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Saturday, October 16, 2010

EDITORIAL 16.10.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month october 16, edition 000653, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




























  1. SAY NO!
  2. T N NINAN


  1. YES, WE DID IT!

























The Left-Liberal, anti-Hindu campaign over the Ayodhya dispute has been stepped up in the US since the judgment. In their single-minded pursuit they are not desisting from even lampooning respected American institutions which see nothing wrong in the verdict

President Obama came into office believing he could change how Washington worked. Two years into his tenure, he realises that the cussedness of human beings is ingrained, and that revolutionary changes are not the norm in human society. Slowly, a step forward, a half-step back, tarrying in the same place for a while. These are the moves of peoples and societies, even when the issue confronting them is benign. What then could be the response of groups when they have invested heavily in a particular strategy, and/or committed to winning at any cost? 

The left/progressive groups, the Indian Muslim Congress-USA (IMC-USA), and Pankaj Mishra writing for The New York Times, seemed stunned at the verdict of the Allahabad High Court in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case. So, two weeks after the verdict, we see them — mostly anti-Hindu groups who have donned the mantle of high-minded humanists —resorting to their old, high-pitched attack, and their reject and refute strategy. Mishra, the hired Katherine Mayo in pants, wrote one of his usual drain inspector's reports, three days after the Ayodhya verdict — a diatribe castigating all things Indian, including the verdict. And the newspaper, which claims to publish "all the news that's fit to print," has refused to publish letters decrying the vile nonsense penned by Mishra. 

Hindu-Americans have mostly kept quiet, and there have been no triumphalist letter-writing campaigns, and no letter published in Indian-American newspapers —with large or negligible circulations — trumpeting the victory of "Hindutva," the victory of Lord Rama, or the defeat of the smug "secularists". One senses wariness among Hindu-Americans for they know well that they have been pushed into corners before and even mild victories have been snatched from them on a variety of previous occasions, that this verdict will be appealed, and the Supreme Court can sit on the case for another two hundred years. 

The IMC-USA, which diligently archives every newspaper report and blog entry that seeks to provide evidence for the discrimination of Muslims in India, and ignores every bigoted statement by Indian Muslim clerics and politicians, and every attack against Hindus and others by Muslims (like in Deganga, West Bengal, or in Kerala where Muslim extremists chopped off the hand of a Christian professor, and the ululations by Syed Ali Shah Geelani demanding that Kashmir be dismembered from India) said one day after the Allahabad High Court pronounced its verdict: "We had expected objectivity not political consideration from the courts. By passing judgment based on religious beliefs rather than on facts, the High Court has set a disturbing precedent. It is troubling that the High Court has chosen to ignore the archeological evidence and scientific evidence and ruled based on the emotions and beliefs of the parties in the dispute." Rasheed Ahmed, its president, whose bona fides cannot be verified because there is nothing about him on the IMC-USA website, is neither an archaeologist nor a historian. But how could he weigh in so confidently on the Ayodhya verdict? What we do know is that he and the 

IMC-USA simply cut and pasted the response by the Sunni Central Wakf Board lawyer way back in 2003 when the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) released the report on the excavations it conducted on the orders of the Allahabad High Court. He was also drawing from the playbook of the "eminent" historians who have proved to be past masters in political gamesmanship.

Groups like "Communalism Watch," which have made it a habit to speak of the "Hindutva forces" in the starkest terms, struggled to come to grips with the Allahabad High Court verdict, and so took recourse in posting invective laden, shrilly mocking pieces by tired, old Indian Left/Marxists known for their diatribes against the BJP and the RSS, and for their ostrich-like attitude to all other threats to the Indian nation. That those who claim to speak for peace and brotherhood can so easily and glibly mock all that is Hindu is evidence for the special type of "secularism" practiced in India. But this is not unexpected or new because as the Allahabad High Court observed, the experts asked to depose before the court deposed twice — once, before the ASI excavations, when they said there was no temple beneath the mosque and, the second time, after the site had been dug up, when they facilely claimed that what was unearthed was either a mosque or a Buddhist stupa. As Justice Aggarwal pointed out, these "independent" scholars were all connected through the activist/academic umbilical cord — one had done a PhD under the guidance of the other, another had contributed an article to a book edited by another, and so on. As Justice Agarwal noted of the "eminent" historians' depositions, "…instead of helping in making a cordial atmosphere it tends to create more complications, conflict and controversy." 

These "eminent" historians and those on their bandwagon would ignore what we are hearing from the few remaining Hindus in Pakistan: that they are fleeing from their homes fearing a backlash to the verdict, and that hundreds of students and clerics from the Jamia Ashrafia religious seminary in Lahore blocked the Ferozepur highway after the Allahabad verdict threatening to "repeat the events of 1992" if the "biased" verdict was not reversed!

Finally, in a leaked email on the Friends of South Asia (FOSA) discussion list, a former reporter for a leftist magazine wrote, unable to fathom how those working with and volunteering for the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) were given space in mainstream American and British newspapers: "Why The Guardian and The Washington Post are giving airtime to these HAF loons will always be beyond me. It's like giving Glenn Beck serious exposure." This reporter, who it seems comes from a landed family, going by her last name, offers a bait for her fellow-travelers: she asks if anyone wants to "write a nasty email to HAF," and "tell them to stop speaking for the so-called imagined community of 'Hindu Americans'". Having assumed authority to speak for the "dispossessed, distressed, and the abused" (all excepting Hindus), these radicals, trained in programs at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the University of Chicago, where again all but Hindus get excused for acts of murder, mayhem, and terrorism, cannot fathom how a lawyer or a pediatric urologist, working or volunteering for the Hindu American Foundation, could have the skills and the knowledge to write, and to write for mainstream newspapers, and that Hindu-Americans could even be an identifiable group. It is best to chuckle at this viciousness and this ignorance simply because there is no use arguing with ideologues. Nothing will defeat them and lure them away from the trenches from where they keep lobbying spitballs at Hindus, and from where they seek to mislead their local American fellow-travelers into believing that those who speak for Hindus must not only be as crazy as the Mormon Glenn Beck but are also in cahoots with him. 

While the Indian Left has remained silent on arguably progressive issues of religious persecution of Hindu minorities outside of India or the separation of church and state in America, the paradox is that is many in the HAF are liberal or moderate in their social and political views, some even lifelong Democrats, who are willing and capable of working with Republicans and Conservatives, Muslims and Jews, Scientologists and Sikhs, even pagans and atheists, in making the world a better place. 

-- Ramesh N Rao is professor and chair of the Department of Communication Studies and Theatre, Longwood University, and Human Rights Coordinator for the Hindu American Foundation. The views expressed here are his own 








It's not just that our youngsters are oblivious to the dynamics of the Ayodhya dispute; they are also in the dark about their basic rights and responsibilities

Rabindranath Tagore famously said: "Age considers; youth ventures." But that may be a thing of the past. Today's youth are allergic to issues like Ayodhya, which don't affect them directly. The government and its agencies adopted high caution on the eve of the judgment on the title suit and throughout the last week of September used every form of official expression to avoid a repeat of 1992. 

The non-government media too contributed its mite. It imposed voluntary self-censorship. The News Broadcasters' Association issued a set of four guidelines forbidding 1) verbatim reproduction of the relevant part of the High Court judgment with interpretations, 2) speculation before the judgment is pronounced or likely consequences, 3) airing of footage of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in any news item relating to the judgment, and 4) carrying visuals of celebrations or protests after the judgment. 

While the precautions — a lesson taken after the high-pitched reportage on 26/11 which arguably helped Pakistani terrorists — were no doubt understandable. A look into the genuineness of self-censorship by the media may smack of hypocrisy, as the TRP gimmick forced TV news channels to go full blast by inviting film stars and singers, themselves ignorant of the basics of the case, to participate in debates post-verdict. 

GenNext's abject ignorance of the Ayodhya issue — its history and lack of knowledge that a Hindu deity is indeed a juristic person in the eyes of Indian judicial system — does not augur well for the future of this country. The social networking sites were filled with irrelevant comments exposing their lack of concerns to the issue. It seems the only place where history assumes importance in the life of today's youth is when they write competitive examinations. Highly practical and typical of the GenNext capitalism is shown in their baffling attitude —why would I care about knowing what does not concern me? Such a narrow worldview makes them see floods in Ladakh as the problem of the locals; vehicle congestion on the streets as a problem for the traffic police; garbage on our roads as something for the municipality to worry about; late trains as the baby of the railway minister and harassment of women a wholly feminine problem. 

During the anti-Emergency movement, we saw youth activists taking an active role in the socio-political process. But unfortunately the leaders who were born out of the JP's Sampoorn Kranti have shown an abject disregard to the anti-dynasty ideology by not allowing the youth to run the show. Today's young politicians are thus not allowed to become an alternative energy source. They simply exist to parrot parental views. Young MPs have failed to live up to their promises as they constitute the bottom layer in the hierarchical political set-up. Though 70 per cent of India's population is under the age of 35 and, of course, they would lead the country in next decades, they have failed to make marks in any field. Rahul Gandhi and members of his youth brigade like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasada, Sandeep Dikshit and Kuldip Bishnoi, who were voted to power by the people, didn't distinguish themselves as fiery orators and charismatic leaders. Nepotism has brought them into politics and therefore they are incapable of providing original ideas to solve India's problems. This bad image has also influenced today's youth to see politics as a dirty business.


Moreover, the country has not yet arrived to provide the GenNext a launching pad. Though India boasts of reaching a high economic growth of two-digits, it is shameful that India has the world's largest number of poor people living in a single country. According to National Family Health Survey No 3, about 43 per cent of children below-5 is underweight and 48 per cent is stunted. About 36 per cent of adult women and 34 per cent of adult men suffer from chronic energy deficiency. Rural Indians depend on unpredictable agriculture incomes, while urban Indians rely on jobs that are, at best, scarce. About 38 per cent of India's population still lives below the poverty line. Restricted access to employment opportunities, lack of proper housing facilities, unhygienic environments, no social security schemes, and lack of opportunity to quality health and educational services have arrested youth's desirable growth. 

Recently, the 'activist' judiciary took a back seat following Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's intervention on the Supreme Court's Order of free distribution of foodgrains among the poor. The official line is simple — since the State cannot afford to feed all the hungry, there must only be as many hungry as the present government can afford to feed. The truth is that the government seeks ways to spend less and less on the very food security it boasts about. A generation back, you could count on youthful activists coming out on to the streets of our cities in protest against such inhumanism. But no longer.

While official figures on the unemployment rate exceeds 9 per cent, the flawed ideology of jobless economic growth has widened the gap between the 'India Shining' group and the real Indians who live in an imagined space called Bharat. Post-liberalisation, barring initial hiccups, the Indian economy had been consistently sustaining annual growth rates of above 5 per cent. But unfortunately, this growth could just touch upon a very minuscule percentage of the Indian population. In a country where about 60 per cent of the workforce is dependent on agriculture, greater investment and growth in that sector can decrease the level of hunger. The World Development Report, 2008, says that 1 per cent growth in agriculture is 2-3 times more effective in reducing poverty than similar growth in the non-agricultural sector. But who cares?

The double-digit economic growth focuses on just the services sector. Thus UPA II, which takes claim of implementing an "inclusive" policy, is not at all pro-poor. Similar is the situation of the Muslims. The government is not interested in their real problems — lack of effective leadership, educational backwardness, social stigmatisation, administrative apathy, and religious orthodoxy. The current crop of myopic Muslim leaders, ill-educated clerics, and shallow youth who have hardly any knowledge of the community's problems, have been seduced by the state to jump into the political fray, and dictate terms in public and private lives of their community members. The current Muslim leadership has completely failed to understand the aspirations of the youth aiming for excellence in an enlightened future. This vote-bank politics has spoiled the potentials of India's largest majority. They could at best provide them reservations in government jobs, which are already becoming scarce, and spoil their real potentials. Come elections and sops are ready, and so we see the RJD-LJP combine has already promised 15 per cent reservation to minorities ahead of Bihar Assembly election, but the so-called secular parties are not willing to create real leadership from within the community. 


The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer 







In the Vedanta case, the Supreme Court had refused to give importance to the traditional beliefs of the Dongri Kondhs that the Niyamgiri Hills was the abode of their God Niyanraja. So, here is a window of opportunity worth exploring vis-a-vis Lord Ram and Ayodhya

I do not remember another instance wherein issues framed before a trial court to resolve a dispute between two communities included matter of faith of one of the community. The second issue framed for the trial of the dispute was "Whether the mosque was built after demolishing a Hindu Temple?" The latter issue requires historical and archaeological expertise. There is no consensus among archaeologists and historians who have the expertise and training to interpret various documents and arrive at conclusions on such matters on whether there was a pre-existing temple before the construction of the mosque. 

How are these issues relevant for the outcome of the trial of dispute over title of plot of land on which Babri Masjid existed till its demolition in the year 1992? Assuming that the court arrived at a unanimous conclusion that Bhagwan Shri Ram was indeed born on that particular spot and that there was a pre-existing temple where the Babri Masjid stood till it was demolished on December 6, 1992, how would such a conclusion be relevant for the outcome of the trial to decide ownership of the land? Ownership is determined only by adverse possession, agreement between parties, inheritance and/or registered title deeds. Courts only examine documents in possession of the rival parties and/possession. The law of adverse possession is that if an intruder into a property holds possession unchallenged for 12 years or more, than not withstanding that title deed is in favour of another, the intruders is deemed owner.

Justice Sharma opined that "the world knows where Ram's birth place is". How the judge arrived at the conclusion about "world's" knowledge is anybody's guess. Though Justice Aggarwal concluded that Lord Ram was son of King Dashrath and was born within 1,482.5 square yards of disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid premises over 9,00,000 years ago, to ask for positive evidence is only futile attempt but against all the canons of the principles of law. For Justice Aggarwal, "failing to find evidence to something does not necessarily result in that the thing does not exist." In the judgment delivered by Justice Aggarwal, he observed that the court has to uphold a faith which continued for time immemorial and not seek for direct evidence of the exact birthplace. Having admitted that birthplace of Lord Ram cannot be proved by evidence, there is no material quoted from the records of the court as to how the court arrived at the conclusion of "faith which continued for time immemorial"? Justice SU Khan ruled that conclusion of Lord Ram's birth place is an "informed guess" … based on "oral evidences of several Hindus and some Muslims" that establish the "precise birthplace of Ram" under the central dome. How those several Hindus and some Muslims who gave oral evidence about the birthplace of Lord Ram is again a good guess and the court is not supposed to rely on hearsay evidence. Faith (not supported by the material on record of the court) is clearly misleading the court to misdirected conclusions based on conjectures and surmises. 

The report of the ASI concludes that the remains of the massive structure pre-dating the construction of the mosque indicated distinctive features found associated with the temples of north India. The conclusion of the report is hotly contested by prominent archaeologists. Justice Aggarwal himself admits that the report is inconclusive. Yet he concludes that the disputed structure was raised after demolition of the temple. Even a prudent man would require a lot of evidence take the conclusion further from "existence of a structure pre-dating construction of a mosque" to structure raised "after" demolition of a "Hindu" temple. For Justice Sharma, the report only "confirms" that the disputed site "was and is" the site of a temple "believed" by Hindus to have been "always the birthplace of Lord Ram".

If the judgment were to go unchallenged, apart from anything else, it will become a bad precedent in law and litigants would cite the precedent to prompt all kinds of conclusions based on unsubstantiated faith, surmises and conjectures. When the Dongri Kondhs, a primitive adivasi were objecting to Vedanta owned Sterlite Corporations mining for bauxite in Niyamgiri Hills and one of the grounds was that their god Niyanraja resides in the Hills of Niyamgiri, the Supreme Court rejected that argument as India is a secular country. Let us wait and see if appeal is filed, will the Supreme Court uphold faith over the law of the land?

-- The writer is Director, Institute of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution. 









Whatever the complaints about the organisation of the Commonwealth Games — and they can fill volumes — nobody will grudge Indian sportspersons their moment in the sun. In terms of benchmarking, the Commonwealth Games is often not even the Asian Games, much less the Olympics. Even so, India's record gold medal total and the breathtaking performances of some hitherto unheralded young men and women — the forgotten step-children of the Suresh Kalmadi industry — have caused enough people to ask: Is this for real? Has the Indian journey on the road to sporting glory begun?

Caution tempers the initial optimism. By and large, the standard of participants in the Commonwealth Games was not always world champion class. Krishna Poonia led an Indian sweep of all three medals in the women's discus throw event, sending the discus all of 61.51 metres. In the Beijing Olympics, this Commonwealth Games gold medallist would have finished sixth. A sixth place finish would have been creditable given the history of ndian sport, but it would not have got her to the podium.

Similarly, the women's 4x400 metres relay team won the gold in a pulsating finale. Their timing would have taken the plucky Indian girls to eighth place in Beijing 2008. Some of the shooting medallists are doubtless Olympic medal hopefuls; but others are not. The hockey team shrugged off an early thrashing by Australia to come back strongly, and the semi-final performance against fancied England was decidedly gripping. Yet, is there any guarantee Indian hockey's warring administrators will allow these players the space, the facilities and the infrastructure to sustain a recovery of India's 'national sport'?

The clichéd question that has been posed over the past week is if corporate sponsorship will finally make it to sports other than cricket. It is a little puzzling that this subject is being raised. Given the millions India spent — wasted, embezzled — in putting together the Commonwealth Games, surely sports outlays are not a problem? Funding the training and preparation of a few chosen athletes in critical events would cost a fraction of the amount.

In India, this allocation has not always been rational. Events like shooting, archery, boxing, badminton, wrestling and the few talented track and field exponents deserve more money. In contrast, hockey has drained the Indian exchequer of cash for decades without producing much. This Commonwealth Games was an exception but overall the return on investment for hockey is poor.

The larger challenge — whether related to hockey or any Indian sport — is to do with officials. Sports bodies in India are run by politicians who resort to empire building or racketeers and fixers looking to make money. World-class coaches are only sometimes hired. Ancillary professional support — doctors, nutritionists and psychologists, for example — is rarely deemed a priority. This has consequences.

Take the example of KM Binu. In 2004, this young Keralite broke Milkha Singh's four-decade old national record and clocked 45.48 seconds in the 400 metres. He reached the final at the Athens Olympics. His best timing would have been sufficient for a bronze medal in Delhi 2010. With appropriate training, Binu could have won the gold.


As it happened, Binu did not run at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium this past fortnight. Why? Like so many others — athletes, boxers, archers, you name it — he fell through the cracks. When these young tyros develop a problem — medical, economic, psychological, whatever — there is no support system for them to turn to. There is no avuncular official who will listen to them, put an arm around them and encourage them to focus on their sport, on the proverbial 'eye of the fish'. Arjuna would not have been the archer he was without Drona guiding him all the way. In this country, we honour our sportsmen with the Arjuna Award, but consign them to the fate of Eklavya. Much more than money, that is the issue.

To bemoan the absence of corporate sponsorship and criticise Indians for their cricket obsession is only half the story. For years, stakeholders in the sports industry — particularly sports television channels — have vigorously promoted alternatives to cricket. They don't want to function in a market so dependent on one sport and one vendor, the Board of Control for Cricket in India. 

Indian football was sought to be made viewer-friendly. Hockey was revved-up with the Premier Hockey League. In the end, none of these ideas worked because there was no one with the business acumen or the long-term stakes that senior officials at the BCCI seem to have in making cricket a marketable and profitable commodity. This is why, outside of cricket, the most valuable properties on Indian sports television are English football, Formula One, even American basketball. These are not remotely connected with India.


In any country, the evolution of the sports and leisure economy is a function of broader economic expansion. In the United States, basketball and baseball, not to speak of tennis, golf and boxing, are all viable because the economy and consumer base are big enough to support all of these. Smaller economies are content with being one-sport societies. For instance an African nation may pour its limited resources into only football or only long-distance running.

India offers the peculiar case of an economy that is now large enough to sustain more than one sport but a society that is still essentially a one-sport entity. This leads to an over-investment in cricket. Nevertheless, when opportunities arise, there is money and interest set aside for other sports. However, as Indian success in these other sports is sporadic, the non-cricket interest too tends to be episodic. 

When Narain Karthikeyan became an F-1 driver, television viewership rose, advertising support grew, Indian tourists were offered special packages to Malaysia ('Come, watch Karthikeyan drive in the Kuala Lumpur Grand Prix, soak in the country as well'). When Sania Mirza was doing well as a singles player, even her second-round match at the US Open was scheduled to coincide with prime time in India and became an ad magnet on television.

It will be no different if one of the Commonwealth Games medallists becomes a serious contender for gold at, say, the 2012 London Olympics. Yet, this will amount to momentary captivation, restricted to an individual rather than extending to an entire sport. That is the essential tragedy. Redressing it is going to take much more than hosting the Commonwealth Games extravaganza.







Contrary to what Cassandras at home and abroad had predicted, the Commonwealth Games, which concluded last Thursday, went off well and, as far as mega sporting events go, were a thundering success. True, a fortnight before the inauguration of the CWG it seemed as if the much-anticipated event would prove to be an unmitigated disaster, not the least because of the poor state of preparedness. The Games Village was in a shambles with apartments yet to be made fit for the stay of sportspersons, the stadia were far from being ready for the various events, and thanks to the sudden outbreak of dengue in the National Capital Region, there was understandable apprehension among the members of the participating teams. The enormity of the disaster staring us in the face prompted the Prime Minister to step in: In an uncharacteristically firm manner he instructed senior bureaucrats and the Chief Minister of Delhi to get everything in place and order, setting a 48-hour deadline for compliance. That worked wonders and by the time the opening ceremony was held, there was little or nothing to complain about. There are three aspects of the CWG that merit comment. First, the Organising Committee did a fine job with ensuring there were no glitches with the schedule; everything happened as they were planned. It is only fair that credit for this should go to Mr Suresh Kalmadi who has been unfairly targeted for the mess that prevailed; if anybody is to blame for that, it is Ms Sheila Dikshit under whose watch things had spun out of control. Second, the security arrangements were impeccable: If Union Home Minister P Chidambaram ensured fool-proof safety, the Delhi Police put its best foot forward, as did the paramilitary forces. Third, the CWG provided a platform for our sportspersons to showcase their talent. Their sterling performance deserves a big cheer.

Having said that, it would be in order to underscore the fact that had our political bosses been less cavalier in their approach to the Games and insisted that contractors and service providers meet deadlines, there would have been no need for the last-minute rush to get things in order. In the end we did prove to the world that India is capable of organising and hosting a mega event in the most spectacular manner — the Delhi CWG was easily among the most memorable Games in recent times and will be remembered for a long time to come — but only after exposing ourselves to scathing criticism, much of it no doubt motivated by concerns bordering on racist disdain of everything Indian. Yet it need not have been that way if only those in charge of the arrangements were more mindful of their responsibility. To depend on 'jugaad' does no credit to Indian enterprise and initiative; in fact, it dumbs down our innate abilities. Nor should there have been wasteful expenditure and charges of corruption. Both should be looked into the guilty persons punished. A last word: Delhi, indeed the entire National Capital Region, has gained tremendously from the CWG by way of new infrastructure, including vastly improved public transport systems, including spanking new buses and an extended Metro line. That's a legacy of the CWG to be cherished by all. 







Desperate to pull out its troops from Afghanistan by July 2011 , the United States is now willing to allow a role for the dreaded Taliban in ruling that war-ravaged country, despite knowing that the return of the Islamists can only mean trouble for the fledgling democracy. The belief that peace will return if the Hamid Karzai regime inks a deal with the 'good' Taliban is entirely misplaced, simply because the core ideology of the mullahs with guns rebels against all norms of modernisation and civilised governance. 'Good' Taliban is an oxymoron, a chimera that is being chased by the US; the Americans and the Afghan Government would do well to recognise this simple fact. But then, the Obama Administration is so eager to get US troops out of Afghanistan and install Pakistan's puppet regime in Kabul that it is not deterred by the consequences of throwing that country to the Taliban wolves. Ironically President Karzai, after holding out for a long time, has been forced to capitulate and offer a deal to the Taliban; had he refused to do so, he would have been evicted from office by the Americans. The Americans and Mr Karzai may claim that negotiations are only in their preliminary stages and that no deal which harms the democratic system put in place will be accepted, but there's more to the talks than meets the eye. It is believed that the Pakistan-based Quetta Shura, which fetched misery and mayhem when Mullah Omar was in power, is working on closing the deal. If Mullah Omar's gang is more or less on board, it is a matter of time before the Haqqani faction, which effortlessly inflicts brutality in the name of imposing 'Islamic values', jumps on the gravy train. 


Whatever the final shape and form of the post-2011 regime in Kabul, we can be sure of three things. First, Afghan society will no longer be free of the impositions that made the country resemble the Stone Ages before the Taliban were chased out after 9/11. Second, Pakistan will regain its 'strategic depth' by way of ruling Afghanistan through proxy. The frontiers of jihad would have been expanded and pushed towards Central Asia. Third, the impact of all this and more is bound to be felt in and by India. For starters, India will be forced to downsize, if not wind up, its presence in Afghanistan and thus lose the vital strategic gains of the past decade. This will be followed by strident anti-India hysteria by the Taliban-controlled and Pakistan-sponsored regime in Kabul which will join hands with the Islamabad-Rawalpindi establishment to promote cross-border terrorism in India. The first target of their Islamist ire will be Jammu & Kashmir; the rest of the country will not be safe either. Tragically, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, instead of pursuing a robust foreign policy that protects India's enlightened self-interest, has been prone to allowing the US to dictate the terms of engagement for India to deal with its neighbourhood. 








THERE may be a paradox in Rahul Gandhi, undoubtedly a product of dynastic politics, pushing for internal democracy in the Congress Party. But his efforts are commendable.


The fact that his demand of reviving elections to the Congress Working Committee goes against the grain of the deliberate policy of nomination followed during Sonia Gandhi's presidency indicates that his commitment to democratisation is not merely cosmetic.


Mr Gandhi's disagreement is understandable, as his project of internal democracy which began with elections to the Indian Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India, cannot be sustained with an undemocratic setup at the top.


Though the argument being presented against elections to the CWC is that it might leave many sections of society underrepresented, the main fear seems to be of the emergence of factionalism.


This is mainly product of the manipulation of CWC elections by various groups of the Congress during the leadership of Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri in the early and mid 90s.


The argument that elections breed factionalism is specious. Internal democracy is the best way to tackle the culture of intrigues and back- room manoeuvers associated with factionalism.


While it may have been necessary for Sonia Gandhi to promote a nominationbased system in 1998, at a time when the Congress was out of power and facing an existential crisis, the present situation is different.


Mr Gandhi's position is in line with the constitution of the Congress, which states that 12 out of the 25 members of the CWC are to be elected by the All India Congress Committee ( AICC).


However the task is easier said than done as the AICC has become a largely nominated body. Mr Gandhi will have to tread on many more toes than he may have bargained for at this juncture.







TYPICAL of its way of functioning, the government seems to be going overboard in its demand that telecom operators comply with newer and more stringent guidelines for mobile connections. Invariably, the burden of the babu's fiat falls on the hapless consumer; terrorists and other shady characters manage to get their connections by foul means anyway. It is true that telephones have been used by terrorists and criminals, but that could be said of motor vehicles, railway trains or air travel. But do we demand stringent identity checks there? Government agencies already tap phone through rules that are far more liberal in India as compared to any other democratic country. It is the job of the intelligence and police agencies to keep track of terrorists and criminals. By using the bureaucratic sledgehammer to do their work, they will only succeed in endangering the one unequivocal technology success story that the country has experienced, one that has already benefited everyone from the rich to the poor.


More important, there seems to be a complete lack of understanding of the right to privacy of an individual. Such verification procedures end up demanding sensitive personal data of individuals and there is little effort or commitment on the part of government to guarantee its confidentiality.








The choice of Jamaican Trecia Smith as the winner of the David Dixon award for the best athlete at the recently concluded 19th Commonwealth Games defies explanation. True, she won a gold medal for triple jump in which she cleared 14.19 metres, but even she acknowledged that the performance was far from her personal best of 15.16 metres.


If performance was the criteria, there was no dearth of outstanding athletes. Our own Gagan Narang won four gold medals and broke two world records. If the number of gold medals is what mattered, Alicia Coutts of Australia who won five at the swimming pool surely deserved it. And if the issue was the social background of the athlete, surely Krishna Poonia, a mother of two who hails from a rural area, could have been considered, especially since she had delivered India's first athletics gold since 1958.


The decision may have been taken through a vote of the six zonal representatives of the Commonwealth Games Federation, but it still does not meet the criteria of fairness and transparency.








PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh's failure to appoint a single political heavyweight as his interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir is going to cost the nation dear. He should have named the head of the interlocutors' panel on September 25 itself, when the eight- point plan for stemming the unrest in Kashmir was first announced. That he has not been able to do so even after two weeks speaks volumes of his government's lack of planning and inability to focus on the Kashmir crisis.


The immediate fallout of this incompetence is that even those separatist leaders who were willing to engage with Delhi have described the naming of two academics and a journalist as Kashmir interlocutors as " a joke". Nobody of any political consequence wants to talk to them.


That they would succeed where others failed is doubtful.


K. C. Pant who was appointed Prime Minister Vajpayee's interlocutor in 2001 could meet only Shabbir Shah and former chief minister of the state, Syed Mir Qasim. He resigned after his first and only visit to the Valley. Ram Jethmalani, known to foray where angels fear to tread, appointed his own Kashmir panel in 2002 whose death was neither recorded, nor lamented.




Former home secretary N. N. Vohra took up the unenviable task of being the prime minister's emissary in 2003 and kept waiting for an audience with the Hurriyat which refused to see anyone less than his boss, the prime minister. He was rewarded for his patience with the governorship of Jammu and Kashmir.


Manmohan Singh started his own roundtable discussions with the Hurriyat in 2006 but neither that dialogue nor the five working groups he set up came to anything. It is inexplicable that the Prime minister now feels that two academics and a journalist can take over from where he left off.


The all- party delegation that the Centre sent to Kashmir had created the impression that the political class in India was concerned about Kashmir. Cutting across party lines, the delegation had conveyed a sense of urgency and seriousness to understand the sentiments and problems of the Kashmiri people. Despite internal differences among them, some MPs showed a refreshing openness and willingness to listen to all shades of Kashmir opinion.


However, barely had a semblance of normalcy returned to Kashmir that the political stuffing has been knocked out of the Centre's initiative. The people of Kashmir have been forced into thinking that no one of any political consequence wants to talk to them.


The Kashmiri leaders have made it clear that their rejection of the new panel of interlocutors has nothing to do with them individually.


What has hurt them is that they were chosen over politicians, who could have represented a wide spectrum of party affiliations and a wider national consensus.


Although, the government may yet do so, the question still remains why no political leader of any consequence could be persuaded to take up the job. The names of at least three prominent Congress leaders are understood to have been considered for the job. But apparently the Prime Minister was unable to persuade any of his cabinet or party colleagues to take up the Kashmir assignment, so long as the home ministry continued to be the nodal ministry for the Kashmir dialogue. When one of them was offered a cabinet minister's rank, he is said to have asked quite bluntly — Which cabinet minister reports to the home minister in any government? Any politician worth his salt would know that his mandate would be perceived as limited if he were not seen as the Prime Minister's emissary. In any case, why would the Hurriyat leaders talk to people reporting to the home ministry when they had been talking to the prime minister from 2006? Why would they want to lower the level of the dialogue with Delhi at a time when the Kashmir crisis has deepened further?




For Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, however, this could be his costliest mistake in Kashmir. It shows that he is unable to appoint people who report directly to him — if V. P. Singh as prime minister could appoint George Fernandes as his Minister for Kashmir Affairs, why could not Manmohan Singh have a cabinet minister focusing on Kashmir alone? His lack of firmness on Kashmir will grievously weaken his status.


More alarmingly, the prime minister's inability to focus on the immediate crisis in Kashmir will push the political system in the state towards collapse. India has always boasted how a 50 per cent turnout in the last election had put a democratically elected government in place — " this is our plebiscite", Indian ministers proclaim at world fora. If this government goes because of street agitations, along with it will go the claims of having a representative government in place along with the political benefits of the last two elections.


Delhi is leaving only one option open for the Kashmiris — to pour their anger onto the streets as they are unlikely to be heard across the table. As the agitation in Kashmir intensifies — it just needs one more person to be shot by the security forces for reverse counting to begin for the Omar Abdullah government — it will firmly move into the hands of the hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Indeed, for the last four months he alone has been responsible for the siege in the valley.


The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yasin Malik and the moderate Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who have been marginalised by Delhi's current move of naming non- political interlocutors, will be pushed to the margin.


Even if they do not support the Geelani- led agitation, their rhetoric would necessarily become more extreme as they try to carve out a political space for themselves under the new conditions.


Among the democratic parties, Mehbooba Mufti's Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP) is likely to intensify her support for the agitation. Its soft separatist line will now find a larger audience. The moderate influence of her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, on the party will gradually wane.




Omar Abdullah, meanwhile shows no signs of addressing the issues of governance.


His core team of advisors and bureaucrats remains the same and he will continue coming to Delhi for direction and for weekends with his family. However, he too has changed his rhetoric seeing the writing on the wall. He has recently claimed that Kashmir was an " international" issue and an " outstanding" one waiting to be resolved. He has raised issues about the " uniqueness" of the accession of the state with India and alleged that Jammu politicians have neglected the five Muslim dominated districts that fall within the region.


He has passed a controversial Bill to establish a Trans- world Muslim University to appease the Jamiat Ahle Hadith, which has a large cadre base in the state.


However, none of this may ultimately save his government. He may in fact end up creating Islamic ideologues of an undesirable variety.


The state might witness a prolonged period of unrest. The immediate aim of Geelani would be to restart the agitation in time for it to reach a crescendo during US President Barak Obama's visit in early November. Even if India manages to keep Kashmir out of the formal discussion with the US, the inability of Delhi to politically accommodate Kashmiri aspirations will be there for everyone to see.


bharat. bhushan@ mailtoday. in









ON OCTOBER 14, Facebook announced that it will partner with Microsoft to allow the latter's Bing to become its default search engine. This will make the world's largest social network even more potent. It has more than 500 million users and Microsoft's Bing, though it never made even a dent into Google's search leadership, is not a walkover — it genuinely has tremendous potential, especially with specialised search.


Therefore, more than any other partnership that Microsoft has gotten into to capture Google's marketshare, it is this that would scare the folks at Mountain View, California the most.


Take the numbers. Facebook's 500+ million users can now search for a restaurant or a movie and Bing will tell them if any of their friends "likes" it. If Bing produces a killer search product for Facebook, Google might as well as say goodbye to a large number of its daily users thus severely denting its advertising revenue model which brought in more than $ 20 billion last year.


So, on Google, if you search for a film critic's view on a new release, you would get only that critic's views. Not on Bing, which will now feature your friends' comments as well. It is more than likely that we watch movies based not upon the often esoteric and distant opinion of a critic but that of a genuine friend with whom we perhaps share greater commonality.


Another plus: " Now when you search on Bing, rather than showing you all the Matthew Kims ( a potential friend) out there, Bing finds and provides the results most relevant to you based on your Facebook connections — those with whom you have mutual friends will now show up first," said Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg. He added that " Bing is also making more prominent the ability to add these people as friends on Facebook directly from Bing." This collaboration will therefore have two distinct advantages. It will drive traffic to Bing it so desperately needs to increase its unique visitors as well as revenue.


]To Facebook, it will mean additional revenue to help aid its remarkable growth story.


Google normally is not affected by tie- ups that potentially want to kill it. For example, in August this year, Microsoft and Yahoo — Google's two biggest challengers — joined hands on search. No go.


Google still has 73 per cent of the US online search market. By September, Yahoo had a mere 13.54 per cent and Bing just 10 per cent. The tie- up had actually brought down Yahoo's share by five percent while Bing saw only a two per cent rise. Clearly, it had not worked.


Then, in September, Google launched Instant worldwide and in October it had an India launch.


Instant allows users to see the search results page as they type rather than wait for the entire string to be typed. Chances are that Google's marketshare may bump up further this month.


In an interview to Computer- World, analyst Ray Valdes said " The real importance of the announcement is that it highlights the growing strategic conflict between Facebook and Google. There is a battle for the future of the Web, and it is not about search engines, but about the social Web. The competition is between the new and the old — between Facebook as the early leader in the social Web, and Google as the dominant player in the content Web." He feels that everyone else — Microsoft, Yahoo and Twitter, " will play a secondary role, and will start lining up on one side or the other." This is not an isolated view.


According to Fast Company magazine technology writer E. B. Boyd, " Search just reached an inflection point. Google's great innovation was to figure out how to deliver the most relevant search results, based on the assumption that a webpage that had a large number of other pages linking to it would be more interesting than one with fewer links. Google has built its search algorithms by continuing to troll large sets of data for other attributes that indicate relevance.


Now, however, Bing can deliver results based on what your trusted sources of information— your friends and acquaintances— think. This is a giant leap forward." Google has for long dominated the search world. But when it comes to social networking, it has failed miserably so far with Wave and Buzz ( Wave is dead and Buzz too may go the same way). It is this drawback that might help Facebook and Microsoft. After all, Google isn't invincible.



NOKIA'S launch of its much- awaited N8 did not create the stir that the Apple iPhone 4 did. It is just as well because Nokia has a habit of quietly sneaking into the market rather than make a splash.

The N8 is not different.


For starters, the N8 is a genuinely good- looking phone, something that Nokia has not managed to do so far. Sturdy, yes.


Excellent finish, yes. Utility, yes. But beauty? Nah! The N8 may change the perception a bit. Only a bit, because the iPhone and HTC's and Samsung's smartphones are far better looking than the N8.


But beauty isn't why we often buy smartphones in India. We want our paisa vasool. At a little over ` 26,000 retail, the N8 may sound a tad expensive than it should have been given that its competitors have better features.


For instance, Samsung's AMOLED screen is surely the best in the market so far.


The Nokia N8 also has some other drawbacks as this review in CNET would suggest: " The display offers a built- in accelerometer and pinch- to- zoom support. The responsiveness of both features is a bit inconsistent.


At times, it can be quick or instantaneous, and at other times, there can be a slight delay. This is also true of the touch screen in general.


For the most part, it registered our touches but there were occasions where it simply didn't respond or it was so slow to respond that we thought there was a problem. Also, scrolling through lists and home screen panels isn't quite as smooth or zippy as it is some competing phones." But then, India is in love with Nokia phones for their sheer utility and their intuitive customer interface.


For these two reasons alone, I am not ready to discount N8' s performance in the national market.


For all you know, it may still revive Nokia's sagging fortunes.



FACEBOOK'S collaboration overdrive now has Skype, too. Apart from a tie- up with Microsoft's Bing search engine, it has tied up with Skype to integrate video chats between Facebook friends. Combine this with the rumour that Facebook is launching its own phone, and you could have a killer app to beat all killer apps.


According to the terms of the collaboration, Skype will have a Facebook tab on its Windows interface.


So when you log in, you will be able to see other Facebook friends, and if your friend is a Skype user, you will be able to make Skype- to- Skype calls free.


If your broadband speed is good enough, you can even make group video calls on Skype with your friends.


The thing about Facebook is that it is looking for genuinely user- friendly ways of online world domination.


It has always stated that it wants to the world's central communications and social platform.


The good news for Facebook? It seems to be on the right track.



THOSE using smartphones with the Android OS and were jealous of their Apple iPhone counterparts for the blockbuster Angry Birds game, calm down — Angry Birds for Android is here.


Angry Birds has become one of the most remarkable phenomena in the world of smartphones, selling 7 million copies of the addictive game. Indians, too, have downloaded the game in their thousands. Take this figure, and you will get an idea. On average, Angry Birds is being played for 65 million minutes a day worldwide. Soon, it is slated to touch 100 million minutes.


Shouldn't the makers change the name of the game to " Laughing- all- the- way- to- thebank Birds"? Another now








There will be blood. So long as people adore vampires, considered the distant kin of Transylvania-born Count Dracula, made famous as the blood-guzzling protagonist of Bram Stoker's 19th century horror novel. The popular craze for Dracula's modern-day tribe endures. Hasn't dishy celluloid vampireRobert Pattinson made more girls swoon than the sight of gore ever could? Why, this star of the blockbuster Twilight film series which is now 'internationalising' the cast for its next sequel's vampire sects is reportedly 'connected' to the ancient Dracula. Khoon ka rishta, no less. 

Having just released a bhoot-pret starrer after a decade, Bollywood's fright masters, the Ramsay brothers, are eclectic about monsters. Still, who can forget Neola, our desi Dracula, in a sleazy Ramsay horrorscope? Clearly, vampires rock rather than suck. Unless you're a real-life victim. Such as a man attacked recently in the US by a self-styled 'vampire couple' for refusing them a blood donation. But, hey, not all vampire buffs are on their own drip. A Melbourne wife says her taste for hubby dear's blood is conjugal love. Elsewhere, vampire tales inspire seasonal terror tours through bhoot banglas or mazes cut in cornfields. One farm's revenue from Twilight-inspired activities for visitors will help fight diabetes! There will be blood. But sugar-free. 

Researchers say good bonhomie can also spring from fascination with evil. Aren't vampire fans making e-friends with the like-minded? Aren't lovers of werewolves, gargoyles or zombies e-bonding? Now, zombies have always tried to beat vampires in popularity. Without luck. It's hard for (literal) rotters to look as pretty as blood-transfused Tom Cruise (Interview with the Vampire) or bloodless Pattinson. Unlike the living dead, big screen bloodsuckers have evolved since the days Dracula ran around with his fangs bared. 

If pure blood-curdle is passe, the Ramsay bhais aren't jittery. These kings of B-grade bloodbaths now do 'horror comedy'. Without laughs, they say, darna mana hai: "Yeh jet age hai, logon ko darna bhi hai, hasna bhi hai!" Well, the explanation can apply to their whole cinematic, corpus. Think of all those over-painted lady ghouls haunting purani havelis, or vampires rising from rickety coffins as nocturnal toy bats. What's diabolism Ramsay-style but a side-splitting cure for darr? Accost their bhoots, and say goodbye forever to nightmares behind any bandh darwaza. Or to fainting at the sight of...ketchup. 

Blood pressure's come down also because vampires no longer play by the rules. The Twilight saga's Edward Cullen played by Pattinson is possibly the world's most-adored vampire 'hero'. Only, he eats greens like Count Duckula, the cartoon world's carrot-chewing vampire duck. And he stays celibate to not risk biting his human ladylove! Films, books or TV, rakt-bhakts are now combating dark forces. They hover overground. They protect their own prey. They care! 

Maybe vampire diaries will soon have a definitive page-turner: "there will be no blood". Imagine khooni immortals becoming opponents of bloodletting, or Dracula's descendants teaching violence-prone humans to respect life and keep up the universal haemoglobin count. Welcome to the Gandhian vampire.









On Monday, October 18, the Karnataka high court will deliver a verdict with political resonance beyond the state. Whether or not the court upholds Karnataka assembly speaker K G Bopaiah's disqualification of 11 BJP and five independent MLAs, the events of the past week have laid bare the level to which our public life has sunk. The debasement of Indian political standards has made MPs and MLAs immune to public opprobrium. However sharp the scrutiny, however brazen the wrongdoing, however damaging the consequences, elected parliamentarians and legislators increasingly mock both the letter and spirit of India's Constitution. 

It wasn't always like this. Under Jawaharlal Nehru, the Congress was a party much admired around the world. Nelson Mandela's African National Congress was modelled on it. Nehru and his parliamentary colleagues were men and women of vision and integrity. Nehru's own son-in-law, Feroze Gandhi (UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi's late father-in-law and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's father), was the exemplar of how parliamentary politics in a democracy should be conducted. 

Feroze won the election to the Lok Sabha in 1952 and 1957 from Rae Bareli, the constituency his widow Indira Gandhi and daughter-in-law-Sonia would subsequently hold. In 1957, he exposed the Haridas Mundhra-LIC financial nexus on the floor of Parliament. Mundhra was promptly arrested from his luxury suite at Delhi's Claridges Hotel and imprisoned. An embarrassed Nehru and this reflects the zero tolerance level to corruption within the Congress at the time accepted the resignation of finance minister T T Krishnamachari

The crusade for good governance and public accountability by senior political leaders in the first 20 years after Independence carries three specific lessons for Sonia and Rahul who are positioning the Congress across rural India as an empathetic party of inclusive development ahead of the crucial Bihar assembly elections on October 21. 

Lesson 1: Dynastic politics, however elegantly conducted, is an anachronism in a mature democracy. It discounts merit, promotes mediocrity, dilutes accountability and creates a complicit environment for corruption. The top leadership of a party sets the standard for good governance and must take the responsibility for misgovernance. 

Lesson 2: India leapt from colony to democracy in 1947 but since 1966 has drifted into quasi-feudocracy. Both Feroze and Nehru would have been dismayed at the fawning culture of servitude that wafts around not only in today's Congress but most Indian political parties. Both men took pride in the independence of individual Congressmen: from that independence flowed the strength of Indian democracy. Today, democracy stands compromised by the nepotic internal structure of the Congress and its regional clones like the DMK, TDP, SP, JD(S) and NCP. If you look hard enough, it is this nepotism and feudocracy that underpin chronic political misgovernance of which Karnataka is only a particularly virulent symptom. 

The Nehru-Gandhis have contributed significantly to the making of modern India. Nehru was an international statesman. Rajiv possessed Feroze's egalitarianism and professionalism but, like his father, died young. If Rahul wants to re-establish the Congress on its 125th anniversary as a progressive party that genuinely cares for the rural poor, he must end the sense of political entitlement which accompanies dynasty. Privilege has no place in modern democracy. It encourages MPs, for instance, to set a high bar for the pay and perks of their own office but a low one for the entry of criminals into politics: 74 members of the current Lok Sabha, cutting across party lines, have serious criminal charges against them. 

Lesson 3: The Congress must acknowledge that nearly 72 per cent of India's electorate voted against it in the 2009 Lok Sabha election where it won a mere 28.55 per cent national vote-share. It thus has the mandate of less than three out of 10 Indians. That should teach it humility. The BJP may not be an ideal opposition it is not. Its support of tainted ministers in the Gujarat and Karnataka governments is disgraceful. But even when the Congress regularly won 75 per cent of the seats in Parliament in the Nehru-Feroze era, it respected merit, abhorred sycophancy and welcomed a constructive opposition without which India would have descended into a one-party false democracy. 

In an era of coalitions, political compromises are necessary. But the kind that allows a tainted Union cabinet minister to continue holding office, against an upright but hamstrung prime minister's wishes, would have shocked Nehru. He would have sacrificed his government rather than accept such a politically bankrupt arrangement. 

Family-centric parties often put self-interest above public interest, entitlement above accountability. With most Indian voters still desperately poor and illiterate, such parties successfully escape electoral punishment. But, as India rises, that cannot be forever. As the groundswell of public opinion strengthens, it will prove the best disinfectant for the misgovernance we see today from Karnataka to Jharkhand. 

What advice would Nehru have given great-grandson Rahul? Nation above party. Party above self. By allowing professional talent to rise to the very top of not just the government ( Manmohan Singh) but of the party as well, setting aside political inheritance, a leader strengthens both party and government, replacing entitlement with accountability. That would have been Nehru's way. It should be Rahul's. 

The writer is the chairman of a media group. 




                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA




The world is on the brink of a nasty confrontation over exchange rates now spilling over to affect trade policy (America's flirtation with protectionism), attitudes towards capital flows (new restrictions in Brazil, Thailand and South Korea), and public support for economic globalisation (rising anti-foreigner sentiment almost everywhere). Who is to blame for this situation getting so out of control, and what is likely to happen next? 

The issue is usually framed in terms of whether some countries are "cheating" by holding their exchange rates at an undervalued rate, thus boosting their exports and limiting imports relative to what would happen if their central banks floated the local currency freely. 

The main culprit in this conventional view is China, although the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is a close second. But, considered more broadly, the seriousness of today's situation is primarily due to Europe's refusal to reform global economic governance, compounded by years of political mismanagement in the US. 

China certainly bears some responsibility. About a decade ago China found itself consistently accumulating large amounts of foreign reserves by running a trade surplus and intervening to buy up the dollars that this generated. In most countries, such intervention would tend to push up inflation, because the central bank issues local currency in return for dollars. But, because the Chinese financial system remains tightly controlled and the options for investors are very limited, the usual inflationary consequences have not followed. 

In principle, the IMF is supposed to press countries with undervalued exchange rates to let their currencies appreciate. The rhetoric from the Fund has been ambitious, but the reality is that the IMF has no power over China (or any other country with a current-account surplus). 

Unfortunately, the IMF is guilty of more than hubris. Here, the West Europeans play a major role, because they are greatly over-represented on the IMF's executive board and simply refuse to consolidate their seats in order to give emerging markets significantly more influence. 

As a result, emerging-market countries, aiming to ensure that they avoid needing financial support from the IMF in the foreseeable future, are increasingly following China's lead and trying to ensure that they, too, run current-account surpluses. 

But a great deal of responsibility for today's global economic dangers rests with the US, for three reasons. First, most emerging markets feel their currencies pressed to appreciate by growing capital inflows. Investors in Brazil are being offered yields around 11 per cent, while similar credit risks in the US are paying no more than 2-3 per cent. To many, this looks like a one-way bet. Moreover, US rates are likely to stay low, because America's financial system blew itself up so completely, and because low rates remain, for domestic reasons, part of the post-crisis policy mix. 

Second, the US has run record current-account deficits over the past decade, as the political elite became increasingly comfortable with overconsumption. These deficits facilitate the surpluses that emerging markets such as China want to run - the world's current accounts add up to zero, so if one large set of countries wants to run a surplus, someone big needs to run a deficit. 

Third, the net flow of capital is from emerging markets to the US - this is what it means to have current-account surpluses in emerging markets and a deficit in the US. But the gross flow of capital is from emerging market to emerging market, through big banks now implicitly backed by the state in both the US and Europe. From the perspective of international investors, banks that are "too big to fail" are the perfect places to park their reserves - as long as the sovereign in question remains solvent. But what will these banks do with the funds? 

When a similar issue emerged in the 1970s the so-called "recycling of oil surpluses" banks in western financial centres extended loans to Latin America, communist Poland and communist Romania. That was not a good idea, as it led to a massive (for the time) debt crisis in 1982. We are now heading for something similar, but on a larger scale. The banks and other financial players have every incentive to load up on risk as we head into the cycle; they get the upside and the downside goes to taxpayers. 

The " currency wars" themselves are merely a skirmish. The big problem is that the core of the world's financial system has become unstable, and reckless risk-taking will once again lead to great collateral damage. 

Copyright: Project Syndicate.






With the advances made in fertility treatment and techniques such as in vitro fertilisation ( IVF) over the past few decades, news of a 42-year-old woman giving birth now to a baby boy, adopted as an embryo from another couple 20 years ago, doesn't come as a great surprise. Given that prior to this, an embryo had already been frozen successfully for 13 years, this is merely the next step. With laws adjusting to these scientific breakthroughs in Britain, for instance, embryos are allowed to be frozen for up to 55 years such situations are going to become increasingly common. 

Consider the benefits of such a procedure. It would make the choice between a career and raising a family far more fraught for women than for men given that it is more difficult for the former to conceive after a certain age redundant. A woman could simply opt to have her own embryo frozen until she is financially and professionally in a position to have a child, resolving the bind between career and children. Inter-generational embryo donation also becomes a distinct possibility. This would provide a way around genetic problems that might make a girl likely to be infertile when she grows up as well as assure the future mother of genetic ties to her child. There has already been an instance of a woman freezing her eggs for her daughter to use when she becomes an adult. 

Such advances are bound to have some effect on family and social dynamics down the line older mothers, for one but so be it. Social patterns have always been in flux. The nuclear families that form the dominant unit in large parts of the world today would have been unthinkable for most of human history. There is no stopping medical and social evolution.








Scientists have announced that a baby boy was born recently to a 42-year-old woman from an embryo frozen 20 years ago. Not surprisingly, the idea of frozen embryos has found instant takers. Its votaries defend it on the ground that it will allow greater freedom to career-oriented women to decide about their pregnancy. 

However, there cannot be a more bankrupt idea where the joy of motherhood is postponed for the sake of a career. That's especially the case when medical science shows that greater complications can be associated with late motherhood. Moreover, a society which privileges career over parenthood cannot prosper. Let's not disturb a healthy natural process such as birth. A positive childbirth is not only spiritually more fulfilling, but can also strengthen the mother-child bond. Also, the difference between consuming a medicine and a meal ought to be maintained. In vitro fertilisation and embryo transfer were designed as medical procedures to give infertile couples a chance to establish a pregnancy. What should have been an elective therapy to be used in extraordinary situations is now becoming a norm. 

Furthermore, there are ethical questions surrounding the future of leftover embryos. They are living beings that are not implanted but are frozen. How do we dispose of such human lives, which now run into millions in advanced countries like the UK and US? Even worse, the inter-generational donation will complicate and spoil family relations. For instance, how do we cope up with situations when an infertile daughter uses the eggs of her mother to give birth to her own half brother or sister? How would we answer a daughter who questions why she was left frozen as an embryo for decades? It is difficult to evade such ethical and religious questions. Society must make laws regulating this domain.







The future is urban, however much many may romanticise the pastoral appeal of village India. This explains why 250 million Indians live in cities today and the number is growing by the day. Delhi, which has had a relatively charmed existence, has now got yet another shot in the arm with the massive infrastructure outlay, thanks to the Commonwealth Games. With its gleaming metro and wide boulevards, it could almost pass off as an international city. Almost, because underneath the gloss lies its shanties, poor sanitation, shortage of drinking water, garbage dumps and homeless people. If this is fate of the city ranked the most-liveable in India, that of our other metros tell a sorry tale of consistent neglect and chaos.


Mumbai, once spoken of as the city where the streets were paved with gold and the magnet for those seeking their fortune has today descended into a vast sprawling maze of confusion where residential and commercial areas are rarely demarcated and traffic conditions the stuff of urban nightmares. Unfortunately for Mumbai, its political class seems far more interested in non-issues like identity politics rather than to try and restore the city to its


former glory. The fate of the satellite towns around both Delhi and Mumbai tell the story of how urban planners, if any were ever involved, put the cart before the horse. Their motto seemed to have been to build first and then try and fit in infrastructure, with disastrous results. Gurgaon is a case in point. In the case of Mumbai, apart from the Bandra-Worli sealink, there has been hardly any infrastructural project worth the name that could make life easier for its millions. As we saw during the Games, it is easy to blame the poor and homeless for the urban mess and try and sweep them out of the picture. But the reality is that migration to cities will continue and has to be factored into the growth of any city. Hyderabad, the once gracious city of the Nizams, is today indistinguishable from any other congested urban sprawl. Bengaluru, now famous for its unique brand of politics, was once a favoured retirement destination for its leisurely pace of life and its salubrious weather. Today, it is crippled by lack of public transport and bursting at the seams with construction. Kolkata has been crumbling for years and there seems no hope of change in the near future. The situation in the second tier cities is even more frightening since they don't seem to be on the radar of urban planners.


The only silver lining in the cloud is that Delhi was able to get it right this time, even though it was largely to buttress the Games. But we can learn lessons from the manner in which the metro construction and renovations were carried out and replicate this in the satellite towns and other metros. Let's hope that the Delhi dream run will have a domino effect and the living truly becomes easier in our cities.








In the end, MS Gill may well get to have the last laugh. The Commonwealth Games did indeed  come together with the haphazard, but happy inefficiency of a boisterous Punjabi wedding —  right down to the slightly cringe-making filmi jhatkas at the closing ceremony. But much like Mira Nair showed us  that sometimes it takes a monsoon wedding for family fissures, dark secrets and psychological truths to break out into the open, the Games have held up a mirror to India as a country and a people. And here are some reflections that stare right back at us.


n Crony capitalism has taken the sheen off India's glossy 'Liberalisation Dream'. As we watched insidious corruption, big money and bumbling incompetence come together in a horrifying union, do you remember how many times we wanted the State to step in and take over? Those who had run the Asiad Games in the eighties spoke repeatedly of the perils of 'outsourcing' the games and the need for the prime minister to oversee the arrangements personally, and appoint a single authority as Rajiv Gandhi had been then. It was an ironic argument in a country where the liberalisation mantra has always been 'less is more'— when it comes to the government. Of course, sections of the government were no less laggard and wimpish — with both the urban development ministry and the sports ministry, now firmly under scathing public scrutiny. But when it came right down to the crunch — at that moment when we panicked as a country — we looked towards the State and its agencies to bail us out from a potential private sector debacle. When the Games Village was dubbed "filthy and unliveable", despite being contracted to the spiffy real estate giant Emaar-Mgf, it took Sheila Dikshit to tuck her sari into her petticoat and get the floors scrubbed as a matriarch would her own house.


When the foot overbridge, built at a cost of R5 crore by PNR-Infra came crashing down, the Army put Humpty-Dumpty together again in less than five days. When the swashbuckling arrogance of the Games  Organising Committee became directly proportional to that sinking feeling in our hearts, we waited to hear from the PM. In some sort of bizarre, return-to-the-womb impulse, it was almost as if we didn't feel entirely safe in the hands of the private czars; looking instead for assurance in the embrace of the Sarkar. This does not mean that we are romanticising the years of public sector inefficiency either. But, with the Games scandal coming close on the heels of the Indian Premier League corruption, we realise that when you throw gigantic amounts of money at an event and don't regulate it by benchmarks of responsible  governance, what you get is crony capitalism, not liberalisation.


n Our 'gora-fixation' continues, but is riddled with contradictions. Through the length of these games, we have swung between the extremes of self-flagellation and aggressive pride. We obsessed about our image in the world's eyes, but yet again, were really  looking at ourselves through the West's gaze. How many times did we care what the experience of the African countries was, for example? In a way, our prickliness about the Games was much like all the drawing-room hand-wringing all these years ,over how bad our airports were, before Delhi got its swish new Terminal-3.


We would routinely lament the impressions that our western visitors would carry back, never bothering to think how absolutely horrifying our own experiences may have been at JFK or Heathrow. And yet, I sensed a change this time. The racism of the New Zealand TV host, the aggression of the Australians, the talking-down by Mike Hooper — it diminished our patience and triggered some entirely worthy disdain. I think the Games spoke to a paradoxical moment in India's history — one where we are learning to measure ourselves by our own standards, but still lapse into defensiveness about what others think.


n We haven't got over our Slumdog Millionaire trap. Indians loved the fact that the movie got A.R. Rahman an Oscar, but hated that the movie was a poverty postcard. Middle class India's intense courtship of the globalisation dream has meant some serious infidelity to starker home truths. The truth is that our high GDP co-exists with our shockingly low human development index. And the way we tried to "clean-up" Delhi by herding beggars into makeshift shelters or disallowing daily domestic help to travel from Haryana to the capital while the games were on, is a grim example of a country in denial. We don't need to hide our poor in some Naipaulean version of horror at the fact that children still defecate on the streets. To me, that has been the single-most shameful aspect of the grand show that we put up otherwise.


And now the good news. The marvellous athletes- from remote corners and impoverished villages — this is the real face of the incorrigible democracy that India is and can be. Whether it was the women-wrestlers from Haryana or the soft-spoken archers from the Northeast, this was the real spirit of egalitarian India. The future of India lies beyond the now-elitist dreams of middle class India with its pedigreed Ivy-league education and Brooks Brothers suits (one for each day of the week). India will be shaped by a new middle — one that is taking shape and form in her small towns and villages. And if there is anything happy to take away from the Games, it is their indomitable, can-do spirit.


The Commonwealth itself is a somewhat anachronistic entity; a wishy-washy colonial imprint. Thus, my favourite moment at the opening ceremony was when the Gandhi march unfolded like a dream on the giant helium balloon to the strains of 'Vaishnava Janato' as Prince Charles looked up at the open blue sky. There was history coming full circle. Now, it's time to build a future with an honest gaze inwards.


Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV. The views expressed by the author are personal



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





I'm a bit of a doctor junkie. Listed in my phone book are numbers for various specialists. I could direct you to a cardiologist, endocrinologist, oncologist, pediatrician, gastroenterologist, gynaecologist. But ask me for a family doctor and I will draw a blank.

Growing up, most middle class Indians had one; some lucky ones still do. Mine was genial old Dr Vibhakar who literally had his finger on the family's pulse. When one of us fell ill, he would drive across in his Fiat with his battered brown leather bag that held a treasure of forbidden instruments: stethoscope, thermometer and that hammer thing to tap on your knees. He'd peer down throats, dilate pupils, palpate stomachs and pronounce both prognosis and remedy. Then, tea would be brought and he would stretch his legs and catch up with the family he cared for.


The family doctor went beyond fixing the odd ailment. He knew you. He knew the family, its genetic history, the way it thought, its beliefs and values. He knew, for instance, that the mother was stressed because the son had failed his exams again and, so, that spike in blood pressure needed to be cured by both pill and pep talk. He knew that your dad was diabetic and, therefore, unfailingly nagged you about diet and exercise. He knew when your kids' inoculations were due. You didn't have to remember the year you had your tonsils removed; he had been there, holding your hand as you were being wheeled into the operating theatre. He knew which pain killer was kindest to your stomach because it was his business to know these things.  And because he knew you, you were always assured of an appointment at his clinic.


When exactly the family doctor disappeared from our lives, I cannot say. It's not as if the practice wound up. General physicians (GPs) continue to flourish and are often regarded as the first line of defence in medical care. They conduct screening, counselling and analysis and in most cases manage chronic conditions just as well as a specialist would. But that man who was an integral part of your family, that man who listened and cajoled and bullied and advised, he's gone.


What happened? Perhaps the information available to us on the internet made us believe we didn't need doctors; we could fix ourselves — at least for the small stuff.


Or perhaps it was the onset of specialist diseases — diabetes, blood pressure, cardiac disease — that demanded specialist treatment and specialist doctors. The GP stopped becoming our first port of call; we began sailing straight to super-specialists and a battery of tests, some invasive, most exorbitant. The calm hand on your forehead gave way to scans and probes and the physical examination is now in danger of becoming a lost art; instinct giving way to equipment.


The house visit itself is nearly extinct. Cities have grown, traffic has grown even madder. House visits are a luxury — most of all for the doctor himself. Corporate, 'super-speciality' hospitals that, not unlike modern shopping malls, promise a fix for every need came up in big cities and smaller ones. For the stand-alone family doctor, newer and often more lucrative employment opportunities beckoned. Easier to simply close shop.


Too often we end up seeing doctors for the first (and perhaps last) time; doctors who never keep records because they aren't sure if they are ever going to see you again. Doctors to whom is the patient is a number, not even a name.


Last week, my mother needed to get a routine medical check-up. Her doctor for several years had moved miles away, to another hospital in faraway Gurgaon. Not practical, I argued. We have to find a new doctor, someone more convenient, somebody closer. But my mother would not budge. That trek halfway across Delhi to see a familiar face — a face that knew her, would recollect her last visit and which tests were now due — was a small price to pay for knowing that everything was all right.


Because when it comes to health, we need reassurance more than prescription, familiarity rather than fame.


Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal








Few things signal success more emphatically than a Merc. Which is why news that 150 Mercedes-Benz cars have been delivered at one go to buyers in Aurangabad should be viewed as more than just an intriguing story from the margins of urban India. For Aurangabad, and smaller cities like it all over India, have demonstrated their willingness and ability to be drivers of growth and of aspiration, and the companies that facilitate that have quickly taken note of this. Will state policy be as nimble and supportive?


The visible signs of prosperity in Aurangabad, to run with this particular example, aren't limited to a gaggle of limos. Organised retail is a leading indicator: the department store Shopper's Stop opened there in the past week, and a new million-square-foot mall, with a five-screen multiplex, has attracted a great deal of attention. Both ITC and the Taj have opened five-star hotels. How can the historic centre of Marathwada sustain this? Because of the wealth that's being generated thanks to a series of plants: Skoda Auto, where another precision German car, the Audi, is made; a huge transformer factory for Siemens; a Wockhardt facility that's the largest pharma installation in the country; and dozens and dozens of smaller outfits. Unsurprisingly, the city's population has, by some estimates, doubled in the past decade.


This is the story not just of Aurangabad, but of Ludhiana, Coimbatore, Indore, and so many others. Innumerable companies — Apollo, M&S-Reliance, even the aircraft manufacturer Embraer — are refocusing their country strategy on Tier-II and Tier-III towns. The reminders for policy are twofold. First: encourage this growth. Make it easier for people to move to towns, and for wealth-generating plants to come up. And second: have supportive governmental structures in place. With wealth and aspiration will come political assertion; and local urban government, not the state's politicians and bureaucrats in a far-off capital, must have real power.







The RBI is again, reportedly, intervening in the rupee-dollar market to prevent rupee appreciation. While the immediate reason for this appears to be the foreign money flowing in for IPOs like Coal India's, the issue should be looked at in both the contexts of the global currency debate and Indian policy. The last few weeks have seen currency wars heating up across the world, following fears of further quantitative easing by the US. However, if the US dollar is not allowed to depreciate, the rebalancing of the world economy that's hoped to take place through reducing the US deficit will not happen. The US cannot directly weaken its own currency, so it's up to other countries to allow the dollar to weaken.


The RBI has stayed away from currency markets for nearly a year, even though smoothing the exchange rate could always have been given as an argument for intervening in the currency market, as it has now. Recently the RBI governor, D. Subbarao, has spoken of how, if capital flows become disruptive, the RBI would intervene. But the costs and benefits need to be carefully considered before intervening. Intervening following pressures to appreciate can make the rupee a one-way bet, as speculators expect slow appreciation. This invites even more capital into the country. Already interest differentials are in favour of capital coming into India. Further US monetary easing will make interest rates here even more attractive. If in addition, there are RBI-encouraged expectations of appreciation, this will invite speculative flows on currency markets. This has happened in India before in 2001-2004. In contrast, when the rupee is more volatile, it prevents such speculative capital from rushing in. By intervening to smooth volatility, the RBI is setting itself up for trouble.


Further, even if the RBI is able to prevent appreciation, today one of the few effective weapons it has to control inflation, is it acting in the interests of a small group of exporters or the general public? There's a conflict between the objective of inflation control and preventing appreciation. The RBI and government should focus on inflation and stay away from the dangerous game of currency intervention.







A little over a week before the Commonwealth Games began, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard issued a particularly insensitive travel advisory in which she sought to highlight the "high risk of terrorism in New Delhi." She may have been the most high-profile figure who expressed "security concerns", but there were, no doubt, plenty of others who had similar concerns, including the athletes. Those concerns must now seem embarrassingly misplaced in hindsight, courtesy the first-rate security arrangements on display throughout the Games at the venues, at the Games Village and across the entire city — that ensured an entirely incident-free event.It is, of course, impossible to declare the security of an event of this scale foolproof in advance. If indeed such a declaration were made, it would lack credibility. However, what is possible is to have a well-thought-out, well-coordinated, and well-executed security drill. And that is precisely what was delivered at the CWG. It was never going to be an easy task. For a start, Delhi is a sprawling city of around 1.5 crore people which makes securing every bit of it a difficult task. The 17 venues for the various events, plus the Games Village, were spread across different parts of the city. There were thousands of athletes and officials from visiting delegations that needed security details in attendance. And the need to secure travel routes without causing unnecessary disruption to Delhi's citizens. In the end, all of this was done with a seriousness and professionalism that is worth the highest praise — unusually for Delhi, even VIPs were frisked at various venues.


The credit must, of course, be shared by the various agencies involved in this mammoth task — multiple intelligence agencies, the Delhi police, paramilitary forces like the CISF and CRPF, and the police forces of so many states (some from as far away as Nagaland and Tripura) who reported for duty in the national capital. At the apex of these forces, doing much of the hard coordination work, was the Union home ministry. All of them put together are the real, somewhat unsung, "stars" of the Commonwealth Games.









You should have been at the boxing stadium in New Delhi's Talkatora sports complex this Thursday evening. There wasn't an empty seat and the mood was as it must be in a boxing stadium. It was so even when an Indian was not in the ring. It was a Northern Ireland boxer challenging an Englishman (and a fellow Briton!) for the gold. But the crowd knew which side it was on. The Englishman had won a very unpopular semi-final against Indian boxing's hottest dude Vijender Singh on negative points, without landing a single punch. So the crowd would settle the grudge by putting its voice behind the boxer in blue. Both the chants during those nine minutes may have confused him. One, Ireland-Ireland, from a crowd that obviously did not care that that nation was different from Northern Ireland and was not even in the Commonwealth. And the second, jeetegi bhai jeetegi, neeli chaddi jeetegi (the blue shorts shall win), is obviously something he would not have understood either. But he knew the crowd was his from the moment he landed the first punch and a blood-thirsty war-cry went up. Immature, brutal, cheap, you can call it anything. But it was a boxing stadium. What do you expect from a crowd that had paid to watch one of the most violent sports people can legally play?


Of course, the mood was even more raucously partisan when an Indian was in the ring. Any time the referee gave the opponent a count, the entire stadium counted in unison: one, two, three, four... If you, like me, aren't a die-hard boxing enthusiast, you would also have flinched when the referee stopped the bout in the super-heavyweight final to wipe a sliver of blood from the face of the Trinidad boxer, just savaged by India's Paramjeet Samota, who ultimately, and not surprisingly, won 5-1.


But we are not taking a moral position on boxing. We are looking, instead, at the sociology of that stadium. Of course there was a sizeable VIP and invitees stand, but the rest, nearly three-fourths of the stadium, was packed with paying janta. A lot of them, in fact a hell of a lot of them, were women. The people of Delhi who had braved inefficiencies and worse to buy tickets, challenging commuting arrangements and walked long distances from parking lots to watch what was, for most of them, their first-ever game of an international sport other than cricket. These were regular middle- or upper middle-class Dilliwalas. Not your usual my-uncle-is-a-big-shot-so-he-got-me-a-free-pass-type that Delhi is notorious for. And they were now getting their money's worth, forgetting for a while all the scandals and scares, many of them real, and all the self-flagellating shame-mongering that was just so much hogwash.


You could have also been at the lawn tennis or badminton stadiums in south Delhi, newly built to world standards. Tickets here were not cheap, but on most days, even in the earlier rounds, these were full. You can check me out on this. Across the five days of the Mohali Test match, arguably one of our greatest and most exciting victories ever, what cricket's hyper-ventilating commentators call a humdinger, the number of spectators each day at the badminton stadium was much greater. And that is when Mohali's capacity is at least ten times more. Remember that silly demand made by Suresh Kalmadi that the BCCI shift the two Tests as these would take away CWG audiences?


Nothing of the sort happened. And if you wanted further evidence, you should have also been at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium at the eight-day track-and-field events. On any of these days, the paying crowd that came in to watch mostly foreign winners, and some Indians who they knew nothing about, was greater than the total number of spectators over five full days at Mohali. Do check that out. In fact there was almost no major CWG stadium that won't pass this Mohali test for paid attendance. And we thought cricket had not only killed Olympic sports, but had buried them so deep nobody would ever resurrect them.


So who did, actually, resurrect it? Kalmadi? Lalit Bhanot? M.S. Gill? Ha! You would have known the answer if you were at the Nehru stadium this Wednesday, the last evening of track-and-field. Sixty thousand Indians cheered the quartet of wonderfully talented, competitive and humble young women who ran a brilliantly intelligent race to win India's first Commonwealth track gold in 58 years. Now, when was the last time you saw 60,000 Indians cheer like that an Indian sportsperson not called Sachin Tendulkar? In fact, I will stick my neck out and say, never. Most definitely, never a non-cricketer. And they were cheering four girls whose faces they would not recognise, and many of whose names they would struggle to pronounce. It just so happened that I saw this sitting next to Milkha Singh, who had given himself some bad press by predicting that no Indian would win a track medal, and his former volleyballer wife, Nirmal, who was probably the only Indian that evening to predict an Indian gold. And as the golden quartet passed that stand in their victory lap and saw the great Milkha, he was instantly forgiven as they lined up to be hugged by and photographed with India's greatest and most-loved athlete ever, now with tears in his eyes.


Many of us will have strong views on who are the villains of what could have been our most disastrous international sports event ever. But who are the heroes, now that the Games have ended up looking like a spectacular success? It is the city of Delhi and NCR, their emerging new, cosmopolitan, non-sarkari population, particularly the new professional middle class. See those clips of the CWG galleries, even the VIP sections. You will find hardly any of your familiar Page 3 faces. Nor the usual suspects so desperate to be seen in a corporate box in an IPL match at Kotla. They are the ones who threatened to leave Delhi during the Games, not able to "tolerate the mess". To be fair to them, they mostly kept their promise and were not even seen hunting for VIP invites. Olympic sports are not where the Indian upper crust wants to be "seen". It was for people who wanted some genuine, clean outdoor entertainment and fun, to enjoy exciting new sports, and to get to know this wonderful but unknown new crop of Indian athletes. That is the test that the middle-class Dilliwala passed so well. And by no means has Delhi shown itself to be insensitive to corruption and inefficiency: you noticed the boos when Kalmadi spoke, by the same crowds that so enjoyed the Games and the ceremonies.


Let me, therefore, stick my neck out once again and say that no other city in our country, except Delhi (with NCR), could have pulled this event off. One of the unintended and happy consequences of this CWG is that it announces the rise of this new, professional, cosmopolitan Delhi as India's number one city. Its infrastructure is by far the best, its social indicators way ahead of any other, and now it is challenging the most serious slur on it: that it is merely a power-driven sarkari island of patronage, peopled by surly, parochial, rent-seeking and illiberal people. At a time when Mumbai is declining faster than the American dollar and Kolkata is held to ransom by its awful politics, this rise of Delhi is something for all of India to cherish.


And if you wanted even more evidence of this remarkable change, you could have been at any of the stadiums, to watch the same Delhi where everybody and his uncle is a VIP with full nakhras go through the kind of security they had never seen before. But they were patient, even appreciative of a fine, fine job done by the police forces. I myself must have gone through at least 50 security checks in these 12 days, and even though I was recognised by many policemen, was never waved in without full frisking. It is true that more has been invested in Delhi than in any other Indian city in the past decade. But in these two weeks, Delhi has proved itself worthy of that.








 Clashes between powerful politicians over policy is not unusual, but the fight between Punjab's former Finance Minister Manpreet Badal and his party on the issue of curbing wasteful spending on populist schemes stands out. It's rare for Indian politicians to stand up against political largesse or pork-barrel politics as the Americans call it. Growing subsidy bills and debt burdens, issues raised by Manpreet Badal, are usually low-priority matters.


But the big question is: how has Punjab's profligacy impacted its debt burden and fiscal management? Long-term trends show that the Shiromani Akali Dal government has been lax about containing expenditure, and pushed up the state's deficits. For instance, the numbers show that during the third stint of the Parkash Singh Badal government, the revenue deficit shot up from Rs 1,485 crore in 1997-98 to Rs 2,336 crore in 2000-01. However, Amarinder Singh's Congress government that replaced Badal's was more restrained in its spending. The revenue deficit even declined from Rs 3,781 crore in 2001-02 to Rs 1,749 in 2006-07. But the gains made were reversed sharply in the fourth stint of the Badal regime when the revenue deficit of the state doubled in just three years from Rs 3,823 crore in 2007-08 to Rs 6,234 crore in the budget estimates for 2009-10.


The deteriorating trends in the revenue deficit under SAD rule is also reflected in the fiscal deficits. While the fiscal deficit almost doubled from Rs 2,478 crore to Rs 4,958 crore during the term of the third Badal government in 1997-2002, the Congress government during 2002-07 pushed down the deficit from Rs 4,401 crore in 2002-03 to Rs 4,384 crore in 2006-07. And the fourth Badal government has been even more profligate, with the fiscal deficit doubling in just three years from Rs 4,604 crore in 2007-08 to Rs 9,660 crore in the budget estimates for 2009-10. All this has pushed up the total borrowing of the state to Rs 64,924 crore by early 2010, and the amount is expected to go up by another Rs 5,700 crore in the current fiscal year.


One reason for the growing deficits in Punjab is the poor resource mobilisation efforts. The tax-to-GDP ratio of the state is just 7 per cent, mainly because of the small industrial base. The share of the industrial sector in the state economy is just 13 per cent. Resource mobilisation efforts will only get a boost once the GST rollout allows the state to tap into the huge consumption spending in the state.


However, apart from the sins of omission there are also the sins of commission, which place a large burden on the state. The biggest outgo is on the electricity subsidies in agriculture, where the expenditure has gone up from Rs 2,602 crore in 2008-09 to Rs 3,144 crore in 2009-10, which accounts for almost half the revenue deficit of the state. The reason for such a large electricity subsidy bill is the zero tariff for electricity used for agriculture which accounts for close to a third of the total electricity consumption in the state. The agriculture tariff charged in Punjab stands out in stark contrast to the Rs 3.68 per unit charged as agriculture tariff by the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh.


]The direct consequence of the growing deficit is the bloated debt burden of Punjab which is now far beyond the 30.8 per cent target fixed by the Twelfth Finance Commission. Most recent numbers show that the debt GSDP ratio of the state was 40 per cent in 2008-09, which far exceeds the all-state average of 26.2 per cent and more than double of that of neighbouring Haryana.


A further increase in debt levels would only further squeeze the resources now available for development programmes and widen the growing gap between Punjab and other states. Most recent numbers show the state's growth rate has hovered around 7per cent, far below that of the leading states, which grow in double digits. So a reallocation of state resources by cutting down unproductive expenditures should now be the first step.


But despite spending far beyond its means, the state has fallen short of meeting the annual plan targets. By the chief minister's own admission, the actual expenditure of the plan outlay by the state fell from 98 per cent in 2007-08 to just 58 per cent in 2009-10, mainly due to the large outgo on the implementation of the Pay Commission recommendations and the slowdown in the economy which impacted revenues from the real estate sector and the vat collections.


The writer is a senior editor with 'The Financial Express'









 The British started the universities of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras in 1861 (the charter documents had been drafted by Dalhousie as early as 1855) as bodies which would conduct examinations and award degrees. They did not envisage that these universities would be places where research would be encouraged and "new knowledge" created. They assumed that "new knowledge" would be created at Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh.


Despite this, research did creep in. Ashutosh Mukherjee offered the Palit professorship of physics to Raman (who did not have a PhD and who was working in the government as a deputy accountant-general!). When Radhakrishnan was appointed vice-chancellor of Andhra University (located in a hick town called Waltair), he had the audacity to invite Niels Bohr to come and head the physics department. Niels Bohr wrote back courteously that he was busy; he sent one of his brightest students as the first head of the physics department at Waltair.


Ashutosh and Radhakrishnan were rare. Most Indian universities remained examination and degree factories. When J.N. Tata wanted to endow an advanced institution focused on science (he felt there were too many lawyers and not enough scientists produced by British Indian universities), he chose to locate the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, outside the stultifying atmosphere of British India. The syllabus-examination-degree focus of Indian universities was accompanied by a "silo" strategy. Institutions were not developed as multi-disciplinary bodies operating in proximity. Roorkee was devoted exclusively to engineering — no place for economics or social sciences. Although part of Madras University, Guindy had a separate campus far away, devoted only to engineering. GS Medical College (better known as KEM Hospital) was far from, and had very little to do with, Bombay University. Again, no scope for inter-disciplinary work.


After independence, Nehru, realising that state politicians were bound to take over existing universities, tried to create "islands of excellence" through IITs and IIMs. Unfortunately, we adopted the "silo" model again. IITs would teach engineering, ISI would teach statistics, IIMs would teach management, AIIMS would teach medicine, FTII would teach film and so on. Our specialisation approach went to ridiculous levels — we have an Institute of Foreign Trade and an Institute of Infrastructure Management!


The problem with silos as distinct from inter-disciplinary universities is that "research" and "new knowledge creation" happens precisely in inter-disciplinary areas. Adam Smith was an economist and a professor of moral philosophy; the Delhi School of Economics would find it difficult to slot him in. (Amartya Sen holds professorships in both philosophy and economics at Harvard.) To attract a good physics professor, you need to assure her that sufficient PhD students will be available. In IITs, with the focus on engineering, physics PhD students are difficult to find. Good economics professors may avoid IIMs, as economics PhD students may not come to IIMs.


CSIR laboratories are silos twice over. They are laboratories focused on research. For research to take place, you need PhD students, Master's students to do the grunt work and undergraduates providing the base. Otherwise top researchers are simply not that productive. Recently some CSIR labs have started giving PhDs. The IITs, IIMs, ISIs, FTIIs and CSIR labs should consider the option of becoming full-fledged universities. They have brands, resources, land (scarce in post-Singur India). If Carnegie and MIT, which started as engineering colleges, can have great literature and music departments, why not these?


Autonomy is important. The medieval European universities of Bologna, Heidelberg, St Andrews and so on were given autonomy by charter. They were run by "fellows" without interference by crown or state. They developed robust intellectual traditions. Victor Hugo captures the eclectic traits of the Sorbonne in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Oxford theologians stood up to Mary Tudor. During the English Civil War, Oxford supported Charles I and the Cavaliers; Cambridge supported Cromwell and the Roundheads.


Autonomy, scope for dissent, the pursuit of excellence undisturbed by the state — these are prerequisites for research and knowledge creation. This autonomy was never disturbed even when the state provided funding. If the king or queen gave money, the fellows would happily name the institution King's College or Queens' College. That was about all. The sovereign had no role in running it. In America, the independence of universities was fiercely protected. When the state of New Hampshire wanted to take over Dartmouth, the college fought and prevailed.


Bombay, Calcutta and Madras Universities were established subject to government control. This increased after independence with the formation of the UGC and with governments politicising appointments. In West Bengal, for thirty years now, all teaching posts are reserved for those in favour with the Party. Higher education there has pretty much collapsed. During the permit-licence raj, Indian businesses looked for foreign collaborators. Less than ten years after liberalisation, the Tatas produced the Indica; in less than fifteen years the Mahindras produced the Scorpio; and in less than twenty years the Tatas are producing the Nano. In higher education we have had no Narasimha Rao-led liberalisation. We are dependent on foreigners to create new knowledge.


Our best academics in diverse fields are creating knowledge abroad. Ironically, the best professors of Indian history (Dipesh Chakrabarty, Sanjay Subrahmanyam), Telugu literature (Velcherlu Narayana Rao) are not teaching in India. I am told that last year the US produced more Sanskrit PhDs than India. We seem to believe in outsourcing knowledge creation to America and Britain.


After ten years, our growth rate will start falling unless we become a country that produces original research, focuses on discoveries, inventions, innovations and creativity. I am not persuaded that the private sector will fill this gap. Even in countries where private universities flourish, the ecosystem includes a vibrant public university system. Unless by a supreme act of historic political sagacity Sibal and Manmohan Singh move fast to encourage IITs, IIMs, CSIR labs and so on to become full-fledged multi-disciplinary universities, unless they guarantee them large annual grants, unless they give them autonomy where the governors become self-perpetuating autonomous groups like company boards, India's future is pretty dismal.








 Salman Khan and Rajinikanth. Two very different people with very little in common.

Salman has, for the most part of his career, lived with the label of being Bollywood's enfant terrible who refuses to grow up. But at the same time, stories of his generosity have earned him the reputation of having a heart of gold. For his audience, Salman is Robin Hood, as he so famously lives in his new avatar of Chulbul Pandey in this season's monster hit, Dabangg.


Rajinikanth, on the other hand, cannot do anything wrong. He defies all logic and explanation. He is The Boss. Over the years, the Legend of Rajinikanth Superstardom has become bigger than Rajini himself. There is a whole production around a Rajini starrer. His films today are as much about the fans as they are about Rajini, the actor. It started with them bathing his posters with milk but somewhere it all merged — the worshippers became a part of their God. A Rajini film is their film, its success is theirs too. Endhiran (Robot in Hindi) proves that yet again.


Salman and Rajini are alike in this respect. Their stardom is nothing to do with their films. It's about their fans.


By any standards, Dabangg and Endhiran are not great films. Why, they are not even the best films of their respective stars' careers but they have gone on to become their biggest hits. While there is no denying the contribution of the superstars, even they will admit the fate of their films is pre-decided.


When Dabangg released, debutant producer Arbaaz Khan maintained that while he doesn't doubt that his production will be a hit, he is excited to see how big a hit it becomes. True enough, Salman's fans didn't disappoint. Dabangg opened huge, smashed the opening week numbers of 3 Idiots, made an overnight star of newbie Sonakshi Sinha and gave the nation a new anthem in the form of 'Munni Badnaam Hui'. Yes, it also made the tax-men raid Arbaaz's office. Success ke side-effects, anyone?


In the case of Endhiran, it was a festival of a release and it followed the script like all Rajini films. He came, he became a robot in a movie, and he conquered like always.


Critics might carp about how, in every film, both these stars are versions of themselves; but who is listening to them? In the curious case of Salman and Rajini, the fans do not want anything else. They buy a movie ticket to see Salman do a Salman and Rajini do what he does.


Paul Newman once remarked, "One of the difficult things is that American filmgoers seem less able and willing to accept actors or actresses in a wide variety of roles—- they get something they hook on to and they like, and that that's what they want to see." Our B-town audience also shows their love in the same way. They did it with Amitabh Bachchan when they flipped for his Angry Young Man persona and they are doing it now with Salman and Rajini saar.


Whenever they play an average Joe in a movie, it is bound to crash. The fans want them to play themselves — they want Salman to be Chulbul Pandey or Superstar Rajini in and as Robot. They want them larger than life. That's why they clap when Salman does a Hulk and his shirt rips off by the sheer force of his muscles. They love it when Rajini in his devilish robotic avatar sucks up all the metal objects to become Shiva-like. These are the moments they live for. These are the moments that turn decent films into blockbusters.


Clearly, the force is with the people. It's always about the fans.








The record-setting initial public offering of Coal India (CIL) represents a potentially transformative moment for India's coal industry, and with it, India's economy, which relies on coal for almost 70 per cent of its electricity.


This transformation is essential if India is to meet its domestic demand for energy in the near-term without resorting to extraordinarily high levels of imports. Coal represents almost 95 per cent of India's domestic fossil fuel reserves in terms of energy. If CIL's IPO does not generate the necessary reform within the industry to allow those reserves to be extracted, India's power supply and GDP will pay the price.


Recent history has not been kind to India's attempts to increase its coal production, with private-sector, so-called "captive" mining for a company's own use being a notable recent failure. 17 years after the first captive blocks were auctioned, scarcely 40 megatonnes are expected to be produced by captive mining by the end of the current Five-Year Plan — a small fraction of existing domestic production (less than 10 per cent) and less than a third of what was planned even a few short years ago.


CIL provides approximately 85 per cent of India's coal production and 78 per cent of its coal consumption. The world's largest coal company, it is a political and economic behemoth, employing almost 400,000 workers directly and hundreds of thousands more indirectly.


CIL's difficulty is that an IPO will not solve many of the challenges it faces. While there is ample evidence that state-owned companies exposed to market discipline can dramatically improve their performance, many of CIL's challenges will not be overcome merely through better management and increased attention to the bottom line. Even before the IPO, many newer CIL mines, increasingly mechanised and often staffed heavily through outsourcing, were able to produce coal at very attractive prices by international standards. The bigger problem lies not in CIL's cost of production, but its rate of production growth, which is impeded by several obstacles the IPO will not address.


First, there is the question of the acquisition of land. Land is increasingly difficult to acquire for mining, especially for the larger open-pit mine operations that provide the vast majority of CIL's coal. It will be tough to open up new land for mining, given that the majority of India's untapped coal reserves lie in heavily forested and/or inhabited areas. Environmental and forest permits are also difficult to obtain, reflecting both corruption (in some cases) and a genuinely more assertive Indian state on environmental matters in others.


A second problem is manpower. In the pre-reform era, mining engineering, though difficult, was considered a good job for engineers (who had few private-sector prospects in India at the time). But in the new post-reform era, that is no longer the case, and there is a dearth of skilled mining engineering talent available. Furthermore, of the best mining engineers India produces, many are poached either by private Indian mining companies who can pay higher wages, or international mining companies, working anywhere from Australia to Indonesia, who are desperate to take advantage of the global boom in coal production.


Finally, of course, there are questions of politics, infrastructure and systemic corruption. CIL's mines are heavily concentrated in eastern and east-central India — where the conflict with Naxals plagues development efforts. Many new potential mine sites are also located far from good roads or railheads. And while efforts to combat corruption have improved and CIL has benefited from more capable and forward-thinking leadership in recent years, coal mafias and corrupt practices still trouble the sector at every level.


Ultimately, CIL's IPO is an important milestone for the industry and a long-overdue liberalisation of a sector that, for all of its problems, is absolutely critical to India's near-term economic development. The IPO will bring a level of accountability and transparency to the company that will help the forces of reform. But those expecting a CIL IPO to lead to a rapid increase in production and a solution to India's domestic fuel deficit are likely to be disappointed. This is a necessary step, but not a sufficient one.


The writer is a research fellow at the programme on energy and sustainable development at Stanford University, California







Paris — Welcome to France! As my train emerged from the tunnel linking Britain to the European continent, the announcement came: "As a result of a general strike, certain rail and other services will be disrupted."


Labour unions are mobilised, high school kids are out in force, oil refineries are struggling and more than one million people have taken to the streets as France rises to confront the government's decision to lift the retirement age to 62 from 60. Yes, you read that right: to 62 (and gradually at that.)


The movement amounts to the broadest social challenge faced by the center-right government of President Nicolas Sarkozy. It comes as European governments from Britain to Spain — and even the lost socialist paradise of Sweden — struggle to refashion cradle-to-grave welfare systems undone by a double whammy: aging baby boomers and plunging post-crash tax revenues.


I found Christine Lagarde, the French economy minister, in a combative mood. "Yes, we are going to hold firm," she told me. Then she gave me the math: "There are 15 million pensioners — every year we add another 700,000 — and already 1.5 million of them, or 10 per cent, receive pensions financed by debt. We just can't go on like that."


The French now live 15 years longer on average than they did in 1950. They exist in a globalised economy where the Chinese don't get the notion of retirement. As for financing lifestyles on credit, I suggest the French strikers ask debt-deluged Americans about the wisdom of that — and the Greeks about unbalanced budgets.


This reform is a no-brainer. Come on, France, get real!


I say that not because I think Europe's tempered capitalism with its far reaching entitlements in health, education and unemployment is dead, but because it's clear that the only way to preserve the core of the welfare state is by reforming it.


Europe's social solidarity is precious. Greed does not a society make. But reform will involve tough choices made in the knowledge that the alternative is collapse. Then the French would really face the unbridled capitalism — they call it "American" — that constitutes their collective nightmare.


"This is a key test of France's ability to be sensible about its public finances, sensible about grabbing the future and not taking it on credit," Lagarde, 54, said, dismissing some Socialist Party opposition as "totally irresponsible." She sighed: "I hope we can demonstrate that France can actually change without breaking its chemistry and its culture and its intricacies."


Aaah, French chemistry and culture and intricacies! Lagarde, whose elegant professionalism has proved an essential foil to Sarkozy's explosive restlessness, spoke in the lovely Hôtel de Seignelay overlooking the Seine. On a mantelpiece lay the gravestone of Coco, "the favourite dog," the inscription says, of Marie-Antoinette, who entrusted the pet to a friend before her execution in 1793. The stone has been uprooted from the garden because the property is for sale. The state needs cash, and not just from asking people to work a couple of years longer.


I believe France can change and preserve its social-market balance-cum-essence. The trouble is Sarkozy's unpopularity is such that the reform has become a lightning rod. The left loathes his policies; many on the right loathe his style.


But he's right. Lagarde estimates the reform, expected to get final parliamentary approval this month, would add 0.3 percent to annual GDP growth and cut the deficit by 0.5 per cent (beginning in three years). That's critical to a fragile recovery not helped by the clouds over America. "I am more concerned about the US economy than the French," Lagarde told me. And what of her next move? Sarkozy has promised a cabinet shake-up, and Lagarde, who has earned broad respect, is viewed as a possible prime minister. "I don't have a clue," she said. "He is the one who decides. It's all a bit unsettling. You don't really know if at the end of the month you will still be around!"


A decision had better come soon. France takes over the Group of 20 presidency next month, facing the small task of stabilising global capitalism. Lagarde saw how near to implosion it was in the "tsunami" — as she calls it in the new documentary Inside Job — of 2008. I asked her what lessons she drew.


"Greed is everywhere," she said.


"I think we can collectively lose the moral compass without even knowing it. We came very close to collapse, to a place where all circuits were empty and value had evaporated, with people saying, 'Where's my money, where are my savings?"'


So, she concluded, pointing to that beautiful yard minus its Coco gravestone, "You had better have your vegetable garden."










Now that the rush of blood over India's performance in the CWG is over, expect a host of opinion/news pieces saying the guilty of the CWG must be punished, the corrupt as well as the inefficient. That should most certainly be done, but let that not be the only lesson from the CWG, let's understand what we can do to develop a sports culture. Since Haryana, which contributed to 40% of India's golds, has more than 350 stadiums in villages, blocks and towns, the obvious answer is to get India's potential sportsmen and women greater access to these facilities; let's ensure that school children get to use these stadium, that inter-college matches be played here … But what are the chances this will happen and the stadium won't just be used to house various bureaucrats? One way to find out is to see just how many of these activities took place, and how often, in the stadia built for the Asiad 82? One solution is to privatise these stadia. Not privatise in the sense of selling them off, but give them on management contracts to the private sector, with rules stipulating how often they have to be made available to schools, colleges, to football and other clubs, and so on, or some such contract—the details can be worked out, but the important thing is to get the new stadia out of the clutches of the politician-bureaucrats. Maybe Delhi will finally get a cultural and sports life unrelated to mega-events like the Asiad/CWG or the occasional cricket match.


It's instructive to look at what's happening in Glasgow, the host of the next CWG. At 630 million pounds (Rs 4,473 crore), the costs of Glasgow appear tiny compared to what India spent. This, of course, is an unfair comparison since it doesn't include 269 million pounds of other projects that were planned before the games or even the 1.6 billion pounds being spent on the expressways, again, planned before the CWG bid — in the case of Delhi, once you account for the cost of the Delhi Metro, buses and other costs, the actual CWG costs come down dramatically. But what's important to ask is why Glasgow is going to cost less than Delhi's CWG. Can all the difference be attributed to corruption? Clearly not. What's important about Glasgow is that a large part of the infrastructure is already in place, that is, it was in place before the CWG bid took place, it would have been up anyway. Celtic Park, the home of the Celtic football club will, for instance, host the opening ceremony, so there will be minimal extra cost. Giving out the CWG stadium to private firms, on management contracts, will mean when India's ready to host the next games, it too will be in as comfortable a state that Glasgow is in. Meanwhile, thousands of school children and sportspersons will have actually got to use these facilities.








After fending off a takeover bid from Microsoft in 2008, Yahoo! is now working towards avoiding the possibility of being taken private by a consortium of suitors led by AOL. But why does Yahoo!, one of the oldest and best known content providers, with over 170 million visitors every month, make headlines for its crises? Why is a strong content and communications company falling prey to the possibility of buyouts time and again? What are the strengths it can play to as it dodges buyout overtures from the industry?


For one, Carol Bartz, the CEO brought in to usher in change and bring back relevance to the company's core Internet business, after Jerry Yang was let go for botching up the Microsoft bid, has disappointed. Another major let down has been the company's inability to monetise its Asian businesses. For these reasons and more, the company has been unable to unlock its full potential recently.


]As Yahoo! struggles to stay relevant, there are, however, upsides. For one, a Yahoo!-AOL enterprise may not be such a bad idea. It could yield several cost-saving measures, in addition to boosting the joint profitability of their online advertising businesses. The merged entity would also amass much-needed scale to their e-mail and instant-messaging user bases. Another strength that Yahoo! can play to is its content business. By amassing control of the global digital content business through acquisitions of online properties across finance, entertainment, sports and other fields, hiring the best online talent and integrating premium with low-cost content to drive search traffic, Yahoo! can become a media powerhouse. Another initiative that could add value is a local news operation. Research shows that this would be interesting to consumers and therefore advertisers, since 95% of an American family's purchases are made within 2-5 miles of where the family lives. Yahoo! is already working towards this in San Francisco and may be worth expanding. Thus, all is not lost. As Yahoo! works with its advisor, Goldman Sachs, to defend itself against bids from the industry, it may do well to consider these strategies to build on its brand value and global recognition.








The most important decision a child in India makes is to choose his/her parents wisely. Having parents who speak English, live in a city, work in the organised sector, went to college, and kept you healthy gives you an opening balance that pretty much ensures a good life. But while this kind of an opening balance gets you many things, it cannot get you an undergraduate education at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) or a post-graduate education at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM). Despite the mild dilution in standards because of reservations, the only way to get into either of these institutions is to do well at the brutal speed tests called JEE (for IIT) and CAT (for IIM's).


Of late, there has been an increased criticism of these two exams as simplistic speed tests that have undesirable and unintended consequences, like the start of IIT entrance exam coaching in Class 5 and 96% of students admitted to IIM Ahmedabad this year being engineers. Critics argue that a strong performance on the JEE or CAT does not indicate knowledge, it demonstrates high exam-taking abilities. They suggest that the admission criteria for IIM and IIT must capture the complexity of multiple intelligences and the diversity of human motivations. They are right.


But before we change the admission criteria of these institutions, we must be mindful of the huge upside of the current structure. The current admission criteria ensure that they are the ultimate meritocracy where your financial, social, geographic and parental opening balance is less relevant than the strength of your back and the persistence in your heart. Very few children of rich parents plan for an undergraduate education at IIT and very few scions of family businesses plan for an MBA at IIM. Most head overseas. They head overseas not only because they can, but because the broader admission criteria of elite overseas colleges play to the gifts of privilege. An admission evaluation that values debating, interview skills, weighty recommendations, carefully crafted essays, musical abilities, astronomy, languages, fencing, horse riding, world travel and volunteer work is biased in favour of children from homes than can make these available. This is not an argument against a stable and gifted childhood—I had one—but simply the recognition that the IIT and IIM admission criteria are not biased in favour of privilege.


The US is only now coming to terms with this; only 34% of youth in the bottom quintile of family income distribution enrol in colleges, whereas 79% of those from the top quintile do. The dense networks of elite joining undergraduate Ivy League institutions were strongly demonstrated in the explosive adoption of Facebook, which started off at Harvard but took off like a rocket at the Ivy Leagues. David Kirkpatrick, author of the fantastic book The Facebook effect, says the Ivy League was the ideal place to launch because that's where the real-world social network of users at Harvard could be found—friends from the same elite high schools. So while the quality and experience of higher education system in the US is unique—I speak from personal experience—there is no doubt that the deck at elite institutions is unintentionally biased in the favour of a certain child from a certain family. This cannot be said of IITs and IIMs where the deck is biased in favour of a certain kind of child but from any family above abject poverty.


Demands to tweak these tests echo a broader global movement that wants to get rid of exams, lower stress on students and eliminate rote learning so that we develop creative children who can think. In 2002, Japan implemented Yutori—meaning comfort or breathing space—to "make schools less like academic factories and more like organic free range farms". A third of the curriculum was replaced by open periods, which teachers were supposed to use for horizon expanding activities such as trips to nature reserves and old people's homes. The old evaluation system, in which each pupil was ranked from top performer down, was scrapped in favour of a less humiliating one for low achievers based on absolute scores. But evidence suggests that Japanese pupils are performing less well on internationalised standardised tests and ambitious parents are sending their children to more evening cramming classes negating the "breathing room" created by the yutori reforms. The FT reports that a whole industry of authors and consultants has sprung up to advise executives on dealing with the "yutori man and woman". Over-praised and overprotected from competition at school, this species is said to be lazy and prone to throw fits when criticised. The education ministry if now planning a partial roll-back of these reforms.


Creativity, hard work and discipline are not mutually exclusive. These days the Indian school system wants to be like the US, and the US system wants to be like India. The truth lies somewhere in between. Our school system needs to create space without destroying the healthy pressure that is inherent in any performance or learning. So let's tweak how and what we teach in schools but leave the 'ovarian lottery blind' entrance exams of IIT's and IIM's untouched.


—The author is Chairman, Teamlease Services








Google's results have beaten analysts' projections. It has reported a 25% jump in net revenues for the third quarter. For the first time, the search giant has also responded to Wall Street calls for declaring how its newer businesses like mobile and display advertising are doing. This is, however, a strictly one-off disclosure. Android, for example, is reported to be "wildly successful". The cute way in which Google gave Android away for free (which meant that the likes of Motorola and LG embraced it) will ultimately translate into users using more of Google's mobile search applications.


This is an uncanny echo of how the Google search engine took off. It rocketed by offering information for free on the Internet and then started placing adverts beside the search results, which was not only a path-breaking revenue model but also one that remains the mainstay for the Google business. But what with the likes of Google TV, Google Health (which digitises medical records), Google Earth and Google Books grabbing an increasing number of headlines, some analysts fear that the company is diverging too much from its core business. The latest results suggest that, whatever Google is doing, it's doing it right. But it's becoming undeniably gargantuan.


There is a simple reason why Goliaths are unpopular. As a former Porsche boss wrote in The David Principle, giants tend to think they can simply flatten all around them and still thrive away. On the flip side, there are certain goods that only giants seem to be able to deliver. Google is interesting as its cool identikit has obviously been constructed in David's image (replete with the catchy battle cry, "Don't be evil"), but it is obviously morphing into a Goliath now. While the company's core search engine strength remains inviolate, it has been making muscular inroads into many other spaces.


By announcing a Google Price Index (GPI) this week, for example, the company appears to be taking on one of the most well-cocooned layers of US federal bureaucracy. With its army of online bytes, it promises to provide a real-time account of consumption practices. When the GPI is published, prepare for a battle royale that may put the privacy wars in the shade. This is no David we are watching any more. Yet, without the expansive reach and revenues to which it now lays claim, it's doubtful that Google would have taken on China as it did earlier this year. After all, the only other entity to have performed an equivalent feat is the Nobel committee!


Also, think net neutrality. Netizens the world over have hitherto assumed that every packet of data will be treated the same way. This key principle is now under threat. Ironically taking shelter under the David mantle, counter-agents argue that open-access requirements damage the incentive to build newer, faster networks. Bearing in mind that the larger firms already enjoy faster Web access by bypassing the public Internet, what will happen when this battle gains ascendancy? Wouldn't you like to have Google on your side? And this would only be because of its Goliath powers. Because what Google does, other players would also be likely to embrace. At that point, then, its giantness could actually answer the common man's demands.


To focus on GPI for a bit, there is no doubt that the consumer data that Google could churn out whenever it decided to do so would be nippy like lightening. Time-lag wouldn't be an issue. The company has already been publishing some findings concerning the physical world. To take one example, its researchers have tracked real time queries about flu outbreaks and passed these on to Nature. To take a second one, US government data on recession receding has been challenged by people tracking Google Trends pertaining to searches for 'food stamps', 'I need a job' et al.


Google is now funding wind farms, electric cars, self-driving cars, trips to the moon, genetic profiling and who knows what else. The world has never known such a company. Zeus himself would have a hard time making sense of it.








Back to the future


As Congress President Sonia Gandhi gets down to revamping the organisation, she'd do well to recall the Group to Look into Future Challenge she had set up to function as a think tank for Rahul Gandhi while drafting him in as party general secretary. For over a year, this Group remained vibrant with many party brains including Jairam Ramesh, Veerappa Moily, Salman Khurshid, Sachin Pilot, and others holding intense discussions with the young Gandhi at least once a month. The most ambitious ideas dealt with introducing internal democracy in the 125-year-old party. A report was finally submitted to Sonia Gandhi before the last Lok Sabha elections. Perhaps she'll take up the report now.






What do Paramjeet Samota, Manoj Kumar, Anil Kumar, Anissa Sayyed, Gita and Krishna Poonia have in common? They are gold medalists at the 19th Commonwealth Games and residents of Haryana. And these are only a few names in the long list of athletes from Haryana who won accolades at the Games. Fifteen of India's 38 golds and 13 silver and bronze medals brought Haryana's tally to an impressive 28.


Haryana, a state that houses only 2% of India's population has brought home nearly 40% of its gold medals. How? Through an incentive programme, one that starts right from primary school. Students are encouraged to play at least one sport, ranging from kabaddi and hockey to handball and boxing, in school under an initiative called 'Play for India', thereby expanding horizons beyond the national obsession—cricket. Such initiatives create a supportive environment and help generate and sustain the youth's interest in sports. To encourage talented players to make a career in sport (less than lucrative unless one happens to play for the Indian cricket team), the Haryana government offers cash and government jobs as incentives. This allows athletes to pursue their passion without the fear of being driven to abject poverty (since many of them come from underprivileged backgrounds) due to an injury or a slump. Haryana's chief minister views these programmes as exercises in nation-building. Other states would do well to take a cue from Haryana. If 2% of the population can bring home 15 golds, imagine the potential that lies in the 98% waiting to be tapped.










Twenty-four hours before the opening ceremony, it looked as though Delhi had made a complete mess of the preparations for the Commonwealth Games. On Thursday, in front of 60,000 spectators, including chief guest President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, when the Commonwealth Games Federation president Michael Fennell declared, "Delhi, you have delivered a truly exceptional Games," there was justifiable pride among Indians. Despite the shambolic build-up, the Organising Committee (OC) pulled it off in the end, overcoming seemingly insurmountable problems at the eleventh hour — such as repair work on the track at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on the eve of the athletics event — with generous support from the Central and State governments. Some of the venues, the Games Village, and the quality of food served came in for lavish praise from visiting athletes and officials. The transport department, after taking its time to warm up, functioned smoothly. The 'Games lanes' operated without a hitch and Delhi's notorious traffic snarls seemed to be a figment of the imagination.


The tightest security ever experienced for a sports event in India might have caused some irritation among participants and spectators. But as Mr. Fennell pointed out, there could have been no compromise on this front. Defying predictions, the show went on with clockwork precision even when there were some organisational hiccups. But more than all this, what helped Indians put out of mind the chaos and tragi-comic mishaps witnessed during the run-up to the Games was the nation's unprecedented haul of 101 medals, including 38 gold. Ascent to the No. 2 spot, although a long way behind Australia (74 gold medals), was made possible mainly by the performance of the shooters (led by the versatile Gagan Narang), wrestlers, archers, and boxers. Saina Nehwal's hard-fought win in the badminton final was memorable and so too were the medals sweep in women's discus throw and the triumph of the Indian quartet in the women's 4x400 m relay. These were India's first gold medals in athletics since the legendary Milkha Singh won the 440-yard race in Cardiff in 1958. The major disappointment on the final day was India's debacle in the hockey final; perhaps the Australian stick wielders were keen to avenge the Test series loss suffered by Ricky Ponting's men at Bangalore the previous day. After the CWG success, the idea of bidding for the Olympics is likely to gain some traction. It would be unwise to rush into this venture without cleaning up the Indian Olympic Association and doing a cool appraisal of infrastructural and organisational capabilities and cost.







No longer can it be said that non-communicable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and risk factors like hypertension, high cholesterol, and obesity are seen only among the urban rich in India. In the past, several localised studies undertaken in rural areas found evidence of an epidemiological transition from communicable to non-communicable diseases. A large-scale study published online recently in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) ("Sociodemographic patterning of non-communicable disease risk factors in rural India: a cross-sectional study," by Sanjay Kinra et al.) has confirmed this trend. The study involved nearly 2,000 people drawn from 1,600 villages across 18 States. The key finding is that India faces a double whammy. While those belonging to the lower socioeconomic group are underweight, those from the higher strata are obese, diabetic, and have high levels of total cholesterol, bad cholesterol (LDL) or triglycerides, as well as low levels of good cholesterol (HDL). South Indians tend to be obese more than north Indians. One reason for this may be that people in the four southern States show a marked preference for polished rice. Cardiovascular disease and diabetes are currently the most prevalent lifestyle diseases. Considering that the number of people chewing tobacco or smoking bidis is increasing, the incidence of certain cancers linked to these habits is likely to rise in the conceivable future.


The effects of globalisation and urbanisation may be some of the reasons for the increasing numbers of rural folk with non-infectious diseases. Sedentary lifestyles combined with increased intake of calorie-rich food are at the root of many lifestyle diseases. The challenges posed by non-communicable diseases are very different from those by communicable and infectious diseases. Diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and risk factors like hypertension and high cholesterol require prolonged care, unlike the transmittable diseases. The requirements of diagnosis and treatment are also very different. The healthcare system obtaining in rural areas is not equipped to handle these challenges. Making people more aware of lifestyle changes and running educative campaigns against junk food and in favour of healthy food, especially among children and youth, should go some way in stemming the tide. A recent report in The New England Journal of Medicine spotlights the magnitude of the challenge India faces: going by the present trends, it will lose $237 billion over the next decade owing to non-communicable diseases.











The Liberhan Commission inquiring into the December 6, 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid was amateurish on many counts. However, it established one thing conclusively. That the Ram Mandir movement was pure political theatre. Its protagonists dragged out an issue that had been dead for decades, which had no resonance whatever with the local people, pouring so much destructive energy into it that for all outward appearances it became a throbbing, pulsating mass movement with a huge national following.


By contrast, the September 30, 2010 Allahabad High Court verdict on the Ayodhya title suits is innocently apolitical. To be sure, a commission of enquiry is far more free-wheeling than a court of law with its strict mandate to go by evidence, points of law and precedence. Yet we have had courts, the Supreme Court in particular, comment exhaustively and adversely on political developments, including the December 6, 1992 demolition and the 2002 Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom.


The Allahabad High Court's disregard of the political nature of the Ram movement is surprising, considering the ease with which it moved beyond the boundaries of law and reason to explore issues of faith. There is another compelling factor here: The dramatic unfolding of the political story within the pages of the court's own judgment. Indeed, the legal twists and turns outlined in the judgment are not merely episodic highlights in a marathon court battle fought between warring parties; an unmistakably strong political narrative binds them together, never mind that the court itself remains oblivious to it.


Of the Ayodhya dispute's many high-definition political moments, two stand out — the December 22-23, 1949 installation of idols under the central dome of the Babri mosque, and the 1992 demolition of the mosque. The judges take both these in their stride, treating them as legal milestones rather than as Machiavellian political acts. The 1949 violation was a result of premeditated collusion between bigoted sections of the Congress party and the local Faizabad bureaucracy led by a deputy commissioner whose blatant partisanship was proved by his subsequent admission to the Bharatiya Jan Sangh.


Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru expressed his distress at the 1949 incident in a series of letters, among them, to Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel, to Governor-General C. Rajagopalachari, to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Govind Ballabh Pant and to close friend K.G. Mashruwala ( The Babri Masjid, edited by A.G. Noorani). In a December 26, 1949, telegram to Pant, he presciently described the installation as a "dangerous example" that will have "bad consequences." To Mashruwala (letter dated March 5, 1950), Nehru confessed that the district officer in Faizabad "misbehaved," further that while Pant "condemned the act on several occasions" he refrained from "taking definite action." In a letter dated April 17, 1950, to the U.P. Chief Minister, the Prime Minister poured out his anguish: "… U.P is becoming an almost foreign land to me … I find that communalism has invaded the minds and hearts of those who were the pillars of the Congress in the past. It is a creeping paralysis and the patient does not even realize it ... It seems to me that for some reason or other, or perhaps [for] mere political expediency, we have been far too lenient with this disease …"


These exchanges conclusively nail the lie that the 1949 installation of idols was an act of faith on the part of the Hindu masses. Sections of the U.P. Congress, with the parivar only too happily in attendance, drummed up the issue for "political expediency," as Nehru lamented. Fast forward 61 years. For the Allahabad High Court, 1949 is merely a legal issue. The majority judgment accepts that the idols were installed by human hands — a fact admitted to by Deoki Nandan Agrawala, former Vice-President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, in a suit he filed in 1989 as "next friend" of "Bhagwan Sri Ram Virajman" and "Asthan Sri Rama Janam Bhumi, Ayodhya." Nonetheless, Justice Sudhir Agarwal rules that the installation of idols is not of material relevance because Lord Ram's "birthplace" is itself a deity with all juridical rights by virtue of it having become part of Hindu faith as a result of continuous, uninterrupted worship.


The politically engineered 1949 Hindu-Muslim conflict — vandals dug out Muslim graves in Ayodhya and forced the ouster of a Muslim owner of a hotel in Faizabad, watched on by the district administration — was saved from escalating into a conflagration, thanks to the fact that though permeated by sectarian elements, the Congress at its core was liberal. Nehru was unashamed of his secular convictions and made no excuses for deviations from the party's stated ideology.


The parivar and the Jan Sangh were by themselves too weak to carry the movement forward. As has been proved repeatedly, movements and conflicts die down without political support. So too it was in Ayodhya where a deafening quiet prevailed until the mid-late 1980s, when the VHP and then a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party seized the issue, realising its enormous political and electoral potential.


The progress of Ayodhya from a relative non-issue to a potent, divisive movement is reflected in the changing character of the Ayodhya law suits, filed first in the lower court and subsequently consolidated and transferred to the High Court. The initial plaints filed with regard to the 1949 installation of idols and the subsequent attachment of the site are remarkably without extraneous motives. In the first suit, filed in 1950 in the Faizabad civil court, the plaintiff, Gopal Singh Visharad, describes himself as a religious person who had been offering puja to the idols in the janmabhoomi. The only relief he seeks is an injunction against the removal of idols from under the central dome followed by the right to unobstructed worship. The second suit, later withdrawn, is similar. The third suit, filed in 1959 by the Nirmohi Akhara, is a comic distortion of the sangh parivar's case formulated to perfection in the 1980s. Unaware of how the story would change in later years, the Nirmohi Akhara insists that there was no Babri Masjid, no mosque, no attempted mosque and no demolition of an earlier temple by Babar or anyone else. The Akhara's case is that the temple has existed from time immemorial, the idols were not planted in 1949 but have always been present, and the Akhara, which came into being in the "days of yore … long before living memory," is the sole owner of the janmabhoomi as well as the temple and the idols.


The fourth suit, filed in 1961 seeking title and ownership, is by the Sunni Central Wakf Board. The SCWB's contention is that Muslims have been praying at the Babri Masjid since 1528, and prayers were forcibly and illegally halted by the installation of idols, the attachment of property and injunction against Muslims. By the time of the fifth and final suit, filed in July 1989, the political climate changed beyond recognition. A month earlier, the BJP had formally adopted the Ram mandir issue by a resolution passed at Palampur in Himachal Pradesh. The BJP and the VHP insist that the courts have no jurisdiction over matters related to faith but simultaneously arrive at a strategy to give a sharper thrust to the legal case. It is obvious that the case cannot be left to the likes of the Nirmohi Akahara which up to this point has shown no political understanding of the issue.


To circumvent the suit being barred by limitation, the plaintiff, a prominent member of the VHP, sues for title and property as the "next friend" of Ram Lalla and Asthan Ramjanmabhoomi. The story of Ram is spectacularly reconstructed, complete with a temple by Vikramaditya. In 1528, Babur came to Ayodhya, halted there for a week, destroyed the ancient temple and erected a mosque in its place using material from the old structure. The suit makes two principal points. A mosque built this way cannot be a mosque. Secondly, because the janmabhoomi has always been deified, it has a juridical personality of its own going into the past before the construction of any temple or mosque and regardless of whether the idols have been installed or not. Presented thus, the suit forecloses the legal pitfalls arising from the illegal installation of the idols.


]Stung to the quick, the Nirmohi Akhara files a counter statement alleging that suit 5 is malicious and has been filed to harass and usurp the Akhara's property. Mr. Agrawala is not a worshipper but a member both of the VHP and the Ramajanmabhoomi Nyas. Significantly, the "next friend" himself admits to the political nature of the suit by arguing that it has been prompted by the rapidly growing temple movement: The deities are impatient for a temple, the architect of the Somnath temple has already taken charge of the Ayodhya temple design, and a date has been set for its construction.


Justice Agarwal does take note of the "abominable manner" of the 1992 demolition. But he hastens to add that the Muslim defendants have never held the plaintiffs in suit 5 responsible for it. In an unbeatable irony, he also allots the space under the central dome to the plaintiffs in suit 5, presumably unaware that the VHP would see it as a vindication of a movement born and nurtured in violence.









Everyone involved with the panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh seems to love it. Sons, brothers, sons-in-law of MLAs contesting for seats at the village, tehsil or district levels in vast numbers are happy because the vidhayak mahoday is campaigning on their behalf, making full use of the party machinery. Wives and daughters-in-law from 'influential families' are delighted because their family's local clout virtually guarantees them a seat in the 'reserved' category. Husbands, fathers and uncles-in-law, who normally keep their family women on a short leash and insist that they veil their faces, are canvassing for them happily and look forward to being the power behind the throne. At many places, posters only bear the name of the woman candidate as the wife or daughter-in-law. And, instead of her face it displays the known family face: that of a burly, mustachioed male.


Almost went unreported


Hindi newspapers are meanwhile gurgling with delight as advertising revenues have come pouring in for their upcountry editions from local candidates in the shape of full-page colour advertisements. And of course, the government functionaries who have been entrusted with the task of issuing caste and residence certificates to candidates at the district headquarters towns are the happiest of them all. No matter who wins or loses, they have already made a substantial killing on the eve of the festive season.


Pity, the mainstream national media remained obsessed with the Commonwealth Games and the goings-on in Karnataka through September and October. And the fact that in 71 districts of Uttar Pradesh an electorate of over 11 crore was getting ready to elect its panchayat representatives went almost unreported. This year the five-yearly election in India's most populous State has a record number of candidates contesting for a total of 7,60,557 panchayat seats. One-third of the seats in these elections (in 71 district panchayats, 2,622 district panchayat wards and 6,41,441 village panchayat wards), are reserved for women.


In the rural areas, direct elections to panchayat posts have meant the absence of a powerful opposition that could raise objections and stall questionable decisions. A gram pradhan, once installed, can look forward to five years of unchallenged authority and enormous spending power — leading to a considerable rise in his own fortunes. Recently, an MLA canvassing for candidates remarked in a public speech at Purwa tehsil on how five years as panchayat pradhan seem to transform lives, so much so that this time around he had difficulty locating their houses. " Gram pradhan ban dhe hee Laxmi meherban ho jatee hai (the goddess of wealth begins to smile on you as soon as you become the head of the village"), confessed one citizen.


Indeed, in rural India a gram pradhan today is both the controller and distributor of large sums of money allocated by the Centre for development projects: distribution of mid-day meals, building schools, supervising ration shops for those below the poverty line, handling muster rolls and supervising work done under the all-important Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) … Exacting a hefty commission for each work and allocation of lucrative contracts to a few favoured ones is no longer the exception but the norm.


Money, muscle power


No wonder, then, that the real cost of contesting for the post of a gram pradhan (there will be about 51,000 of them in Uttar Pradesh) should now be almost the same as contesting a Legislative Assembly election used to be. Money and muscle power have been on display everywhere this time, and very few of the well-heeled candidates seem to have kept within the mandatory limit of Rs. 75,000 in terms of electoral expenses. Local people will tell you that the usual distribution of khaini, gutkha, daru, murga (pouches of chewing tobacco, liquor and meat) is no longer adequate. Full-page advertisements in the local editions of language dailies, hiring of musclemen from cities, display of firearms and fleets of sports utility vehicles and dance and music performances by bar girls a la Bollywood are now essential to win friends and influence the young voter.


As the giant multi-crore-rupee helium balloon/aerostat rose over the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi and A.R. Rehman sang his 'O Yaro, Ye India Bula Liya ...', the media in general began to revise their cynicism and look a little more optimistically at the infrastructure improvements the Games will leave behind in the national capital. But it has so far not paused to take note of a very different India that lay hiccupping in Uttar Pradesh villages during the last few weeks, with lanes turned into bars and the number of murders and brawls registering a huge growth. As candidates accompanied by armed guards were being christened Vikas Purush by ruling party MLAs canvassing for them, grand promises were made of bringing bijli, pani, sadak to villages. Some candidates are said to have hired portable generators and connected village huts to them for the period — so the voters could remember to vote for the netaji who lit up homes even before he got elected.


As the government gets ready to launch the ambitious PURA (Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas) scheme inspired by former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, it must be careful not to pour water into a sieve. National Advisory Council members Aruna Roy and Jean Dreze have rightly criticised the Government of India for allegedly 'stone-walling' an independent social audit mechanism to check corruption in panchayats and bring accountability to the implementation of its ambitious scheme.


But here we need also to remember that the essence of the drama all political leaders from developing nations

such as India have to live through, lies in a terrible resistance they must face when ushering in any major change in rural areas. Everything is in the way: centuries of caste system, a primitive farm economy, illiteracy, religious fanaticism, tribal loyalties rooted in caste and enshrined in medieval khap panchayats …


Progress can only come with great difficulty to rural India. And even as it trickles in, it will bring in unimagined contrasts, contradictions and conflicts. Nothing will be unambiguous and nothing will fit a formula. One only hopes our touchingly young and urbane leadership and their advisers realise this.


( Mrinal Pande is a senior Hindi journalist and writer.)









People in wealthy western countries such as American Tea Party members agitated about rising prices, unemployment and house repossessions might pause to reflect that things could be worse: they could be refugees. For a multitude of reasons, among which the financial crisis is but one, there has never been a worse time to be a displaced person, economic migrant or asylum seeker.


Speaking this week at the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University, Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), described the daunting dimensions of an accelerating global crisis that the international community has yet to fully understand, let alone provide a coherent response to. And contrary to the populist and racist perceptions peddled by Europe's far-right, many western countries are doing less, not more to help.


Imbalanced share


Four-fifths of all refugees eke out a living in the developing world, which carries a correspondingly disproportionate share of the burden, Guterres said. Comparing the number of refugees a country hosts with its per capita GDP shows that the 25 countries most affected by the refugee phenomenon are all in the developing world, including 14 least developed countries (LDCs).


Pakistan, subjected to harsh criticism in a recent White House report over its perceived failures as a partner in the "war on terror", is the most heavily burdened state in the world, with 745 refugees, mostly Afghans, for every $1 in per capita GDP. In contrast, Germany, Europe's richest economy, has 17 refugees for every $1 of national income. Britain has seven.


Guterres, a lifelong socialist and former prime minister of Portugal who took over at the UNHCR in 2005, said in an interview that the organisation spent much of its time firefighting in the teeth of negative global trends. One was the growing intractability of conflicts that showed no sign of being resolved and the diminishing, increasingly dangerous "humanitarian space" in which the UN and aid workers were obliged to operate.


An arc of crisis


"There is an arc of crisis reaching from Pakistan and Afghanistan through the Middle East to Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Chad that produces two-thirds of the world's refugees," Guterres said. These problem areas were increasingly linked. They became "breeding grounds" for terrorism. And all such problems were exacerbated, in turn, by global megatrends — population growth, urbanisation, food and energy insecurity, water scarcity and, particularly, climate change, he said.


In addition, local or regional crises, as in Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo, had also become entrenched and were creating both quasi-permanent and global refugee populations. "In this arc, things are not getting better. Somalia is a total disaster. Yemen is getting worse," he said.


Guterres said the number of refugees being resettled abroad was rising but the number of resettlement places on offer was inadequate — roughly 10 per cent of the 800,000 annual applicants. The total number of applicants has doubled since 2005. "Europe currently provides around 6,000 resettlement places a year or about 7.5 per cent of the total worldwide." Asylum seekers faced similar obstacles while forced repatriation policies, as applied to Iraqis for example, sent an "unhelpful" signal to Syria and Jordan where the vast majority of Iraqi refugees was located, he said. Advances had been made. And the UNHCR did not dispute the right of countries to control their borders. "Overall, however, there is still no true European asylum system but a patchwork of different national ones, making the situation totally dysfunctional."


Guterres also highlighted the plight of an estimated 27 million people forcibly displaced within their own countries, whether by conflict or natural disasters; the particular vulnerability of child refugees, preyed on by traffickers and smugglers; and the relatively new phenomenon of "global refugee populations" that are not located in one place but seek opportunity wherever they can find it. The most striking example was Somalia.


The plight of the Somalis


There were nearly 700,000 Somali refugees at the end of 2009, approximately half in Kenya and a quarter in Yemen. "But Somali refugees are everywhere, from Costa Rica to Nepal," Guterres said. "I do not believe there is any group of refugees who are as systematically undesired, stigmatised and discriminated against as Somalis ... It is difficult to conceive a situation more abject than that of the Somali refugee." Guterres made plain there were no instant solutions. But he said much more could be done, starting with a full-scale international debate about the scale and seriousness of the problem and how it links to key global challenges such as climate change, which he described a universal "accelerator" of negative trends.


In dealing with intractable conflicts, more "robust" peacekeeping and diplomatic interventions might be required, he suggested. Governments should improve access, curb the spread of cheap weapons, and provide better protection for humanitarian personnel. Closer co-operation on migrants between states of origin, transit and destination was needed.


Most importantly, perhaps, "a new deal on burden-sharing" between the developed and undeveloped world was required, he said — with renewed emphasis on prevention. "The international community is not good at prevention. But prevention is much cheaper in the long run." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010







Russian scientists opened a floating polar research station on October 15 in the Chuckchi Sea at the margin of the Arctic Ocean. The station, Severny Polyus (North Pole) 38, will be home to 15 researchers for a year. They will conduct polar studies and gather scientific evidence 'to reinforce Russia's claims to the Arctic'.


The head of expedition and presidential envoy to the Arctic and the Antarctic, Artur Chilingarov, has already sent telegrams to President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who congratulated the team in turn.


"The opening of this station supports Russia's priorities in the Arctic," Chilingarov was quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency as saying.


The inauguration ceremony was held more than a thousand kilometres above the Arctic Circle and was illuminated by the nuclear-powered icebreaker Rossiya about half a kilometre away.


The ice floe is located in the Chuckchi Sea about 600 km north of Wrangle Island, at 76.05 North latitude, 175.34 West longitude and was seven km by 12 km. The ice is at least three years old and two-2.5 metres thick.


Russia, Canada, the United States and Denmark have been in a long-standing dispute over the vast circumpolar territories. — Xinhua








Thursday's dazzling ceremony at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium that brought the curtains down on the 19th Commonwealth Games was an apt celebration of a nightmare gone right. In the weeks before the Games were to begin, the trickle of bad news gradually turned into a flood and by the time of the opening ceremony, expectations were at rock bottom, That the country — and more specifically the city of Delhi — was able to pick itself up from there and go on to host a successful event is in itself an achievement to celebrate. Looking back at it from the distance 24 hours provides, there is already a sense that to go over the top over Delhi 2010 too would not provide for a fair or accurate assessment of the event as a whole. Nor should the happy ending — India finished second on the overall medals table to record their best-ever performance at the Commonwealth Games — be allowed to overshadow examination of and action against the reasons and persons responsible for the mess that had developed around practically every aspect of the event. Projects not only over-ran budgets, but also timelines. Infrastructure essential for the Games stood incomplete, and in some cases remained so. Contracts were delayed till the very last minute, leading to logistics nightmares. Yet come D-Day a minor miracle and lots of very hard work behind the scenes made sure that India, and Delhi, would be ready.
Once the Games themselves got under way, the serial victories of the nation's teams in different disciplines helped create a momentum all of their own and in the end, with India finishing in second place on the medals table, it made for a story that just got better and better as the days ticked away. And behind the growing pile of medals Team India garnered day after day was another tale, of dedication, professionalism and devotion to duty, that in their own way made Delhi 2010 a truly memorable memory. The very public face of safety and security for the city were the thousands of policemen and women, the military and paramilitary units that moved into place well in advance and thereafter functioned like clockwork with impeccable planning and precision, so much so that the head of Interpol was moved to remarking that this had been a security and police operation of the highest order. There was the volunteer force, often caught out of their depth by fast-changing situations and unplanned for emergencies, but always resolute and willing, and the transport personnel. The list is a very long one. Most of all there was the Delhiite, who put up with months — if not years — of disruptions, of clogged traffic lanes, of intrusive but necessary security, of transport arrangements thrown out of gear or done away with completely. They bore it all, and having done that, came out in ever-increasing numbers as India's medal rush just grew and grew. Even the hardships imposed by restrictive travel arrangements, stifling security and a non-functional ticketing system proved to be no deterrent for a public that roared, whistled and cheered their athletes on day after day. For those used to the happy chaos of the capital's roads, the ease with lane discipline was followed came as an eye-opener, and with very few exceptions. Long jams became a daily feature, and the citizenry coped with the sight of CWG vehicles coasting past their stalled vehicles with astonishing fortitude. Small wonder therefore, that if there was to have been a 39th gold medal in addition to the 38 won by our sports women and men, it should and would have gone to Delhi — and its teeming, discommoded population — itself.








"Vaat ee dees?

Komdi kaa piece!"

From The Enquiries of Ignis Piries Ed. by Bachchoo


There is something rotten in the town of Aylesbury, or so the rumour goes. The police have gone out of their way to deny this particular rottenness following the murder of 40-year-old Assia Shahzad.
The murder took place, the police believe, on the first floor of her £600,000, six-bedroom house in Aylesbury. She was bludgeoned and stabbed to death. Her son, one 21-year-old Usman Shahzad, and another youth of 16, who can't be named as he is still an underage suspect, have been arrested and taken into police custody for the murder.

Assia has (had?) three children and was estranged from her 45-year-old husband who, as a consequence, did not live in the same house. She and the estranged husband were partners in a taxi firm.
Rumour has it that she had admirers or men friends and again, according only to rumour, these liaisons were known to her son Usman who resented them. He has been held as a suspect and charged with murder but is, of course, presumed innocent until proved guilty. Assia's father and her own family are, as can be expected, devastated and distraught. They are immigrants of Pakistani origin and one may assume that Usman is a third-generation immigrant. The rumour mill calls the murder an "honour killing": a son washing in blood the honour of his family.

Hamlet says of the disgust generated by his mother's adultery:

"Nay but to live

In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love

Over the nasty sty".Hamlet, though probably the only famous "honour"


murderer in literature, is not motivated primarily by this Oedipal or puritanical impulse. He has also been instructed by his father's ghost to avenge his father's murder by killing his incestuous mother and uncle. And perhaps there were no police in Denmark with whom he could lodge an FIR — as we do in India. Besides, he wasn't an eyewitness to the murder and only has the word of a ghost to go on. Could he present such evidence in a court? Could the witness be summoned in daytime court-opening hours? No, he had to take revenge himself and he goes through the celebrated agonies of conscience and convoluted justifications for prevarication and procrastination before he acts.


In the Aylesbury murder no such motive of an eye for an eye exists and neither does any of the agony of prevarication. It is, according to the Pakistani rumour mill of Buckinghamshire, a "pure" honour killing. It is only fair to say that the police, who may have more information than is publicly available, have tried to diffuse the idea of honour killing in this instance, though they haven't come up with any other motive. Was it a family dispute between mother and son — over money? Over a prescriptively chosen and rejected bride? The murder trial, if the accused or others are ever charged and brought to court, should make that clear.
The British police don't like honour killings, just as they don't particularly like gang feuds. Honour killings are very often seen as involving the subsequently fired honour of more people than the first ones to initiate the killing. The others who feel dishonoured by the killing itself seek revenge and, as with drug-dealing gangs, one murder leads to another and another. A headache for the cops. They would much rather a robbery motive.
Honour killings are, the world over, undertaken by people who live in communities which still regard the conventions of love, marriage and sex as matters of traditions whose origins lie in religious diktat. The natives of Britain, Scotland, Wales and Ireland may find sexual liaisons or marriage across class boundaries distasteful, unworkable or particularly stimulating (the penchant for "rough trade"; Lady Chatterley and Mellors!) but the distaste hasn't ever, since the Middle Ages, stimulated murder. Again, Catholics marrying Protestants or Christians marrying Jews, may not be popular in Northern Ireland but it would at worst lead to the couple being ostracised rather than put to death.

Hamlet's agony, so uniquely and strongly realised by Shakespeare on the Elizabethan stage is today viewed as the drama and dilemma of a long-past, even pre-Elizabethan, age. In today's British family, if mum and dad were separated or divorced and mum had boyfriends, the children would probably go on holiday with him and would be most unlikely to do away with mum or the boyfriend while there.

In the Pakistani and in the Sikh immigrant communities honour killings have taken the shape of luring or forcibly transporting the offending family member — a daughter who refuses to go along with an arranged marriage to her cousin, a divorcee who sees other men — to Mirpur or the Punjab and having them murdered there.

It is a measure of the isolation of South Asian immigrant communities in Britain that in three generations the hold of emotions, traditions and questions of honour attributable to the feudal past is still suffocatingly, murderously strong.

In another instance, six years ago, the body of a young girl was discovered on the banks of a river in northern England. She had been suffocated, stuffed into a rubbish bag and disposed of. The police arrested her parents, Pakistani immigrants, on suspicion of an honour killing as stories of the girl's resistance to marrying a cousin and enabling him to come to England on a British passport emerged. The police couldn't put enough evidence together to convict the suspects so the murder remained unsolved.

Now the second daughter of the house has stepped forward and told the police that she was a teenager at the time of the murder but can provide eyewitness evidence that her parents did indeed kill her elder sister. The fact that the parents have now set out to induce the third sister, the youngest, into an arranged marriage of the same sort has, the potential witness claims, convinced her to speak out against them.

The parents have been arrested for the alleged murder and their daughter who says she is willing to help convict them has been taken into protective custody by the police who fear that the question of "honour" in these cases involves more than the immediate family. It is possible, they feel, that relatives or supporters from the clan or community will attempt to suborn, harm or do away with her.








Okay. It's over. You can come out from under the table and stop hysterically humming "Laaj rakho Girdhari". Your Girdhari has delivered. You have not been stripped and shamed as ruthlessly as Dushasan had attempted. Remarkable young women and men have stepped in to protect your honour, to unfailingly cover you with pride. What could have been your hour of shame has magically turned into your hour of glory.

The Commonwealth Games (CWG) is a grand success. We have won 38 gold medals and more than a hundred medals in all, second only to Australia. And it has truly been a win for India — held up by extraordinary talent from all across the country and dramatically different economic backgrounds. If Abhinav Bindra's gold in rifle shooting underlined his ability to afford first-rate training facilities (as the super shooter had highlighted after winning India's first ever Olympic gold), Deepika Kumari's gold in archery proved how an autorickshaw driver's daughter can overcome social and financial odds to get to the top on sheer grit and excellence. We have showcased our rich tapestry of energy and talent stretching from our villages through slums and tenement houses, from urban middle-class homes right up to the posh villas and polished lives. We have shown how we can pick our way through incredible odds to pick the pearl from the cobra's hood.

Not that Dushasan — or Mr Bad Governance, in English — was all bad. He did fall in line for a while — and made sure that other stuff didn't go wrong. About 100,000 military and police personnel kept terrorist attacks at bay. Last moment crisis management prevented other embarrassments — participants were not felled by dengue or malaria or diseases caused by bad hygiene. The stadiums and galleries did not collapse. And toddling through the fantastic chaos of bad planning and bungled schemes, finally Delhi did manage to be an adequate host.
Of course CWG 2010 had begun disastrously. We were convinced that after seven years and Rs. 30,000 crore, instead of showing off the emerging Asian giant, we would showcase our national shame. Why, even A.R. Rahman's CWG anthem was initially a flop. Apparently when chief CWG messmaker Suresh Kalmadi called up Rahman requesting a better anthem Rahman had played him a song which he suggested as more appropriate: "Rote Rote kaayko hum… hona hai jo ho, sad hote kaayko hum… Cry cry, itna cry karte hain kaayko… (Why do we cry so much… just let whatever happen, why are we so sad… Cry, cry, why do we cry so much…)".

The crying shame was that no one appreciated the stimulating new dimension we had added to the CWG, transforming it into an adventure sports event. Dodge falling pillars and collapsing bridges, wade through the floodwaters of the Yamuna, duck dengue mosquitoes, live with snakes, take up the challenge of staying in squalor, in filthy flats with shit and paan-stains and paw-marks on mattresses, beds that collapse the moment you sit on them and staircases with railings falling off. And of course there may be terrorists — the thrill pill for true adventure seekers. It was straight out of one of those reality television shows on celebrities facing incredible challenges and struggling for survival in the wild.

Meanwhile, the Delhi government made soothing noises. You have fresh new buses and the world's largest bus depot, brand new infrastructure, a fine new Metro network, a beautiful city. See, we have driven the beggars off the streets and demolished slums. Our dogcatchers have caught hundreds of dogs. Our snakecharmers are catching snakes at the Games Village. Don't worry, be happy.

Curiously, CWG 2010 has showcased both our strengths and our weaknesses. It is now palpably clear once again that we have no scarcity of talent. We are simply being choked to death by people who are supposed to serve the country — government officials, both leaders and administrators. We take the best talent and make everything touched by government schemes substandard, like the collapsing bridges and false ceilings and beds. How else would our babus, netas and cops maintain their lifestyles? We must pamper them to get our routine work done, to get our entitlements, to get our due. It is not just Suresh Kalmadi, but the entire network of corrupt officials, ministers, bureaucrats and private firms that we need to target.

When money makes our world go round, quality is never a priority. Substandard and shabby infrastructure did shame us in the eyes of the world, but even more shameful is the brazen exploitation of even the poorest Indians by government servants. Like when one million households are denied public hospital services because they cannot pay bribes, it shames us far more than filthy quarters and leaking roofs at games venues ever could.
For now, Dushasan has been splendidly defeated by our girls and boys out in the arena. But he will attempt to dishonour you again. To permanently get rid of Mr Bad Governance we must address the larger issues of shameless corruption, lack of accountability, governance failure, human rights abuse and the long-term costs of all these.

Take just Delhi, for example. We have new infrastructure but it is not what you paid for. Then about 400,000 urban poor have been displaced by the Games, in order to beautify the city for visitors. Only a third of these unfortunate Delhiites have been rehabilitated. And according to a study by the NGO Hazard Centre, the people of Delhi will pay the price of the Games for decades through hiked taxes and prices.

One way of making up for Mr Bad Governance's alarming corruption and mismanagement would be to use the Games venues for proper training of our sports people. Now that we know what we are capable of and have adequate facilities — and have started waxing eloquent about the Olympics — we had better get down to training our boys and girls good and proper.

Besides, the country's prestige is not measured by mega events alone. Prestige comes from talent, excellence, human values, good governance. We have no dearth of talent and excellence. But we need to work hard on our values and on good governance. We must not let Dushasan threaten our honour so flamboyantly ever again.


Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine.

She can be contacted at








IT'S BEEN a week of literally uplifting images. Apart from the euphoric closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, the other big image was that of the Chilean miners being released from their accidental prison. They emerged from the cage of the phoenix into the arms of their families and the Chilean President. This story has consumed the UK media and much of the Western world — it has been on the front page for weeks and TV channels have flown their best anchors to report from Ground Zero (that ubiquitous, all-encompassing phrase).

Perhaps barring the death and funeral of Princess Diana (yes, Mr Suresh Kalmadi, she is really dead!), there has been hardly any other non-political event that has got this kind of international non-stop coverage.
While no one in their right minds would have ever visited the San Jose mining camp normally, the hordes of reporters, satellite vans and politicians created a Peepli Live kind of situation in the desert, with an unnerving and almost obsessive interest in the 33 men — all recent celebrities whose privacy has been torn to shreds. A few of them had interesting personal stories though perhaps not something they would have liked to share with the rest of the world. The last vestige of that hope has been crushed as a pugnacious media and a garrulous public has ensured that we know the various secrets of the 33 trapped men. We know about the drug addiction, the alcoholism, the girlfriends and the mistresses and no doubt much more will be revealed as the days go by.


Because once the camera teams land they seek out eyeball-fodder — anything that will keep the story spinning. So will this miracle turn into a personal nightmare for the miners? Is this how modern-day celebrities are created and then ritually disembowelled?

The indomitable British PR guru Max Clifford has announced that their story is worth at least £100 million but only if the 33 men stick together, and do not individually start spilling the beans about what happened in their underground dungeon. Hollywood beckons and book deals shimmer on the horizon.

The interesting thing will be to see whether the unity and bonhomie which has bound these miners together will last, or will greed and the power of the media break their resolve to give a joint account of their ordeal and thus wreck the chances of them all becoming millionaires. In fact, that would by itself make another great story — how adversity unites and the fruits of success divide. Perhaps, this is one film where the sequel is already pre-scripted.

But, no doubt, there were many moments in the miners' saga that were made for the silver screen — right from the point when they were discovered to the manner in which they survived and to the very end when they emerged to shouts of "Chile! Chile Chile", breezily waving and dancing.

I was personally struck by how clean these men looked. Amazingly, for people who had supposedly not bathed, shaved or even brushed their teeth for months, they emerged — neatly airbrushed — from their burial looking like (no doubt) Robert Redford or Brad Pitt would, were they to play one of them. Where were the dirty clothes and long beards? Dust-encrusted faces and tangled hair? I was equally amazed at how passionately everyone was kissing and hugging them and no one said a word about the fact that even if they were soaked in perfume there would have been a slight, err stale, odour of having been with 33 other bodies all trapped underground…
This undiluted joy could have been partly due to the fact that it is considered a miracle that all of them emerged alive — and partly because of the omnipresent 24x7 media coverage. It was a made-for-television moment and wrinkled noses had no place in the picture. So while a small country like Chile was able to win over billions of hearts by its determination to recover these very ordinary men, Hollywood could not have scripted a better ending. It was a heart-warming moment when the world cherished human lives no matter how poor and underprivileged they were. But whether the miners will appreciate the tenacious Peepli Live gaze of the media and open discussions about their family secrets is something only time will tell. Right now the euphoria of it all will keep them feeling sentimental, for a while.


HOW LONG does it take for evil to be brought back onto the centrestage? And how long does abhorrence last? These are some of the questions that we may be confronted with as Germany finally puts up its first exhibition on Adolf Hitler (it opens this week in Berlin). Europe is a little uneasy about the display and many compromises have been made so that too much importance is not given to the man after whom the exhibition is named. In fact, so reluctant were the organisers to give Hitler any undue publicity that the exhibition theme has been changed from Hitler to Hitler and the Germans. The German Historical Museum is maintaining a low profile for the exhibition because in Germany, Hitler is almost a taboo. Even books about him do not bear his photograph on the cover and his birth anniversary is barely remembered. But, perhaps, 65 years after his death, it is time to confront ghosts of the past even though glorifying Hitler in any form is still an offence in Germany. Thus no one blames the organisers for goose-stepping around the subject but at last it will bring into the open one man the Germans most hate to discuss.


A QUICK celebratory note: With the appearance of the young Ed Miliband as the Leader of the Opposition in British Parliament we now have a Shadow Cabinet where the gender imbalance has at last been sorted out. There are at least 11 women MPs who are shadow Cabinet ministers and (perhaps taking a quick look across the pond at Hillary Clinton's success) one of the more popular figures in the Labour Party, Yvette Cooper, has been put in charge of foreign affairs. Time for the coalition government to wake up?

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A US comedian once famously joked that American presidents do to the country what they ought to be doing to their wives. In recent times, however, a streak of moral conservatism on matters sexual appears to have crept into the American political landscape, and if an upstart politician named Christine O'Donnell had her way, US presidents wouldn't even be able to do unto themselves what they do to the country.


That's because O'Donnell, who draws inspiration from a puritanical Christian movement, has in the past waxed evangelical that sexual self-gratification — that is, masturbation — is a sin.


That self-denying, abstemious message has evidently found resonance with her sexually conservative constituents, seeing that she's won her party's nomination for a Senate election race.


In the comedic film Annie Hall, film-maker Woody Allen fends off criticism of his masturbation, saying that it was "sex with someone I love." Writer Truman Capote too notes wryly that the good thing about 'giving oneself a treat' was that one didn't have to dress up and go to town, as one was required to do with a sexual partner. Yet, down the ages, political and religious moralists have tended to take the high ground against those who yield to the instinct to 'get in touch with' oneself.


Perhaps it's a tribute to our libertarian spirits, but it's fair to say that in India, no politician would stand a chance of being elected if s/he were to peep into so private a zone. For all its social conservatism, Indian society tends to take a hands-off — and even borderline licentious — attitude towards one-person orgies, as exemplified by the numerous sculptural depictions of auto-erotic practices at Khajuraho and Konark.


And last year, for instance, a manual prepared for Indian cricketers encouraged them to have sex before matches or, in the absence of a partner, to at least "go solo". Evidently, the advice was motivated by the belief that heightened levels of testosterone led to enhanced competitiveness, and the Indian cricket team's excellent record since then probably shows they've taken the advice seriously and have had their hands full…


Similarly, last year, the local government of a Spanish region launched a costly campaign to teach young people the fine art of "sexual self-exploration and the discovery of self-pleasure." The campaign, with the slogan 'Pleasure is in your own hands', came in for criticism on the grounds that it was financially profligate, but proved so enormously popular that even neighbouring provinces adopted it.


Which just goes to show that when it comes to keeping the juices flowing through the economy in these down-and-out times, perhaps self-help may be the best help. And for all of O'Donnell's political projection of her puritanical outlook on self-indulgence, there are clearly different strokes for different folks…








Zafaryab Jilani, Lucknow-based low-profile lawyer of the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Wakf Board, did not speak out as much as the others did in the immediate aftermath of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case. He held his fire because as the man who argued the case, he knew the intricacies of the contentious issue. In an exclusive interview with DNA at his Lucknow chambers in the Islamia Degree College in Lal Bagh, he put forward the Muslim perspective on the issue. Sitting barefoot behind a large lawyer's desk, he clarified that the Muslims are disappointed and


disheartened with the verdict but they are neither alienated nor antagonised and he dismissed the impression created in the media that Muslims in the country have been pushed to the wall.


Now that the decision has been made to go in for appeal, is there unanimity on the issue in the Sunni Wakf Board or is there still some effort being made for a settlement?


The Sunni Wakf Board has 30 members who have been elected according to the UP Wakf Act of 1995. The board is very clear that the appeal to the Supreme Court is the right option. The Wakf Board has nothing to do with the Personal Law Board except that the decision of the board may have a moral impact.


When did the Babri Masjid come under the purview of the Wakf Board?


The mosque was registered under the Sunni Wakf Board in 1943. Before that there was no Wakf Board. It was constituted by the Wakf Act of 1936.


There is the general perception that the Allahabad high court verdict is anti-Muslim...


It is against the expectations of the Muslim community. I cannot term it as anti-Muslim. Judges are not anti-Muslim or anti-Hindu.


Do you perceive ideological overtones in the judgment?


I cannot impute any motive to any judge.


Do you think that there are too many loopholes in the judgment?


Yes. They have relied on the belief and faith of the Hindus as against the documentary evidence.


The judges did admit the idols were placed in 1949. Did they have a legal basis?


They did. They said it was based on belief.


You are going to challenge the 'legal infirmities' of the judgment in the Supreme Court. But are you hopeful?


I cannot predict but I am hopeful.


Generally in law, local traditions are given legal recognition...


Local beliefs of the period are given recognition if they are proved to be time immemorial. There was no such belief for centuries among the Hindus that it was the Ram Janmasthan.


To what extent did the Muslims acquiesce in the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) report?


The ASI report said that no temple was destroyed. The ASI report was full of ambiguities but on this point there was clarity.


Are there representatives of the Wakf board to look after the mosques, cemeteries and other Wakf properties?


They are appointed.


Are they paid salaries?


Not by the board.


The government pays?


No. They are honorary, unless there is a Wakf deed providing for salaries.


How did the Babri Mosque come under the Sunni Wakf?


There was a Wakf survey in 1938 and it declared the Babri Mosque to be Sunni Wakf property.


Is there some confusion because they gave one-third of the land for the mosque after rejecting the claims for the mosque?


They did not reject that there was a mosque. They said the land is the joint possession of the two communities.


How does Ram Lalla become legal?


The place beneath the central dome was believed to be Ram Janmasthan.


In spite of accepting the fact that the idols were placed in 1949?


They considered the place and not the idol as sacred. But this is a local belief of the 20th century. Until the 19th century, the local belief was that the chabutara was the janmasthan. That is why we


argued that the local belief was not time immemorial.


Was there worship between 1949 and 1986 when the locks were opened?


The court order of January 16, 1950 provided for the bhog because the belief was that if there was no bhog the deity would cease to be a deity.


But the Muslims did not have access during the same period?


The property was under attachment. But for Muslims, a mosque remains a mosque even if prayers are not offered.


Do you think that Muslims would lose faith in the judiciary if the Supreme Court verdict goes against the appeal?


I do not think so. Muslims will accept whatever the highest court of the land has to say.


Do you think that the communal divide between Hindus and Muslims will deepen if the Supreme Court rejects the Sunni Wakf Board claim?


This case has nothing to do with Hindus and Muslims. It is about legal and constitutional issues. Does faith and belief of one community prevail over the faith and belief of another community? It can be the faith and belief of any community.


So, you think that this is an important constitutional matter which should be argued and debated?


I think the Supreme Court should form a constitutional bench of five judges to hear the case. If we do not challenge the high court judgment, it will become a precedent because it is the verdict of a full bench of three judges.


Do you think that the country is mature enough and we can discuss the difficult issues openly?


Yes. The country has become very mature. There was no tension after the high court judgment. We told the community members that they should not get into street protests on this. It is only the media that is making it a grave and divisive issue.







What is the reason that of late there has been one-way traffic across the Line of Control (LoC) on the Chakan-da-Bagh route in Poonch district of this region? The weekly Poonch-Rawalakot bus service has not carried any passenger belonging to our part of the State to the other side under Pakistan's unlawful control during the past four weeks. The vehicle has not been entirely empty either. It has been occupied only by a handful of those returning home after enjoying stay with their relatives. For us, however, it is a matter of satisfaction that we continue to receive our detached twins in good numbers. On last Monday the scene has been the same. As many as 34 people crossed the LoC from "Azad" Kashmir, as the occupied territory is locally known. They included 11 first-timers eager to join their kith and kin in our midst. The rest of the crowd consisted of the inhabitants of Poonch and Rajouri districts who came back home after spending time with their kith and kin in our divided half. All seven civilians who left the bus from Poonch for Rawalakot too were on their homecoming trip although in a different direction. The reason why none of us is able to travel is that the Pakistan Government is not giving the necessary green signal. Under the arrangement between the two neighbouring countries the Regional Passport Officer (RPO), Jammu, can issue the mandatory permits only after the list of travellers is cleared by the Interior Ministry in Islamabad. According to a report in this newspaper there are a large number of aspirants in this province who have been waiting for clearance for a long time. Their exact number is not specified but it is anybody's guess that there are many who are keen to see the other part which has been their home at some point in the past. 

Of course, the inhabitants of this province are aware of the grim realities that a portion of the undivided State as it had existed in 1947 has fallen prey to the pernicious two-nation theory based on religion. They are not oblivious either of the willing or forced conversions on the other side. Yet, the cosmetic changes have not been able to camouflage an old idiom that blood is thicker than water. It is not known why Islamabad is not contributing its bit. At least once after the resumption of the bus service it has sat over applications for more than two months before giving approval to about 100 of them in one go. It is only too well known that one can't clap with one hand. Although she is no more one is reminded of Indira Gandhi's meaningful utterance at this juncture: "You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist." 

The purpose of reopening the LoC will be defeated if the State subjects are prevented from using it to their advantage --- either for the reunion of hearts or for adding to each other's prosperity. If the federal government in Pakistan has any objection it must express it clearly. It must keep in mind that a path-breaking initiative like this would not have been possible without its concurrence. Why should it be exposed to the charge of sabotaging it now? It must reconsider its present position.







If one carefully reads the Army's latest assessment of the terrorism scenario one will have an inescapable conclusion. The threat has been substantially contained but it has not altogether vanished. From what Lt Gen Rameshwar Roy, General Officer Commanding of 16 Corps, has said at a media inter-action the following picture emerges: (a) strategic shift in the approach of the militants; they mingle with the crowd and protesters instigating them to resort to violence and stone-pelting to make up for the loss of popular support in the hinterland; (b) intra and inter-organisation rivalries between Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) coupled with their inability to get new recruits; (c) "450-500 trained armed terrorists" at the launching pads along the Line of Control (LoC) south of the Pir Panjal waiting to cross over to this side; (d) the possibility of an almost equal number of them waiting on the north of the Pir Panjal; and, (e) increase in infiltration attempts. In brief, the Lt -General has said it all. Evidently he reads a pattern in the recent developments in Poonch district and the Kashmir Valley. His perception is based on the logic that the militants must have mixed with the agitated local people in order to incite them to destroy public property, attack the security forces and pelt all that came in the way with stones. Actually the heightened communal tension in parts of Poonch district in recent times has surprised many. There was a violent reaction to a reported act of sacrilege in the faraway United States which was least expected. It needs to be closely examined to eliminate all chances of the recurrence of such an incident in future. What is obvious is that the Army has certain specific inputs about the LeT and the HM. These are not in the domain of public knowledge. An open secret nevertheless is that the HM is increasingly seen as a smudged carbon copy of the LeT. No more it is regarded as a homespun militant organisation which had initially burst on the scene in the State as the armed wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), Jammu and Kashmir. From all accounts the LeT (whatever its assumed name) has been calling the shots both as a relief and a militant outfit even in Muzaffarabad, the Capital of "Azad" Kashmir (as the occupied territory on the other side of the LoC is locally known). The HM leadership which enjoys shelter in the region is reduced to playing a second fiddle.

In any way this should not mean any respite for us. We have to be constantly on our toes. Even we will do well to keep in mind what US President Barack Obama has said only recently: "I think that in this day and age, there are going to be -- there is always going to be the potential for an individual or a small group of individuals, if they are willing to die, to kill other people. Some of them are going to be very well organised and some of them are going to be random. That threat is there. And it's important, I think, for the American people to understand that, and not to live in fear. It's just a reality of today's world that there are going to be threats out there."












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

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

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

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

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

More talks with Indira Gandhi and her emissary the late G. Parthsarthy and the Sheikh's emissary Afzalbeg ended by signing another agreement which enabled Sheikh Abdullah at return to power with the Congress party offering full support in the legislature. Sheikh held a fresh election soon thereafter, all but wiping out other political parties in the State.

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

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

A quiet trip and rapid-fire speech in his home constituency, Ganderbal, is not mass contact. Nor can a long distance approving nod of his leadership by Rahul Gandhi mean popular acceptance in the States. And the State, mind you, doesn't mean just the valley. 

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

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

The Congress Party has obviously not learnt its lessons. By repeatedly trying to put all its eggs in one basket has already taken toll of the party's credibility. Sheikh Abdullah, by far the tallest of Kashmiri leaders, was once lionised and then sent to prison before he returned to office many years later; Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, a very efficient and popular leader replaced Shekh Sahab only to find himself jailed after several years as the Prime Minister of the State. Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq continued to be the joy of the left oriented until death claimed him. Syed Mir Qasim, a quiet decent man, became the Chief Minister only to yield office to Shiekh Abdullah after his accord with Mrs. Gandhi. Farooq who succeeded his father was not given time to grow by the Congress with Rajiv forcing an alliance on him which eventually led to a fraudulent election and insurgency. Farooq unable to take charge of the situation resigned only to return as elected Chief Minister in 1996.

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









A vital question that the separatist leaders must decide is whether they want Azadi or any other status outside India is for the whole state or for the Kashmiri speaking community in the Valley. In either case they must consider its implications.

In the former case, (ie whole state) they must also decide the question of inter-regional relations and constitutional and institutional arrangements to satisfy urges of all ethnic diversities in the new arrangement. 
I posed this question to Syed Ali Shah Geelani, when he was the president of the United Hurriyat. He assured me we will treat Jammu and Ladakh much better than the present state government. I said that there are two pre-requisites of this assurance. First that he would remain supreme in the new set up. Second that he would be immortal. He then asked do you want to constitutionalise the system. I replied in the affirmative. Needless to say it was never done.

On another occasion, I offered to Hurriyat leaders to organize an all parties conference on the internal constitutional set up of the state irrespective of their views on its external status. The Hurriyat leaders told me you are always welcome to discuss the matter with us. I insisted that I want a formal decision of all parties. After some time Yasin Malik came to Jammu and asked me to revive my proposal. I replied when I had made the proposal, the Hurriyat was united. I could invite it as the sole representative of Kashmir region. Now it was divided. Moreover an elected government was in power. Whatever be its following, the ruling party cannot be ignored. If you are willing to sit with the other Hurriyat and the National Conference, I could still convene an all parties conference. Obviously Yasin was not willing.

I may invite the attention of the attention of separatist leaders to State Peoples Convention convened by Sheikh Abdullah in 1968 as leader of the Plebiscite Front, most popular secessionist group of the time. It was also attended, inter alia, by Mirwiaz Farooq, father of Mirwaiz Umar, and Jamat-e-Islami, of which Geelani was a member besides GM Karras pro-Pakistan Peoples Conference. It unanimously accepted my draft on internal constitutional set up of the state, irrespective of its status. It provided for regional autonomy and devolution of power to district, block and panchayat levels.

Would Mirwaiz and Geelani, the leaders of the rival Hurriyats accept this proposal, to which Mirwiaz Farooq and Jamat-e-Islami were committed?

The other alternative is to divide the state and be prepared for its consequences. Sajjad Lone, in his manifesto Achievable Nationhood, has offered to Hindu areas of Jammu and Buddhists of Ladakh the option to opt out of the state. The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council has endorsed the idea and demanded Union Territory status of Ladakh. Balraj Madhok, Dr. Karan Singh and Syed Shahabuddin had supported the idea of division of the state some time back at one stage or the other. New York based Farooq Kathwari, the richest and most inferential Kashmiri, and his Kashmiri Study Group, Salig Harrison, leading American expert on the Indian subcontinent, had also advocated the idea. I had discussed implications of the idea with most of them who modified their stand. Farooq Kathwari, had in a long telephonic talk told me that his Kashmir Study Group, no longer supported the idea of division of the state and the best first step should be regional autonomy.
At one stage the BJP had NDA government supported the idea of division of the state. I organized a conference of former Prime Ministers and other leading personalities of the country who opposed the idea. I conveyed the decision to the then Prime Minister Vajpayee and had also detailed discussions with the then Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani.

When on the eve of General Musharrafs first visit to India, some voices in BJP privar were raised in favour of division of the state, I sought an appointment with Advani. He suggested we could meet after Musharraf had returned. I insisted on meeting him before the visit of Pakistan president. He agreed to meet me just a day before the visit. 

I told him that the idea of division of the state had been welcomed by Pakistan and asked him why had his party become so generous to Pakistan. He replied that he was convinced after discussion with me that the remedy of the division of the state was worse than the disease but the RSS was not. I offered to discuss the idea with the RSS leaders. Advani arranged my meeting with some RSS representative. After some discussion, he was disarmed and suggested that I should meet the then RSS chief Sudarshan. I agreed but he was out of town then and did not return till my stay in Delhi.Earlier I had asked Geelani whether he had considered the implications of Advani-Geelani formula for the division of the state. After my explanation, he agreed to reconsider his stand.
Now again RSS ideologue Vaidya has recommended that Kashmir region he granted pre-1953 autonomy but Jammu and Ladakh should be fully merged with Indian Union. This is what Jana Sangh founder Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukerjee had once thought and entered into prolonged correspondence with Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah. The Sheikh quotes him of having said. If the people of the Kashmir valley think otherwise, there can be special provision for that zone. We would readily agree to treat the valley with Sheikh Abdullah as its head in any special manner for such time as he would like but Jammu and Ladakh must he fully integrated with India. 

Commenting in Mukerjees view, the Sheikh wrote: vide his letter dated February 4, 1953.

You are perhaps not unaware that the attempts are being made to force a decision by disrupting the unity of the state. Once the ranks of the state people are divided any solution can he foisted on them. Eventually Mukerjee accepted Delhi Agreement in toto.A crucial question in case of division of the state would be future of Muslim majority districts of Jammu and Muslim majority district of Kargil in Ladakh. As politics of Jammu is no more ideal of secularism, it is doubtful if Muslim majority areas will like to change their status from a Muslim majority state to a Hindu majority state. Similarly the movement for Union Territory status in Ladakh is led by the BJP and is confined to Leh, Kargil is unlikely to join it, though its Muslim majority is not at all happy with what it considered a Kashmiri dominated state. Already by dividing Ladakh into a Buddhists majority Leh and Muslim majority Kargil and denying a regional status in the constitution of the state, which recognizes only Jammu and Kashmir regions, the seeds of religious division of Ladakh have been sown.

If the state is divided on religious lines, no Muslim would be secure in Hindu majority Jammu, nor a Hindu would be secure in Muslim majority part of the region. Sizeable minorities live at present in both parts. Similar insecurities will be created in Leh and Kargil. Any issue can ignite communal clash any where which can lead to chain of communal riots with repercussions in the rest of India. The secular basis of the country would thereby be undermined.The worst sufferer would in that case be Kashmir region and its thousands of years old great civilization.

Present unitary and centralized system is perennial source of tension which seeks an anti-India outlet in Kashmir. In Jammu it encourages ultra-nationalist and even communal sentiments. Both pro and anti-India parties should therefore first work for a federal and decentralized system, so that a harmonious personality of the state can be built more or less on the model of the Peoples Convention draft on internal constitution. Any dialogue about permanent status of the state after that would become much easier








World Food Day is a world wide event, which has been celebrated to create awareness with regard to alleviate hunger. Since its celebration on 16th October, 1980 the world food day has been reminding us every year about the urgency of eradicating the hunger from the planet Earth. It highlights the problem of malnutrition in the children and pregnant women vis-à-vis, the hazards which are being posed from indiscriminate use of fertilizers and pesticides after green revolution. World Food Day is, infact, a time of the year to reflect on whence food comes, on the abundance of food for some and lack of the same for others. It too reflects a time on the history and future of food.

Crisis in production of rice, wheat

These days, however, production of rice is in crisis and also the wheat crop. In countries where rice-wheat crop rotation is the principal cropping system, their yield even after ushering green revolution, has either become constant or has declined. The Asian subtropics - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China - are the best examples from this angle where their yields have declined largely. 

It is pointed out here that in India the green revolution which began mostly with rice and wheat crops, has now reached a plateau and is sustained with diminishing returns and dividends. For instance, at the national level rice yields are hovering between 1.9 to 2.6 tonnes ha-1 for the last 8 to 10 years. Similar is the condition of the wheat crop, yields of which have already become stagnated as 2.7 to 3.1 tonnes since 1999-2000. Production of wheat has decreased from 74.2 million tonnes from 2000 to 70 millions during 2005 and now has almost become constant. Rice production also stagnated at around 110 million tonnes upto 2005 from 1999-2000 which has now slightly increased. 

Factors for falling food production 

*Of the various factors amenable to account for stagnating/declining trend in rice and wheat production, soil sickness is one of the main reason due to use of high analysis chemical fertilizers during green revolution. Use of N, P, K fertilizers without maintaining their ratio i.e 4:2:1, has not only rendered the soils deficient in secondary (Ca, Mg, S) but micro nutrients (Zn, Fe, Cu) also, causing thereby low production in these crops.
*Water mining or depletion of underground water due to an intensive cropping and its contamination with heavy metals (Cd, Cr, Cd) is another factor causing low production in rice and wheat. It has already taken heavy toll in the irrigated belts like Western UP, parts of Punjab, Haryana and Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir. Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat are the other examples in this context. 

*Due to lack of capital, nearly half of the peasants of the country are in grip of debt. About half of them belong to five states like Tamil Nadu, UP, AP, West Bengal & MP. Relatively AP, ranks first in the list having 82 percent of indebted farmer households followed by Tamil Nadu with 74.5 percent and Punjab with 65.4 percent. More than half of them took loan for current expenditure in farm business. On an average, Indian farmer houshold has debt of about Rs. 12,585.

* Poor monsoon is also a factor causing low production of rice and wheat. There is a good saying "A poor monsoon means, starvation deaths in the country's side and sharp rise in food prices in the urban areas. A good monsoon on the other hand would suffice the entire country in sense of well being." Failure of monsoon in 2002 resulted in a 3.2 percent decline in agriculture against the 5.7 percent rise in 2001-2002 to bring down overall growth rate from 5.6 percent to 4.3 percent. Similar were the situations occurred during years 2003, 2004 and 2009.
In the light of the facts as stated above what the farmers require desperately is an assured mechanism to increase profitability from the agriculture sector which can be resorted by adopting following methods:
* The cropping pattern requires to be changed from single ordouble crops to multiple cropping. More thrust be given to legumes and pulses. Multiple cropping should be linked in an integrated manner with animal husbandry.

* Crop diversification from staple food (rice and wheat) to horticultural, vegetable and cash crops is desirable in those areas where limitation of water has become a major threat.

* Alternate land use farming system such as agroforestry, agrohorticulture, agropastoral, agro-silvipastoral must be encouraged.

* While formulating and implementing policies for the welfare of the farming community, participation of economists must be ensured.

* Enhance crop insurance and multiply public investment.

* Another need is to give higher procurement prices to the farmers and extend the reach of the procurement to the crops which are essential for country's food security and nutritional requirement.

* Make well balanced use of fertilizers. Organic manures should be applied in well decomposed form.

In the end it is concluded that if, "India has to grow into a developed Nation, then its agricultural economy must be boosted and programmes dedicated to agriculture must be resorted with great enthusiasm."









HARYANA blazed a trail of glory at the just-concluded Commonwealth Games. Sportspersons from the state, which comprises just 2 per cent of the country's population and a little over one and a half per cent of its area, won 40 per cent of the country's gold haul. In the last Commonwealth Games at Melbourne four years ago, they had bagged just one gold, three silver and a solitary bronze medal. Contrast that with the 15 gold medals, 4 silver medals and 8 bronze medals that they won this time and one is ready to believe that a silent sports revolution has transformed the state. After all, there were just 54 sportsmen and women from Haryana in the 600-plus Indian contingent and it is truly remarkable that they should return with as many as 27 of the 101 medals secured by the country.


The state government can indeed take credit for giving sports its due. The state's annual budget for sports and youth affairs, which stood at Rs 1,400 crore in 2005, has gone up to Rs 3,200 crore and quite rightly so because as in the rest of the country, a large percentage of its population, 48 per cent as per official claims, happens to be young and below the age of 35. The revised sports policy of Haryana, approved last year, is a document that other states will do well to follow. Seeking to promote a culture of sports, spirit of comradeship and the desire to excel, the policy provides for incentives, infrastructure and training. The government reserved 3 per cent of the class C and D jobs for the achievers and offered to pay extra increments to its employees who excelled in sports. The results are there for all to see. Its ambitious plans to set up human performance labs in every district, hire foreign coaches and to set up a sports university are also certain to pay dividends.


But then it will take several years for the new policy to reach full fruition. One must, therefore, also acknowledge the stellar role played by private boxing academies in the state and by the panchayats for training the boxers and the wrestlers. Separating sports from the education department and the public-private partnership model being tried out in Haryana to promote not just pride but also employment through sports is worthy of emulatin by other states.







THE Centre's plan to refer the Press Council of India's report on paid news to a Group of Ministers (GoM) for further scrutiny and action is well intended and needs to be pursued to its logical conclusion. As paid news has become a big threat to free and fair elections, whatever measures the Centre intends to take to root out the problem need to be endorsed by all stakeholders. In its report, the PCI has suggested an amendment to the Representation of the People Act to make paid news a punishable electoral malpractice. It also sought more teeth to help adjudicate complaints of paid news at its level. The Centre should accept both recommendations and evolve a consensus among all political parties for necessary statutory enactment. However, the menace is so serious that the matter does not rest with the PCI alone. All stakeholders, including the Election Commission, should check it.


Significantly, the Election Commission has taken serious note of the menace, particularly in the context of the Bihar elections due to be held from October 21. It convened an all-party meeting on October 4 and set up an expenditure monitoring division to look into paid news and the role of money power during elections. Income Tax officials will conduct field-level investigations to monitor expenses of candidates and political parties in Bihar. The commission has decided to include the cost of "news" in the candidates' expenditure if it is seen as paid news, particularly if they exceed the ceiling on expenditure by resorting to paid news instead of issuing advertisements. Earlier, the monitoring team comprising observers in each district used to keep a tab only on advertisements in newspapers and television channels, including cable TV and radio, but a new column has been added to provide details and cost of paid news.


The Election Commission's experiment in Bihar will be keenly watched because based on its success, the commission intends to enforce these measures in the forthcoming elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry. The commission has been trying to curb the misuse of money power in Bihar but enforcing the new mechanism in its true spirit and plugging all leakage points would be the real test. Surely, in this challenging task, all the political parties, candidates and the media — print and electronic — should extend their whole-hearted cooperation to the authorities concerned.









PRESIDENT Pratibha Patil hit the nail on the head recently when she called female foetcide Punjab's shame. No doubt, female foetuses are being aborted without compunction and compassion throughout the length and breadth of the country and the nation has much to be ashamed of when it comes to treating its daughters. Punjab, however, has more reason to hang its head in shame. Out of five lakh daughters that go missing in India one lakh are deemed to be from Punjab alone. In fact, along with the neighbouring state of Haryana it has the dubious distinction of one of the worst sex ratios in the country. Thus, the President's concern over the skewed sex ratio in Punjab and appeal to protect the girl child cannot be taken lightly.


Time and again the need to save the girl child has been reiterated in Punjab. Efforts have been made at both individual and government levels. The government has launched several "save the girl child" campaigns. Besides these, offering many positive incentives like cash and benefits, its public health helpline, primarily started to check female foeticide, have been welcome efforts. Then there is the PNDT law that bans sex determination tests. Still the son-crazed couples find ways to beat the law and, as the findings have repeatedly revealed, the abominable practice is rampant.


In a nation where tomes have been written on women's empowerment and host of laws have been passed to grant her equality, the ground reality is dismal. What to talk of granting the girl child an equal status, in 21st century India she is even being denied the right to birth. Indeed, initiatives like Nanhi Chhan that underline the important link between the environment and the girl child can help dent centuries old prejudices that value sons and regard daughters as a burden. It is good that Nanhi Chhan is spreading its wings to other parts of the country. Only a broad-based movement involving people from all sections of society can help check gender imbalance that poses a grave threat to the social fabric of the country in general and Punjab in particular.

















THE chatterati in New Delhi's seminar circuit, more accurately the flitterati — they are constantly flitting from one seminar to another — a.k.a. strategic elite, is highly excited due to President Barack Obama's impending visit to India in early November. Advance teams have visited New Delhi and Washington to work out an agenda and assess the ground situation. And the think-tank community in both capitals is conferencing away to discover the areas of convergence and divergence that would emerge in this meeting.


So, what could be the agenda for the dialogue? Predictions are getting confused with wish lists and speculations on what Washington and New Delhi want to "get" from each other. There are insidious proposals that India should "extract" concessions from the United States, presently weakened by its intractable economic and unemployment crisis. Like, for instance, urging Obama to modify his policy to discourage Indian software engineers from being hired to reserve these jobs for Americans. Or, by demanding discontinuation of military and economic aid to Pakistan, considering its appalling proliferation record, proven links to the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Al-Qaeda, and alacrity in promoting cross-border terrorism affecting India and Afghanistan.


India is unlikely, however, to gain much satisfaction on these issues. Obama has his own political compulsions — high unemployment in the United States and the need to keep the land route through Pakistan open for gaining ingress into Afghanistan. What is not being appreciated in New Delhi is India's glaring vulnerabilities; a Prime Minister who presides over but cannot inspire his government, and a Central government that seems to have lost its sense of direction. The Commonwealth Games have revealed India's inadequacies. Therefore, any belief that India can command the agenda is truly naïve.


This logic has not prevented the articulation of demands that India should make on President Obama. They include hardy perennials like US support for India securing a permanent seat in the UN Security Council; gaining access to high technology, especially in the sensitive defence, nuclear and space areas; de-listing the major Indian institutions presently included in the American "entities list"; recognition of India's strategic interests in Afghanistan; restraining Pakistan from using cross-border terrorism as a foreign policy instrument; lowering tariff barriers for Indian textiles and so on. Naturally, there is realisation in New Delhi that the United States would also have its set of demands.


These would include settling contracts in favour of US firms like General Electric and Westinghouse for supplying atomic reactors to operationalise the Indo-US nuclear deal. The provisions for damages if accidents occur and long-term culpability of suppliers under the recently enacted Civil Liability Act have caused great dismay in the United States. It believes that India is reneging on its pledge to settle at least two contracts for the supply of nuclear reactors from American firms despite the US having worked strenuously to get the nuclear deal through the US Congress, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Therefore, this issue could gain salience during the Obama visit.


The same could be said of the MMRCA [Medium-Range Multirole Combat Aircraft] deal for the sale of some 126 aircraft where the United States is looking for action.


Both the nuclear and aircraft contracts are very important to revive the concerned ailing industries in the United States. There are many other questions of interest to the US like India's cozying up to Myanmar's military rulers despite their abysmal human rights record and ambivalence towards Iran irrespecitve of its fundamentalist regime being the fountainhead of Shia terrorism in the Middle-East for over three decades. There is also the question of having greater understanding of Obama's compulsions in the Af-Pak region where he is single-mindedly focused on extricating the United States from the Afghanistan quagmire.


These demand and hope lists can be expanded. But what is being ignored is the big picture. How do India and the United States view each other? Stated differently, what is the content in their much-vaunted "strategic partnership"? Several issues arise. How do the two countries perceive the "rise" of China? Since this "rise" is peaceful, why are countries in the East and Southeast Asian regions apprehensive? Why does India's steady emergence not threaten its neighbours in South Asia? How can the rise of China and the emergence of India be accommodated in the evolving global scenario? How can India and the United States promote world order interests like democracy, federalism, religious pluralism and so on to construct a more peaceful international regime? How can they optimise their major strength, which lies in innovation and the exploration of new ideas?


Exploring big picture ideas rather than pettifogging on what either country can "get" from each other during the Obama visit would be a more profitable approach to adopt.







FOR centuries, poets have sung the praises of the simplicity of the lives of people living in the countryside.  Most famous is of course, Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard." 


There are dissenters, most notably, Thomas Hardy in his iconic novel, "Far from The Madding Crowd."  Having lived in the countryside for the major part of my life I tend to subscribe to Gray's perception.  


I live now permanently in the countryside and during my evening walk I stop at a small convenience shop on the way.  It is a pleasure not only to sit and talk to the owner, but also look at all the people, coming and going.  One of his regular customers is a little boy of 12.  He comes frequently and buys either one or two packets of  noodles. 


Intrigued by this, I asked Dev Dutt, whether he came every day.  Dev Dutt replied that he comes every Saturday.  If he and his younger brother have been good during the week and paid proper attention to their studies, their parents give them a treat of a packet of noodles.  I wonder how many children in my last school would consider a packet of noodles sufficient incentive to be good and to study.


Close to the shop is a little stall where a middleaged widow makes tea.  It is not particularly good tea but I always buy a cup.  I would give her a five rupee note and walk away. At the end of five days, she handed me back two five rupee notes.  I looked at her in surprise : "The tea is only three rupees and since I don't have change, I waited for five days to be able to return your balance."


But, of course, I experienced the height of this simplicity many, many years ago.  I had taken a working holiday in Narkanda and,  one afternoon, decided to walk up to the Hato temple.  It was a steep, narrow track and by the time I reached the top, not only was I exhausted, but also a little frightened because of the gathering darkness. 


I needn't have been, because Jia Lal, the caretaker, took care of me.  He gave me a cup of tea and then insisted that I should not attempt the return journey alone and in the dark. 


He settled me in his hut and picking up his torch  said he would be back in a short while.  Because I was tired, I dozed off.  He returned and held out, with  great pride, a tiny tube of toothpaste and a tooth brush; "I know that people from the city do not clean their teeth with 'datun' so I went down to Narkanda to get you this." 


I didn't have the heart to tell him that if he had taken me with him, I would have neither been alone nor walking in the dark.









SHORTLY after India's independence our population was just around 400 million and the water table twice what it is today. Sixty years down the line, from the fresh water point of view, we are in a precarious position indeed. India has faced and is facing other problems as well.


In the early sixties the country was facing an acute food shortage. We had to be rescued by the US PL 480 plan. Power, Employment, Health including Environmental Pollution and so on have also been chronic problems.


The food crisis of the sixties was solved by the Green Revolution, but it is threatening to come back again, given the fact that the population has more than doubled from that time. The point is that these mega problems that a country with our mega population faces can only be solved with suitable application of science and technology. This requires an innovative community of scientists and engineers.


Unfortunately while the number of scientists and engineers in the country has grown by leaps and bounds, the quality of science has actually plunged. There have hardly been any breakthroughs in the account books of Indian science and technology. Can we blame this on inadequate funding ? The answer in my opinion is, No. We can certainly have more funding, but this too would only go to further increase the mediocrity of Indian science.


If Nobel prizes are an index of scientific excellence of a country, then India has drawn a total blank-the last science laureate from the country, working in the country was Sir C.V. Raman and in British India. He worked with no funding and against all odds. Or, we could have a more modest index of scientific progress: Breakthroughs in science and technology. Even here we have drawn a blank.


Let us take finally an even more modest index, what in the scientific world is referred to as the citation index, which measures the impact of the scientific work. Here Indian science has actually gone down hill over the past few decades.


The problem is that the university system, which is the feeder of the country's laboratories and higher institutes of research, has all but collapsed. Almost all the ills of the country could be traced to politicians and bureaucrats but the steep decline


of Indian science and technology has been the handiwork of the Indian scientific community itself.


To analyse a little further, after independence the best talent in the country took to degrees and courses which ensured jobs, like Civil Engineering, Medicine and Law. Hardly any bright people took to scientific or technological research, or even research in medicine and life sciences.


This brain drain into what may loosely be called the industry, left the academia getting more and more depleted. Few worthy young men took to teaching or research, as these were meagrely paid jobs if at all jobs were available. This resulted in two very negative consequences. The first was that the quality of teaching in higher education plunged, leaving students groping on their own. The second was that what is sometimes called the Peter principle startedoperating. That is, mediocrity bred mediocrity and repelled quality or excellence. True there are exceptions, as always, but these do not prove the rule.


No doubt the Government was pouring funds into science and technology, but in a clueless manner. C.V. Raman derisively called this the Nehru Bhatnagar Effect. Dr. S.S. Bhatnagar, the eminent and well intentioned scientist, would approach Nehru for funds and the even more well intentioned Nehru would practically give him blank cheques. Much of this money went into building impressive brick and mortar institutions, rather than concentrating on ways and means to develop suitable human resources of excellence.


It is said that years ago Mrs. Indira Gandhi asked the eminent Indian American scientist, Dr. C.K.N. Patel, the then Executive Director of AT&T Bell Laboratories, what could be done to improve the Indian scientific research institutions. His reply silenced her into silent inaction. He suggested that all the research laboratories in India should be closed down and reopened six months later with a new set of scientists with a new agenda. That has been a major criticism of Indian science-it has not been people or society oriented in trying to tackle the fundamental problems of the country. V.S. Naipaul lamented that Indian scientists were working on problems that would get them a nod from Western institutions, rather than looking at the country or be on their own.


Some years ago Nobel Laureate Prof. Roald Hoffmann had this to say while delivering the B.M. Birla Memorial Lecture: "If I were to meet your Prime Minister, I would tell him, ask your researcher to concentrate on problems like Malaria. Let them join hands with their counterparts in a country like Columbia to solve this common problem". He went on to lament that a Malaria vaccine could be found in the US in practically no time but they would not do it for the wrong reasons. Malaria is a poor man's disease and there is no money in it.


The question is, after all this investment in science over the decades, are there any positives? Well, we might boast of the second largest scientific community in the world, which, however mediocre, can nevertheless provide support services for a vast country like India. This includes engineers for maintaining technical equipment like power plant or roads or bridges or dams, or doctors for health care, even in remote areas. Our scientists may not be able to come out with new inventions or medicines or cures, but they are capable of using existing technologies for maintenance of humans and equipment and keep afloat software outsourcing jobs. That is something positive, because many developing countries lack even that.


There is another positive too. The lack lustre and dreadful system of higher education and research in the country has driven some bright people to the developed world to pursue higher studies and research. Over the years, India has managed by default to build a bank of scientific and technical talent abroad. We could today rope them in but that is not easy. What these very bright scientists need is not so much money, but a proper environment.


Nobel Laureate Prof. Norman Ramsey once told me that rather than material incentive, it is peer pressure that drives excellence in research. Such an environment unfortunately has been destroyed by the mediocrities of our science. In other words we need to call back the brightest scientists and engineers and give them a free hand without any interference whatsoever from the Indian system. Then results will start tumbling out slowly. The question is, can we do it?


(The writer is Director, B.M. Birla Science Centre, Hyderabad)







A routine article in the Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal about the spread of a superbug, resistant to all antibiotics and which is claimed to have originated from India, has set the alarm bells ringing amongst the public in general and medical fraternity in particular. The reason for this is the conclusion drawn in the article which says that travel to India and Pakistan is hazardous particularly for those travelling for medical treatment. There are two aspects of this controversy that need to be addressed- one the scientific validity of the paper and second the advisory issued in relation to medical tourism.


The crux of this paper is drug resistance in bacteria which have the potential to cause serious infection in human beings and one must understand how this happens. Whenever bacteria are exposed to an antibiotic, they develop ways and means to survive its onslaught by genetic mutation. This ability to survive antibiotics is carried down future bacterial generations. Exposure to multiple antibiotics leads to multidrug resistance and emergence of the so called 'superbug'.


The Lancet paper is a report on emergence of multidrug resistant bacteria which are resistant to Carbapenem group of antibiotics (a high end antibiotic) in addition to other antibiotics, making it particularly dangerous. There are many ways by which bacteria can acquire Carbapenem resistance. One of these is by acquiring a gene labelled by the authors as blaNDM1 (ß lactamase, New Delhi Metallo-1) by a group of bacteria called Enterobacter. These resistant bacteria were studied from two hospitals in Chennai and Haryana and amongst those referred to UK's national reference laboratory.


In Chennai, only 4% of the bacterial group under study were found to have Carbapenem resistance. Of these about 1/3rd were found to have resistance due to blaNDM1. The study is silent about the cause of resistance in the rest two third. Of the 47 Carbapenem resistant isolates from Haryana, 26 were due to blaNDM1 and again nothing is mentioned about the cause in the rest 21 isolates. Similarly, the UK part of study concentrates on Carbapenem resistant isolates due to blaNDM1 (32 isolates) but is silent about Carbapenem resistance due to other reasons and their origin (41 isolates).


The paper further states that there was no significant strain relatedness between UK isolates and Indian isolates implying that they may be entirely different. This finding is of significance and contradictory to their subsequent claim that these bacteria originated in India.


Scientifically there are no drawbacks in this report which deals with prevalence of Carbapenem resistant bacteria (Entrobacters) due to blaNDM1 gene. The presence of Carbapenem resistant bacteria in India as well UK cannot be disputed. There are multidrug resistant bugs all over the globe e.g. Penicillin resistant Pneumococci, Vancomycin resistant Enterococci, Methicillin resistant Staph Aureus. Transfer of drug resistance is a natural phenomenon which occurs consistently in the most promiscuous microbiological world. We may keep developing newer and more powerful antibiotics and the bacteria will always find a way around it and develop resistance.


What is disturbing is that the authors seem to have completely ignored the information on Carbapenem resistant bacteria due to causes other than blaNDM1 in spite of their own finding that the resistant strains found in the UK may have been entirely different from those found in India. They have gone on to use this as an argument against medical tourism to India, particularly for cosmetic surgery. Only one of the patients tested positive for this bacteria had undergone cosmetic surgery (either in India or Pakistan) and about one third of patients who tested positive had no history of travel to these countries. Therefore their argument about a superbug from India is a biased conclusion highlighted solely to target the booming medical tourism to India. Of late many patients from developed countries are travelling to India for treatment because we now have world class facilities and expertise and are capable of competing with the best in the world.


Most of the medical tourism in India is to hospitals which have accreditation by reputed international bodies such as NABH and JCI. These hospitals have strict and up-to-date infection control policies along with monitoring of hospital acquired infections. Patients undergoing treatment at these hospitals do not have the risk of exposure to the so called superbugs any more than in any hospital in the developed world.


All said and done, one cannot ignore that a continuous battle has to be fought against microbes. Uncontrolled use of antimicrobials should be checked as this is one of the causes of development of drug resistance. This is the message this paper ought to have given rather than an unwarranted and biased advisory against medical tourism to India.


( The writer is Director, Plastic, Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery, Medanta, Gurgaon )








Steel is made from iron ore. India has one of the highest deposits of iron ore, but our steel production is not even one tenth of China, which has much less iron ore deposits. Japan's steel production is twice that of India, and it has virtually zero iron ore. 


China and Japan get their iron ore from countries like Australia, Brazil and of course India. In the last few years the price of iron ore more than doubled, causing great anxiety among the steel makers of India. The steep rise in international ore prices was due to the insatiable appetite of China's steel factories. Steel is used in everything from cars to cupboards, from roads to railways, and from bridges to buildings. 


The construction boom in China, especially prior to Beijing Olympics was so great that more than half the iron ore produced in the entire world was going to China. Naturally India's steel producers were upset that their raw material (iron ore) price was shooting up, and they tried their best to clamp down on ore exports. Of course the steel makers like Tata and Steel Authority of India have their own captive iron ore mines, so they don't need to buy iron ore, and hence were unaffected. There were demands to ban iron ore exports. Some steel makers even went to the extent of saying that iron ore was national wealth, and how could we allow that to be exported? 


By that logic we shouldn't allow any software exports, since the human brains are national wealth, and should be used only by Indian companies. Or similarly steel exports should also be banned, because it should go only into indigenous production. Thankfully such lobbying was not persuasive enough, and iron ore exports were never banned. But the government did impose an export duty, to discourage exports. Thereby the domestic steel makers benefited since they got ore cheaper than what the Chinese or Japanese were paying. 


The same story is now repeating in the case of cotton. India has a bumper crop this year with production of 34 million bales. Domestic demand is only 20 million bales. Thanks to floods in Pakistan, and adverse conditions elsewhere, there is a global shortage of cotton. Hence international prices of cotton are ruling at historic highs. Cotton farmers are eagerly eyeing the international market, but textile makers are upset. They don't relish the idea of paying higher price for cotton. So the Confederation of Indian Textile Industry (CITI) has succeeded in persuading the government to ban cotton exports. Export restrictions were to be relaxed this month, but have now been postponed thanks to hectic lobbying by various textile and mills associations in the country. The CITI folks say that it is not farmers who benefit, but speculators and traders who do, and it is they who are influencing the agriculture ministry to relax the ban. Meanwhile, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu has requested that exports be allowed only after domestic requirement is met (remember Tirupur, India's hosiery capital is in TN). 


 Finally when the government allowed 5 million bales to be allowed for export, there was a mad scramble to get those precious export permits. Don't be surprised at this licence permit raj, when it comes to agricultural exports. It happens with onions, rice, wheat, sugar and also cotton. On one hand we have the spectacle of Vidarbha cotton farmer suicides, quite often due to indebtedness, and on the other hand, a denial of higher export prices to those same farmers. All because the textile makers lobby is stronger. Cotton prices currently in India are roughly half of international prices. Shouldn't we be trying to cash out? As Sharad Joshi said a long time ago, it is time the lobbysts and government keep their cotton picking hands off agriculture! 



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So, should Delhi bid for the Olympics? Certainly not, if we are to have a repeat of how the Commonwealth Games (CWG) were organised; and of course not, if we are going to try and compete with Beijing 2008, which spent $40 billion (Rs 180,000 crore!). But maybe yes, if we can learn to do it differently, at modest budgets, and within cost — because some cities have done just that. But since the likelihood is that we will repeat the CWG experience, it is probably better to keep away from bidding for the 2020 Olympics. Here's why.


 First, most Games organisers seem to be poor at financial discipline, and fail to stay within their budgets. The London Olympics, scheduled for 2012, was initially said to cost £2.4 billion; that has already become £9.3 billion (Rs 65,000 crore). For reference, the Delhi Games have cost Rs 11,600 crore (against an original budget of Rs 1,850 crore), with the Delhi government spending another Rs 16,500 crore on city infrastructure. Meanwhile, the Glasgow Commonwealth Games of 2014 have already seen their cost go up 20 per cent, to Rs 3,200 crore, not counting Rs 11,500 crore being spent to improve the infrastructure in a city with a core population of 600,000. For all one knows, the bill could climb further.


None of these is an example of proper financial planning and execution. But there is no shortage of those. The Melbourne Commonwealth Games, four years ago, ended within budget (about Rs 5,000 crore). And most recent Olympics other than the one at Athens in 2004 (which spent twice the original budget, and eventually cost Rs 56,000 crore) have actually made a profit — starting with Los Angeles in 1984, and going on to Seoul, Barcelona and Atlanta, perhaps even Sydney in 2000. So, it is possible to do it — by using existing sports facilities and city infrastructure, by controlling costs, and by focusing on private money being used and not drawing on government funds (this seems to automatically bring in greater accountability). What we do not want, at any cost, is a repeat of the Montreal Olympics of 1976 — the city ended up deep in debt, and took the next 30 years to pay it off.


So, can Delhi do a Los Angeles or Seoul? The answer is, probably not. First, because it is almost impossible to keep the government out of it, simply because the Indian Olympic Association (think Mr Kalmadi) has zero credibility with potential private financiers. So, we are almost certain to see a repeat of the bloated budgets, corruption, delays and shoddy execution that have marked CWG 2010.


Second, because Delhi as a city is simply not ready for it. It ranks about 150th in Mercer's listing of the world's most livable cities (Glasgow ranks 57th). No matter how much the city prides itself as India's premier metropolis, and how many encomiums Delhi's citizens got at the closing ceremony on Thursday, the fact is that Delhi attracts embarrassing comments in places like Lonely Planet's listing of places to visit (Glasgow, for some reason, figures in a list of the Top 10!). In the international visitor's mind, Delhi seems to have little going for it other than its illustrious history and monuments.


These listings are before all the latest improvements — the new airport terminal, the expanded metro, and all the new "street furniture". But above all, India should be having different priorities at this stage of the game, when it figures embarrassingly poorly in so many rankings: hunger, human development, poverty, corruption... . No matter how much we love our athletes and their new-found appetite for winning, it should be unthinkable for any government here to want to spend Rs 50,000 crore and probably much more on a two-week sports spectacle.









In this column, I discuss the role fiscal policy has and can play in dealing with the Fisherian consequences of a debt deflation in the global financial crisis, as well as the limits imposed by past entitlements.


 For countries with a low or no structural deficit, raising aggregate demand in the face of a severe financial crisis by running a temporary budget deficit, above that resulting from automatic stabilisers, makes sense. This was the policy adopted by many of the emerging markets, notably India and China, which have got back on to their high growth paths.


The US has an arguably unmanageable structural deficit. Moreover, the stimulus package it adopted in 2009 has not achieved its objectives, by failing to adopt the obvious means to restore household and firm balance sheets: a massive across-the-board tax cut accompanied by an equivalent fiscal deficit. It is argued that most of this extra income will be saved not spent. But this is to be bewitched by the wholly inappropriate Keynesian income-expenditure analysis, which fails to deal with balance sheets. If this Fisherian aftermath of a Hayekian recession is caused by attempts to reduce unsustainable debt, the "savings" generated by the tax cut (i.e. reducing liabilities to the government) will allow the necessary deleveraging, without a downward spiral in income and increased bankruptcies. By facilitating households to pay off their mortgage and credit card debts, it will prevent further impairment of bank assets.


The parts of the Obama stimulus package that have worked were the "fast acting tax breaks and transfer payments [which] largely explain why disposable income rose 2.9 per cent from January to May (2009), even as earned income fell 0.7 per cent, allowing the savings rate to rise without a collapse in spending" (FT, July 9, 2009). If the whole of the $787-billion stimulus package had consisted of an across-the-board tax cut, there would have been a large deleveraging of the economy with an increase in private savings without an equivalent cut in private spending. The increased private savings being matched by public dis-savings reflected in the increased budget deficit. Also the tax cut could be reversed once the economy recovered, providing an easy "exit strategy" from the fiscal stimulus.


This inept fiscal stimulus was followed by the misguided health-care reforms, adding significantly to the US structural deficit. This makes any further fiscal stimulus politically impossible, whilst aggravating the problems with any further monetary actions through "quantitative easing (QE)", making a double-dip recession more likely, if the extant monetary easing proves insufficient.


In the UK, with a large structural deficit fuelled by increased welfare spending by the Labour government, there is little space for any further fiscal expansion. The new government is, therefore, right to create more fiscal space by a sharp cutback in public spending, by rolling back the unsustainable welfare state. But it has been wrong in keeping the 50 per cent tax on higher incomes instituted by the previous government, and also in raising VAT. If the spending cuts are made, they will give the Bank of England sufficient fiscal space to undertake any further monetary easing through QE.


In the eurozone, the ECB rightly undertook QE during the crisis, whilst urging reduction of fiscal deficits. Germany's success from following this advice reversed the stalling in its GDP. The eurozone problems now concern financial stability related to the Greek debt crisis. As many of the banks in the non-Club Med members of the zone are exposed to Greek sovereign debt, a Greek debt default would lead to a serious eurozone banking crisis. To avoid this, an IMF-type stabilisation programme has been imposed on Greece by the ECB and the IMF. But, unlike similar stabilisation programmes in developing countries, two essential elements are missing: a large devaluation and a restructuring of the country's debt. The former is precluded by the fixed exchange rate of the euro, the latter by the external holdings of Greek sovereign debt by European banks.


But the alternative imposed on Greece of a large internal devaluation to engineer a large fall in domestic wages and prices through a massive deflation is politically unsustainable. A Greek default and exit from the euro seems the most likely outcome. The other Club Med countries should, however, be able to politically manage the fiscal retrenchment required in their less indebted economies.


The financial crisis has ultimately been caused, like so many past crises, by the particular country's past dirigisme. Most government interventions in the economy are equivalent to taxes and subsidies. The implicit or explicit subsidies create politically determined income streams for various favoured groups which then have to be paid for by others through implicit or explicit taxes, with governments naturally favouring implicit taxes which cannot be easily monitored by the geese to be fleeced. But in time the expansion of these entitlements leads to tax resistance and a fiscal-cum-debt crisis.


In the case of the US sub-prime mortgages — the proximate cause of the crisis — there has been a commitment by the government since the Great Depression that home ownership should be increased. Various subsidy programmes have been created. There has been no reform of these entitlements to housing. If they are to continue, it would be best to make the implicit subsidy, given through the now nationalised and insolvent Freddie mortgage twins, explicit through the budget.


The crisis has shown that politically determined entitlements — which are explicit in the welfare states of Europe — are becoming unsustainable, as shown vividly by Greece. They inevitably lead to a fiscal crisis and a debt crisis whose resolution requires their rescinding. The UK has now bit this particular bullet. Greece and other Club Med countries are being made to do so by their actual or incipient fiscal crises.


The US, however, is still in denial. Instead of rescinding past politically determined entitlements, President Obama has enlarged the health entitlement, seen by the US Comptroller General David Walker in August 2007 as the main cause of its unsustainable structural deficit of $500 billion at the time. The projected deficit is now in the trillions. As Walker emphasised, even the smaller deficit in 2007 could not be cured by growth, ending the Iraq (and Afghan) wars or cutting defence expenditures, or letting the Bush tax cuts expire. The very policies Obama is hoping will reverse exploding deficits. Thus, not only is the current US financial crisis not solved, the seeds are there for even more serious crises in the future.










As someone who helped build the microfinance sector in India from scratch, it pains me to read all the negative publicity surrounding it these days. This article is an attempt to restore some balance.


One of the main criticisms of microfinance institutions (MFIs) one hears is that they charge high interest rates. One reason for this perception is the reference to interest rates as a percentage of the loan amount. The cost of giving a loan includes the cost of finding customers in distant villages and urban slums, appraising them and selecting the creditworthy, disbursing money to them and collecting repayments over 50 weeks or longer from their neighbourhood, documentation, administration and raising funds for giving loans. This cost is anywhere between Rs 250 and Rs 500 over a year. If the loan is for Rs 5,000, then the average declining balance is Rs 2,500 and the "operating expense ratio" works to 10-20 per cent. If the loan is for Rs 10,000, it already falls to five to ten per cent. At a Rs 25,000 loan size, the operating expense ratio falls to two to four per cent, which is similar to banks. Thus, the percentage appears higher because of the smaller loan size.


 Well-meaning people insist that poor people should be charged lower interest rates. The most common argument for charging lower interest rates on loans to the poor is that most of the economic activities the poor engage in would not be viable if high interest rates were charged. The fact is quite the opposite: financial rates of return are high for most activities that the poor are engaged in. A vendor buys vegetables from the wholesale market for Rs 1,000 in the morning and sells these for Rs 1,200 by the end of the day. This is a 20 per cent return every day or 6,000 per cent a year (assuming she works 300 days a year). It is no surprise that most vegetable vendors pay typically 10 per cent every day to wholesalers for the vegetables they take on credit each morning. The financial rates of return on other common livelihood activities of the poor such as crop cultivation and livestock rearing are also quite high per annum. A dryland farmer spends Rs 4,000 per acre to grow a tur crop (red gram) and sells the output for Rs 7,000, thus making a return of 75 per cent in four months or 225 per cent per annum. The same way, a landless labourer buys a goat kid for Rs 400, fattens it and sells it for Rs 1,000, a return of 150 per cent in six months, or 300 per cent per annum.


The answer to the question why vegetable vendors, tur farmers and goat rearers remain poor despite a high financial rate of return has to do with low overall output per person per annum and not with interest rates. In fact, by forcing down interest rates, the flow of capital to these activities gets curtailed and the poor remain trapped in a circle of low output and low income.


Another argument is that making a profit from lending to the poor is exploitative. The alternative is to lend to the poor at a subsidised rate, which only the government can do. India has seen 150 years of government intervention in the credit markets — starting from the British deciding to give tacavi (revenue) loans after the Maratha peasant rebellion of the 1860s. The results have been disappointing — less than 50 per cent farmers have access to formal sources of credit (National Sample Survey 2004-05), and the institutions providing rural credit such as rural banks and cooperatives are unviable and need periodic bailouts from the government. Even worse, studies by the World Bank and the National Council for Applied Economic Research show the all-in cost of borrowing for a so-called 12 per cent per annum loan can be anywhere between 22 per cent and 33 per cent a year, since transaction costs of multiple trips to banks and government offices pile up, and bribes get added in some cases. Even when banks lend through MFIs, they make a net interest margin of five per cent (13 per cent minus 8 per cent base rate). If banks cut this by half, MFIs can cut lending rates by two-three per cent a year.


MFI operating costs vary from five to 20 per cent; cost of funds is in the range of 12-14 per cent; bad debts are one to two per cent, and there is a need to make at least two per cent return on assets to maintain capital adequacy. Thus, the breakeven interest rate may be 20 per cent for a large, mature MFI with 2 million customers and 38 per cent for a small, start-up MFI with 20,000 customers. Another cost factor is geographical spread. Breakeven rate would be lower for an MFI working in coastal Andhra Pradesh districts compared to an MFI working in tribal Jharkhand or the north-east, since operations in remote locations cost more. Finally, MFIs that follow careful practices of staff selection and training, borrower education and post-loan follow-up have higher operating costs compared to MFIs that merely cherry-pick others' borrowers.


Recently, the government has asked banks to impose a cap of 22-24 per cent a year (all-in cost) on loans by MFIs. The Andhra Pradesh government wants to enact an Ordinance curbing interest margins. These steps would be counter-productive. Many smaller MFIs may have to close and others may have to pull out from remote areas. Millions of landless poor women, marginal/small farmers, tribals and urban slum dwellers may have to borrow from moneylenders again. The government needs to recognise the legitimate role and cost structure of MFIs. On their part, MFIs need to reduce interest rates by building up their number of clients and amount per client, thus reaping economies of scale. They can also reap economies of scope by offering several other services such as micro-insurance, micro-pensions, and if the Reserve Bank of India permits, then micro-savings and micro-payments. Using technology will also cut costs. Unless MFIs pass on these cost savings to the clients, in the form of lower interest rates, the public at large will continue to see them as exploitative.


More disturbing are the recent reports alleging that some poor women have committed suicide due to the burden of over-indebtedness caused by MFIs. If even one of these cases is true, it is a matter of shame for all of us in the sector. Though we should not give up on the principle of sustainability and thus cost-covering interest rates, the greed and ambition of promoters/CEOs should not be allowed to convert a boon into a bane for the poor. This brings to mind a Kabir's couplet: "A poor man's sigh of grief is enough to burn even gold." Let us put our house in order before it is too late.


The author is the founder of BASIX and the president of the Microfinance Institutions Network. He is also Chair of CGAP Excom, the global microfinance body hosted by the World Bank










It never rains but pours, is an old saying. This has been an extraordinarily rewarding week for India. Spectacular and unexpected success in the Commonwealth Games, number one in cricket after defeating Australia and getting a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.


While in no way minimising the significance of the medal tally, even more praiseworthy and pulse-quickening was to observe the brio, élan and self-confidence of our boxers, wrestlers, athletes, shooters, archers and badminton and hockey players. Each of our sports persons seemed to be proclaiming, "We can and will do it." And they did India proud. The doubting pundits were proved wrong. The credit for this goes, of course, to all the sportspersons. We should, at the same time, recognise that when push came shove, the multiplicity of organisations involved did deliver.


 The government departments concerned will now inquire into the financial irregularities, nepotism and shoddy construction work in some venues.


Another question. What is the future of the magnificent stadiums built and renovated? Who will maintain these expensive structures? Will these be used or allowed to go waste? Maintenance is a state of mind. The melancholy fact is that, we as a people are not maintenance-enthusiasts.


Finally, the blame game could become ugly, it seems inevitable.


Cricket. It is not just a game. It carries the air of a secular-religious obsession on a vast scale. Our top cricketers are immensely popular, immensely talented, and immensely rich. For the first time, cricket is being linked with corruption. India is by and large not in this sordid game. Our cricketing heroes should and, I am sure, will not allow the lamp of uprightness and financial propriety to be extinguished.


It is a matter of pride that we are the number one cricket team in the world. Criketers such as Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dravid, Kumble and Dhoni are rightly considered role models. Cricket is no longer an elitist sport. It has caught the imagination both of rural and urban India. Many top cricketers come from humble and impoverished homes.


Security Council. I welcome this for several reasons. Unlike 1996, we got elected almost unopposed. The credit goes to the Ministry of External Affairs and our able diplomats. India of 2010 is vastly different from the India of 1996. We now have far more clout even as a non-veto member. Sitting in the Security Council will provide younger diplomats opportunities to test their diplomatic skills at the highest level.


During our two-year term, the Security Council will face many challenges, many devilishly complex issues. Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Palestine, North Korea, Sudan. On each, we must stand up and be counted. India's non-aligned, independent foreign policy will be under scrutiny not only at the Security Council but all over the world. On certain issues, we should be prepared to vote against the United States, e.g. Palestine and Iran. We cannot be and must not be seen as a camp-follower of any nation, however powerful.


Is our election as a non-permanent member a prelude to becoming a veto-wielding permanent member? I was a member of the Permanent Mission of India to the UN for almost five years. I know how the world body functions. I hope I am wrong, but I am not sanguine about our chances in the near future. The US may not block us (it could abstain), but I am unable to persuade myself that China will take kindly to India becoming a permanent member with a veto. Much, naturally, depends on how the new international order performs. Another complexity is the US penchant for bypassing the UN when it suits it, i.e. when it cannot get its way in the Council, it bypasses the world body.


When the UN charter was being drafted in 1944, US Secretary of State Cordell Hull minced no word when it came to the veto.


"The veto provision was an absolute condition for US participation in the United Nations. The superpowers would not be subject to any collective coercion. The veto ensured that the General Assembly or the Security Council could not act against any of the permanent five."


The Mexican delegate's comment at the time was that under the UN charter, "The mice would be disciplined, but the lions would be free."


Three cheers for the 33 Chilean miners. Three cheers for the technical/medical staff, three cheers for the families of the miners. The world watched with bated breath. Ultimately, fear gave way to cheer. This was indeed superhuman courage and confidence under unimaginable circumstances. This was the triumph of grit, faith and God-given self-belief.


A word about the president of Chile. President Sebastian Pinera is a self-made billionaire. For almost 24 hours, he was at the San Jose Mine in Copiapo, watching, inspiring, hoping and praying. No special, VIP treatment for him. No fuss, no genuflection, only democratic fellowship, comradeship. We could learn a thing or two from him.








At last the manic days are over and Delhi, as well as the country, exulting in triumph, can breathe a sigh of relief. The national Capital was virtually shut down on Thursday but not many were complaining. There was an atmosphere of tense excitement as people made plans to watch the telecast of the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, hoping that nothing would go wrong; not now, and not after Saina Nehwal's magnificent gold that put India at second place in the medals tally, edging England out.


 And nothing did. The grand finale ran to three hours — longer than your average Hindi film — but rather like the best of Bollywood, it had a bit of everything for everyone. Traditional classics (martial art displays), jingoism (military bands), emotion (the slow, long march past of the players), cheesy comedy (Shera's slow-motion goodbye), youthful energy (thousands of well-coordinated schoolchildren and volunteers), electronic wizardry (a compelling laser show and the hovering Aerostat) and moments of attention-wandering boredom (platitude-ridden speeches by Suresh Kalmadi and others, exactly like overwritten Hindi movie dialogue). Was it really necessary to thank aviation minister Praful Patel for making the planes land on time?


Most important, and this is what pulled off the huge and elaborate extravaganza, there was no shortage of item numbers. Even the most diehard Bollywood buffs admit that there comes a moment when you wonder when the movie will end. And precisely on the dot, along comes a glitzy, madcap, rocking song-and-dance sequence to make it a blockbuster. It is perfectly timed to make the audience feel that they have got their money's worth.


On the face of it, it was an unlikely, even audacious, experiment to believe that a musical medley like that ending could come together. Combining classical vocalists Shubha Mudgal and Zilla Khan, crooners Usha Uthup and Shiamak Davar, regional rockers Ila Arun and Kailash Kher and Bollywood rappers such as Shaan, Sunidhi Chauhan, Shanker and Sukhvinder, with traditional music and fusion bands, sounds like an improbable, even risky venture, without hitting a series of jarring and discordant notes. How could so many disparate singing styles and rhythms, or numbers as distinctive as Ab ke Sawan, Allah ke Bande, Desi Girl, We are the Champions and Where's the Party Tonight? be strung together into a virtually seamless, foot-tapping whole? But take-off it did and had a packed stadium of 60,000 on its feet.


There are few places on earth where it could happen. Superbly inventive and crafted though the Scottish tableau was, it was, with its bagpipes, Highland airs, tartans and kilts, just that — very Scottish. But messy, mix-up India, globalised and atomised, chaotic but confident, came across with colourful and youthful abandon. Its cacophony made comprehensible because of its singular voice.


After months of disorganisation, confusion, corruption charges and a growing sense that the show would collapse before it began, it was an astonishing reversal of ill fortune. I was in London in the days before the Games opened and the insults were stinging. Indian friends cringed in embarrassment as British commentators, in their sardonic way, were patronising in their humour. "I am happy to tell you," said a guest on a TV discussion on the CWG, "that my wife has just returned from Delhi in one piece. She survived its rain and raging fevers."


India not only also survived but turned out to be remarkably fit. In field and track, at the net, the goalpost and the shooting range, it surpassed all targets. It is, of course, to be expected that athletes and players will perform at their peak on home ground but to see its young men and women — especially women — come from remote corners, from big cities, small towns, and some from unheard-of villages, to compete and win for their country was a moving experience. It restored the country's image as a land of opportunity and equality.


Those who compared the Games to a big fat Indian wedding were right. On Thursday, Indians could have danced all night









Parody and caricature are often taken as two sides of the same coin because both exaggerate the quirks and idiosyncrasies for satiric purposes. But their differences go deeper. Caricature plays on the facial features: it turns ear lobes into wind flaps and the nose into a hose pipe like Nixon's. Parody is more subtle, more insinuating that works on the victim's noise down to the last inflections to turn the voice to ridiculous effect. Like Wendy Cope's delicious Waste Land limericks which read nothing like the great modernist poem but is five times more funny:


No water. Dry rocks and dry throats,

Then thunder, a shower of quotes

From Sanskrit and Dante.

Da. Damyata. Shantiih.

I hope you'll make senses of the notes.

Because time will not run backwards

Because time 

Because time will not run

Hickory dickory


John Gross, who was earlier editor of the Times Literary Supplement, and much else besides, and had anthologised several literary studies, has now come with another delightful anthology, The Oxford Book of Parodies (Special Indian Price Rs 395). But Gross makes it clear in his Introduction that "it would be a mistake for anyone writing about parodies to become entangled in a search of correct meanings". So, we get an anthology that is a mix of literary genres: it has comic vigour and elegance to be funny even when you sense that the author is being spoofed like the Christmas carol that begins, "While the shepherds washed their socks at night…"


Gross has divided his collection into two main parts. The first is a broad sweep through various parodied writers in English from anonymous Anglo-Saxons down to Ian McEwan, Martin Amis and J K Rowling. If "a parody is an imitation which exaggerates the characteristics of a work or a style for comic effect", the sheer range that sweeps through the first part shows that some of the parodists at work now are as good as their forebears and you see why.


In addition to Gilbert Adair and Wendy Cope — whose parodies of modern poetry also count for first-rate criticism — Gross has thrown in John Grace, master of the "digested read", Mark Crick, an under-appreciated whiz kid of pastiche and author of Kafka's Soup, and Craig Brown, the deadly Private Eye diarist, who has been featured eight times here. Before providing some samples of the parodied, what strikes you above all is the sheer erudition that has been brought to bear in compiling the anthology: practically every one you can think of from Chaucer and Shakespeare down to our times is here with Gross providing all the relevant dates of the parodied.


Begin with Shakespeare whose father was a butcher and, as a boy, he had worked in his trade but when he killed a calf, he would do it in high style.


"Thou bleeding piece of meat, can it by meet/That though shouldst die, to feed the appetite/Of some tun-bellied Stratford alderman?/ Was it for this my sharp intrusive knife/Did pierce thy throat and force thee to the change/From lusty bullock to unfeeling veal? Oh I could weep, but that a second thought/Comes hasty on the footsteps of the first./That alderman will gobble down his share, (And more besides) but others too will taste/The bounty off thy flesh, thy  blood, thy tripes./Yes, worthier folks will gain good nourishment/From this thy rich, though most unwilling gift./For what is at stake is steak; your steaks will feed/A poet's fancy, build a poet's frame/Calves die, but I shall live, and live in fame."


The classics of the genre are all here but so are less gifted figures and brilliant contemporaries who look at the past in a different light. In a sense, the collection provides a running commentary on literary history as it looks beyond literature in the narrow sense to take in such things as advertisements, legal rituals, politics and a scientific hoax played by a real scientist on a pack of postmodernist fools who published an article about quantum theory that had been cunningly contrived to make not a single bit of sense.


The article called The Sokal Hoax, published in May 1966, was published in a leading American journal of cultural studies titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity". It was a kind of thing that Sokal had calculated would impress the editors of Social Text who were interested "in cultural studies in its radical, deconstructionist mode". The key sections of the article have been reproduced here as one of the finest examples of parody that was taken far enough to convince social scientists that they were on to something new and exciting!


But come down to the present. Here is Mark Crick's take on Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe — not solving a case but preparing a leg of lamb: "I sipped on my whisky sour, ground out my cigarette on the chopping board and watched a bug trying to crawl out of the basin. I needed a table at Maxim's, a hundred bucks and a gorgeous blonde; what I had was a leg of lamb and no clues. I took hold of the joint. It felt cold and damp, like a coroner's handshake."


If you have read Raymond Chandler or better his classic essay The Simple Art of Murder with language close to the bone, you would know this parody is close to the bone. Like, "I put the squeeze on the lemon and it soon juiced." Funny, but it also showed that there was something comical below the surface of Chandler's hard-boiled prose. And this is what parodies are all about.









Sukhbir Singh Badal is the living, walking, talking six-foot reason why agriculture should be taxed. He is the sole male heir to the vast Badal fortune that, former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, chief rival and bitter Badal critic, says, runs to about Rs 35,000 crore. Sukhbir is part of the GenY brigade in Indian politics: the young, educated and proud-to-be-rich politician.


"So what if we have 28 air conditioners in our house or 44? The point is they are paid and accounted for. Our family's is not a rags-to-riches story. We have agricultural land in Punjab, UP and Rajasthan. A whole village is named after our family, the Chak Badal village in Punjab. My grandmother's home is a village. We've had a transport business since 1947. In any case, how much would 28 air conditioners cost? Rs 5,00,000?" he once told this reporter angrily.


 He's not wrong. The ruling class in Punjab is much wealthier than ruling classes elsewhere in India. The Punjab countryside is littered with serving and former MLAs and ministers who are cousins, uncles and family retainers of sundry ministers and chief ministers — whether from the Akali Dal or the Congress.


Badal has the confidence of old money. You can see it in his heavy Swiss watch, the sleek foreign car standing in his porch and in his manner: watchful but quietly disdainful. At 40-something, he speaks the language of someone who's spent a lifetime in politics. The truth is he's had one term as Rajya Sabha MP, three truncated terms in the Lok Sabha and a Union minister of state for industry in the second Cabinet of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. With minimum exertion, he was made president of the Akali Dal prior to being elevated as deputy chief minister of Punjab.


Little wonder, then, that cousin Manpreet (Sukhbir's father and Manpreet's father are brothers) chose the wrong guy to tangle with. What Manpreet should have done is counsel Sukhbir about the perils of spending one's way to disaster. Maybe he did.


Congress MLA Lal Singh commented in the Punjab Assembly: "Manpreet is like a caged lion. He can only roar," clearly indicating that others saw the denouement coming, even if Manpreet didn't. Last week, Manpreet was not only divested of the finance ministership of Punjab and suspended from the Akali Dal but his constituency Gidderbaha's charge was also wrested from him and taken by Sukhbir.


What caused such a stiff sentence? As finance minister, Manpreet had been vocal about the crisis in Punjab's finances, calling repeatedly to slash the state government's subsidy bill by 50 per cent, doing away with populist welfare schemes and the need for austerity in government functioning. Over the past three years, concessions worth Rs 1,000 crore have been granted by the Akali-BJP government, by deviating from the value added tax (VAT) regime. Punjab has a debt of nearly Rs 70,000 crore. The state infrastructure is a mess. His efforts to increase duty on electricity, cess on VAT and other revenue-augmenting measures were stonewalled by the BJP in the 2009-10 Budget. In the 2010-11 Budget, he apparently gave up the effort to plug the revenue budget and his signature scheme was the allocation of Rs 400 crore to clean the state's air and water and for climate change.


But the issue today is the central debt write-off of Rs 35,000 crore that Manpreet is supposed to have negotiated. Punjab can get out of the debt hole by agreeing to do what the Centre says: impose property tax, reduce subsidy on power and hand over state accounts to the comptroller general of India. Obviously no politician in his right mind will agree to the last. But the first two could have been negotiated.


Sukhbir was having none of that. He saw Manpreet taking the V P Singh route to oust him (in the interests of austerity, Manpreet drives his car himself, has minimal security and refuses to touch cashew nuts offered to ministers at public functions, according to newspaper reports from Punjab).


The fact is the two brothers can't stand each other. It is also the clash of two mindsets: Manpreet has been to St Stephen's College and studied law in England. Sukhbir has studied business management in the US. Neither needs to work. Each thinks he is more accomplished than the other.


Hours after he was dropped from the government, Manpreet called a press conference. "The SAD [Shiromani Akali Dal] was my religion till it remained under the command of my uncle Parkash Singh Badal, but under Sukhbir the party's atmosphere has become stifling. Believe me, I am finished with the SAD, the party I left today is not the Akali Dal I grew up in. This is Sukhbir's Akali Dal," he said.


Punjab will have Assembly elections in 2012. By then Manpreet has to build his own Akali Dal.








There were two thought provokers for me this week on the implications of demographic and lifestyle changes: an article reprinted from The New York Times in The Indian Express titled "How marriage survives" by Justin Wolfers (Wharton professor and Brookings fellow); and a chat with Jagdish Sheth, marketing guru at Emory, whose early work on consumer behaviour was path-breaking. Sheth researched the implications of changing social events on consumer behaviour in America.


For example, how did consumption patterns change after World War II when the men came back to a changed and unfamiliar world, and the women had the upper hand because they had coped independently through the war? What were the consumption behaviour changes when women's participation in the workplace became the norm in America? Shared responsibility was forced on the men, and when men went to shop for the home or for the children, they did it quite differently from women. It struck me that in India, we have a lot of business strategy discussions in which social, demographic and lifestyle changes are listed. We, however, are yet to sharply define and quantify them, and then relentlessly push for the "so whats" that could be in a variety of areas. In middle-class urban India, with heavy traffic and great distances between home and workplace in big cities, many kids are growing up without seeing Daddy at all. They leave early for school, so does he, and he gets back late. Mother, who is usually educated and capable of dealing with the outside world, is on her own and in charge of the kids and the house most of the time. We still don't fully know what this means for how households run and what that, in turn, means for buying and consumption of things as diverse as family entertainment and food. Are there any special new opportunities and dying old ones because the family comes to life late at night? Many schools in bigger cities now also have a shift system, so even the morning school timing is not sacrosanct. Sometimes the implications of what's happening around us can be quite scary.


 The management graduates from the Indian Institutes of Management often have a previous, equally hard-to-get-into engineering college degree, made possible only by excellent class 10 and 12 performance. Let's face it: most kids can't make it through all these hurdles if they lead normal teenage lives and flout mummy-daddy orders. Also they aren't going to get the marks if they use their creativity and imagination, and take any risks in the answers. The net result is that many of the top-flight management graduates India is turning out could be risk-averse, conformity-embracing, ambiguity-innocent and pressure-driven products. This, at a time when business needs the exact opposite in India. I often wonder if we would get a more healthy middle majority mainstream if we rejected the top 200 ranking kids and went for the next 200 .


The article mentioned at the beginning of this column talks of how in the old days productivity in a marriage was maximised when "he" went to work in the marketplace and "she" supported him by running the house. But now, since gadgets and expenditure are incurred on women's education and better control over woman's fertility, there's not much benefit to be had from a spouse specialising in homemaking. The "so what" of this is that the concept of marriage has changed from one built on the foundation of shared and complementary roles to one built on the foundation of hedonism, in which it isn't economic rules, but shared passions that drive spouse choice. Hence the old adage of "opposites attract" doesn't hold true any more. It's about being the other half of a "power couple", in which synergy and resonance are more important. In India, the economic maximisation model of marriage is alive and well, but because "we are like that only", there is a twist to it. Goddess EMI [equated monthly instalments] has brought even more pragmatism into marriages. To pay off the EMI, the woman has to work, the marriage has to stay. The more upper class you are, the larger the EMI, and the higher the "lifestyle I am used to" bar for divorce. The statistic of decreasing percentages of women working outside home in the higher-income households is easily explained by the "economic maximisation" model of marriage. He can earn a lot more per hour of unfettered working and her job fetters him with shared responsibility. So, she opts to stay at home with her huge qualifications, and work experience (because most upper-class women are well-educated and work for at least a while, ironically to boost their marriage market value). You can see the effect of this on school projects. All the intelligent and educated mothers are competing with each other, the projects are getting better and better, and the child is often a helpless bystander or errand boy!


The author is an independent market strategy consultan










AT LEAST they started,' was how the London Economist, mockingly put it. It wasn't the only one that did not give the just-concluded 19th Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Delhi a chance. In the run-up to the Games, we had more than enough to be embarrassed about — daily reports of corruption, mismanagement and of appalling quality standards at the Games Village. The Western press, in particular, was almost contemptuous of our last-minute efforts to put the Games on track. Seen in that light, the fact that the Games concluded without any mishap and with India bagging an unprecedented second place in the league tables is certainly a commendable achievement. We might not have won the world's admiration, à la South Africa after it hosted the Football World Cup earlier this year. But yes, we did it! And did it reasonably well. 


Having said that, we now need to sit back and ponder over the lessons from the CWG. First and foremost, hosting international sporting events is not the best use of taxpayer money in a country that sorely lacks basic infrastructure like drinking water, toilets, primary education and healthcare. Sure, a great deal of the money spent — close to . 30,000 crore — has gone to improving Delhi's infrastructure. But there is wider hinterland beyond the already overindulged capital that lacks basic amenities. There can be no justification for ignoring it. As Azim Premji, chairman of Wipro, writing in our sister publication, The Times of India, put it, 'Is this drain on public funds for the greater common good?' Two, last-minute rush jobs, or jugaad as we proudly call it, are not the stuff of aspiring world's powers. We need to plan and execute well in advance so that there is no scope either for compromises or finger-pointing. Last and the most important, we must have an impartial investigation into the allegations of corruption that sullied the image of the country in the weeks before the Games. In the euphoria over our creditable performance at the events — for which we must raise a toast to our young sportsmen and women — we must not forget or rest easy until we get to the bottom of it all.






THE non-life industry has posted robust 28% growth in the first half of this fiscal year, aided by a huge jump in health premiums. The growth augurs well for general insurance companies whose profitability came under pressure soon after the insurance regulator freed prices on all lines of business in January 2007. The easing of price controls triggered a rate war that led to a sharp dip in premiums in segments like property insurance. The pricing environment has improved now. This is good news for insurers as it will help these companies reduce their losses. Non-life companies should improve their underwriting discipline and pricing should be based on their assessment of risks. Free pricing — where insurers can fix premiums and offer discounts — has also widened the choice for consumers. Companies are offering customised products and also bundling insurance products. However, a consumer who buys a non-life product sees it as an expense. So, non-life insurance still plays second fiddle to life insurance. The premium collected by non-life companies in India is only a fifth of the amount garnered by life companies. Higher disposable incomes will help push up the sales of non-life products — such as motor, health, property or fire insurance — to individuals. The creation of more assets will also increase sales of general insurance covers. Robust economic growth is, therefore, the key to improving penetration in the non-life business. 


Data collated by insurers shows that the total premium collected by non-life companies stood at . 23,704 crore against . 18,496 crore in the same period in 2010. Health insurance is a major driver, with a 40% rise in the health premium during the period under review. Clearly, with rising health costs, there is growing awareness among consumers. However, pricing is a cause for concern with hospitals overcharging patients covered by health insurance and seldom accepting rates proposed by insurers. Costs can be lowered if hospitals offer discounts to insurers based on volumes. A pragmatic solution is for hospitals to adopt low-cost models and a regulatory body to enforce fair competition among hospitals. This will be in the interest of both consumers and insurers.







IN THIS age of super-specialisation and multi-million dollar gadgets, it is not surprising that the humble stethoscope has become more of a ceremonial badge of office than a serious tool of the trade. The chances are that the only place where a doctor is still seen using the implement — and also going through the time-tested ritual of feeling the pulse (with an eye on a wristwatch), checking the tongue and other basic parameters — is in old movies. While the celluloid physicians did not really inspire confidence, the old fashioned techniques they used still have a relevance despite untouched-by-human-hands laboratory diagnostics. And the 'Stanford 25' compendium may be just what the doctor ordered to breathe life into a dying art. Indian-origin doctor and best-selling writer Abraham Verghese's eloquent articulation of the importance of physical examination to batches of medical students at Stanford University via this must-do list could not only reduce medical bills for cash-strapped people, but more importantly it can help re-establish the diminishing connect between the doctor and patient. Which, it is clear, is the bane of today's antiseptic world. 


There is always an important place for sophisticated machinery in hospitals to suss out hard-to-identify problems, but traditional techniques can often provide answers in many cases, too. A stethoscope can gauge a heart problem when being used to measure blood pressure along with an inflatable armband, as Verghese points out, just as a tap on the Achilles tendon can indicate possible nerve damage. Examining the pupils, palpating the stomach, even probing the rectum, can all provide crucial inputs. Properly used, all these can go towards enhancing the efficacy of what Verghese considers the most state-ofthe-art diagnostic implement of all: the apparatus that lies between the earpieces of a stethoscope. What more should a patient want?







IT IS not uncommon for many companies to be totally at their wit's end if their new businesses are not paying or their diversification strategies are not working. These are companies who are seeking for answers in their marketing, technical and financial strategies and are not able to pinpoint as to where they went wrong. Very often, the answer lies in the 'design' that they used and if they used it effectively and adequately. 


Since time immemorial, design has been the key element in making a difference and adding value. This is going to continue. Today's business needs design more than ever before and the sooner the visionaries realise this, the better. Technology and finance play a role, but only to an extent. Design creates the impact and the competitive advantage that any business needs. Design would drive strategy and would have a direct impact on the bottom line. Some of the global corporations have realised this and already set up inhouse design heads with large teams looking into every single opportunity to use design for their brand advantage. This has paid them manifold results in the short term and will continue to do so in the long term. 


 A company's business growth strategy rides on two key vehicles — expansion and diversification. Expansion in the current markets with current products is definitely not an easy task, given the fact that technology is easily available and perhaps at much lower costs than a decade ago. Here, design drives the differentiation and supports the marketing endeavour in making your products and brands more and more meaningful to the consumer. Diversification strategy needs to be totally based on design, right from designing the gameplan to designing the product and the related strategies. Any mistake at this stage could not only be expensive but also put you back by several years. 


Designing your products is increasingly becoming important, as that drives the research & development strategy for your company. The big question is: what should be the inputs for designing your products and where should it all begin? The data from the consumers is the first point to begin with, but this needs to be analysed and understood in detail before using it for forming business strategies. Designing the entire communication plan for the consumer becomes critical in a large and diversified economy like ours. Here the question is, would the same communication design work for all the markets, would we need a different approach in rural versus urban areas, and so on and so forth. Designing your packaging becomes the next most important step, as one has to reach the products to consumers in a form that is consumable and reusable. 


It is, thus, not a surprise that a lot of business consultants are actually design specialists and using a lot of design principles and techniques to input into their business strategies. The challenge, however, is of a different nature and perhaps needs to be overcome before design can become an effective tool in abusiness enterprise. Very often, design is judged on subjective evaluation and thus, it is not necessary the best idea will go forward. Very often, the organisational culture does not allow the opportunities for creative explorations and the output is judged best if it is in line with 'our way ' of working. 


THEfact remains that if these barriers are not broken, and if the creative exploration is restricted to the boundaries of our own minds, we would not be able to extract the true potential of design. Let your design not be pretentious, as it will in turn make your brand pretentious and ultimately fail to gain consumer loyalty. If your design is trying to say all that, which the brand perhaps is not, the chances of brand failure are likely to be high. 

 The smarter organisations are those who have let the design input seriously into their business strategies and reaped significant benefits. A closer look at some of these organisations has revealed some interesting facts. The first one being a genuine concern for taking the best product to the consumer at the cheapest costs. One cannot help but quote the example of Ikea, the giant in the home furnishing and décor area, which has used this strategy of the best product at the cheapest price time and time again. 


 Ikea believes in value for the consumer and not just the perception of price that creates a certain image in the consumer's mind. Expensive is not necessarily premium, while the other way round may be true. Thus, Ikea has used design as a tool of significant advantage in everything that they do, building business strategies that leverage the design potential and thus building overall value. 


Design is inspiration plus perspiration. Often, an inspiration leads to a concept, which leads to the idea that ultimately leads to a creative outcome. This inspiration may come from anywhere: it could be nature, things around you, a movie you saw, a painting you admired, a piece of furniture you saw. The inspiration needs to be worked on; perhaps a certain — or sometimes, detailed — amount of research. The research helps in building up the concept and ensures that there are no negatives attached to the object of inspiration. 


 The most important thing that this inspiration does is lending credibility, making the whole exercise more interesting and more meaningful. Once inspiration gives birth to a well-researched and meaningful idea, perspiration comes into flesh it out into a shape and a comprehensible form. Often, giving this shape is not an easy task, several iterations on the design idea may lead to a presentable and usable format. 


Ultimately, this well-inspired design needs to be used creatively in the business strategy. The challenge lies in this creativity and in this art; the challenge lies in the ability to leverage this very powerful tool; the challenge lies in making this 'mantra' a real guiding principle; and, of course, the challenge lies in having the vision to realise the power of the design mantra.


(The author is principal technologist, packaging, graphics and design, ITC Ltd)









THE mutual fund industry has been under pressure over the last one year after market regulator Sebi tightened rules to curb misselling by distributors. Distributors now have to directly negotiate the initial commission with investors.Naval Bir Kumar,president and CEO, IDFC Mutual Fund, says the industry is attempting to cope with the changes in the Sebi norms. But margins, he points out, have dropped and there is aneed to raise productivity. 


The tightening on the operational fronts like risk management and disclosure norms was long awaited, Kumar says. "The last one year has been one of transition for the asset management industry and all stakeholders connected with it. The industry is still in the throes of this transition. Over a period of time, however, one would expect the industry to respond with simple, yet innovative products, improved customer service and more productive channels of distribution. With changes coming in all financial products, one would expect more congruence in the way to approach investors, he says. 


"We can embrace these changes for the retail market only if we create products whose returns are much less volatile and have the flavour of a fixed deposit. Hence, we have been focusing on capital protection funds, asset allocation funds and other hybrid funds such as monthly income funds (MIPs). We are also increasing the range of products for high networth individuals (HNIs) and launching alternative assets class such as private equity funds to attract HNIs." 

 Mutual funds complement, and not compete with, other investment avenues like insurance products. It is probably the only product that has all the advantages of tax benefits, liquidity, returns and transparency, he says. 


According to him, so far, most investors based their decisions on short-term goals and the industry, on its part, launched several new fund offers in overheated markets. In amarket where the industry was thriving on NFO game, products were launched to suit the flavour of the month and distributors' interest. Kumar reckons that somewhere along the way, an NFO became the primary medium to raise assets than conventional sales and it spawned an entire machinery to that effect. The focus currently is on building performance and assets in the ongoing schemes. Distributors, clients, media and AMCs have all aligned towards that goal. 


Another target group, according to him, is retail investors in Tier-II cities. In developed countries, retail investors enter the markets mostly through pension and insurance funds. However, in India, they usually invest directly. "So far, equity has become a product where investors pour money only at the peak and by that time, there is a correction. To overcome these issues, the industry launched the systematic investment plan (SIP). The product is yet to take off in a big way. For the retail investor, bank deposits continue to be the most preferred saving instrument. The trend is, however, changing and investors are looking at MFs as an alternative investment option now, he said. 


With most retail investors continuing to stay away from the markets due to a sharp rise in a very short period, Kumar says that investors should be proactive in their decisions. "Money that retail investors save can help them earn more if they invest in instruments like MFs rather than in fixed deposits. So, investments are an important part of planning for the long term." 


"We need to bring investors back. There are various parts of business — one segment is corporate savings and other is HNIs. We are increasingly looking to target the HNI segment through innovative products like hybrid infrastructure schemes," he says.


Today, around 25% of the industry's assets come from beyond the top 10 cities, up from 9% in 2003. This is expected to go up. India has been a best performing market globally in the past few quarters. "We have entered moderate interest rate scenario, though inflation continues to be a worry." But there could be some pressure on interest rates as the private sector is getting aggressive in sectors like infrastructure. 


Kumar, however, believes that the markets are overvalued. "India is attracting capital since Europe and the US are yet to come out of the woods. At the same time, low or negative growth in these countries is a risk to India. As of now, there are no worries about asset bubbles and earnings growth is seen stable even with the slowdown in the West."






THE retail sector in India, both organised and unorganised, is set to grow at a very rapid pace over the next few years. Indian retail is currently ranked as the fifth largest globally, contributing over 5% of the country's GDP. India has also been consistently ranked as the most attractive investment destination in retail among 30 emerging markets in A T Kearney's annual Global Retail Development Index (GRDI) for the past four years. FDI inflows between April 2000 and April 2010 to singlebrand retail trading stood at $195 million. 
    Various estimates of potential growth in retailing in India are available. According to BMI India Retail Report, the total retail sales is expected to grow from $353 billion in 2010 to about $543 billion by 2014, with organised retail accounting for 5% of the sales. According to a different set of estimates provided by McKinsey & Co, organised retail in itself is expected to increase its share from 5% in 2008 to an estimated range of 14-18% of the total retail market by 2015. With the nod to FDI in multibrand retailing anticipated by mid-2011, and with top retailers diversifying into destination retailing (i.e., offering various consumer-oriented services, in addition to products), organised retail sector, in particular, is expected to witness robust growth over the next decade. 


While the above projections are encouraging for the sector, its efficacy as the next growth driver it is contingent upon robust and consistent growth of the infrastructure sector, particularly a more reliable and efficient supply chain and logistics mechanism. Therefore, the following points merit attention. 


First, the rural market is projected to dominate the retail industry landscape in India by 2012, with total market share projected above 50%. The rapid growth of organised retail and the need to reach out to the large untapped rural markets will necessitate massive capacity addition to rural infrastructure and the development of strong and diversified back and front-end supply and logistic networks. 


Second, an expanding pan-Indian presence of retail businesses and huge diversity in India's topography will require supply chain networks to not only add capacity on a continuous basis but also to become increasingly multi-modal and efficiency-driven. The national highways form a meagre 2% of the total roads in the country, but carries 40% of the load. Almost 80% of the roads are, in effect, unsuitable for commercial vehicular movement. The average speed of such vehicular movement in India is a mere 20 miles/hour, compared with 60 miles/hour in developed countries. Currently, about two-thirds of agricultural produce in India moves on conventional carriers. The inadequacy and inefficiency of the logistics infrastructure is evident. 


Third, international benchmarks suggest that the cost of logistics (warehousing and transportation costs) for a retail chain, as a percentage of the cost of goods sold (COGS), is about 4% or 5%. However, in India, logistics costs as a share of COGS are three to five times higher. According to a report published by CII and Amarthi Consulting, supply chain costs as ashare of GDP are five percentage points higher than other developed countries (7-8%). 


The unorganised logistics structure, insufficient capacities, diseconomies of scale, multiple and complex tax structures, long inventory 'lead time', dearth of trained manpower and substandard quality benchmarks are driving the cost incompetencies in logistics, and in turn, adversely impacting the competitiveness of the organised retail sector in India. 


Currently, there is a lack of sustained government investment in planned infrastructure like warehouses and transport centres. India's logistics sector accounts for a mere 2% ($100 billion) of the $5,000-billion global logistics industry. It is currently growing at 8-10% per annum and is expected to reach the size of $385 billion by 2015. The World Bank rates India 47th in logistics out of 155 countries and estimates that over $65 billion of loss is incurred due to inefficient supply chains. 


Fourth, India's indirect tax regime has discouraged large centralised warehouses and has led, over time, to fragmentation in the warehousing sector. Besides streamlining the tax structure, scaling up the number of free trade and warehousing zones (FTWZs), a special category of SEZs that will bring dynamism in domestic distribution networks, also needs to figure prominently on the policy agenda of the government. 


FDI in multi-brand retailing is expected to come with conditions like compulsory contribution to back-end infrastructure investment. This will positively contribute not only to retail distribution in the country through higher asset turnover and better inventory management, but also increase private investments in the logistics sector, sector, mostly limited to the participation of private equity firms. 


Modern retail, which streamlines the connections among markets, manufacturers, farmers and consumers, offers tremendous growth and investment opportunities in India. The sector's growth will depend on overcoming the structural challenges in a more proactive and organised way, to make it internationally competitive and globally streamlined. 

(Nandy is associate professor and Dawer is visiting faculty at Goa Institute of Management)


The retail sector's efficacy as a key growth driver crucially depends on the development of infrastructure 
Supply chain networks should not only add capacity but also become multi-modal and efficiency-driven 
The government needs to streamline the tax structure and scale up the number of free trade and warehousing zones








THE fest began with a mantra that Swami Vivekananda might have been proud of: 'Jiyo, utho, badho, jeeto … (Live, rise, strive, win …)'. And the Commonwealth Games in Delhi concluded with an equally heart-grabbing thrum of the music of universal love, with the world's largest helium balloon silently shimmering above like a spectral spacecraft at the JawaharlalNehru Stadium. 


The charismatic Swami would also have been pleased at the Sayonara of Sufi sounds. Vivekananda firmly believed that all wars and aggression that have flooded the earth with blood could be averted permanently only through the realisation of the Vedantic ideal of 'Unity of Soul'. 


Delhi's lieutenant-governor touched upon this theme in his concluding remarks when he alluded to the Vasudaiva kutumbam, or the 'world-is-one' philosophy espoused by Indians since ancient times. What followed, though, was not all soul, with nobody — there was nothing pacifist in the mass-dance sequence that included combat art from all corners of the country, including Kalaripayattu, Thang-Tha, Gatka, Silambam, Akhada, Dhan Patta and Talwaar Raas. Tribal martial arts from Naga warriors were showcased in a synchronised manner. 


For all that sabre-rattling, it's vital to note that Swami Vivekananda's theory of nationalism had no place for war and aggression or force and violence. He believed instead in spiritual integration and universal brotherhood, not to forget humanism and universalism. 


But how exactly was all this to be achieved? Through love and its unifying power, he replied. This is exactly what the Sufis cherished, too. "Life itself is considered beautiful and worth living only on account of love," Vivekananda added. "Without love, life would not remain for a moment." He went on to equate love with life and hatred with death. "Love is the life force of both the individual and the nation," he exulted. "It is permanent; it is everlasting; it is the only fitting thing to survive." 


Charles Darwin said something similar when he argued for survival of the fittest through the great game of life and love called evolution in his The Descent of Man. Nor is this directed by 'hand of God' or Nature, as creationists would have us believe. As studies of ant colonies show, 'blind' local interactions do produce seemingly intelligent global 'behaviour'. So, hail life, love and play: the real McCoys!





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Thursday's dazzling ceremony at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium that brought the curtains down on the 19th Commonwealth Games was an apt celebration of a nightmare gone right. In the weeks before the Games were to begin, the trickle of bad news gradually turned into a flood and by the time of the opening ceremony, expectations were at rock bottom, That the country — and more specifically the city of Delhi — was able to pick itself up from there and go on to host a successful event is in itself an achievement to celebrate. Looking back at it from the distance 24 hours provides, there is already a sense that to go over the top over Delhi 2010 too would not provide for a fair or accurate assessment of the event as a whole. Nor should the happy ending — India finished second on the overall medals table to record their best-ever performance at the Commonwealth Games — be allowed to overshadow examination of and action against the reasons and persons responsible for the mess that had developed around practically every aspect of the event. Projects not only over-ran budgets, but also timelines. Infrastructure essential for the Games stood incomplete, and in some cases remained so. Contracts were delayed till the very last minute, leading to logistics nightmares. Yet come D-Day a minor miracle and lots of very hard work behind the scenes made sure that India, and Delhi, would be ready. Once the Games themselves got under way, the serial victories of the nation's teams in different disciplines helped create a momentum all of their own and in the end, with India finishing in second place on the medals table, it made for a story that just got better and better as the days ticked away. And behind the growing pile of medals Team India garnered day after day was another tale, of dedication, professionalism and devotion to duty, that in their own way made Delhi 2010 a truly memorable memory. The very public face of safety and security for the city were the thousands of policemen and women, the military and paramilitary units that moved into place well in advance and thereafter functioned like clockwork with impeccable planning and precision, so much so that the head of Interpol was moved to remarking that this had been a security and police operation of the highest order. There was the volunteer force, often caught out of their depth by fast-changing situations and unplanned for emergencies, but always resolute and willing, and the transport personnel. The list is a very long one. Most of all there was the Delhiite, who put up with months — if not years — of disruptions, of clogged traffic lanes, of intrusive but necessary security, of transport arrangements thrown out of gear or done away with completely. They bore it all, and having done that, came out in ever-increasing numbers as India's medal rush just grew and grew. Even the hardships imposed by restrictive travel arrangements, stifling security and a non-functional ticketing system proved to be no deterrent for a public that roared, whistled and cheered their athletes on day after day.







 "Vaat ee dees?

Komdi kaa piece!"

From The Enquiries of Ignis Piries Ed. by Bachchoo


There is something rotten in the town of Aylesbury, or so the rumour goes. The police have gone out of their way to deny this particular rottenness following the murder of 40-year-old Assia Shahzad.


The murder took place, the police believe, on the first floor of her £600,000, six-bedroom house in Aylesbury. She was bludgeoned and stabbed to death. Her son, one 21-year-old Usman Shahzad, and another youth of 16, who can't be named as he is still an underage suspect, have been arrested and taken into police custody for the murder.


Assia has (had?) three children and was estranged from her 45-year-old husband who, as a consequence, did not live in the same house. She and the estranged husband were partners in a taxi firm.


Rumour has it that she had admirers or men friends and again, according only to rumour, these liaisons were known to her son Usman who resented them. He has been held as a suspect and charged with murder but is, of course, presumed innocent until proved guilty. Assia's father and her own family are, as can be expected, devastated and distraught. They are immigrants of Pakistani origin and one may assume that Usman is a third-generation immigrant. The rumour mill calls the murder an "honour killing": a son washing in blood the honour of his family.


Hamlet says of the disgust generated by his mother's adultery:


"Nay but to live

In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,


Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love

Over the nasty sty".

Hamlet, though probably the only famous "honour" murderer in literature, is not motivated primarily by this Oedipal or puritanical impulse. He has also been instructed by his father's ghost to avenge his father's murder by killing his incestuous mother and uncle. And perhaps there were no police in Denmark with whom he could lodge an FIR — as we do in India. Besides, he wasn't an eyewitness to the murder and only has the word of a ghost to go on. Could he present such evidence in a court? Could the witness be summoned in daytime court-opening hours? No, he had to take revenge himself and he goes through the celebrated agonies of conscience and convoluted justifications for prevarication and procrastination before he acts.


In the Aylesbury murder no such motive of an eye for an eye exists and neither does any of the agony of prevarication. It is, according to the Pakistani rumour mill of Buckinghamshire, a "pure" honour killing. It is only fair to say that the police, who may have more information than is publicly available, have tried to diffuse the idea of honour killing in this instance, though they haven't come up with any other motive. Was it a family dispute between mother and son — over money? Over a prescriptively chosen and rejected bride? The murder trial, if the accused or others are ever charged and brought to court, should make that clear.


The British police don't like honour killings, just as they don't particularly like gang feuds. Honour killings are very often seen as involving the subsequently fired honour of more people than the first ones to initiate the killing. The others who feel dishonoured by the killing itself seek revenge and, as with drug-dealing gangs, one murder leads to another and another. A headache for the cops. They would much rather a robbery motive.


Honour killings are, the world over, undertaken by people who live in communities which still regard the conventions of love, marriage and sex as matters of traditions whose origins lie in religious diktat. The natives of Britain, Scotland, Wales and Ireland may find sexual liaisons or marriage across class boundaries distasteful, unworkable or particularly stimulating (the penchant for "rough trade"; Lady Chatterley and Mellors!) but the distaste hasn't ever, since the Middle Ages, stimulated murder. Again, Catholics marrying Protestants or Christians marrying Jews, may not be popular in Northern Ireland but it would at worst lead to the couple being ostracised rather than put to death.


Hamlet's agony, so uniquely and strongly realised by Shakespeare on the Elizabethan stage is today viewed as the drama and dilemma of a long-past, even pre-Elizabethan, age. In today's British family, if mum and dad were separated or divorced and mum had boyfriends, the children would probably go on holiday with him and would be most unlikely to do away with mum or the boyfriend while there.


In the Pakistani and in the Sikh immigrant communities honour killings have taken the shape of luring or forcibly transporting the offending family member — a daughter who refuses to go along with an arranged marriage to her cousin, a divorcee who sees other men — to Mirpur or the Punjab and having them murdered there.


It is a measure of the isolation of South Asian immigrant communities in Britain that in three generations the hold of emotions, traditions and questions of honour attributable to the feudal past is still suffocatingly, murderously strong.


In another instance, six years ago, the body of a young girl was discovered on the banks of a river in northern England. She had been suffocated, stuffed into a rubbish bag and disposed of. The police arrested her parents, Pakistani immigrants, on suspicion of an honour killing as stories of the girl's resistance to marrying a cousin and enabling him to come to England on a British passport emerged. The police couldn't put enough evidence together to convict the suspects so the murder remained unsolved.


Now the second daughter of the house has stepped forward and told the police that she was a teenager at the time of the murder but can provide eyewitness evidence that her parents did indeed kill her elder sister. The fact that the parents have now set out to induce the third sister, the youngest, into an arranged marriage of the same sort has, the potential witness claims, convinced her to speak out against them.


The parents have been arrested for the alleged murder and their daughter who says she is willing to help convict them has been taken into protective custody by the police who fear that the question of "honour" in these cases involves more than the immediate family. It is possible, they feel, that relatives or supporters from the clan or community will attempt to suborn, harm or do away with her.








The government is finally moving to end the overlong sojourn of senior bureaucrat Ms Ratna Prabha in AP. The Centre has asked the state government to send Ms Prabha back to her parent cadre state of Karnataka, but the lady is so fond of her adopted home state that she immediately obtained a stay on the transfer from the High Court. Ms Prabha has probably broken the record for overstaying of another bureaucrat, Mr M.G.V.K. Bhanu, who was finally packed off only after the death of his boss, Y.S. Rajaekhar Reddy. In fact, Ms Prabha banked on Mr Bhanu's long stay to justify her own, and managed to continue even after Mr Bhanu's exit. The Centre stepped up efforts to dispatch her once it was relieved of the obligation of protecting Mr Bhanu's stay. But apparently this did Ms Prabha more good than harm because it got her the sympathy of top political bosses who delayed the filing of the stay vacation petition in the High Court. The sympathy did not last long, though, and the file giving the GAD the go-ahead to approach the High Court was cleared a few days ago.




Officials at AP Bhavan in Delhi are busy completing a small project. They are constructing a lift in the Chief Minister's cottage to enable Mr Rosaiah to ride smoothly to his bedroom on the first floor. The CM is unable to climb stairs due to nagging joint pains and has been using a room adjacent to the cottage, in Swarnamukhi block, to rest after receiving visitors in his official residence. Officials had to replace the bed in the adjacent room with a much larger one to accommodate the tall CM. However, his use of this ordinary room instead of the properly appointed bedroom in the cottage is causing much embarrassment to his staff. Hence the exclusive lift to waft the CM up to his rest in the VVIP cottage itself.



Designing cars for Indians is no easy task, according to Maruti Suzuki India's managing executive officer, Mr Mayank Pareek. Indians prefer sufficient luggage space since they carry lots of luggage, Mr Pareek revealed. But what puzzles the Maruti MEO is that people in AP show comparatively little interest in cars. A survey found that Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and several other states invest far more in cars than AP. "We are still trying to unravel the mystery. Probably people of AP prefer to invest in real estate or gold. We will crack this mystery soon. We are focusing on this State," he said. Curiously, the largest buyer of cars is Kerala. "Keralites spend more on cars probably because they have to make longer journeys as the state has a long coastline. Cash-rich Gulf returnees also prefer to invest in new cars," he said.








IT'S BEEN a week of literally uplifting images. Apart from the euphoric closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, the other big image was that of the Chilean miners being released from their accidental prison. They emerged from the cage of the phoenix into the arms of their families and the Chilean President. This story has consumed the UK media and much of the Western world.


Perhaps barring the death and funeral of Princess Diana (yes, Mr Suresh Kalmadi, she is really dead!), there has been hardly any other non-political event that has got this kind of international non-stop coverage.


While no one in their right minds would have ever visited the San Jose mining camp normally, the hordes of reporters, satellite vans and politicians created a Peepli Live kind of situation in the desert, with an unnerving and almost obsessive interest in the 33 men — all recent celebrities whose privacy has been torn to shreds. A few of them had interesting personal stories though perhaps not something they would have liked to share with the rest of the world. The last vestige of that hope has been crushed as a pugnacious media and a garrulous public has ensured that we know the various secrets of the 33 trapped men. We know about the drug addiction, the alcoholism, the girlfriends and the mistresses and no doubt much more will be revealed as the days go by. Because once the camera teams land they seek out eyeball-fodder. So will this miracle turn into a personal nightmare for the miners? Is this how modern-day celebrities are created and then ritually disembowelled?


The indomitable British PR guru Max Clifford has announced that their story is worth at least £100 million but only if the 33 men stick together, and do not individually start spilling the beans about what happened in their underground dungeon. Hollywood beckons and book deals shimmer on the horizon.


The interesting thing will be to see whether the unity and bonhomie which has bound these miners together will last, or will greed and the power of the media break their resolve to give a joint account of their ordeal and thus wreck the chances of them all becoming millionaires. In fact, that would by itself make another great story — how adversity unites and the fruits of success divide.


But, no doubt, there were many moments in the miners' saga that were made for the silver screen — right from the point when they were discovered to the manner in which they survived and to the very end when they emerged to shouts of "Chile! Chile Chile."


I was personally struck by how clean these men looked. Amazingly, for people who had supposedly not bathed, shaved or even brushed their teeth for months, they emerged — neatly airbrushed — from their burial looking like Robert Redford or Brad Pitt would, were they to play one of them. Where were the dirty clothes and long beards? Dust-encrusted faces and tangled hair? I was equally amazed at how passionately everyone was kissing and hugging them and no one said a word about the fact that even if they were soaked in perfume there would have been a slight, err stale, odour of having been with 33 other bodies all trapped underground…


This undiluted joy could have been partly due to the fact that it is considered a miracle that all of them emerged alive — and partly because of the omnipresent 24x7 media coverage. It was a made-for-television moment and wrinkled noses had no place in the picture. So while a small country like Chile was able to win over billions of hearts by its determination to recover these very ordinary men, Hollywood could not have scripted a better ending.


- The writer can be contacted at [1]









SALUTE the athletes, they always over-compensate for organisational shortcomings. Particularly our own players, they excelled themselves. Applaud and extol the harmonising of cultural czars, zestful artistes and hi-tech professionals when orchestrating two memorable ceremonies. Acknowledge that the competitions were conducted efficiently, elegantly, with thousands of volunteers chipping in. Yet, sadly, adding up all those positives, even multiplying them by the emotions aroused, fails to negate the shambolic run-up and glitches that persisted even as the lights dimmed at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium. Gross pre-event mismanagement dashed hopes of the XIX Commonwealth Games cementing India's place on the global stage. Sure there were magic moments, occasions when every Indian found cause for pride. But it would be a manifestation of customary small thinking to find solace in the "better than expected" sentiment, or the unrealistic theory that "all's well that ends well". Thousands of crores of public rupees were expended, what are the returns?
The medals tally is, perhaps, not an ideal yardstick ~ events are added or deleted each "Games", participation levels vary and it is worth remembering that there are no prizes linked with positions on that list. Yet, when assessed against any benchmark India's men and women earned themselves genuine glory. To name individuals would be unfair, they must all be hailed. True there were disappointments too, but winning is not everything. That the overall performance-quality has markedly improved is what is elevating. The glitter of the first athletic gold since 1958 was enhanced by the verve of the lone Indian girl venturing forth in the demanding arena of artistic gymnastics. She may not have contributed to the "record" haul of 101 medals ~ 38 gold, 27 silver, 36 bronze ~ she captivated by her commitment. A spark has indeed been ignited, top-notch facilities are in place but effective and sustained exploitation of resources is critical. The disappointing post-Asiad 82 story must not be repeated. Politeness dictated the many appreciative words spoken as the curtain came down. There must be no getting carried away by them. Nor indeed by the advertising campaign mounted by the domestic organising committee to project the Games as unparalleled success ~ a sinister diversionary tactic. To retrace the botched-up route to the Games, the scathing indictment from the national financial watchdog and so on would be decidedly ugly. But the Prime Minister did make some assurances. The carnival is over. "Let the probes begin". And if Dr. Manmohan Singh actually meant what he said, let it be sooner than we expect.




AFTER a sluggish investigation that continued for eight months, the West Bengal government is now on overdrive to protect child rights, notably to ensure that violation doesn't impede the process of learning. The week that began with the arrest of a Principal of a prominent school on charges of inflicting corporal punishment ~ no charge of abetment to suicide ~ also signalled the process  of setting up the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights. The state has eventually responded to an occasionally malevolent travesty of child rights, a violation that plagues schools irrespective of gender and both in the city and the rural areas. Additionally, the move is critical as education is a state subject. Which arguably explains why the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has been somewhat ineffectual; its recommendation for the removal of a school head was dismissed by the governing body as "not binding". So far, so humane. It is imperative that the clause on "binding applicability" must be incorporated in the state commission's rules of engagement ~ to be based on the lines of the national entity. Compliance with its recommendations ~ punitive or counselling ~ will have to be mandatory for all schools, government as well as private. A frequent refrain of the government has been that it can't monitor the disciplinary proceedings of private schools in the absence of legislation or a suitable entity under state control. Legislation does exist to ban corporal punishment. The government has been a mute witness as it has been breached almost across-the-board. It has lacked the will to act, a shortcoming that can't be attributed to the absence of a commission. Violations, leading to a suicide as in a south-of-Park Street school or a fractured finger as in a school in Howah or grievous injury as in a girls' institution in south Kolkata have been tacitly condoned. The school education department will have to ensure that the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights is not just another entity. Also, that police investigation into FIRs are prompt and not dragged for months, depending on the school's connections at rarefied levels. A token arrest after eight months and bailout within hours,  to demonstrate that arrest is mandatory in a cognisable offence, is calculated to be in step with the rulebook. It doesn't address the point at issue. Of lesser moment is whether the commission's chairman should be entitled to the salary of the Chief Secretary, a matter that is holding up the process of setting it up, as a report in this newspaper suggests. So much for priorities; so much for discipline; so much for universal learning; so much for the child.




THE CPI-M seems unwilling to lose any time in what has become an aggressive campaign even before an election announcement. Nothing else can justify its leaders choosing festival days to put pressure on the Opposition while releasing a book on Maoism. Any occasion is now good enough for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to proclaim that Trinamul is using the Maoists to drive away the CPI-M. Curiously, this is a variation of what Trinamul has been saying: that the CPI-M is using joint forces to eliminate the Opposition. Trinamul hasn't been able to convince the Centre while the ruling Marxists can't get even loyal bureaucrats to confirm their tiresome tirade. Besides, there seems no reason for a premature drive when the Chief Election Commissioner has said the West Bengal assembly election cannot be advanced. It had then brought relief to Alimuddin Street and provoked some of its spokesmen to mock the Trinamul chief who had declared on 21 July that elections would be held in three or four months. Is there a different perception now along with an embarrassing revelation of nervousness? To be sure, Trinamul has also drawn up plans for its leader's tours with such precision that Mamata Banerjee has cancelled a visit to Cambridge and spurned an invitation from Beijing. Interestingly, the CPI-M has decided to despatch leaders to the same spots from where Miss Banerjee has kicked off her battle against the Marxists. This means that Trinamul has mounted the pressure when it sees itself at an advantage. On the other hand, the CPI-M has abandoned plans to concentrate on house-to-house contacts in favour of rallies with the conviction that it still has the upper hand in terms of mass mobilisation. These somewhat hesitant changes in strategy have been accompanied by conflicting voices on crucial matters like a formal response to the Governor's expression of grief over the recent cycle of violence. This is uncharacteristic of the Marxists. They find an emergency confronting them but, for the first time, seem to have been struck by uncertainty.









ARTICLE 326 of the Constitution provides for universal adult suffrage. Every citizen can, unless disqualified by law, cast his/her vote after reaching the age of 18. It is on the strength of these votes that governments  at the Centre and the states come to power for five years. The period can, however, be curtailed in the event of premature dissolution of the House. 

The electorate generally exercises its franchise thoughtfully. Which explains the periodic ups and downs in the political landscape. For example, the Congress, had secured 364, 371 and 261 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1952, 1957 and 1962 respectively. But India's defeat in the war with China  in 1962, the promulgation of the Gold Control Act, the death of Jawaharlal Nehru and introduction of the compulsory deposit scheme combined to damage the party's position. In the election of 1967, its tally came down to 283. Of course, India's success in the war with Pakistan in 1965, bank nationalisation, and the abolition of privy purses under Indira Gandhi's leadership, marked a new phase in politics. The Congress won 383 Lok Sabha seats in the election held in 1971. 

However, the proclamation of  Emergency in 1975 and Mrs Gandhi's autocratic regime  disillusioned the people. In 1977, the Congress was rejected and the Janata Party came to power. However, a major split in the ruling party led to chaos and instability. The voter wanted stability, and the Congress won the 1980 election. 
The successive developments indicate people do use their judgment while voting. Since the death of Indira Gandhi, change of dispensations has been more frequent. Significantly, the Congress, Janata Dal and the BJP have all tasted power. This proves that the electorate has not granted any party the perpetual right to rule. 
A similar trend is noticeable in the states. Which explains why different parties have wielded power in different provinces since 1967.  The political class is conscious of the possibility of the tables being turned in the next election. 

An election in India is not merely a political affair. Sentiments, emotions, beliefs, prejudices and preferences overshadow ideological and political sympathies. An  analysis of the electoral behaviour shows that many irrational factors can also influence the voting pattern. On occasion, factors other than political turn out to be decisive.  

There are certain critical variables. First, religion is a very important factor in electoral politics in a country with several religious groups. Religious belief and political preferences are intertwined. Often the average voter fails to disassociate political ideas from his religious interests. Political parties try to exploit religious sentiments and build up a vote-bank. Nominations are  determined by the religious complexion of the electorate in a particular constituency, and the campaign planned accordingly. In the process, there are different vote-banks to manipulate electoral politics. 

Caste is also a dominant factor particularly, in Bihar, MP, UP, Kerala, and Orissa. It can be a more potent force than ideology. A socialist voter would rather vote for a candidate of his own caste in a constituency that is also contested by the CPI-M or the CPI. Of course, in urban areas casteism is not a determinant. In large parts of the country, it is not politics that becomes caste-ridden; on the contrary, it is caste that gets politicised.  We will have to accept that electoral politics is socially stratified.  

The community-feeling is no less influential. The emergence of regional parties has bolstered local sentiment and linguistic claims.  This has led to the creation of new states on linguistic lines.

 Parties that are opposed to such separatism, have been rejected in the elections. Significantly, all regional parties exploit sectional sentiment;  often the elections signify the apotheosis of regionalism. Regional politics is gaining strength to the detriment of national integration. 

Class-consciousness is also a determinant. In the industrial belt, the  result often goes in favour of the Marxist candidates. But in the affluent areas, the contestants of the nationalist parties generally come out with flying colours. Of course, there may be some exceptions, but this general trend has been noticeable in several elections. 

Money plays a significant role. Crores are spent by parties in their frantic attempt to capture power at the Centre and in the states. Often the poor but desirable candidates lose out in the electoral race and thus, our democracy is gradually marching towards oligarchy. A ceiling has, however, been imposed upon the electoral expenditure of the contestants by the Representation of People Act, 1974. But there are several loopholes and the parties pay scant regard to the legislation. Industrialists and business houses spend huge sums to further their own interests. The parties use the money to win over the wavering voters. 

The average voter hardly cares for a party or ideology. He seeks a charismatic leader. Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi gained the support on the strength of their personalities, and not always because voters preferred the Congress to other parties. It is the person, not the party, that matters. 

Gender is also an important factor.  Women have been known to prefer women candidates irrespective of their political affiliation. 

Though elections constitute a political phenomenon, various factors other than politics also play a dominant role. And one of them is muscle power. Even dacoits are used to capture booths and intimidate the voters. 
In the process, an election becomes a shameless mockery of democracy. We have failed to stem the rot.
The writer is former Reader, New Alipore College, Kolkata






Fali S Nariman, a legal luminary of international repute whose views are heard and respected by those in the corridors of power, feels that the country's highest seat of justice, the Supreme Court of India, has lost much of its prestige during his 37 years of practice. This is not because cases are not decided fairly or to the satisfaction of the litigating public but owing to the extra-curricular assignment (imposed on five senior judges following a judgment in the Second Judges Case in 1993) of recommending appointments to the highest court. This is a task that, in the view of the recipient of the Padma Bhushan (1991) and Padma Vibhushan (2007), has not been done with the care and caution it deserves. There is too much ad-hocism and no consistent and transparent process of selection. As a result, the image of the apex court has suffered, the seniormost advocate of the Supreme court tells AJITA SINGH in an interview. Excerpts: 

Is the Supreme Court losing its power to correct "injustices''? 

No. The Constitution has empowered the Supreme Court with immense powers under Article 142 ~ also called the bedrock of the Indian legal system ~ to correct "injustices'' which judges of no other court of justice in the country have. According to Article 142, the Supreme Court in exercise of its jurisdiction may pass a decree or an order that is necessary for doing complete justice in any matter pending before any court or tribunal in India. Its interpretation today, that even the judges of the Supreme Court cannot overwrite the law, I do not agree with because they have been specially conferred with such powers. Unfortunately, Article 142 is not used as much as it should be. What was meant to be done by Article 142 is being taken care of by Article 136 which provides that "the SC may in its discretion grant a special leave to appeal". Under this provision of law, there may be a case in law, but the SC judges in their discretion with regard to justice of the case may or may not admit a Special Leave Petition. Or, if they have already admitted an SLP, they may decline to interfere with the order passed by the High Court or a tribunal. 

This approach, on the one hand, reduces a large number of unnecessary litigations from cropping up ~ as almost 75 per cent of the cases are "deservedly'' not entertained by the SC or, even if entertained, they are rejected after a little hearing of both sides on the ground that it is not a fit case. On the other hand, it identifies "the most deserved" cases that do need a re-look. Most of the time of the SC judges is spent in determining if a case is fit to be allowed to proceed for final hearing. Yet everyone in this country has access to the highest seat of justice for every grievance against any decree or order ~ interim or final ~ be it a question of law or the Constitution, or any criminal or civil matter. But the SC is not bound to grant leave to appeal. Special leave for appeal, which is a matter of right in the High Court, is the judicial discretion of Supreme Court judges to find out if a judge has gone so hopelessly wrong that it requires interference. 

Is the huge backlog of cases, general dissatisfaction with verdicts delivered and instances of corruption coming to the fore in the higher judiciary indicative of legal affairs in India hitting rock bottom? What is your opinion on the present status of legal affairs in the country and the challenges it faces? 

There are enormous challenges facing the Indian legal system. Yet, there is a clear will to do something. The present Chief Justice of India has already taken initiatives that would perhaps help tone up the legal system. This is mainly by improving the condition of members of the subordinate judiciary. Not only are they poorly staffed, they have neither facilities nor books. If books are there, they are out of date. Perhaps the special order that he passed immediately after assuming charge as CJI is a good sign. 

The government earnestly plans to fill up vacancies in the judiciary in order to improve the justice delivery system... 
It is a misconception to think that if more judges are appointed in the higher judiciary, the quicker will be case disposal. That has not been proven by experience. A competent judge can do far more while an incompetent or lazy person who happens to be a judge ~ there are a few in the higher judiciary as well as in the high courts ~ would clutter the system by passing an incorrect order that requires to be corrected later. Though India has the lowest judge-to-people ratio in the world and it definitely needs to be improved, speedy justice can't be achieved by appointing more judges. The focus should be on training people to be judges without which the justice delivery system cannot be improved. 

What sort of training do you prescribe? 

Training in the business of judging, that is what the Judicial Academy at Bhopal does. There is a need for judges to look beyond the law into different fields so that a judge is able to tackle almost any case. For that he requires inputs which are not necessarily given to him in law school. Judges must be exposed to various new ideas in departments that are not necessarily legal, economic aspects for example. In fact, economics has a direct connection with law but many judges, and lawyers, are completely ignorant of the economic impact of laws. 

There are often complaints of delayed justice or "too little, too late'' justice... 

Everybody keeps complaining, but in the three-tier system of judging that India has adopted, where a litigant seeking justice moves from one court to another to the third court, certain delays are inherent and justice delivery does take time. You may ask, why not dispense with this system? But if you are the litigant you would be the most affected. The three-tier system we have adopted is essential to correct "injustices", not injustices of law but injustices which might result from the perception of a judge who handles the case. 
An injustice which may not be perceived by one judge is likely to be perceived by a bench of two judges. Ultimately, when the matter comes to the Supreme Court, the same court perceives some justice or injustice in the case and deals with it 

Your view on the Collegium system of appointment of judges. 

I'm totally against the Collegium system. I think it has been a total failure because all judges of High Courts or the Supreme Court, including those comprising the Collegium, are extraordinarily busy; they have a tremendous workload. Their judicial time is totally locked up in reading up and deciding cases. How do they choose a judge? How would they know if the judge "under consideration'' is honourable, reliable, has a clean, untainted record unless they read all about him and his past judgments. That is a nerve-racking task. That is why I proposed a special office of an institution of judicial ombudsman or judicial Lok Pal, which would go into complaints against all judges  ~ whether they are doing the work they ought to do, etc ~ and scrutinise past records of "deserving" judges being considered for a promotion or an appointment. 

Should the existing veil of secrecy over the higher judiciary be lifted? Shouldn't judges be transparent in their actions and held accountable? 

Everybody's accountable. Every institution is accountable. The President is accountable, why should judges not be? Though the previous CJI had the approach that RTI does not apply to the higher judiciary, many SC judges do not agree with it. Everybody should be transparent in their actions. After all, they have the power of life and death over you and me ~ they can pass an order of putting us in jail for two years, five years, 20 years. They can order our execution. Therefore, they have to be accountable. You cannot be opaque about your actions. You must let people see what you are doing. Give reasons for actions you have taken. If there is an error, recall the error. The main objection people have is to the presumption that SC/HC judges feel they are "supreme" and that they are not answerable; nobody can ask them anything. 

What about the Bhopal gas tragedy? 

I won't comment on that. I had appeared in the case myself and hence it would not be proper. 

What are the legal reforms you would like to see? 

One, high court judges retire at 65 and not 62. This would bring them at par with SC judges and put a halt to the scramble among judges for coming to the apex court, for mere gain of two more years of service. Two, a successful lawyer should be given a temporary judgeship for some time. That would help him become a competent judge.





To give the (Nobel) Peace Prize to a convicted person in China... this shows no respect for the judicial system in China. What a convicted person should be allowed or not allowed to do is up to the judicial authority.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu

Recent violent incidents have caused me and others a great deal of pain. Such incidents are unwelcome. 
West Bengal Governor MK Narayanan. 

It is for his own good. I am being a friend, that's all. 

Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj on his direction to Yeddyurappa for a second floor test. 

A conspiracy by the affluent class to topple the government... Rs 20 to 25 crore was paid to dissident MLAs ... A probe would be ordered into this. 

Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa. 

Thank you for the privilege of having me here with you. I remember in my student days I was deeply inspired by what was done here (St Paul's Cathedral) for the refugees and the poor. 
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams,  at the civic reception arranged at the Parish Hall in St Paul's Cathedral, Kolkata. 

I am grateful to them (Cambridge authorities) for inviting me, but you can see what is happening... They (the CPI-M) can shed blood before and after the Pujas. How can I leave a blood-soaked Bengal? 
Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, explaining why she had cancelled her trip. 

We were asked to extend the invitation. I believe she is invited as she is a Cabinet minister. We could not meet her, but handed over the letter to her personal assistant. 
State official and chief architect of the housing department Karabi Sengupta on the invitation sent to Mamata Banerjee to attend the inauguration of a financial hub in Rajarhat township. 

If Hindus and Muslims together got India independence, then why can't they be together now? Because, politicians do not let them be. 

Mohammad Hashim Ansari of the Sunni Waqf Board. 

Muslims would help in making the temple and Hindus would pitch in to make a mosque. 
President of the Nirmohi Akhara Mahant Bhaskar Das. 

Artisans are reluctant to use lead-free colours as they lack the lustre. They may be lead-free but are not free from other chemicals. 
Environment activist Subhash Dutta. 

The security of sea lanes is vital in today's world. It is in the common interest of nations to keep sea lanes open, secure and free for navigation, trade and energy supplies. Piracy remains a serious challenge for the world community.
Union defence minister AK Antony at the Asean plus defence ministers' meeting in Hanoi.

I pray he continues to serve the country and his fans for many more years.
Actor Shatrughan Sinha on Amitabh Bachchan's 68th birthday.






The correspondence contained in the newly issued Blue Book relating to the treatment of Indians in South Africa shows that Lord Morley and Lord Crewe have used their influence in a firm and dignified manner to effect a solution of this questions. The relations existing between the Mother Country and the self-governing Colonies renders it difficult for the Imperial Government to bring pressure to bear on a Colonial Government in regard to a matter upon which public opinion in the Colony itself supports the local Ministry, but it must have been brought home to South African statesmen by now that the interests of the Empire demand the adoption of a conciliatory attitude on their part. There is ample evidence in the Blue Book that the organised efforts to resist the Transvaal authorities have led to much exacerbation of feeling. It can well be understood that in a country like the Transvaal, which has a peculiar record for dealing with its own native population, the attitude of minor prison officials towards educated Indians who have been sentenced as passive resisters would not be characterised by excessive consideration. Lord Morley, moreover, has pointed out to the Transvaal Government that their observations on the possibility of allowing prisoners to observe particular rites are not relevant to the demand that persons undergoing imprisonment may not be compelled to perform tasks which involve ceremonial pollution. It is obvious, indeed, as we have indicated, that the whole question has become such a troublesome one to the South African Government that its Ministers are inclined to resent very strongly the agitation which has been set on foot with the object of removing the grievances of which the Indians complain. There are also grounds for the belief that the methods adopted in connection with the movement have not invariably been wise or judicious. The Blue Book, for instance, contains a despatch sent by Lord Crewe to the Governor of South Africa in reference to the treatment of Indian prisoners at Heidelberg. It had been represented to the Colonial Secretary that the men imprisoned were in a state of starvation, and that they were treated worse than Kaffirs. Lord Selborne communicated this complaint to his Ministers, with the result that the allegations were categorically denied, and it was declared on the authority of the Transvaal Government that the statement that the Indian prisoners were being treated worse than Kaffirs was an absolute fabrication.




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





India's performance at the Commonwealth Games 2010 (CWG-2010), its organisation of the event as well as its achievements in various sporting events, has received a thumbs-up globally. The 10-day event has concluded on a happy note. The opening and closing ceremonies were magnificent and showcased India's colourful heritage. The sporting events went off smoothly. Stadium infrastructure, which many feared would not survive the Games, and housing facilities have been praised as world-class. There were no security incidents. Although several top athletes pulled out, the quality of performances at the events were not disappointing. Many new records were set. Most heartening has been the spectacular performance of India's athletes, who managed to pip England at the post to win the second place. This was India's best performance ever. Gold medals in badminton, boxing, shooting and wrestling were expected but certainly not in the numbers that our sportsmen and women won at CWG-2010. For the first time in 58 years, India won golds in track and field events; its women swept the medals in discuss throw and won the gold in the 4x400 relay. CWG-2010 has thrown up several new sporting icons for India's youth. Hopefully, they will inspire young talent in the coming years.

India has let out a collective sigh of relief with the successful completion of CWG-2010. The country's image was sullied in the run-up to the event when reports of corruption, filth, poor construction and chaos flooded the media. Many of these reports were not untrue. It was the hard work of thousands of underpaid labourers, the eleventh hour effort of some officials, the splendid performance of our sportspersons and the energetic participation of the public that saved the day. Those at the helm who bungled and bumbled through preparations for the past several years cannot take credit for CWG-2010's resounding success.

Allegations of corruption, bloated budgets, poor construction and delays were levelled against several officials and contractors in the run-up to the event. Euphoria over the Games will tempt some to forget promises for a probe into these allegations. Nothing, not even the successful completion of the Games, should be allowed to dull our appetite to get to the bottom of the truth of how tax payers' money was spent and misspent. India's image as a global power is determined not just by its capacity to manage an event but by its commitment to financial probity, transparency and justice.








The sacking by Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal of his nephew and the state's finance minister Manpreet Badal from the cabinet and his suspension from the Akali Dal may be explained in terms of personal and party politics. But the confrontation between Badal and the party on one side and Manpreet on the other has lessons that go beyond. Badal, like Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, may have felt that his nephew would pose a challenge to his son and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal to whom he wants to hand over the party and government. Cutting the nephew to size was therefore in Badal's personal and political interest.

But the issue on which Manpreet was sacked might make him a martyr and a stronger champion of public interest. Punjab has a massive public debt of Rs 70,000 crore, incurred as a result of spendthrift government policies, subsidies, loan waivers and other freebies. As finance minister Manpreet found that the situation was unsustainable and wanted to accept a Central offer to waive half the debt in return for rational and sensible government policies. This would have meant reducing many sops to farmers and other interest groups. The Akali Dal has its base in the peasantry and its government partner, the BJP, has its base in the business class. Alienating these groups is politically difficult for the parties, especially for the Akali Dal. Action against a person who advocated a cut in the sops would itself further strengthen Badal. But the state may soon find itself in an impossible situation where it would have no money left after payment of salaries and debt servicing.

Punjab, which was once the richest and the most prosperous state, has been reduced to near bankruptcy. Many other states are also in much the same situation. Karnataka too has a high public debt. The RBI report on state finances has drawn attention to their rising public debt and interest burden, stagnant tax-GDP ratio, falling non-tax income and increasing non-Plan expenditure. The solutions prescribed by the RBI are politically unacceptable for most governments because they involve withdrawing many sops and concessions and tightening the belt. But the remedies will become more painful with the passage of time. Badal, and many other chief ministers, are only delaying the inevitable to a future date when a higher price may have to be paid for their present refusal to take the right action.







Pinera's popularity has soared due to the rescue success. Yeddyurappa too is seeking to at least keep his ratings at acceptable levels.


On Thursday, two dramatic and gripping rescue operations vied for our attention. Preposterous it might appear for a common thread to run through the two operations. For, a rescue mission was unfolding in a remote desert thousands of miles away in Chile while the other in Bangalore. Distance is not the only reason why the comparison looks odd.

The Chilean story is about saving the lives of 33 hapless miners holed up in the bowles of the earth for 70 days. Their rescue is truly a miracle, a second birth for the miners who had almost no chance of surviving their underground ordeal and where almost declared dead until, miraculously, they were found to be alive 17 days after a mine collapse trapped them half-a-mile underground. Their rescue on Thursday had the world's attention focused on them.

The Bangalore rescue story, on the contrary, is hardly a human survival story. This was about rescuing a government that was nearly dead for seven days after a sudden collapse triggered by human greed, lust for power and ill-gotten money and myriad palace intrigues.

Beyond the fact of the two rescue missions being accomplished the same day, any attempt at drawing parallels would be like comparing chalk and cheese. However, when dissimilarities end, some striking comparisons begin. If Chilean President Sebastian Pinera dug a deep hole in the public exchequer to bail out the miners, those involved in the successful rescue operation to save the B S Yeddyurappa government might easily have dug deep into their pockets in the process.

In both cases, the disaster is the handiwork of mining companies. Pinera publicly announced that the San Esteban Mining Company, which owned the San Jose gold and copper mine involved in the disaster for the 33 miners, would have to pay up for its negligent role. The company would have to close its mining operations for ignoring safety measures.

Like Pinera, chief minister Yeddyurappa virtually pointed the accusing finger for conspiring to kill his government at mining companies. The only difference, perhaps, is that Yeddyurappa stopped short of naming the villainous companies or the personalities involved. But he also did a Pinera, announcing that those responsible would be exposed and punished.

Politicians become wiser after the mishaps. Pinera and Yeddyurappa found themselves in the same boat. It was the Chilean government that had permitted reopening of the accident-prone San Jose mine two years ago. And powerful mining lobbies have called the shots in the Yeddyurappa government from day one of its existence. Post-rescue, both Pinera and Yeddyurappa have made almost identical statements — Pinera assuring that his government would do everything to avoid the San Jose-kind of mining disasters and Yeddyurappa pledging to provide a stable government by confronting those mining interests that brought his government to the brink. Only time will tell whether they indeed learned their lessons from the disasters and make good their pledge to the people. Before he became President, the billionaire Pinera was a very successful businessman who had extensive links with the Chilean business world. In mineral rich Chile, the business world has hardly any substance without the mining sector. He spent millions in his election campaign which probably would not have been possible without contributions from the powerful mining sector.

Mystery mining lobby

As for Yeddyurappa, his political success as the BJP leader has a lot to do with the support received from the mining lobbies associated with his party. From time to time, there have been speculations in political circles that without generous spending by BJP's mining lobby, Yeddyurappa might not have even managed to form the government after the last assembly elections in May, 2008. While Yeddyurappa or his trusted colleagues have not revealed who they pointed to while referring to a hidden mining lobby's hand in near-toppling his government, what we know for sure is that the very mining lobby that helped him form the government 28 months ago had almost brought him down a year ago.

Pinera's popularity rating has soared in the wake of the rescue success. Being a media baron, he knew how to use the media to his advantage to effect the successful rescue the 33 miners. He played hero. Yeddyurappa too is seeking to at least keep his ratings at acceptable levels. He may not be playing hero but he knows he needs to project an image of himself that helps boost his ratings from the crisis. So, he is presenting himself as a victim — a victim of the conspiracy by unnamed mining villains who also made common cause with his political foes.

It is not easy for Yeddyurappa to do a Pinera from his crisis. For, there is no evidence that Yeddyurappa has learnt lessons from the last crisis a year ago. His government is increasingly perceived as one that moves from one crisis to another, unable to take corrective action. That makes it difficult to sell the victimhood image and encash from it.

Equally, Pinera had an entire media projecting his government's rescue efforts in positive light, whereas Yeddyurappa was weighed down by embedded journalism, a practice perfected by the Pentagon bosses to ensure positive spin for their military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.








By strange coincidence James Joyce in his famous novel 'Portrait of an artist as a young man' wrote a few lines which Gurudev Tagore did in his poem 'Ekla Chalo' — tread the lonely path — and perhaps about the same time.


They run as follows:

"Looks here, Cranly, he said, you have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church; and I will try to express myself in the same mode of life or art as freely as I can, asking for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use — silence, exile and cunning."

Cranly seized his arm and stared at him around so as to lead him back towards Leeson Park. He laughed almost slyly and pressed Stephan's arm with an elder's affection. "Cunning indeed!" he said: "You poor poet, you!"

"And you made me confess to you Stephan said, thrilled by his touch, as I have confessed to you so many things, have I not?"

"Yes my child," Cranly said still gently.

"You made me confess the fears that I have. But I will tell you what I do not fear. I do not fear to be alone, to be spurned for another, or to leave whatever I have to leave. And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a big mistake, a life-long mistake, and perhaps as long as eternity too."

Debut translation

I was rummaging through old notebooks and scraps of papers I had preserved when I came across my first attempt to translate Urdu poetry into English. It was with the help of Manzur Qadir, my closest friend during my seven years in Lahore (1940-47). We happened to be travelling in the same Polish Lines Batory which plied from Southampton to Karachi and Bombay. Most of the passengers were either Pakistanis or Indians.
Manzur and I spent our days on the deck. He took out his favourite verses from the Diwan of Allama Iqbal and explained what they meant. I chose one to try my hand at translating it and showed it to Manzur to check it for accuracy.

To the Creator did Beauty one day complain

Why made Ye of stuff what doth wane?"The world is like a Hall of Mirrors," answered He.


A tale told to pass the long night of eternity

Since of changeable hues we are made.

It is essence of beauty that it must fadeThe moon overheard, she was not far
It spread in the skies to the Morning Star

The Star told the Dawn, the Dawn to the dew extended

The secret of heavens thus to the earth descended

Tears filled the eyes of the flower on hearing what he had said

The bud, little heart burst with grief and bled

rief fled the garden in loud lament

Youth that had come to sport, in sorrow went.


We have controlled population growth and checked the price rise

Which are now touching the lower skies.Amit Shah is innocent and his very look shows
That he cannot kill a couple of flies,

The Parliament functions normally

And away from all business shies,

Ms Mamata Bannerjee is a great railway minister

Who from the maidan in Kolkatta cries

"You the people of Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai

Very safe in my hands your life lies

But let me first, with some help from Naxalites

To the chief ministership of Bengal rise."

Bhishm Pitamah of the country, K Karunanidhi

Will see to it before he dies

That for seven generations in his family

Every child a minister's chair occupies

And true to the maxim that there is lull before the storm

Rather dormant Behn Mayawati lies.

So I can say on oath

That in political morality and service to the people

Our netas have touched the point of highest growth.

(Contributed by Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

Four Hs of life

Identify the 4 Hs where a person spends his time at one stage or other in life?

Ans: Home, hostel, hotel and hospital.

(Contributed by KJS Ahluwalia, Amritsar)







Train rides are an absolute smorgasbord of tastes, smells, sights and sounds.


The Swarna Jayanthi slowly chugged into Pune, well ahead of her regular 9.30 tryst with the station. Platform one suddenly came alive.

As the train came to a shuddering halt, passengers madly dashed around the platform trying to locate their compartments. Red shirted porters wound their way through the crowds, carrying heavy bags on their heads. Hawkers and beggars added to the general pandemonium and contributed to the rising decibel levels.

A few minutes later a semblance of order descended on platform one. The Swarna Jayanthi gave a couple of impatient whistles and finally pulled out of crowded Pune station. The train slowly gathered speed and the surrounding cityscape became a blur. Building, shacks, children and animals appeared and disappeared in quick succession from the view.

Slowly the city and its morass were left behind as the Swarna Jayanthi burst into the countryside. Gone were the humdrum everyday lives of the city only to be replaced by miles of undulating scenery. A few shepherds in colourful attire, dotted the land, surrounded by their fleecy, white sheep grazing meditatively. The topography was mostly harsh and unforgiving surrounded by craggy hills and thorny brushes.

The train twisted its way through a couple of tunnels before reaching Alandi a quaint little station, made charmingly beautiful with multi-coloured bougainvillas planted in giant paint tubs. Soon we passed other picturesque little stations like Ambali, Jejuri, Valha, Nira, Lonand and Salpa.

As we journeyed on, we passed vast rolling fields of rice and sunflower. Thundering on the train cut a broad swathe through the emerald-hued paddy fields. The delicate rice tendrils waved to us in gentle unison.

All through the journey tasty food prepared in the train's pantry car was served by bearers in dark blue uniforms. There was 'idli vadaey', 'breayd omleyytte', biryani, tej pulao, 'paneer pakoday' and 'mirchi pakoday' besides endless bottles 'jeyuice' and water transported in cane baskets.

As evening slipped into night the train rumbled past a tiny station called Gunji with a lone guard stabbing the inky darkness with a bright lamp. Dense forest followed, alive with the sounds of night animals. Finally in the early hours of the morning under a star studded sky, Swarna Jayanthi huffed and puffed her way into charming Mysore station.

Train rides are an absolute smorgasbord of tastes, smells, sights and sounds. A microcosm of everyday life, train journeys gift you with some unforgettable memories.









Time is running out on efforts to avert another civil war in Sudan. A United States-backed deal in 2005 ended two decades of fighting between the Arab Muslim north and the largely Christian south that killed two million people. That deal is now in danger of unraveling if two referendums set for early January do not go forward.


After neglecting the problem for far too long, President Obama and his top aides are pushing both sides to fulfill their commitments to ensure a credible vote and to accept the results. We hope it is not too late.


Voters in the south, which produces most of the country's oil, are expected to choose to become independent. In the second referendum, voters in the border district of Abyei must decide whether to ally with the north or the south.


Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has dragged his feet on election preparations. Voter registration is months late. Election officials still must be trained and ballots printed and distributed. The two sides must put up their share of the election costs and resolve an impasse over who gets to vote in Abyei. Other critical issues remain unresolved. South Sudan also has to get serious about creating the structures of a new state.


Mr. Obama and his team vowed to end Mr. Bashir's rampage in Darfur and to do all they could to ensure peace between north and south Sudan. The president quickly appointed a peace envoy and replaced a punishment-heavy strategy with one that leaned more toward incentives. When Mr. Bashir showed little interest, the policy was allowed to drift.


With activists warning of impending disaster, the administration finally beefed up its diplomatic mission in south Sudan and named a veteran diplomat to help mediate talks that ended without a deal this week and are supposed to resume later this month. President Obama headlined a United Nations meeting last month in which all the major players committed to respecting the "outcome of credible" referendums and holding them on Jan. 9.


But a senior official with the Sudanese government said on Thursday that the Abyei referendum would either have to be delayed or the issue decided in negotiations rather than a vote. This reneges on the 2005 peace agreement and is unacceptable.


The Sudanese government should be able to make a deal with south Sudan — including on sharing oil revenues

— that both sides can live with. What it can't afford is another civil war or more international opprobrium if it is found stealing or stymieing this vote.


Mr. Obama has offered more explicit incentives if Sudan lives up to its commitments — including help with food production, increased trade and eventually an end to all economic sanctions. He and his aides have also threatened more punishments if Sudan does not.

Mr. Bashir has thumbed his nose at an International Criminal Court indictment for war crimes in Darfur. We are not sure what will change his behavior. We are sure that China and the African Union, which have enabled Mr. Bashir for years, need to press a lot harder.







New Yorkers will soon elect the first comptroller since Alan Hevesi disgraced the job. Almost four years ago, Mr. Hevesi was replaced by Thomas DiNapoli, who was picked by fellow Democrats in the State Legislature.


Mr. DiNapoli, who started with little experience or knowledge of finance, has been a worthy caretaker. New Yorkers, however, have a chance to choose someone who knows finance and is not beholden to the Democrats in control in Albany.


That person is the Republican candidate, Harry Wilson, who helped turn around General Motors last year.


Mr. DiNapoli has made some helpful changes in the comptroller's office in an effort to shield the $125 billion pension fund from political influence. He has also repeatedly warned about problems in the state budget. But he adopted a questionable plan from the pension fund, and he has failed to push hard enough to create public campaign financing for the comptroller's office.


It is rare for someone of Mr. Wilson's talents and expertise to compete for one of the most important and least glamorous jobs in state politics.


Mr. Wilson went to Harvard Business School and worked for Goldman Sachs, the Blackstone Group and Silver Point Capital. Mr. DiNapoli tries to make that résumé sound tainted, but the investment and management skills exhibited with General Motors are just what are needed for New York's financial and ethical blight.


Mr. Wilson promises to strengthen ethics rules, make better audits of state agencies and drastically reduce the $350 million a year in investment fees paid for the state's pension fund.


Eric Schneiderman


In the race for attorney general, Daniel Donovan, the Republican, is a decent man who seems ready to restore the job to the sleepy backwater it was a dozen years ago. The Democrat, State Senator Eric Schneiderman, would continue taking on powerful interests gone bad in Albany, on Wall Street or elsewhere.


Mr. Schneiderman should be given the chance to do that.


As the Staten Island district attorney for seven years, Mr. Donovan has done a competent job. He has increased the borough's conviction rate, provided much-needed witness protections in his area and added translators for an increasingly diverse community. Unfortunately, he does not seem to see a wider role for the state's attorney general and clearly wants to soften oversight of Wall Street.


Women's groups have rightly become concerned about an opponent of Roe v. Wade like Mr. Donovan taking over as attorney general because, in other states, that position has been used as a national platform to fight abortion rights. Mr. Donovan says he would enforce the laws that make abortion legal. That crimped statement stands in stark contrast to Mr. Schneiderman's history of working to support women's rights.


Both candidates have acted foolishly at times in the campaign, especially in their fight over Al Sharpton's endorsement of Mr. Schneiderman. The bottom line is that Mr. Schneiderman has made a strong case recently and over the years that he would take an active role in fighting for criminal justice, public integrity, civil rights, consumer rights, the environment and health care.








Even in the midst of an economic downturn, the United States and other donors have increased their pledges to a global fund that is fighting three of the world's most devastating infectious diseases. Unfortunately, the money will not be nearly enough to meet the rising health needs in developing countries.


Millions of lives that could be saved will be lost unless additional financing can be found.


Public and private donors have recently pledged to contribute $11.7 billion over the next three years to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The money supports programs that provide drug treatments for AIDS patients; therapy to prevent transmission of H.I.V., the AIDS virus, from mothers to children; long-lasting insecticidal nets to prevent malaria; closely observed treatment for tuberculosis; and care for the sick or orphaned. The new pledges are a substantial improvement over contributions of $9.7 billion for the preceding three years. The United States led the way — as usual — by pledging $4 billion over three years, a 38 percent increase over the preceding three years. No other donor nation came close to that percentage increase.


The money pledged will be enough to ensure that anyone now being treated will continue to get help. There will also be $2.9 billion to add new programs or renew existing programs that are working well. The disappointing fact is that the rate at which the fund has been expanding its work will be greatly slowed.


As the global fight against these diseases widens and recipients scale up successful programs or submit additional high-quality proposals, the need for money is rapidly rising. Just to maintain existing programs and the current rate of expansion would require $17 billion. Adding money for an even more rapid scale-up of programs that are working would require $20 billion.


The Global Fund and advocacy groups need to press countries that have not yet pledged or pledged too little to ante up. Congress is on track to approve $1.1 billion or slightly more for fiscal-year 2011, which is more than what President Obama requested. It should consider whether it can give more. This effort is essential for global health and the stability of fragile nations.







Mayor Philip Amicone of Yonkers has just received what looks like a very expensive lesson in basic Constitutional rights.


Even if a newspaper publishes things that you say are untrue and hurtful to your family and to your re-election bid, and even if the paper seems to be on a political crusade against you, you cannot respond by making the paper's news racks disappear from city streets. You don't have police officers issue summonses to employees trying to hand out the paper in and around City Hall.


The lesson cost $8 million — the amount of jury award announced on Wednesday in a lawsuit in Federal District Court in White Plains. The jury found that Mayor Amicone had wrongly seized dozens of news racks and copies of The Westchester Guardian, a free weekly, after it began gleefully criticizing him and his police department. It called him a "tyrant" and "hypocrite." The jury also found that Mr. Amicone had not been defamed by a 2007 article that said he went to a strip club and got a lap dance from a woman named Sassy.


It was the latest victory in the case for The Guardian and its owner, Sam Zherka, a strip-club owner, real-estate millionaire and self-appointed scourge of whoever in Westchester County's political establishment offends him, Democrat or Republican. In 2008, Judge Charles Brieant ruled that Yonkers had, indeed, improperly removed Guardian news boxes while leaving other papers' news boxes alone and ordered the city to pay Mr. Zherka's court costs.


There is little that is subtle or gracious about Mr. Zherka and his paper, which once ran front-page photos of Mr. Amicone and Mayor Ernest Davis of Mount Vernon with the labels "Dumb" and "Dumber" (Mr. Amicone was "Dumber"). But by acting too literally on his wish to make one infuriating little paper go away, Mr. Amicone went up against the Constitution. He lost.








How far back in a candidate's history do we want to travel?


It's pretty clear that kindergarten behavior is off-limits, although there are several people running for important offices this year who remind me of a preschooler I once knew who hated sharing so much that whenever other children came to play he'd pile everything he could get his hands on, down to large pieces of lint, in one huge mound and sit on it all afternoon.


College years are more problematic. In Delaware, Chris Coons, the Democratic candidate for Senate, has been haunted by an essay he wrote for the Amherst College student newspaper, in which he light-heartedly referred to himself as a "bearded Marxist." During a debate this week, Coons and his opponent, Christine O'Donnell, tangled over whether the line, which he wrote in 1985, was more damning than the multitude of strange things O'Donnell "said on a comedy show 10 years ago."


It was arguments like this that made the Delaware debate by far the most interesting encounter between Senate candidates so far this year. When it was over, CNN's Wolf Blitzer named O'Donnell the narrow winner because "she didn't come across as just a weirdo or anything like that." The bar for debate victory this year has become unacceptably low.


Also, I'm not sure that O'Donnell won by any standard. She went absolutely blank when she was asked to name a recent Supreme Court decision with which she disagrees — even though she was prepped by some advisers to Sarah Palin, and that was a question that brought Palin to grief in 2008.


I used to watch a cooking show in which contestants always screwed up the Beef Wellington Challenge. You'd think after a season or two they'd have begun to practice it in advance. But, no, every year it was soggy pastry and undercooked meat. For a Palin-wannabe preparing for a big national TV debate, the Supreme Court question is Beef Wellington. Not having an answer is unacceptable, even if you follow up with: "I'm sorry. I'll put it on my Web site. I promise."


But I digress. Candidates deserve to be able to throw a cloak of invisibility over youthful indiscretion, but what's the limit?


First of all, nothing anyone did in college short of a felony should count against them. I feel strongly about this as a person who went to college and does not want to have any discussion whatsoever about the fact that I got an incomplete in Ethics of Journalism.


Rand Paul, the Republican candidate for the Senate in Kentucky, is currently getting heat for his membership in a college secret society that was banned from the Baylor University campus for making fun of organized religion. And you may remember that earlier this year a woman who went to Baylor with Paul claimed that he and his friends "took me out to this creek and made me worship Aqua Buddha."


This is exactly the kind of information we ought to ignore. The whole point of college is to experiment with different kinds of rebellion, and we do not want the next generation to embrace premature conformity just because they nurture a dream of one day serving with Max Baucus on the Senate Finance Committee.


Although we still would really like to hear more about the Aqua Buddha thing.


In the Delaware debate, O'Donnell claimed her opponent had broken an agreement that no one would mention anything the other candidate did in their 20s. (She made the famous "dabbled in witchcraft" remark at age 30, but that would at least have excised her condemnations of masturbation, evolution and the theory of separation of church and state.) She might have a point. Social scientists have proposed that the entire 20-30 decade be redefined as "emerging adulthood," in which young Americans stay in school, live at home or hitchhike through Europe while their emotion-controlling prefrontal cortexes ripen like fine wine.


However, it is definitely not fair to demand that the all-clear zone extend to your 40th birthday, even if, like O'Donnell, you take two decades to actually finish your college degree.


And I think we have the right to expect that candidates will take their previous behavior into account when making up rules to apply to the rest of us. The Republican Senate candidate in Alaska, Joe Miller, seems to have had some trouble earning a living as a lawyer and nobody would criticize the fact that his family once got health care through a program for low-income Alaskans or that his wife applied for and received unemployment compensation. However, you would expect him to consider that before he denounced government health care plans and concluded that unemployment compensation was unconstitutional.


When we last heard from Miller, he was announcing that he would no longer answer any questions about his personal life. "We've drawn a line in the sand," he said.


Last rule: Lines in the sand cannot be drawn retroactively.








The president and fellow Democrats have taken a page from the Republican playbook. They're unabashedly using racial-solidarity politics to animate voters. In this case, the Democrats' appeal is to black voters, the most unwavering portion of President Obama's base, and the message is simple: The president is under attack, and black voters must mobilize to protect him.


The Democratic National Committee is spending an unprecedented $3 million on advertising aimed at African-Americans for the midterms this year. As part of that effort, the committee has cut a new radio ad featuring the Rev. Joseph Lowery, the civil rights leader, that outlines the threat and the call to action: "When young people took to the streets, we elected our first African-American president. Right now, there are those doing everything in their power to block the president's agenda. And that's why we're counting on you to vote. In 2008, we changed the guard. This year, we must guard the change."


Other ads, on black radio and in black newspapers, simply extol their audiences to "stand with President Obama."


These ads aren't about policy. They're personal appeals on behalf of the president. You don't have to be engaged to get it. This November you're voting for Obama, again.


As Politico noted this week, "the White House has hesitated to cast the midterm elections as a referendum on President Barack Obama, except when it comes to one key constituency: African-American voters."


This strategy could prove extremely effective.


A report issued Thursday by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies outlines the fact that black voters are "strategically situated in 2010 to have a major impact" because (1) there is "a significant number of black voters in the states and districts where many of the most competitive elections will be held" and (2) "there is a president who is very popular with African-Americans and who is under attack from Congressional Republicans."


And Friday, The Washington Post reported that a poll by that newspaper, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University found that "80 percent of black Democrats are as interested or more interested in the midterms than they were in the 2008 presidential election."


A large black turnout next month could prove decisive and upset the predictions of most pundits. If blacks do turn out in record numbers, it would almost certainly be because they are drawn out by their devotion to Obama, a devotion he's counting on.


As the president told an audience last week at Bowie State University, a historically black college, in Maryland: "I think the pundits are wrong. But it's up to you to prove them wrong. Don't make me look bad, now."








Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi has to decide whether to show mercy to two sisters, Jamie and Gladys Scott, who are each serving double consecutive life sentences in state prison for a robbery in which no one was injured and only $11 was taken.


This should be an easy call for a law-and-order governor who has, nevertheless, displayed a willingness to set free individuals convicted of far more serious crimes. Mr. Barbour has already pardoned four killers and suspended the life sentence of a fifth.


The Scott sisters have been in prison for 16 years. Jamie, now 38, is seriously ill. Both of her kidneys have failed. Keeping the two of them locked up any longer is unconscionable, grotesquely inhumane.


The sisters were accused of luring two men to a spot outside the rural town of Forest, Miss., in 1993, where the men were robbed by three teenagers, one of whom had a shotgun. The Scott sisters knew the teens. The evidence of the sisters' involvement has always been ambiguous, at best. The teenagers pleaded guilty to the crime, served two years in prison and were released. All were obliged by the authorities, as part of their plea deals, to implicate the sisters.


No explanation has ever emerged as to why Jamie and Gladys Scott were treated so severely.


In contrast, Governor Barbour has been quite willing to hand get-out-of-jail-free cards to men who unquestionably committed shockingly brutal crimes. The Jackson Free Press, an alternative weekly, and Slate Magazine have catalogued these interventions by Mr. Barbour. Some Mississippi observers have characterized the governor's moves as acts of mercy; others have called them dangerous abuses of executive power.


The Mississippi Department of Corrections confirmed Governor Barbour's role in the five cases, noting that the specific orders were signed July 16, 2008:


• Bobby Hays Clark was pardoned by the governor. He was serving a long sentence for manslaughter and aggravated assault, having shot and killed a former girlfriend and badly beaten her boyfriend.


• Michael David Graham had his life sentence for murder suspended by Governor Barbour. Graham had stalked his ex-wife, Adrienne Klasky, for years before shooting her to death as she waited for a traffic light in downtown Pascagoula.


• Clarence Jones was pardoned by the governor. He had murdered his former girlfriend in 1992, stabbing her 22 times. He had already had his life sentence suspended by a previous governor, Ronnie Musgrove.


• Paul Joseph Warnock was pardoned by Governor Barbour. He was serving life for the murder of his girlfriend in 1989. According to Slate, Warnock shot his girlfriend in the back of the head while she was sleeping.


• William James Kimble was pardoned by Governor Barbour. He was serving life for the murder and robbery of an elderly man in 1991.


Radley Balko, in an article for Slate, noted that none of the five men were given relief because of concerns that they had been unfairly treated by the criminal justice system. There were no questions about their guilt or the fairness of the proceedings against them. But they did have one thing in common. All, as Mr. Balko pointed out, had been enrolled in a special prison program "that had them doing odd jobs around the Mississippi governor's mansion."


The idea that those men could be freed from prison and allowed to pursue whatever kind of lives they might wish while the Scott sisters are kept locked up, presumably for the rest of their lives, is beyond disturbing.


Supporters of the Scott sisters, including their attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, and Ben Jealous of the N.A.A.C.P., have asked Governor Barbour to intervene, to use his executive power to free the women from prison.


A spokeswoman for the governor told me he has referred the matter to the state's parole board. Under Mississippi law, the governor does not have to follow the recommendation of the board. He is free to act on his own. With Jamie Scott seriously ill (her sister and others have offered to donate a kidney for a transplant), the governor should move with dispatch.


The women's mother, Evelyn Rasco, told The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss.: "I wish they would just hurry up and let them out. I hope that is where it is leading to. That would be the only justified thing to do."


An affidavit submitted to the governor on behalf of the Scott sisters says: "Jamie and Gladys Scott respectfully pray that they each be granted a pardon or clemency of their sentences on the grounds that their sentences were too severe and they have been incarcerated for too long. If not released, Jamie Scott will probably die in prison."


As they are both serving double life sentences, a refusal by the governor to intervene will most likely mean that both will die in prison.








Lagos, Nigeria


WHEN the World Bank held its annual meeting last weekend, there was much discussion of trade imbalances and currency wars, but nothing about Nigerian palm oil. That's a shame, because the bank's loans for plantation agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions — some $132 million of which have gone to palm oil cultivation — have been humanitarian and economic triumphs. Yet now, under misguided pressure from environmental groups, the bank is turning its back on the program.


Palm oil, which is extracted from the pulp of the oil palm, is an essential food in sub-Saharan Africa and other poor regions. Accounting for almost 40 percent of the world's vegetable oils, it is an indispensable source of vitamins and calories. The developing world is heavily reliant on palm as a source of nutrition because the plant thrives in tropical climates and yields significantly more fats and calories than other options. It gives the developing world — where hundreds of millions of men and women still live on a few dollars a day — the most caloric bang for the buck.


Nigeria's palm oil industry, which once led the world, was moribund by the end of the last century. But thanks to the World Bank program, it is now one of the world's largest producers, after Indonesia and Malaysia. In addition to providing food, the palm oil sector offers jobs, employing tens of thousands of Nigerians who earn wages similar to those of college graduates. In a country where most people have limited education, this sector has been essential to helping the broader Nigerian economy grow.


The industry is also diverse, as both small-scale landholders and a growing number of industrial farms have used the World Bank loans to invest in more efficient harvesting and production techniques. The revival of the palm oil industry gives Nigeria hope that its economy will not be forever hostage to petroleum production — and the pollution and graft that inevitably accompany it.


But the bank's legacy of success is now in serious jeopardy. Under the leadership of Robert Zoellick, a former United States trade representative, the bank has wavered from its poverty-reduction mission and is increasingly focusing on achieving fashionable political and social goals. As Mr. Zoellick put it, "We are all committed to ensuring that positive developmental outcomes — including environmental and social sustainability — are at the core of all our activities."


This is a huge, and disturbing, change in direction. The World Bank was conceived out of the wreckage of World War II, and its mission has always been simple: extend low-interest loans from rich nations to support development projects in poor nations. Of necessity, many of these loans support agriculture-related projects. These projects do two crucial things. First, they help poor nations feed their populations. Second, they generate goods that can be traded in global markets, thus linking the developing world economically with the wealthy world.


The results have been extraordinary. According to the bank itself, since its inception, life expectancy in developing countries has risen by more than 20 years. Adult illiteracy in poor nations has been cut in half since 1980. And over the past two decades, the number of people living on less than $1 a day, while unacceptably high, has dropped for the first time.


But in many cases this progress has now run afoul of environmental groups that often put ideology ahead of the needs of the poor. And, unfortunately, these groups have persuaded Mr. Zoellick to suspend all loans for palm-related plantation agriculture indefinitely as the bank undertakes a review of its policies.


The critics of palm oil production, mostly in the United States and Europe, claim that it contributes to the destruction of forests. Yes, Nigeria has a problem with deforestation — but that is primarily in the country's north, and almost all palm oil plantations are in the south. The forest depletion in the north is generally due to climate problems and the population's reliance on firewood for fuel.


Indeed, the expected drop in palm oil production because of the World Bank's decision is likely to worsen deforestation, as a weakened economy will force more Nigerians to chop down trees for cooking fuel and shelter.


The environmental effects of palm oil production around the world should certainly be given consideration, but any new regulations should not impede poverty alleviation in the developing world, as poverty is the biggest driver of ecological harm. And there are many multilateral organizations that focus on environmental health, including several within the United Nations, that are far better equipped than the World Bank to handle the job.


Mission creep is a threat to any large bureaucracy. What has made the World Bank almost uniquely successful over the last half-century has been its sustained focus on the most important humanitarian goal: lessening poverty. The moment the bank takes its eye off economic growth, it loses its reason for being. The residents of the developing world will be the casualties.


Thompson Ayodele is the director of the Initiative for Public Policy Analysis, an independent public policy group.








The president and fellow Democrats have taken a page from the Republican playbook. They're unabashedly using racial-solidarity politics to animate voters. In this case, the Democrats' appeal is to black voters, the most unwavering portion of President Obama's base, and the message is simple: The president is under attack, and black voters must mobilize to protect him.


The Democratic National Committee is spending an unprecedented $3 million on advertising aimed at African-Americans for the midterms this year. As part of that effort, the committee has cut a new radio ad featuring the Rev. Joseph Lowery, the civil rights leader, that outlines the threat and the call to action: "When young people took to the streets, we elected our first African-American president. Right now, there are those doing everything in their power to block the president's agenda. And that's why we're counting on you to vote. In 2008, we changed the guard. This year, we must guard the change."


Other ads, on black radio and in black newspapers, simply extol their audiences to "stand with President Obama."


These ads aren't about policy. They're personal appeals on behalf of the president. You don't have to be engaged to get it. This November you're voting for Obama, again.


As Politico noted this week, "the White House has hesitated to cast the midterm elections as a referendum on President Barack Obama, except when it comes to one key constituency: African-American voters."


This strategy could prove extremely effective.


A report issued Thursday by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies outlines the fact that black voters are "strategically situated in 2010 to have a major impact" because (1) there is "a significant number of black voters in the states and districts where many of the most competitive elections will be held" and (2) "there is a president who is very popular with African-Americans and who is under attack from Congressional Republicans."


And Friday, The Washington Post reported that a poll by that newspaper, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University found that "80 percent of black Democrats are as interested or more interested in the midterms than they were in the 2008 presidential election."


A large black turnout next month could prove decisive and upset the predictions of most pundits. If blacks do turn out in record numbers, it would almost certainly be because they are drawn out by their devotion to Obama, a devotion he's counting on.


As the president told an audience last week at Bowie State University, a historically black college, in Maryland: "I think the pundits are wrong. But it's up to you to prove them wrong. Don't make me look bad, now."









ISN'T it ironical that while former President Pervez Musharraf, is repenting publicly his mishandling of the judges' crisis, the PPP Government is insisting to tread the same disastrous path. The reports aired by several private TV channels Thursday night about the possibility of the Government withdrawing the notification regarding restoration of the judges were understandably not without any substance and that is why the Supreme Court thought it appropriate to take serious notice.

Irrespective of whether it was a true or false alarm, the fact remains that the Government has continuously been showing disrespect to the Judiciary, its judgements are not implemented in letter and in spirit and tactics aimed at pressurising the honourable judges are constantly adopted. In our view, the threat to send the judges home is something more than mere intimidation and harassment. Even Prime Minister Gilani, who is otherwise a man of conciliation, had declared on the floor of Parliament that the Executive order about restoration of sacked judges has not yet been endorsed by Parliament, meaning thereby that it had no legal or constitutional effect. This is despite the fact that the apex court in its landmark verdict had declared the proclamation of emergency and all other related actions as null and void. In other words, it also meant that the Government was not sincere in the move to reinstate judges and had to take the decision under pressure of the public opinion, despite repeated claims of the Prime Minister that it was his own decision to restore them. Judges are the most respected lot of the society working for the noble mission of dispensation of justice and rule of law and instead of appreciating their role that is considered as complementing in the civilized world, the Government has adopted a hostile posture towards them. In fact, there are reasons to believe that the Government was deliberately opening front after front against the Judiciary in a bid to keep the pot boiling as part of the campaign to divert attention of the masses from the real issues of bad-governance. Anyhow, the Government must bear in mind that by following the beaten path of Musharraf, the authorities would meet the same fate as the entire nation is solidly united on the issue of independence of the Judiciary.








US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stressed the need for taxing Pakistan's wealthy people so as to generate resources for rehabilitation and reconstruction in the flood ravaged areas. In a statement in Brussels Thursday the top American diplomat rightly emphasised that while the US and other countries were contributing the money of their taxpayers, those with means in Pakistan must pay fair share to help their own people.

President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani have been hinting at imposition of one time flood tax to generate domestic resources, yet Provincial Governments and some political parties are opposing the move. It is so because the pressure lobbies are not ready to contribute a small part of their income for their own countrymen. In this difficult time the Government must not give any consideration to the opposition by these vested interests or its political fall-out and immediately impose at least one time flood tax across the board. As a self-respecting nation, we must try to stand on our own feet rather than looking at the donors for help at the time of a natural calamity. This is only possible if our economy is stable, tax to GDP ratio is enhanced, all exemptions are withdrawn and tax evasion which the experts believe is to the tune of Rs 500 billion per annum, is checked. Pakistan's economic instability stems in large part from low government revenue due to the elite's use of tax evasions, loopholes, and exemptions. Fewer than three million of Pakistan's 175 million citizens pay any income tax. No government and society can exist without taxation. It is the price that each one of us who earns more than a certain amount of money, must pay. The Government must therefore withdraw all kinds of exemptions allowed to certain powerful lobbies. If the Government had not dithered on taxing agriculture and capital gains on real estate and stocks, it would not have to rely so heavily on bank borrowings and foreign aid which are inflationary in nature. Credit goes to FBR for detecting a large number of commercial and business establishments, which are not filing tax returns and under a major policy shift the FBR is now working hard on non-filers. It is time that the Government must expand the tax base and economically affluent and elites be made to pay their due taxes and that would give it a justification to ask the developed countries to contribute their share in rehabilitation and reconstruction programme in the flood affected areas. 





IN an extraordinary rescue operation, Chileans brought to an end the two-month ordeal underground of the trapped miners. One by one, the miners climbed into a specially designed steel capsule barely wider than a man's shoulders and took a 15-minute journey through 2,050 feet of rock to freedom.

The way the men trapped in a collapsed Andean mine organized themselves during extreme harsh conditions and the efforts made by the Government for their safe evacuation would be written in history in golden words. Instead of adopting selfless attitude as is generally the case in such eventualities, the miners rationed their limited food for 17 days (the time they were able to establish contact with the outside world) to two spoonfuls of tuna, half a cookie and a half-full glass of milk every 48 days. Similarly, no one of them showed indecent haste to climb up the evacuation shaft ahead of others and the entire process went smoothly. Chileans outside also did everything they could not only to console the victims but also executed a meticulously planned operation to pull them out to safety. Chilean President took personal interest and made Minister for Mines incharge of the entire operation the success of which was made possible due to hard work done by engineers, technicians, doctors, physiologists and rescue workers. The entire process which fascinated the whole world has many lessons for countries like our as to how to behave and respond to such crises as this tells us how to prepare for and execute plans for disaster management. We hope our authorities would also get inspired on how best to respond to natural calamities in future.









Bob Woodward's book "Obama Wars" in general offers an account of President Barack Obama's national security team's flawed decision-making practices, yet there is malicious intent behind raising the points of Quetta Shura, Haqqani network in North Waziristan, and ISI's support to the Taliban. Even if one presumes that there is some truth in these allegations, it is not understandable as to why hundreds of CIA agents and Blackwater mercenaries who are running around in FATA and Balochistan have not been able to either arrest or kill the top Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders despite the fact they are equipped with sophisticated equipment and gadgetry. Osama bin Laden may be dead or may have been killed a long time ago, but the US wants to keep him 'alive' so that it can use it as justification for its presence in the region and advancing its global interests. In Bob Woodward's book 'The Obama Wars', the author wrote: "Once Zalmay Khalilzad brushed off Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's claim that the US was arranging the (suicide) attacks by Pakistani Taliban inside his country, as madness, and was of the view that both Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who believed in this US conspiracy theory, were dysfunctional leaders". 

He also quoted President Zardari having said that this was a plot to destabilize Pakistan so that the US could invade and seize its nuclear weapons. But it is not President Zardari or Karzai's perception, as there have been statements from the US think tanks, analysts and members of Obama administration about Pakistan's 'double game' and they suggesting attack on Haqqani network in North Waziristan. Before the drone attack in South Waziristan on Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan had many a time provided information to the US about TTP leaders holed in South Waziristan. It was in this backdrop that President Zardari had said: "We give you targets of Taliban leaders you don't go after. You go after other areas". Khalilzad is reported to have responded that the drones were primarily meant to hunt down members of al Qaeda and Afghan insurgents, not the Pakistan Taliban. This showed the liaison between the CIA and Baitullah Mehsud, as 'Frankenstein monster' was killed in a drone attack along with other militants in March 2009. It has to be mentioned that Baitullah Mehsud had arsenal and night-vision equipment which Pakistan army did not have at that time. 

The book also revealed that CIA chief Leon Panetta and National Security Adviser Jim Jones were sent by Obama to Pakistan to talk to President Asif Ali Zardari and COAS Ashfaq Pervez Kayani after the failed Faisal Shahzad bombing at Times Square in New York. Woodward wrote that CIA chief Leon Panetta told President Zardari: "If, God forbid, Shahzad's SUV had blown up in Times Square, we wouldn't be having this conversation. The president would be forced to do things that Pakistan would not like. The president wants everyone in Pakistan to understand if such an attack connected to a Pakistani group is successful there are some things even he would not be able to stop. Just as there are political realities in Pakistan, there are political realities in the US. No one will be able to stop the response and consequences. This is not a threat, just a statement of political fact."

American leadership does not realize that Pakistan is not a banana republic but a nuclear state with the delivery system. Though Pakistan's political leadership dithers while taking decisions, and does not have guts to give adequate response, military leadership has the spine to respond adequately. Anyhow, when Jim Jones and Leon Panetta met General Kayani privately, Jones reportedly told the army chief that the clock was starting now on all four of the requests. Obama wanted a progress report in 30 days. 

"But Kayani would not budge very much. He had other concerns. I'll be the first to admit, I'm India-centric," Woodward quoted him as saying. After the London Conference on Afghanistan last year, there was positive change in America's attitude, and it tried to address Pakistan's concerns vis-à-vis Indian influence in Afghanistan. But India has been successful in reversing the situation, and American political leaders and especially military leaders who had pro-Pakistan stance, and now they have suspicious about Pakistan's intelligence agencies supporting the Taliban. 

A few months ago, through WikiLeaks an effort was to put Pakistan on the defensive, though out of more than 92000 reports only 180 related to Pakistan. Though it was admitted in the report that there was "low-level assessments about Pakistan's ISI secretly supporting Taliban insurgents, which was based on Afghan intelligence", yet they insisted that the evidence was credible. Americans doublespeak was obvious from the fact that whatever was mentioned in the reports regarding Pakistan they said the evidence was conclusive, whereas about American and NATO forces' brutalities and war crimes they said that evidence was not conclusive. Anyhow, major focus of reports was on brutal military actions involving the United States and the NATO forces, intelligence information, reports of meetings with political figures. It was also admitted that the report regarding Pakistan was mainly based on the information of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, which was under Tajik Amarullah Saleh – a pro-Indian, a CIA asset and diehard anti-Pakistan. 

Indian media as usual availed this opportunity as well to malign Pakistan and the ISI. Whereas documents related to Pakistan were insignificant in volume and substance, yet they were blown out of proportion by anti-Pakistan lobbies. Some even described the ISI of directing attacks against US forces in Afghanistan. And America's pro-India legislators tried to get the financial assistance to Pakistan suspended or stopped. India has been constantly trying to convince the US that Pakistan should not have any role either in brokering peace or availing opportunities in reconstruction process in Afghanistan. However, the Guardian had called the material "one of the biggest leaks in US military history - devastating portrait of failing war in Afghanistan; revealing how coalition forces killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents; Taliban attacks have soared and NATO commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency". 

All this disinformation was being spread to pressurize Pakistan into launching military operation in North Waziristan, where they say Haqqani group is holed in. But it is a flawed perception that Haqqani group is based in Pakistan, because American and NATO forces know full well that Haqqani network is in Afghanistan and giving them a very tough time. 

—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.








The US leaders are repeatedly saying that success in Afghanistan is not achievable unless Pakistan is part of the solution and not part of problem. While it is gratifying that the US has at long last realized the importance of Pakistan, but Pakistan can be of real use only when it is treated as an ally. Had the US treated Pakistan as an ally and relied upon Pak Army and ISI rather than on untrustworthy India, Israel and Afghan government, it could have ended the war on a victorious note. At this late stage the only role Pakistan can play is to arrange safe withdrawal of coalition forces by using its influence it enjoys over forces that matter in Afghanistan. 

If Pakistan refuses to act as a facilitator between Taliban and Washington or between Taliban and Karzai, they are not in a position to work out a political settlement through negotiations at their own. Neither the occupying forces can make the Taliban submit to their demands by force. Pakistan's linkage with Taliban irks USA and has remained a principal cause of misgivings and annoyance. Although Pakistan provides the lifeline to US led coalition forces, but it is distrusted and given a raw deal. 

Factually it is USA, India, Israel and Afghan regime which are part of problem and not Pakistan. This can be judged from the 9-year performance of the four in Afghanistan vis-à-vis Pakistan's performance in war on terror which is fighting the war under so many handicaps. Even the casualties suffered by both sides at the hands of militants will give an indication as to which side fought the war more tenaciously and with dedication. 

As against less than 2300 total casualties suffered by armies of 43 countries from 2001 till this day, Pakistan security forces suffered over 8000 fatalities. Total Pakistani casualties in acts of terror are 31243. The whole country is suffering on account of US triggered war on terror since end 2001 while the US military and its coalition partners are playing games in an occupied country to keep their respective homelands safe. None minds if Afghanistan and Pakistan get fragmented as long as their homelands are safe and their strategic and commercial objectives are achieved. 

The NATO/ISAF has failed to pacify Helmand despite two troop surges and has so far been unable to launch much hyped Kandahar operation to be able to gain an upper hand in critical southern and eastern regions of Afghanistan where the Taliban enjoy complete sway. Obama has admitted that Afghanistan is much harder than Iraq. ISAF is now relying on drones and aerial power since relatively higher casualty rate in recent months has sapped out its offensive spirit. 2010 has been the deadliest year since 2001 in which 521 fatalities of ISAF took place. Aerial weapons particularly drones kill 2% militants and 98% innocent civilians and in no way help in dominating the territory. It helps the military to the extent of minimizing its casualty rate since the Taliban have no means to contest pilotless Rapiers and Apaches. However, this passive approach is unhelpful in regaining initiative which is in the hands of Taliban since 2008. The latter are hitting targets at will in all parts of Afghanistan including heavily fortified Kabul and relatively safe northern regions and drawing blood. 

While Pakistani troops along with the commanders are out in the open fighting the militants inside their strongholds and have disarrayed them, coalition troops enjoying all the strategic and tactical advantages in terms of weaponry, mobility, firepower, technology, logistics, intelligence and finances, are defensive and bunker based. Instead of owning up their mistakes and giving it up as a bad job, the military commanders and hawks within US Administration are justifying their weaknesses by blaming Pakistan. Rather than striving to stabilize the most troublesome regions in Afghanistan, the US has adopted an easy course of putting the blame of all its failures at the doorstep of Pakistan and wasting all its energies in areas firmly in control of Pak forces. 

To start with, Wazir dominated South Waziristan (SW) was declared as the trouble spot. Next in line of fire was Mehsud inhabited SW; thereon North Waziristan (NW). Emphasis then shifted to Swat and then to Al-Qaeda and it was alleged that its entire leadership was based in FATA. When this trick didn't work, it was claimed that Afghan Taliban are the chief threat and its Shura led by Mullah Omar was located at Quetta. Once this scheme also backfired, Lashkar-e-Taiba was played up and presented as a global threat as deadly as Al-Qaeda. Latest concoction is about NW where it contends that all the militant forces including Osama bin Laden, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Haqqani network, Al-Qaeda, affiliated militant groups have assembled. Tehrik-e-Taliban which CIA had midwifed in December 2007 has also come in its bad books and declared a terrorist outfit. Since start of 2010, the US is putting extensive pressure on Pakistan to launch an operation in NW. 

Pakistan having deployed 150000 troops in several troublesome areas and employed 60,000 troops on flood relief duties can't afford to spare troops and to open another front at a time when its economy is crumbling, political situation is messy and India is edgy over uprising in Kashmir. Pakistan rightly feels that it has done more than its capacity and now it is the turn of coalition forces in Afghanistan to do more and end the futile war. When Pakistan withstood multiple pressures, including a threat of physical invasion hurled by Gen Petraeus, and took a principled stand based on cogent reasons that it was not possible to stretch out any further for the time being, the US began its drone offensive in NW. In order to justify its intensive drone strikes, incident of Times Square in New York was played up out of all proportions by making a connection with NW. 

In order to make the Al-Qaeda threat emanating from NW more startling, the US floated a report that Al-Qaeda had prepared a plot to strike cities of three European countries on the pattern of Mumbai attacks in November 2008 and that its hideouts were being systematically destroyed by drones to thwart the impending attacks. Portion of Mumbai style attacks has been added up by RAW. This report has been rubbished by concerned countries. To up the ante, two attacks were made by Apache helicopters on 26 September in NW killing 30 civilians. Instead of owning mistake and assuring that it will not be repeated, NATO high command gave a curt reply to Pakistan's protest that it had every right to chase the militants as a defensive measure for safeguarding its security interests. 

NATO helicopters again intruded into Kurram Agency twice in broad daylight on 01 October and fired on an unsuspecting border post manned by Frontier Corps killing three and injuring same number. The post is situated 5 km this side of he border. A video released by Dawn channel shows two jet fighters providing cover to the attacking helicopters. Video gives a clear indication that it was not a hot pursuit operation to hit the running militants but a static post. It was a deliberate act with nasty intentions.

Stern warning by PM together with closure of supply route via Torkham had a telling effect and NATO hastened to tender regrets and assured that such incidents would be avoided in future. Impact would have been greater if Chaman route had also been blocked. The US should desist from indulging in intrigues and coercive tactics and to become part of the solution instead of becoming part of the problem. It is advised to treat Pakistan as an ally and not a satellite. 

—The writer is a retired Brig and a freelance defence analyst. 








Politics is a game of pretension like a stage drama enacted by planned scheme of things, casts, dresses, clichés, performance images and the end goals- a willing suspicion of the disbelief of the performed act. The actors pretend to be something; they are not but make the audience feel entertained with unthinkable. The Western democracies enjoin systematic programs of political good time with billions of dollars budgeted for the information media, performers, perks, imposters and the real actors – politicians making stage shows to win the game. Politics is about winning, not losing the invisible battlefield. There exists a wide gulf in ideas and perceptions how the Israeli politicians define political games and what the Arab rulers perceive of the intents and purposes of politics. The puppet show goes on for ages with the blessings of the European colonialists and the US intermediaries claiming to be the proponent of peace but none knows what peace means in the real world. The Europeans, the US, Israelis and the Arab rulers, all have role-plays in instigating animosity and perpetuating insanity in public affairs, relations and conflict management.

For varied face saving reasons, they agreed to dramatize the stage show of a peace dialogue without any agenda for the negotiations between the PLO and Israeli leaders. Often unilateral political agendas rebel against the established norms of human civilization. Israel came to Palestine under the British imperialism and the indigenous Palestinians were victimized by both the new Jewish migrants from Western-Eastern Europe and the former USSR – all trying to escape the fear and tyranny of Nazism and European led and the American tolerated Holocaust of the Jewish people. The Palestinians and the Arabs in general were innocent victims of the global tyranny of politics of the few powerful nations to determine the future of helpless and deprived humanity. The rebellious and wicked against peace, freedom and justice were rewarded by the European conquests, whereas, poor and destitute were scolded by progressive animosity and insanity in international political governance. E.H. Carr points out a learning role of the history. But history sees the people and nations by their actions, not by their claims. The so called superpower nations leading the global political arena have denied the determining role of the history and the resulting war continues to engulf the humanity all over the globe. The Arab-Israeli conflict is explicitly outcome of the superpower politics. Once again, the stage for dialogue is set with superficial issues and ambiguous agendas to undo the prospects of a real peace between the contending parties.

At issue is the internationally agreed upon agreements from the UNO to the latest US policy stance, the establishment of an independent State of Palestine living in con-existence with the State of Israel. The recent opening chit-chat between the PLO and Israeli leaders mirrored a glimpse of positive hope but soon it disappeared after three rounds of non-agenda meetings. If the US sponsored dialogue has any serious merits, why it is not based on a formal agenda for the peace negotiations?

The peace dialogue must be seen in relative terms contingent upon number of factors: If all the parties involved are serious, they are responsible to create a conducive political environment in their sphere of interest to encourage the masses for open minded exchange of social, moral and political thoughts and practices. The ordinary folks on both sides of the aisle cannot be ignored. The 6th decade old perpetuated animosities between the Arab and Israelis will not go away with the blink of eyes. Have the Arab-Israeli politicians given enough thoughts to these pre-requisites for the emergence of peace talks? The realities on the ground speak a different language although sign are there for understanding the relative importance of the new peace endeavors. There should have been a formal and well defined agenda to facilitate the favorable dialogue for peace. Such a move should have given the feeling to the belligerent viewpoints that something different and positive is in the making. For the agenda setting, the primary onus is on the US-Israel to demonstrate clearly that: (1). All the illegal Israeli settlements are stopped. (2).Removal of the inhuman barbed–wired culture and walls from Palestine reminding of the Nazi era treatment and captivity of the Jewish people- a shame that East Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza areas depict that image in the 21st century so called civilized world. (3). To allow free movement of people and goods across the occupied territories. (4). End of the blockade of Gaza. (5). In spirit and reality the end of the Israeli occupation paving ways for the freedom of Palestinian homeland.

Strangely enough, none of these vital factors were considered relevant by George Mitchell or the Obama adminsitration claiming to be the proponent of peacemaking. Take no solace; the on-going Arab-Israeli conflict is as critical in global politics of the 21st century as it was in the mid 20th century. The global institutions such as the UNO failed miserably to evaluate its value in human terms. The continued animosity fed insanity leading to institutionalization of fear and mutual distrust over six decades. Since the Israelis and Arabs have opened-up the corridors of backdoor politics, would reason prevail over insanity to articulate a new hope for a promising future and durable peace in the Middle East?

All the actors in the peace dialogue process appear active and energetic to compete for global attention, recognition and credibility data. Islam emancipated the Arabs to develop a knowledge-based global civilization unparallel in human history. Its progressive achievements and contributions to the making of the European civilization are second to none. But with petro-dollar transitory prosperity, the Arabs seem to have compromised the norms and principles of Islam, they fell in humiliation and defeats and confined to remote palaces, not mindful of the world around them. They breathe and enjoy life on foreign myths and political clichés, misfit for the Arab-Islamic culture. If the wealthy Arab rulers were open to communication and listening to the voices of REASON and HONESTY by Muslim scholars, they could have made the earth feel their existence and weight. With massive Western indoctrination, the Arab rulers ignored Islam as a system of governance and adapted modernity of political tyranny against their own people and indifference to the issue of Palestine. Comparatively, Israelis have institutions and political leadership to represent the national interest although divergent viewpoints regularly sustain the Israeli political culture from one extreme to another. The Israeli politicians are fearful that Zionism doctrine is no longer relevant to the foundation of Israel and in recent days they have opened up the debate to call Israel a "Jewish State"- changing the belief from Zionism to Judaism. Some other extreme figures will stall the peace talks by insisting on continued Jewish settlements in the occupied land. 

Arab rulers date back to the colonial age and lack smart and intellectual foresights to compete with the Israeli strategies, often doing the opposite what was demonstrated to be agreeable and forthcoming. Recall the Israel spokesman at the beginning of the peace talk in early September stating that "Israel is looking for a large cemetery to bury the past" and to make new beginnings for peace talks with Palestinians. Instead, Israeli bulldozers went to Jerusalem and started disturbing the dead and removing their graves. One Arab member of the Knesset called it" Israeli war against the living and deads." Israeli Government has some committed Zionists to oppose any peace initiatives with the Palestinians.

The politics is a game of pretension and stage acting overwhelmingly embedded in leadership acts of knowledge and intellectual pursuit to challenge the existing status-quo. But the old-aged Arab rulers have little to share with the knowledge-based modern age of creativity and impressive leadership. They live in palaces, not with people to understand the encompassing realities of the 21st century global politics. Leaders create leaders but rulers inherit the rule, fair or foul. Most of the Arab rulers are authoritarian, and operate in close circuit political cell excluding the voices of reason and intellectual foresights. The phenomenon of change is not allowed in the corridors of palaces, it lives in denials. But the Israelis are the master of change, both in policies and practices. Were the peace talks simply meant to dispel the global anti-Israeli reaction against the brutal attack on the Turkish flotilla sailing to Gaza with humanitarian aid and the killing of 7 innocent Turkish aid volunteers? If so, they have managed to disregard the global criticism with the US complicity and active support. The people of Gaza are suffering from the Israeli blockade and Arab states/leaders combined are not in a strategic position to break the Israeli blockade. Given all the wealth and the illusion of economic prosperity, all the Arab rulers do not weigh on the global scale of leadership role play. If they adapt to listening and learning as critical values for effective leadership, they can be changed and reformed to perform with improved leadership qualities. Learning is vital for the 21st century innovative leadership.

One wonders, when would the Arab rulers relinquish the neo-colonialism traditions and make ways for the new, educated and intelligent young generation to assume leadership role and be able to challenge the prevalent insanity in global affairs. The Arab leaders do not have the political and strategic capacity to challenge Israel and its occupation of Palestine, whereas, Israel despite its military strength and institutionalized power, cannot claim to be at peace and durable in search of a peaceful con-existence. There are persistent engineered animosities, not rationally balanced perspectives for the peace talks to be meaningful for mutually favorable outcomes. 

—The writer specializes in global security, peace and conflict resolution in Islamic-Western comparative cultures and civilizations.







Pakistan has the highest rate of suicide bombings in the world. The spate of such attacks has exceeded than Iraq and Afghanistan and those figures are rising very rapidly. The most likely causes of suicide bombings may account for an unfair system prevalent in the society. It creates disgruntlement among people especially youngsters. Some people are socially isolated. It is easy to play upon their psyche by getting considerate towards their needs and pretending to be their well wishers.

It is a sad fact that the Jihadi slogan is distorted at the hands of these vicious people. Such nefarious persons tell the vulnerable youth that government is supporting the dictates of US. In this way they label the government functionaries to be infidels and brainwash the impressionable youth that it would be correct according to Islamic point of view to kill all the infidels and their supporters which include police and army in the first stride. They woo them to perpetuate this barbarous act and promise them with the heaven which is waiting for them with all its charms. 

Peer group pressure may produce dissidents. There are rules dictated by the peers of actual bombers and the people are compelled to go for such acts. Some suicide bombers are highly motivated religious men and women. The individual may be indoctrinated and instilled with the suicide ideology. But the experts say that it is not always religion based only and it can be sometimes considered a strategic political tool. There are victims of wars. It may start a cycle of violence. The dark shadows of war loom high over them and they can be psychologically indisposed. People who undergo traumatic experiences tend to get caught up in a cycle in which they become susceptible to generating evil themselves.

Individual's social and psychological background counts a lot. Mental diseases may also be one of the causes. Traumatic childhood wreaks havoc on the personality built-up and leads to disastrous results. Abusive children become abusive parents. But not all or even many terrorists are psychopaths. They can be mercenaries just like hirelings who are ready to take the lives of people in return of petty money. Robert Pape who is American political science professor says that at least half of the suicide attacks were not caused by the Muslim fundamentalists during the period 1980-2003 and there were 315 suicide attacks. The overall leader was the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, Pape describes in his book "Dying to win". Therefore it is disingenuous to say that there is a strong link between Islamic fundamentalism and suicide terrorism. He says that the common factor in all the suicide attacks was a goal to intimidate a particular democratic state to remove the military forces from their country. Whether it is Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Kashmir or Chechnya, the predominant cause is their desire to assert self determination and religion is seldom the prime reason behind.

Farhad Khosrokhavar, an expert on suicide terrorism in Europe says that fundamentalism inhibits radicalism. He argues in his book "Suicide Bombers" that Islamic fundamentalism does not, by itself, push people toward radicalism and suicide attacks. He differentiates between two types of martyrs: those from the developing world, who are away from modern norms; and the radical minority who live in the West. He says that some kinds of fundamentalism are linked with terrorist acts but the other kinds are not. Peter Bergon, a CNN terrorism analyst, gives another view contradictory to above two analysts. He looks for a link between Islamic fundamentalism and suicide terrorism and says in his book "The Osama Bin Laden I Know." That the main reason for Al-Qaeda terrorist activity against the United States was the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia". He is of the view that for him "Islam was the motivating force at the back of the suicide attacks in Iraq. As at least 50 percent of the suicide attackers in Iraq are Saudi. But only 9 percent of the suicide attackers there are Iraqi". Bergon ascribes militant Islamic fundamentalists responsible for suicide operations in Iraq. He condemns the globalized martyrdom strongly motivated by religion. It will be worthwhile to have some view of the history of suicide bombings.

Muslim organizations using the suicide tactics were PELP and Fatah in Palestine. According to some accounts, the Tamil Tigers have carried out at least five times more suicide attacks than other similar organizations put together. In 1991 Tamil Tigers are blamed for the assassination of former Indian Prime Minster Rajiv Gandhi by a female bomber. The wave of suicide bombings in Pakistan started in an intense form in 2002. Between 2002 and 2006, there were 25 suicide attacks across the country. This gained intensity in 2007. Figures show that Pakistan suffered 28 suicide attacks during the first eight months of 2008, killing over 471 people including innocent civilians as well as the armed forces personnel. There were 42 incidents of suicide attacks in Iraq between January 1 and August 31, 2008, claiming 463 lives. In Afghanistan 436 people were killed during the same period."

How can such attacks be curtailed? There can be many ways. Consistent efforts are required with a due amount of sincerity. The government must work towards improving the conditions of mental asylums and recognize that depression is described as the root cause of most suicide cases. According to one study mental disorders affect 34 percent of our population. Help from certified mental health professionals is usually not sought as most people resort to spiritual healers. There is a need to refurbish our mental health infrastructure. All segments of society have to work together with fortitude to stem this peril. A dispassionate analysis of the root causes should be done. The government must distance itself from USA. 

We are no friend of it, we are just the ally. Although the major part has to be played by the government all and sundry of society should also contribute to spread the awareness. Religious scholars must stand united and preach the true Islam which is the religion of peace and altruism which is against all kinds of barbarism, tyranny and prejudices. We are passing through the most critical phase and all kinds of distinctions of creed must be shunned. Media should foster a countrywide campaign to engender harmony and bring the estranged segments of society together. Teachers should tell the students to cleanse their minds fro








US President Barack Obama's foreign policy so far has been dominated by process — and its most notable product has been deadlines. The president's biggest achievements so far are not results but the would-be means to deliver them. His administration hasn't produced an Israeli-Palestinian peace — but it has brought the two sides to the bargaining table. It hasn't stopped Iran's nuclear weapons programme — but it has orchestrated new sanctions to force Tehran to negotiate. It hasn't extracted the US from Afghanistan — but it has put in place a strategy that is supposed to make that possible. It has done all this with painstaking diplomacy, with highly orchestrated internal and external consultations — and at times with stumbling trial and error.

It has also set a remarkable number of clocks ticking. One clock is measuring whether US troops will be ready to begin handing off security to Afghanistan's army by July 2011, when the first withdrawal of American troops is to take place. Another paces Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as they try to conclude a "framework agreement" by next September, when the one-year timetable Obama encouraged them to establish will expire. A third follows Iran's nuclear programme. The administration said last spring that Iran was two to five years away from producing a bomb. If Iran does not soon begin to negotiate seriously with the US and its UN Security Council allies, or take some confidence-building steps away from producing weapons, that time frame will begin to overshadow the sanctions policy.

A final clock governs Iraq — where Obama has promised a complete withdrawal of US troops by the end of 2011. Will Iraq be fully ready to defend itself by then? No one knows — and yet the timetable is already locked in. Obama's foreign policy record hardly figures in this autumn's midterm election. That's at least in part because of its inconclusiveness: It has neither failed nor produced tangible outcomes. A year from now, thanks to the timetables, the record should be in — just in time for the 2012 presidential campaign. This is not entirely a coincidence; after all, as Bob Woodward reports in his latest book Obama's Wars, Obama told one senator that he established the July 2011 Afghanistan deadline so as not to "lose the whole Democratic Party". That, however, doesn't mean his clocks will prove beneficial. More likely, they are setting him up for failure.

Success may not be possible in Afghanistan — most of Obama's civilian advisers, according to Woodward, have already written it off. But what's interesting is that those who still believe in the counterinsurgency policy, such as Afghan commander General David Petraeus, are careful to say that success will require many years of commitment, not a handful of months. If Afghanistan looks much better by July 2011, not just the sceptics will be surprised, but the optimists as well. Obama's first timetable, of course, was for Iraq — his plan to withdraw troops in 16 months put him into contention in the 2008 Democratic primaries.By the time he took office as president, two years later, Iraq had changed utterly, and Obama's 16 months had come and gone. The president nevertheless adopted a similar, 18-month timetable for ending US combat operations. He stuck to it despite Iraq's political impasse and its increasing instability this summer — causing some Iraqis to question whether US policy amounted to anything more than a timetable. Next comes the December 2011 date for full withdrawal. If Obama sticks to it, he will put the nascent US "strategic partnership" with Iraq's new regime at risk — and hand an advantage to Iran. In the Middle East negotiations, counterproductive timetables are multiplying. The one-year deadline for completing talks seems to have derived from a two-year deadline established last year by Obama's envoy, George Mitchell. Meanwhile, Israel's 10-month moratorium on construction of colonies in the West Bank has expired, prompting the administration to press for a new 60- to 90-day deadline. 

Once again the timetables are disconnected from a strategy. Is it possible that Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President of the Palestinian National Assemby Mahmoud Abbas can agree on the borders of a Palestinian state in less than 60 days and end the debate on colonies? No. But then, what will happen when the next deadline arrives? Discussion will be forced on yet another timetable. Process is always important to good policy — and yes, the Bush administration sometimes demonstrated what can go wrong when there are no deadlines. Yet in the Obama administration, the timetable is becoming an end in itself. It reflects a president who is fixed on disposing of foreign policy problems — and not so much on solving them. —The CG News









JULIA Gillard says she welcomes the parliamentary debate on Australia's involvement in Afghanistan the Greens have demanded.


So does The Australian. The debate will provide the Prime Minister with an opportunity to explain how the war has changed since the US first removed the Taliban and to make the case for continuing our commitment in Afghanistan, if she believes that we can help its people fulfil their country's economic potential and grow into a democracy. It will give Ms Gillard a chance to define Australia's strategic objectives and emphasise the importance of the American alliance. And the debate will allow her the opportunity to ask the Greens, who want our forces out, what sense there is in abandoning a fight that can be won. President Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul has not won the hearts and minds of all Afghans but it is much better than the Taliban, which opposes education for girls, executes women for adultery and will tolerate no beliefs but its own. When the Taliban was last in power, it blew up two 1700-year-old giant statues of Buddha out of sheer bigotry. The reason its leaders loathe democracy is they know they will never win a free election.


For Ms Gillard to win the argument for Afghanistan, she must make these cases for a conflict that has cost more than 20 Australian lives and will doubtless cause more casualties. The easy argument, that we are there to contain al-Qa'ida, may still hold but it is no longer enough. It was the right reason when John Howard invoked ANZUS to support the American invasion, intended to remove the Taliban regime, which was protecting Osama bin Laden. Kevin Rudd said the same as opposition foreign affairs spokesman, arguing that Afghanistan, not Iraq, was where terror had to be beaten. The argument still applied in 2006, when Mr Howard committed an Australian taskforce to Oruzgan province, where our troops still serve, saying defeating the Taliban was essential to overcome al-Qa'ida. But fighting terrorism is no longer a complete explanation of why we are in Afghanistan. The British-born terrorists who attacked London in 2005 and the American who tried to bomb New York's Times Square in May were inspired by bin Laden, but they were not acting on his direct orders, as the September 11 suicide bombers were. There is also case that Australia must stay to protect its wider interests, as well as helping the Afghan people, but if this is the Prime Minister's view, she must explicitly state it.


If the Taliban took over again, it would inevitably attack in Pakistan's Swat valley, further destabilising that shaky state. A Taliban victory would also inspire the theocracy in Iran, if only to become a conduit for Afghan heroin exports to the West. And it would send a signal heard in Pyongyang, and in every Middle East capital, that the US and its allies, like the Soviet Union before them, lack the stamina for a long fight. Faux realists argue that history shows a war in Afghanistan cannot be won. But there is a world of difference between the three invasions by the British Empire, the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and this conflict. The present allied effort is designed to create a democracy, not impose an unelected client regime. A much more accurate comparison is with the war to remove Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Despite the Americans' appalling occupation planning that cost thousands of lives, the US is now leaving Iraq free of a dreadful dictator, and while sectarian strife continues, Iraqis are in charge of their own destiny. The reason for this is the US held its nerve and committed enough troops to defeat the terrorists. In contrast, the Americans made the mistake of leaving Afghanistan to its fate too early after the Soviets fled, allowing the Taliban to take over. The US shows no signs of repeating that error again in Afghanistan, with President Barack Obama putting an Iraq-style surge strategy in place. There is no military argument for us to abandon the country while there is a chance of bringing the Taliban to the peace table. Nor do the failings of the Karzai government make it impossible to create a stable government. The first step to establishing a functioning society is to stop the Taliban blowing up bridges, robbing villages and murdering teachers -- and this takes troops. Neither is Afghanistan doomed to be a mendicant state. The country is awash with recently discovered mineral wealth and can, with peace, provide for itself. The challenge for its allies is to ensure these assets are exploited in the interests of the people, not the Taliban or corrupt officials, and an elected government is the only way to do it.


These are all strong arguments but to unite Australia in support of the war, only the Prime Minister can convincingly make them. Just as Mr Obama listened to his commanders but made his own decision to increase troop numbers, Ms Gillard must set out her own strategy and not follow Kevin Rudd's practice as prime minister of acting on advice from Treasury and the Reserve Bank instead of making decisions. While Ms Gillard left the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to deal with politics as well as policy this week, she cannot do this over Afghanistan.


As head of the executive government, and as by constitutional convention the effective commander-in-chief, she must not say she will do whatever the Australian Defence Force chief Angus Houston recommends. The buck stops with her. Undoubtedly, the debate in parliament will be difficult for Ms Gillard. She has no foreign policy experience and must accept moral responsibility for a cause that has taken Australian lives. But she can make a winning argument for the war by focusing on the strategic and humanitarian case and demanding the Greens answer one question -- why do they want to leave ordinary Afghans in the lurch?







Miracles can be inspiring or incredible. All Australians, however, can draw inspiration from the life of Blessed Mary MacKillop, as she is entitled to be called until tomorrow night, Australian time, when she will be declared a saint by the Pope. Mother Mary of the Cross, as she was known in religious life, personified the values that help define our nation -- hard work, loyalty, a fair go for the underdog, egalitarianism and tenacity.


MacKillop's life story is a reminder that the real nation-builders are not governments but people. MacKillop had much in common with other spirited pioneering women who shaped the nation. Like wool industry developer Elizabeth Macarthur and early South Australian winemaker Mary Penfold, MacKillop embraced the challenges and possibilities of Australia's rugged countryside. In pursuing her goals, she was every bit as energetic as convict-turned-business woman Mary Reibey and as altruistic as Caroline Chisholm, another woman some believe could be a future saint.


She was driven by an intense desire to impart the Catholic faith to young children, yet it was MacKillop's and her sisters' work in educating the poor that has struck the strongest chord with the wider Australian community and resonates with our sense of the fair go. Her parish schools were free for those who could not pay, which in the early days was the majority. They were also egalitarian in outlook. It was a world away from the more rigid class system that applied in her parents' homeland of Scotland as well as in the colonies. The ethos was similar to that which underpinned the humanitarian work of secular heroes such as Fred Hollows.


By nature, MacKillop was an independent thinker, a leader and a builder. Given such qualities, it is hardly surprising that she felt constricted in one of her first paid jobs in a stationery shop in Melbourne, where she worked to feed her family. It was that frustration that took her to a different life, as a governess on a property outside Penola, where she met Father Julian Woods, co-founder of her order, and established her first school in a disused stable. Within four years, another 120 young women had joined her and she had established 40 schools. By the time of her death in 1909, the numbers had grown to 650 sisters teaching 12,400 children in 157 schools.


MacKillop's independence, and her healthy scepticism of officialdom, traits shared by many Australians, led to conflict with some of the more pompous church officials of her day. That clash, ultimately, saw her excommunicated unfairly for five months in 1871. But practising what she taught, she forgave those who put obstacles in her way and never wavered in her loyalty to the church.


It is a measure of the significance of this weekend's canonisation that at least 8000 Australians have made the pilgrimage to Rome, and thousands are in Penola. While the event is highly significant to the one in four Australians who are Catholic, it is an important milestone for Australia.







AS the Aussie dollar nudged to within a whisker of parity with the greenback yesterday, consumers and those travelling overseas were reaping the benefits.


The surge is increasingly difficult, however, for expatriates returning to buy property in Australia and, more importantly, for export industries such as inbound tourism, education, farming and manufacturing.


The Gillard government cannot control external factors driving the dollar. But to bolster business competitiveness on the slow side of the two-speed economy, the government needs a disciplined agenda to improve productivity. In her Queensland Media Club speech on Tuesday, Julia Gillard showed she understands the challenge. But after such a long hiatus, such reform will take discipline and courage.


The model of what not to do in a two-speed economy was the Wayne Swan-Kevin Rudd original mining super profits tax proposal, that would have nobbled our best-performing industry with a bigger handicap than the top-weight in the Melbourne Cup. A more effective approach is the one outlined in the Treasury's Red Book: "Tighter fiscal policy, and measures to boost labour-force participation and productivity, could play a useful role in complementing monetary policy, reducing the size of the required increases in interest rates and the exchange rates."


Government spending cuts beyond those outlined so far would take some pressure off the currency and help contain inflation and interest rates by offsetting the current surge in national income. Welfare-to-work is the obvious area to target, with a judicious mix of tax and eligibility reforms to draw as many of the nation's 750,000 disability pensioners as possible into work. A more flexible labour market system would help immeasurably.


Unfortunately, despite $42 billion stimulus spending, the capacity constraints that emerged at the height of the mining boom in the Howard era remain as much of a problem now as they were five or six years ago, especially inadequate ports, roads and urban rail. If the Gillard government is to nurture productivity and insulate the economy against any future fall-off in demand for Australian minerals, investment in productive infrastructure needs to be given priority over more populist spending. While the dollar remains high, only pro-growth policies will cushion its impact on exporters as they struggle to remain competitive.








Deportations are an unavoidable aspect of any immigration policy, but they must be carried out by guards who are properly trained


eath in custody is always shocking, and rightly so. The death of Jimmy Mubenga on Tuesday, as he begged for help from fellow passengers on flight BA77, should sound alarm bells throughout the Home Office. A postmortem has so far failed to confirm the cause of death. But eyewitnesses report that the 46-year-old Angolan citizen was being forcibly restrained as the plane prepared to depart for Luanda. Deportations are an unavoidable aspect of any immigration policy. But they must be carried out by guards who are properly trained to minimise both the stress and the distress. It is about patience, compassion and calm, not the pre-emptive use of overwhelming force.

It would be wrong to prejudge the current police inquiry. But the prisons ombudsman – who has been asked by the Home Office to report on Mr Mubenga's death – has investigated nine deaths in immigration removal centres since 2004 and, although no deportee has died since 1993, when Joy Gardner was suffocated after being gagged with 13ft of sticky tape, two years ago concerned organisations compiled a dossier of nearly 300 separate claims of abuse by failed asylum seekers. An inquiry commissioned by the Home Office that reported earlier this year could investigate only a small fraction of the allegations, and found no systemic abuse. But it was strongly critical of the lack of proper process, which meant that more than half the allegations examined had simply beenignored by the Border Agency. Meanwhile, the year before, the prisons inspector had also reported that there were too few effective safeguards, wide variations in standards, and worrying gaps and weaknesses in complaints and monitoring.


Against this backdrop, the Home Office's initial response that Mr Mubenga had "died after being taken unwell" is at the very least inadequate. If eyewitness accounts given to the Guardian are correct – and they corroborate one another – it is inaccurate too. Occasionally, it is necessary to uphold the law by force. The accompanying safeguard has to be that any death while in the care of the state is swiftly followed by an adequate and transparent investigation. A report from the prisons ombudsman is not enough.


In the past 20 years, understanding of the dangers of restraint has greatly improved, but there is no system to ensure that every organisation empowered to use force in the name of the state applies the lessons of earlier tragedies. There is too much evidence that some private security firms do not properly understand the risks of restraint techniques. More fundamentally, it also seems there is neither the oversight nor the accountability that are the preconditions of the safe and proper exercise of state power.







It is not hard to come up with reasons for Nick Clegg choosing to make a ringing speech on fairness and social mobility yesterday


It is not hard to come up with reasons for Nick Clegg choosing to make a ringing speech on fairness and social mobility yesterday. Nor for his taking the opportunity to announce a prospective £7bn spending commitment in the upcoming spending review to boost the life chances of children from Britain's poorest families. One reason, not to be overlooked even by his fiercest critics, is that the much denounced deputy prime minister genuinely believes in the cause – the speech has its roots in a 2002 pamphlet which Mr Clegg wrote when he was not even an MP. Fairness to the poorest children is "the reddest line of all" in the spending review, he insisted in his speech yesterday, backing it up with a seriously argued social liberal case against a system that imposes "a life sentence of disadvantage" upon the most needy. Mr Clegg's new three-part "fairness premium" – in early years, school and at college – is designed to release many of the poorest from that sentence.


Another reason, pretty self-evidently, is that, with more than £80bn to save in the spending review next week, it makes sense for the government to get its good news out in advance. From Wednesday, the airwaves will be black with news of cuts, job losses and much harder times. Good news, especially for those who need and benefit most from the welfare state, will be in short supply compared with bad. So it suited the government as a whole – Conservatives almost as much as theLiberal Democrats – for the spotlight to be shone in advance on spending pledges that could directly assist 130,000 two-year-olds in early-years learning, and as many as 1.2 million school-age pupils who stand to gain from the pupil premium pledge. All this is new money, say officials, additional to existing programmes. It will become clearer next week where, and at the expense of what other budgets, the money has come from; huge university spending cuts, disclosed yesterday, underlined this reality. But progressive measures are welcome in any context right now.


The third reason, equally obviously, is that Mr Clegg needs all the help he can get these days. The Lib Dems are still in turmoil over student finance, under attack as the Conservatives' poodle, slipping in the polls and on the verge of co-owning a major gamble with the economy that, whether one believes it is necessary or not, will do lasting harm to the public services and could help push Britain back towards recession. The Lib Dems are more settled in their commitment to the coalition than many imagine, but theirs is a ship badly in need of steadying after the U-turn on higher education funding – even though that change of policy was inevitable. Yesterday's speech and announcement were the right course for the Lib Dems. If Mr Clegg wants to take his stand in the progressive camp, he should be welcomed for it, not attacked.


Yet Mr Clegg's move cannot be judged in isolation. It has to be seen in the wider perspective of the comprehensive spending review and, in particular, the cuts in education budgets. Like everything in the CSR, the £7bn stretches over four years, and is heavily 2014-15 end-loaded, so it will have little immediate impact. The emphasis on social mobility sits alongside a schools policy that is more focused on schools that are doing well, generally with small intakes from poor families, than on the hard grind of improving those that are doing badly, often with large intakes from the poor, about which Alan Milburn, the government's social mobility watchdog, had pertinent things to say this week. It is also important to grasp the fact that the pupil premium has not suddenly been invented by progressive Lib Dems; there are major anti-poverty payments already in the school funding system, many put there by Labour. Mr Clegg is taking a good progressive step, but he is marching into a cold and cutting wind.



            THE JAPAN TIMES





In China's upside-down world where black is white, the great honor of the Nobel Peace Prize being given to Liu Xiaobo, a writer, intellectual and human rights activist, has been denounced by the government as a "desecration" of the award because it was given to "a criminal who broke China's laws."


That is more a condemnation of Chinese laws than of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which said in its announcement, "China is in breach of several international agreements to which it is a signatory, as well as of its own provisions concerning political rights."


The committee honored Liu for his "long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." But, assuming the mantle of defender of Alfred Nobel, creator of the prize, a Chinese government spokesman said the proper recipient should be someone who has worked for "fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."


The Nobel committee countered by saying it "has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace" and that "such rights are a prerequisite for the 'fraternity between nations' of which Alfred Nobel wrote."


China's reaction has been to censor news of the award, round up supporters of Liu and put his wife under house arrest. By these actions, the government has condemned itself and justified the decision to honor Liu as "the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights."


The Nobel Peace Prize is a major morale boost for dissidents in China, who have suffered from ever-increasing repression. It requires incredible courage to be a dissident in China, struggling for freedom, but the struggle continues despite all odds.


This indomitable spirit was evident again recently when a human rights lawyer, Yang Jinzhu, called on Wang Shengjun, the president of the Supreme People's Court, to resign after the court authorized the execution of Fan Qihang in Chongqing despite evidence that he had been tortured into confessing to murder and other crimes.


Yang's fate is unclear, but the lawyer has made it clear that he will persevere in his campaign against the country's top judge until either his own death or imprisonment, or the removal of the judge from office.


One of the few newspaper articles about the award for Liu Xiaobo is an editorial in Global Times headlined "2010 Nobel Peace Prize a disgrace," which accuses the Nobel committee of "trying to impose Western values on China."


Writers of such articles seem to have forgotten that Karl Marx, who was turned into a god by the Chinese Communist Party, was a Westerner and socialism itself is a Western idea.


Moreover, recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize include those who worked for human rights in other countries, including Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Kim Dae Jung in Korea and Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States.


None of those countries accused the committee of trying to impose Western values on them.


The values espoused by Liu were reflected in a statement he made in court Dec. 23, two days before he was sentenced.


In that statement, he said that he had no enemies and no hatred — not for the police who monitored and questioned him, not for the prosecutors who sought to imprison him and not for the judges who sentenced him.


"For hatred," he said, "is corrosive of a person's wisdom and conscience; the mentality of enmity can poison a nation's spirit, instigate brutal life and death struggles, destroy a society's tolerance and humanity, and block a nation's progress to freedom and democracy."


Instead, he said, he hoped to counter the hostility of the government and "defuse hate with love."


"There is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom," Liu said.


Strangely enough, those words found an echo recently when Premier Wen Jiabao was interviewed on CNN by Fareed Zakaria.


Speaking of his determination to bring about political reform in China, Wen said, "The wish and will of the people are not stoppable. Those who go along with the trend will thrive and those who go against the trend will fail."


With such an ally, Liu Xiaobo may yet see his aspirations realized one day. But that day isn't here yet. Even Wen's words have been censored in China.


Frank Ching is a journalist and commentator based in Hong Kong. His e-mail address is








BERKELEY, Calif. — Three years into the financial crisis, one might think that the world could put Great Depression analogies behind it. But they are back with more force than ever. Now the fear is that currency warfare, leading to tariffs and retaliation, could cause disruptions to the international trading system as serious as those of the 1930s.


There's good reason to worry, for the experience of the 1930s suggests that exchange-rate disputes can be even more dangerous than deep slumps in terms of generating protectionist pressures.


In fact, it was not countries' experiencing the worst economic downturns and the highest unemployment rates that raised tariffs and tightened quotas most dramatically in the 1930s.


A comparison of countries shows there was no relationship between either the depth and duration of the output collapse and the increase in levels of protection (or the magnitude of the rise in unemployment) and the extent of protectionism.


The reason why countries hit harder in the 1930s were not more inclined to respond by protecting industry from foreign competition is straightforward. The onset of the Great Depression saw a collapse of demand, which in turn led to a sharp fall in imports. As a result, levels of import penetration actually fell, quite sharply, in virtually every country. Producers had problems, to be sure, but import competition was the least of them.


The same thing happened this time: When the crisis went global in 2008-2009, imports fell faster than output. With the decline in trade, foreign competition became less of a problem for import- sensitive sectors. As a result, there was only limited resort to protectionism. The World Bank estimates that only 2 percent of the decline in trade during the crisis was due to increased protectionism. In the 1930s, by contrast, roughly half of the decline in world trade was due to protectionism. What's different today?


The answer is currency disputes. In the 1930s, the countries that raised their tariffs and tightened their quotas the most were those with the least ability to manage their exchange rates — namely, countries that remained on the gold standard. In 1931, after Britain and some two dozen other countries suspended gold convertibility and allowed their currencies to depreciate, countries that stuck to the gold standard found themselves in a deflationary vice.


In a desperate effort to do something — anything — to defend their economies, they turned to protectionism, imposing "exchange-rate dumping" duties, and import quotas to offset the loss of competitiveness caused by their own increasingly overvalued currencies.


But trade restrictions were a poor substitute for domestic reflationary measures, as they did little to arrest the downward spiral of output and prices. They did nothing to stabilize rickety banking systems. By contrast, countries that loosened monetary policies and reflated not only stabilized their financial systems more effectively and recovered faster, but also avoided the toxic protectionism of the day.


Today, the United States is in the position of the gold-standard countries in the 1930s. It can't unilaterally adjust the level of the dollar against the Chinese renminbi. Employment growth continues to disappoint, and fears of deflation will not go away. Lacking other instruments with which to address these problems, the pressure for a protectionist response is growing. So what can be done to address the situation without getting into a beggar-thy-neighbor, retaliatory free-for-all?


In the deflationary 1930s, the most important way that countries could subdue protectionist pressure was to use monetary policy actively to push up the price level and stimulate economic recovery. The same is true today. If fears of deflation were to recede and if output and employment were to grow more vigorously, the pressure for a protectionist response would dissipate.


The villain of the piece, then, is not China, but the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, which has been reluctant to use all the tools at its disposal to vanquish deflation and jump-start employment growth. Doing so would help to relieve the pressure in Congress to blame someone, anyone — in this case China — for America's jobless recovery.


Where the Bank of Japan has now led, the Fed should follow.


Of course, with China pegging the renminbi to the dollar, the Fed would, in effect, be reflating not just the U.S. but also the Chinese economy. But this is within its capacity. China's economy is still only a fraction of the size of America's, and the Fed's ability to expand its balance sheet is effectively unlimited.


China might not be happy with the result. Inflation there is already too high for comfort. Fortunately, the Chinese government has a ready solution to this problem: That's right, it can let its currency appreciate.


Barry Eichengreen is professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. Douglas Irwin is professor of economics at Dartmouth College. © 2010 Project Syndicate (








Special to The Japan Times

WASHINGTON — Finance ministers and central bank governors in Washington at the IMF/World Bank annual meetings ended their discussions last weekend with a whimper of a final communique. There was much talk of currency war and trade war in the hallways and hotels, but in the end the leaders postponed the main issue.


Catastrophe looms unless someone can persuade China that growing economic power should be matched with growing global responsibility, while persuading the United States to cool its rhetoric.


The International Monetary Fund's key committee was full of pious blah-blah, without a single mention of "dollar" or "renminbi" or even "currencies." The final paragraph of a three-page statement said: "While the international monetary system has proved resilient, tensions and vulnerabilities remain as a result of widening global imbalances, continued volatile capital flows, exchange rate movements, and issues related to the supply and accumulation of official reserves." It called upon the IMF to "deepen its work" on these issues "including in-depth studies to help increase the effectiveness of policies to manage capital flows."


The IMF has been studying these issues in depth for several years, but shareholder member governments who control the IMF have refused to take action. Beijing has most years blocked publication of IMF reports on its economy. Passing the ball back to the IMF without giving it the power to act on its recommendations is potentially dangerous.


Why was the final communique so weak? IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn replied wearily: "There is only one obstacle and that is an agreement of the members. . . . The language is not going to change things. Policies have to be adapted." The former French finance minister added that "there is no way to believe that global growth can be rebalanced without some changes in currency values."


The U.S. and China have become the public protagonists on the question of currencies, with U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner using the IMF forum to step up the pressure on Beijing to revalue the renminbi. Given next month's U.S. midterm elections, the hawkish mood in Congress, and the prospect that President Barack Obama and his Democrats face losses in both houses, he has little option.


It is not clear what the next U.S. move could be without firing the first shots in a potentially disastrous currency and trade war. In London, George Soros warned that a currency war, with China against the rest of the world, could lead to the collapse of the world economy.


China is equally firm, driven by fear of being seen as a pushover and by worries that a rapid renminbi appreciation would eat into its exports and create unemployment and social unrest. Premier Wen Jiabao himself took the message last week to European leaders in their den. At the IMF, China stressed that currency appreciation would occur "gradually," whatever that means (a 2 percent rise since June against a falling dollar is not much) and hit back by blaming the U.S. for its low interest rates and loose money policies.


The Europeans and Japan are also concerned about damage to their currencies, exports and jobs. "Wen more or less told the rest of the world to get lost," said one European official. "He said China could not allow large-scale unemployment. But we are all already bleeding, so this is Beijing publicly saying only China's jobs matter."


Japan spent billions of dollars to halt the rise of the yen and Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda claims that other members of the industrialized nations understood Tokyo's intervention.


But did Noda understand? The yen was at 82.3 against the U.S. dollar when he intervened, and slipped to 85, but this week it was 81.8 as it galloped toward an all-time postwar high. Noda has obviously been nodding off if he hasn't noticed that his intervention amounted to a badly spent few billion.


Other countries have joined a growing queue to express their fears. Brazil was the first before it was fashionable to use the words "currency war," but India also said it might intervene "to prevent volatility and the disruption of the macroeconomic situation. Ukraine also said it would consider capital controls.


Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij of Thailand, which has weathered a 10 percent revaluation of the baht this year — and 25 percent over five years — said: "There is every fundamental reason our currency should appreciate. But if we adjust, everybody should adjust. We need to see the major economies sit down and talk about it like adults." His voice of common sense was lost in the hubbub. But if strong economies like Japan, South Korea and Switzerland have intervened, why shouldn't everyone?


There are several problems preventing proper corrective action. One is the size of the daily foreign exchange market: $4 trillion a day is a lot of liquidity swooshing round and can easily become a noxious flood for any one currency. Another is that there are not enough places for the money to go. If sentiment is against the U.S. dollar, as it has been, then the euro and the yen are the beneficiaries — or the victims — of the hot money flows.


Not even Japan, with reserves of more than $1 trillion has enough money to be able to build a dam against the surge of money. Maybe China has. Some maverick economists have claimed that with reserves officially counted at almost $2.5 trillion or 30 percent of global reserves, and unofficially more like $3 trillion plus, Beijing today has sufficient strength to play the market.


If Beijing diversifies from dollars to yen — as it has recently — that not only adds variety to its holdings, but strengthens the yen. Noda complained that if it was acceptable for China to buy Japanese debt instruments, why couldn't Japan reciprocate? Premier Wen stressed China's support for Greece in buying its bonds, but that will also have the effect of strengthening the euro to China's advantage.


China is stubborn, but there has also been a lot of unimaginative thinking. American economists and congressmen complain bitterly that the yuan is undervalued and cite figures of 25 to 50 percent for the extent. China responds that 20 to 30 percent revaluation would sink China's exports and jobs. Yes, a sudden appreciation would be damaging, but what about a 10 percent revaluation, as Soros suggested, or 15 percent over a year?


It is in China's interests to build its domestic economy and not keep adding to its immense pile of foreign exchange with the risk of huge losses. It's time to think imaginatively about solutions and cooperation or we will all be sunk.


Kevin Rafferty is author of "Inside Japan's Powerhouses," a study of Japan Inc. and internationalization.







Public broadcaster NHK announced Oct. 8 that a reporter in its news department's sports section warned a Japan Sumo Association official that the Metropolitan Police Department would conduct raids on sumo stables to search for evidence indicating that sumo wrestlers had gambled on professional baseball games.


The reporter's act violated journalistic ethics and may have led to the destruction of evidence. It may also provide investigative authorities with an excuse to restrict the flow of information to mass media, which would, in turn, negatively impact the people's right to know.


The reporter, who has been questioned by the MPD, sent a text message to stablemaster Tokitsukaze around midnight July 6 warning him that several places were likely to be searched the following day. He also asked the stablemaster not to disclose where he got the information. The reporter explained to NHK that he had obtained the information from a different mass media company, and that he wanted to cultivate a deeper relationship with the stablemaster as a news source.


On July 6, NHK scratched live telecasts of July's Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament due to the gambling scandal. On the morning of July 7, the MPD searched several stables, including stablemaster Tokitsukaze's, as well as temporary rental locations for stables.


Stablemaster Tokitsukaze said he did not ask for the information and did not do anything to interfere with the search. But one wonders whether it occurred to the reporter that leaking the information could lead to the destruction of evidence. He also violated the principle that information obtained by a reporter should only be used for the purpose of reporting. His actions will lead people to question mass media's neutrality and will lessen people's trust in NHK and in mass media as a whole.


NHK should launch an investigation of the leak, determine its actual impact on the raids and make the results public. Because NHK is the only broadcaster that has televised live sumo tournaments since 1953, the relationship of its reporters and the JSA may be too close. NHK needs to re-educate its reporters.







By Wednesday night, all 33 Chilean miners trapped 600-plus meters underground since a Aug. 5 mine collapse had been pulled up to safety through a vertical shaft specially constructed to accommodate a rescue capsule.

We congratulate them on their miraculous return from their more-than-two-month ordeal. Praise also goes to the engineers, medical personnel and other experts who took part in the against-all-odds rescue operation at the San Jose copper and gold mine in the Atacama desert in northern Chile.


The miners' will to live as well as the encouragement they gave each other as professionals enabled them to persevere in wretched, cramped conditions — including humid temperatures of 30 to 35 C. For many, religious faith contributed to their belief in their eventual rescue.


The first 17 days in which the miners were completely out of communication with the outside world were the hardest time for them. After their survival was confirmed Aug. 22 through a camera and a microphone, they started to receive hot meals. Until then, they had consumed only two spoonfuls of tuna and milk and a piece of cookie every 48 hours.


Families, friends and President Sebastian Pinera gave encouragement to the miners from the surface. The president flexibly mobilized resources in and outside of the country. Experts from the U.S. space agency NASA provided advice on how to support the trapped miners.


Shift foreman (and group leader) Luis Urzua played an important role in uniting the miners, whose ages ranged from 19 to 63 and who had different levels of experience. He divided the miners into three shifts — watching, resting and sleeping — and assigned them particular duties, such as patrolling, measuring oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations, and administering medical care. The fact that Mr. Urzua established a chain of command and that the miners were organized into a tightly knit team helped prevent them from feeling desperate or panicky.


Despite the personal and public joy over their miraculous survival, the ordeal must have left the miners with physical or psychological scars. We pray that they receive all the care they need to make a return to normal life. That could take some time.








Now the whole world knows the way to San Jose. Or at least, the way to the San Jose mine in Chile. The mine lies in a town in the northern part of the South American country that became famous this week after the evacuation of 33 men from a 700-meter deep underground mine. The men had been trapped for 69 days when the mine collapsed. The story of their survival under the most difficult of circumstances has captured the imagination of people the world over.


Dionne Warwick fans can momentarily stop singing Do You Know the Way to San Jose? and instead sing another classic, Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive. The miners have shown their will to survive. Now they will have to struggle as celebrities for the next several months since people are dying to hear more of their underground tales.


The final phase of the rescue this week, when miners were lifted up inside a capsule one at a time, was certainly a made-for TV drama. Most of the world cheered along with Chileans as one by one the miners emerged victoriously. The climax came when Luis Urzua, the last man to be brought up, was greeted, as were others before him, by Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.


Theirs is truly humanitarian story worth retelling. It took 17 days after the mine collapsed before the world learned that they were still alive but trapped under layers of solid rock. Bringing them out alive was a real physical and technological challenge. The men, their relatives outside and the world went through agony together. This sustained their spirit and will to survive. When they came out of the hole this week, naturally the world cheered with them.


This is a rare but welcome happy ending to what could have been one of the world's greatest mining disasters.


The last time such a tragic story captured the imagination of the world was during the Asian tsunami in 2004, which killed over 300,000 people, most of them in Aceh, Indonesia. Thanks also to extensive global TV coverage, the world showed sympathy on a scale never before seen at that time and gave generously to help survivors rebuild their lives.


The world will never be free from tragedy. But from time to time, the world needs uplifting stories from some of these tragic events. Sometimes, journalists rise to the challenge – and rise to their best – when reporting this kind of story.







The plans announced by Jakarta administration to scrap all smoking rooms and completely prohibit smoking in all air-conditioned buildings in the city is a ray of hope for non-smokers who are frequently annoyed by the cigarette smoke they face whenever they are in public places.


The plan is based on a Jakarta gubernatorial regulation issued in May this year that revised a regulation issued in 2005. Contrary to the 2005 regulation that required all building operators and owners to construct smoking rooms inside their buildings, the new regulation rules out smoking rooms and completely prohibits smoking in all buildings.


"The Jakarta Environment Management Agency [BPLHD] will conduct inspections at 800 locations … The sanctions will be in the form of [publicizing] names of violators [of the new regulation] in the mass media," city administration environment consultant Dollaris Riauaty Suhadi said as quoted by The Jakarta Post, on Thursday.


We fully support this regulation, which has been enforced in many other major cities across the world. The old regulation, which requires buildings to have smoking facilities, could not protect non-smokers. Under the old regulation, non-smoking visitors to public places were not completely segregated from smokers.


However, it seems that tougher penalties such as fines and imprisonment are needed, since social punishments, such as campaigns and negative publicity, will not necessarily deter violators. Building managements may not care about such punishments because many people already smoke shamelessly in direct violation of these laws. Unfortunately, unlike a bylaw, a gubernatorial decree can not impose tough punishments such as fines and imprisonment.


Therefore, the city administration, together with the Jakarta Legislature, must also revise Bylaw No. 2/2005 on Air Pollution Controls, which still requires buildings in the city to have smoking facilities. Under this bylaw, violators are punishable with fines of up to Rp 50 million (US$5,260) and a maximum of six months' imprisonment.


While it is not easy to conduct an anti-smoking campaign in a country that is home to a number of giant cigarette companies that saturate the market with excessive advertising in all forms, we cannot afford to throw in the towel with these giants. We must continue our anti-smoking campaign to protect our children and non-smoking citizens.


This time the city administration must not fail. The issuance of the gubernatorial regulation in May needs to be followed up with a revision of the relevant bylaw so it will not just add to the list of "toothless tigers" in the anti-smoking campaign here.


The most important thing is that the administration remains consistent in enforcing its existing regulations. The government's failure to implement a smoking ban regulation that has been in place for the last five years was a result of, among other things, inconsistency in its enforcement.


Many people are still free to smoke in public places, for example at bus shelters and at railway stations.


This might not just be a factor of lax law enforcement, but also public skepticism about how successful such regulations can be. We can help make this anti-smoking campaign a success by asking people to respect the law and hope that all these regulations will be implemented properly.








Indonesia is second after Brazil in terms of ecosystem diversity among 12 "mega-diversity" countries, but is also highlighted as one of seven mega-diversity countries with a disturbing number of threatened species. Wildlife is a critically important resource for meeting the food and livelihood requirements of human communities in many biodiversity-rich regions of the world.


The utilization of wildlife is mostly driven by the value of wildlife itself, but in terms of wildlife conservation, the pattern of utilization is mostly focused on hunting for nutrition and trade.


People living in or near tropical forests have been hunting for at least 40,000 years in Africa and Southeast Asia, and at least 10,000 years in Latin America. This remains standard practice among many people living in the tropics today. Forest dwelling communities depend on meat from wildlife for both food and income. Wild meat contributes significantly to rural communities in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where it is often the sole available source of dietary protein. According to Prescot-Allen (1982), people in 62 countries still rely on wild animal meat as a primary source of protein.


The motivation to hunt or trade wildlife depends on both nutritional and economic factors. In addition, opportunities for free food and alternative income also encourage people to hunt. In Papua, for example, geographic barriers complicate government sponsored livestock distribution programs, whereas copious wildlife resources in the forest are cheaper more accessible for local people.


Consumption of wild meat has strong roots in indigenous forest dwelling communities, as proven by a multitude of different studies conducted around the world. Comprehensive information is less available in Indonesia, although papers on hunting practices in Kalimantan and Sulawesi have been published.


The indigenous population (Merap, Punan and Kenyah) in Malinau of East Kalimantan province still rely on wild products for their subsistence needs, particularly animal protein.  In North Sulawesi, the hunting and wildlife trade patterns of the Minahasa people have  significantly impacted the regional ecosystem.


There are indications that most hunting activities there are no longer sustainable, and increased demand for wild meat has had dramatic effects on efforts to restore local wildlife. A similar situation confronts the Wana people of upland Central Sulawesi, who are still heavily reliant on animal protein and fat secured from hunting and trapping.


Hunting wild animals has always been and continues to be an important aspect of life in rural Papuan communities. Even in modern times, some ethnic groups in Papua depend almost entirely on traditional hunting and gathering practices.


Does hunting contribute to mitigating rural poverty? In Oryx Forum Vol. 36 No. 4 (2002), Robinson and Bennet pointed out that traditional hunters in forest sites in Asia, Africa and Latin America earn less than US$1 per day. Still, hunting in Asia and Africa remains an essential means of supplemental income for the poorest rural households.


Poverty encompasses more than a lack of money. It is inability to provide for basic needs.  People in rural areas often lack education, skills, capital and market access. They have no options for alternative livelihoods or sources of food. They are forced to hunt and trade wildlife as a source of income.


Non-traditional economic demands have led to alarming levels of unrestrained hunting in tropical forests. As a consequence, numerous species are facing extinction. The loss of species has consequences for rural communities. For some people, the loss of wildlife presents a real threat to food security and alternative income.


Poverty alleviation is a primary developmental goal focusing on improving livelihoods and solving problems of food insecurity. Sustainable interaction between people and nature is important to fighting poverty. We need a better understanding of the links between environmental sustainability and the utilization of wildlife for alleviating extreme poverty.


It would be naive to expect that sustainable use of wildlife alone can constitute a realistic means of eliminating food insecurity. We need to carefully evaluate the issue of declining supplies of wild meat and the impact this has on food security. In this context, it is critical to understand rural versus urban patterns of wildlife utilization and disentangle the ultimate causes of overexploitation.


Overexploitation of wildlife can be difficult to control. What we can do is improve law enforcement and build monitoring capacity. Sustainable use of biodiversity will directly affect the utilization of natural resource by, for example, suppressing illegal hunting and the trade of wild animals.


There are two fundamental questions to consider in exploring the potential for collaboration between conservation and development: (1) are conservation goals compatible with the goals of the development sector? and (2) if there is common ground, then how can the two sectors work together effectively?


Food security and poverty alleviation are two issues that should be explored simultaneously.


Mismanagement will threaten biodiversity and indigenous populations in the future.

The writer is interested in wildlife conservation at Universitas Negeri Papua (UNIPA), Manokwari.








In an interview with The Jakarta Post (Sept. 13), Iwan Boyor, a coordinator of Bengkel Ide (a non-government organization offering free education for children in slum areas) rebutted the idea that illiteracy rates were decreasing every year, adding that despite having a good program for illiteracy elimination, the Jakarta Education Agency often missed its target in its implementation.


This remark was certainly justified. There are good reasons to claim that illiteracy rates are increasing rather than plummeting, and that the programs in place for illiteracy elimination are not working.


First, a great number of people (children and adults) still live in poverty-stricken areas, and are therefore less likely to enjoy access to books both at schools and at home. As poverty strongly correlates with literacy levels, it makes no sense to claim that illiteracy rates have plummeted while poverty prevails.


Second, the illiteracy elimination program (locally known as program pemberantasan buta huruf) has failed not

simply, as many have said, because of corrupt-minded officials, but rather because of our ignorance of what people really need to be able to read and write.  


We are unfortunately often ill-advised; that illiteracy exists due to our people's lack of awareness of the importance of reading and writing. Our culture, as many blatantly assert, is devoid of literacy culture, but instead is replete with oral culture. So prevalent is this assertion that many people have perceived it as an axiom.


It should be understood at the outset that illiteracy exists because people have been plagued with lingering poverty, which means it is very difficult for them to get access to educational material, particularly libraries and books. It has nothing to do with the tenuous dichotomy of an oral versus literary culture.


In this respect, it is a socio-economic variable rather than a lack of awareness that plays the largest role in the importunate illiteracy levels in this country.


Stephen Krashen (1996) produced intriguing research that consistently revealed that children from higher socio-economic backgrounds had higher levels of literacy than those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.


His research showed that more and better education resulted in better literacy rates and greater knowledge of subject matter. It also showed that living in a print-rich environment, with more books available both at home and at schools, greatly affected literacy development; and, that better access to libraries and books at home indisputably resulted in better literacy development.


Literacy campaigns exhorting the virtues of reading to the public (children, youths and adults) will 
be a waste of time and have no beneficial impacts unless poverty is curbed first.


In fact, there is no need to urge people to read since reading is clearly a pleasant activity that has become a regular activity for young and old people who can afford to do so.


Dealing with poverty is the first step the government needs to take before it can get the public to enjoy reading. We need to understand that many children in slum areas in Greater Jakarta, not to mention in other big cities across the country, are children of poverty.


These children not only lack access to education, to books of their own, to libraries, and to quiet, pleasant places for reading, but also often suffer serious diseases and malnutrition, which impede their physical and cognitive growth.


However, having long grappled with problems of illiteracy in Indonesia, the government seemed to be hitting the nail on the head when the National Education Ministry announced plans to provide school textbooks free of charge to students in 2011.


For one thing, this is a salutary policy that was made by the government following the demise of 
Soeharto's New Order regime. During this regime, apart from free access to education, text-books and books of various genres were distributed free of charge to state schools nationwide.


Parents didn't have to worry about the additional expense of books for their children. These state-sponsored books flooded school libraries, and every student had the right to borrow them for up to a year before returning them.


It will probably take many years for Indonesia to overcome its poverty. However, providing free access to books and libraries should be the state's top priority in efforts to improve literacy rates. It seems that establishing more Taman Bacaan Masyarakat (community libraries) and Perpustakaan Keliling (mobile libraries) is not only a great idea, but the only option we have in the face of prevailing poverty.


To this end, we should remind ourselves of the research findings mentioned above: More access to free school textbooks, and in particular better public access to free books on a variety of subjects, including at school libraries, can pave the way toward improving literacy.


The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta. He is also the chief editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching.









Poverty is not only "having no fish;" it is also "not knowing where to fish," "not having a rod and line" and "lacking the right to fish." In many cases, there are "no fish" because a lake has been polluted or has dried up. Ultimately, however, it is the subjective feeling of "being hungry because of not having eaten fish" that is very essence of poverty.


The face of poverty is multidimensional, as demonstrated above. Unfortunately, policy formulation and implementation in a decentralized environment are frequently out of date.


The lack of policy initiation and formulation can be traced back to poverty reduction strategies in regional planning documents. If you asked a policy or decision maker at the regency or city level about this you might be surprised to discover that they have no policy road map for alleviating poverty.


Unfortunately, matters involving poverty are frequently hijacked by political interests. This can be seen in the manipulation of poverty statistics to better serve the interests of local elites.


For example, if a local government is seeking a budget stimulus from the central government, poverty levels might be exaggerated in order to secure better fiscal incentives. Conversely, reported poverty rates tend to decrease when local governments face performance evaluations.


The paradigm shift from centralization to decentralization should be recognized as the product of "big bang" democracy implemented at the regency level. But as an African expert said, our hardware is democracy but our software is authoritarianism.


It is a precise proverb to describe our experience in attaining a more substantial democracy. The hardware of democracy can be seen in the crafting of democratic institutions, such as the Regional Elections Commission (KPUD), the Constitutional Court (MK), the Judicial Commission (KY), the National Police Commission (Kompolnas), to name just a few of the pillars of democracy.


The hardware can also be traced through periodic general elections of the President, governors, regents and legislators (both central and regional).


But the software, or culture of democracy, is to a certain extent still based on patrimonial ties such as kinship, ethnicity and religious affiliation. These can be the seeds of nepotism and collution in local governance.


In addition, these ties are at the root of rampant corruption, where people of the same blood or kinship feel confident in protecting each other, even when abusing their power.


In addition, implementation of good local governance is sometimes compromised because the authority given to local governance (regent or mayor) is not necessarily checked by sufficient oversight from the media, NGOs and academics.


We can assume that corruption is more rampant in remote regions, where it is difficult to identify an independent controlling agency or rely upon the influence of an independent media, the religious community or university intellectuals. Checks and balances from civil society are weak compared to the larger authority placed in the hands of local elites.


We ackowledge various cases of bad local governance, and we are in doubt regarding the capacity of local officials to design poverty eradication policies. But actually poverty is multifaceted and an effective campaign against it would need a comprehensive multilevel approach.


It is useful to recall Anirudh Krsihna's  "bathtub poverty" metaphor to illustrate that people are simultaneously moving out of poverty while falling into poverty at the same time. New poverty is being created even as old poverty is being destroyed (Moser, Reducing Global Poverty, 2007).


The bathtub image captures these opposite dynamics: a drain takes people out of the bathtub of poverty, but a faucet simultaneously adds more people in. Escaping poverty and falling into poverty are not symetric.


Amid this multidimensional complexity, how could one hope local governance will design a more comprehensive strategic approach to combatting poverty? And what is the fate of the poor in the era of decentralization?


The writer is a lecturer at Sociology Department, North Sumatera University, Medan.







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