-based Geron permission to conduct the first clinical trial for a therapy based on human embryonic stem cells. Yet, entrenched opposition ensured that the matter remained stuck in the courts. There is, after all, a 1996 US law in place that prohibits taxpayer dollars being used to harm an embryo. But as long as cell batches can be culled using private monies, the Obama administration can fund subsequent work. This week, Geron finally initiated clinical trials by injecting a paralysed patient with human embryonic stem cells, which will hopefully help regenerate the nerves in his spinal cord.


This is a biggie for medicine. Animal experiments have already shown that paralysed rats were able to regain substantial mobility after being injected with the said cells. The impact on humans remains unknown so far. Hopes are running high, however. If embryonic stem cells can trigger appropriate genetic switches, then the horizon opens up for curing everything from cancer to blindness and Parkinson's disease and diabetes.








The recently concluded annual IMF-World Bank meetings of finance ministers and central bankers did not yield a breakthrough in ending or even moderating the intensity of the ongoing currency battles among countries. The result was not unexpected, given the stridently opposite views held by the two main protagonists, the United States and China. China has accused the U.S. of destabilising the emerging economies by flooding their financial markets, including those of Brazil and India, in order to prop up its own domestic demand. The U.S., on the other hand, wanted greater surveillance by the IMF of China's exchange rates and its accumulation of reserves. So far, China has resisted revaluing the Yuan except gradually. Other countries have been forced to actively manage their exchange rate policies to safeguard their interests. Brazil has doubled its tax on certain types of foreign currency inflows. In India, the flood of portfolio money is posing major challenges for the exchange rate policy and macroeconomic management. With countries such as Indonesia and Taiwan taking steps to hold down the value of their currencies, the exchange rate crisis may soon assume critical proportions. Although it might confer short-term advantages, competitive currency depreciation is injurious over the medium term and at the present juncture might choke the nascent global recovery.


The communiqué at the end of the main IMF meeting hinted at greater cooperation in tackling the pressing economic problems of the day. However, there is very little evidence that the world's biggest countries would find common ground to tackle any of the issues that divide them. The mutually injurious currency wars will not end unless a solution is found to the issue of correcting global imbalances in an orderly manner. The severity of the problem notwithstanding, the world's biggest debtor and creditor countries have not been able to make any progress even towards identifying its true dimensions. Cooperation might be lacking also because problems such as those relating to rebalancing of the global economy require a new, special mechanism in the IMF or in the G20. With the economic crisis abating, individual countries probably do not feel the urgency to act. The lack of cooperation is also symptomatic of a major shift in economic power away from the rich countries towards the emerging Asian and Latin American countries. Previous G20 meetings have clearly demonstrated the ascendance of the emerging economies, and the forthcoming meeting at Seoul will see a further consolidation of their position.







The highly toxic red sludge that has reached the famed river Danube after a reservoir holding industrial waste burst in Hungary is a major environmental disaster, exposing major weaknesses in the European Union's environment protection regime. At the MAL Zrt aluminium plant near the Hungarian village of Ajka, 165 km south-west of Budapest, a dam restraining highly toxic red sludge ruptured on October 5 after prolonged rain. Seven villages were inundated; seven people have been killed so far and 150 have been injured. That figure could rise as chemical burns take effect. The sludge is highly alkaline and contains lead; it may also contain the radioactive elements cadmium and cobalt. The sludge is now drying into dust which the wind can carry up to 15 km. The chemicals killed all life in nearby rivers and then entered the Mosoni branch of the 3,020-km Danube. Ominously, further risks of sludge-flooding have emerged. The Hungarian government, having declared a state of emergency in three counties, has evacuated one of the affected villages. Workers are making frenetic efforts to counter its alkalinity, efforts which have been partially successful.


The fact that local groups had been warning of the risks for several years highlights major systemic problems. The EU Environmental Liability Directive, issued in 2004, requires member-states to achieve a common result by a set date; governments have to ensure prevention or remedial action by private or other bodies. A hurdle in this regard is that it is not compulsory for private bodies to obtain insurance for environmental damage, and insurers can reject applications for cover. The Directive excludes natural disasters, thereby creating pressure to describe all environmental damage as naturally-caused. Too much depends on member-states' own will and the quality of their public institutions; the MAL plant, privatised in 1995, had passed an official inspection a fortnight earlier and an internal inspection on the very day the dam ruptured. The key problem however lies in the implications of the "polluter pays" principle, which was incorporated into the European Economic Community Treaty in 1987. This places the burden on the private bodies which, in this case, have not been held to any fixed standard of accountability. It is difficult to envisage any private body willing or being able to redeem large-scale environmental damage. Until the EU devises much stronger environment-protection systems that are more demanding of the private producers responsible for these disasters, more such unfortunate events are bound to happen.










In 2008, the public sector company, Central Electronics Limited, undertook a major solar electrification programme in the tribal villages of Bastar in Chhattisgarh. It was co-funded by the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. The programme aimed to utilise CEL's solar photo voltaic (SPV) technology to electrify 90 tribal villages.


A team of CEL engineers with experience in operating in forest areas was formed. It interacted with officials at the district and block levels to collect logistics data and decide on a plan of action. The team was aware that it should be careful not to interfere with the lifestyle and customs of the tribal communities. It realised that basic services such as moving of materials should be entrusted with the tribal people in order to create in them a sense of participation. The team needed to have on board at least one local person who could communicate with the tribals in their language and to inform them about the objectives of the project. That person had to let them know how the project would improve their lives, and he had to train them in the use of the systems.


The villages were spread over two blocks. One was Bhopalpatnam, which had 46 villages and bordered Maharashtra. The other was Usoor, which had 44 villages and bordered Andhra Pradesh in Bhopalpatnam tehsil.


Officials at the district, block, tehsil and village level were briefed. From the start the reaction was positive; they were all willing to help and cooperate. The team visited each site and conducted micro-level surveys. It collected demographic, geographic and topographical data and accessed micro-scale maps with the help of the tehsil office of Bhopalpatnam.


A command centre was needed in view of the difficulties of approach, infrastructure, and availability of basic amenities. It was decided that Bijapur town in Dantewada district was the most suitable. However, Bijapur lacked some basic amenities needed for a command centre. There was a telephone link with subscriber trunk dialling facility, but it used to go dead for days on end. There was no cell phone coverage. Water and electricity supply were erratic. The availability of groceries was dicey, and medical personnel were scarce. The team-members would have to negotiate narrow, muddy and rocky terrain, most of it occupied by Naxalites.


The people lived their lives in seclusion, cut off from the world. Interactions with them had to be handled with care and sensitivity. They were simple folk, mostly hunter-gatherers and farmers, their sustenance dependent on the forest. They were under Naxalite influence and refused to receive any help from any organisation that even "smelled" of the government — even if CEL was there to set up lighting systems for them and provide solar lanterns. When it was explained that they would not have to pay for the electrification, they felt it was too good to be true. The team leader met the Sub Divisional Magistrate, Bijapur and some sarpanches. They concluded that electrifying one village in each block would demonstrate the technology and get the ball rolling.


The electrification involved the setting up of solar home lights, lanterns and TV sets in the 26 homes in the community, in addition to street lights. The house-roofs were made of mud and grass and would not stand the weight of the panels; these had to be mounted separately. The electrification of the first village, Mattimarka in Bhopalpatnam block, did not catch any attention. They were still sceptical.


After a meeting with the SDM, the team decided to target an influential village called Fulgundam for electrification. It was deep in the reserve forest, but had a number of neighbouring villages that were to be beneficiaries. Access involved a risky journey through narrow tracks, some of them booby-trapped by the Naxalites.


Fulgundam proved to be a turning point. The village, which used to be pitch dark after sunset, now glittered even after 10 p.m. The villagers' lives had been transformed. The news spread in the forest like wildfire and people from neighbouring villages came there to see the "magic" lights lit by sunlight. This led to a chain reaction, which enabled the electrification of almost all the villages in Bhopalpatnam block without any resistance. Indeed, the project received strong all-round support.


But after 10 villages were electrified, the chief Naxalite in the area sent for the CEL team leader. The team was asked to leave the villagers alone. But the team leader was determined to complete the project and re-establish the people's faith in the government. He succeeded, after six hours of discussion, to convince the Naxalites to let the team continue the work. He presented a series of arguments. He pointed out that CEL was a company owned by the Indian people and without any collaboration with multinational corporations; so it deserved the Naxalites' support. He promised that CEL would not exploit any natural or human resource of Bastar. The systems were being provided free of cost, and would be maintained by CEL for five years. One youth from each village would be trained by the company for "first-line" maintenance and receive a salary from CEL. After this crucial meeting, CEL's jeep was never stopped in the Bhopalpatnam block.


Despite the successful completion of the project in Bhopalpatnam block, Usroor block continued to refuse to accept help. The CEL team tried to target an influential village, Kotapalli on the Andhra-Chhattisgarh border that had a Telugu-speaking population. In order to liaise better with the people, Telugu-speaking officials were brought from CEL's Bangalore office. The success story of this village again led to other villages falling in line and readily accepting the gift of lighting. Seven weeks later, all the 44 villages in Usroor block had been electrified.


The electrification of 90 villages in Bastar district rekindled the people's faith in "their" government. However, as was to be expected, this reduced the Naxalite influence in the area. They realised that it was their fault to have allowed even CEL engineers who, to them were "government officials," to operate in the area. The Naxalites then warned the team never to return there.


The CEL team was able to overcome formidable technical, logistical, behavioural and cultural challenges, an initial hostile reaction from the tribals and many a close call with Naxalites. But it found it all worth the trouble; for the team-members knew they had brought light to some of the poorest and most remotely located fellow citizens and transformed their lives.


( The author is Deputy General Manager, Solar Photo-Voltaic Group, CEL.)









Two years ago, a team of linguists plunged into the remote hill country of northeastern India to study little-known languages, many of them unwritten and in danger of falling out of use.


On average, every two weeks one of the world's recorded 7,000 languages becomes extinct, and the expedition was seeking to document and help preserve the endangered ones in these isolated villages.


At a rushing mountain river, the linguists crossed on a bamboo raft and entered the tiny village of Kichang. They expected to hear the people speaking Aka, a fairly common tongue in that district. Instead, they heard a language, the linguists said, that sounded as different from Aka as English does from Japanese.


After further investigation, leaders of the research announced last week the discovery of a "hidden" language, known locally as Koro, completely new to the world outside these rural communities. While the number of spoken languages continues to decline, at least one new one has been added to the inventory, though Koro too is on the brink of extinction.


"We noticed it instantly" as a distinct and unfamiliar language, said Gregory Anderson, director of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages in Salem, Oregon.


Anderson and K. David Harrison, a linguist at Swarthmore College, were leaders of the expedition, part of the Enduring Voices Project of the National Geographic Society. Another member of the group was Ganash Murmu, a linguist at Ranchi University in India. A scientific paper will be published by the journal Indian Linguistics.


When the three researchers reached Kichang, they went door to door asking people to speak their native tongue — not a strenuous undertaking in a village of only four bamboo houses set on stilts. The people live by raising pigs and growing oranges, rice and barley. They share a subsistence economy and a culture with others in the region who speak Aka, or Miji, another somewhat common language.


On the veranda at one house, the linguists heard a young woman named Kachim telling her life story in Koro. She was sold as a child bride, was unhappy in her adopted village and had to overcome hardships before eventually making peace with her new life.


Listening, the researchers at first suspected Koro to be a dialect of Aka, but its words, syntax and sounds were entirely different. Few words in Koro were the same as in Aka: Mountain in Aka is phu, but nggo in Koro; pig in Aka is vo, but in Koro lele. The two languages share only nine per cent of their vocabulary.


The linguists recorded Kachim's narrative in Koro, and an Indian TV crew had her repeat it in Hindi. This not only enabled the researchers to understand her story and her language, but called attention to the cultural pressures threatening the survival of such languages, up against national languages dominant in schools, commerce and mass media.


In The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World's Most Endangered Languages, published last month by National Geographic Books, Harrison noted that Koro speakers "are thoroughly mixed in with other local peoples and number perhaps no more than 800".


Moreover, linguists are not sure how Koro has survived this long as a viable language. Mr. Harrison wrote: "The Koro do not dominate a single village or even an extended family. This leads to curious speech patterns not commonly found in a stable state elsewhere."


An unusual mix


By contrast, the Aka people number about 10,000 living in close relations with Koro speakers in a district of the state of Arunachal Pradesh, where at least 120 languages are spoken. Mr. Anderson said the coexistence of separate languages between two integrated groups that do not acknowledge an ethnic difference between them is highly unusual.


As Mr. Harrison and Mr. Anderson expanded their research, comparing Koro with several hundred languages, they determined that it belonged to the Tibeto-Burman language family, which includes 400 tongues related to widely used Tibetan and Burmese. But Koro had never been recognised in any surveys of the approximately 150 languages spoken in India.


The effort to identify "hot spots of threatened languages", the linguists said, is critical in making decisions to preserve and enlarge the use of such tongues, which are repositories of a people's history and culture.


In the case of Koro speakers, Mr. Harrison wrote in his book, "even though they seem to be gradually giving up their language, it remains the most powerful trait that identifies them as a distinct people." — New York Times News Service










Children who spend more than two hours a day at a computer or watching television are more likely than others to have psychological problems, scientists claim.


Researchers found that 11-year-olds who clocked up several hours in front of a screen each day scored worse on questionnaires designed to measure psychological health, regardless of how much physical exercise they got.


Angie Page, who led the study at the University of Bristol, said that as a precaution parents might consider

limiting how long their children spend in front of a screen to no more than two hours a day.


The study of 1,013 children in the Bristol area in south-west England found no evidence that sitting in front of a screen actually causes mental health problems. Alternatively, the findings might be a result of children with psychological difficulties, such as extreme shyness, being more likely to choose TV or computer games over more sociable activities.


"There's no evidence one way or the other and it could be either," Dr. Page told the Guardian. But she added that some healthy children might be at greater risk of developing psychological problems if they increased their viewing time.


In the study, children were asked whether they agreed, disagreed or partially agreed with a list of statements, including, "I generally play alone or keep to myself" and, "I am often unhappy, downhearted or tearful". They then added details of how much exercise they took and how long they spent at a TV or computer screen. Their levels of exercise were verified by activity monitors worn on their belts for a week.


Writing in the journal Pediatrics, the team explain that while children who did little exercise fared well on the psychological assessments, those who filled their inactive time watching television or at a computer scored badly.


According to the study, children who spent more than two hours a day at a screen had a 60 per cent higher risk of psychological problems than children who clocked up fewer viewing hours. The risk was only slightly higher in children who did little or no exercise.



"You can't rely on physical activity to compensate for long hours of screen viewing. Physical activity is good for health in many ways, but parents should consider restricting their children's screen viewing," Dr. Page said. "We don't have any guidelines on screen viewing in the U.K., but this paper would support the two-hour limit as a reasonable threshold." Australia and the U.S. have adopted guidelines that advise parents to restrict the viewing time of children under two to no more than two hours a day, but there is no similar recommendation in Britain. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010









Sir Isaac Newton was a towering genius in the history of science, he knew he was a genius, and he didn't like wasting his time. Born December 25, 1642, the great English physicist and mathematician rarely socialised or travelled far from home. He didn't play sports or a musical instrument, gamble at whist or gambol on a horse. He dismissed poetry as "a kind of ingenious nonsense," and the one time he attended an opera he fled at the third act. Newton was unmarried, had no known romantic liaisons and may well have died, at the age of 85, with his virginity intact. "I never knew him to take any recreation or pastime," said his assistant, Humphrey Newton, "thinking all hours lost that were not spent on his studies."


No, it wasn't easy being Newton. Not only did he hammer out the universal laws of motion and gravitational attraction, formulating equations that are still used today to plot the trajectories of space rovers bound for Mars; and not only did he discover the spectral properties of light and invent calculus. Sir Isaac had a whole other full-time career, a parallel intellectual passion that he kept largely hidden from view but that rivalled and sometimes surpassed in intensity his devotion to celestial mechanics. Newton was a serious alchemist, who spent night upon dawn for three decades of his life slaving over a stygian furnace in search of the power to transmute one chemical element into another.


Newton's interest in alchemy has long been known in broad outline, but the scope and details of that moonlighting enterprise are only now becoming clear, as science historians gradually analyse and publish Newton's extensive writings on alchemy a million-plus words from the Newtonian archives that had previously been largely ignored.


Speaking last week at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, William Newman, a professor of the history and philosophy of science at Indiana University in Bloomington, described his studies of Newton's alchemical oeuvre, and offered insight into the central mystery that often baffles contemporary Newton fans. How could the man who vies in surveys with Albert Einstein for the title of "greatest physicist ever," the man whom James Gleick has aptly designated "chief architect of the modern world," have been so swept up in what looks to modern eyes like a medieval delusion? How could the ultimate scientist have been seemingly hornswoggled by a totemic psuedoscience like alchemy, which in its commonest rendering is described as the desire to transform lead into gold? Was Newton mad perhaps made mad by exposure to mercury, as some have proposed? Was he greedy, or gullible, or stubbornly blind to the truth?


In Mr. Newman's view, none of the above. Sir Isaac the Alchemist, he said, was no less the fierce and uncompromising scientist than was Sir Isaac, author of the magisterial Principia Mathematica. There were plenty of theoretical and empirical reasons at the time to take the principles of alchemy seriously, to believe that compounds could be broken down into their basic constituents and those constituents then reconfigured into other, more desirable substances.


Miners were pulling up from the ground twisted bundles of copper and silver that were shaped like the stalks of a plant, suggesting that veins of metals and minerals were proliferating underground with almost florid zeal.


Pools found around other mines seemed to have extraordinary properties. Dip an iron bar into the cerulean waters of the vitriol springs of modern-day Slovakia, for example, and the artefact will emerge agleam with copper, as though the dull, dark particles of the original had been elementally reinvented. "It was perfectly reasonable for Isaac Newton to believe in alchemy," said Mr. Newman. "Most of the experimental scientists of the 17th century did."


Moreover, while the alchemists of the day may not have mastered the art of transmuting one element into another an ordeal that we have since learned requires serious equipment like a particle accelerator, or the belly of a star their work yielded a bounty of valuable spinoffs, including new drugs, brighter paints, stronger soaps and better booze.


"Alchemy was synonymous with chemistry," said Mr. Newman, "and chemistry was much bigger than transmutation."


For Newton, alchemy may also have proved bigger than chemistry. Mr. Newman argues that Sir Isaac's alchemical investigations helped yield one of his fundamental breakthroughs in physics: His discovery that white light is a mixture of colored rays, and that a sunbeam prismatically fractured into the familiar rainbow suite called Roy G. Biv can with a lens be resolved to tidy white sunbeam once again.


"'I would go so far as to say that alchemy was crucial to Newton's breakthroughs in optics," said Mr. Newman. "He's not just passing light through a prism he's resynthesising it."


Consider this a case of "technology transfer," said Mr. Newman, "from chemistry to physics."


The conceptual underpinning to the era's alchemical fixation was the idea of matter as hierarchical and particulate that tiny, indivisible and semi-permanent particles come together to form ever more complex and increasingly porous substances, a notion not so different from the reality revealed by 20th-century molecular biology and quantum physics.


With the right solvents and the perfect reactions, the researchers thought, it should be possible to reduce a substance to its core constituents its corpuscles, as Newton called them and then prompt the corpuscles to adopt new configurations and programmes. Newton and his peers believed it was possible to prompt metals to grow, or "vegetate," in a flask. After all, many chemical reactions were known to leave lovely dendritic residues in their wake. Dissolve a pinch of silver and mercury in a solution of nitric acid, drop in a lump of metal amalgam, and soon a spidery, glittering "Tree of Diana" will form on the glass. Add to this the miners' finds of tree- and rootlike veins of metals and alchemists understandably concluded that metals must be not only growing underground, but ripening. Hadn't twined ores of silver and lead been found? Might not the lead be halfway to a mature state of silverdom? Well, no. If mineral veins sometimes resemble botanical illustrations, blame it on Earth's molten nature and fluid mechanics: When seen from above, a branching river also looks like a tree.


Yet the alchemists had their triumphs, inventing brilliant new pigments, perfecting the old red lead oxide, yellow arsenic sulfide, a little copper and vinegar and you've got bright green verdigris.


The chemistry lab replaced the monastery garden as a source of new medicines. "If you go to the U.K. today

and use the word 'chemist,' the assumption is that you're talking about the pharmacist," said Newman. "That tradition goes back to the 17th century." — New York Times News Service








The recent developments in Karnataka politics that have been permitted by all concerned to degenerate into a constitutional farce do not redound to the credit of the state's legislators. Nor, for that matter, do they raise the stature of the constitutional functionaries in question — the chief minister, the Assembly Speaker and thegovernor. Each has given ordinary citizens — in Karnataka and the rest of the country — a distinctly uncomfortable feeling about the sorry way politicians of all hues play the game. In effect, this is hoodwinking the people in order to capture or retain power.

It is apparent to all that the House was in a chaotic state when the confidence vote was taken by the B.S. Yeddyurappa government on Monday. Armed policemen were present in the well of the House, within full view of the marshals trying to intimidate anti-BJP legislators, who are, incidentally, no angels. The behaviour of legislators shouting obscenities and dancing on table-tops can hardly be said to be the most opportune moment to call for the consideration of any motion, leave alone a confidence vote. In the event, the Speaker's contention that he did not call for a division as no MLA asked for it smacks of deep partisanship. The chief minister won the confidence vote after the Speaker had unilaterally interpreted the rules to disqualify inconvenient legislators. The same Leader of the House has now accepted the governor's instruction to go through the process once again on October 14. How extraordinary! Does this mean that he agrees that Monday's vote was a fraud? The role played by the governor in all this has also been unconventional, not to put too fine a point on it. It is clear as day that his brainwave to have a second confidence vote would only impel more horse-trading. In Bengaluru's political stock exchange, some astounding values of political shares are being talked about. The prudent course for the governor might have been to counsel restraint and wait for the deliberations of the high court to which the disgruntled MLAs — BJP members as well as Independents — had taken their case.
It is commonly presumed that the governor had recommended dismissal of the Yeddyurappa government after the farcical Monday vote. Has he? Is UPA-2 in a position to sustain the proposition in the Upper House of Parliament? Now the question is largely academic, of course. It is unlikely that the Centre will take any forward step on the Karnataka crisis before the high court has spoken. Initially, some had speculated that the governor might have taken directions from New Delhi in appearing to be dynamic. In the light of what we have seen, this looks unlikely. Nevertheless, it is plain to see that governor H.R. Bhardwaj may have placed the Congress Party and the UPA-2 government in a false position. The BJP view of Mr Bhardwaj is likely to be a coloured one. That party had been seeking his removal long before the present crisis broke. Therefore, not much credence need be attached for demands for the governor's dismissal. Nevertheless, one thing is clear. The Congress should not have resorted to the practice of making an active politician a governor. This recommendation of the Sarkaria Commission is, alas, mostly observed in the breach.

In the meantime, the upcoming second confidence vote on Thursday could well produce a pro-government result without the mayhem that was witnessed on Monday. In that event, what might happen if the high court rules in favour of the dissenting MLAs can only be guessed at. No one need be unduly surprised if such a denouement leads to a standoff between the judiciary and the legislature right on the heels of ruptured relations between the executive and the governor. This is an unenviable situation to be in.








Bhutan, a tiny country in the Himalaya, has made a constitutional decision that the pursuit of happiness for the Bhutanese people will be the guiding principle of their economic policy, not the pursuit of economic growth as measured in the gross national product or gross domestic product.


Gross national happiness (GNH) was first coined in 1972 by Bhutan's former King Jigme Singye Wangchuk.
GNH rests on four pillars:

l Promotion of sustainable development.

l Preservation and promotion of cultural values.l Conservation of the natural environment.

l Establishment of good governance.


The GNH concept was developed in an attempt to define an indicator that measures quality of life and social progress in more holistic terms than the GDP. The GDP is an inaccurate measure of the state of the economy and society because it only measures commercial transactions and externalises social and ecological costs.
The GDP destroys self-reliance, creates debt and dependency on costly imports. Chemical agriculture is to agriculture what GDP is to the economy. It is based on false measures of productivity and high cost external inputs, which trap farmers in debt. The debt trap is what had pushed 200,000 farmers to commit suicide since 1997.

Chemical agriculture, like GDP, externalises the costs of disruption of ecological processes and the disintegration of society. Since agriculture is a biological process, it needs to maintain nature's capital for sustainable production. The destruction of soil fertility, biodiversity and water resources lead to undermining agricultural productivity. Punjab — the land where the Green Revolution model was first applied — has lessons to teach us about the non-sustainability of chemical farming. Punjab's soil is diseased and dying, its ground water is disappearing and its biodiversity has been wiped out. Its farmers are committing suicide. In the 1980s they took to extremism. I have told the story of the ecological and social decay in Punjab in my book The Violence of the Green Revolution.

Financial, ecological non-sustainability of production in chemical agriculture is based on:
l Costly seeds that are non renewable cannot be saved and re-grown by farmers and hence, add an entirely new financial burden on the peasantry. These seeds are also untested and unreliable and have been brought to the market through self-certification.

l Costly chemicals, which drain the peasant's scarce capital and leaves agro ecosystems more fragile and impoverished, thereby increasing the vulnerability of farming.

l Monocultures of cash crops, which further aggravate the risks of crop failure due to pests, diseases and climate change and decreased nutrition per acre.


While farmers are dying due to debt and negative incomes the poor are being denied their right to food. Thirty per cent of the rural households in India were eating 1,600 kcal in 1998 as compared to 1,820 kcal in 1989. In 1999-2000 almost 77 per cent of the rural population consumed less than the poverty line calorie requirement of 2,400 kcal. Today, one-third of all hungry children in the world are in India.

Meantime, urban children are victims of food-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Globally one billion suffer from malnutrition and two billion are victims of malnutrition related to junk food and nutritionally-empty calories that the industrialised food system is producing.

In spite of the failure of the chemical-industrial model, the myth of the Green Revolution continues. The Time Magazine of September 6, 2010, in its cover story on the real cost of organic food, states "Norman Borlaug, the so-called father of the green revolution, who nearly doubled wheat yields in Pakistan and India in the '60s via a combination of high yield plants and fertiliser use, is often credited with saving one billion lives".
This account is false on many counts. Firstly, the so-called "high-yielding varieties" are, in fact, "high response varieties", engineered to withstand high doses of chemicals. Secondly, the increase in wheat production, which is assigned to chemicals and chemically-adapted seeds, can be accounted for any increase in land under wheat cultivation and increase in water provided for irrigation. Thirdly, high cost external input agriculture is the reason for hunger. It has not saved a billion lives.

Biodiverse organic farming practised and promoted by Navdanya addresses both dimensions of the human crisis related to food. As the Navdanya report "Biodiversity Based Organic Farming: A New Paradigm for Food Security and Food Safety", shows biodiverse organic farming produces more food, of better nutrition quality and higher incomes for farmers. It can put an end to both farmers' suicides and starvation. It is the road to growing happiness.

The GNH as a holistic measure is a much more accurate indicator of the state of society, nature and economy than the GDP.
Organic farming has become a human and ecological imperative in our times. There is not one but many reasons why we must go organic. Farmers' suicides and climate chaos are a wake-up call for a new paradigm for food and farming.

Organic farming is to agriculture what GNH is to society. Both maximise welfare of humans and other beings. Organic agriculture is living GNH, as the Prime Minister of Bhutan had stated. It promotes all four pillars of GNH. Organic agriculture promotes sustainable development.

Organic farming can be a significant contributor to GNH for Bhutan and for every country. We need an organic India as much as we need an organic Bhutan.

The Government of Bhutan has invited me to help make Bhutan go organic. As the Prime Minister of Bhutan has said: "Our goal is that Bhutan will be the first sovereign nation in the world to be fully 100 per cent organic in its food production, with the 'grown in Bhutan' label synonymous with 'organically grown'. Going organic is living GNH. Going organic is not only fulfilling an explicit promise this government made in 2008 and affirmed again in my recent state of the nation address. It is also a key to putting GNH fully into practice and action in this country. I am most grateful to Dr Vandana Shiva for coming here to help us take 'organic' from the fringe to the mainstream in the Kingdom of Bhutan".


Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust








No chief minister started his tenure with so much goodwill within his state and all over the country as Omar Abdullah in 2009. It is a pity that this was frittered away in so short a time, thanks first to the flip-flop over the so-called Shopian rape and murder case in 2009 and to the stone-pelting in 2010. Having interacted with his legendary grandfather, and more closely with his father, I had earnestly wished that he be successful.


Nowadays we do not have political leaders like Lal Bahadur Shastri who as railway minister resigned owning moral responsibility for a major train disaster. The trend now is to disown responsibility and pass the buck. We need not hold against Omar his version of events in his address to the state legislature on October 6. I would even praise him for boldly asserting that he is not a puppet of the Centre, often alleged by separatists in the Valley for CMs of the state. As a duly elected CM, he functioned with due independence. Yet there are two facts which cannot be ignored. Till the evening before Omar was sworn in as CM, it was being said that the party preferred his father for the job. Farooq Abdullah categorically stated on a media channel that he would be taking the oath as CM next morning. Something happened in Delhi that night and Omar became CM the following day. During the stone-pelting crisis, there was widespread opinion in the state and outside that Farooq would not have allowed things to go out of control. It was widely felt that Omar must go, but he survived because of a lone helpline from Delhi.

One should make allowances for Omar being young with little experience in state politics. In 2008, his uncalled for and misleading emotional outburst in Parliament during the Amarnath controversy — "Jaan Denge par Zamin nahin Denge" — only fuelled the agitation in Jammu. He must have been under tremendous strain for the past few months and this should not be ignored while commenting on his recent address to the Assembly. However, some of the issues raised by him are disturbing from the national viewpoint. The record must be set right. Pandering to separatist sentiments will not help build political support. It will only whet the appetite for secession.

Omar's statement that Kashmir acceded to India and, unlike Hyderabad and Junagadh, did not merge with India, has an unfortunate connotation. Over 500 Princely States merged with India. Mentioning only Hyderabad and Junagadh is making insinuations, in line with Pakistan propaganda. There was a common Instrument of Accession for all Princely States acceding to India. Hari Singh was facing a very critical situation. Pakistani invaders were approaching Srinagar and he had fled to Jammu. He desperately needed India's help and was hardly in a position to make any stipulations. He duly signed the instrument. This was fully supported by Sheikh Abdullah, the most popular leader of Kashmir. Later, it was also ratified by the Kashmir Constituent Assembly. At the time of signing the Instrument of Accession, letters were exchanged between the Maharaja and Mountbatten in which special provisions were sought and accepted. Letters do not have the same legal validity as a formal instrument. Yet Article 370 of the Constitution ensures that the provisions agreed upon were duly upheld. In these circumstances, the hair-splitting distinction between accession and merger is meaningless. It may be mentioned that in the earlier two centuries many Princely States, including Kashmir, acceded to the British Crown but the people of those states were not given British nationality. It was refreshing that during the nuclear debate in Parliament in 2008, Omar rightly won accolade for asserting his Indian nationality.
Omar's irritation over Kashmir being described as an integral part of India was uncalled for. That has been our national stand and not that of any particular party as such. Neither his father nor his grandfather ever contested this. On February 22, 1994 the Indian Parliament passed a unanimous resolution asserting that Kashmir is an integral part of India and directing that Kashmir territory illegally occupied by Pakistan be liberated. The National Conference representative in Parliament supported that resolution.

Much is being made by Omar and his party of autonomy. The fact is that Kashmir enjoys more autonomy than any state in India but has the least autonomy below the state level. A regional political imbalance persists and is sought to be perpetuated by the embargo on delimitation of constituencies. For 49,725 voters, Kashmir has one MLA but Jammu has one MLA for 66,521 voters. This means that despite having 1,77,153 more voters, Jammu has nine MLAs less in the legislature than Kashmir. Whereas Panchayat Raj functions in every state, it is yet to be established in J&K. The Right to Information Act has not yet been made fully functional in the state. In the name of autonomy a reversion to the pre-1953 constitutional status is sought. This will entail removal of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the Election Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General. There is also a demand for an elected governor from the state and doing away with IAS, IPS and other Central services. The changes effected through due process of law prescribed by the Constitution, and ratified by the state legislature, are sought to be scrapped in the name of autonomy. These changes were endorsed by the Indira-Sheikh accord. They also received the people's support in the Sheikh's overwhelming victory in the 1977 state elections, regarded by all as free and fair. It is strange that Sheikh Abdullah's progenies, who attained political power for being his descendants, now want to undo what he did in the interests of the state and are chasing a mirage of autonomy. It is also pertinent that Central per capita aid is the highest in Kashmir, many times more than some other states in the country. Removal of the jurisdiction of the Comptroller and Auditor General would mean absence of financial accountability. Omar has sought regional autonomy for Jammu and Ladakh regions and has urged splitting them into sub-regions of Jammu, Rajouri, Poonch, Doda, Kargil and Leh, which would virtually be a division on communal lines. It is interesting that the Valley is not required to be split into the plains and mountain regions, obviously because of commonalty of religion.

The need in J&K is to restore order, remove governance deficit, commence political dialogue and meet the legitimate aspirations of all stakeholders in the state, within the framework of the Indian Constitution. It must not be lost sight of that the separatists constitute a minority in the state. Their influence is generally confined to the Valley, excluding the Gujjars and Bakherwals, living in the mountains. The recent stone-pelting agitation was confined to the Valley, without any Gujjar or Bakherwal participation.


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








Eminent lawyer and Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi had received a fair degree of acceptance from his partymen as a successful chief spokesperson of their party ever since his appointment to this post. With his undoubted abilities as a lawyer, sound knowledge of the nuances of the politics of the country today and his


competence as a good debater, it looked as if the Congress had made a good choice for this post. Therefore, the decision of the Congress to bar him from briefing newsmen and to refer his case to the disciplinary action committee of the party has come as a great blow to his reputation and standing as a responsible leader of his party.
The provocation for this decision was his appearance in the Kerala high court a few days ago on behalf of one Santiago Martin, agent of certain lotteries based in Bhutan, Sikkim, et cetera. Martin had filed a petition on behalf of his agency, Mega Distributors, to invalidate an ordinance passed by the Kerala government introducing certain regulations in the operation of lotteries in the state. The peculiar feature of Mr Singhvi accepting the brief of Santiago Martin in this petition is that both parties have accused Martin of having given huge bribes to the other party for buying support to continue with his business without having to abide by any serious restrictions or regulation. These allegations have become particularly significant in today's politics in Kerala as the elections to the local bodies are to take place within a few days and the freedom given to Mega Distributors by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led government in Kerala had already become an important issue in the election campaigns. In order to meet this criticism against the CPI(M), the state government had issued an ordinance introducing several regulations for the conduct of lotteries.

Mr Singhvi maintains that there has been no conflict of interest in his taking over the brief for Mega Distributors and that he was strictly within the limits of his responsibilities when he decided to appear on behalf of Mega Distributors in the Kerala high court. However, in doing this, Mr Singhvi seems to have forgotten that a spokesperson for any party or group means a person who speaks for the party or group who had chosen him for this job and it is not for a person to interpret the scope of duties of a spokesperson in a manner that suits his professional interests.

Why is it that certain leaders in the Congress have chosen the role of sharp critics of some of their colleagues in the party? Or, as in this case, why is it that the chief spokesperson of the party chose to go against the strong plea of the party leaders in Kerala? It has become a habit with some middle level and even some senior leaders of the Congress to issue statements out of turn on matters with which they are not very familiar.
Sharp attacks by some Congress leaders on the integrity and fair conduct of persons outside the political class have also taken place in recent times and it has given rise to the widespread feeling that some people in the Congress can get away with such statements without suffering the consequences. They perhaps think that such action on their part is in keeping with what they consider to be inner-party democracy; or some of them think that expressing their opinions on any issue is necessary to assert their credentials as senior leaders of the Congress. In this context, I am constrained to write about the manner in which I became the victim of a totally unfounded attack by a leader of the Congress in June 2010, but have been keeping quiet about it after expressing my deep sense of hurt to the Prime Minister.
Immediately after the pronouncement of the orders of the court on the Bhopal case a few weeks ago, a senior member of the Central Cabinet, who was not in any way connected with this matter, came out with a statement in an apparent attempt to play the role of one responsible to save the good name of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, accusing me, who was then the principal secretary of the Prime Minister, as having been personally responsible for arranging Warren Anderson's exit from India without being detained for any legal action by the government.
He further accused that I had become a new convert to the "Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena anti-Congress camp" and that this was a "motivated" attempt on my part to malign Rajiv Gandhi as revenge for his party not supporting me when my name was sponsored by the National Democratic Alliance as a candidate for election as President of the country in 2002. I was deeply hurt by the charges made by this minister accusing me of gross disloyalty to Rajiv Gandhi's memory and wrote to the Prime Minister requesting him to prevent his ministers from making public statements on subjects about which they have no direct knowledge or responsibility. I was confident that a Prime Minister like Manmohan Singh, who himself maintains high standards of decency and fairness in public life, would take necessary action on my letter. This is exactly what he did. He promptly wrote to me that necessary instructions in the matter would be issued very soon. It appears that Dr Singh was already considering issue of such instructions to his party colleagues in the Cabinet when a complaint like mine reached him. Anyway, I was quite satisfied with his prompt response, though I am referring to this matter now in the background of the action taken against Dr Singhvi.

However, the trend does not seem to have been effectively curbed as we still hear of such statements from certain middle and high levels of leadership in the party. A practical suggestion that could be offered for this problem is that all political parties, particularly national-level parties, prescribe a "code of conduct" for their senior functionaries. Also, it will be advisable to discontinue the practice of combining several responsibilities in one person except in a very few highly deserving cases. The arrangement of assigning posts of general secretaries in charge of one or more states in addition to other responsibilities, like minister at the Centre, give such people the complex of being more important in the party than others. Some partymen in the states even put up welcome arches with huge photographs of the general secretary when he visits the state. These tendencies should be controlled if the general secretaries are not to function as super-presidents of the state units of the party.

If the high commands of the parties take serious note of all departures from the prescribed norms of conduct, that itself would be a deterrent to the present tendency of not observing the discipline expected from these functionaries.


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








Do parents need a beeper to tell them where their kids are all the time?


A Mumbai school has answered the question with a yes. It will ask children to use name tags with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology so that parents can track their whereabouts.


They'll know if the bus has reached school; teachers will know who's come to class without a roll-call.


Yes, it's an unsafe world and certainty is welcome; even more so when it has to do with children. But safety comes at a cost, which in this instance is freedom and health.


These measures can be rationalised if we limit the use of RFID badges to children up to standard five. But even there we must wonder what the long-term health costs will be of wearing radio frequency transmitters close to the body. RFID is fine for tracking Wal-Mart packages on their way from manufacturer to store, but children?


Before schools start using RFID chips widely, it is worth examining the health effects on young children. As for getting older children to use them, one might as well be living in a police state. RFID is not such a great idea.







The faster we grow, the less we seem to change.

The recently published International Food Policy Research Institute's (IFPRI's) global hunger index for 2010 shows that India has done better in reducing the proportion of undernourished people than before; but it has slipped two ranks since last year. India ranks 67 in a field of 122 and is below Brazil, Pakistan and Sudan.


There are two ways of reading the rankings. One, that we have actually slipped. Or, maybe, others are doing better than us.Or it could be a bit of both. The point is that the overall ranking of India on the index does not do full justice because the picture is mixed once one looks at the states.


The highest proportion of underweight children under three is found in the poorer states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Orissa and Meghalaya — which means that the rest are doing better. The glass on the index is at least half full.


But we need to accelerate. IFPRI's figures show that while India's percentage of underweight children dropped from 60% to 44% between 1990 and 2008, China reduced child malnutrition from 25% to 8%between 1990 and 2002.China is reducing poverty and hunger faster than us. We have a lot to learn from our northern neighbour.


While schemes like NREGA are making a positive difference, the rate of reduction in food poverty has been glacial. That raises questions about the effectiveness and reach of resources that target the barriers to food security like employment, education, distribution of income, and the social status of women in the country — the last being the main cause of low nutrition.


The IFPRI study indicates that there is an inverse relationship between hunger and economic performance. While the reduction in hunger levels over the last two decades has helped us speed up growth, we have to get going on a war footing. Economists have a tendency to say that we need growth to reduce poverty. Maybe the reverse is just as true: we need to reduce poverty to up growth rates.







The winners of this year's Nobel prize in economics, Peter Diamond, Dale Mortensen, and Christopher Pissarides, have worked in an area of great concern in today's world: search markets.


To put in layman's language, they have tried to find out why there is high unemployment even when job openings may abound in an economy (or why some products have more buyers and others less).


The answer lies in what economists call "search friction" and "optimal" choices. Friction means the gaps in information available to the job seeker about possible openings; simultaneously, companies seeking staff may not know enough about potential employees.


Moreover, even as a job-seeker looks at potential jobs, he might still hold out in the hope of getting something better. How long he or she holds out depends on many factors, but when the costs of holding out are higher than can be borne, typically, the job-seeker picks up the best (or only) job available.


This pushes up the unemployment rate and is a burden on the exchequer, at least in welfare states that provide the dole. Economists have discovered that in welfare states, the delay in taking on jobs is longer. Reason: when the jobless are cushioned by social security, there is no hurry to take up available jobs. This explains why even when jobs are available, unemployment rates remain high. The message for policy-makers is clear: unemployment benefits must be adequate to cushion people in bad times, but not high enough to make them choosy about taking up the jobs on offer.


The Nobel laureates' work has some spinoff lessons for India, which is keen to ensure gainful employment for all its citizens. The fact is that people pick up jobs that provide an economic benefit over and above their present condition. Thus, when many of us complain about beggars and wonder why they don't get themselves a job, the answer might be that the benefit of employment is less than the gains from begging!


The other lesson is that the jobs available and the skills possessed must match. India is in the piquant situation where its corporate sector complains about a manpower shortage even as millions of (mostly uneducated) Indians hunt for employment.


This is, of course, a larger problem involving government, academia, and the corporate world, but it is perhaps the core challenge facing India if it wants to wipe out poverty. Before unemployment can be reduced, we have to up employability.









Irony seldom escapes the characters on the economic stage; and when the issue pertains to one's own well-being, Adam Smith's free market self-interest or Ayn Rand's virtue of selfishness prevails.


And why not, since we all want to partake a portion of the wealth of success. It was not a long time back that the prime minister asked private sector honchos to be abstemious in their remuneration. Now, all the MPs have gone ahead and given themselves a rise in their salaries.


When Lehman became a euphemism for the greed that the private sector represents, government officials ascended the high horse to say how they were different and that the private sector stinks when it comes to remuneration. Now, we have the RBI as well as the public sector banks arguing for parity with the private sector. What is one to make of it considering that each segment thinks that it deserves the hike and, as a corollary, the others don't?


The extremes in salaries are stark. US Fed chairman Ben Bernanke takes home $200,000 per annum while European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet earns $500,000.


Bank of England chief Mervyn King has package of $450,000 while Japan's Masaaki Shirakawa is paid $400,000. Our own RBI governor Duvvuri Subbarao gets the rupee equivalent of around $30,000. In contrast, in 2009 Goldman Sachs was reported to have had a wage bill of $16.2 billion for 32,500 workers, giving an average of $498,246 — half a million dollars per head!


Clearly, the regulated take home larger pay cheques than the regulators, though the latter admittedly have greater powers. The question is how are salaries to be fixed?


In a free economy, salaries should be the function of the owners or shareholders. If it is the private sector, it is the proprietor or the shareholders. This holds just like it does for, say, a household where it determines the salary to be paid to the maid or watchman or driver. However, structures are amorphous here.


Most big companies have shareholders and even an owner-driven company may not really have a majority. Salaries are fixed by the owner on the premise that the majority has voted for it but the majority never really gets together to take a decision and hence the process of salary determination remains fuzzy.


At times it ends up with the owner, who is the management, also appointing the board which ratifies one's own salary.


This should be treated as an internal affair but it becomes a public concern if bailouts have to be invoked when things go awry. The crisis did not stop at the financial sector, where public money was involved, but also overflowed into manufacturing, which then brought to the fore the issue of executive pay.


When it comes to the government, it is even more complicated. There are hierarchies where a bank chief is at the level of a secretary and one cannot go up without the other doing so. Hence, either all salaries have to move up, or all stagnate. The public sector enterprises are better placed even though there is government ownership, as here the CEOs get better pay packets, which can range between Rs30-40 lakh per annum, though this is still lower than that in the private sector.


Now, there is a strong case for salary revisions in the public sector banks, especially when they perform as well

as those in the private sector. But there is a conundrum. A just way of going about it is to increase all salaries by x%.


This is democratic but allows free riders to benefit. It is actually the middle and senior levels where personnel can move to the private sector quite easily and the threat of attrition is real. There are a number of IAS officials who have gotten lucrative deals in the private sector to become heads of commodity exchanges or infrastructure companies. A number of private banks took in public sector officials and have grown really well.


However, does an executive, who is two years away from retirement, deserve a private sector salary? Yes, if the organisation is doing as well as its private counterpart. Critics aver that there are few public sector employees who find jobs after they retire. Salary hikes are needed to prevent attrition and the present system of backdoor increases through the recruitment of consultants with fixed tenures is not sustainable.


The solution is really to leave it open to the companies or banks to decide their pay packets which should be linked to profitability. This will create a problem for the bureaucrats as there is no profit and the incentives must be linked with performance in terms of expense management or implementation of projects.


As a corollary, the grades should be delinked from the bureaucracy charts. This would also mean that banks must have their own system of picking their CEOs with the ministry being out of the picture. This is the only way to make it work and should hence be looked at holistically.








Gold is surging again on the global markets, driving prices in India too above Rs20,000 for 10gm and sending bullion bulls into a state of auric ecstasy.


A variety of compelling reasons underlie this runaway rise in its price, and since it seems unlikely that those circumstances are likely to change soon, there's still more headroom for gold to go in the short term.


For instance, developed economies in the US and Europe are in the throes of economic crisis, with anaemic growth rates and monstrous piles of public debt.


With unemployment rates in the US and in some Euro-zone countries still intolerably high, policy-makers seem under pressure to do yet more to stimulate their economies.


And the first stirrings of a 'currency war' have seen governments compete with one another to debase their currencies for a shot at exporting their way to growth. Faith in currencies is diminishing, which in turn is driving a stampede into the warm embrace of gold, a timeless instinct that reflects an enduring obsession with the yellow metal. Gold, it's increasingly being said, is behaving like a currency, not a commodity.


But in equal measure, the gold mania reflects widespread — and more than a little exaggerated — fears that a global financial Armageddon, a wholesale meltdown of economies and currencies, is near at hand. The economic fundamentals do inspire a deep sense of disquiet, but at least some of that hysterical fear-mongering can be traced to the political discourse in the US, which is on the verge of a 'class war' of mythical proportions.


Right-wing television commentators, who were shaking their pom-poms during eight years of Bush-era profligacy, have suddenly become deficit vigilantes, talking down the Obama administration's spending, talking down the dollar and, yes, talking up gold. Rabble-rousing radio commentator Glenn Beck even controversially promotes a gold dealer, who in turn advertises on his show.


In India, the world's biggest bullion market, however, gold is coveted as a commodity, not as a currency. It's used for bodily adornment, and is itself an object of adoration. Even our Goddesses are described as being Hiranya varnam or golden-hued.


Yet, down the ages and across civilisations, excessive 'gold mania' of the sorts that we're beginning to witness has always ended in tears. In the Judeo-Christian value system, it even acquires something of a 'morality play' theme: descending from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, Moses is incensed to see Israelites worship the Golden Calf, which he then destroys. In Greek mythology, King Midas receives the gift of the Golden Touch, but it becomes a curse that transforms even his daughter into gold. And Argonauts' leader Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece only ends in tragedy.


In his book The Power of Gold, Peter Bernstein recalls a story narrated by John Ruskin about a man who boarded a ship carrying his entire wealth in a large bag of gold coins. A storm came up, and an alarm went off to abandon ship. Strapping the bag around his waist, the man jumped overboard, and promptly sank to his death. Ruskin then asks: "As he was sinking, had he the gold? Or had the gold him?"


Likewise, in today's uncertain world, gold prices will certainly go up in the short term. But civilisational history tells us that gold is no insurance against apocalyptic scenarios; an excessive obsession with it will only end in tears.








One must admire the Army's confidence and hard work in the face of infiltration bids from the other side of the Line of Control (LoC). It has held its ground firmly and is on top of the violent mischief-makers all over. That it is alive to the challenge is evident from the assertion of the Army chief, Gen V.K. Singh: "As far as infiltration is concerned, we have controlled it to a large extent... In the last two months, there have been many attempts to infiltrate and we have achieved a lot of success also in this regard." He has let it be known that his force has evolved a strategy under which even if somebody manages to unlawfully enter our part "he gets killed later on."


According to him, there have been about 25 infiltration attempts by the militants in the last two months. The total number of terrorists killed during this period has been "about 35-40." Gen Singh is not unduly perturbed either about the reports of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) chief Moulvi Yusuf Shah alias Syed Salahuddin visiting the terror camps along the Line accompanied by Pakistani army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officials. He speaks matter-of-factly: "Salahuddin is on the other side... We are not worried that with whom he goes around. If he tries to infiltrate, he would also be dealt in the same way his accomplices are." To a few his language may appear to be too strong. How else should a soldier speak? He does his duty only if he is brave in his words and deeds, his sole responsibility being the defence of the country. That there is a real threat from Pakistan has never been in doubt. Who knows it more than us living in this region and the State? The neighbouring country has not only given shelter to the likes of Salahuddins but has also propped up militant outfits with the idea of achieving its version of the unfinished agenda of 1947.


For some reasons former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has been hyperactive of late in announcing the role of his country in patronising terrorist bodies. All that he is saying is already only too well known. Yet, for us, it is important to record it. In his latest utterances, he has defended the militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT): "From our point of view, LeT is fighting for the rights of Kashmiris and there is great public support in Pakistan for groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba." He has told an Indian television network that anyone "fighting in your part of Kashmir'' is a "mujahideen" for Pakistan. The former General-turned-President of his country, who overthrew an elected government, has now formally assumed the role of a politician by floating a party. Whatever his game plan in adopting the current stance his one more comment is to be noted: "LeT and HM" came into being in 1989 after the "freedom struggle started in Kashmir."


The message should be clear to us. We can't afford to lower our guards. There are enemies on the border and some black sheep inside as is apparent from the arrest of a special police officer (SPO) by the Doda police for fabricating and sending explosive material. Their number does not matter but their evil intentions do.






Last week has ended with two gruesome occurrences in this region. In both of them the women are the victims. In one of them a young woman was axed to death by her husband in Thandi Kassi village in Rajouri district. The shocking climax came after a tiff between the two reportedly over a minor issue which is not explained. The man, who was cutting firewood in the backyard of his home, first hurled abuses on his wife. With unrestrained anger he then moved inside and attacked the woman on her head three times with the blade he was using to hack the timber. She had the life snuffed out of her on the spot. In the other happening, a young woman was shot in a village in the remote Mahore area of Reasi district. The identity of assailants in this case is not known. The grim reality nevertheless is that a member of the fair sex has been the casualty. Certain questions are irrelevant. Like, for instance in the first episode about which the details are available, why a human being turned a beast. This is not the first time that a husband has taken out his fury or frustration over his wife. From time to time we keep hearing of such instances from all over the country. It also is perhaps futile to argue why a woman should not be able to stand up and stop the assault on her dignity. The women in our society in particular choose to suffer in silence. Illiteracy among them is rampant. At the same time it is open to argument whether the spread of education has made a significant difference to their lives. Some of them are earning members of their families. Yet, they are condemned to bear with torture. Who can say that our family and social system is immune from domestic violence? Sometimes, ironically, women are the perpetrators of cruelty on the members of their ilk and again they have to go through unkind environment for decades. In the Rajouri tragedy it needs to be noticed that of the seven children the killed woman has left behind five are girls.


Where will they go with the mother having met a cruel end and father lodged in the jail? The ordeal of one generation has gripped the other. This is actually a global phenomenon. A few years ago a United Nations study had mentioned that wife assault accounted for about 25 per cent of violent crimes in the United States while one in seven wives in the United Kingdom was subjected to physical humiliation by her spouse amounting to the "breach of trust" that their conduct involves. The UN study has noted: "The extent of violence against women in the home has been largely hidden and widely denied by communities that fear that an admission of its incidence will be an assault on the integrity of the family." The women have an advantage in the US and affluent European nations that they are economically independent. They can survive on their own in a liberal social milieu. On the other hand, they are largely dependent in our environment and are also face to face with a half-baked scenario in which traditions are crumbling and modernity has a perverted notion.









In which year of Lord, or before the Lord, did India become civilised? According to the authoritative assessment made at the opening ceremony of year of the Commonwealth Games, Indian civilization is 5,000 years old. This means, obviously, that Government of India intellectuals have concluded, after careful scrutiny, that every Indian before that time was barbaric. 


What is civilization? Is untouchability civilized? Was it civilized to make a fellow human being carry a pot around his neck so that his spit would not pollute the ground, and whip him if his shadow dared to cross the path of Brahmin? If not, then we may have started our trek towards civilization in 1932 when Gandhi and Ambedkar signed the Pune pact to forestall a social upheaval that would have left a still-dependent India in tatters.

Does the matrix of civilization include a full stomach? There are over 400 million Indians who still survive on a subsistence diet. How soon before we can declare our nation fully civilized? Is civilsation architecture? Is there a monument moment which marks a swivel point forward? Egyptians claim, with some evidence, that the Great Pyramid is 4,000 years old, so they have some right to the 5,000-years span: it requires a millennium of Knowledge in physics and mathematics, and much trial and failure, to attain pyramid-perfection.
The architecture of Indian antiquity is far more recent. As Tamil patriarch K. Karunanidhi has pointed out, in an oblique political manoeuvre that is by-product of a sophisticated mind, we have not been able to trace the memorial of Chola king Raja Raja, who ruled between 985 and 1014, but there is at least one judicial pronouncement from the Allahabad high Court that places the birth of Lord Rama in the Krita yuga, which covers 17,28,000 years. The skeptical Karunanidhi believes that Dravidian civilization is about 3,000 years old, which leaves the Aryan north with 2,000 years of headway by Delhi's calculation. He adds that Dravidians are descendants of a race that lived in Lemuria hundreds of thousands of years ago. Civilisation, then, forms only a small part of our heritage.

Is literature the alpha of modern civilization? The word is certainly more powerful than stone. Language bears the burden of time more easily, since it is consistently reinvigorated by popular invention. The finest expression of language is surely mystical. In the beginning, says the Bible, was the word. Irqa: read!, said the angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad when the final message in the Abrahmaic tradition came down. Om is sound incarnate. Is organized religion, with its thesis of codes and plentitude of values, the starting point of civlisation?


A brave thought, for it moves the definition of evolution from the Darwinian template of incremental change through minute physical variations, caricatured in the progress of hunched, hairy ape to the semi-hairy biped called man, to the nuances of philosophy and belief. Alas: the theory of faith has rarely been in harmony with the behavior of the faithful. Every religion advertises the virtues of peace; each is consumed by a religiosity that engineers war. The ape kills as well, but for more rational reasons, and on a far smaller scale. Which forest has been denuded of life by animal war? It is only the human being who places a premium on existence over co-existence, and then compounds the arrogance by insisting that his version of behavior is superior to anyone else's. Europe colonized the world in the name of civilising it. To be fair, this western march of greed was often provoked by Eastern folly.

However depressing and contrary the evidence, civilization remains the ultimate temptation, an umbrella identity that often rises above nationalism without disturbing its comforting limitations, a siren call to glory and its first cousin, war. Samuel Huntington was not particularly original. Selling the hunter as victim has been a familiar assignment for a certain kind of academic. He actually set out to justify a civilisational clash with China, but won a lottery with his back-up number, Islam.

For traditional champions of civilization, age is virility. 5,000 is not just a number; it is a cry of triumph. The Chinese seem to ignore the rivalry of claims as an inferior pursuit. There is only one reason why Indian and Chinese civilization have managed to stay alongside without too much conflict, the Himalayas.
Civilisation is a good idea, but with the Himalayas.











Although green revolution in India increased the food grain production from 50 million tonnes (Mt) in 1950-51 to 212.8 Mt in 2001-02 due to concerted efforts of the peasants, scientists of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and State Agricultural Universities, and extension personnels of State Agriculture Departments yet it fell down to 174.8 Mt in 2002-03 due to heavy drought in 2002. Due to normal monsoon in 2003, the food grain production arose to 213.2 Mt in 2003-04. But the production again fell down to 198.4 Mt in 2004-05 due to poor monsoon in 2004. The years 2006-07 and 2007-08 having normal rainfall showed food grain production to 217.3 and 230.8 Mt, respectively. With all time record of over 233 Mt of food grain production in 2008-09 one drought year (2009) brought the produce down to 216 Mt in 2009-10. Obviously, it would be a Herculean task to produce 300-325 Mt in 2025 for meeting the requirement of 1.4 to 1.5 billion people with the present likely area and quality of land/soil resources available. It thus, emerges from the above that Indian food grain production depends upon monsoon. The monsoon deficiency during 2009 had dropped to 29 per cent on an average of the normal and the situation was grim. The paddy coverage was 5.71 million ha less than the 2008. In all 177 districts were declared drought hit. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, Manipur, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and parts of other states including Jammu and Kashmir were affected by the deficient rainfall. Due to this drought, the condition in the Kandi belt of Jammu region was more aggravated. Many of the farmers of the area could not sow the crops due to lack of moisture in the soils and those who sowed their crops had failed due to water stress. Even there was scarcity of drinking water. Similar was the situation of the Karewas of Kashmir as there was little rainfall during the months of April-May.

Not only this, sometimes unseasonal rainfall wreaks a havoc. As for example, farmers of Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir State had suffered from a loss of Rs. 50 to 60 crores (Wani, 204) owing to unseasonal rains in the last week of April 2004 in wheat crop. Similarly, the Kashmir valley, one of the major paddy producers in the State with an average yield of about 40 qha-1, is set to witness a sharp fall in production due to change of unprecedented rainfall during April and May. Many of the rice-growing farmers of the Valley are turning their paddy fields into apple orchards. 

The inclement weather during June and July this year i.e., 2010, came with a heavy damage to the cherry (a delicate fruit) crop to the tune of more than 55 per cent in the Ganderbal - the highest cherry producing district in the Vale of Kashmir. As per the official records, the contribution of agricultural sector to the State Domestic Product (SDP) has revealed an average value of 5.45 per cent, which is low as compared to the National value of 18 per cent GDP (Grand Domestic Product). 

It is a matter of great concern that over the last 10 years food production has hardly increased by 2.5 percent and as such India is experiencing shortage of food grains and hike in price of various food enterprises. The increase in food grain production, infact, is not going on with the demand of human's burgeoning population.
Rising inflation (rise in prices) which was close to 8 percent in 2008, has now crossed above 10 percent, is a serious matter of concern for us so is increasing population. Desperately, we require a second green revolution, using better agricultural practices to produce more food for the increasing human population. 
Irrigation is a major issue in Indian agriculture where approximately 70 or 72 per cent of the total farm land is under dryland/rainfed conditions, dependent mostly upon monsoon rains. We require good quality seeds of various crops, especially of rice and wheat, which constitute the staple foods of most of the Indians, balanced fertilizers and advanced biochemical plant protection measures for growing food grains with quality. Better storage and transportation facilities can prevent food wastage.

Action for the next green revolution

Various methods which can help in bringing about second green revolution, adoption of organic farming, is one of the most important. "Organic farming is the concept of farms in which all components of food production - soil mineral and organic matter, micro-organisms and human beings interact in a coherent, integrated and natural manner." In organic farming no chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used but it relies on use of organics. 

Organic farming being simple and eco-friendly in nature is a method for conservation with organic manures and mulching and without use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. 

There are three organic farming options:-

Pure organic farming: It is totally excludes the use of in-organics-both chemical fertilizers and pesticides but advocates the use of organics - organic manures, bio-pesticides and cultural methods.

Integrated green revolution farming: In this type of option, the basic trends of the green revolution such as intensive use of external inputs, increased irrigation, development of high yielding crop varieties and hybrids are retained. But much greater efficiency on the use of these inputs is obtained to limit the damage to human health and environment. For this purpose, organic techniques like Integrated Nutrient Management (INM) and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) have been developed

Integrated farming system: This is a low input organic farming in which farmers depend on local resources and ecological processes, recycling of agricultural wastes and crop residues. To ensure sustainability in small holdings age-old mixed farming systems are integrated with cropping system.










Our country's education system urgently requires investment and reforms. A modern education system is needed for 21st century that prepares our children to face the challenge of future and not to make them prisoners of the past. Our country needs a humane education system which is creative and forward-looking. Though the emphasis is laid on access to education to all but teachers have to pay equal attention to excellence and creativity. Education is said to be the real glow and beauty of a person. One is said to be educated in a real sense when he is trained mentally, physically and humanely. There is a well known saying that 'Education is what is left after one has forgotten'. This can be examplified through a doctor who is able to diagnose a disease and treat the patient through his mental training and alertness. Similarly a trained teacher will be able to guide and teach his pupils through his digested knowledge.

The effort is made to find out various ways of imparting education to the public. Various types of institutes are operating in our country. eg. (1) State run institutes (2) Centrally run institutes(3) Institutes run by pvt bodies with Govt aids (4) Institute independent of Govt grants, developing their own fees, salary and methodology etc. For each type of institute, a proper standard and orientation is visualized. Need is to synchronies education system with National Policy as well as to have a global vision. HRD Minister Kapil Sibal is of the opinion to have even the institutes of foreign universities in the country. The Central Govt in an effort to pick up latest trends as advancement in education is starting some specialized institutes and universities though managed at national level which can be taken as leading centres of learning. A few institutes announced since August 2009 are seven Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) and fifteen central universities in different states of the country. Out of these one IIM and two central universities are to be operative in J&K. Various other reforms have been suggested for the further improvement and augmentation of higher education. National Knowledge Commission has even suggested setting an Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education (IRAHE) replacing UGC and creation of 1500 universities while at present there are less than 500 in the country.
For augmentation of Higher Education in J&K, Cental Govt has provided assistance to J&K Govt to run a large number of new colleges throughout the State. Recently on 13th June 2010 state cabinet under the chairmanship of CM Omar Abdullah recommended some staff for 18 new colleges in the state which includes for each college one Principal and 10 teaching staff members along with one person each for each college as a senior assistant, junior assistant, computer assistant, medical assistant, lab. assistant, lab. bearer, chowkidar, safaiwala, orderly etc. But such a large staff will require a sufficient accommodation for staff and for lecture theaters, laboratories, libraries etc which is not available at present. Most of the new colleges are operating in a few rooms hired from higher secondary schools. The Central Govt should provide liberal grants for proper sites and accommodations for the colleges. The colleges require space for sports, NCC, NSS and for extra curricular activities also.

There is no doubt that demand for higher education in J&K is on the increase. After passing 12th class less than 6% of the students are able to get admission in professional colleges, there is small percentage (nearly 2%) who manage to get seats outside but on higher fees which every one cannot afford. The rest had to look for other channels may be colleges or even under distance education system. There has been sporadic growth in private sector in education. From computer institutes to management institutes, we have series of private players in the field offering different courses most of them under distance education mode of different universities approved by UGC and authorized by IGNOU. There are some institutes which do not provide any degree but only skills to make the students employable or preparing them for common entrance examinations like KAS, IAS etc or entrance test for medical and engineering colleges. There is definitely a need for such institutes but of a good standard ones and their sporadic growth is to be checked. There can be some assistance through electronic media also but a relationship between teacher and taught is of a special significance. A Japanese proverb has rightly said, ''better than a thousand days of dilligent study is a day spent with a great teacher.'' Some teachers have a special impact on the lives of their students. Even the greatest of the men have recognised that. Our Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh when congratulated a mathematician some times back S R Varadhan on his receiving the Avel Award (Math's Noble), he gave credit to his school teachers who taught him at Chennai and Kolkata. Our former president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam on receiving Bharat Rattan Award gave credit to his teacher S Suberamanium Ayer who taught him at elementary school at Rameshwaram in this third standard. So efforts have to be made to appoint teachers which have proper accessability, brilliance, communications skills and devotion to duty.

There were some great persons whose brilliance or depth of mind could not fit into the parameters of any educational institution. They had often been found non sociable, drift always in their foolish dreams or acting in the manners inconsistent with the normal ways of life. But later on they proved to be extraordinary in devicing or inventing various laws of nature. Albert Einstein was considered as dull and mentally slow at school. But later on his theory of relativity and relationship between mass and energy have revolutionized the world. An apple falling on the head of Newton made him to discover the law of gravitation. He also gave the laws of motion. Our best known poet and author of Geetanjali, Mr Ravinder Nath Tagore was utter failure at School. But his depth of poetry in Geetanjali made him to get Noble Prize, the highest world prize. Thomas Edison was always an offence to his mother. He had formal school education only for three month. He is a founder of incondescent light and has about one thousand patents on his name.

Leaving aside the extraordinary ones, our general institutions will continue serving the general public accommodating various scientific developments from time to time. In fact the development in education in present century is mostly based on electronic developments which involve computers and other communication skills.








IN the high-profile Beant Singh assassination case the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Tuesday commuted the death sentence of Jagtar Singh Hawara to life imprisonment. The death sentence of the other accused, Balwant Singh, remains unchanged. There are two main considerations in awarding the death sentence. One, the capital punishment is given in "the rarest of rare cases". The assassination of the former Chief Minister of Punjab and 17 others on August 31, 1995, definitely falls in this category. Two, the guilt of the accused must be established beyond any doubt.


In the case of Jagtar Singh Hawara, who was awarded the death sentence in July, 2007, the high court observed that Hawara was not found near Chandigarh on July 30 and 31 in 1995. "His case is boundary line for death. He is sentenced to life and will not be released till death". Hawara has got the benefit of doubt and escaped the gallows. However, the capital punishment of Balwant Singh has been confirmed. The court took into account the three confessional statements Balwant Singh had made about his involvement in the killing of Beant Singh. The life sentence of the three other accused has been upheld by the high court.


Despite the seriousness of the case it has taken 15 years for courts to reach this stage of the judicial process. The case is still far from over. The jailbreak by three main accused – Hawara, Tara and Bheora – also contributed to the delay. The use of a manual typewriter to record the statements of the accused at the initial stage was another dilatory factor. Anyway, the case brings back memories of those dark days when Punjab was in the grip of militancy. Former Chief Minister Beant Singh is credited with bringing militancy to an end. He had given a free hand and full political support to the police led by the then DGP, Mr K.P.S. Gill. Punjab has paid a heavy price for militancy, especially in terms of lives lost.







AS the Karnataka High Court is expected to deliver its crucial verdict only on Monday, October 18, with regard to the two petitions challenging the Assembly Speaker's disqualification of 16 MLAs (11 BJP rebels and five Independents), Governor Hans Raj Bhardwaj would do well to advise Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa to seek the second trust vote in the State Assembly not on October 14, but after the High Court judgment. This would be a reasonable option available for the Governor to resolve the current constitutional crisis in the state because a second trust vote on October 14 would lose its value if the High Court subsequently quashes the disqualification of 16 MLAs and declares the Speaker's order of October 11 as null and void. Whatever may be the BJP's stand on the issue, a second floor test has become imperative for Mr Yeddyurappa to establish his government's constitutional legitimacy after the chaotic scenes witnessed in the House on October 11.


Notwithstanding the differing opinions of experts and jurists over the merits of voice vote during a confidence motion, it would be eminently sensible for Speaker K.G. Bopaiah to have a division of votes. Only then would the Governor be able to know the total number of MLAs present in the House during voting, how many of them are for and against the government, how many are neutral and how many have abstained. Clearly, a simple voice vote is wholly inadequate in a confidence motion.


The Governor's letter to the Chief Minister to seek a fresh floor test on October 14 is a pointer that his recommendation to the President to impose President's rule in Karnataka only the previous day was hasty and unwarranted, if not unconstitutional. He has unnecessarily kicked off a controversy and roped in the Centre by recommending President's rule. Moreover, his letter to the Speaker to ensure the presence of all MLAs in the House during the trust vote on October 11 was also questionable. Not surprisingly, the BJP has dubbed the Governor's actions as partisan and demanded his recall. But the BJP leadership, too, has no scruples. Where was the need for it to take all MLAs to New Delhi for a head count? The BJP, the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress have spent crores of rupees this time on hopping MLAs from one city to the other and lodging them in five-star hotels ostensibly to prevent poaching.









KRISHNA Poonia, Harwant Kaur and Seema Antil winning gold, silver and bronze medals in the discus throw event at the Commonwealth Games on Monday, was a dazzling event indeed, which in a way overshadowed the fact that Poonia's gold was the first in athletics by any Indian after "Flying Sikh" Milkha Singh's 440-yard gold won way back in the 1958 Cardiff Games. India has thus had to wait for 52 long years to get a single track and field gold medal. In other words, two generations have gone by without an Indian returning with a gold medal in the prestigious event. Things are not much better in other departments. When Abhinav Bindra won the 10-metre air rifle event at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, he became only the first Indian to claim an individual gold medal at the Olympic Games ever and India's first gold medal since 1980, when the men's field hockey team had won the gold.


Once the celebration for Krishna Poonia's achievements is over, it is necessary to mull over the reasons for this medal drought. The shortcoming is so pronounced that some even attribute it to our genes. That is ridiculous; so we have to pinpoint the real reasons. Apparently, the lack of suitable sports environment is the main culprit. The few who shine do so mostly on their own merit, despite and not because of official support. Babudom has taken over sports administration thoroughly and the players themselves are reduced to being bit actors in this large game.


After the awards ceremony, bronze medalist and national record holder Seema Antil lashed out at Milkha Singh for having predicted that India would not win a single medal in athletics at the Delhi Games. Perhaps the legendary runner was articulating the frustration of a man who had seen the oppressive atmosphere from inside.


















ON the eve of the 78th anniversary of the Indian Air Force last week, Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik made several strategic pronouncements, including that the Air Force is to acquire 250 to 300 fifth generation fighter aircraft in a joint development and production arrangement with Russia at a cost of $30 billion. Taken together with other military acquisitions over the next 10 to 15 years, India will be spending nearly $100 billion, the largest spurt in defence modernisation ever. But this alone will not alter the strategic environment to India's advantage. It will also require new thinking and political will.


The principal beneficiaries of the drive are to be the Air Force and the Navy which together have traditionally received less than half of the Army's share in funding. This belated correction has stemmed not from any rational analysis but classic numerology: maintaining a 1.2 million-strong Army, 39 and a half squadron Air Force and a 100-ship Navy.


The new British coalition government is contemplating deep cuts in the defence budget as part of reducing the budget deficit. Being considered is a freeze on aircraft carriers, downsising tanks and aircraft meant for Cold War contingencies and even reviewing the Trident nuclear deterrent. But no increase or decrease in defence capability can be ordered without a strategic defence and security review (SDSR). This warning came from Defence Secretary Liam Fox to Prime Minister David Cameron.


No one knows how the military capability exercise is done in India where, leave alone an SDSR, not even a defence review or White Paper has ever been issued. Yet ACM Naik, who is also the current Chairman of the rotating Chief of Staff Committee, said that the new capabilities were "in tune with national aspirations". He explained, "even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that India's area of responsibility extends from the Hormuz Straits to the Malacca Straits and beyond."


Each service does its future planning singly and not as an integrated whole to achieve a collective capability. Service Chiefs look out for clues about strategic aspirations from prime ministerial speeches at the combined commanders' conferences and other heady occasions. The Army is currently engaged in a seminal exercise of transformation which has been "uplinked" with its long-term perspective plans and with those of the other two Services.


It is noteworthy that the 11th Defence Plan (2007-12) is in its fourth year and not yet approved by the government. Nor has the 15-year long-term Perspective Plan (2007-2022). Further, the defence acquisition process is so warped that Rs 50,000 crore has gone unspent over the last 10 years for which no one is accountable. The DRDO, at best an unreliable and erratic performer, is one cause for a rise in spending. Still further, there is no integrated defence plan sanctioned by the government and ad-hocism and the Defence Secretary, in the absence of a Chief of Defence Staff, play a key role in shaping the future defence and security landscape.


Otherwise what would explain the impossible two-and-a-half-front scenario: fighting conventional wars with Pakistan and China and combating an insurgency? Such a contingency has never emerged from any government directive based on an SDSR coupling defence and diplomacy — that is hard and, soft power — and, therefore, the concept never ratified by the government. Take the Army's much-celebrated Cold Start doctrine which has sent shivers down Pakistan's spine. According to Army Chief Gen VK Singh, Cold Start is not an official doctrine but part of new thinking.


All novel strategic thinking on the part of Service Chiefs seldom attracts government sanction. So, most innovative thinking is done in a political vacuum giving the government the dubious advantage of deniability, whether it is a two-front war or Cold Start. Four years ago, soon after the Chinese shot down a space satellite, the Air Force organised a seminar on the domination of aerospace. Then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee ruled that India's policy was benign and only defensive assets would be deployed in higher space. The IAF, however, wants to be a network-centric aerospace power.


The Services cannot be faulted for advanced thinking to get out of the strategic static as governments have never and are unlikely in the future to indulge in future thinking and planning, especially on defence and security. Lack of political direction and strategic guidance have led to half-baked organisational structures, systems and procedures. So this year, the government has decided to upgrade and acquire $ 50 billion worth of aircraft, ships and submarines. The Army, which has hogged funds all this while, is to be starved of money for the modernisation of its artillery and air defence.


It is entirely a different matter that these big ticket items of conventional deterrence are unlikely to be employed as the wars and conflicts of the future will be low intensity which require different skills and equipment. India has been fighting insurgency and terrorism for the last three decades with inadequate and inappropriate arms and equipment. That is why when Kargil happened and the government rushed to Israel and South Africa with an SOS, then Army Chief Gen V.P. Malik declared: We will fight with what we have and later embarked on a futile exercise of downsising manpower to create funds for modernisation, symbolising acute ad-hocism.


In the late 1980s, Air Chief Marshal S.K. Kaul at a conference of industry and the Air Force said that the IAF did not need a deep strike aircraft. His advice was ignored and the government went ahead with a deal with Russia for Su-30 which is now the mainstay of the IAF. Under almost similar conditions earlier, the Jaguar aircraft was acquired at the behest of the government. The acquisition of the haunted Bofors gun was pushed by the government overriding recommendations for guns in the same caliber.


What this suggests is that governments take keen interest in the purchase of weapons involving big sums of money.


What is evident today is the scramble for making good the horrible deficiencies in aircraft and squadron strength which have declined from 39 and a half squadrons to 28. ACM Naik said that 50 per cent of the Air Force equipment was either obsolete or obsolescent at a time when the neighbourhood was volcanic.


This unacceptable decline in operational readiness would not have occurred had there been an integrated long-term modernisation plan approved and sanctioned by the government. As a rising power with a 9 per cent growth rate, India is expected to have considerable military capability with advanced technology to appear to be an assertive power. But converting military power into political and diplomatic gain will not come easily, certainly not from the so-called Integrated Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence which is a big lie.









I was a student of Sir Harcourt Butler School. Located at Jakhu, it had its playground about 50 yards below the school building. Whenever the school bell rang, the students within the hearing range of the bell used to shout, "The bell has gone" just to inform the students playing on the ground to come up and attend the classes.


When I had joined the school, the sentence was so alien to me that in order to confirm its literal meaning, I used to run to the place where the school-gong and hammer were hung. And on seeing both the 'dreaded things' in place, I used to question mark the shouts of my school-fellows. When I understood the meaning, I used 'go' in my examination-paper as "In our house, my grandfather's conch-shell goes daily in the Pooja Room". I was not given any marks for my creativity.


'The bell has gone' syndrome continued with me when I was in early teens. I was passing by a sweetmeat shop when a friend desired to have laddus. Though laddu is my weakness, yet I said 'no' to his proposal because I told him that I was a vegetarian. He cared little about my reply and had laddus by himself while I wondered at the skill of the workmen who could give exact form and character of laddu, barfi, peda etc. to meat to make it sweetmeat.


Urdu was quite popular then and whenever I accompanied my father, his acquaintances used to ask him, "Mizaj Sharif?" (How are you?) And I had learnt by rote his standing reply, "Khairiat Hai" (All is God's grace). One day when I was alone, one of my father's acquaintances asked me, "Ism Sharif?" (What is your name?), I said, "Khairiat Hai". He thought that my name was Khairiat Dutt s/o Jogeshwar Dutt and for him I remained 'Khairiat' till he left Shimla.


I grew up further and joined the Secretariat. At the start of a new year, I asked one of the clerks to display the government-calendars in the rooms of all senior officers and make a report to me. He did the job and presented the report: 'Chief Secretary-hanged in his room; Financial Commissioner-hanged in his room; Secretary-Finance-hanged in his room' and so on.


I called him and asked, "Please go to the rooms of all these officers and see if they are still alive." He was non-plus, "But why, Sir?" There and then I heard the shouts of my school-mates, "The bell has gone." I said to the clerk, "I was just joking. Thank you, Avinash. You did a good job." Avinash left the room totally flummoxed.








CHINA is an expanding power in South Asia. That is the real significance of the news that it may build a new nuclear reactor in Pakistan without the approval of the International Atomic Energy Agency or the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and also of the earlier stories about the presence of Chinese troops in the Pakistani half of Kashmir. Moreover, Beijing's wish to construct a road linking western China with the port of Gwadar in north-western Pakistan is just another example of China's determination to expand its influence in South Asia. China regards the Indian Ocean as its sphere of influence and seeks to counter America's presence there.


Nearly half of the world's seaborne trade passes through the Indian Ocean, and its coastal states are the source of some 60 per cent of the world's oil and a third of its gas reserves. To satiate its appetite for energy, China has embarked on projects in several countries situated along the sea routes stretching from the Malacca Straits to the Cape of Good Hope. Some of these countries lie in South Asia — and that is India's concern.


China has a stake in every South Asian country. Beijing has expanded its relations with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka and seeks to use its leverage in the region. That fact disturbs India, its neighbour and rival for clout in South Asia. It also worries the US, which, while being indebted to China, and admiring its economic progress, feels uneasy at the prospect of authoritarian China becoming Asia's most powerful country.


Amicable ties between Beijing and New Delhi are essential for the stability in South Asia. Good trade relations exist despite the sharing of a contested border. But New Delhi is disturbed by China's renewed harping on its claim to the north-eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. This implies that China is not a status quo power but an expanding one.


Rivalry between China and India is to some extent inevitable. They are the world's fastest-growing economies, though at the moment China's economy is larger than India's. Indeed, China has the world's second largest economy. But even if India fails to overtake China economically, it will remain a close second to China militarily and economically and also the most serious challenge to China's growing influence and power. Neither will accept that regional stability is synonymous with the primacy of the other.


China has tended to believe that the Indo-US nuclear deal of 2006 is directed against it. But it has recognised that the deal suits India and has so far decided not to take a dogmatic stand against it.


Chinese investments in South Asia worry India, but they are not improper: indeed, they raise the question why Indian companies do not expand into Nepal, Myanmar or Sri Lanka as boldly as Chinese ones are doing. (Is it, for example, because leading Indian companies tend to look westward; or they are more interested in buying world-profile western companies like Jaguar, Corus and Arcelor Steel than in betting on economic uncertainties in underdeveloped neighbouring countries?)


Like India, China will not contribute troops to help NATO in Afghanistan. But in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which are at the top of the West's military agenda, China has significant military and economic interests.


Since the 1960s China has been a major arms supplier to Pakistan and so far the two countries have remained all-weather friends. China and Pakistan have traditionally valued one another as a strategic hedge against India. For Pakistan, China is a guarantor of security against India.


They share a free trade agreement. Trade between Pakistan and China was over $6 billion last year and is expected to rise to the $15 billion mark over the next few years.


Beijing also considers Islamabad critical to energy security. Gwadar — 400 km from the Strait of Hormuz — along with a network of rail and roads through Pakistan assures the convenient transport of Middle-Eastern oil and gas to China via its western province of Xinjiang.


In Afghanistan, China's interests are linked to Pakistan, India and Central Asia, and its concern that the US could remain indefinitely there. China fears that a long-term American presence in Afghanistan could be the stepping stone to the expansion of the US influence in Central Asia, which in turn could lead to the strategic "encirclement" of China by the US. At the moment China is the largest investor in Afghanistan. The China Metallurgical Group has invested $3.5 billion to develop the world's largest copper field in Anyak. State-owned Chinese companies are likely to pursue Afghanistan's untapped oil, gas and iron resources.


The war in Afghanistan has presented Beijing with the chance to become a regional player and major world power. China is concerned that a Taliban victory may result in the extremist ideology being exported to its Muslim Uighurs, but it has shown no sign of putting pressure on Pakistan to stop training terrorists. It has some 30 million Muslims, including the 12 million restive Uighurs of Xinjiang province, which directly borders on Afghanistan.


In the land and mountain-locked kingdom of Nepal, China has inspired Maoists and wants to complete a railway line from the Tibetan capital of Lhasa to Kathmandu.


In Sri Lanka, the government could not have defeated Tamil separatists without Chinese arms. A vast new port facility is being built in the Sri Lankan town of Hambantota eight months after the end of the country's civil war. China is to lend Sri Lanka about $200m to build a second international airport in the south of the island. Another $100m from Beijing will help boost the island's railway network. The new airport will be near a vast seaport, which is being largely funded with Chinese money.


India has blocked China's membership of SAARC, where China has only observer status. Were China to join SAARC it would doubtless be locked in a battle with India for the leadership of the association, and SAARC's smaller members would have to choose between being dominated by democratic India or authoritarian China. The Great Game between Asia's largest and fastest-growing rising powers looks set to continue.


The writer is Visiting Professor, Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, New Delhi









THE PPP-led Pakistan government, which has been in the most difficult straits after it failed to come up to the people's expectations during the flood-caused crisis, seems to be trying a new strategy to save its sinking ship. The strategy is based on anti-Americanism, getting stronger with every passing day. This explains why Afghanistan-bound NATO trucks passing through Pakistan were getting torched almost every second or third day without the authorities doing anything to prevent it till Sunday when the closed Torkham border crossing was reopened. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had claimed responsibility, sending across the message that the US drone attacks on the extremist outfit's bases have only helped expand its following. According to media reports, the military drive launched against the Pakistani Taliban is hardly noticeable these days. Pakistan's armed forces look the other way when the extremist elements vent their anger against the US.


The Pakistan Army had stopped cooperating with the US forces after three Pakistani soldiers were killed and many injured in a cross-border NATO strike on September 30 despite a top US military official, Admiral Mike Mullen, in a letter to Pakistan Army Chief Gen Ashfaque Parvez Kayani expressing his apology for the "regrettable loss" of lives. Pakistan had added to the US woes by closing the key Torkham crossing on its borders with Afghanistan.


Islamabad, despite depending considerably on US military and economic aid, is feeling emboldened in taking an anti-US line because Washington is showing signs of nervousness with the time of US troop withdrawal --- July 2011 --- from Afghanistan nearing fast. Pakistan's unhelpful attitude could be easily noticed during a recent meeting between NATO Sectreaty-General Rasmussen and Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi when the US official admitted that the "attacks (on Pakistani troops) were deliberate", according to The Nation.


When Mr Rasmussen urged the Pakistani minister to get the closed border route for entering Afghanistan opened soon, "the Foreign Minister's body language and the tenor of his conversation with the NATO chief was firm this time around", as The Nation commented in an editorial. Mr Qureshi told the NATO chief that the public sentiment prevented the government from allowing vehicular traffic through the key border crossing.


Anti-Americanism is, perhaps, the only issue on which there is unanimity among President Asif Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Army Chief Ashfaque Kayani. While it is believed that this will add to the goodwill the Pakistan Army has among the public, taking a stand not helpful to the US is considered the most effective remedy at the moment for saving the beleaguered Zardari-Gilani government. The talk of their getting replaced for bad governance is no longer there.


The US, instead of forcefully telling Pakistan to behave in this hour of crisis, is busy with appeasing tactics. It has prevailed upon Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to hold reconciliation talks not only with the Taliban identified with the Quetta Shura but also with the pro-Pakistan Haqqani network.


According to The News, the Karzai government has held direct negotiations with the Haqqani group, though the latter has been fighting fiercely against the NATO troops in Afghanistan. The Haqqani network, based in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area, is known for its close links with foreign militant groups, including Al-Qaida.


Earlier, Dawn quoted Wall Street Journal to say that the ISI did all it could to dissuade the Taliban factions from holding negotiations with the Karzai government. The ISI obviously tried to convince the Taliban that the Karzai ministry in any case could not survive after the US-led foreign forces left Afghanistan.


The significance of anti-Americanism for achieving political objectives can be understood from the fact that former military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf, too, indulged in such rhetoric while announcing the formation of his All-Pakistan Muslim League in London. Strangely, neither General Musharraf nor the government in Islamabad is worried about the fact that pandering to the anti-American sentiment may lead to the US Congress forcing a cut in aid to Pakistan, which currently stands at $7.5 billion spread over the next five years.









Not one to bask in celluloid charisma or flex heroic muscles, Rishi Kapoor's forever been the pretty boy with the broad smile. His charm lay in the fact that he, as an actor, thrived on our indulgence, and wasn't afraid to show it. 


As son of India's most popular showman, he took the young, urban romantic image into realistic, relatable territory – away from his uncle Shashi's irresistibility and his uncle Shammi's madcap style – and we loved him for it. For here was an affluent, unquestionably pretty – yes, the word demands repeating – goofball, a romantic for a new age. And one who could always act.


Which is why, like with most nowgrizzled Bollywood actors in and around the 60-year mark, it's been frustrating to watch a man of his talent reduced to clichéd character roles. In Rishi's case, it's been that of the scotchswilling father of the bride, an affectionate yet misunderstood man who looks confounded through most of the film's duration, misses his dearly departed wife, and propounds some words of wisdom while dabbing at his teary eye. 


Yet the thing about Kapoor is that even as a leading man he's always steered clear of the traditional trappings of the Bollywood hero. He's been fallible, meek, flimsy, a solid supporting actor, unafraid even to slip into drag despite knowing that he's looking better than his heroine. He has always been a fine character actor, and it is here that he is now finding himself a very impressive new niche. First came Luck By Chance, where his hapless producer Romy Rolly – a stereotype cocking a snook at Subhash Ghai, among others – is one of the best things in the film, a man who makes you laugh your guts out before inevitably drawing on your sympathy. It's a comically sad character, and Kapoor uses his vulnerability to tremendous effect. 


Then, in Chintu Ji, the sort of film that Hindi cinema has hardly ever seen, Kapoor played an egotistical, vain, politically unscrupulous and utterly spoilt version of himself – by which I mean a character called Rishi Kapoor, onetime superstar son of Raj and Krishna Kapoor. 


It was a fantastically meta experiment, and showed off not just the actor's intrepid willingness to lay his image on the line but his acting chops. It is a performance, and a film, worthy of applause, if only for its ambition. Watch it. Not many have, and that is a travesty. 


And now, in Friday's release Do Dooni Chaar, Kapoor does it again. Playing a poorly paid mathematics teacher with sweaters stretched unashamedly over his paunch, Kapoor leads a talented ensemble cast to greatness and gives us a glimpse into a bracket of the middle-class he's never had to inhabit, not even in his films. 


The film takes a little while to get going, but soon finds its rhythm and chugs merrily along, almost in a Khosla Ka Ghosla vein. Kapoor, of course, is sensational in the part – as is his lovely, graceful and quite fantastic wife, and frequent on-screen sweetheart from the good old days, Neetu Singh Kapoor – and they ensure the film warms the heart just a bit more than the script necessarily deserved. It's a very special experience, seeing these two in such form playing off each other so beautifully, and I suggest you catch it soon. 

Why I'm asking you to go watch these movies is, of course, just so more can be made like them. Because actors like Kapoor – free of gimmickry and bluster and eschewing the spectacular for the gloriously simple – need the room to free their arms and eat sloppily around a dining table, butter chicken dripping from the lips as wonderfully realistic dialogue pops uncinematically out of the mouth. 


And because if we don't encourage the good, Rishi'll just have to play God again to Rani Mukerji's Punjabi angel – and nobody on earth should want that. Really.



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Politics in Karnataka has touched an all-time low with the manner in which the tumult of the last few days culminated in a vote of confidence passed without a ballot in five minutes amidst scenes of unprecedented violence and entry of police into the state assembly. Whatever be the final outcome, there is no doubt that the state has been set back on several counts. The first and the most immediate casualty is political stability. The government, which has remained in power for two years with the help of independent members and defections, now has to contend with rebels from within the ruling BJP who have refused to budge despite pressures to return to the fold. It is highly doubtful if under such conditions the state, once considered a leader in many respects, will be able to witness either growth or social stability. Karnataka under Devaraj Urs earned the admiration of the rest of the country for initiating social engineering and thereby avoiding the caste conflict that has marked the politics of north Indian states. With generous support from the Centre, which set up premier educational institutions and public sector units, the state forged ahead both in terms of industrial and skills development. The latter laid the foundations of the information-technology (IT) revolution that was to follow and earned Bangalore the appellation of the country's "Silicon plateau".


In contrast to this distinctive past, the state has appeared to flounder over the last six years, which have seen three governments. The drought in 2003 showed up the lopsided development in the state, which has some of the most arid and backward districts in the country. Instead of using the urban dynamism of Bangalore to garner resources for development, the state appears to have lost even its IT momentum. Most large software companies have turned to other states, notably Tamil Nadu, to expand operations in the absence of available land in and around Bangalore. The contrast between the two neighbouring states is telling. Tamil Nadu has not only forged ahead with industrial development powered by its automobile and electronics clusters, it has simultaneously closed the IT gap and scored major gains in human development. Karnataka has been blighted by the quality of its politics. The victory of the BJP in the last assembly elections, as also the periodic crises that the state government has faced, has been attributed first to the financial clout of the mining lobby and thereafter the tussle among politicians over the spoils of office. The political turmoil has been singularly issueless even as a state once known for the absence of caste conflict has lapsed into the politics of caste and money power. The political turmoil comes at a time when nature has been particularly bountiful. The whole of peninsular India has received very good rains, enabling it to relegate inter-state water disputes at least temporarily to memory. This should have offered a golden opportunity to take things forward. Instead, Karnataka's politics seems determined to pull it down. The backward districts remain so and Bangalore sinks deeper in its traffic jams, the mismanagement of its municipal finances preventing it from using the resources which are there on the ground to build its infrastructure.







The Nobel Prize in Economic Science for 2010 has been awarded to two Americans, Peter Diamond of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dale Mortensen of Northwestern University, along with a naturalised Briton, Christopher Pissarades, for their work in search theory, which, among other applications, rigorously explains the coexistence of unemployment and job vacancies in market economies. The award has been widely hailed given the centrality of the theory to provide a macroeconomic analysis of the labour market. While the underpinnings of the theory were established by Diamond in the early 1970s, Mortensen and Pissarades have deepened the theory later.


Search theory had its origins in the 1960s motivated by the need to provide an explanation for discrepancies between neoclassical theory with its emphasis on markets with perfect information and zero search costs, with empirical findings emerging from studies of the labour and housing markets in the United States. Buyers and sellers of goods and services do not immediately find what they are looking for and even when they do, are likely to reject the outcome as sub-optimal. Consequently, the processes of searching and finding inherently involve "friction", which raises costs for both buyers and sellers. Diamond's seminal 1971 paper modelled the interaction between buyers looking for the best possible price and sellers who would set prices taking buyers' search behaviour into account. The introduction of search costs led to conclusions that differed sharply from established theory. Mortensen and Pissarades, who followed Diamond a decade later, published several influential studies on search and matching markets. Their work led to the identification of "external effects" that are not taken into account by individual agents. It followed that unregulated search markets in general were more inefficient in that they encouraged sub-optimal utilisation of resources. Another insight was the discovery that with search costs, the unregulated outcome was not uniquely efficient. The policy advice that intuitively followed was for greater government oversight, especially in situations where greater control would curb search-related inefficiencies.


The most conspicuous applications of search theory have been to the macroeconomic dynamics of labour markets. The Diamond-Mortensen-Pissarades (DMP) model is arguably the most commonly used analytical tool for analysing unemployment, wage formation and job vacancies. The model has been used to estimate the effects of different labour markets on unemployment, the average durations of employment spells, the number of vacancies and the real wage. Search theory has also formalised the intuitive belief that generous unemployment benefits reduce the incentive to seek employment, thereby increasing the search time. While the theory's most visible contribution has been to labour markets, it has broader applications in public economics, monetary economics and the economics of housing markets. The assumption of institutional arrangements, such as social security and unemployment insurance, within the theoretical framework largely restricts its applicability to developed economies. However, its utility in providing the intellectual foundation for the analysis of markets characterised by distortions by way of information asymmetries cannot be diminished.








The poor quality of general governance is widely acknowledged as India's central problem. One hears this ad nauseum at conferences, seminars, newspaper editorials and casual conversation. Many suggestions have been put forward ranging from reform of municipal government to that of political campaign financing. All of these initiatives are important and must be pursued. However, my own experience suggests that we need to resolve an even more basic problem that pervades the daily life of a common citizen.


The essential premise of all systems of governance is that common citizens follow the rules of the land. In turn, this assumes that the citizen knows the rules or can easily find them. Unfortunately, this is no simple task in India.


 There are a plethora of rules, procedures and forms that apply to routine activities like getting a driver's licence, applying for a gas connection, setting up a business, building a home and so on. I am not talking here about the great laws that are contained in the Constitution or debated in Parliament. I am referring to the little rules and regulations that govern daily life. These rules are usually set by government departments, local bodies and other agencies. Even if the original guidelines are clear, these rules are inevitably subject to change. Very soon we find ourselves in a quagmire of modified sub-clauses, exemptions, internal contradictions and complex procedures. Note that I am not really commenting on the quality of the law — that is a major subject in its own right. I am merely pointing out that it is nearly impossible for even the most law-abiding citizen to know exactly what is expected. Not surprisingly, this leads to large-scale corruption, harassment and inefficiency. Indeed, it sometimes feels that the whole framework has been deliberately set up for rent-seeking.


What should we do?

Given the above situation, we need a fundamental change in the way common citizens are informed about the laws, rules and regulations that they are expected to follow. Here are three simple steps that would dramatically tilt the scales in their favour:


First, it must be made mandatory that all rules, procedures and forms be placed on the website of the relevant agency or department as well as prominently pasted on the office notice-board in English and Hindi (and/or the local language). Today, we have an arbitrary system where some agencies put up their rules on the Web and some do not. More often than not, the information is partial, out-of-date or simply misleading. Under the new framework, a rule or procedure will be deemed not to apply unless the citizens have been given a fighting chance to know about it. If the rule on the website or notice-board is wrong or incomplete, then that is what applies. If a form is not mentioned clearly and provided, then it need not be filled out. This is not entirely a new principle because major laws, such as those passed by Parliament, come into effect only after they have been notified in the Gazzette of India. I am merely extending this to apply to all government rules and, at the same time, asking for it to be delivered through a more accessible and modern medium.


Second, all laws, regulations and procedures must be presented as a coherent whole rather than as a series of circulars and notifications. At present, a citizen needs to follow a complex paper trail in order to understand what is expected of her. Even officials do not often know the current state of the law (or pretend not to know). I can understand that in the old days it may have made sense to update rules by appending a sub-clause. This makes no sense today when it is just as easy to make the change in the main text and then highlight it using italics. Wikipedia provides a good illustration of how we can constantly update a certain text while allowing easy comparison with past versions. Thus, the citizen is always presented with a clear set of guidelines at every point in time. It will have the side-benefit that many internal contradictions in the law will become self-evident and can be corrected. Again, this is not entirely a new idea since we already do something similar for important central laws. I am merely asking for this process to be institutionalised and strictly enforced.


Finally, the time and date must be mentioned every time a rule or regulation is uploaded or changed. This is very important because it will tell the citizen when the new law has come into effect. Preferably, the law should come into effect after a few days (say a week) after the change has been notified in order to allow the citizen to comply. The government's software can be easily set up so that officials cannot manipulate the date on which the notice was issued. Note that Wikipedia is again a good model to follow because it creates a history of each rule and tells us exactly when each change was made.


The transparent state

Many of the problems of governance in India flow from the lack of transparency. The above change — preferably enshrined in legislation — would make the state transparent and strengthen public institutions at the cost of individual incumbents. In turn, this would dramatically reduce rent-seeking and inefficiency. The necessary information-technology platform is simple and already exists. Furthermore, it does not have to be introduced everywhere at the same time but can be introduced in one state or department at a time. Most importantly, it will cost virtually nothing to set up and even less to maintain. The real problem will be one of mindset. Today, the attitude is that the rules can be changed arbitrarily without making any effort to inform the citizen. My proposals will make it the business of the state to clearly notify the common citizen of her rights and duties.


The author is president of the Sustainable Planet Institute










Compulsory licensing is one of the most powerful tools available to a government to ensure health security for its people. Through it a government can make available a vital medicine at an affordable price to meet a health emergency by setting aside the rights of the patent-holder in question. Simply put, if there is an AIDS epidemic in a country and an effective new medicine is beyond the reach of most of the victims, and the government does not have the resources to procure it at a prohibitive cost and distribute it with a huge subsidy, then it can unilaterally license its manufacture and sale with a royalty paid to the patent-holder.


 Obviously, compulsory licensing is opposed by patent-holding drug companies that see its exercise as a threat to their intellectual property rights (IPR) and the incentive to innovate. The TRIPS agreement, which has strengthened IPR protection across the world and to which India is a party, also lays down the ground rules under which members can resort to compulsory licensing and a legal framework exists in India for the exercise of this provision. Significantly, India has never exercised this right though countries like Brazil and Thailand have. Compulsory licensing is really a deterrent. The fact that it can be used often produces the necessary results.


Since the 2000s, recalls the UK charity AVERT, large pharmaceutical companies manufacturing drugs to treat HIV/AIDS have faced public pressure to cut prices. Several of them first offered to negotiate price cuts for severely affected regions. The Clinton administration also issued an executive order promising the US government would not interfere with African countries that violate American patent law to obtain cheaper AIDS drugs. In 2001, major pharmaceutical companies sought to prosecute the South African government for passing a law that allowed easy production and importation of generics (compulsory licensing in substance) but were eventually forced to back down. One of the pharmaceutical companies involved, GlaxoSmithKline, even granted permission (voluntary licence) to a major South African generics producer, Aspen, to share the rights to three of its drugs. India comes in because it is a major producer of generic AIDS drugs.


In the case of India, compulsory licensing is likely to become more important in the future than it has been in the past. Clean water and proper sanitation have till now dominated discussion on public health. It is with the coming of the AIDS epidemic that the availability of modern medicines for public health delivery has become an issue. Also, the use of generic equivalents had not been a problem under the old patent regime till 2005. The crunch will come as increasingly new medicines are developed for new and old diseases. Quick and easy cures for malaria and tuberculosis, once available, will become prime candidates if they are priced exorbitantly. What is more, diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases (Indians are particularly prone to the latter), considered till not so long ago as the burden of the better off, have now crossed the urban-rural and rich-poor divide. If these diseases are seen to have acquired epidemic proportions before large numbers are able to afford the new good cures, compulsory licensing will become a serious option. The crunch has already come with cancer, by no means an affliction of solely the better off. If screening and detection among the poor were anywhere near adequate, the numbers and the need to reduce suffering, when the knowledge to do so exits, would cry out for action.


In a new development in the last few years, several prominent Indian pharmaceutical companies manufacturing generics have been taken over by global companies. This has created a fear that India's unique capabilities as a leading producer of cheap medicines in the world may be compromised by the policies of the new global parents. There is now a demand that curbs be put on foreign investment in pharma. But the problem is that some of the other leading Indian firms have also made global acquisitions. Ranbaxy made global acquisitions before itself being taken over, Dr Reddy's took over Betapharma and Sun Pharmaceuticals' long battle to acquire the Israeli company Taro is now coming to a successful end. So, what should Indian policy aim at?


It is instructive to look at the case of Thailand and its attempt to use compulsory licensing successfully. Says AVERT, when it did so in the case of an Abbott AIDS drug, the leading drug firm retaliated by deciding not to apply for licences in Thailand to sell several new products. Thailand has since been repeatedly placed on the US Trade Representative's "priority watch list" of countries seen to be committing intellectual property piracy. Abbott has recently acquired the domestic generic brands of Piramal Healthcare. The disturbing thought is what if Cipla, an aggressive global leader in producing and marketing generic versions of AIDS drugs in the face of strong opposition by big pharma companies, were to become a target of foreign takeover?


It is important to maintain a perspective on compulsory licensing. It is one of several tools available to deliver affordable health care to all but comes with a cost. Patent-driven pharma companies — all foreign now but hopefully to be joined by a few Indian ones — will fight it tooth and nail. Conducting this battle will consume energy and the mind space of policy-makers. So, the weapon should be used in carefully selected cases and with caution. What can and ought to be done more aggressively is using access to the Indian pharma market as a bargaining chip to further the cause of affordable health care. 











When the revenue departments sleep over cases they had lost in the courts and do not appeal for long, it is difficult to tell whether it is just red tape or something else. Their lethargy causes losses to the government and gains to tax dodgers.


The new chief justice of India (CJI) started his stint in the Supreme Court a few months ago with a strict code for the indolent babus. Some appeals are filed after a delay of a thousand and one nights. He has ordered investigation into the delays in some gross cases. His campaign is expected to nudge bureaucrats to move appeals faster. On the part of the assessees, the CJI has insisted on them paying a substantial part of the tax demand before hearing their late appeals.


 The judges generally make caustic remarks against the laggards but "condone the delay" as a matter of course. This is because if the appeals of the revenue departments are dismissed only on the grounds of delay, the winners would be exactly those who engineered the delay and the losers would be the public whose money vanished in the dusty files of the departments of income tax, sales tax and excise. These three departments were named by two Supreme Court judges last week as the most corrupt ones anywhere in the country.


Though the problem has been in existence for decades, one bench of the Supreme Court has taken up the issue with quixotic zeal and issued notices to the chief secretaries of all states and requested the solicitor general to assist it in its crusade. In the case State of Jharkhand vs Krishan Pradhan, the court said: "It appears that cases are coming up before this court and probably before the high courts also, where appeals or writ petitions are filed after inordinate delay and an explanation is sought to be given in the application for condonation of delay in such cases filed by the government or the state authorities that the file was moved from one desk to another or the approval was sought from the higher authority which took considerable time."


The judges added: "We feel that the beneficiary of the judgment may be hand-in-glove with the officials in the government department who deal with the files, and files are suppressed for a long period, and then the appeal before the high court or the Supreme Court is filed after a long delay to get the appeal dismissed on the ground of delay. Huge amounts of public money or public property may be involved and the government will be the loser on the technical point of limitation in such cases. This racket has been going on for a long time. Now the time has come that this racket is ended and the officials responsible given severe punishment."


The court regretted that this practice was often adopted by officials of various state governments and has become a "regular feature". With all emphasis at its command, the court declared that "it is high time that this malpractice is severely rooted out and an effectual mechanism adopted all over the country so that such delays do not occur in future".


Similar battles have been proclaimed earlier, and they have not shaken the steel frame very much. Earlier this year, the court ordered an inquiry into the conduct of the high functionaries of a state corporation that took four years to file an appeal (Oriental Aroma Chemicals vs Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation). The court ordered that the loss suffered by the corporation should be recovered from the officials who caused the delay.


Last year, the court asked the Karnataka government to pay Rs 10,00,000 for filing an appeal after a delay of 14 years (State of Karnataka vs Moideen Kunhi). It also asked the government to take action against "every person responsible for the alleged fraud and delay in pursuing legal remedies". In another case, State of Delhi vs Ahmed Jaan, the court passed a similar order.


The courts go by the maxim: "Equity aids the vigilant, not those who slumber on their rights." Therefore, the Limitation Act specifies the delays permissible in filing different types of petitions. The Companies Act and most other legislation have similar clauses setting time limits to press claims. Stale claims do not impress the judiciary.


In practice, however, the judges are extremely "kind" and routinely condone the delay. This is mainly because a substantial claim to a right should not be defeated by a technical fault. Sometimes a citizen may be ignorant of her rights and the law to protect her. But the babus and corporate lawyers are a different set. They might be suffering from too much knowledge of the rules of the game.







There is undoubtedly a need to make microfinance institutions more transparent but capping lending rates will hurt numerous smaller MFIs operating in remote areas and thus may not help the poor.

P Arunkumar

CEO, Svasti Microfinance

Interest rate caps could force MFIs to avoid remote areas where the process of delivering loans and collecting repayments is people-intensive and quite expensive


According to reports, the finance ministry has suggested that public sector banks should ensure that microfinance institutions (MFIs) to whom they lend set a cap of 22 to 24 per cent on lending rates. Most MFIs in India charge customers 28 to 33 per cent (all-in costs including interest rate and processing fees).


We must understand why MFI interest rates are what they are. All lenders suffer three types of costs — cost of capital, loan loss provisions and transaction costs. Transaction costs for making many small loans are much higher than they are for making fewer larger loans. MFI clients live in remote areas. They do not have credit histories, collateral or financial documents to establish creditworthiness. The process of delivering loans and collecting repayments from them requires frequent physical interaction, is extremely people-intensive and quite expensive.


SKS Microfinance, India's largest MFI, has reported total operating costs of around 12.66 per cent for fiscal 2009 in its IPO prospectus. Add to this the cost of funds for MFIs, which is around 11 to 12 per cent for the top MFIs and one to two per cent higher for smaller ones. Add further loan loss provision of two per cent, and you get 26 to 27 per cent as merely the break-even rate.


Remember that banks were charging all-in rates exceeding 45 to 55 per cent a couple of years back when they made small-ticket personal loans to lower middle-class customers. The only reason this business has halted today is the heavy losses and frauds. Even today, credit card and personal loan rates that banks charge are comparable to, if not higher than, MFI lending rates.


A directive requiring MFIs to operate at a cap of 24 per cent will create panic among those institutions with systems, processes and infrastructure that, as currently designed, would make it difficult to immediately shift to dramatically lower rates. This is significant for the numerous start-up and smaller MFIs operating in remote or underserviced areas that lose money for many years before breaking even.


Capping interest rates for MFIs is advocated as a means of client protection, but it could have the opposite effect. Interest rate caps could force MFIs to avoid remote areas where it may be more expensive for them to operate. It could also make MFIs reluctant to reach out to the poorer segments of the population that require smaller loan sizes, which are more expensive for MFIs to administer. It may force excessive competition amongst MFIs servicing particular segments of the poor in particular regions that are relatively easy or less expensive to service, leading to multiple loans being made to these segments.


Also, most MFI loans are of one-year tenure with instalments collected weekly. A drop in interest rate from 28 per cent to 24 per cent on a one-year loan of Rs 10,000 translates into a total savings in the hands of the borrower of less than Rs 300 per year. This translates into reducing their weekly instalment by less than Rs 6 per week. In my experience of interacting with MFI borrowers, their top priority is to get bigger loan sizes and better service. MFI interest rates are far cheaper than the other available sources of credit for the poor, such as moneylenders. Availability of institutional finance is more important to the poor than a reduction in interest rates.


As MFIs establish their business model in each new market, compete for customers, capital, employees and banking relationships, economies of scale kick in and they adopt new technologies, they will innovate to reduce transaction costs and interest rates. Some leading MFIs have already announced a drop in rates and we will see more of this in the coming years.


As observed by the Raghuram Rajan Committee on financial sector reforms, liberalising interest rates would allow the formal sector to lend to the poor and keep them from the moneylender, though doing so would require the political will to accept the widespread evidence that low interest rate ceilings simply do not help the poor.


Instead, regulators must focus on improving MFIs' lending practices, making them more transparent, ensuring

clients understand the rates and terms of the loans and making sure MFIs take measures to reduce multiple lending to segments such as agricultural labourers for personal purposes. These are all important issues that deserve more attention and debate than MFI interest rates.


The views are personal

R Subrahmanyam 

Principal Secretary, Andhra Pradesh government *

Microfinance institutions are achieving hyper profits at the cost of the rural poor, further impoverishing the already distressed rural sector


Microfinance lending is the story of how a system can move from "charity" to "robbery" led by avaricious elements raking in hyper-profits from the meagre surplus available with the rural poor. The atrocities being committed by microfinance institutions (MFIs) in the garb of lending to the poor and the resultant suicides in rural areas underline the urgent need to regulate this activity.


The irregularities committed by MFIs operating in Andhra Pradesh range from usurious interest rates, lack of transparency, cheating and using coercive mechanisms to recover loans, unveiling a new and a more cruel form of the moneylender system. Many of these MFIs have amassed huge profits and become commercialised at the cost of the rural poor, flourishing due to a lack of regulation.


Andhra Pradesh has, over the past decade, built the community-based self help group (SHG) movement. It has organised more than 10 million rural poor women into SHGs and federated them at the village, mandal and district levels. The government of Andhra Pradesh's Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) has achieved financial inclusion by linking these SHGs with the banks. Today, these SHGs have more than Rs 20,000 crore outstanding loans with the banks, bringing a radical decline in rural poverty.


It is this green pasture that MFIs have entered. MFI activities in Andhra Pradesh raise alarm bells for various reasons:


One, MFIs are poaching on the SHGs by showing them as joint liability groups (JLG) formed by them. SHG members are being induced to join JLGs by inducing the group leaders through promises of freebies. MFIs, therefore, are not helping spread financial inclusion, but are including themselves in existing set-up built over decades by SHGs.


Two, MFIs are resorting to multiple lending without conducting a due diligence exercise on the capacity to repay, purpose for the loan and its end use. As a result, prudential norms are being violated at will. This can destabilise the financial sector due to the possibility of large-scale defaults, thereby increasing non-performing assets, which can have a cascading effect on the balance sheet of the banks.


Three, in the case of non-payment or default, MFIs are using coercion and unethical means of recovery ranging from confiscating household articles, using goondas, forcing defaulters to take further loans for repayment and forcing poor women into prostitution, all resulting in considerable distress for the rural poor, driving some of them to commit suicide.


Four, there is no transparency on effective interest rates. Since the effective interest rates are concealed by weekly recoveries, the poor are unable to understand that the actual interest rates are over 30 per cent in most cases.


Finally, unlike SHGs, which are the community financial institutions, MFIs are achieving hyper profits at the cost of the rural poor, further impoverishing the already distressed rural sector.


So far, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has taken a stand-offish attitude to the problem, leaving a regulation vacuum. It needs to change its outlook given that the nature of these MFIs has changed over the past five years and they have become money-spinning businesses raking in hyper-profits.


Naturally, the Andhra Pradesh government cannot be a silent spectator to this "loot and scoot" system of MFI functioning. Since the RBI has stated that the state government is the best agency to regulate the activities of MFIs, we will certainly be looking at legislative measures to reign in their activities. We also feel that the draft Bill before Parliament to regulate the MFIs should be expedited. This will ensure that the unregistered MFIs' activities can be curbed. We are in dialogue with the RBI to advise banks about the need to examine the activities of MFIs that register as non-banking financial institutions before lending to them. We strongly feel that the interest rate spread of MFIs may be limited to 8 per cent. They may also be mandated to disclose the "effective interest rates" to clients. The use of coercion and unethical practices in loan recovery should be strictly banned. Any distress deaths caused by MFI agents should be considered homicide and action should be taken under relevant section of Indian Penal Code.


*Rural Development Department










EDITORIAL writers, it seems, are not the only ones forced to look for topical pegs! If the Nobel Prize for Economics is any indication, the relevant search committee is just as driven by the flavour of the moment. So, with unemployment a serious problem in most advanced countries, what could be more fitting than rewarding three economists for pioneering work in labour economics, traditionally seen as a less glamorous field than the mathematical wizardry associated with branches like game theory. But that was in the days before the crisis, when rocket scientists had transformed economics from a social science dealing with often irrational human beings into a clone of the physical sciences. The compass has swung the other way since. As the press release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences put it, this year's Laureates are being feted for developing a theory that can be used to answer questions that are troubling policymakers today. 'Why are so many people unemployed when there are a large number of job openings? How can economic policy affect unemployment?' In many markets, buyers and sellers do not always make contact with one another immediately. Since the search process requires time and resources, it creates frictions in the market as the demands of some buyers will not be met, while some sellers cannot sell as much as they wish. One more answer: more generous jobless benefits lead to higher unemployment as job seekers then tend to become more choosy. 


This year's Laureate trio has formulated a theoretical framework for search markets. While Peter Diamond of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysed the foundations of search markets, Dale Mortensen of Northwestern University and Christopher Pissarides of the London School of Economics expanded the theory and applied it to the labour market. Their models help us understand the ways in which unemployment, job vacancies and wages are affected by regulation and economic policy. That is the kind of insight the world sorely needs as it battles a slowdown that shows no sign of ending and, worse, threatens to throw many more out of jobs.








THE mess in Karnataka is a case of political opportunism and corruption precipitating a constitutional crisis. At root of the current crisis is the blatant demand of the rebel BJP and a few independent MLAs to be given a bigger share of the pie, but that comes in the backdrop of a widespread culture of money and muscle power holding the state politics to ransom. The fact that the same mining barons who had held the B S Yeddyurappa government hostage earlier are propping him up now is another indication of that. And after the assembly speaker disqualified the rebel MLAs, the way the Yeddyurappa government managed to survive the vote of confidence — by a voice vote amidst bedlam — is indicative of the breakdown of basic democratic principles. The issue has also become a spat between the governor and the BJP. It is a moot point whether both the speaker and the governor breached constitutional norms. But the factual position is that without the rebel MLAs, the Yeddyurappa regime, even if it were to continue, would be in a majority by a razor-thin margin. And given the sort of upheavals witnessed within the BJP in the state, it would hardly be a government that inspires confidence. Thus, there might be merit in the idea of holding another trust vote, albeit in a more orderly fashion. And that vote could be held after the Karnataka High Court, where the rebel MLAs have appealed against their disqualification, delivers its verdict on the issue. 


Mr Yeddyurappa now seems to have agreed to another trust vote on Thursday, but the question on the role of the rebel/disqualified MLAs would still remain. Until their status is clear, there would be room for more uncertainty. The other options are imposing President's rule — never a wholly-desirable prospect given larger democratic interests and principles — or having fresh polls. But the larger issue is the breakdown of the political, democratic and constitutional order in Karnataka. And that isn't just because of a culture of wholesale horse-trading or BJP factionalism. It is also due to the unfettered role big money has played in state politics. Which again posits the wider need to usher in reforms on how political parties are funded.







IN THE hullabaloo over the Nobel prize awardees every year, the Ig Nobels usually get, well, ignored. So it was this year too, especially after the Nobel committee left China hot and sour by naming dissident Liu Xiaobo as the peace prize winner, and incensed Leftist intelligentsia by anointing Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa as 2010's literature laureate. How much these selections affect the average person is moot, but barring a few obscure choices — such as new ways to collect whale snot — the Ig Nobels seem to have a more direct impact. BP's disproving of the adage that oil and water don't mix was a no-brainer for the chemistry Ig Nobel, but the discovery by Dutch scientists that riding on a rollercoaster can reduce feelings of shortness of breath among asthma sufferers was also a shoo-in for the medicine gong. After all, the business opportunities of ailing amusement parks repositioning themselves as wellness centres cannot be ignored in these straitened times. And with new viruses being discovered every day, the public health prize to US researchers for finding that bearded scientists pose a risk because bacteria used in laboratories stay in facial hair even after washing and shampooing could not be more opportune, either. Talk about a close shave. And for all those chastised for their use of colourful language, proof that swearing lessens pain — arrived at by getting volunteers to submerge their hands in icy water longer by letting them use expletives — could open up new avenues in palliative care. 
    But the most significant award is the one for management, bagged by Italian physicists, as it happens, for their mathematical model proving that randomly promoting employees actually made companies more efficient as people in a 'hierarchical organisation climb the hierarchy until they reach a level of maximum incompetence'. The employees' case for freedom from the bondage of KRAs has been advanced immeasurably by this discovery.






WITH interest rates near zero, the US Federal Reserve and other central banks are struggling to remain relevant. The last arrow in their quiver is called quantitative easing (QE), and it is likely to be almost as ineffective in reviving the US economy as anything else the Fed has tried in recent years. Worse, QE is likely to cost taxpayers a bundle, while impairing the Fed's effectiveness for years to come. 


John Maynard Keynes argued that monetary policy was ineffective during the Great Depression. Central banks are better at restraining markets' irrational exuberance in a bubble — restricting the availability of credit or raising interest rates to rein in the economy — than at promoting investment in a recession. That is why good monetary policy aims to prevent bubbles from arising. 


But the Fed, captured for more than two decades by market fundamentalists and Wall Street interests, not only failed to impose restraints, but acted as cheerleaders. And, having played a central role in creating the current mess, it is now trying to regain face. 


In 2001, lowering interest rates seemed to work, but not the way it was supposed to. Rather than spurring investment in plant and equipment, low interest rates inflated a real-estate bubble. This enabled a consumption binge, which meant that debt was created without a corresponding asset, and encouraged excessive investment in real estate, resulting in excess capacity that will take years to eliminate. 


The best that can be said for monetary policy over the last few years is that it prevented the direst outcomes that could have followed Lehman Brothers' collapse. But no one would claim that lowering short-term interest rates spurred investment. Indeed, business lending — particularly to small businesses — in both the US and Europe remains markedly below pre-crisis levels. The Fed and the European Central Bank have done nothing about this. 


They still seem enamoured of the standard monetary policy models, in which all central banks have to do to get the economy going is reduce interest rates. The standard models failed to predict the crisis, but bad ideas die a slow death. So, while bringing down short-term T-bill rates to near-zero has failed, the hope is that bringing down longer-term interest rates will spur the economy. The chances of success are near-zero. 


Large firms are awash with cash, and lowering interest rates slightly won't make much difference to them. And, lowering the rates that government pays has not translated into correspondingly lower interest rates for the many small firms struggling for financing. 


More relevant is the availability of loans. With so many banks in the US fragile, lending is likely to remain constrained. Moreover, most small-business loans are collateral-based, but the value of the most common form of collateral, real estate, has plummeted. 


The Obama administration's efforts to deal with the real estate market have been a dismal failure, perhaps succeeding only in postponing further declines. But even optimists don't believe that real estate prices will increase substantially any time soon. In short, QE — lowering long-term interest rates by buying longterm bonds and mortgages — won't do much to stimulate business directly. 

IT MAYhelp, though, in two ways. One way is as part of America's strategy of competitive devaluation. Officially, America still talks about the virtues of a strong dollar, but lowering interest rates weakens the exchange rate. Whether one views this as currency manipulation or as an accidental byproduct of lower interest rates is irrelevant. The fact is that a weaker dollar resulting from lower interest rates gives the US a slight competitive advantage in trade. 


Meanwhile, as investors look outside the US for higher yield, the flood of money out of the dollar has bid up exchange rates in emerging markets around the world. Emerging markets know this, and are upset — Brazil has vehemently expressed its concerns — not only about the increased value of their currency, but that the influx of money risks fuelling asset bubbles or triggering inflation. 


The normal response of emerging market central banks to bubbles or inflation would be to raise interest rates — thereby increasing their currencies' value still more. The US policy is thus delivering a double-whammy on competitive devaluation — weakening the dollar and forcing competitors to strengthen their currencies (though some are taking countermeasures, erecting barriers to short-term inflows and intervening more directly in foreign exchange markets). 


The second way that QE might have a slight effect is by lowering mortgage rates, which would help sustain real estate prices. So, QE would produce some — probably weak — balance-sheet effects. 


But potentially significant costs offset these small benefits. The Fed has bought more than $1 trillion of mortgages, the value of which will fall when the economy recovers — which is precisely why no one in the private sector wants to buy them. 


The government may pretend that it has not experienced a capital loss, because, unlike banks, it is not required to use mark-to-market accounting. But no one should be fooled, even if the Fed holds the bonds to maturity. The attempt to ensure that the losses are not recognised might tempt the Fed to rely excessively on untested, uncertain, and costly monetary-policy tools — like paying high interest rates on reserves to induce banks not to lend. 

It is good that the Fed is trying to make amends for its dismal pre-crisis performance. Regrettably, it is far from clear that it has changed its thinking and models, which failed to maintain the economy on an even keel before — and are certain to fail again. The Fed's previous mistakes proved extraordinarily costly. So will the new mistakes, even if the Fed strives to hide the price tag. 


(The author, a Nobel laureate in economics, is University Professor of Economics at Columbia University) © Project Syndicate, 2010






Manab Chakraborty 

MD, Mimoza Enterprises Finance Room available to cut interest rates 

MANY critics have questioned the microfinance institutions (MFIs) for high interest rates, accumulation of profits, cashouts by promoters and contribution to the over-indebtedness of clients. Some die-hards believe it is not 'fair' to profit from the poor. These criticisms fail to realise that interest rates need to be charged to ensure financial sustainability due to loss on bad loans, overheads and high transaction cost of manually extending a large number of small loans to individuals in underserved areas.


Traditionally, pricing by MFIs has been relative to the moneylenders, while moneylender rates exceed 60%, most MFIs charge 28-36%. The product pricing incorporates the cost of funds (10-14%), cost of operations (median 13%) and loan-loss provision of 2%. The small MFIs and those serving remote areas have operating expense in excess of 20%. Thus, the operating expenses alone could be as high 30% even without a contribution to the bottomline. 


Data collated from MIX, a repository of financial data of microfinance providers, shows that Indian MFIs have the lowest yields compared to their global peers, lowest operating costs and the highest return on assets. This explains why Indian MFIs can attract global value investors. A just-released study of 264 Indian MFIs, SaDhan, the association of community finance institutions, found 'the profitability position of Indian MFIs is reasonable with median return on assets and return on equity of 1.6% and 11.5% respectively'. 


The MFIs are neither making excessive profits, nor charging excessive interest rates. Yet, there is room to cut rates. There is no reason why large, efficient MFIs — with operating expense ratio under 10% — should charge the same as new entrants. A beginning can be made by transferring the savings made on 'loan losses' and higher operational efficiency to clients. Application of mobile-based micropayment solutions and standardising business processes may reduce delivery cost. As long as the clients receive the product they need and pricing is transparent, there is no cause for worry. The market will take its own corrective action: efficiency will be rewarded, and prices slashed to a minimum.


Prakash Bakshi 

Executive Director Nabard Poor cannot afford the interest rates 

IT IS difficult to talk of interest rates that MFIs charge without reference to the people who borrow and the purpose for which they borrow. Irrespective of whether the loan is for consumption or meeting an emergency or for an economic activity, the household must earn enough income or adequate incremental income and that too fairly regularly to be able to repay the loan with interest. It is here that the catch lies. 


The favourite example of microfinance practitioners is that of a vegetable vendor who borrows at 10% per day in the morning to buy vegetables from a wholesaler and is able to repay by evening, with ease, the entire loan with this high rate of 'annualised' interest rate of over 3,000% per year. What is important here is not the annualised interest rate but interest rate with reference to the period of the cycle of economic activity. 


In this example, the entire cycle of the economic activity is over in a single day — rather half a day — and viewed thus, the interest 'rate' of 10% is by no means excessive. Such price discrimination between the wholesaler's price and the retail price charged to clients exists only in a typical town. 


But in a static village economy, there is little scope to have too many petty traders. Two-thirds of the villagers directly live on non-cash-crop agriculture, and another 20% are small-time artisans. The cycle of economic activities for these people range from about six months to one year. None of them generate income to meet weekly repayments, and none of these activities generate a rate of return to afford interest rates of 20-40%. 


And if they borrow — and many are compelled to borrow at such interest rates because banks have failed to provide them with credit that they deserve at affordable interest rates — they would never be able to rise from their levels of poverty, and very often just go back a few years in their economic status. The result is multiple borrowings, multiple defaults and, in the end, agrarian distress, notwithstanding the so-called prompt repayments received by the MFIs.







STUDENTS at the Indian Institutes of Management better watch out. They are always interested in courses that help them get jobs (not learning!). So, what can IIM professors teach them beyond job search theory? The biggest problem with the current global economic slowdown is widespread unemployment, particularly in the developed countries of the West. It must be this concern, with the massive unemployment in the western countries, which has weighed in the mind of this year's Nobel Committee to award the prize to three economists working on search theory. 


This year's Economics Nobel to Peter Diamond, Dale Mortensen and Christopher Pissarides is for their work showing why the classical view of markets, in which prices are set so that buyers and sellers always find each other and all resources are fully utilised, does not always apply to the real world. One application of this is the labour market. Since searching for jobs takes time and resources, it creates friction in the job market, and this helps to explain why there are both job vacancies and unemployment simultaneously. Their work resulted in the Diamond-Mortensen-Pissarides model, often used to estimate how unemployment benefits and other factors can affect the labour market. One general conclusion arising from their work is that more generous unemployment benefits give rise to higher unemployment and longer search duration. 


In fact, this is fairly well known since it has also been shown by Feldstein and Poterba that generous unemployment benefits, coupled with a high marginal tax rate on earnings, can encourage an unemployed person to remain unemployed forever! This happens because generous unemployment benefits have the effect of raising the individual's reservation wage (the lowest wage at which s/he would be willing to accept a new job). The reservation wage is also a declining function of time spent in unemployment. A high marginal tax rate, on the other hand, creates disincentives to work and earn. The impact of generous unemployment benefits on unemployment is known to be true, especially in the Scandinavian countries. 


This work has relevance for an advanced developing country such as India, even though there are no unemployment benefits here. But it is easy to believe that reservation wages are lower in India. In general, all else constant, the higher the unemployment rate, the poorer a region, and the longer the duration of search for a job, the individual's reservation wage will be lower. In poorer, high unemployment areas, where job opportunities are difficult to come by, unemployed persons value the importance of having a job. Hence, if we define the net benefit (or the economic rent) from a job to be equal to the wages paid minus the reservation wage, net benefits from jobs created in poorer regions will be higher. In fact, relatively lower reservation wages in India and other Asian countries such as China and the Philippines (compared to the West) explain why jobs are outsourced (or 'Bangalored') from the US and Europe. 


While the labour economics literature is replete with studies of reservation wages, in some work, I have estimated the reservation wage to determine how changes in the unemployment rate impact it, using national data sets from the US — the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. I find evidence from American data that reservation wages are indeed lower in high unemployment areas, by about $0.10 per hour for every percentage point increase in the area's unemployment rate. In subsequent work, accounting for econometric problems such as selection bias, using American data, my co-author and I find no impact of higher local unemployment rate on individuals' reservation wages. We found the most significant variables that increase an individual's reservation wage are the past wage and the minimum unemployment insurance benefit amount allowed in the person's state of residence. Nevertheless, it is sensible to attack clusters of high unemployment with policies that increase the demand for workers. 

An example of such a policy is the NREGS. While some evaluation studies have been done of this programme, a question to be explored is whether the NREGS beneficiaries' wages been above their reservation wages. Also, if the NREGS has encouraged large-scale migration of labour from low-to-high unemployment areas, then the net benefits from jobs created under the NREGS would be higher, and vice versa. 


Having noted these applications of this year's Nobel prize, it is redeeming to know that the Nobel prizes in economics have evolved from the intangible to something more human. The award of the 2002 Nobel to Daniel Kahneman for "having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science" which led to the creation of behavioural economics, assumes that neither markets nor information are perfect. Ostrom's 2009 Nobel Prize was awarded "for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons". Her work shows how common resources can be managed successfully by the people who use them, rather than by governments or private companies. 


This evolution of the Nobel is a reminder that the award of the highest academic honour has to be aware of the reality within which humans operate. 


(The author is with Public Affairs Centre. 


Views are personal.)








LIFE intervenes in the form of a girl on a bridge, when Akash goes to the George Washington channel to commit suicide in Anjana Anjanee. The financial wiz kid is unable to cope with the humiliation of his king-sized ego being busted by volatile markets. The girl, Kiara, is no angel. Acheating fiance has apparently given her a broken heart and she too is mustering up the nerve to call it quits forever. 


Only a stranger to Bollywood's schmaltzy ways would expect the protagonists to succeed. For that matter, even in Gaulliwood art seldom follows life: in Patrice Leconte's film La fille sur le pont, for instance, the girl getting ready to jump off a bridge is rescued by a stranger who happens to be a knife-thrower in a circus. He brings her into his act as a target; which could be seen as the ironic equivalent of playing Russian roulette with death through the means of a bunch of blades thrown by a blindfolded man! That seems to be the metaphor chosen by the director to present the inherent chanciness or absurdity of life: The girl finally jumps from a cruise ship with a newly married man she's seduced, only to escape in a life boat which subsequently breaks down in the middle of the ocean! 


Something equally funny happens in the Hindi flick. Suffice it to say the chick grows extremely fond of her hick, which, in turn, has all sorts of repercussions on the way she views her future prospects. That's exactly how people make decisions about their future, says psychologist Daniel Gilbert in his book, Stumbling on happiness. His research has shown that our decisions are usually based on what we believe or expect to make us happy or fulfilled. On the other hand, research has also consistently shown that we are not very good at making such predictions. 


 "While we put a lot of effort into avoiding what we think will make us miserable, we are also pretty poor at those kinds of predictions as well," adds psychologist and talk show host Daniel Gottlieb. "Suppose someone had said to me when I was 32 years old, 'over the next twenty years you will become a quadriplegic, your wife will leave you, and shortly after she will die. And shortly thereafter, your sister and parents will die. But don't worry, you will be happy anyway.' Imagine what I would have thought. 


 "But that's exactly what happened. People who've experienced great adversity say the trauma changed their lives, for the better."






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The recent developments in Karnataka politics that have been permitted by all concerned to degenerate into a constitutional farce do not redound to the credit of the state's legislators. Nor, for that matter, do they raise the stature of the constitutional functionaries in question — the chief minister, the Assembly Speaker and the governor. Each has given ordinary citizens — in Karnataka and the rest of the country — a distinctly uncomfortable feeling about the sorry way politicians of all hues play the game. In effect, this is hoodwinking the people in order to capture or retain power. It is apparent to all that the House was in a chaotic state when the confidence vote was taken by the B.S. Yeddyurappa government on Monday. Armed policemen were present in the well of the House, within full view of the marshals trying to intimidate anti-BJP legislators, who are, incidentally, no angels. The behaviour of legislators shouting obscenities and dancing on table-tops can hardly be said to be the most opportune moment to call for the consideration of any motion, leave alone a confidence vote. In the event, the Speaker's contention that he did not call for a division as no MLA asked for it smacks of deep partisanship. The chief minister won the confidence vote after the Speaker had unilaterally interpreted the rules to disqualify inconvenient legislators. The same Leader of the House has now accepted the governor's instruction to go through the process once again on October 14. How extraordinary! Does this mean that he agrees that Monday's vote was a fraud? The role played by the governor in all this has also been unconventional, not to put too fine a point on it. It is clear as day that his brainwave to have a second confidence vote would only impel more horse-trading. In Bengaluru's political stock exchange, some astounding values of political shares are being talked about. The prudent course for the governor might have been to counsel restraint and wait for the deliberations of the high court to which the disgruntled MLAs — BJP members as well as Independents — had taken their case. It is commonly presumed that the governor had recommended dismissal of the Yeddyurappa government after the farcical Monday vote. Has he? Is UPA-2 in a position to sustain the proposition in the Upper House of Parliament? Now the question is largely academic, of course. It is unlikely that the Centre will take any forward step on the Karnataka crisis before the high court has spoken. Initially, some had speculated that the governor might have taken directions from New Delhi in appearing to be dynamic. In the light of what we have seen, this looks unlikely. Nevertheless, it is plain to see that governor H.R. Bhardwaj may have placed the Congress Party and the UPA-2 government in a false position. The BJP view of Mr Bhardwaj is likely to be a coloured one. That party had been seeking his removal long before the present crisis broke. Therefore, not much credence need be attached for demands for the governor's dismissal. Nevertheless, one thing is clear. The Congress should not have resorted to the practice of making an active politician a governor.







No chief minister started his tenure with so much goodwill within his state and all over the country as Omar Abdullah in 2009. It is a pity that this was frittered away in so short a time, thanks first to the flip-flop over the so-called Shopian rape and murder case in 2009 and to the stone-pelting in 2010. Having interacted with his legendary grandfather, and more closely with his father, I had earnestly wished that he be successful.


Nowadays we do not have political leaders like Lal Bahadur Shastri who as railway minister resigned owning moral responsibility for a major train disaster. The trend now is to disown responsibility and pass the buck. We need not hold against Omar his version of events in his address to the state legislature on October 6. I would even praise him for boldly asserting that he is not a puppet of the Centre, often alleged by separatists in the Valley for CMs of the state. As a duly elected CM, he functioned with due independence. Yet there are two facts which cannot be ignored. Till the evening before Omar was sworn in as CM, it was being said that the party preferred his father for the job. Farooq Abdullah categorically stated on a media channel that he would be taking the oath as CM next morning. Something happened in Delhi that night and Omar became CM the following day. During the stone-pelting crisis, there was widespread opinion in the state and outside that Farooq would not have allowed things to go out of control. It was widely felt that Omar must go, but he survived because of a lone helpline from Delhi.


One should make allowances for Omar being young with little experience in state politics. In 2008, his uncalled for and misleading emotional outburst in Parliament during the Amarnath controversy — "Jaan Denge par Zamin nahin Denge" — only fuelled the agitation in Jammu. He must have been under tremendous strain for the past few months and this should not be ignored while commenting on his recent address to the Assembly. However, some of the issues raised by him are disturbing from the national viewpoint. The record must be set right. Pandering to separatist sentiments will not help build political support. It will only whet the appetite for secession.


Omar's statement that Kashmir acceded to India and, unlike Hyderabad and Junagadh, did not merge with India, has an unfortunate connotation. Over 500 Princely States merged with India. Mentioning only Hyderabad and Junagadh is making insinuations, in line with Pakistan propaganda. There was a common Instrument of Accession for all Princely States acceding to India. Hari Singh was facing a very critical situation. Pakistani invaders were approaching Srinagar and he had fled to Jammu. He desperately needed India's help and was hardly in a position to make any stipulations. He duly signed the instrument. This was fully supported by Sheikh Abdullah, the most popular leader of Kashmir. Later, it was also ratified by the Kashmir Constituent Assembly. At the time of signing the Instrument of Accession, letters were exchanged between the Maharaja and Mountbatten in which special provisions were sought and accepted. Letters do not have the same legal validity as a formal instrument. Yet Article 370 of the Constitution ensures that the provisions agreed upon were duly upheld. In these circumstances, the hair-splitting distinction between accession and merger is meaningless. It may be mentioned that in the earlier two centuries many Princely States, including Kashmir, acceded to the British Crown but the people of those states were not given British nationality. It was refreshing that during the nuclear debate in Parliament in 2008, Omar rightly won accolade for asserting his Indian nationality.


Omar's irritation over Kashmir being described as an integral part of India was uncalled for. That has been our national stand and not that of any particular party as such. Neither his father nor his grandfather ever contested this. On February 22, 1994 the Indian Parliament passed a unanimous resolution asserting that Kashmir is an integral part of India and directing that Kashmir territory illegally occupied by Pakistan be liberated. The National Conference representative in Parliament supported that resolution.


Much is being made by Omar and his party of autonomy. The fact is that Kashmir enjoys more autonomy than any state in India but has the least autonomy below the state level. A regional political imbalance persists and is sought to be perpetuated by the embargo on delimitation of constituencies. For 49,725 voters, Kashmir has one MLA but Jammu has one MLA for 66,521 voters. This means that despite having 1,77,153 more voters, Jammu has nine MLAs less in the legislature than Kashmir. Whereas Panchayat Raj functions in every state, it is yet to be established in J&K. The Right to Information Act has not yet been made fully functional in the state. In the name of autonomy a reversion to the pre-1953 constitutional status is sought. This will entail removal of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the Election Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General. There is also a demand for an elected governor from the state and doing away with IAS, IPS and other Central services. The changes effected through due process of law prescribed by the Constitution, and ratified by the state legislature, are sought to be scrapped in the name of autonomy. These changes were endorsed by the Indira-Sheikh accord. They also received the people's support in the Sheikh's overwhelming victory in the 1977 state elections, regarded by all as free and fair. It is strange that Sheikh Abdullah's progenies, who attained political power for being his descendants, now want to undo what he did in the interests of the state and are chasing a mirage of autonomy. It is also pertinent that Central per capita aid is the highest in Kashmir, many times more than some other states in the country. Removal of the jurisdiction of the Comptroller and Auditor General would mean absence of financial accountability. Omar has sought regional autonomy for Jammu and Ladakh regions and has urged splitting them into sub-regions of Jammu, Rajouri, Poonch, Doda, Kargil and Leh, which would virtually be a division on communal lines. It is interesting that the Valley is not required to be split into the plains and mountain regions, obviously because of commonalty of religion.


The need in J&K is to restore order, remove governance deficit, commence political dialogue and meet the legitimate aspirations of all stakeholders in the state, within the framework of the Indian Constitution. It must not be lost sight of that the separatists constitute a minority in the state. Their influence is generally confined to the Valley, excluding the Gujjars and Bakherwals, living in the mountains. The recent stone-pelting agitation was confined to the Valley, without any Gujjar or Bakherwal participation.


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







Last month in Virginia, Teresa Lewis was executed by lethal injection; nobody will be punished for her killing, because she had been legally condemned to death. She had plotted the murders of her husband and adopted son — which was, of course, against the law — while those who killed her, in response, did so with the authorities' blessing.


Perhaps we ought to reformulate the sixth commandment to read "Thou shalt not kill without permission". After

all, for centuries we have revered the flags borne by soldiers who, when at war, have a license to kill, just like James Bond. And now Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has reportedly responded to clemency appeals from the West on behalf of an allegedly adulterous woman who was sentenced to death by stoning — the penalty has been set aside, but officials maintain it is still a possibility — by saying, in essence: You complain because we want to lawfully kill an Iranian woman, when you lawfully kill an American woman?


One objection to Ahmadinejad's logic is that the American woman orchestrated her husband's murder, whereas the Iranian woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, was merely unfaithful to her husband. And the American was killed painlessly, whereas the Iranian risks being killed in a brutally painful manner. But a response of this kind implies two things: that while an unfaithful wife should receive no greater punishment than legal separation without alimony, it's acceptable to punish a murderess with death — as long as the method of execution is not too painful.


If our judgment weren't so clouded, perhaps we would see the larger argument: that even murderers should not be sentenced to death, that societies should not kill their citizens — not even through due process, and not even if the execution is relatively painless.


How should citizens of democratic countries respond to the leader of a rather undemocratic country when he asks us not to criticise Iran's death penalty — given that some Western nations still have cruel death penalties of their own?


The situation is rather awkward, and I would like to know if those Westerners — whose number includes France's first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy — who are protesting Iran's death penalty have also protested the United States'. I suspect many of them haven't. Westerners have grown desensitised to the high number of lawful executions in the United States. Yet we are horrified at the idea of a woman being butchered to death by a hail of stones in Iran. I am certainly not immune to it: When I was sent a petition to protest Ashtiani's stoning, I signed it immediately. At the same time, I overlooked the fact that Teresa Lewis of Virginia was being put to death.


Would we in the West have protested this much if Ashtiani had been condemned to death by lethal injection? Are we indignant about stoning or about executing violators of the seventh commandment — "Thou shalt not commit adultery" — rather than the sixth? I don't know, but the fact is that human reactions are often instinctive and irrational.


Last August I came across a website that described various ways to cook a cat. Whether it was a joke or meant to be taken seriously, animal rights campaigners all over the world rose up against it. I love cats. They are one of the few creatures that don't allow themselves to be exploited by their masters — on the contrary, they exploit their masters with Olympian cynicism — and their affection for the home prefigures a form of patriotism. So I would be revolted if presented with a plate of cat stew. On the other hand, I find rabbits just as cute as cats, yet I have no qualms about eating them.


I am scandalised to see dogs roaming free in Chinese homes, playing with the kids, when everyone knows the animals will be eaten at the end of the year. But pigs — highly intelligent animals, I am told — roam around on Western farms, and very few people worry about the fact that they're destined to become ham. What prompts us to deem some animals uneatable when we anthropomorphise them, while we find other adorable creatures — calves, for instance, or little lambs — eminently palatable?


We humans are very strange animals, capable of great love and frightening cynicism, equally prepared to protect a goldfish and to boil a live lobster, to crush a millipede without remorse and to deem barbarous the killing of a butterfly. Likewise, we apply double standards when confronted with two death sentences — scandalised by one while turning a blind eye to the other. I am sometimes tempted to agree with the Romanian-born writer Emil Mihai Cioran, who maintained that creation, once it escaped from God's hands, must have been left to a demiurge: a clumsy bungler, maybe even a bit of a lush, who got down to work with some very confused ideas in his head.








Eminent lawyer and Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi had received a fair degree of acceptance from his partymen as a successful chief spokesperson of their party ever since his appointment to this post. With his undoubted abilities as a lawyer, sound knowledge of the nuances of the politics of the country today and his competence as a good debater, it looked as if the Congress had made a good choice for this post. Therefore, the decision of the Congress to bar him from briefing newsmen and to refer his case to the disciplinary action committee of the party has come as a great blow to his reputation and standing as a responsible leader of his party.


The provocation for this decision was his appearance in the Kerala high court a few days ago on behalf of one Santiago Martin, agent of certain lotteries based in Bhutan, Sikkim, et cetera. Martin had filed a petition on behalf of his agency, Mega Distributors, to invalidate an ordinance passed by the Kerala government introducing certain regulations in the operation of lotteries in the state. The peculiar feature of Mr Singhvi accepting the brief of Santiago Martin in this petition is that both parties have accused Martin of having given huge bribes to the other party for buying support to continue with his business without having to abide by any serious restrictions or regulation. These allegations have become particularly significant in today's politics in Kerala as the elections to the local bodies are to take place within a few days and the freedom given to Mega Distributors by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led government in Kerala had already become an important issue in the election campaigns. In order to meet this criticism against the CPI(M), the state government had issued an ordinance introducing several regulations for the conduct of lotteries.


Mr Singhvi maintains that there has been no conflict of interest in his taking over the brief for Mega Distributors and that he was strictly within the limits of his responsibilities when he decided to appear on behalf of Mega Distributors in the Kerala high court. However, in doing this, Mr Singhvi seems to have forgotten that a spokesperson for any party or group means a person who speaks for the party or group who had chosen him for this job and it is not for a person to interpret the scope of duties of a spokesperson in a manner that suits his professional interests.


Why is it that certain leaders in the Congress have chosen the role of sharp critics of some of their colleagues in the party? Or, as in this case, why is it that the chief spokesperson of the party chose to go against the strong plea of the party leaders in Kerala? It has become a habit with some middle level and even some senior leaders of the Congress to issue statements out of turn on matters with which they are not very familiar.


Sharp attacks by some Congress leaders on the integrity and fair conduct of persons outside the political class have also taken place in recent times and it has given rise to the widespread feeling that some people in the Congress can get away with such statements without suffering the consequences. They perhaps think that such action on their part is in keeping with what they consider to be inner-party democracy; or some of them think that expressing their opinions on any issue is necessary to assert their credentials as senior leaders of the Congress. In this context, I am constrained to write about the manner in which I became the victim of a totally unfounded attack by a leader of the Congress in June 2010, but have been keeping quiet about it after expressing my deep sense of hurt to the Prime Minister.


Immediately after the pronouncement of the orders of the court on the Bhopal case a few weeks ago, a senior member of the Central Cabinet, who was not in any way connected with this matter, came out with a statement in an apparent attempt to play the role of one responsible to save the good name of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, accusing me, who was then the principal secretary of the Prime Minister, as having been personally responsible for arranging Warren Anderson's exit from India without being detained for any legal action by the government.


He further accused that I had become a new convert to the "Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena anti-Congress camp" and that this was a "motivated" attempt on my part to malign Rajiv Gandhi as revenge for his party not supporting me when my name was sponsored by the National Democratic Alliance as a candidate for election as President of the country in 2002. I was deeply hurt by the charges made by this minister accusing me of gross disloyalty to Rajiv Gandhi's memory and wrote to the Prime Minister requesting him to prevent his ministers from making public statements on subjects about which they have no direct knowledge or responsibility. I was confident that a Prime Minister like Manmohan Singh, who himself maintains high standards of decency and fairness in public life, would take necessary action on my letter. This is exactly what he did. He promptly wrote to me that necessary instructions in the matter would be issued very soon. It appears that Dr Singh was already considering issue of such instructions to his party colleagues in the Cabinet when a complaint like mine reached him. Anyway, I was quite satisfied with his prompt response, though I am referring to this matter now in the background of the action taken against Dr Singhvi. However, the trend does not seem to have been effectively curbed as we still hear of such statements from certain middle and high levels of leadership in the party. A practical suggestion that could be offered for this problem is that all political parties, particularly national-level parties, prescribe a "code of conduct" for their senior functionaries. Also, it will be advisable to discontinue the practice of combining several responsibilities in one person except in a very few highly deserving cases. The arrangement of assigning posts of general secretaries in charge of one or more states in addition to other responsibilities, like minister at the Centre, give such people the complex of being more important in the party than others. Some partymen in the states even put up welcome arches with huge photographs of the general secretary when he visits the state. These tendencies should be controlled if the general secretaries are not to function as super-presidents of the state units of the party.


If the high commands of the parties take serious note of all departures from the prescribed norms of conduct, that itself would be a deterrent to the present tendency of not observing the discipline expected from these functionaries.


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









THE Principal Information Officer of Calcutta High Court cannot perhaps be faulted from a historical perspective but must be cited for breathtaking vacuity. To argue before the Central Information Commission ~ 63 years after Independence ~ that the Court was formed by Queen Victoria's Letters Patent and, therefore, doesn't come under the jurisdiction of the President or the Government of India is to be a willing victim of the time warp. There is no indication yet that the angel atop Victoria Memorial has started revolving in celebration of Her Majesty's contribution to constitutional history. On the basis of spurious reasoning, the PIO asserted that the court ~ formed by Her Majesty and neither by the Centre nor under the Constitution ~ doesn't come under the RTI Act and "the jurisdiction of the transparency panel". By the same token, Writers' Buildings, the Assembly and Lalbazar are also relics of the Raj. Yet they do abide by the Constitution as does the High Court, for the PIO's edification. When the Constitution came into force, the country's judiciary came under its ambit. This is as much a part of constitutional history as the PIO's reconstruction of colonial India.

The institutions of democratic governance ~ the judiciary, the steel frame and the legislature ~ are rooted in British India. Only the statues of Governors-General and Viceroys have been craned off the pedestals. It is quite another story that historic institutions have been denuded, even corrupted, over the past 63 years. Indeed, the ineffectiveness of the RTI Act mirrors the anxiety to airbrush the overwhelming corruption in governance. The ornate Calcutta High Court has marched with time; it has been a witness to history (both pre and post-1947); and its legal luminaries are aware of its origins and their relevance in contemporary India. But not its PIO whose mindset is of a piece with the administration's grudging dissemination of information. Which has provoked a sharp rejoinder from the former CIC, Wajahat Habibullah: "In the context of the present, when the so-called Majesties have been succeeded by the Sovereign Democratic Republic of India, such claims under the RTI Act cannot be accepted." The PIO, in the manner of the government, pays scant regard to the citizen's right to know. There is hope yet in the fact that the High Court's legal luminaries have endorsed Mr Habibullah's response. Time the "old gypsy man", to summon the words of the historian Percival Spear, doesn't wait.




Nothing can be more alarming from the common man's point of view than perverse celebrations by a party after its supporters accomplished the agenda of "recapturing'' a village. The CPI-M doesn't conceal its glee, and ignores the ominous implications of assuming absolute control under the protective eyes of the police and, if Mamata Banerjee is to be believed, the joint forces as well. There can be no denying that Lalgarh has been virtually a war zone since the Maoist assault on the chief minister's convoy two years ago. The choice was between establishing the rule of law and allowing the party's armed goons to deal with the discontent among villagers on which the extremists have thrived. Sadly, Alimuddin Street opted for a political solution relying on terror tactics which have produced a cycle of violence that may not end with 10,000 red activists from neighbouring villages storming the epicentre of Bengal's shame. The previous Governor had responded with unmistakable anxiety when a similar display of political intolerance had taken place at Nandigram and the incumbent has reported to the Centre on the existence of camps manned by armed cadres. But if Left leaders believe that this is the only means of protecting their turf ostensibly to enable villagers "to return home'', they need to ponder on the consequences where administrative responsibilities become meaningless in a climate of fear. Biman Bose can only be trying to fool the public by suggesting this is the best way to restore peace after the Maoists had targeted the CPI-M. Even Left leaders would know that the "recapture'' of Lalgarh doesn't bring the conflict to an end. The joint forces had the specific brief of ridding the area of the Maoist menace and restoring normalcy that would allow the administration to function. That hasn't happened. But if local villagers led by the people's committee with clandestine help from Maoists have expressed their anger at the ruling Left after long years of deprivation, the answer does not lie in counter-insurgency by armed cadres endorsed, however tacitly, by government. Having failed as responsible administrators, the Left has let loose another wave of unrest that could spell more disaster. The government had the opportunity of making the best use of the joint forces to rid Junglemahal of extremism, douse the flames and restore public confidence in democratic traditions. Instead, the "recapture'' has only added another chapter to Lalgarh's blood-soaked history. Even if that fetches electoral dividends, it mocks the Left's claims to responsible governance.




WAS it not telling that soon after cautioning his 'air warriors' ~ not so long ago they were plain and simple 'airmen' ~ that the situation in India's neighbourhood "is like a volcano" the Chief of the Air Staff deemed it prudent to clarify (actually tone down) his observation to media personnel covering the air force anniversary parade. For only a few days previous several reporters/commentators had gone wide off the mark and treated as alarming Air Chief Marshal PV Naik's contention that the rate of obsolescence of the equipment in service was 50 per cent. Unable to differentiate between "obsolescence" and "obsolete", at least in the way the military uses that term, some over-enthusiastic journalists created an impression that the chief was saying that half his hardware belonged to the junkyard. So he took no chances on "volcanic". Explained it was intended to keep his men alert, be ready to go into action at short notice ~ precisely what is so benignly expressed in the boy scout's motto, "be prepared". Obviously he had sensitised himself to the probability of there being much linking of his comments with what the defence minister had said a couple of days before, maybe even the upgradation of capacities in the eastern and northern sectors which is widely seen as a counter-China endeavour.  Mercifully, society at large ~ politicians excepted ~ have come to terms with senior defence personnel now speaking up on "hot" issues like China expanding its  influence-footprint, or projecting the military's "take" on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Yet there continues to be something of a mismatch between what a fauji says and what is "heard" in civvy street. It could be something as simple as "casualty" which the military deems someone out of action but which most others equate with "dead/killed". Verbal overkill is another military characteristic, at times laced with some humour. and one former chief was flayed in Parliament for dubbing leaders in adjoining countries as "bandicoots". The situation is indeed "volcanic" when politicians get into the act. Remember how Sam Manekshaw went from "hero to zero" after the 1971 War when he responded jocularly to a young reporter's query about what would have happened had he remained with his Baloch regiment in 1947 ~ "then Pakistan would have won the war!"









A spate of honour killings has prompted the government to initiate efforts towards framing  suitable laws against this crime.  It isn't a particularly recent phenomenon; the origin dates back in time. Gender relations have traditionally been dominated by the male "privilege" of resorting to physical and verbal assault in order to preserve the status quo and a perceived sense of superiority. The objective has always been to subjugate the woman in a society that was marked by institutionalised patriarchy.

Today, violence against women is a crucial issue before the world. Crimes of honour usually occur in traditional and patriarchal societies, and when a woman infringes upon the reputation of her family by violating a code of ethics, with its legitimacy rooted in tribal custom. There is a glaring disconnect in Indian society ~ between the trend towards "equal" status of women and incidents of honour killings. It is a socio-political struggle to reconcile an emerging nation with a traditionalist mindset. There is yet no effective response towards women. There are several factors behind this disconnect between rhetoric and action.  


First, the magnitude of the problem has received little international attention. Second, discussions on the link between religion and gender are inherently controversial, and many avoid them for fear of being labelled ethno-centric. Finally, several countries are indifferent towards violence against women. As a result, the data on honour killings is not conclusive. Theoretical and empirical studies on acts of violence against women have been inadequate.

The term 'honour crimes' is often used alongside such expressions as honour killings, femicide, crimes of tradition or crimes of honour. The terms overlap and there is no  standard definition. Honour crimes are often regarded as the outcome of a fundamentalist culture that lays emphasis on the honour and purity of women within the family. When a female member of the household dishonours the family, she can in certain societies be vulnerable to stoning, lashing and forced marriage.

Murdering the woman is often perceived by the family to be a respectable way of salvaging the family's status. It is the men in the direct family lineage such as the father, brother, grandfather, or uncle, who commit the majority of honour crimes. The victims are by and large the women though occasionally the "male adulterer" is also persecuted. The men are the collateral victims in such cases as adultery.

The other perpetrators of honour crimes can include sisters, in-laws, neighbours, and friends.  Mothers have been known to commit honour crimes, typically when their intent is to protect the family's honour because of their daughter's pre-marital sexual activity or pregnancy. Honour crimes represent the most graphic illustration of "deeply embedded, society-wide gender discrimination" (Human Rights Watch, 2006). 

Families often target women if they are suspected to have violated the moral code or if they have been a victim of sexual violence. Rapists are sometimes forced to marry their victim because the purity of the woman has been defiled. Honour killings  are different from dowry deaths, fairly common in this country.
India has had a tradition of honour killings.  The most horrible manifestation was reported in the wake of Partition in the years between  1947 and 1950. Many women were forcefully killed so that the family's honour could be preserved.  There were forced marriages during Partition. Women from India were compelled to marry men from Pakistan and vice-versa. These women were eventually tracked down, and when they returned 'home' they were killed so that the family's honour could be preserved and they would not be declared social outcastes. A couple of honour killings were reported every day so potent was the influence of religion and social control.  The tradition of honour killings began in the aftermath of Partition.

However, honour killings are not a uniquely Indian phenomenon. The practice is prevalent in North and South America, Africa, Turkey and many other countries. But such cases are low in other countries, and punishment of the perpetrators is severe. 

Central to the malaise is the rigid caste system. Rural society refuses to change its attitude towards marriage. The daughter can be killed to preserve the family's honour.  If she disobeys her parents on the issue of marriage and decides to marry a man of her choice but from the same gotra,  the family can be brought into disrepute. Hence the khap panchayat decides to award the ultimate sentence  ~ death to the daughter.  Of late, the son-in-law also gets killed.

Sociologists believe that the reason why honour killings continue to take place is because of the persistent rigidity of the caste system. The fear of losing their caste status, through which they are entitled to many benefits, makes them commit this heinous crime. The other reason is that the mentality has not changed; most people just cannot reconcile themselves to marriages within the same gotra.  Governance has not been able to change the rural psyche.

There are various misconceptions about honour killing. The first is that it is confined to the rural areas.  It is indeed spread over a large geographical area. Such crime has been reported from Delhi and Tamil Nadu. In the nation's Capital, a daughter and son-in-law were killed because they had married within the same gotra. The second misconception is that an honour killing is rooted in religion. Even if a woman commits adultery, there has to be four male witnesses to validate the charge. Furthermore, only the State can carry out judicial punishments, but never an individual vigilante. Therefore, there is no religious backing. What are the possible remedial measures? First, the mentality of the people must change. Parents should accept their children's wishes regarding marriage. Second, we need to have stricter laws to combat such crime. An individual or a group of individuals doesn't have the right to award a death sentence. Yet this is exactly what the khap panchayats are culpable of. Feminists argue that the law reflects the interests of men. Ideally, the law must be perceived through values and norms rather than as forms of truth or natural justice.


The writer is Professor, Eastern InstituteFor Integrated Learning in Management (EIILM), Kolkata









Some time ago, Mr Justice Rajinder Sachar, formerly of the Supreme Court of India, wrote in this paper about the advisability of abolishing the death penalty for committing the heinous offence of killing a fellow human being. He has shown that even after leading the killer to the gallows was rejected as a form of punishment, the rate of murders did not go up in countries that had introduced this reform in their penal systems. Since his argument is based totally on analogy, it is unlikely to be universally accepted.

Socio-economic conditions are indeed so very different in India. Hence it is probable that the death penalty for murder does act as a deterrent in our country although it is greater affluence and higher academic achievements in other countries that contributed to the decline in the rate of homicides. 

A similar objection can be raised against any argument that chooses "the right to live" as a basic human right. No right as such ought to be regarded as "basic" unless society is prepared to enforce that particular right. Obviously in India this position has not been reached; otherwise there would not have been so much bloodshed and so many suicides of destitutes and debt-ridden people. Any reasoned argument against the death penalty should, I believe, have firmer legs to stand on. Much stronger arguments are indeed provided by the re-educational potential of any penalty for crime. Today jails have been renamed correctional homes. How could a person be "corrected'' if he/she loses life for even the most unacceptable crime? 

An alternative form of penalty, superior in terms of correction possibilities, is a life sentence that runs literally for the life-span of the convict. For the state the extra expenses involved in segregating murderers from other criminals will be worthwhile since a human life has been saved and lessons will hopefully be imparted to a depraved soul. The special jails should be looked after by specially trained administrators and guards. There should also exist rules for periods of parole, but there should be no provision for remission on account of good behaviour. 

A convicted person, found guilty of deliberate murder, should not only be locked behind bars in closely guarded jails (i.e., correctional homes), but such a person should be assigned to carry out the hardest and dirtiest tasks that fulfil social needs. Such work can be found in construction, cleaning of roads and lavatories, laying of railroads, building barrages and so on. Judges will specify the type of hard labour which a convict has to discharge and the duration of the work period over a day. Such special correctional homes should be open to visit by all at specified hours. 

Each convict should have to appear before a judicial magistrate once every year. The objective will be to assess if he/she is closer to self-condemnation and rectification. Alternatively, the convict will probably claim that in this particular case there had been a miscarriage of justice. A specially designated Supreme Court Bench should sift all the evidence that led to this person's conviction against all evidence; the unjustifiable conviction should in such a case attract either lower penalty or financial compensation proportionate to his/her harrassment. 
Though each judgment awarding the death sentence is routinely checked by the highest judicial authority and the ultimate penalty is imposed only "in the rarest of rare cases", an annual review has to be carried out to root out the element of subjectivity in the system prevailing today. The allegedly criminal person was allowed to live. So an annual judicial investigation into the change in his/her personality will no longer be impossible. 

The author is a retired professor and head of the department of economics, Calcutta University. 








"Wake up, I'm sinking", said my wife Sudha. Fast asleep, I couldn't hear what she had said. "Wake up, I am sinking", said Sudha again, this time nudging my shoulder with hers.
"What do you mean by saying you are sinking?" said I waking up from my slumber.
" I am feeling lifeless. It seems I am going to faint. It could be a heart attack."
"Heart attack? Are you joking? My God!" said I.


I looked at my watch. It was four in the morning and everyone in the aircraft was fast asleep. The inside of the aircraft was dark with only the night lights on. All I could hear was the drone of the aircraft and snores of some of its passengers. The computer screen in front of me told me we were approximately mid-way between Delhi and Amsterdam, somewhere to the north of Black Sea at a height of 35,000 feet. What should I do, I thought to myself. I had never faced a situation like this before in my life. I had read about planes being diverted in emergencies, but didn't know what to do. Somehow, I held myself together and pressed the button for the hostess.

"Sir, can I help you?" said the hostess within seconds. "I am feeling giddy. I feel like throwing. Take me to the wash room", said Sudha. With the hostess's help, I took Sudha to the wash room. After throwing, Sudha said she felt extremely weak and needed to lie down. Since the flight was full, the only place the stewardess could offer was the floor next to the emergency exit at the rear of the aircraft with a word of caution – it would be extremely cold there. With five blankets under her and five above, I could see Sudha squirm. Even the hot water bottle the hostess gave her was not of much help.

As I sat on the floor besides Sudha, praying for her, the fortnight leading to our boarding the flight to Amsterdam flashed through my mind. We had been planning to visit Amsterdam for a long time. We had heard a lot about this fascinating city from friends and relatives - its museums, canals, flower market, street life and transport system and thought September would be a good time to be there. Eleventh of September 2009, the day prior to our flight, had been an extremely busy day, sapping us of all our energy, what with attending to office, getting the visa, getting travel insurance, getting foreign exchange, packing our clothes, packing our medicines, loading the camera, reporting at the airport three hours before the flight and so on. 

While I kept an eye on Sudha's pulse, checking it intermittently, all kinds of crazy thoughts swept through my mind. What if her condition worsens? Should I speak to the commander and ask him to land the aircraft at the nearest airport? What if he says he can't? Should I mobilise support from fellow passengers and force him to do so? What do I do after the plane lands? Which doctor or hospital do I take her to? And then I heard a voice behind me.

"I am Dr Adhip Mitra. Can I help you?" Apparently, he had noticed the flurry of activity inside the aircraft and had come to help. After examining Sudha he said: "It seems to be a case of cervical spondilitis worsened with stress. It happens when you keep your neck or head in the same position for a long time. Give her this tablet and she will be fine." The pill had a magical effect. What if Dr.Mitra was not there on the flight? What if he didn't have the required medicine with him? The mere thought of it sends a chill up my spine whenever I think of that night.

My advice to those travelling abroad: never leave the travel arrangements for the last day and always carry an anti-nausea pill with you while travelling by air. 








The income gap in China between richer coastal and poorer inland regions, and between urban and rural areas, has been rising despite the Chinese government's efforts to balance growth.

During the global financial crisis, in China, as elsewhere, the hardest hit were the less well-off. More than 41 million workers lost their jobs and some 670,000 small and medium-sized enterprises folded up. According to the Asian Development Bank, throughout Asia, some of the worst-hit were young urban workers and rural migrants employed in the cities, particularly those in labour-intensive export industries such as electronics and textiles. Many lost their jobs without getting meaningful severance packages, health insurance or unemployment benefits.

So when President Hu Jintao said publicly for the first time last month that China supported and followed the concept of "inclusive growth", Chinese economists cheered.

Dr Tang Min of the China Development Research Foundation told a Chinese business magazine he believed Hu's message was that China's current model of development needed to be changed because it was unsustainable."This is very much key to the future direction of China's development," he said. Inclusive growth ultimately must benefit more of China's poor and allow their income to grow at a higher rate than that of other social groups, he argued.

Inclusive growth as a development strategy is a new concept in China, and indeed the world, having been formulated in the mid-2000s.

China, particularly from the mid-1980s, has been focused on export-oriented growth, especially in regions with the right mix of resources, often the coastal ones. Hundreds of millions have been pulled out of poverty. But the result has been uneven growth across the country, with other regions dependent on the trickle-down effect and limited programmes for poverty reduction.

In 2002, China set itself the target of building an "all-round, well-off'' society by 2020, that is, to have the majority of Chinese living comfortable lives. With new leaders President Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao having cut their political teeth in the countryside, the new focus from 2003 was to improve the lives of the nearly 70 per cent of Chinese in rural farms. The new catchphrase was to build a "harmonious society'' through the ''scientific concept of development''. 

Under this development strategy, spelt out in the 11th five-year plan of 2006, China was still focused on rapid growth, but was supposed to balance rural and urban development, curb environmental degradation, boost domestic demand and balance economic development with social development by improving social security, health care and education.

Some Chinese economists see inclusive growth as a progression from the current development strategy. The key difference is that it would be more quantifiable and specific, noted Dr Tang. 

Inclusive growth was first suggested by the Asian Development Bank in 2007 as a strategy for narrowing the income gaps in China. One key tenet of inclusive growth is that economic growth is the most powerful tool to eliminate poverty. 

Second, it seeks to ensure equal access to economic opportunities by enhancing the capabilities of individuals. This is done by providing access to health care and education, and basic infrastructure such as roads, electricity and clean drinking water.

Third, inclusive growth means providing the most vulnerable sectors of society with social safety nets. These social systems should also act as springboards for individuals and households to break out of poverty traps by allowing them to invest in building capabilities and other profit-enhancing activities.

Inclusive growth focuses on creating opportunities and ensuring equal access to them, rather than on direct redistribution of income. To be sure, not all economists agree that inclusive growth can narrow wealth gaps. Indeed, even its advocates recognise that it is not a sufficient condition for lowering inequality.
However, some Chinese economists are rooting for inclusive growth to be written into the 12th five-year economic development plan which will be discussed later this month.

For inclusive growth to work, however, the government needs to ensure that its officials' performance is measured not just on the basis of economic growth but also on whether there is equal access to the opportunities created. And, as suggested by Chinese economist Deng Yuwen, there has to be a change in the guiding values of the government, to emphasise a life of happiness and dignity for all. Otherwise, it would be as ineffective as earlier strategies for closing the income gap.

the straits times/ann










It does not need a lawyer or any kind of special investigation to arrive at the conclusion that something is rotten in the affairs of the Indian Premier League. The fact that two teams have been thrown out of the IPL only confirms the general impression. The two teams are the Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab. The official reason for this decision by the IPL governing council was that both teams or their owners had breached the franchise agreement. But there may be other reasons behind the drastic decision. Whatever these may be, it is evident that the Board of Control for Cricket in India is taking steps to clean up affairs within the IPL and remove the stains left on the tournament by the shenanigans of Lalit Modi, the former IPL commissioner who is now under a cloud. Many of the IPL teams, including the two teams that have been thrown out, have celebrities, like Hollywood stars, as their owners. It is feared that the removal of such teams will result in a reduction of the glamour quotient of the IPL. The governing council of the tournament has rightly chosen cleanliness and probity over glamour. The governing council justifiably prefers to suffer some short-term losses to build up the long-term credibility of the IPL. It deserves to be applauded for this attitude.


What is undeniable is that the IPL, from its conception to its presentation, represents a unique entertainment package. It conjured up a form of cricket, punched it with the presence of film stars and cheerleaders, and thus presented a heady cocktail which was an immediate bestseller. But success cannot escape scrutiny. The more the affairs of the IPL came under the scanner, the bigger became the shadows looming over it. Now it is no exaggeration to suggest that scandal and the IPL are almost synonymous. The situation was worse confounded by the involvement of politicians and of persons linked with powerful politicians. In spite of this and the presence of monetary stakes, no scheme to cover up the matter succeeded. This by itself is remarkable in India. The first steps of the cleaning-up process are already visible. The protestations of film stars, lately turned cricket fans and owners of cricket teams, should not deter the BCCI from completing the good work it has started. Cricket is much more important than the IPL and film stars, and it should remain so.








Making a coalition government work is often as difficult as keeping it alive. Having led two such — and short-lived — governments in the past, Jharkhand's chief minister, Arjun Munda, should know this well. While putting together his new cabinet, he seems to have been guided primarily by factors that may matter for his government's survival. That perhaps explains why he has two deputy chief ministers, one each from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the All Jharkhand Students' Union — the two principal allies of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition. He has been just as even-handed in the distribution of portfolios among the three major partners. Even so, Mr Munda cannot be too confident that his balancing act will eventually keep the BJP's partners happy and his government stable. Rumblings of protest have already been heard from a section of the JMM leadership. The JMM itself has been a divided house since Shibu Soren began losing his grip on the party. Disaffection in the JMM ranks may not be Mr Munda's fault, but it can be a serious problem for his government's stability.


For the people of Jharkhand, though, the trade-off among the coalition partners is the least important aspect of the new regime. Over the past 10 years, the newly-formed state witnessed the arrivals and departures of several unstable governments. The result has been an administrative vacuum that has all but ruined the economy and the rule of law in Jharkhand. The political instability has also spawned a culture of endemic corruption among the politicians. So much so that a former chief minister, Madhu Koda, who was in office for just over a year, now faces prosecution on charges of making hundreds of crores of rupees through corrupt deals. The corruption scandals involving Mr Soren too are a reflection of the state of Jharkhand's politics. Such betrayals by the politicians are particularly sad for a state that is among the poorest in the country and which faces a grim Maoist challenge. Mr Munda cannot afford to waste time and resources on keeping his ministers in good humour. He has to get the state's administration back on its feet and attend to the people's basic needs. Unless his government works, it will not matter to the people how long it survives. Jharkhand desperately needs a government that puts the interests of the people above those of the politicians.










When word filtered through Washington last week that Pranab Mukherjee has been chosen as the "Finance Minister of the Year for Asia 2010", the reaction in the lobbies of the annual meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund was curious. At a gathering which included finance ministry officials from Morocco and Estonia, everyone was going round congratulating anyone who looked Indian, including this columnist, on the assumption that all those who looked Indian at that venue must be aides to Mukherjee or members of the Indian delegation to the World Bank-IMF meetings.


The reaction was curious because Morocco's finance minister, Salaheddine Mezouar, and Estonia's finance minister, Jurgen Ligi, had also been selected as "Finance Ministers of the Year" respectively for emerging Europe and for the Middle East. However, no one seemed to take any notice of these choices, and aides to Ligi and Mezouar were understandably peeved that no one wanted to congratulate them or shake their hands. The only other award that appeared to generate some excitement was the one to a Muslim woman — Malaysia's Zeti Akhtar Aziz, who was chosen "Central Bank Governor of the Year for Asia 2010."


Journalists often cannot resist a mischievous twist to such proceedings; so this columnist nonchalantly told some of those who offered congratulations over the honour bestowed on Mukherjee that he had already been recognized as one of the five best finance ministers in the world the last time he held the same job in the Indian government. That was 26 years ago, when Estonia and several other countries represented in this gathering did not exist as independent states and many of their delegates were too young to know why Mukherjee got this award more than a quarter of a century ago. Or that while India is the flavour now at global gatherings, it was, for instance, not an Estonia or an Ivory Coast even in the 1980s.


Quickly, some Indian officials filled the information deficit by telling those who did not know that in 1984, the honour went to Mukherjee because, during his first innings as finance minister, India had turned down the last tranche of an IMF loan after the country put its finances in order under his stewardship.


India's decision to approach the IMF in 1981 was an economic decision, forced upon the government by the mismanagement of the economy by Morarji Desai's government and by a global oil crisis flowing from the Iran-Iraq war. For Indira Gandhi, it was a humiliating choice because IMF conditionalities for the loan ran counter to everything she preached and practised. R. Venkataraman, who later became president, was finance minister when India approached the IMF for a loan.


But in January 1982, Indira Gandhi shifted Mukherjee from his dual charge of commerce and steel and mines ministries and brought him in as finance minister. Mukherjee recognized that Congress politics at that time demanded that India should end its dependence on the IMF at the first opportunity, but he was equally aware that this would not be possible unless the country raised public-sector efficiency, initiated fiscal reforms, howsoever limited, and began a process of ending the licence raj. Instant history may not acknowledge this, but if there is a cut-off point to which India's economic reforms can be traced, it was Mukherjee's two-year tenure as finance minister. His recognition in 1984 as one of the five best finance ministers in the world was in acknowledgement of this landmark effort.


Mukherjee wove politics and economics into a grand mural to Indira Gandhi's liking then, bailing her out from the humiliation of having to follow the IMF's diktats —which were to come into force only in November 1984 — and delivering a vastly improved economy. Last week, in Washington, the finance minister once again used politics to protect India's economic interests at the World Bank-IMF annual meetings.


This year's Bank-Fund meetings had more significance for India than any such meetings in recent years. Until last week, for instance, India had only the remainder of this year to convince deputies of the International Development Association that the country should continue to receive money from the World Bank's window, which provides interest-free credits and grants to the world's poorest countries. In the 1970s and 1980s, critical years in their economic development, India and China received some 63 per cent of IDA's total assistance worldwide.


Their share came down in later years; yet, in the last decade beginning in 2000, India received $12.6 billion, an average of $1.2 billion a year. This is not a small amount to be scoffed at by a country which has anything between 500 to 600 million poor people, especially since 83 per cent of IDA assistance has gone for rural development projects, education as well as health and nutrition. In the last year or two, there have been demands from donors — especially the United Kingdom, the IDA's largest donor — that India should no longer be given soft loans because it is an emerging economy, destined to be one of the most powerful economies in the world.


By the time the Bank-Fund annual meetings were over, Mukherjee, in his role as second vice-chair of the

"Group of Twenty Four", a ginger group of developing countries on monetary and development finance, had got the group to commit that "developed countries need to meet their responsibility as the principal donors in order to ensure a successful IDA-16 replenishment."


Subsequently, a 'development committee', which advises the boards of governors of the World Bank and IMF on issues related to economic development, issued a communiqué, which was silent on demands by the UK and some other developed countries that India, China and others should have to pay for their growth notwithstanding the massive development needs of millions of their poor people.


The finance minister has prepared the ground for India to continue to have an inflow of about $1.2 billion in easy money for financing development, but the country still has to make the case before the IDA, in a few months from now, that money from tax-payers around the world, which is replenishing the IDA, is being put to good use and not being squandered.


Mukherjee successfully disarmed anyone in Washington who complained to him that India was no more enthusiastic or proactive about its economic reforms. Once again, using political arguments to score economic points, the finance minister silenced those in Washington who had reservations about India, some three weeks before the visit of the president of the United States of America, by insisting that reform "legislation cannot be done only on the basis of intention. You require the number — majority on the floor of the House. The Congress party does not have a clear majority on the floor of the House to get (reform) legislation started. We do not have 272."


Of all the finance ministers from all over the world who were in Washington last week, Mukherjee was the only one for whom the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, found time. The meeting was, once again, a reminder of how far India had come in its dealings with the US. Mukherjee can recall the time in the 1990s, when he was external affairs minister for the first time, and India's dealings were primarily with none higher than the assistant secretary of state for South Asia.


Equally, it was not surprising that the two awards which got most attention were both from Asia — for India's finance minister and Malaysia's Central Bank governor — thereby underlining the current interest worldwide in the region. This year's award was instituted by Emerging Markets, the daily newspaper of record for the Bank-Fund meetings through nominations from public and private sector economists, analysts, bankers, investors and other experts. Mukherjee's award 26 years ago was given byEuromoney magazine through a similar process.








The lore and language of the British aristocracy are not, I trust, of deep concern to The Telegraph-readers. Yet this is a quaint byway of English. Let's follow it.


Not that it's my territory. At Eton College 60 years ago, we 70 scholarship-holders were surrounded by scions of the nobility. One was a duke. But the only ones I recall were the then Viscount Weymouth, who later, as Marquess of Bath, grew into a fine 20th-century version of the eccentric English peer, peopling his ancestral mansion with a host of young women whom he knew as "wifelets"; and, beside him (whom I never in fact met), a good friend who later inherited a viscountcy and became a notable sociologist.


As those two show, the nobs (without a k; nob is ancient British slang for head, but how its plural got today's meaning is a mystery) have always been a varied lot. The oldest titles derive from Norman thugs who came with William the Conqueror in 1066. Later titles repaid some service to the king, or ennobled his illegitimate sons. Recent ones have gone to wealth, success in business, public service or, often nowadays, to some worn out MP kicked upstairs to the House of Lords to free his Commons seat for someone else.


Royalty apart, titles range from duke and his duchess, marquess and marchioness, earl—the sole Anglo-Saxon word — and, oddly, his countess, viscount and plain baron. So far, so easy. But their nomenclature is a maze. The Marquess of Here may be also Viscount of There, but that title is given, by courtesy, to his eldest son; so the man known as Viscount There does not in fact hold that viscountcy. And when papa dies, all change.


There are complex rules, now dying, on how to address the various ranks: a duke is entitled to Your Grace. Under one odd convention, peers signed letters, except to friends, only with their titular name: Lord Bath would sign simply as "Bath". But in the 1960s, a politician called George Brown chose to be kicked upstairs as Lord George-Brown, so that he could go on using his familiar signature. That absurdity, slowly, brought better sense.


The Season, as the nobs called it, ran most of the summer. At the start, aristocratic girls (gels or gerls was their way of saying it) came out — that is, were presented at Buckingham Palace — before a long round of dances; the debs' delights, the well-born young men these debutantes met, risked being labelled NSIT by mama if they were not safe in taxis. The Season was punctuated with events, mostly sporting: Ascot (a week of racing at that town west of London); the Fourth of June (a very grand 'open day' at my old school); Henley (a rowing regatta); Cowes (a week of yachting at that southern port). It ended with the Glorious Twelfth — a hacks' more than nobs' phrase for that date in August, when grouse-shooting begins.


And there was Lords — not a Test match, something far more important, the two-day game there between Eton and Harrow. Here cricket came second to Society. Yet in 1910, cricket gave the arcane vocabulary of the nobs a phrase remembered even now:Fowler's Match. Harrow scored 232, Eton a sorry 67. Following on, Eton managed 219, thanks to 64 from their captain, one Robert St Leger Fowler, and 50 from their last pair. Harrow needed just 54 to win — and scored only 45, Fowler taking eight wickets for 23. Descendants of the players will celebrate at a dinner next month.


At, typically, the Cavalry and Guards Club — what other regiments would a gentleman serve with? It could be said of our aristos, in their landowning days, that they lived off the country but were ready to die for it. Taxation largely ended the first, two world wars proved the second. The 1950s ended the debutante flummery. Not that the Season is dead. But nobs is not the word I'd use for many of the people in today's version of it.





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





India's abject failure to address hunger and malnutrition has been laid bare yet again by its poor ranking — 67th of 84 countries — on a global hunger index put together by the International Food Policy Research Institute. The fact that it is home to 42 per cent of the world's underweight children in the under-5 age group has resulted in the poor ranking. 

This is reason for concern as child malnutrition and hunger have multiple implications. Underweight children are more prone to poor health. Half of all child deaths and nearly a quarter of cases of disease among children can be traced to malnourishment. 

Malnourished children are more likely than others not to reach their full physical or mental potential. This affects their performance in school, with implications for later employment as well. Growth retardation is irreversible. So if 42 per cent of India's under-5 children are underweight it means that the mental and physical growth of a substantial proportion of its population will be impaired, undermining the capacity of this section to meet life's many challenges.

India, which sees itself as an equal competitor of China in the race for big power status, would do well to take a look at how its giant neighbour has tackled the hunger problem. China's problems of poverty and hunger were as serious as that of India. Yet it has done an admirable job in tackling it as evident from its ninth ranking on the hunger index. It is not a shortage of foodgrains that is responsible for India's hunger problem but poverty, which denies millions the means to access food. What is needed is radical reform, especially in the area of land ownership, to address rural poverty and related problems like hunger.

India boasts of the second fastest economic growth rate in the world. But this achievement seems hollow when one considers that many Indians continue to suffer severe hunger, even starvation. Economists have focussed on the health of country's foreign exchange reserves.

They should give priority to the malnutrition question instead. After all, even the World Bank has said that physical impairments caused by malnutrition knock 3 per cent off a country's GDP. The human tragedy unleashed by hunger has failed to move our politicians and officials to tackle the problem on a war footing. Will the argument that it is in the economic interest to address it, push them to act?









This year's Nobel peace prize has been awarded to Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo. Fifty-four-year old Liu, who is serving an 11-year jail sentence for 'inciting subversion of state power', came into public prominence in 1989 during the protests at Tiananmen Square.


In the years since, Liu has been in and out of jail, punished for speaking out in favour of multi-party democracy in China or against China's treatment of the Tibetans. Liu was a leading author of Charter 08, a manifesto that calls for a new constitution in China, an independent judiciary and freedom of expression.

His struggle for democratic rights for the Chinese people has been a peaceful one. Pro-democracy activists in China and elsewhere will be hoping that the peace prize to Liu will pressure the Chinese Communist Party to focus attention on much-needed political reforms in the country.

Not surprisingly, the award of the Nobel prize to Liu has ruffled feathers in China. Many in the country see the award as aimed at embarrassing China on the global stage. Rather than respond defensively, the Chinese government must introspect. It has done a splendid job in lifting hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty.

It has made the country a global power. However, its record on rights issues is poor, leaving it vulnerable to international criticism. Instead of fire-fighting to deal with such criticism it should reform its political system, allowing space for democratic dissent and peaceful protest. This is in the interest of the country's long-term stability.

If the Nobel Peace committee's choices repeatedly raise hackles across the world, this is because it employs double standards in choosing the awardees. Why the lack of enthusiasm to recognise the work of dissidents in western societies?

Many would argue that linguist Noam Chomsky deserves the prize for his outspoken writings on the hollowness of western democracies. Why the reluctance to honour Afghan politician Malalai Joya, who has spoken up against the anti-Soviet mujahideen, the Taliban, the warlords and the Nato forces?

Is it because a Nobel prize to Joya would draw attention to the terrible violence being unleashed by the western forces on the Afghan people all in the name of bringing peace to Afghanistan? The Nobel peace prize's credibility is diminishing. The committee needs to reform itself first before it can expect the prize to push others to reform themselves.







Pakistan wants to ensure against the possibility of an Afghan govt with a strong army emerging on its border and aligning with India.


In the panoply of national security conundrums facing the Obama administration, there is one that stands central. Can the United States ever succeed in the Afghanistan war if its two principal allies mistrust each other? Indeed, can the war succeed if one of those allies is in cahoots with the enemy?

The enemy, of course, is the Taliban. And the allies are the Pakistani and Afghan governments. Troops from both countries, as well as American forces, have been fighting elements of the Taliban on their respective soils.

But Pakistan has also been accused of pulling its punches in that fight, because it fears the day when a strong Afghanistan might align with India. It would be convenient for Pakistan if the Taliban remained a force to prevent that.

In retaliation for American helicopter strikes that killed three Pakistani border soldiers on Sept 30, the Pakistani government had shut down a border crossing used to supply the Afghan war effort. That offered Taliban and Qaeda insurgents a golden opportunity to blow up the Nato convoys, and within a week, three major attacks destroyed dozens of trucks.

Although the US responded by blanketing Islamabad with mea culpas for the helicopter strikes, the incident has laid bare the fundamental challenge of the American-Pakistan alliance: When it comes to Afghanistan, America and Pakistan have very different national security interests.

President Obama defines American national security interests in South Asia as revolving around the need to prevent the region from becoming a launching pad for terrorist attacks on the US and American allies.

But Pakistan, for its part, defines its national security interests as revolving around India, its nemesis in a tangle of disputes that have proven intractable for six decades. Every step that the Pakistani government takes is seen through that prism.

What Pakistan wants most in Afghanistan is an assurance that India cannot use it to threaten Pakistan. For that, a radical Islamic movement like the Taliban, with strong ties to kin in Pakistan, fits the bill. That is why the Pakistani government's intelligence agencies helped the Taliban in its initial rise to power in the 1990s.

Now, Pakistan wants to ensure against the possibility of an Afghan national government with a strong army emerging on its border and aligning with India. So supporting the Afghan Taliban is again a hedge, as it was in the 1990s.

What's more, the Pakistanis don't believe that the US will stay in Afghanistan, and Obama's announcement that he will begin a pullout starting in July 2011 has exacerbated that belief. And if the US leaves, the Pakistanis believe, it is only a matter of time before the Afghan Taliban return to power. When they do, Islamabad wants to make sure that it has kept in the Taliban's good graces.

Political settlement

Finally — again because of India — the Pakistani government wants to make sure that its historic allies, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, will be deeply entrenched in any efforts to reach a political settlement that would involve power-sharing in Afghanistan.

Moeed W Yusuf, a South Asia adviser at the US Institute of Peace, says: "Pakistan sees that any political settlement in Afghanistan that does not include groups that are friendly to Pakistan, like the Haqqani network, will mean that Pakistan will have gotten the rough end of the deal. It will not be able to ensure an Afghanistan which does not allow inroads to India."

Why not give the Pakistanis the strategic hedge that they want? For anyone who hasn't read the latest policy brief on the Haqqani network, here's a quick summary: From its base in the frontier region near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the network led by Sirajuddin Haqqani is suspected of running much of the insurgency around Kabul, and across eastern Afghanistan; that insurgency has carried out car bombings and kidnappings, including spectacular attacks on American military installations.

It is allied with al-Qaeda and with leaders of the Afghan Taliban branch that answers to Mullah Muhammad Omar. Though he is now based in Quetta, Pakistan, Mullah Omar was in charge when the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan and sheltered al-Qaeda there, notably on Sept 11, 2001.

Since then, western officials have blamed the Haqqani network for a string of attacks, including the 2008 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, the kidnappings of the British journalist Sean Langan and the 'New York Times' reporter David Rohde, and hundreds of attacks on American forces in Afghanistan. Haqqani is believed to be in the top tier of the allied forces' 'kill or capture' list.

In short, the Haqqani network has a lot of American blood on its hands. "The aims of the US and Pakistan in Afghanistan," says Nawaz, of the Atlantic Council, "are not congruent." So given all this, the logical thing to do might be to focus on the Pakistan-India problem. After all, if you remove Pakistan's fears of India as a threat, maybe the Pakistanis will stop working against American interests in Afghanistan?

Not so fast. "It's unfixable," said C Christine Fair, Edmund A Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. "That's why we'll be working on this for the next 50 years."

Fair argues that because India is on the ascent, and will be even stronger militarily and economically in 10 years, the Indian government has no reason to negotiate seriously with Pakistan over the host of issues that bedevil the two adversaries now, when it can throw its weight around much easier later.

"If there was an easy way out of this, someone would have figured it out," Fair said. "But I don't think it's possible to untie this Gordian knot."








There is a need to sensitise entire families to the holistic needs of the cancer patient.


October has been declared as the 'Pink' month. Women afflicted with 'breast cancer' will receive love, respect and support to make their lives rosier. Medical science, NGOs, social service trusts and organisations dedicated to the eradication of the said disease are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that they reach out to as many patients as possible to lend them their helping hand. Besides able counselling and awareness programmes are making the feminine lot increasingly knowledgeable on the subject.

It is a well-known fact that the 'Big C' not only takes toll of its victim physically and mentally but also burns a considerable hole in the pocket while it is being shown the door. The surgery followed by chemotherapy, radiation and sometimes a hormonal treatment is not only a painful affair but can erode the self-confidence of the sufferer by pushing her into an abyss of depression.

Though this particular variety of the crab has shown signs of relenting when discovered in its early stages and letting the honourary cancerian off the hook with due treatment most women flatly refuse to undergo the rigorous treatment. Surprisingly it is not the economic or medical which happen to be some of the foremost factors that deter them, on the other hand it is the social stigma attached to carcinoma which is the main culprit. 

Even educated women who are in the know of the entire process have been known to behave in this pattern.


Women with daughters of marriageable age don't even want to be sighted anywhere near a hospice which treats cancer for the simple reason that it might upset the prospects of their offspring's marital future. Older sisters and aunts who have been identified with the malignant tumour prefer to relegate themselves into the background and prefer to lead an incognito existence to favour the smooth weddings of their sisters and nieces.

Middle aged women who are in various stages of their married life hesitate to breathe a word about their cancerous condition for the sheer fear of rocking the foundations of their wedlock or upsetting the future of their children. Unmarried girls who have had the misfortune of coming under the cancer bracket are usually asked to bury their malevolent secret lest they are shelved for the rest of their lives.

This phenomenon might appear to be downright foolish to the pragmatic eye, but people who can slip into the shoes of the lady who has been declared to be positive with a malignant tumour will see her point of view. Hence, only a fraction of affected women are ready to undergo the aggressive treatment despite all odds.

It is sad, but true that we live in a diabolic society. The institution of marriage which stands on several factors like the social and economic status of the family, educational qualifications, financial stability, physical attributes and horoscope of the girl, the ability to pay a handsome dowry to the groom has now decided to also take a dekko at the medical history of the bride and her family.

While there is nothing apparently wrong with bearing caution on the medical side, one also needs to use discretion and the ability to accept medical certification that cancer may not always be passed on to the next generation.
The daring women who do emerge successful from the demoniac disease had another story to tell. Apparently the survivors have been plunged into doldrums both in domestic and professional fronts. Those who have resumed their duties after the restorative sabbatical have revealed that they are evaluated in a very imbalanced manner. Initially they are treated with kid gloves of warmth and sympathy.

Over a period of time, if they are found as efficient as ever, they are either taken for granted or teased into packing more into their itinerary. But if they are found wanting in their performance they are driven to a corner till their self-esteem takes a beating. Every act and deed of theirs is attributed to their 'karma' and they are sometimes ostracised as veritable pariahs by the very people they love and cherish.

Cancer becomes the inevitable bone of contention of their lives. God forbid, if they have a relapse of the deadly malady, their lives turn into a living hellhole. Medical science or celebrating 'Pink Months' alone cannot alter this scenario. The amount of effort, patience, co-operation and money poured by all concerned, into the cancer drill has to be humongous. Entire families need to be sensitised to the holistic needs of the cancer patient so that they are able to metamorphose into a reliable support system.

The hope of finding light at the end of the tunnel will be worth all the exertion and will serve as a worthy example to those on the threshold facing a Hamlet like dilemma!







I knew I was growing older but I didn't expect the world to grow older with me.


We grow old, the world stays young. Or so I thought. Every summer, we'd pack our bags and head for my grandparents' beautiful home in Karnataka. Half an hour from the nearest city, it boasts of a solitary railway track on the horizon, breezes in the courtyard, a garden out back and green hills over the way. Every evening, my father and I would lace our shoes and head for these hills.

Trudging up a gravelly road with bungalows on one side and grassy mounds on the other, we would swing ourselves atop the water tank that rests on the first hillock and admire the landscape.

With the wind in our backs, we'd then take the flower-lined path that passes through a small knoll of evergreens, before ending at the old abandoned police quarters that straddles the tallest hill, like a Maratha fort in the Sahyadris. What followed was a mad dash down the other face, which had me stumbling and my knees grumbling.

To the left lay a good-sized pond, across which my father taught me to send stones skipping. What stood ahead was the purpose of our trek. What stood ahead was another hill. My hill. Tracing a zigzag path over this pathless hill, we'd circle around birds' nests and snakes' holes till we reached the simple metal cross that marked the summit. 

Here we would sit for an hour, with me companionable and my dad silent. As I grew older, I grew silent too. Once a year I would visit my kingdom and once a year would I climb my hill. It's been three years since I was here last. On a cloudy evening last month, I set off by myself down the same road. The tank was still there and still taller than me.

I watched goats chew their way across the verdant hillside and a lone schoolboy walk his way home. The knoll of trees was no less towering and the police quarters were as deserted as ever. I was approaching the seat of my realm.

But I turned a corner and couldn't find my hill. The trail down from the derelict buildings had disappeared. Another familiar path had become a two-lane highway. My rippling pond had turned into a large puddle that was used for washing the backsides of rickshaws and squatters.

I was lost. If I knew the language I'd have asked for directions. As it turned out, the hill next to mine had been excavated to build a factory. I was relieved to see my hill intact. As I skirted the birds' nests and snakes' holes while climbing up, my anticipation grew.

In a quarter of an hour, I reached the top. Someone had eaten the back of my hill away. I knew I was growing older but I didn't expect the world to grow older with me. Two eagles circled overhead, looking for something they had lost. I smiled a sad smile and started back down the hill that wasn't mine anymore.








While it is important to respect private business interests and limit government intervention, there are times when market failures need to be righted for the benefit of economic stability.


This week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is slated to hold a special meeting with leading economic officials, including Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, to think of ways of reducing concentration in the Israeli economy and increasing competition.

"Some 20 business groups, nearly all of family nature and structured in a pronounced pyramid form, continue to control a large proportion of public firms (some 25 percent of firms listed for trading) and about half of market share," wrote Bank of Israel economists in the central bank's annual report, issued in April.

Families like Ofer, Arison and Tshuva own large swathes of our economy, from banks and construction firms to insurance companies and retail chains. Nochi Dankner, who split off from a family that made its fortune in the salt industry, now controls a vast array of about 60 companies. Nearly all Israelis are touched by this array, whether they use mobile phones provided by the largest cellular operator, Cellcom; shop at the largest supermarket chain, Shufersal; invest in mutual funds offered by Clal Finance; or are insured by Clal Insurance, one of the two largest insurance firms. They might also receive Internet service from 013 Netvision, live in a house built with concrete supplied by Nesher, which controls 90% of the market, and use paper towels or tissues produced by Hadera Paper.

Dankner, Tshuva and others who have proven to possess exceptional business acumen are entitled to improve their lot through entrepreneurship. However, our highly concentrated economy is also the result of an improperly supervised privatization process that put an end to decades of socialism but hastily handed over control of state-run firms to a small group of businessmen.

THIS CONCENTRATION can cause instability in times of crisis. Fischer and Bank of Israel economists have used the term "latent potential for systemic risk" to describe a scenario in which the collapse of one financial corporation cascades into a general economic meltdown. When Tshuva's Phoenix Holdings raises money for his car import business, or Dankner's Clal Finance extends credit to his supermarket chain, this creates the potential for one company's failure to trigger a domino effect. And there is a temptation to misallocate unjustified credit to companies that belong to the conglomerate, further increasing risks.

Also, family businesses can be affected by complicated interpersonal relationships. Managerial appointments can be made for reasons other than merit.

More importantly, cross-sectoral, multi-layered conglomerates wield enormous clout. According to Bloomberg News, when importers wanted to buy cement from Turkey to compete with Dankner's Nesher Israel Cement Enterprises, then-industry, trade and labor minister Ehud Olmert levied duties of almost $6 a ton on the imports, claiming that otherwise the cement would be dumped at rock-bottom prices.

Admittedly, the level of concentration in the Israeli economy is similar to that of other emerging markets such as Indonesia, Thailand, Korea and Hong Kong.

As Fischer put it, "in a small economy, there's always a problem like this, and clearly it can cause damage. We will never manage to reach the same level of competition as there is in the US. That won't happen."

NEVERTHELESS, STEPS can be taken to improve the situation. MK Einat Wilf (Labor) has drafted legislation that would force tycoons to separate their financial firms' operations from "real" companies. Another bill proposes expanding the powers of the Antitrust Authority so it can, for example, reduce or eliminate costs for consumers switching from one cellphone or cable service to another, or act against cross-ownership of companies that dampens competition. And Netanyahu is contemplating the creation of a public committee to address the problem of concentration in the economy.

While it is important to respect private business interests and limit government intervention, there are times when market failures need to be righted for the benefit of economic stability. The build-up of concentration in our economy appears to be precisely one of those times.








We need a renewed covenant between the country's citizens and its government – not meaningless mouthings targeting Israel's Arabs.


Talkbacks (1)

Trying to preserve Israel's Jewish and democratic character by imposing loyalty oaths like the one the Netanyahu government is proposing makes as much sense as trying to solve America's unemployment crisis by simply declaring the recession over. Words have meaning. They can set tones, define directions, articulate visions, reaffirm core values and, when done right, inspire confidence. But in building national identities – as with managing national economies – changing behaviors trumps pronouncements.

Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state, with its pluralistic population in all its glorious contradictions, depends on loyalty acts, not loyalty oaths. We need a renewed covenant between the country's citizens and its government – not meaningless mouthings targeting Israel's Arabs.

In an age of multiple identities and mobile populations, all Western democracies struggle, trying to balance patriotism and pluralism, nationalism and cosmopolitanism. Nineteenth-century romantic nationalism found unity in sameness. Countries were built on shared senses of history, community and destiny. The nationalist ideal assumed interlocking, mutually-reinforcing identities. Thus the Englishman would be Protestant, white and British; the Italian would be Catholic, white and Italian.

These nationalists got it half right. The nation-states they created remain our defining political unit. But the Disraelis and Garibaldis of yesteryear would be shocked to see how people of different races, colors, and creeds now share common citizenships. Today, there are British Pakistanis and black Italians.

Human beings are complex – as are the societies we create. We can juggle different feelings, loyalties and identities. Modern democratic nations have to figure out how to inspire some harmony amid the cacophony.

Even in the US, which always had a more diverse population, traditional assumptions of unity now conflict with the attempt to forge a national identity in a teeming, polyglot, multicultural society. Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt would recognize few people in Manhattan today as "typical" Americans. Continuing clashes about illegal immigration, mosques near Ground Zero and persistent African-American poverty demonstrate the messes of modern nation-building .

ISRAELI DEMOCRACY offers its own variation. The Jewish people are entitled to a nation-state like other peoples. The Jewish state – unlike its Middle Eastern neighbors – is democratic. And history's particularities have created a Jewish state including 1.5 million Arabs, who are neither Jewish nor necessarily excited about the country's founding Zionist vision.

Israel's Declaration of Independence promises all citizens civic equality, be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim or atheist; black, white or brown; long-standing Jewish Jerusalemite, Holocaust survivor, Jewish refugee from Arab lands or Arab villager from the Galilee. As with other Western nations, Israeli national identity can be defined enough to have a Jewish character and forge a Jewish public space, but elastic enough to offer full citizenship and rights to, say, a Palestinian who harbors resentment that there even is a Jewish state. Does that create identity confusion, legal contradictions and political tensions? Certainly. But are these problems that cannot be resolved or reasons to view the Jewish nation state as something to be dissolved? Certainly not.

Israel needs a smart, enlightened, citizenship policy to maximize individual rights while working out the complexities of minority groups' collective rights. Focusing on loyalty acts, not loyalty oaths, would start with the government ensuring that Arab schools are as well-funded as Jewish schools, and that every Israeli Arab feels empowered to live freely and prosper in the Middle East's one truly democratic state.

Good citizenship and good governance both demand mutuality; in fulfilling its obligations to its citizens, the state also makes demands. We need universal national service, not loyalty oaths. Every young Israeli – male or female, religious or secular, Arab or Jew – should devote a minimum of two years to national service. Considering Arabs' current sensitivities, we should only compel their service within Israeli Arab political units or institutions. But they should have opportunities to volunteer in venues that serve the entire nation – and that could get young Israeli Muslims, Christians and Jews working together. Such actions would encourage much more social cohesion than any combination of words force-fed down people's throats.

YES, ISRAEL is being judged by yet another double standard. When Canadian immigrants swear allegiance to the queen, it is charmingly anachronistic. When Americans pledge allegiance to the flag, it is red-white-and-blue patriotic. Yet when Israelis propose loyalty oaths, it becomes oppressive.

Still, while Binyamin Netanyahu's so-called nationalist government must do more to boost patriotism and Zionism, why start with meaningless, controversial declarations? Why not start fostering pride by fixing the education system, cleaning the streets, fighting crime? Why not create a vision of Zionist civics that includes haredim and Arabs, who frequently use state funds to carve out anti-Zionist collective identities? Nationalism is best nurtured, not dictated; loyalty is best earned, not proclaimed. We need a politics inspiring a sense of mutual obligation, not generating confrontation. We need policies that encourage rather than compel.

The best patriotism is the quiet patriotism of millions of lives well-lived, with citizens appreciating how blessed they are to live where they live, under the government they voted in, in the society to which they freely belong. The loud, aggressive patriotism of bluster and bullying is not just fleeting but counter-productive. Many have argued recently that in an age in which Israel is being delegitimized, headlines about loyalty oaths only make matters worse. I worry about the civic fallout more than the diplomatic fallout. In an age of cosmopolitanism coexisting uncomfortably with nationalism, we accomplish more with the light touch than the heavy hand. We need good citizens not resentful subjects, good government not posturing politicians.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University, and a Shalom Hartman Institute research fellow in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, and The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.








The state must create safety on the roads, deal with settlers, end lawlessness, and create equality at the same time. And who do you go to to actually solve these problems?


There is a phenomenon that has grown here and in many parts of the world. When things aren't the way they should be, blame is always cast on "the state." Consider a few examples from recent newspaper editorials. Haaretz informed its readers in December that "the state must use all measures at it's disposal to end [discriminatory] practices."

Yisrael Harel wrote in January: "Ultimately, when the state can no longer fund this anomaly [of funding the haredi sector], the bubble will burst with tremendous force."

In July 2009, two attorneys complained that "this [gang activity] is undoubtedly a new social phenomenon, which requires the state to examine why normative youngsters with no criminal records get involved."

In October Haaretz claimed in regards to crime in Lod that "the state has stopped trying to enforce the law in these areas."

Israel is only one place in which all the burdens are placed on the state. An op-ed at in September noted that "the state must ensure technology transfer."

Praful Bidwai, former editor of The Times of India, writing in April, noted that the "Indian state has failed its poor for 60 years." Nikos Xydakis at Greece's Kathimerini outdid others with his October 2 editorial: "The state is rewarding lawlessness [by giving a tax evasion amnesty]...what about the reforms? Where are they? Where is the just and effective tax-collection mechanism? Where is the restructuring of the state? What is being done to combat illegal business activities and black markets?" 

The use of the word "state," blaming it for all social ills and bowing down to it as the solution to all problems, is a purely modern phenomenon based on a very clear view of the world. The conception of the "state" being to blame for, and able to solve, our problems is one that receives far less attention in the US. When things go awry there, it is more often the "government" that comes in for blame, rather than the more nebulous "state."

This is a distinction that transcends semantics. Blaming "government" or "politicians" for a specific problem such as the passage of a law granting amnesty to tax evaders places blame correctly on the shoulders of those responsible. It is politicians who pass laws. It is law enforcement that enforces laws. It is criminals who break them. When all these things are combined into "the state," blame is placed above individuals and institutions, and burdens an entity that cannot correct the situation.

When the state is deemed responsible for a lack of "technology transfer" or a plethora of poverty, who can be asked to solve the problem? However, when foreign companies are blamed for a lack of technology transfer, or the welfare system is blamed for increases in poverty, a solution is pointed to. The state therefore almost seems to replace God in the conception of those who blame it or seek its salvation.

IT WASN'T meant to be this way. Max Weber, founder of modern sociological thought, defined the state as the thing which "has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force."

Weber, whose scholarship hovers over so much of what is studied in certain faculties at modern universities, was a brilliant man who wrote on such subjects as the history of settlement in Europe, capitalism, and even the difference between monotheism and Oriental religions. But this giant's view of the all-encompassing state with its monopoly on power also leaves modern individuals with an easy scapegoat.

The myriad of issues facing Israel are almost all placed on the shoulders of the state. Foreign workers? The state must not deport them. Radical academics calling for boycotts of Israel while being paid by the Israeli government? The state must protect free speech. Settlers building illegal structures? The state must evict them. Beduin illegally stealing state land? The state must have a just solution. Haredim segregating sidewalks and buses? The state must ensure a secular democratic Israel. Israelis no longer want to work at jobs viewed as menial? The state must set them straight. 

The list is endless: The state must rein in lawlessness. The state must create safety on the roads. The state must end lawlessness in the Arab sector and create equality at the same time. And who do you go to to actually solve these problems? Well you don't go to a local Knesset member. You just keep telling the state to solve the problem.

Isaiah, the prophet who lived in the eighth century BCE, had an insight into this problem when he condemned the pagans who "understand nothing."

He spoke of the worshiper of idols who "cuts down cedars... some of it he takes and warms himself, but he also fashions a god and worships it." He "does not stop to think, 'Half of it I used for fuel... shall I make an abomination of what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?... Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?'" 

As in times of old, we mistakenly bow down to the block of wood, the state, which we ourselves hew. We don't point fingers at ourselves, or even at the responsible individuals. And what's worst of all, it's not the common man who commits this fraud but the most enlightened individuals – the elites, the cultured writers and academics, all joining in the simplistic chorus. The next time one wants to say "the state," he should replace it with a better noun. That would at least be a start.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.








Lights flicker on German Unity Day, new ambassadors present credentials and Arthur Cohn remembers Tony Curtis.


WHEN MK Nahman Shai went to Taiwan last September, he found it to be a somewhat nerve-wracking experience even for a former IDF spokesman and military correspondent. During the few days he spent there, there were three typhoons and an earthquake, none of which caused Shai to throw in the towel as chairman of the Israel-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship League. In fact, he's been to Taiwan twice with parliamentary delegations, and has only good things to say about the country, as was evidenced on Sunday when he spoke at the 99th anniversary celebrations of the Republic of China (Taiwan) at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv. Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Orit Noked, who has also visited Taiwan, said she was deeply impressed by the warmth of the people, their hospitality and their generosity.

Usually the host at national day receptions, in deference to the host country, welcomes the guests in Hebrew, before continuing in English. Liang-jen Chang, the representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Tel Aviv, chose to greet his guests in Chinese, and then asked, "Understand?" Actually some of them did. Ten is an important number to the Chinese, which is why National Celebration Day is on October 10. This year, said Liang-jen, it worked out to be the 10th day of the 10th month of the 10th year, which to the Chinese signifies peace, success and prosperity.

A Made in Taiwan exhibit featured Kymco motorbikes, Merior bicycles, Asus laptops and notebooks and fashion garments and accessories made from recycled plastic bottles by DAAI . Guests were alerted that next year is Taiwan's centenary year which will be filled with numerous festivities, making it a good year for travel to Taiwan.

■ THE ELECTRIC Corporation played havoc with the 20th anniversary celebrations of German unity hosted by Ambassador Harald Kindermann and his wife Ingrid in the garden of the German residence.

On several occasions, the area was plunged into total darkness, prompting one diplomatic guest to make an undiplomatic quip with the suggestion that the headline for the evening was "German unity – a short circuit?" Speaking in more serious vein, Kindermann reflected on the impact that reunification has had on relations with Israel, as well as on the resurgence of Jewish life in Germany. Since reunification, there has been a large influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union. Jewish life in Germany is flourishing and new synagogues have been built. This is something for which Germany is grateful and which it sees as a live link to Israel, said Kindermann.

Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon who represented the government, regretted that the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall did not bring about peace. Today the world is under threat of terrorism, Islamist extremism and the nuclearization of Iran, he said, and expressed appreciation that the Federal Republic of Germany continues to stand by Israel and voices its opposition to Iran's nuclear program.

A surprise guest was former German ambassador Wilhelm Haas who reminded guests that prior to the annual celebration of German Unity Day, the national holiday was Constitution Day. He had hosted his last Constitution Day reception in March 1990 in the very same venue in Herzliya Pituah.

■ FAST BECOMING the trendiest place in Tel Aviv, Ramat Hahayal was last week the scene of the opening of a huge new art gallery, the Ferrate Gallery managed by Shiri Benartzi, whose husband Jonathan (the grandson of Yitzhak Rabin) was busy making sure that guests were introduced to the right people, especially his wife and photographer David Kassman, whose fascinating Spiderman project is the focal point of the opening exhibition.

While in New York, Kassman photographed a crowd scene and by chance caught Spiderman in his lens. The photograph inspired him to get a Spiderman costume and integrate Spiderman into scenes reflecting the Middle East, including hassidim at prayer and the pyramids.

The large crowd was representative of 30 something affluence, with the men in casual, designer attire and the women in body-hugging expensive dresses. An exception was the ever elegant Danish Ambassador Liselotte Kjarsgaard and her handsome husband Jens (a relative of MK Yohanan Plesner) who looked as if they'd just stepped out of a cover of Vogue.


■ WHILE NOT wishing to detract from the kudos accorded last week to business leader Sami Sagol, who received the French Legion of Honor from Industry Minister Christian Estrosi at a ceremony in Paris, one has to take issue with the public relations firm that sent out a headlined notice stating that he was first Israeli to be given the award in France. Generally speaking the award ceremonies are held at the residence of the French ambassador or in the French Embassy of the home country of the recipients. But there are certainly exceptions, most notably President Shimon Peres, who was awarded his Legion of Honor during his state visit to France in 2008.

Sagol was honored in recognition of his contribution to the strengthening of investments and trade relations between France and Israel. In recent years, Keter Plastics, which is owned by the Sagol family, acquired two major French companies – Allibert, which specializes in bathroom and household products, and Curver, which manufactures plastic products for home and garden. Keter invested heavily in the development of the two companies, transforming them into European leaders in their fields.

Estrosi, who in tribute to Sagol hosted a reception followed by a dinner on board a yacht on the Seine for some 200 European and Israeli business leaders, surprised the Israelis with the intensity of his pro-Israel remarks.

■ THERE'S NEVER a cutoff age for making aliya. Five years ago, German-born Mina Giesler, who spent a large part of her life in France, came here at 95. Wedded at 20, she and her husband of 47 years had a good marriage, but no children. A working woman for most of her life, she continued to work after she was widowed, and stayed on the job till 90, selling books and paintings on the banks of the Seine. After arriving, she lived for two years in Kiryat Ono, then moved to Jerusalem where she resides at the Golden Hill retirement home. Last week, the management decided to give her a 100th birthday party, and didn't stop with a birthday cake. The event included entertainment by singer Brigitte Habib and keyboard instrumentalist Ari Bar-Eitan who performed a medley of French songs that brought tears of joy and nostalgia to Giesler's eyes.

■ AMONG THE former British politicians admired by recently arrived British Ambassador Matthew Gould is Benjamin Disraeli, who twice served as prime minister. So it's understandable that Gould was absolutely delighted when the time came to sign the Presidential Visitor's Book after he had presented his credentials to President Shimon Peres, to be seated at a table that had once belonged to Disraeli. Gould could hardly contain his excitement as he turned to his wife Celia and showed her the sign detailing the provenance of the table 

■ ALSO PRESENTING credentials was Norwegian Ambassador Svein Sevje. Peres and Sevje are old friends having worked together during the Oslo process. "Welcome back. I'm glad to see you," the president greeted Sevje.

Peres was pleased to see him for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that Sevje could testify to the fact that contrary to common belief, Peres had not engineered his own Nobel Prize. Sevje recalled that it was almost 16 years to the day since he had come to Peres to tell him that he was to be awarded the Nobel Prize. "You're my best witness that I didn't organize it," said Peres.


■ CANADA'S NEW ambassador, Paul Hunt, who was previously ambassador to Brazil, when presenting his credentials last week, told Peres that he had been taken to dinner to the Gazebo restaurant by Ambassador to Brazil Giora Becher, who had taken Peres there during the president's visit to Brazil almost a year ago. The dish that Peres ordered, said Hunt, has now been named after him, and so Hunt, knowing he was coming to Israel, ordered it too. Hunt has not had time to relax. Immediately after bidding farewell to Peter Van Loan, Canada's minister of international trade, at the conclusion of a two-day visit to promote closer commercial relations, including exploratory talks aimed at expanding the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, Hunt had to turn his attention to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet which begins the local leg of its 70th anniversary tour with a premiere performance at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on Thursday.

Van Loan, who emphasized the importance that Canada attaches to Israel, met with his counterpart Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. He also met with Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz. Canada is extremely interested in increasing its cooperation in science and technology, so he also met with Dr. Eli Opper, chief scientist at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, to discuss potential joint innovation initiatives. Van Loan also visited the Petah Tikva branch of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.

■ MOST OF the obituaries for actor Tony Curtis included a few details about his Jewish background, his rise to stardom and then his gradual decline. There was also mention that he had taken to painting, but there was very little of a truly personal nature. Celebrated filmmaker Arthur Cohn, who has won six Oscars and who divides his time between Basel, Jerusalem and Hollywood, filled in some of the gaps about his friend.

They met when Cohn won his second or third Oscar. Curtis was not at the awards ceremony but heard Cohn's acceptance speech while in a car in San Francisco. He was impressed and decided that he wanted to meet Cohn. This was actually easy, because Curtis's half-Jewish girlfriend Christine Kaufmann, who later became his wife, and her brother Guenther, a well known photographer, had both been friends of Cohn's for a long time.

There was instant rapport between Curtis and Cohn, so when Curtis and Kaufmann got married in 1963, Cohn was invited as a witness. He was relatively new to Hollywood at the time, and the wedding was a memorable event for him because to get there the flew for the first time by helicopter from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, together with Kirk Douglas who was also a close friend of the groom, and who subsequently, together with his son Michael, became a close friend of Cohn's. Several years later Michael Douglas was the narrator in Cohn's film One Day in September about the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics.

Cohn remembers Curtis as being "very decent, interesting, interested and super loyal. He didn't have many good friends and often seemed lonely. He was truly charming with everybody, and even in the coldest weather he gave autographs in the streets, wherever he was, being very happy to be recognized for his achievements in the motion pictures industry."

■ THERE ARE people who come from staunch Zionist families, and who themselves are already third generation supporters of projects here, but who have never set foot in the country. Until recently, this description applied to Joan and Jay Eichler of Southern Florida, who last week visited for the first time along with Jay's sister and brother-in-law Roberta and Marty Borg. High on their agenda of places to see was the Magen David Adom Blood Center because Joan's late father Lewis Rosenberg was one of the founders of American Friends of Magen David Adom and one of its past presidents. He was also a founder of the MDA National Blood Center. Jay Eichler used to sit on the board of the American Friends.

They were overwhelmed by emotion as they saw the names of grandparents, parents, other relatives and family friends on the MDA donor plaques.

■ THERE WERE many who doubted that Arkadi Gaydamak, the generous philanthropist who was courted by all and in sundry, but who returned to Russia two years ago after a failure in his bid to become mayor of Jerusalem, would come back to stand trial on charges of money laundering. Gaydamak and his representatives told anyone who cared to ask that he would be back to face the music, but there were few who believed him. Well, he is back. His trial begins this week and in two weeks he hopes to be able to attend the home match between the Betar Jerusalem soccer team that he still owns and the Bnei Sakhnin team to which he gave a generous financial contribution.

■ THOUGH SEVERAL of the male guests at the wedding of Shiri Zohar and Tamir Birenbaum wore white shirts without jackets, and covered their heads with kippot instead of fedoras, only one of the guests dared to come in a red T-shirt and a baseball cap. It was one of the grandfathers of the bride – singer and actor Arik Einstein – whose life is linked with that of his former partner Uri Zohar, who 40 years ago abandoned the Bohemian lifestyle and became religiously observant.

Einstein and Zohar had acted in films together, had appeared on stage together and were close friends and business associates. When Zohar and his wife Elia became religious in the early 1970s, Einstein's exwife Alona, with whom he had two daughters, tried to bring them back to their senses, but instead became enamored with religion herself, and until her death four years ago, lived a religious way of life. Like the Zohars, she abandoned the entertainment industry and concentrated on photography, building up an enviable reputation.

The two Einstein daughters married the two eldest Zohar boys, and between them produced a large number of offspring. There are even two great grandchildren. Einstein, who in recent years makes rare on-stage appearances and who barely socializes, does make an effort to turn up at most family celebrations. He did come to Jerusalem from his home in Tel Aviv to put in a brief appearance at the wedding.

■ RABBIS, POLITICIANS, business people and philanthropists galore flocked to the Jerusalem International Conference Center last week for the Elon-Belzberg wedding. The father of the groom was the charismatic Rabbi Motti Elon, who had good reason to smile after weathering the vicissitudes of a public outing at the hands of the Forum of Religious Zionist leaders. Some of Elon's relatives and many of his students leapt to his defense, while Elon himself remained silent. Among the religious Zionist leaders who did not abandon him was his good friend Rabbi Haim Druckman, who was at the wedding, as was Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who has also survived the kind of character assassination that threatened to ruin his career. Another guest was former president Moshe Katsav, who is awaiting the verdict on his trial for sexual offenses.

■ DESPITE ALL the media speculation about the bad blood that exists between Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and his successor Yoav Galant, the two displayed great cooperation at the indoor soccer game at the Wingate Institute between an IDF team and Maccabi Haifa. The event was part of an IDF sports and fitness day in which both outgoing and incoming chiefs of General Staff proved that they were very fit, especially taking into account that they were double the age of most of their opponents.

Ashkenazi, who scored all four IDF goals in the tie, is 56 and Galant is 52. The two sat alongside each other on the bench during time out and Galant was quick to shake hands with Ashkenazi after he scored his final goal. Is it possible that all that speculation about animosity between the two was just hot air? 

■ THE JEWISH community of Hebron has festive events several times a year to which it invites people from all over the country as well as tourists. Now, it's the turn of the Palestinian community of Hebron, which is holding a traditional food festival on October 19, as part of an ongoing project to preserve Palestinian culture as a means of contributing to the economy, and as a way of getting to know people outside of Hebron socially. Run by the Steering Committee for Reviving the Old City of Hebron, the festival is one of a series of events designed to accompany efforts to have Hebron listed as a UNESCO heritage site. The festival begins at noon in the Khan Shahin area. For further information, contact Walid Abu al- Halaweh at (02) 222-6994.







The country is going to need a new policy to deal with the Palestinians, based on the assumption that no peace agreement is likely any time soon.


Since the formal expiration of the building freeze in Judea and Samaria on September 26, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has tried to negotiate a formula that will allow direct talks with the Palestinians to go forward. The Americans and Palestinians have been pressing him to extend the freeze, and while it lasts to reach a deal regarding borders – an issue Netanyahu insists must be deferred until the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and until its security requirements are met.

US President Barack Obama's offer of American support in return for a freeze extension made it clear that the White House's idea of security requirements are very different from Israel's. In effect Netanyahu was being pressured to capitulate on the freeze in order to capitulate again in the actual negotiations.

For two weeks, the prime minister maintained silent regarding his intentions. The silence ended with his opening speech to the Knesset on Monday, when he revealed his position and offered a deal: a limited freeze extension in return for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state. The offer, as anticipated, was quickly rejected in Ramallah.

Netanyahu's proposal was directed at four different audiences.

1. The White House. The statement was a declaration of independence. Obama's thumb has been pressing heavily on the scales, tilting America's position in favor of the Palestinians. The Americans continue to demand that Israel comply with a precondition for talks, freezing building in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. Netanyahu's position hitherto has been that negotiations should be conducted without preconditions. In his Knesset speech he rejected the White House's tilt and said, in effect, that if Israel had to meet preconditions, the Palestinians have to as well.

Netanyahu chose his political ground carefully. Nothing is likely to generate sympathy for Israel's position on Capitol Hill and within the American Jewish community as insistence that the Palestinians simply acknowledge that Israel is the Jewish state. Their refusal to do so will seem incomprehensible to most Americans.

2. The Arab League. Netanyahu's statement was a challenge to let the Palestinian issue slide, and no longer allow it to interfere with the quiet alliance between Israel and moderate Arab states now shaping up over Iran. Formally, the Arab League backed the Palestinian position on a freeze, but was notoriously reluctant to back their alternative strategy – a unilateral declaration of independence. The league's position can be interpreted as not caring whether or not the Palestinian issue is on the road to resolution. This, of course, undermines what is supposed to be one of the Obama administration's rationales in pressing the Palestinian issue – making up to the Arab world.

3. The Labor Party. Labor's policy is increasingly vulnerable to ideological purists insisting that the "peace process" continue at all costs. Labor is threatening to leave Netanyahu's coalition if negotiations break down. Netanyahu's chosen political ground is even more potent within Israel than on Capitol Hill. If Labor – and Kadima – want to fight an election on the grounds that Israel should not insist on recognition as the Jewish state, they're welcome to try their luck.

4. Mahmoud Abbas, Netanyahu said, in effect, "Be damned." Netanyahu is not generally a confrontational politician. Like most prime ministers, he has to spend an inordinate percentage of his time keeping his coalition together. He bends over backward to find negotiated solutions. To ensure maximum wiggle room, he keeps his mouth shut and plays his cards close to his chest. Someone is always accusing him of lacking courage or principles.

THE BIG difference between Netanyahu today and the Netanyahu who was elected in 1996 is that he seems to have developed an intuition for when he has no choice but to turn around and fight back. One such moment was when Obama manufactured a crisis over building in Jerusalem and dissed Netanyahu in the Oval Office. As he left the White House that day, Netanyahu appeared to have understood instinctively that he couldn't let himself be cowed. Another such moment appears to have come this week.

Chances are about even that the Labor Party will pull out of Netanyahu's coalition – probably around December (budget time), when it can obfuscate the diplomatic issue on which Netanyahu and the Likud can craft an electoral victory. Netanyahu can maintain a narrow coalition by adding the National Union, but it's far from clear that that's his best option. Perhaps his next step is to learn to anticipate a crisis he cannot avoid and precipitate it – on his own terms and in his own time. If the country is going to elections, the best time for the prime minister is ASAP.

The country is going to need a new policy to deal with the Palestinians, based on the assumption that no peace agreement is likely any time soon.

The writer heads the Israel Policy Center, whose mission includes reinforcing Israel's character as a Jewish, democratic state.








A proposal for a tree-climber's code of conduct.


Palestinian insistence on a renewal of the settlement freeze has become such an issue of principle that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is now utterly unable to climb down from his proverbial tree. Similarly, Israel's demands for recognition as a Jewish state and for a negotiating atmosphere devoid of preconditions – including the settlement freeze – place it up its own tree from which Netanyahu will be hard put to climb down.

Add to this is the ongoing pressure by Presidents Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as other leaders, whose political fortunes depend to a certain extent on a positive outcome, and the internal political dilemmas that constrict any freedom of action by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and we have the components of a classic deadlock.

In the event that the equation of the settlement freeze with recognition as a Jewish state is not accepted or considered viable, then the parties might prefer to set out the following set of rules.

ONE WAY of enabling all sides to climb down from their respective trees would be to determine an agreed-upon "Code of Conduct" for the negotiating process that would bind all concerned, satisfy their requirements in general terms and hence obviate the need to impose individual and partisan preconditions. This could enable each side to proceed within the confines of the agreed code.

Such a Code of Conduct could be based on the following principles, equally applicable to all: 

1. All negotiating parties acknowledge and reaffirm the continued validity and relevance of previous agreements between them, and specifically reaffirm the preambular paragraphs of those agreements by which they recognize their "mutual legitimate and political rights."

2. Within the context of the negotiations, and with a view to ensuring a positive ambiance, the representatives of all negotiating parties will refrain from expressing any reservation or threat regarding the subject matter of negotiations, their continuation, the anticipated outcome of any topic or the negotiations in general.

3. All negotiating parties will refrain from dictating preconditions for entry into, continuation of or completion of negotiations on any topic.

4. All negotiating parties, when discussing any specific issue, will refrain from actions related to that issue that could influence the outcome of negotiations on that topic, or on the negotiations in general.

5. All partners to the negotiating process will seek, as partners, through their public statements and interviews, to ensure ongoing public support for and encouragement of the negotiating process, as well as a positive negotiating ambiance, and to this end will refrain from derogatory statements regarding other parties to the negotiation or their representatives.

6. With a view to maintaining a constructive negotiating atmosphere, the parties will refrain from initiating or supporting actions in international or nongovernmental organizations, or in foreign countries, directed against another party or its representatives, leaders or officials.

7. With a view to maintaining a bona fide negotiating atmosphere, the parties will refrain from initiating, organizing or supporting economic or other sanctions of any kind on another party, its representatives or commercial enterprises.

8. Negotiating parties will ensure freedom of movement by representatives of the other negotiating parties to all locations in which negotiations are being conducted.

9. Every effort will be made to avoid unilateral cessation of the negotiations, and any issue that could cause such cessation will be discussed and clarified through open diplomatic and other contacts.

If this Code of Conduct could be seen as a regulating factor for all involved, perhaps the deadlock could be broken. Time will tell.

The writer served as the legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry and as ambassador to Canada. He is currently a partner in the Tel Aviv law firm of Moshe, Gicelter & Co.








The time has come to identify every mass burial site where thousands of Holocaust victims lie across the Ukrainian landscape and around Europe, says Ukrainian MP.


If one goes beyond the outskirts of Kiev and continues deep into the forests of the neighboring village of Radomyshl, one soon enters an unmarked clearing. To the untrained eye, the gap in the trees appears random, and most passersby would likely admire the lush vegetation before continuing along the way.

The horrific reality rooted here, as in hundreds of other sites strewn around the Ukrainian landscape, tells a tragic, often ignored chapter in the incomprehensible history of the Holocaust.

Beneath the grass and lilies that now sprout unchecked lie the bodies of hundreds if not thousands of Jewish victims, summarily murdered during a brief span of days in early 1942. The massacre was carried out by Nazi killing squads acting alongside their local paramilitary collaborators. All too often, nearby villagers joined in, welcoming the chance to translate age-old hatred of the Jews into cold-blooded murder.

Beneath these grounds are the stories of remarkable families, families that exemplified centuries of Jewish traditions in the rich cultures of Eastern European Jewry.

With the crack of each killer's bullet, lives were terminated without any chance to say good-bye.

The Nazis diabolically assumed that their Jewish victims would be quickly forgotten, and recognized that unmarked killing fields would quickly fade into the lush landscape. Incredibly, they were right, multiplying the crime.

Decades later, there is a growing fear that in this regard the Nazis may have succeeded. For even while historians try to document how many souls were lost to the Final Solution, if these clearings go forever unnoticed, the sacred lives lost in each spot will also vanish.

A life lost in the backwoods of Ukraine or Belorussia is no less valuable than one extinguished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Every one of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis deserves to be remembered. There are many reasons why this effort is critical. But undeniably our most important motivation in preserving the memories of the victims of Nazism is to ensure that humanity never ignores, forgets nor diminishes the fact that these horrors occurred.

AS ABSURD as it might seem that people could ever deny the systematic annihilation of millions of innocents, current events prove that evil people are intent on doing just that. It is therefore incumbent upon us in the Jewish community, and indeed upon all humanity who understand the danger represented by hate-filled and genocidal regimes, to do everything in our power to make sure that every victim of the Holocaust is properly remembered.

It is this very commitment that drives our current initiative to create a Ukrainian Jewish Museum. This project will provide a physical facility where guests can come, visit and learn about the remarkable centuries-old history of one of the Jewish world's proudest communities. No less important, the museum will embrace a monumental infrastructure to identify these very types of anonymous killing fields that would otherwise continue to be ignored.

Clearly, the clock is against us; this effort should have been launched decades ago. Regrettably, the political environment and other factors prohibited us from pursuing this approach.

It is all the more critical for us to move as quickly as possible today, while the greatest resource available for understanding the Holocaust – the survivor community – remains alive. In the limited degree to which we have been able to work in identifying mass graves to date, survivors have been instrumental.

Some of these survivors were able to remain alive as small children, fleeing into the forests and literally hiding behind trees as they witnessed their family members being slaughtered and thrown into the pits. While the Nazis would force Jewish laborers (whom they kept alive for that purpose) to cover the bodies and disguise the unthinkable crimes taking place, those who were able to survive would eventually find their way back and reveal the truth.

Join with us as we commit ourselves to one crucial if limited campaign: We will, God willing, identify every possible mass grave of Jewish Holocaust victims in the Ukraine – and ultimately everywhere in Europe. And we will do this to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacres outside Kiev that will take place in September 2011.

This effort demands the full support of the global Jewish community. To truly understand the breadth of the Holocaust and the massive toll it represented for humanity, all affected communities deserve to be remembered in a way that respects those who were lost, but most of all ensures that their deaths – and their lives – will never be forgotten.

The writer is a member of the Ukraine parliament and chairman of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee. He has been appointed to head the parliament's committee commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre.










Israel's top priority is ensuring the Jewish and democratic identity of the state; to that end, PM devote all his energy to bringing about 2-state solution for two peoples.


In the Knesset plenum on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented a new formula for resolving the disagreement concerning the building moratorium in the settlements: The Palestinians will declare they recognize Israel as a Jewish state and he will ask the government to approve "an additional suspension of construction."


Netanyahu explained that recognition of the Jewish character of the state of Israel is essential for building the Israeli public's trust in their Palestinian neighbors.


Transparent distraction maneuvers like this undermine trust in the prime minister's intentions. Freezing the settlements is not a gesture deserving of recompense from the Palestinian side; it is a formal commitment the government of Israel took upon itself seven years ago under the road map for peace.


The other side of the equation was a Palestinian commitment to take the measures necessary for stopping terror. American security teams are operating in the territories and even top people in the Israeli security establishment are expressing satisfaction with the functioning of the security mechanisms under the aegis of the Palestinian Authority.


In his speech Netanyahu said that several weeks ago he had already proposed this deal to the Palestinians and they rejected it. He undoubtedly knows that at the Annapolis summit, which was held at the end of 2007, the Palestinians also refused to include the issue of the Jewish identity of the state of Israel in the announcement of the renewal of the direct negotiations. Most probably he expected that the Palestinian leadership would not accept a deal offering a temporary freeze in return for a concession on a supremely fundamental and emotional issue, which has its place in the discussion of the core issues.


As Netanyahu told his colleagues in the Likud Knesset faction shortly before his speech, Israel has interests no less important than expanding the settlements in the West Bank. And there is no more important interest than ensuring the Jewish and democratic identity of the state. To that end, the prime minister must stop the wholesale haggling over consolation prizes with the president of the United States and devote all his energy to bringing about the solution of two states for two peoples.











The Netanyahu government is directing its main efforts at repressing the political aspirations of the Arab community in Israel. The energy the government is investing toward that goal is greater than what it invests in the peace process or in thwarting the Iranian nuclear threat. This effort, on multiple fronts, expresses itself in legislative initiatives, changes in the education system, symbolic acts and diplomatic moves whose goal is to shore up Israel's Jewish identity, with the Arab minority required to surrender its demand for a more egalitarian democracy.


The increased internal tension is generally identified with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The leader of Yisrael Beiteinu has enthusiastically headed the struggle to oppress the Arab community, while breathing down his neck are ministers Eli Yishai and Yaakov Neeman. But they are only the flag bearers. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hiding behind them. He is the instigator of this policy, although he rarely expresses himself in the same provocative vein.


Netanyahu sees Israel as an inseparable part of the West and its culture. He is not curious about the history, culture and language of the Arabs. He has visited an Arab community only once since returning to power (Shfaram, when school started last year ), and does not hold a dialogue with the leaders of the Arab community or with Arab intellectuals. As far as is known, Netanyahu does not hate Arabs and does not express himself toward them in racist or arrogant ways, as did Ariel Sharon. He merely keeps his distance.


Netanyahu revealed his motives and policies at the Herzliya Conference seven years ago, when he was finance minister in Sharon's cabinet. "We have a demographic problem, but it is focused not on the Arabs of Palestine but on the Arabs of Israel." He explained: "If the Arab residents become wonderfully integrated and their numbers reach 35 percent to 40 percent of the total population, the Jewish state will be canceled out and become a binational state. If their number remains around 20 percent as it is today, or even declines, but relations are harsh and contentious, then, too, the democratic fabric of our argument will be impaired."


Netanyahu was at the time on the political margins and his remarks aroused little interest beyond knee-jerk responses from the left ("racism" ). Now Netanyahu is prime minister, but his attitude has not changed. From his point of view, Israel is first and foremost a Jewish state and only then is it democratic. It is not "some Israeli people" living here, as he says.


The state project to restore heritage sites, which Netanyahu is so proud of, focuses on Jewish and Zionist sites and ignores the heritage of the Arab community. The Education Ministry, headed by his close associate Gideon Sa'ar, is expunging references to the Nakba from curricula. The loyalty laws are advancing confidently toward the law books. And above all is Netanyahu's demand of the Palestinians that they recognize Israel as "the state of the Jewish people," which seems to him a shield against future demands for Arab autonomy in the Negev and Galilee.


And what would the Arabs get if they were to agree to give up their national aspirations in a Jewish state? Netanyahu proposes internal economic peace. He knows that it will be hard for Israel to grow in the future if its Arab citizens are not part of the work force. The government has allocated more than NIS 1 billion to infrastructure development and encouraging higher education in the "non-Jewish sector." It is willing to advance the Arabs as individuals and give them human capital, if they shut their months as a group and forget the idea of a "state of all its citizens."


It is easy to label Netanyahu as discriminatory, racist and exclusivist. But that is polemics that ignores the political motive. Whether the left returns to power depends on garnering Arab votes for Jewish or mixed parties. What to do - it's a question of demographics: Population growth in Israel is coming mainly from the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs, which provides major reserves of right-wing voters in the future and erodes the reservoir of left-wing Jewish voters.


The more the Arab community is pushed off the political playing field, refrains from voting or votes only for sectorial parties, the further away the left will get from the possibility of a majority, and right-wing governments will prevail for generations. That is the long-term significance of the internal struggle the Netanyahu government is spearheading.









The first time Emily Amrousi, a former spokesperson for the Yesha settler council, heard an Israeli ponder the possibility of the state ceasing to exist was last weekend, at a meal in Paris, she says. Their mouths full of stuffed duck, a journalist from the newspaper Israel Hayom and some Israeli leftists announced that the Zionist adventure is coming to an end. Amrousi, of course, has contempt for such defeatism.

This anecdote is nothing new. A stock item in the arsenal of right-wing spokespeople, it is used to depict leftists as indulgent egoists who enjoy life in their Tel Aviv bubble but, notwithstanding their comfortable way of life, lack faith and courage, and disparage their homeland when they are overseas. The policy of betrayal that led from Peace Now and the Oslo peace process to the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is the direct outgrowth of cowardice and a desire to be popular around the world, goes the refrain; and this leftist outlook is what has brought to Israel all of its woes.


According to this simplistic dichotomy, Israel's Jewish citizens are divided into proudly erect patriots and self-hating, craven defeatists. Were this foolish Manichean division to remain with the sphere of settler demagoguery, it could be ignored; however, it has managed to permeate Israeli public consciousness, and has come to be seen as almost factual. Worse, the dichotomy monopolizes the way Israel relates to the world, and also the new race legislation it is adopting at home.


In the area of foreign relations, Avigdor Lieberman is playing the role of Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak's crazed watchdog. Under the cover of his seemingly fanatic statements, they can continue to pretend that they are interested in peace negotiations. In fact, both are convinced that only on the foundation of eternal conflict can Israel continue to survive, or at least that their own survival in positions of power depends on the continuation of the conflict (actually, they would be wise to be cautious, because given the current pace of events, Lieberman is liable to claim the fruits of their labors and snatch the premiership ).


What holds for foreign relations holds for domestic affairs too. Since the world, led by the United States, is pressuring Israel to conduct peace talks - and since the world, led by the European Union, believes that it is the Israelis, not the Palestinians, who are obstacles to peace - Netanyahu and Barak have no choice other than to create turbulence in the domestic arena and then blame it for the failure of the negotiations.


It's no accident that are insisting on blowing up the "problem of Arab citizens of Israel" to monstrous proportions and depicting it as a critical matter in the talks. The ploy seems complex, but is actually quite simple: Israeli Arabs are described as a subversive group and turned into an obstacle impeding a peace agreement with the Palestinians, provoking ultra-nationalist panic. In this way, the government wins public support for toughening its demands and escalating the country's stance of isolationist self-involvement. The public has been persuaded that it lives under the threat of the Iranian bomb and Hezbollah attacks, along with Palestinian-Muslim encroachment and domination and the proliferation of foreign laborers. In light of the panic, the government has an easy time passing its series of so-called nationalist bills. And we are supposed to think that any citizen who loves his or her country but opposes the government's policy is nothing but a coward and a traitor.


And so now is the time to praise the cowards, support the worriers, and glorify all those who fear that the revival and independence of the Jewish people in Israel is endangered. There should be no confusion; whereas Zionism aspired to normalcy, to the establishment of a state like all other stable states, Netanyahu, Barak and Lieberman are nurturing an isolationist ethnocracy. Singing hymns to Zionism, they are turning the Jewish citizens of Israel into the residents of a frightening, aggressive ghetto in the Middle East. And they are promising a future that can only be bad.


Happy is the man who is always afraid, but he who hardens his heart will fall into evil, the Book of Proverbs tells us. Right-wing spokespeople, now dizzy with success as a result of the way their regurgitated slogans have taken off, can continue to stigmatize others and take pleasure in their own perceived heroism. But the true patriots are the cowards, the doubters and the troubled, Israel's heart-stricken lovers who see before their opened eyes the worrisome signs of the beginning of the fall.










Unlike the classified names and faces of the soldiers of the Mistaravim undercover units, whose members disguise themselves as Arabs, we know who are the operatives of the new TAP (Thought, Attitude, Positions ) police. They have a name and an address and they are proud of their identity and the role they have taken upon themselves: to extirpate, to uproot, to thwart, to stymie and to expel. The TAP commandos are already here, in our front yard.


If someone wants to bring back what we had in the income tax informant hotline, he is welcome to learn from the young guard of Habayit Hayehudi how to identify a potential traitor and what should be done to anyone who dares advocate for the idea of "two states for two peoples" and resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in defiance of their position. Their current victim is the CEO of El Al, former air force commander Maj. Gen. (res. ) Eliezer Shkedi.


This week Habayit Hayehudi's young guard, a very powerful movement in case you didn't know, came out with the demand that Shkedi, a member of the Blue and White Future movement, resign from his post. Get out of their face. In their vanguard is MK Zevulun Orlev, the chair of the Habayit Hayehudi Knesset faction and chairman of the Knesset Education Committee.


And thus spake Orlev: "Although the El Al company has been privatized, it is considered the national airline, and it is expected of the CEO that he not be a political figure. I want to feel comfortable when I fly with El Al and I don't want to feel I am flying with a company of leftists. The CEO has been notified and informed that this isn't his own private company. Just as there are rabbis who call for not riding buses that run on the Sabbath, I am suggesting to El Al that it disengage from any conduct that has a political hue. I will not want to fly with a company whose CEO, who is a friend, is hostile to me politically" (Yedioth Aharonoth, October 10 ). And thank you for flying, Orlev.


So you will feel at home on a flight, we are joined in the same newspaper report by chief steward Yesha Council chairman Danny Dayan: "If we aren't, heaven forbid, in the Samaria hills, Mr. Shkedi will have to ask terror organizations for permission to take off and land for every flight. It is doubtful he will be able to continue to fly when every terrorist with a rocket launcher on his shoulder can paralyze Ben-Gurion International Airport."


I would like to express my thanks to these two gentlemen for exposing the dangers of flying with a leftist company. And since the report on the establishing of the Blue and White Future Movement had eluded me, for that as well. On the relevant Internet site, I did find Shkedi's name but I was surprised by the negligence of the young guard of Habayit Hayehudi in failing to deal with additional names.


Indeed, the race for primacy in shaping the ultimate list of people who must be ejected from the institutions of higher learning and the schools, the civil service and private companies is off and running. As for TAP - I am donating this name to them without asking for any royalties - it is trailing behind Im Tirtzu, which is neck-and-neck with Zu Artzenu, which is trouncing the Institute for Zionist Strategies.


The chairman of the Knesset Education Committee should really consider establishing a new field of studies. If not in academia, at least in the schools: In this way we will cleanse our land of peace-pursuers who accept territorial compromise, those who have agreed to accept United Nations resolutions, the Clinton outline, the Bush letter, the Saudi initiative and the Wye Agreement. So that adds to the list of university lecturers the incumbent prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and two former prime ministers, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert. Shimon Peres is busy. Ariel Sharon is unable to participate, and Yitzhak Rabin isn't here any more.


Across the street from every one of us the wild weeds are flourishing. Fascism is growing. And we are silent.











In recent years we have increasingly come to realize the scope of the disaster that befell us in 1973. We continue to avoid confronting the issue as a nation, as a state and as individuals. It is more convenient for us to delve into the revelations that emerge from declassified documents that the media report every October than to look into the giant archive that sits in our midst and is in desperate need of attention. It is this archive that we are not so eager to expose.


Many years have passed since that dark day in which tens of thousands of our fellow citizens reported to their posts, either voluntarily or in response to a mobilization order. Many months passed until they returned home. Quietly. Without fanfare or bouquets of flowers, they left behind their dead comrades while the wounded spent many long months and years in various rehabilitation facilities.


Manifestations of post-traumatic stress were well-known in those days, but confronting the issue was far less appealing than treating physical injuries and embracing bereaved families on Memorial Day. The years went by. A large number of former combat soldiers further entrenched themselves, not in firing positions at the front but underneath their blankets.


Night terrors, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, a feeling of alienation and disconnection, fits of rage and difficulty concentrating are daily occurrences. An entire generation of "Yom Kippur alumni" could not find any relief for itself. While the state institutions are aware of the phenomenon, they have not faced it head-on.


The few who came out of the closet about their post-traumatic stress were subjected to humiliating treatment by the establishment. They barely managed to obtain the disability pensions to which they are legally entitled. Others didn't even bother going through the unpleasant experience. And an even larger number failed to grasp that they were sinking deep into the mud while their families bore the sole burden of paying the heavy price of losing their living loved one. There weren't many who were fortunate enough to receive the required prolonged treatment at specialized clinics.


Most of those suffering from post-traumatic stress were wounded in acts of war or terrorism, with the veterans of the Yom Kippur War making up a substantial chunk of this demographic. Most of those veterans are near retirement, a risk factor for a return of symptoms.


In stark contrast, a comparison with other chronic diseases, like hepatitis C, shows that the government is capable of dealing with this issue quite differently. A decade ago the public was asked to be tested for the illness, particularly if they were administered a blood transfusion before 1991, the year in which authorities began to screen for hepatitis C (which can be transmitted through blood transfusions ). In doing so, the state showed responsibility in caring for the health of the public.


It is incumbent on the State of Israel to proactively take measures to locate those who are suffering from post-traumatic stress incurred during the Yom Kippur War, as well as during terror attacks and other conflicts. The state must offer them fully subsidized care and disability benefits, as required by law. Thirty-seven years have passed. It is still not too late.



The writer heads the hepatology unit at Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava and a volunteer with NATAL, the Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War. Her brother, Mordechai Ilan Kitay, died in the Yom Kippur War.










When it came to the actual details of governing, Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat of Wisconsin, trounced his Republican challenger, Ron Johnson, in a debate in Wausau, Wis., on Monday night. He knew that the new health care law will not reduce Medicare spending but will slow its staggering rate of growth. He knew that a vast majority of small businesses would not pay higher taxes if rates went up on the wealthy and that global warming isn't caused by sunspots. He knew that without the 2009 stimulus there would be at least 1.5 million fewer people with jobs.


Mr. Johnson, on the other hand, proudly proclaimed recently that he doesn't "think this election is about details." That's as good an explanation as any of why — in Wisconsin as in so many states — candidates like Mr. Johnson are ahead in the polls. Insurgent Republicans don't need details when they can play on the furious emotions of voters who have been misled into believing that positive changes like the health care law are catastrophic failures.


The public's lack of attention to detail, and Mr. Johnson's willingness to exploit it, could end the career of Mr. Feingold, who in three terms has distinguished himself for trying to bring fairness to campaign finance and decency to national security, among other achievements. He has routinely crossed party lines to work with Republicans and has had the courage to break with his own party more often than almost any other senator.


He voted against confirming Tim Geithner as Treasury secretary, citing Mr. Geithner's personal tax issues. He refused to support the Wall Street reform package because it did not go far enough. He was the only senator who voted against the misguided Patriot Act in 2001. He has supported gun rights — more than we like — and has opposed hate crime measures.


Mr. Feingold's independent mind, and his refusal to follow the big-money line on issues like trade, campaign finance and Wall Street reform, should have endeared him to Tea Party members and other independents who are angry at Washington conformists. If they had taken the time to listen.


Instead, they are supporting Mr. Johnson, a wealthy plastics manufacturer unknown to them six months ago. Mr. Johnson says he had long believed government restricted business and individual liberties (we're not clear which ones he has in mind) but decided to run for office when the health care bill was passed, claiming that President Obama was trying to create a socialist state.


At the debate, Mr. Johnson called the bill "an incredibly expensive overreach." When Mr. Feingold noted that it would provide coverage for pre-existing conditions and allow young people to remain on their parents' policies, Mr. Johnson said that it created too much paperwork for small businesses. While dishing out untruths, he said Mr. Feingold voted to cut Medicare benefits, which he has also said in a mailing to older voters.


Many Democrats are running away from their solid accomplishments of the last two years, apologizing for their association with President Obama. Mr. Feingold is one of the very few with the self-confidence to offer a full-throated defense of his votes.


But the Wisconsin electorate he faces seems to have lost its progressive streak and become more like other Midwestern states. Several polls have shown that the number of likely voters who consider themselves conservative has risen from a quarter of the electorate to nearly half. The misinformation and simplistic solutions propounded by talk radio and the Republican Party are having an effect even in a state that preferred Mr. Obama by 14 points two years ago.


Around the country, the Obama voters who were so energized in 2008 are rueful and dispirited, taking their cue from the timid races run by so many fearful Democratic candidates. Mr. Feingold is making the case that there is a choice to make on Nov. 2 and that there is a need for thoughtful voices in Washington.







As things now stand, Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic nominee for governor of New York, and Carl Paladino, his Republican opponent, will participate in just a single debate before next month's election. Well not exactly a debate. More like a group news conference.


The event will also feature five fringe candidates, including Kristin Davis, the former madam-turned-standard-bearer for the Anti-Prohibition Party; Charles Barron, the New York City councilman from Brooklyn running on the Freedom Party line; and Jimmy McMillan, the candidate of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party.


The argument we are hearing is that one debate is better than none. We agree. The two major candidates should have one. The seven-candidate event scheduled for Monday is no substitute.


Before going to the polls, voters are entitled to at least one chance to see and hear Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Paladino, just the two of them, air their divergent views on the urgent fiscal and other issues facing the state and allow New Yorkers a better sense of their values and leadership styles.


Mr. Paladino's insistence that any debates include the minor candidates, and that excluding the African-American and female candidates would be unfair, has given the front-running Mr. Cuomo cover to avoid a two-candidate debate. So has Mr. Paladino's outrageous conduct, including repeated and uncalled for personal attacks on Mr. Cuomo and this week's ugly invective against gay people.


Some may question whether it makes sense to give a person with Mr. Paladino's record of erratic, irresponsible behavior the broad audience that a two-man debate would attract. But that view both underestimates and cheats voters.


With Election Day less than three weeks away, the Cuomo and Paladino camps owe it to New Yorkers to agree to one face-off — even better, more — limited to the only candidates with a chance of winning.


On Tuesday, a group including New York 1 News invited both major party nominees to participate in such a debate on Oct. 28 in Buffalo. Instead of thinking up excuses to duck, they should promptly accept.








The Obama administration's decision to lift its moratorium on deep-water oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico came with a vital condition: Each company and each rig must first demonstrate that it can contain a blowout and meet a host of other essential new safety regulations.


This is a reasonable step, consistent with the country's need to continue exploring for sources of domestic oil — but only if it can be done safely.


The moratorium, which had been scheduled to end on Nov. 30, has drawn fierce criticisms from the oil industry and from local politicians who argued that it was damaging the region's economy. The decision to lift it now should take some of the political heat off the White House. But the high point — given all that went wrong before and after the April 20 blowout — is that drilling won't resume overnight.


Each rig will have to file new applications for a permit. Each will also have to undergo examination by government engineers. Importantly, each will have to show that its blowout preventer — the device that so catastrophically failed on BP's Deepwater Horizon rig — is in good working order and equipped with backup systems missing on board BP's rig. There are also new requirements governing other critical aspects of the drilling process, including cementing the well.


Given the scope of the disaster and BP's appalling record, industry should be grateful that it is being allowed to proceed at all. Even so, industry officials continue to complain that the oil companies need greater regulatory "clarity," though it is hard to see how things could be any clearer. The new rules were first set forth in May, reinforced two weeks ago and restated on Tuesday.


Congress has yet to approve an oil spill bill that, among other things, would increase penalties for future spills and tighten environmental safeguards. The least it can do is help the Interior Department do its job.


The spill and the new inspection regime have pushed the department's resources to the limit. It has shifted employees from other duties to review the new deep-water applications as well as ongoing requests from shallow-water drillers. Congress included an additional $23 million for regulating offshore drilling in a spending bill that passed last month. The administration has asked for an additional $100 million to hire new inspectors and engineers. This would be money well spent.







The first federal court decision on the constitutionality of the new health care reform law upheld its validity and dealt a well-deserved setback to opponents who are trying to overturn it. We can only hope that judges presiding over 15 or more other legal challenges follow the lead of this first major ruling.


The core issue is whether Congress has the power to require virtually everyone to carry health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty. A conservative law firm based in Michigan filed suit, contending that Congress could not use its powers to regulate interstate commerce to require people to buy commercial health insurance. It argued that such people are not engaging in any activity that affects interstate commerce but are choosing not to engage in such activity.


Judge George Steeh of the Federal District Court in Detroit came down squarely on the side of the Obama administration. He ruled that a failure to buy health insurance was not "inactivity," as the plaintiffs contended, but rather an economic decision to try to pay for health services later, out of pocket, rather than now, through the purchase of insurance.


In the aggregate, he ruled, such refusals to buy insurance would have an effect on interstate commerce. When uninsured people find themselves unable to pay steep medical bills, their costs are shifted to hospitals, doctors, taxpayers and people who are covered by insurance. The judge also found that the mandate to carry insurance was "an essential element" of health care reforms that will regulate a broad interstate market in health care services.


We think Judge Steeh, appointed by President Bill Clinton, got the main points right, but more conservative judges hearing cases in the South may disagree. This fight seems destined to reach the Supreme Court, whose leanings are difficult to predict.









As Barack Obama struggles to rekindle the magic, one of the most pathetic headlines was the one on a CNN poll last week: "Was Bush Better President Than Obama?"


"Americans are divided over whether President Barack Obama or his predecessor has performed better in the White House," the CNN article said.


So now the Republican president who bungled wars and the economy and the Democratic president trying to dig us out are in a dead heat?


America's long-term economic woe has led to short-term memory loss. Republicans are still popular, and the candidates are crazier than ever. And crazy is paying dividends: Sharron Angle, the extreme Republican candidate for the Senate in Nevada, vacuumed up $14 million in the last quarter in her crusade to knock out Harry Reid — the kind of money that presidential candidates dream of collecting.


Karl Rove has put together a potent operation to use anonymous donors to flood the airwaves with attack ads against Democrats. And a gaunt-looking Dick Cheney is out of the hospital and back to raking in money defending torture and pre-emptive war. He, Lynne Cheney, Rove, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Laura Bush drew more than 10,000 people at $495 a pop to a conference in Bakersfield, Calif., last weekend.


Republicans are also gearing up to start re-sliming Valerie Plame Wilson and Joe Wilson when "Fair Game," the movie based on their memoirs, opens next month. Robert Luskin, a lawyer for Rove who considered Plame collateral damage and labeled her "fair game,"dismissively told Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The Times that the Wilsons are "a little past their 'sell-by' date."


It's hard to believe that it was seven years ago when the scandal of the Glamorous Spy and Showboating Ambassador exploded. Joe Wilson first accused the Boy Emperor of not wearing any clothes on the Iraq W.M.D.'s, and then charged the Bush White House with running a "smear campaign" against him and outing his wife as a C.I.A. spy. He was right on all counts and brave to take on a White House that broke creative new ground in thuggery and skulduggery.


But it was child's play for the Republicans to undermine the former diplomat and the spy who loved him. Wilson was "pretty widely known as a loudmouth," as the movie's director Doug Liman put it, and overstepped at times, posing for Vanity Fair in his Jaguar convertible with his wife coyly cloaked in scarf and sunglasses.


While her husband was in his promotional whirlwind, Plame was in her reticent cloud, her air of blonde placidity belying her anguish at being betrayed and her disgust that Cheney Inc. bullied the C.I.A., overriding skepticism about Saddam's weapons system and warping intelligence.


"It's called counterproliferation, Jack," Naomi Watts's Plame says to her superior. "Counter."


The movie makes clear that Plame was not merely "a secretary" or "mediocre agent" at the agency, as partisan critics charged at the time, but a respected undercover spy tracking Iraqi W.M.D. efforts.


And it reiterates that Plame did not send her husband, who had worked in embassies in Iraq while Saddam and Bush Senior were in charge and was the ambassador in two African countries, on the fact-finding trip to Niger about a possible Iraqi purchase of 500 tons of yellowcake uranium. She merely acted as an intermediary when a colleague threw his name into the hat for the unpaid gig.


The film creates composites to heighten the tension and suggests that Plame's Iraqi contacts and their families were murdered once she was outed — a subplot Variety called "apocryphal and manipulative."


But the movie is a vivid reminder of one of the most egregious abuses of power in history, and there are deliciously diabolical turns by actors playing Scooter Libby, David Addington and Rove. Plame's C.I.A. bosses are portraits in cravenness, cutting her loose at the moment she starts receiving death threats and her Iraqi sources become endangered.


Liman, who grew up watching his father Arthur's Buddha-like interrogations during the Iran-Contra hearings, does not use an Oliver Stone sledgehammer on history. He views the scandal through the lens of the Wilsons' marriage, which snaps for a time under the strain of being hounded by the most powerful men on earth.


(As Valerie writes in her book about Joe's demand to see Rove "frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs": "Husbands. What can you do?")


Costumed with lush mane and round paunch, Sean Penn is well suited to capture Wilson's arrogance and mouthiness, while also showing his honesty, brazenness, sly charm and fierce love of wife and country.


They were the Girl and Boy Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, and we should all remember what flew out.








Kishore Mahbubani, the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, is over for tea and I am telling him about what I consider to be the most exciting, moon-shot-quality, high-aspiration initiative proposed by President Obama that no one has heard of. It's a plan to set up eight innovation hubs to solve the eight biggest energy problems in the world. But I explain that the program has not been fully funded yet because Congress, concerned about every dime we spend these days, is reluctant to appropriate the full $25 million for each center, let alone for all eight at once, so only three are moving ahead. But Kishore interrupts me midsentence.


"You mean billion," he asks? "No," I say. "We're talking about $25 million." "Billion," he repeats. "No. Million," I insist.


The Singaporean is aghast. He simply can't believe that at a time when his little city-state has invested more than a billion dollars to make Singapore a biomedical science hub and attract the world's best talent, America is debating about spending mere millions on game-changing energy research.


Welcome to Tea Party America. Think small and carry a big ego.


This may seem like a little issue, but it is not. Nations thrive or languish usually not because of one big bad decision, but because of thousands of small bad ones — decisions where priorities get lost and resources misallocated so that the nation's full potential can't be nurtured and it ends up being less than the sum of its parts. That is my worry for America.


But none of this is inevitable. So let's start with the good news: a shout-out for Obama's energy, science and technology team for thinking big. Soon after taking office, they proposed what Energy Secretary Steven Chu calls "a series of mini-Manhattan projects." In the fiscal year 2010 budget, the Department of Energy requested financing for "Energy Innovation Hubs" in eight areas: smart grid, solar electricity, carbon capture and storage, extreme materials, batteries and energy storage, energy efficient buildings, nuclear energy, and fuels from sunlight.


In each area, universities, national labs and private industry were invited to put together teams of their best scientists and research ideas to win $25 million a year for five years, to, as Chu put it, "accelerate the normal progress of science and technology for energy research" and thereby "discover and commercialize the energy breakthroughs we need" and thereby spawn new jobs and industries.


So far Congress has appropriated partial funding — "up to $22 million" but probably less — for three of these hubs for one year. So Penn State and two national labs will develop energy efficient building designs. Oak Ridge National Laboratory will lead a team to model new nuclear reactors, and the California Institute of Technology and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will work on revolutionary ways to generate fuels from sunlight. Chu is now trying to persuade Congress to finance those three again for 2011, as well as at least one more: batteries.


In my view, Congress should be funding all eight right now for five years — $1 billion — so that we not only get graduate students, knowing the research money is there, flocking to these new energy fields but we get the benefit of all these scientists collaborating and cross-fertilizing.

Chu, who holds a Nobel Prize in physics, says he understands and respects that Congress has to make tough budgeting choices today, so I cannot get him to utter one word of criticism about our lawmakers' spending priorities. But he waxes eloquent about what it would mean for American innovation if we could actually fully pay for this focused moon shot on energy.


The idea behind the hubs, explained Chu, is to "capture the same spirit" that produced radar and the first nuclear bomb. That is, "get Nobel Prize winners in physics working side by side with engineers" — not to produce an academic paper but "to solve a problem in a way that will actually be deployed" and do it much faster than the traditional academic model of everyone working in their own silo.


"We don't want incremental improvements," said Chu. "We want real leaps — game-changing" breakthroughs — like a 75 percent reduction in energy used in a commercial building through affordable design and software improvements. "America has shown we can do this," concluded Chu. "The scientists and engineers see the problem; they see the opportunity; they see what is at stake, and they want to help." That is why we should fully fund all eight now.


All of this reminds me of my favorite business quote from a consultant who had worked for the German technology giant, Siemens. He said: "If Siemens only knew what Siemens knows, it would be a rich company." Ditto America. We still have all the right stuff. The president's instinct to push out the boundaries of energy science is spot on, but Congress has to think big, too, and help unlock and scale everything that America knows. Please, please: Stop lavishing money on repaving old roads and pinching pennies when it comes to pioneering new frontiers.








THE recession has taken a toll on the institution of marriage, we keep hearing. Last month, for instance, when it was reported that the proportion of Americans aged 25 to 34 who are married fell below the proportion who have never married, it was quickly attributed to the economic downturn. Young adults, according to this narrative, have less money to spend on a wedding and are less eager to enter into a lifetime commitment during times of uncertainty.


Again last week, when a report from the Pew Research Center noted that, for the first time, college-educated 30-year-olds were more likely to have been married than were people the same age without a college degree, the news was interpreted as another side effect of the recent recession. After all, the downturn has been especially hard on young men with no college degree.


But if you look at marriage in the United States over the past century, this interpretation doesn't stand up. Marriage and divorce rates have remained remarkably immune to the ups and downs of the business cycle. Unfortunately, the marriage statistics are easy to misread.


It's misleading to count the wedding rings among people in their 20s and early 30s, because the median age at first marriage in the United States has risen to 28 for men (from 23 in 1970) and 26 for women (from 21 in 1970). The fact that these folks aren't married now doesn't mean they won't marry — many of them just aren't there yet.


Look instead at 40-year-olds, and you see that 81 percent have married at least once. Yes, this number used to be higher — it peaked at 93 percent in 1980 — but, clearly, marriage remains a part of most people's lives. These statistics are not a perfect barometer either, however, because they reflect weddings that were celebrated years earlier.


To most accurately track marriage rates, you need to focus on the number of wedding certificates issued. In 2009, the latest year for which we have data, there were about 2.1 million marriages in the United States. That does represent a slight decline since the recession began. But it's the same rate of decline that existed during the preceding economic boom, the previous bust and both the boom and the bust before that.



Indeed, the recent modest decline in marriage continues a 30-year trend. And even as the number of marriages falls, divorce is also becoming less prevalent. So a greater proportion of today's marriages will likely persist 30 years into the future.


This is not to say that marriage looks the same today as it always did — over the past several decades, there has been a tremendous shift in married life.


It used to be that a typical marriage involved specialized roles for the husband and wife. Usually he was in the marketplace, and she was in the home, and this arrangement led to maximum productivity.


But today, when families have easy access to prepared foods, inexpensive off-the-rack clothing and labor-saving technology from the washing machine to the robot vacuum cleaner, there's much less benefit from either spouse specializing in homemaking. Women, now better educated and with greater control over their fertility, are in the marketplace, too, and married couples have more money, more leisure time and longer lives to spend together. Modern marriages are based not on the economic benefits of playing specialized roles but on shared passions.


This new model of "hedonic marriage" has had an effect on who marries, and when — as research I have conducted with my better half, the economist Betsey Stevenson, has documented. In the old days, opposites attracted; an aspiring executive groom would pair up with a less-educated bride. And they would wed before the stork visited and before the couple made the costly investment of putting the husband through business school.


But today, that same young executive would more likely be half of a power couple, married to a college-educated woman who shares his taste in books, hobbies, travel and so on. Indeed, marriage rates for college-educated women rose sharply through the 1950s and '60s, and have remained remarkably stable since. These women tend to marry after they have finished college and started their careers.


The decline in marriage, it turns out, is concentrated entirely among women with less education — those who likely have the least to gain from modern hedonic marriage.


This is not to say that the economic downturn has had no effect at all on domestic life. Census data show that the number of unwed couples living together rose sharply last year. With rents high and jobs hard to come by, it's no surprise that people are doubling up.


Still, given that the marriage rate remains on trend, the rise in cohabitation isn't coming at the expense of marriage. Instead, many young couples who might otherwise merely be dating are moving in together. Some of them, no doubt, will eventually marry. Truly, the recession has not torn young couples apart; it has pushed them closer together.


Justin Wolfers, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, is an assistant professor of business and public policy at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.










The Interior Department's decision Tuesday to end its ban on deep-water oil explorationin the Gulf of Mexico prompts two questions: Is it really safe to resume drilling? And does the decision have anything to do with politics?


The timing does seem mighty expedient. The moratorium has been bitterly unpopular in Louisiana and elsewhere. Ending it three weeks before the midterm elections, and seven weeks before its scheduled expiration, conveniently eases one of many business-related complaints against the Obama administration and congressional Democrats.


Politics aside, however, the issue is whether enough has been done to prevent a repeat of BP's April 20 well blowout, which killed 11 men and spewed an estimated 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf over 87 agonizing days. Based on what has been learned and done so far, easing the moratorium now appears as reasonable as imposing it did in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.


In lifting the ban, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar outlined a blizzard of new regulations and requirements, promised tougher new inspections, and pledged to develop the "gold standard" in offshore drilling regulation. The rigs that will eventually go back to drilling as much as 10,000 feet underwater have already been inspected once, and they'll be inspected again before they're allowed to resume work. It all sounds good, but essentially it boils down to "trust me."


The stronger reasons for easing the moratorium have less to do with new rules on well casings than with the powerful incentives to prevent a repeat.


For one thing, the BP blowout was humiliating for the Obama administration and hugely destructive for BP, which maimed its reputation and is on the hook for billions of dollars in liabilities. No politician or company wants to risk a rerun.


For another, the accident taught the industry how unready it was for a deep-water blowout and how to engineer an effective fix that can be deployed if this ever happens again. By all appearances, the oil industry — like the nuclear power industry after the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island — is now much more realistic about what it takes to prevent and respond to a disaster. And, as with Three Mile Island, it looks as if the long-term environmental damage from the BP spill won't be as grave as once feared.


Before overconfidence and carelessness caught up with BP, the oil industry had a strong safety record. It had been 41 years since the last major drilling-related accident in U.S. waters, the Santa Barbara spill in 1969. Investigations so far suggest that BP's mishap was a consequence of a corner-cutting company and compliant regulators, not of widespread recklessness.


Given the financial damage to the battered Gulf economy and the nation's need for domestic oil, resuming drilling operations in the highly productive Gulf is a calculated risk worth taking. Sure, it would be wonderful if solar and wind and other green energy sources made new drilling unnecessary, as environmental groups desire. But the nation isn't there. As long as the best place to find oil is offshore, drilling should resume and expand, with strong new safeguards in place.


Going forward from here, the greatest danger might be a renewed sense of complacency if years pass without another blowout.








Nearly six months after the BP disaster, the Gulf Coast is still reeling, but Big Oil's influence on Congress and our energy policy continues to rampage ahead, out of control. The BP disaster was a wake-up call, but our leaders keep hitting the snooze button, most recently by ending the moratorium on new deep-water drilling.


We are relieved to see the Obama administration announce new, long overdue safety regulations before lifting the drilling ban. But these regulations still don't bring the risk to an acceptable level.


The only way to make sure we don't see another drilling disaster is to end our dependence on oil. Rather than putting coastal communities in the Gulf, the Atlantic and Alaska at risk for more oil spills, we should be expanding wind, solar and efficiency measures and creating a 21st century transportation system. Our leaders should focus on investments that will create clean energy jobs in oil-producing regions such as the Gulf Coast.


President Obama has recently taken significant steps to break our oil addiction, such as last week's announcement raising fuel-economy standards. Unfortunately, the oil industry and Republican leaders continue to stand in the way of clean energy measures that would help end our oil dependence. They blocked clean energy legislation in the Senate, and now they are fighting against clean energy jobs.


This summer, we saw how much damage the oil companies are capable of inflicting. They were responsible for the millions of gallons of oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, and they were equally responsible for holding up legislation that would have helped create clean energy jobs. The oil industry is now fighting harder than ever to choke clean energy investments.


Republicans have let the oil industry call the shots for too long, and this is where it's gotten us: We've seen disaster after disaster. Our nation has begun to lag behind, continuing to rely on outdated fossil fuels when we should be a global leader in clean energy technology.









Headlines would have us believe that we're witnessing a government takeover by snarling "Mama Grizzlies." But, within its coverage of the new political animal, the news media miss the forest for the trees. A truer danger lies in the obfuscation of harsher realities that are not as well represented by Sarah Palin and Nikki Haleyas they are by the numbers 89 and 2012.


Eighty-nine is the number of nations that still surpass the U.S. in terms of women's representation in government. Some nations not known for human rights. Nations such as RwandaUgandaTajikistanSouth Africaand Cuba. Given all its wealth and principle, our country still ranks an embarrassing 90th out of 186worldwide.


For decades within the U.S., female participation in political and business leadership has consistently stagnated around 18%. And, despite the "Grizzly" hype, no one is anticipating any real improvement this November. In fact, the total number of female congressional representatives could well decline for the first time in three decades.


The underrepresentation sparks the perennial question: Why?


Most pundits suggest "self-selection." In other words, that women are too busy upholding both careers and the majority of household responsibilities, they are half as likely to think they can win an election and less likely to feel they can amass the average $3 million necessary to secure a seat in Congress.


Clear disadvantages


Statistics offer a more fundamental explanation:


•Men make up 83% of Congress.


•Incumbents win more than 90% of the time.


So despite the fact that women are just as likely to win open seats as men and just as likely to be able to draw the financial means, they remain at a structural disadvantage from which they are unlikely to achieve equality within our lifetimes.


Indeed, the evolution of equality is rarely organic. Of the 25 nations that have realized a greater than 30% female participation in their governments, 90% required some form of temporary jump-start to secure permanent gains.


In March, India voted to require 30% female representation in government. In January, France voted to require 40% female board membership in business. Today, half of all national governments include some form of legally required minimumsfor women, while the U.S. remains on the sidelines of an international race to equality. Our absence offers a clear reminder that other countries — and many countries considered less advanced — deal more openly than Americans on issues of gender inequity.


Though our own government would never consider such mandates, we could surely tackle the structural impediments to equal representation. The gender representation gap — women make up only 17% of Congress, but 51% of the U.S. population — demands as much.


The same could be argued for business, where subconscious hiring preferences yield their own "incumbency" biases.


In 2012, we have an opportunity to improve. That year, congressional districts will be redrawn on the basis of the 2010 Census, thereby creating new political territory devoid of the incumbency bias that perpetuates gender inequities.


Indeed, denial of this problem is socially ingrained. Promising young women are encouraged to never mention gender inequities, but rather be good citizens and simply achieve without any reference to barriers even as they compromise that mandated achievement. Within upwardly mobile circles, the topic remains as taboo as mental health once was, and its avoidance as debilitating.


Still, as even Mao Zedong recognized: women hold up "half the sky." Studies have shown that national competitiveness increases with gender parity. Countries deploying more resources produce more and influence more. We are thus encouraged to realize our shared values of equality and opportunity in order to strengthen our economy, better legitimize our government, and best position ourselves internationally.


What can be done


While 2012 lends us the occasion to improve, even this opportunity will not sufficiently secure what the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women described as "equality of result." It is not simply enough to remove barriers to participation in a country where women unaided have constituted only 2% of our government since 1789.


Only abiding efforts may coalesce a critical mass toward "critical minority." Accordingly, since chief of staff positions supply our candidate pools, we could encourage our congressional members to hire female chiefs of staff in greater numbers than the current 33%. Since candidates, on average, must be asked several times to run, we could each encourage a woman via non-partisan programs such as and


Since gender-oriented comments disproportionately disadvantage women, we could promote gender-neutral political environments via initiatives such as the recently deployed Name It Change It.


And since the challenges facing female candidates remain unique, we could support non-profit, non-partisan organizations such as the White House Project, which remains committed against — and cognizant of — the disadvantages of disparity.


But until we develop some national clarity on the sobering realities behind the headlines, we will remain not only politically and economically underserved, but denied our greater American potential.


Joelle Schmitz is a senior fellow at the Harvard University Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government and a Fulbright scholar.








When I enrolled at Pepperdine University in 1974, my mother exercised her parental right to express her angst at my departure.


I responded with typical teenage indifference and bafflement born of ignorance. "Sheez, Mom, I'm only an hour away. What's the big deal?"


"You just wait until you have one of your own," she cried. "Then you'll know what I'm feeling."


It has been a little more than a month since my daughter Devin moved into her dorm atOccidental College, and life as I know it has come to an end. Or that's what it feels like. Mom, you were right.


The nest's empty loneliness is almost unbearable. Why does it hurt so bad? Science has an answer: We are social mammals who experience deep attachment to our fellow friends and family, an evolutionary throwback to our Paleolithic hunter-gatherer days of living in small bands. Bonding unified the group, aiding survival in harsh climes and against unforgiving enemies. Attachment between parent and offspring assured that there is no one better equipped to look after the future survival of your genes than yourself. We are a pair-bonded species, practicing monogamy (or at least serial monogamy) long enough to get our children out of childhood.


How long is that? In my case, from birth to college was 6,895 days, or just a shade under 18.9 years. (For you numerophiles, that's 165,480 hours, or 9,928,800 minutes, or 595,728,000 seconds.) The quantitative figures do not begin to capture the qualitative feeling of bonding that happens between a parent and a child from the sheer amount of time spent together. An unbroken chain, suddenly cut.


We parents can't help feeling this way, and neuroscience explains why. Addictive chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin surge through the brain and body during positive social interactions (especially touch). This causes us to feel closer to one another. Between parents and offspring, it cements a bond so solid that it is broken only under the most unusual (and usually pathological) circumstances. Mothers of serial killers have been known to weep in court and plead for leniency, even in the presence of the mothers of the murdered victims.


The empty-nest syndrome is real, but there is good news for this and all forms of loss and grief. According to Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, we are not very good at forecasting our unhappiness. In a comprehensive study involving six experiments, Gilbert and his colleagues asked subjects to imagine how they would feel in a number of different scenarios that one could reasonably expect would trigger negative emotion.


Most of us think that we would be miserable for a very long time. Gilbert calls this the durability bias, an emotional misunderstanding.


The durability bias and the failure to recognize the power of our emotional immune systems lead us to overestimate how dejected we will feel and for how long, and to underestimate how quickly we will snap out of it and feel better.


For me, taking the long view helps. How long? Deep time. Evolutionary time, in which 6,895 days represent a mere .000000005% of the 3.5 billion year history of life on Earth.


Each of us parents makes one small contribution to the evolutionary imperative of life's continuity from one generation to the next without a single gap, an unbroken link over the eons, glorious in its contiguity and spiritual in its contemplation.


And always remember, there's no place like home.


Michael Shermer is the publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and an adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University.









Crime may be a fixture in life, but its numbing regularity is no antidote for the civic pain spurred by shockingly brutal and senseless crimes. The horrific beating death 10 days ago of the Rev. David Strong, apparently in an attempted robbery, provides an example of such pain.


The 55-year-old minister had been pastor for 10 years of the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church on Williams Street, where he had worked, among other things, to steer impoverished young people away from crime and gangs. Members of his church will gather for a prayer service tonight to reflect on his life and ministry.


His death at his home on Glenwood Drive, police believe, apparently came in a home invasion on Oct. 4 at the hands of two young men. One reportedly had known the minister four years. The defendants allegedly used a stick, vase and knife to assault and torture Strong to force him to reveal a PIN number for his debit card so they could raid his bank account.


Police have arrested Antonio Henry, 25, and his cousin, Brendan Barnes, 16, and charged them with felony murder in the slaying. Their arrest Monday came after Henry's mother called police on Oct. 5 to report that her son was driving a PT Cruiser without a license, and without any knowledge on her part as to how he got the car.


"I asked my son three times where the car came from, and he told me three different stories," Henry's mother, Anita Burgis, told this newspaper's police reporter, Todd South. Police apprehended Barnes Sunday morning while he was driving the PT Cruiser. It turned out to be the Rev. Strong's car.


Chattanooga Assistant Police Chief Tim Carroll said Monday that police tried to contact Strong after they arrested Henry, but got no response. They subsequently went to the pastor's home, where they found his badly mangled, decomposing body lying face down in the hallway. His hands and feet were tied. He had been beaten and stabbed, and his throat had been cut.







Tennessee's general election is Nov. 2, but voters don't need to wait to cast a ballot. Beginning today, they can do so at early voting sites. It's an option many individuals exercise. According to county election officials, the percentage of those who vote early continues to increase from one election cycle to the next. The heightened participation, in fact, prompted the addition of an additional early voting site for the current election.


Early voting stations in Hamilton County are open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday at the Brainerd Recreation Center at 1010 North Moore Road, at Northgate Mall and, for the first time, at Eastwood Church, 4300 Ooltewah-Ringgold Road in the Apison-Collegedale area. Early voting is also available at the Hamilton County Election Commission office at 700 River Terminal Road off Amnicola Highway. It's open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The early voting period ends Oct. 28.


Early voting significantly extends the time in which voters can cast a ballot. Indeed, individuals no longer have to worry that an unexpected illness or event might make it difficult or impossible to reach the polls on Election Day. Early voting provides an opportunity to cast a ballot at one's convenience.


Many people still prefer to vote on the traditional day. That's fine. The process is the same in either instance. Registered voters need only appear at one of the designated early voting sites or at their traditional precinct on Nov. 2 at an appropriate time. A Tennessee driver's license or voter registration card is required.


The ballot this election cycle is relatively short, as it often is in non-presidential election years. That does not diminish the importance of the election. A choice still must be made between Democrat Mike McWherter, Republican Bill Haslam and a host of independent candidates for governor. That is the only statewide contest on the ballot.


On the regional and local level, John Wolfe, the Democratic nominee, Chuck Fleischmann, the GOP primary winner, and several independents are battling to succeed retiring Rep. Zach Wamp as Tennessee's 3rd District congressman. Incumbent state Rep. Tommie F. Brown, a Democrat, faces Teresa Wood, a Republican, in the only contested state House or Senate race on the ballot. Several municipal races and yea or nay votes on a Tennessee constitutional Amendment and an amendment to a Chattanooga ordinance complete the Nov. 2 ballot.


The current ballot might be short and public interest lower than in the 2008 presidential election year, but those are poor excuses to avoid voting. Citizens have an obligation to participate in government. Casting a ballot — either early or on Election Day — fulfills that vital civic duty.







The federal government has provided $75 billion for a program that is supposed to keep many Americans from losing their homes to foreclosure. But the evidence suggests that the money has not helped much.


Almost half of the 1.3 million people who enrolled in the Obama administration's plan to rescue their mortgages have instead dropped out. That means there will be no mortgage relief for those 630,000 homeowners.


Only about 422,000 people — roughly a third of those who joined the program — have managed to get permanent loan modifications to help them make their mortgage payments.


Unfortunately, approximately 1 million homes are expected to be lost to foreclosure by the end of this year alone. That is up from 900,000 homes lost in 2009.


In a normal year, about 100,000 homes are repossessed. But the foreclosures in just one recent month nearly equaled the total number of foreclosures in an entire "normal" year.


These grim figures illustrate clearly why the federal government should not have exerted pressure on banks to make home loans to people with poor credit. Many people were allowed to borrow too much money — at adjustable rates that soon "adjusted" upward and put their mortgage payments out of reach.


Many of the people whom government thought it was "helping" now are in deep trouble, losing their homes and their investment of money and time they put into those homes.


That is the sad result of government trying to rig the market to achieve shaky social aims.


You may be fortunate enough to be able to make your own house payments, so you may think all of those foreclosures don't really affect you. But the value of your home may have dropped — a lot — because of the glut of foreclosed homes now on the market.


Bad policies affect us all.






Every traffic collision is unfortunate. But a collision that results in death and multiple injuries is really tragic.


In a most unfortunate wreck this week, an uncle was killed, four children were injured, one seriously, and another driver had minor injuries when two vehicles collided head-on on Hunter Road near Ooltewah.


The children, 3 to 16 years old, suffered varied injuries.


Many thousands of us are on the move in traffic every day. Each tragedy should remind us — as drivers, passengers and pedestrians — to take special precautions every minute we are on the streets and highways to minimize the constant dangers.







Contrary to the success that President Barack Obama and liberals in Congress anticipated when they adopted the so-called economic "stimulus" package, the $862 billion stimulus has failed.


Mr. Obama said it would hold unemployment below 8 percent. Instead, unemployment today is 9.6 percent. And for all the millions of Americans who are counted as officially unemployed, millions more are not counted because they have either given up the search for work or can find only part-time work. So "real" unemployment is far higher than "official" unemployment.


If a private business enacted similar big-spending policies and found itself buckling under massive debt as a result, it would reverse course — if it hoped to survive.


But our federal government has no intention of changing to fiscal responsibility. Whatever "stimulative" effects the huge stimulus bill may have had — beyond just increasing the size of government — those effects are fading rapidly. State and local government agencies that readily seized on stimulus funds provided by Uncle Sam are learning that "gift" won't necessarily be coming a second time. The stimulus only delayed some hard spending decisions; it did not eliminate them.


But even as one bad government policy fades — with little more than a gigantic debt to show for it — a new proposal is in the works that could cause even more damage.


The president and congressional Democrats are talking about raising taxes.


While there is never a really "good" time to raise taxes, taxing more in the midst of an economic crisis is a horrible idea. Businesses already are hesitant to invest in new personnel, new equipment and so forth. Promising to raise their taxes makes it even less likely they will expand and create jobs.


And yet the president and congressional Democrats are considering raising taxes on small businesses after the beginning of the year. Worse still, there is even talk among some Democrat leaders about raising taxes not only on the so-called "rich," but on the middle class. U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, has said Congress can't afford not to raise taxes on the middle class at some point. Middle-class tax cuts are not "totally sacrosanct," he said. He added, "Raising revenue is part of the deficit solution, too."


Considering that Rep. Hoyer made those remarks from a position of very high responsibility, do you feel you can "trust" Congress to limit a new tax grab to just "the rich"?


Do you believe that taking more money from the private sector to increase the size of government will lead our country to prosperity?


It hasn't so far. Why would more of the same yield different results?







You might, or might not, know much about a device called the Amazon Kindle. It is a hand-held gadget on which users electronically download and read books, magazines and other materials. (You may prefer traditional books and magazines, but technology marches on, so to each his own.)


But Kindles were involved in a bizarre dustup when a few universities around the country had some of their students use Kindles (strictly voluntarily) in lieu of their usual textbooks last fall. The idea was that the Kindle might be cheaper than regular textbooks and could reduce the use of paper.


Soon, however, the Justice Department started investigating. The department thought the schools were violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. That's because even though a Kindle's voice feature could read a book aloud to a blind user, starting a Kindle required some functions that were not readily possible for the blind. The Justice Department did not want universities sponsoring a program to let sighted students use the electronic books if the technology was not equally available to the blind.


This year, the schools reached a settlement under which they "agreed that until the Kindle was fully accessible, nobody would use it," the Washington Examiner reported.


"We must remain vigilant to ensure that as new devices are introduced, people with disabilities are not left behind," Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, recently told a committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.


That is ridiculous. We don't want anyone left behind, either, but it is absurd to say that rapidly developing technologies must be denied to some because they are not readily useful to all. That's a recipe for bringing technological innovation to a halt.








In the wake of yet another report pairing the status of women in Turkey with those in the Ivory Coast and Chad, it would be tempting to lay the blame at the feet of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. It would be tempting and justified in many respects. But it would also be wrong, for those culpable in a widening gap of gender equality are many.


To be fair, it should not be forgotten that the most significant new legal protections came in 2006. This was when the AKP successfully sought constitutional changes to enshrine a constitutional guarantee of gender equality. Additionally, the AKP scrapped other archaic provisions in the law, including a provision that had forced women seeking a passport to get their husband's permission. But in place of legal teeth, all Turkey got was the batting of political gums.


In March, to its credit, the AKP organized an International Women Rights' Conference that invited dozens of international experts to discuss the problems. Nice. And among the keynote speakers was Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself. But Erdoğan's speech was limited to the observation that women are usually the first victims of natural disasters, terror and poverty. Absolutely correct. But this was implicitly a call for menfolk to do a better job of protecting their helpless wives and daughters. Hardly a call for women's' empowerment.


And the recent constitutional amendments introduced some rights for widows and endorsed the concept of "positive discrimination" on behalf of women. Yet we see no evidence that the implementing legislation will do anything concrete in terms of candidate quotas; in fact, both the PM and his last two (female) ministers for women and family have categorically ruled out an embrace of quotas.


Then there is the opposition, including the Republican Peoples' Party, or CHP, that claims the mantle of social democracy in Turkey. Its actual record is worse than that of the AKP when it comes to recruitment of women deputies or acting on behalf of women's empowerment. Only the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, actually has a policy of internal democracy and an equitable shari