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Thursday, October 14, 2010

EDITORIAL 14.10.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month october 14, edition 000651, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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







































































Let us not forget 45 per cent of the people of Jammu & Kashmir are Dogras, Punjabis, Paharis, Bakarwals, Gujjars, Buddhists and Shias

There has been a basic flaw in New Delhi's approach to an 'internal dialogue' with people in the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious State of Jammu & Kashmir. This 'internal dialogue' has been almost exclusively with the leadership of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference based in the Kashmir Valley. This, despite the fact that roughly 45 per cent of the people of Jammu & Kashmir are not 'Kashmiris' who live in the Kashmir Valley, but are Dogras, Punjabis, Paharis, Bakarwals, Gujjars, Buddhist Ladakhis and Balti Shias in Kargil.

Paradoxically, the Kashmir Valley where one now hears calls for 'azadi' was ruled ruthlessly for over 700 years by Mongols, Afghans, Mughals, Sikhs and Dogras before people experienced democracy and freedom under India's Constitution. Moreover, while communal harmony has prevailed in the multi-religious Jammu and Ladakh regions, it is in the Kashmir Valley alone, which boasts of a proud history of secular 'Kashmiriyat', that 4,00,000 members of the minority community of Pandits have been forced to flee their homes by a Pakistan-sponsored jihad backed indirectly by the All-Party Hurriyat Conference. 

The Charter of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference explicitly proclaims its aim as "the build-up of a society based on Islamic values" in keeping with "the Muslim majority character of the State". The Hurriyat's primary objective is described as a "struggle to secure for the people of Jammu & Kashmir the exercise of the right of self determination in accordance with the UN Charter and the resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council. However, the exercise of the right of self-determination shall also include the right to independence."

Every major outfit in the Hurriyat, which has splintered and split periodically, is associated with terrorist groups across the Line of Control, ranging from Al Umar Mujahideen, which backs the 'moderate' Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, to Hizb-ul Mujahideen of the 'radical' Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Pakistan's military leadership in Rawalpindi decides who leads the Hurriyat Conference. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq took on the leadership when President Pervez Musharraf was daggers drawn with Syed Ali Shah Geelani's mentor, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the Amir of Pakistan's Jamat-e-Islami. Now that Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is at peace with the Jamat-e-Islami, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq plays second fiddle to Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The puppets may be in the Valley, but the puppeteers are in Rawalpindi.

With the PDP emerging as a viable alternative to the National Conference as a mainstream party, both organisations have sought to match the rhetoric of the Pakistan-backed separatists by demanding a return to the position that prevailed in 1953 before the provisions of the Constitution of India were made applicable to the State. Some of our misguided 'liberals' advocate the conceding of 'maximum autonomy'.


They forget that what is being asked for by a section of the people of the State, exclusively from the Valley, with little or no support from people in the Jammu and Ladakh regions, is a framework wherein the permit system for the entry of people from other parts of India into Jammu & Kashmir could be revived, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, Election Commission and the Auditor and Comptroller-General of India will no longer extend to the State and duties could be imposed on goods imported into Jammu & Kashmir from the rest of the country.

If 'maximum autonomy' were to be granted, Jammu & Kashmir would become the only part of the country where the provisions of Articles 356 and 357 of the Constitution would not be applicable. The Governor would be appointed not by the Union Government but by the State Legislature. Just before the Mirza Afzal Beg-G Parthasarathi Accord was signed on November 13, 1974, Sheikh Abdullah told Mrs Indira Gandhi's representative: "I hope I have made it clear to you that I can assume office only on the basis of the position as it existed in 1953." Mrs Gandhi merely agreed to discuss this with Sheikh Abdullah, who assumed office soon thereafter.

The recent demonstrations in parts of the Kashmir Valley have had no resonance elsewhere in the State. They are being orchestrated to pick up momentum and reach full throttle when US President Barack Obama is in India. The salient demand has been the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, strangely espoused vigorously at a time when the Army is no longer deployed for internal security anywhere in the Valley.

The Hurriyat leaders and their mentors across the LoC know that with the Army out of the security equation, the writ of the Indian state can be challenged with impunity. The sort of autonomy being demanded by the Hurriyat is seen in Jammu and Ladakh as an instrument to achieve permanent hegemony of the Valley population and fulfil the Hurriyat's aspirations for a "society based on Islamic values". Any initiative to reach out to people across Jammu & Kashmir has to be based on securing a consensus in all regions of the State.

While demanding 'azadi' for 'Kashmiris', the Hurriyat has been remarkably reticent of what is happening in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Surely those demanding 'azadi' should be asked whether their espousal of 'azadi' also covers the people of Gilgit and Baltistan. The Resolution passed by the European Parliament on May 24, 2007, slams the domination of officials appointed by Islamabad in the affairs of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and notes that the 1974 PoK Constitution "forbids any political activity that is not in accordance with the doctrine of Jammu & Kashmir as part of Pakistan".

The European Parliament Resolution further notes that while the "Gilgit- Baltistan region enjoys no form of democratic representation whatsoever", the State of "Jammu & Kashmir (administered by India) enjoys a unique status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, granting it greater autonomy than other States of the Indian Union". India needs to drive home these facts aggressively to people in the Kashmir Valley and to the international community, rather than being continually defensive about deliberately engineered violence.

The broad understanding reached in 'back channel' discussions between India and Pakistan between 2005 and 2007 reportedly envisaged an end to cross-border terrorism and involved equivalent autonomy on both sides of the LoC with it no longer being a barrier for the free movement of goods, services, investment and people. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should inform Parliament and the people of India about the contours of what transpired in these back channel discussions. Excessive secrecy on such a sensitive issue rarely serves the national interest. 






The choice of 'interlocutors' for dialogue with various sections of people representing "all shades of opinion", including the separatists, in Jammu & Kashmir as part of New Delhi's concerted eight-point initiative to restore peace in the State raises a big question mark on both intent and purpose of the Union Government, more so the Prime Minister who undoubtedly had a decisive say in the selection of these 'eminent' persons for this onerous task. It defies logic as to how a busy body journalist well past his prime, a former educationist who was once associated with Hamdard University and has been provided with a post-retirement sinecure as Information Commissioner, and an academic at Jamia Millia Islamia not known to be well-disposed towards those who believe in the unity and integrity of India, are best suited for the proposed dialogue. None of these three 'interlocutors' enjoys any credibility in either Jammu or Ladakh region; each is seen as sympathetic to the separatists in the Kashmir Valley. How can they then possibly conduct any dialogue worth its name with 'all sections' of the people and deal with 'all shades' of opinion? Such people may serve some purpose, though even that is doubtful, for what are known as 'back channel' talks where personal equations can be leveraged for bringing around recalcitrant elements. For instance, the Jamia Millia Islamia academic is known to have been in touch with Syed Ali Shah Geelani who leads the hardline faction of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference and has been steadfast in refusing to talk about anything else other than the separation of Jammu & Kashmir and its merger with Pakistan. By nominating these individuals whose credentials will convince few, if any, beyond the separatist ghettos of the Kashmir Valley, the Government has, as has been the wont of this regime headed by Mr Manmohan Singh, cut corners instead of protecting national interest. This way lies disaster, not a solution to the problem posed by separatists who are patronised by Pakistan and whose sole ambition is to create an Islamic entity out of an Indian State.

If the choice of 'interlocutors' is bad, so is the selection of members for the two task forces which are supposed to deal with the grievances of Jammu and Ladakh regions. The individuals who will be heading these task forces are politically biased and wear their preferences on their sleeves; they represent all that is horribly rotten with Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Hamdard University and such institutions of claimed 'excellence' where academia is tainted by a jaundiced worldview. It is astonishing that the Government should have even thought of nominating these 'economists' and 'social scientists' to gather the views of discontented Hindus in Jammu and Buddhists and Shias in Ladakh who abhor the secessionists of Kashmir Valley and feel oppressed by Srinagar. Indeed, it is questionable whether the Prime Minister is really serious about creating the framework for putting down separatism in Jammu & Kashmir. For, the nominations announced on Wednesday are of a piece with the policy of capitulation he has pursued ever since the summer of 2004. With such 'eminent' persons now representing the Government, we might as well prepare to say goodbye to Jammu & Kashmir. 






There was a time when Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav seduced voters with his rustic charm and wit, even if it bordered on the personal when he attacked his political rivals. Such was his mesmerising hold that he could get away with making the most outlandish pronouncements. But that was before Mr Nitish Kumar took over as Chief Minister at the head of a JD(U)-BJP Government five years ago. Things have drastically changed since then, with Mr Nitish Kumar providing what most people in Bihar had all but forgotten — good governance. With his RJD headed for a second successive defeat, Mr Yadav is desperately seeking to revive his old rustic charm; in the process, his utterances are sounding increasingly farcical. The lowest common denominator that gathers at his election rallies may whistle and clap in approval when he breaks into Hindi film songs likeMere pairon mein ghungroo bandhade to phir meri chaal dekh le, but it is unlikely that he can sing his way back into power. For, the past weighs equally heavy on the people of Bihar and Mr Yadav: The former have not forgotten the corruption and crime that had become the twin metaphors of the jungle raj that had come to prevail in Bihar when Mr Yadav ruled the State, either directly or, after he was charge-sheeted in the fodder scam, through his proxy, Rabri Devi. With criminals patronised by Mr Yadav ruling the roast in Bihar, the State's economy had collapsed and governance had come to a grinding halt, taking a heavy toll on social and infrastructure development. The RJD's election symbol, the lantern, had come to symbolise a State enveloped in all-round darkness. From there, Bihar has clawed its way back into reckoning under the NDA's rule; innovative policies have worked wonders, instilling confidence in the people and reviving hope where there was none. One such policy was to provide girls with bicycles to enable them to attend school. Mr Yadav, who is incapable of looking at things in their right perspective, finds this initiative funny, and so is promising the youth that he will give them motorcycles if they vote for his RJD. 

When the RJD came to power in Bihar, it rode the anti-Congress wave on the late-1980s. Subsequently, Mr Yadav used the 'Mandal card' to strengthen his position: What was meant to empower the socially and educationally backward sections of the people became his instrument of mobilisation at election time. He positioned himself as the sole spokesman of Bihar's OBCs much in the same manner as Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav did in Uttar Pradesh, cobbling together a Yadav-Muslim vote-bank that served both leaders well till Mandal lost its charm. To his horror, Mr Yadav is now confronted with a reality which he is unable to comprehend: A post-Mandal generation of voters has come of age and, as Mr Nitish Kumar recently said, caste is no longer the predominant factor to decide the outcome of elections in Bihar. The people are looking for accelerated development and good governance. Mr Yadav can deliver neither. 








The joint development of these magnificent flying machines marks a new milestone in India-Russia defence cooperation

The joint development of a fifth generation fighter aircraft has moved to the fore of Russian-Indian cooperation. The issue was discussed during Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov's recent visit to India. But an important question remains: Which fifth generation fighter are we talking about? The first prototype of the T-50 aircraft built under the PAK FA project is already flying in Russia.


Fifth generation fighters are increasingly becoming a symbol proving that a country has an independent aviation industry, capable of developing combat aircraft. Only two countries have done this so far — the US has built its F-22 Raptor and is testing the F-35, while Russia is testing its T-50 fighter.

India, which is actively developing its aviation industry, also seeks to develop a fifth generation fighter aircraft, but it cannot start from scratch. Co-operation with Russia is critical to India in this respect. In turn, Russia needs financial support to finish work on its fifth generation fighter.

Many experts see the T-50 as a very promising programme that could become the foundation for a whole new family of combat aircraft, like the T-10 Sukhoi aircraft, which led to the Sukhoi Su-27 (Nato reporting name Flanker) and its various modifications.

Cost is the key difference between the T-50 fighter and the American F-22, the world's first fifth generation mass-produced combat fighter. The F-22 is far too expensive to become a popular model, and it suffers from the inevitable technical problems of a pioneer. This in addition to the congressional ban on exporting the fighter has made it impossible for the US to further develop this system.

The second next-generation American fighter, the F-35, is currently undergoing tests. But the US has run into problems with this programme, too. The US tried to build a cheaper fifth generation aircraft with the same capabilities as the F-22 but on a smaller scale. The new fighter was supposed to have a smaller combat load and range, slower flight speed and lower radar capabilities.

However, combining all these features in one aircraft proved too difficult. Its price tag has surpassed $150 million, which is more than double the initial estimate. There is no indication that the price will go down, and US designers have still not been able to recreate some of the F-22's features on the F-35, such as supersonic speeds without the use of an afterburner.

The designers have complicated their job by attempting to develop three different aircraft on the F-35 platform — a conventional fighter for the Air Force, a deck aircraft for the Navy and a STOVL (shorter take off and vertical landing) plane for the Marines. As a result, the project is delayed and over cost.

The designers of the T-50 have taken into account the experience of the US with the F-22 and the problems with the F-35. Their T-50 programme looks more realistic in comparison. They have decided not to pursue too many goals, instead concentrating on the existing, tried-and-tested programme to develop a multi-purpose heavy aircraft with a solid safety margin. The T-50 programme is bound to be a success, even if one element of the future fighter is delayed, as each element — be it the engines, onboard equipment or armaments — has a backup version.

It is no surprise that India has chosen the Russian aircraft as the prototype for its Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft programme. Now that the T-50 is already in the air and passing its tests with flying colours, India and Russia can confidently sign an agreement to develop a prototype on its basis. 







We are pushing legendary cricketers into the realm of oblivion. The continuing relegation of the past can leave one clueless about the present

A television-dominated world relegates the important and celebrates the trivial. This is hardly surprising. Neil Postman wrote in Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of the Show Business, "Entertainment is the supraideology of all discourse on television". Thus sports news gets disproportionately greater display compared to news about political, social and economic developments; news about the shenanigans of the chatterati and assorted fluffheads get relatively greater prominence than sports news. 

One is not talking here of space and time relative to importance and not actually allotted. In sports news the immediate and the dramatic are pushing the past into oblivion. Consider cricket. India has scaled heights it had rarely done before. The ranks of its cricketers include several stalwarts. Tendulkar, like Bradman, is in a class of his own. But Dravid and Lakshman would also rank among the all-time greats, with Dhoni and Harbhajan knocking on the doors of the club whose members include Ganguly, Kumble and Srinath, who have just retired. Stretching memory over the last three decades, one has eminences like Gavaskar, Vishwanath, Kapil Dev, Sardesai, Azharuddin, Vengsarkar, Mohinder Amarnath, Kirmani, Engineer, Durrani and the spinning quartet of Prasanna, Bedi, Chandrashekhar and Venkatraghavan, which could mesmerise any batting side on its day, and the excellent all-rounder Ravi Shastri.

Some of them are still in the limelight as television commentators; others live in the memory of those who had seen them play. The media, however, have little time for them, generally mentioning them only in passing. The ones who went before them are mostly ignored. Even the public is forgetting them. How many remember Mohammad Nissar, the lightning-quick fast bowler, Amar Singh, who sent the ball rocketing after pitching, CK Nayudu, the colossus of the fields, and Lala Amarnath? 


How many remember Mushtaq Ali and Merchant who gave India an electrifying opening stand of 201 in the Manchester test in 1936? Mushtaq was among the most elegant cricketers the world has seen. His batting was marked by breathtaking elegance and daring. Like Frank Worrell, he stood out in the field with his feline grace and excellent catches. In the third Test against the West Indies in Calcutta (not yet Kolkata) in 1948-49, he sprinted from mid-wicket to deep fine leg to snatch a skier by RJ Christiani. And, of course, he scored 54 in the first innings and 106 in the second, late-cutting, as was his wont, the first ball in each innings, and sending the crowd into raptures with every boundary. 

Merchant was another great stylist whose late and square cuts stood out and who could drive and hook with a silken touch. Those who have seen it would never forget his 155 not out in an unofficial Test match in Calcutta in 1945 against the Australian Services XI which, captained by Lindsay Hassette, included Keith Miller then approaching his peak form. He later combined with the pace legend, Ray Lindwall, to become one of the most lethal pair of fast bowlers in cricket's history. Speaking of Lindwall and Miller, one remembers several Indian cricketers who stood up to them admirably in the Indian team's tour of Australia in 1947. Vijay Hazare scored 145 and 116 at the fourth Test in Adelaide and 74 at the fifth Test at Melbourne. Phadkar made 51 in the second Test at Sydney where he made his debut, 55 not out in the third Test at Melbourne, 123 in the fourth Test at Adelaide and 56 not out at the fifth Test in Melbourne in which Mankad scored 111. Both Mankad and Phadkar bowled well against a batting side that included Bradman, Hassett, Morris, Barnes and Neil Harvey.

India lost the series 0-4 but several Indian cricketers served notice that they were no pushovers. Over the years, other stalwarts made their appearance. Ghulam Ahmed, PR Umrigar, P Roy, Subhas and Balu Gupte, MAK Pataudi, Chandu Borde, RB Desai, and RG Nadkarni, whose careers spanned the 1950 and 1960s. They are now only shadowy figures in India's collective cricket memory. Apart from the question of their neglect, there is the wider issue of our treatment of the past. Those who ignore it often fail to understand the present, which, in turn, can spell disaster in the wider societal context. 







International cooperation on dealing with climate change faces challenges of increasing global imbalances, tensions over currency, fiscal constraints in developing countries and discord between the US and China. Leveraging the private sector and making climate change finance a reality could be a step forward

Last week, while climate policy watchers had their eyes on Tianjin — where the UNFCCC negotiators were making halting progress in their final meetings before the upcoming negotiations in Cancun — another debate on climate was being held in Washington. Ministers of Finance and Development, as well as representatives from the private sector, civil society and other development agencies, gathered for the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank. World Bank President Robert Zoellick's opening speech set the tone by highlighting the increased impact on developing countries from climate-related natural disasters and other environmental and social stress factors. Mr Zoellick also re-affirmed the World Bank's global priority on tackling climate change.

The backdrop to the meetings was not encouraging. There is a wide disparity between what science tells us, that global warming should not exceed 2 degree C (3.6 degree F), and the ambition of commitments under the Copenhagen Accord. Further, the gridlock in US legislation makes it difficult to reach our own commitments, weakening our ability to serve as a leader. There are challenges to international cooperation given the increase in global imbalances and tensions over currency, with tension between the US and China on these issues mirroring the tone in Tianjin. And there are fiscal constraints in the OECD countries that challenge the ability to finance the transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy in the developing world.

But there was room for some optimism. The delegates were purposeful in their discussions, and pressed for continued action within, and in parallel to, the UNFCCC talks to keep up momentum to reach a positive outcome in Cancun.

Five key messages for addressing the climate change challenge emerged from the annual meetings:

Go for building blocks. With UNFCCC officials clear that there are no prospects for a comprehensive global agreement in Cancun, the goal has shifted to Plan B: To reach agreement on a number of building blocks that were framed in the Copenhagen Accord that could ultimately shape an eventual global agreement. Likely candidates for agreement include: Mechanisms for supporting reductions in emissions from forestry (REDD+), building on the recent partnership forged by 58 countries at the Oslo Climate and Forest Conference; technology, including the setting up of regional innovation centers; a framework for adaptation, focusing on capacity building; and the principles of, and processes for designing, the Copenhagen Green Fund. But while convergence on these issues seems possible, the "building block" strategy may not advance due to the trickiest parts of the Copenhagen Accord-provisions for transparency about monitoring, reporting and verification of emission reduction targets and actions, and their linkages to the commitments on longer-term climate finance. At the annual meetings, some participants were quietly discussing a "Plan C" — that no formal agreements on these building blocks will be created in Cancun, but there will be continued movement through bottom-up activities supported by coalitions of interested countries.

Make climate finance a reality. The Copenhagen Accord included climate finance commitments of $30 billion in Fast Start financing to 2012, with long-term financing reaching $100 billion a year by 2020. Delegates acknowledged that meeting the Fast Start financing objective was critical to building trust, and countries are racing to demonstrate by Cancun that they are meeting these commitments. But the scope for the public sector to finance significant parts of the longer term $100 billion commitment has finance officials worried. They will also be looking for the kind of leverage achieved by the Clean Technology Fund, with some $4 billion leveraging $40 billion in investment in clean technologies. And, while we wait for the report on possible sources of innovative finance from the UN's high-level group on climate finance due by the end October, the message is that we should not expect a recommendation on how to raise this level of finance but rather a menu of possibilities to inform the debate on economic and political tradeoffs.

Focus on strategies for leveraging the private sector. Climate negotiators are divided on the role that public versus private finance should play in meeting the Copenhagen Accord ambitions. But OECD delegates to the annual meetings were clear that achieving the $100 billion per year in longer-term finance would require significant private sector flows. There was a strong push for the continuation of carbon markets beyond 2012. So, extension of the Kyoto Protocol in Cancun will be critical. Even then, the Clean Development Mechanism needs substantial reform to reduce transaction costs, support investment at scale through programmatic schemes, and become more accessible to a broader range of countries, including the least-developed countries. Other ideas included public-private partnerships with private capital; leveraging multilateral development bank risk mitigation capabilities; and using innovative public policy tools, like cross border feed-in tariffs, to support regional renewable investments.

Get ready for many channels of public sector climate finance. In Tianjin, the focus was on the often-contentious intricacies in the design of the governance arrangements for the Copenhagen Green Fund and its links to other issues, like transparency. In Washington this past weekend, the message from contributing countries was that while the Copenhagen Green Fund will be important, there will be many channels for climate finance, including: Existing funds like the Global Environment Facility and the Adaptation Fund, leveraging of the MDBs, and bilateral support. The link to MDB and bilateral funds to the UNFCCC continues to be a debatable point, with developing countries asserting the primacy of the Copenhagen Green Fund as a key part of any financial mechanism, guided by and accountable to the UNFCCC. Also underscored during the annual meetings was the key element of transparency-to reassure developing countries that money is flowing and balanced across different constituencies, and to assure taxpayers that funds are achieving results.

Don't forget the most vulnerable. There was a call for structuring new funding to also reach least-developed countries. Capacity building to help these countries access the many funding channels will be critical. A focus on special constituencies with significant climate challenges (small island states, sub-Saharan Africa and mountain nations) was also on the agenda. Further, some emphasised the need to ensure that funds, whatever their source or delivery channel, adhere to strong social and environmental standards so that benefits reach the poorest, including indigenous peoples. The productive dialogue on opportunities for the most vulnerable, which has surfaced as part of the REDD+ partnership, may set the path for the broader climate finance architecture.

While global agreement on tackling climate change is not in the cards for Cancun, the Conference of Parties will have the opportunity to move forward on the building blocks to set action in motion. Climate financing will be at the top of the agenda-including leveraging strategies for the private sector and debating the role and impact of public financing options. Ultimately, the least-developed countries, which have been, and will continue to be, hit hardest by climate-related natural disasters as President Zoellick emphasised at the annual meetings, need to see action, particularly financing, sooner rather than later.

-- The writer is a senior fellow in the Global Economy and Development programme, The Brookings Institution. A former vice president for sustainable development at the World Bank, she focuses on climate change and energy. 







Health issues facing so-called 'megacities' like Tokyo, Mumbai or New York are poised to become a huge challenge for global policy as the cities grow, experts have said at the World Health Summit in Berlin this week.

Megacities, roughly defined as cities with a population of more than 10 million, are springing up around the world as people increasingly migrate from the fields to massive, sprawling urban centres. There will be 27 of these megacities by 2020, up from 19 in 2007, said Mr Victor Rodwin, director of the World Cities Project at New York University, with most located in Asia, South America or Africa.

Moreover, the cities themselves are growing at a ferocious rate. "For every minute that I speak, a new person is going to be moving into Lagos, Kinshasa or Dhaka," said Mr Ricky Burdett from the London School of Economics. One in every 25 people on the planet will be living in a megacity by 2025, predicted Mr Francisco Armada Perez, an official from the World Health Organisation.

Health issues found elsewhere are exacerbated in megacities. Diseases such as AIDS, SARS or H5N1 bird flu can spread like wildfire, especially through slums, where one-third of urban dwellers live. Overcrowding and poor sanitation foster tuberculosis, another major challenge facing health officials in megacities. Mr Burdett pointed out also that 300 people die every day in car accidents in India. "That's equivalent to a jumbo jet crashing every single day and no one ever talks about it," he said.

In addition, three-quarters of global CO2 emissions come from urban areas, meaning that small alterations in the way people in cities consume energy could have a massive effect on climate change. "We now have a new issue, a new field of study, which is the field of urban health," said Mr Rodwin, speaking on a high-level panel on megacities.

Nevertheless, the health problems faced in megacities are not confined to the developing world, the experts said. "If you walk through the poor areas of Paris or London, you can find the same health problems as you might find in Mumbai or Lagos," according to Mr Alfred Spira, from France's Institute of Public Health Research. Life expectancy drops by around one year for every stop travelled eastwards on London's west-east Jubilee Line, Mr Burdett pointed out. 








THE appointment of journalist Dilip Padgaonkar, Information Commissioner M. M. Ansari and academician Radha Kumar as the interlocutors to re- start peace talks in troubled Jammu and Kashmir is disappointing. It has nothing to do with the personalities themselves, all of whom have a distinguished record of service in their respective endeavours. They are also not entirely lacking in experience in dealing with Kashmir. But, it is clear that they are several removes away from what could constitute credibility in the eyes of the people of the troubled state.


Perhaps the government seems to have missed the message that seems to be coming from the recent crisis in Kashmir arising out of the stone- pelting rebellion of the young. It is that there is an urgent need to address the central issue— the sense of the people that they are lacking political freedom.


The issue in Kashmir is political and the need of the hour is for politicians, not only because they understand that politics is the art of the possible. But that their expertise is in the processes that go into the give and take of collective decisions. The three persons named on Wednesday are non- governmental persons and are by no stretch of imagination experienced in politics, notwithstanding the endorsement they have received from the Union Home Minister, P. Chidambaram.


For the past several weeks there has been talk, indeed, that a politician would head the team of interlocutors, but the government seems to have had second thoughts. The Union Home Minister has coyly suggested that another interlocutor may be added later.


But there are already indications that the government remains divided within itself and that the new interlocutors are unlikely to make much of an impact on the situation.







THE lines between ideological and fraternal feuds get blurred in a party as dominated by one family as the Shiromani Akali Dal( SAD).


Punjab's Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal — suspended from the party on Tuesday— seems to be paying the price for his attempts to address the state's economic woes.


Punjab is presently reeling under a massive debt of ` 70,000 crore, which can be directly attributed to the SAD- BJP government's blatantly populist policies. The government's agricultural subsidies are unproductive and benefit only the rich farmers. Manpreet's pleas for economic prudence go against their interests, but they are the SAD's core constituency.


By buckling under the pressure from these powerful vested interests and not supporting Manpreet's proposal for accepting the Centre's debt relief package, the SAD has compromised the welfare of the state which they have driven to the ground by their imprudent policies anyway.


Manpreet may be a product of the same patronage- based political culture as the rest of the Badal family, but in trying to set right the finances of the state, he was clearly on the right track. Given its assets, Punjab's lack of competitiveness among the Indian states should be a matter of concern to all.








WHILE it is unfair to indentify sportspersons who are representing India with the communities they belong to, the achievements of Jat sportsmen and sportswomen have been among the defining aspects of the Commonwealth Games. From wrestlers Sushil Kumar and Geeta Kumari to discuss thrower Krishna Poonia and shooter Annu Singh, the lion's share of India's medals have been bagged by Jat sportspersons.


The Jat success story is symbolic of the upward mobility of people from rural and semi- rural backgrounds in terms of economic resources, nutrition levels and most importantly social attitudes.


The achievements of the sportswomen are particularly significant as they come from conservative communities whose attitude towards the girl child and women has been less than stellar. While their respective families have set an example for the community by supporting their girls in their chosen area of sports, the achievements of the young women themselves will go a long way in the transformation of social attitudes towards gender equality in their region.








The endorsement that India got from 187 out of 192 nations for a seat in the UN Security Council is heartening, but let it not go into our head. After all, we were the sole candidate for the Asian seat, and the seat is a non- permanent one.


We have some way to go before we can get a permanent seat of the kind China or the US occupy. The bigger question is, however, what now? What would an Indian incumbency mean for Indian security policies and relations with various countries of the world? Unfortunately, the short answer probably is, nothing.


New Delhi seems to think that the mere fact of wearing the UN Security Council crown would automatically endow it with attributes of being able to operate in the international system in a manner that secures its own interests through the effective use of military, economic and diplomatic instrumentalities, even while ensuring that it degrades the abilities of its adversaries, existing or potential.


India has this enormous thirst for being recognised as a world power, but it doesn't want to expend sweat to attain that goal, all it seems to want are the symbols of power, not power itself.




Neither through inclination, institutions— or its leadership— is the India of today oriented towards a relentless promotion of national interest— the core guiding principle of contemporary international politics. It lacks any comprehensive understanding, or maybe the stomach, to get involved in the hurly burly of infighting and maneuvers— and compromises— that are the stuff of being a world power.


India's weaknesses have become manifest in an era where the international balance of power is in a state of flux. Far from being on the margins, as it was through much of the Cold War, India is now closer to the center because of developments in Afghanistan and the Indian Ocean.


Ironically, two of our adversaries— Pakistan and China— are key players now but in diametrically different ways. Pakistan's is a negative challenge. The rise of jihadism within the country and the collapse of its institutions have a direct bearing on Indian security and wellbeing.


Associated with this are the consequences of a possible defeat of the American- led coalition in Afghanistan.


China's incredible rise has a different kind of resonance. Though Beijing remains focused primarily on its eastern seaboard— Taiwan, Korea, Japan, the ASEAN and the US— the enormous dynamism of Chinese growth is spilling over into South Asia and the Indian Ocean. In what should have been India's backyard, we find a vigourous Beijing undertaking infrastructure projects, offering military aid and undermining New Delhi by its presence.


In the Indian Ocean area besides the Chinese activity in developing facilities in Myanmar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, the Chinese Navy has taken an active interest in the anti- piracy mission and are wooing littoral nations of Africa. The Chinese are by no means a threat to the Indian position in the ocean today. But you would be foolhardy to suggest that they will not be so tomorrow.


The choice before India is stark— stand up, or kowtow. The second is really no option for a country of India's size that measures up well with China in virtually every element of national power. India cannot turn away from its historical destiny of being one of Asia's big powers to stand aside from regional responsibilities will have serious consequences for the global balance of power, the stability of our region, and indeed our homeland security.


In this interdependent world, there is no opting out.


The issue then is straightforward— should India be part of a coalition to stand up to a rising China which is becoming more truculent by the day, or should it retain its strategic autonomy and stand on its own as one of the poles in the global order ?




Both options are attractive and doable.


For a variety of reasons, the rise of India has not been viewed as threatening by anyone. Indeed, the world's foremost power— the US— sees it as a positively useful development. This was the reason why an unnamed US official had declared in 2005, on the eve of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to New Delhi, that the US " goal is to help India become a major world power in the 21st century." In the heady years following this, India was active with the US, Japan and Australia and there was talk of an Asian coalition of democracies. But the idea of a Quad security dialogue was proposed and quickly abandoned. After the economic crisis of 2008- 9, and America's current difficulties, it seems to have been forgotten, even though the countries in question maintain " strategic" ties bilaterally and have even held joint naval exercises.


The American moves towards India have not been based on philanthropy for which that great nation is well known for. It has been based on a sharp perception of American interests. Equally, the manner in which India grabbed the US offer of the Indo- US nuclear deal showed how we could also see the main chance when offered.




But there remain strong forces within India suggesting that we stand by ourselves on matters relating to foreign and security policy. In some measure this is a hangover of the era of non- alignment and to some extent it is a valid argument for a model where India sees itself as one pole in a multi- polar world, one that should stay out of other's problems and concentrate on building up its own capacities. It is also the bitter lesson learnt from the experience of dealing with the US whose ruthless devotion of its national interests have caused us much harm in the past, and could well do so again, in relation to Pakistan.


Alarmingly, though, it is more likely a consequence of an inability of our political class to provide the leadership needed by the country to cope with the demands of the era.


Stephen P. Cohen and Sunil Das Gupta have hit the nail on the head by their analysis of Indian military policy, titled evocatively, Arming without Aiming: India's Military Modernisation . Their major conclusion is that India's military modernisation for which the country is likely to import some $ 100 billion worth of arms, is haphazard and lacks political direction or a strategic- military purpose.


After an initial flurry of activity to implement the GoM Report of 2003 and incorporate the armed forces into the larger decision- making process of the country, things have stalled. So today a military buildup continues sans a grand strategy.


The major reason for this is the lack of a integration of the military and civilian elements of national power.


At a simplistic level, the duty of the armed forces is to secure the country and its air space and guard its sea- lanes, but that alone cannot be their utility. Nations do not invest vast sums of money to get their armed forces to merely do chowkidari ( guard duty). They have a larger function in the promoting the country's standing in the world and expanding its sphere of influence.


manoj. joshi@ mailtoday. in








THE 75- year old Medical Council of India ( MCI) has finally acquired some teeth. For the first time in its history, the council has shown some guts by cancelling the license of its own former President for professional misconduct.


By revoking the license of Ketan Desai, MCI has actually sought to redeem the credibility that it had lost due to the malpracties that took place when Desai was at the helm. Desai had turned the council into a money making machine by focusing entirely on medical education, while ignoring its other functions of dealing with professional misconduct of doctors and medical negligence.


The credit for forcing the council to take a decision on Desai's own misconduct goes to Dr Kunal Saha, a non- resident Indian doctor who has founded a voluntary patients' rights group called People for Better Treatment ( PBT) in Kolkata.


Saha's story is almost like a potboiler. He made fighting what he calls ' deep- rooted corruption in the Indian medical system' the goal of his life after he lost his wife Anuradha ( a child psychologist) due to medical negligence during a short social visit to Kolkata in 1998.


The long drawn battle which began with the conviction of two Kolkata doctors — Sukumar Mukherjee and Baidyanath Halder — by a trial court in 2002 continues till date.


During this period, Saha crossed swords with medical councils in West Bengal and and union territories did not even have medical councils as stipulated under law.

Another major change is the right to transfer a complaint from state medical council to the MCI if it is kept pending for six months or longer. Victims of medical negligence can now appeal to MCI against the decision of a state medical council.


Similarly, the SC has ruled that even administration of wrong dosage of medicine amounts to medical negligence.


Saha spent close to $ 1.5 million in legal fees and frequent travels to India during the past 12 years, but he remains committed to the cause.


He has given a sworn affidavit in the court that $ 20 million that he has claimed for the death of his wife would be fully spent for promotion of health and for the welfare of poor children in India. We indeed needs crusaders like Dr Saha rather than crooks like Desai.


Gujarat, MCI, consumer courts and the judiciary at various levels, the Indian Medical Association and now the World Medical Association. He even exposed the National AIDS Control Organisation. He says he found corruption and inefficiency everywhere.


Saha trapped and got arrested two employees of the Supreme Court registry while they were taking bribes from him. " It was not the first time that SC employees were taking bribes from a justice seeker for fixing a bench. The trail of money is obviously going beyond the registry.


Otherwise why would anyone pay bribe to fix a particular bench?", asks Saha.


Despite all the odds, Saha and PBT have been successful in effecting some institutional changes in the system through public interest litigation. For example, until activists of the PBT filed a public interest writ in the SC in 2000, several states Dr Saha has founded a voluntary body to fight corruption in the medical system His organisation forced MCI to act against Desai



IN their attempt to defend the indefensible, science academies have come out with more half- truths. In a note posted on its website, the Indian National Science Academy ( INSA) says a letter was sent to fellows of three science academies seeking their views on transgenic crops, but there is no mention of how many responded and what their views were.


There is a footnote which says a similar letter was sent by the President of National Academy of the Medical Sciences to its fellows. No dates are given nor has the text of this letter been shared. The curious part is that the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences did not follow a similar process but indicated that it would nominate Fellows on its own.


We don't know who was nominated and how. This is crucial because Dr P Anand Kumar — whose article the academies' copied in the report — is a fellow of the agriculture academy. INSA is also trying to imply that it was draft report circulated for ' further inputs and feedback'. If it was so, the report does not mention it. Secondly, if it was a draft why was it sent to the government? The academy is also downplaying the plagiarism by calling it a mere " glitch". Will INSA come out with full truth and be transparent in its dealings, Dr M Vijayan?



IT NOW appears that Indian science academies not only plagiarised their report on Bt birnjal but also manufactured consent while preparing the report.


The academies say that a meeting of fellows interested in airing their views on the subject was held on June 1 at the Indian National Science Academy ( INSA). Based on views expressed in this meeting, the report was prepared.


It is interesting that while close to three pages have been reproduced from views expressed by one scientist — Dr P Anand Kumar — views of several others who did not agree have been completely left out. At least one such fellow of INSA, Dr PC Kesavan has now come out in open. He told me that he clearly expressed biosafety, environmental safety concerns and possibilities of Bt brinjal becoming resistant to fruit and shoot borer.


Dr Kesavan was opposed even to limited open trials of Bt brinjal — which the inter- academy report has recommended.


" There can't be consensus between right and wrong", says Kesavan, who is distinguished fellow at the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai.


He says he was supported by a few other fellows at the meeting.

So, what the academies are projecting as consensus is actually a manufactured consent of vested interests.








For a country that worships its cricketers, the last fortnight has witnessed a rare trend. Although a gripping India-Australia Test series was underway, cricket had to fight for eyeballs with the 2010 Commonwealth Games. V V S Laxman's valiant last-man-standing effort in the Mohali Test was matched by our shooters and wrestlers' gold medal-winning performances, while Sachin Tendulkar's double ton in Bangalore was mirrored by the achievements of our track and field athletes. Hitherto little-known sportsmen have captured popular imagination. If the legacy of the Games is to bear fruit, we must capitalise on the interest that has been generated in the diverse spectrum of sports that was on display. 


In order to ensure that our athletes continue to win laurels at the highest level of competition, it is imperative that we endeavour to create a true sporting culture in the country. This can only come about through adequate funding, sponsorships, effective scouting mechanisms and celebration of individual sporting achievements. Given the limited opportunities and resources available, most parents do not see sports other than cricket as a viable career option for their children. The situation can only be remedied through sweeping reforms in sports administration. 

It is extremely unfortunate that sporting bodies have come to be dominated by politicians and middle-level bureaucrats. Elections to these bodies are determined more by political patronage than by efficiency in managing sports. This in turn has bred a culture of cronyism and nepotism that prevents Indian sport from reaching for the skies. Athletes have to put up with step-motherly treatment and receive little or no help from the system. Decrepit sports administration is also the root cause of the widespread corruption associated with the Commonwealth Games. If India is to emerge as a sporting powerhouse, sports cannot be run by people who see it as a means of dispensing patronage or a passport to foreign junkets. A minimum 50 per cent quota for former sportsmen in all sporting bodies could be one way to go in reforming them. 

The Commonwealth Games have given us ample proof of the sporting talent available in India. Nonetheless, a lot more needs to be done if our athletes are to translate their current form into medals at the Asian Games and the Olympics. This would require sustained investments on multiple fronts. The Commonwealth Games should serve as a catalyst to initiate the long-pending reforms that Indian sports desperately needs. Otherwise, the present euphoria and gold rush are going to be short-lived.







A new code is underway to power the utility we cannot imagine modern life without: the internet. The evolution of Hypertext Markup Language or HTML's Version Five is generating both excitement and apprehension. 

On the one hand, 
HTML Five will enable Web users to access a whole host of multimedia programs with speed and without having to download additional software. With the new code, users will be able to easily check e-mail and networking sites off-line. 


They will also be able to conveniently ascertain useful information, like the locations of cafes or hospitals, on mobile devices. HTML Five seems poised to usher in a new era of the internet, allowing for far greater global and local communication. 

However, there are serious concerns alongside that HTML Five may make it easier for commercial ventures to place tracking devices, like 'cookies', onto Web users. These could allow marketing companies access to deeply private data, like a user's location, pictures, internet shopping and histories of Web pages visited. 

Even personal e-mails might fall under the eyes of such scanners. Existing browser safeguards may not be able to keep up with the invasions of privacy such tracking devices could unleash onto the Web. 

It would be a travesty if HTML Five were to offer speed, convenience and the joys of more interactive communication, but at the cost of ending all privacy and endangering security. A new virtual age may be about to arrive, but users' need for privacy and security must also be built into the new code.









The nation applauded our politicians and other prominent figures in our public life when they appealed in unison for calm on the eve of the Ayodhya verdict. Our media too earned widespread praise for not speculating on its content. However, what followed immediately after the verdict was delivered left ordinary citizens baffled, confused and not a little disturbed. 

It was clear from the beginning that legal experts would have to scrutinise thousands of pages of the judgements with a fine toothcomb before they formed a rounded opinion about their strengths and infirmities. But our opinion makers hastened to air their views, each one contradicting the other with much abandon. 

Where do we go from here? It is clear that all the three litigants in the case will challenge the verdict which divided the disputed area equally between them in the Supreme Court. Each one lays claim to the entire area. No one can say how long the apex court will take to give its judgement. It could take months, even years. In the meantime, there is every reason to fear that political interests will exploit the uncertainty for their narrow ends. This portends a danger for our nation. 

Even while the apex court deliberates on the case, the concerned parties seem prepared to engage in talks to find a lasting and equitable solution to the Ayodhya dispute. Concerned citizens can only wish them well. But there is reason for worry on this score too for similar efforts have been made in the past without success. The talks floundered because no side was prepared to abandon its maximalist position. 

So the question suggests itself: what can inspire them to be flexible, pragmatic and forward-looking? The inspiration must be sought in the abiding value of tolerance that has sustained and nourished our civilisation and culture since times immemorial. This calls for respect for all faiths. It calls for a willingness to acknowledge the spiritual and moral impulses to be found in each one of them. The need of the hour is to bring down the walls that divide people and replace them with bridges that allow the followers of all religions to mix freely with one another. 

India, as Amartya Sen has so well explained in his writings, has a rich and ancient history of public reasoning. The Indian Buddhists took the lead to set up councils where disputes between different schools of thought were discussed without acrimony and settled to the satisfaction of all. The first such council was held in Rajagriha shortly after the death of Gautama Buddha. Three others followed in later centuries. But the largest and most impressive council took place under the patronage of 
Emperor Ashoka in Pataliputra (now Patna) in the third century BCE. Its deliberations were not restricted to theological issues alone. They also focussed on social and civic duties. 

Two thousand years later, another great emperor, Akbar, sponsored dialogues between the followers of different faiths in his 'Ibadat Khana' ( House of Worship). They included theologians of Hindu and Muslim sects, Zoroastrians and Jews, Christians and Jains as well as a smattering of atheists. He introduced a solar calendar that sought to combine the calendars of various faiths. This was a prelude to his attempt to forge a new religion, the Din-ilahi, which failed to take off in the face of the stiff opposition of obscurantist elements in the palace. 

At the end of the 19th century, this tradition of tolerance received a boost thanks to the teachings of Swami Vivekananda. Speaking at the Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago, on September 27, 1873, the Swami asserted that its deliberations proved how and why holiness, purity and charity cannot be the exclusive possessions of any church in the world. Every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. It is therefore necessary for each religion to help another, not fight with each other; to assimilate, not destroy; to seek harmony and peace, not dissension. 

In the 20th century, this tradition was carried forward by Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. They drew inspiration not only from our hoary spiritual and philosophical texts but also from our saint poets of medieval times. 

The Ayodhya verdict presents us with an absolutely rare opportunity to put the bickering and the violence caused by the dispute firmly behind us and move forward on the strength of our time-tested traditions. Every party involved in the case should agree to renounce its claim to the portion of the area that now legally belongs to it to allow for the construction of a centre to promote interfaith dialogue a grander one than any other in the world. 

It would bring together experts of all religions and all spiritual traditions, agnostics, apostates and even atheists from across the globe. They would endeavour to uphold values they share in common without seeking to impose a grey uniformity of belief and practice. The interfaith centre would bear vivid testimony to all that is noble and uplifting in the civilisation that has shaped us from the dawn of history to the present day. And, what is more, it would make eminent political sense too. 

The writer is chairman of The Times of India Group.








It's hardly a surprise that 84 per cent of those who voted in an online poll conducted by a leading Australian daily to pick the greatest batsman in the history of cricket chose Sachin Tendulkar. The result may look blasphemous to all those fans of Don Bradman who rate him higher than Sachin. The fact is those who voted were just unsentimental in their selection and opted for a batsman whose achievements are unparalleled in the history of the game. 

What makes Sachin the greatest ever batsman? Surely, it's not the averages. If batting average is the only criterion to assess greatness, Bradman is head and shoulders above Sachin. But Bradman's feats were achieved in two countries, Australia and England. He played in an era when cricket was essentially a game of the Anglo-Saxon world. A tiny elite patronised the game in the colonies, but their teams were hardly representative of the sporting abilities of the local population. The 52 Test matches Bradman played were spread over two decades and under less demanding conditions. 

The world has changed since Bradman's days. Cricket is now the passion of a billion plus Indians. Sachin has to bear the expectations of this passionate crowd and play throughout the year in various formats and under disparate conditions. He has performed successfully in different parts of the world, on various kinds of pitches and in different weather conditions. His career too spans two decades, but in this period he has played 171 Test matches, more than thrice the number of Tests Bradman played, and 442 one-day matches. He has over 30,000 runs in international matches as against the 6,996 made by Bradman. His success is despite the physical and mental pressures of playing so much cricket under intense public scrutiny. The poll results are just an acknowledgement of his contribution.







The results of the poll are, perhaps, not surprising. Given that it is an online poll, there is no way to check if it is indeed Australians who have voted him as the greatest cricketer ever or simply Indians who have flooded it with their responses. 

And given Sachin's miraculous year and the knowledge that we are watching the last phase of the maestro's career lending a sepia tone to every innings of his even as we watch it, it is not surprising that Indians, and perhaps even a few Australians, would be swayed into making such a judgement. But on the basis of facts and hard logic, it's a false one. 

Certainly, Sachin has had to play against a far greater number of opponents and in different conditions. But in the other column, Bradman played on far tougher pitches, bearing the burden of a public stature every bit the equal of Sachin's. 


Tours then were far more gruelling affairs as well, often stretching up to almost half-a-year and encompassing a large number of first-class games in addition to the national fixtures. Factor in the lack of protection equipment, the stress of being unable to communicate with one's family for extended periods and the lack of financial security that today's players enjoy, and who is to say which of the two played under more pressure? 

So it comes down to statistics. And there, that famous average of 99.4 notched up by the Don is the first and last argument needed. But throw in the number of double centuries he made 11 to Tendulkar's 6 not to mention his long-standing record for highest Test score, the number of epochal and match-winning centuries and the consistency that saw him score a century every other match and it becomes clear. If a comparison has to be made, Bradman is the greatest.







Whether you call the almost concluded Commonwealth Games a success despite the odds or an embarrassing deflation of national pride depends on the degree to which you have assimilated a unique Indian characteristic the ability to 'add-just'. 

There's a subtle difference between 'adjusting' as the dictionary defines it, and 'add-justing' Indian freestyle. It is similar to the point that Harish Bhanot was trying to make when he propounded the now immortalised distinction between "their standards of hygiene and ours". 

For the world, to adjust means to adapt to circumstances. But 'add-justing' for us is sterner stuff. It is not about breaking or even bending rules, but rather about realigning them to suit a particular circumstance. In the process, regulations are de-boned, kneaded into shape and made supple and user-friendly. 

'Add-justing' is a social and economic lubricant. It is how 10 school kids and their satchels can be magically accommodated in an autorickshaw meant for three. It gives a doting father the confidence that he can get his son into medical college whatever the laggard's marks, because those in charge of admissions in the college can be persuaded to 'add-just'! At the political level, of course, everything including ideology, affiliation and affinity is routinely 'add-justed'. 

Everyone by now has heard of 'jugaad' the celebrated management technique that enables Indians to devise innovative answers to virtually every problem using meagre resources. Well, 'add-justing' takes up from where this quick fix, homegrown solution leaves off. The results of 'jugaad' are obviously never going to be totally satisfactory. This, then, is the cue for you to 'add-just' rather than whine about imperfections. When, for instance, you bite into an apple only to discover the rich flavour of chemical additives because someone along the food chain has used a 'jugaad' technique of ripening fruit, you don't rush out to protest. You simply trust that the next apple is better. Honestly, it's a method that works ask the Mumbai motorist. He has long since stopped complaining about roads because it is much easier to 'add-just' to the pot-holes. 

'Add-justing' fits like a glove with 'sustainability' that all-encompassing prescription for life and business that teaches you how not to destroy the world before the next generation can get their hands on it. It is here that the slum dog scores over the millionaire, because while the 'haves' live for themselves, the 'have-nots' have a lot more practice in 'add-justing' to the world around them. Nowhere is this more evident than in Dharavi Mumbai's heartland, and the world capital of 'zoppadpattis'. For decades, Dharavi was something that most residents of the metropolis hoped would vanish if kept under wraps long enough. But the city's underbelly did not disappear. 

Instead, it grew sexy and became an asset that could be flaunted. Now we have it on the authority of Prince Charles that the shanty town with its vast numbers gloriously 'add-justing' to dirt, dengue and cramped confines is a good sight, better than the residential projects of England. Dharavi, according to his highness, was an example of sustainable living because it had 'community capital' which the stiff upper-lipped environs of England's homes obviously lacked. 

So let's not worry ourselves sick wondering if the Commonwealth Games have become a national trophy to be cherished or a catastrophe to be blanked out of memory. The Brits may bitch, the Canadians can crib and the Kiwis will cackle. But sooner rather than later, they will forget and you and i will 'add-just'.








India's return to the United Nations Security Council is both a laudatory and a cautionary tale of diplomacy. The former because it has always been an embarrassment that a country that publicly aspires for a permanent seat to the council has not been able to get itself elected to a rotating seat since 1992. Further, its last serious attempt at getting such a seat was a case of pride coming before a fall: an overconfident Prime Minister I.K. Gujral declaring India a shoe-in and then losing the vote to Japan. India's win this year was certain given that it faced no opposition, but the margin of victory was large enough to be considered a sign of the country's relatively high global standing.


However, the real test for India will be to see how it votes and how it influences the nature of the UN's debate when it takes its seat next year. Being popular is a nice sentiment in a kindergarten, it indicates something else in geopolitical circles. It indicates a country that is unwilling to make hard decisions, whether in its own or the international interest. India will face no end of such decisions over the coming years. The most obvious is the issue of how the world will respond to Iran's illegitimate nuclear operations.


But that perennial problem, Palestine, as well as the nuclear non-proliferation treaty regime and North Korea, can be expected to make an appearance. The Indian delegate would prefer to take a bathroom break during such votes, but making tough decisions is part and parcel of being a responsible global power. So India should not shy away from taking positions that will make it less popular in parts of the world. In diplomacy, nice guys become irrelevant.


India will have two years to show it has the right stuff to be a permanent member — though Security Council reform remains a distant and arguably receding prospect during a time of economic recession and an absence of coherent leadership at the global level. Indians like to stress tangible numbers — economic growth rates, military numbers and the like — to show why their country is a great power-in-the-making. But it is the ability to apply such capability that is more important. The ability to propose solutions to global problems. The ability to put together a domestic political consensus to deliver on diplomatic promises. The ability to enact policies that may be unpopular at home and abroad but which are accepted as being in the greater good. There continues to be doubts about India's ability in these areas. The UN vote has given New Delhi an opportunity to prove these sceptics wrongs.







Those who believe that notoriety is better than anonymity, will agree that the mucky run-up to perhaps the most well-publicised Commonwealth Games in  in history served to market this anachronistic tribute to the erstwhile British Empire better than any public relations firm could have. But what was expected to be a damp squib, thanks to CWG Organising Committee chief Suresh Kalmadi and Co.'s shenanigans, is ending with a bang for Indian sports.


And it's not just our athletes who deserve that march to the podium, but also ordinary Dilliwallahs who, rather surprisingly, stuck to the script — and their lanes — much to their own surprise. From standing up for other countries' national anthems to bringing down the house every time India's was played, sports fans showed a sporting solidarity rarely on display beyond the cricketing pitch before. In fact, the biggest loser in the game was the sarkari babu. Right from expecting a 16,000-capacity stadium crowd to stand in hour-long queues for water from a meagre booth or two, to withholding tickets for major events; from making a big deal about stray comments in the foreign press to swatting genuine problems of volunteers and spectators aside, the State's lack of imagination was directly proportional to the common man's enthusiasm for joining in the Great Indian Gold Rush.


Scandals and scams aside, sports were in the spotlight like never before, as India cheered for previously unsung heroes who found their mark and shot, wrestled, served and volleyed their way into history and record books alike. So, as the curtain comes down on the razzle dazzle, a befitting tribute to their achievements would be to deal squarely with the ugliness that has been brushed temporarily under the carpet, and deal with all that did — and could have — gone horribly wrong.



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





October 11, 2010, was a day of glory, hope and shame for India. It was a day India touched — and would soon top — its best-ever medals tally at the Commonwealth Games. It was a day the money poured over 2010 into India by foreign institutional investors was set to touch a record R100,000 crore (or $21 billion). It was a day India was ranked 67 of 84 countries in a global hunger index.


The medals harvest cheered India like nothing else. New sporting heroes, particularly women, emerged from every corner of emerging India. We stopped ranting against that symbol of old India, Suresh Kalmadi, and started raving about the new, like Deepika Mahato, gold medallist in archery and daughter of a Ranchi auto driver. We were right in celebrating the few hundred sportsmen and women who made the long journey from backwater to big stage, from penury to plenty. They had new stories for us, and we wanted to hear them, to be inspired, to feel good.


But there are older stories that we do not like to hear. 


India's latest hunger ranking, delivered by the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington D.C., did not make it to television news. In the newspapers, it was buried, just another bad news story in a nation that, increasingly, does not like to hear such news.


The IFPRI's Global Hunger index ranks India in the 'alarming' group (the categories: moderate, serious, alarming and extremely alarming), below many failed States ruled by tyrants and despots. The ranking considers the number of children under five who are underweight, malnourished or wind up dead, particularly girls.


In Asia, everyone, except Bangladesh, which is just one rank below India, is doing better. China is at number nine, Pakistan at 59, Nepal at 56. India is bested by a host of tottering States, including Guinea-Bissau, Togo, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Rwanda and Zimbabwe.


Hunger is particularly inconvenient bad news. Unlike an ill-prepared Games pulled together at the last minute, there are no last-minute fixes.


India's approach to hunger has been to throw a programme at every failing. So, the world's largest programme for nutritional, health and school needs of children under six, the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), which runs 1.4 million centres nationwide with a budget of R7,806 crore for 2020-11. So, the world's biggest cooked-meal programme, covering 119 million children in government schools up to class VIII with a budget of R9,440 crore. So, the world's largest public distribution system (PDS) for subsidised food, with a budget of R55,578 crore. So, the world's biggest cash-for-work programme, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), with a budget of R40,100 crore. Hunger in India is definitely not a problem of resources.


Hunger persists despite spectacular economic expansion, and it is disproportionate to rising incomes. With per capita income crossing $1,000, India is now considered a middle-income country.


What, then, is the problem?


As this paper, through its 'Tracking Hunger' series ( has often reported, behind every story of hunger and malnutrition is a collective national apathy towards the poor, an unreformed, struggling agriculture sector, the low status of women and collapsing administration.


In addressing hunger, the biggest question is the same that arose before and during the Games in Delhi: who's in charge? That's the question Lant Pritchett, old India hand and professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, poses when he travels across the nation. He rarely gets a convincing answer. "India's basic systems are badly, badly broken," he told me. Evidence abounds in leaky multibillion-dollar, anti-hunger programmes: a quarter of the money spent on mid-day meals never reaches the poor, a third in the NREGA and more than half on the PDS. The failures of the PDS are especially acute. Only 36 per cent of its poor have below-poverty-line (BPL) cards to access cheap food. Nearly 60 per cent of these cards are with people who are not officially poor.


Can this be fixed? Universalise the PDS, says the left. Target it more sharply and pay the poor directly, says the free-marketers. There is an unsexy, boring idea: it's called reform. For instance, a PDS dealer has to go through an average of 18 levels to get grain.


Unlike the failed States ranked above India in the global hunger index, the government has not lost control — yet. Yet, there is no big-bang fix, just a hard slog ahead.


N.C. Saxena, member of India's influential National Advisory Council, believes most Indian states have lost the capacity for reform on their own. "That pressure to reform can come only from the government of India," he said. Right now, there is no such pressure.


As with the run-up to the Games, the government knows the problem. Unlike the Games, it shows no urgency or inclination to intervene, to set deadlines and targets, to pick programmes that need to be reformed, to — most importantly — put more people, administrators and politicians, in charge of national crises like hunger and malnutrition.


India's new stars could lend a hand. A major reason for India's high child malnutrition is the low status of women. They still eat last and least during pregnancy. As women's discus throw gold medallist Krishna Poonia, a Jat, noted: "Our community is known more for female foeticide… but so many Jat women have won medals; it proves what we can do — if we get the opportunity." India's undiscovered Poonias must have these chances, sooner than later, or we may be doomed to our hunger rankings — and everlasting shame.



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





By setting up the Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh or Population Stabilisation Fund (PSF), the Ministry of Health has recognised the urgent need to stabilise the country's runaway population growth. There are many reasons why parents, especially from the under-privileged section of our society, want more than two children: they feel not all of their young ones have a chance of survival or if they have a single child, he/she might not have the wherewithal to care for them in their old age.


In this article, I would like to suggest an idea for population stabilisation that can address the problem of financial insecurity of old people and can lead to a more stable and manageable population. The plan can also be economical to the nation, if seen from the principle of opportunity cost.


It has been estimated that a lower middle class family needs about R10 lakh to take care of a child till he/she is 20 years old. This cost may be borne by parents, the government or society. However, if the same resource (R10 lakh) is used for strengthening our education and health systems and other social infrastructure, it can become an opportunity cost for thousands of others.


So for example, if a family has three children, they would need R30 lakh for bringing them up. On the other hand, if we spend R1 lakh on a couple who agree to some form of sterilisation after the birth of their first/second child, in the long run, we would save R10/20 lakh, which otherwise would have been spent on the one/two unborn children.


This investment of R1 lakh can be parked with the National Pension Scheme or any other financial institution. It can be expected to grow to over R10 lakh in 20 years. At the end of 20 years, the financial institutions could use this amount to pay an interest to the parents. One can reasonably expect them to get more than R1 lakh a year for the rest of their life. After the younger/surviving spouse turns 60, the scheme may permit access to the capital as well. The annual payment to the parents would be made irrespective of the status of their children and be a reliable form of old age security. The government's PSF has done useful research and it too suggests a similar kind of deposit to benefit couples who opt for sterilisation.


The point that I wish to emphasise here is the nature of that deposit. I recommend that the government makes a deposit in the name of the parents (jointly or survivor) and to begin with, it can provide this incentive amount for a target of one lakh below poverty line couple every year. A rough estimate shows that if the total fertility rate is three and we are successful in sterilising one lakh couple after the first/second child is born, then the nation will save R20/10 lakh per couple respectively. The money that will be saved can then be spent in the form of increased outlay for services like health, education and infrastructure that would provide a better quality of life to the young citizens of India. If we make a bold attempt to make real deposits which will be valuable to parents after 20 years, we can have a great chance of stabilising the population of the country.


Naveen Jindal is Lok Sabha MP The views expressed by the author are personal



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES




Goddess Durga's face seems very familiar, doesn't it?

It will, silly, you see it every year, and hundreds of them.

I can wager my double crop yielding acres that the idol looks like Trinamool's Mamata Banerjee.

Someone might have taken her aphoristic ma-matimanush too far, deciding to model the clay idol out of the firebrand leader.

I heard that one of the pandals in Kolkata has been designed to resemble Writers' Building, the secretariat, that red citadel that the Trinamool and its ally Congress seek to capture in 2011...

Why? To serve as a reminder of their goals? Or to steel their nerves in case they develop stage fright?

Well, there is no denying the fact that Mamata has played her `pujo' card well, hogging the public space, designing idols, deciding themes and having fun.

What about the CPI(M), her arch nemesis?

Well, their ideology does put them at a disadvantage here...

Maybe they will send up silent, collective prayers to mitigate her influence, and hope that Didi's men spare them the role of asura.

Do say: We have allowed our mirth and festivities to be hijacked to serve as a political metaphor.
Don't say: With all the gluttony, who would care?


******************** *******************






It's an innovative idea: Kerala's industries department has invited proposals for a "cooling jacket", one that would provide some relief to workers toiling in the sun's harsh glare and also improve productivity. Heat and humidity, we know, are energy-sapping in the extreme. Before it was possible to condition the air to suit you, where you lived had a direct impact on your labour. The Spanish needed their siestas, the American South had a distinctly more languid culture. In fact, in the early 20th century, artificial climates were the stuff of science fiction novels. It was a fantasy of control, that human beings could create their own climate even in the most inclement of seasons. Now, air-conditioning has changed the nature of industrial manufacture. Much that we take for granted today — computers, pharmaceuticals, glass skyscrapers, precision equipment — would have been unthinkable without engineered indoor climate.


Whether it is Kerala's warm and soggy weather or the more dangerous, beating sunlight of the Gulf countries, Malayali workers certainly have a hard time of it, and climate-controlled clothing seems like the considerate thing to do. Not only does it enhance the individual worker's well-being, it can also have a dramatic impact on economic efficiency. Lee Kuan Yew has called air-conditioning one of the signal inventions of history, that transformed steamy Singapore into a thrumming economic engine, and made it possible to work at all hours of the day.


But weather is only one of the things that affects a hard day's work. A heavily unionised labour force can't be persuaded with technology alone. Welcome as this intervention is, if the Kerala government expects some cool new jackets to deter strikes among Kerala's famously mutinous workers, they have a snowflake's chance in hell.






Punjab, the cradle of the Green Revolution, and once the engine of India's development, has fallen behind in recent years. It is now one of India's slower-growing states. The primary reason is that its politics has failed to modernise itself. And the effects of this fact are now being felt within the Shiromani Akali Dal, which rules the state today in coalition with the BJP. The reformist finance minister, Manpreet Badal, has faced obstacle after obstacle in his years-long quest to place Punjab's finances on an even keel. Matters have come to a head; he was suspended from membership of the SAD, and, in response, he has submitted his resignation to the chief minister, his uncle Parkash Singh Badal.


How we got here is clear. The politics that Parkash Badal practises is that of the '70s and '80s, of patronage, subsidies and a mai-baap state. Even for a state as rich as Punjab, this politics will have a real and negative impact. Manpreet's fear is that the state's debt to the Centre — at one estimation, Rs 70,000 crore — will hobble its residents and its government budget for decades to come. He has argued consistently for reforms that will make it more possible for that debt to be repaid, through the reduction of subsidies, a restructuring of the tax base, and reorganisation of the state's public sector enterprises. At each point, entrenched interests within his party have scuttled his effort, causing him to complain in the press conference that precipitated the crisis of "bullying". When Punjab was offered a deal by the Union finance ministry — the forgiveness of half its debt burden, Rs 35,000 crore in return for rationalisation and reform of the sort that Manpreet has been warning is inevitable — he had publicised it as an honourable way out for a state that he feared would otherwise face bankruptcy and default within a few years. That road was not taken, blocked by those interests.


Where does Punjab go from here? The economics of the situation is inescapable. Punjab's politics will eventually have to catch up, implementing those reforms for which Manpreet Badal too has been arguing for years.







Industrial production, especially in manufacturing, has slowed down. This suggests that there is a need to moderate growth expectations about the Indian economy. A revision would be very much in line with what one might expect in a country that has deep links with the rest of the world, which is facing prospects of a double dip or a long and protracted recession. Even if India is doing relatively better than the US and Europe, it would not be right to assume that we are going to escape absolutely untouched.


In addition to the issue of what one can assume about growth prospects in the Indian economy, and related policy questions, one important question that the data release raises is that of the quality of data. IIP data is increasingly becoming suspect. The corporate sector has seen a sharp slowdown in profit growth; non-food credit growth has recently been showing signs of slowing down significantly. At the same time, few new project announcements are being made. New infrastructure project plans in power, roads, airports and ports have all slowed down sharply. Exports are no longer picking up. In addition, the CMIE Prowess data for firms shows that revenue from sales of the bulk of corporate India has grown at a mere 1.6 per cent in 2009-2010. This data is in nominal terms. If we account for the high inflation witnessed during the period, then it suggests negative sales growth. This data is in direct contradiction to what the IIP has been indicating for this period.


In July, IIP capital goods rose sharply. The reason: there was a huge surge in insulated cables and wires leading to a sharp rise in IIP capital goods. The following month this went away and capital goods slumped. The kind of volatility being seen in the data suggests that there are issues with coverage and the data series produced is not reliable. Unless good quality data and analysis is available any discussion of counter-cyclical fiscal and monetary policy will be unsatisfactory. The overall level of economic activity now shows signs of a slowdown compared to a couple of quarters ago. But as the Reserve Bank commented, "The high volatility over the past two months raises some doubts about how effectively the index reflects the underlying momentum in the industrial sector." This makes policy-making difficult.








 For many in India's foreign policy community, the humiliation at the United Nations in 1996 still rankles. In an ill-advised contest for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council, India managed to win the support of exactly 42 countries and lost by a margin of nearly 100 votes to Japan. India's near unanimous election then on Tuesday for the rotating Asian seat at the UNSC will certainly help erase the bitter memory of 1996.


The leadership of the Foreign Office is certainly aware that


India's real challenge this time is not about getting elected. It is about how India might respond to the major international crises and controversies that come up before the UNSC.


India had a harrowing time when it was last on the UNSC, during 1991-92. Asked to sit in judgment on the consequences of the US-led invasion of Iraq following Saddam Hussein's occupation of Kuwait, India came up short and confused.


Torn between India's traditional friendship with Saddam Hussein, the strong demands from the Arab friends from the Persian Gulf who supported the American liberation of Kuwait, and the expansive global security agenda that the US and Europe sought to craft after the Cold War, Indian diplomacy was simply paralysed.


When a UNSC summit "unanimously" approved a resolution in January 1992 declaring that the proliferation of nuclear weapons was a threat to international peace and security, then-Indian Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao found himself twisting in the wind.


The phrase "threat to international peace and security" is the UNSC code for collective action against a violator of presumed international norms. Delhi could not support the UN ordinance that could in future be directed at an Indian decision to acquire nuclear weapons.


Yet, India did not have the strength to stand up and oppose the resolution. The Foreign


Office had to summon all its skills at verbal jugglery to explain how India was neither in favour of nor against the "unanimous resolution" from the world's top leaders at the UNSC.


India has certainly come a long way from the early '90s when it was in the middle of a severe economic crisis and badly missed the Soviet Union, a reliable ally no longer on the world map.


India today is one of the world's leading economies. With its high growth rate, India is bound to emerge as a major power barring a series of major calamities.


While Delhi enters the UNSC on a confident note this time, not everyone is convinced India has the political will to take unambiguous positions on difficult international issues — Iran, North Korea and Sudan to name only a few.


Sceptics in Delhi wonder why India was so eager to get on the UNSC when it had so much trouble explaining its controversial votes at the International Atomic Energy Agency against Iran's nuclear proliferation.


The Foreign Office sees the election as an opportunity to press for reform of the UNSC and win that long coveted permanent seat. Whether the UNSC will ever agree on a new set of permanent members including India, the next two years will demand that Delhi answer far more important questions about itself.


Is Delhi prepared to accept the burdens that come with the rapid improvement of its international standing? What kind of great power does India want to be? The answers to these questions will depend upon how India will address the many current constraints on the making of its foreign policy.


The first constraint is resources. If India's small Foreign Office already finds it hard to cope with the expanding scope and intensity of its work, the demands from being a Security Council member can simply break its back.


Without an immediate expansion of the resources of the UN Divisions in the headquarters and the permanent missions in New York and Geneva, there is no way India can become an effective voice at the UNSC.


The second difficulty relates to a quick improvement in the coordination between the permanent missions, the various Indian embassies, and the headquarters in order to produce credible and decisive responses to issues on the UNSC agenda.


A third set of constraints are conceptual. For decades now, India has sought to prevent the international system from impinging on its freedom of action. As a member of the UNSC, India must begin to move beyond the notion of "strategic autonomy" and embrace the idea of "responsibility".


The distance between the two sets of concepts is real and large. Until now, India has had to either respect the rules others framed or become a conscientious objector. India must now see itself as a "rule-maker" and "rule-enforcer".


Besides bringing greater clarity on the questions of principle, India will need to display the operational skills to work with other members of the UNSC — permanent and non-permanent — to do deals on the margins, and risk alienating some nations who will be affected by the UNSC decisions.\


India will also need to maintain a fine balance between the necessary pursuit of its own national interest within the multilateral framework and the imperative of sharing some of the costs of maintaining the international order.


The final constraint is the inertia of the Indian political class. While economic reforms have given India much mass, the mindset of its political class remains trapped in the world of the '70s.


If the leadership of the UPA coalition is afraid of taking positions on international issues that might alienate one or another segment of political opinion at home or coping with new problems in dealing with friendly nations — large and small — Indian diplomacy can do very little at the UNSC.


One way or another, Delhi is now set on a new international adventure. The journey will hopefully compel India to rethink many of its traditional foreign policy assumptions, recast its international role, and reinforce its claim to be an important element of the global security order.








The Commonwealth Games, like other events of this scale, are an opportunity to theatrically stage the city that hosts it. They are a way for the city to dramatise its own environs and articulate a strategy for development. The regular drone of urban living is temporarily replaced by an upbeat mambo. And it is in this moment that the city can forge a new style statement, a new identity. For the duration of the Games, the city becomes an arena.


Historically, great and iconic works of architecture have been associated with these particularly fruitful moments, when the spirit of a place or time is sought to be expressed in a more lasting material. The first example that comes to mind is The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations, which took place in London in 1851, and was intended as a showcase for all the achievements of the Industrial Revolution and the global importance of Britain. The building of the Crystal Palace heralded the introduction of glass and steel, in elegant structures with distinctive design. Another iconic legacy, which now attracts 30 million tourists a day was the Eiffel Tower, built for the French exposition in 1889.


Paris, in fact, hosted expositions from 1855 to 1937, all more and more experimental, and built on the same two or three sites in the centre of the city, which added over time to the city's gardens, squares, bridges and boulevards and dotted it with memorials. Writers like Jean Giradoux have observed the delightful combination of the ephemeral and the permanent. In fact, many in France approved of the Eiffel Tower in the belief that it was only a temporary structure.


The second Olympic Games were hosted as part of the 1900 Exposition Universelle. As the years went by, the idea of the international exposition waned, but the Olympics hosted every four years have grown in stature and significance. Despite early talk of giving the Games a permanent site, the International Olympic Committee has always insisted that the event be staged in different cities, to be chosen through intense inter-city bidding and competition.


The building of stadia, sporting facilities and athletes' villages aside, events like this leave a lasting legacy in terms of public infrastructure. The public investment in infrastructure pays off for residents, and also for future visitors. The event ramps up the city's capacity to accommodate visitors and large-scale transport demands — which stands it in good stead with tourists later.


It brings the host city to global notice, draws tourists, and most importantly, gives the city a reason to make big, radical changes it would not undertake in the normal course. Tokyo improved its expressways, subways and inaugurated its "bullet trains" in 1964 when it was hosting the Games.


Seoul in 1988 made huge changes in housing patterns, and introduced several urban renewal schemes. From large commercial buildings to several new highways, a better waterworks and sewerage system, the improvement of the new, southern half of Seoul with new subway lines and apartment blocks.


Barcelona in 1992 harnessed the Olympics' impetus to transform its Ensanche district. It was a chance for the city to express its regeneration, and show how far it had come from the Franco regime. Faced with serious problems of urban decay in both inner and peripheral districts, town planners used the Games as a vehicle for citywide reforms. Olympic facilities were spread over four neglected urban areas, with the Olympic Village developed on abandoned industrial land close to the coast. Six artificial beaches were created on either side of the Olympic Port.


And in this mass-mediated age, the stakes are even higher. The city has to impress not just the visitors and the athletes, but also the large and dispersed global audience following the sporting events on television and the Web. Any big-name sporting event, whether the World Cup or Formula One racing championships or the Olympics, now reaches millions of people, and the city that is the venue has to grab the chance to show its best face to those watching. Sports events then create the conditions for further development — for instance, the F-1 racing track to be created in Delhi will create another opportunity for new housing, offices and commercial retail developments.


Whether its big focus is on urban regeneration or international prestige, the deadline of a big event like the Commonwealth Games can energise planners and systems like nothing else. Such sporting events are a much-needed shot of adrenaline for otherwise sluggish cities.


The writer is a Delhi-based architect







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 per cent have married at least once. Yes, this number used to be higher— it peaked at 93 per cent 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 specialised 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 labour-saving technology from the washing machine to the robot vacuum cleaner, there's much less benefit from either spouse specialising 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 specialised 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.




The author, 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








Contrary to the impression that the Commonwealth Games are a greenhouse for the games spread by empire — netball, rugby sevens, hockey (and then the obvious question, why not cricket too?) — team sports are rather new to the event. They debuted in 1998, and Kuala Lumpur also had a cricket medal. Now, with the Indian national teams for hockey and cricket pulling out their best this week and with India getting its first shot at a big hockey gold in years, it is perhaps an apt moment to consider the two sports at this juncture and tackle a forever open question: how much does a medal weigh?


It is a mathematical quest with fans of multi-sport events to answer that one, to find the true worth of a silver in comparison with a gold or a bronze. Tellingly, the argument revealed itself most graphically when China tore past the United States to top the gold tally at the 2008 Olympics: while most tables put China first in the overall ranking, some American tallies persisted in placing the US first, with the overall numbers of medals (gold plus silver plus bronze).


The protocol, of course, is to count the golds first. On the sidelines of multi-sport events like the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, however, you are bound to find folks redoing the arithmetic, and arguing that the three medals should be weighted (so many points perhaps for a gold, silver and bronze) to get a more realistic picture.


Ignore them. Gold's gold, and its supremacy heeds the spirit of excellence that underwrites competitions. Being best in one event cannot be bettered by second finishes in a dozen others.


It may be slightly trickier when counting one gold against another. Take these Commonwealth Games. Australia are the best hockey team in the world, and as Indian coach Jose Brasa will tell you, they also play the most entertaining hockey. India, inheritors of a once proud tradition who touched their lowest point ever two years ago by not qualifying for the Olympics, know what it means to compete against the best, and not just another Commonwealth country. Gold or silver, to be locked with the keenest competitor is to be on a possible recovery curve (Australia have not dropped a match at any Commonwealth Games).


Does the medal that will be the Indian hockey team's today compare with the cartloads being wheeled away from shooting venues, even if we equate gold for gold, silver for silver. Can we undertake the dry comparison on a ledger?


Oddly, while the question is often posed for other team sports at multi-sport events, to look at a hockey medal's worth is not really to get into book-keeping — but to inquire into how hockey is unique amongst other team sports. Unlike any other popular team sport, hockey sorts out its heroes at multi-sport events — it is alone amongst them to hold the Olympics gold as its highest reward. Every other coveted title — World Cup, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, Champions Trophy — is a halt on the road.


Football does not even care to allow a country to field its best possible team at the Olympics. Its greatest prizes are elsewhere, the World Cup and league titles. Basketball's superpower, the US, actually opposed moves to allow NBA players to participate in the Summer Games, 1992 onwards, for fear of the effects of lop-sided results. While Argentina nudged the US out of that complacency by taking the gold in 2004, the NBA remains a top basketballer's field of dreams.


Cricket inhabits its own self-contained universe, and the statistics do not yield unfalsifiable assertions of supremacy. As we found out this week. To repeatedly deny Australia a Test series win in India is to keep that country's domination in question. The sport also stands splintered into three strands — Test, one-day, Twenty20 — and the capacity of Test cricket to keep itself the marker of greatness is the most tantalising uncertainty of the game today.


Tests, in any case, do not submit to multi-nation tournaments. And while one-day internationals allowed cricket a quadrennial gathering of national teams, it's still too unwieldy to adhere to the snappy momentum of multi-sport competition. The Kuala Lumpur experiment was a disaster, not just for reasons of crowd interest, but also for the surliness of cricket's administrators to adjust their international schedule. In 1998, India split the team, so that one could be sent to Canada for the Sahara Cup.


Popularity of the shortened T20 format has revived plans for the inclusion of cricket, and lobbying's been on to get it the status of an Olympic sport — always a risky thing for the reigning teams to wish for, because once that status is confirmed, China's sport policy kicks nation-wide promotion into swing! However, the BCCI could not be persuaded to pull in its weight for the quest by making the introduction of cricket at the Asian Games a success; it cited prior commitments as inviolable.


Hockey, however, sends out its champion teams. More interestingly, it is the common pursuit of that Olympic gold, and all the preparation other competitions provide for this holy grail, that's perhaps kept the game so responsive to changing needs. Astroturf has given hockey speed as well as immense portability. Hockey's strained to keep itself absorbing. Rolling substitutions and the no-offside allowance made the game pacier in a way that left purists gasping at the shrinking space for exhibiting dribbling skills. But as the Australian women's coach Frank Murray points out, going into the 2008 Olympics it was nonetheless felt that the game was getting boring. The subsequent self-pass reform took care of that, and as happens each time hockey changes its rules, the effect is a greater number of goals per match. Till the new rules become the new normal, and another change is considered.


So, watch India take on Australia this afternoon. But wonder too at the inadequate affection hockey draws for constantly changing in a never-changing quest. In a world of burgeoning options, it keeps its eye on those lone medals redolent of all its history and traditions.








Taking objection to Rahul Gandhi's remarks equating the RSS with the SIMI, a senior BJP functionary writing in the party's fortnightly Kamal Sandesh has dared the UPA government to ban the RSS. "What prevents the Congress from doing so if it stands by its conviction?" he asks.


"As a corollary to what Rahul says, it means that the activities of the RSS are as unlawful as those of the banned SIMI. If both Rahul and Congress stand by their words, the RSS too should be banned and the Congress-led UPA is very much competent to do so," Amba Charan Vashishth says. Referring to Gandhi, he says, "Experience and intelligence are gained and earned, these traits cannot be gifted or inherited."


Interestingly, he quotes some observations made by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru about the RSS and argues they were impressed by the sense of duty and discipline and devotion and nationalism exhibited by the outfit. "By hurling invectives against the RSS, Rahul Gandhi has himself condemned what the Father of the Nation and his great maternal grandfather had said about the RSS."


Speaking of dialogue


The latest edition of the RSS mouthpiece Organiser carries an interview of sarkaryavarh Bhaiyaji Suresh Joshi in which he argues that the outfit was "always open" to dialogue and points out that while there is no such proposal before it now "if any such initiative come before us we will respond then."


At the same time, he argues that verdict of the Allahabad high court was very clear and "there is no practical sense for the Muslims in holding on to the one-third of the land, now that the court has clearly stated that it is Ram Janmabhoomi and that there existed a temple."


He adds, "So it is natural for the Muslims to ask if it is allowed under the Islamic tenets to build a mosque on such a land? We only expect that under such a situation as a gesture of goodwill the Muslim community offer the one third to the Hindus and cooperate in the building of the magnificent temple for Sri Ram" he says.


In what could be an oblique reference to the BJP, Joshi — in reply to a question on whether the atmopshere for temple construction will come — says the RSS believes the Ram temple movement was led by saints, Shankaracharyas and heads of various Hindu traditions. "Many organisations, institutions and individuals have joined this stream" and he points out that "there should not be any politics" in the mission of building the temple.


Infilitration in the east


In the light of communal violence in West Bengal's Deganga region, a front page article in RSS official voice Panchjanya says that it has become clear that trouble in this border area created by "jihadi elements" was pre-planned and supported by anti-India forces.


Quoting preliminary investigations, it says hardline Muslim jihadi elements are planning to uproot Hindus from the India-Bangladesh border areas so that infiltration from both sides can happen unhindered. The article accuses local Trinamool Congress MP, Nurul Islam, of encouraging and leading the jihadi elements in creating trouble.


It says that both SIMI and HuJI are active in these border areas. "Despite being banned, the activities of these organisations are regularly taking place in these areas. Meetings are being organised and new members are being inducted" it says and accuses the Left-front government of not paying enough attention to the developments.


Compiled by Manoj C.G.







Dear Chief Minister S. Parkash Singh Badal Ji,


Ever since I joined public service 15 years ago in Gidderbaha, I have looked upon you with a respect and awe for your political sagacity and ability to take people along. No one in Punjab enjoys your stature, and people like me have been blessed to enjoy your association not only as your minister, but on a more personal note to be member of what used to be a very close knit family.


I also remember the day, when as a five-year-old I canvassed for the first time. I stood on the dais in Gidderbaha asking people to vote for you. I even remember the exact words I spoke, "Mere taiyaji nu vote pao". My political career may have started that day. But it was in 1995, when you chose me to take on the might of the Beant Singh Government, that I genuinely cut my political teeth. That day you and my father jointly blessed me. More important is that you taught me not to bend before injustice, and to stand up for what is right. That is a lesson which I value and will continue to value throughout my life. It was not easy those days. As I realise now, it is not easy even today. Standing up for what is right may never be easy in times to come.


There comes a time in the life of an individual when he or she has to take a principled position which is based on what is right. This is consistent with the core values on which I base my politics. And this decision, which I take today, is supported by the lesson that I learnt from you and my father on that fateful day in 1995.


During the four terms as MLA, and for almost four years now, as the Finance Minister of Punjab, all my decisions have been guided by just one aim ¿ to serve the best interests of Punjab and Punjabis. All my decisions have been founded on the bedrock of one principle — that each decision and opinion has to be well thought out and should be supported by informed facts.


In serving the best interests of the state of Punjab, I have consistently refused to accept ill-informed opinions based on self-interests of conceited individuals. I have refused to compromise on the issue of principles, and I have not allowed myself to be dictated by vested parties. When I embarked upon the reform process in Punjab, these self-serving interests, who are unable to look beyond their bank balances, refused to take a careful look at the balance sheet of Punjab.


When I tried to take a step, attempts were made to shackle my feet. When I tried to speak, my voice was sought to be muzzled. When I tried to move, I was sought to be restrained. When I tried to serve the best interests of Punjab, personal interests tried to derail me.


But I refused to be cowed down. Because I know that my intentions are clear and my heart is in the right place. I refuse to be intimidated by a fringe of lumpen party men who wish to drown the voice of reason by their decibel levels.


The panic reaction within a section of the Shiromani Akali Dal after I spoke about unburdening Punjab of its debt is confounding. It not only speaks of a lack of political maturity, but also of a low level of self-confidence and esteem in the party. Coming from the second oldest political party in the country, which did not bend before the British during the pre-Independence days and was the vanguard of freedom of expression during the emergency days, this reaction is unexpected. Is the party edifice now so weak that it cannot even discuss issues; and that all party resources, the bureaucracy and police are being marshaled so that the issue that I raised should not be discussed? More than that, I am saddened by what has happened inside the party as well. Stalwarts of the party, who were famous and generals who took on terrorists during the dark days, have today been reduced to foot soldiers. They are being forced to kowtow to new entrants who have neither political acumen nor administrative experience. Frankly, I can only pity such former stalwarts and I will not join them. I do wish them luck so that they can continue to reap the benefits of kowtowing.


I will now touch the issue of debt burden of Punjab, which I have been discussing with you all along. I am willing to stake my entire political career on the issue of Punjab finances.


I thought the attempt to remove the stigma of debt from the face of Punjab would be lauded. But it seems that a certain section in the party wants Punjab to continue to be debt ridden. I do not accept this premise. I thought that only our enemies would wish that Punjab continues to remain debt ridden. But just to reiterate, what I have told you and the council of ministers repeatedly, that if immediate remedial steps are not taken, Punjab will default on its repayments in another 2-3 years.


I would rather spend a few difficult years today, than allow opportunities for an entire generation to be wiped out just because some leaders do not understand elementary economics — i.e. you can only spend if you have the money. Scores of farmers committed suicide during the past decades because of the debt trap. And now, a few self-concerted individuals want Punjab to follow the same route. I will not accept this.


The stakes for Punjab are very high. It is a question of the very survival of the well-being of the state, as well as that of the next generation. My personal stakes are very low. It is a question of Punjab's honour and I shall continue to strive for its rightful place under the sun.


Positions are not important, prestige is. Ministries are not important, honour is.


Keeping in view the above mentioned facts, I hereby resign from the position of Finance Minister of the Punjab.


Dear CM Sahib, I am proud of the day in Gidderbaha in 1995, when after 17 years, my victory was responsible for the revival of political fortunes of the Shiromani Akali Dal. Today, I cannot contribute to the decline.


Jai Hind.


The writer was, until Tuesday, finance minister, government of Punjab








With close to 60% of Indians connected with mobile phones, the government can afford to bask in the glory of a major development goal being handsomely achieved, and mostly with private sector effort. Most in the industry, however, have known for a long time that the 706 million subscriber number was exaggerated due to the presence of multiple SIM cards, not just with corporate entities (think of the number of cards ONGC has) but even with individuals (why do you suppose so many handset firms are advertising dual-SIM phones?). Just how exaggerated was the question. A news report in this paper said yesterday that over a third of the SIM cards are inactive. That is, while 706 million cards showed up in the Home Location Register of telcos at the end of August, just 450 million appeared in the Visitor Location Register, which deals with active customers. One possibility, so that people get the real picture, is to release both sets of data simultaneously.


While it is good to know the real picture of India's teledensity, and there are several in the industry who don't believe that the 450 million number portrays the correct picture either, a lower teledensity suggests a greater room for growth than was previously believed. It is unlikely to make too much of a difference as far as investors are concerned since they stopped looking at just subscriber numbers long ago, preferring instead to look at these in conjunction with the average revenue per user (ARPU). Simple maths tells you that if the subscriber base has fallen a third, then ARPUs are up 56%, given that telcos' revenue remain the same. The other, and major reason, for hiking up subscriber numbers in the past was the subscriber-linked spectrum policy. Under that policy, extra spectrum was given on the basis of the number of subscribers a firm had. Several companies then found it viable to give out connections virtually free, since the cost involved in this was a small fraction of the value of the spectrum they'd get eventually. This policy has for all practical purposes died a natural death, with the principle of auctioning accepted in the 3G case; there is, however, some possibility that the newer licensees will get another 1.8 MHz of spectrum free, beyond the 4.2 MHz they got when they started business, based on the old subscriber norms. So feel bad about the fact that not as many Indians are connected as you thought, but feel happy for the growth possibility this suggests, and the fact that the incentive to fudge is a lot less now.







When the idea of the Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC) was formulated, it appeared as if the finance ministry wanted to slowly take several of the functions of RBI. The backdrop was the feeling, in sections of the ministry, that RBI should just target inflation, that a UK-style


Financial Services Authority in charge of overall financial stability be tried out; this was the time when there were several publicised differences between the ministry and RBI on whether interest rates should be hiked; more recently, while the RBI has said it is worried about forex inflows, the finance ministry's view is more sanguine. And when Sebi and Irda disagreed on Ulips, and the RBI-chaired High Level Coordination Committee (HLCC) wasn't able to resolve this, the finance minister went ahead with a Bill in July to provide a joint mechanism to resolve inter-regulator differences, a Joint Committee that is to be headed by the minister.


Seen against this backdrop, yesterday's decision that the FSDC would, while being chaired by the FM, have just one committee looking after both financial stability and inter-regulator coordination (to be chaired by the RBI Governor) seems a welcome move—in the earlier proposal, the financial stability committee was to be headed by the finance secretary while the RBI Governor was to head the inter-regulator committee. Had this happened, RBI Governor Subbarao had said, it would impinge on regulatory autonomy and flexibility. Had the financial stability committee taken a view different from the RBI Governor on forex inflows, for instance, it would have hamstrung the RBI while dealing with money supply and inflation.


Now that the FSDC will be a gentler form of itself, possibly modelled along the lines of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, the question is whether things are better. As in all things, it's a good idea to see how things work on the ground, but what's not clear is how the HLCC and the proposed Joint Committee fit in with all this. A confusing souffle.








The CAG's attempts to prick holes in telecom minister A Raja's defence just don't seem to stop and that, of course, is why new telecom secretary R Chandrashekhar is trying to gag the CAG through an opinion that's bad in law (more on this later), with the support of the law ministry. It appears that in its hurry to favour a few firms, the CAG says Raja's ministry never even checked if these companies had got their paperwork right.


So, in the case of Loop Telecom, a software company, the CAG pointed out, while the company submitted its application on September 3, 2007, the company's articles of association, which were altered to allow it to enter the telecom business, were registered with the Registrar of Companies (RoC) only on September 28, 2007—three days after the cutoff date of September 25, 2007. The resolution that allowed it to raise its capital from Rs 5.2 crore to the required Rs 131 crore was submitted to the RoC on October 29, 2007 and was certified by the company secretary only in December. The same thing happened in the case of others like Unitech and Allianz Infratech—as many as 72 licences of the 122 given out, the CAG says, were given to applicants who did not meet the eligibility criterion prescribed. Had they been asked to fulfil the criterion, this would have pushed them down the spectrum queue and, given the shortage, they'd never have got any.


What's hilarious is the way the ministry has replied to the CAG's comments. So why didn't the ministry address the issue of getting the best price for the licences, the CAG asked? "Government treats the telecom sector as infrastructure sector where the broad policy of taxes and regulation…are promotional and where revenue considerations play a secondary role"; the issue of auctions to get the best entry fee is dismissed as "incidental entry fee".


Wasn't it unfair to allow Reliance Communications to get a GSM licence a day before the new dual technology policy was announced, more so given that Tata Telecom applied for the GSM licence only after the policy was announced and so never even got all the spectrum it applied for, the CAG asked. The ministry says the decision on dual technology was taken on October 17, 2007, Reliance, HFCL and Shyam Telecom got an in-principle approval on October 18 and the policy was announced on October 19, and then "since no application of M/s Tata Teleservices for dual technology was pending with the Department, it was not given LoI on 18/10/2007 along with others… in view of above it may be seen that no undue benefits were given to Reliance Communications...'! Really cute, huh?


What of the fact that the telecom secretary and the member finance were of the view a more detailed discussion was called for before handing out the licences on the cheap? The ministry's reply to CAG says, "Hon'ble MoC&IT (that's A Raja) observed on the file '...These types of continuous confusions observed on the file whoever be the officer concerned does not show any legitimacy and integrity but only their vested interest'…"


Were valuable national assetssquandered? What's important, the ministry said, was that teledensity had improved dramatically. "It is pointed out that in March 2007, the rural tele-density was only about 6% and the total tele-density was about 18%…It is only after May, 2007 when Hon'ble MoC and IT took over … and particularly after the grant of new UAS licences in 2008, the teledensity … started increasing at an unprecedented rate … by June 2010, the rural teledensity has increased to about 26% and the all-India teledensity has reached 57%". In other words, the ends justify the means. Well Trai data show new licensees like Loop, HFCL, Sistema, Unitech, STel and Videocon had just 18 mn of the country's 635.5 mn subscribers at the end of June 2010. Sure Reliance and Tata, both beneficiaries of the new dual technology regime, had 111 mn and 72 mn respectively, but this is not out of line with their subscriber base growth before they got their new GSM licences, as well as the overall industry growth.


There is then the question of whether Chandrashekhar is right when he said the CAG has no jurisdiction to look at government policy.


Interestingly, when the CAG asked Raja's ministry why it never asked an EGoM to look into the matter, the ministry said "the need for forming an EGoM arises when a new policy is being framed. Whereas, in this particular issue, no new policy…was being framed"! That is, Raja was just issuing licences as per the current practice. Well, all such licence issues can be appealed under Section 14 of the Trai Act.


What do the courts have to say about this? When, in 2001, the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) said it could not examine the Wireless in Local Loop policy as its purview didn't extend to government policy (the argument Chandrashekhar is making now), the SC said it was indeed part of the TDSAT's jurisidiction—the lawyers for the cellular operators who had filed the case were P Chidambaram (currently home minister) and G Vahanvati (currently Attorney General).


In the current case, one of the aggrieved parties, STel, went to the high court, which ruled Raja's actions were wrong. The court's division bench upheld the judgement, and even the SC refused to turn down this judgment. What was STel appealing? The same decision that is now being called 'policy'. Well, the highest court in the land thinks it can be appealed. So what is the ministry talking about?


Sir Walter Scott would have described it saying "Oh! What a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!" but I much prefer Raja's "these types of continuous confusions observed on the file whoever be the officer concerned does not show any legitimacy and integrity but only their vested interest".







The news about Paramount Airways and Oriental Insurance Company is interesting as it opens up a debate on a larger question on credit cover in the form of credit insurance. This is even more relevant, given the backdrop of the financial crisis, which has brought credit risk to the forefront. A debate is necessary, even though there have not been many instances of such defaults leading to turmoil in the financial sector.


The case is quite straightforward. We have an airline company that took a guarantee from a set of banks against which it bought fuel from oil companies. These loans were covered by an insurance company for credit default. Now the company is unable to pay, invoking the guarantee, which means that the banks have to pay the oil company. The banks, in turn, claim the loss on the account from the insurance company. As a result, Irda has decided to do away with such credit insurance schemes until a regulatory structure is put in place. The problem is significant because the insurance company did not reinsure these loans. Reinsurance would have helped diversify the risk across more players.


Credit insurance schemes are generally used for foreign trade and not commonly used by banks to cover defaults on their books. Banks covering credit risk is not uncommon in countries like the US where insurance can be procured on loans. AIG had to pay banks when the CDOs failed, and the rest as they say, is history. Credit default swaps can also be used, wherein the third party picks up the risk in exchange for a fee—the swap spread.


In India, RBI has published guidelines for CDS for bonds to make the market more robust. However, bank loans are not covered. Thus, credit insurance does appear to be a fairly good form of financial engineering for diversifying risk and expanding business—for the borrower, lender, guarantor and cover provider. This way banks would be better able to lend or provide a guarantee when loans are on the borderline.


Irda has recently barred insurance companies from selling such policies as it felt that the market is not transparent and has little regulatory oversight. The participants from different segments covering different financial arenas has led to a regulatory overlap. The concern is that insurance companies may not be sufficiently equipped to evaluate such loans when providing a cover. The system can, therefore, be gamed by intermediaries who could get the borrower to actually pay the premium to the insurance company, embedded in the bank guarantee cost for the bank. Hence, the risk from one sector would get transferred to the insurance segment, jeopardising the balance sheets of these companies. There has been reason for separating the banking sector from the insurance sector and while this concept of credit guarantee would work well in good times, it could be destabilising in times of crisis.


From a bank's point of view, this raises issues of the quality of credit appraisal. Banks that are insured would be tempted to be more liberal in credit appraisals, knowing that the insurance company is there to back it up. In fact, the reason for a bank's intermediation job is that it bridges the information asymmetry between savers and borrowers, and takes on risk based on its superior credit skills, earning a spread on the money. If they were to go back to the insurance company, however, then they are not efficient.


Theoretically, insurance companies should insure any product that carries risk. But, when there are efficient derivative markets that price risk well, insurance companies should not participate—they are not equipped to gauge this risk. Alternatively, insurance companies could hone their skills and have a proper line of business where credit is insured.


A solution here is to take recourse to the CDS market and allow a bank to get cover from it. This implies that RBI should open the CDS market for bank loans as well, possibly in the second stage of expansion.


The author is chief economist, CARE ratings. These are his personal views







That's OFFthe record


After one newspaper embarrassed the Prime Minister by publishing his off the record briefing to various editors, the MEA's brass was doubly careful when External Affairs minister SM Krishna met editors yesterday. Though Krishna was quite candid in his views, at the end the MEA brass said all China-related comments were off the record. This was then repeated for the benefit of the newspaper that broke the rules during the PM's briefing.


Mutual benefit

After the NSE and the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority (Irda) went into overdrive to do some concept selling, the Association of Mutual Funds in India (Amfi) is planning to do the same for mutual funds. Over ten creative agencies are pitching for this Rs 10-15 crore business.


Early this year, Irda had come with 'Bima Bemisaal' campaign to popularise insurance products, while NSE came up with campaigns like 'Make investing a habit, bit by bit". What could be Amfi's message?


Mutual benefit?






The Taming of the Shrew is classified as a Shakespearean comedy but goodly numbers experience it as dismal, tragic. As in life, so in literature. What makes one person laugh makes another feel wretched. But in the face of complexity, categories help. If you are diving into the Shakespearean canon, the comedies-tragedies-histories-sonnets divisions helps you get set and go. But to take matters beyond this is folly, one that the Man Booker prize has fondly embraced. Till this week, when a 'comic novel' by Howard Jacobson came up trumps. Perhaps Peter Carey didn't find this funny for he was in the running for Booker no 3. On the flip side, this was Jacobson's third shot too. He had been unsuccessfully long-listed in 2002 and 2006. Chairman of the judging panel, former British poet laureate Andrew Motion described Jacobson's The Finkler Question as either a very funny book with very sad bits or a very sad book with very funny bits. So much for a clear definition of a comic novel. Jacobson has tagged himself, among other things, as a Jewish Jane Austen. Was Austen a comic novelist? As you ponder the matter, here is an excerpt from the award-winning novel:


'Cheer up,' people would say to him in the canteen. But all that did was make him want to cry. Such a sad expression, 'Cheer up'. Not only did it concede the improbability that he ever would cheer up, it accepted that there could be nothing much to cheer up for if cheering up was all there was to look forward to.








The rescue of miners trapped in the bowels of the earth in Chile's San Jose mine in Copiapo has inspired awe and admiration round the world — for the way humanitarian values fused with state-of-the-art technology to score an unparalleled and moving triumph. To keep 33 miners trapped in a gold and copper mine 700 metres under the earth's surface safe and in reasonably good physical and mental health for 69 days was a challenge with few precedents. On Wednesday, the world exulted as 31-year-old Florencio Avalos, who had done wonders for the morale of his comrades, emerged from a special rescue capsule. The workers whose bare-chested images in their sweltering dwelling had become familiar to people worldwide were reborn, thanks to a modern-day secular miracle. Those who were reunited with their families naturally felt that life meant much more to them now. Some wanted more attention devoted to safety. The operation was executed with tremendous preparation, precision, and orderliness, without which there would have been no question of success. There are heart-warming stories such as those of 19 year-old Jimmy Sanchez, the youngest member of the group who preserved himself with thoughts of his two-month-old daughter, and 63-year-old Mario Gomez, who has been working the mines from the age of 12 and was thinking of retiring when the world seemed to come down around him. Happily, they have won their freedom weeks earlier than was thought possible.


There are several lessons in disaster management to be learnt from this heroic rescue. Most important was the commitment of the Chilean authorities led by President Sebastian Pinera in pursuing the complicated rescue plan. Although the government made the ill-advised move to reopen the mine two years ago despite a fatal accident in 2007, it lost no time in seeking international expertise to come up with the capsule-and-winch plan. U.S. expertise in drilling and a NASA-aided design effort for the capsule — appropriately named Phoenix — proved to be a big winner. The grit and determination of the families of the trapped workers, and the trust they sustained in the rescue operation, were crucial factors behind its success. Medical science was intelligently deployed to provide adequate nutrition for those trapped (including a diabetic who was pulled out quite early in the operation) and keep their morale high by ensuring regular exercise. The miners could send up pictures that reassured their families and ensured emotional well-being. A tube to deliver glucose, rehydration tablets, and high-protein and high-calorie food to the miners proved to be a lifeline. Workers in all countries, particularly those risking life and limb in hazardous occupations, will see in the Chilean ordeal hope for change — that in its wake, the world will pay greater attention to worker safety.







India's election as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council after a gap of 19 years shows how differently it is perceived by the world compared with 1996, the last time it contested and lost to Japan. Only 42 countries voted for India then. This time there were no other contenders for the Asia seat that Japan vacates at the end of December 2010 but the backing of 187 out of 192 countries for India's entry into the UNSC — only its seventh time since 1946 — speaks for itself. Getting the seat was only a small part of the challenge. The bigger trial lies ahead in the course of the two-year term, when India will be called upon to take positions on crucial global issues of war and peace. As a rising economic power that is seen as a strategic partner of the United States in Asia and routinely juxtaposed against China, India will be critically scrutinised for the stand it takes on the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the sanctions and threats against Iran, the Darfur crisis in Sudan, and the Palestine question. Each is a test for the independence of Indian foreign policy. Even though the council is dominated by the P-5, New Delhi must ensure that it makes its voice heard without being seen as anyone's stooge.


For India, this is a timely break to push for the expansion of the UNSC and its own case for permanent membership. As Minister of External Affairs S.M. Krishna has pointed out, the P-5 are not at all enthusiastic about opening their club to others. But the present configuration of the Security Council should help in projecting the argument that the permanent membership needs to reflect the changed realities of the world. Of the Group of Four countries in the forefront of the campaign for U.N. reforms, Japan will soon serve out its term in the UNSC; Brazil was elected last year; and India will take its place alongside Germany. South Africa, a key player in the IBSA grouping of emerging economic powers along with India and Brazil, has been elected. Further, all four countries in BRIC — the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, and China — are now represented in the UNSC. Amidst these propitious circumstances, a note of caution needs to be sounded: having a burning problem in Kashmir ill serves New Delhi's aspirations of joining the international big league. The good augury is that Pakistan was among the countries that voted for India to take its place in the Security Council.









At an informal interaction with members of the Indian strategic community during the visit to New Delhi of General James Jones in July, an American official asked whether there was any decision the Obama administration could take that would be as 'totemic' for the bilateral relationship as the Bush administration's July 2005 offer of a nuclear deal had been.


When it was suggested that an endorsement of India's candidature for a permanent seat in a reformed United Nations Security Council might arguably fit the bill, one official said the question was indeed being studied actively in Washington as part of the preparatory work for President Barack Obama's November visit. "But any decision will likely depend on our assessment of the extent to which India is likely to play a responsible role as a permanent member".


I was reminded of that conversation when External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna told journalists on Wednesday that India's election as a non-permanent member of the UNSC with the support of 187 of the world body's 192 member states provided an opportunity for the country to "establish its credentials and credibility in handling issues which come up with a degree of responsibility."


The key question, of course, is the metric one uses to measure "responsibility". As the principal empowered organ of the U.N. system, the Security Council deals with questions of international security that are often intensely political. During the Cold War, the rivalry between the United States and the former Soviet Union meant the biggest questions of war and peace tended to be settled far away from the horse-shoe table around which the 15 members of the UNSC sat. But ever since the end of the bipolar division of the world, the work of the Security Council has undergone a quantitative and qualitative transformation. Consider this statistic. Prior to 1990, the total number of resolutions passed by it over 45 years was 646. In the 20 years since then, however, a total of 1295 resolutions have been passed, the last being No. 1942 of September 29, 2010, authorising a temporary increase in the military and police personnel contingents of UNOCI, the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire.


India, incidentally, has sent soldiers for that operation and has historically been one of the top contributors to U.N. peacekeeping efforts around the world. Much of the UNSC's expanded docket has to do with the increase in peacekeeping responsibilities, the discharge of which is mostly without major controversy. But political considerations come into play on issues where the United States and its allies, especially Israel, or other big powers, have their own stake and want the Security Council to take a decision on a particular course of action. It is on these sorts of questions that India's performance as a "responsible stakeholder" in the international system will likely be tested.


Consider an example. In June this year, Brazil and Turkey, both non-permanent members of the Security Council, voted against a resolution imposing new sanctions on Tehran. Both countries had just helped to broker a crucial agreement under which Iran would have sent out a considerable part of its low-enriched uranium stock in exchange for the eventual supply of medical-grade enriched uranium for use in a research reactor. That agreement might well have served as a first step in the process of building confidence and trust between Iran and the West but the U.S. went out of its way to scuttle those prospects by insisting on the imposition of new punitive sanctions.


In the eyes of many if not most countries, Brazil and Turkey acted highly responsibly by voting against the sanctions resolution and insisting that the U.N. pursue the path of diplomacy and compromise rather than confrontation and coercion. How might India have voted had it been on the Security Council this summer? Would it have voted against, like Ankara and Brasilia? Or abstained, like Lebanon? Or voted for the resolution, like the remaining 12? Around the time the issue was being discussed, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and senior Indian officials had said on the record that India did not believe the imposition of sanctions would help resolve anything. Having helped to send the Iran file to New York by voting with the United States at the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2005 and 2006, India now realises the Security Council has not played a particularly useful role in finding a peaceful solution to the problem. But it is one thing to criticise sanctions in abstract and another to cast a negative ballot at the Security Council. When such a situation arises again, as it surely will in the next two years, there will be no shortage of pundits in India who will argue that New Delhi has more to gain by siding with the U.S. than by sticking to its position. "There is no way we can become a permanent member if we antagonise Washington", we will be told, so let us use our non-permanent seat to demonstrate how "responsible" we really are.


The problem, of course, is that whatever Washington's expectations might be, the rest of the world values India precisely because of its ability to reason for itself and stick to its own positions. If the non-permanent seat India has just won is indeed to become a stepping stone for a permanent seat, the Manmohan Singh government will have to focus less on convincing the U.S. about how "responsible" it can be. It should instead work hard to demonstrate how a restructured Security Council built around the inclusion of rising powers like itself, Brazil and South Africa stands a better chance of solving the world's problems than the present outdated arrangement. Fortuitously, all three IBSA countries will be on the UNSC at the same time, as will the BRIC group.


Even as its salience in international affairs has increased, the UNSC has been singularly unsuccessful in dealing with new and emerging crises like terrorism and piracy or resolving existing problems like the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territory. For 13 long years, the Security Council remained seized of the Iraq file and maintained sanctions over that unfortunate country; and then, when the U.S. defied its mandate by illegally invading and occupying Iraq, it remained a mute and powerless spectator. There is a structural problem with the Council which runs must deeper than the existence of veto power in the hands of the P-5. Today, despite the growing American ability to mobilise all permanent members behind its initiatives, as in the case of Iran and even North Korea, the UNSC has not managed to make much headway because it is unrepresentative and because the solutions it proposes lack credibility.


At the end of the day, this is the strongest argument India and other aspirants for permanent seats can make. This will mean conceiving of, and pushing for, innovative approaches to the world's major problems, even if this rubs the United States or any other power the wrong way. Yes, any of the P-5 can veto the General Assembly's eventual recommendations for permanent membership as and when these emerge from the text-based negotiations now underway in New York. The U.S., for example, may well decide that an independent-minded India will not be an asset on an expanded Security Council. But if it were to ever take the extreme step of vetoing India's candidature, it would also have to then deal with the diplomatic, political and economic consequences of such an act.









The Earth's population is using the equivalent of 1.5 planets' worth of natural resources, but the long-term decline of animal life appears to have been halted, a WWF report shows.


The latest Living Planet report, published on Wednesday by the conservation group, also reveals the extent to which modern Western lifestyles are plundering natural resources from the tropics at record levels.


The report shows that the overall health of animal species — considered an important indicator of the health of ecosystems — has remained roughly constant since the beginning of this decade, after at least three decades of steady decline.


However the global figure masks a growing gap between the temperate zones to the north and south of the equator. Since 1970, richer countries in the temperate zones have enjoyed a 30 per cent rise in populations of the more than 2,500 different mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and fish species monitored — largely because of improvements to water and air quality and conservation work. Tropical zones, in contrast — where most of the planet's volume and variety of species live — have seen a dramatic decline of about 60 per cent.


The report compares these results to the latest measurements of the size of the ecological footprint — the area of the planet's surface required to provide the resources consumed in a year — of citizens in different countries.


This shows that overall, the Earth's population is consuming the resources of 1.5 planets — or it takes one-and-a-half years to replenish the resources used in one year. This again masks vast differences between the lifestyles of people from mostly poorer countries with footprints of less than one-fifth of a hectare each, and those in the richest nations who each need a nominal five hectares or more. The global average is about three hectares.


"There's going to be global trade and that's not always a bad thing," said Colin Butfield, head of campaigns for WWF. "[But people] in many subsistence countries depend on their local water source and if upstream you have got a big industrial cotton- or soy-growing plant, we're starting to affect in many many cases around the world the ability for poor people to develop, feed themselves, industrialise, to supply basic products we use every day: soy beans for cattle, cotton for clothing, and so on." "We're also taking away the natural capital of those countries, and only a small number of people in those countries benefit." The centrepiece of the biennial Living Planet report, published in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network, is the Living Planet index, which tracks the decline or increase of nearly 8,000 populations of more than 2,500 different species. The resulting chart of progress over time — likened to a stock-market index — shows how from a base of one in 1970, those populations changed little in the 1970s, declined noticeably in the 1980s and 1990s, and have stabilised at about 0.7 since the early years of this decade.


The real picture is, however, likely to be worse, because the latest report includes new animal populations, and

because there are still many tropical species which have not been identified by scientists yet, said Mr. Butfield. The living planet index also does not directly measure other problems such as plant biodiversity, water and air pollution, and the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change — issues more likely to be reflected in the ecological footprint figures.


The report, which is published just weeks before a major conference on slowing or halting the loss of biodiversity in Nagoya, Japan, calls for a series of changes to help address the problems, including more protected areas, zero net deforestation, eliminating overfishing and destructive fishing practices, and finding ways to put a value on biodiversity and ecosystem services. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010











Consumers are unwittingly passing much of their most private personal data to strangers when they discard mobile phones, with intimate photos and credit card numbers and pins frequently left on handsets, according to new research.


An analysis of 50 handsets bought from second-hand resellers on eBay found that more than half contained personal messages or photos, according to exclusive research from the mobile and forensics experts Disklabs. More than 60 per cent still contained phone numbers left on a call log. A number were sold with pornographic material still on the phone.


"The worst thing a consumer can do is hope or assume that the person buying the phone will remove the data," said Simon Steggles, director of Disklabs. "Any data left on the phone is effectively open to the public domain. That could be as varied as intimate photos, videos and text messages ... People hit 'delete' and think that means it is gone for ever, but that's not the case." Researchers found porn on nine of the 50 handsets, while video and calendar information were also still on nine handsets. Personal security information, including home address, credit card numbers and pin numbers, was on 26 of the handsets.


Nine of the handsets had had their International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number changed — indicating they had been lost or stolen at some point. When reported, lost and stolen mobiles have their IMEI cancelled, which means they can no longer connect to the network.


Mobiles store user data in different places, depending on hardware model, software and user preferences. Deleting SMS messages, for example, is unlikely to completely remove that data from the phone. Mr. Steggles said a factory reset is the safest and most reliable way to erase personal data before disposing of or selling a handset.


Mr. Steggles said consumers are often naive in their approach to personal data, a problem compounded by mobile trade-in systems, which offer money in exchange for old handsets.


The popularity of apps makes it even more important for mobile owners to properly erase their data before selling handsets. Mr. Steggles pointed to GPS-enabled apps such as RunKeeper, which logs when someone leaves their home and where they run to within a few metres. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








Ten minutes by boat, and nine metres deep, an extraordinary installation is taking shape off the coast of Cancun in Mexico. Sunk to the bottom of the seabed are 350 human forms — cast from real people — with another 50 to come before the Museo Subacuatico de Arte officially opens in November.


This is the work of Jason deCaires Taylor, a scuba-diving British sculptor who trained at the Camberwell College of Art in south London, and whose previous installations include submerged figures in Grenada. "In a gallery, you get one perspective," says Mr. deCaires Taylor. "Under water, you can fly over the sculptures, go between them. The light is very different and is affected by the surface of the sea. It has a lost feel to it, which I really like." There is also a practical, ecological dimension. "When I became a diving instructor, I saw the decimation of the coral reefs, so I got into the idea of making art as artificial reefs." The sculptures are made from a special cement with a neutral PH, which will attract corals to grow on them. He hopes that the underwater museum, covering 420 square metres, will draw people away from the fragile natural reefs. "I wanted to create an image of humans living in balance with nature instead of in opposition to it," he says. "The 'people' will become a habitat as the corals develop. There is no way I would be able to create that kind of beauty with my own hand, it is only something nature can make." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010










A tireless and redoubtable campaigner to the end, Claire Rayner made sure her last words were going to have some impact. "Tell David Cameron [the prime minister]," she reportedly told relatives before she died on Monday, "that if he screws up my beloved NHS [health service] I'll come back and bloody haunt him." Going at a goodish age and after a prolonged illness — as Ms. Rayner did at the age of 79 — does give one the chance to think of those punchy final words.


The writer Miles Kington had the best idea. In a series of letters — collected in his final book — written to his agent Gill Coleridge as his illness took hold, he said: "I propose that we should all be able to register our final words in advance of our death ... we should get over the difficulties of actually making it the last thing we physically say by setting up a simple, binding legal procedure to safeguard our final words, by ring-fencing them well in advance." That way, perhaps we could all come up with some final words as good as these: Voltaire (1694-1778) "This is no time for making new enemies." On being asked to renounce the devil, on his deathbed. (Attributed) Isadora Duncan (1878-1927) "Farewell, my friends. I go to glory." Gertrude Steiner (1874-1946) Just before she died she asked, "What is the answer?" On getting no reply she laughed and asked, "In that case, what is the question?" George V (1865-1936) "Bugger Bognor." On being told by a courtier that he would soon be in the seaside town.


Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) "Thank God, I have done my duty. Kiss me, Hardy." (According to Life of Nelson, Robert Southey.) Robert Burns (1759-1796) "Don't let the awkward squad fire over me." Nancy Astor (1879-1964) "Jakie, is it my birthday or am I dying?" To her son on her deathbed.


John Le Mesurier (1912-1983) "It's all been rather lovely." Henry James (1843-1916) "Tell the boys to follow, to be faithful, to take me seriously." John Sedgwick (1813-1864) "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." Seconds later he was shot dead by sharpshooters at the battle of Spotsylvania in the American civil war. Kenneth Williams (1926-1988) "Oh what's the bloody point." His last diary entry. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








An ophthalmologist for nearly four decades, S.S. Badrinath has been a constant figure in the dramatic evolution of the specialty in India over the years. In an interview with Ramya Kannan on World Sight Day (October 14) Dr. Badrinath says that key to his practice, and the philosophy of his institution, is the conviction that ophthalmic services must be available, affordable, accessible and accountable. He also believes that Ophthalmology is a growing science, and that as it grows, it must take into account other sciences to provide speedier service to the people.


The National Blindness Control Programme is touted as one of the most successful national health schemes rolled out by the government. Is this justified? What are the factors that enabled this?


We were the first nation to have a national programme for blindness control. Since 1955 to the present day, we have reduced the blindness rate from 1.7 to 0.8. In the1950s, 85 per cent of the blindness in India was due to cataract, but it has now come down to over 50 per cent. That is a significant reduction. The government is also doing a lot of work on refractive errors, childhood blindness, and Diabetic Retinopathy now. NGOs have also played an important role in the prevention of blindness.


The success of the NBCP lies in the fact that the results are immediate. Word of mouth transmission of information that treatment is available and produces good results within a short period of time brings patients in. Also, cataract surgery can be done by people who have had good experience in cataract surgery and such people are available in India. I think the NBCP was very well-planned.


Is the health administration in tune with evolving issues in Ophthalmology? What is the path for the future?


We need to spend our money on diseases that affect a large number of people. How much money, how to allocate those funds, how many people should be targeted and where to focus on, are questions that require good planning. Unless an epidemiological study is done, disease prevention and control are not possible. Unfortunately, we have no definite, well-planned and executed epidemiological study in the area except one from the LV Prasad Eye Institute that was done eight years ago. At Nethralaya, we have now embarked on epidemiological research on two important areas — diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.


I strongly feel that whatever innovations need to be done, have to be done with available resources. We need to find new methods, new innovations, and these innovations must be cost-effective. The results of the innovation must bring solace to a large number and must facilitate better outcome/results on application. We should also be able to reduce morbidity to the least as the result of this. Of course, this is possible only with research — a very important factor in the medical field.


Many benefits accrue from research — for example, in Sankara Nethralaya we found that in congenital cataract Rubella was the causative factor. Preventing Rubella infections in the mother is therefore the best way of preventing congenital cataracts. There is also a very interesting project where S. Ramakrishnan, former director of biochemistry at SN found that amino acids taken orally is likely to prevent end-stage complications in diabetes mellitus — retinopathy, nephropathy, neuropathy and cataracts.


The urban-rural divide in terms of availability of healthcare and shortage of professionals and infrastructure to tend to patients are issues that are agitating planners and health administrators. Are there solutions in Ophthalmology?


In the rural areas, the availability of healthcare is very minimal, if anything exists at all. I would like to make tertiary healthcare available at doorsteps in rural areas. There is indeed a scarcity of ophthalmologists; and efforts must be taken to make the manpower available. But until then, the specialty must absorb advances in other aspects of science — for instance, Information Technology. Telemedicine, which uses, ICT, is currently the best way of approaching the problem. We have had good experience in the last 8-10 years with tele-ophthalmology. Thanks to this, distance is no longer a consideration and the patient can have a comprehensive examination by the best of specialists without travelling far. We believe that the urban-rural divide can be overcome in the next 20-30 years, but only through tele-ophthalmology and tele-medicine programmes.


The costs incurred on medical treatment are increasing. India being a nation where the majority of the spending for health is out-of-pocket expenditure by the patient and family, are there financing options? Insurance, for instance, or subsidies by the state/hospitals.


We tried to work out an insurance package specifically for the eyes. Unfortunately the premiums were too high. The State government's Chief Minister's Insurance Scheme (Kalaignar Kaapeetu Thittam) is a good scheme. Under this, 16 eye conditions have been identified and expenses from Rs.6,500- Rs.7,000 are covered.


As for subsidies from institutions, the Sankara Nethralaya model itself is about making medical care affordable for the middle class in India and for the very poor.


Almost 38 per cent of our patients are treated totally free of cost and the remaining pay a nominal fee — just a little more than what it costs us to provide the service. The non-paying group receives quality care in no way different from the people who pay. Since we are a not-for-profit institution, any profit that accrues is ploughed back in, to finance education initiatives, and research.


If stem cell research has progressed significantly to therapeutics at all in any segment of medicine, it is in ophthalmology…


That is right, in Ophthalmology we have been users of stem cell therapy in a large number of areas especially for the front part of the eye — the cornea. For instance, when affected by acid or alkalis, a simple corneal transplant fails. However, when you do it with stem cells in the limbal area, it seems to work. There are also applications in retinal pigment epithelial transplant — this will be helpful in the future to treat diseases of retinal degeneration. We are also working, in our lab, on developing a synthetic cornea. Stem cell therapy has great potential, undoubtedly.


Your thoughts on medical tourism.


We have a large number of people living in India who require medical care and they need the attention of doctors who are already, in terms of numbers, insufficient, here in India. Instead of treating our own patients, why do we think about treating people from outside the country? The medical profession's priority should be Indian citizens and only thereafter, outsiders from other countries.


Ophthalmology wrote the opening paragraph of the organ donation movement. Is organ donation all set to grow?


The organ donation movement has picked up enormously in the last couple of decades. Essentially, it was the lack of knowledge on the part of the public that eyes of the dead person could be used to restore eyesight of a blind person that prevented them from donating. However, once that idea was taken to the people, eye donation became quite popular. I don't think, fundamentally, that there is any religious inhibition on the part of the people to donate eyes. All religions in India encourage eye donation.









India has been in the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member before, and several times at that. This group of 10 is distinct from the five permanent members — the US, Russia, Britain, France and China — which wield a veto. It does not enjoy the same significance as them. Nevertheless, even being a non-permanent member is of value: the Security Council is, after all, virtually the board of directors in world affairs when it comes to political and security matters. It would be wise all the same not to get carried away by India's election to the UNSC on Tuesday, impressive though the margin of its victory was. Let us remember that even Pakistan has been a non-permanent member, although its standing in the world has never been too high. Election results are eventually the outcome of give and take in the environment of the politics of the day.

In the end, all that the Indian win really means is that the world perceives this country as a responsible power, and a force for good that has contributed significantly to the UN system. It does not by a long shot mean that this may be construed as necessarily being part of the process that may take India further on the road to permanent membership. That is an entirely different game, one subject to multiple pressures from the four corners of the world, including China and Pakistan, not usually well-disposed to India's enhancement on the world stage. In the Tuesday vote India secured the support of 187 of the UN's 191 members, more than any other country that got elected. What a contrast from 14 years ago when India was roundly thrashed by Japan for the Asian seat as a non-permanent member. External affairs minister S.M. Krishna is right when he suggests that the pattern of the vote is indicative of India's increased weight in world affairs. Had Kazakhstan not withdrawn from the fray earlier this year, India would have been required to press its weight against that of the Central Asian country. The fact that it didn't come down to this is a measure of Indian diplomacy, its fine equation and influence with Kazakhstan, possibly the most important of the Central Asian republics due to its mineral wealth and size, and India's regional standing. The real diplomatic victory was perhaps when India was able to persuade Almaty to withdraw in its favour.

The difference between now and when India was last in the UNSC — in 1991-92 — lies in the fact that the world has changed so dramatically in the past quarter century, and so has India in a positive direction in this time, permitting New Delhi to exert a measure of economic and technological weight on the world stage, which can translate to political influence if the diplomacy is not botched. In this period this country is also seen as having become a responsible nuclear weapons power which is ready to exert a moderating influence in the area of nuclear non-proliferation without becoming a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Being in the UNSC when crucial changes are in the crucible in the context of Afghanistan, where India has invested much in terms of human resources and treasure, and when unforeseen developments could occur in Kashmir at the instigation of Pakistan or China, is a comforting thought. However, responsible positions also bring on added responsibility. As a UNSC member, India will be called upon to take a stand on sensitive issues when it comes to debate and vote. Ducking and weaving will not be an option, as it is now. A sharper, more decisive foreign policy stance might be called for. This, of course, does not mean being foolishly outspoken.








We are coming to the end of Navratras, a period of wonderful nine days when the Divine is worshipped in the form of women — knowledge manifested as Saraswati, wealth manifested as Lakshmi and prowess and valour as manifested in Durga.

As many among us know, in the Hindu worldview "purushartha", or the purpose of human life (purusha = human), is achieved in the framework of dharma, artha, kama and moksha. Some would even find a symbolic importance in this very sequence of couching artha and kama between dharma and moksha: acquisition of wealth and gratification of our earthly desires are to be guided by the universal and eternal law, dharma, and all actions would thereby steer us towards attaining moksha, freedom from the cycle of births and death.
Again, within each human being we recognise a female and a male form. Lest we miss the point, the accent in the expression ardha nari is on women.

After the nine days of worship are over, there is celebration marking the victory of the Devi vanquishing Banda, the asura. In several parts of India, the 10th day is when Lord Rama decimated Ravana. Ravana's sin (violation of dharma) was that he had attempted to gratify his earthly desire to possess someone else's wife.
The noble ideals of ardha nari and the worship-worthy have, since time immemorial, co-existed with the likes of Ravana, Dushassana and Keechaka. The ideals have repeatedly been threatened and reasserted. In their reassertion, the role of women has been only grudgingly recognised.

While reasserting the ideals as visualised by the great seers of the ancient, women have adopted strategies that have factored in the desha and kala realities. This, in itself, requires an understanding of dharma in all its subtleties. Jabala, Savitri, Kannagi, Draupadi of ancient India were followed by Mira, Rani Padmini, Rani Rudramma and Rani Ahilya Bai, and in the last two centuries by Pandita Ramabai, M.S. Subbulakshmi and many more who have shown a rare kind of inner strength to face the challenges thrown at them.

It is well known that each of them excelled in their chosen fields; more important is to note the way in which they reasserted the dharmic ideals in their own lives, notwithstanding the scorn and contempt shown by the orthodoxy. In each of their lives, their understanding of dharma, in all its subtlety, has been so conveyed with refinement that we are muted but only with admiration. They are the Saraswati, Lakshmi and Durga who lived among us and it is they we should commemorate during these nine sacred days.

In Tamil Nadu, most houses hold a "Kolu" (a display of dolls) during the Navaratras. The themes displayed in these doll arrangements are essentially the forms of the Devi, the Dasavataras and some flora and fauna. It was fashionable to have a small enclave displaying figurines of freedom fighters and patriots. I remember Shakuntala, Mira and Rani of Jhansi finding a place of honour in a few houses but most other great women were simply not remembered.

In contemporary India, the indignity that women face is reported every day in the print and electronic media. We are almost indifferent to them until in the "rarest of rare cases" a sensational reporting draws our attention. Women have fought for their honour and lost their lives or are still chasing the elusive justice for a daughter, sister or a friend. Even powerful social movements such as the anti-arrack agitation in Andhra Pradesh, were spearheaded by women.

Our women have claimed and found their place with quiet dignity. The single mother in Jabala and Shakuntala, Kunti and her abandoned son, had their place, albeit after trials and tribulations.

Our civilisation was not embarrassed to handle aberrations, exceptions or those out of the ordinary. Among the commonplace, the bright and challenging stars like Maitreyi and Gargi were not put down, even though cursed by an enraged husband an Ahilya was restored, Satyavati, the fisherman's daughter and later the Queen of Indraprastha maintained with honour her son Parasara and so on.

The inclusive and catholic nature of this civilisation especially in matters related to women can be noticed in a few shrarddha mantras too. Offering pinda or the cooked rice to the dead parents and forefathers is a solemn duty of a son. It is relevant here to notice that the number of pinda offered to one's mother is far more than those offered to the father. Along with this, the great detail with which the relevant mantras recall the sacrifices made by the mother in bearing and delivering the child and subsequently, during the child's upbringing show a rare sensitivity in understanding and recognising the woman.

Have all these become the unrealisable ideals? Centuries of corrosion have made patriarchy firmer, the caste more rigid and oppressive, poverty more abject and commercialisation greedier. As a result, in our society today, the status of women differs widely: urban vs rural, religion vs religion and caste vs caste. It is as easy as it is difficult for the women of today.

A while ago, I read somewhere that on becoming the CEO of one of the world's largest MNC, an Indian lady came back home and shared the joy of her elevation with her family. Her mother who was on a visit was staying with her then. Without much ado, the mother told the new CEO daughter that she better rush to the neighbourhood store before it closes for the day as there was no milk in the house, for the son-in-law needs his coffee as soon as he wakes up, every morning.

The mind of this mother — who is proverbially behind this successful CEO — can be best understood as the blend of tradition and modernity. "The relativism of dharma supports tradition and modernity, innovation and conformity", say Sudhir and Katharina Kakkar in their book The Indians: Portrait of a People.


Nirmala Sitharaman is spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party.


The views expressed in this column are her own.








I have been asked to assist the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in developing public policies and strategies which can help to achieve the goal of food and nutrition security for every member of the human family. There is indeed a long road ahead of us.

The reform of the CFS is a fundamental change in the international governance of food security and nutrition. We are convinced that the food and nutrition security problem will find its solutions on the ground where nearly two billion women and men toil in sun and rain, night and day to produce food for us. We also know that it requires interventions from local to global levels. It requires an integrated approach. To be effective, these interventions need to be strongly coordinated — between countries, between sectors and between actors so that there is synergy among technology, public policy and farmers' efforts.

Past experience shows that this task of generating such synergy is not easy. This challenge explains the need for CFS to create a process like the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) that stands at the interface of expertise and policy-making and aims to promote the fusion of political will and professional skill:

w Member states need to ground their deliberations on shared and sound experience and expertise, analysis and advice. They must be informed of the uncertainties at play, their nature and their level, while at the same time deliberating on methods of scaling up successful efforts.

w Controversies need to be identified and, if they cannot be resolved, their fundamentals must be disentangled.
w Political decisions should promote community-level food security systems, based on climate resilient farm technologies.

This is why CFS should make the most of the dedicated, shared and independent expertise that HLPE represents.

When we look at the issue of knowledge in food and nutrition security, we face essential and, to my feeling, embarrassing questions.

Despite all the knowledge and new technologies, there are still over 925 million hungry people world over.

Hunger persists in spite of numerous national and international nutrition safety net programmes.
The very reason for our common failure is not the shortage of knowledge. We have to mobilise knowledge, based on successful accomplishments at the field level for shaping public policy and action. We have to look on how it can convert technical know-how into field level do-how.

We have to look at how the successful models can be used to raise public awareness and generate a "we shall overcome" spirit. In other words, it is solution- and success-oriented knowledge that is now urgently needed.
It is very important that the members of HLPE and all policymakers at national levels, and all UN organisations, share a common understanding of the exact role of HLPE.

The joint meeting between the Steering Committee of HLPE and the bureau of the CFS on September 16-17 was a decisive step towards generating a common wavelength in relation to the way forward.

HLPE was created because sometimes it is difficult to even identify the very nature of the problems ahead. It was created because policy-making in such a complex environment is very difficult and needs advice at a more strategic level, advice that can help policymakers identify emerging issues and prioritise decisions relating to resource allocation.

We, HLPE and CFS, are, in our relations, at the beginning of a process from which we will both learn. But this is, to our belief, the common understanding that we share now on the specific role and added-value of HLPE in matters relating to sustainable food and nutrition security.

What do I, as the Chair of the Steering Committee of HLPE, expect from it?

To begin our operations, we now need a clear mandate from CFS and its bureau. We need to know on what key issues the panel should provide knowledge-based strategic advice, so that the advice becomes demand-driven and fulfils a felt need.

At our meeting with the bureau of CFS, it was recognised that while it is important for HLPE to receive directions from CFS on what issues to report on, it was also equally important for HLPE to perform a pro-active role and identify major emerging and strategic issues for policy advice and recommendation.
In that sense, interaction between CFS and HLPE is a two-way process.

The CFS bureau has already made much progress before the Steering Committee members were appointed. This resulted in the identification of topics for round tables, and, in particular, the Round Table on Risks and Vulnerabilities. A possible outcome would be directions given to HLPE.

We feel the issue of climate change is of paramount importance in relation to agriculture, food security and nutrition, and that it deserves to be specifically discussed at CFS and with an input from HLPE. But it could be tackled in a subsequent year, after a review of the current activity and initiatives in the field, particularly the Cancun conference.

The demand from CFS is important. The supply from HLPE is also important. We need to have better visibility through increased and appropriate levels of contributions to the Trust Fund that supports the work of HLPE.
HLPE needs minimal secretariat, technical support to work properly during the two years' mandate assigned to it.

We, HLPE Steering Committee members, have decided to meet again in December. We are already at work to define our internal working methods, in the framework of the rules of procedures that you have given us. We have organised ourselves to prepare the scope of a study on price volatility and its impact on vulnerability to food insecurity. We will constitute project teams, based also on the suggestions emerging from this meeting of CFS.

In this manner, we can foster the emergence of a coalition of the concerned with reference to elimination of hunger.

We are determined to bring a new and meaningful contribution to the work of the Committee on World Food Security.


M.S. Swaminathan is the chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. He is considered to be the father of India's green








It's a common experience in metros. You need to take a taxi or auto, but the driver says nyet. You gnash your teeth and move on, hoping the next one behaves better.


Commuters in metros such as Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai have been victims of whimsical cabbies, but till recently no one has tried to do anything about it.


A few months ago, things changed. Three advertising professionals in Mumbai decided to organise citizen resistance through a 'Meter Jam' movement to boycott the use of taxis and autos for a day.


Meter Jam 1, organised in August, drew some amount of traction, but few taxis or autos reported any difficulty in finding customers. On Tuesday, Meter Jam 2 was even less of a success, even though there were volunteers trying to stiffen up the public's resolve in several suburbs. It may be disheartening to the organisers, but any campaign planned without reference to ground realities is bound to meet with indifferent results.


The key is an understanding of demand and supply. Citizens use taxis and autos during peak hours — which is when the drivers are in the best position to decline. More so in a business city like Mumbai, where getting things done is the general attitude.


Few Mumbaikars are going to decline taxis when they need them. Community support may be stronger in the smaller metros, where city pride is stronger, but Mumbai is not one of them.


The only way to turn the equation of power around is to increase the supply of taxis and autos. But this means increasing the number of permits issued. Even without a dramatic increase in the number of permits, the regional transport offices need to organise more share-taxis and autos with regulated fares, so that more people can be moved.


Of course, putting more buses on the road at peak hours is a must. Better policing and prompt action on complaints against cabbies is warranted — and the organisers of the Meter Jam movement have rightly decided to focus on this the next time. Good luck.







The two-year term India won on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) with 98% of the vote bodes well for the country's dream of becoming a permanent member of the council.


The fact that we won 187 votes — which means most of the members voted for us — indicates that there is now more support for India across the world. It is no longer limited to a few friends in Asia and parts of the Third World. The sense that emerges from this vote is that India is a rising contender across the world.


Given the dramatic changes in power equations after the global financial crisis of 2008, there can be little doubt that India is being nudged into a leadership role.


Many smaller and growing nations look to India for support and help. India's economy is always a magnet for businessmen and companies looking for a ready market. Increasingly, this is becoming our most effective bargaining chip with other countries.


Also, India has the advantage of not being seen as a global bully — something the other big Asian superpower-in-the-making, China, will have to live down.


Heartening as this news is, we have to build on it. There is no room for complacency here. The composition of the Security Council now mirrors the changing balance of power. Brazil, China, South Africa and India are all in the Council and this is a chance to shift the momentum away from Europe and the US — as has been the case ever since the end of the Second World War.


External affairs minister SM Krishna has said that India will be the "voice of moderation and of constructive engagement".


This appears to be a sensible policy because India needs to win friends and influence people — not throw its weight about like China. In our immediate neighbourhood, we have often been seen as a bully, but this par for the course. Anyone big will always raise concerns despite protestations to the contrary.


But this is changing, thanks to the turmoil in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which makes the rest of south Asia lean on India's stability.


India must now capitalise on its strengths and convince the world that it has a legitimate claim to a permanent seat on the Security Council. We will face impediments — especially from China and Pakistan — but this is to be expected. The rest of the world has begun to recognise our credentials and it is only a matter of time before this recognition is translated to reality. The key is to keep growing the economy, and engage the world with a constructive agenda for change.








The vertical drop in the index of industrial production (IIP) in August is a fortuitous wake-up call for the stock markets and retail investors.


Both must take heed, as the Sensex's heady levels cannot be sustained indefinitely. We are probably at the cusp of a mood swing because the market euphoria has been built on water, not cement.


The indices have soared on the basis of sheer liquidity — more cash chasing more stocks.


Look at the numbers. Over the last two years, the index has risen from a low of 7,697 in October 2008, to more than 20,000 now.


That's a near 160% rise when the economy has grown at an annual 7-8%. Between January 2010, and now, the index has risen 25% powered by an extraordinary Rs100,000 crore surge of hot money from foreign institutional investors (FIIs).


On the other hand, domestic investors have been fleeing stocks. If mutual funds can be seen as a proxy for retail money, they have sold over Rs25,000 crore worth of stocks this calendar, pressured by redemption pressures. Clearly, foreign investors are buying the India story more than Indians.


This is not to say that the Sensex will crash tomorrow. It may do just the opposite, now that it has sniffed the all-time high of 21,206 of January 2008, as a possible assault target. But consider this: when all asset classes are at stratospheric levels, how can anyone assume that the party will go on forever?


Stocks, real estate, gold and fixed deposit rates are all rising simultaneously and something has got to give. I am not betting that bank deposit rates will fall. It has to be the other assets.


The underlying truth is that the global financial collapse of 2008 fuelled compensatory asset bubbles in the economies still standing, especially India.


We are the market most suitable for hot money flows. We are getting all this money by default because the US, Europe and Japan are mired in self-doubt. China's economy should actually attract even more than us, but the Middle Kingdom's policy of keeping the yuan undervalued worries investors.


Moreover, China doesn't need these flows as much as we do. China is sitting on over $2.5 trillion in foreign exchange reserves. India, with its huge current account deficit — the gap between imports of goods and services and exports — is sucking in the money by the truckload.


What if this is reversed? No country can afford to sustain a current account deficit of 3% of GDP for long as it is tantamount to buying more from the world without selling enough to pay for the import bills. This is why the US is so much trouble.


Sooner or later, the Reserve Bank will have to let the rupee slide to help exporters, and foreign investors will see their dollar returns falling like a stone.


The RBI is in a lose-lose-lose situation. If it lets the rupee slide, inflation will rise. If it doesn't, exports will fall or stagnate, bringing overall growth down. If it does nothing, hot money inflows and outflows will destabilise the real economy when it is least expecting it.


The market is living on borrowed time because all the positives are already taken for granted: the India growth story, lower inflation after a good monsoon, a better fiscal scenario (after the 3G spectrum auction bonanza), heavy capital inflows, et al. This is simply too good to last. So when will the tide turn?


Is the dramatic drop in the IIP one signal? Is the fall in capital goods growth from 72% in July, 2010, to -2.6% in August another warning? The IIP's fall from 10.6% in August 2009 to 5.6% this year is being explained as being the result of the base effect: growth on the higher IIP numbers of last year tends to depress this year's numbers. But this cannot be the only explanation.


With the festival season now upon us, the high growth in asset prices — stocks, real estate and gold — may make people spend more, but it may take only a small reversal in FII flows to change the whole mood. When asset prices rise, the wealth effect (we feel rich when our investments rise in value) makes us eager to spend. When the reverse happens — when the bubble is pricked — people will suddenly stop spending, pressuring the growth figures down.


Another negative is the large overhang of initial public offerings (IPOs), especially mega issues like Coal India's Rs15,200 crore one. The chances are investors will sell the stocks they currently hold to invest in IPOs — and this could dent share prices. It's also worth noting that few of the recent IPOs have fared too well on listing. This shows that promoters have been too greedy, leaving little on the table for investors.


Net-net: This is not the time for stock market bravado. Those who invest regularly through mutual fund systematic investment plans (SIPs) need not stop investing just because the Sensex is high, but anyone planning to enter the market at current levels runs the risk of losing a part of his money. If the FIIs bolt in November and December, the markets will go for a toss. Be warned.







In the standoff between the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JuH), which has the backing of the leading Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband, and the separatist leaders of the Valley one can read certain important observations between the lines. The former has indeed spoken for the country by making it clear that a solution to the Kashmir problem will have to be found within the framework of the Indian Constitution. It has called upon "Kashmiri representatives to talk to the Indian Government" with that goal in view (a theologian and senior Jamiat member Maulana Abdul Hameed Nomani has asserted that "Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India" and "being part of India is in the best interest of Kashmiri people"). The JuH has made another significant comment: "We would like to assure the people of Kashmir that we as citizens of India share their grief and anguish and support their rightful demands and we do not consider that the interests of the Kashmiri people are separate from the interests of Indian Muslims." Yet another reference is noteworthy. It has called for "thwarting the mission of enemy forces bent upon disintegration of Kashmir." This is an obvious reference to anti-India activities by Pakistan-based militant groups. It has also asked protesters to abjure violence and adopt democratic methods for their constitutional rights. Of course, the JuH has accused the governments both in New Delhi and the State for having failed to maintain peace saying that the "situation is getting from bad to worse." It is not the only organisation to make a couple of critical remarks as well: (a) armed forces must be withdrawn and barricades lifted from civilian areas: (b) the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA) should also be lifted (c) an independent commission of inquiry be set up to probe serious violations of human rights and for tracing "thousands of lost and missing youth"; (d) protesters nabbed without viable reason should be freed immediately; and, (e) security forces should avoid lethal methods of crowd control.


The JuH's suggestion for talks between the Centre and the separatists to end the present impasse is reasonable. Who can deny that dialogue any day is a better option than confrontation? Nobody will dispute that. Except, of course, the separatists who for their own reasons think otherwise. The Hizbul Mujahideen, for instance, has stuck to its stance that "Kashmir is an international issue and it cannot be resolved within the framework of the Indian Constitution." It has dismissed the JuH's concern as an "advertent or an inadvertent attempt to deviate the attention from the real issue…Clerics should revisit history to refresh their memories." The Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front (Yasin Malik) has blamed the JuH for speaking under compulsion and gone on to advise: "It would be better for them to stay away from the Kashmir issue."


The moderate Hurriyat Conference whose leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq relishes invitations from the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) feels: "We do not view the Kashmir issue from the Hindu-Muslim angle. It is a political issue which needs to be resolved." Trust hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani for describing the credibility itself of the JuH as "suspect" as it had "shut its eyes o the real issue." Have the separatists not invited their further marginalisation?






Is it not a telling comment in itself that the virtual climax in one scandal in the public distribution system (PDS) in the State has coincided with the eruption of another scam? The Crime Branch has nabbed four officials of the Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CAPD) Department for misappropriation of foodgrains meant for Warwan and Marwah blocks of Kishtwar district. In monetary terms the embezzlement is worth more than Rs 31 lakh from two godowns. The action follows a two-tier official investigation. First, the Government set up a committee on April 2, 2009. After its preliminary probe the police was assigned the task of further inquiry about two months later. After an exercise lasting more than a year the skeletons have been found rattling in the CAPD cupboard. The middle level of the administrative apparatus is exposed to the charge of having manipulated documents. In other words it means that there is an abuse of official position in order to loot the public exchequer. Many more people are stated to be involved in the murky affair. Their names are likely to surface after the scrutiny of seized papers and passbooks. It is not without irony that as the curtain is rung down on this case we come across another such bungling in a different part of the State. A truck has been confiscated for unlawfully carrying 130 bags of wheat from Dharamsal area in the Kalakote tehsil of Rajouri district to a mill in this city. The vehicle was caught on the way. Inquiries so far have revealed that the ration was meant to be pumped into the PDS for the people below poverty line. Instead, it has been pilfered with ulterior motives. On quite a few occasions in recent times we have been constrained to note in these columns the manner in which the PDS is being misused by unscrupulous people in authority --- the dealers not excluded. Black market thrives at the expense of intended beneficiaries. An extremely well-intentioned scheme has as a result gone haywire. It is a pity that the BPL families are made to suffer twice. First, they are the victims of poverty. Secondly, they don't even get what the state is obliged to provide them in the name of the collective welfare of society.


To put it succinctly the PDS is a national food security system. In actual practice it has been tinted with scandals galore not only in this State alone but unfortunately in the country as a whole. The Supreme Court and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) are among the organisations that have been compelled to go into the entire gamut of its operations with a view to applying necessary correctives. At one point in time, the apex court has pointed out that the TPDS (T is for the Targeted which is the latest version of the PDS) "is not merely a scheme for poverty eradication, but one for providing food and nutritional security, which is indeed its prime objective." It has also expressed the view that the millions of poor may have actually been excluded because of the basis of calculating official poverty estimates. What does this imply if not that what is being done is also not enough? Why can't we do without corruption?









As wounded and fear stricken normalcy tries to sneak in, there is little assurance as to how long will it go unnoticed by the stone pelters and the gun trotting men in uniform in the valley. These are abnormal times for the paradise turned hell. That some civil society groups are worried about the bleeding valley at the other end of this troubled state ignites a glimmer of hope. 

A seminar held recently in Kathua under the aegis of Common People's Forum expressed deep concern over recent happenings in Kashmir. Despite differences of opinion on the issue, a general consensus emerged on the urgency of peace initiatives on Kashmir by the civil society groups, especially from Jammu region. It was argued that peace cannot prevail in the state if one of its three regions continues burning. 
There is no denying the fact that the historical, cultural, geographical and political aspects of Kashmir issue are important. Yet, the present crisis has a human dimension too, which unfortunately has all along been overlooked. Our image of Kashmir has been built not by informed opinion, but by the age old prejudices and heresy. It has been manufactured and influenced by the media, by the anti Indian utterances of handful separatist leaders, by the terrorists' acts, by the law enforcing agencies, by the rightist political parties in India and by the parties in power in the state. 

Common man in Kashmir figures nowhere. His voice has been miffed. His plight overlooked. He has been gagged. He has become cannon fodder in the power struggle between the pro Indian and pro Pakistani forces. Sex scandals, rape and murder, fake encounters, killings of teenagers, there is no end to his plight, sorrow and humiliation. He is the perpetual suspect in his own home. There is no hope of justice for him. And we on this side of Pir Panjal think he should not react. We think the separatists should not exploit such oppression in the name of faith, now that only Muslims are left in the valley. We think the rogue state of Pakistan should not interfere in Kashmir. How silly and foolish!!

Let us not forget that Pir Panjal is not only a physical barrier between Kashmir and the rest of India. It is a mind block as well. Let us also not forget that geographically, Srinagar is much closer to Islamabad than New Delhi. Culturally, only the LOC separates the two Kashmirs. And faith pushes Kashmiris much closer Pakistan and West Asia than India, despite their generously subsidized flights to Haj by the latter. 

Kashmir is a sensitive territory. But, the Indian state has handled it in the most insensitive manner. It has used carrot and stick policy in winning over the Kashmiris. The policy has not worked. If the past over two decades are any indications, it is clear the force will not work. It has brought only misery and mayhem, death and destruction, nothing else. It has alienated the common Kashmiri, ghettoized his mind set, created mistrust in him of Indian democratic and secular institutions and the rule of law, pushed him to the radical Muslim groups and led him to believe that separatists will one day liberate him from the tyranny of Hindu India. Desperation!
Poverty of ideas plagues the Kashmir policy of New Delhi, which tries to appease the party in power and the separatists alike to counter balance each other. Kashmir card has been kept alive as much by Pakistan as by New Delhi, Srinagar and the separatists. Common man in Kashmir does not figure anywhere in this matrix of power struggle. Little wonder, violence keeps erupting with slightest provocation. 

The key to peace in Kashmir lies not in the hands of Messrs Syed Gilani, Mirwaiz Farookh and Yasin Malik as they have us believe. Nor does it lie in the hands of men in uniform who have turned the valley into a cantonment, or in massive investment in infrastructure building. Or for that matter in the discredited ruling dispensation or its mirror image, the opposition. 

A durable peace in the valley requires that the sentiments of the common Kashmiris are respected. They need to be won over, not of course by doling out liberal packages after every round of killings and mayhem, but by empathizing with their sorrows and agony, establishing the rule of law, punishing the guilty, demonstrating that there is no miscarriage of justice and convincing them that India on the other side of Pir Panjal is as much concerned about them.

Let us not forget that appeal of the separatists to the harassed Kashmiri Muslims is directly proportional to their repression by the men in uniform. This must stop. So should pamper of the separatist leaders by the state government and glorification of the terrorists by the security forces.

A radical change in the Kashmir policy is a necessity. And it should be common man centric rather than the ruling elite and separatists centric. Common man on the street has suffered too much for too long. A whole generation of the Kashmiris has grown up under violence and bloodshed. This needs reversal, so also migration of the Kashmiri minorities from the valley. 

The valley has nurtured a composite culture of co existence for ages. Its denial in the recent times has befallen it as a curse with a recurrent cycle of death and destruction. It is not a coincidence that peace deserted the valley with the exodus of minorities.

As political discourse accentuates segmentation of people and their mindsets can civil society groups and intelligentsia counter this divisive campaign? Reclaiming peace in the troubled valley would not be easy.











'Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education'- Aristotle 

In the present times of trials and turbulence, if ever there is a panacea for contemporary conflict ridden world it lies in fostering with passionate zeal of value education among the children. The world is passing through a difficult phase wherein the radicalism is spreading its tentacles everywhere. 'We', as a society are standing on a verge of a total collapse. So indifferent in analyzing our behaviour, so absorbent to the assorted changes, so stoic in our emotions, so cold to feelings, so impassive in our thoughts and approach that nothing steers us towards pinnacle of righteousness. Smog of fervid acquisitions of materialistic gains has totally engulfed the morality, which has today posed identity crisis among individuals. 

What is far more worrisome and has compounded to this disgruntlement is the harrowing questioning by neo-modernists of the folksy traditional value-system. Therefore, need and importance of imbibing value education in our institutions cannot but be emphasized more in present times. With the pluralistic set up of our country and the forces of fundamentalism, globalization and mass media having such strong influences on our youth, a concerted and coordinated effort in equipping our students with the skills of critical thinking to arrive at discernment is urgent. 

The imperativeness of value education in societal transformation is recognized even by the United Nations that emphasized, "humans in order to safeguard their future, must learn to change their behavior. The vision of education for sustainable development is a world where everyone has the opportunity to benefit from quality education and learn the values, behaviour and lifestyles required for a sustainable future and for positive societal transformation".

Perceptions on the need and nature of value education in schools are primarily drawn from the National Policy on Education-1986/92. It takes note of the growing concern over the erosion of essential values and the increasing cynicism in the society. It acknowledges that children and young people should be helped to develop harmoniously their physical, moral and intellectual qualities, for they also have the right to be stimulated to make sound moral judgments, and to put them into practice. 

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), as an apex institution for School Education too is of the considered opinion that value education to prevent erosion of values in public life has been a matter of concern, since independence. The values embedded in the Indian philosophy, cultural heritage and literature need to be nurtured in schools. However, lamentable is the fact that education, sadly, has zeroed down to projection of school effectiveness and school identity. Rightly, therefore, the need for including value education in the syllabus has been stressed upon by spiritual leaders, NGOs and academicians. There is a need to show students the moral path to divert them from evils like cyber-crime and consumerism and instill in them responsibility and self-respect. 

Inclusive ways like introducing prayers, projects and social activities, though are directive towards promoting values in education have desolately been groomed to ceremonalism. Such is the state of things today that educational institutions themselves have shaped out be hub of ostentatiousness, proudly proclaiming facilities in the form of air-conditioned classrooms, interactive learning through computers, et al, all focused towards superfluous externality rather than breeding radiance of pious thoughts and actions.

Value education serves as a moral compass in guiding the actions of all individuals and organizations. The need is to craft a strategy that will help individuals imbibe the perennial wisdom of this world. The value education is a definitive path towards fashioning righteousness in our behaviour and thinking besides humanizing and personalizing our choices. 

In this squeal, the present system of schooling, in whatever shape and form it is , has to accept the challenge and strive to restore the universal and eternal values oriented towards the unity and integration of the people, their moral and spiritual uplift and in exploring their latent self. Even the greatest physicist Einstein, who considered development of morality as the foremost task of education has beautifully enunciated and elaborated this saying, 'The most important human endeavour is the striving for morality of our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life. To make this a living force and bring it to clear consciousness is perhaps the foremost task of education'. 

Educationists and stake holders need to examine the question that is bound to stare us in the face, in this endeavour, is "How many of us, as parents, teachers or adults, are sufficiently equipped to substantiate and reinforce our traditional educational methods to help our children achieve a sound moral character ?" It's time we introspect and make necessary amends for nothing should take priority over saving our children, the future nation builders, from this horrendous impropriety. To understand and appreciate the situation perhaps no better description of the objectives of education could be there than the one made in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in the prayer

"Asato ma sadgamaya

Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya

Mrityor ma amritam gamaya," 

meaning thereby, Lead us from the unreal to the Real, Lead us from darkness into Light, Lead us from death unto Immortality..









The former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf does not want to count himself out. He has floated his new party, declared that he will be going back to Pakistan, and seems to be working towards that direction now. The general has always been media savvy, and even now he is using the media for the preparatory groundwork for a come back.


His recent interviews make it apparent that he hopes to accomplish this feat sooner than later, and is clearly counting on the dissatisfaction and disillusionment of the people with the present political leadership. His relations with the Army were always good and as he has said in one of the interviews, the present Army Chief Kayani was appointed by him. Of course, that does not mean much in Pakistan's shifting equations but it is a fact that even when the people turned against him after the judicial stir and the military action in Lal Masjid, the Army never really withdrew its support.

It is well known that currently only the United States and the Pakistan Army matter, in that they have direct and total influence in determining the complexion of the government in power.

Or, to be more precise, the Army and the US are clearly a major factor in the appointment of the President and prime minister of Pakistan. General Musharraf in his interviews has not just recognized both factors, but has also reached out to them by taking certain positions. For instance, in recognition of the US suspicions about nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan, the former president of Pakistan has described him as a "characterless" man. And has also stated in so many words that if the US withdraws from Afghanistan, as many in the region and his own country are demanding, terrorism will engulf South Asian countries as well as the western world.
The Zardari Government is a little more relaxed today, in that incidents of terrorism seem to have gone down. Reports of differences between the president and prime minister have also subsided to some extent, and it does seem that there is more coordination between the various wings and departments of Government. The US too has not indulged in showering Islamabad with the usual brickbats for a while now, and there is a level of calm that was not evident in the immediate past. The Army too has become assertive and General Kayani is clearly calling the shots. He still remains media shy, although he holds regular off the record get- together with journalists where he lets them speak more than he does. But relations between the media and the Army are better now, and the critical reports far less.

At the same time the anger against General Musharraf is a little less than before and parties like the MQM and the PML (Q) are definitely not opposed to his return. But the people are not supportive and at present, the possibility of the general returning to applauding streets is negligible if not impossible. But then the former president of Pakistan has always been a fighter, and is clear about being around, in position as and when the opportunity offers itself. "If" is not a word in either his or Pakistan's political vocabulary. After all two former prime ministers in exile returned to Pakistan. One, PPP leader Benazir Bhutto, was all set to take over the reins of power but was killed. The other PML- N chief Nawaz Sharif managed to negotiate his return and his back in Pakistan, pursuing his politics with his party in coalition at the centre and in government in Punjab.

Bhutto's husband Asif Ali Zardari who had not made it at the time, managed to get back after her assassination, and from Mr. 10 per cent rose to become the president of Pakistan. The point is that nothing is impossible, and in a system where the army continues to dominate, and politics revolves around just a handful, the discarded general with his doggedness can certainly make a place for himself.

He might even get help from India that remains pretty fascinated and supportive of the man who no one was willing to do business with for a long time after Kargil.

General Musharraf was in command, and would have probably remained so, had he not attacked the judiciary and Lal Masjid. The first turned the middle class and the elite against him, and the second proved suicidal for him insofar as the poor of Pakistan were concerned. The fact that refugees were taking shelter there and were killed in the operations is a point that the poor have still not forgotten.

Those who are against army rule, and for the democratic process, are also deeply opposed to the former president and are determined to ensure that he stays in London and is not able to come to Islamabad.
But the decision to float the political party, and set up units all over Pakistan is clearly part of a plan. After all MQM that controls Sindh has a president who lives in London. Benazir Bhutto ran the PPP for years from London.

Nawaz Sharif ran his party from Saudi Arabia and Dubai. So General Musharraf is basically following in the footsteps of those who have provinces and indeed all of Pakistan while living outside the land in luxury and comfort.

Reports suggest that he is not short of supporters and candidates for his party. Of course, the general still has a long way to go before his acceptability reaches levels that will open the doors into Pakistan.
But after months in a quiet exile, he seems to have found his voice, and has thrown the dice on to the table. Whether he will be able to roll six remains to be seen. (INAV)









MR MANPREET SINGH BADAL, who was removed as Punjab's Finance Minister on Wednesday, has paid the price for not toeing the party line. That the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP coalition follows the politics of populism is known. The two parties swear by subsidies that nurture their respective vote banks but have crippled the state finances. Within three and a half years of their rule Punjab's debt has shot up from Rs 48,000 crore to Rs 70,000 crore. It is natural for any finance minister in such a situation to feel concerned. Mr Manpreet Badal has been raising the issue off and on. When the Sukhbir-Kalia committee, from which he was excluded, too did not yield sufficient resources, it was natural for him to jump at Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's conditional offer for a debt waiver.


The political drama that has followed Mr Manpreet Badal's disclosure of the Centre's terms cannot bury the core issue of Punjab's debt. The issue was first raised at a Cabinet meeting and then in the Assembly. Nobody at that stage had asked whether the offer was available in writing. A muted response forced Mr Manpreet Badal to seek wider media and public support. Then Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal responded by saying there was nothing in writing. The Chief Secretary was fielded to rubbish the Finance Minister's claim. Since the issue was only at the discussion stage, no records could have been possible. A Central committee is seized of the issue.


The Akali Dal was in a no-win situation. An acceptance of the Centre's terms meant withdrawing the freebies to farmers, its vote bank. A rejection of the offer meant saying no to a Rs 35,000-crore debt waiver, which means a lot, given Punjab's precarious financial condition. So the party took the no-offer-in-writing line. The only viable option that made political sense was to dump the Finance Minister, who commands respect among the enlightened sections of society. Politics has prevailed over sound economics, which has no takers in a state notorious for political and bureaucratic profligacy. Offer or no offer, Punjab's political leadership cannot shut its eyes to the state's mounting debt and economic decline.







INDIA'S election to a non-permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council after a gap of 19 years affords a welcome opportunity to this country to push the case for reforms in the United Nations which are long overdue. With Kazakhstan having pulled out from the race and there being no other contender for the Asia seat, the election was a mere formality. But the magnitude of the endorsement—187 of the 190 members voted for India — gives cause for elation. Yet, it would be naïve to assume that this would be a stepping stone to permanent membership for which India has been striving. Significantly, non-permanent members do not enjoy the crucial veto power and they do not have much say in matters that could affect international affairs and future of the planet.


The five permanent members have been zealously guarding their turf, reluctant to admit any other country. While Britain and France have announced unequivocal support for India's permanent membership, the Russians have offered only conditional support and the US and China are either refusing to accept India's claim or keeping silent on it. India indeed has a job on its hand to build up international pressure on the expansion of the Security Council. The timing for a new thrust could hardly be more propitious than it is today with the Security Council set to witness the simultaneous presence of all BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) countries and three of the four G4 nations (India, Brazil and Germany).


With India's two-year term as a non-permanent member slated to begin in January next, there is a huge challenge ahead for Indian diplomacy. To prove its credentials as a world leader, India will be required to articulate its stand on major issues with telltale effectiveness. It will also need to take a more proactive leadership stand in regard to flashpoints in its neighbourhood. This is India's chance to make its presence felt and to lead the way for basic reforms in the Security Council, including the question of the veto held by the five permanent members, the size of an enlarged Council and its working methods.









CHURCH bells tolled, sirens blared and millions in the world had a smile on their faces as miner Florencio Avalos resufraced after 69 days of living underground. He was the first of the 33 miners who had been trapped 2,000 feet below the ground in a mine in Copiapo, Chile, to be winched up in a rescue capsule, and like clockwork, other miners followed. TV and Internet audiences across the globe remained glued, witnessing a human drama that surpassed anything the world had known in the recent past. What had the potential to turn into a tragic story became a moment of pride for Chile.


A cave-in on August 5 had left the miners trapped in a small copper-and-gold mine. The tremendous effort of the Chilean government, led by President Sebastian Pinera and Mining Minister Laurence Golborne, was fruitful, first in locating the miners and then in coordinating an international rescue effort, which led to recovering them from the jaws of death. On their part, the miners responded to the disciplined leadership of Luis Urzua, their shift in-charge, who took measures necessary for their survival, including rationing of food. Contact with the outside world, established 17 days after the cave-in, too had a vital role to play in boosting their morale as well as providing them with material and emotional support.


Mining incidents are, unfortunately, not rare. The dramatic rescue has also brought the spotlight on mine safety. In Chile, the President sacked the head of the national mining regulatory body and promised reforms. The world that is watching the rescue operation from comfortable perches in front of the TV screens should also learn lessons, however uncomfortable, about ensuring mine safety. That would be a true celebration of the triumph of human spirit seen in the dramatic Chilean rescue effort.










WHILE glibly alluding to the "rights of Kashmiris," few people appear to remember that Jammu and Kashmir is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious state made up not just of "Kashmiris". Roughly 45 per cent of its people are not Kashmiris, who live in the Kashmir valley, but are Dogras, Punjabis, Paharis, Bakarwals, Gujjars, Buddhist Ladakhis and Balti Shias in Kargil. Paradoxically, the Kashmir valley, where one now hears calls for "azadi", had been ruled ruthlessly for over 700 years by Mongols, Afghans, Mughals, Sikhs and Dogras before the people there experienced democratic freedoms under India's Constitution.


Moreover, while communal harmony has prevailed in the multi-religious Jammu and Ladakh regions, it is from the valley alone, which boasts of a proud history of secular "Kashmiriyat", that 400,000 members of the minority community have been forced to flee from their homes by a Pakistani-sponsored "jihad," backed covertly by a motley conglomerate of separatists calling itself the All-Party Hurriyat Conference. And, right now, we are faced with a situation wherein a section of the people from barely five of the 22 districts in the state is holding the entire country to ransom.


New Delhi's handling of these developments has been marked by incredible naiveté involving attempts to alternately divide or appease the Hurriyat, whose charter explicitly proclaims its aim to promote "the build-up of a society based on Islamic values," in keeping with "the Muslim majority character of the state". The charter's primary aim is described as a "struggle to secure for the people of Jammu and Kashmir the exercise of the right of self-determination in accordance with the UN Charter and the resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council. However, the exercise of the right of self-determination shall also include the right to independence".


Every major outfit in the Hurriyat, which has splintered and split periodically, is associated with terrorist groups across the LoC ranging from the Al-Umar Mujahideen, which backs the "moderate" Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, to the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen linked to the "radical" Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani. While the secular Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front led by Yasin Malik was the favourite of the ISI in the early years of militancy, the leadership shifted from Geelani to the Mirwaiz when President Musharraf was at daggers drawn with Geelani's mentor, Qazi Husain Ahmed, the Amir of Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami. Now that General Kayani is at peace with the Jamaat, the Mirwaiz plays a second fiddle to Geelani. The puppets may be in the valley, but the puppeteers are in Rawalpindi!


With the PDP emerging as a viable alternative to the National Conference, both parties have sought to match the rhetoric of the Pakistan-backed separatists by demanding a return to the position that prevailed in 1953, before the provisions of the Indian Constitution were made applicable to the State. Some of our misguided "liberals" advocate the conceding of "maximum autonomy". They forget that what is being asked for by a section of the people of the state, exclusively from the valley, with little or no support from people in the Jammu and Ladakh regions, is a framework wherein the permit system for the entry of people from other parts of India into Kashmir could be revived, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the Election Commission and the Auditor-General of India will no longer extend to the state, and duties could be imposed on goods imported into Kashmir from the rest of the country.


Jammu and Kashmir will then become the only part of the country where the provisions of Article 356 and 357 of the Constitution will not be applicable and the Governor will be appointed not by the Union Government but by the state legislature. Just before the Mirza Afzal Beg-G Parthasarathi Accord was signed on August 23, 1974, Sheikh Abdullah told Indira Gandhi's representative: "I hope I have made it clear to you that I can assume office only on the basis of the position as it existed in 1953." Mrs Gandhi merely agreed to discuss this with Sheikh Abdullah, who assumed office soon thereafter.


The recent demonstrations in parts of the Kashmir valley have had no resonance elsewhere in the state. They are being orchestrated to pick up momentum and reach full throttle when President Obama is in India. The salient demand has been the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, being strangely espoused at a time when the Army is no longer deployed for internal security anywhere in the valley. The Hurriyat leaders and their mentors across the LoC know that with the Army out of the security equation, the writ of the Indian State can be challenged with impunity. The autonomy being demanded by the Hurriyat is seen in Jammu and Ladakh as an instrument to achieve permanent hegemony of the valley population and fulfil the Hurriyats's aspirations for a "society based on Islamic values". Any initiative to reach out to people across Jammu and Kashmir must be premised on the basis that there has to be a consensus in all regions of the state.


While demanding "azadi" for "Kashmiris" and echoing the Pakistani line, the Hurriyat has been remarkably reticent on what is happening in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Surely, those demanding "azadi" should be asked whether their "demand" also covers the people of Gilgit and Baltistan. The resolution passed by the European Parliament on May 24, 2007, slams the domination of officials appointed by Islamabad in the affairs of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and notes that the 1974 POK Constitution "forbids any political activity that is not in accordance with the doctrine of Jammu and Kashmir as part of Pakistan".


The European Parliament resolution notes that while the "Gilgit- Baltistan region enjoys no form of democratic representation whatsoever," the State of "Jammu and Kashmir (administered by India) enjoys a unique status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, granting it greater autonomy than other states of the Indian Union". These are surely the facts that India needs to drive home aggressively to people in the Kashmir valley and to the international community rather than being continually defensive about deliberately engineered violence in the valley.


The broad understanding reached during "back channel" discussions between India and Pakistan between 2005 and 2007 reportedly involved an end to cross-border terrorism and equivalent autonomy on both sides of the Line of Control, with the LoC no longer being a barrier to the free movement of goods, services, investment and people. Despite the antics of General Ashfaque Parvez Kayani and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, this is a vision India must aggressively articulate and promote.









WHEN I saw the oral cancer of a patient spreading to his eye, it shook me from inside and I silently knelt in prayer: "thank God I don't smoke any more."


Just out of school with unexpected high scores, I became the envy of the neighbourhood and kinship. After a flood of offers from premier institutes, I decided to join DAV College Jalandhar, the best option in 1961.Amidst the rigours of studies, I tried to ape one senior, who was otherwise very affable and friendly, to try to puff on a cigarette. Though it led to a fit of coughing, my bad luck made me to ignore the discomfort and I became an occasional smoker.


Once in medical college, the casual remark of a gorgeous batchmate about her penchant for smokers egged me on with my devastating relationship with Lady Nicotine.


Going through the pathology and medicine books on the deleterious effects of smoking did not seem to help me much . Though I did not marry that batch-mate, my first tiff with my fateful wife of 41 years concerned a cigarette. The habit got on to me progressively, making me a nervous wreck about the time I was father of two beautiful angelic daughters. Though they never expressed in strong words their abhorrence of tobacco smell in the house, their disdain of the man with a cigarette in the hand or on the lips was always obvious.


On our 26th wedding anniversary when my sweetheart asked very lovingly about the present I was supposed to give her on the occasion, I suddenly blurted: "How about smoke-free environs in the house". She was visibly thrilled. That did it ! For the next full one year I lived through the pangs of an ex-smoker going through scrawny moments.


But a sudden onset of angina impressed on me for good a stamp of a "reformed smoker". Lying in the ICU of Apollo Hospital in 1996 after a double heart bypass surgery, making me poorer by couple of lakhs of scarce rupees, I envisaged myself in the role of a preacher against the evils of smoking. Though heart disease was unheard of in my family for generations I am aware of the doctors' verdict attributing cigarette as the cause of early cataract in both eyes and heart disease at considerably young age.That made me more resolute of my crusade against the wickedness of smoking.


Once out of convalescence, I gave a string of lectures and interviews in schools, colleges and on every possible platform about the ill effects of smoking. American Department of Health came forward in a big way to supply suitable literature and help books on quitting smoking. I am humbled with the results that several of my friends and associates are now ex-smokers like me.


With the gruesome days past me, I continue to go on a bicycle for 15-20 km every day, with the profound hope of going past a fruitful life of at least 85 years, enjoying the bliss of prolific years of life and adding life to years. My adherence to yogic sadhana, pranayaam and tryst with Rajyoga are big sources of deliverance for me and my family.


I am glad that I made the right choice at the right moment. And I am proud of it. So are my wife,my two daughters and my four grand children.









WE are all embarrassed by Mr Lalit Bhanot's reaction to criticisms of the foreign news media last month on the unsanitary conditions in the Commonwealth Games Village. He remarked, I am sure without thinking, that our perceptions of cleanliness differ from that of the foreigners who he implied had higher standards. He did get upbraided by his superiors for his remark, but I would contend that instead of brushing the incident aside, we should use it to confront the truth and introspect deeply.


This incident reminds me of the embarrassment produced by the American, Katherine Mayo's 1927 book Mother India that microscopically examined our unhygienic conditions and attributed them to our customs and habits. Gandhi observed that the book is "the report of a drain inspector sent out with the one purpose of opening and examining the drains of the country to be reported upon, or to give a graphic description of the stench exuded by the opened drains". Yet, he urged every Indian to read it.


Of all our political leaders it was only Gandhi who had the courage to take a deep interest in changing our attitudes to garbage and sewerage. Identifying himself with the Shudra varna, he was ever willing to spend time on cleaning toilets and disposing of excrement. It is now time to follow Gandhi and do everything possible to prove Mr Bhanot wrong and set the standard for cleanliness and hygiene to the whole world.


To attain this objective, instead of going on to the denial mode and chastise Mr Bhanot for the embarrassment he has caused we should feel embarrassed at the open display of our ugly habits, sights and smells. If we travel by train almost anywhere in India we are bound to be greeted in the mornings by sights of people lining the railway track engaged in the business of defecation. We say dogs pee whenever they come to a pole but why do Indian males feel the urge to urinate in public whenever they wish. Is that our way of marking territory?


Our public buildings, railway stations, government offices, shopping arcades and even hospitals are often not spared from pan juice spittle. We are immune to garbage piled up in street corners and overflowing from garbage bins literally converting its surrounding area into an unhealthy swamp. To make matters worse, we seem to be paying for our double-digit growth in terms of scattered plastic garbage and chemical wastes that resist biodegradation and choke rivers, ponds and drains.


To some extent, we can pass the buck for such unedifying sights, sounds and smells to our deeply flawed institutions of governance starting from the municipality to the government in New Delhi. Corruption, inefficiency and callousness by officials are the usual complaints offered by the victims of such public apathy.


Although our official figures state that access to sanitary facilities has jumped to nearly 70 per cent of the population from an appallingly low less than 3 per cent a decade ago, we still have a long way to go. Our access to basic civic amenities such as clean water, public toilets, garbage bins and a proper sewerage system is woefully inadequate in spite of the fact that large government allocations are made in every budget to extend such facilities.


It is pointless to merely the blame the system. Our silence and indifference to such issues are taken as tacit approval of the state of affairs by the authorities concerned. We have to change many of our habits and customs no doubt, but most important among them is this habit of remaining passive to our unclean and unhygienic surroundings.


Some anthropologists and sociologists think that we tend to be indifferent and passive to ugly sights and smells because of our cultural conditioning. A distinguished Indian sociologist who is adept at quickly scanning the social scene to offer catchy insights suggests that because Hindus consider bodily emanations as highly polluting, they need the low- ranking castes of sweepers to do the job. He, therefore, argues that caste rules prohibit us from cleaning our own toilets. To do so is to get downgraded castewise.


Another anthropologist, an Australian, offers an Indian law of pollution that resembles one of the laws of thermodynamics. Just as matter cannot be destroyed, Indians believe that dirt cannot be eliminated; it can only be transferred from one place to another or from one person to another.


It follows from this principle that to keep one's self and one's home clean, it does not matter if the garbage is thrown out and the environment gets dirty. So, according to him, because Indians think that bodily eliminations can only be passed, somebody has to be polluted. The person who absorbs pollution will necessarily have a low social status as reflected in his caste's rank.


The problem with such anthropological explanations is that they consider culture as static and frozen. True, some of the principles of caste, especially the ones authored by Brahmins who assigned to themselves a high state of purity to propagate such theories. But, Indian culture is more intricate and complex.


Such principles have been challenged, not just in recent times but even in the medieval period by many Bhakti saints, including Ramanuja and Basava in the south and Guru Nanak and Kabir in the north of India. And in any case, however deeply rooted a particular habit or attitude may be in our culture, we are also capable of changing our attitudes and habits as circumstances change.


This is also true of the West as well. It is reported that as late as the 19th century sanitary conditions in vast parts of Europe were appallingly unclean. Besides, the cold climate of Europe compounded sanitary problems in ways unimaginable to people in the tropics. Let us not forget that the Thames in England was notorious as a highly polluted river in the 1950s and 60s.


It is well known that the institution of the bath is a relatively recent European import from the East. Hence, if we attribute unclean habits and unsanitary conditions entirely to culture we need to account for how European cultures that were relatively indifferent to considerations of purity and pollution have now become the standard-bearers of personal and public hygiene.


In India too we are beginning to see some new trends. It is a well known fact that in 1994 the city of Surat in Gujarat acquired notoriety as the epicentre of plague epidemic. But subsequently, thanks to the efforts of its civic officials, Surat was scrubbed clean and its ugly garbage dumps disappeared.


In Ahmedabad today, because of the efforts of NGOs and the municipality, slums have been provided with sewer lines, water and electricity connections. Hence, the slums of Ahmedabad are relatively cleaner and more liveable today than the slums of New Delhi.


The city of Hyderabad, including even the congested parts of the city, is spanking clean because the services of sweeping, garbage collection and its disposal was handed over to a private enterprise by the previous government.


The city of Chennai also sets a standard for urban cleanliness in India because of action taken by civic authorities to clean the river Cooam.


I also find that the efforts of Sulabh Shauchalaya have improved urban sanitation wherever they have built their paid toilets. Hence, instead of considering ourselves as being overwhelmingly conditioned by our culture, we should take collective initiatives to clean our urban environments. This is also a way of continuing the Gandhian tradition of social reform.


The writer is a former Professor of Sociology, JNU, Delhi








In the opening chapter of his book Anglomania, (Atlantic Books edition 2010) on Europe's fascination with Britain, Ian Buruma, academic and journalist tells us about a visit his grandfather paid to The Hague to buy Burma cheroots (he had been an army doctor in India during the war). "I can remember vividly," the author writes, "the look on the tobacconist's face when he realized my grandfather was an Englishman." He offered to show him something special. It turned out to be a framed glass case containing two cigars, one untouched, the other partly smoked. The inscription on the case read, "1946, Sir Winston Churchill's Cigar." 


The cigars had been presented at Queen Wilhelmina's lunch for Churchill. The partly smoked cigar had been put away because lunch was served. It was saved by Churchill's butler who gave it to one of the Queen's footmen, who presented it to the tobacconist who then had his solicitor draw up a letter of authenticity. In those days, Buruma writes, his grandfather was probably used to tributes to the British. "Through the late 1940sand 1950s, and even in the 1960s, the British were considered a superior breed in places like The Hague. For, the British, together with the Americans and the Canadians, had won the war. So had the Soviet Union, but the Red Army was never anywhere near the Hague, and besides, the Red Army was, after all, the Red Army." 


What's central to this story is that Buruma's grandfather Bernard Schlesinger was the son of a German Jewish immigrant. He loved England because he saw it as the country that saved him. He lived, with his family, in a large Victorian vicarage, became an "English gentleman," cultivated an English garden, dressed appropriately in corduroys and tweeds. 


Buruma's book is a rich, readable book, scholarly and amusing. It covers many centuries, many people, many themes – fascination with the English system of governance, the combination of aristocratic traditions and liberal democracy, the concept of the gentleman, English clothes, shoes and club ties, English food, English gardens, English writers and scientists… 


Why can't the world be more like England? Voltaire asked in his Philosophical Dictionary of 1756. Voltaire had visited England in 1726, after being imprisoned in the Bastille for writing a satirical poem on religious persecution. He saw England "as a model of freedom and tolerance. That is why," says Buruma, "I start my gallery of Anglophiles with him. Voltaire is the first, or at least the most famous, most eloquent, most humourous, most outrageous, and often the most perceptive Anglophile." Buruma quotes an amusing episode to illustrate French Anglomania: "The intellectual vogue for England, gave some people the idea that all Englishmen were deep thinkers. When one elderly English nobleman, known more for his appetite than his intellect, fell asleep after a copious dinner in Paris, his French hostess whispered in awe: 'Quiet, he's thinking.'" 


The Scarlet Pimpernel is often seen as the quintessential Englishman, an aristocrat playing the fop to fool officials so that he could rescue French nobles. Yet the author Baroness Orczy, the film-maker Alexander Korda, two of his scriptwriters, and the main actor Leslie Howard, were all Hungarians. Howard's real name was Steiner. To understand these Anglicized Europeans, Buruma writes, "one must understand where they came from." 
Hitler saw Shakespeare as a "Nordic genius," and, as he had always hoped for a Nordic alliance with Britain, he was proud that Germans showed so much respect for the playwright. Shakespeare was performed more often during Hitler's Third Reich than Goethe or Schiller. So, "even as German troops were preparing for an invasion of Britain in the spring of 1940, the Nazi elite gathered in Weimar to remember Shakespeare's birthday." 



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India has more billionaires than China but scores worse on the Global Hunger Index than China. That says it all. All global indices have some flaw or another and are at best approximations to the truth and not necessarily the truth itself. Moreover, rankings on any index are a function of definition and weights. However, accounting for all such caveats, India must still hang its head in shame that it is in the company of a block of 25 countries, including sub-Saharan Africa, where the hunger level is alarming. It shares this dishonour with some of the most underdeveloped countries of South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, such as Ethiopia, Angola, Zambia and Timor-Leste. India ranks 67 with Nepal at 56, Pakistan at 52 and Sri Lanka at 39. Only Bangladesh at 68 ranks below India in South Asia. The Global Hunger Index 2010 is prepared jointly by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and two global non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide. It is based on three significant indicators of hunger, each with equal weight, namely (a) percentage of underfed population, (b) proportion of underweight children below the age of five, and (c) child mortality rate. Sadly, it is the high incidence (43.5 per cent) of underweight children that pulls India's ranking down. It is both tragic and unacceptable that India is home to 42 per cent of the world's total underweight children and 31 per cent of children with stunted growth. The hunger index ranking comes at a time when India's policy-makers are grappling with, on the one hand, the problem of high foodgrain stocks (if stock numbers are to be believed) and, on the other, the administrative challenge of implementing a Right to Food law.


It is important to note, however, that undernourishment is not due to a paucity of food but because available stocks are either not reaching the needy — especially children and pregnant and lactating mothers — or, cannot be sold at a price they can afford for fiscal and other reasons. There is ample medical evidence that shows that the most critical stage when adequate nutrition is essential is the first 1,000 days of life, between conception and the second birthday of the child. The ill-effects of undernourishment are irreversible after the age of two. Unfortunately, this aspect tends to be disregarded while formulating food policies.

 There is indeed no denying the fact that India has made perceptible progress in alleviating hunger in the past decade. But this progress is far from satisfactory, considering that even some poorer countries have done far better. More significantly, the impressive growth in per capita income and poverty reduction this past decade does not seem to have made much of an impact on hunger. Clearly, apart from economic and social inequalities and a lack of purchasing power among the poor, poor management of existing stocks has contributed to this state of affairs. As pointed out in the hunger index report, pro-poor economic growth, strong agricultural performance and increasing gender equity are vital for alleviating the kind of starvation that is plaguing India where the overall food supply is not inadequate. The only institutional response to this sorry state of affairs is to strengthen the public food distribution system and ensure that the poor, especially women and children, have access to food. Brazil has taken this route to bring down its high incidence of stunted children to almost a negligible level. India needs to learn similar lessons. Merely legislating Right to Food, that too from New Delhi, when there is no effective food distribution system at the village level in most parts of the country, would serve little purpose. Hopefully, the response of the political system to this news would not be merely legislative but would, in fact, be essentially administrative. The duty to feed does not have to wait for a right to feed law.








Now that India has been elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), for a two year term, the government and India's diplomatic and strategic policy community have to decide what to do with it. There is no doubt that India has come a long way from the ignominious defeat of 1996, when India lost the UNSC Asian seat to Japan 40:142 votes, winning this time 187:5 votes. India's economic rise in the past decade and its new strategic relationships with several major and rising powers have all contributed to this impressive vote in its favour. However, getting into the Security Council is only the first step. India's problem is that on many vital global and regional issues, there is no genuine national consensus at home. Given the weakness of inherently fractious and myopic coalition politics, there is always the danger that on vital issues, the government may find its hands and feet tied when it comes to taking a position at the UNSC.


Hence, now that India is a UNSC member, the government should pro-actively seek to build a national consensus on foreign policy issues of vital concern to India. In a democracy, there will always be some critics of government. That is both a necessary and a valuable aspect of being a democracy. However, within the national mainstream, there has to be some consensus on important international and regional issues where India would be required to articulate its views at the UNSC. Apart from building political consensus on international issues, the government must also revitalise and strengthen its foreign policy machinery. India has one of the smallest foreign offices among major and rising powers. Its institutional capacity and capability for diplomacy has not kept pace with the challenges of the new post-Cold War and increasingly multipolar world that India now deals with. Increasing recruitment at the entry level will not suffice. India needs a quantum increase in manpower and intellectual capability in its foreign policy machinery in a short period of time. This can only come from lateral entry of professionals from other walks of life into diplomatic service. This challenge will become even more pressing once India takes over the UNSC Asia seat from Japan.








A growing number of Indian companies are setting up shop in China through a process of trial and error. They are, no doubt, walking down a path that their counterparts in the developed world have trodden before, except that the Chinese competition has got much tougher in the meanwhile. There is no "one size fits all" solution. In some sectors, Indian and Chinese companies can be global partners, in others Indian companies must provide reassurance with a local presence.


There are four thrust areas in India's market development strategy for China. Where information technology is concerned, India needs to persuade large and internationally aspiring Chinese companies of the value of working with India. The Chinese must get to appreciate that global corporations elsewhere are leveraging Indian IT for low-cost design and target contenting, value chain optimisation, capital efficiency and product development efficiency. The Indian IT industry has evolved from mere project execution to an end-to-end solution provider. Domain expertise attained by working with global corporations can be leveraged by Chinese corporations. The industry's track record of delivering mission critical solutions based on international quality standards can enhance overall efficiency and competence of Chinese companies and help position them as global companies.


 A second area of challenge is in pharmaceuticals. Indian domestic industry was worth $11 billion in 2009 and is expected to rise to $30 billion by 2020. India produces more than 20 per cent of the world's generics and with $70 billion worth of drugs expected to go off patent in the next three years in the US alone, this is clearly an area that will see considerable growth. To a joint venture partner, Indian industry brings branding, domain expertise, knowledge support and international networking. Contract manufacturing in India is growing rapidly and the US FDA has approved more sites in India than in any country outside the US.


There are considerable opportunities today for Indian and Chinese companies to work together — in China and internationally. The first will probably be necessary for the second to happen. Today, the lack of sales by pharmaceutical companies does not encourage more production in China, particularly when the approval process itself is seen as loaded against them. India, however, could well be a significant partner in the context of demands generated by China's new health reforms. A greater import of Indian pharmaceuticals would be an important sign of China's intent in this field.


The Indian engineering industry is also exploring opportunities in China more aggressively. Not surprisingly, it encounters a combination of regulations, policies and vendor practices that make this a daunting challenge. Apart from its own marketing and brand-building efforts, it is possible that the growing Chinese involvement with infrastructure-building in India will create relationships that can assist in that process. A fourth area of focus is agriculture and food products, where our negotiations are hastening more slowly than we would like. This is clearly going to be a test in perseverance.


Doing business together involves addressing each other's concerns. That is not yet happening adequately. As a result, many segments of the Indian business community find it hard to approach China with an open mind. They cannot understand why Indian IT, or pharmaceuticals, or engineering, which are competitive globally, somehow doesn't seem to succeed in the Chinese domestic market. But, in the final analysis, China has an interest in not being perceived by them as utterly mercantilist.


It is possible that this case for convergence might appear to some of you as underplaying the competitive nature of the relationship. Protagonists of the relationship have often pointed out that 99 per cent of the shared history between India and China has been positive. Yet, since the 1 per cent is of relatively recent vintage, it tends to assume an importance beyond its quantitative aspect. The reality is complex and need not necessarily be negative. Some convergence has manifested itself in the recent past, though it was obscured by larger developments. Those familiar with colonial history may recall that the Indian Independence movement actually enjoyed considerable support amongst the Chinese intelligentsia. Equally, China's travails in the 1930s and 1940s evoked great sympathy among Indian nationalists. Even today, an Indian medical mission that was sent out in 1938 remains a popular symbol of that bonding. In the 1950s, the two countries found themselves pushing parallel agendas on the global scene. They both had an interest in advancing decolonisation and, as emerging major polities, in resisting Cold War bloc politics. It is, of course, a matter of history that by the beginning of 1960s, their relationship deteriorated significantly and it took decades for it to get back on track. The short point is that there is history, even recent history, of working together.


This fact is important because today's international system is characterised once again by the two countries pushing an agenda that is at least partially shared and that raises the prospect of cooperation to advance their individual interests. We saw this at Copenhagen last year on climate change. Similarly, it was in evidence at the Doha Round on trade rules and food security. At the G20, India and China work together on the reform of financial institutions.


The BRIC provides a forum for discussing broader questions. Indeed, as both China and India become more global in their interests, their points of intersection are steadily growing. They encounter each other in more ways and in more places than ever before. They share similarities not just in size, culture and history but in aspirations and agendas as well. The challenge before them today is to elevate this convergence from a matter of necessity to a matter of choice.


Progress in that regard would depend on the sharpness of their realisation that for all their achievements, they still operate in a world where the rules are not made by them. A rising China seeks to revise this in its favour just as a rising India will. What remains to be seen is whether their efforts would reinforce each other.


The author is India's ambassador to China










Mills & Boon has been a doughty purveyor of romantic fiction to millions of teenage girls and women since 1908. A quick look at its kitschily designed website suggests that its reign as the go-to publisher of mushy romance is unchallenged (it is still privately owned, so hard numbers are unavailable).


 And yes, it is still selling romances with such rivetting back-cover blurbs: "Jonas Buchanan is a man renowned for being arrogant and seemingly emotionless, both in business and in his private life. He never combines work and pleasure, and steers clear of any woman who doesn't play by his rules… ." This is the description for a book improbably titled His Christmas Virgin.


Were it not for the fact that it deals in a lightweight commodity, M&B would be worthy of a case study in sheer business endurance. It has already been the subject of two books, one published by the formidable Oxford University Press, which supply a useful history but no "strategic" business explanation for its extraordinary endurance in an era in which the publishing business has seen some serious consolidation — the prefix Harlequin to the old family shop marks an expansion into the North American market.


It could, of course, be argued that the market for romantic fiction, like porn, never disappears, but that alone would not account for M&B's endurance. My assessment is that the publishing house has survived and flourished because it has never, ever deviated from its winning formula. Unlike Bollywood that has been suffering ever since its song-and-dance, happily-ever-after blueprint hits metamorphosed into more sophisticated plots, M&B remained true to its values. These values may not appear particularly attractive in these politically correct times, but they certainly serve a market demand.


To start with, M&B as a publishing house never suffered the slightest ideological dilemma. Politically, its instincts were, and are, unabashedly capitalist and conservative. From 1917 on, global ideologies may have been divided between socialists, communists and capitalists, but Che Guavera-type hero or even a mildly Fabian ideologue — and women dig these types too — was not to be found in an M&B. Its heroes were unfailingly rich — sometimes obscenely so — owning industrial conglomerates, banks, mansions, cars, armies of retainers and so on. Some of the more exotic romances were set in former colonies (South Africa, West Indies, Australia), so these tycoon heroes also had "native" colonial servants in tow to play bit parts in promoting their masters' virtues to the heroines.


M&B also remained more or less impervious to the post-war women's movements. Thus, the hero was always a dominant character (witness our Jason in para 2). In the sixties, seventies, the heroine was either a secretary, nurse, governess or housekeeper to the hero or to one of his acquaintances. Either way, her role was as an economic subordinate. Interestingly, it was the vamp who was usually the hero's equal, but the fact that she invariably lost the game made you wonder about M&B writers' notions of women's rights.


By the eighties, the rise of women in business and politics was too prominent to ignore, so the odd boss-woman did emerge in deference to the times. But the breed remained rare and even these alpha females eventually succumbed to the thrilling, masterful domination of the hero. The transformation of women was mostly acknowledged in an alteration in their personalities. In earlier M&Bs, heroines were virginal. From the eighties on, the women tended to be sexually active and demanding (which is why the prose of later books also became that much more risqué).


The other notable element of the M&B formula was the strong Caucasian element to the protagonists. Since M&B was a sturdy British business, the protagonists were mostly British and, later, American. The more adventurous writers threw in Spanish, Portuguese or Greek tycoons for variation (and sometimes Dutch doctors) but that's pretty much as far as the exotica went — Asia or Africa didn't even figure in the mix unless they were settings for the story.


Going forward, this is the element that's worth tracking. If you go by what economists are predicting and what the Forbes lists tell you, the developed, Caucasian world is declining and it's Asia that's seeing the growing fortunes. The tall, dark, handsome tycoons of yesteryear are now mostly part of the infamous PIGS grouping of indebted nations and Britain and the US aren't too far outside it. So, will M&B broad-base itself and offer readers Indian and Chinese billionaire-heroes instead? That's hard to see in the foreseeable future not least because M&B never has bothered with authenticity. So, the Jonas Buchanans of the world will continue to feature in their granite-jawed profusion — at least until the balance of economic power shifts too radically to ignore.









Transparency, openness and predictability are primary attributes for trade agreements to remain relevant for member countries. What is equally important, however, especially in turbulent times, is policy space available to countries for meeting domestic compulsions — political or economic.


The recent meetings at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) — the regular agricultural committee meeting and the US trade policy review — and the verbal duel between China and the western world on the currency issue at various forums have brought home the point of keeping enough room for policy space by countries while accepting multilateral obligations.


 The agricultural committee meeting at Geneva recently saw Costa Rica admitting that it had spent well in excess of its bound WTO ceiling for the most trade-distorting kinds of farm subsidies in 2008 and 2009. The country notified to the WTO that it's "Aggregate Measurement of Support" (AMS) amounted to about $62.5 million in 2008 and $91.7 million in 2009, which is much higher than its legally binding ceiling of $15.9 million for such payments.


It came under criticism for its excesses, but the Central American country attributed the increase in subsidies to higher production and fluctuating world prices for commodities. The country, however, set an example in transparency which, many a time, is missing in developed countries that fail to notify their spending on subsidies on time. What, however, is obvious in this case is that Costa Rica, an agricultural exporting country and member of the Cairns Group, would not have thought of the need to keep enough policy space to increase its support to farmers when global markets fluctuate. This is an important pointer for countries, especially when they are negotiating bindings for goods or services in which livelihood concerns are dominant.


The second case in which policy space helped manage domestic concerns was the recent US trade policy review at the WTO. The US was praised for remaining among the world's open economies in the face of a global economic downturn in the WTO report despite many important trade partners making hard -hitting critical statements on a wide range of US policies at this meeting.


The US, which, over the years, is viewed as a leader in multilateral trade negotiations, is now being perceived as a reluctant participant in the Doha negotiations by several countries. Beijing, for instance, is of the view that the US has stepped back from its leadership role and has in the wake of the global recession pushed state bailouts for the automotive, steel and financial sector. Chinese Ambassador to WTO Sun Zhenyu wondered in a statement "about how the US would take practical and responsible measures to prevent the dollar glut and maintain the stability of the currency".


The growing export thrust and the focus on increasing prospects for jobs through legislation by the Obama administration are indicative of a growing pressure on the American lawmakers to use policy space to address domestic concerns.


The Chinese, too, have been pushing back efforts by other countries to revalue the yuan. Beijing has been stating that undue pressure on currency reforms could have disastrous consequences for China and the world. At the recent EU-China Summit at Brussels, the Chinese president said that any sudden change in the currency could lead to a possible social unrest in the country since many jobs may be lost. Again, the focus was on domestic concerns and the need for policy space to navigate the thin line that divides domestic policy concerns and multilateral and bilateral obligations and responsibilities.


In the last six months, top Chinese officials have been giving clear indications that they would not like to come under pressure to revalue the yuan as it would have a negative fallout on employment in the country and lead to social instability. The European and American businesses have been very vocal in the last one year in pointing out several areas where the Chinese laws do not provide a level playing field to western companies.


In the last nine years, when countries have tried to conclude the Doha Round, the biggest issue that has been brought to the fore by most nations, especially the developing countries, is the need for maintaining domestic policy space while reducing barriers to trade.


Given the state of the Doha negotiations, it may be prudent for member countries to look at how the WTO can provide higher market access without curtailing the power to use policy to address domestic concerns. Without such a pragmatic approach, it may be difficult to move the Doha agenda towards a conclusion even in 2011.


The author is principal adviser APJ-SLG Law Offices









Electricity, or rather the lack of it, is one of the biggest constraints on India's growth. To begin with, connectivity continues to be an issue in rural areas. As of August 2010, more than 90,000 villages (around 15 per cent of the total) remain un-electrified; there are still two years to go for universal rural electrification according to the target set by the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojna launched in 2005. Twelve states have 100 per cent rural electrification — Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Goa, Haryana, Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Chandigarh, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep and Puducherry, and in nine states, more than 90 per cent of the villages have been electrified. An outlier is Jharkhand, the only state with less than 50 per cent rural coverage. Currently hit by a multi-crore scam in its rural electrification project, it's unlikely that this state will get its act together soon. While more than 20,000 villages remain un-electrified in Jharkhand, states with more than 10,000 villages to be covered are Orissa, Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.


Having a connection, however, is not the end of the story. Urban and rural India reel under power cuts all year round, which are severe particularly during the summer months. Latest data for the period April-August 2010 reveal a deficit of close to 14 per cent of the peak demand; in six states — Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar, Meghalaya, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh — the deficit of peak demand exceeded 20 per cent. The problems, of course, lie in both generation of sufficient power and the distribution systems. Capacity has lagged demand for long; during the last three plans, barely half of the targeted capacity was installed and with two years to go for the current plan to end, the government has already scaled down its power generation target to 62,000 megawatts (Mw) from 78,700 Mw. Since the 2003 Electricity Act, there have been many reforms opening the sector to private players. Though private sector interest has been high, hurdles remain in the form of land acquisition, red tape, power equipment shortages, the monopoly of Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd., fuel linkages and so on.


 One of the most pressing issues to resolve is high transmission and commercial losses — the average aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses for utilities selling directly to consumers fell marginally from 29.58 per cent in 2007-08 to 28.44 per cent in 2008-09. While the western region was the only one with higher losses in 2008-09, the southern region continued with the lowest AT&C loss, 17.42 per cent in 2008-09. The north-eastern region led with 35.96 per cent losses, followed by the eastern region with 35.51 per cent, the western with 34.32 per cent and the northern with 31.19 per cent. The best performing state was Andhra Pradesh where all utilities incurred losses less than 15 per cent.


State-level performance depends on the strength of the distribution sector and this involves the State Electricity Boards and Regulatory Commissions. In fact, distribution is the critical missing link, as huge transmission and distribution losses discourage the creation of a truly competitive market for electricity in almost all the states. With capacity generation lagging targets and AT&C losses higher than the norm, clearly, power supply will lag demand for many more years.


Indian States Development Scorecard is a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics that focuses on the progress in India and the states across various socio-economic parameters. 








TO SAY that the August 2010 figures for the index of industrial production (IIP) numbers are worrisome is to state the obvious. After recording strong growth of 15.2% in July, a fall in industrial growth to just 5.9%, the lowest in the past 15 months, would be cause for concern anywhere. But the bigger cause for worry is that the August numbers cast doubt both on the sustainability of the recovery, and more important, on the veracity of the numbers. After maintaining double-digit growth since August 2009, industrial growth has yoyoed this fiscal. The scorching pace of growth of 15.2% set in April 2010 was followed by double-digit growth in May 2010, only to fall rather sharply to 5.8% in June 2010. Growth recovered to a healthy 15.2% (revised upward from the earlier estimate of 13.8%) in July 2010, only to go down again to a 15-month low of 5.6% in August 2010, compared to the same month last year. The see-sawing of industrial production, as suggested by the numbers, would seem to indicate that industrial recovery is not on even keel as yet. But is that a fact? There is no way of knowing. Frequent and fairly large corrections — the July number was revised upward from 13.8% to 15.2%, the April number was revised downward from 17.6% to 15.2% — as well as seemingly hard-tocomprehend fluctuations (growth in capital goods output is minus 2.6% in August, down from an incredible 72% in July 2010) make the data quality suspect. Even if the variation is due to one or two suspect numbers, they take away from the robustness of the data. This was pointed out by the Reserve Bank of India as well earlier. 

Any policy can only be as good as the data on which it is based. No physician can medicate if the thermometer used to measure the patient's temperature is faulty. Similarly, no central bank or government can frame appropriate policies if it has no way of knowing whether growth is faltering or surging. Our statisticians have no means of ensuring prompt and accurate submission of data as the rules under the Collection of Statistics Act have not been notified to date. True, the IIP is only one among many tools policymakers use, but it is a vital one.








THE finance ministry has done well to broker a truce with financial sector regulators and bring them on board to form the financial stability and development council (FSDC). A consensus is a must, given the resistance from regulators led by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), to any change in the existing regulatory structure. Global experience shows that no particular structure by itself can guarantee sound regulation. The fact that Indian regulation proved relatively sound during the global financial meltdown also does not mean that our regulatory structure was or is perfect. The country's financial regulators will, however, have to reckon with the FSDC to be chaired by the finance minister. Its structure is undoubtedly complex and cumbersome. The finance ministry has shown some flexibility and modified the structure to allow the RBI to head the sub-panel on financial stability and inter-regulatory coordination. The intention is to enable FSDC to function as a coordinator without undermining the authority of individual regulators. This is a welcome step. But the government should translate its intent into action and give complete operational freedom to financial sector regulators. 


Today, the RBI is at the helm of a loose conclave of financial regulators. That such a model is not necessarily the best became evident after the tussle between the capital markets regulator, Sebi, and the insurance regulator, Irda, over the regulation of unit linked insurance plans (Ulips). The RBI's failure to resolve the dispute forced the government to intervene. This was clear proof that the existing regulatory structure needed finetuning. But whether the as yet-unproven FSDC will be an improvement remains to be seen. The government should ensure that the council retains the flexibility of an informal system even as it gets a formal structure. The fact that countries like the UK that tried the alternative of a unified regulator are now turning back to a model similar to ours shows nothing is cast in stone when it comes to the financial sector.








IN THE 2007 movie Chak De! India, the Indian women's hockey team returns from Sydney after defeating favourites Australia in the finals of the World Cup. At Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport, one of the stars of India's victory in the movie is asked by her boyfriend (Abhimanyu Singh — a take-off on the glamorous cricketer Yuvraj Singh) to marry him, and she refuses, saying, "Our relationship was always about you and you. Now I have also emerged as an individual in my own right." Last Monday, in real life as opposed to the reel variety, Indian women overshadowed their male counterparts by winning India's first-ever Commonwealth Games gold medal in athletics in 52 years since the legendary Milkha Singh scorched the track in the 440-yards event at Cardiff in 1958. The Flying Sikh, as Milkha was known, was sceptical of India's chances in the track-and-field events of the current Games. 


However, 2010 is not 1958, and Indian women athletes were determined to prove Milkha wrong. Which they did in style, with two village girls from Haryana and one from Punjab — Krishna Poonia, Harwant Kaur and Seema Atil — creating history by sweeping the gold, silver and bronze medals, respectively, in the discus event. The Hissar girl Krishna won the gold with a back injury. "We will tell him (Milkha) that we can win gold medals too," the three winners said. Haryana may have made dubious headlines of late through its khaps and honour killings. But the state's discus-throwers have proved that Haryana women can not only overcome that medieval mindset but shatter it! Some 26 years after P T Usha narrowly failed to win a medal at the 1984 LA Olympics, Krishna Poonia, Harwant Kaur and Seema Atil have demonstrated that "the woman of today is faster than the man in every way," to quote from the calypso song by the legendary Harry Belafonte. Bravo!







THE proposed takeover code represents a landmark step with all the ingredients in place to completely change the Indian M&A landscape. The expert panel has clearly been inspired by international best practices. However, one should evaluate the implications of these recommendations in the context of readiness of Indian capital markets and financial system to facilitate a smooth transition and implementation. 


That a 100% offer size is more equitable to minority shareholders, giving them an opportunity to fully tender their shareholding, is self-evident. However, one has to evaluate the ability of Indian acquirers to raise the resources necessary for a 100% buyout in the context of prohibitions on Indian banks to fund share purchases. This may hamper the inorganic growth ambitions of Indian companies. To put it in perspective, the average size of offers made by Indian acquirers in the last four years has been a meagre . 40 crore, compared with the average offer size of . 487 crore made by foreign acquirers. The new recommendation can potentially further widen this bias in favour of foreign acquirers with access to acquisition financing. 


The accompanying table summarises the tremendous fund-raising challenge that the new regulations pose. The outlay would have increased by a staggering . 1,33,350 crore had the rule of a 100% offer size been implemented four years ago. 


On the flip side, minority protection measures have come a long distance since clause 40A of the Listing Agreement ruled the roost. When the 20% rule came in, when the 2%, 5%, 15% disclosures and trigger limits came in, there were similar reservations. Indian economy has shown alot of dynamism, though halting or nonholistic at times. Our uptake is that, unlikely as it may appear today, funding sources will open up — MFs, insurance companies, NBFCs, investment banks, etc, will provide the funding. However, until these alternative sources open up, the average Indian company will feel daunted by the higher requirements. 


Another important development is in raising the initial trigger to 25% instead of 15%. The change will bring us closer to the 30-35% trigger in developed countries like the UK, Singapore, EU, etc. This move primarily takes into account the ability of shareholders with 25%+ voting rights to block special resolutions on key corporate matters as enshrined in the Companies Act. However, strictly speaking, special resolutions require an affirmative vote from 75% of the shareholders present and voting in the meeting. Taking into account absentee shareholders, shareholders with less than 25% shares do possess higher voting rights and indirectly gain the ability to block special resolutions. For instance, ashareholder with a 21% stake in a company has the ability to exercise 26.25% votes if 80% of shareholders are voting in the meeting, thus enabling him to exercise de facto control on key corporate matters. He does so without making an offer to minority shareholders. 


Another welcome step is widening the definition of control to include not only the right but also the ability to control the management or policy decisions of a company by virtue of entering into private shareholder agreements. Though a step in the right direction, it still retains a high level of subjectivity, with Sebi retaining a right to evaluate control triggers on a case-to-case basis. 


SIMILARLY, the proposed changes in the calculation of the minimum offer price, introducing volume weighted average market price in the preceding 60 days, is a well intended decision. Though it seeks to make the most relevant market price as one of the pricing benchmarks, it leaves a lot to be desired. It does not address the situation where the offer price is higher than the negotiated price because of the market price-based benchmark being higher. There are numerous cases of acquisitions where the offer price was substantially higher than the negotiated price, thus burdening the acquirer. 


If the underlying intent is to preserve the concept of equity for all shareholders, and hence that the offer price payable to public shareholders should be 'not inferior' to that paid for substantial shareholders, why should the acquirer make an offer to minority shareholders at a price higher than that is acceptable to the incumbent promoter? 


Under the current regulations, the extra burden on the acquirer was limited to the extent of paying a higher price only on 20% of the shares. However, retaining a market-linked pricing benchmark coupled with the requirement of making a 100% offer may be a double-whammy for acquirers who will have to offer a higher price owing to a higher 60-day average price. Rather than delivering a benefit to minority shareholders, the acquirer would be forced to drop the deal. Resultantly, the company does not benefit — letting go the opportunity to get a stronger, newer management who could take it to new heights, post acquisition. 


While the committee acknowledges the need for doing away with marketlinked benchmarks in the long run, they continue to retain it till the shareholder community becomes confident about the governance practices of smaller companies. However, the committee should have taken this bold step of doing away with the market-linked parameter in this set of recommendations itself instead of resolving to relook at it in the future. 


On the pricing front, based on equity among shareholder groups, the committee has recommended that noncompete fees be added to the negotiated price so that it is offered to minority shareholders also. One can understand that the committee has responded to 'suspect' non-compete fee arrangements. However, genuine cases of noncompete arrangements would suffer. 


Regarding the downward revision in the timelines for completion of an offer from 95 days to 57 days, Sebi will have to take a more positive approach since only a small number of offers have actually been completed within 95 days in the past. 


Additionally, to ensure the implementation in letter and spirit of all the recommendations, the existing regulatory framework with respect to preferential issuances, delisting, tax, FDI, etc, would need to be synchronised. 


(The author is the chairman of     Enam Securities)








DURING the Vietnam war, US secretary of defence Robert McNamara was so cocksure of an American victory that he propagated a 'strategic' bottom line: "Two plus two is four, and we will win the war". The trouble with this line was that, as one CIA official once put it, McNamara could never define what 'two' represented. 


Parallels are increasingly being drawn between the current US military campaign in Afghanistan and the one in Vietnam, but this time, the Americans could be said to have had a handle on the objectives. 


For a brief period, from the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, 'nation building' was an oftheard refrain. It no longer is. "I'm not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars," US President Barack Obama is quoted as saying in Bob Woodward's recent book Obama's Wars that details the continuing strain in his administration over the exit plan out of Afghanistan. The frustration in the President's tone is barely disguised. 


Now, 'exit strategy' is the phrase on which the discourse turns in Washington. In his speech outlining the Af-Pak strategy March last year, Obama had delivered a curt message — the clear and focused goal of the US is "to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its return to either country in the future. That is the goal that must be achieved." 


In Woodward's book, Obama sounds like he has grappled with the other objective, too. "We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan," the president said. Creating a secure Afghanistan is imperative, he said, "so the cancer doesn't spread" there. 


How these objectives can be achieved when Nato forces under American command in Afghanistan are hamstrung by a resilient Taliban insurgency, a corrupt government in Kabul and venal warlords presiding over much of the nation, is the question that haunted the administration ever since. But the whole narrative shifted since Obama set a deadline to start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan — from July 2011 — in the very address in December last as he announced the sending of extra troops. It's no surprise that as the exit strategy became ever more pressing, the need for a political settlement has assumed utmost urgency. 


Unfortunately for the president, the Plan A of military strategy has not been a roaring success so far, the surge in troops notwithstanding. The coalition's touted Helmand, Marja and Kandahar operations have achieved less-than-desired successes. Though the US insists that the Taliban's battlefield victories are small-bore, the latter can count on something else — a powerful sense of momentum and time — while the US campaign is limping. 


So, the shift to Plan B: talks with the Taliban. It seems now that the old distinctions between 'good' and 'bad' Taliban have worn thin. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has confirmed that his government has been holding unofficial talks with the Taliban 'for quite some time'. The talks come amid a change of heart by the Obama administration towards the full backing of talks with the Quetta Shura headed by Mullah Omar. 


Here, the problem is that Plan B too cannot succeed without Pakistan's sanction, as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has made it clear the other day. So far, the Haqqani group, the Taliban faction that has been the target of escalated US drone strikes in Fata, has been excluded from the negotiations. But the Haqqani faction is being promoted by Pakistan as its hedge against 'arch-enemy' India's influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan has been making persistent efforts to ensure that the Haqqani network is included in the negotiation process without getting a bloody nose militarily from the Americans. 

If that happens, the July 2011 timeline set by President Obama to start the withdrawal of troops would look like a cut and run, a complete negation of the plan to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan". 


Obama is right when he says nationbuilding is boggier terrain, but merely walking away is not an option. Like it or not, Afghanistan's fate is entwined with that of Obama's administration, and McNamara's 'wisdom' might again not make the cut.








THE subprime crisis of 2007 inflicted substantial losses on the financial sector as it unfolded over the next couple of years. These losses were estimated in trillions of dollars and so were the costs of rescue. Governments poured money into distressed financial firms through expensive rescue programmes. 


These programmes were thought necessary at the time, yet have been criticised as unabashed bailouts of the private sector. Just how big were the losses and the rescue costs? Did governments spend too much or too little in their rescue efforts? America's rescue programme provides useful clues. 


Following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, the US Congress rushed through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (Tarp). The provision made was a staggering $700 billion. Two years later, the programme has been wound up. The results should confound the critics. 


Under Tarp, the US government was to buy toxic assets or illiquid assets off the books of banks and sell these once the market recovered. That didn't really happen. The Treasury realised that setting prices for illiquid assets was an impossible task. If the prices were set too high, the Treasury would be accused of favouring banks. If they were set too low, banks in trouble would face even higher losses. 


The purpose of Tarp was then modified. The funds that Congress made available were used for other purposes — injecting capital into banks and General Motors and Chrysler, providing backstop facilities to the insurer AIG, helping to make the terms of some mortgages more favourable, etc. Only $470 billion of the funds made available were actually committed. 


Did Tarp work? Answers differ as to how effective it was, but most people believe that it did prevent the US and the global economy from going over the precipice. Tarp funds came at a time when private funding threatened to flee the banking system altogether. Once capital was infused into banks, they were able to go out and raise funds from the public and shore up their capital. 


Recovery would have been faster had the US government injected more capital into banks. That would have made them more willing to lend. However, both the Bush and Obama governments shrank from stronger recapitalisation. They made sure that the capital they injected did not give them control over the banks because the American establishment is allergic to the idea of nationalisation of banks. 


Instead, they attempted to expedite recovery by cutting policy rates. Banks were allowed to rebuild their capital over time by borrowing virtually at zero cost and making easy profits. As a result, recovery in the US has stretched over more than two years and even today it remains anaemic. 


This is one of those things that will be debated forever, but one thing is for sure. The cost of Tarp is nowhere near the figure of $700 billion that shocked the American public. As the economy recovered and banks started returning capital, estimates of the cost of Tarp began to be progressively revised downwards. The latest estimate is a mere $50 billion — or less than 0.4% of US GDP. 


The estimates of losses in the financial sector themselves have been revised several times. The IMF's Global Financial Stability Reportestimated losses in the US at $1.4 trillion in October 2008. By April 2009, the losses had been revised upwards to $2.7 trillion. In April 2010, the estimate came down sharply to $885 billion. Global financial sector losses were estimated at $4 trillion in April 2009. A year later, they were revised to about half the figure — $2.2 trillion. How come? 


The losses in the financial sector include losses on loans as well as securities. Losses on securities are estimated on a mark-to-market basis and hence fluctuate with movements in the markets. After the Lehman debacle in late 2008, prices in the markets plummeted sharply, which is why losses peaked in 2009. As economies and markets recovered in 2010, losses tended to decline. 


Financial sector losses and rescue costs are the not the correct way to estimate the costs of financial crises. We must look at the output lost — what the growth rate would have been without a crisis and what it was because of a crisis. But estimates of losses and rescue costs provide a rough measure of loss and they also determine the quality of government intervention. 


As the experience in the recent crisis shows, these estimates can be deceptive. Markto-market losses at the peak of a crisis tend to exaggerate the losses and rescue costs. Markets tend to panic when they think that large financial institutions will fail. So these estimates of losses should not be used to determine the extent of government intervention. 


Governments must simply do what it takes to prevent failures of large institutions. They should not be intimidated by panic-time loss estimates. Had the US government prevented Lehman from failing, had it made sure that banks were quickly recapitalised, the financial sector losses would have been even lower and economic recovery faster.







THE immaculately painted panel shows Mary surrounded the apostles. Local Goan artists created it for Portuguese patrons in the 16th century. Mary's features and robes, as those of the apostles, are distinctly oriental. The commingling of a western motif in an eastern garb reminds your columnist (on pilgrimage to Panaji recently) of a painting he had seen years ago in a yoga manuscript in London. 


It had been taken from the Rani Laxibai's library by a British soldier during the sack of Jhansi in 1857. 


The text came from Charatrama's 17th century Hindi classic, Jogadipika, and it had been illustrated with paintings of asanasand mudras done in bold colours and style of the Punjab Hills School. The frontispiece had Siva and Parvati with Ganeshji and Nandi, surrounded by the nine Natha-Siddhas in the Himalayas. 


The vivid memory of this miniature, seen on a rainy afternoon in the India Office Library, flashed into your columnist's mind as he stood before the stucco-and-gilt panel of Mary as 'the Apostle of Apostles' in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa. Mary, as the anonymous Goan artist had envisioned, looked exactly like the image of 'Parvati Natha' that the unknown Pahari painter had invoked for Jhansi ki Rani. Both were solitary Moms. A crowd of great gurus surrounded both divas. Yet, they shone as supreme leaders by their very feminine compassion. 


Did they represent what Ralph Waldo Emerson called, "a simple, quiet, undescribed, undescribable presence dwelling peacefully in us"? The husbandand-wife team of therapists, Richard and Bonney Schaub, described it as the "potential in vulnerability" as they stood before Michelangelo's Pieta in St Peter's Basilica in Rome. 


The marble depicts a very younglooking Mary holding the dead Jesus in her arms. Her face is inscrutably calm. Is she resigned to his divinely ordained fate or is she so overwrought that she has disconnected? 


The artist's intention was not to depict either of these emotions, the Schaubs argue. "It was to show surrender. Not the surrender of quitting, of resigning from life, but the surrender to what is — to the way things happen, despite the way you want them to be," they write in The End of Fear. 


That's the strength of surrender, of courage to understand things exactly as they are and not as they ought to be. It unites utter surrender of selflessness with utter serenity.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




India has been in the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member before, and several times at that. This group of 10 is distinct from the five permanent members — the US, Russia, Britain, France and China — which wield a veto. It does not enjoy the same significance as them. Nevertheless, even being a non-permanent member is of value: the Security Council is, after all, virtually the board of directors in world affairs when it comes to political and security matters. It would be wise all the same not to get carried away by India's election to the UNSC on Tuesday, impressive though the margin of its victory was. Let us remember that even Pakistan has been a non-permanent member, although its standing in the world has never been too high. In the end, all that the Indian win really means is that the world perceives this country as a responsible power. It does not by a long shot mean that this may be construed as necessarily being part of the process that may take India further on the road to permanent membership. That is an entirely different game, one subject to multiple pressures from the four corners of the world, including China and Pakistan. In the Tuesday vote India secured the support of 187 of the UN's 191 members, more than any other country that got elected. What a contrast from 14 years ago when India was roundly thrashed by Japan for the Asian seat as a non-permanent member. External affairs minister S.M. Krishna is right when he suggests that the pattern of the vote is indicative of India's increased weight in world affairs. Had Kazakhstan not withdrawn from the fray earlier this year, India would have been required to press its weight against that of the Central Asian country. The fact that it didn't come down to this is a measure of Indian diplomacy, its fine equation and influence, possibly the most important of the Central Asian republics. The real diplomatic victory was perhaps when India was able to persuade Almaty to withdraw in its favour.

The difference between now and when India was last in the UNSC — in 1991-92 — lies in the fact that the world has changed so dramatically, and so has India in a positive direction in this time, permitting New Delhi to exert a measure of economic and technological weight on the world stage, which can translate to political influence if the diplomacy is not botched. In this period this country is also seen as having become a responsible nuclear weapons power which is ready to exert a moderating influence in the area of nuclear non-proliferation without becoming a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Being in the UNSC when crucial changes are in the crucible in the context of Afghanistan, where India has invested much in terms of human resources and treasure, and when unforeseen developments could occur in Kashmir at the instigation of Pakistan or China, is a comforting thought. However, responsible positions also bring on added responsibility. As a UNSC member, India will be called upon to take a stand on sensitive issues when it comes to debate and vote. Ducking and weaving will not be an option, as it is now.







We are coming to the end of Navratras, a period of wonderful nine days when the Divine is worshipped in the form of women — knowledge manifested as Saraswati, wealth manifested as Lakshmi and prowess and valour as manifested in Durga.


As many among us know, in the Hindu worldview "purushartha", or the purpose of human life (purusha = human), is achieved in the framework of dharma, artha, kama and moksha.


Some would even find a symbolic importance in this very sequence of couching artha and kama between dharma and moksha: acquisition of wealth and gratification of our earthly desires are to be guided by the universal and eternal law, dharma, and all actions would thereby steer us towards attaining moksha, freedom from the cycle of births and death.


Again, within each human being we recognise a female and a male form. Lest we miss the point, the accent in the expression ardha nari is on women.


After the nine days of worship are over, there is celebration marking the victory of the Devi vanquishing Banda, the asura. In several parts of India, the 10th day is when Lord Rama decimated Ravana. Ravana's sin (violation of dharma) was that he had attempted to gratify his earthly desire to possess someone else's wife.


The noble ideals of ardha nari and the worship-worthy have, since time immemorial, co-existed with the likes of Ravana, Dushassana and Keechaka. The ideals have repeatedly been threatened and reasserted. In their reassertion, the role of women has been only grudgingly recognised.


While reasserting the ideals as visualised by the great seers of the ancient, women have adopted strategies that have factored in the desha and kala realities. This, in itself, requires an understanding of dharma in all its subtleties. Jabala, Savitri, Kannagi, Draupadi of ancient India were followed by Mira, Rani Padmini, Rani Rudramma and Rani Ahilya Bai, and in the last two centuries by Pandita Ramabai, M.S. Subbulakshmi and many more who have shown a rare kind of inner strength to face the challenges thrown at them.


It is well known that each of them excelled in their chosen fields; more important is to note the way in which they reasserted the dharmic ideals in their own lives, notwithstanding the scorn and contempt shown by the orthodoxy.


Each of their lives, their understanding of dharma, in all its subtlety, has been so conveyed with refinement that we are muted but only with admiration. They are the Saraswati, Lakshmi and Durga who lived among us and it is they we should commemorate during these nine sacred days.


In Tamil Nadu, most houses hold a "Kolu" (a display of dolls) during the Navaratras. The themes displayed in these doll arrangements are essentially the forms of the Devi, the Dasavataras and some flora and fauna. It was fashionable to have a small enclave displaying figurines of freedom fighters and patriots. I remember Shakuntala, Mira and Rani of Jhansi finding a place of honour in a few houses but most other great women were simply not remembered.


In contemporary India, the indignity that women face is reported every day in the print and electronic media. We are almost indifferent to them until in the "rarest of rare cases" a sensational reporting draws our attention. Women have fought for their honour and lost their lives or are still chasing the elusive justice for a daughter, sister or a friend. Even powerful social movements such as the anti-arrack agitation in Andhra Pradesh, were spearheaded by women.


Our women have claimed and found their place with quiet dignity. The single mother in Jabala and Shakuntala, Kunti and her abandoned son, had their place, albeit after trials and tribulations.


Our civilisation was not embarrassed to handle aberrations, exceptions or those out of the ordinary. Among the commonplace, the bright and challenging stars like Maitreyi and Gargi were not put down, even though cursed by an enraged husband an Ahilya was restored, Satyavati, the fisherman's daughter and later the Queen of Indraprastha maintained with honour her son Parasara and so on.


The inclusive and catholic nature of this civilisation especially in matters related to women can be noticed in a few shrarddha mantras too. Offering pinda or the cooked rice to the dead parents and forefathers is a solemn duty of a son. It is relevant here to notice that the number of pinda offered to one's mother is far more than those offered to the father. Along with this, the great detail with which the relevant mantras recall the sacrifices made by the mother in bearing and delivering the child and subsequently, during the child's upbringing show a rare sensitivity in understanding and recognising the woman.


Have all these become the unrealisable ideals? Centuries of corrosion have made patriarchy firmer, the caste more rigid and oppressive, poverty more abject and commercialisation greedier. As a result, in our society today, the status of women differs widely: urban vs rural, religion vs religion and caste vs caste. It is as easy as it is difficult for the women of today.


A while ago, I read somewhere that on becoming the CEO of one of the world's largest MNC, an Indian lady came back home and shared the joy of her elevation with her family. Her mother who was on a visit was staying with her then. Without much ado, the mother told the new CEO daughter that she better rush to the neighbourhood store before it closes for the day as there was no milk in the house, for the son-in-law needs his coffee as soon as he wakes up, every morning.


The mind of this mother — who is proverbially behind this successful CEO — can be best understood as the blend of tradition and modernity. "The relativism of dharma supports tradition and modernity, innovation and conformity", say Sudhir and Katharina Kakkar in their book The Indians: Portrait of a People.


- Nirmala Sitharaman is spokesperson of theBharatiya Janata Party. The views expressed in this column are her own.








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 the US President, Mr Barack 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 programme 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 centre, so only three are moving ahead. But Mr 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. 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. 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 the energy secretary, Mr 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 Mr Chu put it, "accelerate the normal progress of science and technology for energy research" and thereby "discover and commercialise 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 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-fertilising.


Mr 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.


The idea behind the hubs, explained Mr 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" "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 per cent 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 favourite 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 complicity of K.G. Bopaiah, the Speaker of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, working in tandem with the Chief Minister, Mr B.S. Yeddyurappa, to disqualify 11 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislators in such a hurry, and to manipulate a majority for the BJP government, demonstrates that Speakers of legislatures try to misuse the Anti-Defection Law to help their party.


Let us recall the events. Mr Yeddyurappa wrote to the Speaker on the evening of October 7 to disqualify 11 legislators, and the Speaker issued showcause notices the next day on the ground that the MLAs in question violated schedule 10(1)(2)(a) of the Anti-Defection Act. On the evening of October 10 , the legislators who had decided to withdraw their support to the government, appear with their advocates. However, later the same evening, just a few hours before the government could take vote of confidence, the Speaker passed the order of disqualification, clearly in order to manipulate a majority for the beleaguered government. This decision is against all norms and well established principles of the Anti-Defection Law.


The Speaker misused his quasi-judicial powers and behaved unilaterally to make his party succeed.


In all circumstances, the Speaker was supposed to be impartial, against all fear and favour. Mr Bopaiah, however, created history in Karnataka by taking such an unconstitutional decision. I cannot recall such a thing in the past. That was a black day in our political history.


The Speaker did not dare disqualify MLAs who had been hijacked by the Reddy brothers in the past. But now he has taken such an unconstitutional step. Above all, the Speaker did not follow the Governor's advice to retain those 11 MLAs, choosing to misuse his authority and the Anti-Defection Law. He approved the vote of confidence by voice vote. This too was unconstitutional. He should have objected to the chaotic goings-on, being the custodian of the House.


 M.C. Nanaiah, Janata Dal leader and MLC, Karnataka


House custodian knows best

Anyone who has objectively analysed the role of the Karnataka Assembly Speaker, Mr K.G. Bopaiah, would not allege that he manipulated the Anti-Defection Law to disqualify rebel Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLAs and help his party win the trust vote on October 11.


The Speaker's post is a sacred one, and it has its own authority. It is unfortunate that those who lured BJP MLAs into rebelling against the Yeddyurappa government are now quick to allege that the Speaker acted improperly. The allegation has no substance.


Consider the sequence of events: Eleven BJP MLAs submitted a memorandum to the Governor that they had withdrawn support to the Yeddyurappa government. The Governor, in turn, sent a letter to the chief minister asking him to prove his majority on the floor of the House. The Chief Minister then sought legal advice on what action the rebels invited. Based on the advice received, he suggested that the Speaker issue showcause notices to them. The Speaker did not act in a unilateral or authoritarian manner. Exercising his quasi-judicial role, he issued notices to the 11 MLAs. The Speaker heard their arguments for four to five hours. Only after that did he give his verdict to disqualify the MLAs.


True, the Governor did advice him to retain those MLAs for the voting. Ultimately, though, the Speaker is the custodian of the House, and the House has got its own supremacy. The Speaker cannot be directed what to do and how. The Governor may have advised him, but it is up to the Speaker to consider such advice.


Now, the Governor has asked why the then Speaker did not disqualify BJP MLAs who had sided with the Reddy brothers when they rebelled last year. The answer is simple: Those MLAs had not gone to the Governor and submitted a letter saying they had withdrawn support to the government.


 S. Suresh Kumar, law and parliamentary affairs ministerin the B.S. Yeddyurappa government









THE government and the academic circuit must now reflect on the hi-falutin' talk of world class institutions. The IITs, which indubitably fall in that rarefied category, are under a cloud if not a storm just yet.  Suspiciously muted has been the response of the respective boards of governors. Research has been plagiarised and dissertations have been co-authored by the faculties at IIT Delhi and Kanpur. The papers have been retracted by two international journals. The evidence of a fudge is convincing enough; one research paper had allegedly lifted chunks from Wikipedia.  And the IITs are pretty much defenceless against the disgraceful charge levelled by the journals, Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research and Biotechnology Advances ~ "The authors have plagiarised parts of a paper that had already appeared in another journal". The scientists' perceived contribution to research has verily been trashed with the damning observation that it marks "a severe abuse of the scientific publishing system". The setback has been severe, if not devastating.

It is a fiddle with several facets. Chief among these must be the appalling supervision when research is underway. The originality of dissertations must now be open to question. The supervisors and the Fellows are equally culpable. It will strain credulity should the former claim that they were not privy to the plagiarism. The other factor must be the purpose of funding not least because a fair amount of public money is expended on doctoral and post-doctoral work. Alas, as it occasionally turns out, to dish out fudged thesis. Research, whether in technology, pure science, social sciences or the liberal arts, is intended primarily to enhance the value of the discipline and with it the standing of the institution. Indeed, under-graduate courses and contribution to research are the major parameters of a centre of higher learning. It mirrors the systemic malaise if an IIT dissertation can turn out to be a source of grave embarrassment, leading to a setback rather than an advancement of learning. It is cause for alarm that two other IITs have also come under the scanner of the Society for Scientific Values, a watchdog entity. As a world class network, the plagiarism ~ once again without attribution ~ is bound to cause almost incalculable damage to the image of the IITs across the country. The academic malaise is spreading... from Bt brinjal to physics and biological science. Tragically, higher learning can be spurious even in the holy of holies.




IF a certain pragmatic school of urban transportation has its way, Kolkata's almost 24 x 7 traffic problem will be considerably resolved by reducing the number of "private cars" ! One must presume that the government will be entitled to keep adding to its fleet. And also, of course, violate road rules with or without the cherry on cheese, to summon the language of the metaphor. This must rank as a classic instance of disingenuity that has been advanced by West Bengal's urban development minister, who on occasion doubles up as the pointman in the Hills... with no effect. Mr Ashok Bhattacharya is emphatic that fewer cars will at once curb traffic bottlenecks and improve public transport. Towards that end, he has urged the public to "opt for buses instead of their own cars". There are two facets of his argument. As for the first, he may be right on the face of it ~ a bandh day is an example ~ but the proposal is wholly unfeasible, almost inconceivable. Second, he has established a contrived connection between fewer cars (of the urban nouveau riche) and better public transport (of the permanently poor). The minister appears to be driven by the bizarre logic that if you can't control traffic, then do away with cars! It would be difficult to beat this brand of tosh that is intended primarily to obfuscate reality.
Mr Bhattacharya has come up with his formula on the eve of the Pujas when commuting has become a nightmarish experience. Traffic management has virtually collapsed in parallel with public transport both on the surface and underground; the introduction of AC rakes has ironically thrown the Metro out of gear. The minister is aware that the patience of the car-owner as much as the person who depends on public transport has seldom been so sorely tried as over the past week. Yet there is no indication in his statement that the fundamentals will be addressed. Rather than development, he has presided over urban regression. The state transport network is in a shambles; road space gets increasingly constricted for a variety of reasons; the Metro is irregular and suffocating; trucks and lorries are allowed to ply on arterial roads during peak hours. For one who doesn't boast a car, the uncertainty on the road can throw one's schedule out of joint. The minister's performance all these years showcases an apology for urban development. And to blame it entirely on the burgeoning cars would have been laughable were it not for the profound implications.




TRACK and field events ~ athletics in popular parlance, though the term 'athlete' is now being used for all players ~ have ever been at the core of sporting activity. Not for nothing are those competitions held at the main stadium of all major multi-disciplinary festivals, they highlight the basics: running, jumping and throwing. While technology may have come up with more aerodynamic javelins and discus', or composite materials "springier" vaulting poles than the bamboos of yesteryear, the part played by human capacities is perhaps more (certainly no less) than in any other sporting pursuit. It is against that backdrop, rather than an overall medals tabulation, that India's splendid showing at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium merits evaluation. Without taking the sheen off any of the gold medals won in other CWG events, there must be some added glitter to ones earned for athletics. It was not just a 62-year-gap "golden gap" that was bridged (Milkha Singh's 440-yard run in Cardiff in 1958 was the sole precedent), for a second was bagged. True there had been expectations in the discus throw, but a clean sweep (not the kind Sheila Dikshit spearheaded at the Village) had hardly been imagined. No wonder the large gathering erupted in emotion when Krishna Poonia, Harwant Kaur and Seema Antil overran the victory stand. Shock and awe was delivered the next day, when form and track records were reduced to irrelevance as the foursome of Ashwini Akkunji, Mandeep Kaur, Sini Jose and Manjeet Kaur orchestrated an unscripted essay in the 4x400 metres relay. That "special seven" ended Tendulkar's front-page monopoly: despite his record 14,000 runs, 49th century, and sixth double-ton that accrued in Bangalore on those very same days. 
  Indian women have never been far from the front in track and field. Indeed it has been something of a tradition with names like Stephie D'Souza setting the stage to be followed (among others) by Deanna Syme, Ashwini Nachapa, Shiny Wilson, Anju Bobby George and that superstar PT Usha. A pity that Usha's protégé Tintu Luka fell victim to inexperience and tactical immaturity the day the discus-trio displayed much "professionalism". What the successes at the JLN stadium (with apologies to Panditji, that is how it is now dubbed) established is that an athletics-platform is in place once more. It would be tragic if, yet again, it is not built upon. The Asian Games beckon.









ON the ground, the situation in Afghanistan seems as bad as ever. The Marjah operation in the lower Helmand valley yielded less than was hoped for, and failed to give the Afghan army and the US-led ISAF the decisive ascendancy they sought. One result of that somewhat inconclusive operation is that the next major push, the current effort against the Taliban in Kandahar, is being pursued more cautiously, without the fanfare and publicity of the earlier campaign. At the same time, drone attacks on the Taliban have been stepped up, in Afghanistan itself and also in the sanctuaries the insurgents benefit from in the tribal areas of Pakistan. In retaliation, the Taliban have staged several successful attacks on NATO oil convoys passing through the Khyber. What gives an edge to this all-too-familiar tale is that time seems to be running out for the defenders.
Some distant signposts have now been set up: President Obama has indicated mid-July next year for a start to the drawing down of US forces, while President Karzai has pointed to 2014 as the time when Afghanistan will take full charge of its own affairs. These timelines do not appear realistic to some, nor are they being pressed as final, but they do have the effect of reminding us that the present situation cannot go on for ever, and that something will have to change.

The expectation is that, with appropriate international support, Afghanistan will indeed be able to re-emerge as a fully functional sovereign entity by the target date, and that its security concerns, which have regional connotations, will receive the necessary regional response. A coordinated regional effort to meet Afghanistan's security needs has been much spoken of but it is not a straightforward matter to arrange, for important regional players have differing views on what needs to be done. India and Pakistan do not see matters from the same viewpoint and it is not clear how far, if at all, their views can be harmonized in the future.

To be noted, too, is that in some quarters the repeated call for stronger regional agreement has become an indirect way of pushing for more cooperation from Pakistan in taking on the Taliban ~ as is well known, there are ambiguities and unexplained features in that relationship. Then there is Iran, an important neighbour with ineluctable interests in Afghanistan, host to many refugees, a significant trading partner, close religious links, and many other binding ties. Currently, Iran is under heavy sanctions by the international community, and the matter of its nuclear plans occludes all else. In these circumstances, how would it fit into any scheme for regional security? Nor is it possible to ignore the neighbours to the north, the many 'Stans' of Central Asia, some of which could not avoid being sucked in when the Afghan civil war was raging.

It thus appears that regional security structures, however necessary they may be to the maintenance of the peace, can be problematic in practice. A more comprehensive security architecture for Asia needs to be envisaged, in which major global players and organizations have a proper share. At present, the most significant security presence is that of the USA ~ this hardly needs emphasis. The US presence can provoke controversy, attract support, draw resistance, in different measure, at different times. But it is a factor that has to be taken into account. Indeed, it is the perception that in the not-too-distant future the USA may lower its profile in Asia that lies behind some of the current activity relating to future provisions for Asian security. The reduction of US involvement could be an incentive for others to assume enhanced responsibility through new or revamped regional and sub-regional arrangements.

While the US presence seems set to decline, Asia is being transformed by the impressive rise of China. Others, notably India, are also ascending fast, but China's upward path started earlier and has progressed further. In some respects, it is already a match for the USA, with an individual vision of what it considers necessary in the future and a readiness to pursue the goals it considers desirable. The current fracas on the revaluation of the Chinese currency, with the USA and its allies pressing hard and China holding firm, shows that China is not to be easily deflected. It is an exaggeration to talk, as some do, of the emergence of a 'G-2', meaning USA and China, where vital global issues must eventually be resolved, but yet the shifting global balance must be noted. China itself shies away from any claim to dominance and continues to describe itself as a developing country with much to do at home to raise the living standards of its people. Yet it is more than ever ready to engage, normally in partnership with others or under UN aegis, in searching for answers to some of Asia's most testing security problems. It is playing its part in the multilateral anti-piracy effort off the Horn of Africa, and is active in schemes for the economic growth of Afghanistan. The most significant Chinese initiative in the security area is the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) of 2001 which brought together Russia, China and several Central Asian countries for collective security against terrorism, and which has now enlarged its focus to include social issues. India has been on the periphery but has now taken its place as an observer, along with others, so the SCO is acquiring a more representative character. It remains to be seen how this organization can assume a more comprehensive Asian role.

Other major Asian countries can be expected to take on a bigger part in the unfolding processes of Asian security, including in particular the economic giant Japan, which may be more ready today than it has been in the past to assume enhanced responsibilities. The fast-rising India is bound to be at the core of it. Just the other day the ASEAN Defence Ministers and others, including India's Raksha Mantri, met to launch another mutual security initiative. With so many factors and players to take into account, an appropriate model for Asian security is not easy to envisage. Yet things are stirring and substantive challenges lie ahead. It is also well understood that security can no longer be seen primarily in military terms, for wars between states are remote and unlikely today, and the real difficulties tend to lie in areas such as the actions of non-state actors bent on subverting legitimate authority, and in the poverty and want that afflict so many. Comprehensive security is what is needed, and this is the challenge before Asia.

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary







For a chief minister who took a whole month to react, that too in a cursory manner, to nearly four months of street violence in the valley, Omar Abdullah left me cold with his enunciation of the problem in Jammu and Kashmir. If his heart was truly bleeding and every death of a Valley youth was another bullet in his heart, I must admire the young man's patience. He waited patiently as one incident of alleged killing of a young man in the Valley followed another. Silence thereafter for weeks.

His brooding mien the day he chose to make a clean breast of it all in the state assembly, some three months after the clashes between the stone-pelters and the security forces, could not but have impressed his admirers. Looking very sombre while referring to the killing of some 103 youth during the three-month period, he chose to take the lid off whatever had been troubling his aching heart. 

And, rightly so, he chose to start from where it all had begun. Kashmir had not merged with India, it had only acceded to the Union unlike Junagadh and Hyderabad. The man obviously has a remarkable memory. Think of this post- Independence young man reminding us of Junagadh and Hyderabad. He might have got all details right or he may even have chosen his words after due deliberation, hoping to convince Kashmiri Muslims that his heart is in the right place.

He did forget to mention that the accession was backed by his grandfather, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, whom he admires a lot and who in 1953 was removed from power by New Delhi when he started asking questions about the quantum of powers conceded by the Centre to the state.

The Sheikh while in prison formed the Mahaz-e-Raishumari (Plebiscite) with his trusted colleague of the time, Mirza Mohammed Afzal Beg as his alter ego and the mastermind behind it. After spending many years in jail, the Sheikh did finally see the futility of the demand, given the state's geographic and political complexities. The Sheikh tried to mend fences with Pakistan, with Nehru's blessings, in 1964 but the Indian Prime Minister's death that May caused the Kashmiri leader to return to Delhi, his talks with Field Marshal Ayub Khan hanging in the air. 

More talks with Indira Gandhi and her emissary, the late G Parthasarathy, and the Sheikh's emissary Azad Beg, ended with the signing of another agreement that enabled Sheikh Abdullah to return to power with the Congress offering full support in the legislature. The Sheikh held a fresh election soon thereafter, all but wiping out other political parties in the state.

Omar probably forgot that he is no Sheikh Sahab. He is not even his flamboyant father, Dr Farooq Abdullah. His lament in the state legislature some two weeks ago, therefore, did not make much impression except for showing him up as a sulking kid.

The young man who had promised a hands-on approach to solving the state's problems has in the end returned to the ways of the separatists. So much so that even his arch opponent, the PDP's Mehbooba Mufti, was tempted to dismiss his speech as sheer gimmickry. Omar seems to have forgotten that his political survival depends on how effectively he mobilises the rank and file of the National Conference.

A quiet trip to his home constituency, Ganderbal, along with a rapid-fire speech is not mass contact. Nor can a long-distance approving nod of his leadership by Rahul Gandhi mean popular acceptance in the state. And the state, mind you, doesn't mean just the Valley. Somehow, it seems the central government has established as fact that successive repressive Muslim regimes have during the past seven hundred years caused a large Brahmin population to migrate or convert to Islam, the latest being the exodus of 1990 after the influx of Pakistani terrorists.

Omar is repeating the blunder which most separatists and elements in the PDP are guilty of, namely of reducing the Kashmir dispute to the status of the few lakhs of Kashmiri Muslims living in the Valley. Whether it is Omar Abdullah or the PDP, they unlike the two Hurriyats, must realise that they represent the state as a whole. I have heard and read the late Sir Zafrullah Khan, then Pakistan foreign minister, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto speaking in the UN or at other forums of Kashmir in terms of the Valley's Muslim majority. It didn't carry weight then and it does not even now. Unfortunately, the past two decades of militancy have succeeded in sowing the seeds of separation between the various parts of the city.

I am not surprised that even at this stage, after 20 years of militancy, there aren't many buyers left for plebiscite. The state politicians knew it at the height of Sheikh Abdullah's primacy and they know it now. Azadi is the new mantra but even azadi cannot be taken to mean separation of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. 
Omar in his outburst in the assembly suggested we go back in history, reverting to what he called the pre-1953 position. One assumes this would, among other things, bar the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, Election Commission, Comptroller and Auditor General, Right to Information Act etc. The autonomy of his party's dreams would also further divide the people of Jammu and Ladakh. It could also mean the influx of non-Kashmiri Pakistanis from PoK and the territories ceded by Pakistan to China and virtually wholly inhabited by non-Gilgitians. 

The Congress has obviously not learnt its lessons. Repeatedly trying to put all its eggs in one basket has already taken toll of the party's credibility. Sheikh Abdullah, by far the tallest of Kashmiri leaders, was once lionised and then sent to prison before he returned to office many years later. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, a very efficient and popular leader, replaced Sheikh Sahab only to find himself jailed after several years as the Prime Minister of the State. Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq continued to be the joy of the Left-oriented until death claimed him. Syed Mir Qasim, a quiet, decent man, became the chief minister only to yield office to Sheikh Abdullah after his accord with Mrs Gandhi.

Farooq, who succeeded his father, was not given time to grow by the Congress with Rajiv forcing an alliance on him which eventually led to a fraudulent election and insurgency. Farooq was unable to take charge of the situation and resigned only to return as elected chief minister in 1996.

New Delhi does not serve India's cause well by depending on handpicked, seasonal blue-eyed boys of the day. There is no harm in Omar having a strong non-separatist opposition to contend with and, if Omar is not up to it, one should be ready to make room for someone else. May be even Mufti would have veered away from the separatist agenda in the meantime.


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







According to the predictions, it was the least likely to win, in part for the simple reason that a comic novel has never satisfied the high-minded tastes of previous judges of the Man Booker prize, but Howard Jacobson's book broke the mould. 

The Finkler Question, a comic-tragic drama about Jewish identity, friendship and loss, which was likened to Shakespeare in its delicate balance between humour and sadness, became the first comic novel to claim the £50,000 prize in its 42-year history. Jacobson, who is a columnist for The Independent, was praised by the former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, who was chairing the judges, as the nation's great Jewish novelist and Britain's answer to the American writer Philip Roth. For Jacobson, who had been twice long-listed for the prize, for Kalooki Nights in 2006 and Who's Sorry Now? in 2002, the prize has been a long time coming; in his winner's speech at Guildhall in London he spoke of his bitterness and repeated disappointments over the years, as former judges overlooked his work: "It started in 1983... How long the wait has been." 

He was astonished by his victory; he had been sure he would never win the prize that had eluded him for decades – he was so frustrated by his failures that he described the Booker Prize as an "abomination" in 2001. 
"I was beginning to look like a novelist who was not going to win it and I was sick of being described as under-rated. So I am truly flabbergasted," Jacobson said, admitting there had been "a bit of bitterness" over previous judging decisions. 

"I have been around and writing novels for 30 years. Now I'm being discovered by people who have never read me before," he said, adding that the subject of his next comic novel, whose central character was to be a writer who had never achieved any recognition, might have to be revised. 

At the age of 68, he is the oldest Booker winner since 1980, when the 69-year old William Golding won for Rites of Passage. 

The Finkler Question is Jacobson's 11th novel. Sir Andrew dismissed the notion that the award had taken into account the writer's bridesmaid status in past years. "There is a particular pleasure in seeing someone as good as that get their just deserts," he said. 

He speculated that it may have taken Jacobson – seen by many as a humorist – so long for Booker recognition because "people have been nervous about comedy in the past". He hailed the novel as "the best book" in a "vintage year" which included Peter Carey, twice a Booker prize winner, among its six shortlisted contenders. 
"It's about Jewishness, but so much more. It's laughter, but it's laughter in the dark. It's over the top to say it's Shakespearean but he (Jacobson) certainly knows what Shakespeare knew – that the relationship between the tragic and the funny are intimately linked," said Sir Andrew. 

Jacobson, who lives in London, was born in Manchester and read English at Cambridge under FR Leavis. Rather than following in the American Jewish tradition of writing, he called himself an "Eng-lit man" whose favourite writers were Dr Johnson and Charles Dickens. He did, however, jokingly describe himself as the "love child" of (Philip) Roth and Jane Austen. 

While his intention was to write "the funniest novel I have ever written", it also became the saddest, partly because three friends died as he was writing it. 

The jury took only an hour todebate the winner, and the vote was divided 3-2. 

The Independent










As the No 3 Up Chittagong mail was travelling at full speed a door suddenly flew open and a three-year-old child of an up-country woman fell out upon the metals. The mother in her desperation and not knowing how to get the train brought to a standstill, leaped out after her child. Some of the passengers in the same carriage pulled violently at the communication cord but this failed to bring the train to a halt, the passengers then began exhibiting white cloths out of the carriage windows to attract the attention of the train staff, but the train still sped on till it reached Chuadanga. The guard of the train, it is alleged, demanded an explanation why the communication cord was pulled while the train was travelling between Boogola and Shibnabash stations. This appears to have enraged some of the passengers, who in turn demanded why the train was not brought to a standstill when the communication cord was pulled. The matter was reported to the police. The, two injured persons, were subsequently found on the line and removed to hospital

On behalf of the Bengal Government Mr McNamara, District Superintendent of Police, Bengal, has purchased a couple of bloodhounds from the Wiltshire Police Kennels, to be trained for tracking purposes in India. These hounds are being sent out at once and two more later, and more will be supplied should the experiments prove successful.








India is having a very good run. The Sensex is on the ascendant; no violence occurred after the Ayodhya judgment; the Commonwealth Games started without a glitch; Indian participants in the Games are winning medals; India is doing well in Test cricket, and now comes the news that India has been elected to the security council of the United Nations. Astrologers and their followers will inevitably say that it is all in the stars. Even after accepting the maxim that faith brooks no rational argument, it needs to be emphasized that that India's election to the most powerful body of the UN had nothing to do with India's place in the zodiac chart. It is the result of a well-planned campaign and of a deliberate positioning of India as a leading world power. The campaign and the positioning were masterminded by the prime minister from the time he was firm in pushing through the Indo-US nuclear deal. Of course, India's economic position and power — especially the fact that it was one of the few countries in the world that were relatively unaffected by the global meltdown — have helped India's elevation. It has been clear to most observers for some time that Manmohan Singh's various foreign policy initiatives were driven by his aspiration to get for India a seat at the global high table. The election to the security council is a milestone in that journey. If the election was part of a plan and therefore somewhat predictable, what was unexpected was the landslide vote in India's favour. This is the outcome of the excellent groundwork by Indian diplomats to secure this level of support. Pakistan's vote for India is testimony to the reduction in the trust deficit that spurred the prime minister to insist on a continuing dialogue between India and Pakistan.


The election is an obvious first step in what is India's ultimate ambition in the context of the UN: a permanent seat in the security council. The first time India had made a formal proposal for its inclusion as a permanent member was way back in 1994. India is now much better placed for staking a similar claim than it was 16 years ago. But the process of including a new permanent member is not easy. It requires an amendment in the UN Charter. The difficulties involved can be measured by the fact that the charter was amended last in 1973. However difficult the goal, a major step has been taken towards registering the triumph.








Racist humour is usually obscene. And what one set of people finds funny is sometimes beyond the comprehension of another. So, when the anchor and viewers on a TV channel in New Zealand had a raucous moment at the expense of the Delhi chief minister and other Indians, it is expected that few outside that particular cultural orbit would be laughing. But think of the universal popularity of all kinds of offensive humour.Sardars, Jews, the physically, mentally or visually challenged — none is spared. Jokes, according to Sigmund Freud, are close to the unconscious, and isn't the unconscious supposed to be an amoral and heartless creature lurking in all human beings (including patriotic or politically correct Indians)? So, it does appear to be somewhat excessive when those questionable moments on TV were followed up with a solemn diplomatic ritual between the governments of the two countries concerned. The Indian ministry of external affairs summoned New Zealand's high commissioner and issued him a démarche, with similar moves made by the Indian high commissioner in New Zealand. The same sort of thing was done when Australian police officers were caught joking over footage of an accident in India. Of course, an occasionally brutal history of racism opens up behind the police officers' comments in Australia. But again, the matter became much more formal, inflated and political when made part of diplomatic exchanges between the countries. Sheila Dikshit herself took a more intelligent stand, perhaps, by playing the episode down in public.


An undercurrent of dubious attitudes towards cultural difference has been running through the Commonwealth Games, bubbling up here and there in stray, unguarded comments made by a range of people, from sportspersons to organizers. Perhaps the very idea of the Commonwealth, especially when brought forward into the 21st century, underlines what is not held in common as much as what was once a shared yoke. But it is all sport now, and that has been the saving grace eventually. Postcolonial relish at seeing racism punished is understandable. But governments, ministries and embassies must also remember that the Indian democracy is now mature enough, and modern enough, not to take itself too seriously.









A Manichaean vision has come to prevail about both Ayodhya and the Kashmir valley in the country that insists on seeing things as white or black. The moment any citizen stands up to comment on either issue, the general assumption is that he or she must be one thing: a Hindu or a Muslim, with us or against us. Clearly, openly, unhesitatingly. Even in academic debates, the earlier liberal-democratic traditions that left room for healthy doubt, accepted grey in all its gradations, seem to have all but evaporated in this context. Television debates are being organized night after night in studios or against heartbreakingly picturesque outdoor settings. But instead of debating the gradual evolution of the problem from an honest historical perspective and apportioning blame or credit where it is due, the focus remains unwaveringly on the immediate and the extreme: arson, demolitions, stone-pelting, curfews, white-flag marches and the number of dead as of today. Ageing fellow midnight's children and their children imply, sometimes kindly and mostly irritably, that India must move on. Chill out. That past does not matter.


But it does. Like an infant picking up language, anyone who wishes to understand communal incidents must first submit to a slow learning process that moves from syllables to words to articles of speech and then the grammar. How many of us had heard of Mir Baqi before the Ayodhya conflagration, or sentences like "Jan bhavnaon ka prakatikaran" (Vajpayee's clever phrase meaning a sudden outburst of popular feelings)? How many of us would really have understood that stone-peltings or slogans like 'Quit Kashmir', street-firings and house arrests are not random incidents, but systematic day-to-day occurrences in the Valley? It takes time because we digest such information not intuitively but most reluctantly. It still makes no sense to most of us that after six decades our subcontinent is falling into madness again.


Because madness is in the air, the 24x7 news media, blogs and YouTube will, and do, manipulate public opinion in India so easily. The fault does not lie with the media alone. The Indian preference for myth to hard reality — for acquiring (quotable) 'informed' opinions instead of going out and seeking hard (and often painful) information themselves — is equally to be blamed. Indolent, passive, unimaginative folks on both sides have proved time and again how they will prefer simplified, embellished and nonsensical interpretations over hard and factual details. It is a pity that this is still happening in the age of the information revolution when hard historical details and scientifically accurate facts are available to anyone with access to the net.


It is for this reason that fact-finding missions by all-party delegations, United Nations observers or foreign journalists are turned into freak shows by the organizers and their rivals. Urns containing ashes of dead karsevaks, burnt shops with a child's half-burnt school bag, people burning flags and effigies, a school-going child with bullet injuries on a hospital bed, women beating their breast and weeping at funerals: the list is endless. At the end of the day, what do such visuals teach us? Only to be angry, more and more angry, with our perceived adversaries. And anger kills sound logic and reason each time before people sit down across tables for a dialogue. What do we do with more and more tales of death and skulduggery, none of them fully reliable and most beyond the realm of credibility?


The Valley lies on top of a 60-year-old faultline. "I don't know what you mean by ethnic cleansing. The Hindus left the valley voluntarily, we cajoled them to stay back. We promised to protect them, but they still left," one hears again and again. Likewise, we are told that the mosque in Ayodhya had ceased to be a place of worship years ago. Muslims never came there to pray. It was only a disputed structure (vivadit dhancha).


When the call of the wild comes, writes the Serbian writer, Ivo Andric, the bonds of civilization turn out to be surprisingly weak. The wild beast is a patient survivor, waiting in the wild grass of history, ready to pounce at the right moment.


The right moment came when, in a curfew-riddled capital, the state government suddenly chose to be lenient. First came the release of a hardcore separatist like Musarat from jail. He was allowed to revive his nefarious Quit Kashmir movement by seeding the Valley with a deep hatred for the Indian State. Then, a month and a half later, the hawkish Mirwaiz was permitted to divert the Eid congregation at Eidgah in the old city to downtown Lal Chowk. Mayhem ensued. Then the Central government waited for almost 90 days before it called for an all-party meet.


How come events that were so patently unreasonable are being presented as reasonable both by the media and the government? On the one hand, Omar has a point and, on the other, Mehbooba is not wrong either, and of course, Mirwaiz must also be heard, for he too has a valuable insight to offer!


We know that the situation is not balanced but absurd, tragic and venal, and we think that a 12-member delegation can land there for a day and bring back a formula for a magic solution to Delhi, where the fate of all states must be decided.


We forget that in areas with such a long and confusing history of sectarian violence, communalism, and not history, comes to shape the psychology of children because the virus of communalism never really dies. It only recedes into the spores it has created in the body politic and then mutates. Whenever resistance is low, it erupts again, now in the Valley, then in Ayodhya, and later in Kandhamal or Ahmedabad. By then, it is much more resistant to earlier antidotes because hatred laced with a sullen suspicion for 'the Other' has slowly become a self-seeding growth in those areas.


The young there think not historically, but in images of communal violence. Unlike the elders who have lived through normal times, they view both the present and the future only through a filter of the immediate past, thinking constantly about how they have survived a holocaust. They begin to live only for revenge.


"Why do you weep for your dead kin now Draupadi?" Krishna asks her at the end of the terrible fratricidal war, "Didn't you say to me once, 'O Krishna, they are nothing to me'?"


The blind cult of force, whether backed by the State, armed insurgents or TV channels claiming they are the fastest draw in town, disdains nuances, reflections or half tones. It pokes fun at prolonged discussions or emotive appeals. It does not like compromises that may be arrived at only after genuine all-party consultations over withdrawal of force, but prefers to clamp down immediately on the adversary. All those who are full of hatred and gestures and fear vociferously support the time-tested formula of lets-go-and-show-them-once-and-for-all-who-the-real-boss-is. A system that continues to offer old ideas for new situations simply cannot work in any long-term sense. It fails to see how much violence people it seeks to crush have absorbed from it over the years.


A population weakened and exhausted by battling decline in living standards, diminishing incomes and increased threat of violence, whose demands for simple justice swiftly rendered are never heard properly and with care, is vulnerable to manipulators that represent armed ideologies and always lie in wait in the margins for this moment of rift. It then acts swiftly, violently and with sudden crushing power. It would be unforgivable if consensus arrives too late and offers too little.








The world may be excited about a Chinese dissident getting the Nobel Peace Prize but here, Liu Xiaobo's name barely crops up. The only people talking about Xiaobo to foreigners are other expats, many of whom feel that the choice is a political one designed to embarrass China.


But as usual, the Chinese Communist Party has overreacted. All references in print and on the internet to Xiaobo or the prize itself have been censored in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Central Propaganda Department. This has happened before, but this time, even SMSes were censored. One man tweeted that the SIM card on his iPhone got deactivated after he texted his father the news of the Nobel. Tweets are the only medium that cannot be censored. And it is through tweets that the individuals actually carrying out the censorship are passing out information. One of them tweeted, "I've deleted so much my hands are sore."


But the real hard work was done by the police, who went around preventing celebrations by small groups that were organized through tweets and blogs. People were detained at different police stations, or placed under house arrest and their internet connections disabled. Some potential celebration venues were shut down for the day. According to one tweet, Xiaobo's alma mater, Jilin University, has been ordered not to give any interviews on its world-famous alumnus.


There was really no need for all this. Given his activities, Xiaobo is not the kind of man who would be famous among ordinary people. Unlike many other dissidents, he has not got into confrontations with local governments over local issues. He was a prominent figure during the Tiananmen Square movement, but an entire generation has grown up after it, and even those who have graduated from university never mention it even in serious discussions.


Cold fury


Nor did Charter 08 — the document demanding the constitution be amended to guarantee freedom, human rights and democracy, which Xiaobo co-authored in 2008, and for which he was convicted in 2009 — get much publicity, even though around 10,000 people ended up signing it. Some of them even signed a letter to the Nobel Peace Prize committee, urging it to award the prize to Xiaobo.


Hence China's heavy-handed panic. Ironically, the official newspaper, China Daily, itself mentioned Xiaobo getting the peace prize twice in the space of four days. First, it carried a reaction by the foreign ministry spokesman, and then an opinion piece by a staffer. Both pieces described Xiaobo as a criminal. Readers responded likewise on the paper's online forum: one reader vowed to give up Norwegian salmon (served in high-end, Western- style cafes); another promised to boycott Norwegian prostitutes in Macau's casinos.


Obviously, the English-knowing elite here now knows all about Xiaobo. And since China's censorship does not extend to Hong Kong and to Macau, the thousands travelling to and from the mainland everyday to these two specially administered regions would know that one of their dissidents has been honoured internationally.


Incidentally, China sees this as the second time the Nobel Peace Prize has gone to someone it disapproves of; the first occasion being the Dalai Lama winning the prize in 1989. It concludes, therefore, that the prize is nothing but a means to interfere in its domestic affairs. "Peace, in Beijing's lexicon, stands for a good rapport among nations, at the heart of which lies mutual respect and non-interference in each other's domestic affairs,'' said the opinion piece in China Daily. "And, perhaps to some people's disbelief, this Nobel Peace Prize, as was true 21 years back, angered not just the government. Most Chinese would prefer to handle their own affairs without outside interference."



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





India's election as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council is no surprise as its candidature was widely supported and a division of votes from the Asian bloc was avoided after the withdrawal of  Kazhakhstan form the field. What is a pleasant surprise is the scale of support. India won with the highest number of votes secured by any country in the polling for the five vacant seats.

The support from 187 out of 192 countries, including Pakistan too, shows an overwhelming endorsement of India's candidature by the world community. It is a major victory for Indian diplomacy and marks a recognition of India's place in the world. The country is returning to the Security Council after a gap of 18 years and the win buries deep its defeat in 1996.

India has been canvassing support for a permanent seat on the Council and considers its membership as a stepping stone for permanent membership. External Affairs Minister S M Krishna has said that India's election is an expression of the expectations of the international community about India and gives an opportunity for the country to press its claim,  with a moderate voice and commitment to constructive engagement with the world.

India's claim to permanent membership can be realised only as part of a reform and restructuring of the UN system,  which would include expansion of the Council membership.  The present system expresses the reality of power after the Second World War and there is agreement in principle that this should change. But India's economic power alone will not ensure a permanent seat.

In that case Germany and Japan would have become permanent members long ago. China became a permanent member when it was a poor, backward country. Politics plays a bigger part in the matter. The positions of the US and China are the most crucial and both countries have not endorsed India's claim.

Negotiations on proposals for UN reforms based on a discussion text prepared for the purpose are under way and it might take some years  for a consensus to emerge. New permanent members in an expanded Council may not also have all the powers now enjoyed by the present five members. India's policies and profile in the region and the world will also have a major bearing on its claim. Its elected term which starts in January next and the coming years can well be utilised to buttress its position.








The focus of the debate on savings bank interest rates has shifted from an idea that is customer-friendly to a problem that might hit the balance sheets of banks, especially those owned by the government. The Reserve Bank of India is in favour of giving the banks the freedom to fix their own interest rates on savings bank deposits.

This is good news from a central bank that is used to exercising tight control over everything under its care. But the RBI's liberal approach is not acceptable to the banks which have informed it that they would rather have a regulated interest rate regime than the freedom to fix their own rates.  This only shows that the banks care more for their own profits than for the customers' interests.


The interests rates on deposits are meagre in India. It is reluctantly that the banks agreed this year to calculate interest on a daily basis while in many countries it is done on an hourly basis. The banks oppose a free interest regime because that it will introduce competition and an interest war.

They should actually welcome competition because the bank  which manages its finances   best and offers the best terms and highest interest to customer will perform the best.  Though banks make reasonably good profits, this is because of the availability of cheap funds in the form of low-interest deposits. Many of them are overstaffed, have high operating costs and are burdened by non-performing assets. Decisions taken on extraneous considerations and in violation of good banking norms also hit their bottom lines.

Though banks have prospered after nationalisation and benefited much from the country's economic growth in the last two decades, they are still in a protected and regulated environment. By competing among themselves they should offer more and better services to their customers.

There is much more room for cutting costs through application of changing technologies and adoption of better practices. Compared to some successful private banks pubic sector banks are still backward. They are rightly considered to be safer than private banks. If this brand strength is supplemented by better practices they can do much better.

Customers should not be made to subsidise the banks' operations and made to pay for their inefficiency. Higher interest rates for savings accounts will benefit existing customers, draw more people to the banks as customers, increase the national savings rate and will in fact motivate the banks to perform better.







What clearly emerges is that the US is beating a hasty retreat from the strategy to arm-twist the Pakistani military.


The sudden accretion of tensions in the United States-Pakistan ties in the recent days raises several questions. Most certainly, they were contrived tensions and they dissipated as quickly as they gathered. It all began with a dramatic jump in the US' drone attacks in Waziristan in the most recent weeks.

Actually, there has been a four-fold increase in September as compared to the average during the past six-month period. In a single month alone, the drones rained death and destruction 22 times — almost a daily occurrence. The deafening impact of the laser-guided Hellfire missile inspired the bewildered tribesmen and their women and children to nickname it 'bangana' — thunderclap.

No matter the Pakistani military's alleged complicity in this war crime, the fact remains, as Declan Walsh of Guardian pointed out, "Pakistanis are distinctly less enthusiastic about the strikes… and debate rages, in Pakistan and abroad, about whether they ultimately quell militancy or encourage it."

Meanwhile, the US also unilaterally extended the zone of operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan without consulting its military beforehand, contrary to past practice. To cap it all, the US mounted a series of cross-border helicopter gunship attacks on Pakistani territory and in one particular instance on Sept 30, three Pakistani soldiers were killed.

To be sure, Pakistan retaliated strongly by closing the Torkham border with Afghanistan and bringing the Nato convoys from Karachi port to a halt. Simultaneously, there has been concerted torching of Nato trucks apparently by the irate Pakistani public but, conceivably, with the acquiescence of the Pakistani authorities.

According to the US reports, as of Friday, 6,500 Nato vehicles have been stranded along the 1,500 km transshipment route from Karachi port to the Khyber Pass. The robustness of the Pakistani reaction shouldn't have surprised the Americans. But apparently it did. 

The US probably estimated that given the vulnerability of Pakistani economy, it held the upper hand and the time was opportune to rachet up pressure by demonstrating that if the Pakistani military dilly-dallied in cracking down on the militant groups, especially the Haqqani group, ensconced in north Waziristan, the US would unilaterally act and create a fait accompli.

Washington also launched a fierce 'psywar' with a White House report to the US Congress finger pointing at Pakistan for playing a double game and senior US officials chastising the Inter-Services Intelligence. Of course, the Wikileaks disclosures and Bob Woodward's book 'Obama's Wars' have embarrassed the US administration and made it appear wimpish — at home as well as in the region.

Dangerous strategy

To what extent the dangerous strategy to tighten the screw on the Pakistani military leadership was adopted as a policy decision by President Barack Obama personally we do not know, but it is inconceivable that at the present sensitive juncture of the war, it could have been otherwise. The intention could well have been to make the Pakistani generals crawl on their knees by the time the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue held its third session this year in Washington on Oct 22.

Indeed, the Obama administration is increasingly desperate to show 'results' in the war. November is going to be a crucial month. The Nato's summit is due in Lisbon where the timeline for 'Afghanising' the war is on top of the agenda. A long-term US-Afghan strategic cooperation document is due to be concluded in November and, of course, Obama himself will be touring the region. Above all, the US congressional elections in November can impact on the fortunes of the Obama presidency itself.

However, what emerges is that the Obama administration is beating a hasty retreat from the strategy to arm-twist the Pakistani military. Beyond a matter of tactic and strategy arises a question: Is this also going to be the long-awaited 'tipping point' in the war?

No one other than the mild-mannered Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani seems to suggest so. He calmly told mediapersons while on a visit to the remote northwestern town of Charsadda on Tuesday that peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban cannot succeed without Islamabad's help. He reminded the international community of the leverage Pakistan has in the process.

"Look, nothing can happen without us because we are part of the solution. We are not part of the problem." The message rises far above the din of propaganda: Hamid Karzai can drumbeat about discussions with the Taliban "for quite some time", et al. The US commander David Petraeus may even claim, "The prospect for reconciliation with senior Taliban leaders certainly looms out there, and there have been approaches at the very senior level that hold some promise."

But, Gilani underscored, the road to peace runs through Islamabad. Asked about the Afghan government's constitution of a peace council to broker an end to the war, he was dismissive and plainly disdainful. "When Karzai shares his roadmap with America and they share the road map with us, then we will be in a position to comment on it."

The velvet glove has come off. The iron fist is out in the open. The immense investments the Pakistani military made through the long arm of the ISI during the past three decades to gain 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan cannot and will not be bartered away. The ball, as they say, has been tossed firmly back into Obama's court.

(The writer is a former diplomat)








Yemen released terrorists under presidential pardons and through 'rehabilitation' programmes.


Ten years ago, Qaeda terrorists blew a hole in the side of the Navy destroyer Cole in Yemen, killing 17 sailors. Yet the attack's mastermind still hasn't been prosecuted, and many of the men tried and imprisoned for the bombing are again free.

As Washington debates whether to increase aid to Yemen, it should first remember its duty to seek justice for those sailors — and to heed the broader national-security lessons from the attack.

As soon as the FBI received news of the Oct 12 bombing, I flew to Yemen with a team to investigate. The bodies of sailors draped in flags on a blood-stained deck, guarded by teary-eyed survivors, formed a heartbreaking image that motivated us during the following months.

Our investigation faced difficulties from the beginning. Yemen's weak government's on-again, off-again relationship with extremists meant that al-Qaeda had influential sympathisers in positions of authority, as well as among powerful tribes in the country's vast desert. As a consequence, we regularly faced death threats, smokescreens and bureaucratic obstructions.

Internal support

While such obstacles were not unexpected, what surprised us was the lack of support from home. No one in the Clinton White House seemed to care about the case. We had hoped that the George W Bush administration would be better, but except for Robert 

Mueller, the director of the FBI, its top officials soon sidelined the case; they considered it, according to Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defence secretary, 'stale'. Even the families of the sailors were denied meetings with the White House, a disgrace that ended only when President Obama took office.

Still, our team pressed ahead and, together with agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, we tracked down many of the Qaeda members responsible for the attack, secured confessions from them and prosecuted them. We were aided by courageous Yemenis from the country's security, law enforcement and judicial services who shared a commitment to justice and an understanding that ignoring al-Qaeda would only embolden it. We left Yemen with most of the terrorists locked up.


After we were gone, however, Yemen began releasing terrorists under presidential pardons and through a questionable 'rehabilitation' programme. Many of the men we helped convict went free.

For example, Fahd al-Quso, who had confessed to his role in the Cole attack and was sent to prison, is now out; earlier he gave press interviews and was featured in a Qaeda video threatening the United States. Jamal al-Badawi, who confessed to being Quso's boss and received a death sentence, has gone through a cycle of 'escaping' from prison, receiving clemency and allegedly being rearrested.

Meanwhile, the security situation in Yemen has deteriorated. Freed operatives and the availability of safe havens arguably make Yemen an even better base for al-Qaeda than Afghanistan or Pakistan, as does the fact that the government is distracted by a rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south. Not surprisingly, al-Qaeda's Saudi branch recently moved to Yemen and merged with the local faction to form al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Washington is considering increasing military aid to Yemen, to as much as $1.2 billion over six years, up from $155 million in 2010. But it should do so only if it wins from Yemen a guarantee that it will be consistent in its fight against al-Qaeda.

An important test of that commitment should be how Yemen responds to a long-overdue request that Badawi and Quso be handed over to American officials to be properly prosecuted. Extraditing the two men would also help with another problem connected to the Cole attack: the case against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the plot's alleged mastermind, who has been in American custody for almost eight years.

Fortunately, there is enough evidence to convict Nashiri based on confessions we gained from Badawi and Quso and other physical evidence we found during the investigation. Their presence in court would enable us to use their confessions.

It is not merely an insult to the 17 dead sailors, their families and our national honour that Washington does nothing while convicted terrorists walk free and Nashiri sits unprosecuted.

It also harms our national security. We long ago realised that if the American government had not let the Cole attack go unanswered, and if our investigation had not been so constrained, we could have undermined al-Qaeda and perhaps even averted the 9/11 attack. After 10 years, we need to finally put that lesson to use.







Why not bushiness schools for cop? — a chapter on Fair Business Practices.


He hadn't a thing to nail me down to, therefore a shot in the dark! "I got a wireless message you were on the mobile". Quite likely my expression was impervious, while I waited for him to prove his point, he scratched his head, waved vaguely in the direction of a cop who was beyond the preview of my rear view mirror, whom I had supposedly passed. I remained quietly seated in my car, eventually relinquishing his enterprise, 
"Okay hogi Madam", like he were doing me a favour.

Sometimes cops are indulgent. On St John's road at the lights where there is no free left turn, I was waiting. The cop looked at me, he waited a while, then using his discretionary skill signaled to me to move ahead and take the turn out of turn. I was bewildered at first, I hesitated, the cop looked curiously puzzled, faintly disbelieving that motorists were wont to follow traffic rules! I was by then sufficiently amused I got my green and moved on.

Turning right from after dropping mother at the Golf Club on my way to a cackle-party, I crossed the junction while the green was visibly on, yet the cop stopped me saying I had skipped the lights! I was furious, for one I hadn't skipped, over six vehicle behind me were allowed to go, I cannot know when the green will turn amber, and if I'm at the intersection I cannot from sheer clinical correctness halt when the amber comes on.

I very patiently informed him of my thoughts on the matter. The constable went into an explanation that signal lights were unmanned modern contraptions to be obeyed! Like we hadn't known that for decades! He insisted that the light was yellow and not amber! 

The constable, his sub-inspector and I knew the gist of this exercise; it is their surreptitious way of collecting fines lurking behind dark roads and undefined corners! Cops about business! Just an after thought! Why not bushiness schools for cop? — A chapter on Fair Business Practices.

I had to deal with this my way, the sub-inspector stood stoic to charge me the fine, I pointed looked at his midriff protuberance, explaining there should be sincere policing rather than wickedly fining. He tried to suck in his breath and hold me in a debate as he did his belly, but we were both adamant. I stood my ground the belly refused to budge inward! "Okay hogi Madam," said the purple faced sub-inspector breathless!









Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Lebanon is no courtesy call. The Iranian president's provocation sends manifold, highly noteworthy messages to multiple regional and international recipients. This isn't a repeat of the shameful rhetoric exhibition that Teheran's autocrat stages annually at the UN General Assembly. This trip is packed with immediate practical significance.

Foremost is the contempt toward Israel. The very fact that Ahmadinejad presents himself at Israel's doorstep speaks volumes. He is emphatically thumbing his nose at Israel, while simultaneously sending a warning against any Israeli preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Ahmadinejad is in Lebanon reminding Israel that he has a formidable proxy – Hizbullah – primed for attack from bases directly adjacent to "the Zionist entity," and that he can deploy this proxy at will. Iran, via Syria, has armed Hizbullah to the teeth following the Second Lebanon War (in unabashed contravention of Security Council Resolution 1701) and the terrorist organization now brandishes at least 40,000 rockets aimed at Israel.

Ahmadinejad is also exclaiming, for all democracies to hear, that his is the regime that effectively calls the shots in Lebanon, in collusion with his Syrian allies.

The message unequivocally underscored for the Lebanese is that their sovereignty is now reduced to a mere façade, that Beirut is Teheran's and Damascus's abject vassal, that Ahmadinejad has legions – again Hizbullah – inside Lebanon, and that they could take it over if given segments of the fragmented Lebanese jigsaw fail to meekly acquiesce. In short, there will be hell to pay throughout Lebanon if it doesn't toe Ahmadinejad's line.

Ahmadinejad's visit, it is grimly safe to conclude, has illustrated that Lebanon's anyhow fast-waning independence has been decisively quashed. It is, quite simply, no longer a player in its own right in this part of the world.

THE LEBANESE humiliation is complete. As the special international tribunal probing former prime minister Rafik Hariri's 2005 assassination is poised to indict Hizbullah members for partaking in the plot, current premier Saad Hariri (the assassination victim's son) is being threatened unless he can somehow forestall the tribunal. The younger Hariri must collaborate with his father's murderers – and his country's subjugators. Otherwise he can expect the same bitter fate.

Hizbullah parliamentarian Nawwaf al-Moussawi, for one, has minced no words on the issue. Any Lebanese who accepts the tribunal's indictments will be eliminated as a "traitor" in cahoots with Israel and the US. A gun is pointed at Hariri's head: He either does as ordered, or he meets his father's bloody end. Ahmadinejad's visit cements Hariri's pitiful status.

Damascus added insult to injury last week when it issued 33 arrest warrants against some of Hariri's closest allies in his erstwhile anti-Syrian front. Hariri's impotence was exposed for the world to see.

His own faint-heartedness, irresolution and lack of direction have factored into Hariri's misfortune almost as much as the ruthlessness of the powerful extortionists to whom he has surrendered. His dishonorable submission to Hizbullah chieftain Hassan Nasrallah made it inevitable that he would suck up to Syria's Bashar Assad and now welcome Ahmadinejad as well.

If anyone deserves our sympathy as Ahmadinejad's survey of his expanding kingdom plays out, it is the many ordinary Lebanese – not necessarily only Christians – who are sick at heart as they witness the Iranian-Syrian stranglehold tightening on their country. At another sensitive juncture in Lebanon's perennially troubled history, it is saddled with a craven leader and left vulnerable to the manipulative dominance of ruthless regimes in Damascus and Teheran.

This is a particularly tragic aspect of Lebanon's demise. Hariri held extraordinary promise when he took over the reins of government in Beirut. His Western orientation, seemingly determined anti-Syrian stance and apparently principled pro-democracy rhetoric kindled the hope of real change. But rather than Lebanon extricating itself from the Axis of Evil – as much of its own citizenry fervently wishes it would – it has become a humble component of the Iranian machine.

Rather than merely observing this sovereign entity's collapse across the border, the shameful display to the north marks an opportunity for Israel to remind the international community that Ahmadinejad's Iran doesn't "only" menace us Zionists.

The conquest of Lebanon, cemented by Ahmadinejad's victory tour, is a stepping stone toward Iran's declared goal of hegemony throughout the Islamic sphere and beyond. The consequences for the free world would be dire. For Lebanon, they already are.








The idea that Netanyahu will be another Shamir is an optimistic view. The more realistic expectation is that he will be another Lieberman, only as PM.


Until this week, the question posed by "neutral observers" about Binyamin Netanyahu was whether he was going to follow the examples of Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, or that of Yitzhak Shamir. Would he transform himself into a peacemaker like Begin and Sharon by uprooting settlements and relinquishing occupied territory, or would he be an immovable object like Shamir, aiming only to keep things "quiet" so he could build more settlements and close the door on Palestinian statehood? 

After the start of this week, though, would-be neutral observers are no longer asking this question, at least not with a straight face. Now that Netanyahu has supported the loyalty oath, a referendum on any likely peace agreement and demanded Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state in return for another two months of settlement freeze, the question isn't whether Netanyahu will become a peacemaker or remain an obstructionist. It's whether he'll go back to being merely an obstructionist, or go forward in his new identity as a confrontation-seeker, a national leader who picks fights with enemies and allies alike.

After the start of this week, the idea that Netanyahu will be another Shamir is the optimistic view. The more realistic expectation, the one based on recent evidence and trends, is that he will be another Avigdor Lieberman, only as prime minister. 

I don't know why so many people think Netanyahu keeps Lieberman in the cabinet against his will, that Lieberman is this loose cannon that the moderate Netanyahu has to put up with because of political realities. Netanyahu made Lieberman. No one outside of right-wing political circles ever heard of him until 1996 when Netanyahu, starting his first term as prime minister, appointed him director-general of the Prime Minister's Office. Lieberman became Netanyahu's right-hand man, his alter ego. They saw eye-to-eye then; what ideological transformation has either one gone through to change that? 

I never believed for a second that Netanyahu was serious about peace with a genuinely independent Palestine; he's willing to throw the Palestinians a bone or two, nothing more. For him, a Palestinian state worth the name is tantamount to personal and national surrender, humiliation – he'd much rather die than go down in history as Israel's Petain, as he would see it.

STILL, I thought that as a man of the world, someone who wants Israel to have "a place among the nations," he wouldn't suddenly overturn the chessboard, he wouldn't deliberately blow the peace process out of the water, he wouldn't knowingly alienate the world. I thought he would end up doing all that unintentionally, out of arrogance, but not by design.

For instance, I went along with the popular idea that he was supporting the loyalty oath as a sop to the settlers and Lieberman, and that right afterward, he would give the Obama administration its two months of settlement freeze to carry it through the November 2 congressional elections. I expected to be writing a column this week about how Netanyahu had fatally miscalculated – that by backing a law that requires Arab immigrants, but not Jewish immigrants, to swear allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state, he had made such a belligerently anti-Arab move that no one could even give him the benefit of the doubt anymore. He'd let the last bit of air out of the peace process, he'd demoralized the Palestinians once too often, and now a measly twomonth settlement freeze wouldn't fix things. This time, I was planning to write, he'd gone too far – he wanted quiet so he could do his Shamir number, but he blew it.

That was Sunday, when he backed the loyalty oath. But then on Monday, he went and killed the chance for a two-month settlement freeze by making the Palestinians an offer he knew they'd refuse – he'd agree to it only if they'd recognize Israel as a Jewish state. (With 1.5 million Arab citizens in Israel, the Palestinians shouldn't be asked to do that, anymore than Israel should be asked to recognize the US, Canada, Britain, France and other countries of the Jewish Diaspora as Christian states.) 

Also on Monday, Netanyahu gave his support to a proposed law that would make it all but impossible for Israel to swap territory with the Palestinians – a crucial element of any conceivable peace agreement – by requiring the public's approval in a national referendum. (Israel has never held a national referendum on any decision, certainly not on the annexation of land, so why should there be one on the exchange of land? This is an old settlers' scam; they know they can intimidate the public into voting with them.) 

So that's it. This latest international attempt to breathe life into the peace process is finished – and Netanyahu doesn't seem to care that the world is likely, rightfully, to blame him. He doesn't care that Lieberman went out of his way to publicly insult the French and Spanish foreign ministers. He doesn't care that he's hung another failure on Barack Obama on the eve of the congressional elections, something an Israeli prime minister is really not supposed to do to an American president.

THIS WEEK, Netanyahu reaffirmed his ideological covenant with Lieberman, the settlers and the rest of the far right – and they are riding high. They've got a slew of other anti-Arab, authoritarian laws to pass – and who's going to stop them? The Labor Party? Kadima? Diaspora Jewry? Washington? The media? 

Bibi and friends to the world: We don't care.

And the future looks even brighter: In less than three weeks, the Democrats are going to get their heads handed to them, and Obama, barring a political miracle, will become a lame duck. Netanyahu's only ideological ally in the world, the Republican Party, will effectively return to power while his only real opposition, the Obama administration, will not be able to lay a glove on him anymore.

This government, together with the settlers, will be free to do whatever they want. Nobody and nothing will stand in their way. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is already finished, and so is moderation in the West Bank.

However polarized the situation has been until now – between Israel and the Palestinians, between Israel and its Arab citizens, between the Jewish right and Jewish left – the polarization is going to get worse.

Where is it leading? Without trying to be too original, I think it's leading to Netanyahu bombing Iran. He wants to; he's made that clear enough over the years. Who's going to stop him? The Republicans will cheer him on. Afterward, after the big war, we'll see if there's anything left to salvage.

It's been a hell of a week. Historic.








26 years ago this week, at the tender age of 16, I decided to begin observing the Sabbath, forgoing my weekly television diet, including my favorite show 'Dallas.'


Sometimes the most serious journey can begin with a silly television program. As a teenager growing up in a Conservative Jewish home in suburban New York in the 1980s, I shared many Americans' love for the TV show Dallas. Each Friday night, I tuned in to Channel 2 (remember when TVs had dials?) to get my fill of the CBS primetime soap opera.

With all the intensity of a young adult with minimal acne and maximal hormones, I followed the twists and turns, the scheming and backstabbing, of the Ewings of Texas, whose exploits and misdeeds were the focus of the hour-long plot each week.


It was one of those shows that had it all: cliffhanger episodes, beautiful actresses such as Victoria Principal and Charlene Tilton (wow, did I have a crush on them!) and plenty of intrigue, power struggles and sex. What more could a 15-year-old ask for? 

Indeed, who can forget the media frenzy sparked by that most profound of questions: "Who shot J.R.?" – a reference to the program's lead villain.

In a season-ending episode broadcast in the spring of 1980, the hated J.R. was gunned down by an unknown assailant, and all of America seemed to wait for months to find out who did it (it was his sister-in- law Kristin), or even if the victim would survive (which, of course, he did).

Other shows tried to mimic its success, such as Knots Landing, Dynasty and Falcon Crest, but they just never had the allure which Dallas had week in and week out.

BUT AFTER several years, my loyalty to the show faced a new and highly unexpected challenge, the aftereffects of which continue to resonate with me.

For it was 26 years ago this week, at the tender age of 16, that I decided to begin observing the Sabbath. It was a decision I had reached after a great deal of thought and reflection, and I was far from certain that it would stick. But I figured I would give it a try. Something inside simply compelled me to do so.

I went ahead and made all the necessary preparations, brushed up on Jewish law and prepared myself to spend 25 hours without turning on lights, riding in a car, or watching...

Wait a minute! What about Dallas? It was the height of the fall TV series, and the show was in its seventh season at the time. How couldn't I have thought of it? Could I give up the show just like that, in the middle of it all? What would J.R. and his friends at Southfork Ranch think? 

And then I realized that I would also have to forgo some of the other staples of my weekly television diet. There was This Week in Baseball , with the crisp voice of Mel Allen, and of course the Saturday morning cartoons such as Superfriends and Scooby Doo.

What a dilemma! Or as Scooby would say: "Rikes!!" 

Of course in retrospect it all sounds quite silly, getting so worked up about a couple of television programs (no wonder my mother used to refer to the TV as "the idiot box"). But silliness is a part of growing up, and it makes life far more interesting.

Nevertheless, after weighing the benefits of one hour of television ecstasy versus an eternity of heavenly bliss, I realized I had no choice but to make the "sacrifice" and say farewell to Dallas.

It wasn't easy at first – when something becomes a stable element in our otherwise seemingly chaotic existence, letting go is not simple.

Giving up Saturday TV, and especially Dallas, was a demonstrative symbol that I was changing my life in ways I could not yet possibly imagine.

But when night fell, after making kiddush and eating a Sabbath meal with my family, I reached for a book and let the television screen have a rest, too.

When I awoke the next morning, I made my way to synagogue on foot, unsure of what on earth I was doing.

My entire family, all my friends, the whole flow and rhythm of my life, would be disrupted if I were to stick to this path. No more Saturday afternoon street hockey games with friends who lived beyond walking distance. No TV, no video games, nothing but long afternoons and lots of reading and thinking to do.

Dear God, are You sure You want me to do this, I wondered.

And then, as if in answer to my question, the person reading the Torah recited the opening verse of this week's portion, when God tells Abraham to begin a great journey to an unknown destination with two simple words: "Lech lecha," which literally mean "go to yourself."

I shook in my seat as the words sank in, suddenly infused with certainty in the path that I had chosen, as well as with confidence that I wasn't really giving up a part of who I was, but instead recovering my true inner self. It was then that I knew that I would embrace the Sabbath and make it part of my life.

That first step has led me down a winding trail, as I grew in observance and became Orthodox.

Naturally, there have been many challenges along the way. But ever since that first Sabbath, when I withstood the juvenile desire for some mind-numbing television, I have known that there is no turning back.

And who says God does not reward the faithful?


 Just last month, the TNT cable network announced it is moving ahead with a newDallas television series which will follow the offspring of "bitter rivals and brothers J.R. and Bobby Ewing, who clash over the future of the Ewing dynasty while the fate of Southfork itself weighs in the balance," according to the release.

I just hope that, unlike the original series, they don't broadcast this one on Friday nights.








PA president has said that he will quit unless Israel agrees to freeze all settlement construction.


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has a Kissinger complex. We've lost count of how many times he has threatened to resign. Like the former secretary of state, he thinks he is indispensable.

In recent days Abbas has told the king of Jordan, the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Arab League leaders and the Obama administration that he will quit unless Israel agrees to freeze all settlement construction. No freeze, no talks.

It's not hard to imagine Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's response: Go ahead, make my day.

Getting bogged down in preconditions rather than talks suggests that for all their words about wanting to return to the peace table, both leaders are more intent on finding a way out without being blamed for the collapse of new negotiations they never wanted.

I have the impression that both are convinced the other is bluffing and that if he holds out long enough, the other will fold. It's hard to disagree with those who say this isn't a peace process but a blame game.

If Abbas genuinely wants a Palestinian state, he needs to return to the table. An agreement on borders will make settlements a moot point.

And if Netanyahu is sincere about wanting the historic agreement he speaks of, he has an extremely generous American package of political, diplomatic and security benefits that more than justifies a two-month moratorium. And if his rejectionist coalition partners don't like it, the centrist Kadima party is ready to replace them.

BY FOCUSING on settlements, both men avoid the real issues: borders, refugees, security and Jerusalem. Netanyahu's excuse is that another moratorium would be political suicide, and Abbas insists he won't talk without it. Thus each has given himself a reason to talk about talking but to avoid actually doing it. 

Netanyahu said he froze (some) construction for 10 months but Abbas dithered for nine before even agreeing to meet him. Now when Abbas demands the moratorium be renewed, Netanyahu says he must first recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

That's a nonstarter and Netanyahu knows it. It's a transparent poison pill intended to set a condition he knows Abbas can't meet, and further undermines chances for reconciliation.

If Abbas follows through on his threats to kill the talks, resign and dismantle the Palestinian Authority, who benefits? 

• Hamas for starters. Negotiations won't produce statehood, it argues. The only language the Zionists understand is the vocabulary of guns, rockets and suicide bombers. Force them out of the West Bank the way we forced them out of Gaza.

• Israel's ultranationalists. Like bombastic Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, they argue that the status quo is fine and Israel should look for some interim arrangements for the next decade to let conditions for peace ripen – all the while expanding settlements to make a viable Palestinian state all but impossible.

• One-staters. Those who argue the solution is a single state don't intend to share it with the other side.

• The I-told-you-so crowd on both sides. They refuse to accept that the other may have some legitimate grievances and needs.

• Netanyahu and Abbas. They get to avoid making tough decisions and uncomfortable compromises, while telling the world they tried to make peace but the other guy was intransigent.

The Israeli and Palestinian people will pay the highest price for failed leadership. Majorities on both sides tell pollsters they're ready to accept two states. Most Israelis support a freeze on settlements, even if the extremists in the dysfunctional Netanyahu government don't.


ANOTHER BIG loser is President Barack Obama, who made a settlement freeze a central demand of his Middle East policy, and even though he backed off somewhat he now can't get the Palestinians to follow him.

He has stumbled into the Middle East shouk. He's offering Netanyahu all kinds of deal sweeteners – we don't know yet what he's promising Abbas – yet the Israeli leader keeps asking the president to up the ante. Abbas has tipped his hand: He wants the US to negotiate with Israel in his stead.

And what will the American taxpayer get for all those expensive inducements for a two-month freeze (and this is only the down payment)? What will an actual peace treaty cost? Will the time come when it is necessary to replace some golden carrots with sticks? 

But money is a peripheral issue; the big question is how can Israeli and Palestinian leaders insist they are intent on making peace while finding so many excuses to avoid it? 

Despite rhetoric from both sides, the reality is that the US can't want peace more than the Israelis and Palestinians (at least their leaders) do. Ignore the rhetoric; (in)action speaks louder than their words. Literally. Because the next sound you hear could well be gunfire.







Living in a country surrounded by hatred and deadly external threats, one could expect our politicians and legislators to display solidarity.

Talkbacks (3)

No sane person would envy Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu his job. He not only faces enormous hostility from the global community, but is embroiled in an impossible domestic impasse. To warding external threats while retaining the reins of government is no mean feat.

Today, virtually the entire international community is trying to pressure Israel into making concessions that could have existential implications; our impotent "peace partner," who conveys contradictory messages to his people and the world, has in no way changed the culture of death and hatred in his corrupt society. Even PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last week condemned the IDF's killing of two Hamas terrorists involved in the recent murder of Israeli civilians. In the not-too-distant future an entrenched Hamas is likely to topple or absorb the PA. The US administration is determined to appease the Islamic world, if necessary at our expense. A fanatical Iranian regime headed by a deranged anti-Semite and on the eve of becoming a nuclear power, is bent on our destruction. And global anti-Semitism has reached unparalleled levels.

We surely face unprecedented challenges.

Living in a country surrounded by such a cauldron of poisonous hatred and deadly external threats, one could surely expect our politicians and legislators to suspend their differences and display solidarity.

But we see nothing of the kind. For politicians – in government and opposition – it is business as usual, and they continue promoting their selfish, narrow, short-term interests.

In any normal democratic system, a minister is entitled to promote his viewpoint within the cabinet, but once a decision has been made, is obliged to hold his tongue. If his conscience demands that he oppose his government, he must resign.

However in our country, the government speaks with multiple voices. Ministers rule over personal fiefdoms and exploit their positions to grandstand or curry favor with their constituents, irrespective of national interests.

Thus, we have Defense Minister Ehud Barak publicly endorsing whatever the Obama administration proposes and allegedly even providing the Americans with tactical advice on how to "persuade" us to accept an additional settlement freeze.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman publicly contradicts policies promoted by his prime minister. It is not that his views are outlandish, or even necessarily wrong. In fact, his cryptic remarks, telling the European foreign ministers to resolve problems in their own backyards before castigating us, certainly touch a responsive chord in the nation. But for the foreign minister to express himself as he did at the UN General Assembly represents the antithesis of diplomacy and conveys the impression that we are a banana republic.

THE OPPOSITION is even more irresponsible. At the outset of the settlement freeze, Kadima head Tzipi Livni criticized the government, especially Netanyahu, for having conceded too much to the Americans.

Now, on the assumption that Netanyahu will not agree to an extension, she again castigates the government, saying, "What are a few buildings compared with the people's desire for peace?" 

Even though Obama's own supporters acknowledge that he totally mishandled the peace process, Livni unashamedly accuses Netanyahu of damaging our relationship with the US. Ignoring the fact that she burdened the Netanyahu government with the responsibility of dealing with the Goldstone Report, she holds it responsible for the current demonization of Israel.

As leader of the opposition, Livni should have emulated Netanyahu who, when in opposition, displayed solidarity with the government and never sought to make cynical political capital from predictable anti-Israel onslaughts during times of crisis.

Although we have become highly cynical regarding the irresponsible behavior frequently displayed by our politicians, surely during such a critical period of national vulnerability, we are entitled to expect our elected representatives to set aside their personal agendas and concentrate on the national interest.

We face some very difficult decisions. For example, there are compelling grounds for Netanyahu, who repeatedly promised us that the freeze would not extend a single day beyond the 10-month period, to reject US demands for a two-month extension.

Prior to US President Barack Obama's intervention, no Arab political leader had ever demanded a settlement freeze as a precondition for negotiations. The Palestinians had 10 months to negotiate and failed to do so. Should they now be rewarded for their intransigence? Did we receive any reciprocal benefit from the freeze? Did the Palestinians agree to concede anything tangible to advance the peace process if we were to extend it? 

In the wake of Obama's initiative, the Palestinians are reluctant to climb down from their demand to extend the freeze. And why should they? They are infinitely better off having indirect negotiations and forcing us to confront the Americans. In addition, the Arab League has now provided Obama with a safety net by "postponing" its decision whether or not to endorse direct negotiations until the day after the congressional elections.

Besides, Obama failed to offer Netanyahu tangible benefits for the future or other inducements (such as releasing Jonathan Pollard) which would have provided him with some grounds to justify breaching his repeated undertaking not to extend the freeze.


In fact, until now, the Obama administration has refused to even distinguish between construction in outlying settlements and in blocs such as Gush Etzion, which the Bush administration had clearly agreed would remain within Israel. Instead, it offered "concessions," which in reality amounted to ominous threats should we fail to accede to its demands. Since when is employing its veto to protect Israel from one-sided UN Security Council resolutions a concession? 

Yet, it is no small matter to stand against the US during these difficult times. Only fools repeat the mantra that we are an independent country capable of doing whatever we want as long as our weak leaders do not sell us out.

THE REALITY is that beyond the question of being a sovereign state, capitulating to such pressure without any quid pro quo would establish an awesome precedent for future demands from the Americans, who have allegedly already assured the Palestinians that they will endorse a return to the indefensible 1949 armistice lines. It would also encourage our intransigent enemies to redouble their efforts to dismember us in stages. In this context, Netanyahu's offer to extend the freeze provided the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state should in principle ease the pressure from the Obama administration. Alas, this is unlikely.

It is precisely during these difficult times that we must insist that our politicians suspend their squabbles and concentrate on the nation's survival. It is a time to strengthen our position by displaying a united front and demonstrating that these are not crass political issues, but impinge on our very existence.







How does one 'restore sanity' to a part of the world where it never existed? I propose calling the gathering here the Rally to "Introduce" Sanity.


Sometimes it takes a clown to show us how foolish we've become. Last month, comedian Jon Stewart, popular host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, whose satirical fake news reporting has become a force to be reckoned with in US politics, announced he would be holding a Rally to Restore Sanity on the Washington Mall on October 30th.

"A million moderates march, where we take to the streets to send a message to our leaders and our national media that says, 'We are here! We... are only here until 6 though, because we have a sitter," Stewart quipped.

Stewart's sidekick Stephen Colbert, whose show airs immediately afterwards, announced in response that he would hold a rival rally at the same place and time with the intent of "keeping fear alive." "Now is not the time to take it down a notch," he retorted in the faux persona of a conservative pundit. "Now is the time for all good men to freak out for freedom."

The idea behind the two rallies is to spoof the kind of blatant partisanship and irresponsible fear-stoking which seems to have taken hold of the discourse in the US. But while the gathering is promised to be chock-full of laughs, it touches on a serious issue extremely relevant to our sanity-parched part of the world.

HERE, AS in the US, important debates are often hijacked by those on the fringe who seek to promote their own agendas by exploiting our fears. In the US, this manifests itself through such bogus claims as Obama is a secret Muslim, fascist or communist (never mind the inherent contradiction between the last two terms); or, conversely, by outrageous accusations that former president George W. Bush masterminded 9/11 to invade Iraq.

Here, too, sometimes it seems like only those shouting loudest are the ones being heard. All too often people are quick to attach labels to those they disagree with. Settlers are fascists. Leftists are traitors. Israeli Arabs are a fifth column. Palestinians are terrorists. Religious Jews are fanatics. Secular Jews are assimilated.

If we made an effort to respect each other a little bit more, things could be different.

This is not to say that the Middle East as a whole and Israel in particular are not facing serious challenges. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems as intractable as ever. Relations between the religious and secular, Jews and Arabs, Ashkenazis and Sephardis and rich and poor are at peril. And let's not forget Iran's nuclear ambitions.

All these issues pose serious internal and external threats which must be reckoned with. But irresponsible conduct and partisan reporting certainly aren't going to help.

Our politicians, media and we, ourselves, must set higher standards – to be more balanced, more responsible, less prone to exaggeration and less disrespectful of each other.


TO ACHIEVE that lofty goal, I propose that the first item on our agenda be to hold a local chapter of the prank rally in Washington organized by two comedians.

If such a protest were held, it might not bring peace to the Middle East but it might help promote just a little humor and good will in the region, and that in itself would already be a great start.

There's only one problem. How does one restore sanity to a part of the world where it never existed? I therefore propose calling the gathering in Israel the Rally to Introduce Sanity.

Call me crazy if you will, but if you live in a part of the world which quite often resembles a madhouse, following the lead of a court jester might be the sanest thing to do.

The writer is The Jerusalem Post's Jewish World correspondent.








Instead of wasting time, energy, and damaging Israel's standing with meaningless new laws and nonsensical bargaining positions, Netanyahu should be making a serious drive for peace.


There is no commandment to believe in God.

The first of the Ten Commandments is not really a commandment: All it says is, "I am the Lord, your God."

It is a statement. There is no need for a commandment to believe in God; the Torah tells us the existence of God is obvious. Such a commandment would be superfluous.

Similarly, requiring prospective citizens to take an oath affirming loyalty to the State of Israel as a "Jewish and democratic" state – or requiring the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a "Jewish" state – is superfluous and unnecessary.

Demanding recognition of Israel as a Jewish state goes against the values we learn from the Torah.

We are not supposed to take a vain oath. Swearing the sky is blue is considered a vain oath. Anyone can see the sky is blue. You don't need to invoke God's name for that. Swearing Israel is a Jewish state would equally be a vain oath.

The loyalty oath – and the insistence that the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state – are both racist and discriminatory.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman does not propose that Jews should have to take the loyalty oath – he knows many would refuse. The government does not insist that other countries recognize Israel specifically as a Jewish state – presumably because Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does not want to be laughed at in the halls of the United Nations.

WHAT DOES it mean to swear loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state? Does it mean anyone who would prefer to see Israel as a secular democracy – a country like America, for example – is disloyal? Does it mean anyone who does not keep kosher or observe the Sabbath is disloyal? Oops, Netanyahu and Lieberman probably don't mean that, do they? If being Jewish means the haredim can force women to ride in the back of the bus, if Jewish means the haredim can force women to one side of a public street and men to another, if being Jewish means the state can arrest a woman for carrying a Torah scroll at the Western Wall, if being Jewish means the Chief Rabbinate can deny marriage to people with halachicly correct conversions because they don't like a particular rabbi – I would not swear an oath to such a state either.

The Palestinians should call our bluff. PA President Mahmoud Abbas should tell Netanyahu: "I'd accept Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state if it started acting like a Jewish and democratic state – including treating its citizens equally and displaying the Jewish values of treating the stranger with justice and pursuing peace. Will you agree to that?" One of the highest values in Judaism is peace. Peace, we are told, is one of God's names. A blessing for peace seals Judaism's most important prayer, the Amida.

By bowing to the populist foolishness of Lieberman, Netanyahu is putting form above substance. He is allowing things with no significance – a completely meaningless oath and a call for an equally meaningless statement from the PA – to be a barrier to something with great significance: peace. He is causing a desecration of God's name. He is causing other nations to view Israel as racist. He is causing other nations to see us as so insecure in our identity that we have to club others over the head in a way other nations do not to reassure ourselves that we really are entitled to our Jewish and democratic nation.


Instead of causing a desecration of God's name, our prime minister should be causing God's name to be sanctified. This will happen – in the eyes of Israel and of the entire world – if he manages to reach an equitable peace with our cousins, the Ishmaelites, the Palestinians.

Instead of wasting time, energy, and damaging Israel's standing in the eyes of the world with meaningless new laws and nonsensical bargaining positions, he should be making a serious drive for peace.

That would be the truly Jewish thing to do.

The writer is a business executive and cochairman of the board of Rabbis for Human Rights. The views expressed are his own.








The solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict lies with the UN. All everyone has to do is implement the decisions made throughout the years.


The renewed direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, under massive US pressure, were not conducted this time – as in the past – as part of general talks leading to specific results. Rather, they were tackled by addressing the roots of the conflict that would have hopefully once and for all led to a final agreement. But the negotiations, not surprisingly, have been fraught with difficulties.

The Arab League leaders, meeting in Libya earlier this month, decided to grant the US some maneuvering room to find a way to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table after the freeze on settlement construction was not extended.

The question has always remained: On which legal basis can the sides reach a mutual agreement that will lead to the end of the conflict? The only acceptable way, known to all parties, was and remains abiding by the UN resolutions since 1948, even when it is clear that each side has its own interpretation of them.

What is, then, the practical opening discussion? There are four core issues that must be addressed. The first is the mutual recognition of UN Resolution 181 from 1947 that determined two states for two peoples, Jewish and Palestinian, in the Holy Land. This is a key issue in any discussion between the parties, and corresponds with the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative backed quietly by the Arab League earlier this year.

With regards to the Arab- Palestinian argument that Israel should withdraw to the 1967 borders, it should be clearly stated that apart from the boundaries we share with Arab countries, no such borders ever existed on the ground. Furthermore, UN Resolution 242 from 1967 clearly mentions a withdrawal from the territories, but not from all the territories, as presented at the time by the British representative, Lord Caradon.

As for east Jerusalem, which is seen by the Arabs as part of the pre-1967 borders, the issue is contradicted by the 1947 resolution which decided on a special status calledcorpus separatum.

Jerusalem would serve as the intended divider between a Jewish state and a Palestinian state in negotiations.

The Arab idea to see east Jerusalem as the future final border between the two countries has only one purpose: to discredit our historic, religious and national rights to this city, holy to all monotheistic religions.

Our numbers there have surpassed the Arabs, even before the Balfour Declaration.

The evidence – all the statistical analyses conducted in the city by the British embassy from World War I to the Six Day War – proves it.

AS FOR the Palestinian refugees, the Arabs rely on the first half of UN Resolution 194 of 1948 which deals with the right of return to their homes, or compensation. But the second half says clearly that those Palestinians who wish to return to their homes must commit to live in peace with their neighbors – in others words, the Jews in Israel. Are we to believe that those who fought for the destruction of the State of Israel will suddenly become loyal citizens? Highly unlikely.

Furthermore, what about Jewish refugees from Arab lands? This is an issue ignored by the Arabs even as the number of Palestinian refugees continues to grow. It is an inseparable part of the discussion.


A resolution to the conflict demands tough decisions and compromises. The central challenge that lies before Israel is one of credible and aggressive hasbara which would include the best experts in their respective fields to present the truth to international and Arab public opinion.

It must be noted that Arab PR on the conflict has deeply influenced public opinion over the past few years. Therefore we must change the picture drastically before it is too late.

Israeli policy-makers must understand that the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel is in our national interest, first and foremost to retain the Jewish character of the state. Otherwise, we are marching toward a binational state, whether we like it or not.

A final agreement acceptable to all sides, as painful as it is, which would include a peace agreement with Syria and Lebanon on the basis of the '67 borders, will finally remove the last obstacle to peace with our Arab neighbors. This in turn, will ensure Israel's true integration as part of the Middle East, and we will see the realization of Leviticus 26:6: I will grant peace in the land.

The sooner the better.

The writer is an Orientalist and economist. He lives in Jerusalem.











The purpose of the new code of conduct for judges is to remind them that they are the public's servants, not its masters.


For the first time in Israel's history, a behavioral code has been formulated for judges. Its purpose is to lay down binding rules for appropriate behavior in the courtroom.


The document, written by the Courts Administration (and reported in Tuesday's Haaretz by Tomer Zarchin ), is expected to be approved by a joint committee comprised of delegates from the administration and the Israel Bar Association, and headed by former Supreme Court Justice Tova Strasberg-Cohen, who once served as judicial ombudsman.


Disclosure of the code has stirred criticism among retired senior judges. They claim the rules will "turn judges into obedient clerks" and lead to "policing the courts."


The judges' objection to a code designed to dictate basic rules of behavior to them is understandable. At first glance, the rules seem self-evident: to refrain from shouting or making hurtful utterances, to ensure that hearings start at the scheduled time, and so on.


Nonetheless, the reports of the judicial ombudsman cannot be ignored. Among other things, these reports have highlighted instances of behavior that would be prohibited under the new standards.


It is well known that judges at various levels of the court system take the liberty of doing whatever they please in their courtrooms. Frequently, they insult attorneys and witnesses and abuse the power they have at their disposal. In the past, such phenomena led the bar association, then headed by Shlomo Cohen, to ask lawyers to fill out annual evaluations of judges. The ongoing reality in the courtrooms has led to renewed demands for such evaluations.


Most incidents unsuited to a courtroom could be avoided were there more stringent procedures for appointing

judges, including the sort of personality checks that are common in many other work places. Judges have a guaranteed job until they retire at the age of 70, and this fact can enhance their feelings of power.


Most judges cannot be accused of inappropriate behavior. Yet the current circumstances warrant action that protects the dignity of those who enter the halls of justice and also enhances the public's faith in a judicial system that is supposed to represent the very best behavior by public servants.


The purpose of the code of conduct is not to harm judges. Rather, it is meant to remind them that they are the public's servants, not its masters.










The demand to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is a legitimate one. There are seven reasons for this.


First reason: That is why we came here. The supreme goal of Zionism is that in the Land of Israel the people of Israel will have a national home recognized by the law of nations.Those who don't believe in the right of the Jewish people to a national home are racists. Those who doesn't understand that the national home of the Jewish people should be internationally recognized are fools. Without recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, the Zionist enterprise hangs by a thread.


Second reason: This is the heart of the conflict. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict stems from the fact that for a century, the Jewish national movement and the Palestinian national movement refused to recognize each other. In 1993, Israel recognized the Palestinian people and its rights. But to this day the Palestinians have not recognized the Jewish people and its rights. That is the great failure of the Oslo Accords, which disrupted the peace process from the outset. For true peace to prevail in this country, there must be peace between the Arab Palestinian nation-state and the Jewish Israeli nation-state.


Third reason: The avalanche will be stopped. Over the past 20 years, a grave process has been underway. As Israel continues to recognize more and more of the Palestinians' natural rights, its own citizen's natural rights are being abrogated. Its ideological concessions do not work for it, but against it. When Ehud Olmert's Israel turns out to be less legitimate than Yitzhak Shamir's Israel, there is no true incentive to continue to give in. Only recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people will stop the avalanche and create mutual legitimacy - Israeli and Palestinian.


Fourth reason: The demand for the right of return will be put to an end. The Palestinians are still demanding the right to return to their homes, villages and cities within sovereign Israel - a demand which means the death of the state of the Jews. As the demand to return is the heart of the Palestinian national ethos, they cannot abandon it. Recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, however, can extricate both sides from the trap: it will allow the demand to return to be balanced and curbed, and neutralize the explosive nature of this demand.


Fifth reason: There will be a turning point in the consciousness of the Arab Muslim world. The reasonable relationship that today exists between Israel and the moderate Arab countries is on thin ice. These countries accept Israel as a given, but not as a legitimate entity. Recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people will make clear to the inhabitants of Marrakech, Alexandria and Baghdad that Israel is not a foreign implant, but an inseparable part of the Middle East. The Arabs will have to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish sovereign state.


Sixth reason: Our relations with Christian Europe will be settled. To this day, Europe has not solved its Jewish complex. Recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people will also mean European recognition of its moral responsibility for the Jews it persecuted for years. The continent, which nearly decimated the Jewish people in the 20th century, will ensure that people's right to life.


Seventh reason: We will calm down. The basic desire of Jewish Israelis is the desire for a home. Explicit recognition that Israel is the Jewish people's home will strengthen our willingness to take risks and leave the territories. Only recognition of the Jewish national home will make it possible to quickly and peacefully establish the Palestinian national home.


A codicil: The demand that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state cannot be made without maintaining a true commitment to Israel as a democracy. The demand cannot be made for recognition of a rational state represented by Avigdor Lieberman. Without ensuring the full and equal rights of non-Jews in Israel, the Jewish nation-state will not stand.


At the present time, Israel's government cannot expect the Palestinians to do what is required of them. However, the international community must contribute to the peace process by clearly and immediately recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Such recognition could end the crisis over the construction freeze and launch a true peace process. When the process comes to fruition, a similar demand will be made of the Palestinians.


Our partners for peace must understand that the rock of Israel's existence is not the Western Wall tunnel, but the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people. In the end, there is no other way: two nation states for two battered peoples.









Come November 3, with mid-term elections behind him, U.S. President Barack Obama will have the opportunity to denounce those he views as responsible for the fading of the regional peace process. If he assigns blame to Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak will find it difficult to explain why he doesn't resign. But even the appointment of a new defense minister is unlikely to alter the most senior pairing of Israel Defense Forces commanders, the designated chief of staff, Yoav Galant, and his deputy, Yair Naveh. Only a particularly dramatic development would reverse the appointments.


Galant and Naveh, both former commanders of the Gaza Division, continue the IDF's decade-old tradition of naming the chief of staff and his deputy in tandem, with a clear preference for division commanders charged with routine security operations (the West Bank, Gaza, 91st Division in the Galilee, and the Lebanon Liaison Unit ) over the 36th and 162nd Division commanders in the Armored Corps. This reflects the lessening importance of experience in conscript formations, and it must be considered when weighing the costs and benefits of dealing with Palestinian terrorism over the last decade.


The growing tendency to boast of victory on this front minimizes the price paid in casualties and the indirect price of eroding the IDF's other capabilities. Whoever claims the IDF emerged victorious in the territories between 2000 and 2006 but lost in Lebanon in 2006 must also acknowledge the deleterious impact of the former on the latter.


The current General Staff, in addition to Gabi Ashkenazi, includes three generals who served during the Yom Kippur War: Amos Yadlin, Gershon Hacohen, and Ami Shafran. The next generation, including Galant and Naveh, is familiar with 1973 only through history lessons. A spate of recent articles about the war rehashed old material more than it contributed to a renewed understanding. Unmentioned, but critical to our grasp of that grim chain of events, was the extent to which the political leadership refused to acknowledge the possibility that Egypt and Syria would well exploit the status quo of no peace and no war. That status quo served as the central platform of Israel's ruling party just prior to elections.


There were also missed military opportunities. Gen. (res. ) Uri Naaman, then a young officer in the information gathering department of Military Intelligence, headed a "forewarning committee" responsible for research between 1971-72. Their report, entitled "The Book of Warning Signs" [of war], detailed 150 possible indicators on the Egyptian front and another 100 on the Syrian front. Naaman's commander, Yoel Ben-Porat, instructed his charges to mark in red the most ominous signs. If two-thirds of the indicators were marked, then the war alarm was to have been sounded, regardless of the perceived intentions of the enemy leadership. In 1973, following the resignation of then-MI chief Aharon Yariv, this approach was, for whatever reason, abandoned.


In the run-up to the war, Israeli leaders were trigger-happy in conducting - and at times instigating and escalating - border clashes but hesitant when it came to strategic decisions on war. This explains why the bold operational plan known as Green Light was shelved; it called for the airlifting of landing craft to the western bank of the Gulf of Suez and thus bypassed the Suez Canal front to penetrate it from behind. On August 13, 1973, less than two months before the war, the entire General Staff, including the head of the navy, Bini Telem, was astonished by a military drill demonstrating the landing capabilities in the coral reefs of Sharm el-Sheikh. Had the idea been put into practice, much as Gen. Douglas MacArthur executed his landing at Inchon during the Korean War, it would have spared Israel the hundreds of fallen soldiers who died while crossing the canal to its western bank 10 days into the war.


To protect the armored alignment from being drowned during its short, 30-km. crossing of the canal, Israel needed to establish air and maritime superiority. The complacency of Israel's leadership, which did not foresee another war until 1975, resulted in the failure to put in motion a plan to sail warships around Africa and stationed in the Red Sea. During the war, the leadership was deterred from carrying out the plan despite the success of naval commando units and the Dvir ships. Entreaties from the deputy chief of staff, Israel Tal, and the commander of the front and future navy commander, Ze'ev Almog, did not help.


The IDF's new higher-ups need to know when a red light is flashing in front of them and when they must utilize opportunities for operations like Green Light. They must also know that during a crisis, the political echelon will abandon them to their own devices. The only things that change are the wars and the characters.










A 2009 report issued by Israel's National Institute for Testing and Evaluation reveals a gap of more than 100 points between Jews and Arabs on the psychometric exam used in college admissions, with the latter group lagging behind.


This huge gap is consistent with international studies that have repeatedly found differences in results among ethnic groups on such examinations. In the United States, for instance, there has been a long-standing gap in GRE and SAT exam results between whites and African-Americans.


One familiar interpretation of this phenomenon is that such aptitude exams are culturally biased. In other words, to achieve optimal results on such exams, one needs to bring prior knowledge that a person from a particular cultural background is more likely to have.


Another explanation for these gaps, which is both more interesting and better founded, is supplied by social psychologists Claude Steel and Joshua Aronson, who researched and developed the theory of "stereotype threat." According to this theory, which has been tested hundreds of times, when a person is aware that someone next to him perceives him in a stereotypical fashion, this consciousness harms his performance.


In other words, if the exam-taker knows that the test-giver, or the writer of the test, has a prejudice against him, this awareness will impair his performance on the exam.


In one well-known experiment, Steel and Aronson arranged a GRE exam for African-American and white students. Half of the participants in each group were told that the exam measures their intelligence. The white students attained the same results whether they were told that the exam tests their intelligence or not. But in the case of the blacks, those who were told that they were taking an intelligence exam did worse than those who were not told anything about the exam's character.


In a similar vein, more than 200 experiments have demonstrated that women attain lower results on mathematics exams if attention is drawn to their gender when they sit down to take the tests. Other experiments have shown that older people attain lower results on memory tests if they are told before the tests that age adversely affects memory. And in the U.S., white pupils received lower grades in the sciences after they were informed that students of Asian descent tend to be better than they are in this area of study.


In other words, a portion of the gap separating Arabs and Jews on Israel's psychometric exams can apparently be explained by the situation of the exam itself, which reminds the test-takers of stereotypical views concerning their cognitive abilities.


But how should we explain the remainder of the gap? It is not reasonable to assume that the entirety of the problem stems from stereotype threat, or from the fact that the exams are culturally biased. Nor do differences in exam results reflect genetic differences among ethnic groups, or the possibility that some cultures prepare its members for academic studies better than others do.


What hundreds of studies around the world have shown clearly is that part of the gap in test results derives from socioeconomic differences among different groups: It reflects the differing resources that society allocates to different groups.


Thus more than they predict academic success or failure for members of a particular group in the present, the gaps in the psychometric test results point to Israeli society's failure to equitably allocate educational and economic resources to all its citizens in the present.











"Neither the State of Israel, the Israel Defense Forces nor Israeli society has the capacity to sustain another Yom Kippur," IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi wrote in an article in Maariv on Friday. Such a view of the Yom Kippur War as well as other views in the article are totally mistaken. One would hope that someone other than Ashkenazi actually penned them, and that the chief of staff didn't thoroughly look at what was written before approving the piece for publication. If that is not the case, all of us should be concerned that Israel's No. 1 soldier actually believes we lack that capacity, heaven forfend, should another Yom Kippur occur.


Words of rebuke are essential here. Ashkenazi's view is absolutely incorrect and offers hope to those plotting another Yom Kippur War against us, and there are more than a few of them. More grave, however, is that this view conveys a lack of confidence in the resilience of the people and the capabilities of the army. The supreme commander, who is supposed to motivate and inspire confidence in the army's capabilities, is saying the IDF under current circumstances cannot sustain another 2,800 dead and 8,000 wounded, as were sustained in that war. Woe betide us if there is so much as a hint of truth in what Ashkenazi said.


The enemy cannot be allowed to take us by surprise again and to put us in a position of sustaining such losses or even a lesser level of loss. Even in our current circumstances, in which spirits are not high, we indeed can sustain another Yom Kippur War and worse. (One should bear in mind that in the Second Lebanon War, the failure was not a result of limited training, failed command or mistaken military concepts ).


The Jewish people has known terrible calamities and survived. Its leaders and military brass during the War of Independence told the people that despite the loss of six million people, it must rise from the ashes and win, fighting at times with their bare hands. And along comes the current generation of military commanders and declares that this people - who rose up like a lion to fight for its independence even after the ultimate tragedy, the Holocaust - can do no more, just when it's nearing the end of its travails, and that this people cannot pay the price necessary to assure its existence and sovereignty. What a lack of faith!


True, similar things have been said by party leaders, leading intellectuals and academics. But the role of the military leader, like Joshua and Caleb in their time, is to lift the spirits of the army and of the people and instill faith that we can, and must, overcome the impossible. In the national vocabulary, and certainly in the army's vocabulary, it is unacceptable to allow the idea to take root that "we cannot sustain another war like that."


The Yom Kippur War, in fact, proved the opposite, that we can. It's a fact: Our victory in that war was perhaps the greatest victory we have ever experienced as a people.


Ashkenazi's words reflect the sustained shell shock that has taken hold of us, and this includes senior army officials, since that war. We must stop flogging ourselves ceaselessly and recognize the lessons of that impressive victory - that if we are forced to do something, we have the capability, particularly if we have the will, to pay the necessary price to sustain our independence. And we are prepared for that, among other reasons, because if there is no Jewish state here, there will be none anywhere else in the world. And if there is no Jewish state, there will also be no Jewish people in the future. (One need only see how our people are assimilating by choice in the Diaspora ). Sustaining the Jewish people is the supreme goal of the Jewish state.









It seems premature to start worrying about the next financial crisis. Yet amid the current gloom, Wall Street is snapping up assets of the "emerging economies" that are growing faster and offer higher, more consistent returns. Financial regulators and policy makers in these countries need to pay close attention.


The Institute of International Finance, which lobbies for big banks, estimates that $825 billion will flow into developing countries this year, 42 percent more than in 2009. Investments in debt of emerging economies alone is expected to triple, to $272 billion.


While developing countries often benefit from foreign investments, huge inflows of capital complicate their macroeconomic management. They push up the value of their currency, boosting imports and slowing exports, and they promote fast credit expansion — which can cause inflation, inflate asset bubbles and usually leave a pile of bad loans. This money turns tail at the first sign of trouble, tipping countries into crisis.


Those are the dynamics behind Mexico's 1994 "tequila crisis," the 1997 Asian crisis, the 1998 Russian catastrophe, the 1999 Brazilian debacle and the 2002 Argentine collapse. The housing bubble that burst here in 2008 was painfully similar, with irrational investments and then a sudden flight.


A collapse in emerging market bonds would further damage the weak balance sheets of American banks. Still, it is not time to panic. Developing countries are in relatively good economic shape, while interest rates in the wealthy countries are likely to stay low for years. Yet the financial system remains fragile. And a shock — say a default in Ireland or Greece — could prompt a fast U-turn away from emerging markets.


There is little policy makers in the rich world can do to stop these flows. Governments in the developing world must prepare now for when the money masters change their minds.


That means they cannot let their budgets get out of hand. And they have to keep a very close eye on their own banks. This might also be a good time to consider capital controls to slow inflows. Chile managed them successfully in the 1990s. Even the International Monetary Fund — long a foe of anything that got in the way of money — acknowledged this year that controls should be part of the toolkit.







The bitter contest to replace retiring Senator Christopher Dodd pits the charm-free, experienced public servant against the splashy business executive. Connecticut voters should pick experience.


Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the Democrat, has led the way in attacking the tobacco plague, helped clean the region's environment and supported hundreds of individuals treated unfairly by their health insurance companies, utilities or banks.


Mr. Blumenthal has troubled us by occasionally telling audiences, falsely, that he served in Vietnam. He has apologized in almost every public forum and made sure that he expressed his regret to real Vietnam veterans.


We have larger concerns with the Republican, Linda McMahon. She made her name and lots of money by running World Wrestling Entertainment, a noisy, demeaning business. Her policy positions, when you can discern them, are remixes of failed trickle-down ideas.


She has aligned herself with groups that oppose the minimum wage — even though she now says she would not cut this meager safety net. She essentially expects voters to take it on faith that she will do as well in government as she did in spectacle wrestling.


She is ready to spend as much as $50 million of her own money to win the race, but she does not seem ready to take on the issues of war, the economy, public welfare and justice in Washington.


For the United States Senate in Connecticut, we endorse Richard Blumenthal.



Connecticut voters have two worthy candidates for governor: Dan Malloy, the Democrat and former Stamford mayor, and Thomas Foley, the Republican and former ambassador. Mr. Malloy is the better choice.


Mr. Foley, who was a major fund-raiser for former President George W. Bush, worked in Iraq shortly after the invasion and then became ambassador to Ireland. He is fairly new to state issues, while Mr. Malloy is steeped in Connecticut's problems and possibilities.


Both candidates have a way to go in explaining how they plan to tackle the enormous deficits next year. Mr. Foley has promised no borrowing and no new taxes, which would mean steep cuts to balance the $19 billion budget. Mr. Malloy, who is aligned with numerous unions, would have to disappoint these supporters to scale back state costs.


Mr. Foley has thrived in his investment business, although a company he ran in Georgia closed its doors after he sold it and left many unemployed. Mr. Malloy's stewardship of Stamford brought growth and prosperity to the once bedraggled city.


We endorse Mr. Malloy for governor in Connecticut.








Apple isn't commenting on reports that it will release a new iPhone for use on Verizon Wireless's network next year. We find the prospect of a non-AT&T iPhone tantalizing. Could it mean that wireless service providers will finally have to accept real competition?


It looked as if that might happen seven years ago when the Federal Communications Commission said that consumers could switch providers and keep their cellphone numbers. The sense of liberation didn't last.


Cellphone companies had too many other ways to lock in customers. Those include hundreds of dollars in fees for early contract termination, which the networks say are meant to recover their subsidy of pricey handsets. Then there are those exclusive deals to ensure the coolest devices can be used only on their networks.


According to the F.C.C., about half the smartphones unveiled in 2008 and 2009 by the four big wireless companies came to market under exclusive contracts with one or another of them. This week, AT&T introduced several smartphones based on Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system — on an exclusive basis. Verizon and AT&T already have 60 percent of the American market and continue to gain share despite being generally more expensive than rivals T-Mobile and Sprint.


One of the biggest drivers of wireless competition today is Google's Android operating system. Google decided to provide it to all phone makers for use on any network. Today, Android phones are outselling iPhones. That could be why — if the reports are true — Apple decided to end its exclusive deal with AT&T.


We hope that the next announcement will be that Apple will offer iPhones not only for use on Verizon but also on T-Mobile, Sprint and, indeed, any wireless provider. That could be the real start of liberation.







The Obama administration professes to oppose the odious and misguided policy of banning gay soldiers from serving openly in the military. So it was distressing to hear that the Justice Department plans to appeal a federal court order that the military immediately stop enforcing the law that is used to drum out gay service members once their sexual orientation becomes known.


We believe the "don't ask, don't tell" law was wrong from the day it was passed 17 years ago. But, in any case, circumstances have changed radically. As Judge Virginia Phillips pointed out when she ruled it unconstitutional, the original premises for the policy have been proved wrong, and there is no longer any good reason for continuing to ruin people's lives by enforcing it.


Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the policy should not be lifted abruptly because there are unresolved questions like whether straight and gay soldiers should share barracks and whether the military should pay benefits to partners of gay service members.


He said he wanted to wait until a review of practices and policies was submitted on Dec. 1.


There is no need to wait. The answer to both questions is: Yes. It would be a disaster if the military replaced this misbegotten policy with official segregation and discrimination.


The breadth and vigor of Judge Phillips's ruling provided a welcome jolt to an issue that had been stagnating. The best solution by far — because it would reflect political consensus — would be for Congress to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" as President Obama has requested. The House voted to do that, but Republicans have blocked action in the Senate. The climate is apt to get worse for civil rights after the elections.


The next best solution was Judge Phillips's injunction, which ordered the military to drop any investigation or discharge proceeding mounted under the law against any gay service member anywhere. The injunction would provide immediate relief to gay men and women while the political and judicial wrangling over whether to repeal the act moves sluggishly forward.


Judge Phillips had earlier ruled, based on persuasive evidence, that "don't ask, don't tell" is unconstitutional because it infringes the due process and free speech rights of gay service members, who are forced to lie about central elements of their lives. She also made a powerful case that the law was harmful to military readiness, the opposite of what its authors said they intended.


Some 14,000 or more service members have been discharged under the law, including many hundreds if not thousands with critical skills in foreign languages, military intelligence, counterterrorism, weapons development and military medicine. Meanwhile, the military was having such trouble finding qualified recruits that it issued "moral waivers" to convicted felons and lowered its educational and physical fitness requirements.


The original rationale for "don't ask, don't tell" was that it would enhance unit morale and cohesion — and thus military preparedness — by shielding heterosexual soldiers from any knowledge that some of their colleagues were gay. That rationale has not held up in the real world. The judge found that the military has routinely delayed investigations and discharges until suspected homosexuals completed their deployments on combat missions. Their service was deemed vital in the war zones, not detrimental.


Now that the administration is expected to appeal Judge Phillips's ruling unnecessarily, we hope the appeals court lets it take force immediately. It is unfair to persecute valued service members under an outmoded and harmful law that should have been scrapped long ago.








ON Oct. 3, the State Department issued a travel advisory to Americans about potential terrorist attacks in Europe. The same day, Britain issued a travel advisory based on the threat of terrorist attacks in France and Germany. Shortly afterward, the French government alerted its citizens to an increased risk of a terrorist attack in Britain.


In recent weeks, information from various sources has indicated that Al Qaeda may be planning a large-scale attack on the West. In July, a German citizen of Afghan origin who was captured in Kabul revealed a plot to undertake an attack in Germany modeled on the attacks in Mumbai in 2008. On Oct. 4, an American drone attack in North Waziristan killed 11 jihadists, at least five of whom had German citizenship. On Oct. 5, the French police arrested 12 people linked to an Algerian bomb maker recently arrested in Italy. In addition, security officials from various nations have reported levels of "chatter" among jihadists on a scale comparable to that in the run-up to 9/11. And there have been reports that Al Qaeda's media arm has prepared a video with a message from Osama bin Laden to be released after the planned attack.


In this context, unfortunately, the warnings from the American and British governments have actually confused matters. Americans were told to "adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling." A report in The Times noted that the vagueness of the warning "embodied the dilemma for the authorities in the United States and Europe over how to publicize a threat that intelligence analysts call credible but not specific." How should such warnings be handled?


We could vastly improve our system if we stepped back and looked more closely at the strategy of alert systems. Most important, the government should distinguish between three distinct functions its advisories can perform: informing, alerting and warning.


Informing means simply putting into the public domain as much as possible of what the government knows without compromising intelligence sources and countermeasures. Alerting means contacting public officials and people in the private sector who manage the likeliest targets when there is a good reason for new security steps. Warning means cautioning the public when there is something specific to be alarmed about and the government can give specific advice about how to reduce risks substantially.


How would this play out in practice?


If the government believes it knows something is coming, but not where or when, it should inform the public about the nature of the threat, but no more. This would include, say, general information about Al Qaeda's activities: "Osama bin Laden has openly discussed his desire to acquire nuclear weapons and has, on at least one occasion, tried to purchase nuclear materials."


If the government thinks something is about to happen and believes it knows either where or when, but not both, it should alert federal, state and local officials as well as people in the private sector who operate banks, hospitals, energy links, power grids and the like. For example, "We believe Al Qaeda has made the Statue of Liberty a target."


Last, if the government feels it knows both when and where an attack is coming, it should warn the public directly with as much detail as possible.


We need these distinctions not only to avoid general confusion, but also to limit the costs imposed on society by the terrorists. For example, if we alert when we should be informing, we unjustifiably increase costs and may impose long-term precautions that are impossible to sustain. Likewise, if we repeatedly warn when we should alert, we may create the boy who cried wolf, making the cost of achieving real warning higher.


On the other hand, if we merely inform when we should be warning, we lose the trust of the people and provide material for conspiracy theorists, including the calculatedly malevolent.


The general approach of putting every American on the lookout for terrorist activity is a good one. But an announcement like the State Department's recent travel alert is so broad and indiscriminate that it imposes costs while doing nothing to make us safer.


Philip Bobbitt is a law professor at Columbia, a fellow at the University of Texas and a member of the Hoover Institution's Task Force on National Security and Law.








NEARLY 63 years after the United Nations recognized the right of the Jewish people to independence in their homeland — and more than 62 years since Israel's creation — the Palestinians are still denying the Jewish nature of the state. "Israel can name itself whatever it wants," said the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, while, according to the newspaper Haaretz, his chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said that the Palestinian Authority will never recognize Israel as the Jewish state. Back in 1948, opposition to the legitimacy of a Jewish state ignited a war. Today it threatens peace.


Mr. Abbas and Mr. Erekat were responding to the call by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, enabling his government to consider extending the moratorium on West Bank construction. "Such a step by the Palestinian Authority would be a confidence-building measure," Mr. Netanyahu explained, noting that Israel was not demanding recognition as a prerequisite for direct talks. It would "open a new horizon of hope as well as trust among broad parts of the Israeli public."


Why should it matter whether the Palestinians or any other people recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people? Indeed, Israel never sought similar acknowledgment in its peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Some analysts have suggested that Mr. Netanyahu is merely making a tactical demand that will block any chance for the peace they claim he does not really want.


Affirmation of Israel's Jewishness, however, is the very foundation of peace, its DNA. Just as Israel recognizes the existence of a Palestinian people with an inalienable right to self-determination in its homeland, so, too, must the Palestinians accede to the Jewish people's 3,000-year connection to our homeland and our right to sovereignty there. This mutual acceptance is essential if both peoples are to live side by side in two states in genuine and lasting peace.


So why won't the Palestinians reciprocate? After all, the Jewish right to statehood is a tenet of international law. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 called for the creation of "a national home for the Jewish people" in the land then known as Palestine and, in 1922, the League of Nations cited the "historical connection of the Jewish people" to that country as "the grounds for reconstituting their national home." In 1947, the United Nations authorized the establishment of "an independent Jewish state," and recently, while addressing the General Assembly, President Obama proclaimed Israel as "the historic homeland of the Jewish people." Why, then, can't the Palestinians simply say "Israel is the Jewish state"?


The reason, perhaps, is that so much of Palestinian identity as a people has coalesced around denying that same status to Jews. "I will not allow it to be written of me that I have ... confirmed the existence of the so-called Temple beneath the Mount," Yasir Arafat told President Bill Clinton in 2000.


For Palestinians, recognizing Israel as a Jewish state also means accepting that the millions of them residing in Arab countries would be resettled within a future Palestinian state and not within Israel, which their numbers would transform into a Palestinian state in all but name. Reconciling with the Jewish state means that the two-state solution is not a two-stage solution leading, as many Palestinians hope, to Israel's dissolution.


Which is precisely why Israelis seek the basic reassurance that the Palestinian Authority is ready to accept our state — to accept us. Israelis need to know that further concessions would not render us more vulnerable to terrorism and susceptible to unending demands. Though recognition of Israel as the Jewish state would not shield us from further assaults or pressure, it would prove that the Palestinians are serious about peace.


The core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the refusal to recognize Jews as a people, indigenous to the region and endowed with the right to self-government. Criticism of Israeli policies often serves to obscure this fact, and peace continues to elude us. By urging the Palestinians to recognize us as their permanent and legitimate neighbors, Prime Minister Netanyahu is pointing the way out of the current impasse: he is identifying the only path to co-existence.


Michael B. Oren is Israel's ambassador to the United States.









As the United States relies on firepower to try to crush extremism in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, it might instead consider the lesson of the remarkable Arab country of Oman.


Just 40 years ago, Oman was one of the most hidebound societies in the world. There was no television, and radios were banned as the work of the devil. There were no Omani diplomats abroad, and the sultan kept his country in almost complete isolation.


Oman, a country about the size of Kansas, had just six miles of paved road, and the majority of the population was illiterate and fiercely tribal. The country had a measly three schools serving 909 pupils — all boys in primary grades. Not one girl in Oman was in school.


Oman's capital city, Muscat, nestled among rocky hills in the desert of the Arabian Peninsula, was surrounded by a traditional wall. At dusk, the authorities would fire a cannon and then close the city's gates for the night. Anyone seen walking outside without a torch at night was subject to being shot.


Oman was historically similar to its neighbor, Yemen, which now has become an incubator for Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists. But, in 1970, Oman left that fundamentalist track: the sultan's son deposed his father and started a stunning modernization built around education for boys and girls alike.


Visit Oman today, and it is a contemporary country with highways, sleek new airports, satellite TV dishes and a range of public and private universities. Children start studying English and computers in the first grade. Boys and girls alike are expected to finish high school at least.


It's peaceful and pro-Western, without the widespread fundamentalism and terrorism that afflict Yemen. Granted, Yemen may be the most beautiful country in the Arab world, but my hunch is that many of the young Westerners who study Arabic there will end up relocating to Oman because of the tranquility here.


It's particularly striking how the role of women has been transformed. One 18-year-old university student I spoke to, Rihab Ahmed al-Rhabi, told me (in fluent English) of her interest in entrepreneurship. She also told me, affectionately, about her grandmother who is illiterate, was married at age 9 and bore 10 children.


As for Ms. Rhabi, she mentioned that she doesn't want to bog herself down with a husband anytime soon. Otherwise, what if her husband didn't want her to study abroad? And when she does eventually marry, she mused, one child would be about right.


Ms. Rhabi was a member of the Omani all-girls team that won the gold medal in an entrepreneurship competition across the Arab world last year. The contest was organized by Injaz, a superb organization that goes into schools around the Arab world to train young people in starting and running small businesses.


The stand-out young entrepreneurs in Oman today are mostly female: 9 of the 11 finalists in this year's Oman entrepreneurship contest were all-girl teams. The winning team bowled me over. The members started as high school juniors by forming a company to publish children's picture books in Arabic. They raised capital, conducted market research, designed and wrote the books and oversaw marketing and distribution.


"We're now looking at publishing e-books," explained Ameera Tariq, a high school senior and a member of the board of directors of the team's book company. Maybe one of the customers for a future electronic picture book will be her grandmother, who was married at the age of 12 and has never learned to read.


In short, one of the lessons of Oman is that one of the best and most cost-effective ways to tame extremism is to promote education for all.


Many researchers have found links between rising education and reduced conflict. One study published in 2006, for example, suggested that a doubling of primary school enrollment in a poor country was associated with halving the risk of civil war. Another found that raising the average educational attainment in a country by a single grade could significantly reduce the risk of conflict.


Sorry if this emphasis on education sounds like a cliché. It's widely acknowledged in theory, and President Obama pledged as a candidate that he would start a $2 billion global education fund. But nothing has come of it. Instead, he's spending 50 times as much this year alone on American troops in Afghanistan — even though military solutions don't have as good a record in trouble spots as education does.


The pattern seems widespread: Everybody gives lip service to education, but nobody funds it.


For me, the lesson of Oman has to do with my next stops on this trip: Afghanistan and Pakistan. If we want to see them recast as peaceful societies, then let's try investing less in bombs and more in schools.


Gail Collins is off today.








All too often, the news is a depressing drumbeat of what went wrong: Joblessness in the USA. War in Afghanistan. Flooding in Pakistan. Murder in Mexico.


So the hourly miracles broadcast Wednesday to a transfixed world, as the trapped miners in Chile emerged one by one from nearly a half mile under the earth's surface, provided both a welcome respite and an inspiring reaffirmation of man's ability to persevere under extraordinary circumstances.


Those of us who consider being stuck in an elevator for a few minutes, or having an MRI exam, a harrowing experience, could only be awestruck at what the miners endured: Seventeen days of captivity, stretching 48 hours of emergency rations, before anyone on the surface knew they were alive. Fifty-two more days until the rescues began. Never before had so many been stranded so deep for so long.


As the miners emerged from the rescue capsule, they shed their group identity to become individuals, each with

his own story. Miner No. 2, the ebullient Mario Sepulveda, who bounded out to greet the cheering crowds. Miner No. 14, Victor Zamora, the designated poet. Miner No. 18, Esteban Rojas, who proposed a church wedding to the woman he married in a civil ceremony 25 years ago.


Befitting the worldwide attention, the meticulously planned rescue was truly an international effort. A U.S. company supplied the drilling technology that broke through to the miners first. NASA donated a high-calorie liquid diet. An Austrian company made the capsule's winch-and-pulley system.


The story of "los 33" is destined to take its place among similarly wondrous and rare moments that captured the popular imagination. The safe return, in 1970, of theApollo 13 astronauts and their crippled spacecraft. The 1987 retrieval of baby Jessica McClure from a 22-foot-deep well in Midland, Texas. Last year's Miracle on the Hudson, when Capt. Chesley Sullenberger successfully ditched a US Airways jetliner in an icy river.


Book and movie deals are sure to follow.


Unlike Hollywood endings, of course, not everyone will live happily after. The euphoria will fade. Inevitably, there will be post-traumatic stress, twists of fate, divorces, fallings-out over fame and fortune. These, too, are part of the human condition. And there will be necessary investigations of the mine operators, and questions about why the miners were placed in such jeopardy in the first place.


But all that is for another day. Now is a moment to feel good about something. A moment to feel good about our species. A moment to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit.


And how to refer to the miners? As heroes? Maybe. Victims? Definitely not. Survivors? Absolutely.







Anyone who watches TV crime shows knows the drill. A suspect's Miranda warnings include this guarantee: "If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you." In at least 13 states, though, police ought to add, "We'll get back to you with the fine print."


Impoverished defendants in these states — including Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia — can be charged a fee merely to exercise their constitutional right to a public defender.


Mandating that convicted defendants pay something for their defense might sound appealing in theory, particularly to taxpayers who foot the bills. But doing so undermines the whole point of guaranteeing counsel — that every defendant is presumed innocent and that nobody should be denied a fair trial because of poverty. Such policies, which leave people convicted of crimes with big debts when they're on probation or leave prison, can also backfire by making it more likely they'll return to crime and to prison.


These public defender fees are just one aspect of a bad idea that's gaining momentum: cash-strapped states imposing "user fees" on defendants, even those too poor to pay, to help defray criminal justice costs. According to a study released last week by the Brennan Center for Justice, defendants are ordered to pay for everything from days in jail, to days on probation, to days doing community service. One defendant found guilty on a drug charge in Pennsylvania faced $2,464 in fees alone — three times her fine and restitution. The bill included $8 for a "judicial computer project" and $250 for a "DNA detection fund."


Some states employ aggressive collection techniques, piling on late fees and collection fees reminiscent of the outrageous tactics employed by credit card issuers until Congress banned them. Failure to pay can lead to consequences that make it difficult to hold a job. For instance, eight states can suspend driving privileges for missed payments, making it impossible for people to get to work. Several states allow debt collectors to garnish wages.


All 15 states examined by the Brennan Center have jurisdictions that arrest people for failure to pay or appear at debt-related hearings. That's as inhumane as it is fiscally irresponsible. Much of this debt is uncollectable from people already living at society's margins. Jailing them costs more than the debts collected.


Among all this absurdity, defender fees stand out as particularly onerous because they skew a defendant's chances to get a fair shake from the start. Supporters of the system argue that judges can waive fees for those who are "truly indigent." But not all judges do, and some defendants never learn of that possibility.


In Idaho's Nez Perce County, a sign informs every defendant: "If you apply for a public defender and the service is granted to you, IT IS NOT FREE." Such warnings leave poor people with a stark choice — pleading guilty even if they're innocent or seeking a lawyer and being saddled with debt.


If states want streets that are safe and courts that are just, they'll have to find better ways to pay for the judges, lawyers, jailers and others who can make that happen.









A study released last week by the Brennan Center for Justice raised concerns that assessing convicted criminals fees for their public defenders would somehow dissuade them from exercising their constitutional rights or unfairly burden those who are broke.


More than 95% of crimes are prosecuted by locally elected prosecutors, called district attorneys in most states. We live and work in the community alongside both the victims and the defendants. We are well aware of the tough economic times, which hit the victims of crime much harder than those who prey on them. And the poor are much more likely to be victims of crime.


When the citizens are asked to bear the cost of providing a lawyer for anyone who can't afford one, it is not unreasonable to ask those found guilty to pay at least part of that cost. In Oregon, that means about $300 for a misdemeanor and rarely more than $1,000 for a felony.


Given the value of the excellent legal representation many defendants receive, they are getting a bargain. Anyone who hired the same lawyers would be expected to pay a retainer several times that amount. And, unlike many of the portrayals on TV, public defenders usually offer outstanding representation.


Prosecutors have also come up with innovative early disposition programs, recognizing that most crimes don't need a sentence of jail or prison. These programs are under fire by some defense attorneys because the defendants choose not to avail themselves of a court-appointed lawyer. Often, the prosecutor offers community service, or even reduction of the charge, so the defendant ends up without any criminal record whatsoever.


The offender and the community benefit when people are held accountable, but not punished so severely that they can no longer work. The "broken window theory" — which says pay attention to the little things and they won't become bigger crimes — has proved a success. Americans are much safer now than they were 20 years ago.


We should never expect the justice system to be a revenue center for local or state government, but that doesn't mean that those who violate the law should get a free ride.


Joshua Marquis is district attorney in Clatsop County, Ore., and a member of the executive committee of the National District Attorneys Association.







The U.S.-mediated Middle East peace talks that began about a month ago have stalled, largely over the Palestinian demand that Israel freeze settlement construction in the West Bank. Maen Rashid Areikat, Palestine Liberation Organization representative to the United States, discussed the peace talks and other issues Tuesday with USA TODAY's Editorial Board. This Q&A is adapted from that session and edited for length and clarity.


Question: What is the status of the talks?


Answer: We are doing our best to try to salvage this process. It is unfortunate that the Israelis have managed to succeed in distracting all the attention from the overall picture to the issue of the settlements. It goes much beyond that and is basically aimed at making the realization of the two-state solution impossible. If the Israelis want to negotiate in good faith and they want to give us back that land to establish our state, why do they continue to plant settlements in these territories?


Q: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to support a new settlement freeze if Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Is this workable?


A: The Israeli government is fixated on short-term gains. Netanyahu is negotiating with his coalition partners. He is not negotiating with us. All he is trying to do is to please the right-wing parties in his coalition. As long as he continues doing that, I don't see how we can make progress toward a resolution.


ISRAEL:Read Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's Q&A session


Q: You sound very pessimistic. Is this immediate peace effort dead?


A: I am not saying that it is. The U.S. administration will be preoccupied with the midterm elections now. The one month just gives them time after the midterms to try once again to revive it. But are we going to take a different approach?


Q: How do we get to that different approach?


A: Everybody in this room would give me the same parameters that I agree will be needed to resolve the conflict. The two-state solution, the sharing of Jerusalem, the agreed resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem, security guarantees for Israel, sharing the water resources. That is why we have to set a time frame and tell the parties we have to reach that target and figure out what the endgame is going to look like.


Q: Are the settlements really that important?


A: People don't understand the impact of these settlements and settlers. To us these are people who are there to uproot us and to take our places. It is an existential threat for us because they are some of the most hard-line Israelis in the world. They don't believe in coexistence.


Q: When the Israelis uprooted their settlements in Gaza in the interest of peace, they ended up with Hamason their border and rocket attacks. What assurance is there that the same would not happen again?


A: I was closely involved in the disengagement with Israel. One, Israel never wanted the Palestinians to be involved in the withdrawal. Second, Gaza became a prison after the Israelis withdrew. Their land crossing points were closed by the Israelis, their air space, their water was controlled by Israel. The best way to make sure this does not happen is if we can reach a satisfactory agreement that will also address Palestinian needs.


Q: You seem to imply that the lack of Palestinian inclusion is what caused the violence. Was there any justification for that violence?


A: No, what I said was the Israelis kept us in the dark completely. They didn't even tell us when they were pulling out of the Gaza Strip. Certain Palestinian elements are interested in keeping the tension. Israeli retaliation did not really help. For us Palestinians, it has to be a strategic choice that we shouldn't resort to violence.


Q: How do the Palestinian people perceive these talks?


A: The public mood was against the Palestinian leadership returning to the negotiations. It is because we have been there before, and they did not produce any end results. Palestinians have become indifferent. This is the real danger here with what Israel is doing. Now if the talks fail, the opposition will try to exploit that.


Q: Is time on your side?


A: Time is not on either side. The more this stalemate continues, the more the extremists on both sides will become bolder and stronger. And Israel knows that the only way for them to maintain their Jewish character is by having a Palestinian state, because what is the alternative?


Q: What about a coexistence, similar to what eventually emerged in South Africa?


A: People don't like the word "apartheid," but if you're having Jewish enclaves in the West Bank protected by the Israeli military, different treatment given to settlers and Palestinians discriminated against, what else can you call that? The two-state solution is the most ideal to allow both Palestinians and Israelis to preserve their national identities and hopefully be able to work together in the future when peace prevails.


Q: For years, people have cautioned that if the Palestinian nationalist cause became an Islamist cause, peace would become impossible. How do you reconcile the two?


A: It continues to be a nationalist cause because Palestinians are secular by nature. Nobody wants to turn this into a religious conflict.


Q: What about the religious tone of Hamas?


A: You also have some Israeli forces or elements within Israel who when they talk about the republic, the land of Israel, they're talking about the Bible. It is in no one's interest to turn this conflict into a religious conflict.


Q: In the 2006 elections, Hamas unseated Fatah with a platform of continuing its stated goal of destroying Israel. Why should the Israeli government trust your word?


A: You have to look at the elections of 2006 from different angles. Peace negotiations with Israel had failed for the last 13 years. Secondly, the Israeli measures against the Palestinians during the intifada hardened Palestinian feelings about Israel and the prospects for peace. Third, mismanagement and certain instances of corruption within the Palestinian authority also fueled anger. Four, people looked at the models of resistance that they thought forced Israel to withdraw from the south of Lebanon. So, I would be careful in characterizing that as a vote for Hamas.


Q: But the Israeli government is responsible for the safety of its people. How can you ensure Israel's security?


A: We cannot pose a military threat to Israel. I'm not saying that Hamas should resort to violence to threaten Israelis. The only answer to that is to try to reach an acceptable agreement.


Q: How big of a threat is Iran's nuclear program to the regional stability?


A: It's a major issue — at least for the Israelis. Palestinians don't have, and we will not have, any nuclear capabilities in the future. You cannot call for a Middle East free of nuclear and weapons of mass destruction and then turn your eyes from Israel's nuclear capabilities.


Q: Do you condemn Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments about the Holocaust and wanting to see Israel wiped out?


A: One of our top officials said that we are not in the business of eliminating countries in the Middle East. We Palestinians are not engaged in the business of trying to eliminate Israel, but rather to establish a Palestinian state. Therefore, I think such rhetoric, such actions, are a reflection of ignorance to history. People have to show sensitivity to the suffering of other people.


Q: Many Israelis are concerned that Palestinians are negotiating for a two-state solution as a way to get to a two-stage solution — and that the second stage is the rest of the land. How do you see this playing out?


A: I don't think that given the status of Israel and its military capabilities, that it's even realistic to think that the Palestinians will be able to get more than what the international community and what the Palestinians want. We are focusing on the future state in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem. The Israelis are stuck in the mentality of today. We should think about a new order after we sign a peace agreement with them. Why can't we think of Israelis driving back through Palestinian cities and villages and coming for shopping and we go to Jaffa and Haifa to sit on the beach? Why not think of a new order where we can live in peace? Why do we always think about the day after as being rockets, Israeli shells, Palestinians attacks? We need to change that paradigm. If we don't do that, we will be stuck in today and we will never move forward.








It takes a brave person to be a reporter inMexico these days if the intent is to cover the drug cartels. More than 30 journalists have been killed since 2006, making Mexico perhaps the most dangerous place in the world for members of that profession. The country is at least on a par with such countries as IraqSudan, and Afghanistan. It has become so bad that several Mexican journalists have sought asylum in the United States, and at least one has been granted that status.


It is the latest sign that the danger of Mexico becoming a "failed state" — once an absurd notion — is no longer so far-fetched.


Drug gangs make it a point to either control media coverage of their activities, or to intimidate independent-minded outlets into silence. They've been especially successful on the latter front. Numerous newspapers, radio stations, and television stations no longer cover stories related to the drug war, or they provide only very brief, bland accounts.


The intimidation reached new heights in mid-September whenEl Diario, the leading newspaper in Ciudad JuarezEl Paso's sister city and the most violent arena in Mexico's drug war, published a front-page editorial asking the cartels for a truce, following the killing of one of its photographers. One plaintive passage in the editorial underscored just how bad the work environment has become. "We want you to explain to us what you want from us," the editorial pleaded with the traffickers. "What are we supposed to publish or not publish? You are at this time the de facto authorities in this city, because the legal authorities have not been able to stop our colleagues from falling."


A news blackout


The intimidation problem is not confined to Juarez. Throughout northern Mexico, the news blackout reaches astonishing proportions. The border city of Reynosa and the surrounding area was a battlefield between two major drug gangs, the Zetas and the Gulf cartel, in early 2010. Gun fights and executions went on for days at time, producing hundreds of deaths. But Carlos Lauria, head of the Americas program for the Committee to Protect Journalists, points out that there was not a single report in newspapers or on radio and television about the bloodshed. In fact, the first media reports of the extent of the casualties appeared in a U.S. paper, the Dallas Morning News. A similar news void occurred in July following a terrifying gun and grenade battle in Nuevo Laredo.


Yet President Felipe Calderon rebuked El Diario for a willingness "to negotiate with criminals." The government offered a plan to provide greater security to journalists as they attempt to do their jobs. But most members of the news media seemed underwhelmed by that promise, and understandably so. After all, the Calderon government's other plans in the drug war haven't worked out, so why should anyone expect this latest measure to fare any better?


The ability of the drug traffickers to cow the Mexican press is yet another indication that the country is in deep trouble. There is a long litany of other depressing pieces of evidence. More than 28,000 people have perished in the fighting since Calderon launched his military-led offensive against the cartels in December 2006, and 2010 will set a new annual record. Once peaceful Monterrey, Mexico's economic heart, has become so dangerous that the U.S. State Department recently ordered diplomatic personnel at the consulate there to send their dependents home. American business executives, and even some Mexican ones, are sending their families to safe havens in the United States. Major shootouts and kidnappings have come to some of the most prominent resort areas, including Acapulco and Cancun.


What to do


Last month, President Obama rebuked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for suggesting that the drug violence had become a full-blown insurgency. He needs to wake up to the increasingly dire developments. The president should convene an immediate, comprehensive discussion of the security situation in Mexico, utilizing both his national security team and outside experts.


And all options need to be on the table. That includes the suggestion by Mexico's former president, Vicente Fox, that we contemplate ending drug prohibition to drastically reduce the cartels' vast source of black-market revenue. The current approach clearly is not working, and we must consider alternatives before we end up with either a failed state or a narco-republic on our southern border.


Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of eight books on international affairs, including Bad Neighbor Policy: Washington's Futile War on Drugs in Latin America.








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.








The Obama administration's decision Tuesday to end the moratorium on deep-water oil and gas drilling is good news in many respects. It will help revive the Gulf region's economy and improve the nation's energy-supply picture. Because it comes with stricter operating criteria for drilling, it also should improve protection against the kind of calamitous economic and environmental damage unleashed in the Gulf in the wake of BP's disastrous well blowout on April 20.


The blowout of BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig over its Macondo well killed 11 workers, injured 17 others, and precipitated the worst offshore drilling disaster in the nation's history. The well spewed nearly 5 million gallons of oil into the Gulf over the next four months, damaging valuable fisheries, marshes, shorelines and the Gulf states' economies.


Though the lifting the moratorium was announced well ahead of the November 30 deadline stated earlier by the administration, it may be weeks or months before wells that were shut down, or not allowed to begin drilling, come on line.


Regardless, the new operating standards are entirely sensible and clearly needed. Indeed, their formulation begs the question of why it took such a disaster to get them on the books.


The standards tighten design criteria for drilling rigs, well and pipeline casements and equipment, and require compliance with new operating equipment and safety standards, documentation and inspection.


The new rules include standards and testing procedures specifically designed to ensure that the huge and complicated blowout preventers actually work. This is critical. Before the blowout-preventer on the Macondo well failed, blowout preventers were generally left untested and uninspected.


Blowout preventers are the 7-story-tall, concrete-enclosed stack of control tubes, valves and well shut-down equipment that should be able to effectively stop a well from becoming an unstoppable gusher in an emergency. Yet most blowout preventers, we have learned, have never been tested to see if their hydraulic-controlled pumps and ram-shears — which are supposed to cut, crimp and seal well-core pipes to prevent uncontrolled gushers — actually work in the subfreezing depths of ocean floors over a mile below ocean's surface.


Ironically, an oil industry spokesman immediately complained about "onerous" new rules, new bureaucracy and the lack of "regulatory uncertainty" — an industry term for rules it would like to get rid of. Coming from an industry that cynically skirted safe operating rules with the abandon of test cheaters — cribbing outdated emergency procedures for Arctic drilling from each other for applications to drill in the Gulf — that's almost unbelievable.


In fact, there is nothing uncertain about them, nor is the inspection regime unneeded or too bureaucratic.


If there is a legitimate industry complaint, it is an insufficient number of inspectors available for the pending permitting work that now needs to be done. It may take more inspectors — and a larger budget from Congress — to expedite inspections. Oil and gas companies, however, have only themselves to blame. The new rules have been discussed and posted for review for months. The industry has had plenty of time to get ready for them.


Still, it would be in the nation's interest for Congress to expedite the administration's request for $100 million in new funding to hire the inspectors and professional staff now needed to implement stiffer drilling standards. Jobs and a return to business normalcy in the Gulf merit the funds, and their cost can be recovered by appropriate fees from the profitable industries that will benefit from drilling permits.







The Obama administration's decision Tuesday to end the moratorium on deep-water oil and gas drilling is good news in many respects. It will help revive the Gulf region's economy and improve the nation's energy-supply picture. Because it comes with stricter operating criteria for drilling, it also should improve protection against the kind of calamitous economic and environmental damage unleashed in the Gulf in the wake of BP's disastrous well blowout on April 20.


The blowout of BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig over its Macondo well killed 11 workers, injured 17 others, and precipitated the worst offshore drilling disaster in the nation's history. The well spewed nearly 5 million gallons of oil into the Gulf over the next four months, damaging valuable fisheries, marshes, shorelines and the Gulf states' economies.


Though the lifting the moratorium was announced well ahead of the November 30 deadline stated earlier by the administration, it may be weeks or months before wells that were shut down, or not allowed to begin drilling, come on line.


Regardless, the new operating standards are entirely sensible and clearly needed. Indeed, their formulation begs the question of why it took such a disaster to get them on the books.


The standards tighten design criteria for drilling rigs, well and pipeline casements and equipment, and require compliance with new operating equipment and safety standards, documentation and inspection.


The new rules include standards and testing procedures specifically designed to ensure that the huge and complicated blowout preventers actually work. This is critical. Before the blowout-preventer on the Macondo well failed, blowout preventers were generally left untested and uninspected.


Blowout preventers are the 7-story-tall, concrete-enclosed stack of control tubes, valves and well shut-down equipment that should be able to effectively stop a well from becoming an unstoppable gusher in an emergency. Yet most blowout preventers, we have learned, have never been tested to see if their hydraulic-controlled pumps and ram-shears — which are supposed to cut, crimp and seal well-core pipes to prevent uncontrolled gushers — actually work in the subfreezing depths of ocean floors over a mile below ocean's surface.


Ironically, an oil industry spokesman immediately complained about "onerous" new rules, new bureaucracy and the lack of "regulatory uncertainty" — an industry term for rules it would like to get rid of. Coming from an industry that cynically skirted safe operating rules with the abandon of test cheaters — cribbing outdated emergency procedures for Arctic drilling from each other for applications to drill in the Gulf — that's almost unbelievable.


In fact, there is nothing uncertain about them, nor is the inspection regime unneeded or too bureaucratic.


If there is a legitimate industry complaint, it is an insufficient number of inspectors available for the pending permitting work that now needs to be done. It may take more inspectors — and a larger budget from Congress — to expedite inspections. Oil and gas companies, however, have only themselves to blame. The new rules have been discussed and posted for review for months. The industry has had plenty of time to get ready for them.


Still, it would be in the nation's interest for Congress to expedite the administration's request for $100 million in new funding to hire the inspectors and professional staff now needed to implement stiffer drilling standards. Jobs and a return to business normalcy in the Gulf merit the funds, and their cost can be recovered by appropriate fees from the profitable industries that will benefit from drilling permits.








 'Election Day," when many Tennessee voters will cast their ballots, is Nov. 2. But for some people who choose to avail themselves of the opportunity to "vote early," the election is already "on," having begun yesterday.


Tennessee has 3.54 million active registered voters. Only about half of them are expected to cast ballots, even though very important decisions are to be made.


Tennessee will elect a governor to succeed Gov. Phil Bredesen, who is completing the legal limit on consecutive terms.


Have you realized there are actually 16 — count 'em — candidates' names on the ballot for governor? Yes, 16 have qualified to run, though most of their names are not familiar to most voters. And in addition to the 16 gubernatorial candidates, the ballots will have a place for any voter with another preference to write in some "other" choice.


The "big names" running for governor are Republican nominee Bill Haslam and Democrat nominee Mike McWherter. The "others" are independents.


Also on the ballots will be the contest for U.S. representative in Congress for Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District. The winner will succeed Rep. Zach Wamp, who chose to run for governor instead of seeking almost certain re-election to Congress. Wamp lost in the earlier Republican gubernatorial primary.


That leaves Republican congressional nominee Chuck Fleischmann and Democrat nominee John Wolfe, along with independents Don Barkman, Mark DeVol, Gregory C. Goodwin, Robert Humphries, Mo Kiah and Savas T. Kyriakidis on the ballot for the choice of the next congressman.


In the elections for the Tennessee General Assembly, Republican state Sen. Bo Watson, Republican Rep. Gerald McCormick, Republican Rep. Richard Floyd, Democrat Rep. JoAnne Favors, Republican Rep. Vince Dean and Republican Rep. Jim Cobb are unopposed, and thus sure to be re-elected. Incumbent Democrat Rep. Tommie F. Brown is being challenged by Republican Teresa Wood.


In addition to those decisions, voters may say "yes" or "no" to a proposed constitutional amendment declaring, "The citizens of this state shall have the personal right to hunt and fish, subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions prescribed by law."


We encourage all registered voters to vote. We would like to see many more people voting than the predicted participation of only about 50 percent of those registered.







Many people fortunately still have their jobs, still are getting along OK without financial difficulties, and are weathering current economic anxieties without serious personal difficulties.


But for the many who have lost their jobs, exhausted their savings and otherwise suffered economic distress, these are "hard times," indeed. The word "recession" has special meaning to those in real economic pain.


The harsh meaning to many of our people is emphasized locally by the report that in just the first nine months of this year, there have been foreclosures on 1,111 residential properties — homes — according to official county records.


Multiply those 1,111 foreclosures — and more coming — by the number of people in those households and we can see that several thousand of our neighbors are going through real suffering.


As bad as it is to have had 1,111 local foreclosures in nine months, it is reported that the foreclosure rate is very much worse, and rising, in some other parts of our country.


Many of our people are in serious distress, but in many ways nationally, governmentally and economically, we are still doing some things that make situations worse instead of better.







The lingering danger of mass death in some threatened catastrophe anywhere around the globe always attracts the anxious attention of people worldwide.


Just such a situation occurred at the San Jose mine in the South American nation of Chile, where 33 miners were trapped for 69 days underground before the first individual rescue was successful.


This week, rescuers who had managed to construct an escape shaft began bringing the miners — one by one — to the surface in a carefully constructed "capsule."


This was reported to have been the longest such underground survival and escape — more than two months!


Who above ground can imagine the miners' emotions as they suffered catastrophic entrapment and then enjoyed fresh air and freedom?


It took about 14 to 16 minutes for each trapped miner to be brought to the surface — about a day and a half to get all of the miners out!


Some with medical problems were "first." Amazingly, it was reported that several of the miners competed for the choice to be the "last" lifted out to safety.


The shift foreman, Luis Urzua, insisted upon being the last.


What will be the physical and psychological conditions of these miners as a result of their terrible underground circumstances?


Can you imagine the anxiety of their family members as they waited above ground for each miner to come up?


When so many people worldwide wish and pray for the best for people they have never known, contrast that good will with the evil that many people worldwide inflict so unnecessarily — even purposefully — upon so many people in expressions of "man's inhumanity to man."


Just think what kind of world we would have if the good will of those who have prayed for the trapped miners' escape prevailed worldwide — and if there were no intentional enmity and evil among us all.







Paris has always had a special place in the memories, or imagination, of people, whether they have visited there or not.


Paris, ooh-la-la, has seemed romantic, carefree, beautiful, etc.


We recall the popular song by Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern after the tragic 1940 fall of Paris to Adolf Hitler's blitzkrieg in World War II: "The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay, I heard the laughter of her heart in every street cafe ... ."


Unfortunately, Parisians were not laughing much this week, as a gigantic strike disrupted the country. What's it all about?


The French, noted more for romance and frivolity than for work and reality, suffered a nationwide strike because unionized transport workers stayed off their jobs and more than a million people marched in the streets to protest a plan to raise the nation's retirement-with-pension age from 60 to 62.


Why raise the pension age? The "money-draining" pension plan is going broke — much as is threatened by our U.S. Social Security, which has promised to pay out more than taxes are bringing in.


OK, so the French want to retire with pensions at age 60. But how will the nationwide strike and staying off jobs provide the euros for the French to get paid for early retirement?


"The last time I saw Paris, it was far from gay. Is it now because no one wants to pay?"








When the Wise Men got together in the waning days of World War II, they came up with some good ideas. Some ideas, like economist John Maynard Keynes' pitch for a supranational trading currency to be called the "Bancor" have been lost to time. Others, like a World Bank, an IMF and a United Nations, have become very familiar institutions.


But the world is vastly different than it was in 1945. Why we should rethink the idea that did not survive – that of a supranational currency, in light of the planet's current devaluation wars – is the topic for another column. But closer to home might be a rethink of the ideas that did come to be.


In recent days, Economy Minister Ali Babacan has used the occasion of the IMF-World Bank annual meetings to argue the voting shares and structures of both institutions need to be rethought. We have reported this, and we would agree that a global financial policeman in which Belgium has more clout than China makes little sense.


But let's not stop there. On the occasion of the United Nation's selecting a new slate of countries to take up non-permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council (and Turkey's stepping off the council come January), it is worth renewing a related debate: Just how relevant is the structure of the U.N.?


This is hardly a new debate. The fact Europe has two of five permanent seats while two-thirds of humanity has none is an old chestnut for the left, the non-aligned and even the extreme right who would like to close the U.N. altogether.


So let us dust off another idea. It is not quite so old, dating to 2005. This is the work that Babacan's predecessor Kemal Derviş did during a stint at a lesser-known Washington think tank, the Center for Global Development.


Basically, he would expand the Security Council to six members, combining Europe's two spots into one and adding India and Japan. He would then have eight non-permanent regional posts, elected through a system weighting both population and economy. And he would scrap the right of absolute veto for a more democratic mechanism of super-majority voting. On the one hand, this would sweeten the reform's bitter medicine for the now-powerful United States, which would still have considerable clout. On the other, it would give the U.N. real legitimacy, which it now lacks. There is other stuff too. He also envisioned a new U.N. Social Security and Economic Council that would provide a governance umbrella over the IMF and World Bank and several other key – and overdue – reforms.


Click here to download a PDF of the original summary.


Maybe Babacan and Derviş should get together on this. Maybe they could even bring back the Bancor.








Two weeks ago I wrote about the hype around the electric cars. If you are a car manufacturer there are so many good things about electric cars that you can put on billboards. They don't leave any carbon footprint, they are much more quiet than internal combustion technology, they can potentially end Western countries' dependence on oil-rich Middle Eastern tyrants, if the whole world would use them, they could bring an end to the oil wars and it has a great profit potential for car manufacturers as they can create an atmosphere of guilt for you to change your car that you have recently bought.


However there is a reason why the electric car failed against the internal combustion engine even though it was invented much earlier. The ecosystem to support the internal combustion engine is straightforward. You drill for oil, than synthesize a fuel and transport it to one of