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Friday, October 15, 2010

EDITORIAL 15.10.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month october 15, edition 000652, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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







































































British media is yet to come to terms with the fact that it is no longer reporting on coolies of the Raj. This is evident from CWG coverage

I read General Pervez Musharraf's bizarre interview to the German magazine Der Spiegel; then subjected myself to the purgatory of his one-to-one conversation with an Indian TV diva: Its banality appeared to bring on what I suspected was a bout of dengue fever with not a Delhi mosquito in sight. The General made a mumbled reference to Napoleon and luck. The diva, unwilling to play the role of the Empress Josephine, brought the interview to a merciful end with a brisk handshake, normal life resumed.

What is it that Indian television pundits find so fascinating about Pakistani Generals and politicians? Both violate every genuine trades description act, the former are simply larcenists in uniform, the latter embezzlers in a variety of sartorial modes, none particularly pleasing to the eye. Their talk would offend the sensibility of an ill-trained parrot, so does the experience play well with audiences and advertisers? 

Beyond this, the season of calumny and insult from sections of the British media may well be drawing to its undignified close. The fourth estate in Britain has long been reduced to a fourth-rate estate, commented retired veteran Tom Bairstow, a name familiar to New Statesman readers when this once famous Left-wing weekly was rationally radical rather than radically chic. Certain British reporters have been engaged in feeding frenzy of spite as they predicted the debacle awaiting the Commonwealth Games in the Indian capital and much else besides in the rest of the country.

A subconscious resentment of the former coolies of the Raj playing lords of the manor was, is, and has been difficult to stomach. Delhi belly mutates in inexplicable ways. In early-June 1999, The Independent's man in India, Peter Popham, produced a vitriolic report on what he believed to be an imminent famine in Gujarat in the wake of a prolonged drought and delayed rains. He damned the very idea of Indian economic progress, as images of mass starvation in the country took hold in the world beyond. There was of course no famine as the Gujarati diaspora in Britain and America joined the massive local relief effort to meet the challenge. 

The Times has traditionally had the best pedigree in the Indian bashing stakes. Its India-baiting warhorse, Neville Maxwell, now easing his way to nirvana in the Australian outback, made the first (in early-1967) of his many predictions of India's collapse into anarchy followed by the inevitable military takeover. The longer the country defied this Jeremiad the deeper his hatred for its people. Not unnaturally, Maoist China and all its works engaged Mr Maxwell's waking and sleeping hours.

Ensconced in Oxford's Queen Elizabeth House as a Research Fellow, his output on the wonders of the Chairman's Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and his Nostradamus projections on the Indian apocalypse were central to the Maxwell canon. We debated the subject of Tibet, on opposite sides, at the Oxford Union during the university's Michaelmas Term either in 1986 or 1987. He spoke in defence of China's record in Tibet, I defended Tibet's right to freedom from Beijing's colonial conquest and occupation. He lost the argument by some 215 votes to a derisory eight, as I recall. We were close to the midnight hour, but Mr Maxwell requested the indulgence of the chair for a concluding peroration, which he duly delivered foretelling the dissolution of the Indian Union. Tibet was forgotten — at least for the time.

Not much seems to have changed since then. Christopher Thomas, another Times prodigy, described how Rajiiv Gandhi had been cremated on "the Jammu which flows past Ahmedabad". Read Jumna for Jammu and Allahabad for Ahmedabad and the mystery a la Sherlock Holmes is partially solved. Another Briton, Julian West, writing in The Sunday Telegraph, described Mr IK Gujral as "India's first Muslim Prime Minister"! As Mark Antony said of Caesar's murderer Brutus, each is an "honorable man". 

There is no break, it would appear, in this hallowed legacy. The present Times avatar in India, one Rhys Blakely, is something of a refuse collector; no garbage bin is beneath notice, his scavenging eye fastens upon any decomposing tidbit that catches his fancy. Guns ablaze, he has torn into India's mountains of inequities, beginning with the country's rumoured intent to decline British aid, in whose absence millions of hapless Indians would starve to death. The effrontery of the natives was clearly a violation of good manners, an outrage to international order, one presumes.

Mr Blakely's erstwhile colleague, Jeremy Page, wrote knowingly of China's 'string of pearls' designed to asphyxiate India, even as the Hanoi Summit of ASEAN Defence Ministers, which India is attending by invitation, shows such concerns to be egregiously groundless. Indeed the powers presently gathered in the Vietnamese capital are seasoned practitioners of statecraft; they may be taking counsel on how best to counter China's stratagems, but slow strangulation at Chinese hands is not a subject for serious discussion. 

Nevertheless, China continues to excite some in the British media. For instance, James Lamont of the Financial Times advises India to send its young to China to plumb the Chinese language for secrets of its economic growth, of which, presumably, India is noticeably ignorant. Learning Spanish or Russian is not par for the course, he says, yet each nation with writers like Cervantes and Tolstoy have more to offer in keeping with the spirit of the age than the dead classicism of Confucius and his Analects.

If Mr Lamont and his Delhi-based colleague Amy Kazmin were to take heed of the Financial Times's second leader on the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo they would discover nuggets of wisdom. The editorial congratulates the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which has been subjected to a torrent of abuse from China's rulers, for reinserting "itself into the best traditions of the award". 

The minatory tone of Beijing's recent demarches with its ASEAN neighbours is not worthy of emulation by India, nor should the Tiananmen massacre be re-enacted on Rajpath or Janpath. Contrasting India's lack of infrastructure to China's magnificence in this sphere is playing a gramophone record with scratches, it has long past its sell-by date. The good lady could put a hanky to her nose, if need be, and travel with the darkies on the Delhi Metro and inform FT readers why it works so much better than, say, the London Underground. 

And she would do well to flip through Frank Dicotter's magisterial Mao's Great Famine 1959-61, in which some 45 million Chinese perished. The clique responsible for the death of millions of Chinese was the staunchest international supporter of the genocidal Cambodian Pol Pot. There is this and much more these worthies should consider before they can claim the right to be taken seriously. 








The outcome of Thursday's trust vote in the Karnataka Assembly was a foregone conclusion. At no stage ever since Governor HR Bhardwaj instigated a bunch of legislators from the Treasury benches to 'rebel' against the Government headed by Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa was the BJP's majority in the Assembly in doubt; claims to the contrary by the Congress and the Janata Dal (S) were no more than an elaborate conspiracy, hatched in Bangalore's Raj Bhavan and in which Mr Bhardwaj is a co-conspirator, to demoralise MLAs and create political instability that would lead to the collapse of the Government. Towards this end, every effort was made to disrupt the first vote of confidence; when that failed, the Governor recommended the imposition of President's rule. Thankfully, the Congress's central leadership rejected Mr Bhardwaj's spurious report and untenable recommendation, which in turn forced him to call for a second vote. He really has nothing to complain about any more, unless it is about the people of Karnataka and the rest of the country pitilessly ridiculing him for his brazen partisan role in creating the mess and then seeking to use it to his advantage. Mr Bhardwaj is driven by the desire to somehow worm his way back into favour with the Congress leadership and thus regain his membership of the Union Cabinet from which he was unceremoniously evicted and packed off to Karnataka after last year's general election: Having used him to help Ottavio Quattrocchi get access to the Bofors payola that had been parked in a London bank (and frozen by the NDA Government) and close the bribery case against the Italian middleman, apart from various other dubious deeds, the Congress had decided to put him out to pasture. But Mr Bhardwaj sees himself as an 'active politician' and believes he can claw his way back into New Delhi's corridors of power. More than anything else, it is this which had prompted him to play ducks and drakes with democratic traditions and the Constitution in so shameless a manner. Nor is he likely to be deflated by failure to achieve his goal.

In a sense, till such time Mr Bhardwaj remains Governor of Karnataka, the State will continue to witness political turmoil and instability. He will not desist from indulging in petty politics, neither will he cease misusing Raj Bhavan. The BJP has done the right thing by demanding his recall and should persist with it instead of giving it up now that the party has won this round. At another level, the Congress must reconsider its practice of sending individuals who still nurse political ambitions as Governors; they only fetch disrepute to their office and do not make their party look any better. The BJP would also do well to look within. There are serious issues to do with political management that have consistently surfaced over the past two years, unsettling the State Government and raising doubts about the party's ability to remain in power. Needless to say, unless checked, sooner or later this will begin to erode popular support for the BJP in Karnataka. Corrective action cannot be delayed any longer. 







India's comprehensive cricket Test series win against Australia has done more than justify its ranking as the world's number one Test team. It has shattered the myth of an 'unbeatable' Australia, plunging it to a miserable fifth position — below traditional rivals England for the first time since the ICC rankings were introduced in 2003. The results will be a source of joy for English cricketers who will now look forward to meeting a shocked Australian squad in the Ashes series. It is also only the first time since far back in 1982 that Australia has surrendered a Test series to any team. By now though it should have got used to losing to the Indians in away matches; the men in blue have won all the last four Tests they have played against the team on Indian soil. In fact, the Australians have not beaten India since the Sydney Test where the 'monkey' scandal erupted in 2007-08. These are then enough reasons for the Indian team to celebrate, but it must not get carried away by the achievement, because it still has to replicate with sustainability such success on foreign soil. Critics do have a point when they say that India's real mettle gets tested on faster and more bouncy pitches abroad as also when they face non-friendly spectators, and more often than not several Indian players fail the test. Regular success on foreign pitches is also essential for the team to maintain its top ranking. Indian cricket fans are, therefore, looking forward with hope and some trepidation to the team's tour of England, Australia and South Africa in the coming months. Will captain Dhoni and his charged-up men be able to build on the momentum of the recent victories? This is something we will know only later.

The series has been remarkable for the captains of the two teams on a personal level, though for different reasons, and it could well influence their future. If Dhoni is the only Indian to have captained the team to victory in four straight Tests against the Aussies, the brilliant Ricky Ponting holds the dubious distinction of not leading his team to a single Test victory against India on Indian soil — of the seven Tests he has captained, Ponting's side lost five and drew two. Contrast this with the figures consequent to the Sydney Test against India: He had then led his side to 16 consequent Test wins against various countries, including India. Given these past achievements, Ponting may not face strident demands back home to step down, but he will still be under tremendous pressure to perform and inspire a team that has been so decisively whitewashed. Beyond these issues, however, is the fact that Test cricket has won. In times of T20 and one-dayers that provide little beyond instant excitement but are drawing larger audiences, the nuances of the game have been preserved by the Test form alone. Classic knocks such as the ones by Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Ponting in the recent series will hopefully help get crowds back in the stands for Test matches. 








The Delhi Government is all set to move the high court to stall the return of 1,600 Blueline buses on the roads after conclusion of the Commonwealth Games. The Government will file a fresh affidavit before the Delhi High Court, seeking to phase these buses out permanently, the move which was stayed by the court in February this year. 

The Government, from its experience during the Commonwealth Games, argues that it has a fleet of nearly 7,000 buses to meet the commuters' rush. Notably, the Delhi High Court had put a stay on the removal of Blueline buses, saying the DTC alone was not capable to meet the requirement.

Sources said the Government will approach the high court, seeking it to lift the stay on removal of the Blueline buses, for which the Government has hired a lawyer. "Nearly 4,500 air-conditioned and non-AC buses were plying on Delhi's roads during the Commonwealth Games, which successfully met the requirement. Another 2,500 buses will be ready for ferrying passengers after the Games that will further enhance the capacity," said a senior DTC official. Of these buses, nearly 1,000 are air-conditioned and the remaining non-AC low-floor buses. 

According to the transport department officials, not only did the removal of Blueline buses during the Games decongest the roads but there has also been a steep decline in the number of road fatalities during the period. Sources said the Government is set to put these facts before the court while presenting its case. As no shortage of buses was felt on any route during the Commonwealth Games, the Government feels there is really no need of Blueline buses in Delhi, which are often termed as nuisance on roads.

Moreover, the Government is also set to introduce the cluster buses. While the contract has been awarded for 230 buses in cluster 1 (32 routes), the decision is pending before the Delhi Cabinet for the remaining clusters. Once approved, it will pave the way for introduction of nearly 800 buses that would add to the existing capacity of the Delhi Transport Corporation. 

But though the Transport Ministry of the Delhi Government claims to have sufficient number of DTC buses, it cannot prohibit the operation of Blueline buses from October 18 in view of the high court order. It may be noted that 1,567 buses plying on 68 routes were removed from the routes surrounding the Commonwealth Games Village and various Games venues from September 16 till October 18.

The Blueline bus operators, on the other hand, said the Government should consider them sympathetically as thousands of them will be unemployed after their removal. "We were asked to withdraw buses during the Commonwealth Games, to which we agreed. The Government should now take a sympathetic view as we have no alternative means of livelihood. The Government can suggest us some other routes where there are no buses. Some of the operators are already planning to change their routes of operation after the opening of new Metro lines," said Shyamlal Gola, spokesperson of the association of Blueline bus operators. 







The Enforcement Directorate has initiated the process of getting the passport of sacked IPL chairman Lalit Modi revoked and is examining the FIR filed by the BCCI for alleged misappropriation of funds to the tune of ` 470 crore by him.

Official sources said the ED, which is investigating Modi in connection with alleged violation of Foreign Exchange Management Act, has written to the Mumbai Passport Office to revoke Modi's passport as he was not "cooperating", a charge Modi denied.

The ED, which has already issued a Blue Notice against Modi through the Interpol, is also examining the FIR filed against him by BCCI secretary N Srinivasan in Chennai on Thursday and is looking at the specific charges made against him.







In a resounding snub to Governor Hans Raj Bhardwaj, Karnataka CM BS Yeddyurappa once again proved his majority in the State Assembly on Thursday and blamed the mining lobby for the conspiracy to destabilise his Government. 

The Yeddyurappa-led Government won the trust of the Assembly for the second time in four days by head count and division. As directed by the Governor, the Chief Minister moved a one-line confidence motion seeking trust in his Government at exactly 11 am on Thursday. Secured by nearly 150 marshals, the Assembly carried its proceedings in a peaceful manner and the whole exercise lasted for 40 minutes ending in a comfortable 106-100 victory for Yeddyurappa. 

It was the second trust vote in the Assembly in a week. The Chief Minister had won the first confidence motion on Monday amid chaotic scenes and confusion. 

Before speaking on the motion, Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah of the Congress sought the Speaker to postpone the trust vote till the court verdict on the fate of 16 MLAs. However, Speaker KG Bopaiah rejected the demand and put the motion to division and for headcount. After the legislature officials counted the head line by line from treasury benches to the Opposition, the Speaker amidst protest from the Opposition announced that Yeddyurappa won the trust vote. Later, the Speaker adjourned the House sine die. 

Independent MLA Varthir Prakash sat with BJP members and voted for the motion. The staunch BJP baiter came to the party fold on Wednesday. The strength of the 225-member House that includes one nominated member was reduced to 206 after 16 legislators were disqualified and two MLAs — Manappa Vajjal from BJP and MC Ashwath of JD(S) — did not attend the House.

The BJP brought its MLA Eshanna Gullannavar, who is ill, by ambulance and he sat in the House in a wheel-chair. When Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah questioned Gullannavar's presence, saying he is "physically and mentally not fit", the Speaker read out a medical certificate produced by the legislator, which said he is fully conscious, mentally stable and his judgement is clear.

Minutes before the trust vote, word was out from the demoralised Congress camp that it may boycott the session and the party MLAs also did not sign the attendance register initially, amid conflicting signals from the party on its approach to the issue.

But things changed thereafter and the main Opposition decided to participate in the proceedings. At the Congress legislative party meeting on Wednesday, a section of members had expressed dissatisfaction over the UPA Government not accepting their demand for the President's Rule. 

The JD(S) also appeared wanting to take a cue from what the Congress would do during the vote of confidence.

After winning the trust vote, Yeddyurappa said he would expose the mining lobby which had conspired to destabilise his Government. Incidentally, the State Government recently banned the iron ore export to curb illegal mining. 

Addressing a Press conference, he described his victory as people's victory and directly blamed JD(S) chief HD Kumaraswamy for orchestrating the whole drama. "I will not yield to the mining lobby. I know who are all behind this conspiracy. I will not be cowed down by them. This is the victory of the people. This episode has taught me a lot and my aim now is only to develop the State," Yeddyurappa said. 

He further called this victory as historic and he apologised to the people of the State for the ugly incidents of October 10 and called it a "black spot" on the political history of Karnataka. He also sought the Opposition's cooperation in the development of the State. 

The Opposition, on the other hand, described the trust vote result as a "partial" victory for Yeddyurappa and pinned its hopes on the high court ruling over disqualification of the 16 MLAs. 

Reacting to the BJP victory for the second time in the House in four days, Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah said, "This is only the semi-final." He said the Congress was still awaiting the high court ruling on disqualification of 16 MLAs, including five independents.

Talking to The Pioneer, JD(S) chief HD Kumaraswamy, who was the brain behind the political coup, said he still hopes that the court verdict will change the political strides in the State. "The court is yet to decide the fate and hence today's vote of confidence could not be considered a victory till it gives its ruling. You please wait and watch," he said. 

Meanwhile, the BJP has sought the disqualification of its member from Lingasagur, Manappa Vajjal, from the party for defying the party whip and absenting from the Assembly during the trust vote. Talking to media in Bangalore, BJP's chief whip DN Jeevaraj said that an application would be filed before Speaker KG Bopaiah soon, seeking Vajjal's disqualification. The BJP has already secured disqualification of 11 of its rebel MLAs, who have approached the high court challenging the order. Vajjal seemed to have been roped in by JD(S). 

The JD(S) is also contemplating to take action against its MLA from Chennapatna Ashwath, who abstained from voting. 






Three hizbul militants shot in J&K encounter

Srinagar: Three Hizbul Mujahideen militants were on Thursday killed in an encounter with security forces in Shopian district of J&K. "Searches are going on at the gunbattle scene," Shopian Police Superintendent Shahid Mehraj said. 

Sachin on top of Test rankings after 8 yrs

Dubai: Sachin Tendukar has reclaimed the No 1 position in Test rankings after eight years with his successful run in the Test series against Australia. As per the latest ICC rankings list, the Indian legend has 891 rating points. Virender Sehwag is the next best Indian at No 3 with 819 points, behind Sri Lankan Kumar Sangakkara (874).










SAINA Nehwal's victory over her Malaysian opponent in the finals of the Commonwealth Games Badminton event is much like the story of the Games as a whole — a comeback from one set down, and finishing in style.


With the gross financial mismanagement, the overbridge that collapsed, the looming dengue threat and the invasion of the Games village by a variety of animals, there came a stage when it seemed that the Games wouldn't take place at all. But like any Indian party, once the show began, it was non- stop entertainment and excitement from beginning to end for everyone.


The real heroes of the Games have been the Indian sportspersons who rose to the occasion and gave the country a record medal haul— the second position in the final medals tally, behind only the mighty Australians. Though a product of the athletes' hard work, such a performance wouldn't have been possible without the support of the home crowd. The Games have helped create a renewed interest and respect for a variety of sports in this cricket- crazy nation.


There couldn't have been a more fitting end to this extravaganza than the grand closing ceremony at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.


The performances of 7000 artistes from across the country and 2500 schoolchildren as well as the fact that the participating athletes were walking without the distinctions of the countries they belong to reflect the message of ' universal love' — the theme of the evening.


In fact this spirit wasn't just merely ceremonial and manifested itself throughout the Games. The best example of this was the rousing applause given to the Pakistani delegation in the opening ceremony. In fact the Pakistani wrestling coach even commented that the local crowd cheered the Pakistani participants even when they were pitted against Indians.


While it would be grandiose, as well as clichéd, to suggest that the Games symbolise India's arrival as a world power, this debate is in fact pointless. The events were a celebration held in India, in which people from 71 other countries participated as equals. This is by far more significant than any statement of national power.







THE rescue of 33 miners, trapped more than 700 metres underground for the past 69 days after a rock fall collapsed the shaft of their mine, is a tale of human grit and achievement.


The trapped miners displayed the kind of indomitable spirit that has taken humans to the peaks of mighty mountains, across storm tossed oceans in rowing boats, and into outer space. In the case of the miners, there was no adventure, but a titanic struggle of survival against an all- too- familiar event for people who work in the underground mining industry, where scores of lives are lost every year.


The engineering precision with which the rescue was organised, too, was something humans excel in. Those who planned the rescue, designed the special capsule and then sent it down into the bowels of earth to rescue the miners deserve all the praise that can be heaped on them.


Commendations are also due to the team that managed the miners from the surface, ensuring that their physical and psychological needs were taken care of to the extent possible. At the end of the day, it was teamwork and willpower— of the entombed miners, the engineers and specialists and of the government of Chile led by President Sebastian Pinera— that did the trick.


For the world it was an elemental drama of man versus nature, played out before the TV which captured the hopes and fears of the loved ones of the miners who had been camped out ever since the accident occurred in August this year. The rescue, fortunately, was free of incident, but full of emotion. For sons, daughters, wives, girlfriends, parents to see their loved one emerge from a living tomb could not but have been an extraordinary experience which was shared with the rest of the world by TV cameras.


Besides the ability of human spirit to triumph over all manner of adversity, the rescue should teach us important lessons in disaster management. It should also be a wake up call for regulatory authorities who are charged with ensuring the safety of workers involved in hazardous industry.









ON JULY 7 night, the INSAT 4B satellite suffered a partial failure when quite a few transponders shut down unexpectedly due to a solar panel failure. The glitch has still not been resolved and the Indian Space Research Organisation ( ISRO) announced late last month that it was going to replace the satellite with GSAT 5 by December this year. Various reasons are being ascribed for the failure, but one of them is coming from a US based cyber security expert who is claiming that the failure is a result of a very sophisticated computer worm that has been written and propagated by the Chinese. ISRO has poohpoohed this, pointing out that the worm could have struck the satellite's programme logic controller, but the Insat 4B doesn't have one.


It has an indigenously designed software to control the logic of the spacecraft.




That worm is known as ' Stuxnet' and was first discovered in the month of June this year. It is the first worm that attacks Windows based industrial control systems which operate on the Siemens' WinCC/ PC 7 SCADA software and also monitors and reprogrammes them by altering the programme logic controllers, which are generally used in power plants and gas pipelines. The worm is quite complex— it is unusually large in size, written in a few programming languages, contacts its command and control server for updates and instructions, exploits four zero- day attacks and is digitally signed and propagated ( with two stolen authentic certificates).


Having all the above features in one particular worm is quite unknown in the number of worms and viruses discovered so far. There have been many efforts to identify the source of the attacks and there have been comments that this is a very well planned attack which could only have been authored by some high level organisation of some leading country.


There have been many reports that the nuclear facilities in Iran were the actual target of these attacks, and it is generally believed that the worms were planted in the computers of the nuclear scientists in Iran through the memory sticks, and not via the internet.


Most of the computer security companies have come out with indicative numbers of the extent of the damage— Iranian networks were the most affected, followed by those in Indonesia. The Indian damage was at a relatively lesser scale.


Even networks in the US and Germany were affected. Iranian networks accounted for almost 60 per cent of the total worms. According to a Symantec report on the scale of the attack, Iran had more than 60,000 computers successfully infected, compared to about 6,500 in India.


With such a geographical and targeted spread and the package involved, the Stuxnet attacks have shaken the world.


The fact that today most of our critical systems function on computer and network based systems, and that such networks have been successfully targeted, has sent shivers down a lot of spines.


What is more alarming is that despite all the protection and the anti- virus and intrusion detection systems such infrastructure is still penetrable, and a major attack could cripple the system and also result in some major industrial disaster.


Such successful attacks have also raised concerns over the pace at which nations are looking at cyber warfare and its tools.


Worms like Stuxnet are clearly the kind of tools to bring down networks of adversaries and cripple their systems. Digital warfare will have soft targets and an added outreach through computer networks will be enabled with such tools. So suddenly the threat of cyber warfare seems much more credible and one form of attack has already been visualised.




However, it is also interesting to note the list of countries that have been thought to be behind Stuxnet. Heading the list is the United States which today is the most digitally advanced nation and most of the suspicion arises from the fact that the Iranian networks were primarily targeted. But the US has receded into the background and the needle of suspicion is now hovering over Israel which has never made any bones over targeting Iranian nuclear plants. Also of some interest is the presence of references to Biblical characters in the text of the codes of the worm. A large number of countries and experts believe that Israel is pursuing a very high level of offensive cyber warfare programmes and sooner or later they will start targeting foreign and enemy networks.


Some experts have also brought in the China angle and this is something which most of the Western countries have been referring for quite sometime now. The fears around Chinese cyber attacks in its various manifestations like defacing websites to the more serious areas like planting of deadly worms and launching of distributed denial of service attacks of critical networks are already something that has been publicly mentioned in the past, and Indian networks happens to be a serious target for these designs.


The popular belief today that events in the political world have reflections in the cyberspace has been witnessed a few times in the case of China where some form of retaliation is witnessed in digital form.




Today cyber warfare has already become a means of intervention that many nations are actively pursuing, despite all understanding of its implications.


After the option of space as a battlefield, cyberspace also seems to have come in. But the impact here would be much more pronounced and severe as there would be a sizeable participation of non- state actors along with the state actors.


Stuxnet, which has had a severe impact, could be one such instance where the actual attacker remains still unknown.


The fear is now growing of the emergence of a situation in the near future where nations, and the groups they sponsor, could start a regular cyber attack duel resulting in disruptions if not complete destruction of networks and industrial systems.


It is not that the global community has not raised the matter at a multilateral forum, but the impact and the progress has been poor. In 2009, the UN Secretary General appointed a 20 nation Group of Governmental Experts ( GGE) to report back on the impact of information communication technology on international security. This comes after a failed attempt, way back in 2004, under similar lines where nations failed to come to a common understanding of the steps to be taken to address the issue.


Already four rounds of meetings have taken place and the final report is expected to be submitted in November this year. The good news is that nations have shown much maturity this time in the deliberations and identifying some common ground. But whether that would result in some treaty relating to cyberspace is yet a far call. This is a worthy endeavour, although a complex one, especially since geography means little in matters of cyberspace.


The author heads a defence MNC in India and the views are personal








BOBWoodward's new book, Obama's Wars has created a stir in Pakistan. Its message is loud and clear: the US- Pak " strategic relationship" could get unstuck or even unravel dangerously if the American mission in Afghanistan is thwarted, or if there is a terrorist strike in the US whose footsteps can be traced to Pakistan.


General Jim Jones, the National Security Advisor who resigned recently, is quoted as telling President Asif Zardari: " If, God forbid, Shahzad's SUV had blown up in Times Square, we wouldn't be having this conversation. The president [ Obama] would be forced to do things that Pakistan would not like… No one will be able to stop the response and consequences.


This is not a threat, just a statement of political fact." Apparently, in such an event, the US has drawn up plans to bomb 150 " terrorist centres" in Pakistan.


Considering the Pakistani response to the recent cross border incident when US choppers strayed into Waziristan and accidentally shot down three Pakistani paratroopers — nearly 100 NATO container- trucks were burnt down and the supply line from Karachi to Afghanistan ( which indispensably accounts for 75 per cent of all American supplies to its troops in Afghanistan) was shut down for ten days in Pakistan — the blowback of an American attack on Pakistan would be cataclysmic for the region.


President Obama says: " Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan. We're in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That's why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border. .. These are the three core elements of our strategy: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan." But this should be supplemented by the prevailing view in the American intelligence community noted by Woodward: " The consensus inside the intelligence community was that Afghanistan would not get straightened out until there was a stable relationship between Pakistan and India. A more mature and less combustible relationship between the two long time adversaries was more important than building Afghanistan". Apparently, General Jones thought that "[ General Ashfaq ] Kayani had the power to deliver, but he refused to do much.


Nobody could tell him otherwise. The bottom line was depressing: This had been a charade." Indeed, when he told General Kayani the clock was starting to tick, " Kayani would not budge very much. He had other concerns. ' I'll be the first to admit, I'm India- centric,' said General Kayani. It may be noted for the record that General Kayani has seized control over foreign policy from the Zardari government and has reversed former President General Pervez Musharraf's normalisation process with India. Indeed, far from searching for out- of- the box solutions to Kashmir like his predecessor, General Kayani has ordered the foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, to revert to Pakistan's old UN position of a plebiscite on Kashmir.


More critically, he has committed Pakistan to an arms race with India by announcing that " it is India's military capability and not its intentions at any time that matter in the final analysis".


FINALLY, according to Woodward, " General Jones and his staff debated whether they should worry more about Pakistan or Afghanistan. Several members of his staff said the chief problem was Pakistan — Zardari's political vulnerability, the continuing dominance of the country's military- intelligence complex, its nuclear weapons, the persistent presence of Al- Qaeda training camps in the ungoverned regions, and the possibility of a misstep with the CIA drone attacks that could dramatically shift the political calculus." So there we have it.


The US is losing the war in Afghanistan and increasingly alleging that the Pakistan army's obsession with India, its dysfunctional civilian government and its anti- American society are standing in the way. The irony is that all three elements of state and society in Pakistan are desperately hooked on US aid and hardware.


Any major disruption in this " strategic relationship" by witting or unwitting state or non- state actors on either side could unleash havoc in Pakistan by triggering civil unrest, separatism and foreign intervention.


In a recent article titled " Pakistan is not America's Enemy", Ryan Crocker, the former US ambassador to Pakistan, whose career ended on a high note after a stint in Iraq, perceptively commented on President Obama's view that the " cancer is in Pakistan". He suggests four steps to improve the deteriorating US- Pak relationship: " First, the U. S. should appreciate Pakistan's challenges and support its government in dealing with them… Second, the U. S. should not carry out cross- border military actions… Third, with Pakistan's government ( as with Afghanistan's), the US must be private in its criticism and public in its support… Fourth, any talks between the U. S. or Afghanistan and the Taliban must be transparent to the Pakistanis." This is as good as it can get. Mr Crocker concludes: " The U. S. can better work with Pakistan if we improve our understanding of history: Given its rivalry with India and its organic disunity, which dates back to its founding, Pakistan fears for its basic survival. The country has always had a difficult relationship with Afghanistan, not least because in the 19th century the British deliberately drew the Pakistani- Afghan border, the so- called Durand Line, in order to divide the Pashtun people.


Today Pashtuns make up Afghanistan's largest community, but there are more Pashtuns in Pakistan." The two critical words for Pakistan's consideration are " organic disunity" and " fear for its basic survival". The first is palpable enough: the nation, state and society are more fissured today than ever before. But the second factor is a consequence of the first factor rather than a cause of it.


THE irony is that if fear of India was a real and relevant factor in the early years of Pakistan, since the 1960s, it has been religiously " manufactured" and " consciously imagined" by the Pakistan army as a dominant element of the national security narrative in Pakistan.


Herein lies the basic fallacy at the heart of the Af- Pak debate in which it is claimed that " Pakistan's insecurity vis- a- vis India compels it to stake a major role in Afghanistan." In fact, it is the Pakistan army's Corporate and Political Ambitions that propagate India as a " security threat" rather than the other way round! That is why an assertion of civilian supremacy over the military — through good governance, accountability and democracy rather than whimsical autocracy— would set Pakistan right in more ways than one.


The writer is the editor of the Friday Times



I'M VERY disappointed to see that our boys have opened the NATO supply line. They should've kept burning their tankers, stealing their stuff and selling it in the Peshawar bazaar. In fact, we should tell the Americans to pack up and leave AfPak — it's their choice, they can either Af Off or Pak Off. As to what we'll do when they pull the plug on us, we can have a fundraiser for AfPak at Jemima's new stately home on the banks of Loch Jaw in Scotland, we can ask the Saudis for some more money, we can ask Angelina Jolie for contributions or then we can pray. And who says we can't live the simple life? Look at Paris Hilton. She went and lived with a Muslim family and said her namaaz and covered her head for three days after which she went back to designer drugs and Krug champagne.

Just in case we get sanctioned by the UN and have to live off our own money for a change, instead of American tax payers' money, I went to see Hafeez Sheikh our finance minister. And there he was doing his sums with the help of Nadeem- ul- Haq, Shahid Kardar and a calculator.


And all four of them were coming to difference conclusions. Sums are not easy, let me tell you. I discovered this after I got involved with the accounts department of Shaukat Khanum Memorial hospital which is called " Mum's Sums". While I was there, Hafeez told me about Bob Woodward's new bestseller Obama's Wars . I told him I'll rush off to Vanguard Books and get a copy. " Don't bother", said Nadeem and Shahid, " here's a spare copy". I said thanks and left. When I looked at the cover it was a dumbed down version called Obama's Wars for Dummies . How sweet of them! Reading the book, it turns out that Pakistan is the world's most important country. Hell- lowww! I could've told them that. The other thing Woodward says is that General Kayani is India- centric, which means that he can scent the Indians when they're trying to be Incredible India or India Shining. Which reminds me, what would we say about Pakistan if we wanted to market it to tourists, just in case someone wants to come here ever? Possibly Pakistan? Impossibly Pakistan? Just in case Pakistan breaks up, we shouldn't bother to be inventive and ingenious and call our bits and pieces Sindhudesh, Punjabistan and Pakhtunkhwa etc.


For once we should be international and adopt names like Phoenix, Faisalabad, and Lugano, Lahore and Paris, Peshawar. No one thinks as far ahead as me because no one in this country reads. Look at me, for instance, going through Hello! magazine week after week. And if I'm not mentally strained, I also read GT for local flavour and current affaires.


Im the Dim








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.







Words like 'miracle' are thrown about far too casually nowadays. But in the case of the 33 Chilean miners, rescued after being trapped for 69 days a record for surviving underground no other description will suffice. Their ordeal beggars the imagination; a group of men who first had to deal with the terrifying experience of a mine collapse, then, over more than two months, face up to the possibility that they might die trapped 700 metres from the surface. Yet, every one of them has been rescued in an operation that drew the attention of the world and coordinated efforts between players as diverse as among others the Chilean government, NASA, a small Pennsylvanian company that manufactures drills and Japan's space agency. But perhaps the most miraculous aspect of the entire affair is the way the miners handled it. 

From Thomas Hobbes "the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" to William Golding; from Joseph Conrad to Anthony Burgess, the bleakness of the human condition has been a common theme in philosophy and literature. Place people in a situation where they are reduced to their most basic instincts of survival, and their darker selves will take over. But trapped under tonnes of rock for those first 17 days before they were even discovered by rescuers, subsisting on a ration meant for 48 hours, working together under the leadership of their foreman Luis Urzua, the 33 miners proved something else entirely. Their survival in that terrible situation more, the manner in which they did so, to judge by reports of the conduct of men such as Urzua and second-in-command Florencio Avalos might be a brief counterpoint to the normal news traffic of economic and political woes. But it is a uniquely heartening one.








Higher education in India has, by and large, come to be governed by political compulsions. Instead of building capacity, the focus has been on who gets a bigger piece of the pie. This in turn has stunted the growth and development of our institutes, as reflected in their poor standing in global rankings. Universities are over-regulated, preventing out-of-the-box thinking in curriculum and functioning. In that context the move by the HRD ministry to allow IIMs the freedom to set up branches anywhere in the world, pay salaries that are globally competitive and have a significant degree of autonomy in their functioning needs to be welcomed. 

There is a massive dearth of quality higher education institutions in the country. This has contributed to years of brain drain. Even institutes of excellence such as the 
IITs and the IIMs have had to adhere to strict government norms. It is because Indian universities are kept on such a tight leash that they are unable to compete with the best in the world. There is a case here to go beyond our socialist approach to higher education and initiate market-oriented reforms. By deregulating and giving universities the freedom to chart their own course, we would not only be creating a competitive platform that would force them to become more efficient but also provide greater incentives for investment. This in turn will help channel funds towards creating world-class research facilities, a key ingredient of quality educational institutions. 

At present, the government plans to select 'navratna universities' which would then be accorded the benefits of financial aid and academic autonomy. Rahul Gandhi has called for freeing up the IITs as well, a move that in his view could make them competitive with the Harvards and Oxfords. That could well be the case, but shouldn't other Indian institutions be allowed to be competitive with the IITs as well? And wouldn't that be the best antidote to the brutal competition for an IIT seat, leading to most applicants being rejected? Pre-selecting universities for special treatment would not only be unequal to the wider reforms that are desperately needed, they would be unfair to those on whom such benefits aren't conferred. 

However, autonomy should not mean throwing accountability to the wind. Institutes must be made to adhere to the highest standards of transparency, to ensure that they don't mislead students. The aim should be to strike the right balance so that universities have the flexibility to chart their own course while responding to student demand. Only then can we have Indian Harvards and Oxfords. 




                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA




The attempt to restart Indo-Pakistani talks ended in an avoidable fiasco recently. Avoidable, because glitches in the conduct of the talks by the hosts took it out of control. So the talks could not be called a failure as a result of deadlocked views. At times like these, it helps if senior opinion makers in the two countries keep the stove warm, so that any progress made in Track II can be taken up by serving professionals at the next try, on the basis of some groundwork having already been done. One such Track II effort has been the Chaophraya Dialogue in its fifth session, mostly on the banks of the friendly river running through the heart of Bangkok. 

The mood there was serious, yet Track II talks revealed a surprisingly large measure of common understanding. It began with a dialogue on the dialogue itself. At Thimphu, the prime ministers had directed their foreign ministers to study the trust deficit and suggest new modalities. If the implication was that "composite dialogue" had outlived its usefulness, this was lost in translation. 

Hence it was felt in Bangkok that there was a clear need to agree upon the form and structure of the dialogue in future. All were of the opinion that the talks should continue, especially at functional and official levels. People-to-people exchanges have been successful and should continue. Visa restrictions should be relaxed, especially for civil society. 

Nothing would create a better environment for talks than implementing some of the CBMs agreed upon in earlier rounds of talks. Expansion of institutional contacts was critical, especially between military establishments and intelligence agencies. Significantly, there was a shared feeling that the dialogue could proceed towards the vision outlined in our prime minister's Amritsar speech of March 24, 2006. 

The remaining talks covered knotty subjects, considered difficult to talk about, depending on what they are: generally terrorism for the Pakistanis, and Kashmir for the Indians. Those participating felt that there is a need to implement measures agreed upon earlier, such as the easing of travel restrictions, but between the two sides of the LoC, including facilitation of payments from either side. Both sides were unanimous that the backchannel is worth reactivating, simultaneously with a platform for intra-Kashmir dialogue, which could feed into the backchannel talks. They felt any likely success or progress should be shared with a national all-party group, as was recently launched by New Delhi

The discussion on terrorism took place with the knowledge that while Pakistan was reeling under catastrophic floods there were continuing terrorist attacks on Pakistani Shias and non-hardline sects. Clearly, a bunch of Pakistanis were determined to destroy the country as it exists. This time it wasn't difficult to get an agreement that terrorism was a threat to both sides, but the difference was this: the Pakistanis concede terrorism is an existential threat to their country. It was stressed that the heads of intelligence agencies need to meet regularly "beyond the public glare". Some research is required to find out what other countries did in the past in similar situations. It was agreed these meetings would send messages much quicker to the source of what was perceived to be trouble. 

There was discussion on speedier prosecution. It was difficult to counter the Pakistani excuse that no prosecution could move very fast with the IO in Mumbai and the prosecutor in Islamabad or Lahore. A most interesting point was raised by a Pakistani jurist about the ignorance of religious leaders on the obligations of governments and the people to live up to agreements signed by their representatives in international forums like the UN. Religious leaders in Pakistan admitted they were educated by being told of the obligations of Pakistan having signed many UN resolutions obliging all states to cooperate in the war on terrorism against the Taliban. Religious leaders in India could benefit from a similar interaction. 

On Afghanistan, it was refreshing to hear from the Pakistanis that instability in that country from the Pashtuns was seen to be just as threatening to Pakistan's security as is seen to be the case in India. It was agreed that there eventually would have to be internal reconciliation in Afghanistan and no outsider could object to who was in the reconciliation process. It was impossible to impose military solutions on an ethnic minority, much less an ethnic majority. At the same time, an Afghan government must be committed to a multi-ethnic framework. It was heartening to hear from both sides that a politico-military competition should be avoided at all costs, as this would considerably worsen Indo-Pakistani relations. This was possible if both states did not exaggerate the strategic importance of Afghanistan. 

Speakers even suggested that even if one joint project could be got off the ground in infrastructure, energy or trade, others would follow and ease tension. It is fascinating to know that the strategic depth idea as a territorial buffer seems to be withering away in Islamabad, although it is conceded that a thin country would normally try and create a virtual strategic depth, non-territorially. A beginning was made to probe each other's red lines in Afghanistan and some progress was made, but anything substantial needs another visit to Chaophraya. 

Menon is a strategic affairs analyst and Mansingh is former foreign secretary. 






Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson , president of Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, is a member of the Nobel Assembly at the institutet, which awards the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Between 2001 and 2003 she held the position of secretary general of the Swedish Research Council for Medicine, where she played a major role in creating ethical guidelines for stem cell research. Her expertise lies in clinical physiology. Wallberg-Henriksson spoke to Tirna Ray : 

Was the decision tough this time? 

No. It was a very well-deserved prize. 

What did the members keep in mind while voting this year? 

We always keep in mind the will of Alfred Nobel. He wrote his will in 1895 and the will for the prize of physiology or medicine says that it should be for a discovery, which benefits mankind. That is what we keep in mind while voting. 

How do you decide that one is worthy of the Nobel? 

When a person is chosen for the Nobel, the reference point is not the work he has been doing that very year, but the work that he has been doing over the years. It's a long process and we make a very, very careful investigation of people who we think are worthy of the prize. Of course, we work with a short list where we have different options, but then we weigh things against each other. If you look back, in the last five or 10 years, you will find basic research or even clinically relevant research like the discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease. 

The socio-political dynamics across the world is changing. Is the focus (while awarding a Nobel) the country or the individual? 

We don't think of country, gender, nationality, age or ethnicity. We only focus on the discovery and the individual or the team behind the discovery. The Nobel Committee for physiology or medicine has often been criticised for not awarding the Nobel to enough number of women. But if you look back, 20/30 years ago, there weren't so many women in science. That will change. Some Asian countries keep wondering as to why most of the prizes go to the United States or to a few select countries in Europe. But if you do look back, you will realise that in the last 20 to 30 years, cutting-edge research has indeed been happening in these countries. However, now we have a much broader spectrum with quite a few Asian countries as well as other countries emphasising research and putting in a lot of effort to lead in some particular fields. 

Which are the emerging areas in research? 

Stem cells and cell therapy is definitely one area that is emerging. Another area is proteomics, which looks at what all the proteins in the body are doing. If we know more about them, we can probably develop more efficient drugs for quite a number of diseases. Another area that is emerging is nano-medicine an interdisciplinary area that demands working in tandem with engineers and technically skilled people. It is an area, which in the near future will see a lot of developments. We should look out for the interface between medicine and technology. In fact, it is likely that in the near future we won't see any isolated medical faculty. Instead, we will need more and more technical people working in tandem with faculties like us. 








If there is one thing that everyone across the political spectrum agrees upon, it is that the intractable Kashmir problem needs a political solution. In this context, the government may have lost the first-mover advantage in its announcement of three apolitical interlocutors. The uniformly negative reaction from the Kashmiri leaders, both moderates like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and hardliners like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, will make it difficult for the new team to engage in any meaningful dialogue. The announcement comes at a time when even the likes of Mr Geelani had shown some signs of accommodation and others had reluctantly agreed to the need for a dialogue.


There is no doubting the credibility of the three interlocutors. But, there is merit in the argument that the Kashmir situation is so complicated and sensitive that any team that can restart the dialogue process will need members who carry weight both at the Centre and in the state. It now becomes easier for the Cassandras to say that the government is perhaps not as serious as it should be given the composition of the team which appears hampered from the word go. With most Kashmiri leaders going to the extent of saying they will not even meet the three, the government will certainly have its work cut out for it if it hopes to begin the process of bringing about some semblance of normalcy to the state. However, for the government the constitution of any interlocutor team is fraught with problems. If it were largely political, the charges against it would be that it would become prey to partisan politics. A neutral apolitical team, as we have seen now, will attract criticism that it carries little weight.


However, any attempt at a dialogue is not a one-way street. It would help if Kashmiri leaders would get out of their habit of constantly carping and come up with some suggestions of their own. It has almost become a kneejerk reaction to dismiss out of hand any gesture or attempt made by the government to address the state's problems. Now that the interlocutors have been appointed, whether the experiment works or not, the government must deliver on its development package and also on some form of political solution simultaneous to the efforts made by the three. It might be a good idea to expand the team of interlocutors in consultation with Kashmiri leaders and make it more broad-based and, if need be, more political. And it might be best to move on this while there is a modicum of calm in the volatile state. Otherwise, at the end of this tunnel too, there will be one more tunnel.







Take 70 days, 33 cast members supported by a stellar crew, about $20 million, the world's best technology and expertise and a nation coming together to haul a little capsule like one giant pulley through a hole in the ground. Throw in a love triangle, a dramatic marriage proposal, a goggle-eyed audience and you have the makings of a Hollywood hyperbole. But the real story of the dramatic liberation of 33 Chilean miners, trapped underground for over two months, lies in the way it showcased a nation's determination to take care of its own. Not only did the saga capture global imagination, it also threw in a lesson or two on ensuring the safety of an invisible workforce.


Mining accidents regularly make news mostly as ominous flashes in the pan, with little time for reaction, much less rescue. What the catastrophes fail to do, this feat might instead: make us think about raising the safety standards of the industry. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera rose to the occasion and moved to strengthen safety laws and regulation of coal mines while raising royalties paid by mining companies. Mr Pinera's popularity ratings soared as he hugged each liberated miner and rescue worker. Perhaps his smiling visage will serve to acquaint our politicians — afraid of getting their feet wet during calamities and opting for aerial surveys — with the power of the hands-on approach.


As the Commonwealth Games come to an end, maybe Chile's remarkable feat also offers a clue on other ways of showcasing a nation's muscle. Like assisting the world's most prominent space agency to pull off a miracle from under the earth, maybe?



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





The sudden boom these days in the publishing trade in India has supposedly come about post-Chetan Bhagat, thanks to the birth of a new genre of fiction. Call it young adult fiction, college romance or Bollywood-style, these titles are being churned out faster than popcorn and sold at 'affordable' prices. Mostly, they're aimed at university students.


Surprisingly enough, the same target audience never finds a Rs 300 pizza 'ridiculously expensive' while a Rs 1,000 pair of jeans is 'quite reasonable'.  But talk about a good book available for '200 bucks' and you'll see incredulity written all over their faces.


These new books have been selling about 40,000-50,000 copies. A bestselling Salman Rushdie sells about half number in India. This young adult fiction trend seems to have altered not just the definition of books, but of writing as well. An aspiring author recently mentioned that his manuscript was turned down by an agent not because his English was bad but because it was 'too good'. The language wasn't poetic or ornate; it was simply correct. "Too good to sell," his agent had reportedly told him.


Some editorial service agencies have been receiving similar requests: 'Edit this manuscript the way you need to, but do leave some rough edges in there. Don't turn it into a book that


reads too well.' Some publishers have even adopted the stance that it's perfectly acceptable to not bother with editing such titles, since Indian readers aren't discerning anyway. Their argument is that we are not trying to teach the readers English; we're simply offering them a story they can relate to.


In other words, anybody can be a writer. And as long as they sell, nobody's complaining. If this trend is to

continue, publishers may as well simply turn into printers.


Divya Dubey is publisher, Gyaana Books. The views expressed by the author are personal



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





Five years ago, when the proposed National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) was a subject of fierce controversy, Bunker Roy compared the attitude of the government to that of a dog who crosses a road half-way, can't decide whether to go forward or backward, and gets run over. This enlightening image applies again today, in the context of the proposed National Food Security Act (NFSA).


The National Advisory Council (NAC) discussed two proposals for the NFSA on August 30. They differ mainly in terms of the Public Distribution System (PDS) entitlements in rural areas. In one proposal, 20 per cent of the rural population is excluded, but everyone else gets 35 kgs of grain per month at 'Antyodaya prices': Rs 3 per kg for rice, Rs 2 for wheat, and Re 1 for millet. In the other proposal, no one is excluded, but there are two categories, getting 35 kgs and 25 kgs per month respectively. Implementing either of these proposals (including the non-PDS food entitlements) would require 60 million tonnes of grain in the first year, rising to 70 million tonnes as the Act is extended to the whole country.


These are not hare-brained proposals from a bunch of jholawalas (not that there is anything wrong with carrying a jhola instead of a BlackBerry). They represent an attempted agreement between 14 persons from diverse backgrounds, half of whom are senior civil servants or former civil servants. Yet they seem to have set off alarm bells in the government. According to recent media reports, the food ministry has even "rejected" these proposals — before they were finalised!


The ministry's main objection is that the food requirements are too high. It is pointed out that grain procurement averaged 55 million tonnes or so during the last three years, and that it would be unwise for the government to commit itself to a larger amount.


This argument is wholly unconvincing. Grain procurement has been growing by leaps and bounds from the late 1960s onwards. In the last 20 years, it grew at five per cent per year on average. The viability of the NAC proposals requires nothing more than a continuation of this upward trend.


What the critics are arguing is that, for purposes of future planning, we should assume that this upward trend is about to stop! This would be at odds with the common practice in such matters. In most planning exercises, forecasts are made based on recent growth rates, and reasonable assumptions on how they might change. The government has no hesitation in assuming continued economic growth of 8-9 per cent per year in countless planning documents, even though that requires a certain dose of optimism. But when it comes to food security, conservatism is the motto.


It may be argued that conservatism is required because we are talking of legal obligations. But conservatism is already involved in assuming nothing more than a continuation of recent trends. If the government wishes, procurement growth can be accelerated — that would be much easier than to alter the growth rate of the economy. Indeed, what is procurement? Ultimately, it is just buying. And as Montek Singh Ahluwalia remarked at the last NAC meeting, "no situation is known to have arisen where money was there but food was lacking". He said this in the context of a discussion about cash transfers, but it applies to grain procurement as well.


Another strange argument invoked by the food ministry is that, if procurement increases, less food will be available on the market, and therefore, food prices will rise. This is a misunderstanding. Procurement puts no upward pressure on market prices as long as the quantities procured are released elsewhere. What would raise market prices is procurement without distribution, that is, hoarding (as happened last year). Nothing of the sort is being proposed under the NFSA.


In the unlikely event where the government is unable to meet the procurement targets, what will happen? Nothing disastrous. If the gap is small, and temporary, it can be imported. Grain can be bought on the open domestic market. The timeframe for extension of the Act to the entire country can be extended. And in the worst-case scenario, some people will be getting, say, 30 kgs instead of 35 kgs at times. Does it mean that they will burn down the local BDO's office, or take the government to court? Not at all. Similar fears were expressed when the NREGA was enacted, but five years later, hardly anyone has gone to court, in spite of rampant violations of workers' entitlements across the country. At best, some workers were compensated under the law, e.g. with the unemployment allowance. Similar compensation provisions can be built into the NFSA.


Meanwhile, Food Corporation of India godowns continue to burst at the seams with excess food stocks. The common sense idea of distributing some of this food to the poor seems to frighten economic advisers. With another bumper harvest ahead, the stocks will continue growing unless more is distributed. Perhaps the government is hoping to export some of these food stocks, as it did in 2002-4, instead of "wasting" them on the poor. If the stocks are used, instead, to facilitate the launch of the NFSA, the Act's initial food requirements will be even easier to meet.


In short, there is no reason to take current procurement levels as a 'ceiling' for the NFSA. The fact of the matter is that the NAC proposals — as things stand — are too modest, and that much bolder steps towards a universal PDS (and other foundations of food security for all) are possible. Instead of behaving like a timorous puppy, paralysed in the middle of the road, the government should emulate Shera and leap ahead.


Jean Drèze is Honorary Professor at the Delhi School of Economics. The views expressed by the author are personal.








The UN Secretary General recently announced the setting up of a high-level Panel on Global Sustainability, tasked with "rethinking the development paradigm in a low-carbon world". Humanity is already living beyond the earth's ability to sustain it, threatening the Millennium Development Goals of achieving food security, eradicating poverty and reaching education to all. It explicitly categorises current development paths as 'outdated'.


Twenty-three years ago, a similar group headed by Gro Harlem Brundtland produced Our Common Future, a document heralded as a major step in the direction of sustainable development. This was followed by Agenda 21 in 1992, meant to lead the world into sustainability by the 21st century. Both of these, however, have been largely consigned to history's dustbin, with the world headed towards even greater ecological collapse and socio-economic inequity. Will this new initiative break away from this trend?


Interestingly, Brundtland is a member of the new panel, as is our Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh. Headed by the current premiers of Finland and South Africa, the panel contains several other heads or former heads of state and a few scientists.


What should such a panel conceive of that can take humans away from their current headlong trajectory into ecological suicide? And how should it do so?


To begin with, the panel needs to acknowledge that we can no longer afford to tinker around with purely technical solutions to the challenges confronting us. Whether it is climate change or biodiversity loss, conflicts or poverty, the causes are not technical or technological but an unsustainable and irresponsible path of 'development' in which the earth's elements are simply raw material, ecosystems are sinks for our wastes and people are labour or consumers to be exploited. Other causes include an elite minority that wants to consume more, stoked by powerful corporations and corrupt governments that benefit from this craving. Current patterns of energy and materials use and unregulated global trade and financial transactions are other forces driving unsustainability and inequality.


Undoubtedly some of the answers will be technological or managerial, for instance in adopting the latest energy-efficient materials and construction, renewables and fuel-efficient public transportation. Sustainable farming and fisheries are well established around the world. Decentralised water harvesting for villages and cities is a no-brainer.


But the bigger picture is in fundamental changes in governance and development paradigms. We need a deeper form of democracy in which each citizen has the right and the capacity to participate in decision-making that affects her life. Such decisions need to be based on the twin imperatives of ecological sensitivity and social equity. As part of this Radical Ecological Democracy, contrary to current economic globalisation policies, each local settlement (rural or urban) is empowered to take decisions for its environment. It can be connected to institutions at ever-increasing scales, for management of larger landscapes defined by ecological boundaries and political and cultural ones. At the international level, the environment and human rights instruments that most countries are signatory to, need to be given the kind of teeth that World Trade Organisation and other economic instruments currently enjoy. Financial markets have to be reined in. The UN system should become a United Nations of Peoples, reducing the role of nation-states and bringing back the role of peoples and communities. Curbs have to be put on the runaway consumerism of the rich.


At the heart of the situation is a change in values: from competition to cooperation, from individual profit to social good, from homogeneity to diversity. It is also a change in indicators of welfare and prosperity: from material accumulations to health and well-being, food and water security, happiness, stable social relations and education.


To evolve such paradigms, the UN panel must adopt a consultative public process. It has to learn from the thousands of experiments already showing results. It would have to hear the world's indigenous and other traditional communities, whose lives are often far more sustainable than those of 'global' metropolitan citizens. The panel, however, does not have representatives of such communities.


The task before the panel is difficult and complex, but not impossible. We can only hope that the panel is able to show the courage and leadership needed to facilitate the voices of sanity spread across the world, and synthesise them into breakthrough visions of global sustainability.


Ashish Kothari is with Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group. The views expressed by the author are personal.








Talk of an uplifting story: the 33 Chilean miners who had been trapped deep underground since August 5 have finally been hoisted out one by one, putting an end to the most agonising, drawn-out drama-in-real-life situation in recent years. After the gold and copper mine near Copiaco in northern Chile collapsed, these men were given up for dead for more than two weeks, until they were discovered through a small borehole. Since then, their lives in the underground caverns, and the attempt to extricate them, had the world watching, hypnotised. They sent up a short video, with their living arrangements filmed in lantern-light — a drier area for a miner with respiratory trouble, a small rocky cell they called a "casino", even a poster of a topless woman. They were sent food, supplies, Bibles and letters through four-inch-wide chutes. At the first telephone contact with them, the men broke into a hoarse, but heartfelt version of their national anthem. They had no sense of passing time, without the shifts of daylight and darkness, but the miners organised their lives with remarkable efficiency, aided by the team of doctors, psychologists and support staff overground.


The 22-hour-long rescue operation was impeccable. President Sebastien Pinera showboated his way through the incident, staking his reputation on the rescue, turning it into a rousing display and national rallying point — even though the reason the miners got there in the first place remains unaddressed. Mining is the Chilean economy's biggest money-spinner, as in much of Latin America (copper and other raw material account for 60 per cent of its exports), but it's under-paid and risky labour, as the individual stories of these men reveal.


But either way, this is an undiluted feel-good moment. An awful accident, survival, near-perfect sustenance and rescue efforts, prayers from around the world, and all the men returned to the safe warm cocoon of their families. What's not to cheer?






Last month, following an all-party meeting and the report of a delegation from Delhi to Kashmir, the Central government announced an eight-point package to get the Valley back on the path to normalcy. A crucial part of the package was the appointment of "interlocutors", a group of people who would initiate a "sustained dialogue" with all shades of opinion in the troubled state. The idea was for the group to be both trusted and from as wide a base as those they were supposed to meet. And it's difficult to argue with the principle of sending a team trusted by both sides to determine the exact anxieties and stresses that lie behind the latest upsurge in violence.


The government has now named three of what is expected to be a four-member team. Those three are M.M. Ansari, of the Central Information Commission; Radha Kumar, an academic at Jamia Millia Islamia who specialises in conflict resolution; and Dileep Padgaonkar, a political commentator. There's little wrong with any of these choices, of course. But there's a larger question: why are there no politicians in the list?


It does make sense for the government to want to ensure that the team has no whiff of officialdom about it, so that people are willing to talk to them without viewing them simultaneously as the source of resentment. But interpreting that as requiring that nobody with experience in electoral politics be on board is a bit of a stretch, and underestimates both the wisdom of an Indian politician and of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The truth is that, as these columns have argued before, the strength of the Indian system lies in the rambunctious, empathetic values of its politics. Excluding the practitioners of that art only cripples the team's abilities; the all-party delegation to Kashmir revealed how the strength and flexibility of India's politics means it can always be turned towards handling, delicately, the problem of how to listen. Our politicians know how to win over a crowd; think Lalu in Pakistan, 2004. Both to listen, and to reach out, limiting interlocutors to "civil society" might not be wise.







The just-concluded Commonwealth Games could yet turn out to be an important turning point in the somewhat dismal history of Indian sport,outside cricket. It is of some significance to note that India has actually finished at second place in the medals tally — with 38 gold, 27 silver and 36 bronze medals — in what is the third biggest multi-disciplinary sporting event in the world after the Olympics and Asian Games. Of course, the two pre-eminent sporting powers of the world, China and the US, are absent from the CWG, and that means the competition is less than what it's likely to be at the Asian Games next month and at the Olympics in two years time. Still, even in the context of the CWG, India's performance in the 2010 edition is a big improvement on the performance in Melbourne in 2006 — on that occasion, India had won just 22 golds. Also, in the 2006 CWG, 17 out of the 22 gold medals came in just one discipline, shooting. This time, the gold medals have been more widely spread, with archery, badminton, boxing, table tennis and, after a long time, athletics contributing to the gold tally.


The last 10 days have also attracted plenty of local spectator interest across the different disciplines. And new, popular stars have emerged. Finally, there's a chance that sports other than cricket may actually develop a genuine fan following in India. That's why it was always important to host a quality multi-disciplinary sports event in India: it's the best way to build a fan base for local sportspersons. Once there exists a reasonable fan base for a sport, sponsorships and profile will automatically rise.


None of this should, of course, be taken for granted. And here the role of sports administrators in India is important. Outside cricket, few sports associations have been successful in either supporting their players or raising the profile of their game within the country. Success in the CWG has given these bodies a unique platform from which to catapult their "stars" towards even greater success, both in India and abroad. Audiences are eager, sponsors are interested; all that's needed is performance; and for this, administrators must do their all to back sportspersons. It's time to put sport in the driving seat.









This week, when Carnatic has meant anything but music, when images from Karnataka's assembly on Monday nearly rivalled the ones from UP in 1998 — flying microphones — it is difficult to try and construct an image of Karnataka as a state ahead of its times. But both socially and politically, Karnataka has been the trendsetter in most things that other states find even hard to imagine.


Situated where it is, Karnataka has historically been the recipient of several cultural traditions, which both cohabited and competed — the Bhakti tradition, strong Vaishnavite and Shaivite sentiment (which often erupted), a strong Sufi tradition, and at Baba Budangiri, a flashpoint for the more fractious Hindutva wars of the '90s. But essentially there exists a tradition of shared sacred spaces between Hindus and Muslims. Linguistically too, there has not been much to fight about, and Hindi, Urdu, and even Tamil and Telugu, find a place — auto-rickshaw drivers are ever ready to cheerfully burst into stockphrases in Tamil or Telugu upon seeing a potential passenger.


Of course, Karnataka has had its flashpoints when organisations like Kannada Cheluvi have emerged and asserted a Kannadiga identity, or other disruptions: when the doyen of the silver screen, Rajkumar died, the city of Bangalore shut down for several days.


Bangalore, the state's major city, may have lost some of its earlier edge as the city of the new and "glorious India". Jeb Brugmann, in his fascinating account, Welcome to the Urban Revolution: How Cities are Changing the World, says the fact that Bangalore became such a "massive generator of opportunity" was not only a story locked up in steel, concrete and glass and thousands of busy people; but the story was one "built on centuries old foundation of developed urban advantage", where old industrial activity "clustered together" and then, finally, vital layers like scientific and research institutes, colleges and imaginative use of living space were added on slowly, powering its final growth to a high-tech city. Its founder, Visvesvarayya, brought ideas that many in India had not even started debating — engineering, reservoirs, energy and science — but all necessary to power the future.


The engineering has not just been confined to brick and mortar, but has also been social, with Karnataka setting the stage for job reservations for backward sections. Stories from Karnataka may not have yielded the high-power punch that the Dravida movement did nextdoor, but in terms of backward caste uplift, reservations for backward Muslims and integrating measures of affirmative action in policy and politics, Karnataka has always shown the way.


When the politics of the Janata Dal opened up a "third way" of approaching politics, however chimeric it proved nationally, the idea held sway in Karnataka for longer than it did in any other state. H.D. Deve Gowda and Ramakrishna Hegde, by virtue of being able to hold on to their base in Karnataka played a national role, and impacted politics in Delhi through crucial and turbulent decades. The Rath Yatra of L.K. Advani too had more impact here than in other parts of the south and showed the BJP possibilities that had eluded them until then.


The recent capture of coastal Karnataka and parts of the Mumbai-Karnataka region (a part of north Karnataka) by the BJP must be seen in this context. The BJP has used Karnataka to break out of its image of a cow-belt party. The state's politics has been dominated by the Vokkaligas and Lingayats (both backward castes). But while the Vokkaligas dominated the Congress and then the Janata Dal (S), Lingayats and the northern parts of the state were a little left out. They now form the core of support for the BJP.


That the battle for Karnataka is also very vital for the Congress is clear if you look at the number of cabinet members from the state, far out of proportion with the seats the party won in 2009.


Cynics would argue that it is Karnataka's riches — in the form of mining licences and impressive industrial activity that allow money generation — that makes it central to political calculations. But it's more than just the calculator at work. For the BJP, the stability of its first government in a non-Hindi-speaking state is intended to send out a sign that "Yes it can." For the Congress, it is an important harbour, as despite being much better off than the BJP in the south as a whole, it is still not very comfortable. Telangana and YSR's troubled legacy have the Congress in an uneasy position in Andhra Pradesh. In Kerala, it hopes to capture power but is not in power at the moment. And in Tamil Nadu, it has to deal with a formidable ally and things are anything but easy as it prepares for the polls. To be seen "battling" the BJP and pointing fingers at a BJP being supported by miner-barons at this point, works for the Congress. For the JD(S), decimated by the hand dealt out by voters the last time round, the opportunity to strike common cause with the Congress and be shrill while attacking the BJP is a good way to reassert its importance and wash off the accusations that the party is around for the highest bidder, never mind if it's the BJP.


For the average "independent" MLA, there has been no better time to lose his independence, as they all pull out their scales to weigh the odds. The odds have only got more uncertain with the roles of the speaker, the governor and the courts all becoming critical.


Those who knew author R.K. Narayan, swear that the magical town of his stories, Malgudi, is actually his hometown, Mysore, referred to by another name. And what the residents of Malgudi, sorry Mysore, or Hubli, Chamrajnagar, Raichur or even Bellary, make of the tug of war once it's over, will be more important than who emerges as the victor right now. At the moment, it's a little difficult to say if Karnataka is still ahead of its times, or if the times have gotten a little behind themselves.








The suspension of Punjab's Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, a four-time MLA of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), and his subsequent resignation from the cabinet can be more clearly understood if we distinguish between the different faces of a political party. Studies have often disaggregated political parties into three different elements: the party in public office, the party on the ground and the party in central office. This organisational perspective not only situates a party in the wider political system but also helps us understand how these different facets interact with each other.


Each element serves a different purpose. While the office element deals with government and legislative aspects, the ground element deals with membership and the electorate. The party in central office is its leadership, which is usually representative of the party on the ground. This demarcation is only for heuristic purposes, and in reality these elements largely overlap with each other.


The current crisis in the SAD may therefore at one level be a Badal vs Badal succession and/or factional conflict. At another level, it also highlights the motivations and constraints of different organisational elements. While Manpreet Badal represents the party in office, his cousin Sukhbir Singh Badal, the deputy chief minister and anointed heir to the leader, represents the party on the ground.


The point of disagreement between the two leaders clearly corresponds to the demands of the different faces of the party they represent. The party on the ground, which represents the members at large, the activists, its financiers and core supporters, is involved in the mobilisation of voters and this face often assumes that electoral success is a result of its efforts. However, given that it's not in office, it would always want the party in office to use the government and make decisions to suit the interests of the ground.


The disciplinary committee of the party specifically charged Manpreet with anti-party activities. These "anti-party" activities were basically his public statements over the last three years on the health of the Punjab economy and its finances. He has constantly harped on the elementary economic fact that "you can only spend if you have the money" and has warned that the state is likely to default on its debt in another few years. To get out of this morass, he suggested reducing and targeting subsidies like free power, the free atta-dal scheme, exemption from canal user charges and water and sewerage charges. These are "anti-party" primarily because of the entrenched interests in the subsidy regime, whose support is mobilised by the party on the ground.


The party on the ground does not however, understand the constraints of holding office. Government roles carry with them certain "expectations" which cannot necessarily be partisan and self-centred. In a federal system, especially with a strong-centre framework, there are additional constraints imposed by governments at other levels. Consequently, party leaders in office have to look beyond their own core constituencies and are accountable to a wider section of the population. Manpreet Badal in his letter of resignation clearly alluded to this fact, when he noted that it is "better to spend a few difficult years today, than allow opportunities for an entire generation to be wiped out".


The other two main parties in the state, the BJP and the Congress have also used this opportunity to push their case. Any weakening of the SAD only increases the bargaining power of its alliance partner, the BJP. Similarly for the Congress, this could be a useful handle to go one-up as it prepares for legislative assembly elections in 2012. This is important because, since 1992, governments in Punjab, as in Kerala, have alternated between the two dominant political formations in the state.

This episode shows that despite the public face which gives a party unity of purpose, within parties there are always different shades of opinion as well as competing organisational interests. The SAD case is, however, different from other experiences. Many political parties, when in government, fail to connect with the party on the ground. The party leaders in office tend to acquire a degree of autonomy from the party citing government


"expectations" and begin to run the show. Parties only realise the importance of the party on the ground when an election has been lost. In this case, though there is no certainty that an SAD victory is guaranteed, it highlights clearly the tensions between different organisational faces of a party.


The writer is at the department of political science, Panjab University, Chandigarh









And so, we have seen the ever-confounding Valley of Kashmir pass through another bloody phase of her history, with the violent death of more than a hundred people, so many of them children, between June 2010 and the close of September. With the installation of an elected legislature in 2008 in an election in which people from every part of the Valley, particularly the young, had participated, the trauma that had wracked the State in the wake of the 2008 Amarnath Yatra had seemed a thing of the past. The pervasive political demand at the time, even among those termed "separatists", was indeed only for self-government within the Indian Union. And yet the cry in the streets of Srinagar in September 2010 was a ringing call for "azadi". What happened?


In April this year three young men, Muhammad Shafi Lone, Shahzad Ahmed and Riyaz Ahmed were killed in what was claimed to have been an armed encounter with terrorists in Machhil, close to the LoC in Kupwara district. Responding to complaints of a fake encounter, staged to claim the reward dispensed for killing infiltrators, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah asked the police to make an enquiry. That, in its preliminary report, identified an Indian army major as instrumental in the killing of the three who, far from being "infiltrators", were residents of Nadihal in Rafiabad. Yet by June 3, 2010, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, speaking in Baramulla, was calling upon people to protest what he claimed was a cover-up effort. And following a stone-pelting demonstration in Srinagar on June 11, Tufail Mattoo, all of 17 and returning home from tuition, was chased by the J&K police, firing tear gas shells and obviously mistaking the child for a stone-pelter from among those with whom they had jousted all day. The boy died, triggering a state-wide agitation. In Sopore CRPF firing again took young lives. Although an enquiry was again ordered by the CM, against the objections of the CRPF high command, the uprising of the youth spread from into south Kashmir when three teenaged boys, Shujat-ul-Islam, Ishtiyaq Ahmad Khanday and Imtiyaz Ahmad Itoo were shot dead in a private compound in the SK colony area of Anantnag on June 29 by pursuing policemen. An enquiry report, called for in 24 hours, was submitted to the state assembly in October 2010, finding the firing unprovoked. But the man arrested was a constable.


The turmoil by then had spread from the cities into the countryside. The rising death toll of children brought women onto the streets for the first time since the early '90s. And by this time the agitation that had convulsed the Valley had become a campaign for "azadi", leading the CM to claim before his state assembly at the beginning of October, as violence subsided, that the movement was directed not against his government, but was a Quit Kashmir movement against India.


Months before the Machhil incident, the radicalisation of the young had alarmed intellectuals and political leaders with an ear to the public. I was told by a Kashmiri friend, himself a supporter of "azadi," of this phenomenon as early as mid-2009, when instances of stone-pelting had begun to escalate. And although the CM recognised that there was a problem, he dismissed the resulting incidents of stone-pelting as the work of hooligans from congested downtown Srinagar, requiring law enforcement. The remaining elected leadership not only failed to respond, but sought to exploit it to its political advantage. But why was the youth so susceptible?


This is a generation born and brought up in an environment suffused with violence. Singularly lacking has been the building of any sense of purpose for the young. Open elections gave a glimmer of hope, but were followed by the usual one-upmanship, the bane of Kashmiri politics. Because of the drying up of government employment and the disdain of the educated for manual labour, the shortage of private investment have kept opportunities low, subject to patronage alone. A number of young people took to voluntary work through NGOs, but were actively discouraged by intelligence agencies. Omar Abdullah's government took the initiative in passing a right to information law in 2009, around which a number of young people rallied. Yet the government dawdled in its enforcement, with volunteers actually facing victimisation. And the national media, catering to an upper-middle-class audience, showed young Kashmiris a picture, not always true, of a "shining India" with unending opportunities, of which the Kashmiri youth felt that they were no part. So, to convince these impressionable young minds that they were deliberately sidelined, despite their having abjured violence, was simple. It was projected as active discrimination because they happened to be Muslim, to which the state government, described as a "puppet" of the Centre, was party.


Stone-pelting has been a traditional form of protest in Kashmir since Sheikh Abdullah's days of resistance to Dogra rule, leading a population without access to weaponry of any other kind. While recourse to this tradition clearly reflects acknowledgement within Kashmir of the failure of violence dependent on weaponry diligently supplied by Pakistan's ISI, the spread of the present outbreak is a clear demonstration of the failure of political resolve from a leadership elected through a free and fair election. A senior police officer who I asked at the outbreak of the agitation as to why the police either overreacted, or simply placed the paramilitary CRPF in the forefront, bemoaned the fact that whenever firm action was taken and identified ringleaders arrested, they were promptly released under pressure from senior political leaders.


What then is "azadi"? Farooq Abdullah will tell you that no two Kashmiris will give you a definitive answer of what he or she means by the word. Does it stand for independence? That is how it has generally been construed in India. Yet, Kashmir's aspiration for azadi is rooted in its conscious accession to India. When he discussed the choices before Kashmir with UNCIP head Joseph Korbel in September 1948, Farooq's father Sheikh Abdullah made his preference clear. In his words: "there is a possibility of independence under the joint guarantee of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, and the Soviet Union. I would be willing to meet the leader of Azad Kashmir, Ghulam Abbas, with whom I was once tied by bonds of friendship and a common struggle... But even should Kashmir's powerful neighbors agree to give us a guarantee of independence, I doubt that it could last for long."


So to the Kashmiri leadership accession to India represented winning true freedom. Thereafter whenever the Kashmiris have felt their freedom compromised, they have blamed it on India's "betrayal". Hence the call for azadi, without a thought to whether independence and freedom are compatible in a state the size of Kashmir contiguous to two rising military powers, India and China, and the latter's ally, Pakistan.


Will simply withdrawing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and conceding the demand of the state assembly of 2002 for greater autonomy bring closure? Although it might be reasonably argued that these are components of what might be arrived at as a compromise, equally true is the fact that these issues have little to do with the present demands. Their induction into the present debate was at best a red herring. And as for the demand for autonomy, the last thing that the agitating youth have been demanding is a return of their state government to the powers enjoyed by it in 1953, the gist of the autonomy demand of the National Conference.


The task for the Kashmiri leadership is clear. Improved policing has brought down the killing. The lull — and it must be recognised as no more than that — must be used to bring the people of the state, and the Valley in particular, towards participation in governance, with the concomitant official accountability which the rest of India is guaranteed. As for the Union of India, the answer is incredibly simple — allow to the Kashmiris the same respect and dignity that is considered a right by every Indian citizen. If we can do this, this agitation will be remembered only as a rude aftershock to the tremor of the '90s. Failure risks a relapse into the reckless violence that we had hoped forever gone.

The writer is a former chief information commisioner. Government of India








Despite its richest medal haul in the history of the Commonwealth Games, and a guaranteed top-3 finish overall, Team India has arguably underachieved. With many local favorites succumbing to lesser-known rivals, the Indian team's performance, while encouraging, and exceeding overall expectations, has not been stellar.


This of course has no adverse impact on the overall benefit of the CWG for Indian sports and sportspersons. Undoubtedly, the CWG has exceeded all expectations when it comes to arousing the nation's passion, and the awareness of India's emerging sports and established/emerging sportspersons.


But the story that has captured the imagination, and ignited the pride of both the nation and, hopefully, aspiring young athletes, is the performance of the Indian athletics squad. Twelve medals overall; the first gold medals in the women's 1600-metre relay; a clean sweep for the Indian women in the discus throw; indeed, the first gold of any sort for more than 50 years. This is an astounding achievement.


Remember: despite some high-profile athletes bolting, what's notable is that many of the premier athletes in track-and-field hail from Commonwealth nations. The Caribbean nations, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Kenya, and Uganda, have each boasted some of the world's greatest athletes: Powell, Boldon, Ottey, Christie, and Bailey, to name but a few. These are nations with athletes so talented, that even those who fail to make the national squad in their respective Olympic trials could still likely run circles around most other nations' top athletes. The Jamaican bobsled team, immortalized in Disney's audience-friendly Cool Runnings, is the true story of three of the top 100-metre hopefuls who, due to a Series of Unfortunate Events, failed to make the cut — and instead adopted bobsledding, qualified for, and almost ended up contending for a medal in the Calgary Winter Olympics. Such is the level of talent that these nations possess.


For Indian athletes to hold their own, and in fact thrive, is not only heartening, but bodes well for future participation levels. Indian athletics has been neglected for too long. Yet, even for a nation with hitherto limited facilities, underperforming in athletics was not due to that reason alone.


The fact remains that success leads to adulation, and adulation leads to emulation. Dismal performances for Indian athletics had become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That, along with ill-treatment meted out to athletes, had become the norm rather than the exception. While it's too soon to expect a seismic shift for the better, the on-field performances, the likely private and public sector support and vastly improved facilities should lead to greater national interest in, and a qualitative improvement in the performances of, Indian athletes. And that should work from the grassroot-level on up.


Something beyond facilities and monetary support that will help is that India now has an anti-doping mechanism firmly in place, thanks to the CWG. The NADA, although it may still have teething problems, should at some point in the future effectively control and prevent substance use and abuse. And, India also has its first WADA-certified laboratory, which is essential for establishing credibility. India has long been plagued with chain-of-custody issues in terms of transferring the samples to other countries with WADA laboratories, but that should hopefully be eliminated now that the process is domestic.


To quote the great Mark Twain: "it's not the size of the dog in the fight that matters, but the size of the fight in the dog." That sums up the Indian effort. Without jumping to any conclusions, there is one aspect that our athletics team has proven beyond a reasonable doubt: there is no questioning the size of the fight in our champions. And that is what CWG Delhi 2010 has brought to our future track-and-field superstars: the heart and the belief that they belong with the elite athletes globally. For a nation bereft of any track-and-field aspirations less than a year ago, this performance in a core discipline with many of the world's outstanding athletes competing, is a platinum moment — and one that cannot fade with the color of any other medal in any other discipline.


The writer is a Delhi-based sports attorney. Views are personal







While covering the Greek football team in Euro-2008, a Greek sports columnist came to a restaurant in a picturesque Swiss mountain village and got to talking to the owner. The championship, the columnist suggested, would be great for the restaurant's business. To the journalist's surprise, the notion gave the owner a panic attack. It was good if the games brought a few stray tourists like the Greek columnist to the village, and some attention to Switzerland, the owner was saying. But if the soccer championships actually started interfering with everyday life, then no thanks.


This story reminded me that even in a well-run and serene country like Switzerland, staging a big-time sports championship is a mixed blessing at best. As the Commonwealth Games in Delhi were staged, many asked whether the aggravation and scrutiny that come with staging such colossal events is worth the time, money and effort.


Coming from Athens, it definitely was nice to see my country enjoy 30 days of good international press. But in retrospect I think I could have lived without it, considering how easily the same international press now bashes the same Greeks as profligate, lazy and irresponsible over the debt crisis.


The Indians are being subjected to the same derogatory coverage today. In many ways the international media, mostly based in affluent Western countries, is behaving like the Swiss restaurant owner: they expect some far-off country to stage a complicated event impeccably and so provide their clients with a month of exciting sports stories.


If somehow the plan doesn't pan out, the same media accuse and condemn a country, a people, a political system or whatever else may seem responsible for less-than-perfect games. And what if a state does manage to pull it off, as South Africa did? In that case, the country is left with good memories — along with useless stadiums and huge debts.


That's because whether the games go well or badly, the game is fixed against the host country. Fail and prepare yourself for international shame. Succeed and be ready to savour a few days of positive international press followed by many years of lost opportunities. The true winners of the games will have already taken the money and run to the next willing destination.


The model of international sports competitions is flawed. Countries are sold on a promise of increased visibility, tourist revenue or even more "geopolitical weight." What they get is a greedy circus that leaves with the profits after having irrevocably scarred city-centers and open spaces, and left states and municipalities to deal with debts and maintenance costs.


The only wave of urban terrorism in Sweden in recent memory occurred when a few concerned citizens placed small explosive devices in front of stadiums in Stockholm to derail the city's bid for the 2004 Olympics. Such methods are reprehensible, of course, but they achieved their goal; Athens got the "honour."

People need to awake to the reality that the profits of the Olympics and the World Cups are made at the expense of our cities and our countries. Scaling down our criticism of countries that fail to provide impeccable events is a good place to start.









The Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo has elements of a Dickensian drama for China: the best of times and the worst of times. Opinion across China is polarised to say the least, suspended between a giddy euphoria and angry indignation. On the one hand is the powerful feel-good moral high that cuts across social groups, infusing a we-are-in-this-together spirit. On the other hand, China's leadership will increasingly look askance at precisely this banding together; it accused the Nobel committee of imposing "Western" values on China and of "deliberate maliciousness." The question behind these two polarities is this: will the Nobel be a lightning rod that prompts the state to draw thicker red lines — or will it be a weathervane for democracy and political reforms?


Posing the question that way is simplistic. It fails to understand the state of intellectual discourse in China; it runs the risk of romanticising the intellectual as a sort of lone ranger, a die-hard dissident always at loggerheads with the state. Nothing could be further from the truth. The relationship between the intellectual and the state in China has been complex and dynamic: at times ambivalent and hesitant, at others violent and adversarial — but rarely distant and aloof.


After all, it is not just the Party that fears a Big-Bang version of democracy. There is a deep and widely-shared fear of chaos and social upheaval, which a sudden crisis could produce. This also explains the intellectual preoccupation with issues of state capacity, social harmony and the ideology-versus-pragmatism debate.


Read this with the fact that the growing "rights consciousness" in China could actually be more of a new "rules consciousness." Protests seem to be consciously framed in the authorised language of the state — precisely in order to signal that they do not challenge state legitimacy. What emerges is a highly interactive, complex picture of the intellectual-state relationship, albeit a far less glamorous one.


Reading between these red lines nudges us to think beyond the simplistic labels of "establishment" and "independent intellectuals". There are no neat or precise categories. Lumping together all intellectuals as dissidents is as much a caricature as it assuming that they are all prisoners of the state. Many activist-intellectuals would be uncomfortable by being labelled "dissident." Others, like Ma Jun, recipient of the Magsaysay award, fit none of these categories clearly.


The reality is that neither the intellectual nor the state is a homogenous actor. There was deep opposition from some dissident exiles against granting the award to Liu: In a letter released recently, 14 of them accused Liu "of maligning fellow activists" and being "soft on China's leaders." Similarly, it would be wrong to assume that critiques always come from outside the political system. In recent weeks, political reforms have once again climbed to the top of the Party agenda, with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao publicly acknowledging that the need for democracy and freedom in China is "irresistible". Wen's views also found powerful resonance in an open letter circulated days before the Nobel announcement and signed by 23 Party elders. The letter called for the abolition of censorship and the dismantling of the Central Propaganda Department which the signatories referred to as "the invisible black hand."


In many ways, the Nobel to Liu Xiaobo reopens a debate that had never really drawn to a close. Many of these questions have always existed in a sort of freeze frame as it were, suspended between lived memory and state erasure. Anyone who has followed China's domestic debates knows only too well that there has always been a cyclical pattern, of an expanding and contracting social space. Read thus, Liu's Nobel constitutes an important footnote to a critical period in China's intellectual and political history.


The writer is an associate professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.








Given how hot the market is right now, how investors have few other countries to invest in, how Coal India's $3.5 bn IPO is India's biggest-ever offering, few would bet against the IPO doing well when it opens next week. Apart from the projections that show its price-earnings look reasonable, Coal India has the world's largest reserves—according to a Motilal Oswal presentation, its 21.7 bn tonne reserves are more than triple the next competitor Peabody Energy's 6.8 bn and China Coal's 6.2 bn tonnes. More important, with 90% of its production coming from open cast mines, it has one of the lowest-cost mining operations in the world. Some experts, at Teri for instance, argue that Coal India's reserves are not as high as originally thought—according to this, if production continues to rise at 5% annually, extractable coal reserves will run out by 2040—and, as time goes by, Coal India will have to mine the more difficult areas, which will raise costs. This may well be true, but it also assumes Coal India will not have any major technological breakthroughs and that it will not improve productivity—Coal India's Singrauli has a productivity that's ten times that of the Eastern Coalfields, for instance, so there is scope for improvement.


There are also issues like how the use of coal will get affected due to global warming and the regulatory responses to this, including higher taxes on unclean energy sources. Those taking a punt on Coal India, in the long run, are taking a bet on India solving the problems that beset it. In the last decade, India's crippling power subsidy regime ensured that, on average, Coal India was able to raise coal prices just 5% a year; 71% of Coal India's extractable reserves (and 57% of FY10 production) are in Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, all states affected by Naxal violence; Jairam Ramesh's 'no go' classification covers 44% of Coal India's mining area; the proposal to share profits with locals, should it get enforced, will lop 26% off its bottomline. Mamata Banerjee's Railways are the other big stumbling block, since Coal India is constantly battling against a shortage of wagons—Motilal Oswal estimates the shortage at around a fifth. High railway costs mean it is cheaper to import coal at the ports than to buy it from Coal India … the list goes on. Right now, with India being the flavour of the season, it looks as if Coal India can't go wrong.








The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which

regulate the US equity markets and equity futures markets respectively, have released a hundred page report on the flash crash of May 6, 2010. On the afternoon of May 6, the broad market index in the US dropped by over 5% in the space of less than five minutes only to bounce back in the next five minutes. Then, even as the broad index was recovering, several stocks crashed to near zero. For example, Accenture fell from $30 to $0.01 in the space of seven seconds and then snapped back to the old level within two minutes.


The worst sufferers were retail investors who found their orders executing at absurd prices. A retail sell order (possibly a stop-loss order) might have been triggered when Accenture was trading at $30, but the order might have ended up being executed at $0.01. Some, but not all, of the damage was undone when the exchanges cancelled all trades that were more than 60% away from the pre-crash prices.


The CFTC-SEC report claims that the crash was triggered when a mutual fund sold $4.1 billion worth of index futures contracts very rapidly. The mutual fund's strategy was to sell one contract for every ten contracts being sold by other traders, so that it would account for 9% of all trades during each minute until the entire order was executed. The large order allegedly confused the high frequency traders (HFTs) who having bought from the mutual fund, found themselves holding a hot potato, and then tried to pass the potato around by trading rapidly with each other. The result was a sharp rise in the HFTs' trading volume, and this higher volume fooled the mutual fund's algorithm into selling even faster to maintain the desired 9% participation rate. This set up a vicious circle of sharp price declines.


This story makes for a great movie plot but in an official investigative report, one expects to see evidence. Sadly, the report provides no econometric tests like vector auto regressions or Granger causality tests on tick-by-tick data to substantiate its story. Nor are there any computer simulations (using agent-based models) to show that the popular HFT algorithms would exhibit the alleged behaviour when confronted by a large price-insensitive seller.


Moreover, the data in the report itself casts doubt on the story. More than half of the mutual fund's $4.1 billion trade was executed after prices began to recover. And the report suggests that the hot potato trading was set off by the selling of a mere 3,300 contracts ($180 million notional value). In one of the most liquid futures markets in the world, $180 million is not an outlandishly large trade. Surely, there must have been such episodes in the past and if there is a hot potato effect, it must have been observed. The report is silent on this. Further, the one thing that HFTs are good at is analysing past high frequency data to improve their algorithms. Would they not then have observed the hot potato effect in the past data and modified their algorithms to cope with that? Finally, during the most intense period of the alleged hot potato trading, the HFTs were net buyers and not net sellers. This suggests that perhaps the potato was not so hot after all.


The analysis in the report is even more flawed when it comes to the issue that concerns retail investors most—the carnage of individual stocks that began two or three minutes after the index began its recovery. The report bases its conclusions, on this issue, almost entirely on extensive interviews with the big Wall Street firms—market makers, HFTs and other brokers.


Astonishingly, the regulator did not find it necessary to interview retail investors at all. This is like a policeman investigating a theft without talking to the victim. There is no discussion of whether retail investors were confused, misled or exploited. For example, the report dismisses concerns about delays in the public price dissemination because all the big firms subscribe to premium data services that did not suffer delays. If delayed data led to wrong decisions by retail traders, that apparently is of no concern to the regulators.


In the post-crisis, post-Madoff world, we expect two things from regulatory investigations. First, we expect regulators to have the capability to investigate complex situations using state-of-the-art analytical tools. Second we expect them to carry out an unbiased investigation without giving high-profile regulated firms undue importance.


On both counts, the CFTC-SEC report is disappointing. After five months of effort, they do not seem to have come to grips with the terabytes of data that are available. The analysis does not seem to go beyond presenting an array of impressive graphs. Most importantly, the regulators appear to still be cognitively captured by the big securities firms and are, therefore, reluctant to question current market structures and practices.


The author is a professor of finance at IIM Ahmedabad








Now that it is certain that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) will shortly release two sets of telecom subscriber figures—one that will give an erroneous picture, taking into account the active and inactive customers, and the other that will be more realistic, taking into account only the active users—it's time to change the way our tele-density figure is calculated. In fact, it would be more appropriate to replace tele-density with SIM penetration.


As already revealed by FE, the current tele-density of 59.63 per 100 on a user base of 706.37 million is erroneous. The more realistic number would be 38, using 450 million as the actual user base. Since the higher number is arrived at by including the inactive users (largely products of multiple SIMs), the current thinking is that once the release of the dual sets of figures starts, the real picture would emerge month after month. However, just releasing the two sets of figures will not solve the problem.


The reason is simple. Once the regulator starts releasing the active and inactive user bases each month, it will have to go further and also start providing the break-up of each operator. This is where the problem will start. There are a number of operators that have a larger base of inactive customers, recorded in the home location register (HLR), than active ones, reflected in the visitor location register (VLR). Higher subscriber figures may not get operators more spectrum these days but it still means a lot in terms of headlines and momentary glory. Remember, we still rank operators on the basis of subscribers rather than revenues. So the general tendency to show robustness and success in the crowded telecom market is to flaunt subscriber numbers and monthly additions to them. Since the sheen would be taken out of such boasts once the dual sets of figures are released, there is still a way to beat the system and continue to show inflated numbers. If this persists, the entire exercise by Trai to provide the real picture would fail. Currently, the definition of VLR is quite liberal. Even if a subscriber switches on his/her mobile phone once in a month, it gets registered in the VLR. To beat the new system, operators could start providing fresh connections under new, attractive schemes month after month around the time the VLR is checked. This way they would be able to show higher VLR than HLR, defeating the entire exercise.


So the problem doesn't end with just cleaning the data. Much more needs to be done. Since investors and analysts care more about the profitability of a company than subscriber numbers anyway, the figures come in handy only in informing us about the tele-density i.e., what is the real penetration of telephones in the country. This problem will not get solved by merely releasing the two sets of numbers and, therefore, it makes sense to replace tele-density with SIM penetration.


The current method of computing tele-density is quite outdated. It was formulated in days when most households did not have even one land line phone and the lofty aim of the government was to make one available to every single home. Tele-density was thus calculated by dividing the number of land line phone connections by the population. Later, with the proliferation of mobiles, it was added to land line phones. Today it fails to give the real picture because an urban household has four to five or even more mobile phones. Thus, by the current definition of tele-density, phone penetration is increasing but only among the populace that earlier owned phones. It is not really addressing the digital divide by connecting the unconnected.


The best option for the government is to move to measuring SIM penetration. Since it is known and accepted that around 40-50% of SIMs are multiple SIMs belonging to the same user, the best way would be to take this into account while calculating the penetration. Thus only if SIM penetration is at, say, 150% should we assume that 100% SIM penetration has been achieved. This would certainly provide a much better scenario of connectivity than the current tele-density figures. Aside from this, the SIM penetration figures would also give a better picture to operators and investors in planning future investments.








If politics were an amoral numbers game, the Yeddyurappa government in Karnataka could draw comfort from winning this round. Yet the passage of the confidence motion in the Assembly by a margin of 106 to 100 has come at considerable cost to its legitimacy and moral standing. The result was brought about, in the first place, by a clever but dubious stratagem of getting the 16 dissident legislators disqualified in a hurry on the eve of the vote. That elected representatives from all parties had to be herded into seclusion and placed beyond the reach of poachers from the other camp speaks to the strength of their conviction and party loyalty — and to the magnitude of the blandishments in this high stakes game. The opposition has not covered itself with glory either, using means more foul than fair to wean away the disgruntled MLAs. The flagrant use of money power by both the BJP and the Janata Dal(S), and the unrestrained bargaining for ministerial berths have combined to take Karnataka politics to a new low. Some measure of uncertainty hangs over the government in that the challenge to the disqualification of the 16 legislators is before the Karnataka High Court. Here the case of the five independent MLAs seems to be on a different footing from that of the BJP legislators who gave a letter to the Governor withdrawing support to the government. As the numbers stand, any relief the court may grant to the five independent MLAs cannot overturn the result. In any case, considering the time it normally takes for the final judicial determination of a case of this type, there does not seem to be an immediate threat to the government.


In this episode, Governor H.R. Bhardwaj has functioned in a blatantly partisan manner unbecoming of the high constitutional office. His initial direction to the Speaker to maintain the strength of the house as on October 6 in order to pre-empt the disqualification of the legislators was wholly out of line. If his recommendation after the sham floor test on Monday to impose President's rule was unwarranted, he was quick to retrace his step and ask the Chief Minister to go through another floor test. What was most shocking, however, was his public accusation of the government of corruption in illegal mining, land grabbing, and land de-notification, which was music to opposition ears. His primary function is that of the head of state acting on the advice of the Council of Ministers with whom he must maintain correct, if not close, relations. His intemperate attack, which demonstrates that he has not got out of a partyman's mindset despite elevation to the Raj Bhavan, has made his position as an impartial and fair constitutional functionary untenable.







India consolidated its position at the top of Test cricket with the 2-0 win over Australia — its first clean-sweep against that country in a series spanning two or more matches — and in so doing, confirmed the role reversal in world cricket's most absorbing rivalry. For nearly a decade, India was Australia's counterpoint, the contender who helped define the champion's legacy. But as victories in Mohali and Bangalore showed, the challenger has surpassed the champion — who, it must be noted, has slipped from the world-beating standard it set for so long. Ricky Ponting's side contained perhaps the weakest Australian bowling unit ever to visit India. The tourist's batting was vulnerable to reverse-swing and finger-spin, skills India is adept in. The out-cricket, for which Australia is renowned, repeatedly broke down when pressured by the home side. Vitally, the home side mastered its opponent in the battle of wills, a contest Australia seldom loses.


India's triumph was led by its council of elders but encouragingly, its young cricketers played their part with aplomb when called on. While V.V.S. Laxman saved his side from going one-down at Mohali, playing an innings of high art under extreme pressure, Sachin Tendulkar extended his Bradmanesque sequence of run-making in 2010. Where batsmen normally fade as they age, Tendulkar has got better at 37. This year alone, the great man has scored 1270 Test runs with six centuries (two of which were doubles) at an average of 97.69; consider that earlier this year he also became the first batsman to make an ODI double-hundred and it's clear we're witnessing something very special. Zaheer Khan, India's spearhead, played a decisive part in the series win with his penetration with the new ball and his artfulness with the old. Harbhajan Singh didn't reach the heights expected of a major lead-spinner but managed crucial wickets. Although Pragyan Ojha performed creditably as second spinner, India's bowling remains an area of concern; there wasn't a satisfactory audition for the role of Zaheer's new-ball partner. Suresh Raina, Murali Vijay, and Cheteshwar Pujara offered hope that India's batting transition, when it happens, won't be as painful as initially feared. But they require considerate handling. For Australia, Shane Watson and Ben Hilfenhaus impressed, but it was the heroic Ponting, yet to win a Test in India as captain, who most enhanced his reputation. Most significantly, the sides gave the fans a grand, dramatic Test series, showing the classical format at its many-splendoured best. In fulfilling their pledge to the game at a time of desperate need, they did Test cricket the greatest service possible.










Israel has with rapid speed mounted a ruthless political offensive to dominate its future direct negotiations with Palestinians.  The latest round of talks, which began in September, is about achieving a two-state solution — the emergence of Palestine as a nation-state co-existing with its Israeli neighbour.


But as a result of the recent Israeli moves, the 12-month plan conceived by President Barack Obama, to achieve independent Palestinian statehood — following direct talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas — lies in tatters. In fact, there is now a real danger that the negotiations, which began in Washington with much fanfare, may be on the verge of collapse.


The immediate problem, of course, is Tel Aviv's decision not to extend the expired 10-month construction freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Apart from the West Bank, Israel occupied Gaza and East Jerusalem during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.


Faced with Israel's obduracy and backed by the 22-nation Arab League, the Palestinians have now given the Americans a month's notice to rescue talks by persuading Tel Aviv not to re-start settlement activity in the West Bank. Else, they said, they would have no option other than retracting from the already battered two-state peace process. The Americans have accepted the ultimatum. They are, however, well aware that President Abbas' threats cannot always be taken at their face value.


While the revival of West Bank settlements is the immediate provocation, there is plenty happening within the Israeli political circles that bodes ill for the future of a fruitful dialogue. The crux of the problem lies in two issues.  Israel's fierce fixation with dismissing anything that could even remotely question its Jewish majority status is a key impediment. Its perception of what it would take to safeguard national security is the second major stumbling block. In trying to achieve both objectives — a Jewish majority status in perpetuity and foolproof security — Israel is giving the Palestinians very little which they can sell to their domestic audience as a fair deal.  As a result, the peace talks — which, in any case, had to traverse a web of minefields — are in deep trouble, though not quite dead as yet.


What is happening in Israel that offends Palestinians so much? For starters, they are deeply troubled by its assertion that it does not want within its borders Palestinians, in numbers that are large enough to challenge its Jewish majority status. The Israelis argue that there could be a huge influx into the country if an agreement on the "right of return" is reached with the Palestinians. This would mean allowing those Palestinians displaced during the 1948 and 1967 wars the right to return to their homes in Israel. The war-displaced Palestinians can be found all over the world, but a large number reside in shabby refugee settlements in West Asia, especially Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.


Because of Isreael's paranoia over demographics, and also to keep the ultra-right flock together, Prime Minister Netanyahu has announced that he would be inclined to meet the demand to freeze West Bank settlements for a longer period, provided the Palestinians formally recognise Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. The Palestinians obviously have not taken the bait for, recognising Israel as a Jewish state would, in effect, mean relinquishing the right of around four million Palestinians to return to their homeland. On the contrary, they have stressed that the freeze over the settlements cannot be linked with any other issue. The former Palestinian Foreign Minister, Nabil Shaath, has, in fact, asserted that Israel should not only halt settlements in the occupied West Bank but also extend the moratorium to East Jerusalem as well. The Palestinians view East Jerusalem as their future capital. However, Israel did not cover this area under its 10-month settlement freeze, which expired in late September.


In recent weeks, there have been several indications of the Israelis considering removal from their territory a large number of Palestinians who have acquired Israeli nationality in order to preserve their country's Jewish majority status. The mercurial Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman's recent address at the United Nations was the first major indication that Israel was looking seriously at this possibility. He shocked many when he officially proposed that a population-territory swap be part of a final Israeli peace deal with the Palestinians. Under his plan, part of the Palestinian Arab population should be shifted to the future Palestinian state. In exchange, Israelis who vacate their settlements as part of the peace deal should be brought inside Israel, thus reinforcing the country's Jewish character.


As resentment mounted against Mr. Lieberman's proposals, which would inevitably involve extensive displacement and migration of people from their homes, an apparently embarrassed Mr. Netanyahu distanced himself from his Foreign Minister's remarks. Nevertheless, subsequent developments in Israel suggest that the idea of an Arab and Israeli population-territory swap has not been abandoned. In fact, the Netanyahu administration may be actively preparing to implement some of the measures, which were part of Mr. Lieberman's acerbic narrative.  


The Israel Prisons Service, for instance, carried out a mock exercise in early October to detain a large number of Arabs following staged riots. According to Israel Radio, the drill was undertaken under the assumption that civil disturbances erupted following a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians over population swaps. Another aspect of this exercise was to arrest and send to prison people on board aid ships, thwarted by the Israeli forces in their bid to reach the Palestinians on the Gaza coastline. Obviously, the Israelis are preparing for more Mavi Marmara-type incidents. The deck of the Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship became a battleground for Israeli commandos and pro-Palestinian activists on May 31.


Alarmed at the conduct of this exercise, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) has written to Mr. Netanyahu, seeking his clarification on whether transfers of Israeli Arab citizens to the Palestinian Authority is part of a peace agreement that has already been discussed, or whether it is on the agenda of future talks. "The holding of such a drill testifies to the fact that thoughts of transfer, called by such names as the exchange of territories or the exchange of populations, are not merely an election slogan or the personal fantasy of certain politicians and ministers but a subject for discussion on the agenda of the government and of those who are behind holding the exercise in this form," ACRI wrote.


The Israeli Arabs, too, appear to be in the line of fire yet again as Israel recently adopted fresh measures to reinforce its Jewish national identity. Under the proposed amendment to the citizenship law, which the cabinet has passed, it would be imperative on non-Jewish immigrants to pledge under oath their loyalty to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. The liberal Israeli daily Haaretz slammed the bill in its editorial as "discriminatory and exclusionary."


Israel's sweeping proposals to keep out security threats emerging from its eastern borders have also upset the Palestinians greatly. Israel wants to establish an extensive security presence in the Jordan valley, a thinly populated stretch of barren land, which has the town of Jericho as its famous landmark. Its security experts have argued that Israel needs to dominate the area in order to stop weapon smuggling and infiltration by terrorists from neighbouring Jordan. Israeli vigilance is also perceived as necessary to prevent missile launches that could target Israeli mainland, including Jerusalem which is not too far away, from this area. Besides, Israel fears that terrorists, armed with anti-aircraft weaponry, can target its airliners overflying this area.


The Palestinians, on the other hand, consider the Jordan valley an area of prime importance to a future Palestinian state. Given its thin population profile, the area would be ideal for building new cities and settling a large number of Palestinians who are expected to return to their homeland once it is reborn.  Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has already broken ground for an agro-industrial Park south of Jericho, and aired his ambition to turn this hot wind-swept area, steeped in its Biblical past, into a major industrial hub. Resenting the proposed Israeli military deployments in the Jordan valley, but responding positively to Israel's perceived security threat, President Abbas has offered to host NATO forces there once independence is achieved.


Israel's refusal to extend the settlement freeze has deeply embarrassed President Obama, who has publicly exhorted it to stall West Bank construction for some more time. But with the Netanyahu administration refusing to budge from its maximalist positions, and President Obama unwilling to exercise Washington's leverage over Israel to force it to change course, a rare opportunity for a meaningful and fair dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians may once again rapidly slip from grasp.









With the mercury rising all around the United States as the November Congressional elections approach, it is the political drama of states that will dominate the attention of voters, pundits and the contestants themselves.


Yet even within the states, November will be about much more than just the fight for the House of Representatives and Senate — it will also be about battles for 38 state and territorial governorships, four territorial legislatures and numerous state legislature and local races.


While every one of these races will be decided by different local communities, in the state of Maryland it may well be a community of professionals and industrialists that turns the tide — Indian-Americans.


Maryland as a state has been staunchly Democratic for most of its history, even dating back to the Civil War years. Within the state, politics has been dominated by three main areas — Baltimore and the suburbs of Washington, DC; Montgomery County; and Prince George's County — all three mostly voting Democrat. Other parts of Maryland, such as Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore, have usually sided with Republicans.


Yet the Indian-Americans, and their gubernatorial candidate Robert Ehrlich, are betting on red over blue. And it may well be a strong bet given the deep disenchantment with the economy and unemployment. While Maryland is not haemorrhaging jobs like some other states — in fact there was a net addition to jobs between March and June — the situation is still bleak for many.


Ehrlich's Indian connection


But for Mr. Ehrlich his connection to the Indian-American community is about more than economics and elections. "It is personal," he says, and he's not exaggerating. As the first Republican Governor of Maryland in four decades Mr. Ehrlich hired Indian-American Dilip Paliath as Chief Counsel for his Office of Crime Control and Prevention.


While he lost the 2006 gubernatorial race to Democrat and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley by a margin of 53 per cent to 46 per cent he has since built more bonds with the community and now firmly believes that the entrepreneurial nature of the Indian Americans and the success they have had in their ventures is a "natural marriage with my philosophical orientation." He added that the community consisted of a lot of professionals and a lot of business people, "people that have lived the American dream."


There is more to the relationship than abstract values, however, and Mr. Ehrlich was also a key force behind the creation of a trade office in Bangalore, which was later closed under the Democratic state administration. Not missing the irony in the fact that Washington Democrats and the White House have actually been pressing to stop jobs getting "Bangalored," Mr. Ehrlich said that he had every intention to reopen the office and it would facilitate "getting mutual trade agreements."


"Mutual," is the key word, and Mr. Ehrlich said that it was India's with its thriving markets, democracy and growing wealth that were the main reasons for his ambition to build and take advantage of ties with the country. He argued, "If we can bring jobs to Maryland through a trade office, then why not?"


'A tough state for Republicans'


But given that Maryland has been a virtual bastion of Democratic heavyweights, such as House Majority leader Steny Hoyer, the success of Mr. Ehrlich and his Indian-American support base is by no means guaranteed.


Mr. Ehrlich admitted, "It is a tough state for Republicans," adding however that his party was well positioned and expected to win. If the dream comes true in November then the priority again will be jobs. Mr. Ehrlich said, "A couple of big business deals, corporate headquarters — maybe even of an Indian company. With the Indian corporate sector fuming over a bill passed in Congress — which hiked visa fees for Indian firms with U.S. operations by $2,000 or more — the strategy of gubernatorial hopefuls such as Mr. Ehrlich may be heartily welcomed by Indian industry.


Mr. Ehrlich however would take it a step further. According to him one reason behind the "impetus from the Indian-American community towards the Republican Party" was that the rhetoric and voting record of the Senate, combined with the platform and policies of the Obama government, suggested that the current federal administration was protectionist.


Mr. Ehrlich said that Democrats in the U.S. today believed in the heavy hand of government as exemplified repeatedly by their regulatory policies. Indian-Americans, contrarily, were "capitalists and free-traders" and so they were being driven towards the Republican Party, he added.


The other deep concern for the former Governor is deficits, in particular Maryland's projected "$1.6bn deficit over next fiscal year." Lamenting the spending binge in Washington and in Annapolis, Maryland's capital, Mr. Ehrlich is a strong votary for "getting Maryland off its stimulus addiction."


In the context of the federal stimulus plan he said that if the Obama government had offered Maryland money

for a bridge or a tunnel to be built that would help get some people back to work based on a one-time expenditure. "But when they say they are going to cover your bandage this year and next year and then they are going to stop but we can keep increasing our spending you are just asking for long-term trouble," he said.


Strength lies in technology


And Maryland will bounce back, Mr. Ehrlich insisted, highlighting in particular its inherent strength in higher technology sectors such as nanotechnology and biotechnology, and also an IT presence and traditional manufacturing for higher technology.


It is after all home to a host of agencies involved in cutting edge research and development including the Johns Hopkins University, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Institute of Mental Health, the federal Food and Drug Administration, the Celera Genomics company and, rather famously, the J. Craig Venter Institute.


However Mr. Ehrlich cautioned, "We have this undergirding of federal expenditures that does help prime our pump but it makes Annapolis lazy and we tend to do anti-business things as a result of federal spending being here."









Defying grim predictions about how they would fare after two months trapped underground, many of the Chilean miners came bounding out of their rescue capsule on October 13 as pictures of energy and health, able not only to walk but, in one case, to leap around, hug everyone in sight and lead cheers.


The miners' apparent robustness was testimony to the rescue diet threaded down to them through the tiny borehole that reached them August 23 but also to the way they organised themselves to keep their environment clean, find water and get exercise. Another factor was the excellent medical care they received from Chilean doctors ministering to them through tubes leading 2,300 feet into the earth.


Late on October 13, with all of the miners above ground, Chile's health minister, Jaime Manalich, said that one miner had acute pneumonia but was improving with antibiotics, and that two others needed dental surgery. At the moment, he added, the rest seemed to be in "more than satisfactory" condition.


Indeed, the 27th miner to be rescued, Franklin Lobos, is a former Chilean soccer star who juggled a soccer ball on his foot moments after emerging from the capsule.




While many details of the miners' health care and living conditions have been reported, misconceptions and misinformation persisted as the ordeal continued and as the public's fascination with their deprivation increased. In recent days, some television and newspaper commentators had speculated that the men would develop the bends on the way up, or suffer heart attacks or blood clots. Some people said that their muscles would have atrophied, that they could have serious skin funguses, vitamin deficiencies and rotted teeth and be blinded by the daylight. None of those predictions came true and some bordered on the absurd.


"The bends?" said Dr. J.D. Polk, chief of space medicine for the Johnson Space Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), whom the Chilean health authorities consulted. "The miners were at sea level. The mine entrance is at 2,400 feet. They were no more at risk of getting the bends than you are going up to the 15th floor in your building."


The men kept themselves fit and received excellent medical care. And they were not confined to the "rescue chamber," the size of a Manhattan studio apartment. "They had the run of the mine," said Jeffery H. Kravitz, acting director for technical support at the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. With half a mile of tunnels open, he said, "they had places to exercise and to use for waste."


One miner ran several miles a day.


"They even had a sort of waterfall they could take a shower under," Kravitz said. "They requested shampoo and shaved for their families."


Also, fresh air was pumped in, so asphyxiation was never a danger. While coal mines can fill with methane gas, the San Jose operation was a copper and gold mine. The air was nearly 90° and humid, but it contained about 20 per cent oxygen, like outside air. The men dug three wells and had potable water.


Doctors from NASA and Chilean navy officers with experience in submarines were consulted on the strains of prolonged confinement. Alberto Iturra, a psychologist, talked to the miners.


In danger, initially


Just after the miners were discovered alive, they were in danger, Polk said. They had survived for 17 days on just two spoonfuls of tuna, a cup of milk, one cracker and a bit of a peach topping every other day. Their digestive and insulin systems had nearly shut down, and they were breaking down their own fat and muscle tissue.


People on starvation diets can be killed by eating carbohydrates too quickly; as the body struggles to make insulin in response, it can upset the electrolyte balance, stopping the heart. "We learned that the hard way in World War II, giving candy bars to prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates," Polk said.


Urine test strips were sent down the tube, allowing Yonny Barrios, a miner with paramedic training, to report that about half the miners were dehydrated and spilling ketones and myoglobin proteins into their urine, a sign that their muscles were breaking down, from starvation and, possibly, from sleeping on hot rocks.


They were told to nearly double the amount of water they drank. Liquid gels with protein and vitamins were sent down the three-inch tube in packets known as "passenger pigeons."


Slowly, day by day, their calories were increased to normal levels.


By Chilean Independence Day, September 18, they were fully recovered and getting celebratory empanadas (baked as cylinders to fit down the tube), barbecued steak (cut into strips) and fresh papaya. Their request for wine was declined. They got cola.


(More recently, they had to be monitored to make sure they would fit in the rescue capsule, 26 inches in diameter.)


Eventually, all sorts of comfort goods were going down three narrow tubes: dismantled camp beds, clean clothes, letters, movies, dominoes, tiny Bibles, toothbrushes, skin creams. The smokers were first allowed only gum and nicotine patches, but doctors eventually relented and let 40 cigarettes a day go down.


Barrios also took blood pressure readings, sent up urine and blood samples and gave shots against tetanus, pneumonia, meningitis and flu.


Mario Gomez, 63, the oldest trapped miner, had silicosis a respiratory disease caused by breathing rock dust and was helped by inhalers, although he eventually developed pneumonia. Another miner with diabetes received insulin.


Small fluorescent lights were sent down early in their ordeal and a circadian rhythm was kept up, with a red light at night-time.


The rumour about the bends, Kravitz said, could have arisen from the 2002 Quecreek mine rescue in Pennsylvania, in which pressurised air was pumped into a flooding coal mine to hold back water. Ten compression chambers were set up in case any miner got the bends, but none did. The bends, or decompression sickness, is a threat to scuba divers who surface too quickly; nitrogen that dissolved into their blood comes out and collects as bubbles in their joints and small blood vessels, causing pain and, in extreme cases, death.


All the miners came out of the capsules in expensive dark glasses donated by Oakley to protect them from the sun, but the main health effect they all shared was very pale skin from being in the dark so long. (Liz Robbins contributed reporting.) — © New York Times News Service









Michelle Obama hit the campaign trail on October 13 for the first time since the 2008 White House race in an effort to help Democrats facing defeat in next month's midterm election.


The first lady remains highly popular, with approval ratings of almost 70 per cent, in contrast with the president, whose ratings have plummeted to the mid-40s.


The Democrats stand to lose control of the House of Representatives and see their majority in the Senate cut to a small margin, or even lost, according to polls.


Michelle Obama's campaigning poses a dilemma for the Republicans, seeing danger in criticising someone with such high ratings but at the same time keen to exploit her vulnerabilities, such as an expensive holiday she took in Spain this year.


The Tennessee Republican party earlier this year produced a four-minute video rehashing the first lady's remark at a rally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in February 2008 in which she said that her husband's campaign made her proud for the first time in her life to be an American. It showed several Tennesseans saying why they have long been proud to be American.


Sticks to a plan


The first lady opted to return to Milwaukee in a first stop of a campaign that will take her across the U.S. over coming weeks. She told those at a fundraising event for Democrats: "This is not something I do very often. In fact, I haven't really done it since a little campaign you might remember a couple of years ago." In her speech she stuck to a plan devised by the White House in which she would talk up the record of the president and the Democrats and offer oblique warnings about the social consequences of the Republicans gaining control of Congress. But she avoided the kind of full-frontal attack on the Republicans that would allow them to respond in kind.


She spoke mainly about safe issues, making much of her role as a mother. "As a self-described mom in chief, my first priority in the White House has been making sure that my girls are happy and healthy and adjusting to this new life," she said. But she said she was aware of the worries facing mothers and children across the U.S. in the face of high unemployment.


She acknowledged the disappointment some have felt with her husband's presidency. "I know that for a lot of folks change hasn't come fast enough. It hasn't come fast enough for Barack ... either. Not when so many folks are still looking for work ... struggling to pay the bills ... and worrying about providing for their kids.


"I think that many of us came into this expecting to see all the change we talked about happen all at once, right away ... but the truth is, it's going to take a lot longer to dig ourselves out of this hole than any of us would like." The event was for the Democratic senator Russ Feingold, who is trailing in the polls by six per cent.


The White House has been inundated with requests from struggling Democrats for a visit from the first lady.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








In a country where mining tragedies are common, there was jubilation on October 13 at a rescue operation that lifted 33 miners to safety after a lengthy ordeal in Chile. And there was a sense that China was not just sympathetic but had contributed something.


The Chinese state-run news media reported earlier in the week that the rescue effort was being aided by parts from a Chinese-made crane, the SCC4000 crawler. According to the Chinese media, the parts were manufactured by the Shanghai Sany Group.


But even before those details were known, the rescue operation had received widespread news coverage in the Chinese media and was lauded as heroic and courageous.


So when the crane went into operation early on October 13 Beijing time, the official Xinhua News Agency released photo after photo of the rescue efforts. News headlines about the operation were sent to mobile phones and posted on Chinese websites. And Chinese netizens commented on what they called a "heart-warming" story.


Guan Yanping, a poet and blogger, wrote: "That Chilean mine accident, as a matter of fact, has nothing to do with me. But because I'm reading about their news every day, I now feel as if my family were also trapped underground."


Xinhua called the rescue "a miracle" and People's Daily, the Communist Party newspaper, boasted "a heavy crane employed on the scene was made in China."


China knows the dangers of mining. Every year, more than 1,500 workers die in mining accidents here, among the highest fatality rates in the world.


China is heavily dependent on coal for energy production and so most mining fatalities occur in coal mines.


Similar rescue in China


Last April, the Chinese media broadcast its own dramatic rescue effort after about 140 men were believed killed when a coal mine in north China was flooded with millions of gallons of water. A week later, a rescue team lifted about 115 men to safety. The rescue effort made for great television and propaganda for the state.


Many other efforts in China end tragically, and occasionally the government is accused of delaying announcement of mining accidents, censoring the news or failing to punish the regulators overseeing the mines.


Guan, the poet and blogger, wrote a few lines of verse about Chile's rescue on the Web, ending:


"What the government of Chile did warms our hearts. They didn't suppress the truth, They didn't secretly pay anyone money, They don't make irresponsible statements, They don't forgive those who should be responsible for it; And they don't laud themselves with cliches." — © New York Times News Service








"Interlocutors" is a rather ponderous name given by the government to the group of three prominent civil society individuals it has zeroed in on to take a year to hear voices from below in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, filter these with sagacity, and forward the essence to the government for policymaking purposes. This group of three — to which a fourth may be added — apparently won't be negotiators between the government and different sections of opinion in the troubled state. Their role is more akin to that of accredited journalists, except that the correspondents in question will be reporting to the government, not to independent news platforms that disseminate information to the public. In the event, it is hard to see the concrete nature of the work expected from the three individuals, other than star-gazing. Bereft as they will be of any authority, it is hard to see any serious players, particularly those in the Valley who routinely hobnob with folk on the other side in Pakistan, confiding to our interlocutors. The Kashmiris are a sceptical lot at the best of times, and at all times a deeply motivated lot, in political terms. The Mirwaiz, who is thought to be a moderate Hurriyat leader, and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the highest ranking pro-Pakistan leader of Kashmir, have already gone on record about their absence of confidence in the interlocutors named.

This does not, however, mean that the interlocutors cannot earn the respect of those they communicate with. Much will depend on their grasp of the situation and sensitivity. The belief they need to firmly adhere to is that they are not diplomats, not politicians, not intelligence officers. They will be plain carriers of goodwill. That is an excruciating burden to carry without the expectation of concrete results. Senior journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, who is in a sense the chairman of the group, has done well to publicly suggest that he will look to the future and not be bogged down by obstacles placed by history in approaching his task. This does ease some of the burden, although the interlocutors must at all times remain intimated that the Kashmiris they will interact with will take no responsibility whatever for the dialogue they will be embarking on. The way they look at life is: their role is to make demands, it is the role of others to fulfil them or stand condemned.

The idea of getting together interlocutors to carry out continual dialogue with the people of Kashmir to put an end to the recent mistrust and violence emanated from the recent visit of members of Parliament to Kashmir last month. It was widely expected that it would be a group of politicians who would fit the bill. To that extent, picking up non-politicians comes as a complete surprise. The three chosen might have a political "persona", as Union home minister P. Chidambaram has gratuitously remarked, but clearly they lack the skills that politicians innately and instinctively bring to their difficult job. Some would simply argue that non-politicians, even the most eminent of them, are the wrong sort to be interlocutors in the treacherous political terrain of J&K. In that sense, the chosen three may have been just thrown to the wolves for the simple reason that any politician of stature simply wouldn't accept the assignment on account of its hazardous — possibly thankless — nature. If that is the case, the government may have been obliged to name the three individuals, who undoubtedly have an independent track record, for the sake of not losing the momentum generated after the visit of the MPs to Kashmir.








It has been a cliché for some time now that India lives in a tough neighbourhood. The evidence for that, over the years, has been plentiful. Just two years ago, the picture in South Asia was bleak: Pakistan in turmoil, with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and chaos in the streets; Bangladesh under military rule; Nepal and Sri Lanka convulsed by civil war; Bhutan managing a delicate transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional democracy; Afghanistan battling the forces of a resurgent Taliban; and even the Maldives facing mass disturbances in the lead-up to elections. The cliché could not have seemed truer.

And yet, we can now point to how much has begun to change for the better in our neighbourhood. In the last year and a half, there has been progress almost everywhere. Bangladesh has held a free election and restored civilian democratic government (with a moderate secular party in power). Nepal's civil war is over and a coalition government holds the reins. In Sri Lanka, the military victory over the murderous forces of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was followed by elections that consolidated the government's ability to deliver on its promises. Bhutan's political experiment is going remarkably well. The Maldives has elected a former dissident as President and he is bravely facing his country's many challenges. Only in Afghanistan and Pakistan do fundamental difficulties persist. The prospects for peace, security and development look promising everywhere else on the subcontinent.

Large parts of South Asia have made great progress — economically, socially and politically — over the last few decades. Yet, there are a number of challenges that continue to beset the region, that hold back the true potential of our countries, individually as well as collectively. These include terrorism and extremism, and the use of these as instruments of state policy; and the daily terror of hunger, unemployment, illiteracy, disease and the effects of climate change. And less obvious but equally potent, restrictions on regional trade and transit that belong to an older, more mercantilist century. These are among the factors that drag our people back from the path of sustained peace, development and prosperity.

Our region has been blessed with an abundance of natural and human resources, a rich spiritual and civilisational heritage, a demography where youth is preponderant and a creative zeal manifest in all spheres of human endeavour. Our collective identity may be rooted in a turbulent history but the challenge is to translate the many factors that bind us into a self-sustaining, mutually beneficial and cooperative partnership that transcends the vicissitudes of the recent past. The people of South Asia have already made their choice and the spirit of an organisation like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) embodies their aspirations. But it would be insincere to pretend that Saarc has even come close to what it should be.
The Government of India, from our Prime Minister on down, has a strategic vision of a peaceful subcontinent. We genuinely believe that the peace, prosperity and security of our neighbours is in our interest. Unlike some, India has never believed in undermining or destabilising other countries; we believe that each of us deserves an equal chance to attend to the needs of our people without being distracted by hostility from any of our neighbours. Where we have disagreements, we will never abandon the path of dialogue and reconciliation. We are resolute in our commitment for peace as we are firm in defending our country.

India desires friendly, good neighbourly and cooperative relations with all its neighbours. As by far the biggest country in the subcontinent (in size, population and gross domestic product terms), we are often wrongly perceived as throwing our weight around and rightly expected to show magnanimity in our dealings with our smaller neighbours. This we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future. However, while it is not our expectation that our neighbours display an equal measure of reciprocity, we certainly expect that they remain sensitive to our concerns regarding our sovereignty, our territorial integrity and our security. We do not think this is an unreasonable expectation. Within this framework a great deal can be achieved to our mutual benefit. People to people contacts, intra and inter-regional connectivity, cultural exchanges, trade, investment flows and integrated approaches to issues like water, food, health, education and climate change will define any future architecture for the region.

The scourge of terrorism has cast its malevolent influence across the region and remains a major threat to all of us. It is a global menace, the epicentre of which is unfortunately located in our region. This threat needs to be addressed purposively and with grim determination. Terrorism must be repudiated, and terrorists and those who provide them succour and sustenance must be tackled resolutely. There are no "good terrorists", and those who strike Faustian bargains with such elements are often left to rue the consequences for their own countries.
As British Prime Minister David Cameron recently declared, countries need to eschew the temptation to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy or to selectively target only those terrorist entities that are at present perceived to be a threat to them. This is a short-sighted and self-destructive strategy as those elements that profess an ideology of hatred, intolerance and terror often bite the hand that feeds them. The famous fable of Dr Frankenstein offers a salutary and timeless reminder that those who create monsters must not assume they will always remain under their creator's control.

India must refuse to be dragged down by such forces. We need to look to the future, to an interrelated future on the subcontinent where geography becomes an instrument of opportunity in our mutual growth story, where history binds rather than divides, where trade and cross-border links flourish and bring prosperity to all our peoples. Some will say these are merely dreams; yet there are few worthwhile achievements in the world that have not been preceded by ambitious aspirations. But dreams will only turn into reality if all of us — India and its neighbours — take action to accomplish this brighter future together.


Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency








Icons are not new to conservation. But the recent 2010 report of the Elephant Task Force argued that the Asian elephant could serve as an icon of a new kind. It would, if made the national heritage animal, bridge those who valued it as a cultural symbol and others for whom it was an emblem of the vanishing wild.

The task of saving India's wild elephants is symbolic of the wider challenge of living at peace with nature. No species better symbolises our cultures and it is no accident that a tusker was the symbol of that historic body, the Constituent Assembly of India. No large animal perhaps has such a major presence across India's diverse ecosystems as this keystone species.

But knowledge of its biology may not be enough to protect the elephant. Economic growth puts pressure on the 110,000 square kilometres of elephant habitat that is still intact. Ivory poachers target the males for tusks and some populations, in fact, have one male to a 100 females.

To protect the gajah we need to address the societal, cultural dimensions of the conflict. As chairman of a 12-member Task Force on gajah from February to August this year, it was good to know how much positive energy this country has to attain these goals.

The Elephant Task Force, therefore, suggested and government has accepted that the Asian elephant be declared National Heritage Animal.

It is possible to have an India where elephants live securely in the wild. It does not yet face a crisis of extinction like the tiger does. But to give a sharp focus for better planning to secure habitat and species, India needs a National Elephant Conservation Authority like the one for the tiger.

The 32 elephant reserves may not need expansion but they need to be protected better. To do this requires fresh recruitment of guards and watchers, preferably local youth from the adivasi communities.

Equally so, the assessment of numbers and habitats is best done by qualified biologist-led teams of trained personnel. Mere total counts are of little use. It is vital to know the gender ratio to assess if poachers are succeeding or not. Equally so the age clusters, to know if the populations are breeding well. A consortium of research scholars and institutes will, if set up, draw on the best of science to aid efforts.

It is critical to address human conflicts with elephants. Four-hundred people die and 100 elephants are killed in conflict over crops. Higher ex-gratia payments are a must and taluka- or tehsil-level hearings must be held twice in the crop cycle to settle claims.

India is also home to 3,500 captive elephants. We have ancient traditions of care, including the Gajashastra. Scientists, including those in India, have thrown new light on the intelligence and emotional capabilities of elephants and their complex social relationships.

Just as hunting was outlawed, eventually, though not right now, catching elephants has to be re-thought. Those already in human captivity must get the best care. For this, mahouts and vets — neither of whom have good service conditions — need a better deal.

Forest protection has helped halt spread of the plough and tractor. Protected areas provided habitats that were intact, like Corbett or Kaziranga parks. The levels of poaching for ivory are less than the peak of the late-1990s. The regard for these huge neighbours by rural people have also helped its survival.

But there is no reason for complacency. Infrastructure projects if not planned or located with care can destroy forest habitat, while local pressures can degrade them. Corridors that connect viable populations have to remain intact. Or else elephant populations will get cut off and inbred.

The report argues: "The best of our science and our democratic institutions have to mesh together and solve real life problems and crises".

An India without elephants is possible but surely not desirable. And an India with elephants living in safety brings many advantages.

The elephant can be emblem of a new equation with the forest. Its forest home can be a living library at a time when we need to know more about climate change and hydrology.

Given will and wisdom, India can give Asia a new lead. India can help bring together the 50 countries in Africa and Asia where elephants are found in the wild. Asia in particular can see the "Look East" policy and make it a symbol for peaceful collaboration.

This has a practical dimension. Nepal and India can cooperate to protect the Terai. Bangladesh and Meghalaya have elephants that cross borders. Bhutan and India already have the Manas Park that straddles the international frontier.

Security for the gajah is about our own ecological future. It can help craft a new approach to conservation. In bringing gajah and the prajah on one platform, we can shift our systems of conservation from urban roots to one with roots in our society at large.

To make villagers partners means that village and mofussil children must be the focus of nature education. It calls for speedy relief and viable protection of those who incur serious loss due to crop damage. The number is estimated at over half-a-million families across India.

A new beginning with not just more funds, but quality science and participation are a must. It is in this reorientation of the way government, knowledge and citizens work in unison that we will face an uphill task.
Will India save the species and in doing so map a new course? The future lies open. Can we possibly succeed? The challenges are immense. Yes, we can accomplish the task but will we? The future of the elephant hinges — and our own ecological security hinges too, on the efficacy of our response.


Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmental historian and most recently was chairman of the Elephant Task Force








I have been a firm believer in the theory that nothing sells as much as sex. Be it a newspaper, a magazine or a website, people like to read a good sex story. And I have numbers to prove my point. Let me explain.
A friend and I have a blog, Asian Window, where we post links to stories about South Asia. The topics range from books to business, economy to entertainment, terrorism to travel and technology. In short, if we find something interesting about this part of the world, or spot a trend, we put it up on our blog.

Over the years we have built a fairly loyal readership — or viewership — and get on an average 800 views per day. The readership follows a certain pattern. If there is a major developing news story — a general election, the Mumbai terrorist attack, Sri Lanka's civil war, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto — the number shoots up. The recent Ayodhya verdict was a huge draw and the traffic — the number of viewers visiting the blog — nearly doubled that week.

Then there are the one-off articles that attract readers: these could be an essay or an analysis piece by a well-known writer, profile of a Bollywood star, an interesting video or a shocking crime. What, however, always, always works (by that I mean attracts visitors to the blog) is stories on sex.

In the summer of 2008 some newspapers published stories about an Indian cartoon pornographic website called "Savita Bhabhi — The Sexual Adventures of a Hot Indian Bhabhi". The online porno strip — India's first, we were told — was attracting tens of thousands of Internet viewers. We thought it was an interesting "trends" item and posted it on our blog. It turned out to be an instant hit. So we followed it up with links to interviews with the creators of the cartoon strip, a serious essay on why people visit pornographic websites, and the government's ban of the website.

It's been almost two years since we posted the first news item about the strip but even today we get at least 15, often more, viewers who come to our blog to read about the "sexy housewife porn site". For a long time it was in our top five list of popular stories, running neck-and-neck with a story headlined Oops, we did it again about wardrobe malfunction at a fashion show in Delhi.

Before you get the impression that I am running a dirty little blog under the guise of a respectable name, please do check it out for yourself. Our recent big ticket stories — the ones that got the maximum traffic — include an article on India vs China, a comment on Pakistan, an analysis of Brics (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and a story on a lottery king. But yes, the "sexy Indian housewife" has been a major attraction with our readers/viewers, a perennial bestseller.

I say "has been" because in September this year, a medical couple in Hyderabad claimed that they have developed the definitive cure for baldness. They said their invention — they call it "QR 678" — could "arrest the most stubborn cases of hair fall". They had it tested in the research labs of the Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai and Apollo Hospital in Hyderabad, and claim that it works.

The story was on the front page of a leading newspaper. I picked it up for our blog and headlined it QR 678 — the definitive cure for baldness? The response was pure magic: In two days it had pushed the sexy housewife to the number two slot, demolishing my theory that nothing sells as much as sex.

Baldness is an issue that affects most men at a certain age. I can say this from my personal experience. Some try products that claim to cure baldness or arrest hair-fall, while others learn to live with baldness gracefully.
I have looked high and low for an answer as to why some people are so obsessed with their hair loss. I have trawled the Net and used many word combinations for my Google search: baldness and sex appeal, baldness insecurity, and if bald is in why worry about hair loss? I found many links but none makes sense.

I stumbled upon celebrities (Andre Agassi and Ben Kingsley, and Sean Connery is almost there) who seem to make baldness into a fashion statement. I think a bald Persis Khambatta looked terrific in the old Star Trek; and Sigourney Weaver was positively lethal in Alien. And then there was Natalie Portman who shaved off her head for her role in V for Vendetta, and later said: "It was nice to shed that level of vanity".
It's been a month since I posted the baldness cure story and it's still getting three times more traffic than the saga of Savita Bhabhi.


Clearly, there's something that sells more than sex.


Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at









A miracle rescue


Congratulations to the Chilean government and other agencies involved in the rescue of the 33 miners who have been trapped in the mines for over 68 days ('Dramatic endgame nears for 33 trapped Chilean miners', DNA, October 13). It is fantastic that the workers were reunited with their families. The miners too, should be applauded for surviving for 700 metres below the ground, in rough conditions. This is the strength of the human spirit. It just shows that an indomitable human will and technology can achieve the impossible, when fused together constructively.

— Rajendra K Aneja, Dubai

It is an insult

Apropos 'Karnataka's farce is India's sorrow', (DNA, October 12), there may be a thin majority for the confidence vote but the speaker in Karnataka assembly disallowed the defecting MLAs using anti-defection law to cast their votes in trust motion to save the government. Unfortunately, governor HR Bhardwaj has recommended President's rule. Bhardwaj asking the CM to repeat trust motion was unnecessary.He is acting like a Congress party representative and misusing the governor's position to destabilise the BJP government.

— Achyut Railkar, Mumbai


This refers to 'BS Yeddyurappa faces another floor test in Karnataka', (DNA, October 13). It is a shame that the governor of the state, a Congress nominee, has been so openly biased against the BJP government. Refusing to accept the results of the confidence vote taken on the floor of the house, he first recommended President's rule in the state. Then he asked for a second trust vote. By this action, he has brought

disgrace to his office.

— Vijay Mohan, Chennai

Uncharitable behaviour

After the unfortunate scissor attack incident at the Gyan Kendra school in Andheri, the school authorities averred that the incident happened during the recess and thus they were not responsible for it ('Parents upset over school's indifference', DNA, October 13). The recess is an integral part of the school and the students enjoy it within the school premises; how can the school authorities be so callous as to shirk their responsibility? Such indifference is reprehensible.

—KP Rajan, Mumbai







Clerics in all religions appear to be inevitable bugbears. They seem to have strange, outdated notions. At times, harmless oddities, at others, it is spleen and nothing more.


So, after an American Christian evangelist threatened to burn the Koran, now comes another puritanical American priest who says that Christian beliefs and the practice of yoga are incompatible.


A theological quirk? It is so, but his self-assured views are enough to raise genuine doubts among devout Christians who practice yoga whether they are stepping out of the line on faith.


Despite its strong link to Indic cultures, yoga has proved to be a tonic for the body and mind and it need not have spiritual or religious strings attached.


That is why it has become a popular mode for stressed out modern folk without committed religious beliefs. No one would have imagined that there could be any contradiction between physical and mental calisthenics — which is what modern yoga has become — and religious beliefs.


Most Christians will probably get back to their yoga routines even as they ponder over the priest's protestations.







It is hardly surprising that Opposition and separatist leaders in Jammu & Kashmir have objected to the three non-politicians picked by the Centre as interlocutors.


Both hardliners and moderates have dismissed the three — information commissioner MM Ansari, conflict resolution expert Radha Kumar and senior journalist Dileep Padgaonkar — as people who won't be able to understand the sensitivities of the Kashmiris.


This accusation may be true since these sensitivities have been hard to determine or define for the last 60 years.


Leaving aside the churlishness on the separatists' side, the government's move is intriguing. Over the last few months, after the initial euphoria of a successful assembly election died down, Kashmir has been on the boil.


Deaths of protestors at the hands of security forces exacerbated the crisis, bringing the Omar Abdullah-led government under intense adverse scrutiny.


The separatists and the Opposition have already met the prime minister and senior leaders from all political

parties, and there is no easing of the situation, let alone a solution. Into this apparent stalemate come three new players, throwing everyone slightly off course.


So is this a new tactic by the government to take everyone by surprise by bunging in this unexpected trio? Or is it a message to Kashmiri leaders that if they do not take peace and reconciliation talks seriously, neither will the government? Or is this a move to prove to US president Barack Obama, who visits India next month, that we will leave no stone unturned to bring normality back to the Valley, thus giving the lie to Pakistan's claims?


Even given the transgressions of the Indian government over the years, the fact remains that much has changed in the Valley. Its political leaders are aware that Pakistan is no longer an option. The militancy has reached its end-game as popular support has practically died out.


The people of Kashmir seem keen on resolution and have welcomed the few political moves which have been made. The renewal of the cry for independence seems like a move made in desperation. Because it is also true that Kashmir's leaders — moderate or hardline — have also let the people down.


It may perhaps be best to let this group of interlocutors do whatever it can, with minimum expectations. Experience with such conflicts has shown that a long-term solution will only come with political inputs apart from social, developmental and economic change. The question for Kashmir is: does everyone want that change?







First, the good news. The government has taken some administrative decisions that are bound to benefit the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs).

For instance, they will be allowed to open branches abroad, hike the salaries of their faculty members, and reduce the number of governors on their boards to make them more manageable.


These are welcome steps and long overdue. In return for this move towards autonomy, greater accountability has been sought from the IIMs, which will prepare key action plans and performance indicators to monitor their progress.


But positive as these moves are, the bigger need is, clearly, to provide the IIMs, and other similar institutes, complete autonomy. This could mean the right to expand or shrink, to raise fees and/or invite foreign faculty and students, and so on.


There is no doubt that the IIMs, at least the older ones, are among India's top education brands, but unfortunately, they don't rank very high globally, not even the premier IIM, Ahmedabad.


Reason: they are forced to remain mere factories churning out management graduates. With the focus being on the job at the end of the course, there is little top-class research coming out of the institutes. The IIMs are not to blame for this; rather it is the nature of social and political expectations from these institutions, where high-paying jobs are given precedence over the creation of intellectual capital.


There are also concerns about the dilution of the IIM brand. The government is right in seeking to spread management education deeper into India's hinterland and across the country (at present there are seven IIMs and six more are planned), but there is a huge risk that the newer institutes might lack the quality that made IIM a brand to reckon with in the first place.


The tragic reality of India is that any institution or enterprise run by the government tends to lose its way. Air India was one of the finest airlines under the Tatas; today is known for its sloppiness. It would be a pity if that were to happen to the IIMs — India's only potential competitor to the Harvards of the world.








I was stuck this week in a lift in South London with five other people. It was after a tutoring session for the National Film and Television School.


The session ended at five thirty on the fifth floor. We called it 'a wrap' and made for the nearest pub. Some, gathering files and bags, took the stairs down and six others, four of the graduates, another tutor and myself sought the privilege of the lift.


It got stuck between floors four and five. We pressed the emergency alarm button several times. Everyone in the lift read the instructions on the walls.


We had transgressed no rules of weight or number — the lift, the rubric said, could take 8 people and we were six, albeit one of us of a substantial size. We rang the alarm several times and heard it ring in the building below, but there was no response. We had mobile phones and reached for them to check if they were receiving a signal. My studies in physics had told me that there could be no electric field within a perfect metal enclosure. There was a field and a signal which, I told the others, meant that the lift was not airtight and, if we were stuck in it, we wouldn't, at least for a few hours, die of a lack of oxygen.


No one panicked. We called Paul, the seminar's organiser, who was already at the pub. He said he'd find the caretaker who was preparing for a party on the ground floor of the Centre and most probably hadn't heard our alarms.


Twenty tense minutes later, Paul rang back to say that the caretaker, in a bit of a panic himself, was on the phone to the lift engineers who were twenty miles away outside London but were relaying instructions on what steps to take to get the lift moving again.


I wasn't convinced. What would he do? As with a hung computer, would switching the whole infernal machine off and starting it up again do the trick? Apparently not. We kept ourselves busy in the lift by telling each other jokes about people stuck in lifts and on desert islands etc. not all of them totally sanitised. But what the hell, one of the women in the lift began the dirty-joke game with a story which would be totally inappropriate to reproduce in a family newspaper.


We banged on the doors and shouted for rescue. Some of our colleagues on the tutorial course had returned from the pub and were standing outside the doors on either floor, above and below us, themselves banging in acknowledgement on the doors and shouting encouragement.


After ninety minutes the fire brigade arrived and two burly firemen wrenched the doors open. They lifted us out one by one. As we stepped out, our colleagues applauded us. As we passed through the reception on the ground floor, going down the stairs, with two fire engines breathing noisily in the street outside, we were given the welcome reserved for heroes.


"Are you the lift people? Don't go. Join the party, have some champagne."


Part of the talk in the lift had been about the Chilean miners, stuck for 65 days 2047 feet below ground without light and communication with the outside world for the first 17 days after the mine collapsed. Even those of us who didn't believe in God agreed that we should thank him for small mercies. There but for the grace... my friends — but maybe the fact that lecturing on film in London is not quite like digging for gold and copper in Chile. It may be better paid, but it isn't as hazardous.


O tempora O mores!







A sense of déjà vu pervades the scene. History has a way of reiterating itself, first as a tragedy and then as a farce. We are referring to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 to Liu Xiaobo.

The citation mentions that the committee was honouring "his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China", and that the Norwegian Nobel Committee believes that human rights and peace are linked. Furthermore, these rights are a prerequisite for the "fraternity between nations".


The citation acknowledged China's economic advancement, having lifted several million people out of poverty. But, it also noticed that China was in breach of several international agreements it had signed, and that its own constitution enjoins "freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration".


Coming to Liu Xiaobo's selection, the citation states that he has consistently been advocating the application of fundamental human rights in China.


He took part in the Tiananmen protests in 1989 that included demands for democracy. He had also signed a manifesto demanding these rights which was published on December 10 2008 — the 60th anniversary of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


The next year, Liu was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power". Liu maintains that the sentence violates China's own constitution and fundamental human rights. He has now become a symbol of the struggle for human rights in China.


So, how does all this arouse a sense of déjà vu? The list of former Nobel Peace Prize winners includes Shirin

Ebadi (2003) and Aung San Suu Kyi (1991), both democratic dissidents. In their cases, too, the domestic governments — Iran and Myanmar — had reacted with great ferocity, imputing political motives against the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.


China has reacted similarly.It has castigated the Nobel Prize Committee for "a blasphemy of the peace prize" by honouring a "criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law".


China has blocked Internet reports of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee's selection of Liu from reaching its citizens, proving its lack of commitment to "freedom of speech, of the press" embedded in its own constitution.


Ill-advisedly, China has also threatened Norway that this could damage their bilateral relations without appreciating that the Nobel Prize Committee can hardly be treated as synonymous with the Norwegian government.


For its part, Norway has reacted coolly by saying that any punitive action by China would only rebound on its global reputation. It is beyond Beijing's comprehension to appreciate that non-governmental organisations and citizens' groups need not support, but could actively oppose, the government-of-the-day in a democracy.


The unending chaos being witnessed in New Delhi every day due to the Commonwealth Games often infuriates people. But I doubt if any Indian would wish to substitute this chaos for the 'discipline' of the Chinese system during the Olympic Games.


The difference highlights, in a sense, the essential contradictions between the Sinic and Indic cultures. Undoubtedly, China has achieved a larger growth of GDP and per capita income than India. But serious economic and social tensions lie beneath the surface in China. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Xiaobo and Beijing's hysterical reaction emphasises these realities.


Speculatively, how would India have handled a similar situation? In all probability, New Delhi would have released the dissident after a decent face-saving interval, conducted discrete negotiations, and co-opted him quietly into the ruling hierarchy.


How will the Liu Xiaobo incident reflect on China's "soft power" which has manifested itself through establishing large numbers of Confucius Institutes to teach the Chinese language and promote exchange programs.


There are also disaster relief operations in Haiti and Chile, post-war reconstruction programmes in Afghanistan, peace-keeping missions, and judicious distribution of economic and military assistance to secure political dividends.


All this activity is obviously designed to eventually secure economic advantage for China at some future date. However, the question arises:can "checkbook diplomacy" translate into "soft power"? Can China shun political reforms, and brutally suppress opposition within, while seeking greater influence abroad?


President Obama has forthrightly called on China to release Liu "as soon as possible", and has praised him for having "sacrificed his freedom" to advance "universal values through peaceful means".


Whether China will react positively is another matter. Its record in Tibet and Xinjiang militates against its making any course correction. Sadly, India has not said, and is not likely, to say anything in this matter. Call it circumspection, if you will.








Development often comes with a price. There can't be two opinions about this. At the same time the mantra of our times is that we should guard our environment at all costs whatever else may happen. This is considered to be absolutely essential for our survival. Nor surprising, therefore, it is a component of urban planning these days to have enough green space in the midst of concrete structures for us to inhale fresh air. Viewed in this context a recent report in this newspaper is quite revealing and also highly disturbing. It says that more than 31000 green trees axed about eight years ago in the process of four-laning of the Jammu-Pathankot stretch of the national highway are yet to be replaced (only 4500 saplings have been planted so far against the mandatory condition of making good the loss by having three trees for every felled tree). There is thus inordinate delay in this regard which is galling. This year especially we have had a good monsoon season. It could have been put to good use. Clearly it has been wasted. The Union Surface Ministry has paid a handsome compensation of Rs 9.43 crore to the forest department; it is yet to be properly utilised. The State Forest Corporation (SFC) was involved into the task of removing the trees. One of our colleagues has gone around finding out whose job actually it is to restore the loss. Normally the roadside plantation is considered to be part of social forestry. But it is not so in the present instance. The territorial forest division already has its hands more than full. The eco task force is not well equipped (it is a headless wonder). It has been given a sum of Rs 59 lakh for planting trees along the dividers on the highway but it has been able to spend only Rs 20 lakh so far.


The name of the game is passing the buck which, it seems, stops at the desk of the Conservator of Forests (Jammu East Circle) who in turn has yet to work out a plan to address the challenge. There is a body called the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) which is in existence for the management of money towards compensatory afforestation. An obvious inference is that these funds are not being utilised for the purpose for which these have been provided. One hopes that these are not diverted for some other application. There is more than one reason for us to get our act together to give a fillip to this work. Given the high volume of traffic the highway is exposed to pollution of all kinds. There is noise. There is light and heat being generated by means of transport. There are gases.


These can only be harmful to our atmosphere if there are no trees to absorb their negative impact. From another

angle too it is advisable for us to replant greenery as soon as possible. The Jammu-Pathankot segment in particular is gateway to this region and the State for those coming from the rest of the country by road. Its currently barren look is not our best introduction as the land with a lot of flora and fauna. We should make good the lost time and green gold for our credibility as well.







What has happened in the Lethpora branch of Jammu and Kashmir Bank in Pulwama district is indeed mind boggling. An enormous amount of about Rs 20 crore has disappeared from its books. A week has passed and, according to a report in this newspaper, nobody seems to know who the takers are. A special investigating team (SIT) is now probing the case. It is the worst ever fraud in the history of the bank which is otherwise a remarkable success story. A senior police officer has admitted that "we have not been able to recover a single penny so far." Legal and cyber experts have joined hands with the SIT. The expertise of a few former bankers is too being utilised. For their part the top management of the bank has put a team on the job to go through the books. There is merit in its argument that it does take time in such matters all the more so when the records are fudged. Those involved in the racket must have tried to cleverly camouflage their actions. Prima facie it is believed that the money has been withdrawn in the name of compensation for the land acquired for the construction of the national highway. The entire process is bogus. The land in question has not been obtained. Yet, it has been shown as having been acquired at highly inflated rates. There are fake authority letters that have been used for the purpose. It is logical to believe that a big operation like this can't be carried out without the connivance of insiders whose number can't be specified at this juncture. There is a method in this bungling --- a robbery without actually being one. Swindlers will laugh their hearts out till they are caught and brought to book. The precise sum of Rs 19.95 crore that has been looted belongs to the Government. It is the cash that thus is of the public at large. It is to be welcomed that the police is conscious of this reality and is proceeding with determination to unravel the mystery and recover the money. Together with the bank's senior managers it should meet the success sooner rather than later. As and when they finish their inquiry they should disclose all the details for the benefit of innocent ordinary citizens as well as scrupulous bankers.


One is reminded of an instance elsewhere in the country in which a bank branch manager had recklessly sanctioned housing loans for the purpose of flats while actually what was being constructed was a three-storeyed building as a hotel. Bank frauds are on the rise. It is small wonder then that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) keeps issuing alerts from time to time. It has also prepared a software package of "frauds reporting and monitoring system." The country's central bank has also classified frauds mainly on the basis of the provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). In fairness to banks, including Jammu and Kashmir Bank, they also keep customers on their toes. The more responsible among them have a list of dos and don'ts on their websites and on notice-boards in their premises. What can be done, however, when the cops turn robbers?











India is a land of festivals. Indians are known for the spirit of celebration of their festivals with great zeal, fervor and gaiety. 

Celebrations of Ram Leela at Basohli (as per the available sources) dates back to nineteenth century, when it was celebrated in the open space like the arena of a wrestling match. Due to the shortage of money and the non availability of the costumes and make up material, the whole show was staged by making a small change in the daily dress.In the absence of any other source of entertainment, the whole town alongwith the muffaslats used to throng the place of celebration of Ram Leela during the day time. Gradually with the advancement and bit betterment in economical conditions, a theater like structure , at that time called 'Mandva' was constructed by the public in early twentieth century, which enabled the staging of the Ram Leela in a well defined area enabling a good number of audience to watch. Basohli Ram Leela had always taken upper edge over its contemporary Ram Leelas being staged in J&K and the neighboring states due to involvement of artists and the singers (both classical and light classical) who sang and delivered the dialogues in so high pitch that people could listen them from a distance of half a kmt. All of the vocal singers were the disciples of Vishnu Digamber and Pt. Dina Nath, a famous name of that time.

The contemporary pioneers of Ram Leela made innovations in the field of presentation of Ram Leela and ultimately found a unique way of staging it during 20th century, which was admired by the people not from within the state only but by the other adjoining states as well. According to this system the Ram Leela is staged at different stages spread over a larger field . One separate stage is provided to each - Ravan durbar , Ram (Ayodya ) durbar, Ashoke Vateeka , Panchvati ,Vindyachal Parvat and Havan Kunds for the hermits and saints like Vishishat and Vishvamiter to perform religious anushthans etc. .Each stage is separated from the other by a considerable distance .The stages are well decorated by buntings prepared by the local artists with colored cellophane papers and the paper machhi work The masks and other dresses of the animals like Jamawant, Sugrib Hanuman , Deers etc are produced by the local artists from the material of local use. The whole town plunges in the decoration work considering it as a punya karya. The whole ground with a parameter of 450 well coverd by the sound and the light system. Each actor is equipped with his individual concealed microphone which enables him to move around and deliver his dialogue freely .Each day presentation is a blend of both dialogues songs and choruses .

One of the reasons for the popularity of Basohli Ram Leela is the life like presentation of the scenes from the life of Ram . Seeta Mata's birth from within the earth steals the attention of the spectators. Dhanush Yagya presents the true picture of Janakpuri prevailing there at that time. Actual depiction of Ram Van Vaas, felling of seven Tar trees by one arrow by Ram in order to demonstrate his capability to kill Bali. Descending of Lord Hanuman with srijnibuti to cure wounded unconscious Lakshman and burning of the effigies of Ravan and his whole clan. Playing of one brass band during the whole Ram Leela signals the entrance of the characters of the Ram Leela in the mundap. The same brass band also signals about the battle between the enemy forces. The presentation is so good that one cant help appreciate it.

During ten days of celebrations thousands of the people from Punjab, Himachal and our own state throng to see the Ram Leela. A great hustle and bustle is seen in the town whereby the local shop keepers venders work round the clock and earn their livelihood. A real example of religious, emotional and human integration can be seen during the celebrations at Basohli. The daughters of the town married outside from both Hindus and muslim communities wait for these days to visit their parents along with their children.The local employees irrespective of their religion preserve their leaves for Ram Leela where they get time to meet their nears and dears. So much so our Muslim brothers share equal responsibility in the management, finance and play the role of Ramayan characters without any hesitation. It will not be an exaggeration if I call this celebrations a true pious and sacred 'Sangam' of national emotional and religious integration. The children from other communities learn by heart about the life of Ram and can reproduce the whole incidences from Ramayan without any hesitation .

It is the duty of all the governments to help flourish such festivals in their states and render every possible assistance in their conduct. These traditions should not be linked with any communities but must be considered as the perpetuation of our cultural heritage. It is worth mentioning here that some festivals like Kulla Dushera, Sindhur Darshan, Durga Pooja of Bengal are state sponsored. In other to perpetuate the legacy of Ram Leela Basohli it should be declared as the state festival of Jammu and Kashmir state so that this festival can get a boost and is celebrated with more zeal fervour and gaity than before The services of the Departments like state cultural academy Northern India cultural agencies, Radio and television artists should be sought so that a good number of the visitors are attracted towards the Ram Leela.We hope that this time Ram Leela Basohi will be given desirable attention and not neglected like the Basohli paintings, pashmina industry, tourism and its cultural richness as in the past.









Though belated, the recent resolution of the Deobandi ulema of Jam'iatu'l-ulema-e Hind sending a message to Kashmiri Muslims is a wise step likely to help de-escalation of tense situation in the valley.

Extremists may not be very happy with the resolution; some call it capitulation to government's muscle power. In the valley as well some small sections have not taken it in right spirit. In a situation surcharged with emotions like alienation, apathy and hatred, eyesight gets blurred and vision obscured. 

The resolution in question is significant in the sense that this is the first time ulema have separated the accession of the state to the Indian Union from domestic issues ranging from alienation, discrepant governance to failure of administration in various fields including employment and development.

This is a right approach to Kashmir issue, and opens up a path that can be found for putting an end to very precarious situation in the valley. Nearly five months of unabated strikes, demonstrations, protest rallies and stone throwing and the resultant skirmishes with police and security forces have caused huge economic and financial loss to the state.

The resolution of the highest Muslim religious body in the country has come on the heels of the historical judgment of the Allahabad High Court in the Ramjanam Bhumi-Babri Masjid dispute that had been hanging fire for last six decades.

All sensible people on either side agree that there could be no better solution of the tangle. Some serious thinking on reconciliation process is now in the offing at Ayodhya. In the light of this development, the Muslim community, under right guidance and leadership, has taken correct decision to leave the past behind and work in unison with other communities for reviving age-old bonds of harmony and fraternity. This is what the country needs most at this juncture. This is the way of progress for all citizens of this country.

Kashmir Valley majority community would do well to take the cue from the wise and pragmatic approach of JUH leadership to the question of communal harmony. This has to be a loadstar in handling the course of action in Kashmir. Recommendations made by the ulema in regard to alleviating the suffering and deprivations of people in Kashmir have to be seriously pursued and fulfilled. 

But one would like that by way of follow up action, the body of ulema makes best use of the opportunity to strengthen national integration by taking a worthwhile initiative. It has already broken the ice, but the entire gamut of thought process has to be vigorously activated and brought to its logical conclusion.

The need of the hour is to take a bold and visionary initiative for forging communal harmony and mutual understanding among the people in all the three regions of the State. Unfortunately, in last couple of decades, there grew trust deficit among the three major religious communities in the State leading to widening of the gulf of estrangement. This has to be bridged over and mutual trust has to be restored.

Though several initiatives were proposed in this context in the past, but these did not work just because matters of forging communal harmony are ill served if left to be handled by politically motivated leaders or straight jacketed bureaucrats. Only disinterested leadership from the echelons of civil society is competent to deliver the goods.
The ulema can constitute a reconciliation group for the State comprising moderate and resolute representatives from all communities of the State, perform the role of honest interlocutors, and try to alley groundless fears but boost genuine hopes for life in secular-democratic India. This is a complicated but not insurmountable mission. What is needed is dedication and vision on the part of interlocutors to break the jinx. The real task before the ulema is to open a vista on Kashmiri Muslims for performing crucially pragmatic and constructive role in the history of modern Islam.

The ulema, as can be deduced from the resolution in question, have conveyed a clear and solid message to the nation of their deep interest in consolidating national integration through dialogue, understanding, persuasion and goodwill. Read between the lines, this exactly is at the core of the court verdict on Ayodhya dispute. Taking the cue from here, the ulema can widen the scope of new thinking and make it applicable to the vexed Kashmir problems.

The Muslim majority of the State has many grievances and it is the duty of the state to address these as early as possible. The question of four hundred thousand extirpated Pandits from the valley has to be dealt with not just on humanitarian grounds but explicitly on political grounds. India's secular credentials are under immense strain as long as Kashmir remains ethnically cleansed of indigenous Pandits. The Deobandi ulema form the precise resource back-up with the ability of understanding the ramifications of broken down secular structure in the valley. Restoring harmonious secular structure reinforces their own position as sturdy promoters of national integrity on national level. If they are able to do that, they will reserve for themselves an honourale place in the annals of history because they will achieve what politicians failed to do. 

Likewise, the Ladakhis have long standing grievances and demands. These cannot be wished away. Vested interests of politicians have raised walls preventing people from meaningful interaction. They crave for justice and equity which the ruling apparatus has not been able to provide so far for reason known to all.
In short, since the Deobandi ulema have broken their six decades old silence on Kashmir, it is only logical that they take the next step of forging new understanding among all sections of people in the State. They need to own the Kashmir Muslims as inseparable part of the wider Indian Muslim community with the specialty of having opted for becoming shareholders of Indian secular democracy without endangering their local identity. The ulema have to identify areas of convergence for groups with specific perceptions and create a harmonious and balanced blend of regional and national vision.





Make Ladakh a Union territory

On The Spot
By Tavleen Singh

This is being written just hours after I have flown over the most beautiful vista I have ever seen in my life so indulge me if in this first paragraph I sound a bit euphoric. The vista started to open up within moments of the aeroplane taking off from Leh's small military airport. On either side of us rose khaki and white mountains as if we were flying through a funnel and then as we rose higher into the clouds on either side of us stretched fields and fields of snow covered mountains. It was a panorama so breathtaking that had such a spectacular view of high mountains existed in another country it would have drawn millions of tourists. And, Ladakh, so beautiful and so neglected, would have been transformed.
Instead, even before last August's devastating landslide Ladakh has been a desolate place. Treated with such disdain that despite being geographically the largest district in India it was governed for years as part of the Ganderbal parliamentary constituency in Srinagar. This is an administrative absurdity so monumental that it is hard to find words to describe it. So in the nearly thirty years that have passed since I was last in Ladakh instead of modernity and progress what has happened is development in such haphazard and shabby fashion that the old died without anything new that was worthwhile being put in its place. 
When I was last here in 1976 I came with the famous photographer, Raghu Rai, to cover the Dalai Lama's Kalachakra sermon. It was only the second Kalachakra sermon he had ever given and because it was in a place so close to Tibet it was special. A glass temple was built on the banks of the Indus and thousands came from all over Ladakh to attend this Tantric initiation. Leh then was a starkly beautiful town with nearly every building built in the traditional architectural style of Ladakh. It is a style that is similar to Tibetan but less ornate so buildings have small windows and tall facades to keep out the biting cold of this desert at the top of the world. Today, Leh's buldings are modern and mostly quite ugly and not the smallest attention appears to have been paid to planning or urban design.
It is hard to expect more in a place that was for so long governed from far away Srinagar. But, a political fight was fought and Ladakh got its own elected body in the form of a hill council. It was elections to this hill council, scheduled for the end of this week, which took me to Leh last week. Rajasthan's former Chief Minister, Vasundhara Raje, now a BJP general secretary, called and asked if I would like to go with her to attend a political rally and I readily agreed.
We stayed in a modern hotel called the Grand Dragon Ladakh and after spending my first morning getting acclimatized to breathing at 11,500 feet I went with Vasundhara Raje to the school made famous by Aamir Khan's '3 Idiots'. It was badly damaged by the landslides of mud and boulders that came down as a result of the cloudburst, two months ago, but is now almost back to normal. Aamir Khan has been here to lend celebrity support but the real work has been done by HCC which sent a hundred workers from its dam project in Kargil to clean up the dormitories and classrooms. Within a week classes were back to normal but it took longer to clear the mud and boulders that had smashed down the dormitories.
On my second day I went with Vasundhara Raje to attend the political rally. It was held in the shadow of the Leh Palace which, with its façade of pale khaki, looked as if it had been built out of the side of a mountain. Along side it stretched a range of khaki mountains and in front of us a panorama of snow covered ones. I cannot remember a political rally that I have attended in more spectacular surroundings.
The speeches were long and the speakers many. But, in the end, what became clear was that the main political demand that Ladakh has today is that it be freed from the administrative control of the Government of Jammu & Kashmir and be governed as a Union Territory. The other demand is that the language of Ladakh be included in the schedule that lists the official languages of India. But, what interested me more than these two administrative demands was the demand that the road to Mount Kailash and Manasarovar be opened up so that Hindu pilgrims going to pay obeisance at the mythical retreat of Shiva go through Ladakh instead of through Chinese controlled Tibet.
Being geographically challenged by nature I made some inquiries about the Manasoravar demand and discovered that Mount Kailash is no more than 200 kilometres from Leh. So if there was a decent road to the border and some tough negotiations with China we could persuade that old enemy of ours to allow pilgrims to enter from Ladakh. Just this could pump millions of pilgrim rupees into the Ladakhi economy. It is not that tourists do not come to Ladakh from distant parts of the world. They do as is evident from the number of shops in the bazaar that advertize trekking, mountaineering and trips to Pangong Lake at 15,000 feet. But, much, much more can be done. Ladakh's natural beauty and its ancient monastries could attract so many millions of tourists that it could become one of India's richest provinces.
Those who believe that tourism destroys ancient cultures and places of untouched natural beauty need to go to Leh to see how much more is being destroyed by neglect, bad urbanization and bad governance. Before it is all destroyed would the Prime Minister make the effort to seriously consider making Ladakh a union territory so it could be better governed. It has in recent times become even more alienated from Kashmir because of the secessionist movement in the Valley. Ladakh wants to stay in India and it wants better governance. It is very hard to understand why these simple demands are so hard to meet. Meanwhile, I would like to be among the first pilgrims to Mount Kailash who go through Ladakh so that I can come fly once more over those fields and fields of white mountains that look like heaven is made to in the movies.








INDIA has never had a formidable reputation as a sporting nation. Indeed, for a long time Indians have been known as good, gracious and perennial losers. But as curtains came down on the 19th Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, there were reasons to look back with satisfaction at the accomplishments of our sportspersons, specially the women. They were instrumental in securing for the country its first medals in the track and field events after a gap of 58 years in the Games. There were no expectations from them and nobody hoped for an athletic gold, but the women proved the critics wrong. Similarly, an unassuming gymnast secured for India its first ever medal in gymnastics. While our shooters, wrestlers, archers and boxers did the nation proud, and expectedly so, the shuttlers and the paddlers managed to spring a few pleasant surprises. Unexpected losses on the tennis court and the boxing ring were overshadowed by the surprise wins elsewhere and the highest ever haul of gold. While our indifferent record in swimming, rugby, netball, etc, was maintained this time as well and although in the total medal tally India figured way behind Australia and England, the investment made on training and generous funding of different sports associations in preparation for the Games seem to have paid off to an extent.


But the individual successes can scarcely brush aside the organisational failures, our lacklustre performance in most team games and the disparity between world class sporting facilities in the national capital and the absence of quality infrastructure at the grassroots. We need to take a fresh look at the working of the Indian Olympic Association and different sports associations and rid them of vested interests, political or otherwise. There is also need for 'world class' auditing to determine financial irregularities in spending public money. We need to ensure too that the renovated stadia are not used for Diwali melas, weddings, concerts, exhibitions and political rallies and our athletes denied their use.


It is also a sobering thought that even the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies were helped in no small measure by technology and expertise from abroad. Foreign coaches and training abroad also played a role, underlining just how far we have to travel in the business of sports and building a sporting culture. What is more, the forthcoming Asian Games and the Olympics will be more deserving and far more demanding benchmarks to test our sporting skills. So it's time for India to get up once again, get better and get going. 








KARNATAKA Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa proved his government's majority support in the State Assembly for the second time in a week on Thursday as directed by Governor Hans Raj Bhardwaj. Mercifully, the floor test this time was smooth, peaceful and orderly compared to the chaotic scenes during the first floor test on October 11. The BJP government could scrape through the test with 106 members voting for and 100 — the Congress (73) and the Janata Dal-Secular (27) — against it. The chastening thought for the BJP is that the government could sail through only because of the changed configuration and reduced strength of the Assembly following the Speaker's controversial disqualification of 11 BJP rebels and five Independents.


The Karnataka High Court will soon adjudicate on the petitions challenging the Speaker's hurried decision to disqualify 16 MLAs at about 6 a.m. before the October 11 vote. While it has reserved the ruling on the 11 rebel BJP legislators' petition, it will continue hearings on the five Independents' petition on October 18. Significantly, while refusing to grant interim relief to Independents to vote in Thursday's test, the High Court made it clear that this test will have a bearing on the court verdict. Thus, in case the High Court declares the disqualifications as null and void and revives the 16 MLAs' membership, the Yeddyurappa government will have to seek a fresh floor test again.


In a functional democracy, a political party (or a coalition) can continue in office as long as it enjoys the majority support of the House and not otherwise. It is equally important that all the constitutional functionaries — the Governor, the Speaker and the Chief Minister — follow the rules of the game and uphold the Constitution in letter and spirit. Sadly, none of them lived up to their task in the current episode in Karnataka. While the High Court is examining the Speaker's conduct, the Governor behaved in a partisan manner and has lowered the dignity of the high office by recommending President's rule in a hurry and engaging himself in a tirade against the government. He sought to rectify his folly by ordering a second floor test, but the damage has already been done.










AS was perhaps to be expected, deep concern over "currency wars" breaking out dominated the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank at which almost all countries were represented by their finance ministers. This was clearly a reflection of cries of currency wars, especially in relation to China, that have been reverberating across the United States for quite some time.


Indeed, the first steps towards such a dismal denouement may well have been taken already. For, at the end of September, the US House of Representatives passed a Bill authorising the Obama administration to impose countervailing duties on Chinese imports if China failed to revalue its currency.


America's frustration and anger over what it sees as Chinese "intransigence" seems understandable. On all occasions since November last year — when on a visit to Beijing President Barack Obama went to great lengths to placate his hosts in the hope that they would respond positively to his urgent request for a revaluation of the yuan, as the Chinese currency is named, but drew a blank — China has resolutely said no to the US demands for a revaluation of the yuan. Just a few days before the passage of the anti-China Bill Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, at a meeting with Obama on the fringes of the UN General Assembly flatly refused to budge from the Chinese position. To the passage of US law Beijing's reaction was that it would retaliate and others would join the trade wars.


At the IMF ministerial meeting over the weekend the Governor of the Chinese People's Bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, stated that the value of the Chinese currency had nothing to with the high rate of unemployment in the US and Europe. He advised the US to "practice self-criticism" about its economic policies. He wasn't alone in pointing out that the US and its allies were concentrating on China but were reluctant to blame each other for "misalignments" in their currencies. This was a pointed reference the US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's refusal to comment on Japan's decision to lower the value of the yen. Brazil has also done roughly the same thing.


The Managing Director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was firm in declaring that currency wars had to be avoided, that the issues troubling various countries had to be settled through negotiations, and that the Fund was prepared to play the "leading role" in resolving whatever problems arose. In a globalised world, there was need for everyone to work together. All this Strauss-Kahn said on October 7 when the dollar fell to a new low against a basket of currencies. By an interesting coincidence, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was asked at a different forum what should be done about the possibility of currency wars. His reply: "Currency disputes have to be settled by consultation, not by confrontation."


The next day Strauss-Khan spelt out what he intended to do. He said that in order to ensure "systemic stability" the IMF would start issuing "spill-over" reports, which really meant that whenever the action of one country started affecting the economy of others, it would sound a warning of sorts. Remarkably, there were not many takers for this offer. One reason for this could be that in the past China had blocked for years the IMF's "negative review" of its foreign exchange policies and agreed to the publication only after the Fund "watered down" the document's language.


Another reason came to the surface when the French Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde, discouraged the IMF chief's scheme and pointed out that multiple forums were handling currency problems, and no "new setting" was needed. Instead, she promoted the plan of the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, to leave it to the G-20 the responsibility of reconciling currency disputes. Significantly, Pranab Mukherjee supported this idea. The G-20 will hold its summit in Seoul in November, shortly after President Obama's visit to India. France will take over the G-20 presidency early next year.


At least partly this should explain the hiatus between American policies and pronouncements and actual action. A fortnight after the adoption of the Bill on trade with China the administration has done absolutely nothing. Indeed, Geinther said after the Bill's passage — with overwhelming bipartisan support — that the US was not embarking on trade wars. This did not prevent him, however, from issuing a strong warning a few days later to those whose currency policies might "intensify short-term distortions" in relation to exports. Even those US commentators that have welcomed the House's Bill and want to "take China on" are advocating that this should be done with the cooperation of the international community, not unilaterally. The reason for this dichotomy is that the current crisis has revived the memories of 80 years ago when similar trade wars had pushed the whole world into the Great Depression of 1930.


To be sure, 53 per cent of the Americans now believe that free trade agreements have hurt the US. The figure is

up from 46 per cent three years ago and 32 per cent in 1999, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC survey. This has disturbed many thinking Americans who have started sounding alarm bells. They are also ridiculing the Democrat-Republican unity in the HoR because the two parties in the US today, in the midst of the mid-term election, are as bitterly hostile to each other as the BJP and the Congress back home were in 2004 and long afterwards. Incidentally, rival candidates of the two US parties are using China as a weapon to accuse each other of being "soft on China" and thus against America! India, too, is being mentioned in this connection, though to a much lesser extent.


Against this backdrop, an eminent economist, Douglas Irwin, writing in Wall Street Journal under the heading "Goodbye Free Trade", says: "So, is it back to 1929? Is the ghost of Great Depression preparing to rise? If we want to avoid destructive, beggar-thy-neighbour trade wars that brought down the world economy, we have to draw lessons from (past mistakes). Today American policy makers should focus not on China but on our own Federal Reserve that must increase money supply." The most revealing statistics Professor Irwin has cited are: In 1929, total US imports in proportion to the GDP were 5 per cent and in 2009 the percentage was 15. The corresponding figures for China are 3 per cent in 1970 and 21 per cent in 2009.
















Over a decade back, an old colleague drew my attention to an advertisement in the paper announcing the opening of DDA Qutub Golf Course and inviting aspiring golfers and others to apply for membership of the club. My interest was immediately aroused. It was not for the love of golf but to become a member of another elite club in Delhi, enjoy club facilities and use it for social networking that lured me to this.


My friend called for a brochure and the application form. Filling out application forms or any other forms is a bit of a ritual in my house which I must confess I am solely responsible for. The forms are always photocopied, filled with a pencil first, proofread for any mistakes and only once it is errorless is the original form filled with a pen and in complete — almost reverential — silence.  


Hence the process for this form also began. I was flying through it when at a particular column I came to an abrupt stop. The column read – Applicant's Handicap. I was astonished at the insensitivity of the way the question was phrased and why at all was it there in the first place.  But then I felt that may be the club plans to create special infrastructure and facilities for the physically challenged and therefore has requested for this information. So what if their language lacks finesse; at least their hearts are in the right place. I wrote a quick 'no handicap' and proceeded to complete the form.


 Shortly after submitting the form, the membership of the club was granted to me. I took my family to the club for a customary round of tea and snacks. We rarely visited the club again but I continued my membership which added to the list of the clubs I was a member of.


Around six years after, in 2005, my daughter's father-in-law, a retired senior officer of the Indian Air Force,

came to stay with me at Delhi. He is a passionate golfer. I took him to the Siri Fort driving range for a session. While practicing he invited me to try out a few shots. At the age of 55, I held a golf club for the first time and instantly got hooked to the game.


Back at Shimla, I became a member of the Army and Civil golf club to try my hand at the game. On day one, Amrit Chopra, an avid golfer at the club and now a friend, saw me hitting hockey-type golf shots, but still invited me to play with him and took me under his wing.


The first question he asked me was: "What is your handicap?" I was stunned into silence wondering if my game was so bad that he felt that I might be suffering from some physical impediment. Seeing my blank shocked face, he explained the concept of a 'handicap' in golf. It was Amrit's turn to be shocked and baffled now as I laughed continuously thinking about the golf membership form I had filled a decade ago.









THE politics of the bickering Badals has at least cast the spotlight on Punjab's economic deterioration. Politics often dominates the Punjab scene and economics tends to take a back seat. Manpreet Singh Badal has brought the issue of ballooning, unmanageable subsidies to the centre-stage. Subsidies do drain the scarce resources, no doubt. But there are other equally serious issues which need attention.


Even the sacked Finance Minister has never pointed a finger at the reckless spending ways of the Chief Minister and his colleagues, political extravagance and bureaucratic burden the government bears, all of which contribute substantially to the state's mounting debt.


India's economic scene is changing fast, while Punjab is still caught in a bind, thanks to lack of a visionary leadership. States are fast developing infrastructure and compete for foreign direct investment. Why foreign investment has bypassed Punjab is an issue that needs wider discussion.


The economic reforms undertaken by the Centre and some of the progressive states aim at limiting the role of government to essentials like health, education, law and order. Governments are withdrawing from areas where the private sector can perform better. Yet Punjab has not seen any reduction in the role of the state. Shrinking the size of the government has never been an issue in the state.


The Centre has passed a law limiting the number of ministers to one-tenth of the strength of the assembly. But the Punjab leadership has sought to adjust party MLAs as parliamentary secretaries. The Himachal Pradesh High Court has observed that if a parliamentary secretary functions as a minister, it would tantamount to perpetrating a fraud on the Constitution. In Punjab parliamentary secretaries function as ministers.


Sukhbir Badal's traditional politics, like that of his father, aims at sharing the spoils of office with supporters. His proposal to revive the Upper House of the Vidhan Sabha should be seen in this context. Regardless of the burden on the near-empty treasury, key political leaders, required to win elections, have to be adjusted. The Badal government has made serious efforts for ending political unemployment. When was the last time any Akali leader even spoke, let alone do anything, about unemployment among youth?


There are over 60 boards and corporations, which have political heads. The Chief Minister heads the 11-member Potato Development Board. There is pressure now to saddle boards with vice-chairmen as well. There is even a cow protection board.


The reforms suggest every state must close or disinvest in all loss-making public sector units. As the Finance Minister, Mr Manpreet Singh Badal has seldom pushed for administrative reforms or downsizing the government. Instead Punjab is creating new wasteful bodies. A Punmedia Society has been set up to handle publicity and adverting wings of the state.


A state is supposed to have one Chief Secretary and one Director General of Police. Punjab politicians often pick up juniors or bring someone from outside for the two top posts. Then those senior to them are also promoted to the same rank and get the same benefits. There are about half a dozen officers of the rank of Chief Secretary and an equal number of the rank of DGP. Every minister, MLA, IAS and IPS officer has VIP security.


For Akali leaders being in power means having the most expensive car with the red beacon, a maximum number of gunmen regardless of the security threat and issuing commands to the DCs and SSPs. One VC complained that ministers and MLAs approach him for the transfer of even class IV employees.


Political interference in administrative affairs and poor decision-making lead to needless litigation the cost of which is borne by the government as well as the employees concerned. ASI Dilbagh Singh's increments were stopped in 1979 and he challenged it in court. The case reached the Supreme Court where too the state plea was dismissed. For 31 years he fought for justice.


It is amazing how the state wastes its time, energy and the taxpayer' money on small cases. The state has a large army of lawyers on its rolls often engaged in trivial legal battles. If decisions are based on transparent rules and principles instead of the whims and fancies of ministers and officials and if high costs are imposed on erring decision-makers litigation costs can be reduced. It is not that just that the taxpayer bears the high cost of governance; the quality of service provided is also substandard.


To be fair, the politics of extravagance is not confined to the Akali Dal. The BJP has been vociferous in defending its own vote bank in urban Punjab. Whenever, the state regulatory commission recommends a hike in the power tariff the party opposes any additional burden on the urban and industrial consumers. Once it forced the government to absorb the power tariff hike, thus reducing the state's ability to raise resources.


The record of the previous Congress government was no better. It too had resorted to liberal subsidies, including free power to farmers, maintained the idle force of parliamentary secretaries and made lttle effort to limit the state expenditure. At that time too the government was run by taking loans and no administrative or economic reforms were pursued.


Capt Amarinder Singh too as Chief Minister did not have the courage to take on the power employees and unbundle the state electricity board. The bane of state politics is that hard decisions, which are in the long-term interests of the state and its people, are either not taken or are delayed due to the fear of losing elections.


It is, therefore, understandable that Manpreet Singh has found only feeble support from the BJP and Congress leaders. In such a self-defeating and self-seeking political culture leaders like Manpreet Badal feel out of place and lose out to the majority despite being right. If he has got wider public and media support, it is because he is seen as a well-meaning leader capable of taking difficult decisions, which may not be good for winning the next election, but good for the next generation.


The Badal government has made serious efforts for ending political unemployment. When was the last time any Akali leader even spoke, let alone do anything, about unemployment among youth?









THE debt waiver package offered by the Central Government for Punjab has put forth two conflicting viewpoints. On the one hand, the pure economic perspective urges the state to accept all conditions that are a part of the package. On the other, the populist perspective rejects the conditions as politically and socially unsustainable.

Punjab's debt to date is around 70, 000 crores. The Union Finance Minister has offered to write-off half of the total debt. This is a welcome move. Punjab should avail this golden opportunity. Availing this opportunity is, however, a Herculean task.


The clash of the perspectives is due to different sets of rules of the game of each perspective. Interestingly, both limit their arguments mainly to the power subsidy. Other conditions have been talked about casually.


The economists' approach forcefully argues that free power to the agricultural sector is against all canons of economic theory. Freebies are also counterproductive from the point of view of over-exploitation of natural resources, especially soil and water.


The political approach argues that agriculture is the lifeline of Punjab. It is passing through a crisis, specifically the declining rate of returns on agricultural investment and gigantic farm debt culminating in pauperisation of farmers and their suicides.


The existing financial crisis in Punjab is partly due to unprecedented borrowings from the Centre during militancy. The political pundits say it is not justifiable to shift the liability of the militancy period to Punjab.


The question is not whether to follow the economists' approach or the populist approach, but of Punjab's interests. A condition-wise analysis suggests that those who support the cause of Punjab should agree with the pre-conditions such as introducing change-in-land use charges, reforming Punjab Roadways and PEPSU to making them profitable, facilitating CAG audits of the local bodies, the Punjab Infrastructure Development Fund and putting all government collections in the Consolidated Fund.


The bordering pre-conditions include imposing the property tax, the CAG audit of the Rural Development Fund and no pre-mature withdrawals from the PF by the employees. These pre-conditions can be settled quickly through dialogue.


Politically sensitive issues related to reducing the annual power subsidy and a hike in irrigation charges deserve special attention of the economists and policy makers. The agrarian economy of Punjab is in turmoil. The average net farm income of marginal farm families is less than that of a peon in a government office. According to the Arjun Sengupta Commission on the unorganised sector workers, the average monthly income per household is around Rs 1,578, whereas the lowest paid government employee gets Rs 10, 000 per month.


The families of marginal farmers are economically broke. In Punjab on an average 30, 000 farmers are leaving agriculture annually. Their conditions are equally bad in the field of education and health. Studies have shown that rural students constitute only 4 per cent of higher education students. The share of poor farm families is rock bottom. Most of the children of poor farmers are matriculate and constitute the largest share of educated unemployed in the state.


The rural health scenario is the worst, particularly in the cancer belt of Malwa. Given the pathetic economic and social conditions of small and marginal farmers, the continuation of the power subsidy is fully justifiable. Moreover, the continuation of the subsidy is prescribed in the backdrop of the food crisis.


The need of the hour is to make the subsidies target-oriented. Instead of extending the power subsidy across the board, the need is to rationalise it and limit it to small and marginal farmers. The differential power tariff policy will enable the state government to grant more subsidies to poor farm families and at the same time save a huge amount on account of subsidies.


For helping the marginal and small farmers and also landless families in place of the power subsidy, the system of education, health and food vouchers may be introduced. These voucher programmes can help improve the access of the poor to education, health and food. Subsidising education and health in the long run can facilitates the shift of population from agriculture to non-agricultural sectors in the state which is urgently needed.


In brief, Punjab must reap the benefits of the offer of the Central Government. Most of the pre-conditions can be met straightway. The debatable and politically and socially sensitive pre-conditions relate to the rural economy of Punjab. Free power to the farm sector emerges the most contentious issue. Limiting free power to small and marginal farmers is suggested as a middle path.


In the long run alternative programmes such as education, health and food vouchers can be considered as substitutes of free power to agriculture. The voucher scheme would not only enhance the employability of poor farm families in occupations other than agriculture but would also be beneficial to the Ssate for environmental sustainability.


The writer is a former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Panjab University








That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will, in the end, also burn human beings – Heinrich Heine 
"It was a pleasure to burn." 


In the dystopian future of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, it is illegal to think; to think, you have to read. Therefore, "... the pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house." This is not vandalism. This is what the principal character in the book does for a living. He burns books. 


Biblioclasm – the deliberate and premeditated destruction of books – is not new. Books have always been feared by those in power, and so they burn libraries, Alexandria and Baghdad being the best known. The latter, known as the House of Wisdom, was destroyed in 1258 by the invading Mongols and, it is said, the Tigris ran black for six months from the all the ink. The Qin Dynasty burned books and buried scholars alive. Mayan codices were destroyed by Spaniards. The list is endless. 


The 20th century was especially good to book-burners: China wiped out Buddhist texts when it overran Tibet in the 1960s; Pol Pot did his bit in the 1970s; and on 25 August 1992, 1.5 million books and manuscripts went up in flames in a single night in the Serbs' ethnic cleansing of Sarajevo. The most iconic images of book burning are from 10 May 1933 when the Nazis burnt some 20,000 volumes in Berlin. 


 India has its own fine traditions: the nine-storied libraries of Nalanda, repository of hundreds of thousands of texts, were attacked more than once: first, some claim, by Brahmanical sects in the 10th century, and then entirely gutted in 1193 by Bakhtiyar Khilji, an invading fanatic. The library burned for months. More recently, in January 2004, the right-wing Sambhaji Brigade ransacked the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune, destroying invaluable and irreplaceable manuscripts and texts. 


Why are books feared? One answer comes from George Orwell's 1984, when the Ministry of Truth says: "Who controls the present controls the past; who controls the past controls the future." Alberto Manguel, as gifted a reader as he is a writer, and a close friend of Borges, suggests another in his marvellous A History of Reading. 


 "... the artificial dichotomy between life and reading is actively encouraged by those in power. Demotic regimes demand that we forget, and therefore they brand books as superfluous luxuries; totalitarian regimes demand that we not think, and therefore they ban and threaten and censor; both, by and large, require that we become stupid ... and therefore they encourage the consumption of pap. In such circumstances, readers cannot but be subversive." 


Nicholas Basbanes writes books about books. "Literature is fundamental to our cultural heritage and our shared patrimony," he says in Every Book Its Reader and a sharper criticism of modern Indian cultural consciousness is hard to imagine. In this book, Basbanes narrates the story of a remarkable man named S. R. Ranganathan who, in 1923, applied for a job as the chief librarian at the University of Madras. Ranganathan was to author over 50 monographs in library science and in one, from 1931, he outlined a set of five principles that have since become a code for librarians everywhere. Three of these are meant for the technicians. Two speak to us all: every reader his book and every book its reader. Reading is a personal, solitary, unsociable, selfish, exclusionary activity, and that makes books doubly dangerous. They take you to places where no one follows and where there are no rules but those you make yourself. 


To bibliophiles, every book is sacred. In February 1998, 3000 volumes owned by Mohammed al-Fayed – the man who bought Harrods, and whose son died with Princess Diana – were auctioned by Sotheby's in New York. The books were once part of the estate of Wallis Warfield Simpson, later the Duchess of Windsor. She inherited them from the man who was once King Edward VIII. For the woman he loved, the King gave up crown and country--but not his books. 


The terrors of Fahrenheit 451 returned when, in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the library of Baghdad was destroyed by the invading allied forces. Four years later, dedicating a new library at the US airbase in Baghdad, Basbanes said: "where there are books, there is always hope." 


Our Vice-Chancellor's decision to ban Rohinton Mistry's Such a Long Journey from the syllabus is not only entirely wrong and illegal, it is plainly silly. Bullying is not bravery; quite the opposite. Aditya Thackeray's demand for a ban on a book he has not read makes this clear: what is it that Thackeray fears?



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Nothing energises the Indian capital market the way a mega public sector issue does. Normally, from day to day, the Indian stock market moves up and down on foreign cues. But it is the prospects of participating in a bit of the government's sale of family silver that really take the shareholding community and habit forward. In this sense, the Coal India IPO could have hardly come at a more important moment. A question mark hangs over the future of the current stock market rally because the lay investor is significantly missing, unlike during other such rallies. Hence the need to liven things up, create a buzz and a hype that can make the idea of owning shares attractive. Independent analysts' evaluation indicates that the government is not repeating the mistake made with earlier public sector IPOs and at the price band declared will leave something on the table for investors. This should ensure the success of the issue which, in turn, will enable the foreign institutional investors who have been coming in in a big way to stick to their cycle of booking some gains while increasing their secular commitment to one of the most attractive emerging markets. Thus, if all goes well, through the Coal India IPO, India will join the line of successful mega issues from national companies of emerging economies.


The longer-term prospects also look bright for the most part. There is a huge energy shortage in the economy and a trend growth rate of 8 per cent plus will, if anything, make the country's energy balance even tighter. Against this, India in general and Coal India in particular have enormous mining reserves which will last over a hundred years. Since Coal India is already sitting on a major cash pile, there should be no problem in taking a quantum leap in raising output to meet the near-insatiable demand, creating wealth for all stakeholders. Three things can dampen this rosy scenario — internal efficiencies, the environmental issue and price realisation. The company was at one time burdened with a huge workforce which has been whittled down over time. This has, with increasing resort to open cast mining, improved efficiencies that can be bettered with greater use of technology.


 On the important environmental issue, Coal India will need to and likely be given alternative reserves in lieu of those that fall in no-go forest areas. There is also the need for the economy to move to clean coal technologies which will be imperative to rein in carbon emissions and global warming. The Coal India chairman has already indicated plans of extensive investment in coal-washing facilities which will not only reduce emissions but also the cost of transportation. But the biggest question mark hanging over Coal India's ability to maximise margins and reward shareholders in the future is the government's willingness to allow it to charge global prices. The elaborate pricing formula under which the company operates allows it to do much less, thereby both raising prospects of higher future returns and regulatory uncertainty. If coal prices are determined anything near to the way oil prices are fixed now, the future will be downbeat. The government not only needs to give assurances in this regard, but also stick to them.







The Government of India has finally made the mistake we had sincerely hoped it would not. It has notified the constitution of the Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC). The institutional concession made to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), with its governor being named chairperson of a sub-committee on financial stability, is more an act of appeasement than recantation. This newspaper took a considered view from day one that the idea of the FSDC, first proposed by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in his Budget speech this year, was a bad one. This is in no way a comment on the minister himself. Mr Mukherjee is without doubt a wise and experienced politician. He has long years of experience in the Union government. He has been India's finance minister in another era and has returned to provide leadership to the ministry in a new world. While his intentions would be honourable and motivations unquestionable, it appears his thinking is outdated. Mr Mukherjee is using the policy framework of his earlier tenure at North Block to shape his thinking in the present one. Both the world and India have moved on since the 1980s. While it is true that the central bank is a creation of the government and the governor of RBI is its appointee, while it is also true that the finance minister is answerable to Parliament on behalf of the central bank, the fact remains that the central bank has acquired a new profile in the modern world that has enabled governments to manage both markets and financial institutions better. The authority of the central bank governor, created in part by new methodologies of policy communication and the use of monetary policy and other policy variables, has helped in improved and more professional management of the economy. The world has come to respect India for the way in which its macroeconomic authorities steered the economy, especially the financial sector, in the months preceding the trans-Atlantic financial crisis. There was no FSDC then. There was just a credible RBI.


As former RBI Governor Bimal Jalan wrote in his column in this newspaper (BS, August 28, 2010), acknowledging that a sagacious finance minister like Mr Mukherjee is unlikely to misuse the institution, once an instrument of interference gets created, someone less experienced and mature could misuse it and this could result in undue political interference in regulatory and policy actions of the central bank and other financial sector regulators. The argument that the US has a similar institution in the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) is neither here nor there. In any case, the US is hardly a good example to follow these days as far as financial sector regulation is concerned. No parliamentary democracy has such an institution that enables political interference in financial sector regulation. If the idea of the finance ministry was merely to ensure better coordination between various regulators, this could have been ensured in a variety of ways without creating formal structures. It is a pity, therefore, that the government has ignored our cautionary words. The future will tell whether we are being overly concerned.










If India can organise a Republic Day parade every year with great efficiency, and could recently host successfully World Military Games, why did it mess up the organisation of the Commonwealth Games (CWG)?

What is common to successful mass events is an empowered structure with clear demarcation of responsibility and accountability. The CWG failed due to an absence of a centralised command structure. Responsibilities were not demarcated, there were too many "Indians" and no chiefs, and, what is more, everyone had an excuse not to own up responsibility.


 November 13, 2003 was the date on which the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) resolved to hand over the Games to Delhi. In accordance with article 10A, the host city contract was inked by the Government of India (GoI), the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi(GNCTD), the IOA and the CGF. The organisation of the entire event was allotted to the Organising Committee (OC) of the CWG.


The key delivery partners listed on the website are the CGF, the IOA, the OC CWG, the GNCTD and the GoI in that order. It also states that several ministries of the GoI and several organisations under the GNCTD and others would be involved in execution. 


Even a prima facie analysis of this structure would point to the fact that the coordination of such a complex body cannot be vested with a committee which has no authority over the key delivery partners. In the Indian context, hierarchy and individual egos play a vital role in the smooth functioning of the organisation. At times, collective organisational goals are sacrificed to appease individual aspirations. Presumably, these considerations caused undue delays of about two years before the OC came into existence on February 10, 2005 — a faulty and toothless structure from day one.


Although representatives of all the delivery partners were constituted on the committee, raising alarms at the CWG meetings, when deadline after deadline failed to be met by their parent organisation, is not a practical proposition. Having taken full responsibility for staging the best ever Games, as outlined on the website, the OC perhaps continued at best as a mute spectator to inter-ministerial red tape and embarrassing delays in execution.


What is needed in the globalised, highly competitive and demanding environment is to professionalise our decision-making structures to include experts in negotiations, project management and other niche areas.


A look at the ministry which manages the armed forces of India in the above context would be instructive. The defence ministry has the responsibility to handle the rapidly increasing defence budget, which is more than twice the amount allotted to the CWG, but on a yearly basis. Is it structured to meet all the requirements of the armed forces of India?


First, since 1952, the three chiefs along with their headquarters were removed from the decision-making structure of the GoI. They were designated as the "attached offices" of the ministry. In effect, all communications from the armed forces were to be addressed only to the ministry and no decision-making power and executive power was to reside with the chiefs, save those related to operations. Not even the revenue budget could be operated by the chief to merely run the service as it existed. The chiefs could send their recommendations and plans for modernisation, which effectively rested at the table of some functionary without even an acknowledgement. The ministry continued to be manned by generalists — civil servants who often learnt about the armed forces after they were placed in the chair.


While the authority to take decisions with the concurrence of the minister was vested with the ministry, there were no provisions for accountability. Having been removed from the chain, the chiefs could only make proposals and could not be held accountable. The procurement of Advanced Jet Trainers(AJTs) for the Air Force took over two decades, by which time costs had escalated by 500 per cent. The decision to induct Gorshkov took over a decade, by which time the deteriorating cables of the ship warranted doubling of the original cost. Many thousand crores are surrendered unspent year after year despite the urgent operational needs of the Army. There are no clear-cut penalties for procrastination and opportunity costs incurred thereof. Are these not the ills of the CWG as well?


Second, integration of the ministry with the armed forces by placing uniformed professionals at appropriate desks of the ministry is a successful model practised by other democracies. Similar structures were recommended by the Committee on Defence Management after the Kargil war. Cosmetic changes in nomenclature with no corresponding powers were the only action taken to show compliance.


Thirdly, the Kargil Review Committee did recommend the creation of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) as a single-point adviser to the defence minister on all matters of planning, acquisition etc. This has been stalled by status quo-ists within and without the armed forces. The result is the continuation of a toothless Chiefs of Staff Committee, which was first recommended in 1924 and which is still in existence only in India. Almost all armed forces of countries that matter have opted for a fully integrated structure with accountability, while we continue to live in denial of a serious structural infirmity.


The CWG 2010 has brought disrepute to the country due to delays in implementation despite seven years to prepare. We can live with it, for soon it will be forgotten. However, continued denial of structural weaknesses in the defence department has the potential to lay our country in the dust. Until then, incapability to modernise, lack of timely decision coupled with conflicting demands of the three services can only be offset by the ability of our officers and soldiers to lay down their lives — even if it is to achieve a pyrrhic victory.


The author is a retired admiral of the Indian Navy










When financial news hits the front page, do the opposite." I've been thinking about this aphorism over the past couple of weeks with the whole world — or, certainly, armies of global analysts — talking about "currency wars" and "beggar-thy-neighbour-as-thyself" policies.


 Granted that this polished pearl of wisdom was perhaps more relevant in a time when financial markets were quite separate from the world of journalism — a far cry from today's live-time focus on markets. But I think it's still relevant today.


Let us look at what's been happening in the forex (FX) market. Since the start of the year, the dollar index (DXY) rose to a high of almost 90 on the back of a continuing flight of capital to the supposed safety of US Treasuries. Since early June, however, it has been declining steadily, as investors appear to be getting more and more convinced that the "end of the world" is not happening just yet.


In other words, people started selling dollars and picking up little pieces of risk — Australian dollars, gold, etc. There was a bit of a hiatus to this very tentative getting-back-into-the-water in early August on a renewed ripple of nervousness driven by a combination of troubles in Europe, poor US statistics and, of course, the increasing shrillness of the "end-of-the-world" gurus, who were incensed that markets were not following their explicit instructions.


Of course, markets were thin during this period, since it was summer vacation in the more developed markets. But come September and the party people — the real risk-takers — were back, and boom!


Indian equities were one of the first out of the gate, followed in short order by more gold, a wide array of commodities and, finally — by the end of September — the rupee and other animals. To be sure, several other currencies had begun rising earlier — notably, the Brazilian real, the Aussie, other Asian currencies, the euro and the yen. By the second week of October, the DXY had fallen to nearly 75, almost 15 per cent down from its May peak.


The sharp move had markets squawking. The Bank of Japan intervened to prevent further strengthening for the first time since 2004. The Swiss National Bank has been plugging away; the Brazilian government has been complaining about competitive devaluations; the eurozone and the US are focused on Chinese recalcitrance. Even our RBI got modestly into the fray, with a bit of intervention at 45, and recent jawboning by senior RBI and government officials.


Metaphorically speaking, financial news has hit the front page. Everybody (apparently) is alarmed.


Following the aphorism, this means that it's all gone too far and is ready for a hiatus, and probably at least a little bit of an unwind.


Let's focus the story on India. First of all, FIIs and other investors are once again scrambling to get a piece of the action — a few weeks ago, I saw Indigo again full of green, young, white banker-types. As a result, the Sensex has rocketed and is flirting with its all-time highs. Everybody has the same story: the long-term fundamentals are strong, but there could be some profit-taking — perhaps just before or after Diwali, and certainly by the end of the year. Valuations are stretched, but nobody wants to be the first to sell.


Now, an equity correction does not necessarily translate into a decline in the rupee, since investors may well divest but hold their funds in India. Another play, though — the upcoming basket of IPOs — could work differently. Banks have already positioned themselves for the expected inflows — once the money does come in, they will happily cash their spread by selling rupees they bought at 45+ to investors at 44+. When the allotment is over, the oversubscription will have to be remitted out, which will create fresh demand for dollars.


The DXY, which is very highly correlated with both the rupee and the Sensex, could also see a correction. I don't believe the world is about to end, which means that the hysterical indicators (gold at an all-time high, the Aussie, for God's sake, almost at parity with the US dollar, and five-year US Treasuries yielding just a bit over 1 per cent) are over the top — clearly, looking for any reason to take a breath.


Since January, my forecast for the year had been a range of 44.50 to 48.50. One end of that range has been met (and, in fact, breached slightly). While I don't believe we will see the other end of the range this year, I think the odds on some correction are high. Option prices are down, offering a good opportunity to protect against any sudden decline in the rupee









SKS Microfinance Founder and Chairman Vikram Akula is a star in his own right, and his trademark kurta pyjama that stands out in the backdrop of dark-suited fellow professionals is certainly not the only reason for his exalted status. After all, Akula is leading an institution that is well on its way to becoming the world's biggest micro-lender.


 The 41-year-old poster boy of the Indian microfinance industry is also extremely articulate and is not known to be at a loss for words. In that context, his statement early this week that "inter-personal issues" led to the ouster of Suresh Gurumani as managing director and CEO just 15 days after the company's listing lacks conviction.


This was not exactly the kind of response one would expect from the chairman of a listed company. For, we are talking about the ouster of an MD of a listed entity and not the sharing of a gift between two quarrelling school children.


SKS has said it is only following its principle of allowing "graceful and dignified exits" to people and does not want to give out the details of what led to Gurumani's removal and that there were no "financial irregularities and performance issues" involved. In any case, there is nothing illegal about the removal of an MD and CEO of a company by the board.


SKS is on the dot on the illegality issue, but off track on the disclosure. Investors obviously have the right to know the circumstances that forced the SKS action. Many say the attitude shows how Akula and the SKS brass are yet to realise that a listed company can't be the playground of a few big boys. Others are more benevolent: "You have to give them some more time to mature. It takes time to realise that you are now under the public glare."


The reasons may be known shortly at the court-mandated extraordinary general meeting (EGM) that will put to vote the continuance of Gurumani as the company's non-executive director. The disclosure is important as the timing of the sacking is intriguing. No one knows whether "inter-personal issues" are strong enough reasons for shunting out a CEO barely a month after a successful listing.


During his interaction with the media, Akula also said that Gurumani's inability to handle the changing dynamics of the microfinance industry in India was also a reason for his ouster. "Post our IPO, the dynamics of the microfinance sector changed," Akula said. No one knows how the "dynamics of an industry" can change in just 15 days.


What makes it even more intriguing is that just three months back, the SKS board had approved a proposal to raise Gurumani's remuneration substantially. Ask Akula and the answer is that the board could not perceive the pace of the change in the industry even though the senior management may have been aware of it!


Though both sides are not talking about it, industry circles say the actual reason for the clash between the chairman and the CEO was their differences over how to take SKS forward. The roles were divided: while Akula would handle broader public and policy matters and "help" the management devise strategy, Gurumani would look after daily operations and the investor interface. But it was obviously difficult for Akula, who had built SKS brick by brick, to restrict himself to a "helping" brief.


"It started as 'we have differences but have a healthy respect for each other' kind of stuff, but the gulf between the two widened after Akula came back into the company last month as executive chairman from his earlier position as non-executive chairman," says an industry observer.


While Gurumani, an ex-Barclays and Standard Chartered banker, wanted a cautious approach and avoid reckless growth, Akula planned to innovate and expand across products and services for the poor. For example, the company wants to launch new products like micro-housing, loans against gold, and even sell mobile phones. Yet, when Gurumani shed his initial reluctance and launched micro-health insurance, SKS stopped it after the initial not-so-encouraging response, without giving the CEO enough time to stabilise the product. Gurumani has also spoken about his keenness to put in place controls and more risk management structures but some board members worried that these measures would be too costly.


Akula had earlier gone public with his belief in the wisdom of teams and his "dream" of taking power away from himself as most start-ups have failed because they depended on just one founder. He had also spoken about the reasons for bringing in people like Gurumani since he (Akula) is not a banker and wanted people who were smarter than him.


In the end, however, the CEO found himself outsmarted by the founder-chairman and his board.










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.









THE biggest thing about the Coal India initial public offering (IPO) is not its size — the largest ever from an Indian company — or its hotly-debated price band — . 225-245 — as much as the fact that it is happening at all. Consider. The UPA government has not been particularly enthusiastic about disinvestment; barring the last fiscal when disinvestment proceeds crossed . 25,000 crore as against a target of just . 1,120 crore, it has consistently fallen short of the target set. Coal is a strategic industry. CIL is headquartered in Kolkata, the bastion of anti-reformers. It has more than four lakh employees, most of them steeped in anti-disinvestment culture. The fact that 1% of the offer has been reserved for the employees of CIL and its eight subsidiaries, and that employees as well as retail investors will get a 5% discount might have acted as a sweetener. But it is more than that. The happy reality is that disinvestment is no longer the contentious issue that it used to be in the past. And that is excellent news. Not only because it means the government can push ahead with much greater vigour on disinvestment but also because public sector monoliths can now benefit from the greater professionalism that private ownership of capital brings in its wake. On that count, the CIL issue marks a watershed in the disinvestment debate. 


At the proposed price band, the issue is expected to raise between . 14,200 crore and . 15,475 crore, i.e., more than a third of the government's disinvestment target of . 40,000 crore. The government has already raised . 2,000 crore from a sale in Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited and Engineers India Limited (EIL) and another six issues are slated for this fiscal. So, we are likely to comfortably achieve the target. Despite its notoriously lethargic ways, CIL has much going for it as the largest coal-mining company globally, as also one of the low-cost producers. But it was handicapped both by political interference and its public sector mindset. Hopefully, both will be mitigated, even if not eliminated, so that CIL can emerge from the shackles of the past and reward both its new owners (those who subscribe to the IPO) as well as its old ones — the taxpayers of this country who have long been given a raw deal by the company.







THE Centre has appointed a three-member group of interlocutors to hold talks with various shades of opinion in Kashmir. There has already been criticism on the lack of a political face to the group. On an optimistic note, it could be said that such a group can transcend political parties and the governments of the day. But the knotty nature of the problem in Kashmir is evident from the fact that the efforts of groups and committees, ostensibly much more 'empowered', formed for much the same purpose in the past came to naught. The composition of the new group, then, seems to be a carefully crafted move to both keep the political element away for now while being seen to be trying to carve out new space. But one of the main problems faced in Kashmir is the deficit between the sentiments of an alienated population, particularly in the Valley, and the state. Indeed, that deficit is so massive that most, if any, measures seem to be negated even before they can be initiated. The rejection of the group of interlocutors by the separatist camp is a case in point. But if a precondition for a genuine dialogue is that one cannot decide who sits across the table, it is incumbent on the separatists to show flexibility. But it is also a moot point, not least given the past history of Kashmir-specific groups, whether this admittedly non-partisan group of interlocutors will be able to reduce that deficit in Kashmir. 


It has been repeatedly acknowledged that there is no real alternative to having a wide-ranging dialogue. And a meaningful dialogue would need to have a political component, indeed, would necessitate direct political intervention. The Centre has reserved the option of perhaps adding a political face to the group at a later stage — a fourth member has been mentioned as a possibility. The objective, it seems, is to watch the progress this initiative makes. But New Delhi can, as of now, aid the chances of any progress by meaningfully implementing other measures mentioned in the eight-point package on Kashmir — such as releasing detainees and scaling down the presence of security forces in ordinary Kashmiri life. Any action taken on that count has at best been cosmetic on the ground.






EVEN if there is a case for Venetian gondolas crafted from 10 kinds of wood to make it to Unesco's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage In Need of Urgent Safeguarding to stave off cheap plastic versions, the Mediterranean diet can hardly plead for the same protection. As culinary diversity is relentlessly trampled by the onslaught of basil and feta cheese, olive oil and hummus, pasta and pita bread, those who gather in Nairobi next month to decide on 58 new proposals for the list should consider that other cuisines need to be protected against the neo-culinarialism of the Mediterranean's littoral states if 'gastronomy' is indeed added as a category. Jointly put forward by Italy, Spain, Greece and Morocco, Mediterranean cuisine's supporters base their claims on the magical formula of fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses and unrefined cereals, olive and other oils rather than butter, and less dairy products, meat and sugar. That sounds suspiciously like many traditional Indian food styles. To let the healthy food genre be appropriated by one geographical grouping would be patently unfair. About as unfair as France's extraordinary but short-lived bid to have its cuisine included as "the best gastronomy in the world". 


 Since the wording of the criteria has the potential to include gastronomy, and if Croatian gingerbread-making slips in under that head this year, many Indian culinary traditions can make the cut, too. After all, from papad and pickle making to langars and burra khanas, there are countless Indian cooking and eating practices that could be classified as "practices, representations, expressions as well as knowledge and skills that identify and define a group or civilisation". Besides, Intangible India has catching up to do; we have proposed 20 additions to our existing tally of four while China already has 23.








ANOTABLE characteristic of our cities is the harsh reality of urban poverty and slum expansion which coexists with all developmental efforts. Figures show that though urban poverty has registered a decline in percentage terms in relation to the total urban population, with the population living below the poverty line declining from 32.3% in 1993-94 to 25.7% in 2004-05, the number of such people actually increased in absolute terms by four million. It is also of concern that such a rise in the number of urban poor is in stark contrast with rural poverty where both the total number of rural poor and its incidence in comparison with the rural population has fallen. 


Migration to cities continues whatever the efforts made in rural areas to help generate more employment opportunities, and it is the large number of workers engaged in the urban economy as self-employed in the informal sector who fall in the category of urban poor. It is a stark paradox of urban India that though they play a major role in wealth creation, development of infrastructure and provision of a certain quality of life to urban dwellers, the urban poor themselves are denied shelter, basic amenities and a dignified life. And the gap between the urban rich and poor continues to widen considerably. 


We had a slum population of 61.82 million in 2001, of which 42.58 million lived in 640 cities and towns that have population of 50,000 or more. Every seventh person in India is a slum-dweller. The recent report of the committee on slum statistics/census points out that actually about 26.31% of the total urban population of 28.61 crore is estimated to be slumdwellers in our 5,161 cities and towns. As urbanisation grows and the share of urban households rises in the next two decades, we may expect the slums to grow at even faster rates. 


Though the basic services for urban poor component of the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission are expected to provide 1.5 million housing units by 2012, much more which needs to be done. As more people live and work in cities, the demand for housing will rise fast and this has to be seen in the background of over 35% of India's urban population residing in slums and over 50% of urban housing being kutchaor temporary.


Against an estimated housing shortage of 24.71 million representing 67.4 million households, as high as 99% is accounted for by the economically weaker sections and lower income groups. Pressure on urban land is increasing due to market forces supported by an upward trend in economic growth, which, in effect, means that access to land to provide adequate shelter to the most needy becomes difficult. It is accepted that the failure to adopt appropriate urban land policies and land management practices continues to be a primary cause of inequity and poverty. Even though it is well-recognised that at the core of the poverty and vulnerability in cities is the poor asset base of many citizens, aproblem centring on housing and lack of security of tenure, we still have to do a lot to enable the markets to deliver low income housing solutions. Resolving land tenure issues is a must for poverty reduction and inclusive development.


 Noting that affordable housing provision for the growing urban population remains a big challenge to our cities, the housing mandate needs to be clearly assigned at the city level with major support programmes. As the midterm appraisal of the current Five-Year Plan states, severalfold increase in the funds for affordable housing and slum transformation initiatives will be necessary. Making land available, systematically going in for slum rehabilitation with set timelines, putting in place policies and systems whereby slums do not continue to proliferate by providing access to cheaper housing for the new employment seekers should all form part of the mandate of the city body, supported by the state government. 

SINCE Singapore is often held up as a success story in affordable housing delivery, we could study this example for possible lessons. Theirs is a story where they have been successful in clearing nearly all (as much as 99%) squatter settlements, providing 84% of the city-state's 3.2 million residents with security of tenure, including home ownership for 92% in state-provided housing and resolving the worst of housing shortages. A central focus of their public housing strategy has been to provide good affordable housing to all who lack it, in particular poor families. 


The government has participated in and taken a major and responsible role in organising the conditions for public housing development and consumption. It set up the national housing authority in 1960 with wide legal, land and financial powers to implement the public housing programme. By centralising all public housing functions under a single authority, it succeeded in circumventing the problems of bureaucratic fragmentation often associated with multi-agency implementation. 


China shifted from a state-provided housing model to a private developer-led model wherein they were provided various incentives like free land allocation, provision of basic infrastructure and tax exemptions. They also provide housing for the low-income migrants in the form of dormitories. South Africa made housing a constitutional right and initiated significant government-led house construction supported by free land allocation and capital subsidies. There the cities plan affordable housing through detailed five-year plans. In stark contrast, our urban local bodies and service providers struggle with such huge shortage of funds that even expanding trunk infrastructure is difficult! 


The recent McKinsey study on India's urban awakening points out that the government has not systematically thought through the combination of incentives, subsidies and beneficiary contributions to bridge the gap between affordability and market cost as far as housing is concerned. Our regulatory barriers such as limits on urban density, land ceilings, poor planning, rigid master plans and restrictive zoning statutes, many say, have only crippled land markets and exacerbated the already difficult situation. 


Can we afford to understate our urban agenda without being alive to the massive and immediate requirements which would make our cities liveable and prepared enough to support the ambitious growth agenda we are setting for ourselves? 


(The author is secretary to the government     inthe ministry of urban development)













THEElection Commission of India has decided to refer to a technical expert committee the suggestion of some political parties to have a voter verifiable paper trail for the EVM. Opposition parties had earlier expressed fears over the possible tamperability of EVMs after an Indian and two foreign technologists accessed it; though they found the software not hackable, they showed tamperability, but only after changing components. With the software found to be untamperable, the demand for jettisoning EVMs has now given way to its continued use, but with a suggestion to provide a paper trail. 


This is not a new innovation. But its introduction will have humongous implications. Hence, a careful appraisal of costs and benefits is required before the plunge. ECI and stakeholders will have to ponder over mind-boggling logistics of a million polling stations having EVM and paper ballots. Further, a physically accessible piece of paper can become a source for bribery and intimidation. Unless carefully watched, and that too without compromising the secrecy of a vote, voters can disappear with the receipt, causing confusion and disruption. Printers are mechanical devices prone to failures and there are consequent hold-ups. Design problems, like a powersource for the printer, safekeeping of printing paper and sealed storage bin for printed paper — and the need for all these to be light-weight and easy to carry over long distances — have to be addressed. Present EVMs can only print a candidate's number, but the receipt without a party symbol will be meaningless to a majority of voters. 


So, while paper trail seems to be an attractive step, it will be an arduous trek. If there are lingering doubts about EVM software, it can be tested. But if a paper trail is just to clear political parties' doubts over software or validate failure-prone opinion and exit polls, it is an absurd and avoidable exercise. Better then to go back to ballots instead of the duality of paper and machine, which is sure to cause confusion and disputes at the counting table. Let attention not be diverted from the far more serious issues confronting the poll scenario like criminals in politics, money power and paid news, lest it becomes a case of missing the wood for the trees.





Paper trail is a must for EVMs 

OUR EVMs function as 'black boxes' and have rendered the entire voting process non-transparent, unverifiable and unauditable. Consequently, this has led to nagging doubts among voters and parties about their reliability. For the same limitations, after spending millions of euros, many European countries, including Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, etc., have banned electronic voting and returned to paper ballots. In the US, too, most states have now banned paperless voting systems. Admittedly, India has unique needs and situations. Thus, we need not follow western democracies. But we should not overlook the limitations of electronic voting setups either. 


Following concerns raised by many parties, the ECI has now agreed to review the possibility of providing paper trail for the EVMs. Voterverified paper trail (VVPAT) refers to a system wherein a printer attached with the voting machine produces a paper printout of every vote cast just as an ATM produces a slip after every transaction. The voter verifies it for its accuracy and then deposits it into a ballot box. 


There are many misconceptions about VVPAT regarding the secrecy of vote. You can address them by having a VVPAT solution in which the printed ballot becomes visible behind a glass screen and gets dropped into a ballot box after the voter verifies it for accuracy. Chandrababu Naidu made such a proposal and all parties backed it at the all-party meeting. 


The other reservations for adopting VVPAT are costs involved and the unreliability of printers. In my opinion, the cost involved is well worth it, given that there is nothing more valuable than a well-preserved democracy. Unreliability of printers would warrant more printers to be kept in reserve for replacement. VVPAT is what we need if we must continue with electronic voting. The only alternative to this is returning to paper ballots. 


Significantly, prominent EVM critics worldwide are top-ranked computer scientists, while most of those supporting the EVMs are people with no such expertise. Thus, the ECI's decision to refer the matter to an experts committee is unexceptionable and indeed appreciable.







BY THE time this article appears in print, the CWG will be over. Thankfully so for many Delhiites, who found their lives completely disrupted for almost one month of traffic restrictions and unwarranted city shutdowns. Worse of all, for some reason, the last day of the games was declared a public holiday although the games are being held only in Delhi. The justification? Security. This is logical. If one could close down the country for some time and declare Sec 144 everywhere, it is certain that incidents of terrorism would be limited. As logical as closing down a national university and all schools in the capital because the CWG needed their facilities. Last heard, the main demand seems to be for the bus drivers of these schools but most of them have already taken off for their enforced vacation. As the media has already successfully said all that there is to say about the CWG, I will try to see what lessons are to be learnt from the point of view of governance in general. 


Lesson 1 — the problem is leadership: Some TV channels seem to have personalised the issue by concentrating on Mr Suresh Kalmadi and what he did or did not do. Even more ludicrous, the focus then shifted to the secretary-general of the CWG, who has been seriously afflicted with a 'foot in the mouth' disease. Whether it is the organisation of the stadia, choice of volunteers or sale of tickets, it is clear that had the government chosen any random individual to head the organising committee (OC), he or she could not possibly have done a worse job. But you cannot get leadership and competence out of those who have never demonstrated any organisational abilities. Yet, very little discussion has focused on who, in 2004, thought it fit to hand over the task of organising these games to such incompetent individuals and who should actually be held responsible for the poor performance of Mr Kalmadi and his cohorts. 


Lesson 2 — failure of governance: Between the Delhi government, the sports ministry and the OC, it was clear that none was willing to own up responsibility for non-completion of projects. This is like a typical government project where there are so many signatories from different ministries that one cannot say who took the final decision. But the CWG had to be viewed as an event management exercise which is not in the domain of government competence. As a comparison with the 1982 Asian Games makes clear, the multiplicity of authorities was a major cause of the breakdown in organisation of the CWG. 
    Lesson 3 — foreign investors' perception will be unaffected:Some media reports seemed to imply that the handling of the games might affect investor perception. This view was also supported by some in the government who felt that it was imperative that the games 'be held at all cost' to maintain India's integrity as an investment destination. Nothing could be further from the truth. India's success as an investment destination has more to do with growth rates and the recessionary woes of the OECD countries than with the organisational abilities of Mr Kalmadi or the government. 

Lesson 4 — the problem is not corruption: 

The exposure started with revelations from an innocuous Indian gentlemen in London and his links to equally innocuous members of the OC. The media then went to town about the problem of corruption in government contracts. As young people today would say, 'get a life!'. Look at developed countries like the US or Japan or 'fairly developed' countries like South Korea: kickbacks in high-level government contracts is common to all democracies. They also exist in communist countries, but are not publicly visible. The real problem with the CWG was the failure to deliver on facilities even after the corruption. But then, what else can one expect when the OC is headed by a politically defunct Congressman. Is he expected to keep other active politicians at bay? Did one seriously expect Mr Kalmadi to have control over thousands of crores of public money? 


Lesson 5 — bidding for the Olympic Games: 

For once, this writer agrees with Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, but for different reasons. The mandated autonomy of the IOA implies that Mr Kalmadi will again be in charge. Forget other reasons, that will guarantee that the games cannot (and should not) be given to India; so, why waste time over this issue? 


he bottomline? The snafus that accompanied the CWG are a classic example of failure of governance. More specifically, a failure of institutions. The IOA is an institutions best viewed as a sinecure for discarded politicians and not one which has any expertise in event management. Till such times as institutions of governance are established in sports management, CWGtype fiascos are bound to recur. While the obsession with cricket is probably unwarranted, its organisational systems need emulation by other sports bodies.







ST CHRISTOPHER, the patron saint of travellers, was most probably a darkskinned member of a north African tribe in the fourth century who was captured by the Romans, conscripted, baptised and, ultimately, decapitated for his faith. Legends that have evolved around him on the other hand have fabulously reinvented him to serve quite another arguably valuable purpose. The man has been portrayed as an extremely tall and powerful light-skinned person who decided he wanted to be in the service of the greatest king in the land. 


So he found one and served him well for years till one day he saw the king cross himself when the name of the devil was mentioned in his presence. Then and there he decided his sovereign was not so powerful after all, for he had feet of clay and feared Satan. Naturally, his next choice of liege was thus Satan himself. Chancing upon a gang of marauders, the leader of whom claimed to be the devil, he immediately volunteered his services again and was taken in. But when he found his mew master move over to the other side of the road in order to avoid a wayside cross he realised the devil feared Christ. Now he had to serve Christ. But where to find him? 

A hermit suggested that because of his massive girth and strength the best way he could serve the Saviour was by helping people cross a particularly swollen and dangerous river, carrying them on his back. This too he did successfully for years till one day a little boy approached and asked to be ferried across. Things went well as they started out but soon our hero found himself struggling because the boy was beginning to get increasingly heavier. He thought they would both perish, yet somehow he managed to reach the bank. He said to the child, "It seemed I was carrying the whole world." The child replied, "Not only the whole world but also its maker. I am Christ and pleased by your service." 


Almost two thousand years later in 1969, Pope Paul VI removed St Christopher's feast day from the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, saying that almost nothing at all historical was definitively known about him. Has this stopped faithful travellers from carrying his locket as pendants and dashboard ornaments? No way. When religious authorities or kings — or even courts for that matter — believe they can arbitrate on legends they forget that they're also a lot like legends. They too exist only because we believe in them.





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




 "Interlocutors" is a rather ponderous name given by the government to the group of three prominent civil society individuals it has zeroed in on to take a year to hear voices from below in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, filter these with sagacity, and forward the essence to the government for policymaking purposes. This group of three — to which a fourth may be added — apparently won't be negotiators between the government and different sections of opinion in the troubled state. Their role is more akin to that of accredited journalists, except that the correspondents in question will be reporting to the government, not to independent news platforms that disseminate information to the public. In the event, it is hard to see the concrete nature of the work expected from the three individuals, other than star-gazing. Bereft as they will be of any authority, it is hard to see any serious players, particularly those in the Valley who routinely hobnob with folk on the other side in Pakistan, confiding to our interlocutors. The Kashmiris are a sceptical lot at the best of times, and at all times a deeply motivated lot, in political terms. The Mirwaiz, who is thought to be a moderate Hurriyat leader, and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the highest ranking pro-Pakistan leader of Kashmir, have already gone on record about their absence of confidence in the interlocutors named. This does not, however, mean that the interlocutors cannot earn the respect of those they communicate with. Much will depend on their grasp of the situation and sensitivity. The belief they need to firmly adhere to is that they are not diplomats, not politicians, not intelligence officers. They will be plain carriers of goodwill. That is an excruciating burden to carry without the expectation of concrete results. Senior journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, who is in a sense the chairman of the group, has done well to publicly suggest that he will look to the future and not be bogged down by obstacles placed by history in approaching his task. This does ease some of the burden, although the interlocutors must at all times remain intimated that the Kashmiris they will interact with will take no responsibility whatever for the dialogue they will be embarking on. The way they look at life is: their role is to make demands, it is the role of others to fulfil them or stand condemned. The idea of getting together interlocutors to carry out continual dialogue with the people of Kashmir to put an end to the recent mistrust and violence emanated from the recent visit of members of Parliament to Kashmir last month. It was widely expected that it would be a group of politicians who would fit the bill. To that extent, picking up non-politicians comes as a complete surprise. The three chosen might have a political "persona", as Union home minister P. Chidambaram has gratuitously remarked, but clearly they lack the skills that politicians innately and instinctively bring to their difficult job. Some would simply argue that non-politicians, even the most eminent of them, are the wrong sort to be interlocutors in the treacherous political terrain of Jammu & Kashmir.







It has been a cliché for some time now that India lives in a tough neighbourhood. The evidence for that, over the years, has been plentiful. Just two years ago, the picture in South Asia was bleak: Pakistan in turmoil, with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and chaos in the streets; Bangladesh under military rule; Nepal and Sri Lanka convulsed by civil war; Bhutan managing a delicate transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional democracy; Afghanistan battling the forces of a resurgent Taliban; and even the Maldives facing mass disturbances in the lead-up to elections. The cliché could not have seemed truer.


And yet, we can now point to how much has begun to change for the better in our neighbourhood. In the last year and a half, there has been progress almost everywhere. Bangladesh has held a free election and restored civilian democratic government (with a moderate secular party in power). Nepal's civil war is over and a coalition government holds the reins. In Sri Lanka, the military victory over the murderous forces of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was followed by elections that consolidated the government's ability to deliver on its promises. Bhutan's political experiment is going remarkably well. The Maldives has elected a former dissident as President and he is bravely facing his country's many challenges. Only in Afghanistan and Pakistan do fundamental difficulties persist. The prospects for peace, security and development look promising everywhere else on the subcontinent.


Large parts of South Asia have made great progress — economically, socially and politically — over the last few decades. Yet, there are a number of challenges that continue to beset the region, that hold back the true potential of our countries, individually as well as collectively. These include terrorism and extremism, and the use of these as instruments of state policy; and the daily terror of hunger, unemployment, illiteracy, disease and the effects of climate change. And less obvious but equally potent, restrictions on regional trade and transit that belong to an older, more mercantilist century. These are among the factors that drag our people back from the path of sustained peace, development and prosperity.


Our region has been blessed with an abundance of natural and human resources, a rich spiritual and civilisational heritage, a demography where youth is preponderant and a creative zeal manifest in all spheres of human endeavour. Our collective identity may be rooted in a turbulent history but the challenge is to translate the many factors that bind us into a self-sustaining, mutually beneficial and cooperative partnership that transcends the vicissitudes of the recent past. The people of South Asia have already made their choice and the spirit of an organisation like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) embodies their aspirations. But it would be insincere to pretend that Saarc has even come close to what it should be.


The Government of India, from our Prime Minister on down, has a strategic vision of a peaceful subcontinent. We genuinely believe that the peace, prosperity and security of our neighbours is in our interest. Unlike some, India has never believed in undermining or destabilising other countries; we believe that each of us deserves an equal chance to attend to the needs of our people without being distracted by hostility from any of our neighbours. Where we have disagreements, we will never abandon the path of dialogue and reconciliation. We are resolute in our commitment for peace as we are firm in defending our country.


India desires friendly, good neighbourly and cooperative relations with all its neighbours. As by far the biggest country in the subcontinent (in size, population and gross domestic product terms), we are often wrongly perceived as throwing our weight around and rightly expected to show magnanimity in our dealings with our smaller neighbours. This we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future. However, while it is not our expectation that our neighbours display an equal measure of reciprocity, we certainly expect that they remain sensitive to our concerns regarding our sovereignty, our territorial integrity and our security. We do not think this is an unreasonable expectation. Within this framework a great deal can be achieved to our mutual benefit. People to people contacts, intra and inter-regional connectivity, cultural exchanges, trade, investment flows and integrated approaches to issues like water, food, health, education and climate change will define any future architecture for the region.


The scourge of terrorism has cast its malevolent influence across the region and remains a major threat to all of us. It is a global menace, the epicentre of which is unfortunately located in our region. This threat needs to be addressed purposively and with grim determination. Terrorism must be repudiated, and terrorists and those who provide them succour and sustenance must be tackled resolutely. There are no "good terrorists", and those who strike Faustian bargains with such elements are often left to rue the consequences for their own countries.


As British Prime Minister David Cameron recently declared, countries need to eschew the temptation to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy or to selectively target only those terrorist entities that are at present perceived to be a threat to them. This is a short-sighted and self-destructive strategy as those elements that profess an ideology of hatred, intolerance and terror often bite the hand that feeds them. The famous fable of Dr Frankenstein offers a salutary and timeless reminder that those who create monsters must not assume they will always remain under their creator's control.


India must refuse to be dragged down by such forces. We need to look to the future, to an interrelated future on the subcontinent where geography becomes an instrument of opportunity in our mutual growth story, where history binds rather than divides, where trade and cross-border links flourish and bring prosperity to all our peoples. Some will say these are merely dreams; yet there are few worthwhile achievements in the world that have not been preceded by ambitious aspirations. But dreams will only turn into reality if all of us — India and its neighbours — take action to accomplish this brighter future together.


* Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency









While covering the Greek soccer team in the 2008 European championships, a Greek sports columnist came to a restaurant in a picturesque Swiss mountain village and got talking to the owner. The championship games in Switzerland, the columnist suggested, would be great for the restaurant's business. To the journalist's surprise, the notion of thousands of fans crashing the orderly village gave the owner a panic attack.


It was good if the games brought a few stray tourists like the Greek columnist to the village, and some attention to Switzerland, the owner was saying. But if the soccer championships actually started interfering with everyday life, then no thanks.


This story reminded me that even in a well-run and serene country like Switzerland, staging a big-time sports championship is a mixed blessing at best. As the Commonwealth Games in Delhi conclude, it is worth asking whether the aggravation and scrutiny that come with staging such colossal events is worth the time, money and effort.


Coming from Athens, I have fond recollections of the 2004 Olympic Games. My parents do not. They preferred to stay in the Netherlands, where my father was working, and enjoy the peace and quiet of the canals. The thought of dealing with closed streets, heavy police presence and countless ad-hoc security measures was enough for them to opt for the erratic Dutch summer over the Mediterranean sun.


As for me, well, it definitely was nice to see my country enjoy 30 days of good international press. But in retrospect I think I could have lived without it, considering how easily the same international press now bashes the same Greeks as profligate, lazy and irresponsible over the debt crisis.


The Indians are being subjected to the same derogatory coverage today. In many ways the international media, mostly based in affluent Western countries, is behaving like the Swiss restaurant owner: They expect some far-off country to stage a complicated event impeccably and so provide their clients with a month of exciting sports stories.


If somehow the plan doesn't pan out, the same media accuse and condemn a country, a people, a political system or whatever else may seem responsible for less-than-perfect games.


And what if a state does manage to pull it off, as South Africa did? In that case, the country is left with good memories — along with useless stadiums and huge debts.


That's because whether the games go well or badly, the game is fixed against the host country.

Fail and prepare yourself for international shame. Succeed and be ready to savour a few days of positive international press followed by many years of languishing venues and lost opportunities. The true winners of the games will have already taken the money and run to the next willing destination.


The FIFAs, UEFAs and IOCs of the world are always ready to proclaim the next event the best games ever. They should: Their profits increase with every game. The model of international sports competitions is flawed. A Sydney or a London may be able to sustain the inevitable losses. But as the international ruling bodies of the sports industry set out in search of new venues, they are bound to eye countries with less money and more fragile political and social systems.


These countries are sold on a promise of increased visibility, tourist revenue or even more "geopolitical weight". What they get is a greedy circus that leaves with the profits after having irrevocably scarred city-centres and open spaces, and left states and municipalities to deal with debts and maintenance costs.


The only wave of urban terrorism in Sweden in recent memory occurred when a few concerned citizens placed small explosive devices in front of stadiums in Stockholm to derail the city's bid for the 2004 Olympics. Such methods are reprehensible, of course, but they achieved their goal; Athens got the "honour".


People need to awake to the reality that the profits of the Olympics and the World Cups are made at the expense of our cities and our countries. Scaling down our criticism of countries that fail to provide impeccable events is a good place to start.


* Angelos Chryssogelos is a doctoral student in international relations in the European University Institute in Florence and a visiting fellow at the Centre for European Studies in Brussels








The Quran defines patience as one of the paths that lead people from darkness to light. The holy book tells stories from the lives of the Prophets, all of whom demonstrated the highest degree of patience. Faced with the severest of calamities, they never deviated from their devotion to God who always tests the faithful. "Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere". (2:155)


Prophet Mohammad said, "The most severe of people to be put to trial are the Prophets, the righteous and the likes of them. Each human being is put to trial according to the degree of his faith, the stronger the faith the higher the affliction".


Prophet Ayub (Job) is someone whose name has become synonymous with patience. He possessed all the adornments of this world including good health, abundant wealth and a large family. Suddenly he became infected with a terrible skin disease where worms were eating into his flesh and the body was covered with ugly sores. Except for his heart and tongue, with which he remembered his Lord, no part or organ of his body was spared of the disease. The fear of infection caused his close friends and family to force him out of the village, with just his wife attending to his needs. She worked in people's home to raise money, but then people began to stay away from her as well. Narrations inform that he would encourage the worms to eat from his flesh and thanked God for creating them.


As Job's condition worsened, his wife gave up on him and began to doubt God's love for him. Then, Job prayed and invoked God's mercy. Allah commanded him to strike the ground with his foot, and wash and drink from the spring of water that would surface, so he may heal completely. The Quran says, "So we listened to him: We removed the distress that was on him, and we restored his people to him, and doubled their number — as a Grace from ourselves, and a thing for commemoration, for all who serve us". (21:84)


In the Quran, Allah constantly reminds us to seek help in patience and prayer. "O you who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance and prayer, for God is with those who patiently persevere" (2:153). He informs that this is not an easy task, but reaffirms that no one is better in speech than those who call to Allah. "It is indeed hard except for those who are humble" (2:45).


God then tells us to repel evil with good, so that it rids the other's heart of animosity. Prophet Mohammad is the exemplar, the most patient of all. He remained patient with his worst enemies. Once when informed of how someone spoke against him, the Messenger stated, "They did similar harm to my brother Moses, but he remained patient". Amongst the miracles of Prophet Mohammad was that he converted his adversaries into friends. There were 13 assassination attempts on his life, but he remained patient, and did not seek revenge. He even forgave the woman at Khaybar who attempted to kill him by serving poisoned food.


Prophet Mohammad famously said, "Patience is half of imaan, faith". Being patient is an act of will and requires courage. He said that restraint must be shown when calamity first strikes. Patience requires putting the other person before oneself, and it is people with these qualities who attain a high spiritual rank with God. In the Quran, God says he does not change the condition of the people unless they alleviate themselves. If we use divine principles and gain dutiful awareness of God, he assures us of victory. If reward is not visible in this world, then it will be awarded in the hereafter.


All archetypes of people are in the Quran, each of us can find ourselves in the holy book. That's why the Quran is there, so we may change ourselves and truly submit to the Lord.


— Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at [1]








Icons are not new to conservation. But the recent 2010 report of the Elephant Task Force argued that the Asian elephant could serve as an icon of a new kind. It would, if made the national heritage animal, bridge those who valued it as a cultural symbol and others for whom it was an emblem of the vanishing wild.


The task of saving India's wild elephants is symbolic of the wider challenge of living at peace with nature. No species better symbolises our cultures and it is no accident that a tusker was the symbol of that historic body, the Constituent Assembly of India. No large animal perhaps has such a major presence across India's diverse ecosystems as this keystone species.


But knowledge of its biology may not be enough to protect the elephant. Economic growth puts pressure on the 110,000 square kilometres of elephant habitat that is still intact. Ivory poachers target the males for tusks and some populations, in fact, have one male to a 100 females.


To protect the gajah we need to address the societal, cultural dimensions of the conflict. As chairman of a 12-member Task Force on gajah from February to August this year, it was good to know how much positive energy this country has to attain these goals.


The Elephant Task Force, therefore, suggested and government has accepted that the Asian elephant be declared National Heritage Animal.


It is possible to have an India where elephants live securely in the wild. It does not yet face a crisis of extinction like the tiger does. But to give a sharp focus for better planning to secure habitat and species, India needs a National Elephant Conservation Authority like the one for the tiger.


The 32 elephant reserves may not need expansion but they need to be protected better. To do this requires fresh recruitment of guards and watchers, preferably local youth from the adivasi communities. Equally so, the assessment of numbers and habitats is best done by qualified biologist-led teams of trained personnel. Mere total counts are of little use. It is vital to know the gender ratio to assess if poachers are succeeding or not. Equally so the age clusters, to know if the populations are breeding well. A consortium of research scholars and institutes will, if set up, draw on the best of science to aid efforts.


It is critical to address human conflicts with elephants. Four-hundred people die and 100 elephants are killed in conflict over crops. Higher ex-gratia payments are a must and taluka- or tehsil-level hearings must be held twice in the crop cycle to settle claims. India is also home to 3,500 captive elephants. We have ancient traditions of care, including the Gajashastra. Scientists, including those in India, have thrown new light on the intelligence and emotional capabilities of elephants and their complex social relationships.


Just as hunting was outlawed, eventually, though not right now, catching elephants has to be re-thought. Those already in human captivity must get the best care. For this, mahouts and vets — neither of whom have good service conditions — need a better deal. Forest protection has helped halt spread of the plough and tractor. Protected areas provided habitats that were intact, like Corbett or Kaziranga parks. The levels of poaching for ivory are less than the peak of the late-1990s. The regard for these huge neighbours by rural people have also helped its survival.


But there is no reason for complacency. Infrastructure projects if not planned or located with care can destroy forest habitat, while local pressures can degrade them. Corridors that connect viable populations have to remain intact. Or else elephant populations will get cut off and inbred.


The report argues: "The best of our science and our democratic institutions have to mesh together and solve real life problems and crises".


An India without elephants is possible but surely not desirable. And an India with elephants living in safety brings many advantages.


The elephant can be emblem of a new equation with the forest. Its forest home can be a living library at a time when we need to know more about climate change and hydrology.


Given will and wisdom, India can give Asia a new lead. India can help bring together the 50 countries in Africa and Asia where elephants are found in the wild. Asia in particular can see the "Look East" policy and make it a symbol for peaceful collaboration.


This has a practical dimension. Nepal and India can cooperate to protect the Terai. Bangladesh and Meghalaya have elephants that cross borders. Bhutan and India already have the Manas Park that straddles the international frontier.


Security for the gajah is about our own ecological future. It can help craft a new approach to conservation. In bringing gajah and the prajah on one platform, we can shift our systems of conservation from urban roots to one with roots in our society at large.


To make villagers partners means that village and mofussil children must be the focus of nature education. It calls for speedy relief and viable protection of those who incur serious loss due to crop damage. The number is estimated at over half-a-million families across India.


A new beginning with not just more funds, but quality science and participation are a must. It is in this reorientation of the way government, knowledge and citizens work in unison that we will face an uphill task.


Will India save the species and in doing so map a new course? The future lies open. Can we possibly succeed? The challenges are immense. Yes, we can accomplish the task but will we? The future of the elephant hinges — and our own ecological security hinges too, on the efficacy of our response.


* Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmental historian and most recently was chairman of the Elephant Task Force








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 minister
in the B.S. Yeddyurappa government










INTERLOCUTORS, particularly in the context of strife-ridden Jammu and Kashmir, are required to be more than switchboard operators in telephone exchanges. Yet that would appear the role New Delhi envisages for the yet-to-be completed panel the home ministry announced on Wednesday; creating an impression that it was merely token fulfillment of one element of the eight-point plan formulated in the wake of the all-party delegation's visit to the state. Without, at least for now, questioning the personal or professional credentials of any of the trio, it would be valid to ask if they have the status to actually negotiate even the run-up to a settlement. Indeed the all-party delegation (whose endeavours the interlocutors were to further) wielded more clout in the conduct of the national affairs than these three "headless" worthies. The panel's stature has been immediately compromised by the home minister's suggesting that an additional member was likely, and the Raisina Hill buzz indicating it would be the political figure upon whom the ruling dispensation has yet to zero-in. The demand from both the Opposition parties in New Delhi and the "opposition" in J&K has been elevation of the dialogue to a political level: the home minister's contention that while none of the trio may belong to political parties, all have a "political persona" automatically authenticates the charge of "intellectual arrogance" levelled against him by one of the less-disrespected political leaders who is understood to have declined membership (chairmanship?) of the panel. Could it be that he had the acumen to discern that North Block had no intention of permitting any erosion of its control/authority? That the home ministry deemed the panel just another of the several groups appointed over the decades was evident from its official statement declaring the interlocutors have been "entrusted with the responsibility of undertaking a sustained dialogue with the people of J&K to understand their problems and chart a course of the future." Given the fact that the grievances/ demands of the state have been repeatedly articulated, analysed and perhaps even understood if not appreciated, the panel's mandate suggests it is to go even farther back than square-one. Quite a climbdown for the member of the panel who once bragged he held "the second most important job in the country".

The rejection of the panel by separatist leaders in the Valley was only to be expected, though not entirely insignificant. The lack of enthusiasm from the "mainstream" parties is even more telling ~ particularly since it indicates that they share the view that New Delhi is non-serious. What J&K requires is not re-inventing the wheel in respect of its troubles, but a roadmap of that "extra political mile" the Centre must travel to assuage them. If redressal is actually intended. The appointment of a lame duck panel could only exacerbate the trust-deficit.




YES, indeed. Chile "is capable of doing great things,'' as its President, Sebastian Pinera, proudly boasted to the world on Wednesday.  Never was Barack Obama's chant ~ "it can be done" ~ made in a different context, more resonant. The rescue of the trapped miners is a great moment in the country's history, a profound chapter in man's struggle for survival. As the 33 miners reunite with their families, one must marvel at the wonders that technology can achieve as the story evolved from despair to hope to the eventual rescue. The operation, that could have dragged for weeks, was largely accomplished in a matter of days. Yet amidst the overwhelming national optimism and the emotional outpourings, the cause of the disaster ~ which mercifully didn't lead to a tragedy ~ ought not to be overshadowed. As a nerve-racking drama comes to a merciful end, the owners of San Jose copper mine in the Atacama region must bear responsibility for the nightmare of the trapped. So too must  the government for its failure to regulate activity in a mine with successively adverse records of safety. No fewer than 180 miners were injured in 2006. Between 2004 and 2006, the mine was fined on 42 occasions for violating safety regulations. And the government had ordered its temporary closure in 2007 in the face of miners' complaints about inadequate safety. Both the company and the government had let the miners down, and literally so. Mining is a lucrative enterprise for companies but an extremely perilous profession for miners. This is the stark dichotomy of the industry across the world. And in the anxiety to thrive as a corporate enterprise, safety rules are either given the short shrift or breached. All or most of the 33 Chilean miners will in all likelihood get back to the grind; a livelihood is as much a part of one's struggle for survival. Yet as they savour the renewed lease of life as it were, the country must now take a call on the inherent dangers under the ground. And 35 years after Chas Nala, there is a message for India as well. And not least because of the renewed thirst for natural resources. The perils beneath have been beamed into drawing rooms the world over.




BY listing the number of candidates with criminal records in the Bihar assembly election, an independent organisation produces no real surprises. The figures covering virtually all parties do not, in fact, offer confirmed impressions of a menace that runs deeper in a state like Bihar but is by no means confined to a particular region. The spotlight is on the state going to the polls this month where hardcore gang leaders conduct operations from behind bars while their spouses are out on the streets. It makes a mockery of the democratic process when the electorate has to choose between incurably tainted candidates who even have charges of murder against their names. It isn't enough that the problem exists. Parties across the board have made cynical use of criminals for their political objectives and the electoral system continues to be abused despite public disgust. The survey in Bihar by National Election Watch and the Association for Democratic Reforms can at best raise the level of public awareness but is otherwise ineffectual. With as many as 62 per cent of the BJP's candidates having criminal records, compared with 46 per cent of Lok Janshakti Party and 38 per cent of the RJD, the evil can only be addressed through consensus ~ with major parties taking the first step.

That cannot happen when Congress fields a candidate whose husband is in jail and who herself is accused of rioting and robbery. It is revealing that the BJP and the CPI-M agreed not only on targeting Mamata Banerjee but on the complaint that electronic voting machines can be tampered with. While they are making strong representations to clear the doubts, they have had little to say on the Election Commission's efforts to cleanse the system to eliminate the possibility of gang leaders thriving on money and musclepower and  claiming berths in the Union cabinet. Lalu Prasad has invariably been targeted as having masterminded the abuse of the system. The unpalatable truth is that no party can claim to be principled when people's representatives from all quarters shoot down reform proposals with as much determination as when they vote to give themselves pay hikes. Drastic reforms may appear impractical to begin with. But parties disgrace themselves by endorsing a system that cannot be protected from anti-socials.








THE muted reaction to the Ayodhya verdict in contrast to the tumultuous events 20 years ago in the temple town and virtually all over the country after the Babari Masjid demolition emphasized how India has changed in the intervening period. But the single determining factor behind this dramatic transformation has nothing to do with either religion or politics. It is the direct result of the fortuitous opening up of the economy, which has sent gusts of entrepreneurial wind, both domestic and foreign, through the previously musty corridors of the economic sector.

In the process, it has blown away the narrow politics of religious provocation of a marginal party of the 1980s and '90s, which had vitiated the atmosphere for more than a decade. After LK Advani's "riot yatra" of 1990 and the communal outbreaks in the aftermath of the demolition, there was a recrudescence of saffron-instigated anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat in 2002. There is little doubt, however, that even as the secular forces were groping in the dark on ways to counter this typical fascistic tactic of "mobilizing  passions", as Robert O. Paxton said in his Anatomy of Fascism, it was the infusion of corporate energy and the broadening of mental horizons associated with free enterprise which have swept away the politically-sponsored medievalism of the Babari Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi dispute.

So, even as the Babari Masjid was being demolished by a frenzied mob on 6 December 1992, the introduction of economic reforms a year earlier was preparing the ground behind the scenes to ultimately dump the kar sevaks in the dustbin of history. The expansion of the middle class, and its hedonistic pursuit of the consumerist culture which the pro-market reforms have encouraged, have ensured that communal peace will not be easily disturbed. Unlike the 1990s, when the political parties were able to use the jobless youth in a stagnant economy as cannon fodder for their communal and casteist agendas, the greater avenues of employment provided today by the LPG ~ liberalization, privatization, globalization ~ factor have acted as a check against reckless violence.
It is in this sense that India has "moved on", to quote the phrase which everyone is using about the present calm. Arguably, if the country had continued with its snail-paced Hindu rate of growth and the government had retained its stranglehold on private enterprise, then Advani and Co might have been able to whip up sectarian frenzy, as they did through the '90s. So would have the Muslim bigots who used the Shah Bano episode as well as the demolition of the mosque to marginalize the moderates in the community. Let alone the cynical politicos, the fact that even the government was unaware of how much the country has changed was evident from the decision to ban bulk SMS and alert the air force ahead of the Ayodhya verdict, probably for the first time in the context of  civil disturbances.

It can be argued that the absence of inclusive growth means that large numbers of the under-privileged are still excluded from the "incredible" India story and are liable to become victims of political manipulation. As is known, India has been divided into "half California" and "half sub-Saharan Africa" by none other than Amartya Sen. It is the second group which is susceptible to instigation by crafty politicians. But what this assessment ignores is how a liberalized economy breeds confidence even among those who are yet to receive its benefits.
Even if the Muslims constitute the bulk of the indigent, as the Sachar report suggests, it is clear enough that despite their disappointment over the judgment, they will not take to the warpath because they realize that the path to advancement lies not in battling over mosques, but in education ~ and that, too, not in the madrasas with the closed worldview. It is the sense of wellness fostered by a buoyant economy which prevents even the losers from losing hope. Such expectations are not aroused by a public sector-dominated, licence-permit-control raj.
Among those who saw how the economic reforms saved India was Justice S.U. Khan, who was one of the judges who delivered the Ayodhya verdict. He noted that "at the time of the demolition, our economy was in tatters. The physical mortgaging of India's gold reserves in 1990 epitomized the bankruptcy of an economic system. The rupee had been drastically devalued twice in quick succession". When India bounced back following the economic recovery, "neither the misplaced ecstasy (of the Hindutva crowd) nor the abject despondency (of the minorities) survived. In this process, some role of revival of the economy cannot be ruled out".

Pro-market neo-liberalism is a constant target of criticism by the Left. But in its absence, the country would have continued to experience the nightmarish aftermath of the demolition for a much longer period. As Justice Khan said, "only the frenzy and madness which was unleashed immediately after Independence and Partition could surpass the magnitude of the situation triggered by the demolition".

From Mahatma Gandhi's assassination to numerous communal riots to the Babari Masjid demolition and the burning of churches in Kandhamal, the saffron warriors have been running amok by taking advantage of the despair bred by a moribund economy. Even now, the cyber chatter shows that their numbers are not small. But their political parties can no longer use them as agents provocateurs for fear of alienating large sections of the middle and upper classes who are focussed on the MTV's exhortation to "enjoy". The unwashed among them may gather round the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, but the BJP, and even the RSS, are likely to maintain a discreet distance from the trishul-waving mob lest they botch their electoral chances in 2014 as well.   

The writer is a former Assistant Editor, The Statesman






Ramakrishna Paramhansa had advised Girish Chandra Ghosh to dedicate himself to the stage. Ahindra Choudhury, perhaps unawares, had acted upon that advice, says sobhanlal mukherjee


A brief write-up in this paper on 23 August brought back memories of my association with Ahindra Choudhury, the Natasurya. His photograph resembled that of Pankaj Mullick, the musician. Both were lovable contemporaries, Mullick with dreamy eyes, Choudhury with circumspect, very expressive eyes. 

In 1938, as a boy of ten, I saw Sonar Sansar, the film on the lovers Alaka and Raghunath, their growing up together, then separated when one of them was kidnapped and their reunion years later. It was one of Choudhury's early appearances. He acted superbly in the role of the owner-manager of Paradise Soap Factory. 
At school, I met Preetindra, Choudhury's son, slightly my senior, in the place reserved for prize-winners. On these occasions, my father and Choudhury interacted and became close friends. He knew about our monthly addas at Theatre Centre, Bhowanipur, where Tarun Ray (Dhananjoy Bairagi), my schoolmate, lived. Even Utpal Dutt admitted that on stage, as on screen, only Sisir Bhaduri matched Choudhury in erudition, aristocratic taste and liberal values. Both brushed up their Shakespeare with stalwarts like Principal Allan Cameron, Arthur Mowat and Sushil Mukherjee of Scottish Church College, Kolkata. Appropriately, Rabindra Bharati University conferred an honourary D Lit on Choudhury. 

I was fortunate in having Choudhury as a colleague when he was head of drama department of Rabindra Bharati University. As teacher, he did his homework, collecting information on the histrionic art and teaching students on the techniques of enacting all kinds of roles - mythological, historical, social, comic, tragic, serio-comic. He threw open to all his students his personal library containing a valuable collection of books on stagecraft (ancient, medieval, modern, open-air, ultra-modern), mime, stage lighting, acting, script writing, expression, dramaturgy, psychology and sociology. In all these fields, as a lecturer, he had something special to offer. Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee reportedly learnt the ABC of film editing from him. Even Tagore consulted with him on choice of dress and other details for staging Tasher Desh, Chandalika and Sesh Barshan. 
Choudhury's autobiography, written in exquisite Bengali prose, Nijere Haraye Khunji (Searching for my lost self), typified the variety of his roles, from vicar to villain. It beautifully depicts him as sparklingly witty, at times philosophic, occasionally a ruthless critic of himself, revealing his many-splendoured qualities, often mocking himself. 

In a lighter vein, Choudhury recalled that whenever he had to play the role of Alamgir, the crafty emperor, crazy about power, pelf, position, the total effect of make-up, the dresses and the sets made his job as actor simple. But in Saratchandra's Datta, in the role of Rashbehari, the wily estate manager, plotting to grab the heroine's property by getting her married to Vilas, his worthless son, he had to exert himself fully. He considered this role his best. 

In 1965, the Rabindra Bharati staff, along with some lawyers, celebrated the quater-centenary of Shakespeare, staging The Merchant of Venice. It was a blend of amateurs and professionals. In spite of his tight work-schedule, Choudhury, in his weekly visits to the university, helped the show, correcting the steps, voice modulation, positions of actors, gestures and postures of the cast. Nivedita Das, the veteran actress and a senior teacher of the drama department, did full justice to her role as Portia. I acted as Lorenzo, lover of Jessica, Shylock's daughter, played by a beautiful ex-air hostess. Choudhury was requested to play Shylock, but he left this role for Kanti Chatterjee of the Howrah court, his friend. 

On the day of the show, Choudhury arrived well ahead of time. A hard taskmaster, this all-rounder on stage and screen, supervised the show. He examined each one's make-up even as Farhad Hussain of the drama department, then Kolkata's best, stared at Choudhury with curiosity, wonder and excitement as if learning his lessons on make-up from the grandmaster all over again. Choudhury even tutored a novice like Sitangshu Maitra, then head of the English department, in the art of prompting. 

After the show, Choudhury patted Chatterjee for his spectacular performance. However, I forgot some lines of the "balcony scene" while performing with Jessica on stage, but somehow managed to survive the awkward situation with my own words and timely poses. Expert Shakespearean connoisseurs who were present missed my misadventure but Choudhury detected it. He rebuked me for being so cold, so unromantic, in the "moonlit night at Belmont" when I had to enact such soft, sensitive night scenes, with a "prize catch" like the beautiful Jewess. 

I muttered an apology, reporting that my partner was even colder. When Choudhury suggested that I could have done better, I told him that the poor girl should be taking pity on Shylock, her father, dejected at the end of the "trial scene". Instead of merrily singing and dancing, Jessica should have behaved with subdued exuberance as she did on stage. 

A purist, Chowdhury grimaced at modernism for the sake of modernism. But often he was as flexible as an elastic string. He reportedly disapproved of his son marrying an American girl owing to cross-cultural differences but was affectionate enough to teach her to cook some items of his favourite Bengali recipes. A model of frugal habits, his estimate of the cost of a performance was the envy of many theatre managers. 
A certain theatre manager was notorious in paying the first half of the dues to actors in advance, robbing them eventually of the remaining half or exhausting them with his delaying tactics. To teach him a lesson, Choudhury once ended his make-up on the right side of his face and remained in the greenroom. The audience shouted for his appearance. He then forced the manager to pay him the other half of his dues and told him never to repeat the trick.

Only Durgadas Banerjee, and, we are told, Uttam Kumar, had such profound sympathy and fellow-feeling for co-artistes and technicians. Choudhury's help to Sadhana Bose, the dancer, in her days of financial distress, was legendary. I myself remain grateful to Choudhury, when he helped me cushion my finances, securing for me the part-time job of a film critic, introducing me to Hafisjee, then manager of the Metro cinema, and Saroj Sengupta, popularly known by his pseudonym, "Focus". 

Ramakrishna Paramhansa had advised Girish Chandra Ghosh to dedicate himself to the stage. Choudhury, perhaps unawares, acted upon that advice. Indeed, for actors, the theatre stands for their commitment to life and to the public. But Choudhury denied himself the credit due to him with his modesty and with the Shakespearean logic that "all the world's a stage".

The author is a retired professor of political science, Rabindra Bharati University.







EVEN as the Lucknow Bench delivered its much-awaited verdict on the Ayodhya dispute, the whole country stood tense. Yet, as I go back in time, I remember seeing the structure, its domes moss-covered, visible from the train window as I made the trip home every vacation from my college in Lucknow. 

The journey was a miserable affair and seemed interminably long, especially so in the blazing summer when the infamous "loo" (not to be confused with the restroom!) would blow over the burning hot plains of UP. 
The Doon Express would chug through the major cities and tiny towns dotting the route from Dehradun to Lucknow, stopping once in a while to pick up passengers. Maybe times have changed and the facilities have improved, but in those times it seemed like a conspiracy by the railways to torment passengers. 
The food served by the pantry car would be piled up in trays just outside the toilets and passengers were made to dig into lunch by 10 am. If you forego that, you remained hungry since no decent station followed till well into the evening. Today, passengers are hopefully spared this treatment. Add to that, the inevitable delay and the overnight journey would seem endless.

Let me revert to the Babari Masjid, which had evoked curiosity when I first heard about its history. During every journey between hostel and home, I would make it a point to watch out for the sight of this twin-domed structure peeping through the trees as the train chugged out of Faizabad. The scene would have a mirage effect, vanishing as quickly as it surfaced. Can a mere plot of land or a man-made structure become the focus of such havoc? The thought as well as the old memories of those railway journeys are quite painful.








An Escape With A Lighted Match 

The Bhowanipore section of the town was thrown into considerable excitement on Friday evening when an explosion was heard at the residence of the Hon Mr Justice Asutosh Mukerjee (77 Russa Road). At about 8.30 in the evening, one of the servants in the employ of Mr Justice Mukerjee noticed a smell of gas emanating from one of the rooms of te house. He went upstairs into the room whence he thought the gas was escaping and struck a match, which was followed by a loud explosion. The servant was badly injured, and the windows of the room and the glass-panes were shattered. Two Bengali gentlemen who were seated in an adjoining room were also badly hurt by some glass fragments striking them, and two other servants who were waiting outside the room were also injured. 

On examination it was found that the gas-burner had been extracted from the place, with the result that gas was escaping freely. The gas pendant was entirely broken as a result of the explosion. One of the servants (Hem Das) had to be removed to the Sambhunath Pundit Hospital, where he is lying, it is reported, in a precarious condition. 

Indian Theatricals are amongst the recent gaieties at Simla. A successful dramatic performance was given last Saturday evening by the members of the Prospect Theatre at Boileaugunge before a large and representative gathering including a number of European and Indian ladies and gentlemen. The piece staged was Mr G.C. Ghose's Nala-Damayanti. The amateurs seemed to be in good form, and Messrs A Chatterjee, J.N. Mukerjee, A.K. Mukerjee and S.C. Mukerjee, as Nala-Damayanti, Bidushak and Kali did remarkably well. Their fellow actors also acquitted themselves with credit.





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A wave of relief has swept across the world with the rescue of the 33 miners trapped in a Chilean gold and copper mine for the past 69 days. Few would have imagined, even a few weeks ago, that the men would emerge alive.

After all, what were the chances of them surviving gruelling conditions — heat, dampness, fear and isolation — nearly 700 metres underground? It has been a tough wait indeed, not just for them but for their families as well. It was hard not to be moved therefore as the men emerged one by one into fresh air and sunlight for the first time in over two months to hugs, tears and cheers. 

The miners have displayed indomitable spirit. But their ordeal has not ended. Their prolonged near-death experience is expected to take a heavy toll on their psychological wellbeing in the months and years ahead. Many will struggle with depressed immune systems, anxiety, even post-traumatic stress disorders. After months of living in darkness and isolation, they will have to deal with the sudden glare and pressure of being in the media spotlight and becoming global icons. Experts are warning that the worst is not over for these men.

The rescue operation was a success because of the grit and gumption of the 33 miners. Throughout the period underground they pulled together as a team. This operation owes much too to the efforts of rescue workers and engineers who worked round the clock for weeks planning and putting in place a giant, meticulous operation.

International expertise and technology enabled the aptly named capsule Phoenix to haul the men safely out of the bowels of the earth. Chile's government too must be applauded for its role. Its leadership led from the front. It drew on every possible resource, local, national and international to ensure that the 33 men came up alive. 

Even as the world celebrates the great escape of the 33 miners, it must begin work on ensuring that this nightmare never recurs. It is well known that mines across the world are death traps. The mining industry that is among the most exploitative, where worker safety is not a concern of employers. The magnificent struggle put up by the 33 miners and the rescue team will go in vain if the mining industry and governments across the world fail to improve working conditions and safety in mines.








There is not much optimism about the success of the latest Indian effort to revive the Doha round of trade negotiations but the initiative is worth being taken in view of the importance of the process. Commerce minister Anand Sharma is planning to meet representatives of some member countries of the World Trade Organisation soon.

If there is any positive outcome it can be taken forward in the upcoming G-20 meeting in Seoul. It can also provide a basis for discussions on the matter between India and the US during the visit of President Barack Obama next month. While these are possibilities based on hopes, there are strong doubts based on realities. India's commerce secretary said last month that there is little chance of any progress before the forthcoming US 
Congressional elections because trade issues are potent political issues also and the US administration will not like to be seen as having given away anything.

The talks which started in 2001 have been stalled for the last two years over differences on most of the key issues. There were wide differences over the measures to protect the interests of the farm sector in both developed and developing countries, on industrial tariffs and services and non-tariff barriers. The immediate reason for the failure of the last substantive round was the disagreement over a proposed special safeguard mechanism which would help developing countries to protect their farmers in case of a surge in imports. The discord on this issue was mainly between the US and India. The US, the European Union, India and China are the key players and between them they represent a wide spectrum of interests.

The US and the EU will not make any concessions which will be interpreted in the short term as harmful to the interests of sections of their population. Though reduction of barriers and freer trade will help all countries to gain, protectionism is actually on the rise, as seen by the recent US steps against outsourcing. Therefore it is not certain whether the key members of the WTO, like the US and the EU countries, will be receptive and willing to take important decisions as long as their economies are in poor health. But the irony is that a new trade order can actually help their economies to turn around more quickly. Unfortunately this truth will not be accepted easily.







Kashmiris have not yet realised that India would never accept a position where the state opts for a status outside the country.


Timing is an important factor for politicians. They should know when to speak. If they do not know what should be said and when, they can land themselves in trouble. India's first Governor General C Rajagopalachari was correct in supporting the demand for Pakistan in 1942. But since he was a tall leader of the Congress, which was opposed to the demand at that time, he was not only vehemently criticised but also made to feel like a persona non-grata in the party.

Somnath Chatterjee did not obey the order of his party, the CPM, to resign from the Speakership because he felt the timing was wrong. He was presiding over the session when India's nuclear treaty had come under the hammer, to be voted upon. The CPM turned him out of the party. Later, many of its stalwarts regretted the decision and felt that they should have waited till after the voting when he would have resigned as he had indicated.

Similarly, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah's outburst in the state Assembly had come at a wrong time. His statement that the state acceded to India in 1948, without merging with the country, is correct factually and historically. But the timing of Omar's enunciation of that was wrong. He should have known that the valley is in ferment and the people are asking for 'azadi'. His drawing the line between accession and merger at this time was bound to be misunderstood.


On the other hand, Omar Abdullah has diluted his credentials in India. Even the Congress party has said that Omar's statement in the state Assembly looks different from the not-long-ago affirmation in the Lok Sabha that he was an Indian to the applause of the country.

It is understandable that he was under pressure when he made the statement. More than 100 people had died in those many days due to a clash between those who were stone pelting and the security forces. But the forbearance and stamina of a person is tested during the stress. As the chief minister, he cannot pass the buck. He looked like making the Centre a scapegoat for his troubles. I feel Omar Abdullah lacks maturity, not integrity.

The chief minister's statement that he is 'not a puppet' is another sad commentary on the Indian federal structure. It means that the Centre flexes its muscles whenever it wants to make the states to fall in line. The statement also shows Omar Abdullah in a poor light. 

What is the status of Kashmir when the state has signed the instrument of accession and has not merged can be debated by people who have not taken oath under the Indian constitution. When Omar Abdullah assumed office, he swore by the constitution which says that Kashmir is an integral part of India. True, there is a special status given to Kashmir (Article 370) within India, not outside the Union.

Crossing the limits

Sheikh Abdullah paid the price of transgressing that 'Lashman rekha' and was under detention for 12 years. He was Jawaharlal Nehru's best friend who, apparently, felt that the Sheikh had crossed the limits. He returned to power only after avowing allegiance to the Indian constitution and ruled the state as long as he lived.

I do not think that things would come to such a pass again because New Delhi has learnt not to be too sensitive. And I do not see Omar Abdullah becoming a rallying point for the protesters asking for 'azadi'. The whole thing may not turn out to be more than a storm in a tea cup. Except for the BJP, no other political party has made Abdullah's remarks an issue.

National Conference, has gone over the exercise of pushing New Delhi to the 1953 position when the Sheikh signed an agreement with New Delhi. Farooq Abdullah, Omar's father, was then the chief minister. There was so much pressure exerted on Farooq Abdullah that he had to put the resolution passed by the state assembly on autonomy in cold storage.

This does not, however, mean that New Delhi's encroachment on the power which belongs to the state is justified. Acts which have been passed in the field, other than three subjects — defence, foreign affairs and communications — have to be withdrawn. The Centre cannot occupy the territory that goes beyond three subjects.

It is welcome to note that Omar Abdullah said that Pakistan must be associated with the solution of Kashmir. India has itself said many a time, from the Tashkent declaration to the Shimla agreement that Kashmir remained to be solved. Therefore, no solution can be lasting without Islamabad's agreement.

What surprises me is that the Kashmiris have not yet realised, after sacrificing thousands of their men, that India would never accept a position where the state opts for a status outside the country. New Delhi may be willing to go beyond the Indian constitution but not the Indian Union. Understandably, the borders can be irrelevant but not erased.

Some quarters in Pakistan have realised this because, as former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif, said once, "We cannot take Kashmir from you forcibly, nor can you offer it on a platter." The two countries would have to find a peaceful solution. One Pakistani political commentator wrote some time back: "What we could not win in the war, we cannot get at the negotiating table."








Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu (Israel is our Home) is the force behind the proposed oath.


The proposed adoption by Israel of an oath pledging loyaltyto Israel as a Jewish state as a requirement for naturalisation of non-Jews is a deeply divisive issue. Last weekend the Israeli cabinet approved a draft bill which is likely to secure the passage by a parliament dominated by right-wing parties.

Palestinian citizens of Israel condemned the measure as 'racist' because the law would target mainly spouses from the occupied Palestinian territories and the diaspora. Since Israel's Palestinian citizens do not receive equal treatment with Jewish citizens, they see this legislation as yet another measure designed to relegate them to second-class status.

The Palestinian Authority has castigated the Netanyahu government for going ahead with this legislation while the two sides are still bickering over whether to resume negotiations. Palestinian officials say the measure would be an obstacle to the repatriation of Palestinian refugees if a peace deal is reached with Israel. Refugees who have been exiled from their homeland for decades by Israel could hardly be expected to agree to such an oath.

Doubly racist

Israeli liberals contend it is doubly 'racist' since non-Jewish spouses of Jewish Israelis would also have to take such an oath. Jews receive citizenship on arrival in Israel. Carlos Strenger, writing in 'Haaretz', argues that the loyalty oath is meant to undermine Israel's liberal values and western-style democracy. He says that the prime movers of the bill, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and Oriental Orthodox Shas party leader, Eli Yishai, and their constituents are united by "hatred for western values and the liberal ethos. 

They all hate freedom; they all hate the idea of critical, open discourse, in which ideas are discussed according to their merit... Other rightists have been feeling for a long time that the commitment to universal values is undermining their programme for the greater Israel in which Palestinians should have no political rights."

Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu (Israel is our Home) — the party drawing support from immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe — is the force behind the proposed oath. Lieberman has repeatedly called for the 'transfer' of Israel's 1.3 million Palestinian citizens to a Palestinian state once it emerges.
He originally proposed a loyalty oath for all non-Jewish citizens, but this was rejected as too extreme. He, Yeshai and other rightists intend to introduce another 20 measures.  Yishai seeks to revoke the citizenship of Palestinian citizens who resist Israeli occupation.  Lieberman says he will table a bill requiring 16-year olds to sign a loyalty oath not only to Israel but also to Zionism when they apply for identity cards.

Such a law would deepen the alienation of young Palestinian citizens of Israel already fighting Jewish discrimination. Other right-wingers want loyalty oaths for Knesset members, non-profit organisations, and film producers; they want bans on boycotts and punishment of boycotters and a prohibition of discussion of the Naqba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1947-49.

Loyalty legislation could accelerate Israel's descent into the kind of political repression that emerged in the US during the 1950s when Senator Joseph McCarthy held hearings on the loyalty of US citizens accused of harbouring sympathies for the Soviet Union or joining the Communist party. Another 'Haaretz' columnist, Gideon Levy holds that loyalty bills involve "a dangerous McCarthyist dance on the part of ignorant legislators who haven't begun to understand what democracy is all about. It's dangerous even if only a portion of the bills become law, because our fate and our essence will change."

Levy castigates Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who grew up in the US, and Lieberman, who came from a totalitarian background, for failing to  understand that democracy is not simply the rule of the majority but involves protection of minority rights. Levy also berates secular, leftist and mode-rate Israelis for failing to protest what is happening.

Only 100 academics and artists assembled in a Tel Aviv square to state their opposition to the measure. Several claimed that it runs counter to Israel's declaration of independence which says that the state will "ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex."

Educator Gavriel Solomon compared the measure to the racist laws passed by the Nazis in Germany  in 1935. "There were no death camps then but there were racist laws. And we are heading towards these kinds of laws.  The government is clearly declaring our incapacity for democracy."







Shakuni's 'Jitam' was perhaps one of the earliest instances of sms language.


Sms was born with mobiles but messages shorter than the 160-letter-sms have changed history, politics, science, etc. In Mahabharata, Yudhishthira stakes his possessions one after the other and every time that Shakuni takes the dices, shouts: 'Jitam' (meaning won), to tell Duryodhana.

Shift to Syracuse, 3rd century BC: Hiero-II, Greek tyrant suspects his goldsmith of replacing some gold with silver in a crown for gods; so contracts polymath Archimedes to detect fraud. Archimedes accepts the challenge.

At the public baths, it strikes archimedes that the more his body sinks into the water, the more water is displaced: making the displaced water an exact measure of his volume. Because gold weighs more than silver, he reasons that a crown mixed with silver would have to be bulkier to reach the same weight as one composed only of gold. Realising he has hit upon a solution, the young Greek math-whiz leaps out of the bath and rushes home naked crying "Eureka! Eureka!" (I've found it). The test is conducted later, proving that silver had indeed been mixed.

In 1842 at the age of 60, appointed as major general to command Bombay Presidency Army, Napier is ordered by Lord Ellenborough to Sindh (now in Pakistan), to quell Muslim-insurrection. Orders are only to put down the rebels, but by conquering the whole Sindh province, he greatly exceeds his mandate. He despatches a short message to his superiors: 'Peccavi,' (Latin for 'I have sinned'). His 'noble rascality' is appreciated! Later he is made British Army's commander-in-chief in India.

"My dear Abdullah. I am here. The game is up. Suggest you give yourself and I will look after you," wrote major-general Gandharv Singh Nagra in a note to Lt Gen Niazi, GOC-in-C, Pakistan eastern command, soon after Indian troops had entered Dacca on December 16, 1971. Rest is history, when almost a lakh soldiers surrendered and Bangladesh was born.

Coming to sms: "Yup, same as in the past, no questions" read a text from Governor Eliot Spitzer. He could have been referring to pizza toppings, but instead he was talking about a different indulgence! After his repeated text messages to an escort service were turned over, and his alter-ego as Client 9 was revealed, Spitzer stepped down as New York's governor.

After Levi Johnston texted Bristol Palin, with: "I miss you. I love you. I want to be with you again," nothing was ever be the same — at least for mom, Sarah Palin! How can I not mention 'ILU' from a Hindi movie long before the sms era!









The saga of Chile's 33 miners has riveted the world's attention as few stories with such a happy ending do. News outlets around the globe knew instinctively that the successful rescue of the miners deserved prominent exposure. The conclusion of the subterranean drama dominated front pages – including of this paper – and the top slot of TV and radio news programs.

Normally cynical and critical, the vast majority of news commentators dared not raise the possibility that something might go wrong. Inevitably, the rescue was compared to the Apollo 11 landing on the moon in July 1969.

Last of Chilean miners is raised safely to surface

Netanyahu to Chilean president: 'We salute you'

Rare are the incidents that attract international media attention for their power to instill wonder and joy, rather than horror and trepidation. In this context NASA's assistance in supplying design requirements for the extraction capsule that carried the men to safety was fitting.

The Chilean miners' plight contained all the elements of a good story, particularly the triumph of the human spirit over fatalism. The Chilean government insisted on devoting all available resources to the rescue, despite the always-present risk of failure and dashed hopes. As The Wall Street Journal pointed out, the story of the miners is telling proof that bonds between human beings go beyond cost-benefit analysis.


The idea of forfeiting those 33 men as an unavoidable expense, incurred in the endeavor to extract copper and gold from deep down within the earth, was never even contemplated. These were human beings. Chile's stubborn insistence on rescuing them no matter the cost or the trouble set priorities right.

All of humanity instinctively understood and identified with this. Doing so made them feel good. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu put it, by showing how it values life, Chile has become an "inspiration" for the world.

Some have taken an admonishing approach to the media focus. For instance, Daniel Pauvif, a local Roman Catholic priest, was critical of the news media for overlooking the "real" story, namely the miners' faulty work conditions. Instead, he complained, they appealed to base emotions, focusing exclusively on the human interest angle. He lamented reports that families had cut secret deals with big media in the US and Europe to provide exclusive rights to their experiences being trapped for 69 days 700 meters underground.

"This has become a spectacle that is revealing human weakness," Pauvif told The New York Times. "It is making them open to asking for money for interviews. Some have ceded to temptation."

The media did indeed focus on the individual lives of the miners. There was Esteban Rojas, 44, who soon after surfacing vowed to give his wife of 25 years the church wedding she deserved, while Yonny Barrios, 50, faced the embarrassing prospect of being met by his mistress while his wife stood by visibly slighted.

But understanding the foibles – and the strengths – of the miners is precisely what made them so human and thus so intriguing for all of us. It is precisely at these times that all citizens of the world can forget their many differences (cultural, religious, historical), at least temporarily, and unite in a collective outpouring of human empathy.

THERE WAS also the familiar local phenomenon of looking for the Israeli or Jewish angle in every international event, whether it was the intentional publication of excerpts from Prime Minister Netanyahu's 1987 book Terrorism: How the West Can Win that "foresaw" international attention being drawn to a small group of miners trapped in a mine; or reports that Israeli doctors might have had a role, no matter how minor, in advising the Chileans how to maintain the health of the trapped miners; or that Chilean Jewish mining executive Leonardo Farkas gave $10,000 to each of the 33 miners, more than they earn in a year. Perhaps this shows our refusal to accept Israel's normalcy, a vestige of our tradition of choseness.

Chileans' own spontaneous outbursts of national pride – the repeated singing of the national anthem as the miners were brought up one by one – was a testimony to the very human phenomenon of patriotism and the need to belong.

Ultimately, the miners' rescue is a study in the capacity for peoples from diverse backgrounds and cultures to recognize that what ties them together is often just as significant as what makes them unique.










"In regard to cruelties committed in the name of a free society, some are guilty, while all are responsible" - Abraham Joshua Heschel.


My family knows how to act around me on 12 Heshvan: Don't talk to Abba, he won't answer you. He's observing a ta'anit dibbur, a vow of silence.


Fifteen years ago that night, my wife and I traveled to Jerusalem after Shabbat to do some shopping. We had no intention of joining the Tel Aviv rally in support of the Oslo Accords, because we did not agree at all with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's policies.


Suddenly, from the store's radio, we heard the shocking news: The prime minister had been shot! My wife and I, both American-born and old enough to remember other assassinations, of president John F. Kennedy, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lennon and Anwar Sadat, had the same horrified, incredulous reaction: This can't be happening, not in Israel!


And then, we heard people in the store, and later people in the street, expressing satisfaction over the news. Never had we felt more ashamed. What had happened to Israel?


As the 15th anniversary of the Rabin assassination approaches, the Hebrew date falling this year on October 20, I am reminded of the way this horrible event was commemorated in the past. Throughout the week or so leading up to 12 Heshvan, all of Israel was immersed in "dialogue." People from opposite ideological camps were brought together, in the media and in open debates, to try to bridge the gaps between them. It was said we needed this process for national introspection.


But the whole process left me frustrated and sad.


Almost every "dialogue," although airing important issues, degenerated into shouting accusations. Everyone wanted to make it clear that it was not their camp, but only the others, who were to blame for Rabin's death.


Grief deteriorated into finger-pointing. What should have become healing intensified the causes of the tragedy. Wounds remained unhealed, producing greater disrespect, more profaning of God's name.


The assassination was both caused by the divisions in our society and exacerbated them. A Jew who considered himself God-fearing and a patriot shot his democratically elected prime minister, a war hero and fellow Jew, in the back. And without relieving the one who pulled the trigger of guilt, we should acknowledge that the backdrop to the assassination was hostile speech: inflammatory, hateful, divisive words coming from every camp.


We speak more and more dangerously. Any real dialogue, that is, an exchange of ideas founded upon an unspoken commonality, approaches the impossible.


It seems we have two choices: either succumb to the dissolution of our society embodied in Rabin's assassination, or learn the painful lessons it teaches.


Everyone was affected by, and should atone for, Rabin's assassination. That is why I observe part of 12 Heshvan in silence. And when my personal ta'anit dibbur is over, I am always much more conscientious about what I say to my family, friends and students.


But imagine a national ta'anit dibbur: a day, or half a day, or even an hour, but significantly more than a minute of silence, when no non-essential speech would be uttered, a day of nationwide verbal self-control.


I am not recommending abolishing dialogues before, and especially after, the anniversary of the killing. On the contrary; a ta'anit dibbur would put these dialogues into the correct perspective, keeping them from degenerating into maliciousness.


Self-imposed silence has a respected history in Judaism. In "Days of Awe," S.Y. Agnon records the widespread custom of ta'anit dibbur during the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Penitence. Many sages of the Jewish ethical Mussar movement encouraged their students to undertake a ta'anit dibbur, rather than fast over food, as a form of personal penance.


Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner preferred that brides and grooms not fast on their wedding day, as is the Ashkenazi custom, but rather accept a ta'anit dibbur, to learn the value of self-restraint in married life.


Religious or secular, everyone should acknowledge the moral benefits of verbal self-discipline. In the words of the Ethics of the Fathers, "Silence is a safeguard to wisdom."


I plan on devoting at least an hour on Wednesday to be quiet, alone with my thoughts. I will try to transcend my political differences with the late Mr. Rabin in order to grasp fully what has happened. I will meditate on the question: How did my action, or inaction, foster an atmosphere that sanctioned, if only in one person's mind, this catastrophic murder?


Anyone can join me in spending part of this 12 Heshvan in a silence that will teach the power of words. What we will say afterwards will then have greater sensitivity and value.


Rabbi Avraham Fischer teaches in several adult Jewish education programs in Israel. He lives in Beit Shemesh.









Has he crossed the Rubicon? And if he has, has he done so only intellectually or also mentally? Is it already possible to number Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu among the good guys? And how will we know?


This political-media debate in Israel, endlessly repeated, suffers from a basic weakness: It relies, deliberately, on a baseless assumption that is never explicitly stated - that Israeli willingness for far-reaching concessions suffices to bring peace to Israel.


This assumption was tested twice in the past decade, and both times it proved false: Two Israeli prime ministers, from different parties, in 2000 and in 2008, offered far-reaching concessions to the leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which rejected their offers. So to dispel the harsh impression left by the string of failures that has followed the Oslo concessions, the professional peace processors offered localized excuses: Just give them another round of concessions, and everything will be fine.


But the heads of the PLO feel no need for excuses. In the months after the negotiations with prime minister Ehud Olmert failed, they offered a number of substantive reasons for this failure, which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen ) summed up with cruel simplicity: "The gaps were wide" (Washington Post, May 5, 2009 ).


A somewhat more detailed explanation was provided recently by United Arab List-Ta'al MK Ahmed Tibi (Haaretz, September 7, 2010 ): "[T]he maximum Olmert could offer in his day did not reach the minimum Abu Mazen and the Palestine Liberation Organization can accept." And knowing the PLO's positions, it is clear that these diplomatic observations are accurate and valid.


In this sense, the Kadima Knesset faction, which is demanding that Netanyahu show them his diplomatic kashrut certificate, has not yet crossed the Rubicon properly. Both members of the faction and its current leader have repeatedly said that the proposals made to Abbas by their former leader, Olmert, went too far and were only his own personal suggestions, to which they never consented. If so, judging by their belated reservations, the maximum they are prepared to offer most certainly does not amount to the minimum the PLO deems necessary for achieving an agreement.


Since our Rubiconists have despaired of the chance that the PLO will change its extreme positions, they have laid down rules for a unique kind of diplomatic physics: For the aspirations of Israel and the PLO to meet, Israel is required to get closer to the PLO's positions, which remain constant, and only Israel is required to make concessions.


Not only have the PLO's leaders held fast to their positions for the past 20 years, but they even boast of it. Abbas recently declared, "We will not relinquish any of our principles. Since the Palestinian National Council convention in Algeria in 1988, at which we [declared] a Palestinian state and recognized [UN] Resolutions 242 and 338, what concessions have we made on our principles? We insist on the 1967 borders, Jerusalem as our capital, and the refugees' rights according to the UN resolutions, especially [Resolution] 194. Our rights to water are also recognized by international law. Not a single word of our documents has been changed, from then to this very day. It has not happened and will not happen" (Al Ayyam, September 6, 2010 ).


True. And therefore, the PLO leadership is not contenting itself with staunch opposition to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, but is even justifying this openly: "From our perspective, there is the state of Israel and we will not recognize it as a Jewish state. Raising this issue is aimed at denying Israel's Arab citizens their rights and at making them illegal citizens, as well as at blocking any chance of the Palestinian refugees returning to their homes inside Israel" (Abbas, Al-Quds, September 7 ).


The following day, at a press conference in Ramallah, Nabil Shaath said, "The Palestinian Authority will never recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. This recognition would directly threaten the Muslims and Christians in Israel and prevent Palestinian refugees, who left their homes and villages several decades ago, from implementing the right to return to them" (Haaretz, September 8, 2010 ).


If so, then the only convincing proof that Israel's government had really crossed the Rubicon would be its adoption of the PLO's demands for reaching an agreement with it. The grievances of our experts on crossing rivers lead to only one outcome: They are saddling Israel with full responsibility for the repeated failures to achieve an agreement with the PLO.


But the logical conclusion to be drawn from the negotiating failures of the past 17 years is in fact the reverse: As long as the PLO persists in its extreme positions, as long as it does not renounce the Fatah platform - which was updated at the organization's sixth convention in Bethlehem in August 2009 and once again reiterated its permanent aim of "destroying the Zionist entity and liberating Palestine" - no Israeli government, from either the right or the left, will be able to achieve a peace agreement.








The tears, the hugs and the faces radiating joy at the sight of the leader of the Chilean miners emerging last from that amazing capsule, ending a dramatic 22-hour rescue operation at the caved-in mine in San Jose, Chile, will be remembered for many days to come. And those 33 brave individuals who restored mankind's faith in the human spirit will not be forgotten.


Over a 70-day period, the miners managed to survive in the depths of the mine. But their real achievement was much greater. Under difficult conditions, they succeeded in conducting themselves as a unified group, with wise leadership and an abundance of solidarity, vitality and compassion. Despite their distress, they even sent messages of encouragement to their relatives and those responsible for their rescue.


The cameras that followed their activities showed people who, in the shadow of mortal danger, did not lose their human character: They provided support to one another and did not allow despair to defeat them. In a world in which popular heroes no longer exist, the miners and their families set a shining example.


Those who engaged in the rescue work, from the day the operation began on September 17 until its emotional conclusion yesterday, inspired awe. It seems that Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and the members of his cabinet, as well as the hundreds of experts who toiled professionally and diligently on the complex, resourceful operation, drew strength and inspiration from the miners themselves. "We proved that hard work and faith conquer everything," Pinera said.


But the worldwide excitement was the result not just of that, but also of the use of the most sophisticated technology, created in space research laboratories, to save human life. And the reaction was perhaps all the more intense because the scientists, engineers and rescuers related to their task with impressive modesty. They didn't spread illusions, didn't refrain from warning of possible mishaps and set a cautious timetable.


It was thanks to them, too, that the whole world held its breath with each miner until he was born anew from the narrow capsule that brought him above ground. Millions of hearts trembled as the members of each family hugged their loved ones.


The citizens of Chile were justifiably filled with pride yesterday. Their country had given mankind the rare privilege of uniting in hope, at least for a few days.










Camels produce a strange, ugly sound. They seem to be complaining constantly about their surroundings.


So, imagine what 5,000 of them sound like. And imagine they stretch along both sides of a dusty road for more than half a mile with no end in sight, many of them with one leg hobbled so they can't run, trucks ferrying many of them, cars honking for them to get out of the way, their long-robed handlers shouting to keep them in line.


In this place, this milieu that, back in the mists of time, ancient relatives of mine escaped from, I found a touch of my Judaism.


For unlikely places, it ranks up there with the Shabbat dinner I had at a restaurant called the Menorah in Cochin, India, and a tour of a synagogue in Shanghai by its Chinese shammes. Not to mention the time, at a "hidden" synagogue in Izmir, Turkey, I discovered an old, white yarmulke in a box. The name on the inside was "Raghib Eskenazi."


The weekly camel market in suburban Cairo is held each Friday in an area called Birqash, situated some 13 miles from the Oberoi Mena House, the hotel where we stayed on our arrival in the city. It isn't generally on the tours offered by hotels, but it should be high on the list, alongside amazing 4,500-year-old temples.


The camels are trucked in from the Sudan and Somalia and, for all I know, just around the corner. Some are sold for meat, but most of the camels are beasts of burden. Upon arrival, you walk through a gate with its ubiquitous collection of armed guards, and come across men in traditional robes, boys serving tea on trays, men sitting smoking, having animated discussions.


It's like the opening scene of a movie about a camel market, except this is even better than 3-D - it's the real thing. The place teems with noise and sound, an outdoor market on the outskirts of nowhere.


A man in a suit stops us. "It's 10 Egyptian pounds - two dollars - if you want to take pictures," my guide says in English.


In Egypt, you never quite know the rank or job of any of these official-seeming fellows in suits who seem to be at all the major sites. Some of them might be tourist police, or freelance paladins or maybe even scam artists. Probably better not to ask. Trust your guide, who always seems to be handing out bills. Two bucks? Sure, it's worth it.


It is hard to figure out how deals are made. Often, three or four men - I didn't see a woman in the crowd - are talking off to the side, looking at a group of camels. My guide tells me the average camel goes for about $1,000. The better ones come from Sudan and Somalia, and are big: They can weigh as much as 700 kilograms, and carry a load of nearly 100 kilograms.


I talk with a seated man who looks like the manager of this vast enterprise. He looks at me and says, "Obama!" He has clearly figured out I am American, and wants to make a connection. Then he makes the thumbs-up sign. So do I, indicating I agree with him.


Having established that I am from the U.S., he asks, "What do you think of Obama?"


"I voted for him," I reply.


This evokes a smile, and then an invitation: "Will you have a coffee with me?" My host sends a young boy out for coffee.


I know it sounds naive, but I felt a warm glow that I had been accepted. Thus emboldened, I tell the fellow, jokingly, that my return to Egypt has been quite different from the way my ancestors had skedaddled some millennia back. He shows immediate understanding - that he knew of the Jews' history in Egypt. I elaborate: "I'm Jewish."


It comes out comfortably. Still, I am in the middle of a desert somewhere, helpless if things take a turn for the worse.


Every Jewish traveler I know says they look for something Jewish wherever they go - and it often crops up in odd places. And, I have decided this is one of those moments when I will proclaim my Jewishness and American-ness, because I am proud of both.


We speak about Obama, and the camel trader is glad to hear that Obama received more than 70 percent of the Jewish vote two years ago. I avoid the subject of Israel because, quite honestly, I don't know how he feels about it, and this is a feel-good moment for both of us.


And, in a way, I wasn't surprised - my first thought was that Obama's middle name of Hussein had intrigued this man just as it had so many other Muslims. Indeed, I take a certain strength in having a president with a name that someone whose distant ancestors were enemies of the Israelites could relate to. Yes, I know that is not modern Egypt, but let's face it - my only relationship to Egypt, until that moment, had been in the annual Passover retelling of the way we lived once upon a time, when Egypt was our nemesis.


Declaring my Jewishness was so easy, it surprised me - not the least of it was the very collegial tone my meeting with this fellow was undergoing. Ah, if only peace talks could be this simple. I reflect now how the noted American politician Tip O'Neill claimed "All politics is local."


How much more local could we be than two men, from two different worlds, smiling easily. If only ....


Gerald Eskenazi, a retired New York Times reporter, writes on travel and lectures on the news media and sports.








Underneath everything is hatred - hatred and contempt for Arabs. The ideology of the right has been dead for some time, nothing of its former glory remains; primeval emotions are now its true driving force. This is what is behind the right wing's nationalist laws and its so-called "peace." Lurking beneath all the unpretty words are not just political considerations, but a lack of any systematic ideas - only dark and dangerous instincts.


Hate crimes "occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group, usually defined by racial group, religion, sexual orientation, disability, class, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, gender identity or political affiliation" (according to Wikipedia, quoting Rebecca Stotzer ). Most hate crimes are aimed at members of minority groups, and it's the same with Israel's latest proposed legislation.


Don't be led astray by pseudo ideas. True, they do not lack loathing, racism and nationalism, but at bottom lies hatred for Arabs. From Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to MK Danny Danon, from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to MK Anastassia Michaeli, from MK Michael Ben Ari to MK Yaakov Katz - all of them are Arab haters, whether openly or not. Most of them have never even met an Arab, but they know everything about them. Not one of them has even begun to think of Arabs as being equal to Jews.


Netanyahu cloaks his hatred and condescension with cloying love of the nation, Katz with hollow love of the land. But love has nothing to do with it. The only thing they are trying to do is obscure its opposite. Behind their initiatives, wrapped in the flags of the Jewish nation, their hatred and perceived lordship seethes. They know, to their chagrin, that the Arabs will remain here for all time, despite all the measures being taken against them. The only explanation for these lawmakers' actions is that they are giving vent to their heart's desire.


Do they think their hate laws will alter the Arab people's consciousness? That the Arabs will declare "loyalty" to Israel and then be loyal? That this will prevent them from marking the Nakba and transform them into Zionists? Their homes will be demolished and they will be bond servants? They will recognize the state as Jewish and forgo their aspirations?


The newly installed Border Police checkpoints in Lod (and not in crime-ridden Netanya, for example ) and the demolition of homes in the Bedouin village of al-Arakib (and not in the settler outposts ) are only two examples of this approach. Instead of addressing the problems that gave rise to the Bedouin housing crunch and to the crime in Lod, we see only the use of force - the proper way to treat Arabs.


No one would express such abhorrence for MK Hanin Zuabi (who was aboard the Gaza-bound flotilla ) if she were not an Arab. The only reason for setting forth the loyalty law - and on the memorial day for those killed by the police during the October 2000 disturbances - and for the MKS provocative tours through Silwan, the Arab village adjacent to Jerusalem's Old City, is to stick it again to the Arabs. We will embitter their lives, make things bad for them, and the worse off they are the better off we will be. Sounds simplistic? It is, but all the rest is meaningless.


Repressive force is the primary means used by the government against the Arabs in Israel and the Palestinians in the territories. The police, the army, the Shin Bet security service and the Border Police are the government's principal agents in these sectors. The right wing believes force will preserve the occupation and prevent the Arabs of Israel from rising up; but above all, it will hurt them. And that is a pathological approach. It is not only generated by hatred, it also fuels hatred among its victims. In the end, it will be self-fulfilling and the Arabs of Israel really will rise up in revolt. So besides being amoral, this ethnic hatred is also not very smart.


All that remains from the doctrine set forth by Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin, which contains liberal and democratic elements, is hatred. Begin has morphed into MK Miri Regev. There is no agenda, no vision. Try to find out what the right expects to see in another decade; all that remains is their loathing of the Arabs. That is the right's problem. The problem of the other camp, if it still exists, is that it has no one who can stop the right.


Manifestations of hatred are received with sympathy or indifference, even by those who should be standing in the breach: the opposition, the media and the education and judicial systems.


The damage the right wing is inflicting upon us will linger for many years after it leaves office. It's hard to uproot hatred that has been planted so deeply. The right may not be leading us anywhere, but the garbage it is spreading in the meantime is piling up higher and higher.









When the minutes are declassified the argument ignites again: Whose guilt is the greater? A lame man rides on a blind man's back and justifies himself: Have I legs to walk with? And a blind man argues: Have I eyes to see with? But the owner of the orchard in the parable blames them equally. Thus shall be done to guardians who have betrayed trust.


Who needs minutes when it is possible just to open the drawers of memory? I will always hold against her the response she gave to a message I received from a messenger: The president of Egypt is ready and willing to negotiate. She fixed me with a glassy stare: And what does he expect to get, do you know? Of course, all of Sinai, I replied. Nu, she grumbled, and is that possible? Are you out of your mind?


Golda Meir was right again: I was out of my mind with rage at the narrowness of her horizons and her insensitivity. Who is permitted to forgive her and her eunuchs - Yisrael Galili, Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres - who just at that time decided to build a "deepwater port at Yamit?" Then too they didn't have the sense to freeze construction and invited a war.


That was a war in which there were heroes neither among the lame nor among the blind. But there was a hero and he is an advocate for all her victims, the dead and the living.


In 1973 he was 29, the oldest in the bunch, a doctor doing his internship. There were 42 fighters on the banks of the Suez Canal. Five were killed, 20 were wounded, and for a wounded man he thought would die he opened his windpipe by flashlight and without anesthesia.


The fighting went on as long as there was any point to it and there was still ammunition. On the third day the outpost was entirely surrounded and its fate was sealed. The supreme command consulted, and over the field radio it was heard in its helplessness: What do we do now, what do we say to the lost, trapped men? There were bigshots who insisted on fighting to the end, until the last drop of prestige. The doctor, however, thought their lives were better than pointless deaths, and an orderly surrender by means of the Red Cross was preferable to collective suicide.


An entire national leadership did not manage to formulate an opinion. Even in the midst of the war they fled their responsibility. The boys should decide themselves - that was the final instruction over the field radio. They themselves should take responsibility for their personal fate and national pride. Though they are young and very betrayed, though they are surrounded and abandoned, though they are bleeding, their lives are in their own hands.


Last Saturday we celebrated the birthday of our youngest grandson, who is a year old. All five grandchildren were there - three of them are great-grandchildren of Moshe Dayan, including the birthday boy. The first grandson of the outpost doctor, Nahum Werbin, also attended the party; he is already a big boy, nearly two years old.


I looked at the two of them, the grandson and his grandfather, and thought to myself: How lucky we and dozens of other families in Israel are that it was Nahum who was there, at the outpost, scorning the stuttering of the cowards in the "bunker," and as a soldier who evinced civil courage. One can argue whether it is good or not to die for something, but generally it is better to live. But to die for the caprices of leaders and their blindness and their lameness?


In retrospect, 37 years later, it is now possible to see clearly what Dr. Werbin in his heroism saw in advance: What advantage would have accrued to our national security had 37 unnecessary fatalities been added to the 2,656 Israeli dead from that war? It isn't the dead who are going to have children who have grandchildren who celebrate birthdays.


My grandson is already walking and talking. Nahum still crawls on all fours when he plays with him. I wanted to go up to Nahum, lean over and lay my hand on his head as an expression of thanks: Thank you for serving the cult of death here and thwarting it, for having chosen life. I didn't go up to him, because I wasn't sure he would understand what I was feeling.









A historic event passed almost unnoticed on Sunday. A group of some 200 intellectuals and other public figures gathered in front of Independence Hall in Tel Aviv to declare, "We, citizens of Israel ... shall not be citizens of the country purporting to be the State of Israel."


Actress Hanna Maron, channeling David Ben-Gurion, cited a section from the 1948 Declaration that promises equality and justice for all.


It was the amended loyalty oath, as proposed in a bill approved by the cabinet that day, that triggered Maron and her colleagues to make their dramatic but empty gesture.


I share their disgust with the oath, which if passed by the Knesset would theoretically require non-Jews who become naturalized citizens to declare their allegiance to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state." Still, I'm not interested in joining the left-wing outcry that calls the vote another step on Israel's journey from democracy to fascism. Viewed from the United States, Israel seems to me very democratic and Jewish. Perhaps too much so.


Clearly, Hanna Maron remains a loyal Israeli citizen, despite her declarations. Indeed, if there is a definition of democracy that all Israelis, left and right, Jew and Arab, secular and religious can embrace wholeheartedly, it is that anyone should be free to commit to anything without having to follow through on their vows.


Prime Minister Levi Eshkol provided the key to deciphering Israel when he supposedly dismissed the principle of accountability by saying: "It's true that I promised, but I didn't promise to keep my promise."


Read the government's resolution from Sunday, and you'll see how Israeli it is. It amends the existing Citizenship Law, even as the original 1952 law continues to be overridden by a provisional law, which is extended periodically (by law ), this time "for six months" - until January 31, 2011. You read that right. Neither the government nor the Knesset is concerned about continuity. We're just passing through.


No media outlet I've seen has interviewed a single person who has ever taken the original 1952 oath of citizenship or tried to estimate the number of people who may be required to take the new oath. Why bother? The oath is just a hypothetical exercise - if you will, a Talmudic-style dispute - that exists primarily to fire up debate between leftist and rightist Jews.


Both left and right ignore the way in which Israel's law of naturalization has been marginalized from its legislation in 1952. A "temporary" law effectively makes the interior minister the country's gatekeeper, free to decide on an ad-hoc basis whom to let in.


The current minister is not progressive, and he exercises his discretion accordingly. If a left-winger from Hanna Maron's group were premier, she would probably appoint a friendlier interior minister and redefine the oath, but would not go as far as establishing the rule of law and revoking the gap between a promise and a promise kept.


Don't make the mistake of thinking that Avigdor Lieberman is any different. Even this newcomer quickly learned the Israeli rules of the game: Each of us gets to decide whether to follow the rules or change them. In Hebrew we call this "combina," a slang word referring to the bypassing of rules or commitments.


Lieberman may justify his move by pointing to other democracies, like the United States. Indeed, in America, naturalization requires an oath of allegiance, exemplifying Lieberman's slogan, "Without loyalty, there is no citizenship." But the American oath is nothing like Israel's. To become a U.S. citizen, one commits to "support and defend" the country's constitution and laws, through military service, if necessary. Neither Hanna Maron, Barak nor Lieberman would dream of copying the Americans and demand from newcomers, particularly non-Jewish ones, a commitment to bear arms, although this is the most effective test of loyalty.


Yes, in Israel, Jewish immigrants are often drafted into the army, but this is independent of naturalization. Jews are drafted after they immigrate and claim the Right of Return, which is not conditioned on any commitment. Sadly, the new Israeli oath is the most appropriate one for the country. To become Israeli, you are required to participate in the endless debate that has vexed our people since as far back as Herzl's diaries: Can Israel be both Jewish and democratic?


The oath of citizenship engages Maron and Lieberman in a drama of definitions and symbols, with no

connection to a real-life commitment. We are all familiar with the Declaration of Independence's reference to the "natural and historic right" of the Jewish people and its promise of justice and equality, but not as much with the fundamental principle of combina in the same document.


Ben-Gurion stated the Founders' first concrete commitment: "We declare that, with effect from the moment of the termination of the Mandate being tonight, the eve of Sabbath, the 6th of Iyar, 5708 (15th May, 1948 ), until the establishment of the elected, regular authorities of the state in accordance with the constitution which shall be adopted by the Elected Constituent Assembly not later than the 1st October 1948, the People's Council shall act as a Provisional Council of State, and its executive organ, the People's Administration, shall be the Provisional Government of the Jewish State, to be called 'Israel.'"


Did you get that? That we don't have a constitution today is of course due to the founders' combina.


Yoav Sivan is an Israeli journalist in New York. His website is









The facts must be acknowledged: The heads of the rightist parties have a strategic outlook and the ability to take the long view, and they also know how to choose the right tools to carry out their mission.


The proposed new amendment to the Citizenship Law, which is aimed at fomenting a state of constant hostility between Jews and everyone else, is just one aspect of the greater plan of which Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is the official spokesman. The other aspect is the foreign minister's promise to the nations of the world that our war with the Palestinians is an eternal war. Israel needs both an external and an internal enemy, a constant sense of emergency - because peace, whether with the Palestinians in the territories or the Palestinians in Israel, is liable to weaken it to the point of existential danger.


And indeed, the right, which includes most of the leaders of Likud, is permeated with the awareness that Israeli society lives under a cloud of danger of breakdown from within. The democratic and egalitarian virus is eating away at the body politic from within. This virus rests on the universal principle of human rights and nurtures a common denominator among all human beings because they are human beings. And what do human beings have more in common than their right to be masters of their own fate and equal to one another?


In the right's view, that is precisely where the problem lies: Negotiations on partitioning the land are an existential danger because they recognize the Palestinians' equal rights, and thereby undermine the Jews' unique status in Eretz Israel. Therefore, in order to prepare hearts and minds for exclusive Jewish control of the population of the entire land, it is necessary to cling to the principle that what really matters in the lives of human beings is not what unites them, but rather what separates them. And what separates people more than history and religion?


Beyond that, there is a clear hierarchy of values. We are first of all Jews, and only if we are assured that there will be no clash between our tribal-religious identity and the needs of Jewish rule, on one hand, and the values of democracy on the other can Israel also be democratic. But in any case, its Jewishness will always be given clear preference. This fact ensures an endless fight, because the Arabs will refuse to accept the sentence of inferiority that the state of Lieberman and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman intends for them.


That is why these two cabinet ministers, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's tacit support, rejected the proposal that the loyalty oath be "in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence." As they see it, the Declaration of Independence, which promises equality for all regardless of religion and national origin, is a destructive document whose real aim at the time was to placate the gentiles and win their help in the War of Independence. Today, in an Israel that is armed to the teeth, only enemies of the people would want to give legal status to a declaration that in any case few have ever taken seriously.


This is where the religious dimension naturally enters the picture. Just as it did among the revolutionary conservatives of the early 20th century and the neoconservative nationalists of our own day, religion plays a decisive role in crystallizing national solidarity and preserving society's strength.


Religion is perceived, of course, as a system of social control without metaphysical content. Therefore, people who hate religion and its moral content can dwell contentedly alongside people like Neeman, who hopes one day to impose rabbinic law on Israel. From their perspective, the role of religion is to impose Jewish uniqueness and push universal principles beyond the pale of national existence.


In this way, discrimination and ethnic and religious inequality have become the norm here, and the process of Israel's delegitimization has ratcheted up a level. And all of this is the work of Jewish hands.












Attorneys general in all 50 states have pledged a coordinated investigation into chaotic foreclosure practices by some of the nation's largest banks. The Department of Justice is also looking into what happened, while some lawmakers are now calling for a nationwide moratorium on all foreclosures until the legal questions are settled. The Obama administration is insisting such a broad delay would hurt the economy.


There is plenty to worry about. But amid all this roiling, neither Congress nor the administration has found a way to address an even more fundamental problem: What government and banks need to do to finally stanch the flood of foreclosures wreaking havoc on the lives of millions of Americans and threatening the recovery.


According to the latest figures, 4.2 million loans are now in or near foreclosure. An estimated 3.5 million homes will be lost by the end of 2012, on top of 6.2 million already lost. Yet the administration's main antiforeclosure effort has modified fewer than 500,000 loans in about 18 months.


Judges and investigators need to be unflinching in their inquiries into the paperwork debacle and must hold the banks fully accountable. What we've already learned is chilling — and suggests that bankers have learned little since the 2008 implosion and taxpayer bailout.


Major banks — including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Ally Bank, which is owned by GMAC — have suspended foreclosures after admitting they had submitted tens of thousands of affidavits to the courts, attesting to facts about the defaulted loans that had not been verified by the bank employees signing the documents.


The Times's Eric Dash and Nelson D. Schwartz reported in Thursday's paper that in their rush to process foreclosures, banks hired inexperienced workers ("Burger King kids" as one former banker derided them) who barely knew what a mortgage was.


The problems may go far deeper. The banks' procedures for keeping track of mortgages may also be seriously flawed. If there are problems in establishing a chain of title, it could — again — call into question the value of mortgage-backed securities. That would mean litigation, which would harm bank profits, and in a worst case, risk another economywide disruption.


As important, and dismaying, as all this is, it must not obscure the underlying problem: potentially millions of foreclosures that could and should be avoided.


A mandated, national moratorium may be unavoidable if banks resume a rush to foreclosure before all the legal issues are resolved. So far, there is no sign of that. A moratorium won't address the fundamental problem that banks have not competently and aggressively pursued ways to keep more financially viable Americans in their homes.


The White House may well be right that a moratorium would further rattle investors. But the economy is not going to rebound until the housing mess is resolved. What is needed, urgently, are laws and policies to give homeowners a better shot at reworking their loans so they can keep making payments and avoid foreclosure.


Throughout this crisis, the Obama administration has been far more worried about protecting the banks than protecting homeowners. The big weaknesses in the administration's main antiforeclosure policy is that participation by lenders is voluntary and homeowners have little leverage to get better terms — especially reductions in loan principal when the mortgage balance is greater than the value of the home.


One way to change that would be for Congress to reform the bankruptcy law so troubled borrowers could turn to the courts for a loan modification if banks were uncooperative. Homeowners also need a simple process to challenge a bank if it uses incorrect information to deny a modification and justify a foreclosure, or if it refuses to divulge the facts and figures it used.


The administration also needs to alter refinancing guidelines so that many borrowers who are current in their payments are eligible to refinance to lower rates, even if their houses have declined in value. It needs to provide more legal aid to homeowners, using money authorized by Congress.


This latest foreclosure crisis should settle one issue once and for all. The banks that got us into this mess can't be trusted to get us out of it. The administration and Congress need to act.







Across the country, programs that provide legal representation in civil cases to low-income Americans are so cash-strapped that they are turning away numbers of people. Hard-pressed Americans fighting foreclosure or seeking protection from domestic violence or access to medical care or unemployment benefits must often navigate the judicial system on their own or give up.


For much of its financing, civil legal aid has relied on the interest earnings from escrow accounts that private lawyers often hold for clients. That has all but disappeared as interest rates have dropped. At the same time, deficit-plagued statehouses are cutting support, while federal dollars are not taking up enough of the slack.


The chief judge of New York State's highest court, Jonathan Lippman, has begun a campaign for expanded state support. At recent public meetings, business, political, and bar leaders, judges and litigants described the high cost, to all New Yorkers, of denying such assistance to the poor.


Beyond basic moral and ethical concerns, they argued, the rising volume of self-represented litigants is causing court delays that impose financial burdens on opposing parties with lawyers. Foreclosures that might be avoided drive families into shelters, further straining local budgets and disrupting lives. Hospitals operating at the financial brink are hurt when poor people can't obtain Medicaid payments for their treatment.


A special commission named by Judge Lippman is readying a report that will assess the unmet needs for civil legal services and suggest cost-effective steps to meet them. Even in hard times, progress should be possible. New York's State Legislature already has approved a measure that would allow borrowers who prevail against banks in foreclosure actions to recover their attorneys' fees. Gov. David Paterson needs to sign it.


After the election recess, Congress must approve the extra financing to provide legal services for struggling homeowners authorized in the financial reform law. It must also approve a substantial budget increase for the federal Legal Services Corporation, which helps finance these critical programs, and ditch senseless restrictions hampering its mission.








It was inevitable that Michelle Rhee, the District of Columbia's hard-driving schools chancellor, would resign after her boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, lost last month's Democratic primary. It was no secret that Ms. Rhee had a strained relationship with Vincent Gray, the presumptive mayor and chairman of the City Council.


Still, Ms. Rhee's departure is a loss for the nation's capital. It has unsettled middle-class parents who valued the strong, reform-minded leadership that was setting Washington's schools on the path back from failure. And it sent a tremor through the private foundations that provisionally committed nearly $80 million to support the school reforms that were started during Ms. Rhee's tenure.


After Mr. Gray's clashes with Ms. Rhee, it was good news that he said the right things after her resignation. He pledged to move ahead with the reform agenda, which has strengthened the city's teacher corps, remade a patronage-ridden central bureaucracy and raised math and reading scores. He said he would keep Ms. Rhee's senior staff on for the remainder of the school year and named her deputy and longtime associate, Kaya Henderson, the interim chancellor.


Ms. Henderson has a softer personal touch than Ms. Rhee, but is just as steely when it comes to policy. She has been outspoken about the stunning lack of professionalism and accountability that characterized the district's school system when she first arrived in the city. She was also the point person in the last round of contract negotiations, which gave the city greater leeway to pay, promote and fire people based on performance instead of seniority.


The new contract, which included generous salary increases, is the linchpin of a strategy that is supposed to improve the quality of instruction by helping struggling teachers improve and pushing out those who don't.


But the contract will come to nothing, and the city's children will suffer, if the schools lapse into the Washington tradition of hiring people based on patronage instead of ability — and keeping them on forever no matter how poorly they perform. It is up to Mr. Gray to keep that from happening.







Like so many people around the world, we waited and prayed until the last Chilean miner and the last rescuer emerged from that improbably deep hole and was again free. In a world of so much division — and one where technology too often seems to be the enemy — the miners' survival and rescue was truly deserving of national and global celebration.


This rescue has turned one impossibility after another into joyous fact. It seemed impossible that all of the 33 miners could have survived for 17 silent days after the cave-in, not to mention two months of strained waiting as the drills made their way into the earth. It seemed no less impossible that the miners could be rescued safely and expeditiously, winched skyward along a winding shaft in a slender pod that looked more like part of a space mission than a mining operation. And emerge so surprisingly healthy.


What made it possible was the community underground, the fierce shared bond among those miners, and the community aboveground.


This was already a very difficult year for Chile, which suffered a devastating earthquake in late February. Chile's new president, Sebastián Piñera, vowed to do everything possible to bring the miners home and organized his government to meet that task. He also sensibly and graciously accepted help from the international community, including this country.


Above all, the miners, trapped a half-mile below the earth for more than two months, are the heroes, especially their shift leader, Luis Urzúa, the last of the 33 to be freed. He kept this band of men organized, hopeful and ready to be reborn.









Mark Kirk has had a brilliant career. He graduated from Cornell, obtained a master's degree from the London School of Economics and a law degree from Georgetown. He worked at the State Department, the World Bank and the law firm of Baker & McKenzie before becoming counsel to the House committee on foreign affairs. He has served for the past decade as a congressman from the northern suburbs of Chicago.


In 1989, Kirk was commissioned as an intelligence officer in the Naval Reserve and now holds the rank of commander. The internal fitness reports on his performance are eye-popping. "Head and shoulders above any other Intelligence Officer I have ever met," wrote one of his superiors. "A true team leader ... Definite command potential. A natural and charismatic leader. A superlative speaker and briefer."


"Outstanding Naval Officer," gushed another. "Outstanding mentor ... Unmatched managerial and planning skills ... Set the standard for tactical intelligence."


In Congress, according to a Chicago Tribune editorial, "Kirk has been an extraordinarily effective representative of the independent-minded 10th Congressional District." He has become the House's leading moderate Republican — fiscally conservative and socially centrist. He has a 55 rating out of 100 from Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal group, and a 72 rating from the American Conservative Union.


In the House, he has generally sided with conservatives on budget issues. He's been a vociferous critic of sugar subsidies and offered amendments that offended the Old Bull appropriators.


On other issues, he's often broken with the Republican leadership. He co-sponsored hate-crimes legislation with John Conyers, a Democrat. He supports abortion rights and stem cell research. He voted to extend health insurance to children.


He is interesting to interview because he still acts like an intelligence officer in search of data. Everybody talks about the deficits, but Kirk went into the bowels of the Treasury Department to interview the civil servants who actually do the borrowing to understand how a fiscal crisis might start. When the stimulus bill was released, Kirk pulled an all-nighter to read it and emerged as an early critic of the way it was structured.


On the campaign trail, he is a tad didactic. His events feature minilectures on everything from the sociology of modern Pakistan to breakthroughs in diabetes research.


If this were a fairy tale, it would be a simple story of a good man committing himself to public service and doing extraordinarily well at it. But this is reality. Nobody who walks into the valley of our political system emerges unscathed.


Today's political environment encourages narcissism and inflames insecurity. Pols must continually brag about themselves, and Kirk has succumbed. Even with his record, he's embellished his achievements. He claimed a military award went to him when it really went to the unit he led. He claimed his plane was shot at over Iraq when it wasn't. He claimed he was a teacher when he was an assistant at the school.


To win close races, candidates have to send and receive volleys of negative ads. Kirk is now tied in the race for United States senator in Illinois. His opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, is running a barrage of commercials hitting Kirk for his embellishments. Kirk is running a barrage slamming Giannoulias for overseeing the collapse of his family bank and for participating in a series of loans to organized crime. The mudslinging has dominated coverage of the campaign.


Finally, people who run for public office put themselves in a position in which everybody is inclined to believe

the worst about them. The things that are ripe for ridicule become famous. The accomplishments fade from view. The cynics of the world, which includes almost everybody when it comes to politics, write you off as a sleazeball because it feels so good and superior to do so.


Now it is common for people in Illinois to say that both Kirk and Giannoulias deserve to lose. The race has been nicknamed the liar-liar campaign. So this is not a fairy tale about a good man going into public service. It is a reality tale about why most serious people don't want to go into politics at all.


The system will inflame your weaknesses (Kirk's mistakes were serious and he has apologized for them). Then the bad will come to define you, and the good you've achieved will be forgotten.


Few people try to weigh the good against the bad and reach some measured judgment. Instead, as David Frum once observed, they regard candidates the way adolescents regard parents: if they are not perfect then they must be irredeemable.


The reality is, Kirk has led a life that is extremely impressive in most respects. The oddest thing about him is that he's willing to go through this process. And the larger question is: In the years ahead, how many other talented people will be willing to do it, too?








American officials used to lecture other countries about their economic failings and tell them that they needed to emulate the U.S. model. The Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, in particular, led to a lot of self-satisfied moralizing. Thus, in 2000, Lawrence Summers, then the Treasury secretary, declared that the keys to avoiding financial crisis were "well-capitalized and supervised banks, effective corporate governance and bankruptcy codes, and credible means of contract enforcement." By implication, these were things the Asians lacked but we had.


We didn't.


The accounting scandals at Enron and WorldCom dispelled the myth of effective corporate governance. These days, the idea that our banks were well capitalized and supervised sounds like a sick joke. And now the mortgage mess is making nonsense of claims that we have effective contract enforcement — in fact, the question is whether our economy is governed by any kind of rule of law.


The story so far: An epic housing bust and sustained high unemployment have led to an epidemic of default,

with millions of homeowners falling behind on mortgage payments. So servicers — the companies that collect payments on behalf of mortgage owners — have been foreclosing on many mortgages, seizing many homes.


But do they actually have the right to seize these homes? Horror stories have been proliferating, like the case of the Florida man whose home was taken even though he had no mortgage. More significantly, certain players have been ignoring the law. Courts have been approving foreclosures without requiring that mortgage servicers produce appropriate documentation; instead, they have relied on affidavits asserting that the papers are in order. And these affidavits were often produced by "robo-signers," or low-level employees who had no idea whether their assertions were true.


Now an awful truth is becoming apparent: In many cases, the documentation doesn't exist. In the frenzy of the

bubble, much home lending was undertaken by fly-by-night companies trying to generate as much volume as possible. These loans were sold off to mortgage "trusts," which, in turn, sliced and diced them into mortgage-backed securities. The trusts were legally required to obtain and hold the mortgage notes that specified the borrowers' obligations. But it's now apparent that such niceties were frequently neglected. And this means that many of the foreclosures now taking place are, in fact, illegal.


This is very, very bad. For one thing, it's a near certainty that significant numbers of borrowers are being defrauded — charged fees they don't actually owe, declared in default when, by the terms of their loan agreements, they aren't.


Beyond that, if trusts can't produce proof that they actually own the mortgages against which they have been selling claims, the sponsors of these trusts will face lawsuits from investors who bought these claims — claims that are now, in many cases, worth only a small fraction of their face value.


And who are these sponsors? Major financial institutions — the same institutions supposedly rescued by government programs last year. So the mortgage mess threatens to produce another financial crisis.


What can be done?

True to form, the Obama administration's response has been to oppose any action that might upset the banks, like a temporary moratorium on foreclosures while some of the issues are resolved. Instead, it is asking the banks, very nicely, to behave better and clean up their act. I mean, that's worked so well in the past, right?


The response from the right is, however, even worse. Republicans in Congress are lying low, but conservative commentators like those at The Wall Street Journal's editorial page have come out dismissing the lack of proper documents as a triviality. In effect, they're saying that if a bank says it owns your house, we should just take its word. To me, this evokes the days when noblemen felt free to take whatever they wanted, knowing that peasants had no standing in the courts. But then, I suspect that some people regard those as the good old days.


What should be happening? The excesses of the bubble years have created a legal morass, in which property rights are ill defined because nobody has proper documentation. And where no clear property rights exist, it's the government's job to create them.


That won't be easy, but there are good ideas out there. For example, the Center for American Progress has proposed giving mortgage counselors and other public entities the power to modify troubled loans directly, with their judgment standing unless appealed by the mortgage servicer. This would do a lot to clarify matters and help extract us from the morass.


One thing is for sure: What we're doing now isn't working. And pretending that things are O.K. won't convince anyone.








According to a recent Pew Center poll,support for the 2008 bank bailout (aka TARP) ranked No. 1 on a list of positions that would make respondents less likely to vote for a candidate. An ABC News/Washington Post poll, meanwhile, captured theunpopularity of the 2009 economic stimulus. Some 68% of respondents said that had wasted money.


As these surveys suggest, the Troubled Asset Relief Program and, to a lesser extent, the stimulus have become symbolic conduits of economic anger. The reason is simple. Both passed amid much fanfare and controversy, and yet the unemployment rate is still almost 10%. Ergo, critics say, the programs are flops.


The reaction is a bit like a patient heaving his crutches at his doctor because he hasn't yet recovered from a near-fatal car crash. The economic pain is still crushing, but the hard facts are that both measures have made the economy better, or to be more precise, less bad than it otherwise would have been. They were rational, clear-headed responses to the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression.


The early 1930s provide a case study in what happens when a financial crisis is met with inaction and sanctimony about a return to more Main Street values. Suffice it to say, things did not end well. This time, two administrations, Congress and the Federal Reserve were determined not to let history repeat.


TARP, enacted two years ago with bipartisan support, injected capital into financial institutions when credit was frozen. The government didn't simply hand cash to the banks with no strings attached; it purchased shares of preferred stock. Now that the banking system has stabilized, the stock is being sold, often at a profit to taxpayers. Similarly, TARP money was used to prop up GM and Chrysler when the collapse of those domestic automakers would have added hundreds of thousands more workers to the unemployment rolls.


Of the $388 billion in TARP money that was spent, more than half has already been recovered, according to the latest Treasury Department report. What's more, with GM looking healthier and even insurance giant AIG showing signs of life, it's possible that TARP could turn a profit in the end. That would make it one of the best uses of federal tax dollars in memory.


Similarly, the stimulus has had a positive effect, though measurable only against a less desirable situation that

might have been. It strengthened the social safety net for those cast into desperate straits and bolstered struggling states and localities. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that 1.4 million to 3.3 million more people would be unemployed today without it. The challenge now is to ensure that spending meant to be temporary and targeted doesn't become permanent and diffuse.


Given the unpopularity of TARP and the stimulus, it's not surprising that candidates this fall aren't rushing to associate themselves with these programs. In fact, voters in GOP primaries ousted several Republicans — known as the TARP martyrs — who supported the bailout. That's a shame.


Voters have every reason to be angry about the economic mess, but their rage should be directed at the Wall Street financiers who threw caution to the wind and the politicians of both parties who enabled them, not at lawmakers who acted responsibly to save the system at a moment of maximum peril.


As the Great Depression proved, the true act of irresponsibility in the midst of economic crisis — as in all crises — is to freeze up and do nothing, then take cheap shots at those who saved the day.








After the housing bubble burst and the economy slipped into a recession, Congress and the administration tried to fix the problem by throwing money at it. This strategy did not work. TARP and the stimulus have failed to rein in unemployment and provide stability for our economy.


Two years later, the economy still faces many challenges. Unemployment has exceeded 9% for 17 consecutive months. The federal deficit has soared to unprecedented levels, reaching $1.42 trillion in 2009 and $1.29 trillion in 2010. If we continue down this path, interest on the national debt alone will quadruple, jumping from $186.9 billion to $768.2 billion in just 10 years.


An economic stimulus package should spur growth and long-term job creation, but this did neither. Instead, recent economic policies have increased the national debt and placed more burdens on families. Of nearly $1 trillion allocated to stimulus spending, billions remain unspent. Sadly, all of this government spending has done very little to create permanent jobs. In fact, over 2.6 million jobs have been lost since the stimulus became law.


We must stop bailouts. Taxpayers simply cannot rescue businesses, state and local governments, and even families that make poor financial decisions. We've got to get back to the basics of being held accountable for the decisions we make and particularly, in the case of businesses, let the markets determine winners and losers, not government.


America cannot continue to live this far beyond its means. We need to cut spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, put a hard cap on new spending, and require that the federal government learn to do more with less. That's what Americans have been doing the past two years, and Congress should do the same.


Playing the blame game with the cause of the mortgage lending problems and the overall financial meltdown is not going to solve our problems now. If you want to start passing out blame, there is plenty to go around.


The American people sent Congress to Washington to spend their money wisely. The result has been government-funded bailouts of private companies and unsustainable levels of spending. Not only are 15 million Americans out of work, but our country is over $13 trillion in debt.


It's clear that TARP and the stimulus didn't make a bad situation better — they only made it worse.


Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, is a member of the House Financial Services Committee.









We've just had another welcome 3-day holiday weekend for school kids and most adult workers. But Monday's


Columbus Day is misunderstood by most of us.


We're taught as school kids that "Columbus discovered America in 1492." So most of us are led to believe that he and his Spanish buddies were the first people here. Wrong!


By then, a surprising 5 million-plus Native Americans already were living in the area that became the United States.


Columbus actually made his landing in the Caribbean on an island he named San Salvador(Spanish for Holy Savior). One of his key shipmates was Ponce de León. Later Ponce de León was the first to land in Florida in 1513 near what is now St. Augustine.


More than 300 years later, when Europeans started emigrating in big numbers to what is now New England, Native American Indians started abandoning what had been their land and started moving West. In 1800, there were an estimated 600,000 of them, after many were killed or died of diseases.


Now a state with a relatively small number, my native South Dakota, honors Indians with a widely observed legal holiday. The second Monday each October is officially Native Americans' Day, even though only a fraction of them live there. Alabama also has an American Indian Heritage Day, which is observed along with Columbus Day. No other states so honor Indians.


Latest estimated Census figures for Native Americans:


•USA — 2,457,552


•South Dakota — 69,703


•Alabama — 23,514


It has taken over two centuries, but Native American Indians who used to live mostly on government reservations are now becoming an important part of our society.


We should welcome and encourage that because they really are the founders of our country.


Feedback: Other views on Columbus Day


"While the Cherokee Nation does not honor Columbus Day by taking the day off, it is a good opportunity to help people understand that this continent's original people are still thriving in America, keeping our traditions, culture and language alive."


Chad Smith, Cherokee Nation principal chief


"In the past we celebrated Columbus. Today we apologize for him, remembering his crimes against the Indians and that they were here first. That's progress."


— Rick Shenkman, editor, George Mason University's History News Network








Every year, I smile at all the little things that signal fall's arrival, including the number of Halloween costume shops that seem to pop up out of nowhere — and then just as quickly disappear.


Now, more retailers are taking this trend one step further. According to Christina Norsig, CEO of Pop-Up Insider, several big-name retailers are using space for short times — from a day to a year — to generate a sales spike over that finite period. Norsig, whose company matches clients to available space, says pop-up venues can benefit everyone from the sole proprietor trying to create neighborhood buzz to a national chain fine-tuning its image. Web-based companies, often without brick-and-mortar outlets, use pop-ups to raise brand awareness and drive traffic to their sites.


Target has been hailed as a national trendsetter, using pop-up stores a year ago to promote its Rodarte clothing line. Nike,J.C. Penney and Wal-Mart also have tried pop-ups. These stores say as much about the U.S. consumer as about the resiliency of U.S. businesses. In this economic downturn, shoppers have tightened up, forcing retailers to pull back as well. Pop-ups provide a creative, low-cost way to get consumers out of their spending bunkers.


John Challenger of Challenger, Gray and Christmas, an outplacement consulting firm, sees pop-ups as a reflection of our changing times. Retailers, he says, are simply taking their best-selling merchandise and plunking it down in smaller stores. They're "shifting because it's a new world, one with smarter shoppers."


But what about the pop-up workers? With millions of Americans unemployed, won't these temporary jobs replace full-time work? Challenger says pop-ups provide seasonal and temporary work at a time when more people need multiple jobs to make ends meet. Perhaps not ideal for the worker seeking a 40-hour-a-week gig, but better than the alternative. As the economy heals, a surge in temporary workers is a leading indicator that real job growth shouldn't be far behind.


Norsig, of Pop-Up Insider, believes that some stores will use our global downturn to gain an edge on their competitors. They'll try these pop-ups over the short term, and if they find success, the model could be incorporated into a company's long-term business plan.


In these difficult economic times, Americans are doing what it takes to survive. Retailers are, too. So I see these pop-ups as an innovative bridge to better times. Let's hope that this economic downturn, like these pop-ups, is gone before we know it.


Joyce King is a freelance writer in Dallas.







The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, in an editorial: "President Obama's administration officially ended the moratorium on deep-water drilling that it imposed in May, roughly seven weeks ahead of its original Nov. 30 deadline — and it's a big relief that this overly broad, economically destructive ban is finally over. ... But the economic pain caused by the moratorium won't end until actual drilling resumes. That needs to happen not only in deep water but also in shallow water, where operators say a de facto moratorium has been in place. ... As the industry and economy struggle to regain lost ground, the federal government shouldn't create a delay of game."


Los Angeles Times, in an editorial: "It's not just unrealistic to expect a return to the lax regulatory standards that were in place before the spill; it's mind-bogglingly irresponsible. The new rules, which call for independent inspections and require that rig operators submit plans for preventing and responding to a blowout, are not unnecessarily burdensome. And there's still more to do — Congress should pass a bill to make the reforms permanent, re-examine the liability cap on damages and beef up the industry's spill-response capacity. That will probably fly in Louisiana about as well as a pelican covered with tar, but the waters of the Gulf of Mexico are a national resource that must be protected."


The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial: "The ban was always political overkill, intended to appease the antidrilling left. ... (The) spill was a tragedy caused by an unlikely series of mistakes, but the Gulf drilling workforce has a stellar safety record. ... Lifting the moratorium now, before the election, removes one political headache for Democrats. On the other hand, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management continues to sit on drilling permits, and the shallow water industry estimates that 70% of its fleet will soon be idle. ... A de facto moratorium is still an obstacle to job creation and more domestic energy production."


Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, on The Huffington Post: "Both the epic scale of the BP disaster and its aftermath have made clear that prevention is the only real option for protecting coastal communities and marine life from devastating spills. ... The spill has shined a spotlight on the dark underbelly of what our oil addiction entails: drilling up to 6 miles below the water's surface, cutting corners to pad profits, corrupting government agencies tasked with overseeing the industry. We must not waste this opportunity to learn from past mistakes and make deep-water drilling safer for everyone. Because until we address the root causes, we will continue to gamble in the Gulf."


Andrew Revkin, blogger on Dot Earth, for The New York Times: "My frustration is with (President Obama's) persistent unwillingness to firmly cast his moves on oil — including today's announcement — in the broader context of the sustained energy quest that will be needed, here and around the world, to avoid hard knocks in coming decades as human numbers, appetites and environmental impacts crest. Why isn't expanded offshore drilling predicated on real movement toward a tougher federal gas tax, at least one that is revenue neutral — something that even some ardent conservatives support? But maybe getting the drill rigs busy before the elections is simply one component of the president's new stepwise approach to energy policy. Hopefully some more steps will come soon."








ERIE, Pa. — "I see a lot of unhappy Americans," Nancy Nordin said, as we stood in her living room in a blue-collar neighborhood.


"They don't smile any more, they just aren't friendly any more," said the 58-year-old, who was laid off, along with her husband, from aWal-Mart job in February. "Everybody just seems to be worried about having a coat on their back and a meal in their tummy. I just don't get it. I don't know how to fix it myself."


A lot of words have been used to describe Americans in this election: angry; angst-ridden; looking for someone — or something — to blame. Dig deeper, and bewildered and shocked is closer to the truth. Resigned or defeated? That is yet a bridge too far.


This is why the election of 2010 is turning into such a travesty. Every time the Nordins turn on the TV, they say, they see someone bashing someone else with a negative ad.


"You just don't know what to believe," Nancy Nordin said. But still, she asserted, with more hope than certainty, "we'll be alright."


Nearby, Josh Clark, 23, is a young father who drives a newspaper delivery truck in the middle of the night, goes to school during the day and does carpentry work on the side. He's not thrilled with today's situation, including the fact that he gets about three hours of sleep a night. But he lights up when he talks about the green construction business he is forming. With so many houses in bankruptcy and foreclosure, somebody will have to fix them up, Clark figures. Might as well be him.


The most pessimistic election season in generations is about to squander this innate American optimism. It is a striking contrast to the "hope" rhetoric of Barack Obama's historic election as the first black president less than two years ago.


President Obama has rushed into campaign mode with attacks on the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups for financing campaigns with secret money. But his critics are invoking comparisons to the failed presidency of Jimmy Carter, arguing that it's the policy, not the politics, that has soured so many Americans. In a New York Times Magazine piece due this Sunday, Obama and many of his top aides and allies come across as defensive, deflated and resigned to a big election defeat on Nov. 2. Some blame the American people for their impatience. Others say they came in overconfident that they could bring the change they promised. These are startlingly pessimistic claims for an administration that has passed historic, if controversial, changes in health insurance coverage and financial oversight, and pushed through massive spending to stimulate the economy.


The president himself acknowledged that all of the early spending — necessary to save the economy, he says; wasted money to his opponents — made him look like "the same old tax-and-spend liberal Democrat."


In several passages, Obama and advisers seem, in retrospect, to view the hope and optimism of his 2008 campaign as an albatross of impossible expectations.


"I make no apologies for having set high expectations for myself and for the country, because I think we can meet those expectations," Obama told The Times' Peter Baker. "Now, the one thing that I will say — which I anticipated and can be tough — is the fact that in a big, messy bureaucracy like this, everything takes time. And we're not a culture that's built on patience."


Sen., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., follows that up. "The American people have a limited attention span. Once you convince them there's a problem, they want a solution."


But you could argue that the president and the senator have it fundamentally backward, that the American people are far more patient than their politicians. Americans dealing with this economy do not live on polls or hang on the winner of the latest soundbite skirmish. Many whom I have talked with are realistic about the challenges, and they have no illusions that there is a painless remedy, because so many of them are already feeling the pain of a job loss.


They deserve to know why so many Democrats, especially those in close races, seem unwilling to defend the stimulus or health care plans and — if they haven't worked as well as they had hoped — what's the Democrats' plan beyond saying that Republicans would be worse? Americans deserve to know from the Republicans, rather than old bromides about smaller government and less regulation, what they would cut.


Instead, voters are getting Chamber of Commerce bashing, Nancy Pelosi trashing, and retread scare ads on Social Security, abortion and guns that could have been run in any election in the past 25 years.


It has not been a pretty sight.








The floods that struck Pakistan last summer were devastating. It is impossible, of course, to quantify the cost of the natural disaster in terms of personal loss and suffering. It is possible, though, to calculate the amount of damage done to homes, roads, farms and infrastructure by an inundation that ultimately affected about 20 percent of the country. It is immense. The World Bank and Asian Development Bank put the cost at about $9.5 billion. That staggering number signals problems ahead for a vital U.S. ally in the war in Afghanistan and in the battle against terrorism.


Natural disasters on a grand scale are not new to Pakistan. In 2005, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake took an estimated 86,000 lives and caused significant damage. Still, the estimated cost of the recent flooding is twice that of the earthquake. Moreover, Pakistan is still dealing with the aftermath of the quake even as it tries to cope with the disruptions caused by the floods.


Indeed, the floods that started in August still beset the country. More than 20 million people, officials estimate, were displaced by the raging waters. Only a small percentage have been able to return to normal life nearly eight weeks later. Medical issues are especially significant. Nearly a million cases of skin disease, about 183,000 malaria cases and untold cases of gastrointestinal illness and acute respiratory infections have been reported.


The weaknesses of the Pakistani government — inefficiency and corruption most notable among them — were exacerbated by the natural disasters. It has been unable to efficiently manage disaster aid or to deliver large-scale relief to flood victims. Even the army, Pakistan's strongest and best run agency, has been overwhelmed. Unrest has increased noticeably since the floods. That's not good for Pakistan. It's certainly not good for United States policy and interests.


Pakistan's civilian and military leaders can not pursue policies or practices beneficial to U.S. foreign policy until they deal more adequately with the current domestic crisis. To do so, they need far greater assistance than has heretofore been provided. Despite the scale of suffering prompted by the floods, the world has been slow to respond to aid requests.


Some nations, to be fair, have been generous. The United States has sent the most — more than $450 million and has pledged another $7 billion in long-term assistance. Some nations are reluctant to help because they are at odds with Pakistani leaders or policies. Others are tapped out. A string of global disasters has created a major case of global "donor fatigue."


That "fatigue" and other problems that directly affect the Pakistani-U.S. relationship must be eased, if not resolved by additional grants and aid. Until they are, the Pakistani government will remain shaky and the United States likely will find it increasingly difficult to convince its erstwhile ally to support mutually beneficial policies. Failure to pursue those interests could further weaken Pakistan's stability and U.S. standing in the region and around the globe.







The John Ross House, a landmark in Rossville that is the oldest building in Northwest Georgia, has been named


to the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation's 2011 Places in Peril List. While the designation does not meant

the structure is in danger of immediate collapse, it does strongly suggest that steps should be taken now to preserve it for future generations. Such a reminder is both useful and timely.


Though the building was listed on a Georgia preservation list, the history and the importance of the John Ross House transcends the state border. Constructed in 1797 near a spring and the junction of several Indian trails, the Ross House is tied directly and indirectly to early settlements in Tennessee and Alabama as well as Georgia.


The house was built by John McDonald, a Scot who established a trading post on the Tennessee River. The post was first called Ross's Landing, and the settlement around it later evolved into the city of Chattanooga. The house now carries the name of John Ross, a McDonald descendant who became a principal chief of the Cherokee nation.


The building is structurally as well as historically important. University of Georgia researchers say it is oldest two-story log structure of its type in the region. Despite its significance and on-going efforts to preserve it, the future of the John Ross House is uncertain.


The Chief John Ross Association maintains the building and its site, but faces significant challenges in doing so. A relatively new cut shingle roof has slowed deterioration, but problems at the house persist. The most troublesome is noticeable settling that threatens the integrity of the structure. The association is finding it hard to raise or obtain funds for emergency repairs or to take long-term measures to counteract the toll of age and climate. Current economic conditions exacerbate the money issues.


Members of the association are aging, and there appears to be little interest from young people in the region in

joining the effort to maintain and preserve the landmark. Those issues, as much as the physical condition of the building, attracted the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation's interest and led to the inclusion of the structure on its imperiled list for 2011. All is not bleak, however.


The Rossville Downtown Development Association has expressed an interest in the structure and its preservation. Other groups and individuals also are starting to work with the Chief John Ross House Association to increase awareness and to raise the funds necessary to stabilize the house in a manner consistent with its historical importance. Such work will take time, but it is vital if an important piece of the region's past is to be preserved for future generations to study and enjoy.







Tennessee gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam, currently the mayor of Knoxville, has a simple but very important goal for our state. He wants to shrink the size of state government — while targeting the available money to improve our public schools.


Government on all levels has a tendency to grow and become more expensive. Certainly, the worst example of that is our federal government.


While government is necessary, it is very important to focus its operations — and its funding — on the top priorities.


In Tennessee, better educational achievement by our children is certainly the top priority.


Mayor Haslam notes that Tennessee ranks an embarrassing 42nd among our 50 states in education. He wants to fully fund our $525 million Basic Education Program — making that possible by reducing the size of state government in general.


It's a matter of priorities.


Putting our emphasis on our children and our schools surely can pay big dividends for the progress of our people and our state in all respects.







With our economy in recession and many of our people facing financial discomfort, it is a welcome surprise that the Tennessee Valley Authority has announced it is cutting power rates to its retail customers next month — after eight consecutive months of electricity rate increases.


What factors determine electricity costs?


There are many variables, such as rainfall, temperatures and costs from other power suppliers. TVA generates electricity from its many dams, burns coal, buys natural gas and purchases some electricity from other operators.


"Our fuel costs were actually 12 percent below our forecasts," TVA explained. "That helped offset the fact that we sold more because it was warmer in September and our hydro generation was lower than expected."


The average residential customer will pay $5.37 less in November.


Every little bit of cost relief helps, even if it is only temporary.

Winter is coming — increasing demand and costs.







Only a short distance behind today's busy traffic in Rossville, Ga., is an impressive old log house that many people pass each day with little notice. But those who know the history of the area point to it proudly as the oldest surviving structure in Northwest Georgia.

The construction of the house reportedly began in 1797. It was to become a home, post office, store, school and council room. It is known today as the "John Ross House."


The name comes from a descendant of a Scot frontier trader and his Cherokee Indian wife.


John Ross (1790-1866) established a trading post and ferry on the bank of the Tennessee River near the end of today's Broad Street. That settlement was known as Ross's Landing — and was to become the city of Chattanooga.


John Ross was noted as principal chief of the Cherokee Indians, and went to Washington, D.C., to appeal for the Cherokees. But the Cherokees were removed to Oklahoma in 1838 on what was to become known in history as the "Trail of Tears."


Rossville's John Ross House has been listed by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation on its "Places in Peril" list.


It is hoped that this very important historic structure will receive the attention it needs to remain for many years as a reminder of our very important local and national history.







A political ad by an incumbent Democrat U.S. representative in Michigan shows how Democrats are running from their so-called legislative "accomplishments" as they seek re-election.


"I must ask myself 10 times a day, what is Washington thinking?" Rep. Mark Schauer says in the campaign ad.


What he does not mention is that like the vast majority of Democrats in both the House and Senate, he voted for the counterproductive $862 billion "stimulus" and for ObamaCare socialized medicine. So whatever "Washington was thinking" when it passed that destructive legislation, Rep. Schauer must have been thinking the same thing.


The trouble is, the American people did not want — and still do not want — the big "accomplishments" that Democrats and President Barack Obama imposed in the form of ObamaCare and the "stimulus." And we certainly do not want additional unproductive "stimulus" and tax increases at the end of this year, as the president is seeking.


Considering how poorly those legislative priorities are going over with the public, it is no surprise that a headline on a recent New York Times article read, "Democrats' ads keep the party at arm's length."


Democrats are finally recognizing the unpopularity of the policies with which they have saddled the American people, and they realize their House and Senate majorities are in danger.


But the American people should not be fooled. Democrat incumbents who now suggest that they are "anti-big-government" but who voted for ObamaCare or other big-government programs should not be allowed to run from their records. Voters should pay attention to how lawmakers voted — not to their campaign rhetoric — when they cast ballots on Election Day.







It was big news not long ago when retired Communist Cuban dictator Fidel Castro finally admitted that communism had failed in his country. He had, after all, spent decades promoting the myth that the island nation was some sort of "workers' paradise." But on so many levels — most notably the country's $20-a-month average wages — those claims were plainly falsehoods. The "Cuban model" just hasn't worked.


So, is Cuba ready to try a different approach? We can't say with any certainty, but it is interesting that in recent weeks Communist Cuba's government has started a long process of laying off roughly half a million government workers.


It is apparent to Fidel Castro's brother Raul Castro, who is the current dictator, that the government simply cannot afford to keep so many people on its payroll — even at practically slave wages.


The 500,000 people who will be laid off represent one-tenth of Cuba's 5.1 million-member workforce. Shockingly, the government employs 95 percent of the official workforce. But Raul Castro "has sternly told Cubans that they must stop expecting too much from the government," The Associated Press reported.


The Communist government says it will let more ordinary Cubans become self-employed in pursuits such as brick-making, janitorial services and so forth. They also are to be allowed to form farm cooperatives without official government oversight.


We are by no means ready to declare that Communist Cuba has "turned the corner" and is finally giving its oppressed people true economic freedom — or true freedom of any sort. But for the sake of ordinary Cubans, we hope someday soon they are able to shake off the totalitarian chains that have bound them for so long.









Some readers may suspect our juxtaposition of two front page stories yesterday was intentional, a design decision made with the intent to be provocative, even judgmental in an inferential way. Those readers would be right. For the editorial license we took in presenting the news of 33 miners' rescue in Chile along with a much larger story on the deaths of 30 miners killed last May in Zonguldak was intentional indeed.

We, of course, share in the world's sense of relief and joy at the dramatic rescue operation that riveted the world's attention on Chile's San Jose mine for 69 days. We applaud both the resolute determination of Chile's government to free their copper miners and the international response that brought the shoulders of so many to the wheel of rescue. Ultimately, it was an innovative rescue capsule, a solution supported by engineers from NASA, the U.S. space agency, which brought the miners all safely home.


But we also have a sense of outrage at the comparative callousness and casualness shown by Turkey's government toward its miners, who mostly labor not for copper but coal. We must add that this fully developed when we held our daily front-page meeting, before we received the news about Labor Minister Ömer Dinçer. The minister declared too late for our deadlines Wednesday, that, "We would have the (the miners) out in three days."


Yeah right.


The fatal Zonguldak explosion on which we focused occurred on May 17. The bodies of 28 miners were recovered relatively quickly. But the bodies of two miners remain underground, and their recovery awaits a public tender process before a recovery effort can be mounted. On Wednesday, we formally queried the Energy Ministry and its Turkish Hard Coal Institute subsidiary on the reasons for the delay. We were told a response could not be made until next week. So, Turkish authorities would have had the miners out in three days, but it takes a week to answer a reporter's question on mine safety.


We have in the past lamented Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's comment that mine deaths are just a matter of "fate." So we won't repeat that. But we do again underscore the fact that at a time of great technological progress in mine safety in Europe, accidents are on the rise in Turkey. Just this year, the Zonguldak disaster was preceded by 25 accidents in 15 provinces that killed 37 miners.


We also repeat our concern that a major culprit is the liberalization of the Mining Law in 2004 that opened the sector to participation of subcontractors and limited the ability of miners to unionize. While it does not automatically follow that unionized mines are inherently safer, the fact that most accidents – including the Zonguldak disaster – occurred under the new "flexible working conditions" concerns us deeply.


We salute the rescue in Chile. Our own miners, however, still await a similar resolute spirit from their government.







I don't believe in perpetual coincidences – especially if they bring bad luck to the chosen unlucky. Therefore, I thought it would be much wiser if I stopped calling Fethullah Gülen the "Muslim Pope," especially after having received generous e-mail messages last year full of niceties and polite warnings from Mr. Gülen's "friends."


So, I started hailing Mr. Gülen as Fethullah Gülen Hocaefendi, as his friends would do, although my inevitable acronym for the long name, FGH, did not impress his friends – I know that from subsequent messages containing less polite language and bolder warnings. Naturally, I blamed those messages on FGH's enemies since the grand Islamic scholar vehemently denies the existence of an organized network of followers, a.k.a. Fethullahçıs (the Gülenists). The other day I sighed with relief when the FGH-friendly website (Hercules?!! Oh, yes, might is right!) was quoting him as saying that there are no Gülenists and that the revered preacher hated any -ism/-ist.


Instead of the term "Fethullahçı," FGH suggests the "arising of the spirit of Mohammed at the heart of the nation." Members of this movement are not his followers, but "people who make every kind of sacrifice to serve the land, nation and humanity because they see the Quranic logic and believe in the plausibility of the deed done." Unfortunately, both are too long to make acronyms from.


In an interview with, FGH denied that "those who make every kind of sacrifice to serve the land, nation and humanity because they see the Quranic logic and believe in the plausibility of the deed done" had infiltrated various government agencies. I see… According to FGH, infiltration claims had previously been made by "those who are not of the nation," and that "these people [those who are not of the nation] have always been slandering the 'duty-loving' others."


Reformulating FGH's words, here is the situation:


Those Turks who are of the nation and who make every kind of sacrifice to serve the land, nation and humanity because they see the Quranic logic and believe in the plausibility of the deed done may have systematically taken up leading governmental offices for the arising of the spirit of Mohammed at the heart of the nation, but these duty-loving people have been slandered by those who are not the nation. Fine work of a master wordsmith.


FGH also labels himself and the people accused of having infiltrated the government as the "true children of Anatolia" – whereas the others (the slanderers) are those "who are not of the nation." Leading Hürriyet columnist Sedat Ergin asked in his Oct. 13 column "who those who are not of the nation could be." And on a TV debate, one of those who make every kind of sacrifice to serve the land, nation and humanity because they see the Quranic logic and believe in the plausibility of the deed done answered: They are the "people who do not share the conservative religious sensitivities and ways of living."


Being the curious mind, I have some questions: Isn't all that a little odd? Is FGH not the grand promoter of tolerance and interfaith dialogue? Why should he condemn those who do not share the certain practices of a certain sect of a certain faith? Is everyone obliged to share those ways of living and sensitivities? And why should they be "those who are not of the nation" because they do not fall into the pious Anatolian Turk category?


Isn't it ironic that FGH talks about "serving the land, nation and humanity" on the one hand and then deplores "the other," whoever that other could be? How does he distinguish between the true and untrue children of Anatolia? What makes him believe that "the other" is not serving land, nation and humanity?


Will one of those "arising of the spirit of Mohammed at the heart of the nation" tell FGH that Anatolia was home to other nations and civilizations before the Turks arrived? Are non-Muslims who are originally Anatolian (and perhaps more Anatolian than those who make every sacrifice to serve the land … ah, what a typing burden it has become to avoid the term Fethullahçı…) not the true children of Anatolia?


If the "revered man of peace and tolerance" discriminates against his co-religionists who may have a different understanding of Islam than he has, how can he justify any serious intention for interfaith dialogue? Would it not be better if FGH first established dialogue within the same religion and then moved on to more global ambitions?


Are the "untrue children of Anatolia" not paying their taxes, not doing their military services, not weeping over their dead soldiers?


This untrue child of Anatolia is anxiously awaiting answers from the true children of Pennsylvania.








The growing anger in Washington at Turkey over issues like Iran and Israel appears to be matched by an equally growing anger in Ankara at the United States, mainly (though not exclusively) over its blind support for Israel.


What's more, this anger – when combined with an increasingly tangible feeling that the European Union has been allowed to toy around with Turkey for too long – is also pushing Ankara away from its traditional and allies and partners in the West.


Look at, for example, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's remarks in Pakistan on Wednesday, which were aimed at Israel but obviously targeted the U.S. in particular and also had a corollary dig at Europe.


Addressing a crowd in the flood-stricken Multan region – where Turkey is providing relief – Erdoğan said, "The powers that are trying to divide and destroy the Islamic world are known to all." After this loaded remark Erdoğan went on to say the following:


"If there are those that can attack an aid convoy from the sea and the air in international waters, where are they getting the strength to do so? We have to ask this. Those who have martyred nine of our brothers are apparent. So is the decision of the U.N.'s Human Rights Commission, which declared this to be barbaric," he said.


Clearly referring to Israel's deadly attack on the Mavi Marmara as it was taking aid to Gaza, Erdoğan went on to point out that EU countries had abstained on the vote of the Human Rights Council (he used the term "Commission") and that Washington had voted against the council's report on the incident, despite the fact that it was adopted by a majority of its 30 countries.


Erdoğan concluded his remarks by repeating that Israel must apologize to Turkey and pay compensation for the attack, arguing that until it does, "it is destined to remain an isolated country in the Middle East." This clearly means that no one should expect any rapprochement between Turkey and Israel anytime soon.


One also need not exercise too much imagination to understand who Erdoğan meant when he referred to "those trying to divide and destroy the Islamic world." Likewise it is also clear who he was referring to when he asked, rhetorically, where Israel was getting the "strength" to carry on such acts of impunity.


It is no secret that ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, members are fuming at Washington for voting against the U.N. report on the Mavi Marmara incident. What increases their anger is that the vote in the Human Rights Council was more or less a dress rehearsal for any vote on the findings of the "Palmer Panel," set up by the secretary-general to investigate the same incident.


Should that report not be to Israel's liking in any way it is certain to be vetoed by the U.S., while the EU members of the Security Council, France and Great Britain, will, with equal certainty, abstain once again. On the other hand, any report by the Palmer Panel that is satisfactory for Israel is bound to be rejected by Ankara in what has become a zero-sum game for the two countries.


When looking at the big picture in the light of these developments it does appear increasingly that Turkey, contrary to what is said by government officials in Ankara, is gradually drifting away from the West.


The less than welcoming treatment from Europe vis-à-vis Turkey's EU membership bid is no doubt one reason here. The fact that there is a pro-Islamic government in power in Turkey, however, is also making itself increasingly felt in its foreign policy choices and preferences.


Consider the recent traffic in the Middle East, with Prime Minister Erdoğan paying a high-profile visit to Syria, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visiting Lebanon in a similar manner. Add to this the increasingly warm ties between Ankara and Tehran as well as the fact that all three countries are also Hamas- and Hezbollah-friendly, and a picture of some kind of a "new axis" emerges for the region.


Put briefly, there is an increasingly apparent ideological divide that is growing between Turkey and the U.S. in particular, and Turkey and Europe to a lesser extent, and this is most apparent when Iran or Hamas is the subject of discussion.


On one side of the divide we have a U.S. that is prepared to use its influence come what may on behalf of Israel. The same applies to Europe also, up to a point. On the other hand we have a Turkey that is increasingly prepared to use its influence on behalf of Iran and Syria at the expense of angering and alienating its traditional partners and allies in the West and the Middle East.


The problem is that Turkey is still technically part of the "Western fold." Its membership in NATO is the most apparent evidence of this fact. But how Turkey's new foreign policy preferences will play out, for example, in the missiles defense system that the U.S. is now trying NATO to adopt against Iran remains to be seen.


The question becomes more crucial when it is recalled that Washington sees Turkey playing a very key role in this context as a host country for such a system. If this NATO project gets widespread support in NATO, Turkey could easily end up having to choose between the alliance and Iran.


Five years ago Ankara's choice would have been predictable. It no longer is so and this carries the seeds of yet another crisis with the U.S. and the EU along the ideological divide mentioned above.








As Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made an unexpected visit to the Syrian capital Damascus on Oct. 12, the consideration was that most probably the issues of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and of "PKK militants' return" were discussed.


They were raised of course, but in addition, the formation of an Iraqi government and the Erdoğan – al-Asad meeting were also important. The Syrian approach to the formation of an Iraqi government is similar to that of Turkey, but far from that of Iran.


Though not expressed openly, Syria's preference is that Ayad Allawi head whatever government emerges in Iraq, rather than over Nouri al-Maliki – despite the fact that Syria hosted the latter for a while. And that's not a secret. Iran, on the other hand, is not favorable toward Allawi.


Allawi's al-Iraqiya list left al-Maliki's "Devlet-ül Kanun" (State of Law) list behind by two seats at the end of the elections. Al-Iraqiya, in general, represents Arab Sunni Islamists (even pro-al Qaeda Sunnis) and a coalition of Arab nationalists including Baathists.


Allawi is a "laic Shiite," yet al-Iraqiya is perceived as a "Sunni bloc," many of whose members were supporters of the old regime.


It is not a secret either that Turkey shaped, supported and encouraged Allawi's list. Due to the Baathists in the Syrian regime and thousands of Iraqi Sunni immigrants, Syria determines the axis in the region together with Iran, standing closer to Turkey in efforts to form a government in Iraq.


In fact, it could be more accurate and felicitous to talk about the presence of a "Turkey-Syria axis" rather than an "Iran-Syria" axis in the region.


Besides, Saudi Arabia keeping a distant from Iran prefers Allawi, too. During Erdoğan's Damascus visit Allawi was in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia and Syria have reached a "regional conciliation" thanks to Turkey. And its first product was an apology from the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who has ties with Saudi Arabia and who accused Syria of being responsible for the assassination of his father, Rafiq Hariri.


The reason I am reiterating all of this is because contact between Turkey and Syria, or any other regional country for that matter, regarding the PKK should be seen as part of a "general balance in the region."


That is to say, it will be quite impossible to understand and settle Turkey's PKK agenda without considering the Iranian factor in Iraq, and Turkey-Syria, Turkey-Iran and Iran-Syria relations.


If Turkey's concern is to bring the PKK down from the mountains, some kind of agreement with the Northern Iraq Regional Administration in Arbil must be reached.


Turkey has known that 30-35 percent of the armed PKK members up in the Qandil Mountain are Syrian (equating to between 1,500 to 2,000 people). Therefore, even if Turkey reaches an agreement with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, and even if Öcalan says, "Yes, we've reached an agreement. Let's bring militants down from the mountain and have them to lay down arms," unless a solution is found to the future of Syrians in the PKK it is quite doubtful that Öcalan's directive will work.


Let's assume that thousands of PKK members return home as a result of a "durable truce." What will happen to the Syrian PKK members?


The problems of Syrian Kurds are of the most critical among Kurdish troubles. One fifth of approximately two million Kurds living in Syria are not even registered. In other words, they are not regarded as Syrian citizens.


It is unimaginable that these issues were not discussed during the Erdoğan – al-Assad meeting in Damascus. As a matter of fact, to the question at the end of a joint press briefing, "If the PKK members of Syrian descent lay down arms, they could be pardoned. Did you bring this to the agenda?" Asad responded, "This is nothing new. We should open the door to everyone who makes a mistake. In the issue of pardoning, the door should remain open. Be it in Turkey or in Syria or in Iraq, closing the door after pardoning people once is not right." The answer needs elaboration.


As far as I see, al-Assad implied that Syria will open the door to the Syrian PKK members when Turkey reaches a solution. However, he also emphasizes that amnesty is necessary not only for PKK members of Syrian descent, but also PKK militants from Turkey.


Integration of some PKK members in the Northern Iraq Regional Administration will be on the agenda. So, an agreement is needed with the Iraqi administration, too. These are the conclusions we can reach in Erdoğan's visit to Damascus on Oct. 12.


After all these, could we say that leaders concentrate on "disarmament" or in other words "bringing the PKK down from the mountain"? Yes, we can. However, content and main theme of the contacts with Damascus and Arbil are not so different from that of security administrators in the last few years. This is why al-Assad said, "This is nothing new."


Besides, let's not forget the Iranian factor. A strong and significant faction of the PKK leadership up in the mountain is "hawkish" and is in touch with Iran. This is all known.


Where does Iran stand in this equation?


Could the progress in Turkey-Iran bilateral relations lead to Iranian cooperation with Turkey on this issue, too?


There is no agreement with Iran regarding the nature of a prospective government in Iraq. In this case, will Iran take responsibility in the issue of the disarmament and bringing down the PKK?


That needs an answer, too. It is also a legitimate question.


For the following reasons:


1. Specifically, bringing the PKK down from the mountain and attempts to find solution to the Kurdish question in general cannot be taken up as an intangible issue beyond the efforts to seek balances in the Middle East and new balances in the region;


2. We should not seek quick solutions to the issue and create disappointment by keeping expectations so high.


3. We should see that revival and sustainability of contacts in the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, and İmralı axis are more important and privileged than having contacts with Arbil, Damascus, Baghdad, Tehran and Washington on the issue.  


Cengiz Çandar is a columnist for daily Radikal, in which this piece appeared Wednesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.








The religious, demographic, physical, psychological and political realities facing the Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem today require that it be an undivided-yet-shared city serving as a microcosm exemplifying Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. Jerusalem not only represents the largest urban concentration of Israelis and Palestinians coexisting alongside one another, but also the epicenter of the conflict that divides them. The leaders on both sides must counter the rejectionists at every level to create a solid foundation in Jerusalem for a lasting two-state solution.


The demographic reality in east and west Jerusalem makes division of the city impossible. While Palestinian residents are largely concentrated in east Jerusalem, and Jewish residents in west Jerusalem, they are interspersed throughout the city. Over 40 percent of east Jerusalem residents today are Jews, and nearly 40 percent of the city's Israelis live east of the so-called "seam line" that once divided Jerusalem prior to the 1967 Six Day War. In addition to establishing this demographic mix, Israel has deliberately developed the city in a concerted manner that has united the eastern and western neighborhoods. Various municipal services, such as gas lines and electricity, are shared across the city. Israel has understood that such structural ties make a future division of the city impossible. Indeed, today Palestinian leaders do not call for a physical division of the city, rather for sovereignty over a Palestinian capital in the eastern portion of the city. As such, any solution to Jerusalem must take into account that the city is physically united in every way.


Furthermore, Jerusalem's religious significance makes it holy to the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, a fact which can never be changed short of a catastrophe. No faith can claim sovereignty over the holy places of another. Just as the guardians of the Dome of the Rock are and must remain Muslims, so should the caretakers of the Western Wall be Jews. The familiar Jewish call to return "next year in Jerusalem" has lasted millennia. Islam's veneration of Jerusalem also spans numerous centuries. Efforts to delegitimize Judaism or Islam's affinity for the city as a holy place deny the unmitigated religious attachment of both peoples to the city.


However, the affinity for Jerusalem on both sides also transcends religion. Secular Israelis and Palestinians value Jerusalem as more than a place revered by the religious, but as the rightful capital of their respective nations. To further dismiss the conflict over Jerusalem as simply one among the religious is to also ignore the reality that both peoples in totality share psychological and emotional ties to the city as the epicenter of their national aspirations. Recognizing these realities, it is a foregone conclusion across the Israeli spectrum that Jerusalem cannot and will not be divided. No Israeli politician could survive the political upheaval which would follow an attempt to structurally divide the city. If peace and security is assured, Israelis will support the removal of settlers from communities outside of the major settlement blocs. They will never support the removal of Israelis from the Jerusalem environs. Adding this political reality to the aforementioned facts, it becomes inconceivable that the city could be divided in any physical way. This consensus view requires one to consider an approach to ending the conflict by sharing the sovereignty of the city in order to exemplify Israeli-Palestinian coexistence and peace.


The solution to Jerusalem therefore requires an institutionalization of simple realities: Jewish neighborhoods should be under Jewish sovereignty, Palestinians neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty; and the holy shrines should be administered in an independent manner by the appropriate faiths. In this way, rather than creating contiguous land masses divided by a network of walls and tunnels – an impossible proposition – the city would represent the quintessential representation of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation and coexistence. In a recent interview with the newspaper Haaretz, Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, has let it be known that Israel has plans for dividing Jerusalem. "West Jerusalem and 12 neighborhoods [east of the city] that are home to 200,000 [Israeli] residents will be ours" Mr. Barak said in the interview.


"The Arab neighborhoods in which close to a quarter million Palestinian live will be theirs. There will be a special regime in place along with agreed upon arrangements in the old city, the Mount of Olives and the City of David."


Inevitably however, there will be some Israelis who will continue to live in areas that would fall under Palestinian control and some Palestinians will continue to reside in Israeli-controlled neighborhoods. By their own choice these Israelis and Palestinians would become permanent residents in their current places of residence but citizens of their respective countries where they can exercise their political rights to vote and be elected. Creating such a scenario where the city will be politically – rather than physically – divided demands one central component: strong and sound internal security cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. As long as both sides agree on security arrangements – for example, what happens if a crime is committed in one sovereign area and the criminal flees to the other – then other issues can be resolved as well. Joint efforts to administer necessary municipal services would be simple to arrange should Israel's chief concern – security – be effectively addressed.


Even so, the idea of establishing Jerusalem as a shared city representing the potential of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence is met by fierce rejectionists. First, there are those who want it all. They deny the legitimate claims of the other side and work to undermine peace efforts at every turn. These rejectionists will work against any kind of peace efforts and will have to be addressed in any arrangement regardless of its makeup. Second, there are those – particularly in Israel – who want to maintain status quo. These critics do not recognize the reality that the status quo is untenable. Without a reasonable solution to Jerusalem, the deep disagreements over the future of the city will continue to serve as a tinderbox of potential violence, as the recent violent clashes sparked in the Silwan neighborhood demonstrates. Third, there are those who support the concept of physically separating the city similar to its pre-1967 status. But the aforementioned realities make such a physical separation impossible. Finally, there are those who question whether Israelis and Palestinians can genuinely work together to administer municipal services and keep the peace in such an urban environment. My answer to this concern is rather simple: Under conditions of real peace and amity, anything is possible; under conditions of hostility, little, if anything, is possible. Political will and courageous leadership can generate vast public support and meaningful coexistence in Jerusalem and beyond – but it must first be tried.


Rather than serve as a core issue of division, Jerusalem can indeed serve as a symbol of coexistence and peace. To achieve this goal, the leaders on both sides must get serious about recognizing the realities on the ground in Jerusalem, and addressing the rejectionists to a meaningful two-state solution. If they do, the city aptly called "Ir Shalom" or "City of Peace" can deservedly live up to its name.


* Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. A version of this article was originally published by the Jerusalem Post.








All hell has broken lose. The prime minister says, "There shouldn't be any doubt in the minds of the public," and prosecutors act.


Two people who died 17 years ago are involved in conspiracies and if we didn't know better we'd believe them. But I am not going to believe them. The first is the conspiracy that former President Turgut Özal was the victim of a conspiracy.


Ahmet Özal, after 17 years, stepped forward to say, "My father was killed." I've heard it at least four or five times in the past 17 years. This allegation is not based on concrete data; it is entirely based on suggestion and fantasy. And there is nothing new to it.


All of a sudden everybody speaks about Özal being a victim of conspiracy. We are keen on conspiracy stories and so is the media, because ratings increase. Everybody knows Özal died a normal death – even his personal physician remained thought it normal. Then an urban legend arose.


When you hear Kaya Toperi's words related to the claims that "He drank lemonade and was poisoned," one can't help but be terrified. Toperi says everybody drank the same lemonade and they were present in the ambulance that took Özal to the hospital. Those who loved Özal should beg his wife Semra and his son Ahmet to stop this campaign.


Another legend is Eşref Bitlis, killed in a plane crash 17 years ago. It was not an accident but a conspiracy, they say. They point to the deep state. I bet they were about to accuse the General Staff for covering up this conspiracy. Mysterious people who said they saw the plane and officers who remembered 17 years later started to promote inconsistent, impossible-to-prove allegations.


The General Staff and gendarmerie conducted an extremely careful investigation of the crash site and found the crash happened because of extreme icing. Please stop this.


People say these two conspiracy targets were close to solving the Kurdish issue but were killed by the mysterious deep state. People say Özal was about to employ the federation plan, which would have finished the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. People say Bitlis Pasha made a plan to finish the PKK, sending a report to the General Staff.


Please stop it. Neither Özal nor Bitlis Pasha had plans to finish the PKK. They only had a few ideas that were unusual for the time. That was all.


Özal saw the issue before everybody else, and got a much better grip on it. He had a general concept in his mind of wanting to give the Kurds their rights, embrace them and if necessary establish a federation with northern Iraqi Kurds. That was it. Eşref Bitlis was of the opinion the issue wouldn't be solved with weapons, the current approach, but was not considered accurate those days. That was it. Believe me, we would just spend time in vain thinking through all the conspiracy scenarios.


'We are the guarantee for those who don't wear a headscarf'


I wrote that the headscarf prohibition was about to end in universities, but emails I received on this matter read: "You'll see, after a while all women students will wear a scarf. Neighborhood pressure will change the whole scenery." Then the head of the Higher Education Board, or YÖK, Yusuf Ziya Özcan, said, "I am the guarantee for those who don't cover their heads."


Let me start here. Excuse me but it is hard to believe in such a guarantee. Even if YÖK was to take such a step, a segment of the country would not trust them.


That is not what I mean. The only guarantee for those of us who choose to live a lifestyle not covering our heads is us.


Not YÖK, not the Ministry of Education, not the Ministry of Justice, not the military. There is no need for illegal endeavors or "Please save us" requiems addressing generals or conducting conspiracies. For now, these methods don't work.


Applying force without weapons. All we need to do is get busy. We may need to hit the streets and tell the world. There is nothing to be afraid of. All we need is to trust in ourselves and know our rights. Let's not be sheepish. Let's use our significance at the right time and the right place.








A senior Turkish bureaucrat was joking with this writer the other day that to speed up integration and teach Turkish Cypriots the skill of governance Turkey must perhaps consider allowing some 10 members of the Turkish Cypriot legislation to attend Turkish parliamentary sessions with "observer" status, while for some time appointments to all top bureaucratic positions should be filled by appointments from Turkey.


The top bureaucrat was even suggesting that perhaps Ankara should start considering offering Greece double enosis (union of southern Cyprus with Greece and northern Cyprus with Turkey). It was of course a joke and most probably the top bureaucrat was just testing the nerves of this writer. Indeed I exploded at him, saying excluding a handful of extreme-nationalist idiots no Turkish Cypriot would want a merger with Turkey. It was a joke, but as is said, there is some truth in every joke.


Irrespective of political inclinations, all Turkish Cypriots who do care about the preservation of the Turkish Cypriot identity, culture and indeed presence on Cyprus must push for a resolution of the Cyprus problem in view of the bitter fact that their community is fast becoming extinct on the eastern Mediterranean island.


For those die-hard "Turkish nationalist" Turkish Cypriots – just a minority in the overall Turkish Cypriot population – who dream of union with Turkey, there is of course no threat and indeed the push for full integration with Turkey might be "promising." Yet, from "Turkish Cypriot nationalists" to socialists, for the vast majority of the dwindling Turkish Cypriot community living in northern Cyprus, the over-four-decade-long struggle for survival and inalienable rights in their homeland has taken a very drastic turn towards an annihilating defeat.


The existential threat the Turkish Cypriots are facing is not only the isolation they have been subjected to by their Greek Cypriot compatriots enjoying the status and international recognition as the "sole legitimate government of Cyprus" in full contradiction with the 1959-60 founding agreements and the constitution of the 1960 republic, which require a power-sharing governance on the island between the two ethnically, linguistically and religion-wise different co-founding communities. An equally important existential threat Turkish Cypriots are facing is indeed coming from motherland Turkey. There is indeed a direct correlation between the two serious threats Turkish Cypriots have been subjected to. The more international isolation bites the Turkish Cypriot people, the more they move towards integration with Turkey and thus towards becoming a "lentil in the big Turkish soup." If the current strong push for integration with Turkey continues, I am afraid in a few years' time – as has been underlined in this column on many occasions since the 1991 signing of the agreement waiving the passport requirement in travels between northern Cyprus and Turkey – northern Cyprus will be nothing more than very much like any one of those small coastal Turkish towns: Still Turkish, but not Cypriot Turkish.


Good news


On the day the seventh crossing point since 2003 was inaugurated at the "Limnitis-Yeşilırmak" area, in the island's remote northwest, in hopes of boosting inter-communal social contact and psychologically preparing the two communities of the island for a compromise resolution, news spread that the Turkish Cypriot government has started to seriously consider annulling a 1991 accord with Turkey allowing citizens of the two countries to make trips to the other with identification cards rather than passports. As it is said in colloquial Turkish, "Good morning after supper." Since 1991 immense harm has been inflicted on the Turkish Cypriot presence on the island because of that accord waiving the passport requirement in travel between Turkey and northern Cyprus.


Not only has the Turkish Cypriot dialect become almost extinct thanks to cultural bombardment from mainland media, over time many Turkish Cypriots suffering under the inhumane international isolation imposed by Greek Cypriots migrated abroad and many mainland migrants replaced them on Cyprus. The end result, in the 285,000-strong registered northern Cypriot population, according to the head of the statistics department, is only around 120,000 Cyprus-origin Turks. That is, Turkish Cypriots have become a minority in northern Cyprus.


Even though the Turkish Cypriot government is considering annulling the accord waiving the passport requirement because of the increase in violence, it will be a step in the right direction. Will that be enough? Unfortunately not. If they are indeed interested in preserving the Turkish Cypriot presence on Cyprus, the Greek Cypriot government and the international community must think on the consequences of continued international isolation of northern Cyprus…


The threat is existential.